One of the most commonly encountered forms of undead, ghouls—and their more powerful brethren, ghasts—are rightly feared by adventurers for their paralysing touch and disease-ridden fangs.
However, it often seems ghouls end up as nothing more than generic, bland enemies. That’s a shame as their appearance and accoutrements could provide clues as to their fate and inject more flavour and detail into an otherwise standard combat encounter.
Use the tables below, to add some depth, flavour and—dare I say—life into the ghouls encountered by the PCs.
A standard ghoul appears thusly:
This hairless, gaunt humanoid has pallid skin and long, sharp claw-like nails. Its long tongue lolls from a mouth crammed with horribly elongated, pointed teeth and its red eyes burn with an unholy lust for flesh.
To this basic description, apply one of the descriptions below:
- This foul beast yet wears blood-spattered scraps of once-fine clothing.
- One of the creature’s ears is missing—all that remains is a livid red scar.
- More emaciated than its fellows, the claws on the creature’s left hand are broken.
- With but one eye, this ghoul looks almost comical; however, its remaining eye blazes with hate and hunger.
- Tufts of blond hair cling to the creature’s scalp.
- Dried blood coats the creature’s chin and chest.
- Still wearing the—now torn and bloody—clothes in which it died, this creature is only wearing one boot; its other foot is little more than a stump—its toes seemingly gnawed away.
- The creature clutches the shard of a sword in its right hand and licks the weapon’s shattered blade as it stalks forward.
- This creature’s neck has been laid open—the white glimmer of its spine is clearly visible behind its writhing muscles and dead, pallid skin.
- Bizarrely elongated ears—perhaps reminiscent of an elf’s—grow from this horrid creature’s head.
In battle, some ghouls fight differently to their brethren:
- The ghoul is particularly hungry; it immediately feasts on any downed combatant—even one of its own—and only resumes fighting if attacked.
- The ghoul stays low and goes for its opponent’s legs in an attempt to trip its target.
- This ghoul screeches as it rushes into combat and loudly howls every time it injures its prey.
- Clutching two skulls, which it uses an improved missile weapons, this ghoul skirts combat in an attempt to get at the party’s (soft-skinned and vulnerable) spellcasters.
- This ghoul unhesitatingly attacks the nearest opponent.
- As it stalks toward its prey, this ghoul licks dried blood from its chin with its elongated, blackened tongue.
- This ghoul is ravenous. If it downs an opponent, it immediately begins to drag it away to feast in private.
- Stronger than its fellow, this ghoul attempts to grapple and pin its opponent so that others may feast on it while it struggles.
- This ghoul has a dim recollection of its previous life. If it finds a discarded weapon on the battlefield, it picks it up and uses it.
- This ghoul is a rarity of its kind. It is a coward and flees if the battle seems lost. If captured, it is very talkative, if it seems cooperation may save its “life”.
Sometimes, such creatures yet have some small trinket or treasure about their person. Roll on the table below, if you determine the creature has a small item of personal treasure:
- The ghoul wears a single silver earring (worth 5 gp); its twin is missing—long since torn from the creature’s ear.
- Three small bronze rings set with coloured glass—nothing more than costume jewellery—adorn the ghoul’s left hand. Each ring is worth 1 sp.
- The creature still wears a belt from which hangs a bloodstained pouch; within perceptive PCs find 3 gp.
- The creature was once a thief. Its worn boots contain a hidden compartment in each heel; each contains a single platinum coin (but only perceptive PCs find this hidden treasure).
- In life, this poor unfortunate had a penchant for piercings and wore four small silver bars (each worth 1 gp) in each ear.
- The ghoul wears the remnants of a once fine shirt; the collar and cuffs are threaded with silver thread (worth 5 gp) which can be easily removed.
- Incongruously, in life this poor fellow had three false gold teeth. If they are extracted—a foul, dangerous task during which the PC could potentially contract ghoul fever—they are worth 3 gp (assuming the PCs don’t confess to where they got the tainted precious metal).
- The ghoul wears thick, torn trousers. It has a fine silver dagger (worth 90 gp) strapped to its left shin.
- The creature wears a single gold ring set with a tiny black stone (an onyx). Sadly, the creature’s hands swelled in death and the ring (worth 50 gp) can only be removed by cutting off its finger.
- This creature has a stud piercing its over-long, blackened tongue. Only a perceptive PC searching the body spots the stud (worth 20 gp) which can only be salvaged by removing the tongue.
This article will appear in GM’s Miscellany: 20 Things II, available in March 2017.
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