Sunday, October 31, 2021

Damned Old House - an Adventure for 1 Wandering Exorcist


Duet games are very interesting to me - I like the idea of something you can play with only 1 PC and a GM. They're easy to organize, they go quickly, and they're better at creating an atmosphere.

I'm also very interested in the Sword Exorcist class - an investigator who has to determine the cause of a ghost's death and the things attaching it to the world of the living in order to fight it effectively. However, I've always thought it was kind of difficult to use in a standard OSR game, because of how different their goals are when compared to more standard classes, and how rarely their abilities will get to be used

But, neither of those problems exist when you make a game built around the Sword Exorcist. One where ghost investigations are the entire game, and where all (or at least most) of your enemies will be ghosts.

So, I combined those two interests into this combination game and module. The setting is ambiguously 1800s-ish; factories spring up in towns, Parliament has replaced the kings of old, and new ideas about what a nation is fuel equally new wars between them. But even with these new advancements, old ghosts aren't going away.

(oh yeah also the other influence on this, and the source of the name, is this Russian pop-punk song from the 2000s i found on the internet somehow. don't ask questions)

The Exorcist

An Exorcist uses the stats from your preferred OSR game, but has no class. Instead, they have a particular set of starting equipment and abilities. All Exorcists bear a sword in a wooden scabbard, bound with silver. It cannot be drawn unless particular preparations are made, but even sheathed it deals 1d4 damage, even to ghosts.

They have also been trained to have a second sight. While a ghost may rarely appear to others, it is always seen clearly by the Exorcist.

Exorcists will also bring other, more specialized equipment - any two entries from this list can be chosen by the Exorcist at any point while they are in town. It is generally best to not choose all your items until your investigation is complete, to ensure you have the right tools.

1. 4 paper warding marks. When one is placed on a wall or floor, the passage of a ghost will cause it to burn with a cold white flame which you can see through walls with your second sight. 

2. 3 rations worth of hard dried bread and salted meat paste.

3. Six candles. Five are normal, but the sixth (with ink designs covering it, and a wick of human hair and foul-smelling oil) will reveal invisible things touched by its light, and let you see through thin walls, into closed chests, and otherwise through obstacles.

4. A hand crossbow, with six silver-tipped darts. This deals 1d6 damage to people, and some ghosts are weak to silver, due to its antibiotic properties.

5. A one-handed hammer, for knocking holes in walls, smashing windows, and generally causing problems.

6. A grey silk shroud. If the corpse a ghost is connected to is found and shrouded, the ghost's HD is halved.

To draw your sword, you must know three things:

1. The Form - how does the ghost manifest? What does it do?

2. The Truth - how did the ghost die? Who was involved?

3. The Reason - why does the ghost still hang on? What does it want?

When your sword is drawn, the targeted ghost is unable to flee - it must stand and fight. The sword glows unnaturally, deals 10 damage with each strike, and has Advantage on to-hit rolls if your system uses them.

from Mononoke, the original basis for the Sword Exorcist

Damned Old House

GM Introduction

Decades ago, an old man lived in a house on the edge of a small village. The man's name is forgotten - the village's name is irrelevant. As old men do, he eventually died.

The people of the town feared and distrusted him - they said he was a thief, a con, and a killer. When a sheep died or a child fell ill, people's eyes turned to his home.

When he passed, the town got together, beat his corpse, hid it in a wall, and bricked up his house. Now, his spirit wanders, tearing at the boards across the windows and the bricks laid in the doorways. The villagers keep their distance - the truth has been forgotten, now all that survives are tales of the Damned Old House.

The Form: the ghost manifests as an old man, and devours light and food

The Truth: the ghost died of starvation and disease because it was unable to buy food or fuel

The Reason: the community bricked up the house and the corpse instead of burying it (note that this does not mean any unburied corpse will create a ghost - people spent more effort boarding up the house than it would've taken to bury the body. this insult is the cause)

The Exorcist has to answer these questions correctly, but not in detail - "the ghost looks like an old man", "starved" and "was abandoned" still count, because they're correct.

Player Introduction

You arrive in a small town, on the edge of a forest. A ruined, ancient house on the edge of town is seething with energy through your second sight. A ghost is here - an old, raging one.

Next to the damned old house is a smaller, two-story home in good condition, and more homes start to show up as you get closer and closer to the town square. Around the square is a small stone church with a narrow graveyard, a few more homes, and a squat building with a sign reading "Licensed by Parliament for distribution - Year 492" over a picture of a blue-striped shield with a dog's head. All the way on the other side of town from the haunted house is a large brick factory with a single red-painted smokestack.

NPCs and Stories

The house closest to the ghost's residence is owned by the Timur family: Sonia, her husband Yevgeny, and their six year old son Maksim. Sonia and Yevgeny will both say they've seen the ghost appear on cloudy days, and that it bites at the boards nailed to the windows until the sun returns. (Clue: the ghost is afraid of light.)

If asked about the origin of the ghost, they will both say that they both listened to the local priest, Father Baksin, who often discusses the ghost's past. They say the ghost was a sinful, avaricious man, who was so attached to his money that he rose from the dead to count it, over and over, forever.

Maksim will tell a different story he had heard from a friend; the old man killed himself by accident, in an explosion while trying to make a potion that would let him become young. That's why he's afraid of fire. If asked to prove this, Maksim will talk about how he lit a candle in his room, and when the ghost looked through his window the candle went out, instantly.

Yevgeny will also talk about one of the people he used to work with at the factory, Vasily. He says Vasily went, along with many others, to destroy the ghost. They fought valiantly, planning to burn down the house and destroy the old man's body, but they were repelled - Vasily nearly died, and a few others did. Now he's retired, and spends most of his time in the local bar, when he isn't on vacation.

Father Baksin works in a small church, in the center of town. His version of his story is slightly different than the Timurs', saying the old man was named Hikmat Salil, and that his body was buried in the town's graveyard when he died, though that was before Father Baksin started to work at this church. He says that the man was greedy, but that was not his real sin. He was a prospector, and his money came from a miraculous discovery of gold he found with his brother. When the mine caved in, Feodor gathered the food they had brought, and kept it all for himself. By the time he got out, his brother had starved. Now, the ghost is starving, gnawing at the walls of the house to try and feed itself.

He will also offer to let you enter the church's library, which includes most of the town's old news and other documents. With a day of searching the library, you can find the journal of the last priest, who ran the church when the man died. In his journal, he describes "the old man who lives in the house on the edge of town" constantly - saying the community blames him for ill children, dead livestock, and even bad weather. 

One entry, dated around the time of the old man's death, says that when he went to his house to collect his body, it had already been bricked up. He says he has sent a letter to a nearby city asking for an Exorcist - he worries this poor treatment may cause problems in the future.

In the church's graveyard, there is a grave for a Hikmat Salil, who died decades ago, around the correct time. There is another grave for his wife, Atiya, that has no date of death written - she is still alive.

If she is found, she says her husband and her had recently moved to the town when Hikmat fell ill and died. He had never lived in that cursed old house, he definitely wasn't some kind of evil alchemist, and for God's sake he died in his thirties. 

She tells the same story that Yevgeny did, about the last time the town tried to deal with the ghost. However, her version is less flattering - according to Atiya, the angry mob ransacked her house first, saying it was her husband who haunted the house, and that it was her fault somehow. Then, they went to the old man's house and when they came back out, one of them was dead of a terrible wound. She says that she bets the idiot got separated, and someone stabbed him thinking he was a ghost. A few others came out with bite wounds - the ghost, she guesses. She remembers a man named Vasily who led them into her house - she tries to avoid him, now.

Vasily is a cheerful old man, scarred both by the ghost's attacks and his time in the War, which he gladly tells increasingly unlikely stories about. Hearing him say it, no one on his side ever actually died, and the War was a constant roller coaster of exhilarating action and romance. 

He takes a similar tone talking about the ghost - talking about how he personally decapitated the old man's corpse with an axe, and built a great bonfire in the house's common room to burn the place to the ground. And yet, no matter how much wood they piled on to the fire, it barely grew, and whenever they stopped for even a moment, it began to shrink.

Vasily also talks about a woman named Atiya, saying she was really responsible for the ghost - it was her husband, and when he inherited great riches from his dying father, Atiya poisoned him to take it all for herself. But the evil of her act cursed the money, which melted into the ground and vanished. Out of rage, Atiya shackled her husband's spirit to the house, so he could never reach the afterlife. Vasily says he'd gladly kill the witch if he could, but he's afraid of facing her himself.

The Damned Old House

Random Events & Encounters

1. The ghost is frightened by light - if the Exorcist has a candle, torch, or other tool, the ghost puts it out.

2. The ghost is starving - if the Exorcist has food, 1 ration-worth of it vanishes. If they don't, they feel a sudden bite on their shoulder, and take 1d4 damage.

3. The ghost tears at a window in a random room, trying to pull the boards off of it. If the sun is out, the ghost takes 1 damage. No matter what, the window is now open.

4. The ghost weeps audibly. The Exorcist can hear what direction the ghost is from them.

5. The ghost panics, and moves across two rooms this turn.

6. The house creaks and shudders, but nothing happens.

The ghost starts in room 11, and moves one room per exploration turn at random. It will move into rooms with the Exorcist, but will try to flee when damaged.

Room Key

1. Foyer. Dust hangs in the air and covers the ground, along with a few broken clubs and rusted knives from the last attempted exorcism.

2. Living room. Bookshelves hold old copies of religious texts, cookbooks, and novels. The rest of the furniture is gone, and the window is no longer boarded up, allowing sunlight into the room. 

3. Dining room. A long table and three chairs, all covered in bite marks. The skeletal corpse of the dead member of the angry mob lies atop the table, with a makeshift spear next to it.

4. Fireplace room. A large fireplace built on the east wall is empty. The ashes of a bonfire made of sticks and furniture dominate the room, yet nothing is burned. The ghost will not enter this room, fearing even the memory of the fire.

5. Kitchen. Empty cans and drained bottles of oil lie on the floor and counters, some of them seemingly untouched since the man lived.

6. Workshop. Filled with saws, axes, wrenches, and other tools.

7. Trapped room. This room has no ceiling, allowing the Exorcist to see into room 10. When the mob came, one of them set a bear trap in this room to prevent the ghost from coming through. It still lies there today, covered in dust. If stepped on, it deals 2d4 damage.

8. Bathroom. Under the sink are a few containers of powdered cleaning products.

9. Overgrown room. The east wall has fallen apart, and the room is now filled with stinging nettles. Under them is a wooden box, which contains about 12 gp in banknotes and a small key to the study's desk in room 12.

10. Bedroom hallway. The floor has mostly collapsed, leaving only a single thin beam, which requires a DEX check to cross safely. On a failure, the Exorcist falls into room 6. On a failure by 5 or more, they fall into room 7. Falling deals 1d6 damage, and falling into room 7 may cause the bear trap to go off.

11. Main bedroom. The bed is gone, taken for the fire. The southern wall is missing its wallpaper, and a section of it is made of wooden boards instead of brick. Behind those boards is the corpse of the old man, mummified, beaten, and burned.

12. Study. The only piece of furniture left is a large desk, with a locked drawer unlocked by the key in room 9. Inside are a set of loose papers, all undated journal entries. One talks about a few children from town who came and threw rocks through his window - the old man stayed inside, afraid of both the stones and of worsening his reputation. Another talks about when he invited a young man and his wife from another country for dinner. They had a wonderful time, and he hopes to do it again someday.

13. Guest bedroom. The bed is gone, and the floor is marred by dried blood - this is where the member of the mob died. A bloodied knife still sits on the ground.

The Ghost

When the Exorcist's sword is drawn, the ghost is forced to fight. The ghost takes 1d8 damage per round spent in sunlight.

HP: 36

AC: 10

Each round, the ghost will do two of these things:

Collapse: the ghost will cause part of the roof to collapse, forcing the Exorcist to make a DEX save or take 1d8 damage and be knocked prone. This will also let a beam of sunlight into the room.

Devour: if the Exorcist still has rations, the ghost consumes 1d3 of them. Otherwise, it deals 2d4 damage.

Extinguish: the ghost puts out all the light in the room, and causes the temperature to drop precipitously. The first time this happens, it deals 1 damage. The second time, 1d4. Then 1d6, 1d8, etc. Each use allows a CON save for half. Doing something to heat up the room will make the damage go back to 1.

Weep: the ghost cries of the things it has endured, forcing the Exorcist to see them. The Exorcist must make a CHA save or lose an action next turn (instead of moving and attacking they can only move or attack, for example) as they push through the ghost's memories.

When the ghost is defeated, it disintegrates into feathery fragments, which ascend through the roof of the house and into Heaven.


  1. I had expected many things, but not 'Король и Шут' in links of inspiration.
    If you aim for orthodox priest kind of name, Father Baksin would more likely be called by the first name, especially in a small town, i.e. Father Alexey or Father Oleg; Baksin sounds like a last name.

    As for duet games, while they allow some unique adventures (lone detective games, or something like buddy cops for two people) they are also much more intense in pacing than games for bigger groups because DM has very little respite in such process; there is no banter between party members, no small inspirations that come from such banter and in my limited experience duet games can be said to be relentless, so if you wish to DM one I would consider making the gaming session shorter than usual.

    Ghost detective game is something I am very interested in myself, and very glad to see more interest for this topic.

    1. Thank you for the advice, both for renaming the priest and on how to handle duet games! If I ever manage to run this, I'll make sure to write a post afterwards about how it worked out - hopefully I'll come up with some useful tips too.


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