Monday, January 15, 2018

Monster Monday: Brongya - Evil Yak Men of the Mountains

Today's Monster Monday is the brongya, a humanoid yak that binds elementals to its will and can possess the bodies of humanoids. Brongyai (the plural of brongya) live in hidden cities secreted away in high mountain valleys, where they rule over enslaved giants, bound genies, and servile elementals. Using magic and their ability to possess others, they lure unwary travelers into a false sense of security before capturing them for their own nefarious purposes. The brongyai believe themselves to be the predestined rulers of the world, and they delight in inflicting suffering and torment on those they see as 'slave races'. From their mountain strongholds, they secretly infiltrate and manipulate surrounding lands in centuries-long plots for conquest and domination.

Brongya, by Jonah Bomgaars
The brongya is obviously heavily inspired by the yak folk first introduced to D&D in the al-Qadim campaign setting. Yak folk made their way into D&D 3rd Edition's Monster Manual II, which was released shortly before the switch over to 3.5 Edition. When Wizard's of the Coast created the Open Game License, upon which all of Pathfinder was built, that oddball 3rd Edition Monster Manual II sadly did not make it into the OGL, so the yak folk presented therein are still 'private property', as it were.

Even though a race of humanoid yaks seems pretty silly, they quickly became one of my favorite villains, and two of my longest running campaigns featured significant yak folk encounters. The brongyai are my OGL-friendly take on these not-so-classic, mostly-forgotten monsters, made from scratch without direct reference to the stat block in MMII. It is presented here so that all might someday live in fear of these surprisingly sinister shaggy bovine beasties.

The name brongya comes from the tibetan 'brong (འབྲོང), meaning 'wild yak'. Its alternate name, qutazi, comes from the tatar word for yak - qutaz (кутаз). The sword the brongya is holding in the picture is a forward-curving Nepalese sword called a kora - actually, a ceremonial executioner's version of the traditional kora.

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2018 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Monster Monday: Sawfish, A Toothy Sword-Faced Fish

Today's Monster Monday is the sawfish, a large shark with a tooth-lined sword nose that it sweeps back and forth to shred fish. Okay, actually sawfish aren't sharks, they are rays. And their noses (rostra) aren't lined with teeth, they are modified tooth-like scales (dermal denticles). But there are a similar group of saw-nosed sharks, but they are much smaller than the sawfish, which grows up to about 23 feet in length.

Common sawfish (pristis pristis); Photo by David Iliff (License: CC-BY-SA 3.0), via Wikimedia
With that said, sawfish are awesome monsters and I am surprised they haven't appeared in a Bestiary yet. Not only does their saw-nose make for a memorable combat experience, but it can also be fashioned into a macuahuitl. If you are going for a more prehistoric experience, saw-nosed sclerorhynchids lived from about 130-55 million years ago - most were Small-sized like modern saw-nosed sharks, but onchopristis was 26 feet long with an 8 foot saw lined with barbed teeth. There was also the saw-nosed ichthyosaur eurhinosaurus that you can find back in this old post.

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2018 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Monster Monday: Sivatherium - Dire Giraffe?

Today's Monster Monday is sivatherium, a prehistoric giraffe that had a moose-like head of antlers. Sivatherium was not as long-necked and spindly as modern giraffes. While its neck was rather long, this beast was thicker and stockier, weighing more than the average adult giraffe at around half the height. I guess you could think of it as a condensed giraffe. With antlers.

photo by Hiuppo, via Wikimedia
Sivatherium reconstruction in the Museum of Evolution of Polish Academy of Sciences
The sivatherium ranged across Africa and India during the Pliocene epoch and survived in some areas up until 8,000 years ago. It also had a really cool looking skull:

photo by Ghedoghedo, via Wikimedia
Skull and leg of sivatherium giganteum in the Natural History Museum, London
In a campaign setting, a sivatherium would stand out as an attractive target for a hunt, as it is tall and distinct enough to spot from far away, it is packed with almost a ton of meat, and its skull and hide would make distinctive trophies. It would also be challenging to hunt, as its high vantage point would give it advance warning of approaching enemies, and its long legs and neck would allow it to lash out at attackers with surprising reach.
The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2018 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Monster Monday: Aker, Two-Headed Golden Lion

   On bare feet, the thief padded across the cold marble floors of the palace. Bars of moonlight filtered through shuttered windows as he slipped from shadow to shadow, keeping an ear open for guards. He saw them before he heard them - so still were they standing that even bedecked in gleaming mail they made little sound. Two palace guards, fauchards in hand, standing guard over an iron-bound door. This must be the hiding place of the Khwarzid Ruby. 
   The thief produced a small linen-wrapped tube from a pouch at his side. He slunk as close as he dared to the guards, keeping to their periphery where their vision was obscured by their helmets. At last, he took a deep breath, unwrapped the tube, placed it to his lips, and blew. A cone fine powder billowed out like the breath of some foul beast, choking the air around the guards. Purple lotus powder - a paralytic. It had cost the thief dearly, but it would all be worth it if he could get out of this palace with the ruby. 
   Wrapping a fold of his cape over his mouth and nose, he sprang into the poisonous cloud, catching one of the paralyzed guards before he could fall and, with a crash of armor against the stone floor, wake the entire palace. He held the guard up by the throat, but as he moved to catch the other, he was met with a blade. The second guard had not yet succumbed to the poison! He caught the edge of the thin dagger against his leather bracer and, right arm still holding up the first guard, began to grapple with the second guard with his off-hand. The towering brute of a guardsman stabbed at the thief awkwardly, slashing his back thrice with his blade before the purple lotus poison finally took hold. The thief silently lowered the two men, conscious but immobilized, to the floor. 
   The guards, of course, did not carry a key to the door they were guarding, so the thief picked the lock himself. He ignored a false keyhole, uncovered the true lock, bypassed a few trapped tumblers, and finally worked the door open. The room beyond the reinforced door glittered. Torches burned in wall sconces, casting orange light upon piles of gold, silver, and gems, which sparkled enticingly. In the center of the room rose a copper statue of a cobra, an enormous ruby clenched in its fanged jaws. A trap, obviously, but the thief saw no way to retrieve the ruby without triggering it. He knew he could afford to carry little else out of this room except the ruby, lest he be encumbered by it as he escaped. Still, he stuffed a handful of gold into his pouch as he approached the ruby, never taking his eyes off the snake statue for fear of being surprised by some wizardly trick.  
   The hair on the nape of his neck stood on end, his primal senses picking up on some danger his eyes had failed to notice. A low, purring growl began behind him, joined soon by a second. Whirling, he saw padding towards him a twin-headed lioness, fearsome in her power and beauty. Her fur gleamed just as brilliantly as the piles of gold she navigated between, as if the beast were herself wrought from the stuff. The thief froze, calculating his next move as the two-headed creature tensed and readied to pounce. Just as it move to strike, he whirled, snatched the ruby out of the snake's jaws, and ducked. Just as he expected, a spray of poison burst forth from some mechanism hidden in the snake's mouth. He could feel his back blistering where droplets of the poison splattered it. The beast growled and shook its heads, but was otherwise unfazed.  
   Immune to poison? Of course! This was an aker. The thief had heard tales of them in the south. Terrible golden lions with two heads. Legend held that ancient kings once used them to keep the giant snakes of those lands in check, for they were unaffected by the serpents' bites. The thief cursed as he ducked a swipe of the beast's claw. rolled to a pile of ceremonial weapons, and pulled a jeweled scimitar from its gilded sheath. He held it up prophylactically as the creature bit at him. One head caught the blade and bit clean through it. The other sunk its teeth into the thief's shoulder. Hot blood spilled out over the gold-strewn floor as the thief stifled a roar. He brought the shattered blade up and stabbed it deep into one of the beast's necks. It roared like a peal of thunder, surely waking the entire palace. Working quickly, he stabbed its neck over and over again until its eyes faded and closed. The other head snatched his sword-arm in its mouth and bit hard. The thief screamed, wrenching his arm from its mouth. He could not move his fingers, nor feel the pain he knew was there in his arm.  
   He cradled the ruby with his good hand, the other arm hanging dead at his side, and rolled between the legs of the aker. The beast wheeled to pursue, zigzagging awkwardly as its injured head hung limp from its bleeding neck. The thief knocked over a table covered with statuettes, but the aker crashed through it effortlessly. He leapt over a chest of coins and slid across the slick floor out through the open door. Guards were shuffling down the hall from both sides, leveling their polearms at the thief. The wounded aker burst through the door behind him, starling the guards for a moment. Just the moment the thief needed to act. Let them deal with each other, he thought. He sprung through the shuttered window and exploded out into the night air, plummeting toward the palace moat far below.

Today's Monster Monday is the aker, a two-headed lion often used as a guardian beast by the wealthy  and the power-hungry. With golden fur and dual slavering maws, these creatures certainly make a statement when lounging at the foot of a petty warlord's throne or chained in the gardens of an extravagant maharaja.

The inspiration for this monster came from a picture in the 2nd edition AD&D al-Qadim supplement showing a rogue sneaking into the gold-strewn chamber of a sleeping giant and confronted by a roaring two-headed lion (page 45 for those of you following along at home). As I began to stat the creature up, I realized I needed a name for it, so I searched for a mythological precedent for a two-headed lion. What I found was Aker, an Ancient Egyptian deity often depicted as two lions or a two-headed lion who protects the pharaoh from poisonous snakes. This lent some additional character to my monster, and its protective nature fit in well with the picture of it as a treasure guardian.

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

Monday, December 11, 2017

Monster Monday: Carnotaurus, the Horned Predator

Today's Monster Monday is carnotaurus, a horn-headed giant predatory dinosaur. Carnotaurs was an abelisaurid - a group of bipedal predators from the Late Cretaceous southern hemisphere who had comically small arms - smaller even than a tyrannosaurus rex. I mean, their wimpy little baby arms aren't their defining characteristic, but they are pretty noticeable.

carnotaurus reconstruction by DiBgd, altered by Steveoc 86, via Wikimedia
Little arms aside, carnotaurus was a legitimately terrifying predator. It was one of the fastest of the large theropods, capable of running up to 30 mph. It could also work its toothy mouth very quickly, delivering slashing bites to its prey. There are two main theories about how it hunted - one points to its speed and its almost snake-like jaw to suggest that the carnotaurus chased down and swallowed whole smaller prey. Another theory suggests it would dart into herds of titanosaurs and deliver dozens of quick slashing bites to the giant creature's flanks, letting them bleed out so it could feast on them later. I say: why not both?

Carnotaurus illustration by Lida Xing and Yi Liu, from this article on how carnotaurus was so fast, via Wikimedia
So what about those horns? Most theropods don't have horns like that. In fact, carnotaurus is the only one. They might have used them to ram other carnotauruses in mating displays, like rams do. They might have used them for self-defense against other predators. They might - and this is my favorite theory - have used them to clear a space around a carcass so they could feast, spiking others who tried to horn in on their spot.

In any case, the creature presented below has both bite and gore attacks, it can swallow creatures whole with its bite attack, and deliver a free bull rush attempt with its gore attack. It also has a move speed of 50 ft., the same as a horse, letting easily catch up to a group of adventurers and commence with the biting.

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

Monday, December 4, 2017

Monster Monday: Loligonian, a Mysterious Race of Squid-Folk

Today's Monster Monday is the loligonian, a race of strange, intelligent squid. In the depths of the ocean, they put their otherworldly intellect toward mastering alien magic and crafting objects of rare beauty from the sea's natural bounty. While underwater, they remain in a shape quite like a large squid, but when they move onto land they compress their bodies into a shape more fit for terrestrial locomotion - walking on six arms and rearing up into a centaur-like posture.

Loligonian language involves displays of color changing skin and intricate motions of their small feeding arms, making their speech and their spellcasting nigh-inscrutable to surface-dwellers. However, despite their mysterious character and alien mindset, these curious creatures sometimes make contact with the surface world, often to trade for resources not found in their watery territories. Surface races can gain much from dealing with these magical, deep-sea craftsmen, though it is difficult and sometimes dangerous to do so. Loligonians can be skittish, and they are well aware of their relative vulnerability on land, so inadvertently offending one can have deadly consequences.

The stat block presented below is for a generic loligonian, but they are intended to be an NPC race, with individuals leveling up in different classes (mostly wizard, fighter, cleric, and druid). A probable future post will feature loligonian-specific spells, feats, and magic items to help flesh out the loligonian race and its gameplay possibilities.

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

Monday, November 27, 2017

Monster Monday: Sword Golem, a Thousand Angry Blades

Today's Monster Monday is the sword golem, a magically animated guardian that is forged, Iron Throne-style, out of thousands of swords. This noisy construct can slice and dice its way through any obstacle, launch individual swords at distant targets, blast groups of enemies with an explosion of blades, and even discorporate and transform its body into a wall of spinning swords. In short, this is a versatile monster that can provide a challenge to seasoned adventuring parties, and which fits in well in nearly any dungeon.

The origins of this monster lie in my childhood. I distinctly recall walking through the neighborhood at night and hearing loud scraping and clanking sounds coming from the neighbor's garage, like someone was shaking a sack full of scissors. Obviously, it was just the neighbor digging through his toolbox or something, but because it was dark out (I lived in a wooded area with no streetlights) and because I was young and easily spooked, I imagined a terrible monster whose body was made out of hundreds of swords and blades, all of them scraping rustily together as it moved. The image stuck with me somehow through the succeeding decades, eventually manifesting itself in this monster.

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