Monday, October 12, 2020

The Ghoul - A Thief Variant for Lost Carcosa and OD&D

As promised, here is my Ghoul class for OD&D and Lost Carcosa. It's basically a mash-up of a Thief and a BX-style race-as-class, meant to replace the playable Ghoul option presented in Lost Carcosa and operate alongside the usual Fighter, Magic-User, and Cleric.

The Ghoul

Prime Requisite: Dexterity

Hit Dice: As Magic-User

Attacks: As Cleric

Saving Throws: As Fighter

Armor: Leather only, no Shields

Weapons: Any (as Fighter)

XP per Level and Maximum Level: The same as all other classes - see my Lost Carcosa House Rules.

Thief Skills: Ghouls can Open Locks, Remove Traps, Pick Pockets, Move Silently, Hide in Shadows, Climb Sheer Surfaces, and Hear Noises just like the "Thief" class from Supplement I: Greyhawk. However, they use the probabilities of success outlined in the chart above, rather than those in Greyhawk.

Tools: Ghouls can easily craft strong, small tools out of bones, scrap metal, or various other dungeon detritus for use in picking locks and removing traps. They are assumed to begin play with such a set of robust tools, and if these should be lost, Ghouls can assemble a new set within d6 turns (unless unconscious, immobilized, sealed in a completely empty room, etc.). At the DM's discretion, they may also be allowed to craft other types of simple tools in lieu of buying them, given enough time and proper materials.

Backstab/Sneak Attack: Ghouls can attack silently from behind with the same advantages as the "Thief" class from Supplement I: Greyhawk. (See the chart above for the damage multiplier at each level.)

Read Languages and Scrolls: Ghouls can "read most (80%) languages" at Level 3 and cast spells from Magic-User scrolls at Level 10 just like the "Thief" class from Supplement I: Greyhawk.

Tracking: Ghouls can sniff out fresh corpses within a mile on a roll of 4 or less on a d6 at Level 1, with the probability of success increasing with the Ghoul's level as per the "Tracking" skill on the chart above. They can likewise track living creatures that have passed within 60 feet of their position in a dungeon, or a half-mile in the wilderness, at the same probability. When doing so, they receive a penalty of 1 for every full hour that has passed since the trail was laid, so even the highest-level Ghouls cannot follow the six-hour-old trail of a living creature. Ghouls can track undead creatures more easily, with penalties being applied for every day that has passed instead of every hour.

Keen Senses: Ghouls detect secret doors when passing by (like Elves) and detect traps/underground features (like Dwarves) with the same probability as their Hear Noise skill, unlike other classes. When deliberately searching, Ghouls detect secret doors with the same probability as their Tracking skill.

Infravision: Ghouls can see 60 feet in the dark.

Not Picky: Ghouls can safely eat meat and other animal parts that would be considered dangerously spoiled/rotten/inedible by human standards. This generally requires no saving throw. They also make saving throws against ingested poisons with a +4 bonus.

Repulsive to Normies: Human (and Dwarf/Elf/Halfling) NPCs will always refuse to work as hirelings/retainers/henchmen for Ghouls, regardless of their Charisma score. To earn the trust of a horse, mule, dog, or other mundane surface-dwelling animal, a Ghoul must pass a Charisma check by rolling their Charisma score or lower on a d20; failure means the animal will flee the Ghoul whenever possible and otherwise be completely uncooperative.

Ride the Night-Wind: Ghouls do not build strongholds like other classes, being aloof creatures who revel in their seemingly carefree wanderings and live as if in a dream. Some say the most venerable Ghouls organize expeditions to dig magical tunnels to other worlds, but who can say what secrets are kept by the Charnel Lords?

Cover art by Lee Brown Coye. Found HERE.


Even without any mechanical changes, I think OD&D Thieves could still work fairly well as a BX-style race-as-class of Ghouls if presented or "flavored" right. D&D Thieves spend an awful lot of time slinking around tombs, after all, like subterranean scavengers and occasional ambush predators.* But come on, it's me we're talking about - I couldn't resist trying to soup things up.

The saving throws and weapon selection follow Holmes Basic. For the Thief skills, I applied the highest possible demihuman bonus from Greyhawk in each category: +10% to Open Locks like a Halfling, +15% to Remove Traps like a Dwarf, etc. The Tracking skill started with a Ghoul's ability to sniff out corpses in Lost Carcosa and ended up being expanded in scope due to inspiration from the Ranger class and the dog-like nature of Lovecraft's ghouls. I didn't bother with alignment restrictions, but it probably wouldn't hurt to ban lawful Ghouls or evil restrict them to only chaos if you really want.

The crafting of tools is mostly for flavor, but I guess it could save some parties a little money or get them out of a few highly-specific jams. Very generous DMs might let players make up for poor pre-delve planning by letting the Ghoul in the party whip up some ten-foot poles or something.

I was tempted to add a note that they can dig through the ground more quickly and for longer than humans, but I decided that would be overcomplicating things. I also pretty much wimped out of detailing any mechanics for creating tunnels to other worlds. I was going to make that the Ghoul's "name-level" project in lieu of the strongholds built by other classes, but 1) I got lazy, and 2) I once again worried about overcomplicating things. Maybe I'll come back and expand on these concepts later. Or maybe I'll save such "advanced" ideas for AD&D. In the meantime, I suppose you could consider the lack of name level follows and "stronghold privileges" a deliberate disadvantage to help balance this class against the others. Or you could call me on my bullcrap and design your own ghoulish endgame.

If this class seems overpowered, I guess you could knock the Thief skills back down to the human norm, or have them roll saving throws like Magic-Users, or restrict their weapons. Their "detection" abilities should probably be reduced a little if you want to use this class without following my accompanying house rules. I have no idea what their XP progression should be in such a case.

If this class still seems underpowered, as many have accused the old-school Thief of being (including yours truly), I'm not sure what else to add without totally stepping on the Fighter's toes. I originally gave this class the Cleric's hit dice, so there's that.

Feedback is more than welcome, as usual. Hopefully I'll be able to test this out myself and report back. In the meantime, happy Spooktober everybody!

Cheat Sheet for the Ghoul Class

*They say a Thief can fit their entire body through any space they can fit their head through; you can't keep these creeps out of anywhere.


  1. I love this sort of "weird" class, and this one looks like good fun!

    1. Thanks! I hope I get to test it soon and see how fun it is.

      Speaking of weird classes, have you checked out Mork Borg? I haven't gotten my hands on it, but from what I hear the classes seem very idiosyncratic, in a good way.

    2. I haven't yet. It came out at a time when I was in dire financial shape so I couldn't support the Kickstarter. At some point I will grab the thing as it looks great.

    3. Yep, I was in the same boat, pretty much. I hope things are easier for you now! But yeah, it's definitely on the to-do list. Along with a little something called "The Seed" you may have heard of...

    4. I have heard of that one. I'm not sure it's any good. ;)

  2. This is rad! The "Repulsive to normies" and "Not picky" abilities especially.

    1. Thank you! A lot of the most interesting classes I've seen people make have all kinds of little twists and perks that are more situational or fiat-based than what I guess you would call "traditional mechanics," so I'm trying to lean into that kind of design a little more myself when I start thinking about things like this.

      Please let me know if you end up using this!