Monday, October 16, 2017

Monster Monday: Titanosaur, the Biggest Dinosaur Ever

Today's Monster Monday is the titanosaur, a mindbogglingly tremendous sauropod dinosaur. The titanosaurs were actually a group of many sauropod species, the largest of which were also the largest dinosaurs ever and the longest and heaviest land animals ever to walk the earth.

by ДиБгд, via Wikimedia
A life-restoration of the titanosaur ampelosaurus atacis, shown with spiky osteoderms along its spine
One of the cool things that makes titanosaurs stand out from your more well-known sauropods like brachiosaurus, diplodocus, or apatosaurus is that many titanosaurs had osteoderms - large bony plates embedded in their skin. These plates may have acted as additional armor for these already formidable beasts, and some (such as ampelosaurus, above) even had spikes. The ampelosaurus above shows a conservative distribution of osteoderms, but the diamentinasaurus illustrated below is depicted as rather more well-armored.

by T. Tischler, Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum of Natural History, via Wikimedia
Life-restoration of diamentinasaurus matildae, showing one possible level of titanosaurid osteoderm distribution
What's in a name? Translating a real-world monster, whether mythological or real, into a fantasy world can be difficult, especially when they are saddled with a name that instantly ties them to our world. With many classic dinosaurs, this isn't so much of a problem. Household names like tyrannosaurus and velociraptor, while clearly grounded in our world's scientific Greco-Latin naming conventions, seem to fit in relatively easily to a fantasy world alongside dragons, chimerae, and basilisks. Equally interesting but more newly discovered animals often have names that stand out like a sore thumb, either because they are overly long and complicated or because they specifically reference a real-world name or place. Titanosaur names like argentinosaurus, aegyptosaurus, or isisaurus (named after the Indian Statistical Institute) do not lend themselves to a fantasy world's immersion.

The monster statted up below is an argentinosaurus, by many estimates the largest of the titanosaurs. I chose to call it, simply, titanosaur, a rather generic name which can cover many species (including the horse-sized magyarosaurus). Identifying this monster by its scientific clade is akin to naming the stat block for tyrannosaurus 'coelurosaur'. Still, I thought it was better than identifying it with the real-world nation of Argentina, or calling it 'titanosaurus', which, despite lending its name to the titanosaurids, is a much smaller titanosaur than argentinosaurus (13 tons compared to argentinosaurus' 70-100 tons) and is now usually considered to be a nomen dubium - a name or classification unsupported by current science.

Also, it is important to remember that paleoart is often minimalist, omitting many potential features of a dinosaur that are not preserved in the fossil record. More adventurous paleoartists like to go out on a limb with their reconstructions, giving them interesting features that, while not necessarily supported by the fossil record, are also not disproven by the fossil record and thus may rest within the realm of possibility (I call this the Air Bud approach to paleoart, i.e. "There's no rule saying dogs can't play basketball"). This type of paleoart emphasizes naturalism, showing prehistoric animals in all the variety of coloration, integument, and behavior as other animals we are more familiar with. This often breathes new life into depictions of prehistoric animals, and generates renewed public interest in paleoart. With that in mind, here is another titanosaur illustration that would certainly make an impression in a fantasy world.

by Danny Cicchetti, via Wikimedia
A be-striped, be-quilled, and be-dewlapped life-restoration of the titanosaur overosaurus paradasorum
The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2017 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Monster Monday: Phase Serpent, the Slithering Ethereal Hunter

The serpent stirred at the approaching footfalls - a telltale sign of incoming prey. It uncoiled its sleek body, muscles rippling under silvery blue scales, and dove into the floor, passing through the ancient flagstones and into the misty mirror universe of the Ethereal Plane. It slithered through curling wisps of vapor until it came to a place where it sensed the echoes of creatures on the material plane. Slowly, cautiously, it passed its head up through the floor behind the interlopers. There were four of them, two in gleaming metal armor, one in flowing robes, one in black padding. 
   Like flowing water, it lunged, piercing the robed one with its long fangs, then dropped back through the floor and into the ether. The one bearing its venom glowed, visible to the serpent even across dimensions. It followed the warm glow of the venom as the material creatures continued through its lair. When it judged the time to be right, it found a passage through the ether to the ceiling of the room the prey were in. It struck boldly now, hissing and rearing. At it attacked, it blinked back and forth between ether and material. One of the prey swung a cruel sword at the serpent, but the blade passed through curling mist as the creature popped back to the Ethereal Plane for a split second.
   Taking advantage of its distraction, the black padded prey cut deep into the serpent with twin short blades. The serpent recoiled into the ceiling. The black one was a greater threat when part of the group. It needed to be isolated. The serpent sprang out of the ceiling, barreling into the black figure, sinking its fangs deep into its shoulder and pushing it into the floor and through it, dragging it into the shrouding ethereal mists that lay just beyond the edge of the material world. The black padded figure was startled. The serpent tasted its fear on the air. It tried to strike back at the serpent, but the silvery beast simply coiled around it, biting it again and again.
   Suddenly, there was a burst of flame searing the serpent's hide. The serpent turned to find the robed prey blinking erratically in and out of the Ethereal Plane. It was terrified even as it blasted the serpent with another gout of flame. The hunter reared back and struck, but it bit down on nothing as the robed one blinked away. As the serpent hissed in frustration, the robed one reappeared and unleashed a crackling bolt of deadening energy which struck the serpent square in the snout. It felt heavy. It tried to pursue the robed one back to the Material Plane, but it couldn't make a passage there. The ethereal connections to the solid world were closed to the serpent by some magical force. It could only watch angrily as the three remaining prey, still lit up with the serpent's venom, passed deeper into its lair.
   It watched, and it waited.
Today's Monster Monday is the phase serpent, a silvery hunter from the ethereal plane. Armed with an array of dimension-defying abilities that let it strike from anywhere, this slithering terror is the perfect ambush predator to stalk the halls of any dungeon.

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2017 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Monster Monday: Platybelodon, the Shovel-Tusked Elephant

Today's Monster Monday is platybelodon, the weirdest elephant ever. This prehistoric elephant-like creature is distinguished by its four tusks, the lower two forming a shovel-like growth jutting out below the trunk.

Platybelodon sculpture by Sean Cooper & Martin Garratt, photo by RobinGoodfellow_(m) via Flickr
Platybelodon and related amebelodonts were gomphotheres - elephant-like creatures that roamed the earth 12 million years ago up until the end of the last ice age. While most gomphotheres had four tusks, amebelodonts had these specialized shovel-like plates. It was once thought that they used them to literally shovel up their food, but according to recent reconstructions of their life and diet, these creatures used their shovel-tusks to scrape tree bark and even as a saw to cut down small saplings and shrubs while their flexible trunk held them in place.

It also has one of the most terrifying skeletons of any herbivore:

via Wikimedia
The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2017 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Monster Monday: Giant Camel and Two-Humped Camel

Today's Monster Monday is a twofer: both the two-humped camel and the giant camel, two sure-footed pack-animals specialized at living in harsh conditions.

Tang-Dynasty model of a Sogdian riding a camel, via Wikimedia
Modern camels aren't as big as that tiny rider makes this one look, but the scale is about right for someone riding a
prehistoric giant camel like titanotylopus. Also, the rider looks like a lawn gnome, which amuses me.
The two-humped camel is more commonly known as the Bactrian camel, but Bactria is a real place on Earth, so that name is probably not suitable for most fantasy campaign settings. The one-humped dromedary or Arabian camel has already been statted up, but I felt the need to stat up their hardier, stronger, and more wide-ranging two-humped cousins as well. Two-humped camels have higher Strength and Constitution scores, making them ideal for hauling heavier loads in harsher environments than dromedaries, and also making them more formidable in a fight - both of which are characteristics that adventurers in camel-country might want to look for in their mounts and pack animals.

Bactrian camels resting in Jiayu Pass, by Emcc83, via Wikimedia
Prehistoric North America was home to many species of camel, including the gigantic megacamelus, titanotylopus, and gigantocamelus (those last two are considered by some paleontologists to be the same). These giant camels could be roughly 12 feet high and weighed over 5,000 pounds, making them about twice the size of the largest modern camels. In your campaign, giant camels might be employed by wealthy merchants to ship large quantities of goods across the desert, or they might be ridden by desert giant warriors. They could even be used as fighting platforms similar to war-elephants; imagine a giant camel draped in scale barding armor, with two archers firing from its back and two pikemen fighting from armored baskets hanging on either side of the beast.

(Don't forget to check out the encounter ideas and adventure hooks for these camels below the stat blocks!)

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2017 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Monster Monday: Hellmouth, the Gateway Monster

Today's Monster Monday is the hellmouth, a tremendous beast whose very mouth is a gateway to Hell (as you may have guessed from the name). Hellmouths were a motif in medieval art that tended to result in some pretty metal images, as in this detail from an icon showing a black hellmouth swallowing a bunch of damned souls, who are also simultaneously being roasted in flame, tortured by devils, and/or attacked by snakes:

Hellmouth, via Wikimedia
As it is statted up below, the hellmouth is not a monster the GM should use lightly. It is always important, when designing encounters, to take into account what might happen if one or more of the characters succumbs to the monster's powerful abilities. You don't want to throw a medusa at your players if you aren't prepared to spend some time with one or more of them petrified. Just so, you don't want to throw a hellmouth at your players if you aren't prepared to spend the rest of the session with half the part stuck in Hell. The hellmouth is best used when necessary as part of the story, rather than as a random encounter. That said, suddenly having to improvise a rescue mission to get your bard out of Hell sounds like a pretty fun session.

The hellmouth does not have to be a potential campaign derailer. If you aren't ready to randomly throw some of the PC into a screaming torture-dimension, the hellmouth can suppress its throat-gate, allowing it to simply swallow folks into its flaming stomach. It is also designed to act as a living infernal siege engine, launching flaming boulders at distant targets and calling in reinforcements from Hell.

By the way, I've decided to start giving some adventure hooks below each monster, so even if you don't feel like reading a stat block, scroll down for dem sweet hooks.

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2017 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Monster Monday: Salt Ghouls, Desiccating Dead from the Desert

   When the sun was at its highest and the caravan had stopped to give the men and the camels rest, the howlers came pounding out of the desert. They were dead, emaciated men, their cracked faces twisted into cruel sneers. The monsters dashed across the dunes on all fours, kicking up a cloud of sand as they plowed toward the caravan.
   Hassan drew his falchion as soon as the first scream hit the hot air. He watched the undead horde with trepidation, eyes occasionally darting back along the road whence the caravan had come. No, fleeing was not an option here. His only chance of surviving in this harsh desert was to stay and ensure that the caravan survived. He dashed up to where the first of the ghouls were already swarming a panicked camel laden with silks. Hot blood sprayed out, staining raw silk red and sizzling on the skillet-hot sand. 
   Hassan's falchion bit into one of the ghouls, producing no spray of blood but a small puff of ancient dust. The creature was caked with sand and salt crystals. Its shriveled yellow eyes fixed on Hassan and it lunged at him, raking a gnarled claw against his upraised forearm. He kicked it in the chest, gathering space, then swung his sword with both hands, decapitating the ghoul. Its husk fell with a light thump. Hassan took a second to examine his wound. His flesh was puckered and cracked around the three gashes, but no blood was coming out - not even a trickle.
   Another scream ripped the air close by, and he turned to meet another leaping ghoul with his blade, blocking its claws and using its momentum to toss it over his shoulder. But another leapt for him at the same time, clawing at his silk jazerant and sinking yellow teeth into his neck. He dislodged it with an elbow to the skull and brought his curved blade down into its back. But Hassan's strength was leaving him. His muscles were slow to respond, and his tongue was glued to the dry roof of his mouth. He stumbled back, clutching at his neck wound. His vision blurred, he tripped over something and fell, splayed out on the sand, eyes closed. 
   Thirsty. So thirsty. Hassan rubbed sand and grime out of his eyes and sat up. The sun was low and orange on the horizon. Dead men and camels and dismembered ghoul husks littered the road around him. Not enough to account for the whole caravan. So they had made it. They had weathered the ghoul attack and gone on. Gone on without Hassan. His situation began to dawn on him. He was alone in the desert with almost no water. He frantically patted his hip, searching for his canteen, but it was absent. They had left him and taken his water. Bastards
   He rushed to the nearest camel corpse in hopes that they had overlooked a waterskin. There was one resting on the camel's side, shredded by ghoul claws and drained of its contents. But the array of leather straps suggested there might be another under the bulk of the dead beast. Hassan began to dig, heedless of the pain. At last, he drew forth a small bladder of water, though his cry of triumph could not escape his dry throat. He uncorked the skin and upended it into his mouth. The water seemed to disappear as soon as it hit his tongue. No cool wetness soothed his dry mouth, no refreshing fluid filled him. It was as if he was drinking ash. A cry of frustration and pain escaped him now, rasping and high pitched like the screams of the ghouls. He touched his neck wound and his fingers came away crusted in salt. As the last light of the sun dipped below the dunes, Hassan stumbled down the road after the companions who had left him to die. 
Today's Monster Monday is the salt ghoul, a ravenous undead creature from the dry dunes. Their cursed claws and bite can drain the water from a living being, leaving them dehydrated and desperate in the desert.

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2017 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Monster Monday: Zitiron, Mer-Knight in Shining Scales

Today's Monster Monday is the zitiron, a merfolk-like creature with a body covered in bony armor plates that gleam like steel. Zitiron are knightly sea creatures, who train by jousting with each other under water or at the ocean's surface - much to the delight and amazement of passing ships. Zitiron knightly orders are often called upon to fight in wars between merfolk kingdoms, or enrolled by port cities and merchant concerns to defend stretches of sea from rampaging sea monsters.

One of many zitirons depicted in the awesome Bosch painting, The Garden of Earthly Delights (c.1490-1510).

A black-scaled zitiron dueling a woodwose on a battle-gull. From the Hastings Book of Hours (1480).
As A Book of Creatures points out, the fanciful, knightly depictions of zitirons likely derive from descriptions of sea turtles. A common medieval artistic trope is that everything in the surface world has its counterpart in the sea. On many medieval maps and manuscript illustrations, you will see sea cows, sea horses, sea goats, sea cats, and other aquatic versions of surface animals. Early modern fishermen reported encounters with sea monks and sea bishops. Dolphins and porpoises were even sometimes called mereswine - sea pigs. In this context, is it any wonder that late medieval Flemish artists reinterpreted stories of sea turtles - altered through oral transmission as if by a game of telephone - into sea knights?

c. 1350 illustration of a zitiron accompanying Jacob van Maerlant's poem "Der Naturen Bloeme", via Wikimedia
The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2017 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Monster Monday: Yara-Ma-Yha-Who - He Eats You When You're Sleeping

"Get up, young lazybones! Do not sleep under the fig tree! Did I not tell you who lives up there? I didn't? Well, I'm telling you now, so listen up and listen good! You want to grow up big and tall, right? Then don't do what I did. 
   "I used to be tall when I was younger. Taller than your father, in fact. Don't laugh, it's true. But I was lazy, like you, and I often stole away to nap in the shade of the fig tree instead of helping with the work. One day I woke up from my nap and found my skin had grown redder. I thought it was a sunburn, but it could not have been. See, even my back was redder! And when I went home, my mother thought I was shorter. And I had these round wounds on my neck. Father thought they were bug bites, but they were not from any bug we knew.
   "It was a long while before I fell asleep under the fig trees again. The next time I did, I woke up even redder and even shorter than before! I was even shorter than my old mum now! Well, I did not want this to happen again, but I did want to know what had done it to me, so I came up with a plan.
   "One day, when the sun was high in the sky, I went to the fig grove and pretended to sleep. I waited and waited, and sure enough, something came down out of the tree. It wasn't a bug, it was a little man - yea high - and bright red all over. He had a big head like an overripe fig, and a big mouth, and suckers on his fingers and toes like the suckers of the octopi we see at the beach. It came down the tree head-first, and as it opened its mouth to swallow me up, I leapt to grab it. I brought a sack with me, and I tried to wrestle it into the sack so that I could bring it back to the village to show everyone. But it escaped and ran up the tree and out of sight.
   "I think if it had swallowed me one more time, I would be just as short and just as red as it was. Think, I might even have turned into one myself! Do you wonder, now, why an old man like me is always going about his work, even in the hot sun? And why you never catch me napping here in the shade? It could happen to you too, boy! So get off your lazy butt and get back to work!"
Today's Monster Monday is the yara-ma-yha-who, a strange creature from Aboriginal Australian mythology. The yara-ma-yha-who is a short man with bright red skin, a round, oversized head, and sucker-tipped fingers and toes. It preys on victims who fall asleep under its tree, draining blood with its suckers and swallowing its victims whole. It does not eat those whom it swallows, though. It regurgitates them, leaving them redder and shorter than before. If an individual is swallowed and regurgitated enough times by a yara, it becomes one!

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2017 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Monster Monday: Hagfish - Jawless Slime Eels

Today's Monster Monday is the hagfish, a jawless fish that bites with rasping tooth-plates, ties itself into a knot in order to pull chunks of flesh off its prey, and can turn the water around it into slime. It sounds like the larva of an aboleth or some other primeval aberration, but it is 100% real and 200% gross.

Myxine glutinosa, from Les Poissons (1877) by Gervais and Boulart, via Wikimedia
Hagfish recently made the news when a truckload of them spilled out onto a highway in Oregon, coating the road and nearby cars in thick slime. This reminded me of a note that I made years ago in my ever-growing list of monsters to stat up: 'Giant hagfish that swarm ships.'  Normal hagfish have already been statted up (well, cat-sized versions of normal hagfish), but presented below are 10-foot giant hagfish and a writhing hagfish swarm. If you want to see a real-life hagfish swarm in action, check out this video from the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

A hagfish swarm can pose a danger to adventurers in the water. They might be attracted by a recent kill that the party made, tearing into the flesh of the corpse and the heroes alike. Giant hagfish are even more dangerous, as they can tear open the hull of a ship to get at the food inside. Imagine the horror as the adventurers go belowdecks in a ship only to find it flooded with seawater, slime, and squirming eels feasting on livestock and sailors.

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2017 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Monster Monday: Vampiric Skeleton

Today's Monster Monday is the vampiric skeleton, a skeleton that sucks blood. These aren't the skeletons of vampires: that's not how vampires work. But they could be the skeletons of a vampire's victims, or creatures who died in a vampire's evil castle, or just of beings who were buried in a particularly evil area charged with necrotic energies.

This is a variant of the skeleton template, so it can be applied to anything that has a skeleton. Blood-sucking ogre skeleton? Sure! Vampiric skeletal wyvern? Sounds good to me. Bloodthirsty badger bones? Yeah, okay, but the alliteration might be a bit much.

Presented below are the vampiric skeleton variant template and two example vampiric skeletons: a human and a dire wolf.

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2017 Jonah Bomgaars.

This human skeleton has been deformed by dark energies. Sharp fangs grow from its gaping mouth.
Vampiric Skeleton, Human   CR 1/2
XP 200
NE Medium undead
Init +6; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Perception +0
DEFENSE
AC 16, touch 12, flat-footed 14 (+2 armor, +2 Dex, +2 natural)
hp 6 (1d8+2)
Fort +2, Ref +2, Will +2; +4 channel resistance
DR 5/bludgeoning; Immune cold, undead traits
Vulnerability sunlight destruction
OFFENSE
Speed 30 ft.
Melee 2 claws +2 (1d4+2), bite -3 (1d6+1 plus blood drain)
Special Attacks blood drain (1d2 Con)
STATISTICS
Str 15, Dex 10, Con --, Int 10, Wis 10, Cha 14
Base Atk +0; CMB +2; CMD 14
Feats Improved InitiativeB
Gear broken chain shirt
SPECIAL ABILITIES
Blood Drain (Ex)
When a vampiric skeleton hits with its bite attack, or if it grapples a foe, it inflicts 1d2 points of Constitution damage on its target. The vampiric skeleton heals 5 hit points or gains 5 temporary hit points for 1 hour (up to a maximum number of temporary hit points equal to its full normal hit points) each round it drains blood.
Sunlight Destruction (Su)
When a vampiric skeleton is exposed to direct sunlight (not the effects of daylight or similar spells), it cannot attack and is staggered. On every subsequent round of exposure, the vampiric skeleton takes 1d4 points of fire damage.
ECOLOGY
Environment any
Organization any
Treasure none 

Monday, July 31, 2017

Monster Monday: Ikuchi, the Living Tentacle

The whale corpse reeked worse than a day-old battlefield, but that is not why the villagers avoided the shore. Something was out there, they said. A great squid or a sea serpent. A toothless old man mumbled something about the restless spirits of the dead. Matsushita Ino was not afraid of a sea monster. She had slain seven oni in the mountains not a week ago. But she had sworn an oath to burn incense at the shrine on Onobai island before the last cherry blossoms fell, and now there was no one to ferry her across. The town's fishing fleet was pulled high up on the beach, well past even the stinking whale corpse with its twisting pattern of puckered, circular scars.

   "Very well!" she raised her voice once again above the murmuring crowd. "If there are none here who will help me - a sworn warrior of your lord - out of duty and honor, perhaps silver will give you the courage to row for me." She held up a string of jangling silver coins - enough to buy a boat outright in a village this poor. One man stood forward, bald and wizened. Wordlessly, he took the coins, handed them off to an equally ancient woman, nodded to her solemnly, then led Ino to the shore.

   His boat was small, but he used it like it was a part of his own body. Ino tried to make conversation with the leathery old salt, but he just smiled and nodded and kept working the oars. They were halfway to Onobai before she realized he was mute. She took up a position in the prow, hand upon the hilt of her nodachi, grey eyes scanning the sea for the promised threat. It was not long in showing itself.

   It started as a ripple of water moving against the wind. Then the tentacle breached the surface, bristling with serrated suckers. So it was a giant squid after all. She drew her nodachi, ready to strike out with the long blade at the slightest provocation. No, not a giant squid - the creature was a single, free-swimming tentacle, tapering to a point at both ends, thick around as a tree trunk, and covered in those toothy suckers. She had read about these. Ikuchi. Ship-renders. Hungering tentacles from the deep, not often seen in shallow seas such as this. Spring had brought more than cherry blossoms to the shores of Achikara.

   The tentacle circled the boat once, then struck. Both ends of the ikuchi shot up, wrapping around the prow and stern. Ino lashed out, quick as a crane, her blue blade biting into the rubbery flesh. It twisted itself around the boat like a coil of rope. The old sailor seemed to pay it no heed; his face as he rowed was that of a samurai going into a duel - confidence masking resignation. Ino leapt back as the prow of the boat splintered. The tentacle continued to constrict, cracking the wale of the boat. Water was seeping in. Ino struck at the ikuchi thrice, and thrice more, each time cutting a deep gouge in the beast, but it never relinquished its hold. It would crush the boat before Ino could cut through it.

   The old sailor caught her eye. He had stopped rowing, and was standing in the boat, holding a splintered oar like a spear. He gave her the same solemn nod he had given the old woman in the village. Ino nodded back. Channeling all her strength, she brought her nodachi down on the thickest part of the tentacle, cutting deep like a woodsman's axe. The blade shattered inside the beast. The old sailor came down a moment later, driving the sharp end of the oar down into the cut she had made. The tentacle writhed, ripping the boat to flinders. As Ino hit the water, she saw the tentacle wrap completely around the old sailor, ready to tear him apart as easily as it had his boat.

   All sense was muffled by the shocking cold water. Ino dropped the hilt of her broken sword and fumbled to undo the ties on her kusari katabira - the heavy silk-covered coat of mail links was dragging her deep into the sea. Breath burning in her lungs, she shrugged the armor off and kicked back up to the surface in time to see the wounded ikuchi, blood seeping from dozens of cuts, slither off into the depths.

   Matsushita Ino lay back in and breathed deep, letting the salt water and the tide carry her toward Onobai. She closed her eyes and said:

Dead whale. Spiral scars.
Blossoms fall on the red sea
where ikuchi feeds.

Ikuchi illustration by Toriyama Sekien for the Konjaku Hyakki Shūi (1781), via Wikimedia
~~~~~~~~

Today's Monster Monday is the ikuchi, a giant living tentacle from (where else?) Japan. This free-swimming tentacle can wrap itself around ships and crush them to get at the tasty sailors within.

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2017 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Monster Monday: Blink Raptors, Deadly Teleporting Dinos

A constant damp pervaded the whole jungle. It wasn't even raining; water just dripped perpetually from leaf to leaf, more than enough to make sure that nothing ever dried out. Not for the first time today, the magistress was glad not to be wearing her academic robes, which would have instantly become unbearably sodden and overwhelming in this environment. Instead she wore simple, practical travelers' garb which belied the fact that she was the foremost expert in her field. She was supposed to be here studying the local plant life in all its scientifically intriguing strangeness. Now she barely registered it. A lot had changed since yesterday, when her expedition had been betrayed by her mysterious benefactor's security chief, leaving them unprepared for the furious onslaught of the monsters who dwelt in the deep jungle.
   "I can see the cave from here," she called out to the ranger, Muldoon. They were searching for Sir Raymond Arnold, who had been missing since last night. He had been seeking out an important artifact thought hidden in a nearby cave. The cave's black maw stood not far away, across a small clearing. So close, and yet Magistress Sattler was unnerved at the thought of exposing herself, even for a moment, by leaving the cover of the trees. "We can make it if we run," she suggested.
   "No we can't," Muldoon said, flat and measured, eyes fixed on a patch of jungle not twenty meters away.
   "Why not?"
   "Because we are being hunted."
   "Oh, gods..."
   "In the bushes, straight ahead. It's alright."
   A shadow flicked across the patch of leaves, and suddenly she could see a green reptilian eye watching them. "Like Hell it is!"
   But the keen-eyed ranger was already nocking an arrow to his bow. "Run. Towards the cave. I've got her." He paced forward, ever so slowly, and Magistress Sattler stayed with him, unwilling to free herself from this last safety tether. "Go!"
   She spun and immediately tripped on a root, twisting her ankle. She sprang up and hobbled faster than she had ever run on two good legs, leaping over logs, sliding through puddles, and out into the clearing. She breathed through gritted teeth, not daring to look behind her until she passed under the roof of the cave. 
Muldoon took one step forward, then another, slowly drawing his bowstring back until his thumb brushed his jaw. The creature clearly saw him, but made no move to attack. The dumb beast had probably never seen a bow before. He let fly the arrow, straight at the monster's eye. Faster than the arrow, the monster disappeared, reappearing in the same instant right next to him.
   "Clever girl." Muldoon nocked and drew again in the blink of an eye, but as he whirled to skewer the beast at point-blank range, it squealed and lunged at him. he was surrounded, but by how many he couldn't tell - they seemed to shift in and out of existence. Their claws slashed at him from everywhere and nowhere at once.
   The blink raptors' pack leader watched the kill unfold from the bushes not five feet away from where Muldoon had stood; completely still, eerily silent, and undoubtedly clever.
Today's Monster Monday is the blink raptor, a fierce and intelligent magical dinosaur that can teleport and phase in and out of the Material Plane. Think blink dog mixed with deinonychus.

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2017 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Monster Monday: Abominable Snowman, the Dread Yeti

It probably doesn't surprise you, dear reader, to know that in times of hot and sunny weather, your humble d20 despot seeks shelter indoors with heavy curtains drawn across every window. To help cool things off, today's Monster Monday is the abominable snowman, or dread yeti. Much larger and more powerful than your standard yeti, these beasts have been known to lay waste to entire mountain settlements single-handedly. They call upon tremendous strength and an elemental connection to the cold, and their frightful roar can leave even the stoutest adventurer paralyzed with fear and scoured by ice crystals.

I created the abominable snowman for part 3 of my holiday mini-adventure series, which I did not have the creative energy to finish and publish last holiday season (I do still intend to finish it). This creature is not just a Huge-sized yeti: it can also throw rocks and chunks of ice like a giant, the yeti's fear gaze-attack has been traded for a roar that can paralyze its targets with fear, and it also gains a breath weapon that deals cold and sonic damage (so it can still be effective against smart adventurers who magically bundle up against cold damage). This CR 9 monster is designed to pose a higher-level threat than the existing yeti.

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2017 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Monster Monday: Melinoe, Nymph of Madness

Adalis met his muse for the last time at midnight, at the crossroads. She was as beautiful as pure chaos, her skin shifting from black to white like the phases of the moon, now shining brightly, now dissolving into shadows. She embraced him. He felt every emotion well up in his body and then drain out of him like grain from a torn sack, a sack that she would mend and then fill with her genius. She had been there for Adalis when his songs fell on deaf ears, when he was booed out of the inn, when his beloved laughed at his heartfelt poetry. When he was invited to play for the baron, only to discover halfway through his performance that he was the butt of a terrible joke. His muse had always been there for him, ready to whisper in his ear that which he already knew. They were all fools who could never appreciate true beauty. They must learn. They must pay.
Tonight, she would teach him the song that drives men insane.
Today's Monster Monday is melinoe, a tortured nymph who spreads madness to all she encounters. The sight of her can render a stalwart adventurer into a babbling mess. Her mere glance can strip away the mind's defenses. When she sees madness in others, she nurtures it as other nymphs would care for a grove sacred spring.

from Antikes Zaubergerät aus Pergamon (Richard Wünsch, 1905), via Wikipedia
Drawing of a 3rd century AD spell-inscribed bronze tablet found at Pergamon, invoking (among others) Melinoe 
Melinoe is a rather obscure figure from Greek myth, closely associated with Hecate (goddess of crossroads and witchcraft). The real magic tablet* depicted above does not show Melinoe, but does invoke her name. A surviving Orphic hymn to Melinoe calls her "saffron-cloaked nymph of the earth" and describes her thus:
This specter drives mortals to madness with her airy apparitions
as she appears in weird shapes and strange forms,
now plain to the eye, now shadowy, now shining in the darkness—
all this in unnerving attacks in the gloom of night.
All of this, from her power over madness to her shifting form between light and shadow to her 'airy apparitions', played a role in how I statted up melinoe as a monster. Her beautiful visage drives others to madness, her ever-changing form can have an actual effect on the battlefield, and she can summon allips to her service.

*When I say real magic tablet, I mean that this is a real Greek spell-tablet inscribed with magic words, not that magic itself is real. Sorry, D&D still can't teach you the real power.

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2017 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Monster Monday: Minocentaur - Half-Minotaur, Half-Centaur

Today's Monster Monday is the minocentaur, a minotaur centaur. It has the lower body of a bull and the upper body of a minotaur. I guess its kind of like if a bull's neck suddenly turned into a full human torso. This taurine beast combines all the power and fury of a raging bull with all the power and fury of a raging minotaur. So watch out, I guess. Also, it dual-wields greataxes, because of course it does.

While I was statting it up, I was considering what kind of ranged weapon it should have: should it chuck a mighty spear, or go a more centaurish approach and wield a bow. Neither option quite felt right, but then I realized that I could just make it throw greataxes.

Photo by Wolfgang Sauber, via Wikimedia
Gilded Minoan axes in Herakleion Archaeological Museum. 
The reason minotaurs are often depicted wielding two-headed axes comes from their origins on the island of Crete. The minotaur was the monstrous offspring of King Minos's wife, Pasiphaë, and a super sexy bull that Poseidon sent out of the sea. King Minos imprisoned the minotaur in the Labyrinth, the name of which (labyrinthos) probably derives from labrys, a type of two headed axe (pictured above) which was used in religious ceremonies by the Minoans. With the Minoans strongly associated with bulls, labrys, the minotaur, and the labyrinth, it is almost inevitable that modern depictions of the minotaur would have him wielding a two-headed axe, even if he was not described as such in the original stories.

But enough about boring old two-legged minotaurs. Let's learn more about this twin-labrys-wielding, four-hoofed minocentaur:

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2017 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Monster Monday: Pit Mimic, The Living Hole

Today's Monster Monday is the pit mimic, an insidious trickster that disguises itself as the floor, only to open up and reveal a pit. It is a living pit trap, capable of moving itself under its prey so that they fall in, or grabbing people with its tentacles and dropping them into its extradimensional maw. Its gullet appears to be an ordinary pit, but any who fall in will find it bristling with pummeling pseudopods. Of course I've included variant pit mimics that are deeper, or filled with acid, or filled with spikes.

pit trap photo by Georg Waßmuth, via Wikimedia
There is a similar monster in Pathfinder Bestiary 6 called the slithering pit. As I was reading through the new Bestiary for an upcoming review, I remembered my pit mimic and went searching for it. As it turns out, although I statted it up in January of 2016, I neglected to post it either here or to my patreon. Well it's here now, and if I do say so myself (I do), it turned out better than the official slithering pit from the Bestiary. But be warned: this is a huge stat block. Creating this creature was a challenge because it breaks a lot of the base assumptions for a monster of this size and power. As such, it needed a lot of special rules to make sure that the monster functions intuitively within a rule system that was not built with it in mind.  Check it out below! I hope to see many adventurers in the future falling prey to these living, moving pits.

The following text in gold is available, along with any accompanying tables, as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2017 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Monster Monday: Colossal Octopus, Tentacle of the Deep

Today's Monster Monday (apologies for missing last week's post) is the colossal octopus, a tremendous being from the inky black depths of the sea, larger even than the legendary kraken. This being is a force of nature; a terror to shipping and to coastal communities.

Drawing by Pierre Dénys de Montfort, via Wikimedia
The kraken is a threat thanks not only to its immense size but also to its cunning (Int 21, Wis 20) and its innate magic. The colossal octopus, on the other hand, is a wholly non-magical animal, but nonetheless a true monster of the seas. With eight tentacle attacks and a powerful bite, this beast is built to take on a whole ship full of adventurers. It clocks in at Challenge Rating 13, which means it is an accessible opponent for more adventuring parties than the CR 18 kraken. The description also includes rules for hacking off its tentacles individually, because how could there not be? I'm actually kind of baffled by how the tentacle chopping that was a part of the kraken's stat block in D&D 3.5 disappeared in the Pathfinder version.

Back in the days of the Enlightenment, as humankind's approach to studying the natural world transitioned from the natural philosophy of earlier times to the more rigorous scientific method, both the kraken and the gigantic octopus were occasionally considered to be real creatures. Carl Linnaeus, the father of the modern taxonomy himself, included the kraken (under the scientific name Microcosmus marinus) in the first edition of Systema Naturae, published in 1735. The French naturalist Pierre Dénys de Montfort included both the kraken and what he described as the larger "poulpe colossal" (colossal octopus) in his 1802 work, Histoire Naturelle Générale et Particulière des Mollusques.

Drawing by Pierre Dénys de Montfort, via Wikimedia
These vestiges of myth and legend were soon scrubbed from scientific literature due to a lack of evidence, but it is worth noting why they ever made it to those pages in the first place. While we may take for granted that creatures like the colossal octopus are pure myth, early naturalists did not have the luxury of such certainty, especially when it came to the mysterious ocean depths. Naturalists used not only their own observations in their descriptions of the natural world, but also reports from others, studiously collecting and analyzing eyewitness accounts, local legends, and the writings of their ancient and medieval fore-bearers. The kraken and colossal octopus were represented in those sources just as the real monsters of the deep were; the fact that the immense carcasses of the otherwise unbelievable giant squid and blue whale occasionally washed ashore only served to lend credence to the idea that these other abyssal titans might exist somewhere out there in the unplumbed depths of the boundless ocean.

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2017 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Monster Monday: Knocker, Leprechaun of the Mines

   "Don't be too hasty to finish that there pasty," Jago's wrinkled grey face twisted into a smirk. The old-timer leaned in toward where Cadwur was eating his lunch by the light of his candle-helmet. "You'll want to save a morsel for the knockers.  Like this." He took one last bite of his own pasty and tossed the remaining corner out beyond the candlelight.
   Cadwur's stomach rumbled. He was new to mine labor, and his lunch had not filled him as it should. He eyed the last bite of his pasty eagerly. 
   "Save a morsel for the rats, more like!" Massen butted in. "You'll go hungry if you listen to this old fool's tall tales, Fresh-Face." He popped half a sweet roll in his mouth and chewed loudly. 
   "And if you showed some respect to the fey, maybe your tools would stop disappearing." Jago turned back to Cadwur. "Go on, make your offering. Unless you want to take your chances like Missing Massen over here." 
   Reluctantly, Cadwur tossed his crust out beyond the circle of light. Over the now-familiar scrabbling of rats, he thought he heard the soft slapping of tiny bare feet. But then they all heard the screaming.  
   It came from further down the mine, from the main shaft where the men of the deep shift were working.  The screaming grew more violent as more voices joined in, and it meshed with the clash of iron and rock and the distorted echoes of a deep, unearthly growl. Then came the knocking. Loud, rhythmic, insistent, coming right from the entrance to the side shaft Cadwur and his whole crew were sitting in. Everyone instinctively recoiled.  Everyone but Massen, who leapt for the entrance, yelling, "Cave in! Everyone out!" Just as he reached the entrance, a support beam cracked and struck him on the head. He collapsed like a sack of potatoes and lay there for a split second, more serene than anyone had ever seen him, before the whole ceiling fell on him. They all watched in silence until his boots stopped twitching and the dust settled.  
   The screaming had stopped, but the noise had not. Something large and clumsy, roaring like a blast furnace and stinking like a charnel house, was scraping its way up through the mine. Candles extinguished, picks and shovels clenched in white-knuckle fists, every miner behind the cave-in listened with bated breath as the beast sniffed and clawed at the pile of rubble that had sealed them in. They stayed like that for what seemed like an hour after the monster gave up and moved on, then they breathed out a collective sigh of relief.  
   Cadwur pulled his flint and steel out of a satchel on his belt and lit the candle stub on the front of his helmet. A tiny man with a long, ratty beard and a protruding nose was resting against the shaft wall, right on the edge of his candlelight, hefting an oversized hammer in one hand. He winked at Cadwur, popped a crust of pasty in his mouth, and fell backwards through the solid stone. 
   Trapped by the cave-in, they were the only miners to survive the monster's attack. They lived in the dark for four days awaiting rescue, licking moisture from the walls and eating raw rats. And every man of them left out a scrap of rat for the knocker who had saved their lives.  
Today's Monster Monday is the knocker, an impish prankster from Welsh and Cornish mythology who lives deep in the mines and makes loud noises to warn of (or cause) cave-ins.

Knockers are responsible for odd sounds and mysterious disappearances that plague deep caverns and drive miners mad. They delight in causing mischief, from extinguishing lights and stealing tools to luring lone subterranean explorers to their dooms or trapping dozens of miners with strategically placed cave-ins. Most miners and subterranean races maintain that knockers can be appeased with offerings of food and drink, and some even claim that those whom the knockers favor are blessed with enduring luck underground.

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2017 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Monster Monday: Redwood Treant, Titan of the Forest

Today's Monster Monday is the redwood treant, a mighty tree creature so large that it tears up the earth with its footprints, so thick that fire struggles to penetrate to its wooden core, and so ancient that it considers elves to be young upstarts.  Just as redwoods are to regular evergreens, so redwood treants are to normal treants: more extreme in every dimension.

The mighty redwood
The redwood treant has been on my backburner for a while now (I mentioned them in my introduction to Guns of the Western Kings back in 2014), but I was inspired to bring them to life during a recent trip to the California redwoods.  All photos in this article are from this trip which I took earlier in May; in some of them, such as the one above, my wife provides a helpful reminder of the scale of these immense giants.

One of the abilities of the redwood treant is that its footprints create an area of difficult terrain, meaning its very movement can change the nature of the battlefield.  This ability was inspired from in-the-field observations of fallen redwoods and the huge pits their root structure left when they toppled over.  You can see the size of a redwood treant's 'foot' in the image below - try to imagine a battle where every blow the enemy dealt was made with gnarled feet of that size!


Speaking of gnarled, a redwood's incredible longevity and resistance to stress manifests itself physically in odd deformations.  These scars occur when a redwood survives a particularly stressful event like a forest fire, infection, or intense storm.  Sometimes it can look like the bark of the tree boiled and began to flow off, other times a scar can take the form of a huge burl the size of a small car.  They can even result in beautiful, almost sculptural figures emerging from the trunk.  An ancient redwood treant, the veteran of many battles for the survival of its wood, would likely have several such scars, making each one distinctive and characterful.


The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2017 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Monster Monday: Gallimimus & Ornithomimus - They're Flocking This Way

Today's Monster Monday is a two-for-one deal: ornithomimus and gallimimus, two fast, bipedal dinosaurs that ran around in herds. You may remember gallimimus from this scene in Jurassic Park.  Can a druid have a gallimimus companion and ride it around?  Of course.

Struthiomimus by Nobu Tamura, via Wikimedia
Ornithomimus stands slightly taller than a man, and reaches lengths of 12 feet including its tail.  Gallimimus is much larger, easily reaching 20 feet in length, with some specimens reaching 26 feet.  Together, these two dinosaurs are the most recognizable of a group of dinosaurs called ornithomimosaurs.  These dinosaurs tend to be lightly built, nimble, and very fast - Struthiomimus may have attained speeds of 50 miles per hour.  They are recognizably ostrich-like in shape, with long legs and long necks.  Like many species of dinosaurs, ornithomimosaurs were feathered.  Unlike other more familiar theropods, like tyrannosaurus and velociraptor, ornithomimosaurs were not fierce hunters.  Their diet is still under debate, but it is likely that they were omnivores, snatching up small mammals and reptiles, munching on insects, and pulling soft buds and leaves off of trees.

There are many species of ornithomimosaur.  The stats for ornithomimus work just as well for struthiomimus or archaeornithomimus, while the stats for gallimimus will serve for beishanlong as well.  Smaller ornithomimosaurs like anserimimus, sinornithomimus, pelicanomimus, rativates, and garudimimus can be simulated by applying the Young simple template to the ornithomimus stat block.  The largest ornithomimosaur - the odd-looking but gigantic and terrifying deinocheirus - will require its own unique stat block, but that is a Monster for a different Monday.

 by Nobu Tamura, via Wikimedia
Beishanlong
, a large ornithomimosaur rivaling and perhaps exceeding gallimimus in size.
I went back and forth many times over what size category these dinosaurs should be in.  Strictly by the numbers, ornithomimus is closer to horse-sized than man-sized, and should be a Large creature, while gallimimus is as long as an orca and might belong in the Huge size category.  Ultimately, though, I opted to make ornithomimus a Medium creature and gallimimus Large.  For one thing, without its tail, ornithomimus is roughly the size of an ostrich, which is already statted up as a Medium creature.  The dinosaurs also just aren't very powerful compared to other Large and Huge monsters respectively.  What really convinced me was that making ornithomimus Large would mean it could serve as a mount for Medium creatures.  While very light jockeys can ride ostriches in real life, I can't imagine a scenario involving an armored adventurer getting onto an ornithomimus resulting in anything other than horrible hip injuries for the poor dinosaur; on the other hand I can easily imagine humanoids riding gallimimus - probably because I read Dinotopia so much as a kid.

Ring Riders by the great James Gurney
The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2017 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Monster Monday: Lightning Bug, An Electric Insect

Today's Monster Monday is the lightning bug, a flashy magical insect that fires bolts of electricity at its enemies.  It's basically a living bug zapper.

Lightning bugs are surrounded by a field of electric energy that grows stronger the more of them there are in close proximity, allowing each lighting bug to draw on the electric fields of their neighbors to deliver a powerful jolt.  In combat, this means that each individual lightning bug does more damage when it is near multiple other lightning bugs.  This novel game mechanic makes fighting lightning bugs interesting and engaging for the players as they work out how the ability functions and how best to counter it.

Modified from a photo of Photinus pyralis taken by antfarmer, via Wikimedia
In addition, lightning bugs can deliver a blinding flash which dazzles nearby opponents, at the cost of draining its electrical energy for a few rounds.  Engaging these creatures in melee also has its risks, as any hit on the bug has a chance of delivering an electric shock to the attacker.

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2017 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Monster Monday: Hexcrow, a Witchy Corvid

NOTE: d20 Despot is on vacation!  While I'm off on my own adventure, please enjoy some magical birds!  Last week we had the Caladrius, a healing bird from European myth.  This week's vacation bird is the hexcrow; think of it as the evil opposite of the caladrius.

Today's Monster Monday is the hexcrow, a black bird of ill omen, known to cause feelings of unease and terror in those who view it.

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2017 Jonah Bomgaars.

This menacing black crow has glowing red eyes
Hexcrow      CR 2
XP 600
NE Tiny magical beast
Init +7; Senses low-light vision, darkvision 60 ft., detect magic; Perception +8
DEFENSE
AC 15, touch 15, flat-footed 12 (+3 Dex, +2 size)
hp 22 (3d10+6)
Fort +5, Ref +6, Will +3
OFFENSE
Speed 10 ft., fly 40 ft. (average)
Melee bite +8 (1d3)
Space 2-1/2 ft.; Reach 0 ft.
Special Attacks evil eye (DC 14)
Spell-Like Abilities (CL 3rd)
   constant  – detect magic
   3/day – doom (DC 13)
   1/day – augury, bane (DC 13)
STATISTICS
Str 10, Dex 16, Con 15, Int 12, Wis 15, Cha 14
Base Atk +3; CMB +3; CMD 16
Feats Ability Focus (evil eye), Improved Initiative
Skills Appraise +4, Fly +12, Perception +8, Stealth +15
Languages Common
SPECIAL ABILITIES
Evil Eye (Su)
The hexcrow can use the evil eye hex at will as if it were a 3rd level witch.
Restorative Body (Su)
ECOLOGY
Environment any
Organization solitary, pair, murder (1d3 hexcrows plus a murder of crows)
Treasure half

The hexcrow is a malign bird with sooty black feathers and glowing eyes.  Hexcrows delight in the misfortune of others, and tend to congregate around sites of tragic significance. 

   Characters of at least 7th level with the Improved Familiar feat who are within one step of Neutral Evil can take a hexcrow as a familiar. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

-your ill-augured d20 despot 

Monday, May 1, 2017

Monster Monday: Caladrius, the Healing Bird

NOTE: d20 Despot is on vacation!  While I'm off on my own adventure, please enjoy some magical birds!  This week we have the Caladrius, a healing bird from European myth.  Next week we will have the hexcrow, a witchy corvid.

Today's Monster Monday is the caladrius, a pure white bird with the power to heal the sick.  The caladrius makes an excellent Improved Familiar for a benevolent spellcaster, but it is also highly sought-after by the unscrupulous and the desperate.  The caladrius does not just heal sickness - it takes another's sickness on itself.  For this reason, the caladrius will not usually heal those with a fatal illness, for the caladrius itself would die.

The caladrius is first mentioned by the Roman author Plutarch, who said:
we know how often those who suffer from jaundice are healed by looking at the bird charadrius. This small animal seems to be endowed with such a nature and character, that it violently attracts to itself the disease, which slips out of the body of the sick man into its own, and draws off from his eyes as it were a stream of moisture. And this is the reason why the charadrius cannot endure to look at jaundiced persons nor help them at all, but turns itself away with closed eyes; not because it grudges the use of the remedy which is sought from it, as some consider, but because it might be wounded as by a blow.
The magical bird remained a popular inclusion in medieval bestiaries, where it was used as a Christ analogue (medieval bestiaries tended to view any animal as a metaphor for either Satan or Jesus, except the bonnacon).  According to the Aberdeen Bestiary:
The bird called caladrius, as Physiologus tells us, is white all over; it has no black parts. Its excrement cures cataract in the eyes. It is to be found in royal residences. If anyone is sick, he will learn from the caladrius if he is to live or die. If, therefore, a man's illness is fatal, the caladrius will turn its head away from the sick man as soon as it sees him, and everyone knows that the man is going to die. But if the man's sickness is one from which he will recover, the bird looks him in the face and takes the entire illness upon itself; it flies up into the air, towards the sun, burns off the sickness and scatters it, and the sick man is cured. 
Other bestiaries say that the caladrius' bone marrow, not its poop, cures blindness.  I decided to go with that one.

Caladrius - Bestiary, Royal MS 12 C XIX; 1200-1210, via Wikimedia
The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2017 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Monster Monday: Herne, the Wild Huntsman

Sometime a keeper here in Windsor Forest,
Doth all the winter-time, at still midnight,
Walk round about an oak, with great ragg'd horns;
And there he blasts the tree, and takes the cattle,
And makes milch-kine yield blood, and shakes a chain
In a most hideous and dreadful manner.
You have heard of such a spirit, and well you know
The superstitious idle-headed eld
Receiv'd, and did deliver to our age,
This tale of Herne the Hunter for a truth.
                 - William Shakespeare, The Merry Wives of Windsor
Today's Monster Monday is Herne, king of the Wild Hunt.  This ethereal huntsman rides his trusty steed through the woods accompanied by a far-seeing owl and two noble hunting dogs.  His motives are a mystery, but tales of this lonesome rider who hunts across the realms of men and fey have spread far and wide.

The tale of Herne the Hunter is first attested in William Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor (quoted above) which tells of a ghostly huntsman who haunts a particular oak.  The story may originate in the execution of a poacher named Richard Horne during the time of King Henry VIII.  The legend of Herne was expanded upon in Harrison Ainsworth's 1843 novel Windsor Castle, whence comes the illustration below.

Illustration of Herne the Hunter by George Cruikshank, via Wikimedia
Therein, Herne is described as:
a wild spectral-looking object, possessing some slight resemblance to humanity, and habited, so far as it could be determined, in the skins of deer, strangely disposed about its gaunt and tawny-coloured limbs. On its head was seen a sort of helmet, formed of the skull of a stag, from which branched a large pair of antlers; from its left arm hung a heavy and rusty-looking chain, in the links of which burnt the phosphoric fire before mentioned; while on its right wrist was perched a large horned owl, with feathers erected, and red staring eyes.
Some have tried to find the origins of the Herne story in the Celtic god Cernunnos.  While both Cernunnos and Herne are antlered huntsman, it seems to me a bit of a stretch to assume that a story first attested in 1597 has its origins in a god not worshipped there for 1000 years.  Nevertheless, it makes for a pretty rad monster.

Herne is a whole combat encounter rolled into one monster, mostly because he is never without his two loyal hounds, his noble steed, and his enigmatic owl.  These ethereal beasts are treated in essentially the same way as a druid's animal companion; the herne is considered a 15th level druid for the purposes of his hunting companions, with those 15 levels divided up between the horse, dogs, and owl.  So when a party fights the herne, they are actually fighting five individual creatures.  Check out the dauntingly long stat block below.

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2017 Jonah Bomgaars.