The Genius Guide to Horrific Haunts, man....the title says it all, doesn't it? Haunts are one of those oddities for me in the realm of gaming, as they can be so many things depending upon how they are handled. The rules with which they were presented were, as often happens, truncated. I don't say that as a slight to Paizo in any way at all, it is merely the way of things. When new rules are presented one of the first things that happens is someone else looks at them and instantly sees room for growth, and expansion. Which is always a good thing in my opinion, as I like more options, and the concept of the haunts is a good one that needs more...lots more.
So, what does Owen have for us here...New rules to allow for several variations to give your haunt more of a personalized feel to it....and a great mechanic to make sure that a great haunt never gets old. Let's start with the advice on how to make the most out of your haunts in your campaign, as Owen has a few thoughts on this, and they are sound ideas. First up is the idea that a haunt makes a perfect companion piece in an encounter for a freaking encounter people...what do I mean by that? How about pairing a haunt, with a critter? Or perhaps a band of highwaymen, taking advantage of a haunted coach's midnight run down an old roadway by ambushing the victim's as they run...A gelatinous...well, anything...paired up with a haunt born of the agony underwent by the victims who died a slow, painful death by digestion to said gelatinous years ago...Seriously, lots of options here.
Second up in the advice category, take advantage of foreshadowing. It's a great story tool in the first place, and here it allows you to throw a great deal of misinformation. Letting the PCs hear tales of a great creature with abilities witnessed by survivors is a fantastic way to keep your PCs guessing when the list of abilities they are hearing are from both the creature, and the haunt. Last up, and I can not agree more with this tidbit of advice, use haunts sparingly...they should not be so humdrum and common that they are just another day at the office. It takes away so much of the mystery and the excitement.
Modifiers to Haunts would be where we get into new rules, with things of the nature of Location, Trigger, and HP Variables. We're not going to get into the specifics of the math behind any of this, as I think Owen explains his rules far better than I do, but I will touch on the ideas. Expanded locations gives us the idea of a haunt taking up more room than usual, with appropriate adjustments to CR accordingly for larger amounts of space. Object Location gives us rules for a haunt tied to a specific thing, not a place. This, of the three location variations, is easily my personal favorite. The idea of a haunt following an item appeals to me, and makes for great story telling, as haunts are a different issue all together in how they are dealt with. Most any PC worth their weight has dealt with cursed items or foul magic, but haunts...now there is a horse of a different color. Lastly for the location rules we have Wandering Locations, which allows for a haunt to shift where it manifests. Several examples to help understand the scope here would be a haunt that manifests up and down a river, one that is tied to several points within a jungle or woods, or a wandering haunt within a castle or keep, as opposed to stuck in one hallway.
The Trigger Variables cover the idea that perhaps a haunt doesn't go off every time it is encountered, and that there might be more than just the presence of someone required, such as a Cyclic Trigger Variable. With the cyclic variable, the haunt is tied to an anniversary, perhaps of the haunts creation, or the day of the week of the original tragedy...perhaps the birthday of the person who's pain caused the haunt to be created. A Random Trigger Variable is exactly that, and can be a great means of aggravation for a group of PCs attempting to glean information from interacting with the haunt, since the manifestation's triggering will have no discernible pattern to judge anything useful from. The Reactive Trigger Variable is perhaps the one we are all most familiar with, and I feel is defined here more so because variations are now being defined, henceforth a baseline must be as well. The reactive trigger responds to specific stimulus, each time, every time. Usually this is tied to the haunt's creation, but can be as varied as the haunts themselves.
Finally, the HP Variables, two options to increase the difficulty in dealing with a particularly difficult haunt. Resistant and Tough, giving resistance to channeling damage and/or an increased hp total along with a higher effective caster level.
So, armed with new options to pimp out our haunts, we come to the new haunts. First up, the Bruja Cauldron. A witches/hags cauldron for a coven, the bodies of their fallen members end up in the pot for soup, literally, infusing their souls into the cauldron. The energy of the witches/hags cooked into the cauldron gives us a specific item haunt, in that the coven can utilize this item to call upon their dead members and tap into the power contained by this item.
A Drowned Doxie, second up for new haunts, is essentially formed when an innocent is drowned and weighted down. The manifestation takes on both a cyclic and a wandering variable, in that it appears at various points upon the river within which the victim was drowned, and only when the moon is in the same phase as the night of the original murder....and only when male humanoids enter the area...This one could be excellent for seriously screwing with a playgroup, as the physical manifestation could be so drastically different from the original victim and reason for the haunt as to have a group chasing their tails for quite some time trying to deduce what exactly is going on.
And lastly, and before I go into any more words of review, I must say...Owen, you're an evil evil man....lol.....and we must talk, soon.....OK, lastly we have what I can pretty much bet will be my playgroup's new nightmare...the Unending Laboratory. Here's the scene...alchemist or spell-chucker spends their life crafting golems within their laboratory only to finally pass from this world, leaving all of that raw spirit harnessing essence going still...awakening the lab and it's tools to continue his work. Yeah, let that sink in for a second. This haunt is a freaking monster factory...the creation numbers are low enough to not make this insane, but still more than adequate to screw with a countrysides ecology.....best part? Every golem made is animated with no master, no instructions....just cut loose as if berserk (as per the flesh golem ability).....Mwahahahahaha....um..eheh..sorry there. And, if all of that just made your eyes light up a little, wait until you see what happens when folks actually make it to the laboratory itself....
OK, time to tie it all up and stamp a rating on this. I wasn't sure what to expect when I grabbed this, a book of rules, a book of new haunts....a grab bag. The balance is a good one, as the rules are logical and work without making anything feel broken, and the new haunts are all interesting. OK, there's one particular haunt that won't get out of my head...but that is the mark of a good design, is it not? To inspire others to run with an idea and create, to game, and inevitably to enjoy.
This is an easy 5 star rating, well worth the price of admission, and a perfect example of what one can do with a haunt.