Monsters Manuals appendix N

I was kind of excited to see that there is a reading list in both the 5th edition Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Masters Guide. So, suppose you wanted to compile a reading list for a monsters manual.  Inspirational reading for new monsters, stories with cool or interesting uses of monsters, and maybe sources for some of the established D&D monsters*. What should go in? Here’s a start. Suggestions welcome. The following books are all pretty good, and worth checking out.

Arrowsmith, Nancy, and George Moorse. The field guide to little people. An encyclopedia style guide, with somewhat creepy illustrations.

Barber, Ruchard. A companion to world mythology. A dictionary of mythology, with short entries and a ton of small illustrations. The illustrations generally try to mimic the style of the culture each entry is from, so that the Greek gods are illustrated in a Grecian style, and so on.

Barlowe, Wanye Douglas. Barlowe’s guide to extraterrestials and Barlowe’s guide to fantasy. Great color illustrations of characters and creatures from science fiction and fantasy novels, with a short summary that usually does not give away any spoilers. Each has a fold-out chart of all the subjects for size comparison, which is pretty cool.

Borges, J. The book of imaginary beings. Borges describes creatures from literature and fable, intermixed with some he’s made up, and others he re-imagined. If you liked Zak Smith’s re-imagining of the Fiend Folio and Monster Manuals**, you’ll also like this, I think. There is a really great illustrated edition, which I’d go with over the all-text edition.

Briggs, Katharine. The encyclopedia of fairies. Arranged like an encyclopedia with entries on topics and places, but this actually includes a lot of excerpts from folklore and entire stories, often in the local dialect or archaic English, this is probably more for scholars than general readers, despite the cover and marketing. But it’s worth perusing.

Cohen, Daniel. The encyclopedia of monsters. I read a lot of Cohen’s books as a kid, and this encyclopedia is a great introduction to his credulous style of writing about all manner of fantastic and cryptozoological creatures. Does he really believe in this stuff? Maybe. But he is careful to stick to his sources and makes no effort to hide some of the goofier aspects of these legends. This is one of the only books in this list I don’t actually own, but I am on the lookout for it when I go to library book sales.

Davidson, Avram. Adventures in unhistory. This a collection of essays looking at possible historical bases of various legends. Davidson’s incredible erudition and sharp humor make it a great read. He doesn’t talk a lot about monsters, but there are so many ideas here you will certainly find something useful. (I’m still on the hunt for a copy of this too, as the copy I read was a library loan).

D’Aularies, Ingrid and Edgar P. D’Aularies’ book of Trolls. The D’Aulaires really got me hooked on mythology as a kid and the book of trolls collects some Norwegian troll stories while also giving a sort of treatise on the habits and types of trolls.

Douglas, Adam. The beast within. A book on werewolves and lycanthropy, this one also includes some great material on the “Plinian races” and other near-humans from legend.

Lang, Andrew (ed.). The blue fairy book. (And The yellow fairy book, etc. — all of his Fairy books). Collected folklore and fairytales from all over the world, pretty much every page is a delight.

Petersen, Sandy. S. Petersen’s field guide to the creatures of the dreamlands. I tried to keep gaming books out of the list, and this is on the border but does not actually have any stats and has some great artwork. Bonus: you don’t have to plow through HPL’s often ponderous efforts to mimic Dunsany to find out about the incredible creatures he invented for the Dreamlands cycle.

Rossi, Matthew. Things that never were. One part research, one part wild speculation, this is kind of like the popular “Hite Report” that used to appear in the Pyramid Magazine, but for general readers rather than DMs. A lot of fun.

Sedgwick, Paulita. Mythological creatures. Another dictionary-style children’s book, notable for cool illustrations and engaging writing.

 

As far as recommending fiction, that’s another post, or series of posts, or honestly a project that really screams for crowdsourcing. But I’d add one book that probably isn’t shelved with the sci-fi and fantasy in your bookstore or library:

Eco, Umberto. Baudolino! A hiliarious riff on medieval travelogues and legends, the sections detailing the Plinian races and other wonders of the East is pure gold.

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*A pretty good effort at this last topic was made by Aardy R. DeVarque here.  Looking at the sources there for various monsters reminded me that striges in D&D probably were inspired by the Strix of Greek mythology, and perhaps their cave-dwelling (and indirectly their bat-like wings) come from Thomas Burnett Swann’s The day of the minotaur. Wouldn’t it be cool to produce an “annotated” AD&D Monster Manual with sources made explicit? And yeah for “cool” most people will read “intolerably nerdy,” but that’s how I think. Actually once I finish up some other projects already in the hopper, maybe a grand compilation of sources for AD&D monsters, spells, and magic items would be fun.

**No link, not sure how his site will be affected by the changes in Blogger, but you can Google it.

Published in: on February 27, 2015 at 12:00 pm  Comments (4)  
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Sculpey and stuff

Found some older pictures I meant to post a while back. This was all stuff my wife & I made to sell a festival last Fall at my kid’s school. (The 8th graders used to make and sell clay animals to sell for their class trip, and our Daughter always looked forward to seeing them at the festival, but in the last few years they’d stopped doing that, and we decided to fill in the gap.)

Almost everything sold, though I did keep one of the monsters and priced the box high because I realized I wanted it as a dice box.  :)

I got suckered into making a photo-op cut-out (another parent did a nice job painting it).

SGWSChildrensFest8

 

The box is kind of a mimic. The eyes are clear glass beads, with the whites and pupils painted underneath so they follow you.

 

 

DiceBox1

See?

DiceBox2

That’s more or less how the illusion works on paintings and statues too.

The rest of the picutres are little creatures, bits of scenery for fairy gardens, and so on.  My wife did most of the gnomes and aliens; I did some monsters and things.  I also made a bunch of Greek mythological beings but did not get a chance to take pictures.

SGWSChildrensFest SGWSChildrensFest2 SGWSChildrensFest3 SGWSChildrensFest4  SGWSChildrensFest6 SGWSChildrensFest7

We have an oak tree that was going crazy with acorns last year, and when my daughter started saving twigs with acorn caps attached I got the idea to make clay faces in them. I am not sure why anyone would pay a dollar for them, as they have to use whatever, but they were kind of cute.

SGWSChildrensFest5

Published in: on February 26, 2015 at 12:00 pm  Comments (2)  
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Appendix D: the 5e Appendix N

I happened to come across a copy of the 5e DMG today at work. While I did not get a chance to look too closely at it, a I was pleasantly surprised by all the random tables of dungeon dressing and even random traps and tricks. The other thing I was drawn to was the ‘further reading’ — in this case “Appendix D.”

It’s a fairly interesting list, mixing both some old chestnuts (Gygax’s Role playing mastery makes an appearance, as do several old TSR sourcebooks and even Grimtooth’s traps) as well as some kind of odd choices (as large number of histories of D&D, from Peterson’s epic Playing at the world to the rather underwhelming Of dice & men), a few reference books (including the Writer’s Digest fantasy writer’s reference book, which I happened to pick up at a used book sale recently and thought was a good introduction to the tropes of pseudo-medieval worlds, as well as suggesting some ways to break free of them).

The only thing I found odd was the large number of books on writing, and not just the world-building part but writing drama. That bugs me a little, since I never really liked the “DM as author” idea. The players should be creating the drama too; it may in fact be more their job than the DM’s job. The DM just gives the players levers to pull and things to interact with; the player’s horrible choices and heroic deeds can create all the drama you need. But I probably shouldn’t read too much into that.

But I am pretty happy to see that the PHB and the DMG both have reading lists. I still haven’t had a chance to look at a Monster Manual so I don’t know if that has a reading list too. I hope it does.

Published in: on February 24, 2015 at 6:00 pm  Comments (4)  
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Studies in red and green

Over the long MLK weekend I managed to get a little painting in. I’ve been kind of torn between prioritizing adventurers and monsters.  Although I have a fair number of player character types painted, we always end up using the same dozen or so for every campaign — there is a particular shortage of human rogues, rangers, druids, and bards, as well as demihumans other than dwarf fighters and elf archers. But then again we use a lot of different monsters and I get a sad sort of feeling of accomplishment when all of a given type of monster have finally been painted, sorted, and placed in a labeled box. (There might be meds that would help with that.)

Anyway for some reason I kept to a palette of mostly greens and reds for this last set.

Four adventurers: a gnome mage, a halfling fighter, a human thief, and a human bard.

adventurers-gr

The gnome is Ral Partha, the halfling Grenadier — one of my oldest minis in terms of how long I’ve owned it. My brother & I bought the Grenadier AD&D halflings and dwarfs boxes back in 1981 or so. The gnome is a much more recent acquisition — it was among those sent to me by someone looking for a better home for their old lead.

gnomenhalfling

The thief is also Grenadier. Now that I see the pic enlarged I see he needs some eyelids — though I guess he could just have hyperthyroidism, or surprised.  He’s one of the minis I rehabbed a while back.

thiefwpole

Lastly, the Groo the Wanderer “Minstrel” mini from Dark Horse. I didn’t get the color scheme quite right (his hat should be entirely yellow and the bells and belt gold) but I am happy with him. I traded for this guy though I forget from whom. :(  I love Sergio Aragone’s work in Mad Magazine but never read the Groo comics. I still have one other Groo mini — a wizard — that I am holding onto for a former player. He left it at my place several years ago, and I rarely bump into him any more.

bard-1

Lastly, two demons — a Metal Magic succubus (actually a MegaMinis re-cast from their monsters box set) and a Reaper imp.  The imp is probably mini-me to the D&D 4th edition version of Orcus (link goes to an image in someone’s Photobucket — I think it is actually art from a module cover?), what with his mini Wand of Orcus.  FWIW I prefer the older version of Orcus, bloated, grey, and decadent, to the new buff generic demon with goat horns, but that’s me.  The succubus unfortunately has a flattened nose — either from falling face-down at some point or just an imperfection in them old. So to compensate I painted her face to suggest overdone make-up and draw attention to the eyes. NSFW if you work in a fairly puritanical environment.

sucubusandimp

jjj

Published in: on February 3, 2015 at 12:15 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Not with a bang, but a whimper

That’s the way my campaigns end. That’s the way my campaigns end. That’s the way my campaigns end.

So I’ve noticed that of the campaigns I’ve run, they tend to end with a nod and wink and “this a hiatus, not the end” but whatever my intention might be, they don’t re-start. Both times it was more DM fatigue than anything else, and DM fatigue has also killed a lot of campaigns I’ve played in. But I’ve also played in way too many campaigns that ended because several players had real life/responsibilities overtake their ability or desire to play. Sadly, I am pretty sure I have never seen a campaign actually play through to a conclusion, or end game, or PC retirement. Well, there was one fairly short but epic campaign, now that I think of it, which I think ran over a winter break from college, had about 13 players, and ended with a massive battle involving several hundred minis and the PCs…though honestly I am not 100% sure that we finished the battle before fatigue overtook us. It was a chaotic, short-lived, and awesome campaign. Come to think of it, there have been a few campaigns that just ended with a TPK, and usually the players or the DM or more likely both were just done with the game for whatever reason.* Still, the vast majority just end with tons of loose threads.

Now I’m not necessarily complaining about stopping in media res. There is actually something satisfying about feeling like we’ve told part of a story, but the adventures might continue in Meinong’s Jungle.

But, I do wonder what it would be like to play a campaign all the way through. I am thinking the next campaign I run should take the end game into account more explicitly. I absolutely hate “budgeting” XP and loot but maybe that’s the secret.

 

 

**************************************

*Well-deserved TPKs that occur to me now:

  • A 3e game that had been drained of fun for the DM by one surly player’s constant rules-lawyering and min/maxing. (A dwarf cleric, because of course in 3e. But this was compounded by a loss of a player whose character was the reason all the PCs were working together. Actually I still kind of miss that campaign — Warhammer setting, 3e rules.)
  • A 3.5e game that petered out when the DM couldn’t take the players’ collective refusal to follow a railroad track. (The DM simply had his Mary Sues come and fireball us to hell. But we did burn down the town first.)
  • A 4e game where the players’ utter contempt for the system is probably best summarized by the party’s collective name: The Skullfuckers. (Contempt + hubris did us in, in this case — the party split up, some staying behind to loot corpses while others pursued some fleeing monsters, and we all ended up Ettercap food.)
Published in: on January 7, 2015 at 4:00 pm  Comments (1)  
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No one here gets out alive

(Well except the dwarf, usually. In fact he’s usually the sole survivor.)

There have been several total party kills (TPKs) and near-TPKs (one or two survivors) in Telengard 2.0.  In fact the first session was a TPK if I recall correctly. <This post has been languishing in my “drafts” folder for long enough — we’ve been through like three other campaigns since then, and I haven’t been DMing much. Still, because I still grin when I read it, I’m going to go ahead with the post. Fair? No. Funny? I thought so:>

Based on the Telengard experiences, I think the following tips & tricks might be useful if you ever find yourself in a game I am running.

1) Consider fleeing when outnumbered by ghouls or ghasts.  Consider fleeing when encountering even one ghoul, if you are first level.

2) Wander into a room with a gaggle of imps who immediately turn invisible? Those are poisonous stingers, son.  Seriously, at least consider fleeing.

3) If the party’s resources are nearly depleted, it is a good time to consider exiting the dungeon, even if you think there might be some treasure nearby.

4) “Let’s just try one more room before heading back” and “Let’s just clear this level before heading back.” Those are lyrics to the Death March of a Doomed Party.

5) Trying to backstab or assassinate a major monster/villain/boss is only a good idea if you have an escape plan for if the roll fails. Jumping out the window of an 80′ tower is not an escape plan. Even if you have a ring of feather falling, if you also know the monster and/or its minions can fly.

6) Did I mention that 25% of PC deaths are preventable?  Some of the most effective measures you can take are: not being an unarmored front-line fighter; not touching the Yellow Mold; not bashing in a door with a sign that says “Caution, demi-lich at work.”

All of the above tips would have saved someone’s life at some point in Telengard.

**************

As a player, I admit I am a hypocrite about fleeing, many times. But I do consider it an option.

Published in: on January 6, 2015 at 4:00 pm  Comments (5)  
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Merry Everything!

+
"x"
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"GOD JUL"
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Enjoy your winter solstice celebration of choice! The above ASCII art is a polyglot Yuletide greeting posted annually to library forums by J. McRee (Mac) Elrod of Special Libraries Cataloguing

Published in: on December 24, 2014 at 10:49 am  Comments (1)  
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Will McLean

The 1e Dungeon Masters Guide is still one of my favorite RPG books — maybe because when I began playing it was off-limits to players. You can supplement all the older versions of D&D with it pretty decently, and it fills in the gaps for retro-clones have too. Anyway one of the many things that were unique to it were the cartoons by Will McLean (not to be confused with the folk song writer). They weren’t all great but mostly they hold up. (I always thought there should be more cartoons in the Players Handbook, too.)

On a lark I looked him up online and I see he’s involved in the Society for Creative Anachronism, big surprise. He also wrote a book on England in Chaucer’s time, and was involved with various SCA publications.

Mr. McLean has a Deviant Art gallery here, which is worth checking out, though it does not have his old DMG and Dragon Magazine toons.

Published in: on December 22, 2014 at 12:00 pm  Comments (2)  
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Fantasy weapons

Some time ago B/X Blackrazor touched on an interesting issue that I’ve been pondering — the weapons we know developed in the world we know.  The arms & armor of our world evolved in a world where they were generally used against men and small set of domesticated animals — horses, and to a lesser extent elephants, camels, and dogs — and are distinct from the hunting weapons which were developed for use against specific prey. Of course, a boar-hunting spear might be used as a weapon of war, and in a pinch you could use a longbow to hunt rabbits, but the point is that arms have been fairly specialized.

So how would the existence of D&D monsters and dungeoneering affect the development of arms & armor?

  • What weapons would you carry into battle if you know you’re facing a necromancer’s horde? Blunt weapons maybe for use against skeletons, and maybe you’d be more tempted to use a big, heavy weapon if you know there are zombies that are themselves very slow but can take a lot of trauma.
  • Would spiked suits like the “Siberian bear hunting armor” be useful, for example if you know you are going up against creatures that will try to grab, grapple, or constrict you? The famous tale of the Lambton Worm comes to mind. Would spiked armor help with monsters that try to bite you, like ghouls?
  • Is there anything that would increase your chances versus a frost giant or a red dragon? I kind of doubt that any armor would matter when you’re facing the kinds of impact a huge beast could hit you with, but maybe the infamous “bear-proof suit” (not to be confused with the Siberian bear hunting armor mentioned above!) would help.
  • Would you design a different kind of helmet for dungeons, which would be less limiting to vision and hearing, or maybe have a candlestick instead of a plume? Real world helmets severely limit one’s ability to see down, up, and side-to-side, and by covering the ears limit hearing.
  • How about shortened versions of various weapons for indoor use, paralleling the shortened weapons used in naval boarding action (e.g. the cutlass as a shortened sabre, the boarding pike, the boarding axe, etc.)?

John D. Batten illustration, a public domain image from Wikipedia.

 

Some of the silly designs in Halbritter’s arms through the ages come to mind, like the bladed breastplate. Frankly I have not seen any really convincing “fantasy” weapons in video games, and the “exotic” weapons offered up in 3rd edition were a bust IMO, looking like they were more influenced by bong hits and manga than problem-solving. Still the real world produced messed up stuff like urumis and nine dragon tridents, so what do I know?

On a related note, the existence of flying, tunneling, and magic-using creatures (and humans) would obviously be a big game-changer to sieges and fortification. I think I’ve seen several people offer dungeons as a partial solution to that: by putting one under your castle, you are keeping out tunnelers, and also giving yourself a refuge against aerial bombardment. The Warhammer Fantasy Battle supplement “Siege” had another ad hoc notion: castles would include magical barriers in the foundations of the walls, so that magic is deflected or blocked by them and you can’t just send ethereal creatures or spells through or over the walls. (WFB Siege also made castle walls disrupt the undead, presumably to stop necromancers from just summoning wave after wave of skeletons at the walls (or sending skeleton cavalry through the walls — the WFB rules had skeleton cavalry ignore terrain and barriers because they are partly insubstantial, and the ramification that they could ride through walls was too game-breaking for a siege, I assume.)

Thoughts?

Published in: on December 18, 2014 at 11:26 pm  Comments (9)  
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Morlocks and more

I already use some classic wight minis and some plastic “beastmen” from Descent as morlocks, but when I was in the Columbus convention center for something work-related, I noticed a small games & comics shop nestled among the shops near the food court.  Inside I found a box of clearanced HeroClix figures, and I couldn’t rest getting a few.  A couple (Ulik, and The Abomination) I’m leaving as they were, but the rest looked like they could be pressed in D&D duty. The first batch are small horde of morlocks made from the Marvel Comics “Morlock” and “Moloids“.  The moloids were a little more suited to conversion, so I added weapons to them in place of the stalagmites they were holding. Then I repainted them all. These guys all have very good detail for plastics, and washes and drybrushing really bring them out.

Morlocks (which could equally serve as ghouls, wights, or morlocks)

Morlocks (which could equally serve as ghouls, wights, or morlocks). I don’t think he represented a particular Marvel character, just a generic trooper for the “Morlocks” — underground-dwelling mutants occasionally featured in the X-Men comics back in the 80s.

 

Morlocks-1-molemen

Moloids repurposed as small morlocks. The bugged eyes are a little goofy (the minis have goggles or visors) but what the hell.

A molid would also stand in pretty well for Gollum.

Morlocks-comp

Side-by-side, the moloids are about goblin-sized and the morlocks slightly taller than the typical 28mm human.

One other item I painted about the same time is this Reaper Bones gravestone with a swarm of bats:

Reaper Nones bats

Reaper Bones bats

I was tempted to take them off the gravestone and just put them on a more generic base, suspended on a piece of wire. Still might.

Published in: on December 14, 2014 at 7:50 pm  Leave a Comment  
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