I previously outlined the appearance of Ghouls in different editions of D&D (link). To be clear, Ghouls are definitely a "proud nail" monster for me, and I'm continually troubled by them. I'm bothered by how askew they are from any preceding fictional examples. I'm troubled that they got their paralyzing attacks basically due to the accident of being in the same paragraph as Wights (with their LOTR-style freezing touch) in Chainmail. I'm irritated that their 3 paralyzing attacks make them far too dangerous at the levels they usually show up (similar to the "too many attacks" note from cats last week). I'm even tweaked by the fact that all the other undead got a 1-HD bump up from OD&D to AD&D, but not ghouls. They have an immensely clunky mechanic when translated to mass warfare, as in Book of War. Certainly I run them with just the standard 1 attack as in OD&D; I'm cobstantly on the cusp of rewriting a bunch of other details for them, and then decide not too. So without further ado, a document I've been compiling for a few years now; a look at the literary traditions of ghouls.
LovecraftianGhouls are a near-human race living underground with rubbery and hairless bodies, canine faces (and howls), hooved feet, forward-slumping posture, and often greenish, diseased-seeming pallor (esp. among older ones). They are light-sensitive and have their own gibbering language. There are strong suggestions that humans transform into ghouls and vice-versa (possibly by interbreeding with ghouls, swaps at birth, training, disease, and/or cannibalism – see Kuru disease *). They eat the corpses of people and also their own wounded in battle. (Ghasts are a race that live near ghouls, perhaps more bestial, larger, and with kangaroo-like hind legs.) They are intelligent enough to organize in packs, open doors, sneak around guards, and use simple tools (a gravestone as a lever, etc.)
Further ThoughtsOne of my mental blocks with both the Romerian and Gygaxian ghoul is how the supposed pandemic spread doesn't seem to make sense; if ghouls entire raison d'être is the consumption of dead bodies, then that seems to directly contradict the possibility of anything physically remaining of their victims to possibly arise as new ghouls.
Consider making the ghoul more in line with Lovecraft/Romero, et. al., in that they transform not those who are killed (and likely eaten), but those who are bitten (paralyzed) and actually escape the initial encounter. One problem with this is that in the HPL/Romero vein, no escape is possible – the bitten/infected person is always unquestionably doomed; which clashes with the D&D principle of everyone getting a save, and always having a fighting chance. Perhaps we rectify this by converting or adding to the save vs. paralysis to a secret save vs. infection, else transformation into a ghoul occurs over 1-6 days (perhaps paralysis is just the first sign of the "fever sickness" in Romero). But this still doesn't solve the contradiction to any possible pandemic; it seems almost as unlikely to survive a ghoul attack, and therefore a negligible number of infections would occur.