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A ghoul is a flesh-eating undead born of mortals that ate the flesh of other sentient beings. Their most infamous ability is paralyzation, rendering their living victims incapable of defending themselves.

Variations include the ghast, a more powerful ghoul known for its stench; and the lacedon, an aquatic ghoul.



A ghoul is a humanoid undead creature.

The ghoul's eyes are red and glowing. Their hands and claws are sharp and clawlike, while their face is long and full of sharp, discolored teeth. Their skin is covered in sores, which ooze a nauseating pus and scab over. They still bear some resemblance to how they looked in life prior to their transformation into an undead, and might be recognized by someone who knew them well.[1] Their skin is grey and stretched tightly across its body, resembling a dessicated corpse.[2]

Ghouls possess forked tongues, hairy doglike legs, and often pointed or ragged ears.[3]

They are often dressed in no more than the ragged remains of the clothes they wore in life.[4]

Personality and alignment[]

It is generally the case that ghouls are lacking in intelligence, although not completely mindless. They retain practically no memories of their former lives, and usually do not speak.[5] However, there are numerous examples of ghouls of a more intelligent variety, often created by some special or particular means or magical ritual, who may retain the knowledge of their past lives. Some are haunted by memories of their past lives, and may seek to avenge their death.[6] Some feel shame for the cannibalistic identity inflicted upon them.[7]

Ghouls dislike sunlight.[5] Ghouls often hunt together in packs, approaching their target quietly and carefully to take them by surprise.[8] Their preferred strategy is to take enemies out by paralyzing each in turn before moving on to the next one. They are smart enough to flee a losing fight.[9]

The ghoul's primary motivation in all things is to consume flesh, which they must do to survive. To this end, their mindset is cunning, predatory, and evil.[1] They are difficult to command, and expect to be rewarded for their services with a gift of fresh corpses. Ghasts are even more difficult to control.[10]

Ghouls and ghasts often suffer from various kinds of insanity, including paranoia, hallucinations, delusions, or split personalities. In general, they have difficulty accepting the concept that they are dead. They have a dislike of cold iron and find it repulsive, and spells to ward against ghasts sometimes use it to ensure its efficacy.[1] Megalomania is also commonamong ghasts; one creature called the "Ghast-Lord" inhabiting the sewers of Tilverton fashioned a crown and declared himself king of the sewers.[11]

Ghouls are typically chaotic evil in alignment, although they vary in practice.[6]

Abilities and traits[]


The ghoul's best known ability is its paralyzing touch, which can freeze an opponent to the spot. Ghouls attacking a group typically attempt to paralyze all members of a group one after another until the entire group is disabled, allowing them to feast safely until the paralysis wears off.[5] Paralysis is temporary, but may afflict the victim with a kind of seizure which lasts for several minutes before paralyzing their muscles. In some cases, the body is only partially paralyzed, such as a single limb.[1]

Elves are notably immune to the paralysis ability, as are at least some fairies—it is believed that this is because the ghoul's paralysis relies on the victim's fear of death, a concept which elves and fey understand much differently to other races.[12][13] Another legend says that elves inherit the immunity from their creator god Corellon Larethian, who stole the power from the demons in ancient times. The source of the paralysis ability is rather attributed to the negative energy which imbues the ghoul.[1] Yet another legend says that the elves gained that ability in exchange for helping Doresain from being destroyed by Yeenoghu.[14]

Some priests of Corellon Larethian may have additional resistance to the paralyzing touch of ghasts and other undead.[15][16]

Various concoctions offer protection from this effect. Essence of cinnabar can bestow immunity to a ghoul's paralysis.[17] A potion protecting one against a ghoul's paralysis can be distilled from carrion crawler tentacles, although a poorly-brewed batch will instead inflict paralysis on the drinker.[18]

The mechanism which causes the ghoul's paralysis is debated. It is thought to be a non-magical ability,[19] and some suppose it is a type of toxin.[2]

Create spawn[]

Those killed by a ghoul a rise as ghouls themselves. However, this fate can by avoided by blessing the body before burial.[1] The transformation into a ghoul is caused by ghoul fever, a disease transmitted by the ghoul's bite; those who die of the disease rise as ghouls. However, the ghoul is not under the command of the ghoul who created it.[19] Water polluted by ghoul body parts can also carry a disease called ghoul gut, although this merely causes severe intestinal disstress.[20]

The Monster Manual (3.0) (2000) asserted that those killed by the ghoul and not eaten rise as ghouls within 1d4 days. However, the Monster Manual (3.5) (2003) changed this to a disease called ghoul fever, and only those specifically killed by the disease rise as undead. In 5th edition, they no longer have an ability to create spawn listed in their statblock.


The ghast, a more powerful variant of the ghoul, exhudes a nauseating stench from the scaly, oozing sores which cover its body.[1]

Ghouls do not need to breathe.[3] They have an acute sense of smell, which is particularly good at finding corpses to eat,[21] and a sense of taste. They are capable of engaging their body's circulatory systems when they feed on flesh.[22]

Ghouls and ghasts are oddly unaffected by the cursed sword Blackrazor, which normally drains the wielder of energy when it strikes an undead.[23]



Ghouls prefer to avoid sunlight, inhabiting subterranean lairs and leaving to raid at night. They are found on countless worlds.

Ghouls are known to inhabit the world of Mystara, where they inhabit the Five Shires (rarely, and only in Highshire and Eastshire)[24], the Kingdom of Limn (where they live as free citizens), the Milenian Empire, the Kingdom of Ochalea, the Kingdom of Shahjapur, the Kingdom of Sind, and rarely in the Empire of Thyatis.[25] Ghouls live all over Karameikos, where a number serve the vampire Koriszegy,[26] and in the Emirates of Ylaruam.[27] Vapour ghouls live in the Acatlan Marshes.[28]

Exceptionally cunning ghouls inhabit the environs of the abandoned mines of Azak-Zil in the World of Greyhawk.[29] Hellgate Keep in Faerûn is called a "ghoul-hold", attesting to the creatures' existence in that world also.[30] They are known in the Joi Chang Peninsula in Kara-Tur,[31] and the Crying Fields of Eberron.[32] Ghouls even inhabit the world of Earth, in tunnels dug beneath the realm of New England,[33] and in the catacombs beneath the city of Paris.[34]

There exists an underground kingdom of the ghouls,[35] known as the Great and Potent Kingdom of White Bone, or also the White Kingdom, located in the Underdark near the Cloaker Rift. Its inhabitants are a highly intelligent variant of ghouls sometimes called Ghoul#Shadow_ghoul#true ghouls.[3] Ghouls also live in the Tombs, an undead quarter in the drow city of Erelhei-Cinlu,[36] and in that city serve as a way for the drow to dispose of the bodies of their dead.[37] An enclave of ghouls has lived under the city of Manifest for centuries, and in the realm of Xaphan.[38] Ghouls inhabit the city of Naratyr in Thanatos, the 113th layer of the Abyss;[39] the city of Gloomwrought on the Shadowfell;[40] and form the ruling caste in the city of Evernight on the Shadowfell.[41]


Ghouls often inhabit graveyards, hiding from the sunlight in empty tombs when not hunting.[5] Such incursions are sometimes tolerated by the local clergy responsible for the graveyard, so long as the ghouls do not attack the living residents. They are known in some cases to dig underground warrens, perhaps connecting multiple nearby tombs or grave sites together.[1] Passages leading to a ghoul's warren stink of rotten flesh.[42][43]

Ghouls will often break into large catacombs, where they may make their lair and feed on the bodies of those laid to rest in the there.[44] Their lairs are often littered with the bones of their victims and pieces of inedible garbage from their victims' clothing and equipment.[45]

Life cycle[]


Ghouls are created from the living in an enormous number of ways, most of them dark and unpleasant. A common folk belief is that they are the result of people who engaged in cannibalism or other despicable acts, although the veracity of this is uncertain.[19]

Any humanoid who is slain by a ghoul will themselves rise as a ghoul, usually said to occur either within three days or at the following midnight. Most ghouls are created in this manner.[1] The ghoul's ability is attributed to a disease known as ghoul fever, which is transmitted by the ghoul's bite; specifically, anyone killed by the disease becomes the ghoul, whereas anyone merely killed by a ghoul is usually eaten. Particularly powerful victims of ghoul fever may raise as a ghast.[19]

However, some rise by other means. Evil men, living lives of powerful greed and buried in unsanctified graves, may spontaneously rise as ghasts, clawing themselves out of their own grave to continue to subsist on other people.[1] The odds of such an occurrence are etsimated to be around one in twenty. Lacedons can similarly arise from the bodies of drowned pirates.[46]

Ghouls can be created by necromancy magic, such as the spells create undead, undeath after death,[47] or inexorable restitution.[48] Necromancy rituals can create one from a living individual, who dies in the process and rises within 24 hours.[10] The epic spell demise unseen can transform the target into a ghoul without anyone else noticing,[49] while the bonfire of insanity creates rain that rises the living and the dead as ghouls.[50]

Various items have a similar effect. A coffin of creation can produce ghouls of high intelligence,[51] and the casket of the damned can also create ghouls or, from spellcasters, ghasts.[52] The elixir of undeath can transform the imbiber into a ghoul,[53] as does the blood of Orcus.[54]

Numerous creatures can make a ghoul from a creature or dead body. The maurezhi demon's bite inflicts a disease which raises the victims as ghouls.[55] The devourer can inflict a similar fate upon victims whose soul it steals.[56] The nabassu demon possesses an ability call death stealing, who can mark a victim to become a ghoul or ghast under their control once slain;[57] they are also said to possess a death gaze which can kill anyone and make them a ghast, if they are human, or ghoul, if another type of humanoid.[58] Victims of the cerebral vampire also rise as ghouls who retain most of the knowledge they had in life.[59] The darklings will also transform captured victims into ghouls.[60]

A rare magical process is known to have transformed zombies into ghouls.[61] Certain rare concoctions may transform the imbiber into a ghoul over time, such as dead man's tears (a plant which grows in graveyards), and scarab caps (a hallucinogenic mushroom).[62] The cult of Vecna are known to transform people into ghouls as punishment for failing a mission.[63] A cursed ritual involving the murder is known in Eberron.[64] The demon prince Orcus commonly "rewards" his folowers with transformation into ghouls, and some cultists of gnoll lord Yeenoghu experience a similar transformation upon death.[65] A rumored secret ritual, created by the enemies of Doresain for infiltration, allows temporary transformation into a ghoul.[66]

A ghoul may also be created by a localized magical effect. In Marshwood, located in the Thunder Rift, anyone who dies there rises as a ghoul. These ghouls retain most of the intelligence and skills they had in life. It is uncertain if the effect is linked to the Marshwood, or to the ghouls' leader, the wight Uchard Tonsha.[67] A strange meteorite of cursed metal buried in the graveyard of a castle may cause all those buried there to return as ghouls.[68] In Eberron, Valin Field is a manifest zone linked to both Shavarath and Mabar, where sentient beings who die there sometimes rise as ghouls or ghosts, and the waters are infected with ghoul fever;[69] similar spontaneous rising of zombies and ghouls seems to occur in the Shanjueed Jungle. The aura of entropy in the crystalline prison complex of Pandorym causes people who die there to rise as a ghoul or vampire.[70] Mortals who die in the Black Pool of Canaughlin Bog transform into abyssal ghouls.[71]

People may also become ghouls and ghasts by undertaking depraved and evil acts, especially cannibalism.[6] Not only humanoids, but other creatures may undergo this transformation, including giants.[72] Tieflings may also become ghouls through cannibalism,[73] as may humans, although corrupting influence of the Shadowfell is thought to play a role in the latter case.[74] A warlock ghoul who makes a pact to extend their life may become a ghoul, sometimes called a darkpact ghoul.[75] Warriors who die while holding a grudge against their lord may rise as ghouls,[76] or pirates who drowned in a storm while clutching their treasure.[77]

Ghasts are said to be created spontaneously from ghouls who go for a long time without feeding, causing them to rot from the inside out. This gives them their terrible stench and ferocity. A ghoul might survive for a decade by means of this terrible transformation into a ghast.[78] In some worlds, they are said to have been created from ghouls who starve for years until their insides rot away, making them more ferocious,[78] while by other accounts they are cannibalistic humanoids who died after eating rotten flesh.[75]

Life span and destruction[]

Most ghouls do not survive longer more than 200 years, although some have been known to live up to 1,000 years. The more powerful ghasts, sustained by Abyssal energy, commonly live up to around 500 years, with those inhabiting the Abyss itself living practically indefinitely. [1] Ghouls have known to survive for centuries on the surface of a lifeless planetoid without feeding.[79]

When a ghoul dies, its soul passes on to eternal torment in the Abyss.[1] However, it is also believed that destroying the body of a ghoul on the Material Plane also destroys the soul.[80]


A ghoul's favored food is fresh meat. They are known to prey on travelers at night, although they will also readily eat any living creature.[5] In some cases, they are known to capture humans alive and keep them in their lair to consume later.[1] Ghouls have long, tough tongues which they use to lick marrow from bones.[81] Their tongues are thin and covered with raspy bumps which aid this purpose.[2]

Ghouls are scavengers, and will feed on carrion where fresh victims are not available. However, their preferred food is fresh. They will happily eat any living creatures.[5] They are known to dig up graves to feast on the corpse, and human civilizations will often cover burial sites in piles of stones called cairns or more elaborate stone tombs to discourage ghouls and grave robbers.[82]

Ghouls are one of the only creatures who can stomach the seedroach, which grows from the cockroach tree, a plant which grows even in blighted magical wastelands.[83]

It is traditionally believed that ghouls can survive for up to seven days before feeling any ill-effects. If it does not feed after that, it becomes gradually weaker over subsequent weeks, and can eventually die of starvation.[1] However, more recent study suggests that the ghoul does not truly need to eat to survive, and is merely driven by a maddening and endless hunger. Ghouls may survive without feeding on flesh for a century or more, springing into action when the opportunity for a gory meal presents itself.[79][14]

Society and culture[]


Ghouls often congregate in small hunting packs. They are occasionally led by a more powerful undead, such as a ghast or wight. Ghouls are excellent hunters and trackers, and are both tenacious and utterly fearless in their pursuit of prey. They holler and shout while chasing their prey.[1]

Some are known to crew pirate ships, such as those in Kaff of Al'Qadim.[84]

Ghouls in the Demiplane of Ravenloft are often led by a creature called a ghoul lord, a more powerful form of ghoul bestowed with telepathic communication, a palpable aura of evil, resistance to weapons except for those enhanced with magic or made of iron.[85]

In the ghoul city of the Kilenor in the Underdark, ghouls—including the highly intelligent "true ghouls" descended from those created by Doresain himself—house a massive society, keeping goblins and hobgoblins for food and slave labor.[86]


Allies and minions[]

Ghouls sometimes make their lairs near stirge nests as an easy supply of food. The two groups coexist, with the ghouls paralyzing their victims, allowing the stirges to drain the victims of blood. The ghouls later return to feast on the bodies.[87]

Ghouls also benefit from arrangements with will-o-wisps, who serve as lookouts and help to lure in prey.[88] They work well with wights and mohrgs.[6]

Packs of ghouls may be accompanied by agarats, undead who are easily mistaken for ghouls and are of similar physical strength. They lack the ability of paralysis, but possess a feared scream which temporarily drains the life force of those who hear it.[89]

Thouls, rare magical crossbreeds of ghouls, hobgoblins and trolls, are sometimes found in the retinue of hobgoblin kings or other rulers.[90][91]

Ghouls are among the servants of the immortal powers of Entropy.[92]

Ghouls are sometimes retained by gnolls as guards for shamans, due to the relationship between ghouls and the gnoll deity Yeenoghu.[93][94]

Ghouls are often found among the followers of a death knight,[95] or in the service of more powerful undead such as the hullathoin[96] and winterspawn.[97]


Most ghouls lack the awareness to take part in religious worship. Those ghouls of sentience most commonly revere the demigod Doresain, also called King of the Ghouls. He teaches that eating is the purpose of existence, and eating the dead and gluttonous acts honor him. Doresain inhabits the White Kingdom, the 421st layer of the Abyss, although ghouls have established their own subterranean cities which they also call the White Kingdom, in honor of their deity's domain. Temples may exist in any such large subterranean settlement. A common rite is "passing it around the horn", where ghouls share a piece of flesh among a group.[98]

Other ghouls follow Doresain's former patron Orcus.[6] The gnoll deity Yeenoghu, who long ago subjugated the King of the Ghouls,[99] is sometimes considered a patron of ghouls.[100][101]

The Aztec death god Mictlantecuhtli commands hundreds of ghouls.[102]

The title "Terror Touch of the Ghoul" is given to some priests of Kiaransalee.[103]

The Keeper, evil deity of Eberron, is sometimes portrayed as a ghoul.[104]


Ghouls commonly do not speak. The more intelligent ghasts speak languages they knew in life.

Cultural influence[]

A slaver galley known as the Ghoul was at one point created by the Slave Lords of the World of Greyhawk.[105]



Ghouls typically do not carry weapons or wear armor, although they occasionally wear protective items such as amulets given to them by superiors. Ghasts and true ghouls may use weapons and equipment.[3]


Ghasts occasionally amass piles of junk left over from the belongings of their victims, at least the inedible objects such as belt buckles and pieces of chainmail. However, this may also include valuables such as coinage and weapons.[45]


Dried ghoul tongue is bought and sold as a rare material, probably used in the creation of certain magic items.[106]

Earth taken from the grave of a ghoul is valued as a spell component in the spell Nystul's blacklight burst.[107] Ghoul grave earth or a scrap of its clothing is used as a material component in the spell ghoul touch.[108] Hair from a ghoul is also valued component, used in the spell fear ward.[109][110]

Ghoul sweat is used to produce a paralyzing toxin.[111] A ghoul's body fluids are used in the creation of the lesser thassaloss.[112] Clippings from a ghoul's fingernails are used in the creation of a crawling claw.[113]

The boiled remains of a ghoul or ghast can be used to create a potion of cause serious wounds,[114] or deathmaster's vial.[115] Essence of ghoul can also be used as a component in a wand of paralyzation.[116]



Ghouls trace their origin to Doresain, King of the Ghouls, and the first of the ghouls. Doresain was an elf in the service of the demon prince Orcus who consumed human flesh to honor his demonic patron. Orcus made him the first ghoul. Thereafter, Doresain created ghouls from other servants of Orcus.[14]

Ancient history[]

An incursion by the demon lord Yeenoghu, patron of the gnolls, conquered Doresain's Abyssal realm. Out of desperation, the former elf turned to the elven deity Corellon Larethian for help, who saved him from destruction.[14] Doresain was able to recover his realm, but was forced to pay fealty to Yeenoghu, at least for a time. Yeenoghu therefore gained power to summon ghouls.[99]

Notable ghouls[]

For a full list of ghouls, see Category:Ghouls.

Related creatures[]

Aside from the standard variety, a number of other forms of ghoul exist.

Abyssal ghoul[]

The abyssal ghoul is an extraplanar variant from the Abyss. It possesses a foot-long tongue which drails into the distance like smoke, and which which it can absorb its victim's mental energy. Those it strikes with its claws can contract demon fever. Abyssal ghouls are blind, but can sense by vibration. They always know how near death a creature is, which they this power to intentionally kill enemies who are near death. They are believed to serve the King of the Ghouls, and the Faerûnian deity Kiaransalee.[120][121]


The agarat is a ghoul-like creature with an energy-draining scream rather than a paralyzing ability. They often associate with ghouls or serve more powerful undead.[122]

Elder ghoul[]

A very rare, more powerful version of the ghoul. It resembles a normal ghoul excepet that, when attacked, an expanding sphere of green light slowly eminates around its head, which weakens anyone it touches. It inhabits caverns and ruins.[123][124]

Fleshvigor ghoul[]

A fleshvigor ghoul is a type of ghoul whose bite inflicts a disease known as ghoul fever. Anyone who dies of the diease rises as a fleshvigor ghoul at next midnight. A fleshvigor ghast is a similar but more powerful version.[125].


The ghast is a more powerful, more intelligent version of the ghoul. Ghasts are created from ghouls who are exposed to the Abyss.[1] The demon prince Orcus often elevates ghouls to ghasts.[14]

They cunning and are capable of speech, and may serve as leaders to a pack of ghouls. Those in the Abyss are often used by demons as hunting dogs, giving them the nickname "Hounds of the Abyss". Their paralyzing touch has been known to afflict even elves who are usually immune to the ghoul's ability.[1] It is said that spells which keep ghouls at bay are ineffective against ghasts unless cold iron is used.[81]

The stench ghoul, which may be the same or a similar variant, can arise from the corpse of a humanoid who dies after consuming the rotten flesh of another humanoid.[75]

In AD&D 1e, the ghast is a ghoul promoted in the Abyss. D&D 3e introduced the abyssal ghoul, a creature with similar origin lore to the ghast, which continued into D&D 4e. Monster Manual 3 (4e) (2010) re-introduced the ghast, with new lore defining its origin as a starved ghoul. Open Grave (2009) introduced the stench ghoul, a creature more in keeping with the pre-4e ghast. D&D 5th edition returned to the pre-4e distinction between ghouls and ghasts.

Ghoul dragon[]

The ghoul dragon is an undead dragon created from the corpse of an evil dragon. They are more intelligent than ghouls. Ghast dragons are similar, but possess the ghast's stench.[126]

Ghoul fish[]

A rare deep fish with huge eyes, transformed into ghouls by devilfish.[127]


The ghoulstirge is a rare type of stirg which paralyzes its victim.[128]


Occasionally, a mother is transformed into a ghoul while carrying a child. In the rare instances that the child survives to birth, they are born as a ghul, a frightening humanoid with a pupilless eyes, a gaunt frame, sharp teeth, and pale skin. They have the ability to inflict a paralyzing touch. They can only eat carrion, and must consume the flesh of sentient creatures each week. However, they are immune to disease and poison.[129]

Those descended from ghouls tend to pass on a necromantic bloodline, granting particular talent with necromantic magic, and a tendency to be constantly hungry. Those descended from ghasts possess a terrible stench.[130]

Great ghul[]

The great ghul, is a powerful desert-dwelling type of creature related to genies, and considers itself greater than most ghouls.[131] They are mostly female, and possess donkey's feet and ears, hunched posture, and pale skin, which they seek to disguise with elaborate clothing and cosmetics, as well as frequent use of their ability to shapeshift. Around one sixth are spellcasters. Great ghuls are often former jann.[132]

The leser ghul is less powerful, but still stronger than a normal ghoul. It is said that they are created when a mage ghul kills a human and sits with their hands on the human's corpse for the entire night. Noble efreeti can also transform humans into lesser ghuls, and lesser ghuls into great ghuls.[132]

Goop ghoul[]

The goop ghoul is an ooze creature with the ability to attach itself to a human skeleton and use it for locomotion. While it has a paralytic touch, it is technically an ooze, not an undead, having more in common with a gelatinous cube.[133]

Gravetouched ghoul[]

These ghouls are said to have been blessed by the King of Ghouls upon their return from the dead, and are thus more powerful than common ghouls. While standard ghouls lose all of their abilities from their previous life, gravetouched ghouls retain most of their former selves, albeit enhanced by the transformation into an undead creature.[134]


The lacedon, also called the sodden ghoul,[75] is the aquatic version of the standard ghoul. Save for the fact that they are powerful swimmers, lacedons are identical to standard ghouls.[135] They are greyish green in color.[136] They are said to lurk near reefs, waiting to prey on stranded vessels.[81]

They make their lairs at the bottom of the sea,[137] or on the lower decks of wrecked ships which have run aground, from where they terrorize the local area. They return to their lairs during the day to rest, seeking shady locations away from sunlight, occasionally even hiding in chestsor cabinets. They travel further inland through rivers and waterways. They often make excellent climbers, perhaps because many are former sailors.[138]

They may arise from the aquatic humanoid who engaged in cannibalism, or be created deliberately by rituals by aquatic beings such as hags or aboleths.[75]

Nehwon ghoul[]

The nehwon ghoul is a rare humanoid with transparent flesh and grey bones. Despite the name and tendency to eat human flesh, they are not strictly related to the standard ghoul, and in fact are not true undead. They are found in forests, marshes, mountains, plains, and hills. They hold a cultural belief that all creatures aside from other Nehwon ghouls are permitted food, including humans. The males have a strong Viking-like warrior culture known for bravery and battle songs, while the females are reputedly interested in human males. Their warriors wear little or no clothing to benefit from their near-invisibility.[139][140]


Main article: Thoul

A thoul is a sorcerous crossbreed between a hobgoblin, a troll, and a ghoul. It appears to be a hobgoblin and is easily mistaken for one, but paralyzes with a touch and possesses regeneration, although it can still be killed normally.[90] They are not undead, despite possessing the ghoul's paralyzing touch. Some have the ability to cast spells.[91]

Shadow ghoul[]

Known variously as the shadow ghoul, noble ghoul, greater ghoul, or true ghoul, this subtype of ghoul is more intelligent, living in underground cities and equipping themselves with clothing, weapons and armor. They must eat the brains of sentient creatures to sustain their intellect. Older true ghouls usually become bald due to the lack of new hair growth. They lack the stench of other ghouls.

Merely being touched by a particularly powerful true ghoul inflicts the victim with ghoul rot, slowly transforming them into ghouls. Their transformation is aided by a ritual involving an attendant who serves as a spirit guide, and a mysterious black nectar.[3]

A slain true ghoul's spirit visibly rises from its body as a green phantom. The more powerful noble true ghouls' phantoms may even continue to survive and take up roles in true ghoul society.[141]

Sheet ghoul[]

Main article: Sheet phantom

The sheet ghoul is a very rare, usually solitary form of ghoul, which rises from the body of a creature suffocated to death by a sheet phantom. The phantom merges with the body over a day to form a sheet ghoul.[142]

The sheet ghoul lacks the ghoul's paralyzing touch, but instead has the power to shoot corrosive acid from its nose or mouth. It resembles a ghoul but may have wisps of cloth over its face or carry what resembles a burial shroud. They prefer dead meat to living people, and often haunt castles, manors, or houses. Other ghouls detest sheet ghouls.[143][144][142]

Vapor ghoul[]

The vapor ghoul (also spelled "vapour ghoul") is an incorporeal form of ghoul capable of manifesting from mist or steam, such as in underground volcanic tunnels. They naturally form in places of conflict. Their form of paralysis afflict's the character's mind, temporarily causing them to continue their present activity repeatedly, and in some cases causing an insanity that lasts for days or weeks.[145][146]


There is at least one aboleth ghoul known to have a lair in the World of Greyhawk.[147] Likewise there is a ghoul mimic disguised as a kitchen larder, possessing the abilities of both a mimic and the ability to inflict paralysis and ghoul fever; and a ghoul ooze.[148]

Legend says that the creature called the devourer is created when a barghest is killed by ghoul fever from a ghast.[149]

Creatures named "ghoul" but which are not in fact ghouls include the blood ghoul, a living creature who has ingested vampire's blood);[150] the powerful undead famine spirit, called also the ravenous ghoul; and the ghoul frog, an eerie freshwater frog noted for its translucent skin.[151]

The jiki-niku-gaki is similar to the ghoul in that is an undead risen from the spirit of a person who dies after a life of greed, and now feasts on human flesh.[152]. There is also such a thing as a winged ghoul, whose bat-like wings make it a troubling winged scavenger.[153]

Related spells and items[]

  • The spell ghoul gauntlet transforms the victim into a ghoul under the caster's control.[154][155]
  • The second-level spell attract ghoul can conjure a ghoul similar to a familiar.[114]
  • Attract ghoul also summons an intelligent ghoul.[156][157]
  • The spell ghast production transforms a ghoul into a ghast.[114]
  • The spell ghoul touch simulates the ghoul's paralyzing touch.[108]
  • The spell field of ghouls animates a number of bodies as ghouls under the caster's control.[158]
  • Ghoul glyph is a warding spell which paralyzes enemies.[159][155]
  • Ghoul light creates green flame as a light source.[159][155]
  • Ghoul gesture fires a green ray to paralyze an opponent.[155]
  • The gauntlets of the ghoul, called also ghoul gauntlets, allow the wearer to make a paralyzing touch.[114][160][161]
  • The ghoul shell armor is a suit of leather made of ghoul hide and lets the wearer create paralyzing attacks.[162][163]
  • The White Kingdom boneclaw, a gauntlet affording access to the Ghoul King's lair[164]
  • The ghoul candle, which sheds light invisible to undead, is named for the ghoul, though otherwise unrelated.[165]
  • The charm of the ghoul allows the bearer to eat humanoid flesh to restore life.[166]

Publication history[]

The ghoul was one of the earliest creatures introduced in the D&D game, and has appeared consistently throughout all editions.

Original D&D[]

Ghouls first appeared in Monsters & Treasure, in the original Dungeons & Dragons 3-Volume Set (1974). They have the power of paralyzing touch, to which elves are immune, and anyone killed by a ghoul becomes one. Ghouls previously appeared in Gygax's wargame Chainmail, where they were similar to wights, having the paralyzing touch but not the ability to create spawn.

The lacedon is introduced in Supplement II: Blackmoor (1975). Although AD&D and onward would interpret the lacedon as an aquatic ghoul, it is not explicitly stated as such in this sourcebook, except for its proximity to other aquatic creatures in the monster list.

The Ghouls of Yanaidar appeared in Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes (1976), although they were removed from later printings due to copyright. Aztec deity Mictlantecuhtli is said in this work to command many of them.

Basic D&D[]

The ghoul appeared throughout the revisions of the Dungeons & Dragons game from 1977 to 1979. In the Basic Set (Holmes) (1977), p.26 they retain their paralyzing touch but not the ability to create spawn. In the Basic Set (B/X) (1981) their paralysis is removed by a cure light wounds spell, and the set introduces the thoul, a magical combination of a ghoul, hobgoblin, and troll who resembles a hobgoblin and possesses regeneration. Ghouls appear again in Basic Rules (BECMI) (1983), where they are now specified to have immunity to sleep and charm spells.

The ghoul appears again in the Rules Cyclopedia (1991), p.178, and the Thoul appears in this book. Both appear again in the The New Easy to Master Dungeons & Dragons Game (1991) and The Classic Dungeons & Dragons Game (1994). The ghoul's inclusion is supported by its appearance on the standard turn undead table in each edition of Basic D&D.

The vapor ghoul appears in the module XS2 Thunderdelve Mountain (1985), and later in the DMR2 Creature Catalog (1993) and AC9 Creature Catalogue (1986), p.88 as the "vapour ghoul". The elder ghoul appears in the DMR2 Creature Catalog (1993), p.48 and AC9 Creature Catalogue (1986), p.85

AD&D 1st edition[]

The ghoul appears in the Monster Manual (1e) (1977), p.43-44, where it is described as an undead creature, once human, who feeds on corpses. The more powerful ghast is introduced by this book, uniquely having a carrion strench, weakness to cold iron, and resistance to circle of protection from evil unless made with cold iron. The lacedon is also mentioned.

The sheet ghoul appears in the Fiend Folio (1e) (1981).

The Forgotten Realms sourcebook REF5 Lords of Darkness (1e) (1988), p.15-20, features the short adventure module Ghouls and Ghasts, including a detailed section titled Ecology of Ghouls and Ghasts.

Several creatures similar to ghouls appeared in The Ungrateful Dead, Dragon #138 (Oct 1988), p.22-35, including the baka, the black annis, the callicantzaros and great callicantzaros, the gelloudes, the ghula, the spirit-ghoul, and the wendigo.

AD&D 2nd edition[]

The ghoul, ghast, and lacedon appear in Monstrous Compendium Volume One (1989). They are reprinted in the Monstrous Manual (1993), p.131

The lacedon are explored in more detail in Elminster's Ecologies, Coastal Aquatic Lands: The Sea of Falling Stars (1994), p.13-14.

The goop ghoul appears in Dragon #198 (Oct 1993), p.18 The ghoul dragon and ghast dragon appear in The Draconomicon: The lesser evils of the draconian undead, Dragon #234 (Oct 1996), p.15-19

The ghoul is explored in great detail in in The Ecology of the Ghoul, Dragon #252 (Oct 1998), p.90-98, which mainly documents a subtype known as the shadow ghouls, noble ghouls, or true ghouls. [3]

A set of parody song lyrics appears in Dragon #192 (Apr 1993) titled "Brown-Eyed Ghoul".

Kingdom of the Ghouls, Dungeon #70 (Sep/Oct 1998), p.48-78, introduces the White Kingdom, the true ghoul or shadow ghoul, and Doresain, the King of the Ghouls. The module was rated #3 in Recommended Dungeon Adventures in D&D Adventures of All Time, Dungeon #116 (Nov 2004), and Dungeon editor James Jacobs described it in 2007 as his favorite Underdark adventure. A D&D 3rd edition conversion was used in an early high-level playtest of the game.[167]

D&D 3rd edition[]

The ghoul, ghast, and lacedon appear in the Monster Manual (3.0) (2000) and Monster Manual (3.5) (2003).

Savage Species (2003), p.173 presented the ghoul as a monster class. Libris Mortis (2004) gives the ghoul's level adjustment as +3 (ECL 5), and the ghast as +4 (ECL 8). It also presents a ghoul/ghast monster class progression.

The abyssal ghoul was introduced in the Forgotten Realms supplement City of the Spider Queen (2002), and then appeared in the Fiend Folio (3e) (2003).

Ghoulish creature and ghastly creature templates appeared in Dragon #307 (May 2003), p.39-45.

The fleshvigor ghoul for the Ghostwalk campaign setting appeared in Ghostwalk: The Bloody Swords, Dragon #315 (Jan 2004), p.59. A nether hound ghast appears in Nether Hounds of Kiaransalee, Dragon #322 (Aug 2004), p.89, as an example of the nether hound template.

The true ghoul reappears in A Gathering of Winds, Dungeon #129 (Dec 2005), p.62-63.

D&D 4th edition[]

The ghoul appears in the Monster Manual (4e) (2008), p.118-119. It features the level 5 soldier ghoul, level 13 minion horde ghoul, and level 16 skirmisher abyssal ghoul, level 18 minion abyssal ghoul hungerer, and level 23 minion abyssal ghoul myrmidon.

Monster Manual 3 (4e) (2010), p.94-95 introduces the level 4 lurker ghoul flesh seeker, the level 6 controller adept of Orcus, and level 6 brute ghast. Ghasts are here said to be created by ghouls who go too long without feeding (perhaps years) and rot from the inside out, becoming ferocious.

The ghoul appeared in the D&D Essentials Monster Vault (2010), p.126-129, which added the level 5 brute ravenous ghoul. Open Grave (2009), p.154-155 introduces the sodden ghoul, sodden ghoul wailer, stench ghoul, wretched stench ghoul, and darkpact ghoul.

The ghast is mentioned in Alumni: Monster Manual, Dragon #387 (May 2010), where Bart Carroll considers their role to be that of a counter to the elf's immunity to the normal ghoul's paralyzation power.

The ghoul appears in the high-level adventure module E2 Kingdom of the Ghouls (2009), which explores the White Kingdom. It introduces new ghoul statblocks including the level 25 controller ghoul gatherer, the level 25 brute ghoul ripper, the level 24 soldier ghoul warrior, and the level 25 skirmisher ghoul stalker. P2 Demon Queen's Enclave (2008), p.16 introduced the ghoul eyebiter, a level 16 controller leader.

D&D 5th edition[]

Ghouls are detailed in the Monster Manual (5e) (2014), p.148. They do not inflict the ghoul fever or have a listed ability to create spawn as in earlier editions.

Third-party publications[]

The ghoul is fully detailed in Paizo Publishing's book Classic Horrors Revisited (2009), on pages 28–33.

Creative origins[]

According to Gary Gygax, the D&D ghoul was inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft.[168] A creature named a ghoul appeared in Lovecraft's short story Pickman's Model, while creatures named ghouls and ghasts appeared in The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (1927).

These in turn were likely inspired by Arabic folklore. According to Funk & Wagnalls Desk Standard Dictionary (1916), "ghoul" is defined as "An evil spirit supposed to prey on corpses", giving the etymology from the Arabic "ghūl", meaning "demon of woods". In Andrew Lang's The Arabian Nights Entertainments, an early 20th century English edition of the Middle Eastern folk tale compilation One Thousand and One Nights, in The Story of Sidi-Nouman, the titular character says as follows:

"It was bright moonlight, so I easily managed to keep her in sight, till she entered a cemetery not far from the house. There I hid myself under the shadow of the wall, and crouched down cautiously; and hardly was I concealed, when I saw my wife approaching in company with a ghoul--one of those demons which, as your Highness is aware, wander about the country making their lairs in deserted buildings and springing out upon unwary travellers whose flesh they eat. If no live being goes their way, they then betake themselves to the cemeteries, and feed upon the dead bodies."

Gygax's primary reason for making the ghoul undead was to fill a gap in the progression of undead by power, something which is important to the turn undead table. Gygax felt it reasonable that being undead explains why the ghoul preys on humans and eats human flesh. He believed that one could not become a ghoul merely by consuming human flesh. He credited the paralyzing ability to negative energy, and the elves' immunity to positive energy.[169]

The sheet ghoul is credited to John Terra.[142]

Reception and influence[]

The ghoul was ranked fifth among the ten best low-level monsters by the authors of Dungeons & Dragons For Dummies. The authors described the ghoul as "terrifying to low-level heroes because one scratch of a ghoul's filthy claws may cause even the most resolute heroes to freeze up in complete (but thankfully short-lived) paralysis".[170]


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