Saturday, September 11, 2010


Good heavens!  F also is quite barren.  Firbolgs and Fomorians both come to mind, both from celtic mythology- the Fir Bolg were a race that inhabited Ireland before the Tuatha De Danann, and the Fomorians were a semi-divine race that inhabited Ireland in ancient times.  Fomorians were chaotic and wild gods, as opposed to the Tuatha De Danann, who were more related to human civilization.

However, those are not what I want to talk about.  No.  I want to talk about the FLOATING EYE!  From out of the darkness- from behind a corner- from the depths of the chasm floats a hideous balloon-like appendage!  WONDER at the marvel of this disembodied organ!  COWER in terror, as you seek to avoid its commanding, chilling gaze!  CHOKE DOWN the bile that rises as you gaze upon its ghastly, noodly nerve-appendages!  Will it wrap its tentacles around you, turning you into a thrall for all time?  A body, finally, for the FLOATING EYE to possess?  Or will it blast your mind into jelly with a gaze, dominating you and turning you against your allies?  When you awaken, shaking off the effects of its staring madness, will you find yourself surrounded by these hideous man-sized monstrosities?  Or will you be alone, drenched in the blood of the fallen??

The vaguely recognizable shape, the trailing tentacular tubes of veins and nerves, the unrelenting stare- can it see in all directions, or does it need to face you to see you?  Can it hear?  Do its free-hanging nerves somehow, impossibly, pick up vibrations and thought waves hanging in the very air?  What is it?  WHY is it?  Is it, perhaps, some missing appendage, some sorcerous giant's misbehaving protuberance, split from its master until it is apologized to?

Some are large- the size of a man!  Some are merely the size of a head, while others are the size of a human eye, flying in swarms, screeching with unknown, infernal organs!  Will they dance over you, like so many fleshopoid insects?  Or will they merely implant their veins into you, using your body as a host until they've sucked you dry of all life!


Monday, September 6, 2010

Campaign Worlds

I started another blog!  How many does one man need?  Who knows!

This other blog will serve as a dedicated place to help me organize my musings about campaign worlds.  I may even start to use one of the worlds I think up over there in a game.

You can view the amazing creature UP CLOSE at

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Encounter Brainstorming

So in addition to work-related matters, I've also recently been thinking about running a D&D "Encounters" type group once a week after work; just a few people with persistent characters who meet regularly to run through a single encounter.

Obviously if you're only doing one encounter after work, they've got to be a cut above the average.  So I've been brainstorming.  Yesterday I managed to come up with 12 or so good ideas, and I've added one today that just popped into my head while I was reading.

Here are some samples:

1) Separate groups of two weaker monsters advance on each other.  When they meet, they combine into a much more powerful monster.
* Skeletons stand at one end guarding a Necromancer.  He casts a spell- from the other end, small Fire Elementals begin to spawn and advance on the Skeletons.  If a Fire Elemental reaches a Skeleton, the Skeleton transforms into a Flaming Skeleton- much stronger, more HP, more damaging fire attacks.
* Players are forced to split their focus between the boss (necromancer) and the trash (skeletons and fire elementals) to avoid the creation of more powerful adds.

2) Players fight their way up a spire.  From the top, a behemoth launches ranged AOE attacks down at them.  On the way, they fight through hordes of a protecting army.  When they reach the top, they must deal with the behemoth- splitting their damage between his sections, choosing either to damage his health or to hinder his ability to deal damage.
* Players must choose between expending their powers to reach the boss quickly (taking less damage from him on their ascent), or climbing more slowly to reach the boss with more powers left- but potentially less health or healing.

3) Boss creature spawns in a chasm, with two ledges flanking it.  His front side is heavily armored and impervious to damage, but his back is weak.  It’s too far to run- players must split their party, and focus on dealing as much damage as possible when he faces away, and withstanding his attacks when he’s facing them.
* Players must divide evenly, so that each smaller group can both withstand attacks and deal sufficient damage to force the creature to turn around.

9) A large zombie queen spits out her tongue and entraps one of the players within her hollowed, oozing ribcage.  Acid damage ensues, until the player is broken out.  The ribcage regenerates after a short period of time, and the cycle continues.

11) A few smaller, neutral creatures run by the players regularly, fleeing in the direction of the players, swollen and almost bursting with some black, pitch-like substance.  When slain through normal means, they simply die.  However, when the monstrous creature fighting the party hits them with its fire breath, they explode in a blast of burning pitch.

13) A priest has set up a pylon in a graveyard.  Hordes of undead attack, but the pylon periodically heals anyone nearby, helping the players face the far-greater-than-usual numbers of their foes.  There are two further options for specific mechanics, probably exclusive to each other:
A) The pylon can be damaged or healed.  If it falls below 50% health, it stops healing.  If it falls to 0, it is destroyed.  The undead will try to destroy the pylon, and the players must work to keep it functional (and battle their enemies) until the hordes are exhausted.
B) The pylon requires a ritual prayer to be repeated regularly.  The priest performs this prayer, but the undead can target the priest.  If the priest falls, then the players must take up the prayer, spending actions to keep the pylon active.

Getting Into my Head

So lately I've been trying to get some horror into my head.  While never fully immersing myself in it, it's always held sort of a resonant fascination within my mind.  I've always loved the works of Poe, Lovecraft, King- and lately I've been trying to throw more of that into the pot of my mind.  I figure the more I put in, the more likely interesting things are to come out.

I just finished up Salem's Lot, which was absolutely delightful- and strangely reminded me of Neil Gaiman's American Gods.  Now, generally, I like Neil Gaiman, but I've found most of his stuff lacking, personally.  Not so with American Gods.  There's something about the way it addresses a fundamental "Americanness" that somehow really resonates with me, on a horror-type level.  Not that there really is an emptiness at the heart of American life, but maybe that much of American culture is obsessed with the idea that behind the sleepy windows of those quaint American houses lurks something better left unmentioned; that at the center, if you walk far enough and dig deep enough, there really is a barren emptiness that America is trying its best to fill and, failing that, cover up.

Other cultures seem to have some pretty weird stuff if you dig deep enough- the stuff of fairy tales and folklore, of ancient gods of forests, elf-kings kidnapping children, the old man of Winter who will send your kind daughter back with jewels and furs, but leave your cruel daughters to die alone in the snow.  It's fertile ground for the collective unconscious, but I suppose a blank slate can be fertile ground as well.  Empty and blank, much of the fear at the heart of American culture seems rooted in the idea that there's a gaping maw just behind the facade, waiting to devour.

I've never been one for poetry, but just very recently some poems have been striking my fancy, just for the sound of their words:

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

- I first read this in 7th or 8th grade, with the book Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.  The only lines included, as I recall, were:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre 
The falcon cannot hear the falconer; 
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; 
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world

Reading now the full extent of the poem it's really quite the different creation than I originally imagined- and full of striking (disturbing?) imagery.

Wallace Stevens (1879-1955)

Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
As they are used to wear, and let the boys
Bring flowers in last month's newspapers.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

Take from the dresser of deal,
Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet
On which she embroidered fantails once
And spread it so as to cover her face.
If her horny feet protrude, they come
To show how cold she is, and dumb.
Let the lamp affix its beam.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

- Quoted in full in Salem's Lot, and a strange poem to be sure.  I do like the language and the sound of the words, though.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

E is a Horrible Letter

There's like jack shit in E, guys.  It's really sad.  But there's still one cool E-monster...

So E is for Elf!

But not just any elf, and certainly not tolkein-elves.  We're talking German elves here.  You know, you're riding through the forest and your kid is like "aah, the elf-king!" and you're like "what the hell kid, there's no such thing" but he's like "OH GOD THE ELF-KING!" and you get really freaked out and feel prickles on the back of your neck and you ride like hell is at your heels but when you get to the church your KID IS DEAD!

That's because the Elf-king is real, he hates you, and he hates kids.  He steals their souls and locks them away in his dark underground tree-cavern, performing slave soul-child labor, crafting changelings.  If the Elf-king feels extremely benevolent towards you, because, say, you saved a daughter of his one time before she seduced you to bear another half-elven fey child, he MIGHT leave a changeling doll of twigs in the bed when he steals your kid away.  And the sad thing is, everyone else can see it's just a bundle of sticks with some rags wrapped around it, but you're totally convinced it's your kid.

If I run a traditional campaign anytime soon, all the elves are going to be like this.  There's maybe a few courts in the underworld, and they're constantly fighting brutally, and they constantly assault the surface world.  Why?  That's not the point!  They're still gonna do it anyway!  So they ride on top of giant toads and have ratling guards on their flanks, and cast glamers on anyone who sees them.  They have deals with will-o-the-wisps to lure people into swamps, where they'll sink into the murk, down where they're easier for the elves to reach.  Thing about being prisoner to an elf is that you can suffer all sorts of mistreatment, but you're in the world of the fey, and the natural laws aren't quite as strong as the domineering will of the elves; suffer all you want, but you won't have any release until they're done with you.

And if you're unlucky, they'll let you live.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

D is for Doppelganger

So Doppelgangers, right?  At first glance, I was tempted to dismiss them.  A gray, featureless humanoid who can polymorph to look like anyone?  That's just like "The Thing" or "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," except with less flair.

And then I realized: Wait- Doppelgangers are just like "The Thing" or "Invasion of the Body Snatchers!"

"The Thing" was cool because there was this disgusting Thing that either looked like something completely recognizable (a dog, a human, a wolf, etc) or some hideous, foetal amalgamation of all sorts of creatures.  But ultimately the real horror of the story is that anyone could be The Thing- it was psychological horror at its best.

"The Invasion of the Body Snatchers" was cool because there were these emotionless alien "pod people" who would subsume you while you slept and create a duplicate, nearly indistinguishable from the original except for the utter lack of emotion.  The terror there was more of a zombie terror- something familiar turned into something slightly unfamiliar- but it was accomplished through the same means.

The trouble with Doppelgangers is that, to a certain extent, they're a known entity- "The Necromancer you just slew begins to melt and shift; after a few minutes, all that's left is a featureless grey body."  "Ooh, a doppelganger!"  That's not very exciting.  Also, what made the psychological horror movies above thrilling is that anyone could be the enemy!  In a game of Dungeons and Dragons, you know who your friends are- the people at the table- and you know who the enemies are- the DM, and almost anyone played by him.

Once these problems are identified, however, they become pretty easy to solve.

I think the key to solving the first issue is to introduce the fact that there are Doppelgangers at work very slowly.  The NPC the players should first unmask as a Doppelganger should be someone they've worked with for quite some time, and the players should be left to wonder how long they worked with an ally, and how long with an enemy.  Quickly, it should become clear that there's a conscious effort, on the part of a large (perhaps infinite?) group of Doppelgangers, to take over a region.  The threat is not just a single doppelganger working mischief- the threat should be an army of Doppelgangers, and you can't ever really know who's who.

Next comes the really mischevious part- ensure that one or two characters spends some time off on their own.  Take every player aside and roleplay a small interaction separate from the group.  And make it clear to one of the players that their character has been captured, and that when they return to the group, they are a Doppelganger, infiltrating the group but whose motives run directly counter to the real players.

Doppelgangers.  Featureless, pallid grey humanoids with four fingers to a hand, their central finger contoured like two fused together.  Everything about them is an amorphous, foetal suggestion of real features.  Given five minutes alone, they can morph their body to look like anyone they've spent five minutes with.  Where do they come from?  Who knows?  Some say they're fungal plant-creatures from deep within the bowels of the earth, slowly nursing an ancient hatred of surface dwellers.  Some say they're formless aliens descended from some region unknown.  Some even whisper that Doppelgangers are just a natural psycho-magical mutation of some normal humanoid; exposed to cosmic or arcane forces, and changed to a shadow of their former self, forever unable to recapture their original appearance.  What are their motives?  Do they disguise themselves among us for study?  For entertainment?  Or do they enjoy the sport of the deception, establishing trust with a target before moving in for the kill, allowing one of their own to move in place for further deception?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

C is for Catoblepas

C turns out to be a somewhat scanty letter, as far as classic monsters go.  The Catoblepas and Cockatrice both come to mind, interestingly both known for turning their enemies to stone.

Unfortunately, turning your enemies to stone is, in the realm of beasts, solely relegated to the Basilisk, who is way cooler and way crankier.  If you want to go in the human direction, the Medusa (or maybe just "Medusa") is the clear victor.

Nevertheless, the Catoblepas has a number of other features that make it interesting.

First of all, it's got the body of an ox, and the head of a swine.  It will turn you to stone with its gaze, but fortunately it's always looking at the ground.  This is for two reasons: one, it's head is so heavy, it has trouble lifting it.  Two, it's neck is thin, long and loose, like an empty intestine.

The great black beast roams the plains and feeds exclusively on poisonous vegetation, which gives it a deadly poisonous breath.  Is there anything about this beast that can't kill you?  Unlikely.

What put the Catoblepas on the books?  The Catoblepas is an herbivore, probably a herd animal.  It can kill with a gaze, but it has a tough time gazing.  Its breath is poison, but why would you never need to get close?

Imagine early morning on a rolling plain.  The sky is gray, the air is cool, and mist hangs low on the ground.  As you gather your belongings and kick out the last of your campfire, you hear a snuffling nearby, but dismiss it- all manner of creatures call these plains their home.  You move slowly on your way, hoping the fog will clear soon.  The snuffling continues, and you see shapes looming in the fog- but the shapes are wrong.  Elongated, thin, bulky, bulbous- looking around you quickly come to the realization that you're surrounded.  In the middle of the herd, it's only a matter of time; the beasts could stampede, terrified by your presence; pressing closer, the oxygen could be sucked straight out of your lungs; following their lead, you keep your eyes down, but it's only a matter of time before you lock eyes with one.

Predators are obviously dangerous.  Without caution, prey animals can easily compete.