Monday, March 19, 2018

Dawn of the Plane of the Apes: Gigantopithecus, Dire Ape

Today's Monster Monday is part II of our month-long series about apes. This week, we're looking at the dire ape, or gigantopithecus. Gigantopithecus stood nearly 10 feet tall at full extension, making it a gigantic hulk of an ape. Older depictions of gigantopithecus often make it look like a giant gorilla, but the closest living relative of this giant Asian ape is actually the orangutan.

Gigantopithecus blacki, by KaekArt, via Wikimedia
We don't have a lot of fossils of gigantopithecus - mostly teeth from caves in China, India, and Vietnam. One thing missing are its pelvic bones, so we don't know for sure whether it walked upright like a human or on all fours like most apes. Given its bulk and the rarity of upright locomotion, it seems most likely that it used its arms and legs to walk, like a gorilla. But that hasn't stopped cryptozoologists from speculating (unfounded speculation is what they do, after all) that relic populations of gigantopithecus are responsible for sightings of sasquatches and yeti. That is, of course, dumb, but it is a gigantopithecus fun fact.

Since I reworked chimpanzees, orangutans, and gorillas, I had to rework the dire ape as well. As previously statted up, the dire ape was a CR 3 monster with 19 Strength. That would make them less powerful than my gorillas. Heck, it puts this giant ape roughly on par with a walrus. So the new dire ape is a CR 6 monster with 23 Strength. It has two slams, a bite attack, and rend. In combat, the gigantopithecus will bring its incredible strength to bear on any attackers, rending them limb from limb.

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

Monday, March 12, 2018

Return to the Plane of the Apes: Gorilla & Silverback

Today's Monster Monday is part II of our month-long series about apes. This week, we're presenting the gorilla and the silverback. Gorillas are the largest of the apes, though our imaginations often inflate their size. Although gorillas are gentle, intelligent, social animals, they are also territorial. When angered or threatened, they can put their incredible strength to good use, slamming their rivals with their massive arms gouging enemies with their strong, sharp teeth.

Each troop of gorillas is led by a dominant male called a silverback, who is always the largest and strongest of the troop. Most of the time, the silverback is the only male in the troop, though sometimes he has a cadre of adult male warriors at his command, called blackbacks. Because the silverback is so important to gorilla society, and because they are physically more powerful and more dangerous than other gorillas, I thought they deserved their own stat block.

Silverback gorilla. Photo by Pierre Fidenci, via Wikimedia
You may know that the scientific name for the western gorilla is Gorilla gorilla, but do you know where the word gorilla comes from? It is a Greek translation of a Carthaginian Phoenician interpretation of an unknown West African word that may not have even referred to gorillas. According to Herodotus, around 500 BC the Carthaginian explorer Hanno the Navigator sailed down the coast of West Africa, encountering tribes of people, exploring strange islands and lakes, and founding settlements. After passing by a country devastated by forest fires or a volcano, he encountered gorillas:
On the third day after our departure thence, having sailed by those streams of fire, we arrived at a bay called the Southern Horn; at the bottom of which lay an island like the former, having a lake, and in this lake another island, full of savage people, the greater part of whom were women, whose bodies were hairy, and whom our interpreters called Gorillae. Though we pursued the men we could not seize any of them; but all fled from us, escaping over the precipices, and defending themselves with stones. Three women were however taken; but they attacked their conductors with their teeth and hands, and could not be prevailed upon to accompany us. Having killed them, we flayed them, and brought their skins with us to Carthage. 
It is open to debate whether the apes Hanno and his men encountered were gorillas or chimpanzees, or if this incident even occurred, but that is ultimately where we get the name 'gorilla'.

From our first recorded encounter with gorillas (though Hanno's was obviously far from the first encounter), our two species have had a troubled co-existance. Today we recognize the importance of protecting these gentle giants, but past humans - especially past Europeans - haven't been so charitable. In that light, gorillas can certainly serve as a formidable foe in any campaign where they are encountered.

via Bayerische Staatsbibliothek and Wikimedia
Pictured: Almost certainly not how this encounter happened
I should point out that both gorillas and chimpanzees are quadrupedal, rising to their hind legs only rarely. Chimpanzees can move a bit on their hind legs, but gorillas can only rear up. As such, I have given these apes the +4 to CMD vs trip attempts that quadrupedal creatures are entitled to, and that they were not given when they were originally statted up for Pathfinder.

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

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Plane of the Apes, Part I: Chimpanzees and Orangutans

I hope y'all like apes, because this month's Monster Mondays are all ape related. I'll explain why in a moment, but first: Today's Monster Monday (yes, I know it's Tuesday) is the chimpanzee and the orangutan. Both of these great apes are intelligent, tool-using forest dwellers. While orangutans are typically loners, chimpanzees have a complex social structure. Chimps will even form hunting parties and sometimes engage in inter-troop warfare.

Orangutan photo by David Arvidsson, via Wikimedia / Chimpanzee photo by Hans Hillewaert, via Wikimedia
At this point, some of you may be wondering, "Hey, but chimpanzees and orangutans are already statted up for Pathfinder. So are gorillas and gigantopitheci, two of the other apes I determined you were going to be profiling either by guessing, reading ahead, or through use of my own psychic powers. So why are you statting them up again?" A fair question. Several months ago, I set out to stat up a man-ape - the sort of monstrous beast that Conan might fight in a rad Frank Frazetta painting or an equally rad but problematically racist Conan short story. In so doing, I checked the pre-existing stat blocks for several apes in order to get a baseline to work off of. What I found was a bit of a mess. According to their stat blocks, chimpanzees and orangutans have 11 Strength - roughly what an average peasant NPC might have. If you know anything about apes, you know this is wrong. Chimps and orangutans have incredibly strong arm muscles. Like Kickpuncher, their punches have the power of kicks. In fact, unless you are pals with Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, adult chimpanzees are probably stronger than anyone you've ever met. The much stronger gorilla has a Strength score of 15, which you might recognize as the roll you got for your fighter's Strength shortly before the GM let you re-roll.

So I set to work doing what RPG nerds do best - pedantically correcting the products of hard-working professional game designers. I did some research into the strength of apes, the many attempts to measure ape strength compared to humans and the assorted downfalls of such trial methods. I read about how apes defend themselves in the wild, and what parts of their body they use when attacking each other. I looked at Wikipedia and saw that gorillas are usually 4'11"-5'11" tall, putting them squarely in the Medium size category, not Large as they had been statted up. I went to a zoo and stood next to a gorilla and confirmed that no, they are not as big as horses. I took all of this knowledge and used it to give you this wonderful month full of apes.

Next week, we will Return to the Plane of the Apes with the gorilla and silverback gorilla, then we'll journey Beneath the Plane of the Apes to dig up the aptly named gigantopithecus, also known as the Dire Ape. Finally, we'll witness the War for the Plane of the Apes with the terrifying and monstrous Man-Ape. But first, let's look at those stat blocks for the chimpanzee and orangutan.

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

Monday, February 26, 2018

Monster Monday: Feral Hivemind, Abomination of the Gutter

Today's Monster Monday is the feral hivemind, an insidious urban aberration that uses psychic parasites to turn a city's population of feral animals into an army of mindless thralls. The feral hivemind appears to be made out of scraps of the animals that is dominates, connected by lumps of pulsing brain matter and strange alien flesh. Because few city dwellers take note of the wild animals living in their midst, a feral hivemind infestation often goes unnoticed until it is too late.

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

Monday, February 19, 2018

Monster Monday: Skimmers (Part 2) - Flying Jellyfish

Today's Monster Monday is part two of our exclusive exposé of flying electric jellyfish and how cool they are. Last week we talked about the man-sized skimmer and the smaller, bloodsucking crimson skimmer. This week we're going bigger:

Cloud jelly and birdcatcher skimmer
The birdcatcher skimmer is almost transparent, floating through the sky on ocean-bourne winds and snaring seabirds in its shocking tentacles. The cloud jelly is the largest of the skimmers, looking somewhat like a small cloud trailing rain. It may not be a storm cloud, but its tentacles pack an electric punch.

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

Monday, February 12, 2018

Monster Monday: Skimmers (Part 1) - Flying Jellyfish

Today's Monster Monday is part one of a two-parter featuring different types of flying jellyfish, called skimmers. This week, we'll look at the Medium-sized common skimmer, which glides over the surface of the ocean and stuns its prey with jolts of electricity. We'll also see the smaller crimson skimmer, which latches on to its prey with blood-sucking tentacles.

Common Skimmer and Crimson Skimmer
These gelatinous predators drift on the wind, with only a minimum of control over their speed and direction. They can jet out of danger by suddenly releasing the gas from their sacs, but for the most part they are adrift in the air currents, like true jellyfish are in water. Things get hairy when a bloom of skimmers collides with a ship, or gets blown onto shore. When the wind so favors them, they supplement their normal diet of fish and seabirds with the flesh and blood of hapless sailors and fishermen.

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

Monday, February 5, 2018

Monster Monday: Holly King, Protector of the Winter Wood

Today's Monster Monday is the holly king, winter's answer to the verdant green man of spring. The holly king is a man of twisted holly wood with a cloak and crown of spiny leaves and red berries. Squirrels and small birds flit about him, taking shelter among his branches. Travelers finding themselves lost in the wilderness may receive aid from a holly king, but those who despoil the wilderness or abuse the forest's hospitality will find themselves on the receiving end of a holly king's druidic wrath.

photo by Erich Ferdinand, via Wikimedia

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