A good ghost suggests something complex, unexplored, and tragic with its every action. It leads players down a quest regardless of what their plan becomes.
Putting a ghost to rest is more than just fear (that it will kill you if you don't)... it's hope (that the ghost will find peace), sympathy (because most adventurers will naturally see themselves in the dead), and curiosity (because players know that the more information they have on the dead and their lives, the more information they have to help them survive).
Basically ghosts are dope as fuck and here are tables for making a few. Possibly I'll turn to the OSR discord for more ideas. Eventually these will join a bunch of other writings I have on ghosts for a ghastly compendium. We all have dreams.
Ghost Features, Patterns, and Habits:
1. It drinks from the same body of water every night.
2. It carries something visible only to itself in its scabbed and flaking hands.
3. It pulls teeth from the dead of this place.
4. It smells your palm and pushes its muzzle soft against it if you are unarmed.
5. It digs up anthills and upends birds nest in its search.
6. It lingers by the fire.
7. It never lets you escape without taking something.
8. A deranged mother visits it every night, kisses it, and returns it to its crib.
9. It strips bark from trees. It could strip skin too, and would.
10. It snaps the line to the outhouse, leaving villagers in the blizzard.
11. A body that looks exactly like it is found hanging on the outskirts of town every morning.
12. It taps its foot in the darkness.
13. Flowers grow where it goes.
14. It died in the chimney pipe, and turns all fires in the house deadly.
15. It stocks its home with brave fools -- still alive -- and never lets them go.
16. It screams never end, but you will only understand its words if you mimic its long-dead companions.
17. It falls in love and grows attached easily. It turns on you even easier.
18. It possesses the living and puts them to sleep in odd places. When their host is shaken awake, they strike.
19. It will suffer no cages.
20. It has a twin.
1. Its skin is white like maggot’s meat.
2. Its coat is black as the sky.
3. Behind its mask scratch little claws, rats suffocating in the dark.
4. A great black bear. Blind. A hundred hunters have reported its death. It grows crueler each day.
5. It drifts under the water, looking up at passerby.
6. A ghostly man is led by some invisible thing on a leash. The man is harmless -- the collared thing is not.
7. A lantern swings from its fingers.
8. Its legs are long like yearling oaks.
9. Three of them together -- a pale elk, a hunchback, and a white wolf. They died together, somehow.
10. It has been many things in the past era. Now? A pearly white water flow that seeps through the cracks in the ground. It is much greater in volume than it lets on.
11. Only children can report its form accurately.
12. Three eggs hatched. The fourth lay dead and cold. Now it sings bright and clear near the nest.
13. The cult’s horrific ritual merged their minds together, and their dreams took on an abstract and monstrous shape.
14. The kidnapper would blend into the night in grim, black, thick attire.
15. Its headwear is reminiscent of a warrior of a previous age.
16. The sun has bleached it so intensely over millenia that it is now essentially transparent.
17. This two-headed horse, condemned and unridden, had enough hate in it to keep it alive for just a few more weeks of murder.
18. The woman fussed about the decorations so much that in death, she has become them -- shattered china flying through the air, warped and gigantic candlesticks barring the doors.
19. Thirty joints wherever there should just be one, it twists and angles itself everywhere in the house at once.
20. Two brothers and a small chest they decided was worth killing each other over.
1. It saps all desire to escape from its haunt. You belong with it.
2. It sees you most in darkness.
3. It obscures exits easily.
4. It is easy to hide from but impossible to outrun.
5. It steals the air from the rooms it floats within.
6. It will always break something if you drop it.
7. It can change size unpredictably.
8. No fires will burn for longer than d6 turns in its presence.
9. If it touches you, you will not sleep until it is banished.
10. It will never let you see it.
11. It can flee so quick that no bullet or blade will catch it.
12. Its bones lurch and jump around its haunting place, and shoot out at passerby.
13. Its sight alone turns you hostile and anxious.
14. Its bite causes a spreading rot that can only be healed by holy means.
15. It steals your most useful asset.
16. It can start a fire that can only be extinguished with Remove Curse.
17. It saps the ink from books within hours of the book entering its haunt.
18. It will compel you to dance with it.
19. It can drain living things of moisture.
20. It can change the nature of all elemental attacks to their opposite, and reflect them back.