What is a ghoul, and why are elves immune to them?

Ghouls have a pedigree. The word itself is from ghûl and, like the good book says, they’re graveyard dwellers, flesh eaters, and their name comes from “to seize”.

I don’t think that “to seize” is why the ghouls of Chainmail got their paralytic touch, but it’s an interesting link. Folklorically, we should be looking at shapeshifters and nearly-vampires, but pop culture went the other way: undead sharp-toothed cannibals. A lot of zombie movies might better be described as ghoul movies; the zombies leap rage-filled from the grave to eat the protagonist, and there’s nary a pufferfish to be seen.

I used to think that the elven immunity to paralysis began there in Chainmail, but it is not so: Gygax just did it for fun. Negative energy can, apparently, paralyze; positive energy can, apparently, overcome it. I find that super unsatisfying, actually!

I remember during the 2e days, in a Dragon article, they bandied around the idea that maybe the ghoul’s touch was a charm-based paralytic effect, that for some reason it sent the touched to a dreamland. That strikes me as particularly off-base for what pop culture has otherwise done with the eaters of the dead. It’s even worse than “Gygax did it”.

I think that I shall rule instead that:

Ghouls’ (and Ghasts’) claws are grabby (matching their greedy, eating theme); on a hit they grab for free, and while grabbed you are restrained (normal rules to escape, DC 10).

They no longer paralyze by touch.

This is differently powerful than their current paralytic touch, but also has a lot more in-world justification. It also combines hideously well with the ghast, whose poisoned aura makes escaping from a grab harder. It might have the side effect of knocking the ghoul slightly below their CR 1 designation; if it does, I might give them an extra point or two of bite damage, but I imagine it’s fine.

This is also kind of a nerf to the elf, since the elf normally gets a nice resistance against this common low level foe. Now they don’t. I think that’s okay; it’s not like the elf gets a nice resistance against the gelatinous cube or the carrion crawler or something. If the elf absolutely needs an anti-undead specific boost, I might make them immune to magical aging (including that of the ghost), since that’s similarly corner case but has the advantage of fitting in with their longevity.

 

Let’s talk new content. We have grabby ghouls. We have stinky grabby ghouls.

We need big fat monstrous eaters (the “ogre” of ghouls); we need the actual shapeshifter ghûl, some berserker ghouls, and of course the ghoul lord.

Eater Ghoul
Large undead, chaotic evil
Armor Class 10
Hit Points 52 (7d10+14)
Speed 30 ft.

STR DEX CON INT WIS CHA
15 (+2) 10 (+0) 15 (+2) 7 (-2) 7 (-2) 6 (-2)

Damage Immunities poison
Condition Immunities charmed, exhaustion, poisoned
Senses darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 10
Languages Common
Challenge 3 (700 XP)

Actions

  • Multiattack The Eater Ghoul makes two melee attacks.
  • Feed Melee Weapon Attack: +2 to hit, reach 5 ft., one creature. Hit: 11 (2d8 + 2) piercing damage. If this hits a target with fewer than half its maximum hit points, the eater ghoul gains 10 temporary hit points.
  • Claws Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 9 (2d6 + 2) slashing damage. If the Eater Ghoul isn’t already grappling a target, the hit creature is grappled (escape DC 10) and restrained while grappled.

 

 

Ghûl
Medium undead (shapechanger), chaotic evil
Armor Class 12
Hit Points 27 (5d8+5)
Speed 30 ft., fly 60 ft (shapeshifted only)

STR DEX CON INT WIS CHA
13 (+1) 15 (+2) 10 (+1) 10 (+0) 10 (+0) 10 (+0)

Damage Immunities poison, mundane weapon damage
Condition Immunities charmed, exhaustion, poisoned
Senses darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 12
Languages Common
Challenge 2 (450 XP)

Special Traits

  • Shapechanger The ghûl can use its action to polymorph into a small jackal or back into its true form, which is a winged humanoid ghoul. Its statistics, other than its size, are the same in each form. Any equipment it is wearing or carrying isn’t transformed. It reverts to its true form if it dies.

Actions

  • Bite Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one creature. Hit: 9 (2d6 + 2) piercing damage and the target must make a DC 11 Constitution saving throw, taking 10 (3d6) poison damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one.
  • Venom Spit Ranged Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, range 15/60., one creature. Hit: Target is blinded for one round and the target must make a DC 11 Constitution saving throw, taking 10 (3d6) poison damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one.
  • Claws Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 7 (2d4 + 2) slashing damage. If the Eater Ghoul isn’t already grappling a target, the hit creature is grappled (escape DC 10) and restrained while grappled.

 

 

 

Too lazy to write the berserkers and the lord. Ennui!

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About lackhand

I was born in 1984 and am still playing games, programming computers, and living in New York City. View all posts by lackhand

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