A classic ghoul with a superiority complex
The future. Survival anywhere. We surpass the norms.”— Set talks about Ghouls
Exposure to radiation for an extended period of time sometimes causes humans with an unknown genetic characteristic to transform into ghouls, although rare cases, such as the one of Camp Searchlight, show that faster transformations are not unheard of. Exposure to radiation typically results in sickness followed by death for the average human being; however, the genetic x-factor that will lead to mutation into a ghoul upon exposure, instead of the typical deadly outcome, remains unknown.
Most known ghouls in the Core Region were created from vault dwellers living in Vault 12 under Bakersfield, known as Necropolis after the Great War, located in southern California. As part of the vast Vault Experiment Program, the Vault 12 door was designed to not close properly. Radiation from nuclear detonations and the subsequent fallout contaminated the vault, resulting in the death or mutation of every occupant. Now, they can be found in small amounts throughout this region, most of which are in Gecko, a town established near an old, half-functional Poseidon Energy nuclear power plant. Many could also be found in Broken Hills, an old town located near a uranium mine, typically inhabited by humans, super mutants and ghouls. However, the uranium was eventually depleted and the town was abandoned sometime after 2242.
Ghouls from other regions most likely originated from opportune or home-made shelters. Such shelters were not adequate to fully protect against all the effects of nuclear fallout. Radiation levels in some areas were such that they were low enough not to kill people, but high enough not to leave them unscathed. There are ghouls in the Midwest, most notably a nuclear weapon-worshipping cult in Kansas City. Both Quincy and Springfield also have at least some ghoul occupants. In Texas, most of the former residents of Los Ybanez, known as Los after the Great War, have become ghouls, probably remaining blocked at the entrance of the Secret Vault. Later, in the same city, the Church of the Lost was created by former vault dwellers of the Secret Vault that had become ghouls.
In the Capital Wasteland, many ghouls currently alive were born long after the Great War in 2077 and succumbed to radiation poisoning much later, due to the high levels of radiation in Washington, D.C. and its surroundings for decades following the fall of the bombs. The majority of intelligent ghouls in the Capital Wasteland have chosen to settle in Underworld, a settlement established in the Museum of History in the ruins of The Mall. The settlement got its name from the exhibit on mythological representations of the afterlife in which the ghouls established their town.
In the Mojave Wasteland, they can be found in small amounts throughout the region, but no town is completely dedicated to them. There are usually a few ghouls living among humans in various communities performing jobs in order to survive, such as the guard Beatrix Russell, and the comedian Hadrian, both of which are in Freeside. The only known community of ghouls in the region is the Bright Brotherhood, a religious faction located in the REPCONN Test Site, founded and lead by an intelligent glowing one named Jason Bright, who wants to leave Earth and go into space to find a "new world", a promised land foretold by Bright. There are also several ghoul rangers occupying Ranger station Echo, implying some level of acceptance of ghouls serving in the NCR.
Since the war, more people have had run-ins with ghouls, both civil and feral. Because of the animalistic behavior and savage threat feral ghouls pose, many people view all ghouls negatively. For example, the residents of Tenpenny Tower refuse to let ghouls into their luxurious hotel, despite polite offers of caps. Chief Gustavo is particularly bigoted and feels that "they'll all go feral one day." Negative stereotypes about ghouls stem from wastelanders who couldn't care less that all ghouls are not feral. Terms like "zombie," "shuffler," or "brain eater" are common insults. Because of this general negativity, some ghouls, such as Roy Phillips and Mister Crowley, have developed a bitter hatred of humans.
It appears ghouls are better accepted in New Vegas, appearing more frequently as equals, sometimes serving in the NCR or acting as prostitutes.
Confusion over origins
There is some controversy, even among the makers of Fallout games, about the origins of ghouls. While Tim Cain said explicitly that ghouls are only a result of radiation, consistent with an understanding of the science of radiation as it stood during the 1950s, Chris Taylor said that a mix of both radiation and FEV was involved. While Chris Avellone initially supported the latter view in his Fallout Bible, he was later convinced to support the radiation-only version. Some people believe that ghouls were formed when the bombs fell, people who were not fortunate enough to be in a vault or die were exposed to the radiation and became ghouls.
Ghouls created in the Great War of 2077 are still alive during Fallout (2161), Fallout 2 (2241), Fallout 3 (2277), and Fallout: New Vegas (2281). All ghouls live considerably longer than normal humans, though they are sterile. The reason for this longevity has to do with differences on the cellular level, and the ability of ghoul DNA to regenerate at a rate unmatched by normal human nucleic acids. Occasionally, in a ghoul, additional genetic material is added as a result of the mutation. The unnaturally long lifespan of a ghoul is also due to a mutation within the autonomic nervous system of certain individuals following exposure to specific combinations of ionizing radiation with wavelengths below ten picometers. Radiation that has such a short wavelength, less than ten picometers, is known as gamma radiation and is normally lethal to healthy humans in even moderate doses. The mutation in response to gamma radiation that produces ghouls disrupts the normal process of decay in the neurotransmitters along the spinal cord.
Ghouls were not created immediately after the Great War in 2077; the process took months or years for some. After a few weeks, their skin slowly started to flake off and crack, as well as partial or complete hair loss. In Fallout 3, Carol explains that even after the War it took a while for the ghouls to start looking like they do now. However, there have been occasions when ghouls are made instantly by large doses of radiation. For example, Camp Searchlight, where an entire base of NCR soldiers were transformed into feral ghouls by a radioactive device used by Caesar's Legion, and the ghoulification of Moira Brown after the warhead in Megaton was detonated by the Lone Wanderer (if the player chooses to do so).
Although lacking strength due to decayed tissue, ghouls have heightened senses making them more perceptive and lucky than other wasteland humanoids. As a result, chems like jet barely affect them. Doctor Barrows, when healing the player, bemoans the fact that "You humans are so fragile."
Specifically, the neurotransmitters affected in a ghoul's mutation are those responsible for cardiac and respiratory function in a healthy human being. These transmitters are continually regenerated at a greatly accelerated rate after the mutation sets in, carrying sufficient oxygen to sustain the life of the subject while being insufficient to retain dermal elasticity and avoid the resulting necrosis (much like the disease leprosy), the result of which is the decaying, corpse-like appearance of post-mutation humans. Old ghouls may also still suffer from some of the debilitating effects of old age however as some of the two centuries old ghouls like Raul Tejada and Dean Domino complain of knee problems when made to crouch, and both of them were far from elderly when they became ghouls. Raul also mentions how he's no longer as swift and agile as he used to be in his youth, though this might be psychosomatic and caused by Raul's continuous doubts about his age and place in the world. Still these may indicate that their regenerative abilities' problems with skin could extend to other soft tissues of their joints.
In physical appearance, a ghoul's flesh is constantly rotting off, appearing very raw and discolored from necrosis. Lips and eyelids are sometimes absent, and noses are in almost every case completely rotted off. Feral ghouls are typically heavily emaciated and hunched over (possibly due to malnutrition and lack of sunlight), while non-ferals typically have a heavier, more human-like build and posture. Another major difference between ferals and non-ferals is dress: while non-ferals dress like normal humans, feral ghouls wear little clothing other than tattered pants or sections of old armor, having lost the mental capacity to mend or replace their clothes long ago.
Ghouls, at least the non-feral ones, are generally as intelligent as normal humans. However, their physical repulsiveness makes the life of a ghoul difficult at best - only the most tolerant human communities accept them as anything more than monsters. Some ghouls eventually go mad and it remains unclear exactly what precipitates this change in neurobiology and psychology, but anecdotal evidence seems to indicate that non-social ghouls, or those in isolation, are more prone to the condition. It is also quite possible that this is a gradual process, meaning that eventually all ghouls would succumb to this condition. However, considering the number of ghouls who have lived for more than two centuries, it is quite possible that this is not so, or that the rate of degeneration is dependent on the individual affected and surrounding environmental factors. Ghouls that succumb to insanity are called "feral ghouls:" they are mindlessly aggressive and, having lost their ability to reason, driven entirely by their instincts. These feral ghouls strongly resemble zombies like those depicted in old horror films, and this misconception succeeds in alienating non-feral ghouls even more from humans. The term "zombie" has become an offensive racial slur to ghouls and "smoothskin" is a derogatory term for humans often used by ghouls.
Ghouls are immune to most forms of radiation that still remain in the Wasteland. Radiation poisoning cannot get worse for the ghouls, though it can hasten the process of decay and lead to their decline into the feral state as described above. However, many ghouls report feeling healthier when exposed to low-level radiation, and thus make their homes near locations with acute background radiation. The ghouls known as "glowing ones" actually enjoy large amounts of radiation, which they describe as being "comfortably warm." They are even healed by it.
As one of the more common consequences of ghoulification seems to be sporadic or even complete hair loss and loss of their normal voice: few ghouls retain enough hair on their heads to actually maintain a haircut, and ghouls with facial hair seems to be even more rare. Also, ghouls with a clear voices are very uncommon. Desmond Lockheart from the Point Lookout and Raul Tejada from Fallout: New Vegas are two of the few examples of ghouls with facial hair, and Plik from Point Lookout and Jason Bright from Fallout: New Vegas are two examples of ghouls with a clear voice.
Feral ghouls are among the more unfortunate mutants whose minds have deteriorated from prolonged radiation poisoning, becoming instinct-driven savages, attacking anyone and anything relentlessly, save for other ghouls. Wearing the ghoul mask in Fallout 3 makes all feral ghouls ignore the player unless directly assaulted. Despite what Roy Phillips says, no matter how close you get to a feral ghoul when wearing the ghoul mask, they will not "Sniff you out," and become hostile.
Feral ghoul roamer
Roamers are less common feral ghouls dressed in worn-out sections of old combat armor, giving them greater damage resistance. The armor does not, however, slow them down; in fact, they are slightly faster than regular ferals. They typically can be found alongside two or three ferals, and attack in groups. Alone they are still weak and easily brought down with most weaponry, but they can easily flank the player during a group attack.
These ghouls have absorbed so much radiation they glow a ghastly green color in the dark. They are known as "glowing ones," and are often considered outsiders even by other ghouls. The glowing ones can sustain a lot more damage than other ghouls, second only to reavers (see below). They also emit radiation from their whole body, and can even release a devastating blast of energy from their bodies at will, healing nearby ghouls and harming unlucky attackers caught in the blast radius.
People have seen on more than one occasion a feral glowing one fighting or being chased by "normal" feral ghouls. Although very rare, it is possible for a glowing one to retain their intelligence and cognitive functions, such as Jason Bright.
Feral ghoul reaver
This rare flavor of ghoul, dressed in the rusty remnants of metal armor, appears in both Mojave Wasteland and the Capital Wasteland through the Fallout 3 add-on Broken Steel. They also appear frequently in the swamps of Point Lookout. A greenish smoke issues from their scars, and their flesh appears to be melted and even bubbling in some areas, as if being "cooked" by the radiation they have absorbed. In Fallout 3 they are among the toughest enemies in the game, able to take a direct hit from a Fat Man and survive. Besides being incredibly fast and having a deadly swipe, they can pull chunks of radioactive gore from their guts and hurl it at the player with deadly accuracy. In Fallout: New Vegas, reavers are much weaker and lack the ability to throw gore, making them much easier to handle.
Intelligent ghouls have suffered far less mental degradation from their condition and retain their full faculties from before their transformation. These ghouls possess the ability to talk, and they normally wear clothing, as well as carrying and using weapons. Some may have hair on their head, but not a lot. Some male ghouls, such as Raul Tejada, may even be lucky enough to retain some semblance of facial hair, similar to Desmond in the Fallout 3 add-on Point Lookout, with hair on both his head and face. They normally have a low, gravely and rather raspy voice, most likely due to damage to their vocal chords from a combination of radiation and necrosis. Jason Bright, an intelligent glowing one, from Fallout: New Vegas has a normal voice, although it has an odd echoing quality to it, as do Dean Domino and Raul Tejada. If Megaton is destroyed in Fallout 3, Moira Brown has a similar, but notably different voice effect. Regular ghouls walk normally, unlike ferals, which hunch over. The majority of them are not hostile and will not attack without provocation. Ghouls often refer to humans as "smoothskins." These ghouls also find terms such as "shuffler" and "zombie" to be offensive.
Skinned alive when the warheads of the Divide went off, and turned into ghouls by the resulting radiation of the warheads, marked men suffer from a unique form of ghoulification only seen in the Divide. The injuries they suffer from would mean the death of an ordinary ghoul, and the radiation of the Divide is believed to be the only thing keeping them alive.
|The following is based on Van Buren and has not been confirmed by canon sources.|
|End of information based on Van Buren.|
- There ain't any ghouls but old ghouls. We're all sterile, see, but we're incredibly long-lived. We're the first and last generation of ghouls. - Typhon
- Without medical technology, all of us ghouls are going to die off in the next 20 years, anyway. - Gordon (Gordon dialogue file)
- [Say, how do you make a ghoul?] With silver-bells and cockleshells and… Boy, you are dumb, aren’t you? Severe radiation. That’s how. How do you think? You know, many bombs go boom, flash of light and heat, flesh burns off, but you don’t-quite-die-type severe radiation? - Wooz (Wooz dialogue file)
- [How's it going?] Not bad, still in one piece... well except for that one that got away, but I'll find it, no worries. -Patchwork
- I don't have to tell you that Bright's group has got some fine-looking ghoulettes in it! Eh... or maybe I would have to tell you... - Harland
- "Well, now that's a surprise! I'm used to every asshole smoothskin in this town giving me shit 'cause I look like a corpse." - Gob
Ghouls appear in all Fallout games.
Behind the scenes
- A ghoul is described as "Bloodman" in an old Fallout concept art.