As I start preparing for my upcoming charity Ghost Punchers RPG session, it occurs to me that while I’ve discussed game systems that model much of the traditional haunted house experience, we’re still missing the mood-setting bits of horror that don’t actually attack you, but still scared the 2d10 out of you.
I’m talking about stuff like bleeding walls, the sounds of rattling chains, laughing stuffed moose heads, fortune cookies sprouting spider legs and skittering away off your plate. Creepy, startling stuff that might require a fear check… but isn’t a ghost itself.
These things are manifestations. They are, essentially, temporary illusions. The blood on the wall won’t stain your shirt, for example, and the fortune cookies lose their legs the moment you look away. Some of the illusions can actually hurt you (the fortune-spiders bite if you touch them), so it’s never safe to ignore them. Such wounds are usually also temporary, however. (In Savage Worlds game terms, they inflict Fatigue rather than Wounds.)
Manifestations are created by ghosts, either consciously or unconsciously, usually to help scare people. Creating and maintaining them costs the ghost Essence… though during an adventure, I wouldn’t worry about the economy of the thing unless it’s a plot point.
As a Game Master populating your haunted house, manifestations are your ticket to create whatever creepy wackiness you want to include. (For example, in my Tacticon game, I had a room in a mansion that was overlaid by an illusion of a forest at midnight, with a crashed car in the midst of the trees. When the characters got too close, the car came to life and chased them around the house.)
I’ve mentioned before that a Ghost Punchers adventure is a dungeon crawl in a haunted house. If the haunted house is a dungeon, and the ghosts are monsters to fight, then you can think of manifestations as traps: challenges that require courage and quick thinking, and can’t be overcome with pure violence.