A theory of mine led me to check the dungeon encounter tables in the original Dungeons & Dragons rules booklets. There, I spotted a monster that made me immediately stop chasing my theory and start investigating a new mystery.
The dungeon encounter tables in Underworld & Wilderness Adventures include a listing for Thouls, a D&D monster that I’ve never seen mentioned in my decades of playing the game. What’s a thoul? Why do thouls lack a description or statistics?
Theory 1: The “Thouls” entry should read “Ghouls”, but was mistyped. But an entry for “Ghouls” appears immediately after “Thouls,” wrecking this theory. None of the dungeon monster tables include duplicate entries.
Theory 2: Thouls come from the Mars books by Edgar Rice Burroughs. D&D author Gary Gygax loved Burroughs’ Mars series and stocked volume 3’s desert wilderness tables with Barsoom creatures like tharks, thoats, and sith. Like the thouls, all these creatures lack game descriptions. However, a quick search reveals that thouls never appear in Barsoom or anywhere but D&D.
Theory 3: Gary Gygax invented thouls, but forgot to include a description. If the lack of statistics came from an oversight, no one rushed to correct it. All the D&D supplements omit thouls, as does the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual in 1977. The first mention of a thoul appears in 1978 in the Monster & Treasure Assortment – Set 3. The entry reveals almost nothing. “#AT: 2/1; AL: 8; AC: 6; ST/F 3; SA: Paralysis by touch.” The monster finally gains a description in the 1981 edition of the D&D Basic Set from Tom Moldvay.
None of these descriptions come from Gary’s lost notes. Other D&D designers spotted the creature’s name in the original book, and then created the monster.
The 1981 description explains why thouls failed to gain much traction in D&D lore. They look and play like hobgoblins with a gotcha, which hardly seems memorable.
The mystery has one more clue: Thouls first appear in the fifth printing of the original D&D box. The table in earlier printings includes “Toads” in the same spot, right before the entry for ghouls. This makes thouls seem like a typo.
In 1975, typesetters entered a document’s text at a keyboard to get printed strips of text. Then layout artists would paste the columns onto boards representing the document’s full pages. Printers duplicated those camera-ready, paste-up boards.
So a typesetter in 1975 started entering the table row for “Toads” when their gaze skipped one row down to the line for “Ghouls.” They mistyped “Thouls” and made D&D history. Who can blame the typesetter? Half the manuscript surely seemed like nonsense words. Who has ever heard of a sith?
But why would such a mistake appear in the fifth printing rather than the first? Because TSR corrected rough-looking text in the first four printings by redoing the type for the fifth. Before desktop publishing, that meant a typesetter needed to retype the text. That person accidentally contributed a monster to D&D.
Meanwhile, I failed to find support for my theory.
The original Charm Person reads, “If this spell is successful, it will cause the charmed entity to come completely under the influence of the Magic-User until such time as the ‘charm’ is dispelled.” That seems strong. By my theory, original Charm Person rated as less powerful than it seems because the game focused on places that lacked any persons to charm stronger than 1 hit die bandits or brigands. But the encounter tables include plenty of higher-level targets, listed by level titles like superhero, sorcerer, and evil high priest. A lucky first-level magic user could charm someone quite powerful.
Check out the Q&A with Gary Gygax on ENworld. Here are a few relevant snippets:
Just search for “thoul” on the page.
Basically, a Thoul is a cross between a ghoul and a troll.
Nice job sleuthing this one out! Now I want to create my own version of a Thoul – a wicked creature that slips into the homes of writers and publishers at night, switching their words to a foul incantation which, when read, brings doom to the reader.
Thanks! Your concept for a Thoul seems far more compelling and fearsome than anything written for the game.
I remember Thouls as a pretty nasty monster when I first started playing. You thought you were fighting hobgoblins, but one of them could not only paralyze you but regenerated (I can’t recall any other regenerating monster in the old Basic rules, hence the reference to the Expert rules for trolls, though it has been a few decades since I used those).
Wow, I love this. Totally adding it to my hobgoblin lore.
It’s worth noting that right after the 81 publishing of their stats, they got a role in the 82 module The Lost City. It was a fairly minor part, but was expanded in the 2020 remake.