For many, the word “ghoul” conjures grotesque images that shock and nauseate. Denizens of graveyards and connoisseurs of flesh and bone, these hooved eaters of the dead move with hungering poise, slaver for the living, and exude the stench of a charnel house. A Mythos ghoul shares a hunger for flesh with their simpler counterparts, but they are not feral creatures. Rather, these folk possess a keen intellect and a surprising sophistication steeped in lore and custom. Indeed, a Mythos ghoul is just as likely to aid visitors as attack, if not more so.
Unlike the better-known grave-gorging undead that share the same name, Mythos ghouls are living creatures. While their demeanor and nature would seem to make Mythos ghouls natural allies to their homonymous brethren, competition for food and the undead ghoul’s hatred of the living make the two bitter enemies. Mythos ghoul necromancers are fond of using their counterparts as minions, as undead ghouls often appeal to their sardonic sense of irony.
Unless otherwise noted, the word “ghoul” is used in this book to refer to the living ghouls of Lovecraft’s traditions, rather than monstrous undead ghouls.
As long as humanity has lived, hungered, and died, there have been ghouls dwelling in the shadows, eager to feed on flesh and memories. The history of the ghoul can be read in every boneyard, every necropolis, and every anonymous grave. They preserve that which was thought lost, both in their habit of mimicking old customs and, by feeding upon the dead, in regaining memories long forgotten.
Many suspect ghouls to have first come to this world by tunneling into graveyards from below, after digging deep into areas of the Dreamlands. Some believe ghouls are a fragment of an ancient past or the manifestation of a new future. Whatever the case, ghouls have lived alongside surface dwellers since they first began burying their dead, and they will likely remain among until long after the last of the last graves have been filled.
Playing a Ghoul
Ghouls are sardonic and dark-humored. They enjoy eating carrion for the flavor and the fragments of memory they can absorb, and they take delight in knowing others are disgusted by their diet. While not ashamed of their own nature, ghouls find other humanoid cultures intriguing and often envy them to some extent. They have a passion for history and obscure knowledge.
If you’re a ghoul, you likely...
· have a dark sense of humor and are amused by death rather than frightened by it.
· enjoy making others uncomfortable, often via your odious eating habits.
· are eager to learn more about the world’s history.
· find graveyards to be pleasant and comforting places.
· have chosen a specific type of humanoid as the focus of your curiosity: you may consider yourself to have once been one of these humanoids, prefer the flavor of their flesh, or wish to adopt elements of their culture and belief as your own.
· underestimate others’ repugnance at your feeding, even as you wallow in your depravity.
· think you’re an undead creature.
· worry you want to eat them.
· are frightened that you are a mindless, ravenous monster, based on your appearance.
· assume you live in a graveyard or sleep in a coffin.
· mistake you for a lycanthrope
Though Mythos ghouls blur the line between life and death, they are indeed living organisms. While many of their habits, appetites, and preferences are identical to those possessed by undead ghouls, anyone who gets to know a Mythos ghoul quickly discovers how dissimilar they are to their undead counterparts. From their divergent appearances to their dissimilar behaviors, the contrast becomes increasingly obvious. A Mythos ghoul is humanoid in shape, yet mon-strous in appearance. The ghoul’s visage is almost canine, with a pronounced snout filled with sharp teeth akin to the fangs of a hyena. This snout isn’t large enough to significantly distort or hamper the ghoul’s ability to speak, though ghouls tend to have a guttural, raspy tone to their voices. A ghoul’s ears are large and pointed, and their hair is generally short and mangy with thick bristly patches on the back, shoulders, and forearms. A ghoul’s mouth slavers, and their long tongue frequently lolls when not in active use.
A ghoul’s bestial features extend to the rest of their body. Their stance is somewhat hunched, with broad shoulders, hands that appear human but fingers that end in talon-like nails, and legs and hooves reminiscent of those of a hairless goat.
Many ghouls are immune to ordinary infections from rotting matter, and thus, contrary to expectations, they rarely carry infections or spread maladies. Despite this, they tend to have slovenly personal hygiene and bear a musty stink on the best of days. More often, the cloying stench of decay accompanies them, an odious perfume carried on their breath and under their nails. Almost never falling ill encourages such filthy habits, but this nonchalance toward propriety and presentation stems in part from the amusement many ghouls derive from making humanoids feel uncomfortable and nauseated.
One of the most notable aspects of ghoul physiology is that when ghouls feed upon a corpse, they experience and absorb the memories held within the flesh of their repast. Scholars have yet to discern a scientific explanation for this ability, relegating such powers to the realm of the supernatural. While they delight in this ability to digest memories, ghouls have neither an explanation nor a desire to learn more about how or why it happens, and many adhere to the strange superstition that knowing the reason for this would disrupt the mechanism. That it works at all is enough for ghouls, who ironically enjoy indulging in the procedure to divine all manner of other secrets and forgotten tidbits of lore.
Mythos ghouls are born as ghouls, but they do not display ghoul characteristics at first; instead, they undergo a transition later in life. As such, family is a complex subject for ghouls; many of them are forced to abandon their own when their transformation into a ghoul results in a shameful, often violent flight from home. Nascent ghouls often live the first several years of their new lives in self-imposed solitude and may, in fact, have no idea others of their kind even exist. Ghoul societies are quick to embrace new brothers or sisters because almost every ghoul vividly remembers the loneliness, anxiety, and fear of this transitional period.
While most ghouls eventually learn to appreciate their foster families as true kin, many never recover from the shock of losing the kin who raised them. Such ghouls, who live much longer than most mortal folk, often return to their homes decades later to watch or stalk previous relations. Such returns only occasionally result in violence; more commonly, ghouls demonstrate a dark kind of patience in achieving their goals while avoiding confrontation. For instance, if a ghoul learns that a family member has died, grave robbery is often their first inclination. Feeding on the decayed flesh of a parent, sibling, or child can bring a ghoul a grisly form of closure as they experience shadows and fragments of their previous life by digesting the memories of their prior relations. Ghouls who seek this closure often keep a memento of the event as a keepsake, such as a skull or, less frequently, some sort of heirloom, such as a weapon, piece of jewelry, or other item. Ghouls can have children of their own, but when a new ghoul is birthed, the baby appears as a normal child of a humanoid race linked to the ghoul’s own bloodline. Ghoul parents often can’t resist the urge to seek out a family to raise their child in the hope of giving their baby a chance at something approaching a normal life.
Ghouls leave children as orphans or foundlings on temple stoops or in areas where they suspect and hope that an unexpected baby will be cared for. In rare cases, evil ghouls take more sinister measures. Stealing into a village or township under cover of deep night, these ghoul parents seek out a child in the village who looks similar to their own, then swap the children in the hope that the changeling will be raised in comfort and luxury. The kidnapped child is then raised as a ghoul.
In an ironic twist of fate, both children in these sorts of “switched-at-birth” situations develop into nascent ghouls: the changeling itself as a result of their ghoulish bloodline and the abductee as a result of growing up knowing nothing more than using tombstones as platters and graveyards under moonlight as playgrounds. In this way, ghouls can be created as surely as they can be born.
For most living creatures, the long road to death begins with birth, but this is not always so for the ghoul.
Ghouls born to ghoul parents can appear to belong to another race connected to a parent’s bloodline, in which case they resemble that race until a few years after reaching maturity or until the transformation is triggered by proximity to death and decay. Some ghouls born to ghoul parents display their bestial features (hooves, fangs, and claws) from the first day; such ghouls mature quickly, growing to adulthood in about 10 years. Ghouls are protective of their children—particularly those who look more ghoullike—and shelter them in the deepest corners of their graveyard warrens. As a result, ghoul children are only rarely encountered by nonghouls, giving rise to the false suppositions that ghoul children do not exist and that new ghouls are created only when existing ghouls magically transform victims into their own kind.
Becoming a Mythos ghoul through magic is rare. Certainly, curses and magical infections can cause ghouls to manifest as well, but ghouls cannot “infect” their victims like a disease or lycanthropy. Most who become cursed or otherwise transformed into ghouls meet their fate not through interaction with ghouls, but through powerful magic or curses in old tombs, from reading forbidden texts, or by taking part in blasphemous rituals. Most who pursue such a fate often find themselves accidentally turning into undead ghouls instead. Mythos ghouls themselves do not make a habit of creating more of their own kind through magical means.
Graveyards remember when they have played host to ghouls, and becoming a ghoul is as much a matter of behavior and atmosphere as it is one of magic or genetics. People who engage in ghoulish activity, be it feeding on decayed flesh or living in graveyards, put themselves at risk of becoming ghouls. This risk increases if such behaviors are undertaken in the company of other ghouls or if they’re pursued in regions where ghouls once cavorted and dined, even if no ghouls have been active in an area for decades or even centuries. A child abducted and raised by ghouls can transform into a ghoul, even without a predilection toward a ghoulish nature or ghoulish heritage. Curiously, those who deliberately seek the transformation into a ghoul and engage in such activities to foster such a change often find their goal elusive. The change seems to seek those who don’t expect it but avoids those who pursue it.
Typically, a humanoid who undergoes the transformation into a ghoul does not make the change swiftly. Instead, the individual spends a significant amount of time, often many years, as a “nascent ghoul.” Once they make the transition to full ghoul, either after enduring the change via nascent ghouldom or simply by growing to adulthood as a ghoul child, they can live for centuries. Ghouls can live to be 500 years or more, but they do not die of old age. Instead, they grow increasingly feeble, losing their ability to fend for themself or even move, and they eventually die of starvation if not fed. Many ghouls, rather than endure an endless existence helplessly dependent on family, offer themselves to the banquet table. This funeral feast is not a matter of shame or despair in ghoul society but one of triumph, for through this feeding an elder’s memories, knowledge, and personality can live on in those who partake.
When the conditions are right, a humanoid creature can become a nascent ghoul. The nascent ghoul template in the sidebar should be applied to such a creature until it manages to reverse the situation or makes the transition into a full-fledged ghoul. The change from humanoid to ghoul is a painful transition typically full of uncertainty, confusion, and shame.
The Final Change
The final trigger that enables a nascent ghoul to make the full transformation into a ghoul varies. Sometimes, it’s merely a matter of time—a year or more might pass before the transformation completes suddenly. At other times, it requires the consumption of a specific number of bodies, either of a specific age or epoch, or perhaps of a specific type. The actual trigger is left to the GM to determine, but once it takes place, the nascent ghoul’s transformation into a full ghoul is swift, painful, and permanent. Once complete, only a wish or similar effect can restore the newly minted ghoul’s former ancestry
Any humanoid can become a nascent ghoul, which gives them a curse called ghoul transformation. In addition to the usual means to counteract curses, a humanoid can reverse the ghoul transformation by undergoing a special quest of the GM’s design. Nascent ghouls that are more powerful or headstrong are more difficult to “save” in this manner. The counteract DC of ghoul transformation equals the standard DC for the character’s level.
Becoming a Nascent Ghoul
Becoming a nascent ghoul changes a character’s statistics in slightly different ways depending on whether they are a player character or non-player character. In either case, the character’s level doesn’t change.
For a player character:
· Gain an ability boost to Constitution
· Gain ability flaws to Dexterity and Charisma.
For a non-player character:
· Decrease AC and all Dexterity-based skill modifiers, DCs, and attacks by 1.
· Increase their Hit Points by their level.
Nascent Ghoul Abilities
All nascent ghouls gain the following abilities.
Grave Scent You gain scent as an imprecise sense with a range of 30 feet that detects only corpses, undead, decaying things, and meat.
Jaws You gain a jaws unarmed attack that deals 1d6 piercing damage. Your jaws are in the brawling group and have the finesse and unarmed traits.
Hunger When you go 24 hours without feeding on the flesh of a humanoid that had been dead for at least 24 hours, you become sickened 1. This sickened condition increases by 1 every 24 hours. You can’t reduce its value until you feed on such flesh.
It’s easy for someone to look upon a ghoul and make assumptions. The sight of a someone devouring dead flesh might lead an observer to view all ghouls as nothing but feral, unsophisticated monsters. In truth, ghouls are, on average, more intelligent than typical humans, and even when they are at their most debased, they are never far from a keen insight into the nature of their meal. Often, a clan of ghouls will spend entire nights gathered in boneyards, perched atop gravestones or lounging in opened and emptied coffins, engaged in spirited debates about diverse and esoteric topics.
Yet for all their intellect, ghouls have always lacked something significant in their lives: a society they can truly call their own. They reap, rather than sow, relying upon humanoid society for many of their needs, including food from their graves and shelter in their tombs, without creating their own edifices or nations. Eternally distracted by the memories they consume, their minds may be incapable of the inspirational spark they’d need to build civilizations, found so often in other humanoid cultures. They are voracious readers of texts of all types, yet few ghouls can bring themselves to create texts of their own. They model themselves after those they feed upon, seeing themselves, perhaps, as the inheritors of other civilizations’ pasts. Yet, they are never truly a part of humanoid society, regardless of how much humanoid flesh they eat or how many humanoid minds they experience.
Scavengers to the core, ghouls are the ultimate outsiders, comfortable only when alone or in small groups. Due to a lack of self-awareness and introspection, ghouls never really grasp the enormity and tragic truth of their existence. Despite this or perhaps because of it, they carry in their hearts at least a subconscious understanding of the sadness of their situation. Ghouls may titter and caper atop a grave in delight at finding a delicious new meal, yet in the aftermath of gorging on time-seasoned meat, their dreams are often haunted by bitterness and despair. Many ghouls grow solitary over time, abandoned and forgotten while they haunt distant sepulchers.
Ghouls rarely integrate well into greater societies. Despite centuries of education via texts and tomes, when ghouls finally make contact with societies they have for so long admired from afar, their appearance and appetites inevitably result only in tragedy.
Faith and Alignment
Matters of faith and worship are not unknown to ghouls, but they have no true gods of their own. Some ghouls worship gods from their life prior to becoming a nascent ghoul, but many good deities discourage the death-adjacent lifestyle of a ghoul, something they cannot condone or overlook. Particularly devout ghouls shift their worship to a darker god in their original life’s pantheon—one more willing to hear their prayers. Typically, these gods are neutral or evil in nature and have fewer concerns regarding laws and taboos against feasting on the dead. Other ghouls worship entities of the Mythos, particularly those offering powerful secrets and ancient knowledge, such as Nyarlathotep or Tsathoggua.
In some lands, ghouls worship the gods of old that most modern societies have abandoned or forgotten. This is the result of ghouls picking up fragments and memories left behind in decaying graveyards. When a humanoid culture passes on, they leave behind only crumbling statues and temples, but when the ghouls move in, they pick up those pieces and make them their own. In this way, many otherwise-dead faiths live on in ghoul warrens, yet these gods are no more the preferred patrons of ghouls than any other.
Not all ghoul clans worship gods. Some consider themselves intellectual atheists, typically acknowledging gods if there is evidence of their power but denying that they have any special claim to authority or worship. Other ghouls instead look to their predecessors for wisdom. This form of ancestor worship manifests in one or two ways: a ghoul may look back upon their parents and their parents’ parents for advice, mining their accomplishments for inspiration; or a ghoul might look back upon their own life, particularly in the case of a changeling ghoul who has finally undergone full transformation.
To family-worshippers, lost family members living or dead become as ancestors to venerate: their existence is like something out of a past life. Worship of these childhood memories is all some ghouls have to provide any sense of continuity and stability in their lives. They may even continue to wear familiar clothing (often robbed from graves) and carry gear and weapons in an attempt to cling to their previous lives. Ghouls stuck in the past in this way often become objects of pity among their brethren, who typically leave them to wallow in their own memories as long as they do no harm. Such ghouls may try to reestablish contact with lost family, but even if this does not result in tragedy, such an event can reveal the presence of a ghoul colony to humanity, which can cause problems (see Relations on page 27).
Ghouls are opportunistic and often find the taboos of social norms highly confining if not antithetical to their very survival. They are rarely lawful or good.
Without a true culture to call their own, ghouls seem perfectly content to immerse themselves in the cultures of those they dine upon. As a result, most ghoul societies trail somewhat behind the times, with their aesthetics often seeming old-fashioned compared to the modern-day cultures under whose graveyards they hide. By scavenging what these societies throw away, ghouls create a parasitic form of culture that suits them well and keeps them sated and happy. They treat ancient tools and discarded objects with reverence and respect and can typically eke out several more uses of objects other cultures have discarded as ruined.
Regardless of the society whose culture they’ve appropriated, ghouls usually form into relatively small groups known as clans for a very practical purpose. A ghoul clan is limited in size by the pool of available dead, and if the clan depletes a graveyard or feeds so quickly that their host society notices the depredations visited upon their deceased, the ghouls may find themselves forced out of their homes or pushed into violent confrontations.
The typical ghoul clan prefers to lair in extensive warrens dug by tool and claw into the earth below a graveyard, but clans have been known to settle in abandoned necropolises or ruined cities. Anywhere there’s a large or steady source of meat to feed upon can serve a ghoul as a home—specifically dead meat, as they do not hunt living creatures for food save for in times of famine.
They prefer flesh that is properly aged, at least by a few days and, if possible, for much longer. Mummified flesh is considered a delicacy to a ghoul.
When a ghoul encounters a particularly delicious corpse (often the remains of a philosopher, wizard, alchemist, poet, or other great thinker who died years ago), they keep the remains handy in storage. Ghouls maintain entire “cellars” of corpses to feed upon, with walls lined with open coffins displaying their grisly contents in a macabre parody of human wine cellars. Here, they keep their favorite bodies in storage, nibbling only now and then on these finely aged bones and preserved bits of flesh when the urge to celebrate strikes.
Undead often dwell in and around locales that ghouls favor, and for their part, ghouls do not abhor undead themselves. Indeed, most ghouls find the taste of undead flesh to be delicious, and they have difficulty explaining how necromancy flavors flesh to those who lack their interests. At times, lingering death magic has an almost narcotic impact on those who overindulge, which some ghouls particularly enjoy—a bit like drinking to excess but to far more potent effect. It’s common to encounter ghoul societies that keep zombies as guardians and livestock simultaneously.
Ghouls have a complex relationship with humanoids. They depend on humanoids for food and base their societies and very culture on those they live near. When ghouls and humanoids meet, however, the result is almost always violent. Most humanoids are quick to interpret the discovery of bestial-looking parodies of their own shape dwelling in their graveyards and eating their dead as unsettling at best, or downright blasphemous at worst. Once humanoids know of the clan’s presence, ghouls can expect continuous harassment.
The typical ghoul is more than a match for an average humanoid, but such humanoids are usually the ones to start confrontations when ghouls are discovered. Though the results vary, conflict with a group of humanoids almost never ends well for a ghoul clan in the long run. They might be wiped out, destroyed by superior weapons or numbers, or otherwise forced to move on to find a new feeding ground.
While humanoid settlements generally have difficulty establishing peaceful relations with ghouls, the same is not the case for individuals. Often, an artist, necromancer, or eccentric who learns of the presence of ghouls in a local graveyard will seek to establish peaceful contact with the ghouls. For their part, ghouls value such contacts, for they give the clan insight into the workings of the society they feed upon, and such a contact can also help cover up their presence or warn them when their feeding becomes noticeable. In return, ghoul clans can offer value to their allies by revealing secrets lost to the ages or insights about history, supplying aid in dealing with undead, or serving as guides into underground regions.
Some humanoids actively seek to become ghouls, which generally makes ghouls nervous. Rarely will a ghoul encourage a humanoid to become one of their kind, much less help them transform. Most ghouls rankle at the idea of “gifting” a humanoid with their abilities, and some feel ashamed at inflicting what they feel is a curse. There’s also a practical reason: any humanoid ally is a potential meal, and once a ghoul, an ex-humanoid is less likely to grace a banquet table—at least for a long, long time.
When it comes to sentient undead, although Mythos ghouls often share common interests and often tastes, peaceful cooperation rarely occurs between the two groups. While ghouls enjoy the flavor of intelligent undead more than mindless ones, these undead typically understand that ghouls make poor allies. Curiously, while undead ghouls seem eager to feed upon their living counterparts, Mythos ghouls tend to find the flesh of undead ghouls to be unpleasant, describing it as “overripe” or “rancid” in flavor.
Ghouls become adventurers for as wide a range of reasons as anyone, but one driving force is the constant urge to seek out new, exotic meals. A ghoul adventurer might wish to sample the dead in a wide range of graveyards or hope to uncover a hidden text or lost relic they learned of after feeding on a dead scholar. Since adventurers often have a much higher tolerance for strangeness, a ghoul is more likely to find acceptance in an adventuring party than in a town, and they benefit from a party’s protection and support. If the ghoul’s adventuring allies can help keep them from being run out of town, then all the better!
Mythos Ghoul Rules
The ghoul is an excellent choice for a player who wishes to play a monstrous ancestry that can fill a more scholastic role, but care should be taken to ensure that the GM and the rest of the players are comfortable with having a party member who may well be wallowing in unpleasant or taboo subjects (eating dead humanoids can easily upset one’s allies).
· 25 feet
· The languages of the creatures that raised you, which is Ghoul if you were raised by ghouls.
· Additional languages equal to your Intelligence modifier (if it’s positive). Choose from Aklo, Cat, Necril, Undercommon, and any other languages to which you have access (such as the languages prevalent in your region).
You can see in darkness and dim light just as well as you can see in bright light, though your vision in darkness is in black and white.
You can use scent as an imprecise sense to a range of 30 feet, but only to detect undead, corpses, and meat. This means you can use your sense of smell to determine the exact location of an undead creature. The GM will usually double the range if you’re downwind from the creature or halve the range if you’re upwind.
You have a jaws unarmed attack that deals 1d6 piercing damage. Your jaws are in the brawling group and have the finesse and unarmed traits
When you feed upon the flesh of a dead humanoid, you absorb some of the lingering traces of memory and knowledge the creature possessed in life. Strangely, the older the corpse, the more potent the memories become. Feeding on a corpse less than 24 hours dead provides no benefit besides nourishment. If you spend 1 minute feeding on an older corpse that has some amount of flesh (even dried flesh, such as a mummy might have), you gain an insight about a skill the creature was trained in. Choose a skill; if the creature was at least trained in that skill, you gain that skill insight. If the creature was untrained in that skill, you get an insight of the GM’s choice instead.
A skill insight makes you more effective with that skill. You can use the absorbed memories to Recall Knowledge that the creature knew using that skill. If you have an insight into a skill you are untrained in, your proficiency bonus for that skill is determined by your level. If you have an insight into a skill you are at least trained in, you instead gain a +1 circumstance bonus to checks with that skill. You can normally gain only one insight from any given corpse. At the GM’s discretion, a particularly ancient corpse might grant a larger bonus or two insights. You lose your previous insight when you gain another one. You can enhance this ability by taking certain ghoul feats.