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. 

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-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.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Monster Monday: Shellycoat, the Evil Armored Water Spirit

Today's Monster Monday is the shellycoat, a fey creature from Scottish mythology who is clad in a heavy coat of shells.  Shellycoats are malevolent tricksters, fond of such pranks as pretending to drown and then drowning any passers-by who try to help.  You know that old goof?  Unlike most fey, shellycoats are brutish and strong and heavily armored, making them formidable front-line troops or tough bruisers.

In Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (1803), Sir Walter Scott said of the shellycoat, "he seemed to be decked with marine productions; and, in particular, with shells, whose clattering announced his approach."  From the tales recorded about shellycoats by Scottish folklorists, their pranks could range from the mischievous to the deadly.  Scott says that they shellycoat is "a freakish spirit, who delights rather to perplex and frighten mankind, than to serve, or seriously hurt them."  He goes on to describe one of the creature's pranks: calling out to a pair of travelers from a river, pretending to be a drowning person in need of aid.  The shellycoat led them upriver all night until they arrived at the source of the waters high in the mountains, only to laugh uproariously at the would-be rescuers and their wasted effort.  But in 1948, folklorist Lewis Spence described the shellycoat as "gigantic, swift, malignant, delighting in blood and violence."  One tale from Leith describes how a shellycoat seized a local man and threw him around until he died from the trauma.  So we have a picture of the shellycoat as both a prankster and a brutal murderer, both aspects of which I have chosen to include in the creature statted up below.

As with so many spirits and creatures of local folklore, the shellycoat suffered from innumerable variations, mutations, and conflations with other myths and legends across centuries of oral tradition until stories of the creature were finally recorded in the modern era.  One tale of the shellycoat comes to us from Ettrick Water, Selkirkshire, recorded in Allan Ramsay's Poems in 1721:
One of those frightful Spectres the ignorant People are terrified at, and tell us strange Stories of; that they are clothed with a Coat of Shells, which make a horrid rattling, that they'll be sure to destroy one, if he gets not a running Water between him and it...
The rattling coat of shells is there, but in this story the shellycoat apparently cannot cross running water - not an uncommon weakness for a bogeyman, but odd for a creature that is attested in other sources as dwelling in the water.  It is also said in some stories that the shellycoat became powerless if it took off its shell-coat - a trait probably borrowed from stories of selkies.  I have retained that aspect of the shellycoat because of the emphasis in puts on the creature's shell-armor, and because it sets up a combat where the adventurers are trying to sunder the shellycoat's armor before going in for the kill.

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

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Monster Wednesday: Marchosian Hellhound, an Infernal, Flying, Shapeshifting Dog

Today's Monster Wednesday* is the marchosian hellhound, an intelligent flying beast that breathes fire and can shapeshift into an elite infernal soldier.

Marchosias, from the Dictionnaire Infernal, via Cornell Digital Collections
The beast I have statted up below is loosely based on the demon Marchosias (or Marchocias), the Marquis of Hell.  Marchosias comes to us from the great early works of demonology (basically early-modern fanfiction about Hell combined with occult mysticism that some people took too seriously).  According to the Pseudomonarchia Daemonum, by Johann Weyer in 1577:
Marchocias is a great marquesse, he sheweth himselfe in the shape of a cruell shee woolfe, with a griphens wings, with a serpents taile, and spetting I cannot tell what out of his mouth. When he is in a mans shape, he is an excellent fighter, he answereth all questions trulie, he is faithfull in all the conjurors businesse, he was of the order of dominations, under him are thirtie legions: he hopeth after 1200 yeares to returne to the seventh throne, but he is deceived in that hope.
In the Ars Goetia of the Lesser Key of Solomon, a 17th century English grimoire drawing on the Pseudomonarchia as a source, Marchosias is described similarly:
The Thirty-fifth Spirit is Marchosias. He is a Great and Mighty Marquis, appearing at first in the Form of a Wolf having Gryphon’s Wings, and a Serpent’s Tail, and Vomiting Fire out of his mouth. But after a time, at the command of the Exorcist he putteth on the Shape of a Man. And he is a strong fighter. He was of the Order of Dominations. He governeth 30 Legions of Spirits. He told his Chief, who was Solomon, that after 1,200 years he had hopes to return unto the Seventh Throne
Marchosias would certainly be a CR 20+ monster, and given that I have no experience running games at that high of a level (nor do I particularly want to), I decided not to stat that up.  Instead, I made a lower-level monster based on Marchosias.

The marchosian hellhound has many of the same attributes as Marchosias: lawful evil, canine, winged, serpent-tailed, fire-breathing, shape-changing, etc.  These creatures make up Marchosias' thirty legions, and can shift shape back and forth between a heavily-armored infernal legionnaire and a winged hellhound.  More powerful than a standard hellhound, more versatile than the giant Nessian hellhound, and far more intelligent than both, the marchosian hellhound naturally makes for a dangerous enemy for any adventuring party.

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

Monday, April 10, 2017

Monster Monday: Pangolins, Armor-Covered Anteaters

Today's Monster Monday is the pangolin, also known as the spiny anteater.  Pangolins are small insectivorous mammals covered in thick overlapping scales.  They curl up into a defensive ball like an armadillo, presenting a front of spiny armor plates to any predators trying to bite them.  There are about eight species of pangolins ranging across Africa, India, Southeast Asia, and South China.  The smaller species of pangolin tend to be tree-dwellers, using their sharp claws and prehensile armored tails to navigate life in the branches, while the larger ones are ground-dwellers and burrowers.  Tree pangolins also tend to be good swimmers; they suck in extra air in their stomach and then glide through the water with an undulating motion.

Giant Pangolin, by Joseph Wolf (1865), via Wikimedia
Of course I statted up both the tree and ground pangolins, because more is always better.  Tree pangolins make a great (and adorable) choice of familiar for wizards and witches that hail from tropical climes.

A tree pangolin hanging by its tail, via Wikimedia
Of course, because pangolins are covered with natural armor, they have occasionally been used to make armor for humans.  Consider pangolin hide armor for those who adventure in tropical settings.

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

Saturday, April 1, 2017

APRIL FOOLS - Attack of App-ortunity: Using Microtransactions in Your Tabletop Game

EDIT: This was an April Fools Day post.
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Being a Game Master is hard work.  Not only are you creating and sustaining an entire world for your players to mess around in, but you also have to spend a lot of time before each session doing all your prep work.  Add on to that the effort of hosting a group of people in your house, apartment, or parent's basement and possibly procuring and preparing food and snacks or everyone, and you've basically got yourself a full-time job.  Plus, you have to buy books, modules, dice, battle mats, minis, props, and all the accoutrements of GMing.  Nonetheless, running games for your friends is a rewarding hobby.  But if you are like me, you may be wondering: how can we make it more rewarding?

It's time to bring tabletop RPGs into the modern era!  Mobile games have completely changed the gaming landscape, not only by opening up gaming to a broader spectrum of players, but also by popularizing the microtransaction economy.  What are microtransactions?  Basically, they allow the player to spend a small amount of money to purchase items or unlock special benefits in the game.  If that sounds annoying to you, you're wrong: if it were annoying, it wouldn't make any money, but in 2014 players spent 1.33 billion dollars on microtransactions in the game Candy Crush Saga. The free market has spoken!  Microtransactions are by no means limited to games you play on your phone - they are an increasing presence in console and PC games as well.  Heck, in the free-to-play massively multiplayer RPG Dungeons & Dragons Online, players had to pay to unlock fan-favorite races and classes like drow, warforged, monks, and druids.

So what's to stop us from applying the microtransaction business model to our tabletop games?  Ask and ye shall receive, dear readers.  Presented below is the microtransaction system I'm implementing at my table starting with today's game.

The Metacurrency
Metacurrency is a technique that a lot of games use.  This is a type of in-game currency that you buy.  Basically, it's a second level of abstraction to help your brain forget that you are spending actual hard-earned legal tender on fake stuff in a game.  I've implemented three different metacurrencies in my game: Dungeon Bucks, Hero Coins, and Magic Gems.  Dungeon Bucks are the basic metacurrency that you use to buy Hero Coins.  Magic Gems cannot be bought with Dungeon Bucks or Hero Coins, and have to be purchased separately or won in-game.  Here's the breakdown:


Of course, I give each player a starting pool of 500 Dungeon Bucks and 10 Hero Coins - gotta give them a little taste so they keep coming back for more.

Now you may be wondering: how does this system interact with the in-game gold economy?  Can you spend in-game gold to buy Dungeon Bucks?  Of course not.  But you can buy keys that unlock...

Monday, March 27, 2017

Monster Monday: Quicksilver Ooze, the Fastest Slime in the Dungeon

Today's Monster Monday is the quicksilver ooze, a fast-moving slime that eats treasure and poisons your blood.

Most oozes move so slowly that a canny adventurer can avoid combat with them entirely by simply walking away.  Good encounter design, or at least the element of surprise, is required to make many oozes a viable threat to a party.  The famous gelatinous cube, for example, is best employed as a surprise (its natural transparency and tendency to conform to the dimensions of a typical dungeon corridor means some adventurers literally walk right into it) or in conjunction with traps (personally, I'm a fan of the ol' gelatinous-cube-at-the-bottom-of-a-pit-trap goof).  Oozes are slow bags of acidic hit points - it's a niche they fill well.  But sometimes you want to use an ooze outside of their niche.  That was the idea behind the bombardier ooze, which can engage adventurers at range by shooting out gobs of acid.  The idea for the quicksilver ooze came from a similar place: what if there was an ooze that you couldn't outrun?

photo by bionerd, via Wikimedia
I called it the quicksilver ooze because mercury (aka quicksilver) is runny and already looks like some kind of sentient alien slime.  To make the monster more than just a fast ooze, I did some research (i.e. read the wikipedia article) on mercury and gave the quicksilver ooze some of the attributes of the element.  The ooze is temperature sensitive - slowed by cold damage and hastened by fire damage - because one of mercury's most famous attributes is its sensitivity to temperature (hence its use in thermometers).  Its slam attack, of course, gives its victims heavy metal poisoning.  And because mercury dissolves and amalgamates many other metals, including gold and silver, I decided this should be one of those mean monsters that eats your treasure.

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

Monday, March 20, 2017

Monster Monday: Green Man, Guardian of Wood and Field

Today's Monster Monday is the green man, a powerful plant spirit from European folk mythology.  The green man acts as a guardian of nature and a protector of communities that show proper respect to the wilds, but also as an avenger against those who despoil the wilderness and threaten his sacred groves.

via Wikimedia
Unlike most other nature spirits - such as dryads and nymphs - a green man does not avoid human settlements, and in fact it is not uncommon to see a green man visiting a rural planting festival to bless the year's crops.  But for all his tolerance of humanity, a green man's wrath is to be feared like none other.  He commands a withering array of plant magics capable of turning the whole forest against any who cross him.

via Wikimedia
The green man is a common decorative motif, especially in the British Isles.  Its origins remain uncertain, but many have attempted to connect it back to pre-Christian beliefs and nature deities like Pan and Silvanus.  Others have seen connections to the tale of Gawain and the Green Knight, wherein King Arthur's nephew does battle with a jolly green giant.  The green man is also connected to the Jack-in-Green, a leafy figure that appears in some rural English folk festivals.  Is the green man an echo of Europe's pagan past, preserved through time by folk memory and sculptural motifs?  Or did sculptors just like carving leafy faces?  This may remain an unsolved mystery, like the question of why there are so many medieval illustrations of knights fighting snails.

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

Saturday, March 18, 2017

The Power of Water: 5 New Water-Themed Spells

When it comes to elemental magic, fire has it easy.  Fire burns.  It's direct and easy to understand.  Utilizing the other classical elements in magic - water, air, and earth - requires more outside the box thinking.  Oftentimes cold, electricity, and acid fill in for water, air, and earth, allowing spellcasters to deal direct damage with something other than fire.  From a game design perspective, cold, electricity, acid, and fire are just different flavors of the same thing; switching the type of damage that an elemental spell does rarely has an in-game effect.  But if you are trying to play as a spellcasting character who specializes in water spells, you might find it jarring that the only way you can do damage is with ice.  Water is one of the most powerful forces on earth.  Don't spellcasters deserve more water-themed spells?

Photo by Malene Thyssen, via Wikimedia
The following five spells are designed to showcase the power of water: aquatic sheath allows swimming creatures to move and fight on land; evaporate dries up liquid, destroying potions and damaging water elementals; splash puts out fires and damages fire elementals; water jet blasts enemies with a concentrated burst of water; water shield protects an area from fire spells.

The following text is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2017 Jonah Bomgaars.  This content is designed for the pfrpg.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Monster Monday: Basan, the Japanese Death Chicken

Today's Monster Monday is the basan, an obscure Japanese giant chicken monster with death-breath.  The creature bears a passing similarity to the cockatrice, although instead of turning its victims to stone, the basan breathes out plumes of cold ghost-fire.

Basan illustration for Ehon Hyaku Monogatari by Takehara Shunsen (1841), via Wikimedia
The basan comes to us via Ehon Hyaku Monogatari (Picture Book of 100 Stories) published in 1841, and Gazu Hyakki Yagyō (The Illustrated Night Parade of a Hundred Demons) published in 1776.  Both were Japanese bestiaries compiling folklore and ghost stories that greatly influenced the Japanese yōkai tradition.  The basan itself was said to live in the mountains of Shikoku, the smallest of Japan's four main islands.

When converting this beast into a monster stat block, I briefly considered making it some sort of undead cockatrice because the descriptions of its unburning ghost-fire made me think of negative energy attacks.  In the end, I kept the negative energy angle and made the basan a living creature that was affected by negative energy in the same way that the undead are.  Despite its outwardly comical appearance (giant chickens are almost never unfunny), the basan needs to be an eerie monster, hence its connection to the plane of negative energy and its association with undeath.

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

Monday, March 6, 2017

Monster Monday: Planticore, a Leafy Beast

The goat was a problem, so he let it go.  It must have sensed its fate.  Broussilos would just have to hope that the wine would be enough of an offering.  He adjusted the thick straps that held the amphora on his back and continued his arduous trek up the mountain.  The Spring of Laersippos was hidden near the peak, guarded by a fierce manticore.  Local legend said the beast could be placated with the right gift, but no one was quite sure what that gift was.  A short bronze blade beat against Broussilos' thigh with every step: purely a measure of last resort.  The wine sloshed rhythmically in its container, like waves against the side of a ship at anchor.  If it wouldn't buy him passage to the spring, it might at least be enough to buy his safe retreat from the mountain.  

The brush grew thicker, wild vines choking out all else.  They pulled at his sandals, slashed at his linen greaves, and even caught on the amphora as if they, too, thirsted for wine.  Broussilos pushed through a plait of hanging tree branches and came face to face with the manticore.  It was upside-down, its huge man-like face purple and bloated, spiky beard matted with week-old blood.  Its wings were splayed out on the ground, pinned in place with serrated thorns as long as a man's arm.  Probing creepers grew into every nook and gash in its hide, twining about its bare ribs, hungry for decaying flesh.  

All in all, it was a very dead manticore.  

Broussilos could hear the burbling of the spring muffled by a mat of dense vegetation.  He took two steps toward it.  A great rustling of leaves marked the emergence of another great beast.  It was a cruel mockery of a manticore, its face all of knotted wood, its wings of veiny leaves.  Its leonine torso was woven of twisting brambles, and its swishing tail bristled with javelin-like thorns very much resembling those which peppered the corpse of the real manticore.  It growled, its voice like a thick cedar straining against a gale, and its amber eyes fixed on the intruder.

"I don't suppose you'll be wanting this wine," Broussilos began, unslinging the heavy amphora.  The beast's reply was an angry rattle of branches.  Then the vines all around snaked toward him, rearing up to grab at his limbs.  Bursts of nettles spattered his skin with burning poison.  "Very well then."  Broussilos cracked open the amphora's beeswax seal with the pommel of his sword and dumped the wine into his face, swallowing as much as possible and letting the rest spill over his body.  He tossed the half-empty container to the side, gripped his sword, thews tensing, and threw himself at the leafy monster.

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Today's Monster Monday is the planticore, which - as you might imagine - is a manticore made out of plants.  My wife threw the name out as a joke, and I took it and ran with it.  Planticores bristle with thorns, and they can even swallow people whole and crush them in the wicker cage of brambles that is their belly.  They can bend nearby plants to their will, unleashing plant-based magic against their foes while hovering safely above the action, bombarding the area with a barrage of thorns.

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