The obake-yashiki, or “Twisted Mansion,” is a mystery to all reputable scholars, be they Japanese or foreign. Found on lonely mountain paths, or just slightly off of pilgrim trails and disused trade routes, the obake-yashiki takes the form of a building such as a peasant’s hut, a shrine, a hot spring bathhouse or some other place that might be inviting to weary travellers. From a distance it appears completely normal, its only unusual or distinguishing feature being its placement, which is inevitably in wilderness or uninhabited settings rarely visited by anyone but the hardiest of wayfarers.

No one knows whether the obake-yashiki survives by consuming the souls or the bodies of its victims, and it is unclear whether the absence of corpses around its location arises from a supernatural capacity to erase the remains of its victims, or a supernatural ability to transport to a new remote location after its grisly deed has been done. But all scholars agree that the obake-yashiki is a deadly hunter, that sets traps for exclusively human prey to lure them to their death. Usually these traps take the form of some inviting sound, smell or sight such as befits the disguise the monster has taken: drifting clouds of fragrant incense from a shrine; the sound of pretty ladies giggling in a garden; the silhouette of people bathing in an outdoor hotspring; or the delicious smells of an evening meal from a peasant’s hut. This lure first acts in a completely natural fashion, but if the passing wayfarer does not respond to it with sufficient curiousity, the obake-yashiki exerts its supernatural influence, and attempts to charm its victims closer. Those who are successfully charmed in this way enter the building directly, and are lost forever unless prompt action is taken to rescue them.

If unenchanted victims come within the immediate vicinity of the building, the obake-yashiki attacks them. The form of the attack varies depending on the structure of the building: an onsen may lash out with gouts of steamy hot water; a shrine’s fox guardians may come to life and attack; the tools from the peasant’s hut may animate and strike. However, this is only the first line of attack. Should the beast’s outer guardians disable or distract defenders, the shrine will lash out with some form of appendage – again, reminiscent of the building’s form, though sometimes a more naked representation of the dark magic that animates the building – to ensnare a victim and drag them through its portal. Once inside, the victim is likely beyond help, or will be destroyed permanently and completely unless their companions immediately rush to destroy the main building. The shrine’s outer guardians can also be disabled permanently by attacking the building itself, though they will fight hard to defend it. Of course the building is both resilient and possessed of great strength, but there are two forms of attack against which all obake-yashiki are weak: fire, and earthquakes. Magical attacks that inflict either such effect on the building will destroy it quickly, or cause it to eject any recently-consumed victims and disappear.

Obake-yashiki can be driven away from an area by a suitably-skilled priest, and are vulnerable to exorcism or abjuration magic. They are impervious to slashing weapons, and take damage only slowly from bludgeoning weapons. It is said that foxes and tanuki hate them, and obake-yashiki rarely visit areas that are known to be in the territory of an enchanted fox or tanuki. To permanently destroy an obake-yashiki, so that it is rendered down to the form of a mere ruined building, requires the intervention of a priest, who will chant sutras that hold the building in place while it is destroyed with fire. Once this is done, adventurers can search the remains of the building and often will find a rich treasure gathered together from the remains of the building’s previous victims.

It is said that evil magics exist that give priests and wizards power over these buildings, and that sometimes undead or evil wizards live within them, and move around with the building. Whether this is true or not has never been confirmed, because few people survive encounters with the obake-yashiki. It is also rumoured that obake-yashiki are created from the evil deeds of past occupants, or from their unresolved rage at some past injustice. In this case, it may be possible through some quest of redemption or vengeance to quell the obake-yashiki without the aid of a priest. If this quest is successful the obake-yashiki will simply become a normal building, in whatever place it was last situated, and the person who quietened it will be forever honoured in local folklore.

However, the numbers of those honoured for such deeds is far, far smaller than the numbers of those who have died  at the hands of these vicious and deceptive beasts.

Note: obake-yashiki means “haunted house” in official Japanese, but I got the idea for this monster from the earthquake. Yesterday my colleague told me that our workplace seems like “obake-yashiki” because the earthquake alarms were going off randomly, and the halls are dark and cold (not to mention quivering in aftershocks). In Japanese, obake means “transformed” or “metamorphosed,” and thus was the idea born. I haven’t given statistics for this monster, but I think the idea is good for a random encounter or adventure trigger, and in my imagination these beasts can be as weak or as strong as the building they are formed from. The beast could also have a place in a modern manga-style Japanese campaign, set in a world like that of Witch Hunter Robin, in which case even a portaloo or an ATM hall could be an obake-yashiki. I suspect a particularly powerful and terrifying modern incarnation of this beast would be a pachinko parlour…

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