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.