Thursday, July 8, 2021

THE WALKER ALONE - Monster for Old School Fantasy & Horror.

Don' Look Now/ Nicholas Roeg/ 1973

Armour Class +5     Hit Dice 4+3     Move Normal Human     Morale 11

Neutral (evil) with Unratable Intelligence

It's a ghost. A haunt. It walks where it walks, alone. 

Sort of.

It abides in the places that you'd think there'd to be ghosts, places to which stories accrue. Sometimes it makes those stories, other times it slips in and fits within a pre-existing tradition. Give it an identity and it won't disabuse you of that notion, allowing you to interpret its acts as typical to that personality, that history.

It appears as a young woman, a gargantuan spider, a hoofed shaggy beast, two little girls, a man without skin, a child with no face and its feet on backwards, you, a carpet of creeping things, a dog with a human head, a rat with human hands, a celestial radiance just around the corner, her, something twitching and gobbling behind the curtain, a spinning top whistling at the top of the stairs, the shadow of a bird dying in its cage, him, a boneless thing of plaited hair, a spectral horse, a historical villain, a headless bear rolled thin like pastry, a column of glowing gas, an empty wedding dress, a dear little pig, them, a bulky cigar-smoking shape in an upholstered chair, a hanging judge, long-nailed children with a dark ragged hole in their breasts, a tide of blood, the shifting pareidolia of the fittings and furniture.

It has no personality of its own, but accumulates characteristics from the living and the dead things, the things said and the things written in and about its locus. It does not read minds, but it can know secret thoughts.

In sunlight, it is intangible, invisible, powerless and silent, but may hint its presence in dense fog or smoke, interior gloom, or subterranean spaces. 

Those with the second sight will also catch glimpses, whispers, suggestions of a scent, a breathe of air in passing, raised hairs on the arms and neck, the sense of being stared at.

If you are surprised, then you see slightly more than you want to and must make a fear save or let go of whatever you are holding. On a critical failure, you are frightened and make ability checks and attacks at disadvantage until you have a had a good night's sleep.

When a new person arrives at the Walker's locus, make a Reaction Roll to see if it takes a particular shine to them.

A Hostile result means they will be the focus of a campaign of terror and torment.

A Friendly result means that they will be the recipient of unsettling gifts and eerie attempts at affection/ sympathy, and there will be outrageous retributions against those who harm, upset or otherwise inconvenience them.

It can have one of each mortal focus at a time, and can sense their presence and general location within d4 miles. It will remember/remain faithful to them for d6+1 months if they leave and no one new replaces them.

During the hours of darkness, the presence becomes more active and more tangible. 

It can become invisible at will and can appear in any form it wishes (see above). It can use any language spoken or written within d4 miles of the locus, including ancient and dead languages.

You are unable to look at it directly as it roams the locus, so you can never be truly sure what you are seeing (use mechanics for avoiding a gaze attack). Because of this, the Walker hides and sneaks with advantage (when it is not invisible). It cannot be targeted directly by spells.

If it surprises you, then you see much more than you bargained for and must make a fear save. Failure means you let go of whatever you were holding and are frightened until you get a good night's sleep.

It is able to use the following spell-like abilities, each with a cooldown of d4 hours each:

  • continual darkness.
  • hallucinatory terrain: more robust than the named spell and not cancelled by touch; INT checks to disbelieve, CHA checks to convince others; as well as the usual applications, can be used to make doors, windows and other exits vanish or seem barricaded, or overlay what is already there so you miss your footing.
  • hold person: can be applied RAW, but can also be used to contain those affected at the locus for the rest of the night, a subdivision of this for d3 hours, or specific sub-location for d6 ten minute turns. Or use spell duration.
  • phantasmal force.
  • web (ectoplasm, if you like).

It can use audible glamour, and ventriloquism at will. 

If not otherwise dispelled, all these effects end at daybreak.

The Walker can cause d6 non-lethal damage, striking vs. unarmoured, per attack (STR or DEX check not to be stunned, knocked down or pushed). It can also suffocate/strangle to unconsciousness, but not to death - save vs. spells/paralysis to resist/break free.

If not before, then lost hit points and/or ability scores are recovered at daybreak.

You can treat it as an Invulnerable Monster for purposes of trying to fight it but its ability is immunity is non-magical damage, rather than magic weapon to hit, so you could treat this damage as non-lethal - good only for driving off its immediate manifestation or giving you the false feeling that you're achieving something by violence.

Even magical damage will only drive it away for a time (d6+1 months).

Something exists within d4 miles of the central locus that when confronted with, the Walker will instantly vanish forever. Most likely would be associated mortal remains, but it could be a hard truth or historical fact, buried treasures or legal documents.


Vancian magic and regenerating Trolls were something I could easily get on board with when starting out with D&D, even if they did not reflect the fiction I was expecting.

But Ghosts, I think, were my first big disappointment. 

Firstly, they were not in the Basic set. Second, the stats I saw for AD&D were clearly a monster challenge.

They did not really reflect the ghosts (fiction and non-fiction) I'd already been exposed to and their place on the undead threat scale meant they weren't going to feature as much as I'd want.

It felt like a flaw in the system.

BECMI still had the power scale problem, but the Companion set Haunts, Phantoms and Spirits made for interesting reading/thinking.

The Ghost as presented in Call of Cthulhu and Dragonwarriors (and then the Barudath in Book 4) were much more what I was looking for. So I had those to work with.

Things like the Ravenloft setting introduced more options for shaking up the standard undead (Van Richten's Guides).

The Walker Alone, though, is actually mostly a Wight, as detailed in Dragon magazine 180. The 27th part of The Voyage of the Princess Ark gives details of what happens when you die (other than rolling a new character, undeath or being raised).

When a Wight kills you, it then goes into a nightly trance to hunt your soul and devour it on the plane of Limbo - and it's got special powers! That's the mechanical basis for the Walker, with a little bit of the Fiend Folio Astral Searcher, and a lot of ghost traditions (experience, folklore, fiction, spiritualism and parapsychology).

The Walker Alone (and all ghosts) is not necessarily a spirit of the dead, but it may act like it is and you may believe it is. It is a haunting, in the same way as the Drummer of Tedworth or the Amityville Horror or Hill House and the Overlook Hotel and will seem to respond as such. Until it doesn't.

If you 'invite it in' (and this is deliberately ambiguous), it is able to cause physical harm: 2d3 lethal damage claw attack + fright attack as if it had surprised you. Claw damage blocked by armour, but not the fright attack. Maybe inviting it in also allows possession.

I've left lots of gaps, because the milieu this draws on is more M.R. James than Robert E. Howard. For heroic direct action, I think we're looking at things like oil of etherealness, truesight and fighting it on the Astral Plane - in which case, why not make it a RAW Ghost when you get there?


  1. Excellent stuff. For additional reading, Goblin Punch has a good take on ghosts

    1. Thanks for the tip.

      (P.S. I was very taken with your Sea Witch for Pariah)