Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Tooth, Claw, & Paralysis - The Ghoul In Gary Gygax's Descent Into The Depths & Beyond In Dark Europe

So during the last couple of days I've been writing about The Hundred Year War campaign & mixing in the Gary Gygax classics D1-2 Descent Into the Depths of the Earth. with a twisted  Hundred Years War campaign idea using the  Lion & Dragon rpg system & the Dark Albion campaign as a  source book!?
Today I want to talk about the lowly stop gap race of undead horror & Chaos moving across Europe causing mayhem.

I want to talk about one monster that crosses from classic original Dungeons & Dragons , through various fantasy writers including Clark Ashton Smith & H.P. Lovecraft an into actual mythology. A heinous form of undead near & dear to my heart. I'm speaking of the ghoul. Ghouls are the invisible undead able to blend into the three o'clock in morning twilight time & not be seen. They've been around since the time of Sumeria & Babylon, and later as a part of Arabic legend traveling down the spice & Silk roads. The ghul is a fiendish type of jinn believed to be sired by Iblis.

Faramarz kills the shah of demons (ghuls), from the Shah Nameh, 10th century Persian epic of the Kings Asian Collection. Welcome images collection

But talking with friends tonight who specialize in Babylonian mythology & legends they told me that the ghoul is related to the Gallu Demons of Babylonian mythology. These might have been their origin point having feed on the locals & mated with them until we got the traditional ghoul.
"Gallu demons hauled unfortunate victims off to the underworld. They were one of seven devils (or "the offspring of hell") of Babylonian theology that could be appeased by the sacrifice of a lamb at their altars.[3]
The goddess Inanna was pursued by gallu demons after being escorted from the Underworld by Galatura and Kuryara.[4][3] An especially fierce gallu demon, the monstrous Asag, was slain by Ninurta using the enchanted mace Sharur."
So right from their origin point it takes enchanted weapons from the gods to damage these demonic horrors.

So why do I mention these undead feeders of the dead in connection with the Hundred Years War? France was the perfect breeding ground for tribes & parties of ghouls especially  in France, civil wars, deadly epidemics, famines, and bandit free-companies of mercenaries reduced the population drastically. France is the perfect place for these horrors to operate during the Hundred Years War especially given ghouls connections with the thieves guilds, highwaymen, & the witch cults of France. Given the bodies that are piled high & deep with the Black Plague ravaging Europe its the perfect cover for ghoul tribes to be operating. They feed on the dead & perform rites under the stars of the Damned all the while moving from one cell of witches & chaos worshipers to another. They move among the grave stones & dream worlds of Europe with ease!

"Why did I drop him? Don't be impatient. Wait till I ring for coffee. We've had enough of the other stuff, but I for one need something. No—it wasn't the paintings I saw in that place; though I'll swear they were enough to get him ostracised in nine-tenths of the homes and clubs of Boston, and I guess you won't wonder now why I have to steer clear of subways and cellars. It was—something I found in my coat the next morning. You know, the curled-up paper tacked to the frightful canvas in the cellar; the thing I thought was a photograph of some scene he meant to use as a background for that monster. That last scare had come while I was reaching to uncurl it, and it seems I had vacantly crumpled it into my pocket. But here's the coffee—take it black, Eliot, if you're wise.
Yes, that paper was the reason I dropped Pickman; Richard Upton Pickman, the greatest artist I have ever known—and the foulest being that ever leaped the bounds of life into the pits of myth and madness. Eliot—old Reid was right. He wasn't strictly human. Either he was born in strange shadow, or he'd found a way to unlock the forbidden gate. It's all the same now, for he's gone—back into the fabulous darkness he loved to haunt. Here, let's have the chandelier going.
Don't ask me to explain or even conjecture about what I burned. Don't ask me, either, what lay behind that mole-like scrambling Pickman was so keen to pass off as rats. There are secrets, you know, which might have come down from old Salem times, and Cotton Mather tells even stranger things. You know how damned lifelike Pickman's paintings were—how we all wondered where he got those faces.
Well—that paper wasn't a photograph of any background, after all. What it showed was simply the monstrous being he was painting on that awful canvas. It was the model he was using—and its background was merely the wall of the cellar studio in minute detail. But by God, Eliot, it was a photograph from life!"
Pickman's Model  (1926)  by H. P. Lovecraft

There is a deep & abiding connection between the ghouls of legend & the Elves of France. These monsters were originally created their demented & damned Elven masters all of the while feeding on recycle human refuse a perfect closed system. This makes the Hundred Years War & the Rose War  of France later on  the perfect feeding ground & breeding ground for the witch cults of ghouls.  The ghouls abilities in Dungeons & Dragons to paralysis prey is an artificial ability and might well be related to their supernatural heritage from the Gallu demons. This connection can be found within the ghoul's name;

"Ghoul is from the Arabic غول ghūl, from غال ghala, "to seize".[3] The word is etymologically related to the word galla, the name of a class of Underworld demons from Sumerian and Akkadian mythology."

"Amine Discovered with the Goule", illustration for "History of Sidi Nouman" of the Arabian Nights. Engraving from The Arabian Nights Entertainments, translated by the Reverend Edward Forster, carefully revised and corrected by G. Moir Bussey. Published London 1840.

They exist half in our world & half in the others because of their supernatural heritage. Ghouls slip into our world & out again into the world of Fairy & Dream as well others which well could be due to them being created from both human & Elven genetic material. There is also an instinctive sense of the mathematics involved in the various supernatural or preternatural spells needed to breach the walls between worlds. We get a prime example of this in Dreams In The Witch House by HP Lovecraft. This story was spun from inspiration from a fragment of Nathaniel Hawthorne's unfinished novel Septimius Felton".
Toward the end of March he began to pick up in his mathematics, though the other studies bothered him increasingly. He was getting an intuitive knack for solving Riemannian equations, and astonished Professor Upham by his comprehension of fourth-dimensional and other problems which had floored all the rest of the class. One afternoon there was a discussion of possible freakish curvatures in space, and of theoretical points of approach or even contact between our part of the cosmos and various other regions as distant as the farthest stars or the transgalactic gulfs themselves—or even as fabulously remote as the tentatively conceivable cosmic units beyond the whole Einsteinian space-time continuum. Gilman's handling of this theme filled everyone with admiration, even though some of his hypothetical illustrations caused an increase in the always plentiful gossip about his nervous and solitary eccentricity. What made the students shake their heads was his sober theory that a man might—given mathematical knowledge admittedly beyond all likelihood of human acquirement—step deliberately from the earth to any other celestial body which might lie at one of an infinity of specific points in the cosmic pattern.
Such a step, he said, would require only two stages; first, a passage out of the three-dimensional sphere we know, and second, a passage back to the three-dimensional sphere at another point, perhaps one of infinite remoteness. That this could be accomplished without loss of life was in many cases conceivable. Any being from any part of three-dimensional space could probably survive in the fourth dimension; and its survival of the second stage would depend upon what alien part of three-dimensional space it might select for its re-entry. Denizens of some planets might be able to live on certain others—even planets belonging to other galaxies, or to similar dimensional phases of other space-time continua—though of course there must be vast numbers of mutually uninhabitable even though mathematically juxtaposed bodies or zones of space.
It was also possible that the inhabitants of a given dimensional realm could survive entry to many unknown and incomprehensible realms of additional or indefinitely multiplied dimensions—be they within or outside the given space-time continuum—and that the converse would be likewise true. This was a matter for speculation, though one could be fairly certain that the type of mutation involved in a passage from any given dimensional plane to the next higher one would not be destructive of biological integrity as we understand it. Gilman could not be very clear about his reasons for this last assumption, but his haziness here was more than overbalanced by his clearness on other complex points. Professor Upham especially liked his demonstration of the kinship of higher mathematics to certain phases of magical lore transmitted down the ages from an ineffable antiquity—human or pre-human—whose knowledge of the cosmos and its laws was greater than ours."
The Dreams in the Witch-House  (1933)  by Howard Phillips Lovecraft

Because Ghouls can & have been interbreeding with humans for centuries the perfect invasive physical, spiritual, horrid undead parasites who have been using the tunnels below Paris & within the French countryside for centuries. They would be feeding the dead after every battle of the Hundred Years War. Taking corpses, learning various battle plans,etc. all within an effort to prolong the battles & war to keep the stock of food coming.

Edward III counting the dead on the battlefield of Crécy
We are talking about the continuing times of the Black Death & so there was a great supply of corpses and could be considered a golden age by these monsters. The population across Europe is being devastated & ravaged. The dead are piled high & it seems like the end of the world. Perfect cover for the various ghoul cults & tribes to move across Europe information we find in both Clark Ashton Smith's  Averoigne stories and some of his later efforts.

This map is attributed to Wiki but could also show the progression of various ghoul herds following the  spread of the Black Plague.

The Averoigne stories go into much more detail of this region & its connection to its  fictional history during the Hundred Years War.
My question going back to the Plague goes something like this for Gary Gygax's Descent Into The Depths of the Earth & Lion & Dragon. Did the Elves release a doomsday weapon that go way out of their control? This could be one strong possibility with the ghoul race using various prehistoric or secondary Ice Age works to move among the population almost unseen.
There are a ton more facts that can be found in's article on Ghouls.
For Lion & Dragon or Dark Albion one thing I've found thinking about these various modules over the years is the fact that no adventure location is going to empty for long. Various monster races & what not are going to be using the same locations & cross points because of their interaction with mankind himself. When you come down it we are the resource that keeps these races going. This is a fact that was born out in Lord Dunsany's stories as well.

As time goes on ghouls become increasingly animalistic & insane as the ravages of undeath eat away at the human mind. Eventually these monsters will drop dead or decay away in the real world. Supernaturally they may escape to Dream or Fairy if they're very lucky. Association with ghouls breeds more of them as the physical & supernatural compentents conspire to create more. The instincts take over & suddenly one day you might look in the mirror to come face to face with one of these creatures. During the Hundred Years War they might have banded together in family units or covens for protection.
Its a fine line between fantasy & speculation but for my campaigns ghoul witch covens are the stop gap to spreading more chaos down through the centuries.

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