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Musings from an Empty Tankard: Ghostbaiters

Musings from an Empty Tankard: Ghostbaiters

Being an odd collection of random optional rules for your game…

Revenants, poltergeists, and ghosts pose an infrequent but real nuisance to property owners of older homes, inherited keeps, or those living in close proximity to graveyards. Those stricken often call upon the professionals—ghostbaiters who use apprentices as bait to lure restless haunts to be driven off or captured. The practice of ghostbaiting is ethically questionable, for sure, but ghostbaiting is a valued service to those communities lacking access to more reputable solutions, such as a talented priest.

These apprentices have the ability to see spirits, and the ghostbaiters attune themselves to the apprentices, allowing them to see through the apprentice’s eyes. Though a specialized skill, it’s a dangerous job, so as you can imagine, becoming such an apprentice is typically reserved for the bold, the foolish, and the desparate. Though in some communities that rely on such individuals to drive off the plagues of the undead, it can be an honor, and a talented apprentice can earn a ghostbaiter good coin, but a poorly trained apprentice lives a short life.

Once chosen, an apprentice falls under the ghostbaiter’s sworn protection. While the nature of the job places the individual at risk, most ghostbaiters have some sort of code and typically provide the apprentice room and board and teach them their ways. Under the ghostbaiter’s tutelage, the apprentice learns the rituals and secrets of catching and driving off ghosts, including disturbingly gristly songs about murder, loneliness, and unrequited love. These songs evoke the types of sorrowful past lives that might bind a soul to the mortal plane, creating a ghost. During hunts, the apprentice usually stands alone where the spirit was detected and performs these songs to lure the spirit out into the open, so the ghostbaiter can catch it, drive it off, or destroy it. At some point, the apprentice possesses the skills to set off and start a ghostbaiting practice of their own.

To create a ghostbaiter, use a commoner (or a similarly low challenge rating NPC) and add the following special ability:

Eyes of the Apprentice. Once per long rest, the ghost-baiter can perform a 10-minute ritual to attune their senses to an apprentice. So long as the two remain within 300 feet of one another, the ghostbaiter can use the apprentice’s line of sight to detect the presence of incorporeal undead. The effect lasts for 10 minutes and reveals nothing about a creature’s capabilities or identity.

Using Ghostbaiters in a Game

Conceptually, a GM would place a ghostbaiter in the lower wards of a large urban settlement. As a role, they provide a haphazard solution to a dangerous situation. A ghostbaiter should present a minimal threat as an adversary. Instead, use the NPC’s questionable methods and lackluster talent to create complex and dramatic conflicts for roleplay.

As a Plot Device

Find My Missing Child. In this scenario, the daughter of a wealthy noble flees from her charmed life, disguises herself, and takes on as a ghostbaiter’s apprentice. The PCs must track down the young woman, determine her intentions, and confront her in the middle of baiting a ghost.

Ghost Busters. A ghostbaiter discovers the presence of a spirit far too powerful to handle alone, and he hires the PCs to aid him in his efforts.

Possession. The ghostbaiter botched an attempt to cleanse a ghost. As a result, the ghost now possesses either the ghostbaiter or the apprentice. Someone who witnessed the event seeks the PCs to help save the possessed victim by performing an exorcism.

Labor Scabs. After defeating a ghost, an angry ghostbaiter and his young ward confront the PCs and accuse them of knowingly and wrongfully stealing their jobs. They produce a written contract “proving” they had the right to dispose of the ghost in question and demand the characters pay them for the loss or deal with legal actions. A crooked city guard or official may also support the ghostbaiter.

Friendly Ghosts. A highly successful ghostbaiter maintains his lucrative business by continually driving off the same ghost. The ghost is an old friend who aids the ghostbaiter. Each time someone calls the ghostbaiter to remove the ghost, both parties perform a well-choreographed battle that appears to lead to the ghost’s defeat. The ghostbaiter gets paid, and the ghost manifests in a new location the following month. A third individual suspects the ghostbaiter of some sort of trickery and hires the PCs to investigate a haunting. The investigation prompts the ghostbaiter and his incorporeal ally to try and scare off the outsiders before they ruin his business.

Player Character Background

A ghostbaiter’s apprentice can make an excellent backstory for a PC. You may have been exceptional at your job and faced many spirits, learned their weaknesses, and decided to use that knowledge as an adventurer.

Conversely, you may have made terrible ghost bait and suffered several near-fatal mishaps. Worse, you may even have caused an accident that resulted in the ghostbaiter’s death. If you enjoy irony, the deceased master may now even haunt you. If the relationship was positive, the ghost might provide you with the occasional boon or insight or serve as a patron of sorts. If the relationship was negative, the ghost might play a more adversarial role, cursing you or creating other obstacles. Your former master may even task you with putting his ghostly soul to rest.

As a third character option, you may have fled from your job as a ghostbaiter’s apprentice. Perhaps you were scared off during a dangerous encounter or greedily robbed the ghostbaiter after a successful job. The ghostbaiter might be worried and continually search for you, or they might be angry and always keep an ear out for the apprentice that betrayed him.

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