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The Old School 4E Bestiary: Ghouls & Ghasts

ghoul picLast winter, when I started playtesting the next edition of D&D with my local group, there was a consensus to shut down the Dark Sun Campaign to concentrate on the new system.  Of course, no one could have predicted the frustration and disappointment that my players experienced dealing with the early versions of the Core Rules for D&D Next, or that my players would more or less mutiny and demand we go back to D&D 4E!

And rather than go back to Dark Sun, the players wanted to try another more traditional Forgotten Realms Campaign.  So I scrapped my Dark Sun notes, and tried to think of a good theme for a new campaign plot.  I considered the Neverwinter Campaign Setting which came out the previous summer at GenCon, but decided to take a look at the Heroes of the Elemental Chaos – which, of course, I had recently reviewed.  Since the Next playtest had put me in a nostalgic “old school” mood, and the new Players Option book highlighted the Cult of the Elder Elemental Eye, I decided to adapt parts of some of the older edition modules to a new retelling of Tharizdun’s plot to escape Its eternal prison!

Pulling out modules like The Village of Hommlet, The Temple of Elemental Evil, and  The Lost Temple of Tharizdun, I started building some structure to the campaign centered around one of the Great Gygax’s best supervillains!  I found a very dusty copy of Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil which Monte Cook had penned for 3rd Edition D&D, which gave me a few more ideas on how to create a resurgence in the cult.  And then decided I needed an artifact or two over the course of the campaign to give the characters a possible means of defeating the Ultimate Evil (or send them off after wild herrings… I still haven’t decided yet), and pulled out great old modules like Castle Amber and Lost Caverns of the Tsojcanth as possible places to find objects of great power.  As my players had started playing in either 3rd Edition or 4E, they had never experienced some of the great oldies from the TSR treasure trove of adventure, and that meant I could do some adaptations and give the heroes some of the same experiences I had from my younger D&D days!

Setting these modules in the Forgotten Realms rather than the Greyhawk setting took very little work, but adapting them was a bit more frustrating.  But as I started adapting the Moathouse from Monte Cook’s module, many of the monsters he used to challenge low level adventurers were now far higher level and tougher than expected – or they no longer fit into the fantasy “ecology” that they used to in previous editions of D&D.  I began to really understand for the first time why some old school gamers hrumphed about 4E not being enough like D&D when there were so many “classic” monsters which no longer really felt right in a classic adventure module.

So rather than squelch my campaign ideas, which I must admit had developed into something pretty cool, or use stock 4E monsters and hoped it worked out ok, I embarked on a new project.  When a monster was called for that I felt deviated to strongly in 4E stats from that of past editions, I would teak its powers and make a new version of the monster in my Monster Builder.  In essence, I would slowly over time be creating my own Old School D&D 4E Bestiary!

Old School Ghouls and Ghasts

If you’ve read the Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil by Monte Cook, then you know that it occurs years after The Village of Hommlet and Temple of Elemental Evil adventures, but where the cult has re-surfaced in the old moathouse again.  I decided to repurpose the old moathouse myself, and kept most of the encounters and the ecology of the dungeon relatively intact.  Gnolls, ghouls, and ghasts are common throughout the lower levels, along with demented priests of the Elder Elemental Eye cult.  But while gnolls are pretty much the same as their “old school” equivalents, although dropped a level or two to make them accessible to low Heroic Tier adventurers, ghouls and ghasts are a complete train wreck as far as adaptations go.

I have no idea why the designers decided to make these fairly common “entry-level” undead into mid-Tier monstrosities, or how these creatures with a couple of obvious controller powers (paralyzation and stench aura) got drafted into “Soldier” roles.  But to make them work in my adaptation of the infamous moathouse, they seriously needed an overhaul to make them more in line with their older edition counter-parts which went way beyond level reduction.

For the most part, I’ve kept 4E-isms like their resistances and vulnerabilities, but changed their role and how their paralyzation attack works.  I’ve even brought back a form of the old claw/claw/bite routine and even made eladrin and elves immune to the ghouls paralysis touch.  Overall, they worked very well in the dungeon, and the low-level heroes were adequately challenged when encountering them.

Feel free to use these adaptations in your own campaigns, if you see fit.  Chances are I’ll be publishing a few more of these blogs with new monsters I’ve “old schooled” and used in my ongoing campaign.

So until next blog… I wish you happy gaming!

ghoul stats
ghast stats

About The Author

Michael is an Adept of a Secret Order of Dungeon Masters, and dwells in a hidden realm with his two evil cat-familiars, deep within the Vale of Wolverines, called by some "Michigan". He has been esoterically conjuring D&D Campaigns for nearly a Third of a Century, and has been known to cast ritual blogs concerning Dungeons & Dragons every few days with some regularity. Michael has freelanced for Wizards of the Coast, and writes reviews of D&D and other Role-Playing Game products on EN World News.


4 Responses to “The Old School 4E Bestiary: Ghouls & Ghasts

  1. Doc says:

    I really like the flavour.
    Not sure about the damage on the claw attacks combined with the Frenzy. Why would they use the cool bite (2d6+6 at best) instead of the two claws (2d6+8 against anyone)?
    I would drop the claw damage (or lose the frenzy and make the basic attack represent a frenzy) and ensure that the bite damage against a vulnerable opponent is really scary.
    My 2c :-)

  2. Roland says:

    I like them! I’m a recently returned to the hobby guy that used to play 2E extensively. 4E has some good elements but yes, so many of the iconic abilities/powers like the ones you are discussing here that I was familiar with are gone.
    I can only scratch my head too.

  3. @Doc – that’s a good analysis, and I’ll probably make that change. I want to keep the claw frenzy because originally ghouls and ghasts had a claw/claw/bit attack routine. I don’t think the claw damage should drop any lower however, nor do I think a melee basic attack should represent multiple attacks. However, I think making the bite a Minor action, which against non-paralyzed opponents is good solid extra damage, but against a paralyzed hero will be devastating and scary!

  4. Tod says:

    Hello Sir,

    I doubt this will happen, but I believe there’s no harm in asking. I think your adventure idea is AWESOME! I’d love to run it for my friends. Is there any way at all you would share your conversion of these modules to 4E?

    Thank you for your consideration. I enjoy your blog.

    Good gaming!

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