Monday, January 9, 2017

Making Undead Scarier Part 3: Intelligent Corporeal Undead: Part B: Mummies & Ghouls

Making Undead Scarier
Part 3: Intelligent Corporeal Undead:
Part B: Mummies & Ghouls
By: Jesse C Cohoon

Miss the other parts? 

Part 1 is located here 
Part 2 is located  here
Part 3 A is located here

Mummies, and ghouls are common threats found in many types of RPG games. Unfortunately, it’s far too easy for the GM to roleplay them in a simplistic manner, as simple monsters to vanquish, giving them no backstory or interest, and an opportunity for world building is lost. But by giving them unique places to be, interesting attributes, and different causes of creation they can truly become the threats they should be.

Mummies in real life are deceased humans or animals whose skin and organs have been preserved by either intentional or accidental exposure to chemicals – including plastics, extreme cold, very low humidity, or lack of air, so that the recovered body does not decay further if kept in cool and dry conditions. They may be anthropogenic or spontaneous. The former were deliberately created by the living, most commonly being for religious purposes, though in the case of plastination, it can be said it’s being done for scientific purposes. The latter were created due to natural conditions such as extremely dry heat or cold, or anaerobic conditions such as those found in bogs.

In Hollywood myth, mummies are the protectors of ancient tombs, cursed (or blessed) with unlife, either due to some misdeed they did while they were alive or a priest whose sacred duty it is to protect the tomb. The idea came about after famous Egyptologists died shortly after opening a tomb of natural causes, and sensationalized by the media afterwards.   

Ghouls, on the other hand, are similar to both zombies and vampires, having attributes of both. The myths
originated in the Middle East. They eat flesh like zombies, but make spawn like vampires, but if the slain creature was powerful enough, it rises as a ghast. Ghouls and ghasts typically reside in graveyards and catacombs where there’s a steady supply of bodies available to consume, though they may also follow in the wake of conquering armies. In D&D lore, they automatically retain the abilities they had in life. Some tales speak of them eating children.

20 Unique Places for Undead to show up

Instead of using the same boring locations for undead to show up, why not consider some of these to spice things up a bit.

1.      At the local mall/ shopping bazaar. 
2.      On a ship or ocean liner
3.      In a night club, restaurant or bar as a patron, owner, server, or bouncer
4.      Serving as a doorman or valet of some stripe
5.      A guest of some special occasion (1d6)
a.      Birth/ birthday party
b.      Death/ funeral
c.       Marriage or commitment ceremony
d.      Treaty    
e.       Holiday/ Holy day 
f.        Dedication of a memorial
6.      Serving as the shock troops in an army
7.      In a city dump, scavenging for food
8.      In a mass grave, or pit getting rid of the bodies 
9.      In a court of law serving in some capacity
10.  In an office setting as decoration (invisible security)
11.  In a laboratory to be experimented on or as the ones running the lab
12.  In a caravan as the cargo  
13.  As a tireless labor source
14.  At a doctor’s office, providing treatment, but getting more than money back in payment
15.  At a morgue, feasting on the flesh of the dead
16.  In secret passages or sewers within a city
17.  In tunnels/ mines (modern day, subway tunnels)
18.  In an abandoned/ desecrated church or temple
19.  In an underwater facility / location
20.  As a part of a traveling entertainment troupe
Interesting Attributes  

Undead should be individual, unique and identifiable as individuals. The following table can help you make them more unique   

1.      (coin toss) Rotting clothes / bandages Neatly tailored or well-kept clothing  
2.      Missing limb(s) or facial features
3.      (coin toss) A shuffling, uneven gait or a smooth saunter
4.      Slumped or hunched over
5.      (coin toss) Emaciated and wiry or fat
6.      Skitters on all fours, able to climb walls
7.      Stealthy
8.      Evil energy pouring off the creature. 
9.      Able to use magic or divine abilities
10.  (1d3) Bestial, canine, or lizard-like
11.  (coin toss) hairless or hairy
12.  Able to shapeshift or assume different forms at will
13.  Able to possess others/ bend others to their will
14.  (coin toss) Able to cause insanity or take the memories of their victims
15.  Amplified strength/ muscles
16.  Larger than usual or lopsided in scale.
17.  Able to speak or vocalize
18.  Curses or infects those that fight against it.
19.  Regenerates over time or by causing damage
20.  Unusually frail.

10 Different Causes of Creations

Instead of having the undead be just there, maybe the players can track down the cause of the infestation, and possibly end it.

1.      Result of a divine curse: the creature was cursed to become an undead due to some evil act they committed, or was unable to repent from doing. Some myths say that ghouls are created when a person dies while engaging in cannibalism.  
2.      Choice of the creatures involved: the creature involved asked to be turned into an undead for whatever reason.
3.      Deal with the devil: the creature involved made a deal with an evil entity for eternal life/ youth/ beauty/ whatever and they kept their end of the bargain… literally.
4.      Spawn of another undead: creature was killed by another undead and rose as one themselves
5.      Will of the deceased: the creature was so burned up with rage and came back to exact revenge
6.      Science experiment gone wrong: The Umbrella Corporation in the Resident Evil Games
7.      Caused by a virus or disease: many of the modern zombie movies are
8.      Result of a wild magic surge
9.      Supernatural pollution: Just being near the source of the evil is enough to cause some to rise as undead  
10.  Deliberate creation/ summoning by an outside source (either supernatural or magic): magic like “create undead”

By making undead show up in unusual locations, giving them interesting attributes, and giving them a different creation backstory, there’s never a reason to have a boring encounter with these undead ever again.

The next article will be hosted on

1 comment:

  1. Interesting Attributes chart,
    #5. "Emancipated" should be "Emaciated"
    (Although ghouls agitating for the right to vote would make a cool story!)