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Haunts have a lot of details about them, such as

  • specific weaknesses
  • ways to temporarily and permanently disable them
  • details about doing damage to them with anything that damages undead
    • lay on hands, channel energy or cure wounds spells

This stems from a session not so long ago, in which I felt I GM'd a haunt poorly. I started to wonder what details should players know, when thinking game mechanically. Like what things are obvious, and what should be held back. In my session, my players did NOT know that the haunt could be damaged by (positive energy?) damage but they figured, after a couple of fails, the correct way to lay to rest the restless spirit.

The current party is level 3, with a druid, paladin, investigator, and swashbuckler.

I am trying to find out how I, as a GM, can help my players to play this part of the game, mechanics wise. Which details should my players know automatically, and which things should they be able to find out (and how)? How do I present this info if I want it to be more mysterious?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I rearranged your question for readability and changed the final couple lines to ask what I feel you're looking for more directly. If I misread your question and you don't like the edits, feel free to re-edit or roll it back. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ifusaso
    May 22 '21 at 17:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not actually sure if it is specifically about mechanics, or haunt specifics (I see portions of both). I suspect OP is hoping to give them enough information to succeed without making it a walk in the park. Depending on group composition, that may or may not be possible. I wasn't sure if it would need details when I edited it, but wanted to see how the community responded. Seeing this confusion, I'm going to VTC until more details are added. @PnP I would add information about your goals from answers to this question (difficult Haunt encounters, ease of play, etc) \$\endgroup\$
    – Ifusaso
    May 22 '21 at 20:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ Group composition and any concerns you have about the encounters would be good, as well as if you expect to use a single Haunt somewhere or if you're planning a campaign around them (or where in the middle of that you are). If this doesn't relate to a specific game, you can say that as well. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ifusaso
    May 22 '21 at 20:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Ifusaso this stems from a session not so long ago, in which i felt I Game mastered a haunt kinda wrong. I started to wonder what details should players know, when thinking game mechanically. Like what things are obvious, and what should I game master as the mystery part. In my session, my players did NOT know that the haunt could be damaged by (positive energy?) damage, but they figured, after a couple of fails, the correct way to lay rest the restless spirit. So i am trying to ask the ways to help me as a gm to help my players to play this part of the game, mechanics wise. \$\endgroup\$
    – PnP
    May 22 '21 at 21:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ To those voting to close as opinion-based: This question is good subjective, and has a well-defined scope, and is asking for tabletop RPG expertise. Good answers will be backed by evidence such as experience or logic. \$\endgroup\$
    – MikeQ
    May 22 '21 at 23:17
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This is a question about two things: (1) worldbuilding, and (2) making sure the adventure is solvable.

Think about worldbuilding.

Is this the only haunt in your world? Or are haunts something that experienced adventurers would have heard of?

Have your adventurers done any sort of training, or are they entirely self-taught?

If haunts are a common thing, it should be possible to make an easy Religion check to get the basic mechanics of how haunts work. If anyone is trained in Religion, they might simply know this without even a check.

It should be difficult or impossible to make a Knowledge(Religion) check to learn how any specific haunt works. If nobody has encountered this specific haunt before, then the knowledge of how to fix it simply doesn't exist, and there's no way that someone could "remember" it.

The haunt rules describe a general way to solve haunts -- apply positive energy and then ask the spirit yes-or-no questions until you figure out how to appease it -- and it should be possible to remember this general approach with a Knowledge(Religion) check.

I don't use haunts in my games, but my rule is that if anyone gets a reasonable check, I'll just give them all the general knowledge that is relevant. My players are happier when they have more information, and this seems to work well.

Think about how to make sure the adventure is solvable.

As a DM, if you give the group a puzzle and they can't solve it, then you're not presenting a fun adventure.

I like an article called the Three Clue Rule which says: for any puzzle, there should be three distinct ways to solve it, because the players will probably miss two of them.

One of the solutions might be to make a Knowledge(Religion) check to learn the above approach of asking the spirit yes-or-no questions. (And you should consider setting the DC low enough that the players can accomplish this!)

It's up to you to place two more clues. Perhaps a lost journal? Messages from the spirit written in blood on the wall? Something a nearby NPC would know about the manner in which the haunt was created? A magic aura associated with a specific object? The specifics will depend on the haunt.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Counterpoint to knowledge checks being impossible; knowledge checks are valid options for the 'three (plus) clues' in that you can remember something similar, or remember historical knowledge about the terrible massacre that brought about the haunt. Of course, as you say, this goes into worldbuilding \$\endgroup\$
    – Ifusaso
    May 23 '21 at 1:30
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You need to generate a knowledge table.

As a monster, haunts are something that is best represented by a knowledge table they can look up.

Undead use religious knowledge. The DC is CR+5 if common, 10 if uncommon. If you want them to have less knowledge, make them uncommon, but be aware that this can mean slow and painful sessions.

I might generate a table like this, with DC 0 for the common information, sometimes wrong, people know about undead. A lot of the knowledge will be fairly easy to glean, since people know what their class abilities are and the paladin class abilities include the knowledge that their abilities harm undead.

Knowledge check Information
DC 0 That's an undead monster! My class abilities which work on undead work on them. They hate sunlight and fire and dislike holy powers.
DC 10 That's a ghost trap. They're only affected by positive energy, but if you can talk to it you can work out a way to end it.
DC 15 Ghost traps, or Haunts have a local spell effect on the surroundings and return if you don't resolve them. Once they're tired out you can use wall taps or a talking board to learn more about them. Holy water can harm them.
DC 20 Specific information about this ghost trap that is useful to resolving this issue
DC 25 Either a weakness or a way to destroy the ghost trap

You can make the later information as mysterious as you wish. For example, the way to destroy the ghost trap might be burn the bodies, but you might need investigation to find the bodies.

You should make sure you have a detailed and fun and weird murder, that is mysterious and hard to understand.

This information from religion checks should serve mostly as a signpost, so that when they explore the rest of the area they can learn more about the terrible death that caused the haunt. Tie it in with the story so the haunting makes more and more sense.

Then, if they choose to engage with the haunting, offer them some sort of reward, such as knowledge of future enemies, some treasure, a weakened foe, or a warning. The ghost may know much, and players are lot less likely to ignore or dismiss or bypass a haunt if there's actually some value to engaging with it.

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