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The Great Ghoul Thread


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#1 Chukhna

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Posted 22 May 2014 - 09:51 PM

As ghoul feeding habits came up a thread (http://www.yog-sotho...dying-relative/), I thought they would deserve a thread of their own for discussing their nature, feeding habits, etc. You name it.

 

Similarly to other monsters based on folklore, there are several, often conflicting views. I guess instead of folklore, the baseline should be set by H. P. Lovecraft. This is what Wikipedia says:

 

In the fiction of H. P. Lovecraft, a ghoul is a member of a nocturnal subterranean race. Some ghouls were once human, but a diet of human corpses, and perhaps the tutelage of proper ghouls, mutated them into horrific bestial humanoids. In the short story "Pickman's Model" (1926), they are unutterably terrible monsters; however, in his later novella The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (1926), the ghouls are somewhat less disturbing, even comical at times, and both helpful and loyal to the protagonist. Richard Upton Pickman, a noteworthy Boston painter who disappeared mysteriously in "Pickman's Model", appears as a ghoul himself in Dream-Quest. Similar themes appear in "The Lurking Fear" (1922) and "The Rats in the Walls" (1924), both of which posit the existence of subterranean clans of degenerate, retrogressive cannibals or carrion-eating humans.

 

According to "Pickman's Model", ghouls "approach humanity in varying degree" and "while roughly bipedal, had a forward slumping, and a vaguely canine cast" and had a rubbery skin. "The Lurking Fear" has a slightly different take: "they were dwarfed, deformed hairy devils or apes — monstrous and diabolic caricatures of the monkey tribe". Also, yellow fangs and matted fur are mentioned. Of course, it's not fully clear if the things in "The Lurking Fear" are indeed ghouls. "The Rats in the Walls" describes degenerate men's, or possibly ghouls' remains: "skulls denoted nothing short of utter idiocy, cretinism, or primitive semi-apedom". I guess with ghouls' appearance, the canon route is to choose the "Pickman's Model" description, perhaps with some likeness to apes.

 

In HPL's works, ghouls are described to eat humans: both buried corpses and recently slain. If "The Lurking Fear" describes ghouls, they are also cannibals. Of course, it doesn't say anywhere that they would eat solely human or ghoul flesh - unless there is a ritualistic or supernatural reason for doing so, I'd guess they eat animals as well.

 

The subject of supernatural brings us to the next question: are ghouls supernatural? If they are, what is their origin? Are they some sort of degenerate humans, somehow cursed or transformed to become ghouls? In "Pickman's Model", changelings (and the possibility of Pickman being one) are mentioned. Do ghouls actually procreate and for some reason (suggestions?) switch babies? Or do they just steal human babies for turning them into ghouls? Perhaps they have a problem of overpopulation and the whole changeling scheme is to get rid of one mouth to feed and at the same time, get a delicious human baby to feast on in return? Speaking of population: do ghouls die of old age? In a lot of folklore (and fantasy RPGs), ghouls are undead. Maybe they're somewhere in between mortal and immortal/undead, having to replenish their life essence by eating corpses/bodies of sentient beings? While eating animals may feed their hunger, going longer periods without munching on some juicy humans will cause a ghoul to age, or if it's already past its "natural" lifespan, decompose...

 

And while on the subject of supernatural: what powers and/or weaknesses do ghouls have? They're possibly undead or immortal. They see in the dark - but do they suffer from sunlight? Can they see in bright light at all? Does sunlight injure or even kill them? In some folklore, ghouls have powers such as turning into a hyena, or appearing as the last person they've eaten. While shapeshifting to a hyena doesn't sound very Call of Cthulhu to me, ghoulish versions of Pose Mundane and Consume Likeness spells sound reasonable. What about turning a person into a ghoul? I think the "victim" should be willing, and the ritual would involve him/her eating carcasses - perhaps progress from animals to humans and finally taste ghoul flesh to complete the "sacrament of flesh" and become a ghoul. I also had the idea, that the ghoul that "sires" another this way (perhaps the ghoul flesh eaten has to be his) holds some degree of power over the newly transformed ghoul. Maybe a form of Mental Suggestion, that can be cast in 1 round and/or doesn't require overcoming MPs, possibly costs less MPs than the spell.




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#2 Nick Storm

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Posted 22 May 2014 - 10:56 PM

Love it ! Subscribed!!

 

Funny how Hollywood has adopted a distinctly reptilian bent on the Ghoul, as if to associate it fully with a Human, or degenerate human is just too much to bear, so lets make it almost like a separate race of subterranean beings. We all know that Reptiles are subterranean, right? heh. I'm talking Rod Serling's 'Night Gallery' episode of 'Pickmans Model' for those who don't know - a fine adaptation, mayhap the best yet, in terms of atmosphere, sound and fury.

 

Some thoughts


'Sure, as long as the machines are working and you can dial 911, But you take those things away, you throw people in the dark, you scare the shyte out of them, no more rules. You'll see how primitive they can get' . 


#3 Mysterioso

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Posted 22 May 2014 - 11:09 PM

While not canon, when I saw the film The Descent I thought it had exactly caught ghouls. 

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0435625/



#4 Chukhna

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Posted 23 May 2014 - 07:13 AM

While not canon, when I saw the film The Descent I thought it had exactly caught ghouls. 

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0435625/

 

Do tell more! I haven't seen the film, and it could take a while before I have time to look for it, let alone watch it.

 

My dear and knowledgeable friend, Wikipedia, seems to have some information:



#5 Chukhna

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Posted 23 May 2014 - 10:43 AM

I'm not a huge fan of published scenarios, preferring to roll my own. Are there any ghoulish scenarios that would shed light on the (un)lives of ghouls?

 

I was just skimming "The Dream-Quest", which describes ghouls' appearance very similarly to "Pickman's Model". Interestingly, it also mentions that the ghouls' tunnels in the waking world are somehow connected to the Dreamlands, and that ghouls have something resembling a society. Curiously, there is a mention of "web-footed wamps that are spawned in dead cities" - any takes on the meaning of this? Ghouls have some sort of cities, where they're "spawned" - this is a bit ambiguous and doesn't necessarily imply that they procreate in the biological sense of the word. Wikipedia (in the article "Ghouls in popular culture") also mentions: "In the short story "The Nameless Offspring" (1932) by Clark Ashton Smith, the ghoul is a cannibalistic humanoid which, besides eating the flesh of human corpses, procreates with those buried while still alive". So, if the ghouls are not a biological species, but supernatural degenerate beings, perhaps there are two kinds: the originally human ghouls that originate from the waking world, and the more monstrous generations of ghouls spawned in the Dreamlands, having no previous existence as humans?

 

Hmm... I also remember (too busy to look up a quote) reading from a source, that ghouls assume the name of the first person they ate. This gives me an idea: maybe a person does not become a ghoul, but kind of the other way around - a ghoul partly assumes the appearance and memories of a person it eats? Ghouls are "spawned" in whatever mysterious way in the dead cities of Dreamlands, and only become the less monstrous, more human kind after devouring a human? Maybe the "deep ghouls" of Dreamlands have some severe limitations they can overcome by assuming a part-human form: perhaps they can only enter the waking world on moonless nights, or manifest themselves as dreams and/or apparitions only? They could have a good motivation for wanting to enter the waking world; maybe the waking world is a largely untapped source of "food" for them, or they need to take humans to their dead cities as "burial brides" for procreation?



#6 Wembley

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Posted 23 May 2014 - 01:37 PM

For HPL, ghouls were a chance to wheel out a couple of favourite tropes on degeneration and bad blood which manifested itself in later life. as a ghastly metamorphosis. For him it's closely linked to subhuman degenerate cannibals rather than being a distinct species.  I'm sure UKIP would love it.

Perhaps the most interesting feature is that for once he was taking on a traditional creature (I don't count mi-go) and stuck quite close to the source.
 
Eating human flesh is to ghouls what drinking blood is to vampires: their defining characteristic. As with vampires, it's not likely to be purely a matter of dietary choice. As to why human flesh, one could go in various directions, but like HPL I would focus on materialistic ones. Perhaps ghouls lack some essentially human component that they can only get from humans -- like people who can't synthesise their own vitamin D from sunlight but have to consume it.
 
I'm writing a ghoul story of my own at present, so I can't share more of my particular take on Lovecraft's take, but it's based on a supposedly genuine sighting of a ghoul near here...

#7 Nick Storm

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Posted 23 May 2014 - 03:55 PM

From the entitlements of certain paintings:

 

"The lesson" - instructing young ghouls how to feed / what to feed on. Flesh that is not too...fresh, I would think.

 

"The changeling' -  Abducting a human infant and replacing it with a half-ghoul.

 

Perhaps the ghoul is closer to the Deep one in lifecycle. Can there be half-ghouls ? Would the ghouls be desirous of having one of their own amongst the living to further an individual or group cause? Pickman?

 

Could a trained human or through sorcerous means, detect a 'half-ghoul' by examining its...eyes?

 

Some thoughts


'Sure, as long as the machines are working and you can dial 911, But you take those things away, you throw people in the dark, you scare the shyte out of them, no more rules. You'll see how primitive they can get' . 


#8 TMS

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Posted 23 May 2014 - 04:58 PM

A few notes here:

 

I think that wamps are intended to be a separate species from ghouls, since the ghouls apparently don't like to bother them. Wamps scavenge in the graveyards of the upper dreamland, while ghouls seem to get most or all of their food from the waking world. In the RPG, wamps are identified with the unnamed eyeless creature from Clark Ashton Smith's story "The Abominations of Yondo," though some have suggested (and I'm inclined to agree with them) that Lovecraft actually meant for the unknown creature that killed Carter's zebra near the lakeside ruins to be a wamp. The RPG decided it was a different creature that they called a haemophore.

 

It's hinted in "Pickman's Model" that Pickman himself is a changeling, substituted for a human baby, since the changeling in his painting resembles himself. As he got older he became more ghoul-like, similar to the Deep One hybrids in Innsmouth. In the horror stories of Edward Lucas White (which Lovecraft recommended in "Supernatural Horror in Literature," ghouls are also depicted as easy to mistake for human children when young.

 

Clark Ashton Smith, Robert Bloch, and Robert E. Howard made use of ghouls in some of their stories. I can try and provide a list if anyone is interested. They resemble Lovecraft's ghouls, canine and subterranean (though during the Hyborian Age ghouls might have dwelt aboveground, since Conan encounters a group of them in a forest).



#9 cjearkham

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Posted 23 May 2014 - 05:25 PM

If you feel like seeing what other authors have done with ghouls:

  • There are a couple of ghoul stories in the Arabian Nights (a.k.a., The Tale of a Thousand Nights and One Night) -- e.g. "The Tale of the Prince and the Ogress."
  • Brian McNaughton's The Throne of Bones won the World Fantasy Award (1998)
  • Donald Tyson's Alhazred and Necronomicon tell of Alhazred's life among the ghouls.  One is an expansion of the other -- I forget which.

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#10 Eisenhorn

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Posted 23 May 2014 - 06:03 PM

Ghouls certainly appear to infest ancient burial grounds where there is clearly no 'edible' material in the normal sense.

 
Coming from the other thread!
 
Maybe they do not need to eat, but they get hungry, like the creatures in the basement labryinth in the book about Charles Dexter Ward (El extraño caso de Charles Dexter Ward, in my mothertongue). So maybe Ghouls crave for flesh, and some (or many, or all) of them are insane of the almost never ending hunger.

#11 Mysterioso

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Posted 23 May 2014 - 07:02 PM

Do tell more! I haven't seen the film, and it could take a while before I have time to look for it, let alone watch it.
 
My dear and knowledgeable friend, Wikipedia, seems to have some information:


http://thedescent.wi...m/wiki/Crawlers
 
Google Descent & Crawlers and it will give you some more material.

#12 Nick Storm

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Posted 23 May 2014 - 07:10 PM

To the OP - you still want us to use HPLs Ghouls as a base for this thread/discussion right ? Not venture into Hollywood ? Folklore is fair game though, correct ? Especially 'old' Folklore?

 

Ghouls eating dead, long dead flesh signifies their corruption as an entity. Definitely once human but definitely now corrupt. The corrupt opposite of living;un-living.


'Sure, as long as the machines are working and you can dial 911, But you take those things away, you throw people in the dark, you scare the shyte out of them, no more rules. You'll see how primitive they can get' . 


#13 Chukhna

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Posted 23 May 2014 - 10:45 PM

I think that wamps are intended to be a separate species from ghouls, since the ghouls apparently don't like to bother them.

 

Ahh, yes. I thought the word "wamp" was here in the meaning of ugly/unpleasant, referring to some kind of a more monstrous form of ghouls. But the webbed feet don't really fit in, since ghouls feet are described to be more hoof-like, than duck-like.

 

This kind of destroys my idea of "deep ghouls" and "waking world ghouls" as two separate subspecies. However, it doesn't rule out the lifecycle theory (great suggestion there, in the back row!): perhaps ghouls are indeed "born" in the waking world by transforming a human (or who knows, maybe some other species can be transformed, too?), and as they become less human, they migrate to the Dreamlands for some mysterious reason (any ideas, anyone?). Maybe the explanation for consuming dead sentient beings is also here: in order to "progress" in their lifecycle, ghouls need to devour dead bodies of sentient beings. Any flesh will provide sustenance, but only something that used to house a soul has that magical essence that helps the ghoul "mature". Only after the ghoul has achieved a certain point in its lifecycle, it can enter Dreamlands and achieve a kind of immortality.

 

Also, the transformation can provide an explanation for the contradicting somewhat peaceful and social beings described in the "Dream-Quest" and the cannibalistic beasts of "The Lurking Fear": it probably has a staggering SAN cost, so a lot of humans that are transformed to ghouls go stark raving mad and become feral "ghoul beasts". I guess they're doomed to inhabit the waking world and never make it to Dreamlands.

 

I would still love to come up with an explanation for "buried-alive ghoul brides", though. The idea is just too disturbing and macabre to pass! :D

 

Nick Storm: I think ruling any sources out would be harsh. HPL is canon, other stuff that can be reconciled with it is ok.



#14 TMS

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Posted 23 May 2014 - 10:58 PM

I think when dealing with the friendly ghouls from the Dream Quest, we should keep in mind that Randolph Carter was a friend of Pickman's ("a ghoul of some importance"), and knew the ghouls' language. If he had not had prior connections to the ghouls, they might have killed and eaten him as they do with most humans they meet.

 

"The Nameless Offspring" seems to be the usual instance of a non-human mating with a human to produce a hybrid that takes more after the former than the latter. By the way, when the ghoul-spawn escapes from the room it's been locked in, it heads into the vaults where it was conceived, and there disappears. No explanation is given for its vanishing, but the best guess is that it joined its fellow ghouls in dreamland.



#15 Puriri

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Posted 24 May 2014 - 12:16 AM

Good discussion guys! You should add some of this stuff to the wiki: http://www.yog-sotho...ndex.php/Ghouls



#16 TMS

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Posted 24 May 2014 - 12:24 AM

Yeah, I really do mean to add to the wiki when I can find the time.



#17 Nightbreed24

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Posted 27 May 2014 - 07:10 AM

There is a German choose your own adventure-style scenario titled Sarg ohne Leiche (Coffin without Body) which states that formaldehyde is deadly poison to them.



#18 HJ

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Posted 27 May 2014 - 11:46 AM

There was a small article in today's Metro - "Elderly kill themselves to beat ban on burials" - apparently the central Anhui province is going to ban burials and get the deceased cremated because they are running out of burial space. The elderly were trying to get buried before the ban is imposed.

Anyway it does raise the question of the amount of food available to ghouls as burial practices change in cultures over time. In the UK we mostly cremate or embalm, which wouldn't leave too much available for scoffing. Have ghoul numbers decreased in the UK or have they turned to other food sources or hunting?

I've always thought that a culture, which practices excarnation or sky burial might consider the ghoul to be a sacred creature in the process.

#19 Chukhna

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Posted 27 May 2014 - 12:19 PM

I've always thought that a culture, which practices excarnation or sky burial might consider the ghoul to be a sacred creature in the process.

 

What an awesome idea!

 

I did some reading, as usual my beloved friend Mr. Wikipedia offered a lot of interesting stuff. I came across The Tower of Silence, or Dakhma (http://en.wikipedia....ower_of_Silence), an elevated platform for offering the body to the vultures. If ghouls would take the role of the vultures in a society, what kind of a charnel ground would people build? It would have to be a house, or underground, to deny vultures access. Rats would easily be a nuisance, so denying them access to the body would also be important. The platform would have to be elevated and impossible for rats to climb, maybe a table-like surface with one thick foot in the middle, or the surface could be suspended from the ceiling with chains. Since ghouls do not like daylight, maybe the cavern/house should have an entrance and small windows placed so, that it is only illuminated at a certain time of day, when the burial ceremonies happen.

 

This could also work as a scenario seed: a closed community ruled by clergy in fact lives in symbiosis with ghouls. The miraculous "ascension of the deceased", ie. disappearing from the burial cavern, could be an important part of the sect's beliefs. Only the clergy would know the truth, and perhaps they could also dispatch their ghoul allies to "disappear" their critics and adversaries...



#20 ElijahWhateley

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Posted 28 May 2014 - 07:40 AM

What an awesome idea!

 

I did some reading, as usual my beloved friend Mr. Wikipedia offered a lot of interesting stuff. I came across The Tower of Silence, or Dakhma (http://en.wikipedia....ower_of_Silence), an elevated platform for offering the body to the vultures. If ghouls would take the role of the vultures in a society, what kind of a charnel ground would people build?

 

Given the burrowing skills of ghouls, we'd probably just put the bodies underground somewhere, maybe with a little fancy wrapping/boxing that would slow down rats and insects but pose no obstacle to clawed humanoids. And given their human-like intelligence, we'd probably leave something nearby with basic info on the meal to satisfy their curiosity. What a ridiculous ide...oh.


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