Publisher: Wizards of the Coast

This often overlooked sourcebook is branded a campaign option: Not an entire campaign setting but not a traditional splat book. Ghostwalk, like the spirits the book features, exists somewhere in between.

Note: This is a Review Written by Ryan Costello, migrated from the previous version of our website.


For most reviews, I try to remain objectionable. However, there is a very specific reason Ghostwalk ended up on my shelf. Here is the story:

I was DMing an adventure where a PC died, the third character this player lost in a few months. A PC swashbuckler (from Complete Warrior), had been dominated and turned loose on the party. His first target was the party’s monk. When the swashbuckler knocked the monk down to negative HP, I assumed he would leave the unconscious target and move on to a new threat. The problem was the monk had the Die Hard feat, which meant he remained conscious as long as he was above -9 hit points. So the swashbuckler’s player apologized and knocked the monk below -10, killing him.

Rather than asking the monk player to roll up a fourth character, I decided to take the Die Hard feat a creative step further. I proposed the player continue to play the monk, only as a ghost that haunted the PC that killed him. The player liked the idea a lot, and by the next session I owned the sourcebook I thought would do the job: Ghostwalk.

Did it do this job?

At a Glance

Ghostwalk has the prettiest cover in the Dungeons & Dragons library, all editions included. It conveys the book’s theme while retaining its integrity as a piece of classic fantasy art. The various levels of contrast have to be appreciated: Consider the dirty, shadowy skeletons fading into the brown background compared to the radiant ghost in the colour that pops. Both undead, but one is mundane and evil, the other is matchless and good. Consider the simple barbarian barely noticeable against the background compared to the awestriking ghost warrior even the skeletons turn to acknowledge. It sends the message that without this new sourcebook, you are just playing a generic fantasy role playing game. Bringing the cover home, the grey border compliments the brass trim and the Dungeons & Dragons logo in the same way the spots of gold compliment the ghost’s shades of blue.

Art Director Dawn Murin spent as much effort on the interiors as the cover. The chapter headers are unlike any other D&D sourcebook and yet feel perfectly appropriate. Two dwarves in gold armour, one living and one ghost, guard a purple arch that leads into a gateway of light. They look great, emphasize the theme, and make Ghostwalk stand apart visually.

The interior artwork is at least up to par with any given sourcebook Wizards of the Coast published during their 3.X years. Three samples I particularly enjoyed are found in the spells section. Jeremy Jarvis depicted a ranger under the effects of a Bottomless Hate spell, page 50’s appropriately named Snarl. The oversized arm and shin guards give the ranger’s armour a unique aesthetic, as does the shades of brown that leave the impression of the elven equivalent of camouflage. Most impressive is the expression on his face. Rarely do we see elves that are even angry. Here Jarvis effectively conveys an even more visceral emotion, hate, with steam to emphasize that there is magic bringing this elf to a boil.

Just opposite, on page 51, is Ron Spencer’s Disguise Undead . Besides being conceptually clever, the devil of this piece is in the details. The women on the illusion side of the artwork has a mom quality that makes you want to ignore the truth that she is a decaying, sword-wielding, pin-riddled undead abomination.

Regular readers of the sanctuary know of my affinity for the bard class as a concept. Page 55’s Incorporeal Disharmonics illustrates why. Who says a bard can’t look awesome? The tense muscles and screaming face make the harp believable as a weapon against ghosts.


Options for Ghost Characters

All undead in Dungeons & Dragons are evil according to the undead type. While this applies smoothly to most such creatures like vampires, zombies, and mummies, this definition does not offer enough wiggle room for ghosts. True, there are plenty of stories of hauntings where restless spirits turn their supernatural powers against mortals, but there are just as many stories of noble ghosts refusing to leave the material world behind until they have settled their unfinished business. Patrick Swayze in Ghost. Casper. Even Jacob Marley from A Christmas Carol returns to Earth to try to do right by an old friend. Don’t forget the souls of the lost looking out for their living wards, like the spirit of Obi-Wan Kenobi from Star Wars, or Mufasa from The Lion King. Before The Book of Exalted Deads introduced the Deathless, non-evil spirits, no sourcebook tackled the idea except Ghostwalk.

Ghostwalk does not simply brush up the ghost template and call it a ruleset. There is depth to these rules without simply making them complicated. With six different paths of ghost powers (The Corrupter, the Dominator, the Haunt, the Poltergeist, the Shaper, and the Traveler) and two different classes for ghost characters (Eidolon and Eidolancer), players have dozens of combinations they can explore, each supported by feats tied to the different paths. A campaign could feature multiple ghost PCs, each fulfilling a different party role.

Running typical ghost encounters can be difficult for a DM because of the paper work. Ghosts have the ability to manifest or remain ethereal, and have different abilities and defenses tied into both forms. To run a campaign that features ghost characters smoothly, these complications had to be simplified. One innovative solution is ectoplasm, the goo which ghosts are made up of. It grounds the idea of ghosts and provides a tangible concept that rules like wounding and healing ghosts can be tied to.

Some Decent Stuff in There

This title was the best summary I could conceive to capture the quality of the rest of the options in Ghostwalk. There is no single category of options that glows. Outside the options for ghosts, there are some good feats, some good spells, and a good prestige class or two. The monsters are all more than okay. So despite a lack of stand out options and a lot of reprinted material, Ghostwalk offers enough to warrant picking it up during a character creation session.

Canned Adventures

Normally I consider this kind of material to be unwelcome filler. I have no problem with canned adventures sold on their own but generally disapprove of their inclusion in standard sourcebooks. Since Ghostwalk is not standard, it is somewhat forgivable. Somewhat.

There is value in these adventures beyond simply giving a gaming group everything they need for a few months of game nights. DMs looking for maps of dungeons, temples, and other lairs of adventure are spoiled by the Adventures chapter. The adventures vary in length, level, and featured villains. Instead of just loading the book with ghost adventures, there are classic monsters like minotaurs, carrion crawlers, and ettercaps used as well that tie into ghosts. Since Ghostwalk never saw additional releases or support in other sourcebooks, perhaps including this material covered ground that would have been left up to the DM otherwise. Or perhaps the support never came because the material was already covered. Who is to say?

Low Points

What is the Logic?

The most obvious choice Ghostwalk makes is to feature ghosts prominently. The most questionable choice Ghostwalk makes is to cast the yuan-ti as the mortal enemies as ghosts. In what annals of ghost mythology are anthropomorphic snake people mentioned? The campaign material attempts to explain the connection but it does little to justify dedicating options to yuan-ti in a book about ghosts.

Beyond that, a lot of this content does not fit the theme of the book, even the expanded theme of ghosts versus snakes. Ghostwalk separates itself from all other sourcebooks by introducing the concept of playable ghosts, so the majority of the options should be reflective of this. Ghosts being incorporeal undead, additional feats that tie in with incorporeal creatures and undead are also acceptable. Yuan-ti are featured prominently, so although it is hard to understand the logic behind them as prominent villains, it is easy enough to understand options for the book’s prominent villain at least.

Some options not only do not fit this theme, they outright contradict it. What purpose is there in including a spell like Hunter’s Mercy, for example, a ranger spell that increases the odds of scoring a critical hit with a bow. Undead are immune to critical hits. Many other options are just irrelevant, like the Fast Wild Shape feat. Furthermore, these are not even original options. Both above examples are reprinted from previous sourcebooks, with credits listed for where to find the original content. Why steal from another recently released sourcebook is the material is irrelevant or worse?

Shows its Age

Ghostwalk is 3rd ed. It is painfully 3rd ed.

Third edition releases generally require some tweaking for 3.5 players and DMs to make the most of the content within. The actual mechanical changes from 3 to 3.5 may have been minimal but players used to reading 3.5 rules find the occasional reference to outdated rules hurts the flow of their reading and the absorption of information. Although there is a free web enhancement for converting the Ghostwalk rules to 3.5, this sourcebook is guilty of more than just outdated rules. It was designed with an outdated philosophy.

Since the release of this sourcebook, the game designers at Wizards of the Coast learned how to communicate rules with greater clarity and brevity. Most obviously, if Ghostwalk was a 3.5 supplement, they would have never reused the word “ghost”. That word already had rules assigned to it and having new rules supersede the existing rules can cause confusion. They would have been more likely to use a disambiguous term like spirit for clarity’s sake.

The writing lacks the brevity that makes crunch text clear. Consider this excerpt from the spell Unmovable Object: “You gain a +10 bonus to resist a bull rush (this bonus does not include the +4 bonus for being “exceptionally stable,” but exceptionably stable creatures do get that bonus in addition to the bonus from this spell)”. By 3.5, this clunky phrasing would have been rewritten as “You gain a +10 bonus to resist a bull rush, which stacks with similar bonuses, like from the exceptionably stable racial ability.”

There are technical glitches like the new ghost template. First of all, there are allusions to these rules early in the book, in the player’s section, but no referral and nothing concrete until the monster section. Second, even by 3.5 it has never been clear how a PC gains an acquired template. Is it taken like a class level? Added immediately? What about the level adjustment? The Ghostwalk ghost template is easier to apply because it is only level adjustment +1 instead of the +2 of the Monster Manual ghost template, but how does a player handle this sudden pull ahead of the rest of the party? These vague and complicated rules leave a lot to be desired.

Too Much Campaign, Too Little Option

Ghostwalk could have focused exclusively on how to use the existing D&D rules to recreate classic fantasy scenes of ghosts returning to right wrongs or avenge their deaths. Instead Ghostwalk introduces us to the city of Manifest, a bordertown between the Material and Ethereal planes. Rather than building Manifest as an option for DMs that might find the city interesting –and it is interesting if you are looking to implant a pre-generated city into your campaign world- a great deal of rules are tied specifically to this city. There is even a rule that ghosts are drawn by a calling to go to Manifest, railroading an PC ghosts away from whatever plot lines the DM had in place already.

Aside from a city that takes away from the usefulness of the book by being more important than it should be, Ghostwalk introduces entire countries. Between the chapters on the City of Manifest, the Ghostwalk Campaign, Countries, and Adventures, 118 pages of a 223 page book are campaign-centric. If you wish to use many of the options introduced in this book, you are forced to accept Manifest or to create house rules. That leads to the question, if you are going to create house rules to play as ghosts, what do you need this sourcebook for?

Juicy Bits

The Eidolancer, the class for casters that rise as ghosts, progresses nicely and creates a character that retains almost all existing spellcasting ability and adds progressively improving ghost abilities through ghost feats.

Shellcraft Manakin is the kind of item a DM can plot an entire string of adventures around. It is a medium sized ventriloquist dummy that a ghost can possess as though it were a human. A gang of ghosts could be building the reputation of a masked man that turns out to be many models of one dummy. The PCs could think they are hunting a construct only to have the cloak dropped and the ghost run amok, or they could destroy the manikin and the evil ghost swears revenge and haunts them.

What can I say about Bonerattle other than I love when I can feel the effects of the spell while reading it. Attacking a person’s bones makes me uneasy, which makes this an effective spell.

Diamond Eye Circlet is a simple magic item that grants the wearer at will detect undead. A nice spell in a can item that is good for low level characters.

Personal Experience

The story I told, about the PC ghost? I had such a hard time understanding that the new ghost template on page 163, between two campaign-specific chapters I had no interest in, had to be applied so he qualified to take Eidolon levels that I scrapped Ghostwalk almost immediately and just used the ghost template in the Monster Manual. This template proved brutally effective when combined with Monk abilities and the character ended up dominating the sessions. It was a short stint that was fun for a while but the novelty wore off.


After the adventure I’d bought it for ended, Ghostwalk warmed my shelf. When we would play away from my apartment, it never came along. And when my collection of sourcebooks became wider than the shelf, it was demoted to the back room shelf. If I had already reviewed it before moving, I would have sold it second hand instead of going to the effort of packing it.

It is sad that this book did not deliver on expectations, and that the Campaign Option series did not improve it’s format and see more releases. There could have been follow-ups about playing lycanthropes, or winged characters, or clay golems. There was not.

Ghostwalk too often it strays too far from the theme that sold me on it. Far too much importance is given to cites and cities, restricting the value of the material I wanted. With apologies to writers Monte Cook and Sean K Reynolds, this book is a mess. Such a pretty mess, though.

If You Liked This Book…

The only other sourcebook in the Campaign Option series is Oriental Adventures. This book is not yet reviewed, I am simply making its existence known.

During 3.5’s heyday, there was a new series of books more akin to what I would have liked from the Campaign Options series. The Heroes of series (Heroes of Battle and Heroes of Horror) are about the genre setting, like a military campaign or a horror campaign, without forcing a pregen world on the readers. Again, these books have not been reviewed.

There is a prestige class in The Book of Exalted Deeds for playable ghosts. It is not extensive rules but for someone looking for an alternative to Ghostwalk, this is it.

Date Released: June 2003

Date Reviewed: February 2009

Jefferson Thacker

Before Perram joined Know Direction as the show’s first full time co-host, the podcast could have best been describe as a bunch of Pathfinder RPG stuff. Perram brings a knowledge of and love for Golarion to Know Direction, something any Pathfinder podcast is lacking without. On top of being a man on the pulse of the Pathfinder campaign setting, Perram is the founder of the superlative site for Pathfinder spellcasters, Perram’s Spellbook, a free web application that creates customized spell cards.

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