Monday, June 18, 2018

Monster Monday: Giant Ground Bat - Nocturnal Predator

Today's Monster Monday is the giant ground bat, a wolf-sized nocturnal predator that hunts by echolocation. This is a perfect low-level monster for a campaign with a Gothic horror atmosphere. I mean, a giant vampire bat that runs like a wolf? That is 100% something you would run into after your mysterious coachman lets you off at the foot of a twisting road up a darkly forested mountain, saying "That's as far as I can take you, but I'd suggest you get back in the coach and return to town with me. No good can come from going up to that castle. It's cursed, I tell you! Cursed!"

I would have made an illustration for this creature, but nothing I could have drawn or digitally painted would be as cool or terror-inducing as this mounted vampire bat skeleton:

Photo and mounted skeleton by Mokele, via Wikimedia
The direct inspiration for this monster came from an article I was reading about a new species of fossil bat discovered in New Zealand. Check out that rad ground bat illustration in the article. Yeah, apparently ground bats are a thing. They do actually have wings though, they just also spend a lot of time on the ground. Combine that with the future predators from Primeval and maybe a dash of the Varghulf from Warhammer Fantasy and you've got yourself a giant ground bat.

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

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Monster Monday: Xiphactinus, Prehistoric Monster Fish

Today's Monster Monday is xiphactinus, a giant prehistoric monster fish known for swallowing other large fish whole. These ugly fish reached lengths of 15 to 20 feet and swam the seas of the Late Cretaceous, when Tyrannosaurus was roaming the land.

Xiphactinus audax life restoration by ДиБгд, via Wikimedia
It's no secret that I am a fan of prehistoric sea life. Xiphactinus may not be as well-known as, say, ichthyosaurus, but its fossils certainly leave an impression. Not only are they big and mean looking, with those upturned, toothy maws, but they often show another pretty big fish trapped within the fossil ribs of the xiphactinus. Of course it can swallow an adventurer whole. And we know they didn't just settle for prey "small" enough to swallow - a 20 ft. xiphactinus fossil found in Canada in 2010 had the flipper of a mosasaur in its jaws.

photo by Spacini, via Wikimedia
Xiphactinus audax with a delicious Gillicus arcuatus in its stomach.
Fossils on display at the Sternberg Museum of Natural History in Hays, Kansas
This also marks d20 Despot's first monster that starts with an 'X'. My patrons on Patreon know that it won't be the last: coming up fairly soon, we have another 'X' monster, this one from Aztec mythology.

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

Monday, June 4, 2018

Monster Monday: Whip Scorpion & Pseudoscorpion

Today's Monster Monday is all about things that are called scorpions but which aren't actually scorpions. Whip scorpions are arachnids that spray acid from their butts, and pseudoscorpions have poisonous claws but no tails. They are both really small, but because this is a fantasy RPG I made them big and threatening.

This post contains pictures of arachnids. I know most arachnophobic people are okay with seeing scorpions but not okay with seeing spiders, but these guys fall somewhere in between on the spectrum. Personally, I cannot look at pictures of spiders, but for some reason I can see pictures of spider-like arachnids like harvestmen and solifugids with little discomfort. But still, these non-scorpions might be a little too spidery for some people. For the benefit of people scrolling through the main site, I will be putting the page break here instead of right before the stat blocks as I usually do. Click through for more information on these two rarely-discussed types of arachnids and to see pictures of them.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Monster Monday: Gelatinous Hypercube - The Slime Out of Time

Today's Monster Monday is the gelatinous hypercube, an ooze from the astral plane that has become untethered from causality. To the eyes of those who travel forward through time at a constant rate and for whom actions precede reactions (that is to say, most mortals), gelatinous hypercubes seem to rapidly shift between different versions of themselves, often jumping around erratically in space as they appear at random points on their personal timelines. Those engulfed by the gelatinous hypercube find themselves frozen in time and rapidly aged or de-aged at random.

Yeah, it's sort of a joke monster, but gelatinous cubes are sort of joke monsters too.

tesseract gif by Jason Hise via Wikimedia
A gelatinous hypercube prowls the astral sea
The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2018 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Monster Monday: Tasmanian Devil & Dire Tasmanian Devil

Today's Monster Monday is the Tasmanian devil and the dire Tasmanian devil. Sometimes called the "marsupial wolverine" by me and at least one other person, Tasmanian devils are fierce little critters from the island of Tasmania off the south coast of Australia. At about 2 feet long, the Tasmanian devil is the largest living marsupial carnivore. They may not be big, but their jaws are so strong that these guys can eat bones. They just munch 'em down like it's no big deal, even though whenever I try to eat a chicken wing bone my dentist yells at me.

photo by Mike Lehmann, via Wikimedia
So cute! Does it really deserve to be called a devil?
The devils got their name because, when they get together at night to feast on a delicious carcass, they let out terrifying screeches. When white settlers in Tasmania heard unearthly howls and crunching bones coming out of the already none-too-friendly Australian night, they thought that was fairly devil-like. They usually eat carrion, but they can take down prey when they need to - they can even take down a small kangaroo if pressed.

What about the dire Tasmanian devil? A lot of dire animals in D&D and fantasy in general are based on actual prehistoric creatures. This started with the dire wolf, canis dirus, which was a slightly bigger than normal wolves. Fantasy game designers ran with the exciting 'dire' descriptor and applied it to a slew of prehistoric animals like the short-faced bear and irish elk. They didn't stop there, though, creating 'dire' versions of animals with no real prehistoric equivalent, like dire weasels and dire badgers. The dire Tasmanian devil is one of the latter. Although there were larger prehistoric devils in Australia, Sarcophilus laniarius, they were only slightly larger than modern devils, not five feet long like the dire Tasmanian devil below. I took some creative license because I like 'dire' animals.

Tasmanian devil skull. Nice teeth.
I've been using the name 'Tasmanian devil' a lot in this post, but you won't see it in the stat block below. Why? Let's talk some more about real-world names in fantasy worlds. I mentioned back in my titanosaur post how names that reference real-world places (like the Argentinosaurus from Argentina) don't really work in a fantasy world. The Tasmanian devil finds itself in a very similar situation, given that most fantasy worlds do not have an island called Tasmania, let alone the Dutch explorer Abel Janszoon Tasman for whom the island was named. Take away 'Tasmanian' and you are left with just 'devil', which is rather broad and pretty confusing, especially in a world where real extraplanar devils exist.

I ran through several potential alternative names before settling down on one. 'Devil quoll' sort of works - quolls are a related cat-sized marsupial carnivore that are smaller and less bitey than Tasmanian devils, but if I named it 'devil quoll' I'd have to explain what quolls are. 'Marsupial devil' gets the idea across fairly well, but it also conjures up images of Satan with a pouch full of babies on his tummy. Its genus, sarcophilus, sounds pretty cool but it sounds more like a dinosaur than a fuzzy little guy. Eventually I settled on 'tarrabah', which is one of the Tasmanian Aboriginal names for the creature recorded by early white settlers, along with 'poirinnah' and 'par-loo-mer-rer' - I went with tarrabah because it starts with a 't' like Tasmanian devil. If you incorporate it into your campaign (and boy have I been giving a lot of thought to an Australian-inspired fantasy world), call it by any of those names or none of them.

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

Monday, May 14, 2018

Monster Monday: Bellwether - It Tolls for Thee

Today's Monster Monday is the bellwether, a black ram with a large bronze bell in place of its head. This harbinger of doom delivers blasts of pummeling sonic energy with every toll, leaving its targets shaken. If the bellwether is not stopped before it tolls thirteen times, all who hear its final bell are cursed, and the surrounding land is left blighted.

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

Monday, May 7, 2018

Monster Monday: Termite Mound Guardian, a Swarm-Filled Construct

Today's Monster Monday is the termite mound guardian, a druidic construct full of swarming, biting termites. Crafted from the gigantic termite mounds found in the tropical regions of the world, these stalwart defenders are often created to protect villages, natural resources, or sacred spaces. From a distance, they appear to be ordinary termite mounds, but when interlopers approach, they rise out of the ground, taking on a roughly humanoid form. A flood of angry termites pours from a thousand tiny tunnels throughout its body, massing against the enemy, while other warrior termites take up defensive positions along the mound's body, ready to bite any who make contact with it.

5 meter high Cathedral Termite Mound - Litchfield National Park, Northern Territory, Australia
I like the idea that there is a whole range of naturalistic constructs that only druids can make. Like, if a wizard saw a termite mound guardian, they might think, "Why not just make a clay golem?" But druids see these as something that augments and complements nature, where golems are something that contravenes the natural order.

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