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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

 

My Top Five Monster Books (that I worked on)

January 25, 2020 10 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 go 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!

My Complete and Utter D&D/AD&D/d20 Bibliography

August 11, 2015 14 comments

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For me, as for most people, Dungeons & Dragons was the first roleplaying game. I started playing around 1977 and I started writing articles and adventures while I was in college. My first article was published in 1982, and my most recent adventure was published in 2010. Along the way I also wrote a D&D novel and worked on an unsuccessful pitch for a Greyhawk MMO game. Here they all are:

Products

Pathfinder Adventure Path #41: The Thousand Fangs Below, Paizo Publishing 2010 – adventure author Buy it here
Pathfinder GameMastery Guide, Paizo Publishing 2010 – contributing author Buy it here
Pathfinder Bestiary 2, Paizo Publishing 2010 – contributing author Buy it here
Moons of Arksyra, Hypernova Games 2005 – co-author/developer Buy it here
Mythic Vistas: Eternal Rome, Green Ronin Publishing 2005 – author Buy it here
Creatures of Freeport, Green Ronin Publishing 2004 – co-author Buy it here
Tales of Freeport, Green Ronin Publishing 2003 – author
Slaine: Teeth of the Moon Sow, Mongoose Publishing 2002 – author Buy it here
AD&D Celts Campaign Sourcebook, TSR, Inc. 1992 – author Buy it here
The Goblins’ Lair, TSR, Inc. 1992 – author Buy it here

Fiction
Blood and Honor, Wizards of the Coast 2006 Buy the audio book here

Articles
“The Tathlum,” (AD&D Celts Campaign Sourcebook outtake), personal blog, December 2015 Download free here
“The Ecology of the Wight,” Dragon #348, October 2006 Buy it here
“The Soul Yard,” No Quarter #8, September 2006 Buy it here
“Dead Man’s Quest,” Dungeon #107, February 2004 Buy it here
“The Rapax,” Tales of Freeport web promo, 2003 Download free here
“Lady Mijiko’s Holiday,” Pyramid #14, Jul/Aug 1995 – available free online: click here
“The King Beneath the Hill,” White Wolf Magazine #26, Apr/May 1991 Buy it here
“Race Relations,” GameMaster Publications #4, June 1986
“Nightmare in Green,” White Dwarf #75, Apr 1986
“Defenders of the Faith,” GameMaster Publications #3, March 1986
“Find the Lady,” GameMaster Publications #2, Dec 1985 Download free here
“Tongue Tied,” White Dwarf #70, Nov 1985
“Poison,” White Dwarf #69, Oct 1985
“Magic & Mayhem: Viking!” Imagine #30, Sep 1985
“Pentjak Silat: Indonesian Martial Arts,” Imagine #25, Apr 1985
“Japanese Bujutsu,” Imagine #25, Apr 1985
“Monsters from the Folklore of the Philippines,” Imagine #25, Apr 1985 Download free here
“Eye of Newt and Wing of Bat,” White Dwarf #59-63, Dec 1984-April 1985
“New Flail Types,” Imagine #20, Nov 1984 Download free here
“Magic & Mayhem: Celts,” Imagine #17, Aug 1984 Download free here
“Sethotep,” Imagine #16, Jul 1984 Download free here
“Sobek, God of Marshes and Crocodiles,” Imagine #16, Jul 1984 Download free here
“Drowning Rules,” White Dwarf #51, Apr 1984
“Seeing the Light,” White Dwarf #44, Sep 1983
“The Taking of Siandabhair,” Imagine #5, Aug 1983 Download free here
“Bujutsu,” White Dwarf #43, Aug 1983
“Extracts from the Uruk-Hai Battle Manual,” White Dwarf #38, Mar 1983
“The Tower of Babel,” Pegasus #12, Feb-Mar 1983 Buy it here
“The City in the Swamp,” White Dwarf #37, Feb 1983
“More Necromantic Abilities,” White Dwarf #36, Jan 1983
“Drug Use and Abuse,” White Dwarf #32, Aug 1982

Other Bibliography Posts

My Complete and Utter Warhammer Bibliography (Warhammer, WFRP, HeroQuest, AHQ)

My Complete and Utter Warhammer 40,000 Bibliography (WH40K, Adeptus Titanicus/Epic Scale)

My Complete and Utter Cthulhu Bibliography

My Complete and Utter GURPS Bibliography

My Complete and Utter Vampire: the Masquerade and World of Darkness Bibliography

My Complete and Utter Fighting Fantasy and Gamebook Bibliography

My Complete and Utter Colonial Gothic Bibliography

My Complete and Utter Dark Future Bibliography

My Complete and Utter Video Gameography

My Complete and Utter Bibliography: The Rest of the RPGs

My Complete and Utter Bibliography: Odds and Ends