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I know they have different stats and all, but they are pretty similar. What is the "fluff" behind each creature? The Monster Manual even says Spectres are often mistaken for Ghosts. I know Ghosts exist in the Ethereal plane and have to manifest, but on the Prime they seem pretty similar to me. And both are spirits from a violent death or that cannot rest easily in their graves.

What is the origin of either concept? Both seem hazy and translucent spirits, right? How do I make my players see a difference?

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In short, a Spectre wants revenge for its death & demise and therefor haunts its grave. It is a "kill-all-living"-motivated creature, often bound to a specific location.

A ghost on the other hand, still has a purpose in un-life. It can be destroyed, but will return unless the reason for its creation is dealt with. A ghost doesn't have to be bound to a specific location, nor does it necessarily has to have a motive of death and destruction (like most other undead do).

The biggest difference is within the storyline:

  • A Spectre is (usually) a single encounter that attacks on sight;
  • A Ghost is often introduced in the game long before the actual encounter (which does not necessarily result in combat).
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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks @SevenSidedDie, English is not my native language (as you might have figured out already). \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 18, 2016 at 10:34

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