In this month's exclusive interview, the designers of the Ghostwalk campaign setting explain where PCs go to die, the intricacies of life after death, and what to expect if your destiny is a city called Manifest.
Wizards of the Coast: Given that the Ghostwalk campaign setting presents the world of spirits who have left behind the land of the living for the actual physical locale that is the land of the dead, what motivates characters not to get themselves killed in order to get there?
Sean Reynolds: In Ghostwalk, the focal point of the campaign is a place in the living world that is very close to the land of the dead. In this border area, the living and ghosts can interact as if both were on their home turf. So characters don't have to die to get there, they can just walk!
Wizards: Where did the idea come from, to make it possible to play a dead PC as a ghost? Did it spring from a PC death somewhere in your respective gaming pasts?
Sean: I think it was just a matter of Monte and me understanding that one of the least fun parts of the game is when a character dies. Not only is there a feeling of loss regarding the character, but also the player doesn't have anything to do until a new character can be brought in. We thought a campaign where a character's death wouldn't be the end of play for that character or player would be a neat twist on standard D&D. The short concept we presented to Bill Slavicsek (head of RPGs) and Keith Strohm (D&D brand manager at the time) had a one-sentence summary for the book: "If your character dies, you can continue playing immediately as the ghost of your PC."
Wizards: The city of Manifest, the central locale for the Ghostwalk campaign setting, is quite elaborate, with numerous rules governing those who live there . . . and those who don't (to be literal about it). How did you settle on a city as the way station between the worlds?
Monte Cook: The idea to have it be a city came quite naturally. The setting postulates that it's valuable for a spirit in the land of the dead to have its body brought to it. All these people, then, come to the area bearing the corpses of their fallen comrades and departed loved ones. Thus, a whole city grew up around their eventually destination. The Guild of Morticians takes care of the bodies once they arrive in the city, storing the bodies in the Tombyards until they are ready to be taken down to the veil between life and death -- a journey called the Ghostwalk.
Wizards: How difficult was it to outline Manifest's history, the gods who are worshipped there, and the various peoples who live there?
Monte: The gods worshipped in Manifest are, not surprisingly, death gods. One, Dracanish, is a god who represents the Final End. His worshippers don't care too much for the idea, then, of ghosts running around the city when they should just accept their inevitable end. The other main god, Aluvan, is a protector of the dead, the Warder of Death's Children. There are other gods as well, and even a rather infamous demon lord of the undead.
When creating the neighboring countries, I wanted an interesting mix of different cultures that would emphasize the different character classes in D&D. Tereppek, for example, is a scholarly Ottoman-style country that favors wizardry, while Bazareene is ruled by sorcerer queens who are watched over by noble monk bodyguards. Salkiria is a civilized country whose fighters prefer weapons like rapiers, while the nomads of Thurkasia prefer greatswords, and some of them study berserk fighting. With Manifest such a cosmopolitan place, I wanted to make sure that the human cultures were distinct enough to keep the place from feeling like a generic D&D large city.
Wizards: There are a number of new and engaging prestige classes that relate to the ghosts of Ghostwalk. The eidolon class seems to encompass the most basic type of ghost, while a class like the dwarven deathwarden chanter seems quite focused. What are your personal favorites among the new prestige classes?
Sean: Well, technically the eidolon isn't a prestige class; it's a special base class only available to ghosts. If you want to expand your ghost powers in a particular path (such as possessing creatures, frightening people, or disrupting flesh), you level up in eidolon.
As for the actual prestige classes, it's a hard choice. The Arboreal Guardian lets you get some neat forest-related powers, the bone collector is cool because he empowers himself with the remains of undead creatures, and the deathwarden chanter emphasizes the singing and runecarving aspects of dwarves. One of the advantages of actually having a setting included with the book is it lets us create prestige classes with ties to the setting's flavor, rather than just basing them on game mechanics or generic archetypes.
Wizards: Any favorites among the numerous new spells and magic items available to players in the Ghostwalk setting? If nothing else, wall of ectoplasm sounds like a cool spell, and the wondrous item Flesh of Orcus has my attention.
Sean: I tried to come up with some cool spells with evocative names, such as bottomless hate and I smell your fear. Glyph of turning is pretty sweet, too.
As for magic items, anything with Orcus's name is going to get people's attention. In the early stages of concepting, Monte and I were trying to think up a new deity of undeath, and we realized that Orcus worked best because he's so recognizable. One other thing I'm glad is in this book is the concept of named magic weapons -- magic weapons have to be given a name when they're crafted or the magic doesn't hold. It makes the world more alive if that +1 sword is actually called Faldrin's Last Hope.
Wizards: The Ghostwalk setting lends itself to all sorts of campaigns, as you mention in the book--dungeon crawls, political campaigns, the "melting pot" city campaign. You even describe it as a campaign "rife with opportunities to examine the philosophical, historical, theological, and metaphysical aspects of your game world." Do you see the city of Manifest and the campaign setting in general as a cut above the hack-and-slash campaign idea?
Monte: It's true that the very nature of Ghostwalk begs questions to be asked -- ones that many gamers may not have thought to ask about their campaign worlds already. What exactly happens to a person when they die? What does it really mean to be undead? What are the implications of being brought back from the dead? How aware are the spirits of the departed of the activities of the living? What motivates spirits once they are dead?
That said, I see the setting as offering all types of adventures. If you don't care about such philosophical questions, you'll still find Ghostwalk to have plenty of opportunities to explore ancient underground sites (the city has two undercity levels in addition to the Ghostwalk itself, which leads directly to the Land of the Dead), fight against deadly enemies, and learn cool new spells, feats and other things.
Wizards: Were your playtests for this setting more of a thinking player's campaign than usual?
Sean: I ran a playtest campaign for some of the included adventures, and my players definitely spent a lot of time exploring the setting and their own roles in the campaign. It actually took them longer than I expected to complete the adventures because they wanted to talk over and analyze the information they discovered. Monte runs a complex game and he put a lot of work into the factional aspect of the Ghostwalk campaign.
Wizards: How might you recommend a group of players new to this setting begin adventuring? Where should they go, what should they do, what questions should they be asking themselves about this new setting?
Monte: The best way to get started is to figure out how to get there -- that probably means accompanying a caravan of the dead to the city. Manifest is pretty different from a standard fantasy city, what with all the ghosts around, and the different sort of rules for how one can expect ghosts to act or what you might expect them to be able to do. Play it safe, and get to know what's what and who's who before you go jumping into anything.
The strangest thing of all, however, is that in Manifest, death isn't necessarily something to be feared. There, being dead is just another state of being -- one with the occasionally useful advantages. For some missions, PCs might find it better to be dead than alive!
Wizards: What's next for the campaign setting of Ghostwalk? Anything planned?
Sean: As far as I know, Wizards intends this to be a one-shot. There is a web enhancement for it on the way, and I'll continue to update material for the setting on my website, but unless they've changed their plans in the past year, there will be no official support products for Ghostwalk. Of course, if it sells a zillion copies and people demand more, there's always the chance that Wizards will make follow-up products.
Wizards: Finally, what's next for you? Will having designed something as philosophical and metaphysical as this new setting impact your next designs?
Monte: Since leaving Wizards, I've started my own d20 company, Malhavoc Press. My next big project is a book for Malhavoc called Arcana Unearthed. This is an Open Gaming License product, and there's really no better way to describe it than an alternate Player's Handbook. What I mean by that, is that Arcana Unearthed is a complete Player's Handbook, using the basics of the rules that people are already familiar with, but all the "pieces" are different -- the races, classes, feats, spells, and so on. It's for people either interested in a completely different take on fantasy but desiring to stick with the basic rules that they're already familiar with, or for those looking for balanced and compatible material for their existing game. My website will tell you more.
Sean: The book I just finished for Malhavoc Press is Anger of Angels, about angels and demons and the war between Heaven and Hell. There's a bit about ideology in that book and Ghostwalk colored some aspects of it. For my day job, I'm a computer RPG designer for Black Isle Studios, and the game we're working on right now has many elements about guilt, relationships, past loves, and restless spirits, so the work on Ghostwalk has been a help with that, too.