A haunting is similar to a psychic impression and is often created in the same way. A psychic impression can also be corrupted into a haunting through dark rituals or immense suffering.
Signs of a Haunting
At casual inspection, a haunting isn’t apparent and can often be rationalized as a normal event such as a draft or rotted wood. Like any spiritfont, a haunting is invisible and can only be detected by means that perceive auras and spirits. Even when detected, a haunting is identical to a psychic impression (usually despair). However, a haunting has other signs that betray its true nature when it is active. An active haunting can display any number of the signs below.
After Image. An after image is a reflection of the past embedded within a haunting. It is typically of a creature and can appear identical to an apparition. An after image can also appear as an object, such as a piece of furniture or a handheld item. The after image isn’t a creature or object, it is an illusion with no physical form. If approached, an after image might disappear, especially if depicting a person, but it may also remain under inspection. An after image is cold to the touch and shimmers like thick mist.
An after image typically displays some significant event that happened in the location. However, this depiction is often only a fragment and may not show the whole story. This makes an after image unreliable, as it may reflect a feeling and not an actual memory, twisting the displayed image to the perception of the source of the haunting.
Air Spot. An air spot is a space where the air takes on a certain quality, such as being warmer or colder than normal or having moist or static properties. An air spot is nominally harmless and is illusory. However, it can give a creature the sensation of overheating or freezing. An air spot can also cause hair to stand on end or skin to itch or crawl.
Disembodied Sound. A disembodied sound is one with no discernible source. It can be peaceful like a short chord of music or unsettling like a blood-curdled scream. Longer lasting sounds of these sorts include footsteps or rustling sounds as if from the wind. A disembodied sound is an illusion. It will vanish when investigated, but often starts again when a creature is no longer within its vicinity.
A disembodied sound can also be localized to a smaller area. In this case, only a creature within the immediate area can hear it, even if it sounds more distant than it actually is.
Displaced Smell. A displaced smell is an illusion of sensation with no identifiable source. Smells can be pleasant or repugnant, and some start as one smell and transform into another smell.
Distortion. The air shimmers in a way that appears blurry or as if an invisible or camouflaged creature passes by. Sometimes the distortion will appear and disappear. This is often accompanied by a lowering of the air quality and an increase in air pressure. A distortion may appear as vapor or a cloud or a brief absence of light in a small, localized area.
Mote. A mote is a sphere of light. It follows a pattern and disappears upon completing the pattern. It will repeat this pattern after a certain amount of time has passed or it is triggered again. A mote does shed some light and when four or more motes are present within a space of darkness, the space will become dim light. If a creature attempts to touch a mote, it will disappear as if it completed its pattern.
Optical Illusion. An optical illusion is a static or briefly animate image that can appear and disappear seemingly at random. An optical illusion typically manifests in a reflection, when perceived from a certain angle, or from the corner of the eye. It is an illusion that will disappear if touched, studied, or investigated.
Orb. An orb is tiny floating point of light no larger than a pea. It sheds no light but is visible within darkness. An orb typically floats at random and can disappear at random. It can have any color and is completely harmless. If a creature enters the space where one or more orbs are present, each orb vanishes until the creature leaves the space.
Perceptual Dysfunction. Depth perception is distorted causing objects or parts of a structure or terrain to appear closer or farther away or smaller or larger than normal. When approached and interacted with, the dysfunction often lapses, causing it to appear normal, but in some cases the distortion will affect the investigator, such as making its arms seem longer or shorter.
Shadow Person. Some hauntings exhibit palpable shadows that vaguely resemble humanoids. A shadow person is usually harmless, however, but it can easily be mistaken for a shadow, and such creatures will hide amongst shadow people phenomena.
A shadow person will disappear if it is within 10 feet of a living creature. A shadow person often follows a routine and can be mistaken as a ghost. However, the shadow person isn’t a creature. A shadow person is the manifestation of memory attached to a haunting. When accompanied by a psychic impression, a shadow person likely enacts the events that caused the impression or mimic the behavior of someone who contributed to the impression.
Spectral Construction. A spectral construction is a formation of ectoplasm that creates a palpable effect. The effect is harmless. It can appear briefly and disappear as if never there or linger for a period of time. Famous examples of spectral constructions include mysterious blood seeping from a wall, hair along doorframes, claws or maws appearing on a surface, and spectral hands that touch a shoulder or ankle.
If a spectral construction is collected, it fades away after a short time.
An active haunting is disturbing, but is rarely as dangerous as another spiritfont. For every hour an unsettled creature remains within the haunting it must make a Charisma saving throw. On a failed save, the creature becomes frightened or afflicted with a random Short-Term Madness (the DM decides) for 1d10 minutes.
A frightened creature will attempt to flee from the spiritfont’s range without regard for the safety of others, and it is willing to take risks if it means faster egress, such as attempting a treacherous leap or running through fire. Once the creature is outside the range of the spiritfont, it stops being reckless from fear.
If a living creature experiences three Madness events from a haunting within a 24-hour period, it must succeed on a DC 15 Wisdom check or it ages 1d10 years or suffers a Long-Term Madness from its experience (the DM decides). At the end of each hour it remains within the range of the spiritfont, it repeats the check.
Madness inflicted by a haunting can be removed by the dispel evil and good spell.
When a haunting becomes hostile, it tends to act with malice toward the living. A haunting will take an action on each of its turns choosing one of the actions below connected to its active signs. It can also create a new sign at will during its turn without using its action. Its target must be within its range. A hostile haunting will seek to harm any living creature within its range, and will attempt to prevent escape if it has the means.
The damage listed for these actions are a suggestion for typical hauntings. If you want deadlier or easier hauntings, you can adjust the damage according to the desired threat. As a rough guideline, Easy and Medium difficulty hauntings should deal a number of damage dice equal to half the spiritfont’s proficiency bonus, rounded up. For Hard and Difficult encounters, consider increasing damage to a number of dice equal to its proficiency bonus.
Create Apparition. The haunting transforms a shadow person or after image of a creature into an apparition that remains for 1 minute. The apparition acts immediately after the haunting on each round. It will not leave the area of the haunting, and if each living creature withdraws from the area, it will disperse. A haunting can only maintain one apparition at a time, and is unable to take this action again so long as the apparition remains in existence.
Deafen. Each creature within a 20-foot radius at a point within a haunting must make a Wisdom saving throw or be deafened for 1 minute. This is often manifested as a wail or a piercing sound like a siren.
Ensnare. The haunting grabs a creature no larger than Huge by animating a spectral construct or distortion. The creature must make a Dexterity saving throw. On a failed save, the creature is restrained (escape DC is equal to the save DC of the spiritfont) until it is freed or the haunting is no longer hostile. A creature can use its action to make a Strength check to free the creature. It can also be freed by destroying the force restraining it which has AC 13, hit points equal to twice the spiritfont’s Intensity, and immunity to bludgeoning, cold, necrotic, and poison damage.
Flare. An air spot manifests as an environmental hazard for up to 1 minute. Each creature within an area no larger than a 30-foot cube must make a Constitution saving throw. If the save is failed, the creature takes 2d6 + Intensity modifier cold, fire, lightning, or poison damage. Each creature that ends its turn within the air spot must repeat this saving throw. A spiritfont can maintain one flare at a time. A flare persists until dismissed or replaced.
Grasping Hands. Spectral or skeletal arms reach out from a surface to attack a creature within 5 feet of the surface. The spiritfont makes a melee power attack, and on a hit, the target takes 1d6 + Intensity modifier necrotic damage and is restrained. A creature can use its action to pull a creature or itself from the hands by succeeding on a Strength saving throw.
When a creature is grasped, the haunting can use its action to pull the held creature into the surface. The creature must make a Strength saving throw. On a failed save, it is moved 5 feet into the surface which takes on an ectoplasmic consistency and the creature is interred. Once interred, the creature takes 2d6 force damage at the start of each of its turns. If the surface is breached, the creature can be rescued. Becoming incorporeal or teleporting also frees an interred creature.
Gust of Wind. The haunting manifests the gust of wind spell within its area. The haunting can create a number of gusts equal to its Intensity modifier (minimum of 1 gust) with a single action. The gusts persist for up to 1 minute.
Haunted Attack. The haunting creates a spectral construction which makes an attack against a living creature within its area. Make a melee or ranged power attack as appropriate against a creature. On a hit, the creature takes 2d8 + Intensity modifier bludgeoning, cold, fire, lightning, necrotic, piercing, poison, slashing, or thunder damage as appropriate.
Invisible Force. The haunting creates a force that shuts or blocks one or more doors, windows, or other thresholds or passages within its range or creates a force barricade within a 5-foot square. A creature must succeed on a Strength check against the spiritfont’s save DC to force its way through such a barrier or open a portal. An invisible force lasts until the haunting is no longer hostile.
Major Image. The haunting manifests the major image spell. It can maintain up to three images at a time. Illusions created by this ability last up to 1 minute.
Noxious Odor. A displaced smell becomes sickening. Each creature within range must succeed on a Constitution saving throw or become poisoned for 1 minute. Other effects may be triggered at the discretion of the DM.
Siphon Life. The haunting spiritually attacks one living creature within it. It makes a ranged power attack. On a hit, the creature takes 1d6 + Intensity modifier necrotic damage plus an additional 2d6 psychic damage if it is frightened, poisoned, restrained, or unsettled. This attack is not affected by cover short of a wall of force spell or similar effect.
Supernatural Fright. A creature within the spiritfont’s range must succeed on a Charisma saving throw or become frightened for 1 minute. If the creature is already frightened and fails its save, it is aged 1d4 years.
A haunting can be a useful environmental story piece, and works well in horror themed adventures and locations. Like a psychic impression, you should use a haunting sparingly or else it loses its impact.
When creating a haunting, spend time writing the back story behind the haunting. In locations, it is usually best to layer two or more hauntings to have more activity. When using a haunting as a main antagonist, consider using multiple hauntings and add a controlling entity such as a ghost or shade or a spiritwell. This gives the threat multiple actions to prove a greater challenge for even seasoned adventurers. Be careful, as the presence of a hostile haunting will make an encounter significantly higher than its challenge rating may indicate.