The Ghostwalk Campaign Option (2003, Wizards of the Coast) is the gem of my collection of Third Edition gaming materials.
Even though it is often overlooked because of its release just prior to the 3.5 revision of the rules, my appreciation for the supplement has only grown in the intervening five years.
And because the setting presents components such as the Tombyards, the Spirit Wood, a nemesis that slithers and spits venom, and of course, ghostly player characters, it seems appropriate to share my thoughts on it as Halloween approaches.
Manifest, the city-state at the heart of the Ghostwalk setting, is not Ptolus (2006, Malhavoc Press). That said, there are surface similarities — both share a dark spire that looms over the heart of the city, dwarves who control a vast underground lair beneath the streets, and a host of powerful relics just waiting to be unearthed.
It’s hardly suprising, because Ptolus creator Monte Cook is co-author of the book along with longtime Ptolus playtester Sean K. Reynolds.
The difference in the two books lies in their goals. Ptolus is Cook’s Third Edition homebrewed playtest campaign setting in print; Ghostwalk explores how player characters can continue to adventure even after they have died.
But Manifest and Ptolus share a similar vibe, and those DMs who can’t lay their hands on the latter can still readily purchase the former. Moreover, Ghostwalk pairs well with many of Malhavoc Press’ Ptolus-inspired supplements. The Banewarrens superadventure and the Chaositech supplement fit equally well within the confines of Manifest, as does anything from the Eldritch Might/Hallowed Might/Roguish Luck series. Taken together, they provide a very Ptolus-esque game.
Snakes, why’d it have to be snakes?
The other theme running through Ghostwalk is the presence of the Yuan-Ti as an eternal enemy of those whose departed souls manifest as ghosts. DMs tired of using the same old orcs and drow and necromancers as campaign villains may find this approach refreshing.
Indeed, the Yuan-Ti can effectively be utilized to explore the campaign’s many themes, whether it be dungeon crawls, the politics of death or the kind of scheming intrigue likely to take place in any cosmopolitan environment. There are a handful adventures included in the supplement that illustrate how this can be accomplished.
DMs who are looking for 3.5 updates of Yuan-Ti villains could consider making some use of tools and templates found in Serpent Kingdoms, a Forgotten Realms Campaign Supplement (2004, Wizards of the Coast). But that supplement is not necessary. Ghostwalk provides Yuan-Ti support in the form of Tainted Ones and Bodyguard templates, as well as the detailed demi-plane Coil.
Did I forget? Ghostwalk’s Ethereal
The heart of Ghostwalk, that part that makes it fun, especially during October, is the use of ghosts of all sorts in a variety of scenerios. The undead play a huge role, in creating atmosphere and serving as adversaries, as well.
Rules junkies can delight in the ghostly feats, spells and magic items. There are some new ghostly monsters, too, from necroplasm to the spectral steed and curiously creepy undead martyr.
If as a DM you get a kick out of seeing player characters walk through walls or covered in ectoplasm, then it’s a setting worth exploring.
Even if you’re a DM who insists on needing nothing more than the core rulebooks, I’d recommend adding it your library. It’s not only an example of how two the game’s designers approach the Third Edition rules in a different fashion, it’s a solid demonstration of a campaign setting. In a mere 222 pages, it offers a core urban environment and the surrounding wilderness, as well as the support crunch that goes with it.
Some things may seem quaint, especially in light of where playtest experience has taken the d20 system in the interevening years. But the setting alone is worth exploring, regardless of the rules.