Monday, April 23, 2018

Monster Monday: Mummy Wraps - The Embalming Construct

I approached the door with some trepidation, my earlier discourse with M. H-- on the subject of curses weighing heavily on my fevered mind. As a man of science, I held myself above such superstitions, but in that dark sandstone tunnel, choked with the dust of ages, such things seemed terrifyingly possible. Cuvier beckoned me examine the inscription on the door. Those inscrutable hieroglyphs remain a mystery to me, and I truly have no idea how my companion, learned though he was in such things, and quite more well-endowed with critical faculties than I, was able to derive meaning from them. Nevertheless, he did his best to explain. 'The room beyond must be the embalming chamber. Therein, the cadaver was prepared for the afterlife by the removal of the organs and the preservation of the flesh.'
   This gruesome fact was not new to me. I had, of course, read the MS by the renowned Mr. B-- of the Royal Society on the details of the process, which I have already laid out for you in great detail earlier in my account. But the idea that this place of ritual disemboweling lay just ahead of me through a foot of crumbling stone was, at the time, most disconcerting to my temper. Pallid though I was already, I am certain I grew more so at this news, though good Cuvier either did not notice or was kind enough not to remark upon it.
   Cuvier bade the workers make use of the great prybars which they had brought along for that purpose, and within the hour they had shifted the stone aside enough that we could make our ingress. Cuvier insisted on going first, and to my great and ongoing regret I let him do so with no small measure of relief on my part. He cast the light of his hooded lantern around the room, revealing what to the ancients must have been an impressive laboratory. Jars full of chemicals and unguents stood intact in chests of desiccated wood. An array of tools, equally at home in the hands of an anatomist as in those of a torturer, glinted in the light as if they were new, the dry desert air having preserved them for thousands of years without rust or decay. But in the middle of that cursed room - and I say cursed now, with full confidence and the benefit of hindsight - stood a solid stone mortuary slab topped with a tangle of ancient linen bandages. O that we had taken our leave then! But no.
   Fancying that I spied a scrap of writing on the bandages and fearing that my hands, moist from the fever and - I must admit - from nerves, might damage any ancient ink, I motioned Cuvier to take a closer look. When he did - O! If only this truly had been a fever dream! - the bandages rose up of their own accord and wrapped themselves around him. Helpless before these twining snakes of fabric, Cuvier at first stared in wonder, then tried to scream. His aborted scream, cut off by the living bandages as they covered his mouth, still chills me to my very core. With his last ounce of will, my dear companion reached out a shaking hand in a silent plea for help, but before I could grasp it, the bandages tightened and forced his arms to his sides. Before my very eyes, his skin grew brittle and taut and deathly dry. I could not help but turn away and, in my cowardice, flee headlong into the night.
   I know not how I made it out of that warren of ancient tunnels, the workers long since having fled and my only light source lying abandoned on the ground at the feet of my dead friend. Perhaps the instinct for survival alone carried my tired body back to my apartment on K-- Street. I can tell you that I did not sleep at all that night, as my thoughts were focused entirely on the arrangements I must make to leave this benighted country on the morrow. The full horror and the burden of guilt did not wash over me until that dark hour which lurks in the shadowy spaces between midnight and dawn. Alone with only my thoughts, I fancied that I perceived a dull scratching on my chamber door. I attempted to dispel the notion, but the sound grew only more persistent, its terrifying reality intruding even on my fevered and terror-stricken mind. At last, in a misplaced attempt to assuage my fears, I went to the door and opened it.
   There stood Cuvier, wrapped in those ancient linens, his skin browned with naptha and pulled tight across his bones. It is his face that still haunts me - cracked and sunken, with hollow eye sockets that could only be sightless and yet seemed so terribly perceptive. His papery lips pulled back into an accusing sneer, revealing yellowed teeth and a black tongue. I slammed shut the door immediately, and pushed my steamer trunk in front of it as a barricade. The scratching at the door came again in earnest, quickly becoming an insistent rap, and then a pounding that echoed in my ears. Abandoning my earthly possessions, I made my egress through the shuttered window and went by barge that very night to the port, with the intent of catching a ship bound northward at first light.
   I write this account from within the walls of St. S-- Asylum for the Criminally Insane, in the hopes that someone might read my words and know that, while I did not kill Dr. August Cuvier, I most certainly do not hold myself blameless in the story of his death. If his mummified body is ever recovered, I pray that whosoever finds it has the sense not to touch the bandages. 
Today's Monster Monday is mummy wraps, a dangerous construct that takes the form of spell-inscribed linen bandages with the power to wrap themselves around their victims, embalming them and turning them into mummies. While the victim's companions are presumably trying to figure out how to hit the bandages without harming their friend, the mummy wraps can control their cohort like a puppet, attacking them with their body as the victim watches helplessly.

The above vignette is written in the style of Edgar Allan Poe, albeit with fewer wordy and tortuous digressions on substitution ciphers, the value of inference, and the details of 19th century Parisian police-work. Don't ask me why, it just seemed fitting. Call it a tribute to my first DM, who kept a volume of the complete works of Poe on his shelf and insisted that it was "good fucking literature for Dungeon Masters."

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

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Monster Monday: Borovoi - Slavic Forest Spirits

Today's Monster Monday Tuesday is the borovoi, a Russian forest spirit, trickster, and caller of storms. Borovoi are giant fey creatures who rule over large stretches of forest. They delight in leading travelers astray and then demanding heavy ransoms for returning them to safety. When angered, they bring down the fury of a winter storm on their enemies, and summon forth the wolves and bears of the forest to tear them to pieces.

Illustration from 1906 cover of Leshy Magazine No1, via Wikimedia
A more common name for these beings is leshy or leshii, but that name is already taken by a group of monsters in Pathfinder - tiny, adorable little plant constructs that look like topiary fanart of Sackboy from Little Big Planet. Why the name of a badass, godlike giant Slavic forest trickster was given to a bunch of little leafy dudes is beyond me (probably someone needed a name so they just looked through a thesaurus instead of doing research or making something up). These diminutive construct 'leshys' (why not 'leshies' - as English linguistics would suggest - or 'leshiye' - a transliteration of the actual Russian plural?) show up a lot in Pathfinder: Ultimate Wilderness, which reminded me that I needed to stat up proper leshies. The name 'borovoi' - one of several alternate names for the leshy - means 'man of the forest'.

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

Monday, April 9, 2018

Monster Monday: Qishilong, the Chinese Chimaera

Today's Monster Monday is the qishilong, a chimaera of Chinese mythical creatures that serves as a powerful guardian and master of the four elements. One head is that of the qilin (or kirin), the so-called 'Asian unicorn' which gallops through the air on flaming hooves. The second head is of the shishi, or guardian lion (also known as a foo-dog), omnipresent guardians of palaces and temples throughout East Asia. The third head is of a Chinese dragon, or long (imperial dragon).

The qishilong is not itself a being of Chinese mythology, merely a creation of my own inspired by Chinese mythology. Chimaeras are inherently weird, and it is pretty fun to come up with ideas for new types of them.

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

Monday, April 2, 2018

Monster Monday: Giant Woodpecker

Today's Monster Monday is the giant woodpecker, and no this isn't my April Fools Day post. The giant woodpecker is a seven foot tall monster of a bird that uses its powerful beak to crack open the shells of the giant insects that roam nearly every fantasy campaign setting. But just as real, normal sized woodpeckers sometimes get a little too hungry and crack open the skulls of other birds to get at their tasty brains (yes, this is a thing that they do), giant woodpeckers will sometimes pin down and drill into larger prey, including humans.

I cranked that illustration out in about 2.5 hours, so sorry the human victim there looks more like a character from a bad mid-2000s webcomic than an actual human. I promise I can draw humans sometimes. But check out that rad woodpecker, huh? Beautiful plumage.

The inspiration for this monster came from two fronts. One: I was reading The Urban Bestiary by master birder Lyanda Lynn Haupt, and two: I was contemplating playing the Mouse Guard RPG. When those two trains of thought collided, I of course thought of how terrifying it would be to face a giant woodpecker in battle.

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

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Gaming with Cats: A Guide to Life with Furry Dice-Thieves

If you are a cat owner and a gamer, you know that the fuzzy bundles of purr that we so enjoy can suddenly become agents of chaos on the tabletop. Whether they are playfully batting your dice away, chewing the sword arms off your minis, or sneaking a bite of pizza while everyone is distracted, cats can be a real nuisance at the tabletop. But they don't have to be!

Today is the five year anniversary of d20 Despot, and to celebrate it, I'll be co-writing this post with my lovely cat, Ishtar. Aside from stealing my dice and destroying my minis, she also loves to walk across my keyboard while I type and fall asleep on my reference books when I'm statting up monsters. Together, we will share some tips and tricks for keeping your cat at bay while your game is in session, and - if worse comes to worse - even integrating the cat's interference into the game with a new set of rigorously playtested rules for feline intervention.

Keeping Your Cat Away

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Which brings me to my next point:

Cat-Disaster Management


When the cat does end up interfering, you often find yourself scrambling to fix your elaborate miniatures layout and recover scattered dsniflgfcdxxzhmjujkmmnioplo09p/ /////////ice. Now, the players should trust you to be able to set things back to rights, but at times, you may not remember where a given mini was situated, and this can have a real impact on the course of a fight. That leads me to these new rules for feline intervention that should keep the encounter going withouetuhp.56 7eyp;u79 ?IO
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Monday, March 26, 2018

War for the Plane of the Apes: Man-Ape, Simian Killing Machine

Today's Monster Monday is part IV of our month-long series about apes. Today, we take a look at the creature that kicked off my month-long crusade to re-stat the great apes. The man-ape is a savage creature combining the raw strength of an ape with the upright gait and fighting ability of a human. They look like something halfway between a shaved gorilla and a Silly Putty sculpture of Vin Diesel.

If you have read some of the original Conan stories, you have probably encountered a man-ape of some sort. Take, for example, this totally rad Frank Frazetta painting of Conan fighting one:

painting by the late Frank Frazetta
It is worth talking about why Conan occasionally encountered and fought these evolutionary dead ends. Robert E. Howard's worldview was very anti-civilization. He believed that civilization made men soft, weak, and corrupt, while the savage life of the barbarian kept men virile, strong, and true. He was also convinced that mankind was trapped in a cycle of civilization and destruction. His Conan stories are set in the fictional Hyborean Age that existed after the collapse of the Atlantean civilization and before the rise of historical civilizations like Egypt and Sumeria. At the same time, Howard lived in a time when evolution was not well understood, and racist pseudo-sciences like eugenics were popular (along with regular old unvarnished racism). In his description of the Hyborean Age, Howard essentially describes how each of the earth's races evolved from different types of apes at various points in prehistory (including Northern European white people, who he hilariously describes as having evolved from 'snow apes' north of the Arctic Circle).

This is problematic for a number of reasons - mostly that it is wrong and also racist. What it means for the world of Conan is that the races of mankind are: 1) different enough from each other that their closest common ancestors are not humans, and 2) that people of the Hyborean Age are barely removed from savage apes. Conan himself, as Howard's ideal man, is so powerful and brutish that he can face off against one of these gorilla-like proto-humans one-on-one and defeat it. They represent the true, sub-human savagery that Conan comes from, and that he is separated from only by his sharp wits and Cimmerian good looks.

Now you know some of the weird, racist backstory of man-apes in the world of Conan. But I trust you can come up with a decidedly non-racist reason for them to exist in your own campaign setting. It's actually way easier to do that than to follow Howard's tortuous path. Like, you can just say a wizard did it. That always works.

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

Monday, March 19, 2018

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

Today's Monster Monday is part III 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.