A soul departed from its once mortal form, doomed to haunt until they are finally at peace. They may be bound to drift aimlessly through a manor that housed them when they lived, tied to the pocket watch that broke upon their murder or silently guarding those dearest to them.
Ghosts are an iconic piece of any fantasy world or supernatural jaunt. Their capability for any alignment gives them a flexibility that few other creatures in Dungeons and Dragons have the luxury of, allowing them to range from peaceful and forlorn souls to malicious entities lurking just behind. Welcome to a Ghost 5e Guide.
Not Even Death Can Do Them Part
Ghosts are identified in the Monster Manual as medium undead of any alignment. They remain on the mortal plane rather than finding their way into the caring hands of the Matron of Ravens due to unfinished business. They yearn to complete some unresolved task in their life.
This task can range from wanting to avenge their own death to relaying a message or gift to a loved one. Their sheer force of will, when alive, managed to push their spirit to continue on even after death.
While some ghosts may have realized they have died, others may still continue their daily routine, unaware of their undead nature. Due to their highly flexible nature, ghosts are the perfect enemy or friendly NPC for almost any campaign.
Typically ghosts will take on the appearance of what they once appeared as in life, though their appearance can alter depending on the nature of their untimely demise. For a ghost who was beheaded, their head may float just above their body, attached only by the thinnest sliver of skin.
They will generally be wearing the clothes they had on at the time of their death. However, if there is a specific outfit they were known for wearing while living or wore consistently enough that it made an impact on their very being, they may appear adorned in that clothing instead.
Ghosts aren’t bound only to humans, either. Any creature can become a ghost, which is unfortunate for the near-immortal elves. Just when they thought that their long elven life was finally coming to a merciful end, they get to “live” even longer as a ghost!
This is arguably worse than just continuing on with immortal life, however, considering that they are now deprived of many of life’s pleasures like food and drink. Interacting with the living might prove exceptionally difficult for a ghost as well, given their immaterial form.
Although the Monster Manual defines ghosts as a medium undead creature, I would take this size with a grain of salt and allow yourself, as a DM, to change this form as it suits you. Just because the book says, medium doesn’t mean that you can’t have a Goliath ghost.
Ghost Abilities and Stats
As we delve into the stats and basic abilities of a ghost, I recommend you keep in mind that everything can be changed or manipulated in some way. As the Dungeon Master, you have complete control over your game.
There is no reason why you should or shouldn’t stick to the numbers that have been already laid out for you, so feel free to have some fun with it.
Personally, I would recommend changing the basic stats to try and help orient your ghosts toward who they would have been when alive, assuming that they will be around for more than a single fight.
- CR 4
- AC 11, HP 45 (or 10d8)
- 40-foot fly speed. Ghosts are incapable of “walking” and hover above the ground.
- Str 7 (-2) Dex 13 (+1) Con 10 (+0)
- Int 10 (+0) Wis (+1) Cha 17 (+3)
- Damage Resistances: Acid, Fire, Lightning, Thunder; nonmagical bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing.
- Damage Immunities: Cold, Necrotic, and Poison.
- Condition Immunities: Charmed, Exhaustion, Frightened, Grappled, Paralyzed, Petrified, Poisoned, Prone, and Restrained.
- Senses: Darkvision up to 60 feet. Passive perception of 11.
- Languages: Any that were known when alive.
Ghosts have an ability called Ethereal Sight, allowing them to see into the Ethereal Plane up to 60 feet while on the Material Plane. When on the Ethereal Plane, they can see on the Material Plane up to 60 feet.
With their Incorporeal Movement passive ability, ghosts can move through other creatures and objects as though they were difficult terrain, halving their movement speed for that duration. A ghost will take 1d10 force damage if they end their turn inside of an object.
|Withering Touch||Melee Attack
+5 to hit, 5-foot range, single target
Deals 4d6+3 Necrotic Damage on a hit
|Etherealness||The ghost enters the Ethereal Plane or the Material Plane, depending on their current location. It becomes invisible while existing in the Ethereal Plane, only visible when existing on the Material or on the Border of the Ethereal Plane. It cannot be affected by anything on the opposite plane of existence.|
|Horrifying Visage||Creatures within a 60-foot radius of the ghost must succeed on a DC 13 Wisdom saving throw. On a failure, the creature(s) become frightened for one minute. If the save fails by five or more, the target ages 1d4 x 10 years. Targets that have been frightened can repeat their saving throw at the end of each of their turns. If the target succeeds on the saving throw, they become immune to being frightened by the ghost for 24 hours. The aging effect caused by a horribly failed save can be reversed with Greater Restoration, so long as the spell is used within 24 hours of the aging.|
|Possession||Possession is a skill that needs to be recharged after each use. If the ghost attempts to use the skill and it fails to succeed on each consecutive turn, the ghost can roll a d6. On a 6, the ghost regains use of its Possession ability.
A humanoid within 5 feet of the ghost must make a DC 13 Charisma saving throw or be possessed by the ghost. The ghostly entity then disappears, with the target becoming incapacitated, losing control of their body. The ghost gains control, putting the possessed target into a backseat position. The target retains full awareness of what is going on but is unable to control their own actions. The ghost cannot be targeted by any spell except for those that turn undead, retaining all of its former characteristics. The ghost can use the target’s stats but does not gain access to their knowledge, class features, or proficiencies.
The target remains possessed until they drop to 0 hit points, the ghost ends the possession as a bonus action, or the ghost is forced out through spells like Dispel Good and Evil. The ghost will reappear in an unoccupied space within 5 feet of the formerly-possessed target. The target becomes immune to the ghost’s possession for 24 hours after the ghost has been outed or they have succeeded on a saving throw.
Sending a Ghost to the Raven Queen
There are a few ways to permanently get rid of a ghost. The best way is just to help them with their unfinished business, though there is a strong likelihood that this could take a while or a few sessions, if not an entire campaign’s worth of time. However, if you are looking to get rid of one quickly, a surefire way is to weaken the ghost by invoking a weakness tied to its life or its cause of death.
For a ghost who was formerly a gardener, as the Monster Manual suggests, you could easily weaken them by exposing them to a potent floral fragrance or killing them with their own gardening equipment.
Utilizing Ghosts for Progress
There isn’t must lore that comes with the concept of ghosts in Dungeons and Dragons. They’re a vague entity that can make an appearance in your game or may not. However, this lack of lore gives more power to the DM. Whereas entities like Demogorgon or Vecna have a lot of lore associated with them, ghosts are tied to who they were in real life.
The Monster Manual and Dungeon Master’s Guide don’t give you much direction with them, so you’re free to do as you please. Ghosts can be malicious entities hellbent on destroying your player characters or taking over their bodies to achieve their goals, or they can be helpful NPCs who only seek to fulfill one goal or another to move on to the afterlife.
You could effectively utilize either one of these ideas to build out a story arc for your players to go through, building up an attachment (or hatred) for this NPC before letting them pass on to the next life, be it with tears or applause.
If you have a player who can’t be at the table for one reason or another or needs to take a few sessions off, consider setting up possession of your player’s character (with their consent!)
During this time, your ghost NPC can take control of the player character, and for the short period the actual player has to step away from the game, your other players can work through a story arc to help this ghost achieve its goal or to banish it.
Setting up a Story Arc
If you decide to go down the route of utilizing a ghost to progress the story or to build a small story arc for your players to experience, you need to come up with one idea or another.
In a Halloween one-shot I did in 2021 for some friends, I sent them through a dungeon dive to try and put an end to a cult. In the process, my players stumbled across a room where a lonely woman sat in wait, in possession of an engagement ring they needed to access the final door to the BBEG.
The ring, in combination with a few others, would open the gates, and they could fight out the final battle. Thinking it easy, the players approached only to find out that the woman waiting was a ghost. There were a few ways I thought that it could go.
They could attack her and take the ring, at which other ghosts would pour out from the walls to defend their companion, or they would talk with her and help her to finish her current business. Much to my delight, my players took a much more peaceful route.
After approaching her, my players learned that the young woman was waiting for her fiancé to return to her. She told the players that he had brought her down here to meet the man benefactor of their wedding but had trouble remembering what else had happened after entering the room. She described what he looked like, and they promised to return to her with information about her.
Upon some more searching, they found the man responsible, learning that he has sacrificed his fiancee to join the cult. After the woman learned this, she used Horrifying Visage on her ex-husband, and I, surprisingly, rolled a 4 on my d4. Before the player’s eyes, her ex-fiancé aged 40 years in a matter of seconds.
Upon becoming eighty-something years old, he promptly had a heart attack from fright and died. With this knowledge, however, the woman was finally at peace enough to move on with her life. She gave the players the ring and bid them farewell before fading away with the crow of a raven in the background.
Obviously, you don’t have to do something like I did with a friendly NPC. Instead, you could use a malicious ghost NPC who isn’t immediately throwing your players into a fight. Instead, assuming you can play it off well enough, your ghost could attempt to manipulate your players into destroying the lives of those they used to know, stealing objects, or causing general unrest and chaos.
It could even be that your malicious ghost may attempt to convince your players that a friendly ghost is actually evil, resulting in your players destroying a kind soul. This, admittedly, could end up being a very mean route, so I would recommend consulting with your players about what their limits are and what they are comfortable doing (without exposing too much information).
Question: Can I play a ghost as a player character?
Answer: You can, though it’s not a race in the Player’s Handbook. You would have to work with your DM to find a homebrew that would work or make your own homebrew.
Question: Can ghosts be charmed in 5e?
Answer: No, they can’t. As part of their condition immunities, ghosts are immune to the charmed effect, as they are every other effect in the book. However, it really is up to a DM to decide whether or not this actually holds true. The best way to find out is to either just fight a ghost or to ask your DM outright what their policy is on modifying races and monster stat blocks.
Question: What does ‘undead’ mean for Dungeons and Dragons?
Answer: It means a creature that was once living but has been brought back to life, whether through necromantic means or other ways. This creature no longer has a heartbeat and thus cannot be classified as living. Other races that would fall into this category would be Revenants, Liches, Vampires, Zombies, and more.
Finishing Unfinished Business
I genuinely love ghosts. They’re such an iconic creature within the world of dnd and within supernatural stories. They don’t have to be part of every story, but there’s part of me that feels every story becomes better with them in it.
I hope I’ve drilled it in far enough that ghosts don’t have to be malicious and evil beings intent on destroying everything and everyone around them. In the same vein, though, despite what I’ve portrayed, they don’t have to be sad people, simply waiting for time to take them as a forgotten memory.
They’re highly flexible in both characteristics and utility. Whether you, as a DM, want a quick and spooky fight or something like a sad but wholesome story, ghosts are the perfect creature to provide that.
Although I first brought them in with a Halloween one-shot, I encourage you to think of ghosts as beings that can exist outside the atmosphere of the spooky season.
They are one of the best, if not the best, tool to explore concepts of life, death, and the afterlife in your game.
These topics can be heavy, but they don’t have to be sad or scary. Plus, if you’re concerned about getting attached to an NPC, or getting your players attached to an NPC, make it a ghost – then you can’t kill them.
Or when you do give them a farewell, it’s not unexpected and soul-destroying. Ghosts are sad, but in a good way, and we all need a little bit of a good-sad sometimes.