Saturday, 5 December 2020

Ghoulstorm part 2: ghouls from G-W

Part 2 of my Ghoulstorm. Part 1 (ghouls A-F) can be found here

24: Ghoul-blooded. Not actually undead, just humans with enough ghoulish ancestry to make its mark. They tend towards long nails, pale skin, hunched postures, and a natural aptitude for digging and butchery. Strong stomachs and an innate resistance to disease makes them natural survivors, often clinging on in ruinous and marginal communities long after almost everyone else has died or left. Some long-lived ghouls, especially socially-adept kinds such as beguiling ghouls and enchanter ghouls, end up siring whole broods of ghoul-blooded offspring who look up to them as the immortal patriarchs or matriarchs of their clans. Most ghoul-blooded families live blameless lives as grave-diggers or slaughtermen, but those of them that dig too deep into the secrets of their own ancestry have a tendency to go very bad very fast. 

25: Ghoul gourmets.
Like Feasting Ghouls, but genteel. They pride themselves on not just eating any old carrion, and indeed they usually don't even eat the entire corpse: one may fancy himself an expert in livers, another a connoisseur of tongues, and so on. They gather in grotesque 'dining clubs', and dress to match, but they're still ghouls and cannot pass for human: consequently they hold their 'meetings' in ruins and graveyards, lolling about on mausoleums wearing ragged top hats and tailcoats, nibbling daintily on cannibal confections and having long, tedious debates about the merits of different forms of pickling. Tend towards either skeletal thinness (for those that are picky eaters) or grotesque obesity (for those that are 'fond of good living'), with barely anything in between. They pride themselves on their manners and good breeding, and will always treat visitors politely - unless they do something 'uncouth' like screaming or vomiting or objecting to all this cannibalism, in which case the mortuary knives come out. They will pay well for new and exciting delicacies.

26: Grave ghouls. Burrowing horrors that live in subterranean lairs dug out beneath graveyards, from which they dig upwards into the bottoms of graves, clawing through the undersides of coffins and dragging corpses down to be devoured. They dig vast tunnel networks, and when a cemetery has a long-standing grave ghoul infestation these networks may end up stretching for miles, connecting widely-separated graveyards, basements, and sewers. They have a natural kinship with rats, who serve them as pets and spies and messengers, and often grow huge and sleek in their service. They prefer their food good and putrid, but if their cemetery is exhausted and not replenished they are not above digging into people's houses and making their own corpse supply. If the closure of the local graveyard is followed by a rash of mysterious disappearances, then grave ghouls are probably to blame. 


27: Great ghouls. Enormous monsters, much larger than a man: hugely swollen, hugely strong, waddling, gluttonous, and virtually unstoppable. Their massive bodies can bludgeon their way through almost any obstacle, and their huge, distended jaws can tear off entire limbs at once, swallowing them whole and digesting everything from skin to bones in the gurgling acidic hells of their bloated stomachs. They aren't stupid, but they're so strong and so hungry that they tend to do very little thinking, just smashing through whatever lies between them and their next meal. Sometimes act as leaders to packs of smaller ghouls. 

28: Gutter ghouls.
Wretched ex-humans who come creeping up in the dark from forgotten pits and basements, their inhuman features hidden beneath layer upon layer of filthy rags. For the most part they shuffle along pretending to be lepers or beggars, slurping up foul offal from the gutters when they think that no-one is looking, or surreptitiously licking the trampled corpses of dead rats or pigeons from the cobblestones by night. They are dreadful cowards, and will cringe and whine and flee if confronted - but if they spot a good opportunity for murder they will take it, mobbing unwary victims and dragging them down into sewers or alleyways to be strangled and devoured. They desperately fear the light.

29: Horned ghouls. Possibly the devolved remnants of some demonic cult now thankfully lost to history, these ghouls have skull-like faces topped with long, curving horns like those of an antelope. They lair in hidden chambers beneath old standing stones, ruined temples, and ancient monoliths from which the blood stains cannot be cleaned, and wrap themselves in tattered, flapping black robes and ancient ceremonial jewellery made from rich red gold. For the most part they sleep through the years, emerging only on certain unholy nights in search of living victims: these they abduct, drag back to their stones for ritual sacrifice, and then devour, before crawling back into their hidden lairs leaving only a scattering of gnawed bones behind. They fight with corroded swords of ancient iron, and with a gesture of their clawed hands they can call forth blasting hellfire, induce crippling pain, or summon insects in buzzing, biting clouds. However, their insistence upon taking their victims alive and bringing them back for proper ritual sacrifice means that those they take can sometimes be rescued before it is too late, whereas most other ghouls would simply eat them at the first opportunity. 


30: Human ghouls. Otherwise-normal people who practise ritual cannibalism as a means of enhancing their strength and prolonging their youth. In civilised regions, human ghouls will usually be lone practitioners or horrible cannibal cults: in more remote areas, whole clans or communities might engage in such practises, although they probably won't talk about it when outsiders are around. Those who make a habit of such practises end up marked by weird growths of bulging muscle and an unhealthy corpse-like pallor. Their cannibal elders, their lives stretched into centuries by regular meals of human flesh, devolve progressively into warped and monstrous creatures that have to be kept hidden from strangers, brought out only when their memories need to be consulted or when there are annoyingly inquisitive outsiders to be killed.

31: Hunter ghouls. The wolves of the ghoul world: tireless, baying pursuit predators who lair deep in the wilderness and hunt in packs, tracking their victims by scent, running over the rocks or swinging through the trees in howling mobs. They chase and chase and chase until their prey is ready to drop from sheer exhaustion: only then will they close in for the kill, their yellow eyes glittering in the dark. They dislike anything resembling a fair fight, so if you can wedge yourself in a place where they can only approach one by one then you might be able to hold them off until dawn: failing that, your best bet is to try to wash away your scent, as their smell is by far the keenest of their senses. They are sometimes used as hunting dogs by royal ghouls.

32: Ice ghouls. Arctic horrors resembling frostbitten corpses, missing fingers or toes or noses, their flesh blue-white with cold. They bury themselves in the snow, burrowing through it until they feel the vibration of approaching steps, then lying in wait for victims, ready to come bursting out of snowdrifts and paralyse their prey with their freezing hands. Their touch sucks all the warmth from living beings, and those killed by it are left frozen solid: the ice ghouls will drag these frozen corpses back to their lairs in icy caves carved from the flanks of glaciers, where they will be devoured slowly, joint by frozen joint, over the course of many years. Ice ghoul caves often resemble bizarre and horrible freezers, crammed with frozen corpses in various stages of dismemberment and consumption.


33: Involuntary ghouls. Sometimes people come through a bout of ghoul fever with their minds relatively intact. Theirs is a miserable state, tormented by a cannibalistic hunger that simultaneously tempts and horrifies them. Many destroy themselves, or commit 'suicide by cleric': others flee into the wilderness and end up going completely feral, or spend years living ghastly double lives, pretending to be ordinary people while making surreptitious trips to the graveyard on nights when the moon is dark. For those strong-willed enough to hold their hungers strictly in check, the occasional carrion feast might seem a small price to pay for agelessness: but the urges only grow with time, and few indeed manage to retain their sanity for more than a decade or so. Some kind of medical and/or magical cure might be possible for those who aren't too far gone. 

34: Lake ghouls. They resemble drowned corpses, livid and bloated and swollen. For the most part they sleep at the bottom of lakes, covered in mud and silt - but when they sense the characteristic vibration of human voices through the water they will swim stealthily upwards, lurking in the darkness of the water, swathed in floating weeds for camouflage and looking for a chance to feed. They will grab paddlers by the ankles and drag them into deep water, pull down unwary swimmers, grab fishing lines or nets to yank in fishermen, or tear open the bottoms of boats in order to sink them and devour their occupants. Their favoured method of murder is by drowning, dragging their victims down into the dark depths and holding them there until they expire. Whenever possible they prefer kills that look like accidents, and many a lake has an undeserved reputation for treacherous tides when in fact it harbours a lake ghoul lurking on its bed, surrounded by the mud-covered bones of its previous meals.

35: Mystic ghouls. These are what Fallen Ghouls pretend to be: mystics who have taken up ritual cannibalism as part of a deliberate course of antinomian mysticism, systematically breaking moral laws and taboos as part of an effort to attain enlightenment. They probably do all kinds of other awful things, too, but they commit their atrocious acts with a weird detachment, as though in states of abstract contemplation or ecstatic trance, utterly different from the revolting bestial gluttony of most other ghouls. When they're not ritually killing and eating people they're usually to be found in ascetic meditation, often seated on old tombs or in open graves surrounded by circles of grinning skulls. They possess great wisdom and mystic knowledge, and are sometimes sought out by aspiring contemplatives who aren't too picky in their choice of gurus. 


36: Radioactive ghouls. All fans of post-apocalyptic fiction know that the first symptom of radiation poisoning is nausea, and the second is degenerating into a cannibal mutant. These blighted creatures roam the blasted radioactive deserts, warped and hungry, their pale skin faintly luminescent in the dark. Often they lair in the shattered ruins of bombed-out cities, in zones so radioactive that no normal creature could survive in them for long. Their touch causes radiation burns. Their eerie keening can be heard for miles across the wastes.

37: Royal ghouls. Remnants of noble houses long since collapsed into degenerate insanity, these ghouls still cling to their crumbling castles or ruinous manor houses, mad cannibal kings of their own desolate domains. Dressed in bloodstained finery, they rule over courts of cringing sycophants, sending forth their minions (whether human or undead) to bring them the ghastly foodstuffs they now crave: sometimes they even ride forth to hunt in person, mounted on immense black horses, with packs of hunter ghouls baying at their heels like hounds. Some maintain bodyguards of chivalric ghouls, or install church ghouls as their personal chaplains: in such cases, they demonstrate their generosity by sharing their prey with their household retainers, presiding over grotesque cannibal feasts in which human carrion is served on the massy gold and silver plate of their ancestors. Many possess innate sorcerous powers inherited from the corrupted bloodlines of their diabolist forebears. They are usually quite insane, and such is their narcissistic pride that they can be easily manipulated by playing upon their monstrous vanity and hunger for flattery. Prone to lunatic rages if disappointed or defied.

38: Smoke ghouls. Huge, pot-bellied monsters, their flesh burned black by the smouldering fires that burn continuously within them. They haunt lands blasted by certain magical disasters, smoke drifting from their mouths, their cracked skin burning hot to the touch. Those they kill are fed, limb by limb, into their huge mouths as fuel for the unquenchable fires that smoulder in their bellies. (If you kill a smoke ghoul you can extract this fire if you're careful, which will burn forever as long as you feed it a little flesh and blood from time to time.) They can vomit forth fire on their enemies, or belch out enormous clouds of singing cinders to blind them. If the fires inside them are ever extinguished (by e.g. pouring water down their throats) then they die instantly.


39: Stalker ghouls. Unlike most ghouls, with their indiscriminate appetites for carrion, a stalker ghoul will fixate on a single victim at a time, drawn to them by some indefinable quality of their scent. Once it has chosen a target it will stalk them tirelessly, always watching, always lurking, waiting for the moment to strike. They are very agile and very stealthy: they will skulk in shadows, crawl across rooftops, and squirm through narrow windows to get to their prey. Their patience is endless, as they are watching not just for an opportunity to kill their victim but for a chance to steal their corpse and drag it away to be safely devoured, and they are quite prepared to wait for months on end for a suitable opportunity to arise. If necessary they can assemble crude disguises to pass as human, though one glimpse of their crazed eyes and fang-filled mouths is enough to reveal their monstrosity. They cannot speak, only hiss. If spotted or challenged they flee at once, but they will resume their stalking at the first opportunity, ceasing only when they or their quarry meet their deaths.

40: Swamp ghouls. They resemble leathery bog corpses, so twisted they are unable to stand upright, squirming and moaning as they slither through the swamps. When prey comes close they sink down into the mud, twisted claws reaching stealthily out from stagnant puddles to grab unwary victims by the ankles and yank them down into the mire. Horribly strong, they will drag their prey into the marshes and hold them down, trying to drown them in mud: then, when all the struggling has stopped, they will pull them down beneath the surface to be slowly devoured. Their eyes glow with a dim green phosphorescence, like rotting wood, and their tough, sinewy bodies are frustratingly resistant to injury.

41: Trapper ghouls. A nest of trapper ghouls will lay claim to a territory - a wood, perhaps, or a ruin - and fill it with traps designed to catch and cripple the unwary: snares, pits, spikes, punji sticks, bear traps, weighted nets, deadfalls, and whatever else their cruel and ingenious hands can devise. They are skilled mechanics, expert in the use of improvised materials, and the longer they remain in an area, the deadlier it will become. The ghouls themselves will lurk in some lair surrounded by deathtraps, which only they know how to navigate safely, emerging periodically to reset their traps and retrieve whatever prey, living or dead, has fallen into their snares. Even after the ghouls are cleared out, their leftover traps may go on killing and maiming for months or years to come. 


42: Vault ghouls. Remnants of an ancient people who were sealed beneath the earth in great vaults long ages ago, although whether this sealing was an accident, a punishment, or a deliberate attempt to escape catastrophe is unclear. For years - perhaps for centuries - some kind of organised society persisted in the vaults, but eventually everything fell apart, and every vault that has been opened has contained nothing but mad, ragged cannibals, warped by the weird energies of their ancient machines, and pale from generations beneath the earth. From within the vault doors are impenetrable, but from the outside they are easily opened, and several unfortunate mining or caving expeditions have accidentally unleashed cannibal plagues upon their communities after incautiously opening the ancient metal doors they found embedded in the rock deep beneath the earth. 

43: War ghouls. Huge pallid brutes used as necromantic shock troops and terror weapons, with legs powerful enough to leap over trenches, huge hooked claws for climbing up fortifications, and massively-muscled bodies capable of simply smashing through wooden barricades. Often equipped with bulky spiked armour that allows them to function as humanoid battering rams, smashing their way into buildings and proceeding to slaughter and devour everyone inside. Only vestigially intelligent: they aren't so much given orders as simply pointed in the correct direction, and once they've killed a bunch of people they will stop to eat their corpses, taking no further part in the battles around them unless their feast is disturbed. On the rare occasions when royal ghouls ride into battle, they sometimes do so perched on a war ghoul's shoulders, steering their savage mounts by means of implanted chains welded to their bones. 

44: Wood ghouls. They resemble humans grown, rather than carved, from dark wood, with dark pits for eyes and long, branching fingers and wide mouths full of sharp wooden spikes. Arising apparently spontaneously from the trees of certain accursed forests, they are not truly undead, but hunger for human flesh none-the-less - not to feed themselves, but to fertilise the evil trees from which they are born. They scuttle along the forest floor, hiding themselves beneath the leaf litter until it is time to strike, or else camouflaging themselves against the bark of trees, their bodies almost indistinguishable from the wood they cling to until it is too late. Their victims are ripped open with their hooked talons, their bleeding bodies dragged back and forth across the forest in order to fertilise its soil with their blood, before being reverently buried beneath the oldest and most evil trees. In woods with long-term wood ghoul populations, the soil beneath these trees may eventually become positively choked with bones, their roots twisting though skulls and rib-cages, each new death feeding the dark enchantment from which the wood ghouls are born. 

11 comments:

  1. Xenophon ghouls - there are ten thousand of them. After the necromancer who intended to conquer the world with them went down, they regained their freedom and opted to go back to their homeland from back when they were alive; unfortunately, they don't really remember where it is. All they know is it lies somewhere near the sea.

    Yeti ghouls - they live in the mountains and munch on unlucky hikers. And you thought climbing Mt Everest is hard enough in itself. They have friendly relations with a bunch of local monasteries (some of them even take the vows), who don't really care about what they do with foreigners and to whom they pawn off the leftover gear.

    Zombie ghouls - these are the necromantic equivalent of opportunistic camp followers and unscrupulous army contractors. Namely, they pretend to be zombies (whom they greatly resemble) and join the undead legions of any passing necromancer to munch on the zombies. Some are in it for the thrill, others prefer when their food unearths itself, others yet are of the opinion that a cushy garrison post far from the frontlines is the safest place to be in a warzone.

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    1. I like all three of those, but the Xenophon ghouls are the best. Simultaneously comic and tragic, especially if they've been gone so long that they might not actually recognise their homeland when they finally reach it...

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  2. These are very evocative. Your blog is such a rich vein to mine when it comes to interesting mechanics for NPCs, and I've always enjoyed the tactical section of your stat blocs.

    The myriad of ghoul _types_ reminds me of Chris McDowall's post about NPC stat blocs as cocktail recipes. The gimmick is there are only like 6 cocktails, you just vary the ingredients somewhat. The "many types of ghouls" really hammers this home to me. Ghoul + variant, to taste.

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    1. Thanks, though I feel I've been slacking off on stat blocks and tactical mechanics for ages. I agree about the recipes, though. Stat-wise, most of these would be almost interchangeable, but the roles they could play in campaigns would be completely different!

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  3. Okay, so I've been feeding your ghouls into a text-generating neural net. The results vary in coherence, as is usual, but I like this one.

    46: Chorus ghouls. Living in giant human-sized cages in the stinking bowels of many of the world's cities and towns, and using their wailing to keep the crowds of people down, these ghouls emit an inhuman pitch that enables them to sound like massive, smelly metal spiders. One of their distinctive features is a small bloodstained eye that follows you around, like a bug that has been driven mad, but they will only attack humans that try to enter the cage, which is incredibly difficult to break through in any case. Their cage is regularly lifted, allowing them to wander the Earth like ghostly mourners. Once outside the cage, they will tear the skin and flesh off of whatever they find, or they will feed on children that see them first, feeling an insane need to heal the broken glass of their minds before it breaks their bodies. This in turn causes their victims to slowly lose control of their minds and start killing them in the same way. There is a cure for this, but it is illegal.

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    1. GPT-3 will render us all obsolete one day. There's definitely the core of an idea, there - caged ghouls wailing in the dark, periodically released into the world to feed - but I wonder how one *sounds* like a smelly metal spider?

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    2. Yyyeah, that description definitely gives us more questions than answers. I do like the detail about the cure for ghoul madness being illegal, though. That poses some questions, too, but thy seem like the could be fun an interesting to answer.

      That's the kind of thing I like GPT-2 programs for: giving you half of an idea that begs you to fill in the blanks. It's like a huge, multi-step random table that you can't read until you roll on it.

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  4. Man. Every single one of these is great. I want to name a favourite bt they're all amazing. Gourmets and royals are vivid as heck. Digging guys and the wolves are terrifying. Stalkers, hermits. They are all genius—every single one of these monsters is easily a favourite. Welcome back to blogging indeed.

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    1. Thanks - though on looking back over the list I'm not sure that Great Ghouls and War Ghouls are really distinct enough to deserve separate entries, and Wood Ghouls stray rather far from the core concept. I hope you find a use for one or more of them in your own games, though!

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    2. They're all variations on the same theme, so makes sense that some are pretty close conceptually. While reading through the two posts, I loved practically every creature. I'm absolutely going to use a whole bunch in my games. The sheer cognitive dissonance of such varied and colourful beings all ultimately being hungry cannibals and ravenous corpse-eaters just doesn't get old.

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  5. > Ghoul gourmets
    Don't you mean ghoulrmets?

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