(Or, if you prefer, CHUD.)
One of my favorite Lovecraft stories was "Pickman’s Model", mostly for its imagery of the unknown and horrible things that lurk beneath the city streets, and of course its classic ending. A lot of "Lovecraftian" imagery focuses on the dark gods or the alien monstrosities, but I liked the ghouls, the hidden lurkers always watching and waiting. For this article, I want to distinguish them from the undead ghouls, the "Paralyze you and nom you" monsters which have been part of D&D lore since the beginning and are often known as a cheap and easy TPK for low-level parties. So here are some variants on this, "living ghouls", henceforth called the Underdwellers. (I contemplated "ghul", but that’s way too much like "magik" or "wymmyn". )
The Undercities And Their Inhabitants
The great cities of the world are built on older cities, and those on yet older ones. In the vast labyrinths, in the places where the bones of forgotten metropoli lie on the bones of their forgotten citizens, there are beings who have found a home. Far from any hint of light, they have built a culture, of a sort, in the darkness, surviving on what they can catch and kill, and on the corpses of those interred from above. Down there, they have access to ancient secrets, unknown treasures, and all that was buried in the hopes of it being forgotten forever.
The creatures, often incorrectly called ghouls, are not undead, though they share many traits with such. They are scavengers and parasites, capable of feeding only on rotting meat. So long as the updwellers continue to inter their deceased in the catacombs, the underdwellers will mostly leave them in peace, but if the supply of meat grows short, or if there are disturbances in their secret world…. then they will venture forth once more into the land beneath the open sky.
Few know of the existence of these creatures; fewer still know them to be distinct from the undead ghouls. Rarely, some try to meet with them, to barter for the knowledge only they possess; such types usually return empty-handed, if they return at all. Occasionally, some crusader will be determined to end their desecration of bodies and will lead a host into the maze in order to wipe them out — again, some return with nothing and most do not return.
In appearance, the anthropophagi strongly resemble ghouls — gaunt and grey-skinned, wearing either rags or the stripped-off finery of the just-buried. They have sunken eyes, often resembling milky and featureless orbs, clawed hands, and jagged, sharp, teeth. It can be very hard to distinguish male from female or young from old. What hair they have is sparse, thin, and unkempt. Their features are usually marred by scars, strange fungal growths, or oozing sores, and they emit a vile miasma that can only be experienced, not described.
They do not consider themselves evil, but then again, few beings do. They are motivated by hunger and by a desire for privacy, and they view the satisfaction of both as their right. As they do not feed upon the living, they rarely feel a need to kill, but they will do so readily in defense, and do not care if an intruder was a lost innocent or a deliberate attacker — if you pass into their realm, you will die.
As one might guess, the undercity tunnels are excellent portals to the Shadowfell, often joining up with the buried remnants of that realm’s necrotic urban regions. The tunnels beneath Corazain, in particular, are known to lead to the Passages Of Quiet Echoes beneath the City of Black Marble, and there is a trickle — a tiny trickle — of trade that regularly passes along that route.
Underdweller societies are never large; there will be perhaps one family for every thousand who live above. They breed slowly, but they also live a long time — two centuries is not abnormal, and some may be far older than that. Each city is home to a single clan, and if a clan is somehow driven out or must find a new home, they must either find a city with no current inhabitants (unlikely), or eliminate the competition.
Underdweller society has many parts.As with most cultures, the work of the majority is gathering food… and so we begin with the Harvesters, those charged with waiting for bodies to be desposited in the catacombs and bringing them back down to the rest of their clan…