Some locations—the wizard’s tower, the sunken temple, the haunted house—appear repeatedly in stories and adventures. In this series, we’ll explore these archetypal locations, playing with or defying tropes, and presenting rules and ideas to bring these locales to life and to set you up for success when incorporating them into your game.
In this post, we’ll explore some useful magic items specific to haunted adventures and introduce some new ones to toss into your stories:
Haunted locations aren’t very haunted without some undead encounters, and the undead come with several resistances and ailments they can inflict on PCs. For example, most undead are immune to poison and charm abilities while they can inflict fear or attribute-draining attacks on PCs.
Consider the magic items PCs already have to determine if an undead encounter might be a cakewalk or unexpectedly lethal.
In a haunted house scenario, the following kinds of items fulfill particular goals:
- To Inflict Damage. High-powered items like a mace of disruption or a sunblade are staple weapons of undead smashing, but nonmagical weapons can harm lower-level undead too. However, even weak incorporeal undead like shadows and specters are resistant to nonmagical damage, so +1 weapons make the PCs’ lives easier.
- To Resist Afflictions. Items boosting a PC’s saving throws can help against several special undead abilities. Rings of protection and cloaks of protection provide flat AC and saving throw bonuses. Armors, rings,and cloaks of resistance can provide protection from necrotic damage. Access to potions or scrolls of greater restoration allow PCs to mend attribute drain.
- To Find Incorporeal Undead. Creatures like ghosts and poltergeists have abilities making them hard to find. Items like a lantern of revealing or a gem of seeing can help pinpoint their locations while an oil of etherealness allows PCs to hunt down a ghost gone into hiding.
Placing magic items in a haunted location for the PCs should be done intentionally and with a goal in mind:
- Protecting Underprepared PCs. For instance, planting potions of greater restoration to patch themselves up after a particularly draining encounter (pun intended).
- Providing Depth to the Haunting. In haunted locations, even minor items can be significant via their relevance to the area’s story. Was it owned by a spirit now trapped there? By those who have tried living in the house afterward? How might finding a periapt of proof against poison carefully hidden under a floorboard guide the party’s investigation?
- Acting as Part of the Haunting. Some items, like the haunted portrait detailed below, contribute to the haunting experience of an area. Items like the pipes of haunting could also amplify or simulate a haunting. Another way is through cursed magical items.
Cursed items must be handled carefully. They are a means of allowing a haunting to act itself out through the PCs or to provide a critical clue, providing atmosphere and themes for a haunted location. However, they are better used with intention, to supplement fun. One cursed item can be the foundation of a tragedy that’s spawned a haunting. Tie them to events and don’t place them to try to “trick” PCs into using them. Cryptic warnings and omens can clue the PCs into their nature, such as a mysterious journal depicting the writer’s descent into madness.
The haunted portrait fits well into any haunted house’s decor and can be used to illustrate its story. The bands of obsession are cursed objects that can tell a gothic tale of love gone wrong, an obsessive villain and a trapped victim, or any others you imagine!
Wondrous item, rare
These masterful portraits can be of any style or subject, though they typically contain one or more humanoid creatures. There are two varieties of haunted portrait: benevolent and malevolent.
Both are activated by hanging on a vertical surface and speaking its command word within 5 feet of it. It remains activated unless its command word is spoken again or unless it is removed from the wall. Removing a haunted portrait from its hanger while it is active requires a DC 15 Wisdom saving throw or you feel compelled to leave it where it is.
Malevolent Haunted Portrait. These portraits depict an intimidating, dour, or fearful mood, inspiring feelings of paranoia and dread. The eyes in these portraits follow you, and the painting’s shadows shift in sinister ways when you look away.
All creatures within 30 feet of a malevolent haunted portrait they can see suffer disadvantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks and saving throws made to resist becoming frightened. Creatures immune to fear are also immune to this effect.
Benevolent Haunted Portrait. These portraits have a lighter mood, depicting subjects that are sometimes sad but often dreamy, happy, or nostalgic. The details of the painting shift when you look away, but the changes are benign.
Once per day, one creature may ask the benevolent haunted portrait a question (in any non-secret language). Over the course of 1 minute, details in the painting shift to provide a clue relevant to the question asked. Depending on the question, this may function as divination or augury or may grant the asker advantage on their next Intelligence or Wisdom check.
Bands of Obsession
Ring, very rare (requires attunement)
These are a matching set of engraved rings. You can only attune to one if another creature attunes to the other.
While wearing the rings, you and your partner gain the benefits of warding bond with each other. You can also communicate telepathically with the other wearer within 120 feet.
You can each dimension door to the other’s location once per day.
Curse. These rings are cursed, and becoming attuned to them extends the curse to both wearers. As long as you remain cursed, you do not wish to remove your ring, nor do you want your partner to remove theirs.
Whenever either of you are more than 120 feet apart from your partner, you attempt to move closer to them. If doing so is dangerous, you must succeed a DC 17 Wisdom saving throw to resist moving toward them.
If you remain more than 120 feet apart from your partner for 1 hour or more, you both suffer a level of exhaustion and continue to suffer a level of exhaustion for each additional hour you are apart. These levels of exhaustion disappear after a short rest once you are within 120 feet of each other.