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When did ghouls become undead?

Huw

Villager
One for monster origin people.

In folklore up until the early twentieth century , ghouls are human-like monsters, usually supernatural but still basically living (albeit cannibalistic). By the time RPGs come along, they've become undead humans.

When did the change happen? Most likely it was the film industry, but can anyone point to an earlier source which refers to ghouls as undead? I don't believe Lovecraft's ghouls are ever referred to as being dead.

Thanks in advance.
 

Spell

Villager
you are right. in lovercraft ghouls are not undead. that caused quite a... ehm... "phylosophical" discussion at my CoC table, the first time we tried the game (many, MANY years ago).

i think the original folklore in which ghouls are based is arabic... you might want to dig something about those legends in your local library.

a quick look at the wikipedia, brought me to this:
"Although many screenplays have featured ghouls, the first major motion picture of this theme was the 1933 British film entitled The Ghoul. The actor Boris Karloff plays a dying Egyptologist who possesses an occult gem, known as The Eternal Light, which he believes will grant immortality if he is buried with it, and thereby able to present it to Anubis in the afterlife. Of course, his bickering covetous heirs and associates would rather keep the jewel for themselves. Karloff vows to rise from his grave and avenge himself against anyone who meddles with his plan, and he keeps this promise when one of his colleagues steals The Eternal Light after his death."

many monsters appearing in the original D&D and AD&D game mixed folklore and low brow sources such as B movies... so this might very well be the source of change in ghouls physiology. :)
 

megamania

Community Supporter
I don't have an issue with them being undead. To me, they wouldn't be anything else at this point. I guess otherwise they would be cursed people.
 

sckeener

Villager
I have no issue either way except that in either case (Undead or not) they should be supernatural in feel.

Personally I like the HPL feel of ghouls more than the D&D version. Admittedly it is just a fluff difference but it would be nice if the new edition coming allowed both versions.
 

Clavis

Villager
I think the undead ghoul also takes inspiration from movie zombies.

Zombies in Haitian folklore do not eat people, nor are they rotted. They can easily pass for dazed, unhealthy people. George Romero fused the idea of a living corpse with the flesh-eating ghoul of folklore, however, because it made a damn good movie.

Specifically, D&D's ghouls have the most in common with Italian horror movie zombies, which are cannibalistic like Romero's zombies, but are also fast-moving.
 

jester47

Villager
Hrm, you know good question...
I think in my future campaigns I will make them "Not Undead." They are somthing else. I would also warn the Cleric of this.

Also, anyone know where the ghoul paralysis came from? Also, why are elves immune? I thought I saw a reason for this recently harkening back to the original chainmail.
 

GreatLemur

Villager
I really prefer the rather wendigo-esque Lovecraftian ghoul: a degenerate, bestial former-human, corrupted and changed by participation in cannibalism and other unclean activities. I just think the idea of something like that lurking inside every human being's biology is extremely interesting.

jester47 said:
Also, anyone know where the ghoul paralysis came from? Also, why are elves immune?
Yeah, I'm really wondering about both issues, myself. The latter, especially, was just kinda weird.
 

Tewligan

Villager
sckeener said:
Admittedly it is just a fluff difference but it would be nice if the new edition coming allowed both versions.
If it's just a fluff, difference, then how could the new edition NOT allow for both versions? Just say "In my campaign, ghouls look like/act like this." Easy!
 

Psion

Villager
One might also question when "undead" became a meaningful and prevalent categorization in fantastic fiction and horror. Further, many spins on vampires or zombies have them not as "undead" creatures as D&D would call it, but the result of some strange physiology or disease.
 

Col_Pladoh

Gary Gygax
Greetings,

When I devised the ghoul for the D&D game it was most assuredly with non-living energization, that is undead status, that enabled these creatures to exist and hunger for the flesh of dead humans and their ilk.

The principal motivation for classifying them as undead was to have a progressive level of such monsters--skeletons, zombies, ghouls, etc.

IMO, merely eating human flesh is quite insufficient to alter one to become a ghoul. Otherwise, many a remote tribe of savage aboriginies would be ghouls, not humans.

The negative energy of the ghoul is the rason for its paralyzing ability. Elves, having great positive energy, are thus immune to the effect.

Happy New Year,
Gary
 

DamnedChoir

Villager
Ghouls=Reavers=The Hills Have Eyes Mutants

I tend to support the 'living, degenerate humans' idea if I can, it's much more horrific if they're intelligent but alien and blasphemous people corrupted by some evil contagion.

Other than 'omg, undead with paralyses!'
 

jaerdaph

Adventurer
Col_Pladoh said:
The negative energy of the ghoul is the rason for its paralyzing ability. Elves, having great positive energy, are thus immune to the effect.
Hi Gary and Happy New Year!

I was just thinking of you the other day. My sister's mother-in-law came down with the shingles over Christmas - after seeing the pain she was in, I wouldn't wish that on anyone. I hope you've been able to recover over the last year and are doing well. :)

Thanks again for the insight only you can provide into the game. I remember the sidebar you did about mummies in D&D as part of the undead book you did for Mongoose Publishing awhile back, about how mummies were originally supposed to do negative energy damage but a typo made it positive energy damage, and how that mistake has carried through to the various editions over the years. Here's to hoping that it will make it into 4e as well and keep the tradition alive! *lol*

Have a great year, Gary, and thanks again for giving the world a game that has truly been such an enjoyable part of my life. :)
 

Tonguez

Adventurer
Col_Pladoh said:
The negative energy of the ghoul is the rason for its paralyzing ability. Elves, having great positive energy, are thus immune to the effect.
First thanks for the rationale sir, it does have some logic to it:)

Now IMC Ghouls are not 'truely' undead rather they are 'the Soulless', those who through some great Depravity (which might include cannibalism*) have lost their souls but still continue being 'alive'.

The ghouls cannibalism comes from its craving for the living soul that enervates living flesh

and its paralyzing ability isn't of the freeze-up kind but rather the overwhelming despondency/terror kind (which sort of matches Garys rationale)

Ghouls IMC also have a couple of progressions they can take (including Ghast) becoming more powerful creatures - eg The Boogeyman is an advanced ghoul imc

*There is a story from somewhere in Africa (I can't remember where) about the 'Mother of Dead Children' who made a pact with an evil spirit who told her that if she killed and ate her own children she would gain great power - that sounds like enough depravity to become a ghoul
 
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francisca

Explorer
Col_Pladoh said:
Greetings,

When I devised the ghoul for the D&D game it was most assuredly with non-living energization, that is undead status, that enabled these creatures to exist and hunger for the flesh of dead humans and their ilk.

The principal motivation for classifying them as undead was to have a progressive level of such monsters--skeletons, zombies, ghouls, etc.

IMO, merely eating human flesh is quite insufficient to alter one to become a ghoul. Otherwise, many a remote tribe of savage aboriginies would be ghouls, not humans.

The negative energy of the ghoul is the rason for its paralyzing ability. Elves, having great positive energy, are thus immune to the effect.

Happy New Year,
Gary
Gary-

In Conan the Conquerer right now, #9 in the Lancer/Ace chronological series, #12 in the original (Gnome press?) series, Conan encounters ghouls (by name) in a Zingarian forest along the Argossian border. ( I believe it's called the Forest of Ghouls, actually) The description closely matches D&D ghouls - grey skin, ravenous for human flesh - could this be one of the inspirations?
 

S'mon

Legend
Psion said:
One might also question when "undead" became a meaningful and prevalent categorization in fantastic fiction and horror. Further, many spins on vampires or zombies have them not as "undead" creatures as D&D would call it, but the result of some strange physiology or disease.
The novella 'I Am Legend' has both un-dead and living vampires, and is well worth reading BTW.

Edit: Also they're a lot closer to D&D ghouls than to Bram Stoker vampires. Haven't seen the current movie so I don't know if it recreates them faithfully, though I suspect not.
 
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GreatLemur

Villager
Col_Pladoh said:
Greetings,

When I devised the ghoul for the D&D game it was most assuredly with non-living energization, that is undead status, that enabled these creatures to exist and hunger for the flesh of dead humans and their ilk.

The principal motivation for classifying them as undead was to have a progressive level of such monsters--skeletons, zombies, ghouls, etc.

IMO, merely eating human flesh is quite insufficient to alter one to become a ghoul. Otherwise, many a remote tribe of savage aboriginies would be ghouls, not humans.

The negative energy of the ghoul is the rason for its paralyzing ability. Elves, having great positive energy, are thus immune to the effect.

Happy New Year,
Gary
Wow, I love when that happens. I know we've got a lot of RPG professionals and people who were part of gaming history around here, but nothing beats Gary Gygax casually dropping by in a thread to answer a question we hadn't even dreamed of directing at him. This community is awesome.
 

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