Monday, September 18, 2017

Monster Monday: Hellmouth, the Gateway Monster

Today's Monster Monday is the hellmouth, a tremendous beast whose very mouth is a gateway to Hell (as you may have guessed from the name). Hellmouths were a motif in medieval art that tended to result in some pretty metal images, as in this detail from an icon showing a black hellmouth swallowing a bunch of damned souls, who are also simultaneously being roasted in flame, tortured by devils, and/or attacked by snakes:

Hellmouth, via Wikimedia
As it is statted up below, the hellmouth is not a monster the GM should use lightly. It is always important, when designing encounters, to take into account what might happen if one or more of the characters succumbs to the monster's powerful abilities. You don't want to throw a medusa at your players if you aren't prepared to spend some time with one or more of them petrified. Just so, you don't want to throw a hellmouth at your players if you aren't prepared to spend the rest of the session with half the part stuck in Hell. The hellmouth is best used when necessary as part of the story, rather than as a random encounter. That said, suddenly having to improvise a rescue mission to get your bard out of Hell sounds like a pretty fun session.

The hellmouth does not have to be a potential campaign derailer. If you aren't ready to randomly throw some of the PC into a screaming torture-dimension, the hellmouth can suppress its throat-gate, allowing it to simply swallow folks into its flaming stomach. It is also designed to act as a living infernal siege engine, launching flaming boulders at distant targets and calling in reinforcements from Hell.

By the way, I've decided to start giving some adventure hooks below each monster, so even if you don't feel like reading a stat block, scroll down for dem sweet hooks.

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2017 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Monster Monday: Salt Ghouls, Desiccating Dead from the Desert

   When the sun was at its highest and the caravan had stopped to give the men and the camels rest, the howlers came pounding out of the desert. They were dead, emaciated men, their cracked faces twisted into cruel sneers. The monsters dashed across the dunes on all fours, kicking up a cloud of sand as they plowed toward the caravan.
   Hassan drew his falchion as soon as the first scream hit the hot air. He watched the undead horde with trepidation, eyes occasionally darting back along the road whence the caravan had come. No, fleeing was not an option here. His only chance of surviving in this harsh desert was to stay and ensure that the caravan survived. He dashed up to where the first of the ghouls were already swarming a panicked camel laden with silks. Hot blood sprayed out, staining raw silk red and sizzling on the skillet-hot sand. 
   Hassan's falchion bit into one of the ghouls, producing no spray of blood but a small puff of ancient dust. The creature was caked with sand and salt crystals. Its shriveled yellow eyes fixed on Hassan and it lunged at him, raking a gnarled claw against his upraised forearm. He kicked it in the chest, gathering space, then swung his sword with both hands, decapitating the ghoul. Its husk fell with a light thump. Hassan took a second to examine his wound. His flesh was puckered and cracked around the three gashes, but no blood was coming out - not even a trickle.
   Another scream ripped the air close by, and he turned to meet another leaping ghoul with his blade, blocking its claws and using its momentum to toss it over his shoulder. But another leapt for him at the same time, clawing at his silk jazerant and sinking yellow teeth into his neck. He dislodged it with an elbow to the skull and brought his curved blade down into its back. But Hassan's strength was leaving him. His muscles were slow to respond, and his tongue was glued to the dry roof of his mouth. He stumbled back, clutching at his neck wound. His vision blurred, he tripped over something and fell, splayed out on the sand, eyes closed. 
   Thirsty. So thirsty. Hassan rubbed sand and grime out of his eyes and sat up. The sun was low and orange on the horizon. Dead men and camels and dismembered ghoul husks littered the road around him. Not enough to account for the whole caravan. So they had made it. They had weathered the ghoul attack and gone on. Gone on without Hassan. His situation began to dawn on him. He was alone in the desert with almost no water. He frantically patted his hip, searching for his canteen, but it was absent. They had left him and taken his water. Bastards
   He rushed to the nearest camel corpse in hopes that they had overlooked a waterskin. There was one resting on the camel's side, shredded by ghoul claws and drained of its contents. But the array of leather straps suggested there might be another under the bulk of the dead beast. Hassan began to dig, heedless of the pain. At last, he drew forth a small bladder of water, though his cry of triumph could not escape his dry throat. He uncorked the skin and upended it into his mouth. The water seemed to disappear as soon as it hit his tongue. No cool wetness soothed his dry mouth, no refreshing fluid filled him. It was as if he was drinking ash. A cry of frustration and pain escaped him now, rasping and high pitched like the screams of the ghouls. He touched his neck wound and his fingers came away crusted in salt. As the last light of the sun dipped below the dunes, Hassan stumbled down the road after the companions who had left him to die. 
Today's Monster Monday is the salt ghoul, a ravenous undead creature from the dry dunes. Their cursed claws and bite can drain the water from a living being, leaving them dehydrated and desperate in the desert.

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2017 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Monster Monday: Zitiron, Mer-Knight in Shining Scales

Today's Monster Monday is the zitiron, a merfolk-like creature with a body covered in bony armor plates that gleam like steel. Zitiron are knightly sea creatures, who train by jousting with each other under water or at the ocean's surface - much to the delight and amazement of passing ships. Zitiron knightly orders are often called upon to fight in wars between merfolk kingdoms, or enrolled by port cities and merchant concerns to defend stretches of sea from rampaging sea monsters.

One of many zitirons depicted in the awesome Bosch painting, The Garden of Earthly Delights (c.1490-1510).

A black-scaled zitiron dueling a woodwose on a battle-gull. From the Hastings Book of Hours (1480).
As A Book of Creatures points out, the fanciful, knightly depictions of zitirons likely derive from descriptions of sea turtles. A common medieval artistic trope is that everything in the surface world has its counterpart in the sea. On many medieval maps and manuscript illustrations, you will see sea cows, sea horses, sea goats, sea cats, and other aquatic versions of surface animals. Early modern fishermen reported encounters with sea monks and sea bishops. Dolphins and porpoises were even sometimes called mereswine - sea pigs. In this context, is it any wonder that late medieval Flemish artists reinterpreted stories of sea turtles - altered through oral transmission as if by a game of telephone - into sea knights?

c. 1350 illustration of a zitiron accompanying Jacob van Maerlant's poem "Der Naturen Bloeme", via Wikimedia
The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2017 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Monster Monday: Yara-Ma-Yha-Who - He Eats You When You're Sleeping

"Get up, young lazybones! Do not sleep under the fig tree! Did I not tell you who lives up there? I didn't? Well, I'm telling you now, so listen up and listen good! You want to grow up big and tall, right? Then don't do what I did. 
   "I used to be tall when I was younger. Taller than your father, in fact. Don't laugh, it's true. But I was lazy, like you, and I often stole away to nap in the shade of the fig tree instead of helping with the work. One day I woke up from my nap and found my skin had grown redder. I thought it was a sunburn, but it could not have been. See, even my back was redder! And when I went home, my mother thought I was shorter. And I had these round wounds on my neck. Father thought they were bug bites, but they were not from any bug we knew.
   "It was a long while before I fell asleep under the fig trees again. The next time I did, I woke up even redder and even shorter than before! I was even shorter than my old mum now! Well, I did not want this to happen again, but I did want to know what had done it to me, so I came up with a plan.
   "One day, when the sun was high in the sky, I went to the fig grove and pretended to sleep. I waited and waited, and sure enough, something came down out of the tree. It wasn't a bug, it was a little man - yea high - and bright red all over. He had a big head like an overripe fig, and a big mouth, and suckers on his fingers and toes like the suckers of the octopi we see at the beach. It came down the tree head-first, and as it opened its mouth to swallow me up, I leapt to grab it. I brought a sack with me, and I tried to wrestle it into the sack so that I could bring it back to the village to show everyone. But it escaped and ran up the tree and out of sight.
   "I think if it had swallowed me one more time, I would be just as short and just as red as it was. Think, I might even have turned into one myself! Do you wonder, now, why an old man like me is always going about his work, even in the hot sun? And why you never catch me napping here in the shade? It could happen to you too, boy! So get off your lazy butt and get back to work!"
Today's Monster Monday is the yara-ma-yha-who, a strange creature from Aboriginal Australian mythology. The yara-ma-yha-who is a short man with bright red skin, a round, oversized head, and sucker-tipped fingers and toes. It preys on victims who fall asleep under its tree, draining blood with its suckers and swallowing its victims whole. It does not eat those whom it swallows, though. It regurgitates them, leaving them redder and shorter than before. If an individual is swallowed and regurgitated enough times by a yara, it becomes one!

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2017 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Monster Monday: Hagfish - Jawless Slime Eels

Today's Monster Monday is the hagfish, a jawless fish that bites with rasping tooth-plates, ties itself into a knot in order to pull chunks of flesh off its prey, and can turn the water around it into slime. It sounds like the larva of an aboleth or some other primeval aberration, but it is 100% real and 200% gross.

Myxine glutinosa, from Les Poissons (1877) by Gervais and Boulart, via Wikimedia
Hagfish recently made the news when a truckload of them spilled out onto a highway in Oregon, coating the road and nearby cars in thick slime. This reminded me of a note that I made years ago in my ever-growing list of monsters to stat up: 'Giant hagfish that swarm ships.'  Normal hagfish have already been statted up (well, cat-sized versions of normal hagfish), but presented below are 10-foot giant hagfish and a writhing hagfish swarm. If you want to see a real-life hagfish swarm in action, check out this video from the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

A hagfish swarm can pose a danger to adventurers in the water. They might be attracted by a recent kill that the party made, tearing into the flesh of the corpse and the heroes alike. Giant hagfish are even more dangerous, as they can tear open the hull of a ship to get at the food inside. Imagine the horror as the adventurers go belowdecks in a ship only to find it flooded with seawater, slime, and squirming eels feasting on livestock and sailors.

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2017 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Monster Monday: Vampiric Skeleton

Today's Monster Monday is the vampiric skeleton, a skeleton that sucks blood. These aren't the skeletons of vampires: that's not how vampires work. But they could be the skeletons of a vampire's victims, or creatures who died in a vampire's evil castle, or just of beings who were buried in a particularly evil area charged with necrotic energies.

This is a variant of the skeleton template, so it can be applied to anything that has a skeleton. Blood-sucking ogre skeleton? Sure! Vampiric skeletal wyvern? Sounds good to me. Bloodthirsty badger bones? Yeah, okay, but the alliteration might be a bit much.

Presented below are the vampiric skeleton variant template and two example vampiric skeletons: a human and a dire wolf.

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2017 Jonah Bomgaars.

This human skeleton has been deformed by dark energies. Sharp fangs grow from its gaping mouth.
Vampiric Skeleton, Human   CR 1/2
XP 200
NE Medium undead
Init +6; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Perception +0
AC 16, touch 12, flat-footed 14 (+2 armor, +2 Dex, +2 natural)
hp 6 (1d8+2)
Fort +2, Ref +2, Will +2; +4 channel resistance
DR 5/bludgeoning; Immune cold, undead traits
Vulnerability sunlight destruction
Speed 30 ft.
Melee 2 claws +2 (1d4+2), bite -3 (1d6+1 plus blood drain)
Special Attacks blood drain (1d2 Con)
Str 15, Dex 10, Con --, Int 10, Wis 10, Cha 14
Base Atk +0; CMB +2; CMD 14
Feats Improved InitiativeB
Gear broken chain shirt
Blood Drain (Ex)
When a vampiric skeleton hits with its bite attack, or if it grapples a foe, it inflicts 1d2 points of Constitution damage on its target. The vampiric skeleton heals 5 hit points or gains 5 temporary hit points for 1 hour (up to a maximum number of temporary hit points equal to its full normal hit points) each round it drains blood.
Sunlight Destruction (Su)
When a vampiric skeleton is exposed to direct sunlight (not the effects of daylight or similar spells), it cannot attack and is staggered. On every subsequent round of exposure, the vampiric skeleton takes 1d4 points of fire damage.
Environment any
Organization any
Treasure none 

Monday, July 31, 2017

Monster Monday: Ikuchi, the Living Tentacle

The whale corpse reeked worse than a day-old battlefield, but that is not why the villagers avoided the shore. Something was out there, they said. A great squid or a sea serpent. A toothless old man mumbled something about the restless spirits of the dead. Matsushita Ino was not afraid of a sea monster. She had slain seven oni in the mountains not a week ago. But she had sworn an oath to burn incense at the shrine on Onobai island before the last cherry blossoms fell, and now there was no one to ferry her across. The town's fishing fleet was pulled high up on the beach, well past even the stinking whale corpse with its twisting pattern of puckered, circular scars.

   "Very well!" she raised her voice once again above the murmuring crowd. "If there are none here who will help me - a sworn warrior of your lord - out of duty and honor, perhaps silver will give you the courage to row for me." She held up a string of jangling silver coins - enough to buy a boat outright in a village this poor. One man stood forward, bald and wizened. Wordlessly, he took the coins, handed them off to an equally ancient woman, nodded to her solemnly, then led Ino to the shore.

   His boat was small, but he used it like it was a part of his own body. Ino tried to make conversation with the leathery old salt, but he just smiled and nodded and kept working the oars. They were halfway to Onobai before she realized he was mute. She took up a position in the prow, hand upon the hilt of her nodachi, grey eyes scanning the sea for the promised threat. It was not long in showing itself.

   It started as a ripple of water moving against the wind. Then the tentacle breached the surface, bristling with serrated suckers. So it was a giant squid after all. She drew her nodachi, ready to strike out with the long blade at the slightest provocation. No, not a giant squid - the creature was a single, free-swimming tentacle, tapering to a point at both ends, thick around as a tree trunk, and covered in those toothy suckers. She had read about these. Ikuchi. Ship-renders. Hungering tentacles from the deep, not often seen in shallow seas such as this. Spring had brought more than cherry blossoms to the shores of Achikara.

   The tentacle circled the boat once, then struck. Both ends of the ikuchi shot up, wrapping around the prow and stern. Ino lashed out, quick as a crane, her blue blade biting into the rubbery flesh. It twisted itself around the boat like a coil of rope. The old sailor seemed to pay it no heed; his face as he rowed was that of a samurai going into a duel - confidence masking resignation. Ino leapt back as the prow of the boat splintered. The tentacle continued to constrict, cracking the wale of the boat. Water was seeping in. Ino struck at the ikuchi thrice, and thrice more, each time cutting a deep gouge in the beast, but it never relinquished its hold. It would crush the boat before Ino could cut through it.

   The old sailor caught her eye. He had stopped rowing, and was standing in the boat, holding a splintered oar like a spear. He gave her the same solemn nod he had given the old woman in the village. Ino nodded back. Channeling all her strength, she brought her nodachi down on the thickest part of the tentacle, cutting deep like a woodsman's axe. The blade shattered inside the beast. The old sailor came down a moment later, driving the sharp end of the oar down into the cut she had made. The tentacle writhed, ripping the boat to flinders. As Ino hit the water, she saw the tentacle wrap completely around the old sailor, ready to tear him apart as easily as it had his boat.

   All sense was muffled by the shocking cold water. Ino dropped the hilt of her broken sword and fumbled to undo the ties on her kusari katabira - the heavy silk-covered coat of mail links was dragging her deep into the sea. Breath burning in her lungs, she shrugged the armor off and kicked back up to the surface in time to see the wounded ikuchi, blood seeping from dozens of cuts, slither off into the depths.

   Matsushita Ino lay back in and breathed deep, letting the salt water and the tide carry her toward Onobai. She closed her eyes and said:

Dead whale. Spiral scars.
Blossoms fall on the red sea
where ikuchi feeds.

Ikuchi illustration by Toriyama Sekien for the Konjaku Hyakki Shūi (1781), via Wikimedia

Today's Monster Monday is the ikuchi, a giant living tentacle from (where else?) Japan. This free-swimming tentacle can wrap itself around ships and crush them to get at the tasty sailors within.

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2017 Jonah Bomgaars.