D&D 5E Designing a ghul-ish Haunt for my players?


Tl;dr – How would you handle writing up a haunting event/challenge in 5e?

My players (4th level) have heard about a ghul named Fayezoum (yes "ghul", see below) haunting the necropolis at night, specifically hunting down undead. One of their NPC companions even had a terrifying brush with it. They haven't encountered it yet, but there's been mounting suspense about the ghul which is drawn to death & the undead – just so happens the party caused a lot of death recently & happens to include 2 undead PCs. Not to mention that one of these undead PCs is a genie warlock bound to a ghul (but not THIS ghul) with a canopic jar trapping his heart.

It's currently night. Party is in a tomb in the necropolis. Knowing my players, they probably don't want to leave the tomb to travel at night, for fear of running into the ghul. And for good reason – if they do, the ghul would try to ensnare them in a magical desert time loop, potentially causing days or even weeks to go by unless the PCs devise a way to break free.

As they communicated it to me, their plan for next session (in 9 days) is to interrogate the villains they just defeated. I'm treating this loosely as a skill challenge where each failure brings the ghul's influence more and more into the scene, sowing discord here, snuffing torches there, until it breaks into full-on haunting mode. This begins with the tomb the PCs are presently in being sealed by magical stone.

Since we've had a bunch of combat recently, I'd like to lean into the idea of the "ghul" as a haunting event/challenge rather than just a monster to fight. Something to last roughly 30-60 minutes of play online.

I've re-watched Dael Kingsmill's Ghosts Video (treating ghosts as ramping up events with lair actions & weaknesses) and I've been reading how Pathfinder Haunts work (undead spell traps).

How would you handle writing up a haunting event/challenge in 5e?

  • Purpose of the Encounter: Even though ghuls originate in Arabian stories, the campaign is fantasy Egypt. The introduction of Fayezoum the ghul is me riffing off my players, following through on the suspense that has built up around its presence, and serving as a "reminder/breaker" to prevent the interrogation scene from dragging.
  • What is a Ghul? Ghuls are shapeshifting undead lesser genies present in AD&D (great ghul & ghul-kin) and in Pathfinder. I've interpreted them as being associated with magic confounding travelers, concealing locations, opening the gates of the Underworld, and serving as guides to the Lower Planes.
  • What's the Story with Ghuls? In my campaign, the Ghuls once belonged to a tribe of “Janni” who were exiled from the Inner Planes, but they laughed in the face of exile, savoring the earthly delights and majesty of lonesome deserts. When the “Wasting” (magical desertification) began, the Janni sought to use the ancient paths between the planes their people knew, but during their journey into the Underworld something happened and they emerged as hideous undead parodies of their once dignified culture: Ghuls. I don't know what that something is yet.
  • Powers of a Ghul? A ghul has a whole range of powers including disguising itself as a camel, hyena, jackal, or humanoid with something off about it (and it doesn't detect as undead in these forms); mimicking the voices of others; casting minor and major illusions; turning invisible; creating ghouls from the recently dead; casting curses involving starvation/thirst; imposing vulnerability to curses with a mark; a sort of group charm adapting 3e's hide the path; possessing with a kiss; an aging life draining touch; sealing tombs with magically conjured rock; whispering to enchant others to be unable to describe encounters with it; calling blood rains, hissing sands, and whatever other suitably creepy stuff fits the theme I'm going for.
  • What does the ghul Fayezoum want? Fayezoum, this particular ghul, has been disguised as one of the camels the PCs took from cultists they defeated. He hunts corporeal undead because he believes they possess knowledge of the Underworld which can be magically tortured forth and/or learned by consuming their flesh and brains. Fayezoum is desperate for any knowledge which might reconnect him with his clan who were separated long ago traversing their "interplanar pathways" when they were turned into Ghuls.
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