I was listening to the MonsterTalk podcast, and Blake Smith mentioned his examination of the SS Watertown ghost photograph. You may know the story: two sailors were buried at sea, and their ghostly faces followed the vessel for weeks.  Smith arranged to receive deck plans of one of the Watertown’s sister ships, and took photographs from an identical elevation.  His conclusion is that the ghostly heads would have had to be seven feet long to have the dimensions shown in the photograph. This reminded me of the primitive ghosts found in the Carnacki stories, which are, structurally, human body parts magnified past sensible size. I choose to call these ghosts Enormities. The word means “out of the normal”: in a sense both moral and corporeal.

…it still conveyed that peculiar sense of something whistling quietly to itself – can you understand? Though, for all the meditative lowness of the note, the horrible, gargantuan quality was distinct – a mighty parody of the human, as if I stood there, and listened to the whistling from the lips of a monster with a man’s soul.

“And then, you know, I saw something. The floor in the middle of the huge, empty room, was puckered upwards in the centre into a strange, soft-looking mound, parted at the top into an ever-changing hole, that pulsated to that great, gentle hooning. At times, as I watched, I saw the heaving of the indented mound, gap across with a queer, inward suction, as with the drawing of an enormous breath; then the thing would dilate and pout once more to the incredible melody. And suddenly, as I stared, dumb, it came
 to me that the thing was living. I was looking at two enormous, blackened lips,
 blistered and brutal, there in the pale moonlight….

“Abruptly, they bulged out to a vast pouting mound of force and sound,
stiffened and swollen, and hugely massive and clean-cut in the
moonbeams. And a great sweat lay heavy on the vast upper-lip. In the
same moment of time, the whistling had burst into a mad screaming
note, that seemed to stun me, even where I stood, outside of the
window. And then, the following moment, I was staring blankly at
the solid, undisturbed floor of the room – smooth, polished stone
 flooring, from wall to wall; and there was an absolute silence.

From “The Whistling Room”
in Carnaki the Ghost Finder
by William Hope Hodgson.

An enormity takes the form of a grossly oversized human body part or tool. Many Gothic authors have gigantic mailed fists, helmets, and candle flames  in their stories. They are easier to design than conventional ghosts, because their final business is simple, they express a single emotion, they generally have only one Characteristic, and their skill set is narrow.  Their suite of supernatural powers is, similarly, limited.  Most can only call victims and then harm them.

To create an enormity, first decide on a personality trait. This drives the enormity to act. It then usually has one important Characteristic. Carnacki faces an enormous hand that taps on walls to summon people, then crushes them. It batters his mystical protection. It has a Strength score, but doesn’t need anything else. The Watertown ghosts need Presence, but nothing else. The Jester’s Lips can communicate, but have no physical attacks. This is then coupled with a small smattering of Abilities.

The supernatural abilities of the Enormity tend to be simple: they have all of the powers of Magic Spirits (outlined in Realms of Power : Magic)  Some depend on purely physical force to cause harm. Others have a single power which allows them to express their Personality trait. Enormities have Final Business like most ghosts, but choose something open ended: “defend a room”, “kill the descendants of the king”. Add a background, if you wish, to explain the enormity’s presence.

If you use a point-balanced design system, like the standard one for Ars Magica, then Enormities, because they are so narrow in focus, tend to become “glass cannons”, able to do a great deal of harm if a victim falls into their area of power, but not able to defend themselves from a suitably prepared player character. This makes them better suited to stories which feature companions as protagonists, stories where players enjoy the power of their magi, or as tools for player character necromancers.

One idea I like is that if you assemble enough Enormities together, you might make a greater spirit, like something from the Hall of Heroes. How do you collect immaterial treasures that try to murder you?

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One thought on “Enormities: a new class of ghosts

  1. Like it. Weird but I like it. The “glass cannon” structural issue is a problem with the Magic Spirits under the RAW admittedly – I’ve always liked how you had an “escape clause” with Faeries able to be unbalanced but understand the meta-game considerations also.

    Liked by 1 person

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