Monday, August 24, 2015

Monster Monday: Giant Otter and Dobarcu

For today's Monster Monday, we've got two big otters.  The giant otter is a man-sized Amazonian animal known to eat piranhas, black caiman, and anacondas (and now it can be your animal companion!).  The dobarcu, or otter king, is a bloodthirsty creature from Irish folklore that hunts the most dangerous game - man!

Photo: Frank Wouters via Wikimedia
I first learned of giant otters from a professor of mine who told stories about his research studying black caimans in the Amazon.  He mentioned that it was dangerous to go bathing or swimming there, not so much because of the caimans or the piranhas, but because of the giant otters.  They're fast and deadly, and they like to gang up on larger prey.  Modern giant otters range from 3.3 to 5.6 ft. in length, but before they were overhunted for their fur, large males could reach 7.9 ft.

Dobhar-cú (water hound) is the Irish word for otter, but folklorists and cryptozoologists (folklore enthusiasts who pretend to be scientists) use it (or the anglicized form 'dobarcu') to refer to a little-known creature from Irish mythology.  Also known as otter kings or an Irish crocodiles, there are stories of monstrous otters thinly spread all over Ireland and nearby islands.  The most famous and most detailed account goes thus:
In 1722, in Glenade (County Leitrim, Ireland), a woman washing laundry in the stream was attacked by a great beast.  Her husband went looking for her and found the dobhar-cú resting on her mangled and bloody body.  He grabbed his gun and shot it, but as it died it cried out for its mate, who came rushing up from the water looking for vengeance.  The man (perhaps with his dead wife's brother) fled on horseback to a nearby town 20 miles away, but the monster pursued him (or them) and he (or the brother) stabbed it with a spear (or dagger).  
The victim's tombstone still survives, with a carving of the monster getting stabbed:

No, it's not - as I first though - a dire scotty dog:
the bit at the front is a disembodied hand stabbing the beast.
Other accounts of dobarcu give its strange white-and-black coat, the fact that it can only be killed with silver like a werewolf, the idea that the beast's hide protects its wearer from drowning, and the story that anyone who kills a dobarcu will die the next day.

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2015 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Improved Armor Tables Part 1 - Hide and Chitin

The ultimate expression of victory over a monster is not killing it or taking its treasure - it's making armor out of its hide.  Adventurers are bound to come across all sorts of interesting and thickly armored creatures that they might want to turn into armor - not only is it an excellent trophy of your victory, but it is also a great way to add a dash of unique flair to your character's look.  After all, who is going to forget the grizzled dwarven hero decked out in black beetle armor, or the salty sea captain wearing a cuirass made from the rubbery hide of a giant squid?

Presented here are rules for creating both hide and chitin armor with variable levels of protection depending on the natural armor bonus of the creature they come from.  After all, mammoth hide should be stronger and heavier than wolf hide, and ankheg armor is going to be more protective than a cave fisher breastplate.

The following rules in gold and their accompanying tables are available as Open Game Content under the OGL.  Open Game Content is ©2015 Jonah Bomgaars and d20 Despot.

Monday, August 10, 2015

GotWK Campaign Part 6: Chugga Chugga Choo Choo!

This is an account of part 6 of my ongoing campaign set in my homebrewed wild west setting, Guns of the Western Kings.  Get caught up with the previous parts here.

Previously, on Guns of the Western Kings: The party was caught in a conflict between a mining company seeking to re-open the Sunbeam Silver Mine and a tribe of elves who  guarded the mountain and claimed that mining there would unleash a great evil on the world.  In the midst of this, they took a side-quest to investigate a mysterious ore coming out of a Dwarven settlement.  There they met a new party member, Theodore the adventurous businessman, but they also discovered what it was like to careen down a subterranean river on a broken-down paddle-boat.  They ended up in the desert far to the south, and worked their way northwards via an exciting and dangerous cattle drive.  As they approached the city of Templeton, where they intended to catch a train, they noticed they were being followed by a group of canine-headed humanoids who always stayed just outside of rifle range.

And now:

After selling a load of accumulated goods in Templeton, including gnomish grave goods and a giant rattlesnake skin, the brave band of adventurers buys train tickets up to Fort Crawdon, hoping to finally get their plans back on track.  Heather especially was looking forward to it, since their adventures had taken her far away from the area where she was hoping to find her missing daughter.  It is a short train - two boxcars, two passenger cars, and a caboose.  Theodore's horse, Bucephalus, rides in one of the boxcars. Bjorn and Falco ride with the incapacitated Dawne and Ash in the frontmost boxcar, as the railroad wouldn't allow the tomb-cursed duo to sit in the passenger cars.  Heather, Theodore, Gudguníis, and Rusty take their seats in the passenger cars and the train chugs northward through the prairie.

Rusty was the first to notice a rider out the window - a lithe humanoid with the head of a coyote, armed to the teeth and riding with purpose.  He recognizes it as a wayaha, a race of roguish tricksters native to these lands.  Although the wayaha are a tribal people, they are quick to take up new ways of life, and many have been drawn to the way of the gun and become bandits and rustlers.  Gudguníis grabs his rifle and rushes to the back of the train, hoping to pick them off from the caboose, but as he passes into the second passenger car he sees the door to the caboose slide open and a coyote snout poke around it.  The wayaha bandit steps into the train car, brandishing a pistol, and calls out, "Your money or your life!" before Gudguníis blasts him with his rifle.  The coyote-man slumps back against a train bench, clutching his chest wound, fires off a shot at the half-elf rogue that misses by a foot, and collapses to the floor.  The door to the car slams back open and a burly, tough wayaha warrior, bristling with orangish fur, muscles his way in and blasts at Gudguníis with his shotgun.  Heather rushes into the car behind the half-elf and dives for cover behind a bench, calling out to the cowering civilians in the car to stay behind cover or flee to the next car.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

History vs. Fantasy: The Plight of the Gaming Medievalist

Readers, there is something that has been weighing heavily on my conscience for a long while now, and I think it's time I finally came clean:


Chainmail is just called mail!  Studded leather armor doesn't exist!  Longswords and greatswords are the same thing; what you call a longsword is actually an arming sword!

Whew, glad to get that off my chest.  Now let me explain...

As an avid tabletop fantasy RPG player and a bona fide medievalist, I often find myself torn between two worlds.  On the one hand, I know that the magical and imaginative world(s) of Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder are not - and should never be - accurate simulations of the medieval world that they imitate, if only for the fact that magic and dragons and orcs never existed.  On the other hand, I know that the key to good worldbuilding is to ground your world to some extent in reality, and for me the best way to do that is to use what I know of medieval history as a foundation to build upon.  Since I literally know more about medieval history than 99% of the population (even if I am toward the bottom of that 1%), I sometimes come across pieces of the game - be they rules, items, lore, or what-have-you - that strike me as, for lack of a better term, innacurate.  I sometimes find it difficult to take off my historian hat and put on my fantasy hat.  Can't I just mash them together into some sort of awesome new hat?

by DucttapeNinja at Instructables
This baby would have really helped me study for my Latin final
History is not fantasy, and fantasy is not history.  But that doesn't mean that the two are mutually exclusive.*  No one thinks the events of Game of Thrones are actual historical events (at least I hope they don't), yet it frequently becomes a point on which medievalists and the general public engage with each other about actual medieval history.  No spoilers, but toward the end of Season 5 of the show, an event happened which ignited much debate across the internet, including much discussion about whether the event in question was historically accurate.  This - again - despite the fact that Game of Thrones is a fictional story set in a fantasy world that no one believes is real.  Why?  Because actual medieval history informs Game of Thrones and - to a much greater extent - A Song of Ice and Fire, and that worldbuilding foundation makes George "Reading Rainbow" Martin's fictional world so much more compelling than, say, Generic Fantasy World 27B1X.  A Song of Ice and Fire is, at some level, a meditation on the nature of power, so it makes sense to set it in a world of feudal obligation where a ruler's ability to garner support is dependent on his personal relationships and his attempts to please his barons.  This sort of 'realistic' fantasy, set in a world that owes more to the Middle Ages than to Middle Earth, has really struck a chord with people, and as a fan of both fantasy and medieval history, I couldn't be happier.