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Medusas – Three Old Citadel Miniatures

July 9, 2022 6 comments

Citadel’s C18 Night Horrors miniatures were issued between 1984 and 1986. Most of them never received game stats for Warhammer or WFRP, and I have covered a few of them in earlier posts in this series.

The Stuff of Legends site has a complete listing of the range here, but for this post, I’ll concentrate on the Medusas.

There were three figures in total. One was a snake-haired hag, another had a snake body like the version of Medusa in the 1981 movie Clash of the Titans, and the third was armoured and dressed in a flowing robe (actually a simple head-swapped variant on an armoured wight figure from the same range).

To the best of my knowledge, Medusas (or Gorgons, as I prefer to call them, since in Greek myth Medusa was one of three sisters by that name) have never received rules or stats in any official WFRP publication, though a comment below shares some links to previous Warhammer incarnations. I’ve based my stats and rules more on the miniatures than these past versions, though. Needless to say, what follows is in no way official and should be considered a fan work. No challenge is intended to copyrights or trademarks held by Games Workshop, Cubicle 7, or anyone else.


Medusas

These fearsome but reclusive creatures inhabit the remotest mountains of the southern Old World, from the Border Princes to eastern Tilea. They appear in several legends from Classical times, but their origins are unclear. While they are clearly creatures of Chaos, they appear not to be aligned with any one of the Ruinous powers, although a Medusa will occasionally ally with a Champions of Chaos or other warlord for the right price.

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Traits: Fear 1, Mental Corruption (Hateful Impulses), Mutation (Snake Hair – see below), Night Vision, Petrifying Gaze, Weapon +5

Optional: Armor 2, Champion, Mental Corruption (Unending Malice), Mutation (Snake Body), Ranged +9 (150)

Snake Hair: A Medusa’s hair gives her a +5 attack at Personal range, with Venom. This cannot be used in the same round as any other attack.

Snake Body: Movement -1, Tail +5 attack


More Like This

Zoats: From Warhammer to 40K (and back again)
The Ambull: From 40K to WFRP (again)
Viydagg: A Forgotten WFRP Monster
Mardagg: A Forgotten WFRP Monster
Mabrothrax: A Forgotten WFRP Monster
Jabberwock: A Forgotten WFRP Monster
Devil Eel: A New Monster for WFRP4
Gargoyle: A Forgotten WFRP Monster
The Toad Dragon: An Old Citadel Miniature Described for WFRP4
The Spectral Claw: An Old Citadel Miniature Described for WFRP4
The Mud Elemental: Two Old Monsters Combined for WFRP4
Leaping Slomm Two-Face, Another Old Citadel Miniature
Zygor Snake-Arms, Another Old Citadel Miniature
Independent Daemons for WFRP 4th Edition
Chaos Snakemen – A Forgotten Warhammer Race
Menfish – Another Lost Warhammer Race
Golems in Warhammer
Giant Bats and Fell Bats
Lesser Daemon of Malal
Greater Daemon of Malal


And while you’re here…

Since 2020, I’ve been a director of Rookery Publications, a new indie TTRPG studio that I co-founded with some names that WFRP fans are sure to recognize: Andy Law, Lindsay Law, Andy Leask, and Mark Gibbons. Our first product is available from DriveThru, and has garnered some good reviews so far. There is much, much more to follow.

If you like the idea of new, system-agnostic roleplaying products (which means that they have been designed to be used with any edition of WFRP, and indeed with any other ruleset) from our merry band, check the Rookery out on any of these platforms.

Discord is the the hub of a vibrant and growing Rookery community.

YouTube and Twitch each have a Rookery channel where you can find our weekly Inside the Rookery streams, where we chat with big-name guests from across the industry about all manner of things.

Inside the Rookery, along with the occasional Beside the Rookery streams, are supported by our Patreon campaign. If you like what the Rookery has to offer and would like to be part of our story, you can support us for a very low monthly commitment (and if you can afford more, we have higher tiers, too!), and get access to exclusive content like the Rookery masterclasses on game design and development and special publications like the just-released Mother Hoarfrost PDF.

And you can also find us on:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RookeryPublications
Twitter: @RookeryP
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/rookerypublications/

Oops!

March 14, 2022 Leave a comment

I was embarrassed to discover that I had not set up my Free League Workshop products for Vaesen correctly. Here they are, officially within the Workshop as they should have been from the start. Existing purchases should be unaffected.

There’s a new one as of today, too – the Norwegian brunnmigi or ‘well-pisser’. Honestly – no manners at all…


Do you like monsters? Then check out the collection I’ve done for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 4th edition, and find out how to persuade me to do more!

Also:

My Complete and Utter Myth and Monsterography

My Top Five Monster Books (that I worked on)

My Top Five RPG Monster Books

And while you’re here…

Since 2020, I’ve been a director of Rookery Publications, a new indie TTRPG studio that I co-founded with some names that WFRP fans are sure to recognize: Andrew Law, Lindsay Law, Andy Leask, and Mark Gibbons. Our first product is available from DriveThru, and has garnered some good reviews so far. There is much, much more to follow.

If you like the idea of new, system-agnostic roleplaying products (which means that they have been designed to be used with any edition of WFRP, and indeed with any other ruleset) from our merry band, check the Rookery out on any of these platforms.

Discord is the the hub of a vibrant and growing Rookery community.

YouTube and Twitch each have a Rookery channel where you can find our weekly Inside the Rookery streams, where we chat with big-name guests from across the industry about all manner of things.

Inside the Rookery, along with the occasional Beside the Rookery streams, are supported by our Patreon campaign. If you like what the Rookery has to offer and would like to be part of our story, you can support us for a very low monthly commitment (and if you can afford more, we have higher tiers, too!), and get access to exclusive content like the Rookery masterclasses on game design and development and special publications like the just-released Mother Hoarfrost PDF.

And you can also find us on:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RookeryPublications
Twitter: @RookeryP
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/rookerypublications/

Wights in D&D 3.5

October 3, 2021 1 comment

In Dragon #348 (October 2006), I wrote “Ecology of the Wight”. A lot of my original material was cut from the published version, so here it is. I hope you find it useful, or at least interesting.
I was hoping to include a link so you could buy the magazine online, but it doesn’t seem to be available on DriveThru or the DMs’ Guild. If anyone knows of a place where non-pirated copies can be obtained, please drop a link in the comments below. Thanks!


Advanced Wights: Non-Core Sources

This article [the one in Dragon] assumes that the DM is only using the three core rulebooks, but DMs who have access to additional rulebooks and supplements will find more options for producing advanced wight characters.

Libris Mortis

In addition to general notes on undead characters and NPCs, this sourcebook contains much that will be useful to a DM planning a wight-centered adventure or campaign. The evolved undead template allows the creation of ancient and powerful individuals with spell-like abilities. Feats like Improved Energy Drain, Spell Drain, and Life Drain increase the power of the energy drain ability that wights share with many other undead creatures. Monstrous prestige classes include the lurking terror with its enhanced stealth abilities, and the tomb warden (only available to a wight who has already advanced by other means) which confers many useful abilities within the confines of a particular tomb complex. New undead creatures include the slaughter wight, which could make a good leader or champion, and several other monsters that might be found alongside wights in a barrow-field or necropolis.

Monster Manual II

Of most interest is the spellstitched template (page 215), which confers spellcasting ability on an undead creature. With their high Wisdom, wights gain access to first through third level spells by spellstitching – and gain some useful save bonuses – while only increasing their CR by one.

Savage Species

The emancipated spawn prestige class (page 75) is available to creatures and characters who became the spawn of an undead creature such as a wight, and who regain their independence after their creator has been destroyed. As they advance in this prestige class, emancipated spawn gradually remember the skills and class features that they had while living. The wight template (page 136) can be used to create variant wights based upon any humanoid creature.


Wight Lairs

Unless they are under the command of a necromancer or some other master, wights normally lair in tombs. As their full name of barrow-wights suggests, they are often found in earthen burial mounds, but they can make their lairs in any kind of tomb complex or necropolis. A wight lair will usually be the original burial-place of the oldest wight in the pack (sometimes called the master wight); younger wights are usually the spawn of that first individual.

Wight lairs are usually cramped, dark places. Narrow passages and low ceilings hamper weapon-using intruders and favor unarmed wights. They use their knowledge of their lair’s layout, along with secret doors and passages, to spring close-quarters attacks without having to advance under fire from spellcasters and ranged weapons. Labyrinths of short passages allow a pack of wights to surround intruders and attack from all sides; their Hide and Move Silently skills give them a good chance of gaining surprise. Shifting walls and other devices are sometimes used to confuse and disorient outsiders.

Wights’ acute senses and stealth skills make them skilled and dangerous ambushers. When faced with a strong party, their usual tactic is to try to pick off enemies one by one, draining their life energy at leisure and turning them against their former comrades as wight spawn.

A Sample Wight Lair

The map shows a typical barrow where wights might be found. Built millennia ago to house the honored dead of a long-forgotten people, it is built of stone, filled in with dirt and rubble between the walls. Its front is dominated by a curved façade of monumental stones.

Inside, a narrow passage leads past a number of empty tombs (which might hold minor encounters such as rat or spider swarms) to an apparent dead end. The rubble is a decoy, though, intended to distract intruders while 4-5 wights use the secret passages to get behind them. They will not attack right away, but will follow stealthily until the adventurers are busy fighting the rest of the wights in the narrow confines of the two pillar rooms. Then they will mount a surprise attack, surrounding the trespassers and using their energy drain and create spawn abilities.

The four rooms at the far end of the barrow belong to the king and queen, who may be more powerful than the others (see Advanced Wights above). The treasury contains a little treasure (note that wights normally have none). The king’s tomb is hidden by a secret door in the back of his stone throne, and may contain some magical treasures or other special items.


Finding Wights

Wights are not only found in dark barrows on lonely, mist-wrapped moors. Here are a few ideas for placing them in other locations.

The Dead Below

From their headquarters in an abandoned catacomb beneath a city’s oldest cemetery, a powerful band of wights can use sewers, thieves’ tunnels, and other underground passages to reach almost anywhere. Moving mainly by night, they remain unseen and unheard as much as possible, ambushing unwary victims returning home from the city’s hostelries and other unfortunates who are outside after dark. Their ultimate goal may simply be to survive undetected, or they may have come to the city in search of an ancient treasure that was stolen from their leader by grave-robbers, and which now rests in the vaults of the thieves’ guild, or the academy of magic.

Fortress of Nightmares

The wights’ stronghold is heavily defended, both above and below ground, with multiple entry and exit points through small tombs and mausolea nearby. In addition, the wights may have control of swarms of vermin, rats, and the like, as well as alliances with other undead creatures – especially lawful evil undead – that make their home in the cemetery. These undead allies may not fight alongside the wights, but they might inform them of adventurers headed their way, or mount surprise hit-and-run attacks on living trespassers who are already engaged in fighting the wights.

The Forbidden Island

A remote island also makes a suitable home for a pack of wights, especially if it is dotted with the remnants of a lost civilization. If no living souls have set foot on the island for a long time, the wights’ hunger for life energy will make them particularly aggressive. Their first act will probably be to disable any watercraft or other means of escape from the island, and then pick off stragglers or scouts to reduce the visitors’ numbers before mounting an all-out attack by night. They may set traps in the thick jungle of the islands, or among the rubble-choked ruins.

Not Just Mummies

Desert tomb complexes – with or without pyramids – also make good homes for wights. Adventurers will probably expect to find mummies in such locations, and wights will take them by surprise, at least initially. If the wights are dressed in scraps of bandage, the confusion over their true nature may last beyond the first encounter – and nothing worries adventurers more than not knowing what they are up against. True mummies can act as leaders or elite fighters, and spellcasting mummy lords can make up for their comrades’ lack of magic.


My Complete and Utter D&D Bibliography

Everything I have published for various editions, starting in 1982. Includes links to some free downloads.
Click Here.

Rookery Publications

Bling V: I’ve Got My Eye On You

April 16, 2020 8 comments

The eye has been a symbol of protection since ancient Egyptian times, and quite possibly longer. To this day, fishermen in many parts of the Mediterranean paint eyes on the bows of their boats, and all over the world, stylized eyes made of glass are worn as pendants or hung from rear-view mirrors.

Trad

A few antique and traditional designs.

And then, of course, there’s the Eye of Sauron. The Egyptian goddess Sekhmet was called the Eye of Ra when she nearly destroyed the world at his behest. And when you think about it, doesn’t the Death Star look a lot like an eye, shooting a deadly glance at the unfortunate planet Alderaan like an angry god?

Evil

You’ve heard the expression “looking daggers”? That’s nothing.

In the course of looking at other interesting bits of bling, I came across a lot of rings set with eyes. The eye is a potent motif with a number of possible interpretations and functions, and I started thinking about what such these rings might do, if they were found by characters in a fantasy roleplaying campaign. Feel free to take, use, and adapt any ideas that appeal to you – and if you have any ideas of your own, please share them in the comments section.

Protection

Most game rules include rings or amulets of protection, and some of them might incorporate an eye motif.

Vision

The wearer gains some form of enhanced vision. This might be night vision or dark vision, or immunity to visual illusions, or a bonus to spotting secret doors, traps, and other hidden things, or a bonus to general perception skills, or even an all-of-the-above option like D&D’s true seeing. 

Alternatively, the ring might simply function as a third eye, allowing the wearer to peek around a corner or over a wall without risking their whole head.

Gaze Weapon

From the petrifying gaze of Medusa and the basilisk to the death glance of the catoblepas to the D&D beholder’s terrifying array of attacks, gaze weapons are well known in fantasy games, and a ring with an eye might be capable of using one of them – especially if the eye is from the creature in question, and not simply made of glass.

Beast

If those were real monster eyes, what might they do?

Divination

The eye might be capable of seeing through time, showing the scene as it was in the past – or possibly the future. The wearer would be well advised to close their own eyes while using this ability: otherwise they may see past and present overlaid upon one another in a very disorienting way.

Alternatively, the ring might see through space rather than time, allowing the wearer to see a distant place to which the ring is bonded. This might be a specific place, or it might be the location of another ring with which this one is paired. Or the ring might function like a crystal ball, showing visions in the wearer’s mind rather than in its own depths.

Detection

The eye sees into hearts and souls, showing it wearer the subject’s alignment or intentions in the form of a colored aura. Most fantasy games include spells and items that detect good and evil, and any necessary rules can be adapted from them.

Or perhaps the eye sees magical auras, allowing the wearer to detect magical items and residues of magical energy. Magical energies of different types might show up as different colored auras.

Unspeakable Evil

Instead of helping its wearer, the ring might be working for a distant evil, like an evil deity or a demon prince. This being might give rings to cult leaders and other favored servants, watching over them through the magical eye. If things look particularly grim for the cultists, and their role in the Big Evil Plan is critical, perhaps the deity or demon can possess the ring’s wearer – or manifest through their body in a suitably spectacular and disturbing way – and join the fight in person.

Eyelid

With some powers, it’s good to be able to shut them off.

Pictures borrowed from around the Internet. All images copyright their original owners.

It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got That Bling

If you like this kind of post, you’ll also want to see these:

Armillary Rings: Handy for astronomers, astrologers, and navigators.

Compartment Rings: Hide your true allegiance, or carry a secret message.

Poison Rings: An old classic.

Gun Rings: Add more punch to your punch.

Miscellany: No theme, but lots of possibilities.

Let us Bling: A Ring for Clerics that unfolds into a portable shrine.

Architectural Rings: A building on your finger.

Making Monsters: Chupacabra

March 7, 2020 3 comments

Thanks to everyone for your responses to my earlier posts on the Jersey Devil and the Water Leaper. I’m continually developing my system-agnostic monster description format, and I’m grateful to everyone who has helped so far. Soon I hope to make the official #secretprojects announcement and you’ll see what my plans are, and how you can help further. Meanwhile, as always, I would love to know how you think the format could be improved. Let me know in the comments section.

The chupacabra (Spanish: “goat sucker”) is a creature with a fairly short history. According to Wikipedia, it was first reported in Puerto Rico in 1995. Since then, sightings and attacks on livestock have been reported from Maine to Chile and as far afield as Russia and India.

In the real world, the mystery has been solved. The sightings were of coyotes or dogs suffering from severe mange, which altered their normal appearance. I blogged about that some time ago: here’s a link.

In a fantasy or horror setting, though, the Chupacabra could be a completely new kind of creature, just as the various reports suggest. Or one could take a middle-road approach. A Chupacabra was once a dog, a coyote, or some other kind of canid, but it was changed by exposure to toxic waste, or a virus (perhaps the dreaded zombie virus), or through exposure to particular magical energies, or some other force. The possibilities are endless, but I have tried to cover a broad range in this description.

The Chupacabra

Sometimes called goat-suckers, these predators are as big as a medium-sized dog. Their skin is grayish and slightly loose. Their backs are sharply ridged and some have spines erupting from their vertebrae.

They stalk the night, attacking livestock under cover of darkness. They retreat from bright light, and will not normally attack humans unless cornered. However, it has been known for a pack of the creatures to attack a lone child or a sick or wounded traveler.

The bite of a Chupacabra will infect any canid with a virus. Transformation will begin in 24-48 hours and last for 2-3 days. First, the unfortunate victim becomes savage and unpredictable, losing the ability to recognize its former friends and owners. Then it loses its fur and the skin of its face draws back, leaving it with a permanent snarl. Unless shut in somewhere, the new Chupacabra will abandon its former life to join its maker – or to live out the rest of its existence alone.


RANGE

chupacabra_padayachee

Image by Alvin Padayachee. Wikimedia Commons

Real World: Puerto Rico, North and South America. Normally alone.

Fantasy World: Warm temperate and high desert. Lone or pack (2d6).

TYPE: Animal

SIZE: Small (3ft/1m long)

MOVEMENT

Run: 50 feet (15m) per round

ATTRIBUTES

Strength: Animal, small (e.g. medium dog, coyote, wolf)

Dexterity/Agility: Animal, small (e.g. medium dog, coyote, wolf)

Constitution: Animal, small (e.g. medium dog, coyote, wolf)

Intelligence: Animal, small (e.g. medium dog, coyote, wolf)

Willpower: Animal, small (e.g. medium dog, coyote, wolf)

Hit Points/Health: Animal, small (e.g. medium dog, coyote, wolf)

ATTACKS

Bite: Animal, small to medium (e.g. medium dog, wolf)

WEAKNESSES

Light Sensitivity (Optional): Repelled by daylight and strong light sources.

SPECIAL ABILITIES

Spines (Optional): Sharp spines, up to 1 foot/30 cm long, erupt from the creature’s vertebrae. They confer a slight armor advantage against attacks from that direction. Any character trying to grapple the creature must make an appropriate skill or attribute test (wrestling, dexterity/agility, or similar) each round: failure means the character suffers damage as from a successful dagger or short sword attack.

Virus (Optional): Bite carries a virus, requiring the victim to make a constitution save or similar roll or suffer effects according to their species. Canids begin to transform into Chupacabras. Humans may transform into the humanoid form of the creature (see below). Other species suffer wound infection, fever, and/or other symptoms according to what the chosen game’s rules support.

Undead (Optional): The Chupacabra has all the normal traits and weaknesses associated with corporeal undead in the chosen rule system. If in doubt, use zombies as a model. Its bite carries a form of the zombie virus. If a saving throw vs. disease or other suitable test is failed, a canid will become a Chupacabra and a human or humanoid will become a zombie.

Humanoid Chupacabras

Chupacabras

Image by user LeCire. Wikimedia Commons.

A human (or humanoid) bitten by a Chupacabra may be transformed by the virus that the creature carries. All hair falls out, and the skin becomes warty, dry, and scaly – not reptilian as in some artists’ impressions, although it may appear reptilian at a distance in bad light. Eyes become deeply sunk in the sockets, giving an appearance of large, black eyes in poor light. Spines may erupt from the back.

The character’s mental attribute scores drop to the same level as those of a canid Chupacabra, and most mental skills are lost. He or she loses all memories and ceases to recognize friends or family. Fear and hunger are the only drives. All saves against fear suffer a severe penalty (-30 in a percentile system). The victim gains night vision at the same level as a dog or cat, but daylight or equivalent illumination causes severe discomfort and fear.

The unfortunate victim keeps to the shadows, avoiding all kinds of threats and surviving by scavenging and killing small livestock such as chickens, sheep, and goats.

There is no known cure for the condition, either in humans or in animals. Researching the condition and developing a cure will be a very difficult task, requiring a high level of medical and/or traditional healing skills. At the GM’s option, powerful healing or curse-removing magic may be effective.


Links

Wikipedia

Cryptid Wiki

Humanoid Chupacabra: a d20 System adaptation

A 5e adaptation

NPR discussion of the real-world answer to the mystery

Making Monsters: Leap Day Edition

February 29, 2020 3 comments

Thanks to everyone for your response to my earlier post on the Jersey Devil. Before too long, it will be getting and update and expansion as I work toward the ideal format for a system-agnostic monster description. Soon I hope to make the official #secretprojects announcement and you’ll see what my plans are, and how you can help.

Here’s another monster – and today being Leap Day, I’ve gone for the Water Leaper from Welsh folklore. I’ve changed the format a little, and as always I would love to know how it could be improved. Let me know in the comments section.

 

The Water Leaper

 

Water leapers, known as llamhigyn y dwr (pronounced roughly “thlamheegin uh duwr”) in their native Wales, look something like large toads with wings (sometimes bat-like, and sometimes like those of a flying fish) instead of front legs and a long, sinuous tail instead of back legs. Their broad mouths are full of very sharp teeth. Their bodies are 2-3 feet long, with tails twice as long again.

They will attack almost anything, and regularly destroy the nets and lines of local fishermen. They also attack swimmers and livestock drinking at the water’s edge.

Water leapers have been known to try to knock fishermen out of their boats by deliberately leaping at them. They can emit a piercing shriek which can startle an unwary fisherman or animal, making their attack easier. In the water, up to 12 of the creatures can attack a human-sized victim at the same time.

Their pack attacks show a rudimentary organization. For instance, they may spread out and attack a target from all sides at once. One creature may stand a little way off and shriek just as the others are swimming or leaping to the attack.

Water leapers can live on lake fish, but their appetites are so voracious that they quickly deplete the fish stocks in any lake they inhabit. They seem to prefer the meat of sheep, cattle, and humans. They have no natural enemies apart from enraged fishermen and deadlier water monsters such as lake worms and water horses.

 


 

Water_leaper

Painting by Brian Froud. Used without permission: no challenge to copyright intended.

 

RANGE

Real World: Wales: swamps and ponds. Lone or pack (3d4).

Fantasy World: Temperate marshes and ponds. Lone or pack (3d4).

 

TYPE: Animal

 

SIZE: Small (3ft/1m long)

 

MOVEMENT

Swim: 25 feet (7.5m) per round

Glide: 30 feet (9m) per round. Must spend at least 2 consecutive rounds swimming before being able to fly.

Crawl: 5 feet (1.5m) per round.

 

ATTRIBUTES

Strength: Animal, small (e.g. cat, fox, or small to medium dog)

Dexterity/Agility: Animal, small (e.g. cat, fox, or small to medium dog)

Constitution: Animal, small (e.g. cat, fox, or small to medium dog)

Intelligence: Animal, small (e.g. cat, fox, or small to medium dog)

Willpower: Animal, small (e.g. cat, fox, or small to medium dog)

Hit Points/Health: Animal, small (e.g. cat, fox, or small to medium dog)

 

ATACKS

Bite: Animal, small (e.g. cat, fox, or small to medium dog)

Buffet: Only usable when gliding. Ignores armour. Knockdown, based on creature’s Strength, resisted by victim’s Dexterity/Agility. No damage, but the second and subsequent hits in a round cause a cumulative penalty to the victim’s Dexterity/Agility as the victim fights to keep their balance. Used to knock victims out of boats and into the water.

Shriek: Startle, based on creature’s Willpower, resisted by victim’s Willpower. Range/Area of Effect 30 yard/meter radius centered on creature’s position. Startled characters act last in the next turn and suffer a mild (e.g. 10%) penalty to all actions. Critical success on the creature’s part, or critical failure on the victim’s part, causes a Fear result in addition.

 

WEAKNESSES

No special weaknesses.

 

SPECIAL ABILITIES

Stinger (Optional): Some reports of water leapers give them a barb or stinger at the end of their tail. This gives the water leaper one additional attack per round, causing damage as a dagger. In the case of a stinger, the attack also causes mild poison damage, like the venom of a small, mildly venomous snake.

 


 

Links

Cryptid Wiki

A d20 System adaptation

A 5e adaptation

 

A Bit of Bling

February 19, 2020 7 comments

Astronomical Ring

Here’s an interesting little trinket for a scholarly character: a ring that opens up into an armillary sphere. In a game I was running, a piece like this would allow a character a small bonus to skill rolls in astronomy and astrology, and perhaps a time bonus as well, since it would help the character make the necessary calculations more quickly. If the ring were magic, the bonuses might be even higher, all the way up to instant, error-free success every time.

I found this image on Pinterest, and it turns out that rings like this are available from a number of retailers at quite reasonable prices. If you like the idea of owning one, for cosplay or LARPing or just for fun, a search for “armillary sphere ring” or “astronomical ring” should find you plenty of options.

The My Modern Met web site has short article on armillary rings, which includes photos of some items from the British Museum’s collection. Here is a link.

In the Old World of WFRP, rings like this might have variants that chart the movement of the Chaos moon Morrslieb, and allow cult magi to make the sort of calculations that could get a person burned. The Enemy in Shadows Companion, now available as a PDF and coming soon in dead-tree format, includes a chapter on the dreaded Purple Hand cult which includes a new Cult Magus career.

It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got That Bling

If you like this kind of post, you’ll also want to see these:

Compartment Rings: Hide your true allegiance, or carry a secret message.

Poison Rings: An old classic.

Gun Rings: Add more punch to your punch.

Eye Rings: Protection, divination, gaze weapons, and more.

Miscellany: No theme, but lots of possibilities.

Let us Bling: A Ring for Clerics that unfolds into a portable shrine.

Architectural Rings: A building on your finger.

Monster-Based Adventures

February 15, 2020 4 comments

There is a whole class of adventure that revolves around a single monster. This type of adventure first came to prominence in the early 1980s with the publication of Call of Cthulhu: its investigative style mainly involved trying to find out which creature from the Mythos was responsible for a situation, learning how to deal with it, and managing the final conflict so that it was defeated or banished – and hopefully not too many investigators went too mad in the process.

With the current resurgence of interest in folk horror roleplaying games, this seems like a good time to take a look at the design and plotting of monster-centric adventures. I have been a fan of folklore and folk horror for decades, and I expect these games will provide players with a wide range of interesting and challenging creatures, not all of which will succumb to a simple shotgun blast.

Monster-Based Adventures vs. Monster Encounters

Monster-based adventures are different from monster encounters – even boss-monster encounters – in several important ways.

The first is that a monster encounter is not complete in itself, but invariably forms a part of a larger adventure. Even if it is a one-shot encounter designed to be dropped into an existing campaign or adventure, it is not an adventure in its own right.

A monster encounter normally begins with the party meeting the monster, whereas that is the third act in a monster-based adventure. Both showcase the monster’s nature and abilities, but a monster-based adventure includes a research and investigation phase, and players usually come out of the adventure having learned more about the creature and the setting than a simple encounter has to offer.

Here are my thoughts on this kind of adventure. I’m sure you have ideas of your own, and your own favorite monster-based adventures. Let me know about them in the comments section.

A monster-based adventure consists of three distinct phases, each with its own particular design considerations:

Phase 1: Effects

The adventure starts with a report reaching the player characters that something unusual is happening somewhere. Their informant may be a friend or acquaintance of one of the characters, or a stranger who has heard of their reputation for solving mysteries.

Reports are fragmentary and may be contradictory. The only thing that is clear is that something is wrong.

The PCs have an opportunity to do some library research on the reported incidents and the local area, and may be able to form some suspicions. Once they are as prepared as they can be, they set out for the site of the incidents to conduct the second phase of their investigation.

Design Tasks: Choose the monster. Chart its arrival in the area and its actions after arriving. Decide what evidence is left behind, and what witnesses and survivors might say. Think of several other causes that would leave similar traces, and create at least 2-3 red herrings. Pick an NPC who contacts the PCs, and create a player handout of the letter, email, text, or other communication that starts the adventure for them. List the research resources available to the PCs and the information they can recover. Make sure each piece of information has a named source and a relevant skill test to recover it.

Phase 2: Investigation

In this phase, the PCs examine the evidence on the ground and interview witnesses, starting with the person who first contacted them. They add to the information they gathered in Phase 1 and have the opportunity to refine their theories on the nature of the monster. They may find that the situation has grown worse since they received the first reports.

During this phase, the PCs must formulate their plan to deal with the monster. If they are too slow, the GM may decide to have the monster take the initiative, attacking before they are ready for it.

Design Tasks: Map the local area, including all relevant locations and sites of attacks. Create all necessary NPCs. Give each one a starting attitude toward the PCs and a list of information they can convey. Note that information need not be accurate, as long as it is believed by the NPC in question. If an NPC has a reason to lie to the PCs, make sure any false information fits the NPC’s character and motivation. Wherever physical evidence may be found, create a way for the PCs to find the spot (a local guide, for example, or a chance of stumbling on the spot by themselves), a list of evidence (e.g. tracks, bloodstains, etc.), and the skill checks required to spot each piece of evidence. Do the same for documentary evidence from local libraries, church records, etc. Create a backup source or informant to get the PCs on the right track if they fail to piece the clues together properly.

Phase 3: Confrontation

The final phase is the encounter with the monster. If the PCs have researched and reconnoitered properly, they can give themselves a tactical advantage. If they have not, the monster may have the upper hand, at least initially. Intelligent monsters may fortify their lair and/or keep watch for attackers. Aggressive monsters may take the fight to the PCs at the first opportunity. Some monsters, especially those from folklore, can only be defeated by certain means, such as silver bullets or blessed weapons. Some intelligent monsters might be open to persuasion or a bargain, which is far less risky than combat. The adventure is over when the monster is killed, driven away, or defeated by some other means.

Design Tasks: Re-read the monster description and design the time and place of the climactic encounter. Also draw up contingency plans in case the players encounter the monster under different circumstances. Sketch out the aftermath of the monster’s defeat: whether it is permanently destroyed, whether it may return, and what precautions may be taken for the future. Reckon experience points and other rewards (increased knowledge, NPC contacts, etc.) for a successful conclusion.

Did You Say Folk Horror?

Yes, I did. Over the last few months I have become aware of at least two new and forthcoming folk horror RPGs, and they both look interesting. Here are links:

Solemn Vale

Set in the UK in the 1970s. The British film industry produced a lot of good horror at that time. https://dirtyvortex.net/solemn-vale/

Solemn Vale

Vaesen

Set in Sweden in the 19th century, and based on the art of award-winning illustrator Johan Egerkrans. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1192053011/vaesen-nordic-horror-roleplaying

Vaesen cover

Making Monsters: The Jersey Devil

February 5, 2020 13 comments

 

Recently I have posted about my favorite RPG monster books, both those I worked on and those I didn’t. These posts sparked some great discussions both here and on various social media platforms, as people shared their favorite volumes and their must-have, nice-to-have, and wow-look-at-this features of existing game bestiaries.

I have also hinted, here and there, that I am working on a couple of #secretprojects, which I hope will come to fruition over the next year or so. As some people have guessed, the first one concerns monsters.

More details will be released as things firm up, but right now I would like to ask you, my beloved readers, for your help. One of the things I want to achieve with this project is the development of a systemless format for presenting game stats, and the description of the Jersey Devil that follows includes my first attempt at doing so. The objective is to describe a creature’s attributes and abilities in such a way that GMs of any game will find it easy to develop stats for their particular rule set.

So read this, play with it, and let me know what you think. In this version I have opted for a comparative method, likening the creature’s stats to those of an average human or a common animal. There are other, crunchier methods, but I think this is the clearest and the easiest to use. Tell me if I’m right, and tell me how you would go about improving it.

I don’t want to frame this request as a competition, and I’m not in a position to offer prizes or rewards – yet – but as the project grows and takes shape I expect that to change, and I hope to be able to acknowledge and possibly reward those contributions that I found most valuable.

If all goes as planned, this will be the start of a fun ride. Are you in?

 

The Jersey Devil

Jersey_Devil_Philadelphia_Post_1909

An image from the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, based on sightings of the 1909 hoax devil. Borrowed from the Philadelphia Inquirer’s website.

 

RANGE

Real World: North America, specifically the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. After 1735. Unique.

Fantasy World: Temperate pine woodlands. Encountered singly or in groups of 2-6.

 

TYPE

Local Legend, devil, or animal.

 

ATTRIBUTES

Strength: Human range, high end

Dexterity/Agility: Human range, high end

Constitution: Human range, average

Intelligence: Animal, superior (e.g. dog)

Willpower: Animal, superior (e.g. dog)

Hit Points/Health: Animal, medium (e.g. horse)

 

ATACKS

Bite: Animal, medium (e.g. wolf)

Trample: Animal, medium (e.g. horse)

 

WEAKNESSES

No special weaknesses

 

SPECIAL ABILITIES

Fly: Large, slow (e.g. wyvern)

Cause fear: Supernatural, demonic

Growl: Enhance fear effect


 

Sometimes known as the Leeds Devil, the Jersey Devil is rumored to inhabit the Pine Barrens of southern New Jersey. Those who have seen it describe it as eight feet tall with a long neck, crane-like legs ending in hooves, large bat-like wings, and a head like that of a deer or a dog. It is a vicious creature with a taste for human flesh.

There are many tales of the creature’s origins. Most connect it to a local merchant named Leeds and his wife Deborah. According to the most common story, Mrs. Leeds was in labor with her thirteenth child in 1735. Some say she was a witch and the child’s father was the Devil. Others say that she was unhappy to find herself pregnant for a thirteenth time and cursed her baby with the words “may it be a devil.”

Other stories view the Jersey devil as a divine punishment upon its parents: for Mr. Leeds’ harsh treatment of the family’s servants, or for Mrs. Leeds’ refusal to renounce her Quaker faith in favor of her husband’s Puritanism. A final version tells that, despite its appearance, Deborah Leeds cared for her monstrous offspring until her death, when it flew into the swamps of the Pine Barrens and has remained there ever since.

All versions of the story agree that the baby was a monster. It killed the midwife – and everyone else in the house, in some versions – fled up the chimney, and has been haunting the Pine Barrens ever since. Attempts to track down the Leeds family or their descendants have failed, and the tales cannot be verified. The beast was seen multiple times in 1909, and ever since it has been world famous – but no one has ever captured it.

 

A Tale Grown in the Telling

regal-jersey-devil-taylors

A Quaker tract denouncing the Leeds family.

 

Daniel Leeds ran a publishing business, which included almanacs. Local Quakers objected to them because they included astrological information. A feud began, with each side publishing pamphlets that used stronger and stronger language. After Daniel Leeds died in 1720, the Quakers accused Daniel’s son Titan Leeds of being “Satan’s harbinger.” Also, the Leeds family crest featured birds, but they are easy to mistake for bat-winged devils if badly drawn.

This may be the origin of the Jersey Devil, but its tale remained obscure for almost 200 years. The creature gained its current fame in 1909, when the owner of a private museum in Philadelphia organized a publicity stunt. A kangaroo was fitted with fake wings and sightings were staged around New Jersey. The plan was to announce that the Jersey Devil had been captured and put the disguised kangaroo on display. Ever since then, pictures and descriptions of the Jersey Devil have all looked very like a kangaroo with wings.

 

Almanac

The Leeds family crest and the cover of one of Titan Leeds’s almanacs. It is just possible to interpret the badly-drawn birds as horned, winged devils.

 

Links

The Skeptical Inquirer published a piece on the Leeds family and the Jersey Devil in 2013, which is worth reading.

The Philadelphia Inquirer covered the 1909 hoax in detail on its 110th anniversary.

My Top Five Monster Books (that I worked on)

January 25, 2020 11 comments

In an earlier post, I wrote about my love for monsters and picked out a few of my favorite rpg monster books. A lot of you got back to me with your own favorites, either in the comments section or through Facebook or other means, and now I have quite a few more books to look at – so thanks for that!

This time, I’ll be looking at some monster books that I’ve written or co-written. I’ll explain what I hoped to achieve with each one, and you can judge for yourselves how well I succeeded or failed. As always, I’d love to have your thoughts on each one, especially what you think would have made it better.

There’s more to this request than simple nostalgia, or a need for validation. You see, I’m gearing up for a new project (more than one, in fact: #secretprojects) and I’m studying previous rpg monsters books to figure out what features turn a good one into a great one. I’ll be issuing a formal announcement about the project some time in the next few weeks, but until then, tell me what would make a monster book irresistible to you. What are the must-haves, what are the cut-aboves, and what are the mind-blowing, come-look-at-this, can-you-believe-it features that turn a monster treatment into something that you have to use as soon as you can, and that you will talk about for the rest of your gaming career?

Creatures of Freeport

Creatures of Freeport

https://greenroninstore.com/products/creatures-of-freeport-pdf

A great attraction of this project was the opportunity to work with my friend Keith Baker. Before Keith created Eberron, Gloom, and the other games that have made him rightly famous, we worked together in a video game studio in Boulder, Colorado. We were both impressed by Green Ronin’s Freeport setting: I mean, D&D with pirates – what’s not to love? I had been thinking of ways to expand and improve the way monsters are covered in tabletop rpgs ever since my Games Workshop days, and Keith was a whiz at the complex process of creating monster stats for the 3.5/d20 system.

We added three sections to the standard treatment. The first set out the kind of information about the creature that might be available on a successful knowledge check, the second covered various magical, alchemical, and other uses for the dead creature’s remains, and the third presented a selection of adventure hooks.

The book got some good reviews, and we were both quite happy with it. But I’m still left with the feeling that it is possible to do better.

Atlas of the Walking Dead

Atlas of the Walking Dead

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/566/Atlas-of-the-Walking-Dead?affiliate_id=386172

Eden Studios’ zombie survival-horror game All Flesh Must Be Eaten came out just at the start of that heady (brain-y?) period in which zombie horror began to take over the zeitgeist. Since the undead have always been one of my favorite classes of monsters, I jumped at the chance to pitch them a monster book.

I took myth and folklore as my starting point here. Over the years, I had read an enormous amount on the subject, especially on the creatures of folklore around the world. I found that the walking dead – which I defined as all kinds of corporeal undead, not just zombies – broke down into a number of classes, with variants from different parts of the world. For each type, I started with a short piece of atmospheric fiction to set the scene, defined the base creature in terms of the game’s rules, and added a short section on variants. In many cases it was necessary to define new traits (Aspects in the game’s lingo), and as in Creatures of Freeport I finished up with a selection of adventure hooks.

GURPS Faerie

GURPS Faerie

http://www.sjgames.com/gurps/books/faerie/

Like all the GURPS worldbooks, this was as much a setting as a bestiary. Faeries are found across the world under a range of local names, and like the walking dead they break down into a number of distinct types. In addition to chapters on faerie lands, faerie magic, and faerie nature, I wrote a chapter of templates for the various types with variants on each. Following the format established by previous monster-centric sourcebooks for GURPS, a chapter on campaigns and adventures took the place of adventure seeds per template.

I like this book because faeries are another favorite class of monsters, and because it allowed me to examine their folkloric context in greater depth than a bestiary-style book would have permitted. Faerie is a tone as much as a class of monster, with its own feel and its own tropes, and to neglect this would have been to do the subject matter a grave injustice – and who knows, possibly to suffer spoiled milk and bedbugs for the rest of my life!

Werewolves: A Hunter’s Guide

Werewolves cover

https://ospreypublishing.com/werewolves-a-hunter-s-guide

Is this an rpg monster book, really? There’s not a rule or a game stat in sight, but I think of all the Dark Osprey line as systemless rpg sourcebooks. I took the example set by line editor (and future designer of the excellent fantasy skirmish game Frostgrave) Joe McCullough in his book Zombies: A Hunter’s Guide, and set my werewolf book in the same alternate reality.

Although I already knew quite a bit about werewolves, the research for this book led me to the conclusion that there are at least five distinct kinds. Each one got a chapter, supported by case studies drawn (mostly) from genuine historical and mythological sources, and I took a couple of chapters to shoot a glance at other shapeshifters (such as Japanese hengeyokai and Indian weretigers) and to invent various organizations that hunt and/or study werewolves. Of course, I covered werewolves at war, from Norse ulfhednar to the ever-popular Nazi werewolves and various Cold War spin-offs from Nazi research in that area.

The viewpoint is from contemporary urban fantasy rather than medieval fantasy, but that made a nice change, and I didn’t think that it lessened the book’s usefulness for rpgs set in any time or place. It is not aimed at any particular rules set, so there is some work for the GM to do, but I still hope that it offers a good source of information and ideas.

Colonial Gothic Bestiary

Colonial Gothic Bestiary

https://www.rogue-games.net/bestiary

Colonial Gothic is a very nice historical-fantasy game published by Rogue Games. I met Rogue’s head honcho Richard Iorio years ago when we were both working on the Hogshead Publishing booth at GenCon, and when he published Colonial Gothic I got in touch. A solid monster book is an essential part of an rpg’s core, and I aimed to provide one in the Colonial Gothic Bestiary.

As monster books go, it’s fairly unambitious. The aim was to cover a large number of critters and provide the GM with options, rather than to look at a smaller number in detail. What I like most about it is the way that it reflects the setting in its blend of North American wildlife, Native American folklore monsters, fearsome critters from tall tales, and Old World monsters that might believably have come across with the colonists.


So there you have it – or them. I will look forward to hearing your views, and discussing what features make a monster treatment really shine. And as soon as I can, I’ll be lifting the curtain on my #secretprojects. Bye for now!