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Ghouls, it seems, speak the language they spoke in life, and their intellect isn't necessarily worse than it was in life (int. 13 as per the SRD). Unfortunately, there are very little references on how they act beyond combat, and so I am unsure of how to roleplay them as a DM.

I am looking for information that would help building a picture of what is a ghoul's personality. Such information would ideally include the answers to the following questions, which define my main uncertainties:

  • Are they truly capable of elaborate communication (like a conversation), and willing to engage in some?
  • Do they have clear memories of their former lives?
  • Do they feel genuine emotion, and possibly regret as to their lost life?
  • And any other detail relevant to their personalities.
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Related: this. –  Hey I Can Chan Jul 3 at 21:21

2 Answers 2

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Since D&D's ghouls, designed by Gary Gygax, were strongly based on the critters of the same (Arabian) name invented by H.P. Lovecraft...

The D&D ghoul was inspired by the Lovecraftian critter of that name and my own imagination. they first appeared in play in c. 1970 in the Chainmail Fantasy Supplement table top games.

Gary Gygax, August 12, 2005, EN World Q&A IX

...it seems a rather logical step to read HPL's relevant short stories - especially Pickman's Model and The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath to get a view of how they behave.

Of course, the D&D ghoul has deviated from HPL's one over time, so you might want to check out further D&D sources as well: Dragon Magazine #252 (October 1998) had an article on their ecology, and there are quite a number of other publications dealing with them as well.

And, finally: it's your game. Read up on ghouls, and design and play them as you see fit, make them truly yours adapting them to your campaign world. Remember, you're not bound by anyone else's creativity. :)

As for your questions, my subjective answers would be:

  • Are they truly capable of elaborate communication (like a conversation), and willing to engage in some?

    Yes, they are capable of elaboration, and are willing to engage, especially if a PC is important for them for some reason (ex-relative, or has something - information or goods - for them.)

  • Do they have clear memories of their former lives?

    Yes, they do. Well, at least some of them do. HPL's ghouls remember... as far as I can remember.

  • Do they feel genuine emotion, and possibly regret as to their lost life?

    It depends on the individual, I guess. An inspired poet turned into a ghoul will feel much more than, say, a bloodthirsty gladiator.

  • And any other detail relevant to their personalities.

    See above. Read those two stories. They're good (I think. :))

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What a coincidence! I actually just recently bought this massive HPL anthology. Thanks for the recommendation, and the subjective opinion! –  derp Jul 3 at 23:29
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Good answer to a subjective question, citing appropriate sources and providing subjective answers as such! –  C. Ross Jul 4 at 0:39
    
@C.Ross Thank you. :) –  OpaCitiZen Jul 4 at 13:16

Ghouls are Chaotic Evil unless the DM houserules otherwise. For friendlier undead you might want to look at ghosts. Ghosts can be any alignment, and are mostly Neutral, and are more willing to carry on a conversation. Elves typically use other elven ghosts as guards, or sources of ancient advice. They are more than willing to converse.

  1. Are they truly capable of elaborate communication (like a conversation), and willing to engage in some?

I would say that in this instance the answer to this would be yes, they are capable of elaborate communication provided you're able to restrain them. In the end ghouls are twisted abominations that hunger for the flesh of the living, angry at the living because they were torn from life before they felt their time was up, and while they have the ability to communicate, that doesn't mean they have the desire to do so.

  1. Do they have clear memories of their former lives?

I would also say that the answer to this question is yes. They have memories, and its those memories of their lives that fuels their hunger, they remember their lives, they envy the living, and it enrages them to the point of wanting to end the lives of anything alive after their death.

  1. Do they feel genuine emotion, and possibly regret as to their lost life?

To this I would say.. no. While emotion is not typically felt by undead, they're even less likely to feel regret. Rage and anger, are more likely to occur. This person died because of a Ghoul. A ghoul paralyzed this person, ripped out their neck with their teeth, and left them dying, and Ghoul fever caused this person to rise from the dead. To my knowledge other than raising someone from the dead as a ghoul, there's no other way to create one other than by Ghoul Fever.

A ghost is someone who had lingering feelings on the material plane which let them stay on the material after their death without becoming a resident of their deity's plane. They would feel regret because they didn't get to do whatever they wanted to do with their life. They would feel regret. A ghoul probably would not.

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