Understanding Your Players: Haunted One Background

So, one of your players has chosen to use the Haunted One background. What does this mean for you, The Dungeon Master, and what does it mean for your world?

Haunted Ones are those that are haunted by an event or entity they cannot forget, no matter how hard they try. Haunted Ones have some unique abilities because of this. Haunted Ones:

  • 2 proficienciesArcanaInvestigationReligion, or Survival
  • 1 exotic language: (Abyssal, Celestial, Deep Speech, Draconic, Infernal, Primordial, Sylvan, or Undercommon)
  • A trinket specific to the haunting
  • Heart of Darkness: commoners will treat Haunted Ones very kindly because they see the darkness in their souls

This background is designed to be used by a role-play heavy campaign and requires some special attention from DMs. How exactly do you use the Haunted One background in your campaign?

What is a Haunted One Background?

A Haunted One is described as someone that is haunted by something in their past. It could be something that happened to them, like a disaster or accident, or it could be an extra-planar being showing itself to them at a young age, terrifying them into trying to block out the memories. The Haunted One might have been experimented on, or experimented on themselves, scarring themselves mentally and physically.

The player can be haunted by anything you can imagine. Your player might already have an idea in mind for their backstory but if not, here are some ideas!

Ideas for Haunted One Backstory

  • A deal with a devil that will come due soon (not sure how to do this? Check out my post on Making Deals with Devils!)
  • The memory of watching their home be burned by dragons, orcs, or a human raiding party
  • War, horrible things happen during war
  • Getting a glimpse of something they should not have seen, like the Shadowfell, 9 Hells, or Abyss.
  • Accessing forbidden knowledge
  • Taking part in a gang or the mafia when young. The player is trying to go straight, but they have unforgiven debts and are always afraid they will be pulled back in
  • Worship to a false god or being a member of a cult. The player has since learned it was false worship and is haunted by what they did in the name of this “god”

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Proficiencies for Haunted One

A player that chooses this background gains 2 proficiencies and 1 exotic language. The language and skills are usually connected to why they are haunted, and what is haunting them. 

Below you will see the skill proficiency options available to a Haunted One and how you might connect them to the player’s backstory!

Skill Proficiencies for Haunted One

  • Arcana– The Haunted One might have proficiency in Arcana because they are haunted by their memories of soldiers summoning devils and demons to fight for them. They were magically experimented on, and they can recall what was done to them. 
  • Investigation– The Haunted One might have proficiency in Investigation because they spent years searching for sacred text and found it, and now the images they saw are burned into their brains. An adventurer for hire might have been excellent at finding hidden treasures, one adventure took them to a lost temple where they found a room that contained an unknowable being who burned its image into their minds. 
  • Religion– The Haunted One might have proficiency in Religion because their family was involved in a demonic cult and worshiped the Demon Lord of Gluttony and gained his attention; now his eye is on you. The opposite is also true, the player could have helped save an old woman that was a goddess in disguise, and she told them to look away, they didn’t, and now when they sleep they see her true form, horrible and blinding. 
  • Survival– The Haunted One might have proficiency in Survival because they have been tracking a horrible beast that destroyed their town, and have vowed to kill it. Instead they learned how to keep an eye out for signs of being followed, keeping away from large animals and other creatures. 

Languages for Haunted One

Like the proficiencies gained by the Haunted One, the language they know should be tied to the reason they are haunted. This means the player could have studied the language as part of a ritual or binding or have the knowledge forced upon them.

Below you will see the languages available to the Haunted One and ideas for why

  • Abyssal– The Haunted One could know Abyssal because the creature that haunts them is of abyssal descent. Their parents were in a demonic cult and they were subjected to demonic energy as a young child. Such creatures include Demons and other Abyssal creatures
  • Celestial– The Haunted One might know Celestial because they were involved in a religious sect or some form of Celestial creature has attached itself to the character. The character was haunted by a devil and they sought out the church to help protect them. Such creatures include Angels and Unicorns
  • Deep Speech– The Haunted One might know Deep Speech because their parents were part of a cult worshiping a creature from the Far Realms. They traveled through the Underdark and came too close to an Elder Brain’s lair and it spoke to their minds. They heard whispers and murmurs of plans to destroy the overworld. Such creatures include Mind Flayers and Beholders. 
  • Draconic– The Haunted One might know Draconic because a dragon from their past haunts them. A dragon destroyed their home, and they have sworn to hunt it down and speak to it in its own language before slaying it. Such creatures include Dragons, Wyverns, and Dragonborn
  • Infernal– The Haunted One could know Infernal because they were in close contact with devils when they were haunted. They were in an army that was losing a battle and the general decided to summon devils to help win the war. Such creatures include Devils and other infernal creatures. 
  • Primordial– The Haunted One could know Primordial because they came in contact with a powerful creature of the elemental planes, such as a Djinn. Maybe they found a magic lamp with a genie inside. It granted a wish they made, but in doing so, cursed their mind with knowledge they did not understand. Such creatures include Elementals, Genie, and other creatures from the elemental planes. 
  • Sylvan– The Haunted One might know Sylvan because it came into contact with a Fey being. They were traveling and slept too close to a Faerie’s home. The Faerie used fey magic on their mind, warping it and confusing them as to who they were and where they are. Such creatures include Faeries, Pixies, Satyrs, and other such Fey beings.
  • Undercommon– The Haunted One might know Undercommon because they traveled in the Underdark and came into contact with Drow or Duergar. They were captured and tortured by Drow sorcerers. They escaped, but were never the same, and can’t stand the dark anymore. 

They also gain a trinket that is from the moment the haunting began. The trinket could be anything from a wooden hand of an enemy, to a mummified raven , to a bloodstained tea set. A soldier was part of a battalion that was desperate enough to summon a Demon to win a battle. They kept an inkwell that was used to summon that demon, and it makes them sick to look at. They can’t get rid of it, it keeps returning to their bag when they try. 

These are the proficiencies the Haunted One might have, and why they might have them. Let’s figure out what exactly is haunting the Haunted One. 

What haunts the Haunted One?

If your player hasn’t decided yet, you can help them come up with what might be troubling them. This can be an ancient creature, an event, or even a vision of the future! Here are some ideas to get you started!

  • Ancient Creature- Older than the world itself, ancient creatures possess knowledge that mortals cannot comprehend. Such creatures include dragons, Archfey, old/forgotten gods, Titans, or unknown entities
  • Past Events– Experiments, an act of war, or witnessing an unspeakable crime all leave their mark on the psyche. Past events haunt even the best of people. This can also include past actions, such as participation in a cult or gang.
  • Visions of the Future- The Haunted One might be haunted by visions of the future that were granted as a boon or curse for being too inquisitive. Such visions can come from Hags, sentient weapons, gods, devils, or tricksters all looking to gain from another’s suffering.
  • Ancestral Connection- It is possible that the Haunted One’s family is the reason for the curse. They delved too deep into a demonic cult and the child is cursed because of it. They possibly angered the ancestors and this descendant has to take the fall for it.  

How do you include it in the game?

Whatever your player decides they want for their Haunted One character, you need to be flexible and find a way to include it in the campaign.

Let’s say your player wants to play a Human Fighter with the Haunted One background. They have decided they want to have nightmares about the war they were in when they were younger. How do you incorporate that into your game, and not just let it fall to the wayside?

One idea is to incorporate a special rule for the character. Have the player roll a D100 every night, and if they roll below a 25, they have a nightmare and don’t sleep. Decide what that means if they fail. Do they need to sleep longer to get a long rest? Do they have disadvantage on mental based checks until they complete a short rest? Talk to your players and figure out what works for you and your game.

Here’s another example: Your player is playing a Halfling Wizard with the Haunted One background. They have decided they don’t remember what happened, but they do have dreams focused on a flaming sword.

That sword was used by a Devil Lord, and when he was killed, his essence was bound to the blade to keep him from coming back. He talks to the player in their mind and sometimes is able to take over for a short time if the player is near death, or if they see something that reminds them of the dreams they have. Have the player roll a Wisdom save to resist being taken over by the monster inside when these situations occur.

When Incorporating a Haunted One in Your Campaign, Remember to:

  • Talk to your player about what they are wanting. When you are getting ready to start the campaign, figure out what they are wanting to focus on in their backstory. Do they want to focus on the “Haunted” part of the Haunted One, or do they want to be focused on what caused the haunting? Talk to them and figure it out.
  • Manage your expectations about your campaign.  Don’t be too connected to the idea you have, and let the player make their own decisions. You will have ideas concerning the Haunted One’s backstory, don’t hold too tightly to them. Leave room for improvisation and exploration. Some of the best moments in a campaign are improvised
  • Communicate your ideas about what you are wanting to do with the Haunted One’s backstory.  Once again, just talk to your Haunted One player about what your ideas are. It is their story just as much as yours, so work together with them, the campaign will flourish if you do. 
  • Take some notes about what type of creature or why the Haunted One is being haunted.  Do some research about the type of creature that is haunting them. Figure out why the haunting occurred, or how it was an accident. Learn about the creature or circumstance that caused the haunting so you can better involve it in your campaign. 
  • Try to involve the Haunted One’s backstory throughout the campaign.  Keep note of how long it has been since the Haunted One’s haunting was last referenced, if it has been some time in-game, bring it up again. Have the player dream about what happened, or bring someone that was involved in the haunting into the player’s view. Figure out how to keep it on their mind and not have it fall too far to the wayside. 

Whether your player is an elf rogue that got too close to a demonic summoning circle or a Half-orc wizard that is haunted by the knowledge that the gods are playing games with mortal lives, Haunted Ones can be a lot of fun!

Embrace the fear, dive into the creepy, and bring some new depth into your game by using the Haunted One background to its fullest.

Until next time,

May your game have advantage, my friends!

-Halfling Hannah

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