City Settings – The City of Ghosts

The city of Tarharth was once the latest centre of a vast empire ruled by the lich queen Kethar, a wizard of awesome and terrible power. Her army of the undead ravaged and conquered the surroundings lands, threatening to wipe out all life on the continent. No matter how many times the lich queen was defeated, in a few hundred years she would find a way to return and begin her conquest again. The campaign against Kethar came to a final end when the Emerald Knights fought their way into her sanctum and brought with them the greater binding stone. When activated, the stone sent a blast of magical energy that captured the lich’s spirit and bound it into the heart of the stone. The blast did only mild damage to the city and the only casualties were the knights themselves. All other living people in the city had fled at the lich’s first reappearance.

Six Cities in 2018

The fifth in a series of posts exploring cities as the focal point for RPG world building. This city explores a how a city changes when it is populated with only the dead.

To keep Kethar bound requires a spirit binding spell so powerful that it has captured and bound all spirits from within five thousand miles of the stone to an area of just four miles around the stone. The spell did not capture all souls of the dead and does not do so now. Only those spirits that are compelled or choose to remain on this plane are held by the stone. At first the ghosts dragged to Tarharth were lost and confused. Many had been haunting a single location for centuries and they struggled to adapt to haunting an entire empty city.

A century has passed and Kethar has not returned. The ghosts have rebuilt and repopulated the city. The spell that traps them here makes them more corporeal, so they have been able to affect repairs. Rather than continue to haunt a ruin, they have chosen to make Tarharth a city in which they can pleasantly spend their afterlives. New ghosts arrive continuously and the spiritual population of the city now stands at sixteen thousand.

The city architecture and building purposes have changed greatly in the century of ghostly occupation. With no need for food, sanitation or rest, the buildings have been converted into an design not seen anywhere else. Houses lack bedrooms and kitchens, instead becoming unliving rooms and workshops. The civic buildings still see use, in particular the meeting hall is used for governance. The most frequented public buildings are the libraries and the museums, for the dead are very interested in the past, particular when it is the times they lived in. There are nightly concerts and art exhibitions.

Not all ghostly activity is so cerebral. There are several spirits that are still consumed by the malice that first trapped them here. Containment of these wights has necessitated the creation of a spectral watch, mostly made up from the spirits of priests and paladins. They are led by the spirits of the Emerald Knights who also watch over the greater binding stone.

The city is not without a living population. When Kethar arose for the final time, Tarharth was a bustling city of thirty thousand. Many escaped the lich’s queen emergence and some were so attached to their homes that they returned, despite the new ghostly inhabitants. Attempts to actually live with in the area of influence of the greater binding stone were quickly abandoned though, as extended periods of exposure to it influence leads to magical and spiritual illnesses. Instead, a large suburb has grown just outside the city boundary. Amongst those who call the the city their ancestral home are newer arrivals. The ghosts have a desire for materials they can’t obtain from within the stone’s area of effect, so there are several merchants and a few factories that meet these needs. There is also a thriving hotel and hospice business. People will travel long distances for the chance to talk to a recently departed loved one or to learn from souls from ancient times. There are also those waiting to die, who seek to stay on the mortal plane and believe that closer proximity to the stone will ensure their souls capture.

Plot Hooks

  • The spirit watch need the parties help to prevent agents of the lich queen from summoning her away from the greater binding stone.
  • The party have been contracted to present a play that’s only possible for the living to perform.
  • A recently deceased party member has become a citizen of Tarharth. The greater binding stone prevents them from being resurrected.

Image Credit – Ghosts by Susan Ackeridge – CC-BY-NC-2.0