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Sunday, 5 October 2014

Nightmare


The Nightmare is literally a horse from hell. But if you want to be more specific, it comes from the Gray Wastes of Hades, the battleground dimension between Hell and the Abyss. These solitary smokey horses hide among the stunted black trees, waiting put to work (willingly or unwillingly) into the evil armies. But they are still difficult to catch. Nightmares breathe blinding smoke and are able to transform their bodies into ethereal substance that travels between dimensions. Their flinty hooves give out sparks when they strike the ground, setting anything flammable alight. Most coveted are the Cauchemars, massive Nightmares fit for giants to ride upon.

Went for a more smoke-based nightmare rather than the traditional flaming mane one. Found when reading the description that there were no allusions to flame except for some around the hooves, eyes and nostrils. And they don't deal fire damage, though yes their hooves can set things on fire. Don't ride a Nightmare on wooden floors, kids.

Some interesting history behind the concept of the Nightmare. The original Nightmare (the mare of German folklore) was a goblin that sat on the chests of sleepers, paralyzing them and causing bad dreams. The modern scientific explanation for things along these lines are sleep paralysis. Your body becomes paralyzed during sleep, to prevent you from moving around to much as you dream. But sometimes you wake up in a half-asleep state and can't move. And in this half-asleep state you might still be dreaming, and imagine something sitting on your chest. Lots of countries have their own versions of monsters that cause sleep paralysis. I had a similar experience, only in this case my monster was a walrus holding a small shelf asking me to give back the books I borrowed. Dreams, man.

The whole horse thing came about as a pun. You know, mare = female horse, nightmares = bad dream, Nightmare = evil horse. Though the first time you can see this pun is in Henry Fuseli's The Nightmare. But similar horses again appear in mythology and folklore. The ones most similar to the D&D Nightmare are prominent in Russian folklore (and probably surrounding countries), where a character (good or evil) rides on a giant ferocious steed with sparking hooves and smoke-filled breath.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Tsochar

The Tsochar is a colonial organism. The tangled-looking body is actually formed of several "strands", each possessing its own functional respitatory, digestive and nervous system. When fused, the creature behaves as a single individual, but strands can be surgically and continue living without the rest, albeit in a weak, animalistic state. An ordinary Tsochar will contain about a dozen strands, while elders are made up of hundreds.

Tsochar are also parasitic organisms, preferring to prey on intelligent beings. The Tsochar works it way inside the body of its host (preferably through a wound) and wedges itself in the spaces between the internal organs. The Tsochar can choose to simply inhabit the body --telepathically coercing the host with threats of pain if necessary-- or completely take over the host's nervous system, killing the mind while keeping the body alive. Obviously, the second option is used most, as few are willing to host a creature that (regardless of alligiance) will eat them from the inside out.

The Tsochar is similar to the Morgh, another wormy creature that is able to puppet bodies. However the Morgh is an undead creature controlling its own withered corpse, while the Tsochar is completely a parasite, highly intelligent, and relies on its host to be living.

I really like parasite monsters, regardless of game or media. Not sure how to explain that particular fancy, but it's always something I've found interesting. There's just something kinda cool / horrifying about another organism invading your body for its own survival.

Next time lets try an image that doesn't have blue and pink in it.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Nereid


Nereids are sea nymphs, the ocean being their usual habitat when they're not in the Elemental Plane of Water, their true home. Much like Dryads, the tree nymphs, are bound to their tree to survive, the Nereid's life is bound to their shawl, a floating material made of surf. Being separated from their shawls for too long results in the death of the Nereid, so stealing one is a certain (if cruel) way to temporarily gain their allegiance.

But the Nereid is a shy creature with a host of defensive abilities. As water faeries from an Elemental Plane, their bodies seem to be made out of shimmering water, making them incredibly difficult to see when submerged. They can also control the water surrounding them, alter currents and summon Water Elementals to protect them. Her final defense is an especially nasty and last resort one. The Nereid can kill with a kiss, filling the lungs of the victim with water so that they drown. You shouldn't have tried to take her shawl.

Actually a creature from Greek myth, as many nymphy creatures tend to be. While the word dryad refers to how they are bound to oak trees (drys), their name actually means that they are daughters of Nereus (50 in total, plus the son Nerites), an ancient sea god. There's some confusion between them and the Oceanids, daughters of Oceanus who are also sea nymphs (3000 in total, along with 3000 brothers --Potamoi-- river spirits). Calypso, of The Odyssey fame, is a Nereid or an Oceanid  depending on the source. Regardless of parentage, sea nymphs tended to be minor protective spirits to fishermen, sailors and the like.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

EPIC MONTH: Shen Lung



The Shen Lung is one of many different dragons of the Lung type. Ordinary dragons are highly magical creatures, but in the end they are merely intelligent, large and potent beasts. The Lungs are inherently mystical beings allied to the elements who cross the boundary between the Spirit World and the Material Plane at will. Their powers come from a mystic pearl embedded in their heads (or brains), which allow them to fly without wings, riding the currents of air.

The Shen Lung (the Spirit Dragon) is among the lungs that mortals are most likely to meet, where all others prefer to remain hidden away in their celestial palaces or in the Spirit World. An aura of divine purity exudes from this dragon, repelling all verminous beasts that would dare approach it. It has special power over water and is often found near rivers inhabited by Chiang Lungs, whom they are bodyguards to. Pleasing a Shen Lung results in good harvests, while insulting one can lead to floods and blights, as it has control over the weather.

I like the traditional D&D dragons (blue and black are my favourites), but I have a soft spot in my heart for the lung type dragons. I think it's mostly the way they don't have wings but can still fly. There's just something quite cool about that. And the whole mystic pearl thing. Some Chinese (and I'm assuming other Oriental tales) feature the dragon's pearl being found by a human and then it bringing them good luck.

Some of you may recognize the name Shen Lung from the Dragon Ball series, where the 7 dragon balls (mystic pearls?) were gathered together to summon Shenron (or Eternal Dragon, or Shenlong) to grant the gatherer a wish.

The final image of Epic Month, which also consisted of the Phoenix, Phane and White Slaad. Using a dragon feels a bit like cheating, since dragons have more than one challenge rating depending on their age. But from 800 years onwards a Shen Lung is over CR 20 so that means it becomes an epic level creature so yeah.

Friday, 5 September 2014

EPIC MONTH: White Slaad


The Death Slaad isn't the final evolution of the slaad species. Neither is the White Slaad; it's merely the next step.

But first lets go over the many many steps needed to get to a white slaad. First a Blue or Red slaad needs to infect a spellcaster in order to create a Green Slaad. After a century, it becomes a Grey Slaad, and it can use a Ritual to become a Death Slaad. Then after yet another century, a Death Slaad becomes a White Slaad. And like I said, this isn't even it's final form.

But for now, the Slaad comes closer to the primordial chaos that originally birthed them as creatures. As well as having destructive chaos-themed magical abilities, the White Slaad is able to belch up chaotic goo which corrodes away the laws that hold matter together like acid. Even those who would normally have protection from chaos aren't a match for it, as it burns through the shielding magic.

I've kept going with the whole fungal thing that Joe did with his Death Slaad, since I was pretty disappointed with my original Green Slaad. The fungus thing adds a little something visually weird to what are otherwise yet another lizard/frog creature. The 3.0 edition of the Monster Manual actually had a nice table to slightly randomize the appearance and abilities of the Slaad. They still kept the basic giant toad-man thing, but you could sometimes get ones with snake hair, wings, petrification gaze, breath weapons or exploding poisonous boils.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

EPIC MONTH: Abomination, Phane


Abominations have been covered before here. They're unholy unions between deities and something else, whatever that may be, and however it may be done. The higher divine creatures, being in that strange state of physical being, it may not be a birth or hatching as feeble mortals understand it. Regardless, this merging of god-stuff happens, and Abominations are formed, being which should not be, are aware of this, and destroy everything around them through their mere presence. Even stillbirths can regain horrible unlife. When divinities become aware of an Abomination, they attempt to destroy it or seal it away. It doesn't always work.

Most Abomination's destruction is limited to the present time. Not so much with the Phane, the union between the other thing and a god of time and fate. As such, their destruction can potentially extend through time (only backwards, though), requiring the use of Quaruts to take them down. The Phane is an incorporeal creature of dusty shadow with glowing green eyes. The air around it seems unnaturally still, and that's because it is; the Phane emits an aura of temporal stasis around them. The good news: you do not naturally age or suffer damage while in this stasis. The bad news: this doesn't apply to the Phane's abilities. Being in control of the stasis field, the Phane can choose to accelerator it for you, and feeds as you age.

Among it's temporal abilities include the manipulation its opponent's temporal presence. It can reach to some alternate time stream, and retrieve a past version of the person it's looking for. You will fight yourself, only a yourself that's completely under the dominion of the Phane.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

EPIC MONTH: Phoenix


The Phoenix is a unique creature. In fact, it may be the only one of its kind.

Its plumage is the colours of fire and burn with the same intensity. Even when a feather is shed, assuming it doesn't simply burn away, it retains heat and golden light indefinitely. It can start fires with a touch and its blood burns like lava. The Phoenix's fire is more than just mundane flame, as creatures normally immune to it find themselves burned by divinity.

The most striking ability of the Phoenix is its self-immolation. Every few centuries, the Phoenix spontaneously bursts into flames and a younger version rises from the glowing ashes. This same ability is also used as a defense mechanism, making it able to burn away all damage in a matter of seconds. To see the Phoenix self-immolate can be considered a good or bad omen, depending on your interpretation. However, it is certainly a bad omen if you're within the burn range.


Welcome to Epic Month. As a celebration of Dungeons & Drawings four-year anniversary, we're going to be posting epic-level creatures, i.e. creatures which should only be fought by adventurers of 20th level or higher. At this challenge rating, creatures encountered are more divine forces than ordinary forces, capable of levelling landscapes, destroying souls and bending time and space.

Honestly, the Phoenix's immolation supernatural ability seems a bit OP to me. Basically, as a full round action it can kill itself, dealing massive damage within a certain area, reapparing at the end of the round with full hit points. You can probably count its spell-like abilities as refreshed too, since this phoenix technically counts as a "new" bird. I suppose its AC is on the low side compared to other epic-level creatures, so it won't be to hard to whittle it back down again. Just enjoy taking 40d6 fire damage every few rounds as it regenerates itself.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Ice Weird


The Ice Weird is the more solid version of the Snow Weird, water-influencing rather than air-influencing. Like other Weirds, she's an especially powerful elemental tied to the mortal world by an elemental pool, a roiling mass of ice, which she cannot leave except to return to the Elemental Plane of Water, closing the pool behind her. Unlike the Snow Weird, she is unable to control the weather, her powers being more directed towards physical and mental handicapping.

Trying to make the Ice Weird sufficiently similar from the Snow Weird was a pretty tricky challenge, especially since there were aspects with the first drawing that I was happy with, but didn't want to repeat too much in the second one. Also there were a couple of visual tropes related to snow women that I wanted to avoid, namely the icicle / snowflake crown and white hair. Also, despite the fact that she and all weirds are supposed to resemble human women, I wanted there to be something somewhat inhuman about her. Whether I was successful or not is up to the viewer, but I'm fairly pleased with the results.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Skiurid


Yes, D&D has an evil squirrel.

Part of the wildlife of the Shadow Plane, Skiurids usually live in colonies of up to two dozen individuals, along with their pups. Like other natives of their plane, Skiurids are capable of summoning magical darkness. The squirrels create cold areas of darkness, which drain the energy from anybody who happens to wander into them. That drained energy solidifies into a black nut, which the squirrels collect when the coast is clear. Their dens usually contain a small stockpile of nuts for pups and for rainy days. Skiurid energy nuts are coveted by necromancers, who use them to empower their spells.  (In text rules, 50% chance of raising the caster level of a necromancy spell by 2).

The thought of evil squirrels is pretty ridiculous, so much so that Skiurids are better suited for a comedy game. I can imagine evil squirrels in Adventure Time. Or if you just want to mess with your players.

I think it works a bit better if you think of it a bit like the Elysian Thrush. Both are very low CR creatures that would probably only attack someone if directly threatened, but are capable of some fairly impressive environmental effects. For all your PC knows, they've just walked into a patch of darkness caused by some more threatening foe. And only if they make a fairly high perception check will they notice a little black squirrel picking something off the ground.


Friday, 27 June 2014

Griffon

The Griffon, along with the dragon and the unicorn, is among the most recognized of the world's magical beasts. Being a combination of lion and eagle, two very admired mundane animals, ownership of a Griffin mount or guard beast is seen as a great status symbol in the nobility. However, due to the Griffin's horse-like size, along with its ferocity and not-quite-bestial intelligence, mean that it makes for a very dangerous and unpredictable pet. It's possible to train a Griffon, but this takes a long time and must be started when the beast is freshly hatched.

Sometimes, despite my best efforts, I end up feeling like I struggle with successfully making images sufficiently different. I know artists have their own styles, with recurring motifs, colour palettes, shapes, what have you, but at the same time you don't want it to feel like you're just drawing the same thing over and over again. This one, for example, I found difficult to make different from my gynosphinx, another red leonine creature.

Inspiration for the griffon, rather than eagles, was actually vultures, since their feather ruffs actually make good parellels to lion manes. I specifically looked at the bearded vulture and Egyptian vulture, which are a bit more regal looking than the average vulture. Even if the Egyptian dude does look a little bit dead.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Redcap


The veiled acolytes of the Great Red God of the Deep are a  most unwelcome sight on any lonely road. Known colloquially as "Redcaps" (on account of the great, blood-soaked hoods they adorn themselves with) these creatures are similar in stature to the halfling or the gnome - but should by no means be underestimated on account of their small size. Constantly whispering sing-song adulations to their dread God in a forbidden tongue, they offer praise to It in the slaughter of all living things (an act at which, either through some dark blessing or sheer fervour, they are fearsomely adept). Wielding an enormous crescent-shaped mowing-blade, they are as deadly in combat as they are difficult to kill; it has been said that woven into their hoods is some malign faery-magic that protects them from harm as long as the fabric is kept moistened with blood. If you have no choice but to fight a Redcap, it is recommended you arm yourself with a weapon of Cold Iron, as the metal's touch repels them (as it does most fey).

Finally getting back to creatures again! We actually had a Redcap illustration on the blog from a while ago (Ben Tobitt's wonderfully violent offering - it went up during a guest week) but the campaign I just finished involved a redcap and I wanted to do one that we could put in the second Dungeons & Drawings Book (did we mention? we're doing a second Dungeons & Drawings book!), so here we are. I kind of added the more Lovecraftian elements... you can see the sigil on his hat is the symbol of some kind of Squid-God. Although Redcaps to speak Aklo in Pathfinder, which is the language of the betentacled Elder Gods and such. So it isn't too far of a sidestep.

Despite their traditional depiction arguably not being that scary (short old man with spiky boots and a red hat), Redcaps are actually pretty beastly, stats-wise, for their CR, so I ended up spinning the encounter with more of a horror theme - one that would make the party just want run away from it instantly rather than try to fight it. I was actually pretty pleased with the result! I built him up a bit beforehand - someone examining a tapestry adorned with a throng of planar travellers rolled a high Spot check, so I told them they happen to notice, among the rest of the colourful creatures, one figure that sends an ominous chill down their spine -

And I drew ^this^ on the game mat we use. One of our PCs, Tythis, is an Oracle (another Pathfinder thing - Oracles are to Clerics what Sorcerers are to Wizards) whose backstory involves him being haunted by a strange spirit called Bartleby. I told Tythis that Bartleby (who usually keeps pretty silent unless called on) sees this little black-and-red figure and seems to recognise it, and his reaction is very negative. 

This was framed as kind of an aside, but I think it stuck in the players' heads. Later on, the players come to a strange underground labyryinth. It's pitch black, and the players are working their way through a puzzle involving some teleporters. The tension is ramped up gradually - I think just the idea of being in a pitch black place and having to make your own light makes things quite claustrophobic, and I described the sound of a strange piping in the distance (the Redcap's "singing"). After a few rounds of the singing getting louder and the players maybe starting to worry a bit, I bust him out - the Redcap appears in a doorway and runs at the players! The way I described him was less cartoony than the illustration above... I guess I pictured a sort of Pyramid Head thing (the game, not the movie!).  At the same time, I start playing this music, which is one of my favourite pieces ever: 



AAAAAAAAAA! Seriously, the first time I heard this - wow! How horrifying. It seemed to set off the panic well, and the rest of the encounter was pretty much one big mad dash to solve the puzzle without meeting the Redcap or his scythe on the way. The party seemed pretty terrified of the prospect of meeting him again throughout the rest of the campaign, which felt good.

Overall, it was just a brief horror excursion in a more typical fantasy campaign, but I think that was why it worked so well, like the sudden shift in tone added to the scare. I'm a real fan of genuinely scary stuff, not just blood and guts or jumpscares but creative and effectively-conveyed scares, especially things that seem scary to you without you being able to explain why. The sort of inexplicable fear you feel in dreams, that kind of thing. If you haven't played any Silent Hill games I'd really recommend them - I think videogames have a particular knack for being scary because you're more directly involved in them than you are in a book or a movie. Definitely play SH2 if nothing else - the various Pyramid Head sections are expertly built up and paid off.

anyway, hope y'all found this interesting. Got any stories about trying to DM scary stuff?

- Joe

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Elessia, Changeling Wizard


So this weekend just gone we finished the Pathfinder campaign I've been DMing for the last few months. It went off with a bang! You can see my previous post on the whole business here.


In commemoration of this I decided to make a post featuring my redesign of the campaign setting's Big Bad, Elessia. Spoilers on the campaign progression/ending below!

Elessia, though barely 20, is a wizard of no small power. Orphaned by the Nirmathas-Molthune war, she was taken in by a guild of Nirmathan mages after showing surprising amounts of innate magical ability (perhaps owing to non-human ancestry - she was almost certain her mother had been at least an elf, possibly something worse). By the time she came of age, Elessia was certain she had pinpointed the fault for the destruction of her family: the belligerent and expansionistic nation of Molthune, whom everyone knew had instigated the war in the first place, and its star Captain, a brutal man named Pavo Vos. Elessia knew that she could never stand toe to toe with the full might of the Molthune army alone - but with her startling (almost inhuman) ability to dominate or destroy the minds of all those she met, she set out with a handful of stolen magical artifacts to install herself as a spy in the Molthune ranks, who would destroy the country from within.


Elessia's name and role are taken pretty much as written from the Fangwood Keep module - a tricksy magic user who fights indirectly using enchantment and illusory magic. The character is written as an evil cleric - however, I changed her up in a few ways; mostly for the sake of it, but also because the villain in our previous big campaign (another Pathfinder series, The Price of Immortality) also happened to be an evil-god-worshipping lady, and I kind of wanted to do something different. I ended up writing Elessia more like a player character, with a traditional they-burned-down-my-village sobstory that had provoked her to just take the reins of life in order to ruin her perceived antagonists wholly and conclusively. She had a particular thing against the military, and given that the party were all from the Molthune army this gave her a good reason to specifically try and do them in.

The party itself was actually over-leveled (6 of them in a campaign meant for 4-5) and had been having a moderately easy time of killing hobgoblins, so i decided to make Elessia a lot more powerful. I gave her 8 levels in Wizard, giving her access to lots of fun mind-affecting spells but very little actual combat ability. She used mostly illusory/enchantment magic, so the idea was that the party would have to think their way around a lot of trickery to get to her but, once revealed, she was actually very weak. We had a fun fight involving lots of Naruto-style illusory clones (Major Image) and party members fighting party members (Dominate Person), all the while with Elessia running around under Greater Invisibility. But they got the better of her in the end! 

In the end, the death toll was pretty low - all but one of the party survived, although in order to escape they had to run through a busted planar portal which scattered most of the party across several different randomly-decided dimensions (I did a little epilogue for each). The one PC that died was the numerically-named "27"  - he got swallowed whole by a Gibbering Mouther summoned by Elessia just before the portal cut out and, having nowhere else to go, decided to go out with a bang and blew himself (and the mouther) to smithereens with a pellet grenade. RIP 27. 

I love cameos so I'm sure we'll see the other PCs again. Everyone did a drawing of their characters so I'll have to find them all and post them here so you can see what they looked like!

Anyway, I did some coloured versions of Vos' Vipers (now deceased), so I thought I'd post them too.



You can buy a pdf of the Fangwood Keep module straight from the Paizo website. I'd recommend it, the mix of sandbox-style exploration with classic dungeon crawling was really fun! Next campaign I run is going to be written completely from scratch - I'll let you know how it goes.