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Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Angel of Decay


The Angel of Decay is not a true angel -- it's not any sort of extradimensional. Nor is it a true angel that has succumbed to some vicious corruption. The Angel of Decay is a physical manifestation of rot and gain nourishment from the decay of others. It's almost always in flight, but upon touching the ground, a pool of oozing putresence will form around it.

Sorry about the delay in updating. We've been quite busy and drained lately. But thanks to all of you who visit the site and to those who have purchased our book.

The Angel of Decay is a much more interesting creature that the original illustration led me to believe. In that image, the flesh of the angel seems to be dry and torn away from its bones in ragged strips. An while that's a valid way to potray an undead creature, it doesn't seem quite adequate for something symbolizing the decomposition of flesh. I ended up doing a fair bit of research on the spoilage of carcasses which is, needless to say, fascinating but gross. There are various stages to decomposition. First there's bloating as gases build up and various frothing liquids are expelled. Then the soft exposed tissues (eyes, mouth, wounds...) are consumed by insects -- a few videos I've watched had the heads of the experimental pig carcass dissolve into nothingness before there was much of a mark on the rest of the body. Then the body goops up until all the moisture leaves the body, and sometimes the stuff left after evaporation leaves a dark strain behind. Finally you have remaining dry tissue and bone. Decomposition changes according to the environment (see mummification).

So I decided to make the angel really goopy. The physical body of angel is in that state of decay where all the flesh is runny and blackened and being consumed by maggots. The angel's path is strewn with its own cast off rotting meat.

I also took inspiration from Biblical sources. I originally was looking as Pestilence of the Four Horsemen, but in the end I wanted to emphasize the angelic shape of the creature more. At the same time, I still wanted it to look alien and wrong. In the end I decided to make it look like a rotting seraphim. Seraphim were depicted as having six wings hiding the rest of the angel's body from view, save sometimes for a glimpse of the face, and covered in divine flame.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Shirokinukatsukami


The shirokinukatsukami (shiro-kinu-katsu-kami) are weird protective spirits from the world of sleep. It's a colourful combination of animals, as large as a tiger. Its long trunk and sharp claws are meant to catch and rend evil spirits and bad dreams.The creature's bizarre appearance may be a result of it being born of a surreal jumble of dreams. The shirokinukatsukami is a powerful guardian, possessing many protective and healing spells, and is capable of minor resurrections.

Even when invoked as a guardian, a shirokinu katsukami may not choose to fully reveal itself. It may appear riding on or in the form of dream mist, or simply appear to their ward as they sleep.

The shirokinukatsukami is D&D's version of the baku, a chinese and japanese folkloric creature. The creature's weird appearance may have been inspired by the tapir. Regardless of whether it's inspired by this animal or not, the actual Japanese word for tapir is baku and some modern representations of the baku show it as a tapir instead of a elephant-tiger hybrid.

The name shirokinukatsukami is a bit weird, when I don't really find any evidence of it being used as a name for the baku. But a little research into the name revealed that while not the true name of the creature, it actually has a kind of sweet poetry to it. People who speak Japanese may feel free to correct me on this, but I think that they name roughly translates to Victorious Spirit of the White Silk (the white silk probably being bedsheets.)

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Death Slaad

Slaadi are a strange race of quasi-amphibian creatures hailing from a bizarre dimension of constant flux known to humans as the Everchanging Chaos of Limbo.

Slaadi are well-known to come in several different varieties which function as castes in slaad society . The more commonly encountered red and blue slaads are the lowest forms, relying on brute force and bulk in combat. Above them sit the green slaads, essentially mutants, who are far less common and who make use of innate arcane powers to survive.

Green slaads that survive for more than a century undergo a curious transformation that remains highly mysterious to non-slaadi. They lose much of the pigment in their skin and a great deal of their bulk, whilst their magical abilities drastically increase in power. These so-called grey slaads are truly fearsome mages, and can prove difficult to deal with even for seasoned adventurers. However, some grey slaads choose to undergo a further, more sinister metamorphosis.

Nothing is known of the ritual that produces a death slaad. We may assume that the participants are willing - perhaps not. Perhaps all slaadi dread to eventually face it. Whatever dark magics are involved, the affected creature is changed utterly, becoming a single-minded entity of chaos and destruction. Death slaads are disciples of murder, pure and simple. They sit at the top of most slaad societies, relying on the (wholly credible) threat of violence to maintain their position.



I really like slaads, but I found this image really hard to work out! I won't bore you with the details but I went through a bunch of iterations. Slaads are just kind of featureless and froggy in most depictions, and it was tricky trying to work out a direction that I wanted to push it in.

The weird exposed gill-things on the shoulders & arms are inspired by the axolotl, bizarre, perpetually-juvenile salamanders that are (sadly) dying out in their natural environment. They have this weird, slightly gross quality to them which I like - like the death slaad ritual somehow provokes this strange evolution in the creature's body.

The "horns" are a cast-off from another idea I had about the death slaad ritual where the ritual involves giving the slaad this strange cordyceps-like fungal parasite which twists it further into this demented killer. I didn't want to make the creature look too "fungal" because I thought it might resemble the Verdant Prince, but I liked the wonky horns so I kept them.

Also I like how death slaads are more keen on melee combat, despite being spellcasters the whole rest of their lives. I like the idea that they got so advanced with magics that they can't even be bothered to do it anymore.

anyway, enjoy!

- joe

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Emerald Gemstone Golem

The gemstone golems are a set of constructs powered by an original magical jewel heart. Around this original gem the rest of the golem is shaped by the wizard into a humanoid shape. There are many types of golem and behave in an automated way, but gemstone golems will often ignore the orders of their creator to follow the innate magic of their gems. There are three known types of gemstone golem: diamond, ruby and emerald.

Emerald gemstone golems are curious, seeking to travel where they want. This innate desire towards freedom leads them to shirking the bodies that their wizard creators give them; all emerald gemstone golems for some reason will eventually become vaguely androgynous women.

The emerald gemstone golem is especially difficult to keep in one location. Twice a day, she will open up a gate that allows her to travel to near any location in the world. Even when the golem has stepped through, an emerald gate will remain behind from anywhere between a few seconds and a few hours

Monday, 10 February 2014

Storm Giant



Among the most powerful giants are the storm giants. They rise over other giants both magically and in stature, and even the weakest of this kind can easily set itself up as a local deity. All storms giants can call down lightning and manipulate the weather in any terrain, but prefer to lead isolated lives on mountains. Storms giants are (usually) a peaceful race, preferring lonely lives and silence. Worship is sometimes forced upon them, since nearby settlements of lesser creatures may give them offerings in exchange for bountiful weather.

The description of storm giants in the Monster Manual is a bit confusing to me. For example, they're generally green skinned, with some of them being purple. I guess storm clouds can turn a weird shade of yellow sometimes, but I haven't seen any green ones. Though with some research I've learned that there are greenish storm clouds -- usually ones that contain hail or will produce severed thunder or tornadoes. Storm giants also have water breathing, but they're neither aquatic creatures or live in an aquatic environment (they live in warm mountains). Maybe it's because of floods?

I know the storm giants of D&D are largely inspired by Greco-Roman and Scandinavian mythology, but I've gone for a more Eastern look with this. It's ripped off of inspired by a group of oni-like people from the game Okaminden who live in the cloud-city of Thundercloud, who wear tiger-patterned robes and skirts. By the way, I love the Okami games. They just so pretty.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Cadaver Collector


She had been born an age ago, and she could no longer remember her original purpose. It had changed so often - she found it easier to concentrate on the present. Life was simple. Pick the bodies up. Put them in the baskets. When the baskets are full, take them to the Pit. Start again. Simple. 

She knew the Master appreciated her work, although she would have continued to do it even if he didn't - she had been given a Command, a single compelling instruction, to keep working. Years ago, she remembered, she had found time to wonder what someone would even want with so many bodies, or (come to think of it) why so many bodies were just scattered about among the fields in the first place. But she had lived for so long, and she knew that such complicated thoughts led nowhere. So she concentrated on her work: pick the bodies up. Put them in the baskets. When the baskets are full, take them to the Pit. Start again.

Another of my favourite constructs for y'all. The Cadaver Collector is one of those monsters that actually seems sort of sweet, despite its connections with, y'know, cadavers. Referenced Howl's Moving Castle a lot here, as well as the steampunky robots in the Dinotopia series. I'm not actually that keen on steampunk as a design aesthetic (out of pure snobbery really - a LOT of people like it and it can get a bit style over substance) but it was fun to do something that leans in that direction. Check out the detail shot below, too (the linework stuff I've been doing lately seems to benefit from this).




ALSO I ran the first session of my campaign yesterday, and it seemed to go great! The party enjoyed planning out a freeform route to the actual dungeon (I drew a big map of the region on the table and they basically sat round and planned out exactly how they wanted to get there). They ended up going a way I didn't expect, which was cool. They beat up a group of hobgoblins & bugbears on the way (which an online CR calculator ASSURED me would be a fair fight but the bugbears got stomped. I guess CR calculators don't account for tactics?) and we worked out that the group halfling (an Inquisitor* named Wislo) actually has less STR than Fitz's pet crow.

After they got inside the Keep via a secret passage they had a pretty tense stealth section with the party uncovering a secret armoury. Eventually they ran into a sentry on the upper battlements who was looking out the other way, so our half-orc (a fighter/ninja** named Sev) decided to sneak up on him to take him out silently. Unfortunately for Sev, he rolled a natural 1 on his stealth check*** - an automatic fail - stubbing his foot on a stone and yelping in pain.

At this point the party is pretty screwed, because this guard has a signal horn and there are a good 30 or so soldiers nearby who will come running, completely scuppering the stealth element of the mission. Nevertheless, I roll a cursory perception check*** for the guard, to see what he hears. To everyone's surprise, I also roll a natural 1, also an automatic fail! The guard is somehow completely distracted by something to the extent that he doesn't hear the shout of a disgruntled half-orc not two paces behind him. This works out in Sev's favour and he successfully stealths the rest of the way up to the guard, sneak attacking him with a greataxe. Success! It was pretty cool.

We have our next session in about a month, so stay tuned for more updates. Next time I will take pictures!

- Joe

---

* Inquisitor is a base class in Pathfinder! They're sort of like paladins that don't mind getting their hands dirty. You can take it from level one, they get some pretty cool abilities in the cause of stomping HERESY.
** Ninja is an alternate class for Rogue in Pathfinder. They do a lot of the same stuff Rogues do but with a bigger focus on stealth plus some specific ninja-themed abilities (like creating clones to confuse the enemy).
*** One of the nicer little ways that Pathfinder streamlines the game process is by slightly simplifying skills. Spot and Listen are amalgamated into a single Perception check, and Hide and Move Silently are combined into Stealth. It's a small change, but one that really helps to untangle things.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Vos' Vipers

So, as I'm DMing a Pathfinder game right now I thought I'd make a little post of some of the material I made for the players. This is all based on the official Pathfinder campaign module Fangwood Keep, which I bought at the Orc's Nest in London a few weeks ago after reading a bunch of positive reviews for it online.

The campaign as written is a pretty simple affair designed to be a standalone, one or two session deal. I'm padding it out a bit, although we tend to go through stuff pretty slowly so I imagine it'll be around 3 or 4 sessions to finish. The story involves a pair of warring nations, Nirmathas and Molthune, and a disputed fort on their border, the eponymous Fangwood Keep. The way I'm fluffing it is that the two countries have achieved an uneasy peace, and as part of the treaty the tactically crucial Keep must be kept vacant by both sides.


This treaty is threatened when a rebellious Molthune captain named Pavo Vos disobeys orders and takes the keep by force, helped by the elite specialist infantry unit he once commanded in the army, known as "Vos' Vipers". The main thing I added here was Vos' three liutenants - pictured with him below - because when I read the description of his squad I was disappointed to learn that, despite the unit's description as a group of "specialist" soldiers excelling in espionage and covert military operations, there was remarkably little characterisation.

So, I added three underlings for Vos (replacing some other NPCs in the quest so the XP doesn't get knocked out too much), with the intention of fluffing them as a sort of rival NPC party for the players to duke it out with. They're highly specialised for different roles in combat, and each have a fair share of weird abilities and tricks that (hopefully, we haven't quite started the campaign yet) will keep the players guessing. I suppose a big influence of the flavour of this setup would be the Metal Gear Solid series of games - whose colourful cast of villains have always been favourites of mine.


I'll just post some quick descriptions for you guys, as it's possible the players might look at the blog and I don't want them to get spoiled! 
From left to right:
1. Wasily Grodz
A dwarvish marksman. Softly spoken, something of a perfectionist. Not keen on direct combat, prefers guerilla tactics and stealth. Fond of traps, be careful! 
2. Pavo Vos  
Unit captain and the leader of the insurrection. Highly charismatic and a master tactician, he orchestrated countless successful operations during the war. No slouch with a blade, either - particularly with two or three men at his back. His motives in the insurrection are unclear. Has been sighted accompanied by a robed, dark-haired woman of unknown identity. 
3. Daigo Longtooth  
Little is known of this mysterious half-orc (yep, he's a half-orc) swordsman. An unparalelled duelist. Has a kind-hearted reputation despite his skill in combat. 
4. Edouard Fleisch 
Fleisch is the unit's demolitions expert. Bloodthirsty and quick-tempered by all accounts, and apparently an enthusiastic pugilist to boot.

The gist of the game is that you have this fortified Keep, which the party has to infiltrate, with Vos inside. The PCs have to get in, neutralise him, and get out. The entire keep is mapped out with set things in every room - it's largely up to the PCs to decide how they want to approach the problem. Scale the walls? Find a secret passage? Stealth vs. kick-down-the-door-guns-blazing? It's an idea that appeals to me, kind of blending your standard dungeon crawler with something a bit more sandboxy. It's by no means all combat, either - there are definitely opportunities to talk your way in or out of things.

I'm also using a computer to keep track of everything - I'm making a gigantic, layered map in a program called Adobe Flash (which we use for animating all the time) and it's quite easy for me to set up a big document containing everything - rooms, items, enemy locations - it even has a day/night cycle! it looks cool, too.


I won't reveal any more now, but we're playing the first session next weekend. In subsequent posts I'll let you know how people are getting on, and hopefully post pictures! I kinda hope I kill at least one person :3

Let me know in the comments if you've played this campaign, too. Or if you have any funny DMing experiences - I'm completely new to this, and slightly nervous, so it all helps!

- Joe

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Fitz-Auk and Morse the raven


Sometimes mistaken for an orc, hobgoblin or especially unfortunate half-elf, Fitz-Auk is actually a full-blooded human, but quite ugly.

This is my latest character for the next campaign I'm playing, this one being DM'd by Joe, the other contributor to the site. Unlike Spackle and Jammy, Fitz-Auk will be playing a more active role in combat, rather than just hovering in the background shouting encouragement or giving people special enlargement chocolate chip cookies. Not that he won't have his own out-of-combat role. I chose some rules that mean that, despite being a ranger,  Fitz-Auk will be able to take on the rogue role of finding and disarming traps we'll be coming across.

Also doing some fiddling with class options, I got myself a raven that's smarter than the average raven. Used my 4th HD ability point to give her 3 Intelligence. Officially sentient raven. Put a skill point in Linguistics because I don't care if she's got like -3 on her Linguistics check. That's just how I roll, babe.

Hoping that I'll be playing the raven a little like Alex the African Grey parrot, though he was probably 5 Int.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Verdant Prince

Verdant Princes are wily fey creatures who use guileful magic to manipulate themselves into positions of power. Uniquely, however, a Verdant Prince is endowed with the ability to swear a magical oath or geas (which it will typically engineer in its own favour) which compels a certain bargain to be kept. Both parties are affected by the spell equally - if the oath is broken, or someone fails to keep the agreement, the offending party suffers a hideous curse, wasting both body and mind, only ending when the target dies. Verdant Princes appear to use this ability generously, even wantonly, but they are nearly always acting out of self-interest, and remember that whenever one offers you something that seems too good to be true, it probably is.

I'm pretty fond of Faustian pacts in fiction and Verdant Princes provide a great example of this within the D&D system. The person to break the deal sustains a horrifying -6 penalty to all ability scores until the oath is somehow restored, and their "partner" is magically made constantly aware of the oathbreaker's whereabouts for the duration (you're looking at a Wish or Miracle to circumvent this, it's strong stuff). The lure is always there for a wily PC to engage the Prince in a Death Note-style battle of wits and bluffing, and if you come out on top you know you've got a pretty powerful fairy spirit under your thumb. But expect treachery from both creature and DM, as these things tend to end badly for the greedy. Oh well! You know what they say: "Lente, lente, curritae noctis equi!" Aheh... huh.

Check out the full-size image and this detail version, I think it looks way better than the smaller thumbnail. The shape of the horns where they meet the head reminds me of Midna, and I think I ripped this guy off subconsciously from a Dota2 character. Whoops! gg vevlo



Friday, 10 January 2014

Shimmerling Swarm


An individual shimmerling in a fairly unintelligent, harmless creature. Heck, a shimmerling swarm is a fairly unintelligent, harmless conglomeration of creatures.

Unless they're angry.

At first, the shimmerling swarm seems to be a cloud of pulsating rainbow light that can just about be seen between the trees. The light is strangely alluring. Hypnotic even. And it's not until you find yourself envelopped by that bright blinding light that you feel the sickening hum of vibrating insects wings and the splintery pain of tiny teeth and fingers biting any inch of exposed flesh they can find.

Fortunately, the shimmerlings primarily subsist on pollen. Which is yet another reason to leave the forest alone.

Here is my New Years-themed image, though perhaps you could say its more a wintery, Christmasy kind of image. Inspired by the fireworks, fairy lights (eh? eh?) and wrapping paper. I tried by hand at a tessellating pattern, a la Escher. Needless to say, it's not quite as seamless at the Escher ones, but it'll do.

When I think of the shimmerling swarms, the image that mostly comes to mind is the fairies from Disney's Fantasia, the ones that perform a part of the Nutcracker suite while putting dew on flowers, turning leaves orange and freezing water. Albeit the shimmerlings as statted are probably little more than fairy-shaped bees.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Quarut

Some rare spells are of such power that they are legendary among spellcasters - spells that have the potential to alter the very structure of the universe, such as the infamous Wish.

Quaruts are Inevitables - mechanised beings from the lawful plane of Mechanus which are tasked with the upholding of natural order - and are among the most powerful even of these. Within their custody lie all such magicks that might meddle with space and time - their objective is to hunt down such spellcasters that use them and restore a relative balance to the universe.

Quaruts are some heavy stuff, clocking in at CR 17 - meaning you're getting close to epic level in order to take them on. And with good reason - despite their desire to eradicate all manipulators of space and time, they themselves have no qualms about chucking about spell-like-abilities like Time Stop and Limited Wish. The former allows it to literally stop time locally for a few turns (giving it ample room to imprison you safely in a pocket dimension) and the latter allows it access to literally any spell of up to 6th caster level. The lesson here is: don't mess with spacetime, kids!

We always like to put up holiday-themed monsters, but some of them are pretty hard to figure out an appropriate creature for. Blanca made a big list of potential "New Yearsy" beasts, and then we picked two that we liked and did those. I haven't drawn an Inevitable in ages, which is surprising because I really like 'em. The clock motifs in this one are a little hammy and I nicked the eyes from Sahaquiel of Evangelion and Senketsu from Kill La Kill. Man, I enjoy Kill La Kill! Literal guilty pleasure but there are very few animes around with such artistic class to them (outside of the boob's 'n' butts).

Also this being almost two weeks into the new year is my fault.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Nathzarune Rakshasa


 While the standard rakshasa is a pretty formidable spellcaster, the Nazathurne rakshasa is a whole different story. It has no spells of its own, but isn't completely devoid of magical ability. Instead, this rakshasa can meld with the shadows and travel through them. Its lack of arcane knowledge is replaced with physical knowledge, which it uses to inflict devastating damage.

D&D has a few different rakshasas. The standard ones are pretty cool and Anthony S. Water's illustration for the 3.5 rakshasa is probably my favourite illustration in the Monster Manual, if not all of D&D illustrations. Other books added further rakshasas with more specific themes. Instead of being a sorcerer like the standard, the nazathurne is a rogue/shadowdancer.

The rakshasas are a set of demons from Indian mythology. Actually, they're more the Indian equivalent to the Japanese oni than European demons. Since both Hindu and Buddhism believe in reincarnation, sometimes rakshasa are the transformed or reincarnated form of a wicked person. The whole tiger-headed thing, though present is South Asian art, is exaggerated a bit by D&D. In mythology, a rakshasa can have the head of different animals or deformed features. Especially strong ones have multiple heads and limbs.

Book suggestionn du jour is The Ultimate Ilustrated Guide to Knives, Swords, Daggers & Blades by Harvey JS Withers and Tobias Capwell. It's a two volume collection filled with images of edged weapons (some polearms, not that many) that's a good resource and fairly compact. It's pretty Euro-centric, but there's still a decent amount of space dedicated to the swords and knives of Africa and Asia. The knife that the rakshasa is wielding in the image is an Indian pichangatti.