Picture Thursday 43: Oliphek by Heather Gwinn

Oliphek by Heather GwinnCheck out this badass. You’ll be able to buy him and all his friends, with statblocks, in my upcoming book. Doesn’t that sound cool? Of course it sounds cool.

Heather and I only recently started working together, after I stumbled across her work whilst browsing Imgur. She’s a delight to work with, and has a surreal, creepy, fucked-up kind of artistic style which makes my monsters look as strange as I want them to be. She also works fast. Like, wicked fast. I’ve been trying to work faster to compensate.

You should check out more of her work. It’s worth your time.

Dissecting Monsters: The Defender’s Creature from “Better Than Any Man”

The Defender's Creature
Illustration by Jennifer Rodgers

Lets go!

The Defender’s Creature
See the description for statistics. Morale 12.

While the creature appears as a brain resting in a tentacle-laden pod, it is actually an adaptive creature which drains the abilities of those around it in order to have any abilities of its own.

This draining of abilities is applicable to whoever and whatever is near (within 100’) and takes them for itself and its master. The character or creature with the best Armor rating loses it and both the creature and The Defender instead have it. The character or creature with the weapon doing the most damage loses it and the creature and The Defender instead have it each. The character or creature with the fastest movement becomes unable to move and the creature and The Defender instead have that movement capability. The character or creature with the most Hit Points loses them (being reduced to 1d6 Hit Points), and the creature and The Defender instead have them as their Hit Points each.

Special abilities or attacks are likewise absorbed. Any character or creature with Magic-User spell capabilities loses them, and the creature and Defender instead have the spell capabilities between them. Cleric spell ability is not absorbed.

Once an “absorbed” character or creature moves out of the 100’ range of this ability, they regain their abilities and the creature and Defender lose them (although spells cast by The Defender, or the creature, are still expended).

My first impression of The Defender’s Creature was that it was a pain in the ass. So much bookkeeping! Everybody announce the amount of damage your weapon does. Uh oh, two people have weapons which deal the same damage? Um, do either weapons have tie-breaking special abilities? What about speed? Everyone is playing a human with 120′ speed, so I guess we randomly determine someone to be stuck, yeah?

Buuuuuuut despite some minor frustrations at the start of this combat, the effect it has on battle is (I think) a very interesting one. If the PCs attack this creature, they lose all of their best abilities, quite literally. Abilities which likely formed the basis for any typical attack strategy. The beefy fighter who normally charges in to protect the casters suddenly has less HP and less armor than the party’s magic user. And the party’s magic user, lacking her spells, is reduced to attacking with sticks and stones.

If this comes as a surprise to the party, their immediate response should probably be to retreat. Unfortunately, one of their number (either the fastest, or just a random person if they all have the same move speed) cannot move under their own power. The party is forced either to abandon their companion, or attempt to carry her while under assault by two creatures wailing on them with the fighter’s badass magic sword.

Just now I notice that, interestingly, the creature’s description doesn’t say that this effect only occurs when it is attacking. It merely says that it draws abilities from everyone within 100′. Within the context of the module, the creatures obey their masters perfectly (thus why all of them have morale 12), and it is entirely possible for the players to encounter their masters (known as “The Seven”) on friendly terms. So, when the party arrive to have a friendly discussion with The Defender, the magic user loses her spells, and the fighter’s HP and armor class drop. That’s a curious detail–a warning to let the players know that engaging this creature is dangerous.

Also interesting that, like The Provider’s creature, there’s a very simple, hidden way to kill this creature with ease: make sure there’s no one within 100′ of it. The description is explicit. It drains the abilities of those around it “in order to have any abilities of its own.” A generous interpretation of this would leave the best completely vulnerable. Unable to move or fight or avoid attacks. As I read it, though, the monster wouldn’t even have HP if there was no one at all within 100′.

The moment it is alone, it dies. I like that.

Deadly Dungeons 27: Undead Disposal Chamber

Undead Disposal ChamberThere are two entrances to this room, but the players are extremely unlikely to find the alternate entrance. It is usually obscured from view and out-of-the-way, intended to be found only by those it ensnares. It is much more likely that players will find the entrance to the termination chamber–a place this room’s designers enjoyed frequenting themselves to drink beer and laugh at the undead who fell into their trap.

In the center of the main room is a large pillar of green gelatin, with several dead bodies deteriorating within it. The stench of it fills the room with an acrid smell, like burning plastic. This pillar is completely and infallibly fatal to all undead creatures. Even a creature who can normally escape mundane destruction cannot escape the doom of the pillar. For example, if a lich were destroyed here, their phylactery (wherever it might be) would burst into flames.

Spaced around the pillar are four magically animated ropes, ending in lassos. They are attracted to movement, and will pounce like coiled snakes on anything which moves within the room. Those who are targeted must make a save v. palatalization, or be tangled by the lasso. Once tangled, the character must make a strength check each round to avoid being drawn 10′ closer to the pillar. The ropes have 15hp, are magically hardened, and self-repairing. They can only be damaged by slashing or cutting weapons (piercing or bludgeoning weapons are ineffective). The ropes ignore 2 points of damage from any attack, and heal 1d4 hp each round–even if completely severed. It is unlikely to come up, but the ropes are also partially ethereal, allowing them to tangle incorporeal creatures.

To the side of the room, a ramp leads down to a small secondary chamber with railings along the walls perpendicular to the ramp. (On my map, these are the north and south walls). Embedded in one wall is a skull carved from a massive ruby, with a strange black liquid flowing over its surface in defiance of gravity. Living creatures who stand in the presence of this object immediately become ill, and must make a saving throw versus poison or vomit on the spot. It is a powerful talisman of negative energy, and provides an irresistible draw to any undead creature which passes within 100 miles. Opposite this talisman is an iron door, standing open, leading out into a cave.

The floor of this room is a very sensitive pressure plate. Whenever it detects any weight, the iron door will close automatically, and seal itself until the room no longer detects weight. Once closed, the wall opposite the ramp will begin to move, forcing whatever is in the room to move out onto the ramp, and within range of the lassos.

The various devices and traps in these rooms are likely to give players a clear impression that the pillar of gelatin is deadly. However, this is only true if you’re an undead creature! For the living, the pillar produces mostly positive (if unpredictable) effects. Roll 2d6 for any living player who ends up inside the pillar:

2. The next time your character would die, they are instead returned to full health, with any of their ailments removed.

3. You, and every ally within 100ft of you, gain a +2 bonus to saving throws.

4.  The next time you would be level drained by an undead creature, you instead gain one level. This only works once.

5. Undead of 5 HD or less will always cower before you.

6. Your maximum hit points is permanently increased by 10 + your current level.

7. Any undead creature you touch (with your flesh, not your weapons) takes 1d8 damage. This damage is applied if undead deal damage to you with their hands / mouths / other body parts.

8. You become entirely immune to disease.

9. 8 hours of sleep will always be enough to completely restore your HP. It will not heal other ailments.

10. By giving an undead creature a hard stare, you force it to make a save versus magic at a -4 penalty, or cower before you.

11. You begin to age in reverse. You will regress back to 15 years of age (one year at a time), then switch back to normal aging again. There are no negative physical or mental effects of the age regression.

12. Undead creatures who touch you must make a save versus magic or be destroyed. You still take damage as normal, but suffer no ill effects from the creature’s powers or abilities. Note that there is no effect if you touch the undead. They must touch you of their own volition.

An unfortunate side effect of the gelatin is that it produces cancerous tumors in living subjects. Fortunately, these tumors grow very slowly, and will take 100 years to kill someone. Each subsequent use of the pillar after the first, however, divides the number of years by 4. (25 on second use, 6.25 years on third use, 1.5 years for the third use, and so on). It is left to the GM’s imagination what toll the cancer should take on the player.

Picture Thursday 42: The Secret Tower (II) by René Aigner


This is probably true for every fantasy tabletop gamer, but I have something of a fetish for wizard towers. I don’t think we really take advantage of the fact that they can be literally anything and it’s totally legit because a wizard did it. Perhaps the wizard’s tower is a blade of grass which she made enormous, or a lightning bolt from the sky which was frozen in time and had doors and windows carved into it. Fuck if I know, they’re wizards!

While it’s not quite that wacky, this piece by René Aigner represents one of my favorite types of wizard towers. This is the tower of a bush wizard. An eclectic pile of junk which really only makes sense if you understand that rat poo can be used to summon flaming rainbows, and old newspapers are an essential component in time travel spells. Or maybe she’s just crazy and old, you can’t really tell.

René’s deviantart gallery is filled with some marvelous fantasy landscapes of all types. I highly recommend his work. And he sells prints! I find myself really wishing I had a little more wall space for a few of these.



Dissecting Monsters: The Mother’s Creature from “Better Than Any Man”

The Mother's Creature by Jennifer Rodgers
Illustration by Jennifer Rogers

You may have noticed I didn’t post anything last week. That is because I was dead. Or at least close to it. I did very little with my time aside from trying to take breaths between coughing fits. I did manage to work in some “holding my head in the vain hope that it stops pounding,” but that isn’t exactly blog-worthy, you know?

But now I’m only mostly dead, and that’s well enough to get back to work.

-The Mother’s Creature-
Armor 14, 5 Hit Dice, Movement 30’, 1 limb attack doing really weird things (see below), Morale 12.

This creature appears as a human torso with arms in various stages of bone coverage poking out of it in all directions. It even walks on a pair of its hands. It has a head, stuck sideways on an exposed spine. Its limbs, not being attached to its torso by a firm skeleton, can attack targets up to 50’ away. On a successful hit, it does no damage, but instead attaches a new human arm to the character in a random location.

If the creature is damaged and it successfully attacks, it will instead take the arms of the persons it targets, one arm at a time. This does 1d8 Hit Points of damage to the victim, who must then save versus Paralyzation or go into shock. Adding the arm into its collection will restore 1d8 Hit Points to the creature.

The new limb is instantly wired into the character’s nervous and circulatory systems and is for all intents and purposes a new permanent limb. The character will not know how to control it, however, and it will flail and thrash around as familiar thought patterns, conscious and unconscious, now lead to unpredictable results. In response, familiar body parts will operate less effectively as the body attempts to compensate. The character will suffer a 1 point Dexterity modifier penalty for each limb added. The modifier can be restored at a rate of one point per week as the character learns to use his new limb(s).Note that current equipment can be destroyed by the attachment of a new arm. An arm being stuck into a character’s chest or back will destroy armor worn, for instance. On the plus side, extra arms means that a character can have more equipment to hand, carry an extra shield, or even wield a weapon—once they are under control, that is.

First off, the appearance of this creature cannot be undersold. If you’re flipping through the pages of the book, glancing this piece will make you stop. Even writing this now I find my eyes drawn away from my screen to the book sitting open on my desk. This monster scares me. It’s a rare and glorious thing. Most monsters, including The Provider’s Creature, look the way I’d expect a monster to look. Even if their appearance is entirely unique, they follow some unwritten formula for creating a monstrous creature. But this fucker looks like he comes from some forgotten childhood nightmare. Something you can never quite piece together in your mind, but which unsettles you none the less.

Mechanically, there’s really only one interesting thing about this creature, but that thing is complex and requires a lot of dissection.

First, this creature has no basic attack. No bite, or claw, or even the ambiguous “slam” attack. It has only its own special ability. And while this may not be appropriate for every monster, it seems to me an underutilized idea. If a monster can do some strange crazy thing to its victims, focus in on that. Many creatures we hear about in stories prefer to kill in their own special way, and won’t resort to biting and kicking.

Second, the creature only deals damage when it’s wounded. It can certainly attack aggressively, and cause serious inconvenience for those it targets. But aside from a temporary dexterity penalty and some potentially damaged equipment, the Mother’s Creature causes no harm until it itself is harmed. This gives the players a curious way to defeat it: don’t fight it. Once they start fighting it, the bastard can start immobilizing party members and causing serious damage. It’s a kind of hidden trick which the players might figure out which makes the creature pretty non-threatening. I like the idea that while a monster can be defeated using traditional methods, there’s also a much simpler method which requires very little effort, but may be difficult to figure out.

Third, while having an extra arm growing out of your knee is sure to make people wary of you; will cost you a lot of silver in equipment repairs; and temporarily gives you a penalty to your dexterity; it’s ultimately beneficial. People are wary of adventurers already, more silver can always be plundered, and if your character survives a few days the dexterity penalty will go away. After that, you’ve got a kickass third arm which can hold a second shield to protect your lower half, or wield a sword to make your opponents wish they could protect THEIR lower halves. The idea that an encounter with a monster could leave you better off for having suffered its attentions is enticing.

Fourth and finally, this creature is just as likely to leave you alive and armless as it is to kill you. At higher levels, it’s actually more likely to leave you alive an armless than it is to kill you. I like that. I’ve become very fond of high mortality play in the last few years, but there’s no reason every monster needs to be a life or death encounter. Some could be encounters like this one where a character may end up useless (and therefore functionally dead). Others may have a worst-case outcome of a character being severely impaired, but still playable. And, occasionally, there’s no reason a monster couldn’t simply be a theme park ride. A very scary experience which, in truth, has very little chance of causing any harm.

Dissecting Monsters: The Provider’s Creature from “Better Than Any Man”

The Provider's Creature by Gennifer Bone
Illustration by Gennifer Bone

Something I’ve been doing a lot of lately is finding monsters, particularly from books people seem to like, and dissecting them to find what I like, what I don’t, and how I cam make monsters which are as good or better. Nifty content for a blog post, save that it would pretty much require me to post someone else’s content. But the other day I had a bright idea. See, the monsters which really elevated my perspective on monster design were those found in James Raggi’s “Better Than Any Man” module. Those are the monsters which really started my mind working, and helped me make the decision to start this project off in earnest. They’re also from a module which is free! So I asked for Raggi’s permission to post the creatures from that book, he gave it, and here we are.  I really do recommend you download Better Than Any Man, And if you are so inclined, toss a few bucks at it before you download it. It’s worth more than a lot of other books I’ve shelled out cash for.

And while I’m telling you how to spend your hard earned money, hurry up and fund the LotFP Referee Book IndieGoGo campaign! It’s already fully funded, but by the time this goes up I think there will only be 2 days left. So if you want to be a part of improving the book, your time is limited. I highly recommend it.

Now, lets get on with it:

-The Provider’s Creature-
Armor 17, 6 Hit Dice, Movement 30’, 1 tentacle attack for every
mêlée opponent doing 1d10-(number of opponents) damage
each, Morale 12.
The Provider’s creature is a ten foot tall thorny tentacle monster
that behaves as a magic receptacle. When a Magic-User spell is cast
at it (and it must be at it and not just the creature being within
the area of an area effect spell), the spell does not leave the caster’s
mind, but the creature gains the ability to cast it once a day, effective
immediately. This effect is cumulative. The spell does not actually
affect the creature.
The Provider has been casting her “Create Food” spell at the
creature every day, and so as the adventure begins it can cast the spell
ten times per day, thus “feeding” one meal to 300 people every day. It
is often all those people eat.

I thought I’d start off with one of the simpler creatures. It’s a slow (human standard is 120′) moving land octopus with barbs and a wicked beak. There are really two interesting things about it.

First is its attack. “1 tentacle attack for every melee opponent doing 1d10-(number of opponents) damage each.” It’s an unusual way to model the creature’s many appendages. If there’s only one person present, the creature can deal massive damage by focusing all of its attention on that one character. But as more people engage it, and it’s forced to divide its attention (and its tentacles) between more targets, it begins to lose effectiveness. If you have a party of 10 people or more, the creature’s base attack becomes effectively useless. That’s not even a very large party! All you’d need are 5 PCs who each brought one mercenary hireling along with them.

I can’t decide if I view this as a flaw or a feature. On the one hand it seems ridiculous that being struck with one of those huge devilish looking barbs isn’t going to hurt at all. On the other hand, it’s an interesting indication that perhaps there’s something wrong with the creature’s mind. It can’t focus on a single target if many are present, and as it divides its focus, it becomes unable to effectively attack at all. It may hit you, but its so distracted, that it just gently bumps you without causing any harm. An effective strategy for defeating the creature is just to surround it with too many targets to focus on, turning it into a harmless fish out of water which can be killed at the player’s leisure.

I think the monster could be improved either by explicitly spelling out the above speculative explanation for its inability to fight too many targets at once, or or by capping the number of melee opponents which can modify its abilities at 5.

The second interesting aspect of The Provider’s Creature is the way it reacts to magic. Conceivably, the creature could have any number of spells already in its repertoire when the players encounter it, though in the case of this particular module it only has numerous iterations of “Create Stuff That Seems to Be Food But Isn’t,” which isn’t much of a threat to the players unless they’re hungry. And I think this actually works a lot better.

If the players encounter the monster, and they have no magic user, or no spells on hand, or just choose not to cast anything, then the fight is fairly straightforward. It’ll be a brutal slugging fest if you don’t have 10 melee combatants to dilute the creature’s damage roll, but there won’t be any deadly tricks to come bite you in the ass. If the magic user DOES get involved, though, the beast suddenly becomes much more threatening.

The challenge of the monster is mutable, depending on player action. I like that a lot.

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