Scream your heart out.
It’s the Banshee!
Banshees are a fairly common and iconic ghostly concept, right up there with Poltergeists and Will-o-Wisps. They are “a selfish, strong-willed spirit that embodies the essence of hideousness.” Banshees are, coincidentally, always female. I usually don’t stick to that rule – I see no reason why the Banshee should only be a woman. I also give my Banshees varied personalities, because the jealous woman who screams is a tired old representation, and I like getting unique with my stuff.
In the original Irish myths, the Banshee was a ghostly woman who would mourn for someone prematurely, warning of impending doom. Someone will die, and she’s already mourning for the poor soul. Naturally, that’s super spooky. But the power of the Banshee in D&D is that their screams will kill you, so going with the old myths for inspiration, you can have Banshees show up in various ways and for various purposes.
A murder mystery where the Banshee doesn’t know they died and you’re trying to tell them without triggering any hysterics could be a very cool encounter.
The Banshee usually doesn’t hunt down their target, or really even hide themselves at all. The Banshee just does their thing, and people stumble upon them. Whether crying, screaming, or mourning, they will be in some state of dishevelment or emotional distress. But a happy Banshee whose laughter kills is also quite eerie.
You wander through the castle, your boots clapping against the solid stone blocks building up the flooring. Glancing about, you think it seems too quiet, but you aren’t looking for a fight so you try not to make too much noise. Suddenly, you hear a slight whispered and sad voice, like a child who has screamed their voice away. You think about the job you’re doing, and decide to investigate anyway. You aren’t a monster after all.
In the next room is a small kitchen area, and a breakfast nook for servants. There is nothing but dust and the smell of old rotting food. It must have been at least a few months since someone was last here. You see a child from behind. Short-cut black hair, hunched over the table, with a bowl of rotting something in front of them. They’re convulsing like they’re crying, but you don’t hear much noise escape their lungs. They have faded gray clothing on, and their skin is pale. You step along the ground until your foot crunches on an old piece of dinner plate. The child turns, eyes wide in fear.
When the Banshee screams, you have to save or get knocked out. That means that a Banshee could kill an entire party in one wail, if everybody fails their save. The Banshee is a true terror to run as a GM because it’s so easy for the encounter to go south. If you don’t wanna kill your players, which, you shouldn’t want that, you end up with a rough situation that could go any way.
The child and you lock eyes. Their skin is cracked and marred around the eyes, as if they tried to cry for so long, and their skin was so dry, that they just ripped it open. Blood streaks down their face, dripping down their cheeks in a weak facsimile of tears. You see how truly pale their skin is, and how you can just barely see through them. It’s not just creepy, it’s unnerving, and you find it hard to look away. You taste bile in your throat, and you can smell the iron in the air, wafting off the Banshee’s blood tears. It’s there, but misty and almost faded, like the smell is close and far away at the same time. The child begins to cry, clearly so overwhelmed with fear that they finally remembered how. Crimson tears drip off their face, they open their mouth, and they scream.
Everything goes black.
When a character dies to a Banshee, I usually have them become a Banshee themselves. They start with all their knowledge of who they were. But as time goes on, and as they scream more and more, they lose themselves and become a vehicle of emotion. This way if the characters want to try and get their dead friend back into their body, they can attempt that.
Plus, having a ghostly version of a character float around behind the party making ghost noises is super enjoyable, and can lead to entertaining situations. It could also lead to dramatic and prolonged goodbyes, as the characters one by one say bye before leaving the Banshee in a place they once loved, or to protect something the party needs defended.
The Banshee is perfect fuel for a spooky situation, or a time-based puzzle. Solving a riddle to get through a door is even more nerve-wracking while a Banshee slowly drifts through a series of glass doors that are unlocking every minute, ticking down till the final door, the final moment, the final scream.
For inspirational watching, check out 13 Ghosts. A great video game with a Banshee-type creature is Left 4 Dead. The witch is a pitch perfect Banshee, and encounters with it will help inspire you.
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Image Sources: Wizards of the Coast
Roll a d20 to see why the Banshee screams!
1: Anger at a relative.
2: Fear of commitment.
3: Sadness for a party member’s problems.
4: Jealousy of the players.
5: Lack of Self Respect.
6: Because they think that’s just what Banshees do.
8: They witnessed something gross.
9: They feel intimidated by other ghosts.
10: They’re just singing badly.
11. Burned their foot on ghostly fire.
12. Because they have a reputation to uphold.
13. Because you startled them.
14. Because clearly you don’t understand what you’re talking about.
15 .Because they miss their dog.
16. Because they lost the game.
17. Because they have a headache.
18. Just for fun.
19. Because they were correcting the players.
20. Because their students wouldn’t sit still.