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
, 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
AC 15, touch 15, flat-footed 12 (+3 Dex, +2 size)
hp 22 (3d10+6)
Fort +5, Ref +6, Will +3
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)
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
Evil Eye (Su)
The hexcrow can use the evil eye hex at will as if it were a 3rd level witch.
Restorative Body (Su)
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.