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Making Monsters: Leap Day Edition

February 29, 2020 Leave a comment

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_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. Knockdown, based on creature’s Strength, resisted by victim’s Dexterity/Agility. No damage. 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.

 


 

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.

 

Links

Cryptid Wiki

A d20 System adaptation

A 5e adaptation

 

Monday Maps #6: Peasant Cottage

February 24, 2020 2 comments

Adventurers spend a lot of time traveling through remote places, so a peasant farmer’s cottage will be a familiar sight. It may be threatened by bandits or monsters, presenting an opportunity for a Seven Samurai defence action. It may be occupied by a family whose remoteness from the world hides secret mutants or other quirks, like the cannibalism of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Or it may simply be a place to get out of the weather, and perhaps bargain for a bowl of stew.

Irish Cottage 2

This design goes back into prehistory, and is still in use today in some areas. In a medieval setting, the windows would be smaller, with curtains of skin in place of glass. Copyright Marion McGarry: used without permission.

 

In some places, a cottage is little more than a barn, divided into two parts. The animals occupy one part, and the family the other. Sometimes the sleeping quarters are in a loft above the livestock stalls, benefiting from the animals’ warmth. More prosperous farmers added hearths and chimneys to their cottages, and moved the animals into a barn across the farmyard. Other features might be added, such as a granary and vegetable store, a well, and even a smithy.

Farm 1

A medieval farm, by Dante78. Borrowed from Renderosity: click image for more information.

 

Often, there would be a surrounding wall, both for defence and to stop animals wandering off.

Farm 2

Hudson & Allen Studio’s 25mm Fortified Medieval Farmhouse. Image from Wargame Scenics. Click image for more information.

 

 

German cottage

A two-storey cottage from Germany. This is large enough to accommodate an extended family, and would probably belong to a fairly prosperous farm family.

 

Links

This page from British History Online has some useful plans of various cottage layouts, as well as a lot of information on various building types and how they were used. Scroll down to find all the plans, but if you have the patience to read the text you will find some of it useful.

 

 

Monday Maps #5: An Interesting Patreon

February 17, 2020 2 comments

Instead of just one map, or one type of building, this week I’ve found a Patreon campaign that seems worth a look.

Jerome Huguenin creates plans and isometrics under the title Architecture for Adventure. His Patreon campaign has two very affordable backer levels – $2/month and $3/month – and he gives a lot of his plans away for free. Plans like this one: Map 30, Doctor’s House.

 

https://www.patreon.com/architectureforadventure

One of the delights you’ll find for free at the Architecture for Adventure Patreon page – whether you’re a backer or not.

 

From what I’ve seen, Jerome’s work is easily as good as anything you’ll find in a professional publication – and at $2.00 or $3.00 a month, cheaper than most maps you’ll find. You won’t be sorry you checked it out.

 

And now for something a little (but not completely) different:

Patreon. It will probably play a part in my unfolding plans for two #secretprojects. I’m doing some research, but I would really love to hear from all of you.

Do you back Patreon campaigns? Would you back mine?

What would you be willing to pay per month, assuming one article per month? Or would you prefer to pay per item?

What other Patreons do you currently back? What kinds of rewards would you like to see at higher levels?

Do you have a Patreon of your own? Is there any advice you would be willing to share with me? Any tips, or warnings?

Please let me have your thoughts in the comments section below. And if you’d like to be kept in the loop, take a moment to follow this blog. I’ll be using it as the main channel for news and updates.

Thanks!

 

 

Monday Maps #4: Town and City Gates

February 10, 2020 Leave a comment

In medieval Europe, and in most fantasy worlds, towns and cities are surrounded by wall to protect them from attack. The gates are the weakest part of a town wall, so they tend to be the most heavily fortified.

In a small town or walled village, the gate fortifications may be very modest. In a great and wealthy city, each gate can be a small castle in its own right.

Plan and Elevation of Monk Bar, York

From The Pictorial History of England (W & R Chambers, 1858)

This 19th-century image of Monk Bar in medieval York shows the basic components of a fortified city gate. It has a barbican with a double gate and a portcullis between: when the outer gate is breached, attackers enter a killing zone and must endure fire from all sides as they assault the portcullis. Having broken down the portcullis they must pass under an archway to reach the inner gate, and the ceiling of the archway is pierced with “murder holes” through which defenders above can fire missiles or drop boiling water or oil.

 

 

A guardhouse stands beside the gate, and outside it stairs lead up to the wall top and the room above the murder holes. The winch for raising and lowering the portcullis would often be at this level as well.

Finally, there is a sally port beside the gate, through which defenders could break out and get behind an attacking force.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Smaller towns will have more modest arrangements, like this:

 

VK-com

Borrowed from VK.com

 

 

This model would suit a medium-sized town in Warhammer’s Old World or a similar setting:

 

 

Turbosquid

Borrowed from Turbosquid.com

 

 

…and here’s a floorplan from Jason Engle, whose web site is worth a look. Find it here.

JAEstudio

 

See you next Monday for more maps!

 

 

Monday Maps #3: Water Mill

February 3, 2020 5 comments

Nearly every village of any size will have a mill for grinding grain. Windmills are popular in the Wasteland and other flat, windy areas, but everywhere else, a water mill uses the power of a nearby river. The mill is a vital part of the village economy, and the miller is a respected member of the community, turning raw grain into saleable flour for a percentage of the yield.

A water mill is essentially a large machine set inside a building, and it can be a dangerous place for the unwary – especially in a fight. Even if the wheels are not turning, they present hard an unforgiving obstacles in unlooked-for places; if the mill is in operation, their gears can snag clothes and crush their wearers.

And of course, there is that big wheel outside, for those who want to recreate the iconic sequence from Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest - The Big Wheel Fight

This diagram is from 19th-century America, but the principles of siting a watermill and directing the flow of water are unchanged from the Middle Ages:

mill-diagram

These two images give an idea of the interior layout:

 

WFRP Maps Water Mill

Borrowed from the web site of David Darling (https://www.daviddarling.info/index.html). No challenge to copyright intended.

Watermill machinery

A side view. Notice how the central shaft drives not only the millstones but also the top floor winch, used for hauling sacks up grain up for milling. Drawing by Pippa Miller, borrowed from Norfolk Mills (http://www.norfolkmills.co.uk/watermill-machinery.html). No challenge to copyright intended.

…and this more complex map includes floorplans that can easily be adapted for use in a game. It is borrowed from the Mills Archive, which has plans and drawings of many other English water mills.

WFRP Water mill

The mill at Barford St. Michael, Oxfordshire. Borrowed from the Mills Archive (https://catalogue.millsarchive.org/watermill-at-barford-st-michael). No challenge to copyright intended.

Monday Maps #2

January 27, 2020 9 comments

It’s Monday, and here’s another map. This time, it’s from Francois Beauregard, a.k.a. Built4ever on Deviant Art. I know nothing about this artist, but the Deviant Art page is a huge trove of maps and building plans. It is well worth a visit.

Here, we have a nice little row of buildings that might be found in one of the classier areas of a fantasy city. They could be little boutique shops, perhaps with modest accommodation upstairs: shopkeepers are seldom the same class as their customers, even if they live alongside them. I particularly like the little alley entrance in the middle of the block, which could lead to all manner of intriguing locations, from the hidden oasis of a courtyard cafe to a simple yard for receiving and organizing stock. I’m sure you can come up with many other ideas.

storefronts_for_the_clove__a_town_center_by_built4ever_d5mmlw6-fullview (1)

 

My Top Five Monster Books (that I worked on)

January 25, 2020 5 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!