Originally Posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/10/28/tabletop-review-hideous-monsters-ghouls-trail-of-cthulhu/
Hideous Creatures: Ghouls is the fourth in Ken Hite’s line of Hideous Cratures short PDFs. The goal of each PDF is to try and mix up or change the way both players and Keepers think about Lovecraftian characters. Previous entries have included Deep Ones, Mi-Go and Hounds of Tindalos. The bad news is that I haven’t been that impressed with the previous releases, but the good news is that each entry has been noticeably better than the last. I am happy to report that, once again, Ghouls is the best entry in the Hideous Creatures line today, and it’s also a piece I am fairly positive about. Well, aside from the bad cover art that looks like it was rendered with CGI from the 1990s.
Ghouls runs twelve pages, but only nine of those pages are content. The first three pages are taken up by the cover, title page, and finally the introduction and table of contents. This means you’re only getting nine pages of content for $2.95, which is a bit pricey in this era of digital RPG offerings, but if you’re going to pick any of the Hideous Creatures series up, Ghouls is the one to get.
The piece starts off with a rundown on the Lovecraftian version of ghouls, which are notably different from those you’ll find in Dungeons & Dragons or Vampire: The Masquerade. While Mythos ghouls have canine qualities, the piece suggests throwing players off by giving them different animal qualities, such as rats and jackals. This is a good idea, and the only ones that are a bit off the wall are the suggestions like worms and flies. You’re also given a lot of information on why ghouls may do what they do. After all, like Deep Ones, they have some degree of humanity about them, but unlike their fishy friends, ghouls retain a degree of humanity once fully converting into their monstrous form. Hite suggests a whole bevy of reasons as to both an individual ghoul’s motivations, as well as the race as whole. Why they breed with humans, what their end game is and so on. Now, some of these postulations are contradictory, and that’s on purpose. You’re not supposed to use all of them. Just take one or two from the list and run with them. This piece is meant to be a sounding board for new and different ideas after all.
From there we get two pages of Trail of Cthulhu stats and mechanics, giving you new powers and abilities for a ghoul. I really liked the mechanics for a Ghoul-born changeling or half-ghoul, and how even an Investigator can become a ghoul and still play their character. Of course, at some point that Stability is going to hit zero… After the stats, we are given even more potential variations and story seeds for ghouls. There are thirty-one variations in all. As usual, the qualities range from really good ideas to terrible ones, but which ones are which will differ by the reader. After all, no one is going to like all thirty-one ideas and no one is going to hate them all. I personally disliked the variation that ghouls are undead, as that’s done everywhere else, and by having Mythos ghouls being living breathing creatures, this sets them apart from other creatures bearing the race name. However, someone might like their ghouls being undead and able to paralyze anything but elves, so this will work for them. Heck, this piece even has mechanics for giving Mythos ghouls a paralyzing grasp! I loved the Parisian take on ghouls, and the idea of ghoul priests wearing special robes and masks to set them apart. I also really liked the idea of a schism between ghoul sects – one that has a traditional old style way of doing things and a “new breed” that wants to speed up the return of the Great Old Ones.
Next we go into “Mythic Echoes,” which is where we see folkloric creatures that could possibly work as ghoul variants in your Trail of Cthulhu game. In the past we’ve seen some big stretches and poorly worded/researched items in this section, but with the ghouls, everything looked top notch to me. I especially loved seeing the Arabic Ghul get listed here, as it’s so overlooked by many gamers and game developers. After that, we go back into the mechanics side of things, where you are given a bevy of ways each skill in Trail of Cthulhu can net an Investigator information about a ghoul threat or menace. This, as always, is a favorite section of mine, as it really helps Keepers to think outside the box and players to realize that any skill is helpful if you look at it correctly.
The piece concludes with two story seeds and a half page bibliography. Usually the Hideous Creatures pieces have offered more story seeds, but they were generally of mixed quality. Here in Ghouls, we may only get the two, but both have a lot of potential as full-fledged adventures. One takes place in Chicago around Halloween, 1931, and the other can take place after one of five natural disasters. An enterprising Keeper can string all five together into a mini-campaign or really long adventure.
All in all, Ghouls is by far the best Hideous Creatures release yet, and the only negative thing I can say about it is that I think it should be priced a dollar less. I know, right? FEEL THE CRITICISM! This is definitely the only piece in the series I can strongly recommend, as the others have been mediocre, more or less. However, Ghouls is something well worth picking up, even if you don’t play Trail of Cthulhu. Any Mythos based RPG or even most horror games can freely adapt the material in this piece quite easily.