Monday, June 10, 2019

Keeners Hoarser than Rooks: Groaning Spirits

The elves of Old Norumbega, it is said, forbade any of their kind from entering the Great Dungeon. Hobgoblin garrisons were posted to the shores of Black Lake to prevent any elf from violating this ban. The reason behind this prohibition is less well known, but the elves say that one of the first Elf Queens in the North was long troubled by dreams of the Dungeon, which visited her in the night with promises of lost magic. One day she and her sister, a great warrior, and her consort, a mighty wizard, ventured into the Dungeon and were destroyed somewhere in the depths. More recently, explorers to the deeper levels have reported seeing a wretched, weeping spirit whose wails echo through the pitch-black halls. None, though, have even claimed to have heard the dread keening of the Banshee Queen, which is said to bring death.

Groaning spirits (banshees) were included in the 1st edition Monster Manual (1977) as undead elf maidens with a devastating special attack: a keening that could kill those who heard it. Perhaps because of the very specific origin of this monster, or its deadly attack, groaning spirits saw fairly limited use. In 3rd edition, banshees appeared as a CR 17 creature in the Monster Manual II, a pretty significant jump in power from earlier editions. This decision makes some sense: a monster with an attack that can potentially inflict a TPK should probably be higher level. Like many of the higher CR MMII monsters, the banshee is a good concept with a shaky design. Meanwhile, the Tome of Horrors included a 3.5e version of the groaning spirit that was CR 7 and more faithful to older editions. Finally, Pathinder responded with their own, CR 15 banshee in the Bestiary II.

I wasn’t entirely satisfied with any of these versions, and wanted something that could scale from CR 7 up to CR 17 and maybe beyond. Given that undead usually work well as a template, I ended up making a template that borrowed from the ToH and the Bestiary, as well as the standard ghost template (but without all the cumbersome ethereal mechanics).

The following text is Open Game Content.

Groaning Spirit

This translucent figure resembles a beautiful elven female with delicate features. Her eyes burn with a crimson flame and her hair is a tangled mess of its former beauty.

A Malevolent Spirit. The groaning spirit is an undead female elf, often found haunting swamps, fens, moors, and other desolate places.

Enmity for the Living. Groaning spirits are filled with hatred and seek to destroy whomever they meet.

Baleful Wailing. A groaning spirit’s primary attack is her keening, which can seriously harm or even kill the listener. If a creature survives the keening attack, the groaning spirit attacks with her incorporeal touch.

A groaning spirit appears as a translucent image of her former self.

Creating A Groaning Spirit

“Groaning Spirit” is an acquired template that can be added to any female elf with 5 or more HD and a Charisma score of at least 8 (hereafter referred to as the base creature).

A groaning spirit uses all the base creature’s statistics and special abilities except as noted here.

Challenge Rating: Same as the base creature +2.

Alignment: Always chaotic evil.

Size and Type: The creature’s type changes to undead, and it gains the incorporeal and augmented subtypes. It also retains all subtypes except alignment subtypes (such as good) and subtypes that indicate kind (such as elf). Do not recalculate the creature’s base attack bonus, saves, or skill points. Size is unchanged.

Senses: A groaning spirit has all the senses of the base creature and gains darkvision out to 60 feet and the lifesense ability.

Lifesense (Su): A groaning spirit notices and locates living creatures within 60 feet, just as if it possessed the blindsight ability. It also senses the strength of their life force automatically, as if it had cast deathwatch.

Armor Class: The creature’s natural armor bonus is +0, but it gains a deflection bonus equal to its Charisma modifier or +1, whichever is higher.

Hit Dice: All current and future Hit Dice become d12s.

Defensive Abilities: A groaning spirit has all the defensive abilities of the base creature as well as the following.

Incorporeal Traits: A groaning spirit is harmed only by other incorporeal creatures, magic weapons, spells, spell-like abilities, and supernatural abilities. It has a 50% chance to ignore any damage from a corporeal source, except for force effects or attacks made with ghost touch weapons. A groaning spirit can pass through solid objects, but not force effects, at will. Its own attacks ignore armor, natural armor, and shields, but deflection bonuses and force effects work normally against them. A groaning spirit always moves silently and cannot be heard with Listen checks if it doesn’t wish to be.

Spell Resistance (Ex): A groaning spirit has spell resistance equal to the base creature’s HD + 13 (maximum 35).

Turn Resistance (Ex): A groaning spirit has +4 turn resistance.

Undead Traits: A groaning spirit is immune to mind-affecting effects, poison, sleep effects, paralysis, stunning, disease, death effects, and effects that require a Fortitude save unless it also works on objects or is harmless. It is not subject to critical hits, nonlethal damage, ability damage to its physical ability scores, ability drain, energy drain, fatigue, exhaustion, or death from massive damage. It cannot be raised and resurrection works only if it is willing.

Weaknesses: A groaning spirit gains daylight powerlessness.

Daylight Powerlessness (Ex): A groaning spirit is utterly powerless in natural sunlight (not merely a daylight spell) and flees from it.

Speed: Groaning spirits have a fly speed of 60 feet, unless the base creature has a higher fly speed, with perfect maneuverability.

Melee: A groaning spirit loses all the attacks of the base creature and gains an incorporeal touch attack that deals no damage but inflicts draining touch (see below). Because a groaning spirit has no Strength score, its Dexterity modifier rather than its Strength modifier applies to all its attack rolls.

Special Attacks: A groaning spirit retains all the special attacks of the base creature, though some of these attacks might not be usable by the creature in incorporeal form. A groaning spirit gains the special attacks described below. The save DC against a special attack is equal to 10 + 1/2 groaning spirit’s HD + groaning spirit’s Cha modifier unless otherwise noted.

Draining Touch (Su): A groaning spirit that hits a living target with its incorporeal touch attack drains 1d6 Charisma points (2d6 on a critical hit). On each such successful attack, the groaning spirit heals 5 points of damage to itself (10 on a critical hit).

Horrific Appearance (Su): Any living creature within 60 feet that views a groaning spirit must succeed on a Fortitude save or immediately take 1d4 points of Strength damage, 1d4 points of Dexterity damage, and 1d4 points of Constitution damage. A creature that successfully saves against this effect cannot be affected by the same groaning spirit’s horrific appearance for 24 hours.

Keening (Su): Once per encounter, a groaning spirit may keen as a full-round action. The keening lasts until the beginning of its next turn. All living creatures within 40 feet of the groaning spirit when it begins its keening, as well as all creatures that end their turn within that radius, must make a Fortitude save. (This save is only required once per keening.) Creatures that make their save are sickened for 1d6 rounds. Those that fail take 10 points of damage per HD of the groaning spirit. If a groaning spirit is damaged during a keening, it must make a Will save (DC 15 + damage taken) to maintain the keening; otherwise it ends. This is a sonic death effect. A groaning spirit’s keening is supernaturally powerful, and penetrates the effect of any spell of 3rd level or lower that creates silence.

Special Qualities: A groaning spirit has all the special qualities of the base creature except those that require physical contact.

Abilities: Increase from the base creature as follows: Dex +6, Int +4, Wis +4, Cha +6. As an incorporeal undead creature, a groaning spirit has no Strength or Constitution score.

Environment: Any, often as base creature.

Organization: Solitary.

Treasure: Standard.

Level Adjustment: Same as the base creature +7.

Gear: When a groaning spirit forms, it retains none of its equipment or carried items.

Sample Groaning Spirits

A banshee is the undead spirit of an elven aristocrat. The banshee had the following ability scores before racial modifiers and Hit Dice ability score increases: Str 8, Dex 10, Con 9, Int 12, Wis 11, Cha 13.

Banshee CR 6

Female groaning spirit elf aristocrat 5

CE Medium undead (augmented humanoid, incorporeal)

Init +4; Senses darkvision 60 ft., life sense, low-light vision; Listen +6, Spot +6

Languages Common, Elven, Sylvan


AC 19 touch 19, flat-footed 15 (+5 deflection, +4 Dexterity)

hp 32 (5d12 HD)

Fort +1, Ref +5, Will +6

Immune incorporeal traits, undead traits; Resist turn resistance +4; SR 18

Weakness daylight powerlessness


Spd fly 60 ft. (perfect)

Melee incorporeal touch +7 (1d6 Charisma drain/)

Special Attacks draining touch, horrific appearance (DC 17), keening (DC 17)


Str –, Dex 18, Con –, Int 16, Wis 15, Cha 20

Base Atk +3; Grp

Feats Alertness, Negotiator

Skills Bluff +13. Diplomacy +21, Intimidate +15, Knowledge (nobility and royalty) +11, Listen +6, Search +5, Sense Motive +12, Spot +6, Survival +2 (+4 following tracks)

Special Abilities

Horrific Appearance (Su) The save DC is 17.

Keening (Su) The save DC is 17. The banshee’s keening inflicts 50 hp damage on a failed saved.

A banshee queen is an especially powerful groaning spirit, often created from a high-born elf. The queen had the following ability scores before racial modifiers and Hit Dice ability score increases: Str 14, Dex 8, Con 12, Int 15, Wis 10, Cha 13.

Banshee Queen CR 17

Female groaning spirit elf wizard 5/fighter 1/eldritch knight 9

CE Medium undead (augmented humanoid, incorporeal)

Init +7; Senses darkvision 60 ft., life sense, low-light vision; Listen +4, Spot +4

Languages Common, Elven, Goblin, Sylvan


AC 16, touch 16, flat-footed 13
(+3 deflection, +3 Dexterity)

hp 103 (15d12 HD)

Fort +9, Ref +7, Will +8

Immune incorporeal traits, undead traits; Resist turn resistance +4; SR 28

Weakness daylight powerlessness


Spd fly 60 ft. (perfect)

Melee incorporeal touch +15 (1d6 Charisma drain/19–20)

Special Attacks draining touch, horrific appearance (DC 21), keening (DC 23)

Spells Prepared (CL 13th)

7th—prismatic spray (DC 23)

6th—chain lightning (DC 22), maximized lightning bolt (DC 19), quickened scorching ray (+15 ranged touch)

5th—cloudkill (DC 21), cone of cold (DC 21), quickened magic missile, teleport

4th—arcane eye, crushing despair (DC 20), lesser globe of invulnerability, shout (DC 20), solid fog

3rd—dispel magic, haste, lightning bolt (DC 19), empowered magic missile, slow (DC 19)

2nd—acid arrow (+15 ranged touch), darkness, detect thoughts, mirror image, scorching ray (+15 ranged touch), web (DC 18)

1st—expeditious retreat, hold portal, magic missile, shield, ray of enfeeblement (+15 ranged touch)

0—dancing lights, detect magic, daze (DC 16), light


Str –, Dex 16, Con –, Int 22, Wis 14, Cha 19

Base Atk +12; Grp

Feats Ability Focus (keening), Combat Casting, Combat Expertise, Empower Spell, Eschew Materials, Improved Critical (incorporeal touch), Improved Initiative, Maximize Spell, Quicken Spell, Scribe Scroll

Skills Concentration +21 (+25 casting defensively), Decipher Script +20, Jump +23, Knowledge (arcana) +20, Knowledge (nobility and royalty) +15, Ride +10, Listen +4, Search +8, Spellcraft +25, Spot +4

Special Abilities

Horrific Appearance (Su) The save DC is 21.

Keening (Su) The save DC is 23. The banshee queen’s keening inflicts 150 hp damage on a failed saved.


The following text is the property of Wizards of the Coast, Inc. and is Copyright 2000 Wizards of the Coast, Inc (“Wizards”). All Rights Reserved.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Eaters of the Dead

Although I already have several decent ghoul miniatures, the three ghouls from the “Horror” group of the Reaper Bones 4 core set really stood out. These figures follow the look of Pathfinder ghouls: bald, with pug noses, pointed ears, and hunched, loping poses. Yet again the Bones Black material does a nice job holding fine details like their sharp little teeth. I used the Reaper “Ghoul Flesh” paint which has a nice sickly greenish tone that really works well on undead of all sort. All-in-all I was pleased with how these models came out. My only complaint is that two of the figures have such wide stances that they can’t be based on standard 1″ bases.

My use of ghouls in the Great Dungeon is heavily influenced by the True Ghouls of Wolfgang Baur’s classic 2e adventure, “Kingdom of the Ghouls” from Dungeon 70. Those ghouls were in turn influenced by weird fiction such as Lovecraft’s short story “Pickman’s Model,” and Clark Ashton Smith’sThe Charnel God.”

Baur created a d20 reboot of this adventure with Empire of the Ghouls (2007), an Open Design setting book that was a precursor for many of the crowdfunding/patron models to follow. I was privileged to help with proofreading and contributed some minor design for the project. Baur went on to update Empire for 4e and Pathfinder with the Imperial Gazetteer (2010). And he just Kickstarted Empire of the Ghouls: A 5th Edition Campaign vs. the Undead. I backed the project and am looking forward to seeing the newest iteration of the setting.

Eaters of the Dead

One of the more formidable factions in the Great Dungeon is the Eaters of the Dead, a mysterious coterie of ghouls, ghasts, and related horrors. While many of the Eaters of the Dead are feral, brutish undead, their ghoulish leaders are intelligent, cruel sybarites and many have cleric, fighter, or rogue levels. These ghouls worship some dark power out of the Distant West.

Below are the results of some common 3e Knowledge checks related to the Eaters of the Dead.

Eaters of the Dead Lore
DC Dungeoneering Geography Local Religion
12 The Eaters of the Dead are usually found on the Fourth Level The Eaters of the Dead are from the Distant West, on the shores of the Inland Sea The Eaters of the Dead employ zombies and skeletons made from the corpses of their enemies The Eaters of the Dead are ghouls, once living creatures transformed into terrible undead that rob graves and eat flesh.
17 The Eaters of the Dead have spread across the Fourth Level and are pushing into the Third Level. The Eaters of the Dead are cultists whose secret religion is practiced in large cities The Eaters of the Dead are fighting a pitched war against the hobgoblins. Among the eaters are ghasts, more powerful ghouls that exude the stench of death. The Eaters are allied with the gnoll tribe. The Eaters of the Dead paralyze with a touch, and their bite carries a disease that can turn the bitten into ghouls.
22 The main lair of the Eaters of the Dead is the twisting, bone-filled Goblin Catacombs. The Eaters of the Dead build strange black ziggurats where they worship Some Eaters are skilled fighters and priests. The Eaters are also enemies of the Cultists of Orcus. They are also allied with ogres and wererats. The Eaters of the Dead are secretive cultists from the Distant West, who venerate death and worship a foul entity known as the Charnel God
27 The Eaters of the Dead have established some sort of unholy shrine of bones on the Fifth Level The Eaters of the Dead originate in the western city of Zur-Khel-Mar The leaders of the Eaters of the Dead include Lady Surmlaith, the priest Ulogos-Vem, and Lord Xulcaos The Charnel God is named Mordiggian, an alien devouring god of darkness.

Ghoulish Terrain

The areas the ghouls control are often filled with strange, eldritch effects. The following text is Open Game Content.

Ghoul-Cursed Treasure CR 6

Any object possessed by the ghouls worth more than 500 gp bears a terrible curse.

Effect A living creature that assumes possession of such an object must make a DC 15 Fortitude save or immediately take 1d4 Con damage. An afflicted creature continues to take 1d4 Con damage each hour until the victim reaches Constitution 0 and dies. Only a remove curse or break enchantment spell can halt the progression.

An afflicted humanoid who dies from this curse rises as a ghoul in 1d4 rounds. A humanoid who becomes a ghoul in this way retains none of the abilities it possessed in life. It is not under the control of any other ghouls, but it hungers for the flesh of the living and behaves like a normal ghoul in all respects. A humanoid of 4 Hit Dice or more rises as a ghast, not a ghoul.

Ghoul-Light CR –

Magical torches similar to everburning torches emit sallow greenish light in a 30-ft radius.

Effect To undead the lit area is treated as bright illumination, but to all other creatures it is considered shadowy illumination. Normal lights are incapable of brightening the area, as are light spells of lower than 4th level.

All living creatures standing in ghoul-light feel clammy and uneasy, and take a -3 circumstance penalty on Hide checks. All Intelligent undead standing in ghoul-light receive a +3 circumstance bonus on Will saves.

Ghoul-Saint Shrine CR –

A moldering skeleton of a venerated ghoul hero, bedecked in fine livery, gold, and jewels.

Effect The skeleton radiates an aura of death out to 60 feet. A character attempting to cast any conjuration (healing) spell within this area must succeed on a DC 16 caster level check, or the spell has no effect. Any living creature with -1 or less hit points in the area must make a successful DC 15 Will save or die. Living creatures that die within the aura rise as zombies within 1 round and attack any living creatures.

The saint’s gem encrusted raiment is worth 4,000 gp.

Glyph of Fear CR 4

A nearly imperceptible magical inscription has been traced over a 10 ft x 10 ft area.

Type spell; Search DC 28; Disable Device DC 28

Trigger touch; Reset no reset; Bypass creatures of the undead type

Effect spell (glyph of warding [cause fear]; CL 5th, affected creature becomes frightened [creatures with 6 or more Hit Dice are immune to this effect], DC 14 Will shaken for 1 round)

Presence of the Charnel God CR 6

A swirling black column of darkness and cold fills a 20 ft x 20 ft area for 1d4+1 rounds.

Effect The darkness is impenetrable to normal vision and darkvision, but ghouls (including festrogs and ghasts) can see normally from within the area. Creatures outside the area, even ghouls, cannot see through it. The effect counters or dispels any light spell of 3rd or lower level. The 3rd-level cleric spell daylight counters or dispels the presence.

The cloud is charged with negative energy, and living creatures within take 1d8+9 hp damage each round (DC 17 Will save half) at the start of their turn. Undead in the area are cured rather than damaged.


The following text is the property of Wizards of the Coast, Inc. and is Copyright 2000 Wizards of the Coast, Inc (“Wizards”). All Rights Reserved.