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Ghilan, the Eaters of the Dead

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  • Ghilan, the Eaters of the Dead

    A light alterni-vamp I devised for my Walking Shadows game, broadly inspired by the Jiang-Shi in B&S, the Ghul from Wicked Dead, and Pisha from VtM: Bloodlines.

    Ghilan, the Eaters of the Dead


    "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.

    According to the ancient tales of the Arabian peninsula, the Ghilan (Sing. M.: Ghul, Sing. F. Ghoulah) were the least of the Jinn, sired by Iblis. The Jinn were creatures of smokeless and scorching fire, possessed of free will (like men, but unlike angels). According to the Qur'an, Allah directed Iblis to bow down to Adam, whereupon the Jinni abused his free will to refuse to do so. The Ghilan were his children and descendants, shapeshifters and monsters that plagued humanity ever since, jealous of man's greater role. The famed Islamic theologian and philosopher Taqî ad-Dîn Aḥmad ibn Taymiyyah labeled the Jinn as "ignorant, untruthful, oppressive and treacherous," and in folk-tales, the Ghilan occupied a role as an all-purpose boogeyman, akin to an ogre in European folklore.

    Nor are tales of cannibal monsters limited to the Middle East. Further east, one has tales of the Vetala, haunters of charnel grounds who possessed corpses and ate the flesh of the dead. In Scandinavia, the Valravn was a shapeshifting, raven-like horror that grew in intelligence and power by feasting on the corpses left on a battlefield. In Japan, the Hannya was a female, ogreish creature that ate flesh and drank blood, that inspired a mask in Noh theater.

    Parsing legends for facts in the supernatural world is usually a fraught business, but most occultists believe that these legends can be traced to a kind of half-dead monster usually referred to as the Ghilan (as it is in the Middle East that they are most common and their societies most sophisticated). Human-like horrors that subsist on dead and decaying flesh, the Ghilan are seen as relatives of the Kindred, variously throwbacks, precursors, or alternate branches on the preternatural evolutionary tree from their more common blood-drinking cousins.

    Practically speaking, a ghul is a form of humanoid pseudo-undead creature. They arise from human beings, and most commonly occur when a mortal consumes uncooked human flesh -- famines and war-zones are always breeding grounds for the ghilan. In time, the mortal transforms into something not quite alive and not quite dead, gaining immortality at the cost of a singularly socially unacceptable diet. In other cases, mortal sorcerers and occultists prepare special cannibal feasts to gain the ghilan's immortality, a method with a higher rate of success, though still less common than the normal method.

    Unlike Kindred, ghilan are still possessed of some semblance of a biology. Their hearts beat, their hair and nails continue to grow, they can sire children (who are usually mortals, though occasionally they become ghilan later in life). They are immortal, and usually look as they did in life, though elder ghilan can become increasingly monstrous-looking, with exaggerated jaws, bat-like ears, canine muzzles, and goat-like haunches. Their most distinctive characteristic is their diet. The typical ghilan requires one kilogram of human meat per day, and weakening rapidly if they are unable to feed. Generally, ghilan are scavengers, haunting cemeteries and burial grounds and digging up the dead after they are interred. Some choose to seek out fresher fare, though the logistical challenges involved confine most ghilan to a post-mortem diet.

    Ghilan are found around the world, but they are only common in places where natural conditions contribute to the preservation of dead flesh. As a consequence, the single largest ghilan community in the world is the one that stretches from Morocco to Turkestan, by way of North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia. Smaller cultural groupings exist in Scandinavia, Australia, the American Southwest, and northern Canada, but in popular conception the ghilan are inextricably linked with the Islamic lands.

    In that great belt of hot, dry terrain, the ghilan have formed societies rivaling those of Kindred sheiks and emirs. Their numbers always smaller than those of vampires, but they possess a caste-driven society with three categories of members. The great bulk of the ghilan are the scavengers and eaters, those who transformed into their current state in times of famine and cannibalism. Their reputation is one of brutality. A much smaller share are wizards and magi, who willingly sought out their present condition. They are the leaders of their society, puissant sorcerers and necromancers, though the summoning of ghosts is surprisingly uncommon among the ranks of the ghilan -- there is something about talking to one's meal that puts most off the idea. And then there are the few fortunate creatures who were born as ghilan, scarce in number but elevated to great status in their kind. They are often the most highly ranked in ghilan societies, though many are figureheads for their more occult-minded viziers.

    In London, the most notorious ghoulah is Rajani Ravindra, a Punjabi magus who dwells in the Kensal Green cemetery. There are a few others, scuttling around the margins of society, but ghilan are quite underrepresented in the British Isles. This was not always the case. Up until the Great War, the belief in bodily resurrection allowed for a bountiful environment for the ghilan. But as an entire dead generation piled up, the British abandoned all objections to cremation with nary a murmur, and now most people in the UK are burned.

    Mechanics

    Mechanically, Ghilan are variant Vampires. They possess a Blood Potency stat, use Humanity, can use Disciplines, Devotions, Blood Sorcery, and have their own mystical traditions akin to Coils. They can cause Vinculums and create Ghouls, though this is through the medium of prepared flesh, not blood. They can blood buff and have Kindred Senses. Ghilan maintain some semblance of a mortal biology (see Half-Dead below). They have Affinity for the Protean, Resilience, and Vigor.

    They do not have the Sunlight Bane or a Clan Bane, nor do they recharge Vitae by way of drinking blood. Instead, they possess the Necrophage and Seal of Solomon Aspects.

    Aspects
    Half-Dead: A ghul exists in a permanent state of between-ness, one foot in the grave and one foot out. They do not need the Blush of Life and can heal naturally, however neither are they bulletproof. They can heal themselves with Vitae, but they do not fall into Torpor if sufficiently damaged. They do not have the Daysleep (and indeed, do not grow tired from lack of sleep, though most do rest or sleep as a way of regaining Willpower), but do lose 1 Vitae per day (at dawn, for ease of reference).

    Combined with the absence of the Sunlight Bane, this means that ghilan are usually able to pretend to be human much more easily than Kindred. Assuming they want to, at any rate.

    Necrophage: Ghilan regain Vitae by consuming uncooked human flesh. A fresh human corpse (dead no more than an hour) contains as much Vitae as it had health levels. After that hour, it has Vitae equal to (Size), which drops by a further 1 Vitae per day (so after 24 hours dead, a Size 5 corpse has 4 Vitae). The ghul gets at the vitae by consuming a significant chunk of meat from the corpse, about a kilo's worth. Technically the subject does not need to be dead in order for the ghul to eat their flesh and get their Vitae, but it's a bit hard to survive having a hunk of flesh carved out like that without immediate medical treatment.

    A ghul who does not have a point of vitae in his system when a day passes instead takes 1L damage, which cannot heal until they feast once more.

    Seal of Solomon: For reasons not entirely clear, but possibly linked to their supposed origins as jinn, ghilan are considered to be ghosts and spirits for the purposes of most magical effects. They have a Rank equal to their (Blood Potency/2, rounded up), and their attacks count as Banes to weaker spirits. Other ghosts and spirits will usually acknowledge them and treat them with respect appropriate to their rank.

    On the downside, the attacks of higher-ranked spirits and ghosts deal Aggravated damage to ghilan. Furthermore, any magical spell that would normally affect spirits or ghosts can also be used to control and command ghilan, at least so long as it doesn't violate physics (in other words, a summoning spell can call a ghul to the caster, but the ghul still has to get there on his own two feet).
    Last edited by NeoTiamat; 01-21-2015, 08:37 AM.


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  • #2
    Ooh, neat.

    Just what is an "informal XP Rank"?


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    • #3
      Oh, right. I thought I'd taken out the WS-specific stuff, whups.

      It's a quick system I use for sorting characters. Roughly...
      Rank 1: New guys, apprentices, freshly-changed characters (fledglings)
      Rank 2: Rank-and-file, your typical supernatural (neonates)
      Rank 3: Movers and shakers, people who are important and have impact (Ancillae, PCs)
      Rank 4: The leaders of the local factions, people who matter in a big way (Elders)
      Rank 5: Force of nature (Methuselah)


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      • #4
        Interesting. I have thought of using ghuls as wendigos in my local setting.
        The idea of having an eater of the dead among the kindred has interesting twists.


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        • #5
          Given the sheer number of stories about cannibalistic or necrophagic monsters in folklore around the world, I've always thought it surprising they weren't more prominent in Vampire. Anyway, I focused this on Middle Eastern Ghilan, just because that's where they're most famous, but they're hardly the only ones. I'd say that wendigos are a very logical use for ghilan.


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          • #6
            You can use (Blood Potency)/2 as Rank instead. It is similar at how Rank for Ghost Mages seems to be calculated. Personally, I would take away the Vinculum and creation of Ghouls for them, but that's just me.

            Loving them, by the way


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            • #7
              ...why didn't I think of that. Edited the BP-for-Rank idea in. As for vinculum/ghoul-making, easy enough tweak, though I'll keep it for my version mostly because I like the idea of a ghilan butcher making long pig pies to feed to people.


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              • #8
                Nice work! The only objection i have is that a Kg of human meat per day is indeed a taxing need, much more hard than blood, for example. Even more so, given the dead meat degradation rate. I expect some Coils would amend that... have you got more work to show us?


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                • #9
                  Well, they have less weaknesses than vampires. Looking alive and being able to go under the sun unharmed are quite the perks if you ask me.

                  Originally posted by Neo Tiamat
                  As for vinculum/ghoul-making, easy enough tweak, though I'll keep it for my version mostly because I like the idea of a ghilan butcher making long pig pies to feed to people
                  Awesome and creepy imagery
                  Last edited by Thorbes; 01-21-2015, 02:53 PM.


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                  • #10
                    Ghilan basically trade away Kindred durability for a much easier time moving in human society. Though the fact that Ghilan have two physical disciplines and Protean as their affinities does make them into quite nasty physical power-houses.

                    As for Ghilan feeding... I think it has pros and cons. Most notably, I think Ghilan benefit a lot from cooperation with one another. Corpses are hard for your random individual to access, but once they are accessed, there tend to be lots of them. Keep in mind that in the US and UK, there are about 8-9 people dying for every thousand individuals, which means that London, where my game is set, produces roughly a hundred thousand corpses a year. And dead flesh is generally much easier to steal or move around than blood dolls. So while setting up access to corpses is labor and skill intensive, once you do have that bribed morgue worker, you probably have more flesh than you know what to do with. I can easily imagine a well-placed ghul deciding to trade dead bodies in exchange for money or favors. (This is all talking about industrialized, urban Western areas -- ghilan in active war or famine zones are probably less friendly).

                    I do not have any more on Ghilan, nor do I think they have Coils exactly. That is, I don't think there are Ordo Dracul ghilan. But I can very easily imagine an order of mystical Sufi ghilan ascetics who have supernatural powers very similar in effect to the Coils.



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                    • #11
                      Just a thought, but I could honestly see some Ghilan having a Protean-based Devotion (maybe with some Vigor and/or Celerity thrown in?) that works as an extension of "Unmarked Grave", letting them eat buried corpses - or people who've been buried alive - while remaining merged with the ground. Seems like it'd be especially appropriate since they don't feed on blood, so by extension the "can absorb spilled blood/Vitae" aspect of the base power probably doesn't work for them.


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                      • #12
                        There's a lot you can do with Ghilan that I haven't really gotten into -- they're a fairly peripheral thing in my game, so I haven't devoted a lot of time to them. That said, Protean powers that focus on burrowing, powers that let you eat dead meat and gain knoweldge from it, rules regarding how the environment and preservation affects meat decay rates for Vitae purposes (I'd probably say that the rules above are assuming a temperate climate, like the UK or northern US -- a desert would slow things significantly, a swamp speed things up).

                        If you wanted to go really crazy, the Ghilan could do with their own brand of Blood Sorcery, something along the lines of Lovecraftian dreamlands manipulation.


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