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

Defilers Creature Illustration by Jennifer Rodgers
Art by Jennifer Rodgers

=The Defiler’s Creature=

Armor 17, 3 Hit Dice, Movement 180’  ground  240’  leap,  1 bite  attack  doing  1  Hit Point  of  damage  per depth level plus swallows whole, Morale 12.

The Defiler’s creature is the size  of  a  pit  bull  dog  and  hops along  on  its  two  legs.  It  can  only attack with its lower mouth (its barbed tail is a sexual organ which it will not use in this dimension, while its upper mouth merely recites  Chaucer’s  Canterbury  Tales  in  Spanish). On a successful hit, the creature will do 1 Hit Point of damage and swallow its opponent whole, no matter the size difference between them.

Inside the creature, a swallowed victim will find an identical creature with the same starting stats. This creature will do 2 Hit Points of damage on a hit and swallow the victim whole, which will result in facing another creature inside which will do 3 Hit Points of damage on a hit and swallow the victim whole, and so on and so on.

Killing a creature after being swallowed causes a character to be vomited up to the next higher level to face a new creature doing  one  less  Hit  Point  of  damage  per  hit  (unless  vomited back  into  the  real  world,  in  which  case  the  original  creature will be the opponent). The creature has infinite stomachs, so multiple  characters  swallowed  by  the  creature  will  face  their own individual “creature trees.”

If the original creature in the real world is killed, the creature indeed  dies,  but  all  of  its  internal  organs  vaporize,  killing  all who were still within it.

The most notable thing about the Deflier’s creature is how funny it is. The mouth that recites Chaucer in Spanish, and the scary barbed tail which is completely useless as anything other than a sexual organ are both pretty funny. Although from a play perspective, they’re unlikely to come up, so they’re mostly intended to amuse the reader / GM, rather than the players. (Though I suppose the GM should mention that one of the mouths is constantly speaking, and if any character speaks Spanish, that could make for a pretty amusing revelation). A pit-bull sized creature swallowing humans whole is also pretty funny, and also serves as a useful misdirection. If the players have encountered any of the other monsters from this module, they’ll know to expect some kind of treachery.  But they’re unlikely to expect quite what they get.

Really, this creature is quite easy to defeat. It has good movement speed and could easily escape from the players, but with a morale of 12 that’s unlikely to occur unless the creature’s mistress recalls it. Its AC is on the high end, but is hardly un-hittable, and with a measly hit dice of 3 it won’t survive more than a few solid attacks. The strength of it lies in its ability to divide the players.

On any successful hit, a PC is separated from her fellows. If the creature is in single combat against a mid level fighter, that’s no problem. The fighter’s HP pool, armor class, and ability to hit consistently will make short work of the creature. But if the fighter’s party is nearby, the creature’s 240′ leap ensures that no one can easily escape from it. Less martially oriented characters have much less chance against the lower iterations of the creature, and the encounter against this otherwise simple enemy could quickly turn ugly. Divide et impera.

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

The_Watchers_First_Creature by Gennifer Bone
Art by Gennifer Bone

=The Watcher’s First Creature=
Armor 12, 6 Hit Dice, Movement 30’ fly, no attacks, Morale 12.
This is a tendril-growing eyeball imprisoned in an electrified gelatinous shell in the shape of a seven foot cube. And it flies.

The cubic creature can read the thoughts and memories of anything it looks at, including knowing what inanimate objects have done and what has been done to them. It is not able to communicate with humans however, so when it learns something that The Watcher (or anyone else) should know, it has no choice but to mime its message… difficult when one’s body is an eyeball surrounded by a mass of flailing tendrils and encased in a large cube.

As  one  might  expect  by  the  lightning  constantly  striking  across its insides, hitting the cube with a metal mêlée weapon is a bad idea. However much damage is inflicted on the creature, the attacker also takes that much in electrical damage (save versus Magic for half damage).

When struck, the creature also shoots a tendril out at the attacker (which  plugs  the  hole  in  the  shell,  preventing  caustic  liquid  from escaping). The attacker must save versus Paralyzation or the tendril wraps around both the weapon used to attack and the arm(s) holding the weapon. This will not only immobilize the arm(s) and prevent the attacker from making any more attacks, it will also prevent the character from moving away. Anyone entangled in the tendrils like so will also be affected if the creature is attacked and discharges electricity.

The tendril itself is Armor 17 (and metallic, so striking it causes a discharge), 1 Hit Die.

Those attacking the creature with missile weapons will also have tendrils grab them, but the tendrils grow thicker with distance; add 1 Hit Die per 20’ distance of the attacker.

The creature will let its tendrils loose only when those entangled have dropped their weapons, have surrendered, and there are allies waiting to take the prisoner into custody.

If the creature is destroyed, it will explode doing 6d8 damage in a 10’ radius, 5d8 damage out to 20’, 4d8 to 30’, etc. Save versus Breath Weapon for half damage.

Something I really love about Raggi’s publications is the way he skillfully integrates a sort of nonsensical silliness into everything. Sometimes it’s overt, as it is with Twinkly in “Fuck for Satan,” or as it is with The Defiler’s creature, which I’ll get to soon. Here it’s a little more subtle, with a creature who can know everything about anything it looks at, but is completely incapable of sharing that information reliably. I can just imagine how frantic it would look trying to get someone’s attention. “These aren’t just random tentacle wigglings, I’m trying to tell you something!” I would have a lot of fun explaining weird tentacle motions, and watching my players try to decipher their meaning. I may need to come up with a reason for a similar creature to appear in one of my games as an ally of the players, just so I can have that opportunity.

In combat, this is perhaps one of the more straightforward beasts described in this series. “Hit it until it is dead” is a perfectly viable strategy. And while there are roadblocks which prevent that task from being easy, none of them are liable to overwhelm the players immediately. Players foolish enough to use metal weapons will take damage equal to that they inflict, but unless they’re low level they’ll probably survive this once. And even then, it’s the consequence of a mistake, and they receive a saving throw. So that’s quite generous.

The entangling attack the creature has similarly tame. It restricts the players actions, which could lead to the player being harmed by others, but is not in itself directly harmful. It would be a small matter to stop, destroy the tentacle, and retreat. Interestingly, the tentacles are much more challenging for those who attack from range, which is a great trick. It turns the tables on what is often assumed to be a ‘safe’ strategy.

The explosion when the creature dies is somewhat problematic for me. It’s also the only real threat this creature poses. It functions like a trap. One which can easily be deadly, and the player receives no sufficient warning of. Add to that the fact that the players are incentiveized by the mechanics discussed above to move into melee range where the damage they take will be greater. Note also, however, that every single way in which this creature causes damage is reactive. If the players leave it entirely alone, then at the very worst it is a spy who cannot effectively communicate with its master. Bearing that in mind, it could be argued that the PCs deserve whatever fate they bring upon themselves.

None the less, I think it’s important to describe the creature’s appearance and actions in a way which hints at the potential danger of destroying it. It’s (essentially) a glass cube filled with acid.* When that glass is cracked, and a tentacle shoots out to plug the hole, I would say something to the effect of: “One of the tentacles inside the cube moves impossibly fast, shooting out to plug the hole and grab at you. But it’s not fast enough to stop a squirt of green liquid from leaving a smoking black mark on the ground.”

*At least, this is how I read it. The initial description makes it sound as though the gelatin which surrounds the creature is of a single consistency: a gel. Later, though, it’s stated that the outer shell needs to be plugged by tentacles to prevent “caustic liquid” from escaping.

Deadly Dungeons 29: The Weathered Door

Weathered DoorOf late, I’ve been trying to work on creative tricks and traps which don’t rely quite so much on magic. Which isn’t to say I don’t like magic. A look back through previous deadly dungeons posts will show just how much I love the idea of insane wizards making fucked up nonsense because they don’t have anything better to do with their immense power. But I feel as though I’ve relied too heavily on magic as a crutch in my game design, so I’m trying to push myself to create interesting challenges which could be crafted by thieves, or primitive peoples.

This door will probably make the most sense if it is in a windswept, possibly sandy location. Somewhere that wood would be stripped without being damaged to the point of being structurally unsound.

This is a wooden double door. It is clearly dilapidated, the wood has deep grooves in it and splinters easily, but is still quite sturdy. Each of the two doors has horizontal metal handles. On each door, above the handles, are two vertical strips which are clearly discolored from the rest of the door. It’s obvious something was once there but is not any longer.

A cursory examination of the handles will reveal that there is blue paint on the parts of it which are protected from the weather. Closely examining the discolored vertical lines on the door will also reveal small flecks of blue paint there. They are small enough that a person would need good light to see them, and cannot be rushed.

If pulled, the handles do not open the door. In fact, they are not even connected to the door. They are instead fitted to small panels in the wood. These panels are well crafted enough that only a successful search roll will find them. Once removed, the panels release small gas canisters which instantly blast anyone standing within 5ft of the door, requiring them to make a save versus poison. Fortunately, this gas is very old and should have been replaced long ago. On a failed poison save, roll 1d6 to determine the effect:

  1. Death.
  2. A permanent 1d6 reduction of a random stat (roll 1d6).
  3. A permanent reduction of 1 to a random stat (roll 1d6).
  4. The character becomes violently ill, and becomes completely incapacitated for 2 weeks. After this time, no ill effects are suffered.
  5. The character spends 10 minutes being violently ill. The noise, and the smell, attract a nearby monster.
  6. The victim’s body actually reacts well to the aged poison, and they heal 1d6 damage.

If the characters instead turn the handles before pulling them–so that the horizontal handle is instead vertical, the panels will lock in place. This will allow characters to open the doors safely. The fact that the handles can turn is not immediately obvious, as the pivoting point has become jammed with debris. But once the characters decide to make an effort to turn the handle, it can be done with only minor difficulty.

Picture Thursday 45: The Wizard’s Challenge by David Hoffrichter

The Wizard's Challenge by David HoffrichterOften when writing these picture Thursday posts, I wish I had a better vocabulary with which to describe what I’m seeing. Today that is doubly true. Something about this piece is just perfect. The way it looks stylistically similar to the art you might see in a children’s book, juxtaposed with the hard-edged content of a fearsome beast and a man with the intent to kill it. I am entranced.

Absolutely check out David Hoffrichter’s DeviantArt page. It’s filled with phenomenal work. I really like this piece titled “Implements of a Wizard,” as well as “Tales of the Ogre Witch.”

I’m a big fan of digital art, but it’s undeniable that there’s a certain quality to art produced with traditional means. One which is fully evident in this artist’s work. A tangible feeling which makes it seem somehow more real.

Deadly Dungeons 28: Ladder Conundrum

LadderCrankIf it isn’t clear, this is a vertical map. Also it is not to scale.

The first thing the players are liable to notice in this room is the crank. It’s large, with a bit of rope wrapped around it. The end of the rope disappears into a hole in the floor. If the players choose to look around, they’ll discover a fairly obvious trap door. It’s much too small for a human, or even a halfling, to fit through, and there is no easy means of opening it. (Though a bit of prying will yield results).

If the players are able to screw up their courage to fiddle with the mysterious crank, and turn it, it will pull more rope out of the ground. Simultaneously, a ladder will begin to rise from beneath the trap door. The ladder is made of wood, and wobbles a little, but will not break unless put through undue stress.

The crank can be turned until the top rung of the ladder reaches a height of 200 ft–just high enough for it to be equal with a small alcove high on the wall which leads to other areas of the dungeon.

Unfortunately, while this alcove is normally open, turning the crank below causes a heavy sliding door to descend from the ceiling. This door has no handholds, and is flush with the walls around it. Players on the top rung of the ladder will find no purchase for a grappling hook. And lifting the 300lb door while standing on the top rung of the ladder would be a feat of exceptional difficulty.

The door and the ladder move relative to one another, so that the door is not completely open until the ladder is all of the way down, and it is not all the way closed until the ladder is extended to it’s maximum height. The door, however, is only 6ft tall. So when the ladder is at half-height (100ft), the door will only be open 3ft; when the ladder is at three-quarters height (150ft), the door will only be open 1.5ft; etc.

I’m curious to experiment with this room. It clearly works best as a low level challenge, since high level characters will have access to spells and ability which will make overcoming this room child’s play. However, I honestly can’t think of a good way for 1st or 2nd level characters to overcome this challenge.

Anybody have any ideas?

Picture Thursday 44: Brother System by Nick Patterson

Brother System by Nick PattersonI’ve kind of got monsters on my mind, if you haven’t noticed.

This is a piece from Nick Patterson, an artist who does a lot of the weird surrealist stuff that I’ve been into lately. Stormwatcher and Tank Thing are both good examples of his recent work, I think. He creates images which are, for lack of any better description, fucked up in the best possible way.

But this particular piece, Brother System, really gets the creative energy pumping in my head. The contrast of black & white ink with the stark red of each creature’s inhumanity gives immediate impact to their monstrosity. The expression on the visible face is frightening, but also vacant and terrified. I think the idea of such a horrible monster being scared is much more unsettling than if it was made to look menacing.

The two appear to be wearing suits over their bodies, with just their face exposed. Are they technologically advanced, or are they the remains of someone who was technologically advanced? They certainly seem to be in control of themselves, given their vulcan mind-meld posture. What are they doing? Perhaps (lacking a tongue or lips) they are forced to communicate via tactile telepathy?

You should absolutely check out more of Nick Patterson’s gallery. It’s rife with ideas for a creepy adventure.

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