Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Wizard Path: The Necro-Engineer

After years of digging in graveyards, Necro-Engineers have become quite adept at sawing through bones, sewing flesh together, and attaching all of this to each other through the clever use of gears, screws, staples, and thread. They have departed from the traditional realm of necromancy, in favor of a hands-on “crafting” approach to their magic. Experts in seamsters’ kits, they use a combination of masterful Necromancy and crafty engineering to imbue dead flesh and bone with a supernatural unlife, creating terrifying minions. With these minions under their control, Necro-Engineers can chill in the background, allowing their horrible abominations to handle whatever messes present themselves, wading in only when battlefield wounds need a bit of “touching up.”

Seamstress Kit - Includes multiple needles, spools of sinew-thread, staples, bloodied bandages, and a bonesaw.

Fleshmold Savant

Starting at 2nd level, you can use your masterful ability with needle and thread to heal wounds. As an action, you can touch (and poke and prod and stitch and sew) one creature and expend one spell slot to heal an amount of hitpoints to that creature equal to 1d8, plus 1d8 per spell level higher than 1st, to a maximum of 9d8 at 9th level. You gain proficiency in Seamstress kits

Fleshworks Minion

Beginning at 2nd level, you can form a disgusting minion of flesh, bone, gears, nuts and bolts, requiring the expenditure of at least a 1st level spell slot. The creature is completely under your control. If it didn’t have a name in its pre-life, you should name it. It’s kind of like a pet in that regard. Creating the minion requires using your Seamstress kit and a supply of corpse parts (typically feet, eyes, fingers, and other horrible “components”) to build the flesh and bone body of your minion. You must expend a spell slot to transform it from dead and rotting flesh into an obedient necropet. Once you have expended a spell slot to bring your zombomination to life, you may not regain that slot until the minion is “disassembled” or destroyed. You can fully heal it to full hit points using your Seamstress kit during a short rest.

The minion acts on oyur turn, though it doesn't take actions unless you command it to do so. YOu may expend your move or action to mentally command the minion to move or act in a way in which it is capable. YOu may expend your reaction to allow it to make a reaction if it is capable.

The supernatural connection to your minion is taxing, and you may not magically summon nor command any creatures while your minion is active.

Add your proficiency bonus to your minion’s saving throws and skills it is proficient in. Your minion obeys your commands to the best of its abilities. On your turn, you may verbally command it to move, and you may use a bonus action to have your Minion use Disengage, Dodge, or Help actions (but not attack).

When you cast a spell with a range of touch, your minion can deliver the spell as if it had cast the spell. Your minion must be within 100 feet of you, and it must use its reaction to deliver the spell when you cast it. If the spell requires an attack roll, use your spell attack modifier for the roll.


Fleshworks Minion
Tiny Undead, unaligned
Armor Class: 11
Hit Poits: 6 (1d8+1)
Speed: 20ft, Climb: 20ft
STR 10 (+0), DEX 10 (+0), CON 12 (+1), INT 3 (-4), WIS 6 (-2), CHA 5 (-3)
Damage Immunities: poison
Condition Immunities: poisoned, frightened
Senses: darkvision 60ft, passive Perception 8
Languages: Understands the languages of its creator but cannot speak
Actions
Carry. The minion can pick up and carry or drop a single object weighing up to 5 pounds.

Weaponized Minion

At 6th level, your minion becomes a bit stronger, and you must use at least a 3rd level spell slot to sustain him. You are able to necromechanically attach the weaponized flesh of another being to your minion. It could be flailing tentacle, it could be a stinger, it could be an axe hand, or whatever you can think of. The weapon does 1d6 damage, and has a damage type of either piercing, slashing, or bludgeoning, based on what type of weapon it is.

You may use a bonus action to have it attack once per round. Add your proficiency bonus to your minion’s attack rolls and damage rolls, as well as any saving throws and skills it is proficient in.

Your minion has also grown in size (or had a lot of rotting mass added to it, anyway). It is now small (instead of tiny), and a bit sturdier.


Fleshworks Minion 2.0
Small Undead, unaligned
Armor Class: 13
Hit Poits: 14 (3d8+3)
Speed: 30ft, Climb: 20ft
STR 14 (+2), DEX 10 (+0), CON 12 (+1), INT 3 (-4), WIS 6 (-2), CHA 5 (-3)
Damage Immunities: poison, psychic
Condition Immunities: poisoned, frightened
Senses: darkvision 60ft, passive Perception 8
Languages: Understands the languages of its creator but cannot speak
Actions
Attack. Melee Weapon Attack: The minion attacks with the horrible appendage you sewed to it. Its attack bonus is 2 + your proficiency bonus, it has a range of 5’, the damage type is appropriate to the weapon you crafted to it (ie, a stinger would be ‘Piercing’), and the damage is 1d6+2.
Carry. The minion can pick up and carry or drop a single object weighing up to 25 pounds.

Corpse Empathy

Beginning at 10th level, your connection to animated piles of corpses is second-nature. You gain advantage on Intelligence checks relating to understanding undead.

You’ve spent your adventuring time well (though some would disagree) - you have found a magical version of the weapon appendage! You’ve ripped off the original, useless, non-magical appendage and have instead attached a magical one. Choose from the table below to see what type of magical disgustingness you’ve added to your minion’s weapon.

Your corpsebuddy has also grown in size and strength again. Because of this, he now costs at least a 5th level spell slot.


Fleshworks Minion 3.0
Medium Undead, unaligned
Armor Class: 15
Hit Poits: 28 (5d8+5)
Speed: 30ft, Climb: 20ft
STR 16 (+3), DEX 10 (+0), CON 12 (+1), INT 3 (-4), WIS 6 (-2), CHA 5 (-3)
Damage Immunities: poison, psychic, necrotic
Condition Immunities: poisoned, frightened
Senses: darkvision 60ft, passive Perception 8
Languages: Understands the languages of its creator but cannot speak
Actions
Attack. Melee Weapon Attack: The minion attacks with the horrible appendage you sewed to it. Its attack bonus is 3 + your proficiency bonus, it has a range of 5’, the damage type is appropriate to the weapon you crafted to it (ie, a stinger would be ‘Piercing’), and the damage has increased to 1d8+3 + whatever magic effects you’ve chosen from the table below.
Frightful Presence. This thing is fucking scary. Anyone who is not an ally of you or your teammates, and is below your level, when encountering your minion for the first time (or in combat, starts its turn within 10 feet of your minion), must make a Wisdom saving throw (DC 8 + prof + int bonus) or be Frightened for a number of rounds equal to your Intelligence bonus. Once those rounds have passed, the person is immune to being Frightened again by the same minion (but if you build a new one, the person will again be subject to it).
Carry. The minion can pick up and carry or drop a single object weighing up to 50 pounds.

Table of Terrible Magical Enhancements for your Weaponized Minion
Arcane The edge/tip/whatever of the weapon glows with a soft blue light. A guttural voice speaks a whispered curse in a forbidden language with each successful attack. Add 1d6 Force damage to successful attacks.
Blistering The flesh of the weapon is covered in burning, oozing blisters. Much of the skin is charred. Add 1d6 Fire damage to successful attacks.
Buzzing The weapon hums with electricity and the the hair on the weapon flesh stands up. Add 1d6 Lightning damage to successful attacks.
Caustic The flesh of the weapon is covered in a greenish, steaming liquid that never dries. Add 1d6 Acid damage to successful attacks.
Cerebral The flesh of the weapon is covered in indecipherable script and the occasional blinking eyeball. Add 1d6 Psychic damage to successful attacks.
Frigid A soft, freezing mist emanates from the weapon, and the flesh is covered in goosebumps. Much of the skin looks frostbitten. Add 1d6 Cold damage to successful attacks.
Rotting The skin of the weapon is in a state of perpetual decomposition, with sagging skin and exposed bone. Add 1d6 Necrotic damage to successful attacks.
Shiny The weapon glows with a soft whitish-yellow light, and is accompanied by a low hum that sounds eerily like a chorus of angels (granted, they’re probably singing a condemnation of your terrible abomination, but whatever). Add 1d6 Radiant damage to successful attacks.
Venomous The weapon is covered in the fangs of snakes and with every strike, makes a hissing sound. Add 1d6 Poison damage to successful attacks.

META: You can recast your corpse dude every day to change his magical ability. Just make up an in-game reason why you do this and how it affects the magical ability. (ie, “I have a bag filled with pseudo-emballed, not-quite-rotting limbs, and every morning, I rip off the previous one and attach a new one.” NOTE: Your GM may make you keep a list of parts you’ve acquired.)

Corpse Champion

At 14th level, your minion has become the biggerest, betterest, and strongerest it’s ever going to be. It now takes at least a 7th level spell slot to keep his stinking, rotting dead parts from falling apart.

Your minion (Corpsitron) is so attuned to your movements, speakings, conditions, and magicks, that it knows when the best time to strike would be. That time is anytime you are in the precarious position of casting a spell. When you use your action to cast a spell, you can command captain zombieface to attack twice as a bonus action, instead of once.


Fleshworks Minion 4.0, a.k.a. CORPSITRON
Large Undead, unaligned
Armor Class: 17
Hit Poits: 39 (7d8+7)
Speed: 40ft, Climb: 20ft
STR 18 (+4), DEX 10 (+0), CON 12 (+1), INT 3 (-4), WIS 6 (-2), CHA 5 (-3)
Damage Immunities: bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing from nonmagical weapons, and poison, psychic, necrotic
Condition Immunities: poisoned, frightened
Senses: darkvision 60ft, passive Perception 8
Languages: Understands the languages of its creator but cannot speak
Actions
Attack. Melee Weapon Attack: The minion attacks with the horrible appendage you sewed to it. Its attack bonus is 4 + your proficiency bonus, it has a range of 10’, the damage type is appropriate to the weapon you crafted to it (ie, a stinger would be ‘Piercing’), and the damage has increased to 1d10+4 + whatever magical enhancements you gave it from the table above.
Foul. Your mass-of-diseased-flesh of a pet is now so large and putrid it emits a terrible odor at all times. Any creature other than long-time allies (because I guess they’ve gotten use to it?) of you that starts its turn within 5 feet of your minion must succeed on a DC 12 Constitution saving throw or be poisoned until the start of the creature's next turn. On a successful saving throw, the creature is immune to the stench of your minion for 1 hour.
Frightful Presence. This thing is fucking scary. Anyone who is not an ally of you or your teammates, and is below your level, when encountering your minion for the first time (or in combat, starts its turn within 10 feet of your minion), must make a Wisdom saving throw (DC 8 + prof + int bonus) or be Frightened for a number of rounds equal to your Intelligence bonus. Once those rounds have passed, the person is immune to being Frightened again by the same minion (but if you build a new one, the person will again be subject to it).
Carry. The minion can pick up and carry or drop a single object weighing up to 250 pounds.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Not Quite A Review - Maze of the Blue Medusa

I've read through Maze of the Blue Medusa (from now on, MotBM) three times now. I would sit here and tell you how amazing this book is, how it is one of the finest RPG products ever produced, and how I can't wait to run it. However if you're even remotely connected to the RPG blogging community, you've already heard all that. Multiple people have already said it, and nothing I say would contribute anything new to that particular conversation. So I'm not going to talk about how good it is (which it is! Seriously, Buy it Now. Read it. I'll still be here when you're done.) - I'm going to talk about how important it is. And it may be the most important book ever produced for an RPG game. And it all comes down to personality, methodology, and ethics.

Personality

Let's face it - most adventures and modules published by the big companies are boring. Don't get me wrong, WotC and Pathfinder adventures provide plenty of action (if that's all you're interested in), and they definitely have lots of colorful art. And they often even have big-shot RPG-industry names attached to them - people who are known for great adventures and novels in the past, people who are extremely respected not only in the RPG industry, but even the broader fantasy spectrum. But the problem is, those products have no personality. Even though Strahd had the Hickmans - people who are known for having written one of the most beloved adventures of all time - it felt and read like it was typed up by corporate hacks with a board room overlooking all the decisions. Because it likely was!

Wizards has a business to run, and above them, Hasbro has a bottom line that is tied not only to fantasy role playing, but toys and movies as well. They have to play it straight. Even when they expand a little bit - and I reference Curse of Strahd again because though it's nothing special compared to a lot of older and/or indie products, it's still better and slightly different than the previous works Wizards has put out for 5E - they are still having to toe the line between producing "something new and interesting" and "something safe and sellable."

What this does is it dilutes the personality of the product. Much like when a movie is subjected to constant rewrites and executive producer meddling, it often becomes and bland mess (as opposed to letting the director, writer, and actors really showcase their voice and style). We all know what it's like to really appreciate a movie or novel specifically because of the voice of the writers, authors, or artists involved. This is extremely important for immersion and enjoyment.

MotBM was co-written by two people with a specific vision - +Patrick Stuart and +Zak Sabbath (artist of the painting). Patrick had a beautiful map to go by, several names and creatures created by Zak, and other than that, had pretty much free reign to do as he pleased to make an adventure he wanted. (For more on Patrick's thoughts and process, go here and read this four times like I did.) There was no meddling - the writer was the writer. The changes that came at the very end were a combination of Zak adding several things in that he wanted, and editing to help with the book's flow and organization. This was a huge book and a huge project, and assuring that it flowed well, both in terms of story and page layout, was extremely important and necessary.

So what we got was a book that was HUGELY Patrick. Zak is there too - with the map being so important, there was bound to be a lot of Zak showing up, and he had several of his own ideas to include in the story (though for what it's worth, the only other Zak piece I've read is A Read and Pleasant Land, so I may not be familiar enough with him to see everything that is "Zak"). But most of MotBM is undiluted, unfiltered, and unabashedly Patrick. And it shows. The prose is similar to Deep Carbon Observatory, but better, more refined. Aged, like a bottle of Craigellachie 19 (sorry, there are other examples I could have used for this analogy, but that's what I brought back with me from Scotland, and it is fine, and in front of me).

The story of the maze is beautiful and sad - a melancholy puzzle that is pieced together one NPC at a time. It is filled with despair, comedy, and adventure. Gothic horror in one room turns the corner to humorous antics in another, followed by anguished loneliness in the next room, and it all works! The sadness doesn't feel forced, and the humor doesn't feel farcical - everything fits together absolutely. And that's the beauty of having one primary writer with personality working amicably with just one or two other people - when the whole thing's done, it feels like an organic, unified vision, instead of a disjointed, amalgamated mess. Personality is the core of MotBM, and should be of any good RPG.

Methodology and Ethics

There are two common and basic ways that the majority of RPG products are created, printed, and released nowadays.

The first comes from the corporate power-houses, such as Paizo and Wizards of the Coast. This method is the "old-school" way (not to be confused with the OSR in any way) - meaning, this is how books have been published for a very long time. A product idea is designed in a board room, group-think, or a series of brain-storming sessions, one that will likely have little personality, but will sell, sell, sell! Then the people with the money behind the board room - We'll call them "The Money" - will find artists and writers who are willing to work for pennies on the dollar (those artists and writers possibly usually assuming that the exposure will get them more reasonable work in the future, or they have contracts). The product is written, art is added, the book is sent to press, and bam, a few months later, we've got a book that sells, and The Money makes anywhere from 80%-90%* of the profits, while the tiny remainder goes to the artists, writers, and actual talent.

The second, much-more-modern method of publication nowadays is the crowdfunding method. Someone with an idea (possibly also the talent, but not the funds, to create said idea) - we'll call him "the Project Leader" - figures out what he will need to get a product into consumers' hands. Then they hire artists, usually on a "pay-when-I-get-paid" basis, so the artist either works for free up front, or works for a small percentage, "to be paid upon successful funding." This method is extremely popular since the advent of Kickstarter, and there's a very good reason why - there is little risk involved. The Project Leader only has to meet demands as they arise, and sometimes, doesn't even have to front his own money (or at least, has to put up very little in comparison with the overall costs of the project). If the project goes sour (not funded properly), it's no skin off his back other than what little he's put in up to that point. The artists and other talent involved either have to deal with the small/zilch they got paid in advance, or they have to go through the long and arduous process of trying to collect what they are owed.

Don't get me wrong - there are plenty of good business people doing the second method right now - people who work with honesty and integrity, making damn fine products, and have yet to let down either their consumers or their talent. And as long as their hired talent agrees to their terms and get their due, that's all fine, I have no problem with that. But there's the known subset of this method that is concerning - artists and writers not being compensated properly, and end-consumers getting the shaft.

There are obviously outlier methods that may be successful. From what I understand, James Raggi runs a fair ship with LotFP, and there are others like him. But these outlier methods are very few and far between. Which is why it is important when one of these outliers creates a marvelous book, done in a completely ethical manner, that just blows everything around it out of the water.

+Ken Baumann of Satyr Press decided early on, when he wanted to create a new and beautiful rpg book, that he would do it the right way. As he says in the ethics section of his website, Zak was paid an advance, as was Patrick. He also hired a professional designer for the book's layout. Once initial costs are recouped, Zak, Patrick, and Anton (the designer) will receive very fair royalties.**

Ken also printed and manufactured the book through Friesens, a company with very high ecological standards. It is smyth-sewn, and on high gloss, thick paper. The smyth-sewn aspect may need a bit of breaking down if you're not into publishing (I'm really just now interested because of something I have coming up). Basically, multiple sections of the book pages - called 'signatures' - are sewn together. Then those are sewn to a fabric spine, which is then adhered to the book covers. The book lays completely flat, meaning it is extremely easy to read (or write notes in, if you're the kind of person that likes marking up such a beautiful book). The cover itself is a beautiful almost velvety cloth, with textured art. And as Ken says, Satyr Press itself is a one-man operation (two including his intern). So most of the pre-and-post-printing work done is done by Ken's own hand. He brought together a team of four to do something which, to the best of my knowledge, has not been done before. He created a book that is not only a great adventure, not only a great megadungeon, and not only filled with beautiful art and writing, but it is the highest-level of print job possible, and was made in a manner which had the smallest footprint possible on the environment.

Ken's ethics - both in terms of paying the talent, as well as in terms of printing the book - are just a facet of the kind of heart and soul he pours into the books he publishes. And when you consider that, at the end of the day, this book cost $50 to get into my hands, and a WotC book costs $40 (and big Paizo books cost more or less, depending on the product), then you have to wonder how a one-man operation can make such an amazing quality book for such a fair price, while we're paying for books from WotC that fall apart quickly, giving the vast majority of that money straight to WotC while the writers and artists get a few pennies here and there (sorry to keep harping on WotC, but truth is truth). It makes one wonder why WotC - a company that doesn't print 2000 books (like Baumann, in the case of MotBM), but rather 200,000 books - can't provide a book with this quality of craftsmanship. And why they can't pay their artists better.

So Why Is This Important?

To plagiarize from a much more famous nerd than I, because this is our time now. We're having bland, repetitious, formulaic superhero movies and franchises forced down our throats. We're having the same TV shows over and over again, just with different titles, marketed as something "new and exciting." We're having the same comic book stories rehashed and retold under new names, all because that's what sells. And in the near future, we're going to see, for the first time in almost 20 years, a blockbuster-level D&D movie.

We're at a major crossroads in the gaming era (and even more broad and general geek era). Ever since Peter Jackson proved that fantasy was not only viable to the larger community, but Academy Award material, we've had a steadily-increasing influx of speculative fiction targeted to the mass audiences. Every year, the releases have bigger budgets and larger actors attached to them, and every year, they are slightly more bland than the previous. How many young-teenager-goes-off-to-some-sort-of-exclusive-magic-or-otherwise-supernatural-school/facility/detention-center Harry Potter rehashes do we need? When something original does show up, it can't reach the wider audience, because it's not what sells. There is a (small, but albeit existing) chance that the D&D movie will be unique, exciting, new, and full of personality - but the far greater chance is that it will be packaged to Sell First, Entertain Second.

All of this is applicable to tabletop gaming. Critical Role, Acquisitions Inc, and their ilk have within the last year, shown people what real tabletop games look like. And guess what - it's exciting and awesome! More people are wanting to start their own twitch.tv channels, playing their own homebrew games. We're seeing more and more new faces looking to get into RPGs - and specifically, D&D - every day. We should keep them excited, and we should be helping spark the creativity in a new generation to make even better games than we've seen and played. But we're not going to do that with adventures and modules that are so boring, so by-the-book, so mundane, that there are dozens of reddit threads a week asking "How can I make XXX module more interesting? How can I keep my players engaged?" We're going to do it with new and interesting works - books with huge personality that not only inspire GMs to dig deep into the game and run with it, but inspire new writers to write their own adventure, creating a "circle of life" for RPGs. We will do it with projects that have a look, feel, layout and art style that not only helps inspire the GMs to run the game more efficiently, with more control, and with more style, but also that inspires new artists to create works which will grace the covers and interiors of next year's books, thus becoming the next inspirational works.

Maze of the Blue Medusa does all that and more. It is, as far as I am concerned, the new Quality Standard for Publication, Talent, and Ethics. It creates a new bar to surpass in form, function, and finesse, one that is not even that high (and certainly not too high, especially for companies with a budget like WotC), as long as a little bit of common sense, combined with solid business ethics, is used in the products' creation. And it should be on every shelf, at least one copy in every store, helping people see what an adventure with style, artistry, and quite frankly, big honkin' balls, can look like. I think it's fair that we insist on holding other publishers to these same standards of publication quality and product craftsmanship, and possibly more importantly, to the same standards of personality and story craftsmanship.

Otherwise, we can watch Wizards of the Coast flood the market with so much bland and forgettable content, that players who don't know of other, better options, have little choice but to find new pastimes and hobbies that are more fun. Personally, I'm more interested in making sure MotBM and Satyr Press win every category they're up for at the Ennies ("Best Adventure," "Best Cartography," "Best Electronic Book," "Best Writing," "Product of the Year," and for Satyr Press, "Fan Favorite Publisher") so that everyone in the greater RPG community learns of its existence, and maybe picks it up and finds out what a real adventure with some true artistic merit is all about. Maybe we can start flooding the market with style, personality, originality, and exhilaration - stirring our own little Renaissance of frog demons, flumphs, and flailsnails. Maybe the best writers, those with actual talent, can get involved in the larger community, writing and producing art for companies that will pay them for quality, not quantity, thus pushing books to the market that people actually want to read and run. And who knows, maybe in five years, when the inevitable sequel to the upcoming D&D movie comes out, we'll see Patrick Stuart and Zak Sabbath as writing and/or consulting credits, with Vin Diesel playing a CGI Imprisoned Were-Titan, watching on as three perfect sisters await their destiny under the lazy machinations of a blue-"haired" medusa. One can hope.

You have until tomorrow evening to do something useful. GO VOTE!

* - This number may be an exaggeration in the greater scheme of things - I used two sources - one was personal emails between myself and a publisher for a product I was working on last year, and the second was an article written in 2013, so granted may be a bit out of date. However, the great discrepancy still exists, even if those numbers aren't exact.

** - Satyr Press Ethics Statement

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Eruvian Chronicles, in Twenty-five Words or Less

Inspired by David McGrogan's similar post (from many years ago), here is Eruvian Chronicles, described in twenty-five words:

alien fey, Mabinogion, Aos Sí, banshees, Celtic otherworld, Alfheim, Vanaheim, religious zealotry, creeping doom, manzanitas, kauris, barghests, twilight, fairy rings, psychopomps, terrible nature, alchemy, clockworks

A Pseudo-Fey-ish Generator Table

In part of my ongoing series to revitalize and reshape the fey, I've come up with a table for generating fey appearances. Up until two days ago, this was a hand-written table that I've had taped to the inside cover of my primary campaign notebook for several years now. I decided it was time to update it, and in the process, I may as well digitize it (for future-proofing).

It possibly needs a bit of explanation. First of all, in my idea, the elder fey (who I've named the Aedryn in my campaign & articles I'm working on) are all one race/species, but with infinite unique appearances. For instance, this elder race does not make distinctions such as one being a "boggart," and another being a "nixie," and so on. Rather all the fey are the same race, but have different appearances. This is somewhat taken from my own personal preferences, as well as interpretations I've taken from The Mabinogion, Of Gods and Fighting Men, and Katharine Briggs' An Encyclopedia of Fairies, as well as from various blogs I've been reading and podcasts I've been listening to for the last few years.

So below is my table (to be expanded upon as I think up other ideas) for generating fey appearances. There are two separate columns - the second one is basically an expansion to add more grotesque and creepy aspects, but the first table will likely suit most people just fine.

Some Notes:

  1. If you roll something that conflicts with something else (like on one table, roll your fey has cat-like eyes, but on another, roll that it has no eyes), just pick which one you like better. It's your fey after all.
  2. On some of the tables, I gave higher % chance for the the creepier stuff to show up than on other tables - this is just my own personal preference on which types of aspects make more sense to show up (even rarely) than others.
  3. Some of these aspects may seem very un-fey-like to you. That's okay, they're for my specific campaign, so just don't use the ones you don't like!

The Fey Has Skin Like (or Covered In): Roll d100 for Natural and/or Weird Stuff Roll d100 to also include slightly more Creepy/Grotesque stuff
Normal Humanoid Flesh 01-20 01-18
Thick Lamb's Wool 21-30 19-27
Snake's Scales 31-40 28-36
Raven's Feathers 41-48 37-45
Animal Fur 49-56 46-52
Thick Pine Bark 57-65 53-59
Plant Matter 66-73 60-64
Stone 74-79 65-69
Old Leather 80-85 70-74
Transluscent Silk Sheets 86-91 75-79
Diamond (or other Gemstone) 92-94 80-83
Shifting Mist 95-97 84-87
Fine Bone China 98-100 88-91
Gums and Malformed Teeth 92-94
Tumors 95-97
Cephalapod Suckers 98-100

Its Head Has: Roll d100 for Natural and/or Weird Stuff Roll d100 to also include slightly more Creepy/Grotesque stuff
No Hair 01-18 01-16
Unkempt/Tangled Hair 19-36 17-32
Beautiful Silky Smooth Hair 37-54 33-48
A Crown of Leaves 55-65 49-57
A Bed of Growing Flowers 66-74 58-65
Twisted, Tangled Vines 75-83 66-72
Strands of Shells 84-92 73-77
Asymmetrical Antlers 93-100 78-83
Long, Thick Yarn 84-87
Writhing Worms 88-92
Bloodied Fingers 93-96
Ivory Horns (like a rhinosaurus) 97-100

Its Back is Covered In: Roll d100 for Natural and/or Weird Stuff Roll d100 to also include slightly more Creepy/Grotesque stuff
Nothing Special 01-70 01-70
Spines of a Porcupine 71-78 71-76
Jagged Spikey Branches 79-85 77-82
Beehives with Swarming Bees 86-93 83-87
Hairy Warts 94-100 88-94
Oozing Boils 95-98
Grasping Hands 99-100

On Its Back are Wings Like: Roll d100 for Natural and/or Weird Stuff Roll d100 to also include slightly more Creepy/Grotesque stuff
No Wings 01-40 01-40
A Butterfly 41-50 41-50
A Bat 51-60 51-59
A Ciceda 61-70 60-68
Locust 71-78 69-75
A Raven 79-85 76-82
A Dragonfly 86-91 83-87
A House fly 92-96 88-92
A Pterosaur 97-100 93-96
Tendrils of Shadow Stuff 97-98
Ripped/Shredded Tapestries 99-100

Its Entire Lower Body Has (or is): Roll d100 for Natural and/or Weird Stuff Roll d100 to also include slightly more Creepy/Grotesque stuff
Two Normal Humanoid Legs 01-50 01-40
Two Hairy Goat Legs 51-60 41-50
Four Horse Legs and Body 61-66 51-56
A Massive Scuttling Beetle 67-72 57-63
A Four-finned Fish 73-79 64-70
A Rickety Two-Wheeled Cart (like that one badass goblin in Hellboy II) 80-85 71-76
Scaley Bird Legs and Claws 86-93 77-82
A Crab-like Body and Legs 94-98 83-87
Eight Octopus Tentacles 99-100 88-92
The Bloated Body and Legs of a Massive Spider 93-96
A Crawling Mass of Worms 97-99
A Crawling Child's Body 100

Its Head is Shaped Like A: Roll d100 for Natural and/or Weird Stuff Roll d100 to also include slightly more Creepy/Grotesque stuff
Normal Humanoid's 01-55 01-50
A Horse Head 56-61 51-58
A Goat Head 62-69 59-67
A Feline Head 70-77 68-73
A Canine Head 78-85 74-80
A Bird Head 86-92 81-86
A Large Wilted Flower 93-97 87-92
A Ball of Rotten Leaves 98-100 89-93
A Mass of Chains 94-97
An Atrophied Baby's Head 99-100

It Has Hands Like (or with): Roll d100 for Natural and/or Weird Stuff Roll d100 to also include slightly more Creepy/Grotesque stuff
Normal Humanoid 01-55 01-50
Extra Long Fingers 56-64 51-58
Really Long, Sharp Nails 65-73 59-66
Crab-like Pincers 74-82 67-74
Bee Stingers in Place of Fingers 83-91 75-82
Multiple Oddly-Placed Knuckles 92-100 83-88
Toes in Place of Fingers 89-93
Biting Snake-like Fingers 94-97
A Working, Blinking Eye in Each Palm 98-99
Throbbing Phallus-like Fingers 100

Its Eyes Are (or are Shaped Like): Roll d100 for Natural and/or Weird Stuff Roll d100 to also include slightly more Creepy/Grotesque stuff
Normal Humanoid 01-50 01-35
Large Hunting Cat's 51-65 36-45
Shining Gemstones 66-80 6-55
Large Almonds/Nuts 81-87 56-65
Flowers 88-95 66-70
Berries 96-100 71-76
Ivory Buttons 77-83
Empty Black Holes 84-90
Doubled, With an Extra Pair Above the Normal Eyes 91-94
Small Mirrors 95-97
Multi-faceted like a Fly 98-100

Its Nose Is (or is Shaped Like): Roll d100 for Natural and/or Weird Stuff Roll d100 to also include slightly more Creepy/Grotesque stuff
Normal Humanoid 01-50 01-50
Long and Pointed 51-66 51-57
Squat and Bulbous 66-80 58-64
An Aardvark's Trunk 81-85 65-69
A Butterfly's Proboscis 86-90 70-74
A Crow's Beak 91-95 75-79
A Pig's Snout 96-100 80-84
A Wasp's Stinger 85-88
A Bloodied, Gaping Hole 89-92
A Writhing Snake 93-96
A Knotted Mass of Worms 97-98
Radially Symmetrical Grouping of Cephalopodian Tentacles 99-100

Its Mouth Is (or its Teeth Are): Roll d100 for Natural and/or Weird Stuff Roll d100 to also include slightly more Creepy/Grotesque stuff
Normal Humanoid 01-60 01-40
Fanged 61-70 41-50
Spider's Mandibles 71-78 51-60
Boar's Tusks 79-86 61-70
Octopus' Beak 87-94 71-79
Lion's Maw 95-100 80-86
A Venus Flytrap 86-90
A Massive Perfectly-Circular Hole with Razor Teeth 91-95
A Toothed Vagina 96-100

Its Chest Has (or Is): Roll d100 for Natural and/or Weird Stuff Roll d100 to also include slightly more Creepy/Grotesque stuff
Normal Humanoid 01-80 01-70
Extra Breasts 81-90 71-78
Warts 91-100 79-86
Covered in Wiggling Toes 87-95
A Large Face of a Frog (or Other Reptilian/Amphibian/Ichthyoid) 96-100

Its Stomach Has (or Is): Roll d100 for Natural and/or Weird Stuff Roll d100 to also include slightly more Creepy/Grotesque stuff
Normal Humanoid 01-88 01-80
A Tarnished Brass Doorknob 89-95 81-86
A Stainglass Mural 96-100 87-92
A Fish's (or other Ichthyodian) Mouth 93-96
Stretched Taut and About to Explode 97-100

It Moves By: Roll d100 for Natural and/or Weird Stuff Roll d100 to also include slightly more Creepy/Grotesque stuff
Normal Humanoid Movement 01-88 01-82
Floating Above the Ground 89-92 83-85
Walking Backward/Sideways 93-96 86-88
Hopping Like a Frog 97-100 89-91
Slithering On its Belly 92-94
Twirling/Dancing 95-97
Spastic Japanese Horror Girl Shit 98-100

It is Sized Like: Roll d100
Normal Adult Humanoid 01-50
A Small Human Child 51-75
A Tall Tree 76-80
A Wide Barn 81-85
A Thin, Short Reed 86-90
A Smallish Beetle 91-95
A Minuscule Ladybug 96-100

Roll on this table as many times as you want for extra features

Roll d10/d8/d6 Normal-ish/Natural-ish Stuff Weirder-ish/Bizarre-ish Stuff Grotesque-ish/Creepy-ish Stuff
1 Covered in Piercings Skin is an Odd Color (like Purple) Wears a Wooden Mask Mean to Look Like a Small Child
2 Covered in Tattoos Wears a Wooden Mask Painted in Arcane Symbols Pulls a Small Child's Wagon Wherever it Goes,
3 Wears a Wooden Collar with Attached Chain Glows in the Dark Its Fingers/Toes/Nose/Somethings Leak Orange-Green Slime
4 Speaks Only in Whispers Always Carries a Small Lantern Often Changes Form to Look Exactly Like Whoever it's Facing/Talking to
5 Always Wears a Globular Helmet of Red Gemstone Only Walks in Perpendicular Cardinal Directions, Body Pierced by Large Hooks
6 Wears an Orange Ascot Eyes Are Always Looking Up at Something in the Sky Eyes Roll Around In Its Head
7 Hangs Out With a Talking Mule Often Stops Conversations to Dance in Circles for a Few Moments
8 Smells of Old Mothballs After Every Sentence, Will Whistle Like a Songbird
9 Covered in Ridged Battle Scars
10 Surrounds Itself with Butterflies

Monday, April 4, 2016

Eruvian Chronicles 06 – Deep Carbon Observatory (Part 2)

After being so excited to finally start DCO, the next two sessions in a row were cancelled due to an illness and then another player's business trip. So now we're back.

We picked up this sessions right where we left off, with the group trying to decide whether or not the ginormous fish circling their boat was actually dangerous. They decided the smartest and safest bet was to keep moving. For the next hour, as they continued upstream, they occasionally saw the pike beneath the water, as though it was following them, but eventually they saw it no more. It was approaching evening when Gillie spotted a pretty high and dry rock and recommended they camp for the night. Everyone agreed and hoped for a more productive day tomorrow.

Paetrak took first watch and around midnight, spotted a campfire probably no further than a mile northeast of them. He woke the group and they decided that Daliah and Paetrak should check it out, in case it happened to be Barok and they could get a jump on him. They reached the fire in just twenty minutes or so and found the campsite deserted, with just a fire going, and no other signs of life (no camping gear or anything). Paetrak approached the fire and was hit in the thigh by one of Ghar's eyebolts. Both PCs hid and watched for some site of further attack, but saw and heard nothing. They traveled back to their own site and reported to the others. The group found it weird, but had no real opinion as to what it was about. The night went on uneventful after that.

The next morning, they set off early up the river. It wasn't long before Gillie spotted something in the water behind them. They continued on and soon, everyone could see a shape moving in the water about thirty feet behind them. Daliah fired a bolt at the shape, which popped out of the water, revealing a zombie covered in reeds and mud. They made quick work of the zombie, never leaving the boat. Festith and Whizz discussed why a zombie would be following them, hidden as such, and neither made much sense of it, beyond the obvious "it heard us so it wanted to eat our brains," which didn't help with the whole 'hidden' part.

Around noon, they spotted a windmill lazily turning. As they got closer, they clearly saw the old lady in the window, fighting off swarming crabs. Daliah and Gillie took shots at the crabs as they steered the boat to the small island, and then the group got out and began hacking the crabs to bits. One took a sizable chunk out of Festith's calf, but they dispatched the crabs easily enough. They discussed with the lady her predicament, and when they found out she had children and no food, told her they couldn't travel with them (15 children could not fit in their boat no matter what), but they helped gather up a bunch of the dead crabs for food, and then they lit a signal fire to hope to alert other would-be rescuers of the situation. None of them (other than Whizz, who didn't care) were happy about having to leave defenseless people here, but they figured they'd done the best they could for now, and continued on.

Around midday, they spotted the tombs. Paetrak steered the boat through the shapes in the water, looking for the Ghyls' family tomb, and eventually found it. He hopped into the water and dragged Sorla's body to the stone shape, while the rest of the group watched out for carnivorous fish. Paetrak took off the lid and found the message that Sorla Ghyl had left for her would-be carriers. He told the group what it said, all of whom were amazed (and slightly confounded), then put her body to rest. They continued on.

As it got darker and the group began searching for another defensible resting spot like the night before, Paetrak spotted several shapes moving about in the water around them. Fearing more zombies lurking, they stopped the boat and took up defensive postures. The shapes in the water also stopped. This gave the result I was looking for - they were a bit freaked out. Daliah fired a bolt at one of the shapes while Gillie and Paetrak fired arrows at others. When this happened, those particular shapes popped out of the water, more zombies, and came toward the boat. Several other zombies beneath the surface stayed where they were, and Paetrak saw one leaving the scene, but was too occupied with fighting to do anything about it. They (re)killed the zombies, then went ahead and 'spooked' the other four and fought them off too. Whizz took the eye out of one, and the hand off another, for an "experiment" at camp.

After another hour, and once it was good and dark, they eventually found a decent spot for camp. While most of the group prepares camp, Whizz used the zombie eye & hand he 'procured' to create a new bone minion. He then sent the minion up a small tree to keep watch. Early into the night, the minion alerted the group that a single zombie was approaching. When it was close enough for the group to see and hear, they destroyed it and threw its body into the water. An hour later, another approached. They fought it off just as easily. An hour later, around midnight, came the third zombie. This time after destroying it, Paetrak and Gillie decided to attempt to track it back from where it came.

They followed the trail easily enough and after about thirty minutes, found a fire-less campsite. Though they were very careful, Paetrak still stepped into a trap which set off multiple chimes in the surrounding trees. Suddenly, the two of them were attacked by five zombies rising from the shrubs and trees around them. Paetrak fought off two of them easily enough and fled back the way they came. After a few minutes, they noticed the zombies were not following them, and were completely at a loss. They figured the best thing to do would be to tell the rest of the party. They met up with the party and did just that. Whizz, who has had the most experience with the dead, had no idea why the zombies were acting this way, and assumed they were under some sort of control. The group worked out a likely scenario in which Barok had met up with a necromancer and the two were keeping tabs on and harassing the group. About an hour later, two zombies approached the camp and had to be dealt with. The group was getting frustrated, and seemed to understand that they were experiencing harrying tactics, but didn't know what to do about it. Before the night was through, they were attacked twice more.

The next morning, they hopped into their boat and decided to stay along the western edge of the flooded river, and hopefully get away from whoever was following/bothering them. They soon came to the outskirts ruins of a flooded village (Pollnacrom), where many of the houses seemed to have been destroyed by something other than water. They could hear another home being destroyed further upriver, and also began to see people sitting on rooftops and building their own makeshift rafts. They rowed toward the destructive sound and came across their first Turbine Golem. Whizz was extremely excited by the machine, the rest were very wary. They watched it hack and chop at one of the houses, pulling wood and stone from the supports, and finally, it turned toward them and moved south. They watched it go by (Daliah noticed the dodecahedron stone on its head) and then followed it back south, where they found it assembling a massive pile of rubble with a narrow water passage through the center. They watched it attempted to recharge itself, fascinated, but did not know what else to do. Whizz really wanted to attack and disassemble the creature, but the rest of the group was very wary of it. They decided to head back up and talk to the stranded villagers to see what they had to say.

Back at Pollnacrom, they tried to have conversations with the stranded survivors. Most of the people either ignored them outright, or attempted to hide as best they could, and eventually, the party was able to barter some of their food to get on of the older men to talk. They did not know his language, but got the gist of: the golems tended the dam further north, and had never come this far south before, so the dam's destruction must have messed up their programming. They thanked the man and continued north, now curious about the dam and what had happened. Since they were following the western-most reaches of the flooded river, they missed Gruta's village.

Getting along further in the day, the party noticed a smoke fire to the northwest. They continued that direction and eventually saw an island with three people on it attempting to fend off a Giant Duck-Billed Platypus! They moved in as quickly as they could and were unfortunately too late to save the one of the trio, the father, who was knocked down and killed by the giant creature. It ignored the wife & daughter while it started snacking on daddy. Once in range, Paetrak, Gillie, & Daliah all fired on the beast, wounding it enough so that it fled into the water, swimming further north and away from them.

They stopped on the island to find the wife & daughter crying in fear and mourning the death of their father. They also found a huge pile of corked tubes filled with scrolls. The group offered to row the daughter & mother over to the actual dry land to the west and get them off this island, as well as send them with some food, in exchange for the scrolls. The trade commenced, and Whizz began looking through them, attempting to figure out the ancient language while Festith and Daliah took the two survivors to the western bank. They all met up again about thirty minutes later, Whizz being very excited about what were obviously some "ancient magic relics," and the group decided this may be a reasonable place to set up camp for the night while Whizz studied the scrolls. To the north, they could see the river valley narrowing around a curve northeast, and could see the land on either side rising sharply. They assumed (correctly) they were almost at the dam.

That night went uneventful, the group figuring they must have successfully escaped from whoever was sending zombies at them (in fact, it was this night that the Crows came across Alfredo and his crew, slayed them all, and Zolushika raised them as some new pet zombies). They slept the night and our session concluded.

I felt much better after this session in regards to me getting plenty of Stuart's stuff here. They encountered the Crows (kind of), they encountered the platypus (he'll be back!), they encountered a golem and learned about the dam. The dam next session should be interesting, I've had to remap some of it, but I plan on a fight or two happening in there if the PCs don't find ways around it.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Ecology of the Banshee

Also known as the Bean-Nighe, the Lady Fairy, or the Little-Washer-by-the-Ford

The Lady Fairy lusts. This we know. Lust comes in many forms. It comes in the form of the young man who has seen a naked woman in full form for the first time. It comes in the heat of battle, causing a warrior to slice deep and draw blood from the body of the enemy, relishing in its splatter. It even comes from the simple desire to own something - like an antique silver vase, or an heirloom quill pen with a diamond nib. The lust is there in all of us. But in her, it is something primal, something elemental.

We don't have the definitive answers as to why she screams. The loss, the pain, the terror, the rage, or the search for revenge... All of these seem just as likely as the next. We just know that she is full of lust, and we are pretty sure the screaming is but a byproduct of the lust.

Her scream comes from a place deep inside, from beyond her heart, beyond her gut, beyond her bowels - it comes from the core of her existence. Her purpose is to scream, the piercing wail echoing her hunger in its intensity. Her purpose is to expose her carnal hunger, which she brandishes as both a weapon and a confession of her insatiable appetite. Her purpose is to gorge on her appetite, for though she can never be satisfied, she can bare her envy to the world in the futile hope that her cravings and lusts can be quenched. And her purpose is to quench, but not her own lust, and not her own longings - it is her's to quench life.

Those who have heard her screams know what they mean - an explanation is not needed, nor is it given. Those who hear the keen sound have its meaning imprinted on their very soul - they may never know why, but they know what the sound means. It means their death, their life extinguished. It will happen by midnight the next night, and with no reasons given, their life will be ended. They say their goodbyes, often with and to tear-filled eyes, they make their arrangements, and they wait for the lady. They (usually) do not blame her, for she is but a harbinger, but that does not mean they do not fear her coming.

She will come with the night, floating along the wind, visible only as her visage passes from one moonbeam to another. Her clothes will be simple and scarce, revealing her scars and her nakedness. Pale skin and white robes both glow faintly, and a faintly-billowing fog follows her, like a luminous cloud of death. Her hair is always red, and always flowing behind her as though being blown by the wind, no matter the weather. Her elfin ears and almond-shaped eyes betray her heritage, though her family and species would no longer claim her as part of their own. She passed beyond the veil long ago, and just like the moonlight she rides upon, she fades - her translucency is as much a part of her as her scream and her lust.

She will knock thrice on the window of the one to die, saying no words and begging no entry, simply beckoning behind her. She will then vanish like a wisp of cloud, and then, the one will die.

Were you to somehow follow the lady to find out wear she resides, you would find a small hollow of trees next to a river, bent and bowed in such as way as to create a cave out of the limbs and leaves. The trees would be unnaturally twisted, and would block all light. Within, you would see only the faintest of lights, a luminescence which seems to come from nowhere and everywhere. There, in this hole, the lady would be. She would be washing a tiny infant's outfit in a small pooling of river water. Though the clothes would not be soiled, the water would be bloody. Beside her would be a small cradle of ancient, blackened wood. The insides would be empty. She would have no other possessions other than possibly a silver-rimmed mirror and matching comb. She would not see you, for when she is not filled with the lust, she only sees the bloody water, reflecting a twisted and grotesque visage of a piteously crying mother, holding a dead baby to her breast.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Eruvian Chronicles 05 – Deep Carbon Observatory (Part 1)

Presented is my first session recap of my current campaign, 'Eruvian Chronicles.' The first four adventures went through LMoP to give all of us a feel of 5E (since out of the group, I believe I was the only one who had played 5E so far), and from here on out, I plan on making these guys sweat. A lot. We start what I call the "Real Campaign" with Deep Carbon Observatory, by Patrick Stuart. A note: we only play for about 4 hours at a time, so a lot of our time this session was taken up by Carrowmore role-playing. We'll get much deeper into the module next week.

First things first, character introductions with a tidbit of player info:

  • Picorwill "Whizz" Gearwhistle , Gnome Necro-Engineer (custom class, like a necromancer meets artificer, I may post it some day), NE (D&D vet, since OD&D)
  • Daliah er-Ghorov, Elf Rogue, CN (D&D vet, since 3E)
  • Paetrak of the Ghost Halls, Human Barbarian, CG (total noob, first campaign)
  • Festith Vorain, Human Paladin of The Four, LN (since 4E, so never played any "real" D&D)
  • Gillie Vee, NPC Halfling Ranger, NG, been hanging with them since session 2.

I planned on Gillie being a one-off character that provided them some information and helped with a side quest, but Paetrak's player, a total noob to D&D (only been playing for 3 months) role-played the fuck out of their encounter and convinced Gillie to join them.  Now they're friends.

Second things second, the phrases listed below were heard often enough during the first part of DCO (mostly in Carrowmore as they spoke with the townspeople) that they warrant mention:

  • "Holy Shit? (as a question)"
  • "What the fuck?"
  • "What was that again?"
  • "That's dark."

Lastly, this is one of the first fully-fleshed modules I've ever run that was not a WotC module, and thus, not knowing how to handle certain things, I made a lot of assumptions and best guesses about how to handle encounters. For instance, though there is a small random encounter table that Stuart created for the journey up the flooded lands, I found his actual prepared encounters infinitely more entertaining (and beautiful in his dark and depressing way). So I scripted all encounters to happen, and it was just the PCs' choice whether or not they interacted with them, or ignored them or circumvented them somehow. I did roll randomly a couple times but I did it with a percentage chance of nothing happening. We got one finally near the end, which you'll see later.

Adventure started with the PC's arrival to Carrowmore.  They are here because their informant back in Phandelver told them an NPC enemy (Barok, will come up later), who they beat but did not kill near the end of LMoP, was fleeing this way to find allies.

They arrived amidst carnage and chaos (Seriously, buy and read the module if you haven't yet), and immediately spotted the rising column of smoke to the NE. It did not take long for the party to get separated in the flooded town. Paetrak and Gillie were sympathetic to the pleas of Curtis Ghyl and agree to carry his wife's body to their family tomb. There was much discussion on how to carry the body in the - let us say, "least odorous way possible." Eventually, Gillie helped wrap the body in some leaves that would at least cover in stenches. Yum. Meanwhile Daliah saved Selminimum Tem, and became very interested in the "ramblings of the mad priest." Through some careful negotiations, she convinced Tem to relinquish the key to the church so that she could salvage what remained of their holy relics. She has not told me her actual plans for the church yet. Finally, Festith and Whizz attempted to save the raft full of children. However, due to some poor rolls, Callao fell off and sank beneath the waters. Whizz didn't seem terribly upset, though was curious by the childrens' tales of a witch in their (former) village.

The separated groups moved through the waterlogged remains of town for a little while, though eventually Daliah decided to work on larger prey. She began looking for Barok, and instead spotted Zarathusa early on and began a long exchange with the captain. She haggled the boat price down (I started at 100gp, she got it down to 45gp) and the reward price up (1000gp), and even told a convincing lie to Zarathusa that they were here to help save the town. The rest of the party "synced up" again when they saw Terbil Tem trying to lead a child behind a dark house. They didn't find out anything about the cannibalism, but saved the kid. Afterward, they spotted Uli Guria watching them closely, but she fled when they approached. They were almost onto the cannibalism, but I guess they've figure it all out when (if) they get back to town and everyone's been eaten. They then came across Stary Hrad and almost started a fight with Alfredo and his crew. Paetrak noticed Ghar Zaghouan of the Crows on a roof watching them and decided to check him out, but couldn't find him once he arrived to the roof. The party took Hrad's offer to prove the lack of existence of treasure (especially when Hrad told them that someone similar to Barok's appearance had already left town in the same direction), and met back up with Daliah and their new boat. They did not negotiate for or even buy rations or light sources, so if they haven't thought of it by the time they get to the Observatory, I may make a kindly recommendation.

They left town about an hour and a half after arriving and worked their way up the soaked lands, learning much about boating in the process. It was approaching dark, so I had them go about two hours and then they began looking for a suitable camping spot. Halfway through the night, they heard the crying of two children, floating along on the Sarcophagus of Ambatoharanana. They helped pull the children to dry land, and then told them to stay the night with them. Daliah didn't like that idea, but the rest overruled her. In the morning, they sent the children south along the dry land with a bit of food (knocking out more of their own supplies, I might add) and investigated the sarcophagus. Whizz had a good enough Arcane Knowledge roll to know that Ambatoharanana was an ancient name for a king, but not enough to know any more than that. They opened it up and Daliah immediately called dips on the king's mask. They couldn't detect any sorts of traps so Festith decided to claim 'Varistor' as his own. Of course doing so woke the king, who reached for the sword. Daliah pushed him backward as they all dove for cover, and the king fell into the water and quickly dissolved away. He was still holding the key, so they did not get that, and though Daliah dove for a short while for the mask, she couldn't find it either. Paetrak was a bit upset with their actions (plundering an honorable warrior's tomb), but got over it quickly enough when Daliah convinced him that technically, the tomb had come to them. They broke camp around 9am.

Around 11am, they heard commotion up the ahead of them in the water. Gillie and Daliah scouted it out and spotted two men standing on top of the water shouting at each other. They could not hear the argument, but when magic started flying, they decided to step back and let the battle take its course. After a few spells, only one was left standing. That is, until he fell into the water and did not come back to the surface. This creeped the scouts out, so they reported back to the group. Everyone voted to go far around the battle site.

Not long after seeing the wizards' duel, they came across the Church of Selminimum Tem, barely hanging on against the flood waters, completely turned onto its side. Daliah got excited about this and insisted they check it out. They spent a little while figuring out the best way in (I had the door on the top instead of on the side), and eventually, Daliah just climbed her way up and used the key Tem had given her. She dropped into the church and looked around. I allowed her to find a few copies of the Optical God's holy book, "Omnes Videre," and she did find the wafers & vials in the alter. She pocketed those without telling the party and showed them just the books, which they stored in their bag.

We were getting close to our ending time, so I had them run across the toads from afar. They again decided to circumvent a distraction, much to my frustration (I really wanted to graphically describe their bloated bodies bursting, alas!) and continued north. By this point it was about 2pm and we had to wrap up. I rolled on the random encounter table and ended the session with Daliah spotting something large moving by their boat in the water just before it surfaced for just a moment. They all saw the Very Large Pike. It looked at them and then dipped below the surface. That freaked them out. Yay!

We did a post-session wrap, I was curious about what they thought so far, and they all told me they'd like a bit more action, so I will probably roll much more from the random encounter table next time. Plus, I plan on introducing them to some Corvusian Zombie Tactics pretty early on next time.

What the party knows (or suspects):

  • Something bad happend north and flooded all the lands south of it. The people in the town mentioned a dam, so that's probably the culprit.
  • There are a lot of people likely showing up soon looking for treasure.
  • The Carrowmore townsfolk have no idea what's beyond the dam, other than it 'used to be a lake.'
  • There are people watching them and they may have lots of enemies, including: Barok, Alfredo and his crew, and possibly the Crows (Paetrak was suspicious of Ghar watching them, but knows nothing more than that).
  • Zarathusa seemed a little too eager to set sail himself for the north, and had a lot of mercenary power with him. This concerned Festith and Gillie a bit, but not enough for them to think about it any further after the initial conversation.
  • They have general directions to Pollnagollum Village (from the children). They may investigate if they feel like it later.

Lastly, my thoughts on the adventure now that I'm running it (instead of just reading it):

  • It's as fun as I thought it would be.
  • Zathrusa and Zarathusa are the same person (I never spotted this typo reading it, and running it had some momentary confusion when different names popped up).
  • I'm starting to feel less sure about how I should introduce the Crows. I think I'm going to have them just do a bunch of guerilla tactics against the PCs as they travel north, and possibly wait outside the Observatory and attack them as they leave. Not sure, happy for anyone who has run this to give me their thoughts.
  • Festith really wanted to know more about the Optical God, so I'm putting in a request to Patrick Stuart to give me a write-up on him! :)

Hope you enjoyed, next time should have a lot more happening!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

New Homebrew-ish and published modules campaign

I've started a new 5E campaign with some people I don't know.  They will soon either love me or hate me (as a GM.  Possibly as a person). 
Basically, I'm taking all my favorite modules I've read over the years, and combining them into a campaign setting.  It will likely be pretty gonzo, considering I like Deep Carbon Observatory, Yoon-Suin, Scenic Dunnsmouth, Slumbering Ursine Dunes, a few Forgotten Realms locations/modules, and The Styes (from Dungeon #121).  That's just to start with.  I'm pretty certain aboleths are going to be a major thing in the campaign, along with some weird shadow shit I've come up with that involves worlds phasing together.
We've done three adventures so far, just to get started, in a very heavily modded 'Lost Mine of Phandelver (There are xvarts).'  Looking like PCs will end up on level 4, which means a perfect time to introduce them to Patrick Stuart's DCO.  I'll write about that first session, should be fun.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Whisper Wraith

Though they have no formal name, these terrifying undead abominations are commonly called "Whisper Wraiths" by adventurers and campaigners. They may be created when a warrior dies to some sort of supernatural blast - whether it be a wizard's lightning bolt, a dragon's fire breath, or the explosion caused by the closing of a portal to hell.
The body will have been fully torn asunder, with very little meat left on the bones. As long as the dying being was able to let out one last audible exclamation, they may rise as a Whisper Wraith. The are locked to a radius of 600 feet from the spot of their death (or the center of mass of their remains if they were blown apart).
They appear as ghostly, translucent skeletons, often with missing limbs, shattered bones, and tiny scraps of flesh hanging from their broken forms. While their skull may be broken, their jaw will almost always be fully intact, and the mouth will be open in a permanent visage of a scream of terror.
When they are within a hundred feet of you, you will begin to hear whispered screams - they are captured screams of the Wraiths' death cries, permanently locked around them in a cloud aural horror. The screams may have words, such as "Please god, no!," or may just been long screeches of the dying. Once you begin to hear the unearthly sounds, you must pass a fear save to resist the temptation to flee in terror.
They attack by striking with whatever remains of their limbs, scratching and stabbing with the jagged, boney ends where their hands used to be, or clubbing with their stubs. They are corporeal, and can be struck with mundane weapons, but nothing short of a specific ritual can permanently kill them - should they fall to standard items, they will rise again in six hours.
To destroy the Whisper Wraith permanently, you must find all the remains of the Wraith's original body (as blasted and decomposed as they may be) and gather them together. Then, you must pour melted silver mixed with salt over the remains and burn them. This will kill the Whisper Wraith permanently.

A Murmuring of Wraiths

Due to the nature of how Whisper Wraiths are formed, it is very easy and common for man to be formed at the same time. One pass of an ancient red dragon may kill dozens of soldiers, and one single summoned comet from a powerful sorcerer may destroy an entire city.
In these rare instances, the whispers of the Wraiths merge together into a collage of screams and exclamations, with no individual words being heard. In this case, all DCs you must pass for fear are increased by 1 (one) for every Wraith in the murmuring, up to a maximum of 20.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Ecology of the Displacer Beast

The following excerpts are from the journal of Jason Canderman, of the eight-man Canderman-Dodder Expedition, which was documenting the newly-discovered ruins of an ancient Hithan pyramid. This journal was found by a group of nine explorers (three of whom met their fate later by the same creatures described within). Based on the following excerpts, we recommend bringing a full regimen of prepared soldiers before the next expedition is attempted.
Juelay 18, 887 NE - On the ninth day since our expedition began, We have finally entered the Ssizeraal valley. The temperature is sweltering, and has been becoming so for the last three days. Ahead of us is the massive Ssizeraal Jungle, and beyond, new discoveries. We have seen no sign of any locals, either intelligent or not.
Juelay 21, 887 NE - The travel through the jungle for the last three days has been difficult to say the least. The air is oppressive and thick with humidity. Very little light makes it through the canopy above us. The bugs are terrible. Malik is sure that we are being swarmed by new species of gnats that are far more aggressive than those of our more temperate farmlands. Finley has warned us that the pack mule and spare horses all seem nervous, and I hear them whinnying far more than they did on the open paths leading to the jungle. We hope to soon find the ancient road we were told about.
Juelay 22, 887 NE - Just before sunset, we found the ancient, overgrown road that once connected two great Hithan cities of the past. We decided to set up camp in the slightly-clearer area. I saw with my own eyes the uneasiness of the pack animals - they seemed especially fearful of the old road itself.
Juelay 23, 887 NE - Traveling on the road, overgrown as it is, has provided far swifter travel than the first several days through the jungle. Though the canopy is still thick, light is able to reach the jungle floor, which seems to have a positive effect on both the humidity and the bugs. We are still several days out of the ruins we seek, but are optimistic. Guardsman Chaz mentioned he thought he heard a loud roar earlier in the day, such as that of a predatory animal, but no one else heard it.
Juelay 24, 887 NE - I am sad to write that tragedy has struck us today. Guardsman Jueg, youngest of our crew, has perished to an unknown beast. At just past noon today, Jueg left the path for personal reasons. As the minutes passed, we became worried. Finally, after nearly thirty minutes, and no response to our calling his named, Guardsmen Chaz and Dale entered the forest. Scant minutes later, they returned, carrying the body of Jueg. The back of his neck had been mauled by a maw of significant size, with piercings from teeth penetrating to the front of his throat. This had caused his death, and also his inability to scream. However, much more terrible and obvious, was the gaping wound on his chest. His heart had been viciously removed, leaving a large, bloody cavity. None of us had experience with any sort of predator that did this, and so sadly, the cause of death will forever remain a mystery. We buried Jueg off the path, speaking a few words to Shand, Patron of Safe Travels, and gathered his items to return to his family. We will sleep uneasy tonight.
Juelay 26, 887 NE - Another of our crew has died. Around midnight last night, Guardsman Dale, on duty, was killed by the same beast which took Jueg's life. We only discovered his body this morning. Just as with Jueg, his throat was horribly wounded, and his chest had been eaten on, with the heart gone. We are surely being stalked by a predator of such ferocity as we have before witnessed. For the rest of our expedition, both guardsmen will remain awake through the night, along with either myself, Malis, or Jenar. Finley will stay with the pack animals through the night, to make sure they are not terrified so much that they break their restraints.
Juelay 27, 887 NE - We are down another crew, this time Jenar, whom I have known for well over twenty years. Though we were not close, and over the years had vehement disagreements on our various scientific pursuits, his death was a tragic blow to me and our expedition. We are now fearful of our lives, though we have a bit more information now as to what fell beast plagues us. Jenar was awake while attacked and was able to let loose one scream, which Guardsmen Chat and Vic heard. They both spotted a large black beast, extremely fast, and both attacked, but were unable to wound it. They retrieved Jenar, who was still alive, and brought him back to camp. After waking the rest of us, Jenar eventually died in my arms. Even now, his blood is still on me, as I struggle to put pen to paper.
Juelay 29, 887 NE - Eighteen days after after our expedition started, and after the deaths of three of our comrades, we have arrived at the ruins. Though our hearts are weary and souls are heavy, we rejoice at the beauty before us. Three pyramids, mostly claimed by the vines of the jungle, but still obvious in their majesty, stand before us in a large clearing. My initial notes before we set up camp:
The pyramids appear to be aligned with the stars of Gozdare the Bard - specifically his lute. The smallest is to the the northeast of the clearing, and appears to be no more than a hundred feet tall. The next-smallest is on the southwest of the clearing, and is much larger, possibly close to three hundred feet tall. It clears the tallest trees around us. The central-most pyramid however is the largest, possibly over five hundred feet tall. If our estimates are true, this will be the largest Hithan pyramid found so far, though we will need to take more accurate measurements to be sure. This central pyramid has also best-withstood the ravages of time - being furthest from the trees, there are no vines pulling at the stones, and no roots to disrupt the ground. It is quite beautiful.
Stairs climb the center, and each of the four sides of the base are adorned with animals, some known, some not. There are griffons and rocs on the south face, salamanders and large bug-like creatures on the eastern face, frogs and octopi on the western face, and on the northern face, which is the side that greeted our arrival into the clearing, are gorillas and some sort of feline creature. Though the statues are mostly-eroded, these feline creatures are of a variety never before seen, with large spikes protruding from their shoulder blades. All-in-all, they are quite menacing looking, and the pack animals seem wary of the statues. Multiple times in the evening, as we were setting up camp, I also caught Chaz gazing upon the feline creature statues.
Juelay 30, 887 NE - On the eve of Agaus, we have been attacked again. Luckily no one was wounded tonight, and for the first time, beneath the nearly-full moon of Juelay's final night, we all finally caught glimpse of the beast which has been stalking us. It is a large black feline creature, which is likely what the northern-face statues are modeled after, but instead of spikes on its shoulder blades, long writhing tentacles protrude. It is, quite simply, the most horrific creature I have ever seen in my life, and it is quite menacing. Chaz and Vic were able to fend off the beast. Chaz even swears he struck the beast clear in the neck, but his sword went straight through as though it wasn't even there! We are very much on edge, but now that we know more of the best, we feel more confident. Our fires burn bright throughout the night.
We have studied the ruins even more, and based on some hieroglyphics we have been able to find around the base of the central pyramid, we are quite certain that these ancient Hithans likely worshiped - or at least revered - the animals to which they built totems. This is astounding to us, as all our previous knowledge of the Hithans has led us to believe they were actually worshipers of The Fold.
I and Malik climbed the stairs of the central pyramid today. Again, we have not made concise measurements, but based on the five hundred fourteen steps, each of which are almost a feet steep, we are quite certain our first guesses about the size of the pyramid were very close to correct.
Atop the pyramid is what appears to be an altar, and it is stained with what can be nothing other than blood. Beside the altar, on each side, is a smaller statue of several of the animals that surround the base of the pyramid - the feline creature faces the altar's south side, the frog its west, the roc its south, and the bug-like creatures its east. Though obviously a sacrificial altar, there appear to be no nicks in the stone to suggest that blades were used in the ceremonies.
Agaus 2, 887 NE - Again we have been attacked by the strange beast, and our knowledge of it increases and becomes harder to understand at the same time. Malik, who has had some study of the Arts, was able to loose a spread of magical bolts upon the beast. He swears they hit, and that in fact, those magical bolts are incapable of missing, but I clearly saw the bolts strike thin air two feet to the right of the beast as it approached the camp. Either way, it screamed in pain and retreated, but I was sure I saw it look back with such a look of menace that no natural animal can attain - this was the look of a thinking, rational creature, and it struck me with such fear that it is now four hours later and I cannot sleep.
In the study of the pyramids, our work has been cut short both of the last two days, as powerful thunderstorms have swept through the region. Several of our horses broke free and we had to chase them down, all while being fearful of being attacked by the stalking beast.
Agaus 4, 887 NE - We are leaving this wretched place. Tonight, just after the final darkness of night had settled upon us, we were attacked. This time not one, not two, but three of the terrifying creatures attacked us from three sides, as though they were organizing a three-front attack. Malik was able to let loose another burst of magical power which wounded one of the beasts, causing it to flee, but was quickly mauled from behind by a second. Meanwhile, Vic and Chaz were able to fend off the third, but not before Chaz was critically wounded. Malik perished soon after the creatures were chased off, and Chaz may not be long for this world - he is missing an eye, which was bloodily removed from his head by one strike of the beast's tentacles. He also has a terrible bite wound on his hip. Vic, Finley, and I sit huddled together, with four fires around us, and the animals to our back. Chaz babbles incoherently about invisible teeth. We could not even risk burying Malik. His body is covered and rotting just outside the fires. May the gods have mercy on me for saying this, but if the beasts come back, hopefully they will be distracted by his flesh and will leave us be. We leave tomorrow.
Agaus 6, 887 NE - The last two days were a nightmare. As we began traveling north to leave this place, we realized almost immediately we were being hunted. Multiple times throughout yesterday, we could see the slinking forms of black felines in the jungle to our right and left. The first attack killed several of our horses, including the one which carried Chaz's limp form. To our shame, we fled further up the path, leaving him on the ground. Our only comfort as we ran from his limp form on the ground was that, in his delirium, he likely would not realize what was happening to him. We stumbled along the ancient roadway for almost an hour when, to our horror, we saw several of the beasts awaiting us on the path before us. They just stood there as we scrambled to a stop, trying to hold the horses steady. They watched us as we backed away from them, and then began slowly moving down the path toward us. We saw them leave the path behind us eventually and tried to turn around north again to escape the jungle. No sooner had we turned the horses around than five of the horrible beasts appeared on the path to our north, blocking passage. They moved toward us again and we fled back south, the direction from which we had just come. They were herding us! We passed the remains of Chaz and two horses without looking, seeing only a bloody mess. It took us two hours to reach the pyramids again, and we quickly set up camp with our backs to the base, not knowing what to do. I am certain I will not sleep tonight.
Agaus 7, 887 NE - This is my last will and testimony. If one should eventually find this journal, please read the words within carefully, and leave this ungodly place. Throughout the day today, we have been attacked multiple times, but never lethally, save for one instance. At noon, Finley, in terror, took to horse and galloped toward the jungle's edge. Three of the beasts caught him and his screams still resonate in my ears. These creatures, now attacking us in broad daylight, are herding us up the pyramid, though we know not why. Vic and I now sit halfway up the stairs of the pyramid, between the base and that fearful altar, and watch the cat-like creatures prowling below us. There are almost a dozen of them now, an obvious pack, and we can see features now we could not before - such as their six legs, and that the tentacles seem to have teeth on them, and that though they are the color of panthers, they are closer in size to full-grown tigers. Vic has fired arrows at them over the course of the day, and I can now swear that the arrows are hitting the creatures as I see them, yet still moving straight through them, as though they are not truly there. They keep slowly coming higher up the steps, and we keep retreating. It will not be long before we are at the altar. I have sharpened my knife - if I must die, I will die cleanly.

Introduction

Displacer beasts are a magical monstrosity from the Feywild. It is said that at one time, they preyed only in the fey courts, but as many an explorer and adventurer have learned (to their own detriment, usually), these monsters are alive and active in the prime material plane. While many regard them as simply animals (thus "neutral" in alignment), the truth is, most harbor an intelligence and maliciousness not available to natural beasts of the world. They are a truly deadly predator, not to be taken lightly.

Physiological Observations

Physically, displacer beasts have an almost uncanny resemblance to panthers. However, the appearance is mostly superficial, and their more alien features are quickly apparent to even the most casual observer.
Feline in structure, the beast can grow up to eleven feet in length, rivaling the largest tigers in size. Unlike tigers, they are much sleeker, tending to weigh at the most up to 650 pounds. They have dark black fur, much like the panther they resemble, but their fur has a gloss to it not found in natural wildlife. It is thought that this is a leftover from their heritage as a fey-related creature, as it typically would not help with camouflage at night to have a sheen to one's fur. Finally, their heads can be up to two feet wide, with a maw that contains two-inch-long incisors. The creature's jaws are so powerful that they have been known to crush their victim's skulls in one bite.
From here, the displacer beast's unnatural heritage takes over. The most obvious aspect of the monster are the two tentacles that protrude from the shoulder blades. These tentacles can grow up to seven feet long on a full-grown adult, and end it a pad covered with spiky growths resembling sharp, pointed teeth. The tentacles are able to be moved and maneuvered by the displacer beast as though they are fully-functioning limbs.
Instead of four legs, the displacer beast has an extra pair of legs immediately behind the front, giving the creature a total of six legs. Scholars are unsure of the evolutionary purpose of these legs, unless simply to make the beasts even more deadly than they already would have been otherwise.
Finally, the creature's claim to fame and namesake, is its ability to appear anywhere from several inches to several feet from where it actually stands. Observers have reported seeing someone striking the monster dead in the eyes, only to then be swatted and attacked seemingly by something invisible to the side. The nature of this natural displacement is unknown, though it is likely to be a remnant from the mystical nature of the Feywild.1 This ability is in constant effect - it does not disappear if the animal is asleep or unconscious, though if it is killed, the effect ends. Many a hunter or warrior has been awfully disconcerted to finally slay the stalking beast, only to have it's corpse transport to a few feet to the right or left.
Displacer beasts can run extraordinarily fast, far outpacing cats of similar size (other than the cheetah), as well as other animals with more than four legs. They can also jump amazing distances - up to twenty feet horizontally, and over ten feet straight up from a standing still position - several feet more in either direction if they have a running start.
As kittens, displacer beasts have no tentacles - rather, they have two bony protrusions on their shoulder blades. Over the course of the first three years of the displacer beasts' life, the spikes will elongate and grow outward, with skin covering them. The protrusions will soften and become more flexible over time, and by the third year, when the beast is in adolescence (and about half the size it will eventually grow to), the protrusions will resemble rudimentary tentacles - they will often be just a few feet long, and not very flexible yet. By the fifth year, pads have formed at the end of the tentacles, which are now up to six feet long, and spikes are just beginning to grow from them. By the seventh year, most displacer beasts are fully grown, tentacles and all.4
Displacer beasts lifespan on the prime material plane is around thirty years. In the Feywild, they can live for hundreds of years.

Social & Behavioral Observations

Displacer beasts are extremely aggressive predators, and similar to most cats, they seem to enjoy toying with their prey. Some reports have indicated people being stalked for multiple days in a row, often with the displacer beast making an appearance just at the edge of the potential victim's vision. It is said that once a displacer beast chooses a victim, it will not stop stalking until either the victim or the monster is dead.2
Displacer beasts have several typical manners of attack. The first method the monsters use in combat is usually striking at their opponents with the reach of their tentacles, thus staying out of the range of most weapons. The tentacles can strike with extreme precision, with the jagged spines leaving devastating, often fatal wounds. If this does not finish off the prey, then the creatures will often next move in and attack with their massive claws. Much like other large feline predators, they will often jump onto the back of the victim, raking with their back claws while holding on with the front. Unlike those other feline predators, and to the misfortune of their victims, the displacer beasts have that extra pair of front legs, giving it even more attacks to incapacitate their prey.
Finally, often as a final death blow, the beasts have been known to bite the victim's chest with their massive jaws. As though they are aware of where the prey's lifeblood comes from, they will eat the heart of their victim, sometimes in one fell bite.3 Dead bodies which have not been completely consumed will often be found with their heart, and most surrounding organs, missing, having been eaten by the creature.
Very few who have seen a displacer beast have lived to tell, but those who have all seem to agree that the monsters display almost no sign of fear. They also seem to display malice at their victims, especially those who evade them. Survivors often awaken terrified in the night, screaming of seeing those feline, malevolent eyes staring them down. More hardy folk, such as adventurers and explorers, confirm this - most who have survived tell the same story, that as the beast fled to safety, it would often look back and stare at its would-be prey, as though calculating.
In regards to their associations with other species, what little is known is shared here.
Firstly, displacer beasts and blink dogs have such an incorrigible and known hatred for each other that they will attack each other on site with no regard to their safety.4 Pound for pound, displacer beasts are much stronger and more terrifying that blink dogs, but blink dogs are a bit smarter, and will often attack with its full pack, giving it the upper hand. Scholars debate where this hatred comes from - it does not likely extend from the typical dog vs cat mentality, since by nature, cats and dogs do not actually hate each other (despite what many a pet owner says otherwise). The most prevalent theory is that the two creatures' abilities (blink and displacement) are so similar in their mystical nature, that their auras upset the other. Both species can sense when the other is around, even when outside the range of hearing or smelling (and even when hearing and smelling are magically blocked).
They have similar (though not as ferocious) disposition toward other magical animals as well, such as pegasi, unicorns, and winter wolves. None of them inspire the displacer beast's fury like the blink dog, but the beast will go out of its way to specifically target those other species.
Toward most other animals, and even humanoids, displacer beasts display a predatory air mostly, though again, if they are bested by their prey, that nature starts turning to hatred and fury. With one exception, displacer beasts are not scared of humanoids - they consider an elf, human, or gnome just as much fair play as they do boar, buffalo, or elk.
Rakshasas are something different. This is possibly the one creature in the multiverse that displacer beasts not only show respect for, but possibly fear. No matter how large a pack, no scholars have seen, or even heard of, displacer beasts attacking rakshasas, and some myths and legends even place the beasts in the company of the tiger-men, often as pets or guardians.
Some other species have been known to capture displacer beasts to use as guardians, though the beast will spend all its days in captivity planning its escape and eventual evisceration of its captors. It is very rare that a pack of displacer beasts can be caught by surprise by any amount of hunters, but solo beasts have been overcome by large groups of hunters. In particular, lizardfolk seem to like capturing the creatures, possibly simply due to their close proximity in jungle and rain forest ecosystems. Large bands and tribes of orcs, hobgoblins, and other powerful goblinkind have been reported to have captive displacer beasts, but these situations are much more rare.
Finally, they seem to have no specific ill will toward other large predatory cats, and are not known to hunt them. This could be that the predatory cat's natural instincts are too refined for the displacer beast to stalk, so it is not worth the trouble, or it may even be some sort of lingering byproduct of the species' evolutionary history.

Ecological Observations

Within the prime material plane, though displacer beasts can be found in almost any region and climate, they favor humid forest areas, such as jungles and rain forests. These biospheres are likely the most attractive simply due to the prey within, but it could also be they still retain deep, past links to their jaguar and leopard "cousins." However, they may appear anywhere in the world, and have been known to adapt to different biospheres - brown and tan displacer beasts (colored like a lion) have been spotted in the desert (though rarely), and there are even rumors of white displacer beasts in arctic regions.
Displacer beasts need to eat anywhere from ten to twelve pounds of food per day, though like other hunting cats, they can go for a week or so without eating, then gorge themselves on a meal of anywhere from a 100 to 125 pounds. Their preferred prey in their natural habitat are any large animals such as boars, large deer, and other large mammals. However, they are just as happy to prey on humanoids, smaller mammals, and even certain larger lizards and reptiles that have enough mass to sustain them. Once a displacer beast has killed its prey, it will usually start its meal with the heart, and then move onto the head, and other internal organs.

Intra-Species Observations

Displacer beasts are more often than not pack animals.7 They roam, hunt, sleep, and live in small packs, with anywhere from five to eight adults. If there is not a pack lord (see Variants), then usually the strongest male in the pack will become an alpha.
Displacer beasts tend to be fiercely loyal to their pack, but are highly competitive of territory if they come across other beasts not in their own pack. Two displacer beasts from different packs (or two solo beasts) will size each other up and likely fight if one encroaches on the others' territory.
The mating ritual between a female and male displacer beast could be confused by the outside observer as an intense fight. Often, two or three males will approach a female in heat. Those males will strike each other with their tentacles, leaving gaping wounds on each other. It is not uncommon for one of the creatures to succumb to the wounds and die during the process. Eventually, only one male will be left standing - the others having either perished or fled to lick recuperate. This one will then approach the female. The two will circle each other with their tentacles flailing wildly. After as little as several minutes, or as long as a few hours, the two will launch themselves at each other, wrestling viciously. Their tentacles will strike at each other, but during this part of the ritual, rarely is blood drawn. Rather, for the only time in a displacer beast's adult life, the spikes on the tentacles will withdraw slightly. The two will eventually entangle their tentacles around each other and the male will mount the female.
During pregnancy, the male often stay close by the female, and will guard her ferociously. Other males in the pack will be protective of a pregnant female, but the male mate will attack literally anything that comes close to the female, including other displacer beasts.
Pregnancy lasts around a hundred days, and then the female will give birth to three to six kittens. At this time, the male mate will often leave the pack permanently, though the rest of the males will continue protecting the mother during the first few months. The kittens grow rapidly, and the mother will be training them to hunt on their own by their sixth month.

Historical and Cultural Significance

There are many primitive cultures across the world that worship displacer beasts, and other similar magical monstrosities. Some prehistoric cultures (those dating back to before writing) even have legends that the displacer beasts came from the sky 5 - these cultures look upon the beasts as a form of totem, and praise (and fear) them in equal measures. More intelligent displacer beasts may use these cultures for a time, as they will provide plenty of fresh meat for the beasts, but they will soon become weary of being given food - after all, they would much prefer to hunt.
More modern legends have displacer beasts in them as the guardians of evil deities - it is said that Bhaal has a pet displacer beast named Fade, whom he sends out to do his bidding when needed.
It is also likely that displacer beasts are the actual start of many rumors and ghost stories across the world that involve spectral panthers.

Variants

Occasionally, due to a fluke in the dark magics that sustain a displacer beast's life, a beast will grow much larger and stronger than the typical specimen. These Displacer Beast Pack Lords can reach a full twenty feet in length (with tentacles over fifteen feet), and are always the undisputed ruler of any packs that form around them.6
Though there would be no change to their stats, arctic and desert variants exist. The arctic displacer beast has a bluish-white coat, and its tentacles look less like long whips, and more line multi-segmented bones. The desert displacer beast, varying between brown and tan, looks like a large puma, with tentacles that look like thick, knotted ropes.

DM's Toolkit

Displacer beasts should be used carefully. They are a very dangerous creature, and even though they are not very high CR, their nature, and the mysteries of their origin, can make them a great opponent for PCs. They can make for a very unique encounter.
First and foremost, they are not likely to be the final boss in an adventure. Though they are much more intelligent than regular cats, they are not smart enough to plan strategies and create long-term menaces. At the end of the day, they are just extraordinarily intelligent and ferocious hunting animals, and should be used as such. Encountering one (or a pack) in the wild is a completely suitable way of using them.
To make things more interesting though, having displacer beasts be the pet or guardian of more rational NPCs would make for a more memorable encounter. A lizardfolk shaman that releases the displacer beast on the PCs while attacking with magic from the back could be a deadly and unique encounter.
For strategy, displacer beasts will almost always attack with reach first, using their tentacles. On any creature that can actually fight back (such as PCs, other displacer beasts, or stronger NPCs), it will attempt to use its tentacles as long as possible, wearing down the victim. When it must resort to its claws and jaws, it will be at a point where it is going all in. If the beast thinks it doesn't have much of a chance, it will likely flee (though it will stalk the victim afterward, looking for a weakness).
Though it is unusual for a single displacer beast to attack a group of armed combatants, if they are particularly hungry, or feeling the combatants may be in a weakened state, they may do so. A pack of displacer beasts has no qualms about attacking multiple potential victims.
Displacer beasts have powerful claw and bite attacks, however these were left out of the Monster Manual. Using slightly modified tiger stats (to account for the displacer beast's higher strength), here are some attack options using claws and bite:
  • Bite Melee Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, reach 5 ft, one target. Hit: 9 (1d10 + 4) piercing damage.
  • Claw Melee Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, reach 5 ft, one target. Hit: 8 (1d8 + 4) slashing damage.

Notes Appendix

1 : Scholars visiting the Feywild, as well as tales coming from beings within, have reported seeing monsters similar to the displacer beast which only have the typical four legs. On the prime material plane, however, there are no reports of four-legged displacer beasts. Evolutionarily, what this means is unknown, and the scholars willing to study and debate it all have very different thoughts as to the why.
2 : While this is a common bit of hearsay in regions where displacer beasts are active, there appears to be no evidence that this is actually the case. In fact, anecdotal evidence seems to support the opposite - that because displacer beasts are so smart, they will know when they have been bested, and will flee from opponents who have proven to be too strong.
3 : Author's Note: The whole eating of the heart thing is actually not something commonly referred to in Monstrous Manuals, and even the original Dragon #109 "Ecology of..." article. However, the very first time I ever heard of the displacer beast was in the original Moonshae Isle Forgotten Realms books (some of the oldest written), and the displacer beast in those books inspired the heart-eating aspect of this article. I think it adds a nice, scary touch to them.
4 : Blink dogs will also attack a humanoid wearing a cloak of displacement, and displacer beasts will likewise attack wizards that are using the blink spell.
5 : Author's Note: This is just my way of relating the displacer beasts to the sci-fi creature that supposedly inspired them back in the 80's, the coerl.
6 : This is not a natural abnormalism, such as abyssal gigantism - this is a completely random magical aberration. There is no way to take a more standard displacer beast and get it to grow to these sizes.
7 : There are debates on what (if any) collective noun should be used when talking about a pack of displacer beasts. Some of the favorites are: "A Fading of displacer beasts," "A Vision of displacer beasts," "An Opaqueness of displacer beasts," and my personal favorite, "A Vanishing of displacer beasts."

This post is also posted to the "Ecology Project!" on the DnDBehindTheScreen subreddit.