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Our Ghosts Are Different

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"What is a ghost? A tragedy doomed to repeat itself?"

Ghosts are usually people who have died, but their spirits are still lingering around. Some are friendly, some are neutral, and some are vengeful. It all depends on what kind of story is being told.

Reasons include:

  1. Avenge me! The ghost was killed through foul play, knows it, and wants the murder avenged. Sometimes, this also comes with a Clear My Name sidebar. This one can also lead to ghosts becoming violent and angry if not avenged. They may explicitly say that they cannot rest easy in the graves until they are avenged.
  2. Unfinished Business: Something that was significant or important to the person they used to be when alive remains undone. The ghost hangs around until this is done, and may or may not move on afterward.
  3. The ghost hasn't yet figured out they're dead, or are so attached to what they did in life they are still doing it out of habit and/or affection. This can lead to a Tomato in the Mirror shock or a Spirit Advisor.
  4. They're aware they're dead and angry at living people because they are still alive.
  5. That's just how the Afterlife works in this universe. No alternate dimension, Higher Plane of Existence or anything — you just become a ghost when you die.
  6. The ghost suffered so much in life that the spirit was drawn to the place where the worst torment took place.
  7. Resounding psychic echo. The ghost isn't even the person's soul, but just a spectral imprint left behind by the person's death that's gained a form of sentience. In paranormal fields, these are usually called residual hauntings.
  8. The Power of Love. They feel someone they love can't make it without them, or needs protection.
  9. No funeral, no grave — they cannot rest without proper memorialization — or perhaps their graves have been moved or desecrated.
  10. Or maybe someone is mourning them too much, and as a consequence, they are bound to this world.
  11. The person who arranged for their burial was a beneficent stranger, and they must make return for this good deed. This type is the original "grateful dead".
  12. They were very, very naughty in life and fear crossing over to the Afterlife and facing possible cosmic retribution.
  13. They were very, very naughty in life and ghosthood is their cosmic retribution. If it's of a purgatorial type, sometimes humans can help out.
  14. They're a spirit form of some sorcerer, and actively made preparations to ensure themselves eternal life after their bodies gave up, or just ended up that way because of their power.
  15. They were magically prevented from going to, or were magically drawn back from, the Afterlife.
  16. The boundaries between the realms of the living and dead have been weakened; this tends to bring about lots of ghosts. This can be a regular, normally annual, occurrence, in which case you just want to propitiate them, or indicate serious problems as a one-time thing.
  17. They can move on any time they want; they just don't want to because they're having too much fun.
  18. There's also the odd rare case of a ghost that was never a living human being. It may have spawned from something. It may be part of a broader species that's made of the same kind of "matter" as human ghosts. It may be an animal, or a Genius Loci. It may be a synthetic ghost made by alchemy. In cartoon setting, a ghost child can be considered to be the son of a couple of "normal" ghosts, born after the two normal ghosts's death (this is mainly to have a young ghost spectators can identify to, without addressing the issue of a child's death). Or it may be some sort of... thing pretending to be a ghost to suit its purposes.

Powers include:

  • Intangibility or Phasing: The default state of ghosts tends to be intangible. They can touch and interact with physical objects if they concentrate on doing do (except in works which play up the toll on their sanity), but they usually cannot pass on their intangibility to anything they are holding - typically, if they pass through solid matter while holding something, the solid matter remains behind after the ghost has passed through. This is most common in modern works; ghosts in older stories are more likely to be solid, and some can even pass for living humans.
  • Invisibility: Some ghosts can choose whether they want to be visible to anybody. Others are visible only to the spiritually sensitive, or to people with close personal ties to the ghost. Sometimes this is dependent on the ghost's power, with strong ghosts being easier to see than weak ones.
  • Wind powers are a common ghostly ability.
    • Sometimes they have fire / Will-o'-the-Wisp powers too.
    • Or equipment the ghost used in life becomes an ectoplasmic version of same that can hurt other ghosts.
  • Psychic Powers: Usually telekinesis for moving and throwing things around in a ghost tantrum/poltergeist fit.
    • Other times, they can project Scary Visions into the mind of a victim.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting: Ghosts can sometimes morph into morbidly, gruesomely horrific, grotesque (or amusing) shapes to terrify their haunts.
  • Game Face: When ghosts do not look the same as when they were alive, they can often disguise themselves as such. However posing as a human will usually result in slight flaws in their facade, like lacking a pulse or cold skin.
  • Demonic Possession: Some ghosts can take over the body of a living person and operate it like a puppet. For some ghosts, this is the next best thing to being alive again. For others, it's simply an expedient because they can't experience what their host is experiencing.
  • Dream Walker: Some ghosts can inject themselves into a living person's dreams. Usually this person is someone psi-gifted, though.
  • Flight/Levitation: Not necessarily limited to the ghost itself.
  • Weather Manipulation: Some ghosts can create rain, thunder, lightning, high winds, even sleet or snow. In The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Mrs. Muir reveals that the Ghost can never fool her about his emotional state because the weather barometer always reveals his genuine mood.

Limitations Include:

  • Some ghosts are only able to show up between sundown and sunrise.
    • Others can only appear on certain days (nights); for single ghosts, this is often a significant date in their lives, but in masses, there is often a Liminal Time where ghosts walk because the boundaries between life and death are thin (which may also be year's end, or otherwise a boundary between times).
  • Some ghosts are unable to enter churches.
  • Most ghosts are restricted to haunting a specific house or object. If you can leave the premises you're usually safe. Destroying said house or object will usually remove the ghosts' anchor to the material world and force it to move on, but it might just allow it to haunt anywhere it wants to.
  • Ghosts who "live" for too long may suffer from The Fog of Ages, resulting in their Ghostly Goals gradually drifting from where they started, or even their physical appearance becoming less distinct. This process tends to make ghosts either stronger or weaker, but rarely follows any hard rules and is likely to affect different ghosts in different ways.

Interaction With The Living

  • Avenge Me! Ghosts can often appear to their closest friends or family. Like, you know, Hamlet.
  • Attention-seeking. A lot of paranormal investigators who subscribe to the view that ghosts are spirits believe that this is the major reason for most hauntings.
  • Mediums can see and/or hear ghosts.
  • Magitek - Ghosts can become a literal ghost in the machine, and operate phones, computers, etc. without actual tangible hands. (See psychic powers above)
  • Artifacts - there are magical gewgaws and doodads, Holy Relic items and that sort of thing lying around The 'Verse that will allow one to contact ghosts. Or are possessed by ghosts.
  • Ectoplasm - "He slimed me. I feel so funky."
  • Containment - Some heroes have enough Mad Scientist mojo to have come up with a way to contain ghosts, or protect themselves and others.
  • Electromagnetic Ghosts - Interferes with electronics with just their presence.
  • Ghostly Chill - Their vicinity or interaction cause the temperature to drop off visibly.
  • Haunting - They will torment the living, annoy, or bedevil the living, or seek to drive the living into confessing if they've done wrong.
  • Angst and Wangst are often involved with ghostly hauntings, particularly when love is involved.
  • Often (particularly in media intended for children) only a select few can see/hear them.
  • Popping in and disappearing just as fast, leaving those who saw them claiming It Was Here, I Swear!.
  • Silly Spook — Ghosts who do funny things and/or behave playfully. Expect them to incorporate the aforementioned powers into their antics.
  • Spirit Advisor or Fairy Godmother — who can often conceal being a ghost until The Reveal at the end. Usually when the ghost has a Protectorate, such as a child, or the person who arranged for burial.

Possible Appearance:

  • As they looked when they were alive, possibly being either a Cute Ghost Girl or Guy. Some variations have them appear to be in the prime of life even if they were quite elderly when they died.
  • Jacob Marley Apparel: As they wear the clothes they died in.
  • Bedsheet Ghost: Covered in a white shroud. This white sheet may be the only part of them that's visible.
  • Stringy-Haired Ghost Girl: A Japanese variant. Wears a kimono with long stringy black hair covering her face.
  • Hitodama Light: Another Japanese variant, where a coloured flame (usually purple) is attached to the ghost or showing a person possessed by a ghost. People wearing candles on their head are invoking this appearance.
  • As they look now - rotted, filthy, partially skeletal and covered in worms or maggots, wearing the clothes they were buried in.
  • Fog Feet: Most ghosts have these genie-like tails instead of having two legs.
  • Monochrome Apparition: Ghosts can not only be any tint or shade of color, but also glow color of vapors such as mostly blue, light blue, gray and white.
  • Any of the above can also be combined with transparency or the ability to become invisible.
  • Good ghosts may be even more beautiful than they were in life, either as a reflection of their true self or as a reward.
  • Multiple forms: Changing appearance depending on their mood, e.g. looking almost alive while minding their own business and rotted-looking when attacking someone. The ghost equivalent of Game Face.

Some good ghosts get to Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence (either literally heaven, or something else) once they've sorted out their issues or unfinished business.note  Bad ones can get the express elevator down. Some of them have problems with Ghost Amnesia. Every ghost has different Ghostly Goals, again depending on what they want.

Shows and movies will usually address these baseline rules, whether or not they're enforced.

See also Our Souls Are Different. Compare Living Memory. Despite the name, The Ghost is not usually an example.