In Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft, dark and strange creatures lurk on every page. To better equip players for the dark corners of the Mists, the Haunted One background gives tools and features to aid in fighting the creatures of the night.
Let’s take a look at this background and see how it helps fend off the things that go bump in the night.
What is the Haunted One Background in D&D 5e?
The Haunted One background comes from the Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft book, which is a sourcebook all about the Mists and supernatural setting that is Ravenloft.
The background focuses on bringing supernatural elements into a character’s backstory, making the character marked or tied to a supernatural force in some way.
Here’s what the background looks like inside the book:
Haunted One Background
Skill Proficiencies: Choose two from Arcana, Investigation, Religion, or Survival
Languages: Choose two, one of which must be Abyssal, Celestial, Deep Speech, Draconic, Infernal, Primordial, Sylvan, or Undercommon
Equipment: Monster hunter’s pack (containing a chest, a crowbar, a hammer, three wooden stakes, a holy symbol, a flask of holy water, a set of manacles, a steel mirror, a flask of oil, a tinderbox, and 3 torches), a set of common clothes, one trinket of special significance (choose one or roll on the Horror Trinkets table), and 1 sp
Feature: Heart of Darkness
Those who look into your eyes can see that you have faced unimaginable horror and that you are no stranger to darkness. Though they might fear you, commoners will extend you every courtesy and do their utmost to help you. Unless you have shown yourself to be a danger to them, they will even take up arms to fight alongside you, should you find yourself facing an enemy alone.
Basically, this background gives your character the tools they need to combat whatever supernatural force or creature that haunts their background.
Both the skills and languages that the background offers give the character capabilities that line up with the weird things that haunt the D&D world. Arcana and Religion are common knowledge skills for magical or supernatural creatures, while Investigation and Survival are skills for discovering clues and tracking foes.
We have the option to be the scholar, hunter, or a hybrid of the two for our party thanks to this background.
The languages also tie into this theme. One of the languages we have to take is one of the rarer languages, most of which are common to fiends, fey, undead, and monstrosities. All of these creature types come up in fairy tales and other supernatural stories.
Finally, the Heart of Darkness feature gives your character a tie into the local community. Whether you are the local monster hunter or a loved but feared member of the town, you can count on aid from the locals in your quest to combat the memory or monster that haunts you.
The background also has a Harrowing Events table that you can use to better define what happened to your character to give them this background:
Harrowing Event Table
|1||A monster that slaughtered dozens of innocent people spared your life, and you don’t know why.|
|2||You were born under a dark star. You can feel it watching you, coldly and distantly. Sometimes it beckons you in the dead of night.|
|3||An apparition that has haunted your family for generations now haunts you. You don’t know what it wants, and it won’t leave you alone.|
|4||Your family has a history of practicing the dark arts. You dabbled once and felt something horrible clutch at your soul, whereupon you fled in terror.|
|5||An oni took your sibling one cold, dark night, and you were unable to stop it.|
|6||You were cursed with lycanthropy and later cured. You are now haunted by the innocents you slaughtered.|
|7||A hag kidnapped and raised you. You escaped, but the hag still has a magical hold over you and fills your mind with evil thoughts.|
|8||You opened an eldritch tome and saw things unfit for a sane mind. You burned the book, but its words and images are burned in your psyche.|
|9||A fiend possessed you as a child. You were locked away but escaped. The fiend is still inside you, but now you try to keep it bottled up.|
|10||You did terrible things to avenge the murder of someone you loved. You became a monster, and it haunts your waking dreams.|
Like the other backgrounds in D&D 5e, the Haunted One background also has a number of tables to help you define the personality and beliefs of your character. Use these tables as either inspiration for your own backstory or roll randomly to create a backstory quickly:
Horror Character Personality Traits
|1||I had an encounter that I believe gives me a special affinity with a supernatural creature or event.|
|2||A signature piece of clothing or distinct weapon serves as an emblem of who I am.|
|3||I never accept that I’m out of my depth.|
|4||I must know the answer to every secret. No door remains unopened in my presence.|
|5||I let people underestimate me, revealing my full competency only to those close to me.|
|6||I compulsively seek to collect trophies of my travels and victories.|
|7||It doesn’t matter if the whole world’s against me. I’ll always do what I think is right.|
|8||I have morbid interests and a macabre aesthetic.|
|9||I have a personal ritual, mantra, or relaxation method I use to deal with stress.|
|10||Nothing is more important than life, and I never leave anyone in danger.|
|11||I’m quick to jump to extreme solutions. Why risk a lesser option not working?|
|12||I’m easily startled, but I’m not a coward.|
Horror Character Ideals
|1||Adrenaline. I’ve experienced such strangeness that now I feel alive only in extreme situations.|
|2||Balance. I strive to counter the deeds of someone for whom I feel responsible.|
|3||Bound. I’ve wronged someone and must work their will to avoid their curse.|
|4||Escape. I believe there is something beyond the world I know, and I need to find it.|
|5||Legacy. I must do something great so that I’m remembered, and my time is running out.|
|6||Misdirection. I work vigorously to keep others from realizing my flaws or misdeeds.|
|7||Obsession. I’ve lived this way for so long that I can’t imagine another way.|
|8||Obligation. I owe it to my people, faith, family, or teacher to continue a vaunted legacy.|
|9||Promise. My life is no longer my own. I must fulfill the dream of someone who’s gone.|
|10||Revelation. I need to know what lies beyond the mysteries of death, the world, or the Mists.|
|11||Sanctuary. I know the forces at work in the world and strive to create islands apart from them.|
|12||Truth. I care about the truth above all else, even if it doesn’t benefit anyone.|
Horror Character Bonds
|1||I desperately need to get back to someone or someplace, but I lost them in the Mists.|
|2||Everything I do is in the service of a powerful master, one I must keep a secret from everyone.|
|3||I owe much to my vanished mentor. I seek to continue their work even as I search to find them.|
|4||I’ve seen great darkness, and I’m committed to being a light against it – the light of all lights.|
|5||Someone I love has become a monster, murderer, or other threat. It’s up to me to redeem them.|
|6||The world has been convinced of a terrible lie. It’s up to me to reveal the truth.|
|7||I deeply miss someone and am quick to adopt people who remind me of them.|
|8||A great evil dwells within me. I will fight against it and the world’s other evils for as long as I can.|
|9||I’m desperately seeking a cure to an affliction or a curse, either for someone close to me or myself.|
|10||Spirits are drawn to me. I do all I can to help them find peace.|
|11||I use my cunning mind to solve mysteries and find justice for those who’ve been wronged.|
|12||I lose someone I care about, but I still see them in guilty visions, recurring dreams, or as a spirit.|
Horror Character Flaws
|1||I believe doom follows me and that anyone who gets close to me will face a tragic end.|
|2||I’m convinced something is after me, appearing in mirrors, dreams, and places where no one could.|
|3||I’m especially superstitious and live life seeking to avoid bad luck, wicked spirits, or the Mists.|
|4||I’ve done unspeakable evil and will do anything to prevent others from finding out.|
|5||I am exceptionally credulous and believe any story or legend immediately.|
|6||I’m a skeptic and don’t believe in the power of rituals, religion, superstition, or spirits.|
|7||I know my future is written and that anything I do will lead to a prophesied end.|
|8||I need to find the best in everyone and everything, even when that means denying obvious malice.|
|9||I’ve seen the evil of a type of place – like forests, cities, or graveyards – and resist going there.|
|10||I’m exceptionally cautious, planning laboriously and devising countless contingencies.|
|11||I have a reputation for defeating a great evil, but that’s a lie and the wicked force knows.|
|12||I know the ends always justify the means and am quick to make sacrifices to attain my goals.|
Reading through these tables, it’s easy to see how someone with the Haunted One background fits into a Gothic or otherwise darker campaign setting. Connections to spirits, monsters, and strange magics are rife in these tables.
But, that doesn’t mean this background can’t be used in other settings. Any campaign setting that has the chance for the characters to be connected to a dark force or creature of some kind could reasonably pick up this background.
Who Benefits the Most From the Haunted One Background?
Backgrounds in D&D 5e are designed to work with any class. That’s part of what makes the system so enjoyable for many players.
By taking the right background, you can change up how a class would normally feel to play by adding new skills or features to that class.
The Haunted One background works the same way. Still, for the Haunted One background, some classes benefit more from what the class has to offer:
- Fighter: The skills and languages offered by the Haunted One background let you create a monster hunter with a little bit of know-how.
- Ranger: Rangers already get some of the skills from this background, meaning the background can fill in gaps for the ranger’s skills and improve their number of known languages.
- Rogue: With their expertise, a Rogue with this background immediately becomes an expert on supernatural lore or tracking, depending on their skill choices.
- Warlock: With how full this background’s traits are concerning the supernatural, the Warlock can gain all sorts of inspiration for their pact patron and pact terms with this background.
Still, all the classes in D&D 5e can use this background well. Grab your favorite class and apply this background to it to get a monster hunter or sleuth that can always find their quarry!
Iconic Haunted Ones From Other Stories
If you need inspiration for your table, then other works of fiction are a great source of ideas.
Here are some iconic characters that could easily be described as a Haunted One:
- The Belmonts: The protagonists from the Castlevania games couldn’t be more like the Haunted One – after all, the background gives you a monster hunter’s pack!
- Blade: The vampire-turned-vampire hunter uses his supernatural connection and abilities to slay monsters while dealing with his unique circumstances.
- Abraham Van Helsing: Another classic monster hunter dedicated to killing vampires like the great Strahd himself.
- Hellboy: Breaking from the other human-looking options, Hellboy uses his connection to Hell to fight monsters – perfect inspiration for some up-and-coming tiefling adventurers!
- John Constantine: As the epitome of the human Wizard Haunted One, John has survived all kinds of supernatural foes with his wit and magical talents.
Other dark fantasy works, like the Dragon Age and The Witcher video games, or The Dark Tower books and movies, can be great sources of protagonists with connections to the supernatural.
Ultimately, the Haunted One background is perfect for players that want to give their character a connection to something dark or mysterious. How much of an influence that power has on the character’s abilities are up to the player and the story.
Still, this background offers a unique feeling to a D&D character that the other backgrounds from the Player’s Handbook don’t quite capture. Toy around with this background for your next character and see where the dark and gritty portions of your imagination take you!
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I played the game a lot as a kid, back in first edition. Over the past few years since 5e was released, I’ve really started getting back into it. Currently, I run a campaign online for some friends and my brothers, and we also play a side-sesh just to mix things up.