Monday, December 19, 2016

Monster Monday: Living Grimoire, the Animated Spellbook

"That's no librarian," Jhonto whispered, gesturing with the point of his blade at the brown-robed figure slouched over the writing desk, steadily scribbling away at a tremendous manuscript.  "No one's set foot in this library for a century."

"I didn't mean... it could be a, like, librarian golem.  Or undead.  Or just a really old wizard.  I'm just saying, it couldn't hurt to ask."

"It can always hurt to ask," Jhonto muttered.  But looking around, it was clear that the party had already decided.  As the party's face, it was his responsibility.  He took a tentative step toward the desk and cleared his throat.

"Shhhhhh!"  The librarian didn't even look up from its book.

He tried again, taking two more confident steps forward.  "Excuse me, I was wonderi-"

"SHHHHHH!"  The librarian looked up, one skeletal finger pressed against its lipless mouth, glowing yellow lights burning in its cracked eyesockets.  In a rush of air, the skeletal monk and his desk and the bookshelves and Jhonto's companions all disappeared.  Jhonto clasped his head and stifled the urge to vomit - that queasy feeling he got every time he teleported.  The only light now came from his glowing sword, its pale blue nimbus flickering across the spines of hundreds of dusty tomes and scroll cases.  So he was still somewhere in the library.

"Guys?" he gave an exploratory shout.  Then louder: "GUYS?"  No response.  "All right, I guess I'm on my own then.  Just you and me, Nightcleaver."  He flicked his sword lightly through the air as if it were responding to him.  A glimmer of reflected light caught his eye.  One of the books was bound in silver with inset gems.  "Is this...  Did that crusty old librarian send me to the right place after all?"  He reached out for the book, but just as his finger brushed the spine, it shot off the shelf, its ornate cover flapping like the most awkward pair of wings.  Reams of yellowing paper - seemingly more than the book contained - flew out of the book and swirled about it in a whirlwind, expanding to engulf Jhonto.  The paper edges cut at his face and hands like knives.  The book was glowing from within now, brighter than Nightcleaver.  Abruptly, it turned to face Jhonto and opened to a specific page.  Swirling orange runes lifted off the page and hovered in the air before exploding in a blast of force that knocked Jhonto back against a stack, sending lesser scrolls showering off the top shelf.

"Oh, your gonna get it now, book!"  Staggering to his feet, he clasped his amulet and thrust it forward.  Seven glowing pink missiles shot out, arcing toward the hovering book, but seven floating sheets of paper moved automatically to block them.  "What the... Oh come on!"  He squared himself, took Nightcleaver in both hands, and charged the book.  It blasted him with a spray of clashing magical colors, but he ploughed through, bursting into the storm of swirling pages and cleaving into the offending tome.

When the rest of the party found him, he was fire-scorched and bleeding from a hundred shallow cuts, hunched in the middle of a mess of old papers, his sword thrust clean through a bejeweled grimoire.  The ruined shelves around him, blasted apart with countless spells, spoke of a long and furious battle, but all he said when they appeared was, "Couldn't hurt to ask, huh?"

Today's Monster Monday is the living grimoire, an animated spellbook that flies in a swirling cloud of paper and unleashes the spells inscribed on its pages.  Included below is an example Caster Level 1 living grimoire, along with rules for creating any living grimoire from Caster Level 1 to 20.

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2016 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Monster Monday: Asag, the Rock Demon

Today's Monster Monday is the asag, a rock demon of Sumerian mythology that could wake the very stones of the earth and add them to his army.

The Asag (á-sàg, meaning 'disorder'), appears as an antagonist in the ancient Sumerian story lugal-e, also known as Ninurta's Exploits.  Asag is a hideous creature of rock chosen as the champion to lead the Mountains in revolt against the Plains.  He has sex with the mountains to produce an army of rocks, which he uses to destroy the cities and creatures of the plains.  When the gods receive word of Asag's campaign of destruction, they select Ninurta - god of thunderstorms, floods, and war - to defeat him.  Ninurta sends his magic talking and flying mace, Sharur (the earliest legendary weapon preserved in myth) to scout out the situation, and Sharur reports back that Asag is a foe beyond even the might of Ninurta.  Not to be discouraged, Ninurta goes to face Asag anyways.  Asag pelts him with stones, delivers mighty blows that cut deep furrows into the earth, uproots forests, and assails Ninurta with landslides, forcing the storm god to retreat.

With their mightiest champion defeated, the gods despair.  The cities of the plains lie open to assault by the hideous Asag, whose very presence causes fish to boil alive in their ponds, and his army of unstoppable stone progeny.  Sharur flies off for one last desperate consultation with Ninurta's father, the god Enlil.  Enlil suggests that Ninurta soften Asag up with a divine rainstorm.  Ninurta turns the full power of his storm on Asag and just barely manages to hold him off while the hard rains do their work.  Finally, Asag's body is softened enough that Ninurta can drive his spear into it.  He strikes Asag right in the family jewels, delivering a mortal wound and taking away the demon's ability to produce more rocky offspring.

With the revolt of the mountains finally crushed, Ninurta orders the stones of the earth, punishing the rocks that were most loyal to Ninurta (like basalt, which is sentenced to become molds for goldsmiths, and limestone, which must be used as foundations for buildings on muddy ground), and rewarding those rocks which remained neutral (like lapis lazuli, which would be valued and used in art and dyes, or diorite, which would be turned into statues of kings and gods).  Finally, he tames the wild streams of the mountains and causes them to flow down into the lowlands and irrigate the fields, filling canals made with the rocks that were Asag's children.

The asag I have statted up below might not pose a challenge for the mighty Ninurta, but it should definitely make for an interesting battle for a group of seasoned adventurers.  With spell-like abilities like wall of stone, expeditious excavation, transmute rock to mud, and spike stones, the asag can define the area of battle and shape it to the adventurers' disadvantage.  And because it can awaken nearby rocks as earth elementals at will, it will always have an army of rocks to do its bidding and run interference for it while it softens up the adventurers from behind with thrown rocks and stone call.

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2016 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Monster Monday: Trecouche, A Crabomination

Today's Monster Monday is the trecouche, a crab-like river beast that walks on dozens of pincers and drags its unsuspecting victims down into the muddy depths.  The trecouche (or traîcousse) is a creature of obscure Franco-Belgian folklore, used to frighten children from straying too near dangerous bodies of water.

I discovered the traîcousse through the excellent blog, A Book of Creatures, a site that collects and illustrates the cool, obscure, and downright weird creatures that populate human myth and folklore.  Not only that, but they provide sources and references, and occasionally do book reviews, which gets me all excited.  It updates every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, so there are always new critters to learn about.  It's not strictly fantasy RPG related, but I think if you like my Monster Mondays and my digressions into the histories and origins of mythical beasts, then you'll really enjoy A Book of Creatures as well.

Anyways, as soon as I saw the trecouche, I knew I had to stat it up.  A creepy crab-like creature that has a toothy lamprey mouth and has a mess of pincers instead of legs?  Count me in!  You can bet your last copper piece that I will be statting up other monsters from A Book of Creatures as well.

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2016 Jonah Bomgaars.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Monster Monday: Haietlik, The Lightning-Tongued Sea Serpent

Today's Monster Monday is the haietlik, a sea serpent from the mythology and folklore of Nuu-chah-nulth (Nootka) peoples of the Pacific Northwest.  According to legend, these lightning serpents had knife-sharp heads and could spit lightning from their tongues.  They were allies of the thunderbirds (the mythological creature, not the 1960s supermarionation show), who used them to hunt whales.

Before I get to the monster, here's some insight into how I research creatures like this before statting them up.  I first encountered the haietlik on Wikipedia.  Now, I'm not one of those people who thinks Wikipedia is a den of crowd-sourced lies devoid of any merit, but I do think it is important to take information found on Wikipedia with a grain of salt, especially if the article is very short and relies entirely on a single source which is just a link to a defunct webpage.  I liked the information that Wikipedia gave though: a sea serpent that hunts whales with its sharp head and lightning breath.  I just needed this depiction of the monster to be confirmed by other sources.

My first step is to check my ever-growing library of books on mythology, folklore, and legendary creatures.  Sadly, I do not yet have a book on the myths of Pacific Northwest Native Americans, and most general books on mythology tend to gloss over or largely ignore Native American myths.  Fortunately, there is an entry on the haietlik in Giants, Monsters & Dragons: An Encyclopedia of Folklore, Legend, and Myth, by Carol Rose, one of my go-to reference works for mythological creatures.  The entry (fairly good-sized for such an obscure monster) added that the haietlik hunted in coastal waters, that many pictograms of the beast could be found on rocks in the area, and that the skin of a haietlik brought good luck to whale-hunters.  Unfortunately, it said nothing of the creature's lightning breath or knife-sharp head.  None of my other books mentioned the haietlik, so I took to the internet again.  Googling around for more information of stub Wikipedia articles about mythological creatures rarely bears fruit.  Often, you will only find third-party wikis that regurgitate the same information from Wikipedia, cryptozoology wikis which have their own issues with reliability, and blogs of people talking about the esoteric monsters they've put in their own campaign settings (like this blog, I guess).  I was hoping to luck out and find a website that records Native American myths (like this awesome bilingual about inuit myth) but I had no such luck here.

Stuck, I went back to the defunct link from Wikipedia and took it through the Internet Wayback Machine.  Awesomely, the haietlik appears on the squadron badge of the RCAF's 442 Transport & Rescue Squadron.  Their website, as it appeared in 2007, describes the haietlik as the whale-hunting, knife-nosed, lightning-shooting sea serpent that I initially saw on Wikipedia.  I now have two sources to work from, which is less than I would like, but all I'm going to be able to get right now.  And at least I have the knowledge that my interpretation of this mythical beast is at least in accordance with that of the Royal Canadian Air Force.
Squadron Badge of the RCAF 442 Transport & Rescue Squadron
The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2016 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Monster Monday: Dust Mummy, Accursed Cloud of Decay

With one final roar, Abdul thrust the ancient spear into the attacking guardian's chest, bursting through the intricately detailed blue faience surface.  He gave it a twist, and the wings of the spear ripped at the crumbling clay.  The falcon-headed ushabti collapsed, now nothing more than a pile of ancient ceramics.  Hassan was over by the passageway, roasting the bodies of the two mummified cheetahs with vindictive glee, divine flame jetting from his outstretched silver holy symbol.  With the tomb's protectors defeated, Abdul and Hassan took out their blessed chisels and went to work on the walls, obliterating every instance of the priest-king's name and every image of his face, just as they had done in the previous rooms.

Hassan found the secret door.  He had always been better at that than Abdul.  "What do you think, brother - will this be the real burial chamber, or another false one?" Abdul asked as he chipped away at the plaster covering the door's seams.

Hassan continued to focus on the door, clutching his holy symbol with white knuckles.  There was a series of mechanical clicks from behind the door, and Hassan instantly relaxed.  "The traps are disarmed," he said in the calm, pleased tone of a butler presenting a particularly fine roasted peacock.

"The door was-?" Abdul dropped his crowbar and scurried back.  "Mound of Mu'at, man!  Why didn't you tell me?"

"I would have stopped you before you triggered them."  Hassan spread his hands wide.

"Alright, you open the door."

When the stone door fell to the dusty ground with a great crack, they stood face to face with a gilded sarcophagus.

"Entombed standing upright.  Typical Yuttub-worshiper."  Hassan spat at the mention of the hated god.

Abdul hefted his sledgehammer and swung it at the sneering golden face.  "This is for what you did to our people!  And this is for what you did to our homeland!  And this is for the thousand years of suffering that followed!"  With his last swing, the ruined face cracked, the sealant on the sarcophagus lid failed, and the whole stone edifice fell to join the door, narrowly missing Abdul's toes.

The desiccated corpse within was bound in strips of ancient bandage inscribed with arcane sigils, and what flesh was visible was covered in gold leaf.  The gaudy tyrant stood for only a split second before collapsing into a pile of sparkling dust and shards of bone.  Hassan let a rare shout of jubilation escape his lips, and the brothers exchanged triumphant smiles.  But the grave dust rose in a swirling cloud between them, scraps of spell-cloth whipping around as if caught in a dust devil.  Occasionally the dust would congeal into the vague shape of a hand or a leg.  A cruel face formed in the dust and uttered in a soul-rasping voice, "REMEMBER... MY... NAME."

Hassan recovered his composure before Abdul did.  Winged holy symbol raised before him, he invoked the name of the Goddess and three beams of brilliance ripped through the priest-king's temporary face.  With a scream, the mummy cloud spread out to fill the whole room with itself.  The dust blasted at their skin, causing it to crack and blister.  Abdul pulled his own holy symbol from the folds of his robes and held it aloft.  The flash of divine light sent visible waves through the dust cloud.  Hassan followed suit with an even more powerful burst, filling the room with crackling energy.

The cloud reformed into a vaguely humanoid shape for an instant, pressed its immaterial hands against Hassan's face, and disappeared into his mouth.  Hassan's eyes widened.  He fell to his knees, skin tightening against his bones.  With a belated cry, Abdul rushed to press his holy symbol to his brother's forehead, channeling a burst of healing magic through it, but it was not strong enough.  Hassan gasped, then with a sickening cracking sound he disintegrated.  The dead priest-king swirled up from between Hassan's dry bones, its face re-forming, one partial hand stretching out towards Abdul's throat.  "REMEMBER... MY... NAME!"

Abdul snatched up his brother's holy symbol, divine fire already blazing from between its silver wings, and thrust it into the discorporate face.  "NO ONE WILL!"

~ ~ ~

Today's Monster Monday is the dust mummy, a sentient undead cloud of dust formed from a disintegrated mummy, held together by rage at the living and a desire to be remembered after death.  Far more insidious than your typical mummy, these swirling collections of dust can easily spread their curse to all that they touch, and can even infest the lungs of their hapless victims, rotting them from within.

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2016 Jonah Bomgaars.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

PC Race - Changelings: Half-Fey Heroes

Those born of a fiendish bloodline are tieflings, and those born of a celestial bloodline are aasimar, but what is the product of a union between mortal and fey?  Changelings are mortals with fey ancestry, and much like tieflings and aasimar, they are at once a part of the mortal world and apart from it.

There is already a race called changelings in Pathfinder, but those are the offspring of mortals and hags.  In mythology, changelings are fey (or sometimes troll) children who are secretly exchanged with human babies by their supernatural mothers.  Changeling is therefore the natural choice for the name of a race of half-fey, in the style of tieflings and aasimar.  I'm honestly not sure why Paizo made the half-hag changelings, let alone called them 'changelings', when there is still no half-fey race.  I suggest renaming the half-hag changeling race to 'hag-spawn'.

Presented below is the half-fey changeling race, modeled on the lines of tieflings and aasimar.  I have also included ten alternate racial traits to further customize your changeling character, including one for small-sized changelings and one for talking to animals.  After all, 'fey' and 'mortal' are broad categories - the offspring of a halfling and a leprechaun is going to be different from the offspring of a nymph and an elf, or a dwarf and a dryad.

Changelings (8 RP)
The offspring of fey creatures with the mortal races, changelings are wild, exotic, and full of mystery.  In mortal cultures, they are often looked on with derision for their bastard ancestry and all the implications thereof - many a married couple has been broken up by the arrival of a changeling baby.  So too are they often derided in the fey lands for having mortal, 'imperfect' blood.  Changelings are separated from both worlds, either because of the strange traits and powers they have, or because of the ones they don't. 
   Physical Description: Changelings often exhibit some alien trait that marks them as different from the population they were born into, be it horns, a tail, strangely-colored hair or eyes, glowing skin, wings, or what have you.  Many changelings, however, are almost indistinguishable from the general population, though their strange otherworldliness comes through in other ways. 
   Society: Changelings have no society of their own, and are often outcasts in mortal and fey societies.  Some changelings are run out of their home or abandoned in the woods as a child, some form their own social groups from other outcasts.  While some primitive societies may treat changelings as a curse, others may see them as a blessing and treat them and their family with great respect. 
   Although the fey see changelings as imperfect and corrupted by mortal blood, they also recognize them on some level as kindred spirits and do not wish for them to come to harm.  Instead of abandoning a changeling child, the fey mother will often secretly switch it out with a newborn human so that it might at least be raised well.  In rare cases, regretful fey mothers may seek to steal the changeling back from the human world. 
   Relations: Although often rejected by mortal and fey society, changelings can usually find common ground and sympathy from half-elves, tieflings, aasimar, and other such 'half-breeds.' 
   Alignment and Religion: Changelings often find themselves drawn to religions that reflect their fey, nature-loving heritage, though some actively seek to reject that legacy and avoid any such connotations.  The majority of changelings trend toward chaotic alignments due to their fickle and spritely personalities. 
   Adventurers: As outcasts so often do, many changelings find themselves drawn to a life of adventure.  Changelings make excellent sorcerers and druids due to their innate connection with the arcane and natural world, and many changelings channel their otherworldly charisma into fine bardic performances.  Particularly successful changeling adventurers may find acceptance in the societies that rejected them at birth, even amongst the fey court, but some may choose to make their own path through their adventures and spurn the advances of those who treated them so indifferently before. 

The following material given in gold text and its accompanying table is available as Open Game Content under the OGL.  Open Game Content is ©2016 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Monster Monday: Jackalope, the Horned Rabbit of the West

Unlucky Jackalope - Spica, Kansas
Today's Monster Monday is the jackalope - that classic mythological critter of the American West - a jackrabbit with the antlers of a pronghorn antelope.  I felt I would be remiss not to offer the jackalope as an option for wizard familiars in my wild west Guns of the Western Kings setting.

Jackalopes are a classic example of rogue taxidermy, a term used to describe the piecing together of animal parts from different animals to create a fictional, chimerical creature.  I had always assumed - somewhat romantically - that the jackalope arose out of tall tales told around campfires out on the trail, and that the taxidermied jackalopes had grown out of these tales.  As it turns out, the jackalope was invented in 1932 by a boy named Douglas Herrick of (coincidentally) Douglas, Wyoming, who was learning taxidermy by mail-order.  He sold his piece of rogue taxidermy to a local hotelier, who displayed it as a tourist attraction.  Stories of jackalopes took off from there.  While it may not be a piece of true mythology, the jackalope certainly has an important place in constructed folklore, similar to the wild haggis in Scotland or drop bears in Australia.

Although jackalopes are a modern invention, they follow in a long line of similar feats of rogue taxidermy and actual belief in what was called the lepus cornutus, or horned rabbit.  In 1933, one year after the creation of the first known jackalope, American virologist Richard Shope discovered Shope papilloma virus (or Kappapapillomavirus 2) which causes keratinous, hornlike growths on rabbits in the wild.  This may be the origin of early mythological expressions of of the lepus cornutus, like the Arabian al-mi'raj, a rabbit with a unicorn horn.  Almiraj has existed as a monster in Dungeons & Dragons since the original Fiend Folio published in 1981, and was added to Pathfinder in Bestiary 4.  As medieval bestiaries gave way to naturalist studies in the Early Modern period, the lepus cornutus made the transition as well, probably buoyed by sightings of rabbits with Shope papilloma virus.

lepus cornutus (center) in Animalia Qvadrvpedia et Reptilia (Terra),
painted in the late 16th century
The horned rabbit continued to appear in scientific works into the early 19th century, probably last given credence in the 1817 Nouveau dictionnaire d'histoire naturelle, which considers the creature to be possibly real but very rare.  This may have also encouraged another example of rogue taxidermy, the wolpertinger, a horned and winged rabbit, often with other animal bits added for good measure.  The wolpertinger serves a similar role in Alpine Bavaria as the Jackalope in the American West - as a local curiosity displayed in hotels and pubs and a focal point for tall tales told to tourists.  The wolpertinger entered Pathfinder in Adventure Path #61: Shards of Sin, along with a similar flying Swedish rabbit called a skvader.

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2016 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Monster Monday: Magmachelon, the Lava Turtle

"There's something!  Right there, in the lava lake!  Did you see it?"  Teleon Ostremachus pointed at where he had seen a mound of rock and glowing orange crystals briefly break the surface of the bubbling lava pool.  The other members of the expedition glanced around blankly, trying to see where he was pointing.  

"Right there!" he said again, conjuring a glowing pink hand over the molten rock, one finger pointing straight down at the place where the mystery object had breached.  

"There's nothing there," said Felten, the expedition's official artist.  

"Of course there's nothing there now, but there was!"

"So what are we-" he broke off as the crystaline mound broke the surface again, twenty yards to the left."

"Get it!  Getitgetitgetit!"

Gerias, the designated trapper, wove a quick spell, and the thing in the lava was pulled up as if by invisible threads until it hovered five feet or so above the lava's surface.  Globs of molten rock ran in slow-motion rivulets down the squirming creature's body, dripping off like thick molasses.  When most of the thing's body was free of lava, Gerias encased it in a transparent sphere of force and drew it over to hover in the middle of their makeshift camp.  The few straggling drops of lava made a little pool at the bottom of the sphere.

It was Teleon's second research expedition to the Elemental Plane of Fire.  His study of the fauna here in the previously ill-documented Black Rock Chaos would make him rich and famous if all went well.  So far, he had made contact with a small tribe of azers, observed a subspecies of salamander native to the Chaos, and run afoul of a swarming elemental force he dubbed 'flame sprites'.  This creature, though, was entirely unlike anything he had yet read of.  Its body was a semi-flattened ovoid with an equatorial ridge, tapering slightly toward the anterior.  It seemed covered with a thick, rocky carapace from which protruded glowing orange crystals.  Three sets of stiff paddle-like flippers made futile circling motions, searching for purchase, as the beast hung suspended in mid-air.  Three chitinous plates at the front served as jaws for a triangular mouth lined with thick, spiky teeth.  

Teleon was furiously taking notes in his field journal.  "Are you getting all this, Felten?"

The expedition's artist was in a panic.  "Umm..."  The edges of his sheets of parchment were blackened and curling inwards.  "I think I wasn't holding my sketching pages when you cast that protection spell on us."

"Oh figs!"  Teleon ripped three pages out of the back of his field journal and thrust them at the artist.  "Get drawing!"

"Um, Teleon?"  This time it was Gerias, looking worriedly at the sphere of force.  The beast was spewing a stream of lava out of its mouth, rapidly filling the force sphere.  The molten rock hardened into a black shell on the interior surface of the sphere, obscuring their view of the creature.  

Teleon sighed.  "Release it, then recapture it.  We can't lose this thing!"

Gerias dismissed the capture spells and the semisphere of lava collapsed onto the shelf of pitted black rock.  Another jet of lava spewed forth from the creature's mouth, coating Gerias in molten rock.  The trapper screamed and fell to the ground, pawing at the patches of sizzling lava clinging to his flesh as the expedition's cleric ran over to aid him.  The lava creature glowed brighter, steam venting from its bony plates, then burrowed into the black rock, disappearing from sight.

Teleon swore quietly to himself.  

Today's Monster Monday is magmachelon, a turtle-like creature that swims through magma and solid rock and shoots jets of lava out of its mouth.

I made this creature years ago in the game Spore (pictured above), because that game's creature creator was far more entertaining that the actual gameplay.  The idea of this lava turtle creature stuck in my head, and now here it is statted up for Pathfinder!

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2016 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Halloween Monster Monday: Spindles, Gaunt Humanoids with an Insatiable Appetite

Today's Monster Monday is the spindle, a carnivorous humanoid with an insatiable gut.  There are two types of spindles: civilized spindles are able to pass as human by clouding the perceptions of those around them, while feral spindles gallop freely on their four legs, chasing down and swallowing humans with their unhinging jaws.

Spindles are the brainchild of Jane Kelly, long-time friend of the site (and contributor to my favorite April Fool's post thus far), who basically spends all her free time creating characters, worlds, and stories.  The inspiration for spindles came from a creepy ball-jointed doll that had an oddly extended pelvis and four human legs.  This concept changed over time so that spindles could relatively convincingly pass as human; one of her characters, Maude, is a chain-smoking spindle who works at the deli counter of a grocery store so she can snack on raw meat.  A few years ago I statted up both the original centauroid spindle and the civilized spindle for Jane's birthday, and now I'm sharing these legitimately creepy monsters with you for Halloween!

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2016 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Monster Monday: Cave Drake, the Bat Dragon

Today's Monster Monday is the cave drake, a bat-like dragon with a deafening sonic breath weapon.

Excerpt from Drakes & Wyverns: A Study of Dragon-Kind's Lesser Cousins by Lord Jacobus Harweldt:
"But of the many species of drake, none can be considered more vexing to herdsman of this region than the cave drake, or 'bat dragon' as it is erroneously called by those less well-versed in dragonology.  The cave drake is unusual for living deep underground but emerging to hunt on the surface at night.  Its pitch-black scales make it quite difficult for watchmen to spot, giving it easy access to sleeping herds.  It seems to have no need of light, preferring to strike dark fields on moonless nights.  While darkvision may account for some of its nocturnal acuity, I believe it is able to navigate and locate prey through sound, rather like a bat.  Having been given the rare opportunity to study a cave drake cadaver, I can testify that the drake's external ear-like structures not only resemble a bat's ears, but when comparing their ear canals to those of a giant bat (specially procured for this very purpose), a number of striking similarities bear mentioning...
...Those adventurers who finally entered its lair described it to me as a foul charnel house.  The floor, they said, was littered with partial cow and sheep carcasses in various states of decay and consumption.  It appears that this cave drake had staked out such an ideal hunting ground that it could afford to eat only the choicest parts of its prey, leaving the rest to rot.  It was the presence of such a large concentration of decaying flesh that must surely account for the adventurers' encounters with unusually large amounts of  vicious subterranean scavengers on their way into the cave.  This certainly aids the cave drake in the defense of its lair, helping to ensure that it is not discovered by spelunkers during the day while it slumbers, though how much of this is pure accident and how much the cunning of this draconic beast remains up for debate."

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2016 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Monster Monday: Slow Loris, the Primate with the Poison Bite

Everyone turned to stare when the wizard entered the bar.  Magic types didn't often show up in this part of town, especially not ones dressed so fancy.  The spindly caster leaned on an intricately carved staff tipped with gleaming jewels.  His long blue robes were finely tailored and trimmed with gold.  His ink-black calfskin boots, lightly caked with fresh street-mud, otherwise showed no signs of wear.  And, most peculiarly, he had a furry, cat-sized creature clinging to his shoulder, gripping his robes with little human-like fingers and staring around with round eyes like silver thalers.

He didn't look like he belonged here in the Bilge and Bunyon, but he sure seemed to know what he wanted.  "Ratcatcher!" he shouted, storming toward the chubby Shadow Guild operative's table.  Three toughs stood simultaneously to bar the wizard's passage, but Ratcatcher waved them away.  One of them succeeded in taking the wizard's staff away, but the intruder didn't seem to mind.

"What brings you to my humble table today, Harmac?"

"You know damn well, Rat.  Where is it?"

Ratcatcher leaned back, his stout chair creaking like an old ship.  "I'm afraid I'm not a mind-reader, Harmac.  Maybe you fancy magic boy types forget we aren't all arcanely attuned."  The wizard seemed angry.  Ratcatcher drummed his sausage-like fingers on the table, showing off his many magic rings as a subtle reminder that he was warded against any spells Harmac might try on him.

"The idol, you greasy slop bucket!  Give me back the idol!"  Ratcatcher's bruisers shifted awkwardly behind the wizard, unsure when they should step in.

"I don't know anything about any idols.  I do know that tomb robbing is not looked kindly on by the authorities of this district, and Artaklan antiquities can only be claimed as private property with the appropriate documents of sale and provenance.  Do you have any such documents?"

Harmac reached across the table with surprising speed, hoisting Ratcatcher up by the collar.  With his other hand, he grabbed his sleepy looking pet by the scruff of the neck and shoved it in the thief's face.  "This is Lola," the wizard explained.  "She's a loris: the only species of monkey with a poisonous bite.  And once she latches on, she doesn't let go."

Lola slowly blinked.

"Urk... Don't monkeys usually got tails?"

Two of Ratcatcher's hired goons grabbed the wizard and yanked him away.  As Ratcatcher fell back into his chair, Harmac lobbed the primate at him and yelled, "Sic 'im, Lola!"

The creature, so placid a second ago, hissed wickedly and sunk its needle fangs into the thief's blubbery neck.  Ratcatcher shook his head wildly and slapped at the beast, but it only clamped down harder.  "Yeeooww!" he screeched.  Still trying to pry the simian assailant off with one hand, he reached into a leather satchel with the other and threw a jade idol across the table.  "Take the damn idol, ya crazy wizard!  Just get yer thrice-cursed pet off me!"

Harmac pushed the bruisers away from him, straightened his robes, and whistled two short notes.  Lola unclamped her jaw from the fat man's neck and waddled across the table, grabbing the idol along the way.

Ratcatcher cursed and rubbed the red swelling on his neck.  "You owe me 2500 thalers for the rock, Harmac.  I see you again and you don't got the money, you and yer little tree-rat are dead!"

Turning for the door, Harmac grabbed his staff and gave Lola an appreciative scratch under the chin.  "Pleasure doing business with you!"


Today's Monster Monday is the slow loris, the world's only venomous primate!  Okay, technically it isn't venom but a toxic, allergenic compound secreted by a gland of the animal's armpit that activates when mixed with the loris' saliva, supplemented by their diet of poisonous plants, but that takes longer to say.  And technically slender lorises have the same toxic defense system as the slow loris, but people know about slow lorises because they've been in a bunch of youtube videos.  Call me when you're an internet sensation, slender lorises.

via Wikimedia
Also, unlike what certain wizards and thieves in the above story snippet may have suggested, lorises aren't monkeys; they are more closely related to lemurs.

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2016 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Monster Monday: Horror Beast, a Chimera of Creepy Crawlies

Today's Monster Monday is the horror beast, a creatively named chimera of as many phobia-inducing critters as possible.  It has the body and legs of a spider, the head of a snake, the wings of a bat, and the stinging tail of a scorpion.

Halloween approaches, and with it come many festive, horror-filled adventures.  GMs looking for a unique low-level monster to populate a Gothic castle, mad wizard's lair, or haunted forest should check out this beastie.  Did I mention that its venom causes maddening fear, and it can be taken as a familiar with the Improved Familiar feat?

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2016 Jonah Bomgaars.

Horror Beast            CR 2
XP 600
CE Small magical beast
Init +7; Senses low-light vision, darkvision 120 ft., blindsight 60 ft.; Perception +5
AC 15, touch 14, flat-footed 12 (+1 size, +3 Dex, +1 natural)
hp 22 (3d10+6)
Fort +5, Ref +6, Will +4
Immune fear effects
Speed 40 ft., climb 40 ft., fly 40 ft. (good)
Melee bite +5 (1d6+1 plus poison), sting +5 (1d3+1 plus poison)
 Special Attacks web (+7 ranged, DC 13, hp3)
Str 12, Dex 17, Con 14, Int 6, Wis 13, Cha 12
Base Atk +3; CMB +3; CMD 16 (28 vs trip)
Feats Improved Initiative, Iron Will
Skills Climb +9, Fly +10, Perception +5, Stealth +7
Poison (Ex) Fear Venom: Bite or Sting – injury; save Fort DC 13; frequency 1/minute for 2 minutes; initial effect frightened for 2d4 rounds; secondary effect confused for 1d4 rounds; cure 1 save
Environment any
Organization solitary, pair, shroud (3-12)
Treasure none

With the head of a snake, legs of a spider, bat wings, and the tail of a scorpion, this chimaeric creature seems designed to trigger as many phobias as possible.  Horror beasts were almost certainly created by a deranged spellcaster for just such a purpose, but they now inhabit the dark places of the world, driven by an insane need to cause fear in unsuspecting creatures. 
   Horror beasts possess limited intelligence, and will occasionally form a partnership with one who is as demented as they are.  An arcane spellcaster of at least 7th level whose alignment is within one step of chaotic evil and who has the Improved Familiar feat may select a horror beast as a familiar. 


Sorry, no story snippet for this monster.  I've hit a bit of writer's block today.  Imagine I wrote something cool where an evil wizard tells a story about how he was always afraid of everything when he was younger, but now he's decided that instead of letting his fears conquer him, he would make his fears reality and use them to conquer others.  Then the adventurers are like, "You're a monster!" and he goes, "No, this is!" and he releases his horror beast and the adventurers are all like, "Eww, gross!"  But cooler.

-your horrible d20 despot

Monday, October 3, 2016

Monster Monday: Iron Maiden, an Animated Torture Device

"I just don't feel comfortable staying in Grandfather's house.  You know what they say about him in town..."

"We don't put stock in the opinions of peasants and shopkeepers, dear sister."  Gavish adjusted the buttons on his red velvet sleeve.  "The small-minded have no appreciation for real science."

"But what if they find out you intend to continue his work?  What if the mob comes knocking down our door with torches and hay forks?"

"Unlike Grandfather, I won't be taking subjects from the village.  At least not often.  Goblins, travelers, and the like should nicely make up the difference.  And besides, this manor is heavily warded.  We can sleep in safety and luxury."

Juvenia looked uneasily around the large bedroom, with its massive four-poster bed, leaded glass windows, centuries-old armoire, and towering oak doors.  The furniture was too big for her, and too small for the room.  "Luxurious but lonely.  The story of my life."

"Hush now, you won't be lonely.  I'll be just in the next room."  He started walking toward the smaller of the bedroom's two doors.  "The house will seem more alive in the morning, when the servants arrive.  You'll see."  He stepped through the door into his adjoining bedroom and vanished with the click of a latch.

Juvenia changed into her night clothes, spoke the command word to extinguish the candles, and wrapped herself in the bed's voluminous blankets.  She tried not to think of all the suffering that had taken place in this house.  All the death.  "For the greater good," she thought to herself.  "Grandfather's research... all for the advancement of knowledge."

She awoke with a start, not remembering having fallen asleep.  Gavish was knocking at their shared door.  She got up slowly, spoke a word that set the candles alight, and called out, "What do you want, Gavish? Why do you disturb me at this hour?"

The response from the other side of the door was muffled.

"Say again?" she threw open the door, only to be greeted by a towering iron figure rather similar to a mummy's sarcophagus.  Something about its unmoving, emotionless face froze Juvenia to her core.

"Blood will pay for blood," it said.  A seam opened up down its center, opening to reveal a shriveled corpse in red velvet, impaled on hundreds of iron spikes.  Only when Gavish's bloodless husk slid out and flopped onto the rug did Juvenia muster up the breath to scream.  She bolted across the room, threw open the main door to the hallway, and slammed it shut behind her.  Up and down the long, dusty hall, candles flickered to dim life.

Two wickedly spiked chains burst through the door behind her and tore it off its hinges.  Juvenia sped barefoot through the unfamiliar house, the iron maiden relentlessly scraping along the floor behind her, chains flailing madly against the walls.  "Blood will pay for blood!" it called after her.

She spotted her escape.  A flight of stairs up to the third floor.  That thing had to weigh a ton, and there was no way it could climb up steps.  She pounded up the flagstone steps, pausing at the top to catch her breath.  In a burst of curling purple smoke, the iron maiden appeared before her.  She shrieked and fell backwards down the stairs, knocking her head hard against a step.  Her vision blurred and darkened.  A spiked chain dug into her bare leg and began to drag her back up the stairs.  Another wrapped around her shoulders and pulled her upright.  All she could see was a chamber lined with of eager spikes.

"Blood will pay for blood!"

Today's Monster Monday is the iron maiden, a magically animated torture device that grabs its victims with chains and shoves them into its spiked chamber where it drains their blood.  This monster will fit easily into any mid-level dungeon, but it is especially suited to gothic horror castles and the lairs of mad wizards.

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2016 Jonah Bomgaars.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Monster Monday: Bombardier Ooze, the Living Slime Cannon

"I'm so sick of all these damn oozes!"  Galnar fired off another scorching ray at the nearest gelatinous cube, blasting a fiery hole right through it.  No sooner had it dissolved into a pile of goo than two grey slimes slithered past it toward the party of adventurers.  The wizard swore.  "They just keep coming!"

"This is what we signed up for when we agreed to take on the Slime Cult.  Which, by the way: nice name guys.  Real creative."  Shantara nocked another arrow to her shortbow and let fly.  It arced through the air and sunk deep into an opaque blob of quivering purple goo, which squealed and melted into an inanimate puddle.  "My real objection is that the things are so gosh-darned slow that we finish them off before I get a chance to use my rad new holy sword."  The halfling paladin patted the scabbard at her hip.  

"Closing to melee would be illogical," Fanath said, cool and calm as ever.  "As long as we keep moving faster than the enemy, it is most efficient to engage them at range."  

"What bothers me is how these globs of goo were able to overwhelm the defenders of Castle Dejamine," said Galnar.  The eerie bare walls and empty stone halls of that dead fortress crept back into his mind, and he suppressed a shudder.  

As if in answer, a massive blob of bubbling green pustules slithered into view.  Before either Shantara or Farnath could draw their bows, the seething slime shot out three globs of acid, striking each of the three heroes squarely in the chest.  

Shantara looked up at Farnath for approval, but he had already drawn his twin axes.  "I believe now would be an appropriate time to engage the enemy in melee."

Shantara smiled and drew her glowing sword.  Together, the two rushed at the slime, slashing and hewing at its bubbling exterior with magically tempered steel.  In between firing magic missiles, Galnar watched as the green beast extended its sickening pseudopods at the gleaming paladin and sucked her into its body.  Farnath redoubled his attacks, muscles rippling with new strength as righteous rage overtook his usual levelheadedness.  The ooze tensed and then launched a huge glob of goo up in a long arc.  Shantara floated helplessly within the flying orb, eyes wide, as it came plummeting down toward Galnar.  The wizard barely had time to erect a shimmering barrier of force around himself before the whole area was bathed in sizzling acid.  

Shantara's face was pressed flat against the top of Galnar's barrier, arms and legs splayed out very much like a starfish Galnar had once seen on the inside of a glass tank.  He dismissed the barrier with a wave and caught the petite paladin as she fell.  "You know, It's times like these that I really appreciate you meatshields," he said with a smirk.  "How did you enjoy your first experience flying?"

Shantara responded by vomiting on his robes.

"Whoa, okay, appreciation over.  You're getting to be as bad as that slime."

The halfling wiped her mouth with a corner of her cape and set off toward the ooze again.  "Call me meatshield one more time and see if you get any more healing," she called back over her shoulder.

"Hey, you're a paladin, you have to heal me!  ...right?"

Today's Monster Monday is the bombardier ooze, a slime that can take on foes in melee or at range.  With its ability to fire small orbs of acid at up to three targets per round or launch a massive glob of acid that explodes in a burst, this is not an ooze that clever adventuring parties can simply take out from a safe distance.

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2016 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Monster Monday: Glacioth, the Ice Mammoth

Every year since the wall of ice collapsed, the mammoths had come south through Eagle Pass at first snow.  Kennetwe had been the first to notice this, and so Kennetwe had been given the honor of leading the hunt ever since.  No longer did the Arokatcha eke out a living eating boiled roots and trading black squirrel pelts to the neighboring tribes.  Thanks to Kennetwe (and the melting ice), they grew fat on slabs of mammoth meat, grew strong defending the pass from their jealous neighbors, and grew rich trading ivory and hides to the River Cities.  

It was on one such trade expedition last summer, in the walled city or Urtalik, that Kennetwe had found the magic spear.  Crouching behind the grassy hummock and waiting for the other hunters to catch up to him, he admired the fine prize that he had traded five great tusks for.  The haft was made of a pale wood that looked almost like bone.  The spear head was broad and never needed sharpening.  Silver lightning bolts ran down either side of the head, framing a seated human figure that the Urtalikan had claimed was a god named Banatu.  At the time, Kennetwe had laughed - the gods do not take the shape of man! - but now he was convinced.  The spear crackled with power whenever he hefted it.  When he cast it, it flew straight and true, and badly scorched whatever it hit.  He was eager to try it on a mammoth.

Kennetwe readied the spear as the other hunters arrived.  He motioned them to follow, then leapt over the hummock down into the dry stream bed which ran with fast melt-water in the spring.  They advanced silently up the natural path, using the high banks as cover.  Mammoths spooked easily at the sight of man, and spooked mammoths would do no one any good.  The scent of mammoth was strong when they neared the killing field.  Stronger than ever.  This might be Kennetwe's most successful hunt yet.  He peered over the stream bank and his stomach sank.  The field was full of mammoths, all right.  Dead mammoths.  

He clambered out of the stream bed, the other hunters following.  A whole herd of female mammoths and their yearlings lay dead between the stream and the cliffs.  Did Tartakan hunters dare penetrate so deeply into Arokatcha territory?  Impossible.  Besides, there were no spears broken off in the mammoths.  No meat had been cut from their bodies, no tusks removed.  Kennetwe examined the closest mammoth.  It has been gored through its flank multiple times.  Its meat was cold and frosty.  A younger mammoth lay nearby, trampled to death by something very heavy.  

A trumpeting call ripped through the air, and the ground rumbled ominously.  Kennetwe looked up from the carnage.  A huge mammoth like none he had ever seen charged down the slope at them.  Its shaggy fur was white, and its skin was tinted blue like a frozen lake.  Its mighty tusks were made not of ivory but of ice, still dripping with blood and gore from the mammoths it had killed.  Four young hunters rushed in from the side and cast their throwing spears.  The brazen move would take down an aurochs but would be foolhardy in a mammoth hunt and was suicide against this beast.  The creature rounded on the boys and let loose a blast from its trunk.  A spray of ice crystals ripped into the first-year hunters, freezing them dead in their tracks.

Spears and arrows rained down on the beast from more cautious hunters taking cover behind dead mammoths.  Few found purchase in the monster's thick hide.  The white mammoth charged a pair of archers and skewered one on its icy tusk.  The archer's aborted scream hung in the air like a cloud.  This devil of a mammoth would not just end the hunt, it could end the whole Arokatcha tribe.  Kennetwe stepped up onto the corpse of a mammoth and belted out a war cry.  The white mammoth turned to him, snorted, and started to charge.  

He hefted the spear in his hand.  "Banatu, strike down this monster!"  The hairs on his arms stood on end as the spear trembled with power.  The white mammoth bore down on him, shaking the earth with every step.  Kennetwe took aim between the beast's eyes and let the spear fly.  

Today's Monster Monday is the glacioth, a snow-white mammoth with icicles for tusks that blasts cones of frost out of its trunk.  It's like a cross between a mammoth and a yeti, basically.

Whether you are running an ice age campaign (as I one day hope to do) or your party is venturing through the frigid northlands, a glacioth makes for a challenging foe.  It not only brings the power of a mammoth to bear, but also magical ice attacks.  Glacioths also make suitable mounts for yetis and frost giants or weapons of war for northern kingdoms.

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2016 Jonah Bomgaars.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

GotWK Campaign Part 9: An Eye For An Eye

This is an account of part 9 of my ongoing campaign set in my homebrewed wild west setting, Guns of the Western Kings.  Get caught up with the previous parts here.

When last we left our heroes, they had chased a drow raiding party down into the Sunbeam Silver Mine.  The drow had attacked the mining camp at the surface, surprising both the miners and the elven rangers who had been waging a guerrilla campaign against the mining company.  As the party descends into the mountain in pursuit of the drow, they discover the wounded leader of the elven guerillas.  Bemoaning his failure, he says that if the drow have not seized control of the evil now, they surely would soon, and he implored the adventurers to destroy the evil before the drow can use it.  He is maddeningly unclear what he means by "the evil".  Nevertheless, the party fights its way through a hostage situation, kills a giant spider, and ends up hanging in its web above a seemingly bottomless hole deep into the depths of the mountain.

And now:

The Sniper in the Dark
One single passageway breaks into the side of the bottomless pit - a square entrance large enough that two men might march abreast through it - just above the level of the giant spiderweb.  Heather, Theodore, and Rusty pull themselves free of the sticky webbing and tightrope-walk to the passage.  Gudguníis, the blinded sharpshooter, has considerably more trouble extricating himself, and by the time he makes it to the entrance he is wearing the equivalent of a new suit of clothes in tangled spider silk.  The passageway is freshly carved and climbs steeply down, spiraling roughly around the outside of the bottomless pit.  They follow it for untold hours - possibly days - in the sunless dark before it opens up into a natural cavern.  It is a long cave full of stalagmites and stalactites, obviously carved by water at some time though now it is drier than a coal miner's cough.  Brandishing the lantern, Theodore takes the lead, only to be shot right through the breastplate.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Monster Monday: Leather Golem, the Roguish Construct

At the sound of something expensive shattering against the floor above them, Alonzo set down the dice cup.

"Gods dammit, not again!  What kind of damn fool keeps a faerie dragon as a pet?"

"The kind of rich eccentric that pays well for guard duty," Iermo reminded him.  "I think it's your turn to check."

"Don't you dare take a single sheqel from the pot," he teased, rising to his feet with visible reluctance.  "I know exactly what I've wagered so far."
"I wouldn't dream of it."  When Alonzo was halfway up the stairs, Iermo started loudly rummaging through the pile of small coins on the table.

"Ha ha, Mister Funny Man.  Be quiet, I'm trying to do our job."  Alonzo disappeared up the staircase.  There was a jangle of keys, the click of a lock, and the faint creak of the old door, followed immediately by a heavy thud, and then silence.  

"Alonzo...?"  Iermo was on his feet, hand on his scimitar hilt.  He rushed to the base of the stair.  Alonzo was at the top, dark blood still burbling from a gash in his neck.  Iermo took the stairs two at a time, scimitar held in front of him apotropaically.  He grabbed a wyrd-lantern from its peg on the wall, stepped over his fallen comrade, and nudged open the blood-spattered door.  

The green wyrd-light caught a figure clad head-to-toe in black leather just as it was sliding the Grimoire of Jobor Kha into a pouch on its chest.  Iermo lunged forward, bringing his scimitar down in a silvery arc with all his strength.  The blade sheared through the thief's arm just above the elbow.  It fell to the floor without a single drop of blood.  The burglar leapt back, unfurled a whip from its remaining arm, and struck at Iermo.  The tip of the lash wrapped around his ankle, and with one quick pull the thief toppled him backward.  Iermo got up in time to see the intruder leap out the open window.  He scrambled to his feet and bolted to the window.  Four stories below, the dark figure bounded across the courtyard, whipped itself up onto the parapets, and disappeared into the city's midnight streets.

Speechless, Iermo stooped to examine the thief's severed arm.  The thing had the form of a man's arm, but instead of flesh and bone it was layer upon layer of leather all the way to the core.  Braided skeins of leather extending from the wrist formed a long whip which was wound around the forearm like a bracer.  As Iermo twisted and turned the arm this way and that, a long blade sprang from a slit between the middle and ring fingers, its keen edge dripping with black poison.  "What is this abomination?"

Today's Monster Monday is the leather golem, a versatile construct made of solid leather, built for skulking, stealing, and stabbing.  It has whips and poisoned blades built into its arms, retractable thieves' tools and secret loot pockets built into its body, and it smells like a new briefcase.

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2016 Jonah Bomgaars.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Monster Monday: Ursotaur, the Bear Centaur

Today's Monster Monday is the ursotaur, a centaur but with bear bits instead of horse bits.  Because why not?  Ursotaurs have bear bodies and bear heads but humanoid torsos.  They are a primarily tribal species capable of crafting tools to aid them in hunting, fishing, and other activities that bears enjoy.

Imagine: you are walking through the woods.  Huge firs and cedars - bigger around than the support beams of a cathedral - jut out of the loamy earth.  Somewhere above the unseen canopy, it is raining, but all that reaches the dim undercroft of the forest is a steady grey mist punctuated by fat drops dripping secondhand from sodden boughs.  Pushing through a dense stand of salmonberry and sword fern, you break into a clearing.  Suddenly, the roar of the river ahead is all you can hear, even as the rain falls harder now, unimpeded by tree cover, plastering your woolen hood to your helmet.  Huge salmon the size of dolphins lie beached on the scree of flat river rocks, gasping their last.  You draw a long knife and make your way towards the closest.  This one fish will feed you and your companions for days!  But as you kneel by the fish to gut it, something catches your eye.  Slowly, you turn your head.  Twenty paces upstream, a pair of four-legged bear-men with matted brown fur eye you suspiciously.  One of them has a dozen fillets of the giant fish draped and bound across his back.  The other, wearing a porcupine pelt as a helmet, grips a long spear.  His growl, resonant and bestial, reaches you clearly above the river's constant rush.  This salmon is his.  This river is his.  And yet... you must eat.

So if your campaign has been wanting a species of six-limbed spear-wielding bears with humanoid intelligence (and I think you will find that it has), then you need look no further!  Well, look a little further.  You'll need to scroll down, at least.

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2016 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Monster Monday: Riding Hummingbird, the Fast Fey Flying Mount

Today's Monster Monday is the riding hummingbird, a man-sized hummingbird bred and ridden by small fey races because of their incredible speed and maneuverability.  I even made stats for giant hummingbird animal companions for druids, because why not?

Magnificent Hummingbird (Eugenes fulgens), by Mdf, via Wikimedia
There aren't enough flowers in the Prime Material Plane to support these sugar-crazy beasts in the wild, but the fey realms are a different story.  The High Humming Stables of the Seelie Court are well stocked with barrels of sweet nectar from magically enhanced blossoms.  Dashing little scouts ride these magnificent ruby-throated birds in teams of three in the van of the Faerie King's armies.  And every spring, the best hummingbird riders compete in a tournament - a twisting test of speed and maneuverability where riders catch rings with their lances from bird-back along a shifting three-dimensional aerial obstacle course.

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2016 Jonah Bomgaars.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Monster Monday: Mithral Spider, A Gleaming Drow Construct

Today's Monster Monday is the mithral spider, a gleaming magical construct employed by the nefarious drow in patrolling the deep caverns of the Underdark and in slave-taking raids on the surface world.  Like any good spider-shaped construct, it can stab with its bladed legs, bite with its poisoned fangs, shoot crossbow bolts out of its face, and fire alchemical spider webs out of its butt.

I created the mithral spider for my campaign in the Guns of the Western Kings campaign setting, only there it could shoot bullets out of its face.  You will be able to read more about that campaign here soon.  I'm afraid I'm a bit behind on my work for d20 Despot because I am currently recovering from a bout of food poisoning.  I blame sewer slicks.

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2016 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Monster Monday: Sewer Slick, Low-Level Diseased Slime

Today's Monster Monday is the sewer slick, a small ooze that thrives on filth and decay, commonly found in middens, caves, and of course sewers.  These low-level slimes can spread disease with their touch, as expected for a creature that feeds primarily on excrement.

My goal in creating these oozes is to provide GMs with a slime that has a Challenge Rating of less than 1 to populate low-level dungeons.  Most oozes are too tough for a party of 1st level adventurers delving into a goblin warren or kobold den.  Sewer slicks add some slimy variety to beginner dungeons without creating an unintentional boss battle, threatening a Total Party Kill, or ruining the party's weapons or armor, as some of the more common lower-level oozes tend to do.  GMs who pay attention to dungeon ecology know that even kobolds need to poop - sewer slicks are the perfect monster to inhabit the recesses of a dank toilet cave.

For your own sake and mine, I will refrain from finding a stock photo to represent these coprophagous monsters.

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2016 Jonah Bomgaars.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Monster Monday: Andrewsarchus, Prehistoric Killing Machine

Today's Monster Monday is andrewsarchus, the largest known carnivorous land mammal.  This prehistoric beast stalked the warm grasslands of Mongolia in the Eocene epoch, ripping its prey apart with its two-foot-long mouth.

But before I go on about today's monster, it's time for some site news!  Thanks to my generous and awesome patrons on Patreon, we have reached the $15 per month pledge goal.  That means that d20 Despot will be transitioning to a new posting schedule: every Monday is Monster Monday, with additional posts added whenever I get the opportunity to write them.  My personal goal is two additional articles per month, which - on top of the weekly Monster Mondays - would be a 50% increase in productivity, all made possible by your patronage.  And of course, patrons pledging $5+ still get access to all my Monster Mondays months in advance, and $8+ patrons will get to vote on the final monster each month.  Anyways, back to andrewsarchus.

illus. by Bogdanov, via Wikimedia
Andrewsarchus mongoliensis
Known only from a single fossil skull, there is some debate as to the size and even the classification of this prehistoric predator.  Recent analysis places them in order Artiodactyla - hoofed mammals - with suggestions that they are closely most closely related to hippopotamus and entelodonts (dire boars).  But until more fossils are found or more studies are conducted on the original skull, the picture of andrewsarchus is hazy.  The monster presented below is based on the most common depictions of the creature which are, admittedly, not as accurate as they could be.

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2016 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, July 25, 2016

5 Tips for the GM Who is Out of Ideas

Fellow GMs, we've all been there: you just got out of work or school, your gaming group is showing up in three hours, and you just realized you have nothing prepared.  Not only do you have nothing prepared, but you don't even know what to prepare - you are completely out of ideas.  Don't call everyone and cancel!  You can still save this.  There are a lot of things you can do to save this gaming session.  Every GM and every gaming group is different, so depending on your particular style some of these options may work better than others for you.

1. Read Random Sections of the Source Books
If you are the type of GM who is always finding little bits of inspiration and jotting them down in a journal or note-taking app, this might be the solution for you.  As GMs, we tend to store the information we use most often from the source books in our heads.  That's great - it lets us run games efficiently without stopping to look things up all the time.  But brains just aren't as good at retaining information as books are.  That's why books exist, after all.  By reading random sections of the source book, not only might you find that you are using some rules incorrectly, you also might discover rules or suggestions for things you don't normally use in your games.  This can create a nice change of pace for you and your gaming group.

The Pathfinder Core Rulebook or the D&D Dungeon Master's Guide (any edition) are generally chock-full of rules about random things an adventuring party might run into.  During one prep session I read the rules for fire and hot environments in the 3.5 DMG and I was inspired to create a house-fire encounter that played like a mini-dungeon, with areas of smoke that blocked sight and caused choking, areas of intense heat that did extra damage to the players, collapsing sections of the house that could act like traps, and a trapped homeowner who asked not only to be rescued, but to have the adventurers retrieve a valuable keepsake from an even more dangerous part of the burning building.

Monster books like the Pathfinder Bestiary or a D&D Monster Manual or Monstrous Compendium are also great sources of inspiration.  The descriptive text for a well-designed monster is full of hooks that hint to a GM how the monster might come into conflict with an adventuring party, making for a more organic encounter than just having a random monster show up out of the blue.  This is especially true of older editions of D&D, which tended to have smaller monster pictures and more paragraphs of text describing their ecology.  You might also discover something interesting about a monster you would have otherwise dismissed.  While flipping through Pathfinder Bestiary 2 looking for some undead monstrosities to populate a low-level haunted house dungeon, I chanced across the akata, a tentacled blue lion-like aberration.  I learned that akatas hibernate in silvery cocoons that degrade into fragments of strange metal in the presence of other lifeforms, their bites infect their prey with larvae, and those they kill rise again as twisted fast-zombies that lash out with their tongues.  Suddenly I had a much more interesting and cosmically creepy haunted house than just a building full of skeletons and ghouls.

2. Steal Your Plot from a TV Show
If you aren't so great at putting together exciting plots and encounters from little points of inspiration, try lifting whole plots and re-purposing them.  This obviously works best if your campaign is pretty freeform and you don't have to worry about messing up a planned story arc.  Get on Netflix of Hulu or Amazon Prime (or I guess the TV if you are into that) and watch and episode of a show.  It could be a show you are in the middle of watching or a show you've never seen before.  As you watch it, imagine your party taking the place of the main characters.  How would they react to the situations and problems the show's plot presents?

It doesn't have to be a fantasy show - in fact it probably shouldn't be.  While your group will definitely figure out what's going on if you run them through an episode of Game of Thrones, they will have a harder time recognizing a fantasy version of MASH or CSI: Miami or Agents of Shield.  If you can, tailor the show you pick to the type of campaign you are running.  If your players are high-level characters managing a kingdom, try The West Wing.  If they are used to investigating creepy goings on in random villages, watch Criminal Minds or Scooby Doo.

It can take a surprising amount of imagination to steal the whole plot of a TV show for a fantasy RPG.  Take the central conflict of the show, re-skin it for your fantasy world, and present it to your players as the next adventure hook.  The killer in that episode of Law and Order might become a devil-worshiping cultist.  The siblings squabbling over some petty thing in [insert Sitcom name here] might become childish noblemen fighting for the ducal seat.  Heck, maybe you'll pit your players against a mage guild leader who is based on Gus from Breaking Bad.  By the time it comes to the table, it might be completely unrecognizable.

For added fun (and to alleviate the guilt of stealing), tell your players what the adventure was based on after they complete it.

3. Create a New Big Bad Guy
If you don't mind throwing a wrench into the gears that are your ongoing campaign, stun your gaming group with the sudden introduction of a(nother) powerful force plotting their destruction.  Start the session by luring your players into a trap, and then spring it with a really tough encounter.  A tough encounter that your players will probably lose.  This new Big Bad should know just how to get to your adventuring party and counter all of their most common tactics.  The party should be left reeling from the blow they are dealt and barely able to escape from this worrying new threat.  With any luck, the tough battle will take up a good part of the session and the party will spend the rest of the session licking their wounds and trying to recover.

Creating this new threat will take some finesse and a good understanding of your party's capabilities and limits.  You don't want to underwhelm them with a quick and easy fight, and you don't want to kill them all off.  Killing your party because you are out of ideas is pretty high up there on the list of Things GMs Should Never Do.  But you should probably err on the side of making the big bad and their minions a little too powerful - you can always fudge things behind the screen to make sure things don't go completely tits-up.  Don't be afraid to let one of the characters die, but don't take it too far.

It is a trope of fantasy RPG plots that the party will occasionally butt heads with the main Big Bad and the Big Bad will barely lose and have some sort of trick up their sleeves to escape to fight another day.  In this scenario, you want to be sure your party knows that they are the ones who need to escape to fight another day.  Give your PCs an escape route and subtly mention it throughout the fight.  Maybe there is a swift-moving river they can jump into, or a portcullis they can slam as they flee.  Or, perhaps, give your new Big Bad motivation to defeat but not kill your party - maybe he wants them alive to witness the destruction of everything they have accomplished.

If possible, tie this into what has happened in the campaign so far.  Find some long-forgotten party that has been wronged by your adventurers (however indirectly) in the past and has had time to plot their revenge.  It could be the thieves' guild they tangled with when they were level three, or the brother of the evil priest they slew in their first dungeon.  If it is grounded in the story so far, it won't feel quite so out of the blue.

Try to set the confrontation somewhere significant to the characters, like their base of operations, a town they saved, or their favorite tavern.  Turning a familiar location with positive associations into a place of conflict and defeat will up the emotional ante and add some great roleplaying hooks into the mix.  As an added bonus, if the bad guy shows up in their home base, defeats them, and forces them out, you've got your next couple sessions covered as your party will inevitably want to re-take their base.

And don't be too worried about derailing your campaign.  Adding this new plot thread might just add a fresh breath of life to it.

4. Give Them a Roleplaying Prompt and Sit Back
This requires a specific kind of roleplaying group - one that knows their characters very well and actually role-plays more than rolling dice.  In fact, even if your group is more of the hack-and-slash type you might want to roll the (metaphorical) dice yourself and try this out with them.  Give your party a non-combat related roleplaying prompt disguised as a story hook.  Something that lets your players take control of the situation as they talk about their characters.  You might not even have to roll any dice!  And the best part - your players will probably love it!  As the story slows down to focus on the characters and their interactions, it will be the players shaping the flow of the session.  As a player, that is really cool.

This roleplaying prompt could be a social situation, a dilemma with no obvious right answer, or an invitation for storytelling.  In a social situation prompt, the party is introduced into a, well, a social situation and allowed to run free.  Maybe a nearby village is having a festival and they invite the adventurers as guests of honor.  Maybe a nobleman wants to gain prestige by associating with the adventurers, so he invites them to his feast-hall.  Maybe the party is trapped in an inn by a blizzard and they have to pass the time hanging out with the colorful locals trapped with them.  The characters can relax and interact with each other and with NPCs to their heart's content.  If you need to, you can fill time with detailed descriptions of sumptuous foods, rustic festival games, and colorful characters.  Create a painting for your players to inhabit.

For a dilemma, the party is presented with a choice or problem with no simple solution.  Maybe it is as simple as whether or not to trust a mysterious stranger.  Maybe they are dragged into resolving a dispute where neither side is clearly right or wrong.  For example, what would your party do in this situation: in a town suffering from a food shortage due to orc raids, a merchant who sold food at five times the market rate is tied up in the square accused of indirect murder, but he claims the added expense was warranted because of the extra security needed to defend against orcs.

An invitation to storytelling prompts the players to recount something about their characters, either about their backstory or about their adventures so far.  This can be easier early in a campaign, when maybe not everyone knows each other's backstories.  Perhaps the party shares a campfire with a  travelling tinker who asks for their stories in exchange for his cooking and mending services.  Maybe an aspiring bard is interviewing them about their adventures so she can immortalize them in verse.  Or a wealthy jarl is offering a great prize to whomever can tell him the greatest story.  The storytelling prompt should make sense in the game world, but appeal to the players' egos in the hopes of provoking some good roleplaying and character building.

Ideally, in any of these situations, the GM will be free to let the players fill the bulk of the time with their own creative energies, stepping in only to guide and enable.  A well-deserved rest for a hard-working GM.  But use this method with caution - if no one wants to tell their story, the session may fall flat.  But hey, if all else fails...

5. Play a Board Game
If you really can't get enough material together for a good roleplaying session, there's no reason to waste a perfectly good gathering of game-hungry friends.  Chances are if you are a GM, you probably have some excellent board games waiting to be played on your shelf as well.  To keep in the spirit of the gaming session, you might try to play a game with similar themes to your campaign.  If you haven't already, you might try:

  • Tales of the Arabian Nights, an excellent board game that involves a lot of choose-your-own-adventure style gameplay and character-building elements.  
  • Once Upon A Time, a collaborative fairytale storytelling card game.  
  • Betrayal at House on the Hill, a horror game that will likely never play the same way twice.  
  • Lords of Waterdeep, a game set in the city of Waterdeep in the Forgotten Realms campaign setting.
  • Munchkin, the competitive card game that famously parodies D&D. I would be shocked if you haven't already played it several hundred times.  

Of course, there are tons of other great tabletop games out there, not all of which share thematic elements with tabletop roleplaying games.  Failing that, you could even just hang out with your gaming group and talk like friends; that can be pretty fun too.  Just roll dice every once in a while to keep up appearances.

-your empty-headed d20 despot

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Go Fund Kent Hamilton

Hi all!  I've got a pretty full plate right now and I can't bring you a normal post this week.  But do you know who is always doing cool things?  Kent Hamilton, professional illustrator and concept artist.  You probably know him from his illustrations on this site or from the many recent illustrations he has done for Pathfinder in works such as Bestiary 5, Ultimate Intrigue, and the Pathfinder Card Game.  You can see more of his work at, on his Instagram, or on Pinterest.

Why do I bring this up?  Kent just started a go fund me for some expensive art equipment that will let him increase his output.  If you want to support a starving artist who loves sketching and painting fantasy subjects, this is your chance.  Even better, depending on how much you donate, you can get sketches and prints, and at the higher levels he will even sketch or digitally paint your own original character or creature.  Kent never does private commissions like this, so this is an incredible opportunity.

Still need convincing?  Here are some of the illustrations Kent has done just for d20 Despot.

The Swashbucker class I posted back in 2014 needs work, but this painting doesn't.  
Kent's own character, Montalore Bearbriar, dwarven fighter from the Graverobbers campaign.
I forced Kent to draw this ridiculous monster for my Escape from the Lair of the Krampus adventure.
Big Bjorn Gunderson was a character early on in my Guns of the Western Kings campaign.
What are you waiting for?  GO FUND KENT HAMILTON!

-your crowd-funded d20 despot