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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.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Serpentflesh Golem


Serpentflesh is actually a bit of a misnomer when it comes to this particular type of golem; it isn't made exclusively from snakes. Rather, the serpentflesh golem is actually made up of any body part that belonged to any of the serpent reptilian races, which can include kobolds, lizardmen, yuan-ti, nagas, and similar races.

Essentially, a serpentflesh golem is almost exactly like the ordinary flesh golem (i.e. the Frankenstein's monster): it's a mindless construct immune to many forms of magic, save for those that deal certain elemental magic. However, due to the serpentflesh golem's inherent bodyparts, it's also venomouse, capable of delivering poison through any snake-headed section of its body.

The serpentflesh golem is meant as an insult to the scaled races. Most of the scaly ones are too proud to create abominations from their own flesh, and seeing the non-scaled races create these abominations makes their cold blood boil.

Also, animation because animations are fun.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Hengeyokai

Hengeyokai are more a varied creature type than a true race. Some animals already have inherent ties to mysticism and are used as familiars or sacrifices. These same animals can find their innate magical ability growing to the point that when they reach a certain age --usually 100 years-- the animal undergoes a sudden magical burst. It gains true sentience, becoming about as intelligent as a man, as well as shapeshifting abilities, having three main forms: an animal form, a human form, and a hybrid form which looks like the animal walking on its hind legs. In fact, hengeyokai translates to "changing monster".

While a good amount of hengeyokai can pass for ordinary animals, become slightly malformed by their transformation, usually gaining an extra tail. Even when shapeshifted, the animal's true nature may be exposed by a body part that won't transform (again, usually the tail), vaguely bestial features, or markings remeniscent of their true form. The hengeyokai may also be exposed by their appetites -- many a cat hengeyokai is exposed by being caught eating dead birds while in human form.

The hengeyokai are primarily tricksters, using their abilities to steal or cause minor inconvenience to surrounding human populations. Especially malevolent hengeyokai will take on the form of a person in a household, murder them, and take their place. Animals prone to transforming are foxes (kitsune), racoon dogs (tanuki), cats (bakeneko), badgers (mujina) and dogs (inugami).

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Vanim the Half-Elf Alchemist








PCs! in some ways I find doing player characters a little easier than monsters as we tend to push the monster designs a bit wackier. This guy is a character I created for a PvP tournament we're running at the moment, shown here in both his normal and steroid-enhanced forms.

The tournament is using the Pathfinder system, and this guy uses a Pathfinder class called an Alchemist. Alchemists are kind of weird, highly adaptible support spellcasters who are able to fill in a number of roles. Well, I say "spellcasters" but obviously all their abilities are themed around (al)chemical concoctions. Your base alchemist has three principal abilities:

  1. Extracts, which are just spell equivalents that you select from a limited pool. They function as potions, and are mostly single-target buffs (like Bull's Strength etc) that target the drinker (they only work on the alchemist herself by default, although you can spec into the ability to give them to your allies too).
  2. Bombs, which are just alchemical explosives that the alchemist mixes up on the spot - these hit a single target for fair damage and do a bit of splash too.
  3. Mutagen, which is a neat sort of Barbarian-style steroid that gives a +4 bonus to one physical stat (typically STR) at the expense of -2 to a corresponding mental one. This, again, is drank as a potion but only ever affects the alchemist herself.
The usual use of mutagen is to induce an incredible-hulk-esque last resort in melee combat with the STR boost, but Vanim instead goes for a mutagen that gives +4 to DEX and -2 to WIS (I guess to represent the lack of caution you would feel having become spontaneously nimble). I've paired this with Weapon Finesse and Improved Feint, as well as an Alchemist variant that replaces Bombs with a rogue-equivalent sneak attack, so the game plan is going to be to run up to people, feint them repeatedly while sneak attacking them in the face. Will it work?!??!?!?!? Possibly.

As for actual character backstory - it's deliberately a bit thin on the ground (it's just a tournament, after all), but the idea is that Vanim is this half-elf with a bit of facial disfiguration. Blaming the blemish on his human ancestry, he becomes an alchemist to try and "enhance" his elven qualities, the result of which being his mutagen (his transformed body is supposed to be a caricature of an Elvish appearance - he thinks it's beautiful but in reality it looks pretty horrible).

Anyway, sorry for the long delays. What do you think of the way I've statted Vanim? Got any cool character creation stories? When will I post next? NOBODY KNOWS 

- Joe


Monday, 21 April 2014

Tortella the Half-Orc Acrobat

It's been a while since we've posted, so I'm gonna post what the peoples wants: more PCs! (we'll get back to actual monsters soon i'm really sorry).

So we're currently playing the Fangwood Keep campaign as run by Joe. When we came to lieutenant #2, Daigo Longtooth, Joe spun it so that he would face us on 1v1 combat. It the member of our chosen party (it was Fitz-Auk) defeated him, he would surrender. I managed to win with the help of a lot of disarm maneuvers. However, the rest of the party felt like it would've been cool if they'd had a chance for the 1v1.

So alongside the actual campaing, we're gonna be running a little tournament. Each one of us (eight in total), will submit a 7th-level character for a series of 1v1 matches on some custom maps. We're going to be using the duelling and performce rules from Ultimate Combat. It's all going to be quite exciting.

So my submission for the tournament will be Tortella, acrobat-on-sabbatical, a half-orc discovering what it means to be an orc by beating up things and taking their teeth. She actually uses the flowing monk archetype, because I felt that fit the character the best for what I wanted her to be. The whole monks must be lawful thing feels a bit more like a guideline to me anyway.

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