Wednesday, March 17, 2021

OSR: Ghouls

Ideas borrowed from here, here and here.  Inspired by everything Joseph Manola and Arnold K have ever written about Ghouls. 

by inSOLense

Cannibal Undead who eats their own kind.  They've been a part of D&D for a long time, but I've only recently learned to really love them.  As such, I will finally be doing a definitive post on them.

Becoming a Ghoul:

Every time you eat the flesh of your own species or another intelligent humanoid race, you get a point of The Hunger.  Every time you gain a point of The Hunger, you must succeed a COG save, with a penalty equal to the points of The Hunger you have gained.  For example, if this is your first cannibal meal, -1.  If it's your fifth, -5.

If you succeed, nothing happens.  But if you fail the save, you become a Half-Ghoul. 

You should also make another save like this after you die, presuming you don't die because you are decapitated or burned to a crisp.  Additionally, if you are quickly given a proper funeral and buried in consecrated soil, then you do not have to make a second save.  If you fail this save, you rise once the sun sets as a Ghoul.

Half-Ghouls gain the following Traits:

Cannibal Conviction: You gain the Conviction, "I have the desire to consume the flesh of intelligent humanoids."  Whenever you get the chance, you must save or do so. 

Ghoulish Descent: Every time you consume the flesh of an intelligent humanoid, make a CON save.  On a failed save, roll on the 'Ghoul Traits' table below.  You may also choose to fail this save.

Undead Rebirth: If you are killed and not decapitated or burned down to your bones or given a proper funeral and buried in consecrated soil then you should make a Save vs. The Hunger after death (COG save with -X penalty equal to points of The Hunger).  Should you fail this save, your body rises once the sun sets as a Ghoul.

Ghoul Traits:


1- Agelessness.  As long as you regularly consume the flesh of intelligent humanoids, you do not age.  You will never get any younger, but your body can be maintained at this current age.  Additionally, even if you are old, the consumption of flesh will prevent you from suffering the maladies of old age.
2- Ghoul Venom.  Your saliva begins to contain a paralytic poison.  Should a creature be exposed to it, it must save or take 1d6 DEX damage.  Creatures who are dropped to 0 DEX cannot move, but regain 1 point of DEX per hour.  Antivenom or anything that removes poison immediately heals all DEX damage.
3- Resistance to Pain.  You receive natural armor equal to AR 1.  If you roll this result again, increase it to AR 2, up to AR 4.  This Armor does not stack with anything but shields or helms. 
4- Sunlight Sensitivity.  You get -1 to all rolls in sunlight, as it prickles your skin and irritates it. 
5- Claws and Fangs.  Your canines extend, giving you a d6 bite attack.  If you have Ghoul Venom, you can secrete venom through your fangs.  If you roll this result again, you gain claws that give you a d6 attack.  If you have claws, you can make a bite and claw attack on your turn.  You can also secrete venom through your claws.
6- Enhanced sense of smell.  You gain a +4 bonus to any roll made to track by smell.
7- Low-light vision.  You can see in low-light conditions as if they were brightly illuminated.  While your eyes are adjusted to the darkness, you have disadvantage on all saves vs blindness.
8- Obligate Carnivore.  You cannot eat anything but meat now.  Should you attempt so, you gain no nutrition from the meal and must save or vomit it back up.
9- Cold of the Grave.  You are no longer affected by cold temperatures and cannot suffer from hypothermia.  If you roll this result again, you get resistance to cold damage.
10- Animal Fear.  Animals become scared of you and will no longer willingly associate with you.  Dogs will refuse to obey your commands and horses won't let you ride them.  You can attempt to frighten animals as an action. 
11- Iron Belly.  You can no longer be poisoned or get sick from eating something, such as carrion.  If you roll this result again, you can resistance to poison damage.
12- Undead Kinship.  Undead will recognize your status as a fledgling, and not attack you unless you aggress against them first.  If you roll this result again, you must succeed a CON save. On a failed save, you die and rise once the sun sets a Ghoul.  You may also choose to fail this save.

by George REDreev

Ghouls gain the following Traits:

Undead: Ghouls are Undead.  Undead do not feel pain or get tired.  They are immune to poison and disease.  They do not need to eat, sleep or breathe.  Any spell that says "Undead" in its title or description is talking about something like this.

Sunlight Vulnerability: Undead take 1d6 radiant damage for every round they spend in sunlight.

Already Dead: Unless decapitated, cut to pieces, burnt to ashes by sunlight or reduced to zero HP by a magical attack or weapon, the Undead has an X-in-6 chance of their body knitting itself back together and recovering from the damage they took, where X is equal to the number of HD they have.

Great Hunger: Ghouls must continually consume meat to maintain their personalities.  If a Ghoul has eaten within the last 3 days, it maintains its full intelligence.  If it hasn't eaten in a week, it is still intelligent, but is noticeably less smart, less patient and less cautious.  If a Ghoul hasn't eaten in a month, it is feral, and acts like a rabid animal.  If it hasn't eaten in longer than a month, it slumps into a coma and does not move.  Should any creature come within arm's reach, the Ghoul will spring up and try to devour the creature.  Otherwise, the Ghoul will do nothing. 

Cursed Touch: Most Ghouls have Ghoul Venom, which they secrete through saliva, fangs and claws.  But some Ghouls have a burning touch or other abilities that activate on contact.

Finally, here is a statblock for a Ghoul:

(Lesser) Ghoul
HD 1d3+1
AR 2 [Light or Natural Armor]
Atk Claw (1d6 + 1d6 DEX) or Weapon (1d8)
Mor 12
Saves (7+HD) or less
Immune to Cold, Poison and Necrotic Damage

Undead, Sunlight Vulnerability, Already Dead

Ghoul Venom: Creatures struck by a Ghoul's claws or fangs are injected by venom and must save, on a failure they take an additional 1d6 DEX damage.  If this damage reduces a creature's DEX to 0, the creature is paralyzed.  Creatures regain 1 point of DEX per hour, as long as they aren't injected with more venom.  

- Isolate a creature
- Use venom to paralyze it
- Drag it away to eat
- Only hunt weak prey, if something seems too strong, try to weaken it first

You can find ideas for different kinds of Ghouls here and here.

The Nature of Ghouls:

Ghouls are mortals who have feasted on the flesh of their own kind for reasons that vary from creature to creature.  Perhaps they did so out of desperation, or sadism, or any number of other reasons.  Regardless, they did so, and now their sins have caught up to them, forcing them to hide from the sun and feed on the living and dead.  Ghouls are pathetic, desperate creatures, driven by an insatiable hunger that can only be temporarily sated by forbidden flesh.

How the Ghoul chooses to react to this varies. 

Most Ghouls have some degree of self-loathing, as they likely ate friends, family or kin, or perhaps simply refused to choose an honorable death and were driven to this point, thus having brought shame upon themselves and their families.  As such, most Ghouls present a very humorous mask, joking and laughing at themselves and others to hide their self-loathing.  This false joviality is also an attempt by the Ghouls to not scare away other creatures.

Other Ghouls attempt to justify their actions.  Perhaps they try to only eat racial, ethnic or cultural enemies, or criminals, or slaves they own.  These Ghouls are highly skilled at rationalizations and are able to reframe almost any horrible action, transforming it into an act of benevolence.  They tend towards consquentialist schools of moral reasoning.  These Ghouls are the most frustrating to deal with.

When Ghouls gather together, they tend to be sulk and wallow in misery together, or begin developing a theory of morality that allows them to eat people without feeling guilty.  These latter type of Ghouls will try to evangelize for their favorite moral theory even as they are preparing to eat you. 

When they have recently eaten, Ghouls can be quite chatty and civil.  They like talking to non-Ghouls, most of which are at least somewhat optimistic, unlike some of their own kind, who love dark soliquies and declarations of the emptiness of Hope.  It sounds cool for the first couple years, but most older Ghouls outgrow such trite aesthetics.  Sure, it might be intimidating to remind your victims how there is no hope left for them, that it was all a lie to begin with, but by trying to feed on them, aren't you demonstrating that you are incorrect.  Isn't the Ghoul's constant quest for food a refutation of the idea that living creatures would be better off dead?

Young Ghouls, of course, don't let this bother them, especially if they're married to the idea of being a dark, tragic monster.  Some of them imagine themselves to be the main character of a tragedian's finest work, aping sophistication and pathos while ripping flesh from bones. 

However, despite how they act, know that all Ghouls are always hungry.  They can and do eat any form of meat, from carrion to other Undead to the living.  The latter are the most delectable to them, hot and fresh and full of life.  The urge to feed on you is always present, no matter how the Ghoul appears.  And eventually, no matter how in control the Ghoul feels, he will give in to these urges and try to devour you. 

Ghoul Plot Hooks:


1- A pair of Ghouls have fallen in love with a Graveyard Nymph.  One wants to redeem himself to be worthy of her love, and collapses back into self-pity and depression whenever he eats a person.  Another wants desperately to eat her, but cannot resist her charm aura.  He wants some way to defeat it, so he can eat her.
2- A Necromancer is being stalked by a Ghoul.  The Ghoul just wants someone to talk to, but the Necromancer is scared of the Ghoul, as he rightly fears the Ghoul might eat him.  As such, he will try to create a situation where the Ghoul will be driven off or killed while he can escape.
3- A Ghoul has started an organization among the disenfranchised of a city with the aim of revolution or reform so bloody and violent to be indistinguishable from it.  The Ghoul may or may not actually care about this goal, and may just be doing this so it has an excuse to make a bunch of corpses and feast on them.  The followers of the Ghoul know he or she is something abnormal, but not that he is a Ghoul.  Should they know, they would probably react badly.
4- A group of strangers arrived outside a city's wall and began causing trouble, raiding tombs, kidnapping animals and people and generally being suspicious and scary.  If you investigate, you will find out they are Ghouls.  As for what they are doing here, the leader of the Ghouls will tell you that they are "Waiting."  Shortly after the Ghouls arrive, the city will be attacked by an enemy warband.  Should the Ghouls still be alive, they will join the ravens in feasting on the dead.
5- You are asked to investigate a series of disappearances along a trade route.  Secretly, a family of Ghouls have been kidnapping people who travel along the road, taking them back to their cave home to feed on.   
6- You are invited to a noble's home for dinner.  He asks you for your help in curing a mysterious illness that is afflicting his grandfather, who has grown so violent and insane he has to be locked up in the attic.  Unknown to this noble, the grandfather is a Ghoul, and his feral nature is because he hasn't been fed enough.  The noble wants you to cure his grandfather.  But is that even possible?  Then, during dinner, the grandfather escapes and begins stalking the family, looking to feed. 
7- A serial killer, who is addicted to the idea of racking up the greatest kill count in history, has started eating his victims in the hopes that once he becomes a Ghoul, he will be able to keep going forever.  He is someone the players know, and as he starts to become more Ghoulish, he becomes more erratic and unconventional.  While this is happening, the players should be investigating a series of seemingly unrelated murders in the city.
8- A group of adventurers have gone missing in a deep dungeon.  Someone from the outside hires you to go rescue them.  When you find the adventurers, you find that the entire party was wiped out, except for two.  One, who had been a cannibal before, became a Ghoul and killed the others, with the exception of one other, who they dragged off to eat.  When you find the survivors, you find the Ghoul has "kidnapped" the Prophetess, who he is in love with.  He claims he is just trying to protect her, and he might even believe that, but it's only a matter of time before he loses control of himself and tries to eat her.
9- A group of fisherman haven't returned in several days and you are hired to find them.  The locals suspect Mermaids or perhaps a Whale.  When you arrive, you find that the fishermen's boat sank and they divided themselves up into life-boats, but then got separated, with the lifeboats floating in different directions.  All the fishermen are either dead, starving or have secretly resorted to cannibalism and started turning into Half-Ghouls.  They will conceal this fact until they can no longer control myself, and then they will feast.
10- A local official has been acting strangely, stirring up trouble and warmongering after the polity's enemies when he was formerly a peaceful man.  Secretly, a group of Ghouls have captured his family and if he doesn't provide them with another source of meat soon, they will cease eating his servants and start eating his children instead.  

by Dave-Kendall

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