So I’m working on Shadow of the Zombie at the moment, being, as I have previously mentioned, a look at the shadier and more fantastical undead from Mythology and other media such a literature, film and video games. Of course no such work would be complete without the Ghoul or Ghul of Arabian Myth.
The ghūl (literally demon) dwells in burial grounds and other uninhabited places. The ghul is a devilish type of jinn believed to be sired by Iblis.
The Arabian ghoul is a desert-dwelling, shape shifting demon that can assume the guise of an animal, especially a hyena. It lures unwary travellers into the desert wastes to slay and devour them. The creature also preys on young children, robs graves, drinks blood, steals coins and eats the dead, taking on the form of the one they previously ate.
It is clear from this description that these are a precursor to our more familiar flesh eating zombies, but they have a number of key differences. That they are attributed to demonic influences is the first, whereas a classic risers reason for being is left deliberately unexplored. They can shapeshift into animal form, as well as the form of one recently consumed, so clearly they are rooted in the magical or mystical. And they are said to lure travellers indicating a degree of intelligence or cunning not normally exhibited by our friendly, but mainly dumb classic zombie.
This concept of a zombie that can assume the form of someone recently consumed, started me thinking of how a Ghoul might manifest in Year of the Zombie, and how best to accomplish this remarkable ability in stat form for the book. What if the Ghoul consumed the living and dead for more than the base needs of a classic riser? What if they somehow took more from the victim than simple flesh which offered them no nutritional value what so ever.
The more I thought about this, the more I became excited by the idea of an almost ‘vampiric’ zombie that ate the flesh of the living and the dead to grow and somehow develop as a creature.
So I am now looking at a creature that at first resembles a classic zombie, being slow, somewhat dumb and ravenous in it’s appetite. However, it starts life a little smarter and more cunning, and more importantly not overly choosy over what it eats, living or risen. As the Ghoul feeds it starts to gain strength (hp and hd) which as it progresses, manifests as improved stats, skills and feats. The Ghoul prefers living victims (much as any zombie would) and gains more from consuming the flesh and life energy of the living than the dead, but can equally consume and advance from risen victims (albeit more slowly).
But how rare would such a creature be, whilst a Draugr or a Lich might be 1 in a 100,000,000, Ghouls could be relatively common, perhaps 1 in 100,000. But wait I hear you say, we would be overrun with them. Not necessarily, as Ghouls start out life weak and dumb, much like a classic shambler. We could have encountered them numerous times, despatching them will relative ease and never the wiser. Only the strongest, most cunning and probably the luckiest would survive to advance in power. Even these creatures may be slain without ever thinking more than it was a powerful and tough riser, and so more fall to the survivors until perhaps only 1 in 100 Ghouls make it through to the higher power levels and abilities.
Obviously, I can go into too much detail at this point as I would a) have nothing new to put in the Shadow of the Zombie, and b) am still only playing with the idea’s above and have yet to translate them fully into a stat’d monster, but I thought I would share these embryonic ideas with you and perhaps get some feedback on the Ghoul (such as it is now).