On the Ecology of the Bugbear

"In the dark, in the forest, lies death that stalks man"
-Slive, entrepreneur

Nomenclature: Bugbear, Boogerbear, Bogeyman, Budy, Bugaboo, Bugge, Bogill

Description: Large, stealthy, furred, creature

Things that are known:

  • They are squat, man-sized or larger creatures covered in fur
  • They have large greenish eyes with no pupils
  • They have wedge-shaped ears on their heads
  • Their hides range in color from light yellow to yellow-brown, and fur from brown to brick red
  • Their mouths are filled with needle sharp teeth
  • They have preternatural skills at stealth and observation
  • They travel alone or in packs
  • They have an exceptional sense of smell

Rumors and other whispers in the dark:

  • Bugbears will consume food, but they don't need it to live. They actually survive off the emotions of fear or terror
  • Bugbears record their history in scars on their body
  • The skin and fur of a bugbear can change color to match their surroundings
  • That isn't true, their fur absorbs light like a polar bears and where there is little or no light their coloration becomes pitch black
  • Sometimes after stealing a family member, they leave severed fingers or teeth to be found
  • Bugbears live in nomadic communities
  • They collect mementos of their hunts
  • Bugbear is not actually a specific type of creature, it's actually an elder hobgoblin. Goblins grow into hobgoblins and hobgoblins grow into bugbears
  • This is especially disturbing considering bugbears have a ravenous appetite and will eat anything nearby. Including goblins
  • They are known to worship various dark gods: Hruggek the morningstar, of violence and death; Grankhul two open eyes in darkness, of hunting and surprise; and Skiggaret the black claw, god of fear and despair
  • Some people say that if you get close enough, bugbear eyes do have tiny pinpoint red pupils
  • Some bugbears in winter regions are said to have blue or white fur
  • Bugbears have an unnatural ability to use weapons much larger than another creature their size could wield
  • They are excellent climbers, with an astounding grip. In fact, it is unknown for anyone to ever be able to remove anything from the hands of a bugbear
  • They are actually humanoids who have been corrupted by their bestial nature. Instead of a werewolf, they struggle constantly against the beast in their monstrous form
  • This is because they were rejected by god(s) and in revenge they seek to strangle the faithful and civilized
  • When they stand still and silent, the faintest breeze can cause their fur to rub together, causing a sound like bugs skittering across a floor, hence their name. This is often what people pass the noise off as, until they are surprised by a bugbear
  • Their fur is actually bugs. Thousands of bugs
  • Bugbears actually use some sort of pheremone or psionic invisibility that allows them to walk around and right in front of other creatures
  • It's actually much worse than that. Only clumsy or surprised bugbears are ever seen. The most skilled are so adapt at hiding that they operate freely in human and demi-human society. They adopt a single human to bedevil, continually reminding the human of some petty vexation or minor enemy, until by degrees the human blames that for all their life problems. They then reveal themselves and feed as the human dies from the sight from an apoplectic fit. The bugbear then eats the person and adopts their identity, appearing as a monomaniacal grouchy old man or woman
  • Elves are immune to this, being whimsical sociopaths. For this same reason they never mention anything about the bugbear to anyone who can't see them
  • They are at home in the wilds, needing no roof or bed for comfort
  • They love to construct ambushes, but not from a distance. They want to spring out, choke and smash
  • Wet bugbears look like wet cats. They are only so imposing because their hair is so poofy
  • Bugbears are actually a peaceful forest loving race that once really pissed-off a gnomish PR firm
  • Bugbears are the offspring of goblins raped by ogres and giants. They are born clawing their way out of the goblin mother. They are all evil creatures, because it takes a pretty degenerate giant to screw a goblin
  • Bugbears are actually ogre corpses animated by the spirits of dead goblins
  • They actually come from the friction between the underworld and the overworld, spawned by the friction between them. They are tasked with scaring everyone away from the underworld
  • They will not do anything in combat to save their allies, even though they attack in a coordinated manner. They believe that the strong will survive and those that survive are strong
  • Though strong, they are lazy. Who better to work for them but slaves?
  • They are often referred to as having a 'strange gait'. It is true. This is the result of the fact that they have an extra pair of ethereal legs that they use which is the key to their stealth. Watching them move at full speed without making a sound makes them appear to have a very strange gait indeed 
  • Their feet are nothing so supernatural, just plain padded soft underfeet. When they hunt, they do so on all fours like all silent large predators
  • Bugbears are often misrepresented. They are actually half-insect half-bear and they are quiet because their feet are the silent scurrying feet of insects
  • That's wrong too. Bugbears actually have giant pumpkins for heads (not pumpkin-shaped heads)
  • And inside those pumpkin-shaped heads are seeds. . . 
  • The bugbear is actually an insect torso on a bear's lower body, like some twisted centaur
  • They are the creepy uncles of goblin-kind. All of their kin find them disquieting

Bugbear: These large, hairy, goblin-like humanoids are stealthier than their size would suggest, almost always getting the chance to surprise even alert opponents with a roll of 1-3 on a d6 (50%).

HD 3+1; AC 5[14]; Atk 1 bite (2d4) or weapon (1d8+1); Move 9; Save 14; CL 3; XP 120; Special: Surprise opponents, 50% chance.

  • Kardan: Bugbears with dark-grey fur that silent as death. They possess the ability to appear as any object, a clock, a stand, anything.
  • Wikkawak: A local name for the arctic breed of bugbear
  • Murd: A swamp variety of bugbear. Their redneck cousins are fearful of reptiles and it has the ability to turn into a viscous tar
  • Stalker: A variety of bugbear that thrives in cities and towns
  • Koblak: A stillborn bugbear that lives. Their eyes are huge even by bugbear standards and they can see through doors, stone, and earth. They are immortal and undead. They are very resistant to any sort of attack, unless the weapon is coated in fresh grave dirt. Children and men slain by such a beast soon rise again as a malicious spirit

This is coming to print in Bestial Ecosystems! If you like posts like this, support me on Patreon!

On the Ecology of the Centaur

  "Centaur is a euphemism, innit." -Aileas Donohoei, divorced peasant farmer

Nomenclature: Centaur, Centaurides, Centauresses, Hippocentaur, centaurelle, centaurette 

Description: The dread of nature's hate for man unleashed. Beasts endowed with human intelligence who will drive humanity back at any cost

Things that are known:
  • Beasts like horses with the minds and arms of men
Rumors and other whispers in the dark:
  • They lair near fields to rape people who leave their homes after dark
  • If all your animals are found slaughtered and cut open in the morning, centaurs have been raiding
  • Centaurs are said to skin men and attach their flesh, nailed to trees in their territory
  • They are masters of the short bow and begin engagements with focused arrow fire
  • They are extremely fond of alcohol, but also uncontrollably violent when drunk
  • Because they have no women of their own, Centaurs capture human women. It is difficult to bear a centaur child, and none are known to have survived the process
  • Centaurs have many women, and they are even more strikingly beautiful than the men
  • Centaurs are erudite and wise, but see no reason to converse with humanity
  • Centaurs don't actually coerce victims, they are so comely and powerful that people give themselves over willingly
  • Centaurs are not just horses, any quadruped has their own human-torso version. 
  • Centaurs are just a myth told by stupid people who have never domesticated horses
  • Centaurs are machines, vehicles, built for people who put their bodies in them, irrevocably attaching them
  • Occasionally centaurs are born with only two legs. Weak and sickly, they are often killed via exposure. Sometimes very lucky ones survive, raised by kind caregivers, with this dark secret
  • Everyone knows the history of man and centaur will be forever fraught with faithlessness. Neither have forgotten the battle at the wedding feast of Pirithous. So beautiful was the bride Hippodamia, that the intoxicated centaur Eurytion became turgid and inflamed with arousal, that he leapt forward and tried to carry her out back to the wild chaos of the weald
  • Centaurs are the children of lusty gods, spending their seed on goats, horses, and geese
  • Every schoolchild knows centaurs grow from trees and rocks
  • The centaur will forever remain the enemy of man, for one must kill the other to survive
  • Centaurs are a noble wise race, knowing of the science of the astral, prophecy, healing and battle
  • Centaurs are supremist
  • They are magic spirits that have no end and no beginning. They are a perfect union eternally joined, never bearing children. Their life is perpetual ecstasy, and they will suffer no outside creature demanding their affection.
  • Centaurs age very slowly and have long lives
  • If captured, centaurs can provide a milk of plenty, granting whatever whims its owner desires
  • Centaurs are creatures created to carry people between the different planar realms
  • A centaur is more horrible than anything mentioned so far. It's a horse who is so filled with wildness and savagery that they walk as a man, with the head of a horse and disproportionately long limbs ending in jagged hoof nails
  • Centaurs are said to be made in the aftermath of a horse consuming a fetus
  • Centaurs have no head, their face affixed to the chest, rising from the horse
Zebras, lions, deer, snakes, scorpions, spiders, lizards, fish, all manner of beasts and animals can grow a mind of man, extruded from their body
Combat Tricks 
Mobile archery: Centaurs never take any penalty while using a bow and moving at the same time. In addition, foliage and wooded areas provide no cover to the targets of centaur arrows
Polearm Mastery: Centaurs are treated as mounted for two handed weapons, including the increased charge bonus, gaining advantages against bipedal creatures.
Valuable Resources 
When killed centaurs break apart into dry leaves
Centaur hearts and lungs are huge and useful in the creation of golems
Centaur hair is useful in the productions of quills and brushes used in magical endeavors

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On the Top Ten Sandbox Locations.

You're in a D&D sandbox, you look around and find:

10. A giant rock carved like a skull. Cultists are rumored to lair there, and at night, sometimes the eyes glow as if it is possessed (or more likely that torchlight is reflected). Perhaps there are many levels of this dark place below.
9. A wizard's tower where strange lights and sounds emanate from realms beyond. Not many people would risk their souls in a wizards tower.
8. Rumors of great treasure and a hidden artifact are said to lie under caverns in the nearby hills. None who have survived the search have been successful.
7. A chateau is the home of a quite dysfunctional royal family with such wealth and power!
6. An old house, upon a hill. It's said to be haunted, those are just childrens tales. Yet people have gone missing and there are sometimes mysterious comings and goings.
5. A castle, ran by a reclusive old man. Rumors swirl about demons and blood magic being performed, but who can tell these days?
4. The ancient and hidden tomb of a malign creature. Those who have found it and returned, speak of death and horrible traps and mysteries.
3. In the nearby foothills are large buildings, several of them, of primitive make. Sometimes, if you watch, you can see a large shadow of some creature. Trolls or giants perhaps, surely. You've heard of the raids nearby.
2. A ruined moathouse, falling apart. Be careful of the large toads and collapsed roofs.
1. A small keep, with good folk, an amusing village idiot, and a respectable brick wall. It's also possible their ale is both well-brewed and affordable. They also are rather fond of folks, who happen to be of a certain sort of miscreant or wanderer. There's surely a cleric around, but I wouldn't trust him.

This list, along with any of these three hexes from ChicagoWiz, and you got yourself a game, ready to run.

If you think I'm a good writer, reward me yeah? You get rewarded yourself! You don't only get the feeling of doing something nice, you get some neat stuff, like discord roles and high def art.

On the Thursday Trick: Sand

This post was originally published in early 2019. If you're interested in Tricks and Traps like these, be sure to check out Artifices, Deceptions, and Dilemmas, collecting all of these along with beautiful illustrations. 


Description: This is less "sand" or "quicksand" as a trap. Sand is often ill-considered during play, and yet. . .

Sand is more deadly than wild animals. Holes, unstable footings, and instability cause more deaths than wild animal attacks. From 1990 to 2016, there have been 16 deaths just from sand pits used for making sandcastles. Sharks only killed 12 people during that span. Source.

Culturally, if there is no lumber or tree industry nearby, non-industrial societies have 'sandmen' who Collect and 'clean' sand to bring into cities. It is used as a cleaning, degreasing, and abrasive agent. Once a lumber industry is running, sawdust is cheaper and more effective, causing this job to die off. But for non-industrial societies, collecting, moving, and cleaning sand is a necessary industry.

Green Sand
Sand describes a wide range of particles, from the large (64mm) to silt (.0004 mm). This consistency affects its behavior. You aren't going to sink into large grained sand. For example: Sand between .1 and .5 mm in diameter at the right humidity level will emit noises like whistling and barking. Video example 1, video example 2, video example 3.This can be up to over 100 decibels in volume. If you have a sand trap, where it pours in from somewhere, it could cause a terrible cacophony. If it happened elsewhere it could project the semblance of a terrible beast.

Sand near volcanic beaches can be straight up green. Olivine from the volcanic residue will produce a green color in the sand. Furthermore, sand can be beige or yellow. but also black, white, pink, red, gold, or purple, naturally.

Wizards who predict the future with sand would be called arenomancers. Arenolugry or Thaumoarenoists are sand wizards.

Areas with a lot of sand where it can be disturbed, (due to fights or fireballs) can put enough particularite matter in the air to cause illness, and if severe enough, cancer or death. Unprotected exposure to sand particles in the air can irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, and skin, or flu like symptoms like runny nose, lack of breath, a terrible cough.

This isn't particularly helpful, but did you know some desert animals (like sand cats) are just so damn efficient that they literally never drink? They get all the water they need from the bodies of their prey. Like all desert predators they are nocturnal.

Sand, of the correct type, will often be sought by glassmakers, wizards, and other people who need specific grades of sand for glassmaking.

For sand dominated areas, feel free to to remember that heat and water are scarce in deserts.


Quicksand is not limited to any specific climate or region. It can be found anywhere you find sand. A necessary component of quicksand is nearness to some body of water, whether underground or nearby.

What actually happens with quicksand is that it's super saturated with water. It's basically a deep pool, filled with a great deal of sand. The water volume is so high, that there's no friction, the pool is in a "colloidal" state and can't support any weight, any more than a swimming pool could, but the sand prevents you from swimming effectively.

You don't actually sink in very far. But the mistake most people make is that they try to push themselves out. Any attempt to "lift" out of the quicksand will cause another body part to push. This pushing disturbs the support and people sink further in.

Since the sand is more than twice as dense than the human body, you will not sink if you don't struggle. Falling head first into the sand can be deadly, being that you cannot remove your head, nor hold your breath long enough for your buoyancy to bring you to the surface.


Sail over the sand sea.
Giant worms snake through the sand.
Armies of the dead rest beneath the sands.
Burrowing predators harass characters in packs that swim through the sand.
Towers and whole cities rest buried beneath the dunes, the only entrance a single window at the top of a tower.
Balloons and parachutes allow sailing, held up by head coming off the dunes.
Mirages and illusions mess with dehydrated minds.
Wizards hide their towers among the dunes.
Sarlacc's and their cousins, giant dire antilions can be found among the sands.
Sandstorms ripe with magic bring thunder, lightning, and astral disruptions to the desert.
Sphinxes that live in the desert may take a dim view of you arriving to remove their valuable sand. Giant city like barges drift across the sands.
Silt striders, or other giant water bug like insects cross the sands, only their legs visible to players, their bodies far above the clouds.
In the wastes lie beasts like basilisks, sphinxes, and amphisbaena.
Victims of a sand necktie may be human or something else, often long dead, sometimes alive.
Creatures made from sand, or controlled sand shapes from sorcery nearby. (Video, nudity)

Detection/Disarming: Whenever using sand as an environmental variable, it's suggested that you explain to the players what's occurring and allow them to respond. Don't just immediately penalize them for sand exposure, mention that it's clouding the air and burning their lungs and eyes. If they don't take action to fix or correct the problem (Cloth over mouth, holding breath/closing eyes) then the penalties can apply.

The players need to be told about the hazard, before they get the chance to interact with it. Having quicksand or difficult terrain or pits on the battlefield, all should be described (if examined) before a player interacts with it.

Players should be told that sand is difficult terrain (double movement cost), but for sand that is actually hazardous (say full of pits), let people know that they will need to make a check to keep their footing. Quicksand is actually pretty difficult to spot, but allow players to take an action to try to identify which areas are unstable.

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Hack & Slash 

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On the Ecology of the Aboleth

"We give a name to a thing, and the name limits it. There are creatures before names. We are foolish to think they are limited."
-Obadiah, Taurian speaker

Nomenclature: Aboleth, Uobilyth, spawn of Piscathces, Agnathans, Pleco

Description: Aquatic resperating, psionic, fish-people

Things that are known:

  • They do not display emotion or empathy
  • They resemble large (20' long and 3 tons or so) rubbery blue green fish possessing only caudal (tail) fins
  • Their mucus allows air-breathers to extract oxygen from water. It also prevents them from extrating it from the air
  • It has three slit-like eyes, stacked vertically, each a solid color
  • It has 2 pairs of tentacles. Two thin ones that are 10' long and resemble a mustache, and 2 broader, flatter tentacles that resemble pectoral fins. Outside of water, they literally use these to drag themselves around.
  • It has tube-like orifices along it's body that secrete slime
  • They have powers of illusion and mind, able to trick and dominate other creatures
  • They are assumed to take slaves, though what is done with living captives is unknown
  • Their mouth appears as a giant sucker on the outside
  • From corpses it has been discovered that all Aboleth are hermaphroditic
  • They can breath both air and water
  • Their purposes and reasoning are inscrutable even to the hyper-intelligent

Rumors and other whispers in the dark:

  • Secrecy is of the utmost importance to the Aboleth. It is a biological imperative on the order of breeding in mammals
  • All written language descends from ancient elder Aboleth glyphs. If an aboleth were to become angry and erase the root glyphs to protect them from lesser minds, then language based on those glyphs would corrospondingly vanish
  • No one has ever killed an Aboleth  ever. Those who claim to have killed one have fallen victim to an illusion
  • The description we have of an Aboleth is an illusion. To see their true form would drive the viewer mad
  • All knowledge of encountered Aboleth comes from the weakest members of the tribe, expelled for being too weak to even survive mental interaction with an average Aboleth
  • They are long lived, the weak living 1,000 years and the oldest perhaps being immortal
  • What they use slaves for is unknown, some possibilities have been raised from reports
    • They are used in constructing grand cities
    • They live on the shore and fight each other endlessly for an unknown purpose
    • They keep slaves because slaves are for eating. If we weren't meant to be slaves, why would we taste so delicious
    • Bonding with slaves improves their own abilities. A strong slave makes them stronger
    • They need mental fields in addition to physical substance which is why they take slaves
    • Slaves are subject to deranged biological experimentation
  • They pursue the ancient art of super-science, eschewing magic in all its forms
  • Aboleth slime is a potent narcotic and they treat their slaves much better then their previous life. This has proven to be a surprise for more than one 'rescuer'
  • They do not track time by days and nights, for the sun does not penetrate so far beneath the earth. They instead track time by tidal cycles and patterns, a method poorly understood by land creatures
  • Their power with mental powers and illusion magics stem from not waning hordes of crazed, loving, degenerate drug addicts bothering them. It's a defense mechanism developed to protect them
  • An Aboleth is selected to be a Ruler, which is in contact with all Aboleth of the city at once. His mind knows what they know and increases in size to match
  • They are said to be magic resistant
  • They are worshiped as god-kings by many of the lesser sea creatures like tritons and sahuagin.
  • Their eyes are actual physical manifestations of a pineal gland that acts as a light-sensor. This is actually where the strength of their psionic powers comes from
  • They do not come from a single world, but instead raid many worlds across all dimensions. This means that there is only one Aboleth culture
  • The Aboleth are able to inscribe Glyphs that contain eldritch energies. 
  • The Aboleth were the first creatures that existed from all else. They know this because every Aboleth remembers it
  • They exude their toxic slime via both their tentacles and their large abdominal tubes
  • They are not actually creatures, but simply biological robots doing the bidding of a secret oceanic society
  • They aren't simply biological robots, but an out of control weapon granted to a foolish race bargaining with the Crossroad God of Unsatisfying Bargains. Once they received their psionic, mind-controlling, amphibious, armored, magical bio-weapon, they couldn't control it, leading to their own demise
  • Greed actually is the source of their creation. The desire for wealth, capitalism itself, is not just an idea. Societies that used capitalism discovered it had actual physical form. Once a society accepts capitalism, Aboleths became freed from their cage on the Platonic Plane of Ideal Forms
  • They are actually just tapeworms feeding on the gut we all inhabit. This theory is in general discredit because it comes from the seers of Kashgar, a kingdom far from the sea
  • They were once human who desired to extend their lives. The enlargement of their organs was the only way to accomplish this and eventually it drove them into the sea. This was long ago and the depths have changed them, made their thoughts and minds grow stranger and stranger, hating the light and land denied them, filled with the desire to eradicate every hint from their past biology.
  • They are living fossils
  • Their flesh is prized by dragons
  • They can easily control anomalocaris and other invertebrates, but the control of vertebrates is more difficult. Chordates have some inborn resistance. They are frustrated at the rise in dominance of vertebrates, because it has reduced the pool of available subjects and size of the invertebrate thrall species. 
  • They are a race of degenerate aesthetes who enslaved people they thought had the ability to make great art
  • They are followed by skinless men who babble insane poetry. If they speak to you, it drives you mad and you attempt to unscrew your own head
  • They are immune to death and disease because they can psioncially control bacteria, viruses, and even the cells in their own body
  • They permanently dominate thralls by absorbing them into their body completely taking over their circulatory fun and birthing them 3 days later with their psyche completely destroyed
  • Aboleth possess racial memory, back to the earliest member of their race
  • Aboleth are immortal, and the world they were born to inhabit is no longer the world they exist in, leading to the decline of their dominance
  • Some Aboleth are amphibious or can fly
  • They actually evolved from frogs and their jelly has developed from a way to stun prey with goo. Suggesting this to an Aboleth would be a unique way to commit suicide!
  • Aboleths are actually a small group of leeches that fed from they body of a god. In thanks, they work tirelessly to bring her back to life
  • Their psionic powers evolved from their ability to control simple fish to protect their lair
  • Some Aboleth are said to enter a deadly death frenzy near death or have their bite adapted to be used in combat 
  • They are very wary of Illithids, because they have no memory of their existence. One day they simply were when they were not before. This gives Illithids the singular distinction of having the ability to make an Aboleth nervous.
  • Actually, Aboleth are a dying race. They have created the Illithids with the best they they are to take their place. They are a new vibrant race created from the Aboleth themselves
  • Neither of those are true, the Aboleth and Illithid meet and immediately fight for superiority
  • The Illithids are from the end of time, beings created by the Aboleth. Upon discovering that the Illithids are part themselves, they decide that they refuse to be eclipsed. They seek alliances suddenly with other races for this reason, to assist them in the war against the far future
  • Aboleths are related to the Illithid (Psionic, 4 tenticles, intelligent, slimy skin, underground, Lawful Evil)
  • The Aboleth are the pregentator of many monsters. Cloakers, mimics and other bizzare creatures under the ground
  • Aboleth are said to absorb the memories of everyone they eat. This defines their culture
  • They come from Piscathces, the blood queen. She no longer cares for her creations. The Aboleth possess this knowledge and it liberates them
  • They were created by a god to protect his tomb while he rested waiting for the surface to wipe itself out. Being good servants, Aboleth have taken steps to make this happen
  • The Aboleth have been asleep, and are really bothered by this terrible monkey infestation that happened while they were asleep
  • Aboleth ruled all the world until man created gods. They strive to reconqer the world and will stop at nothing less then the destruction of all gods
  • They have no religion and such, but exposure to the elder evils causes them to respect their force in daily life
    • Bolothamogg (Him who watches from beyond the stars): They leave gaps and space in their architecture to respect him. He is also known as Yog-Sothoth
    • Holashner (Hunger below): They construct protrusions and use the black bile of the world in their construction. He is also known as Shudde M'ell or Tsathoggua
    • Piscaethces (Blood queen): Red domed windows of red crystal show their respect. She is also known as Cthulhu or Shub-Niggurath
    • Shothotugg (Eater of Worlds): Pools are added, filled with magical, multi-colored liquids heavier than water. Swirls and vortex patterns adorn the floor. He is also known as Azathoth
    • Y'chak (The Violet Flame): Pillars of violet flame that burn underwater are created. These are used to pass information between the members of the city. He is also known as Nyarlathotep or Hastur
  • Aboleth are not actually ancient or long lived. They are only recent creations, the function of hyper-evolution. They are literal living cancer
  • Icebergs do not drift. They are ice vehicles constructed for the transport of Aboleth cities
  • Again, they are not immoral. They are in the process of de-evolution and regression. Now they can only walk on the land with difficulty, and each generation is less bright then the one before. They continue to keep slaves because they always have, but no longer grow. It is the last grasp of a society trying to maintain power before they become nothing but simple, albeit delicious, fish
  • They are actually the creation of all races. Expelling us onto the surface was for the sole purpose of producing a better slave. We "rule" the surface, in the same way a pig "rules" a pen. 
  • They no longer take all their slaves, leaving some in communities to recruit new slaves. 
  • Aboleth Mucus can be kept, stored, and sold as an alchemical grenade
The Aboleth
The Aboleth is a revolting fishlike amphibian, primarily subterranean, roughly the size of a killer whale. It vaguely resembles a catfish, but has four long tentacles and four orifices along its belly. The tentacles can be used to drag its bulk across dry land. These horrid abominations are extremely intelligent: an Aboleth can cast charm monster three times per day, and create a phantasmal force three times per day. In the water, an Aboleth surrounds itself with a cloud of mucus that requires anyone inhaling it to make a saving throw or become unable to breathe air for 3 hours. Finally, the slime on an Aboleth’s tentacles causes disease if a saving throw fails. Those afflicted suffer a change to their skin, which must be immersed in water every hour, or the victim suffers 1d6 points of damage.

Aboleth: HD 9; AC 3 [16]; Atk 4 tentacles (1d6 + slime); Save 6; Move 9 (swim 12); CL 12; XP 2000; Special: Charm monster (3/day), Phantasmal force (3/day), Mucus cloud in water (save or cannot breathe air for 3 hours), special disease upon successful hit (save or must be immersed in water every hour).

SRD Aboleth Entry, Psionic Version
Pathfinder Aboleth Entry
Classic Aboleth Entry

This is coming to print in Bestial Ecosystems! If you like posts like this, support me on Patreon!

On the Ecology of the Basilisk

 "I thought it was absurd. Certainly sculptors could create such statues—there's no mythical beast that turns men to stone. Never would have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes. " -Olik, carpetbagger

Nomenclature: Basilisk, Ob, Oub. 

Description: A lizard hatched from an egg who's gaze turns men to stone

Things that are known:
  • Death scouts where basilisks lair
  • They are the king of all serpents, and they wear their crown of a mitre-shaped crest
Rumors and other whispers in the dark:
  • The oft ignored common garden snake wears the head of a rooster and parades around as a basilisk, mocking the other forest animals
  • The cockatrice and the basilisk are twins, one is born from a chicken egg hatched by a toad, the other from a snakes egg hatched by an raptor
  • The basilisk is just a cockatrice, except instead of a stinger on the tail, it's a live striking snake
  • It's visage is so horrible, if it catches a glance of itself in a mirror, it would instantly burst asunder with horror and fear, crinkling up like a leaf in a blaze
  • Satan, Asmodeus, and other greater devils can only walk the earth in the form of a cockatrice
  • Basilisks are wounds in reality where greater unfathomable creatures gain power over all who see it
  • The word Basilisks are slang for 'depraved' women, since the serpent is known as a hater of all creatures who can bear life
  • Reptiles cannot stand the presence of a basilisk, fleeing when one approaches
  • The basilisk has two heads, one on each end, because one mouth was too little to spray their venom
  • The basilisk is too proud to crawl upon the ground and move via virtue of multiplied flexion, it moves loftily raising its crowned head high off of the ground
  • The breath of a basilisk is so fetid, it causes flora to wilt
  • The heart of a basilisk it so foul, it can be turned as undead
  • Weasels, stoats, ferrets, and mink hunt basilisk, and are immune to any defenses the basilisk possesses 
  • A basilisk that hears the rooster crow at sunrise will be struck dead on the spot
  • Basilisks lair in fields near villages and approach women while obscured, whispering that they must bring their children or forfeit their own lives
  • Basilisks are hydrophobic
  • A basilisk can only be born from a cock's egg, which is troublesome, as you can imagine. 
  • The heart of a basilisk is contained inside the head, and it is viewing this through the basilisks eyes that causes death. A swift bruise to the head is fatal
  • When a man is killed by a foreigner, their soul manifests as a basilisk
  • The basilisk sleeps with its eyes open and can see when they are shut
Most basilisks have a gaze that turns people to stone, though this is not true of all basilisks
Golden Basilisks have a gaze that burns up whatever moves towards it
Starry Basilisks are a mottled white and cause an intense instance of horror, causing the viewer to drop dead by fright
Bloody Basilisks cause skin, muscle, and flesh to slough off becoming nothingness, leaving a skeleton

Valuable Resources 
Basilisk corpses are very useful. Hanging one from the rafters will repel spiders and swallows
Basilisk blood will grant success in petitions and provides remedies for many diseases.
Basilisk eyes are filled with arcane and eldritch power, useable in many enchantments

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On the Unity of Life

Hey everyone, hope you're well.

I had a very special book as a child. It was a Victorian era book published for the purposes of swaying the Royal Society, that the very idea, the contemptuous arrogant thought of something as patently absurd as Continents moving about willy, nilly, like billiard balls on a romper table had to be stomped out, for the good of science, society, and humanity

Indeed, this was the thrust of the eighty-page fabric bound book, smelling of tobacco, yellowed pages, a glimpse into a world around just a hundred or so years before I was born. 

Plate tectonics, is without question, a core geological theory widely accepted by scientific professionals and most cogent functioning citizens. Geologists still don't know what's in the ground. Can't get there. They tried in Russia. Honestly, and believe me, I know how this sounds. They had to stop because the drill kept melting and workers could hear "the constant tortured screams of the damned".

I dunno. I wasn't there.

Certainty is a comfort for the powerless.

There's a geneticist, and he proposed a wack-a-doodle theory that humans exist, because one day, a very handsome pig met a very randy monkey princess, and they fucked a lot, and here we are today.

I'm not sure which I'm more entertained by: the theory, the manipulative rhetoric used by both proponents and opponents of the theory, or how infuriated people get when you suggest something they are quite certain about, thank you, isn't true. I imagine it's just a fraction of how the clearly intelligent hoi-polloi were aghast that some heretic would claim we evolved at some point from the chimpanzee. How dare he suggest we were just monkeys. 

You know, it doesn't stop at the monkey.

There's no separation of life. There was a pool of amino acids plus energy, single celled organisms, then multi-cellular organisms, then everyone took off trying to find something that works well for them. 

All life is related. That tree is human. That dog is a frog. That bacteria is an ant. We are all the same. All these categorizations are just based on arbitrary traits. We have the code (genomes) that lets us trace it, but the 'it' that we are tracing is a route back to a form that all life originates.

Everything may not have an ego and be 'aware' of their existence, but everything, literally every living thing has the exact same experience of existence that you do. They are alive. 

Maybe not rocks. Probably. Who knows??! not me. 

We ritually purify earth and take it to a specially purified and prepared room, with no variations in air, temperature, and motion. They keep this space inside an airlock, lest any secular impurities foil the process. They take the rock and burn it in a fire at 1000 degrees Celsius, then spin it, coating it with a shield. Then we use light to place our complex runes onto this surface. Then we put it in the liquid, where the runes take form. Then, to make the runes function, we shoot the cosmic boron and phosphorus, necessary for life, into it with a ray. Then we apply electricity and it. . . well, you're not reading this on newsprint, are you?

Is that alive? 

Could it be the first alien, the first non-earthian life? Not in outer space, but something we make ourselves. Something that is not part of 'earth-life'. When I was a child this life was primitive, and simple. Now it reminds me of things, listens when I talk,  and drives me to my in person Dungeons & Dragons games every week. For now, I'm going to enjoy the primitive and archaic forms of this new form of golem-life, comfortable in my uncertainty.

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On 10 Reasons for the Wizard's Tower

Why do Wizards hang out in towers?

10. Symbolism! The tower is an ancient symbol of arrogance and hubris. Look at how high my tower reaches over my demense! Behold my power and glory!

9. Isolationism! Towers represent the idea of someone who wishes to remove themselves from polite society. They are above it.

8. Fortification! There is only one entrance. In order to invade, you must storm up the stairs. There is literally less square surface area to enchant/protect.

7. Visibility! If you wield vast cosmic power, you wouldn't want anyone approaching to be able to hide from you, no?

6. Display of Power! It takes knowledge, engineering and know-how to build a tower, otherwise every peasant would do it.

5. Protection! Robbery, Home Invasion, and Murder were commonplace. Nobody can just break into a tower -- the separation and height protect it from stealthy infiltration.

4. Power! Ley lines and magical sources are more corrupted near the ground. The higher the tower the more energy is available.

3. Peace and Quiet! Being up in the air like that gives you some distance from whatever distracting hustle and bustle is on the ground.

2. Freedom! It's cheaper then a castle and there's no lawn or grounds! Upkeep is easy and they can avoid all those distracting mundane tasks that they are forced to engage in.

1. Safety! It provides protection and a convenient excuse for all those irate peasants who are certain that you are the reason all their cows are sick.

And the number one reason for wizards to live in towers --

It's the most efficient layout for storing all their damn books!

Frog God games recently published my opus Alchemy. In it contains a list of magical mortars you can use to enchant castle and tower walls. It's incredibly dense in content. And it's a real book, with a real limited print run. You should check it out and get it on your shelf before they are all gone.

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On the Thursday Trick, Vents, Sprays, and Agency

This post was originally published in September of 2011. If you're interested in Tricks and Traps like these, be sure to check out Artifices, Deceptions, and Dilemmas, collecting all of these along with beautiful illustrations. 

Vents & Sprays (Vents/Sprays)

Trigger: Varies Effects: Multiple Targets, Never Misses
Save:WandsDuration: Instant
Resets: AutomaticBypass: Avoid

Description: These traps are characterized by a variety of factors that separate them from spells or ranged attack traps. First, they often involved gasses or liquids and because they are often sprayed out over a large area they have the property of never missing.

In some cases there is also an onset delay. This means these traps can be triggered and the effect happen in a certain amount of time (sprinklers in a room) or a delay before the substance affects the characters (such as a room filling with water.

Examples of the things that might be vented or sprayed included slime, shrapnel, cold, acid, boiling water, flaming oil/tar, sewage, mummy dust, poison, fire, magma, smoke, methane, sand, steam, sulphur, and water.

If a to hit roll is required it will always ignore armor, but not necessarily shield bonuses. Saving throws may apply given the circumstance. Rods, Staves and Wands is the traditional saving throw for such attacks, allowing half damage or to avoid instant death.

Detection: These traps can be both the best kinds of traps, and the worst kinds of traps. Because they often have extremely negative properties, they can be ran in such a way where they are just Gotcha! traps, causing death or massive damage very quickly. However, this is an extremely poor way to run such traps, for several reasons. None of the vents and sprays above will be able to remove signs of their presence. Some examples
  • Slime will leave a slick slimy coating on the walls and floor
  • Shrapnel will leave gouges and scars in the walls and floor and ceilings
  • Cold vents and sprays may show some signs of their presence due to temperature differences,  areas where the cold strikes repeated may show cracking, the growth of natural molds and fungi may be retarded. If the trap is triggered often or recently, there may be frost, ice or water on surfaces. If it has been triggered somewhat recently, the water will affect the appearance of the walls (they will be cleaner).
  • Acid will leave pits and scarring on whatever surface it is sprayed on. There may be a scent, or the players eyes may start to become irritated.
  • Boiling water may show up due to temperature differences, and will generally insure a sparkling clean area where the walls and floor are blasted with it.
  • Flaming oil and tar will generally cover the upper walls and ceiling with black soot, and the floor may appear greasy or covered in scorch marks. Tar will stick to a surface and blacken and harden under high heat. The hallway may carry a scent of burning tar.
  • Sewage will smell overpoweringly terrible, unless it is stored behind water (like in a toilet) or behind an air tight valve or door.  There will still be an odor because it will be triggered occasionally filling an area with filth. There may be an unusually high amount of mold or spores or other type things in the area due to the rich food source the filth provides.
  • Mummy Dust may leave a coating of dust on surfaces, cause a musty spell, and their may be corpses in the hallway.
  • If a poison is being used in a spray, it most likely is fairly virulent, and therefore their should be corpses, either dessicated in a forgotten dungeon like a tomb, or bones or signs of being dragged off in a more active area.
  • If fire is being vented out, then on the surface that the fire is across from there will certainly be burn or scorch marks. Their may also be burnt corpses.
  • Magma if sprayed or vented out, will melt and re-solidify, causing whatever surface the magma contacts to deform. Areas where magma is sprayed will bubble, twist, buckle, and bulge from the constant melting and re-hardening. Bones and various other mineral items (armor and such) may be embedded in seeming solid surfaces.
  • Smoke will often linger for far longer then it takes to dissipate, leaving a smell for 60' to 100' from the location of the trap for days.
  • Methane is a very dangerous trap, relying on the players flaming light to trigger an explosion. There are several things to keep in mind with methane. First, it is odorless, the natural gas smell you are familiar with is a modern additive to help detect leaks. Second, it displaces oxygen, so even if the entire party has some means of seeing in the dark, it can rapidly cause asphyxiation. Use the rules for how long characters can hold their breaths unprepared for the length of time they can stay conscious.
  • Sand will both collect on the floor (and in clothes, armor, food, despite the best intentions). The first notice the adventurers will have will likely be the sound of sand crunching under their feet. Any surfaces subject to a spray of sand will likely be scrubbed clean. Repeated sand blastings will scour a surface clean, but will also remove the top layer, exposing rougher rock or metal beneath. Sometimes this will be used to fill a sealed chamber, in which case sand coated corpses will often be discovered.
  • Steam is going to insure that whatever surfaces the steam hits are clean, except for the bits of boiled flesh that it removes from it's targets. Do not forget to continue to apply damage as heat metal for people caught in steam wearing metal armor.
  • Sulfur is an interesting compound, either acidic causing burns, or a fine dust causing explosions, or a gas, causing choking and irritation. It is also known as brimstone. The primary method of detection is it's overpowering rotten eggs smell, which is natural.
  • Water is often not sprayed on people for damage, but more often is used to fill a sealed chamber trapping and drowning whoever is within. Water traps often leave water marks, as the fluid removes dirt and grime from surfaces and deposits it on a line along the wall. It also can have a briny or salty smell.
Do not forget that the vents and sprays also must come from somewhere. Nozzles, slots, slats or shutters will be visible places where the substances are expelled.

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On the Monster Conversation

This post was originally published on 6/2016. It is linked on the Links to Wisdom wiki

I read an excellent post on Dungeon Fantastic by Peter V. Dell'Orto about players negotiating with monsters. 
GURPS uses an objective mechanical interface for social encounters. This isn't too common in the old school world. It was really refreshing to hear from someone else using objective social mechanics in play. What's interesting is the wildly different experiences he has.

It, ostensibly, is about errors players make during negotiations with monsters. This is a whole knot of complexity, but I don't think anything players choose to do in play is an error because I don't have an outcome in mind.

Errors players make during negotiations:
  • Not negotiating
  • Negotiating from imagined strength
  • Negotiating from weakness
  • Demanding one-way trust
These points are expanded on in his post. Not negotiating is always fighting to the death. Negotiating from imagined strength is acting as if the monsters can't challenge the party. The original article is worth reading.

This doesn't match my experience of play at all. And it's not just with the groups that know me. My players are constantly aware of dangers. They know they can't do the above things. Well, they can, but it probably ends up with someone in the party dying.

Critical hits did this also this week with their piece "Realism vs. Genre Conventions" by guest poster Jon Lemich. He says:

"There’s an illusion of threat, but how often does the party really lose a fight? Even if the GM doesn’t fudge any die rolls, they’re still building encounters that are designed for your party to win. That’s illusionism, too; and so is fudging die rolls: The decision not to flee from combat against the wandering monster has no consequences if the GM fudges the dice to prevent a TPK from a pointless random encounter, but rolling behind the screen, the players don’t know you’re fudging the dice, so you preserve the tension if you do it we."

I feel like an alien on an alien planet.

Let's start at the top. How often does the party really lose a fight? I've been part of two total party kills since spring. Once as the Dungeon Master and once as a player. So, like, frequently?

Who is still building encounters designed for the party to win? I mean, pathfinder players, sure. Anyone who wants to run a combat gauntlet. But what part of "the party should win this encounter" is part of the design? The introductory adventure for 5th edition contains multiple deadly encounters. No one was expected to win the Venomfang fight.

Have we not exhaustively covered the territory of why random encounters aren't pointless? Haven't we exhaustively covered the topic of how players can tell that you're fudging dice, because you're not a trained actor/liar?


My experiences with the players and monster negotiations have been different. First, players talk with anything that isn't immediately attacking them, because talking is safer and more productive than fighting. They don't have to be encouraged to negotiate. It's usually the first thing they try to do. (In more than one instance, players have said, "It's attacking us? Are you sure we can't talk to it?". Once they even used their turn in combat, just to make sure that it wouldn't converse.)

Even when vastly outnumbering the opponents they choose to parley because of the risk that reinforcements could be called. They know they have a reputation and that even if an enemy is weak, there's always more enemies than party members.

Players are nervous around monsters because they never know what they can do. When you randomize abilities and have creatures like undead and dragons that can have unknown abilities players become very cautious.

Second, they never feel like they are so much stronger than the monsters that they can 'not negotiate'. I give them the target number of whatever they are trying to negotiate for; they don't choose to negotiate from imagined strength. And because of the way relationships work, I've seen them build trust with factions and individuals.

I'm not putting the blame on Peter here. Clearly the baseline expectation of most gamers is different and somewhat shocking when exposed to this different playstyle. Someone out there is creating encounters that the players are designed to win.

Even in my set encounters, there's a high variability in encounter numbers. It's possible they might run into only a few creatures, or maybe a lot of them. This isn't even counting wandering encounters from creatures nearby that might be attracted to the sounds of a fight or people talking, nor random encounters from creatures indigenous to the area.

I don't know about other people, but specifically what and how many are encountered is unknown to me. I decide the creatures, yes. But generally the range of the encounter goes from completely trivial to unwinnable fight.

What I am saying is that these aren't mistakes. They are natural outgrowths of behavior in the players due to their environment. I'm assuming Peter talks about these being mistakes because they aren't successful tactics for the players. But as a Dungeon Master, that's not my problem. My problem is running a responsive and living game world, which very quickly visits negative consequences on people who do such stupid things when talking to monsters.

I'm not talking about punishing anyone or playing "mother may I" or any of the other quick accusations. The incorrect assumption under the basis of the entire argument is that the dungeon master is the opponent they are negotiating with, rather than an impartial arbiter, and that bad things that happen to the characters are a reflection of the esteem and worth of the player. Neither of these are true. We are playing to find out what happens. 

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On the ecology of the Owlbear

   "fuckin' wizards" -ubiquitous 

Nomenclature: Owlbear, Urstrix, Owlkin, Wildkin

Description: A hideous fusion of owl and bear

Things that are known:
  • They are a combination of bear and owl traits in the form of a ferocious beast
Rumors and other whispers in the dark:
  • Owlbears are all erudite scholars and only act like bears to get people to leave them alone to read
  • Owlbears don't sleep, and are berserk, frothing mad their entire lives. They are birthed whole by a magical plant pod
  • Owlbears are incapable of feeling fear 
  • Owlbears are excellent swimmers and water hunters
  • Owlbears hibernate, this makes them a seasonal threat, encroaching on civilized territories during harvest season
  • Owlbears are unwilling to eat food that doesn't struggle. They like to play with their food
  • It's actually a Bearowl
  • They are actually just lonely, and the terrifying "Owlbear Hug" is simply a cry for love. They don't know their own strength
  • Some people race owlbears. Sometimes they don't race, so much as eat the jockey
  • Once they have a scent, they won't stop till they catch their prey
  • They are surprisingly intelligent, building and protecting bee and termite mounds for sources of meat and honey
  • Owlbears are actually just bears. Only people with poor vision, idiots, and liars say owlbears exist
  • In spite of being creatures of motive humors and warm blood, they lay eggs
  • They are called owlbears because the wizard who made them was named 'Ser Claude Grand Panjandrum Owlbear'
  • Owlbears are super intense and unpleasant at parties
  • Some owlbears are so furious, that their furiousness fills their form, fabricating foul fasciate rods of furious fury, a vortex gone too heavy, too radical, too extreme to exist
  • Others drink decaf
  • Owlbears don't have 'eyeballs', but reflective blank tubes in place of eyes instead
  • Owlbears are able to move without making any sound
  • Once the love of an owlbear dies, they grieve and sing a dirge until death, killing any who interrupt their song
  • Owlbears build their nests in trees and drop down onto interlopers
  • Owlbears hide in cherry trees by painting their nails red. Have you ever seen an owlbear in a cherry tree? Works pretty good, eh?
  • Owlbears are the mortal enemies and opponents of griffons and other raptor-crossbreeds. Griffons know the owlbears will eat them, and so proactively gang up and attack owlbears when they are discovered
  • Owlbears are a myth. They are actually a kobold psy-op, they construct owlbear body puppets from wood and drive them around to scare away humans
  • Owlbears are summoned as harbingers for more dangerous magical creatures. When the most abominable and unlucky owlbears arrive, crying out with their hoarse and dismal voices, it is an omen of the approach of some terrible thing
  • Owlbears, oddly enough, are just owls infected by were-bears
  • Owlbears are grown from tree pods by nymphs to protect the forest
Deranged These owlbears are a bad mix, the combination of owl and bear driving them to madness. They are misshapen and much stronger than a normal owlbear
Berserk/Raging Sometimes during an owlbears life, they are subject to a terrible disease. As their brain degenerates, they are nothing but fierce frothing fury
Spotted In northern lightly wooded areas, you'll find the rare spotted owlbear
Horned This owlbear variation uses their horns in battles for status against other male owlbears, this grants them an extra goring attack each round. 
Artic This type of polar owlbear has stark white feathers and is adapted to live in areas of extreme cold
Siege This owlbear has been enchanted and bred over generations to become larger, more muscular, and much more aggressive. Though popular as pets and mounts for their size and strength, they are rarely legal to own, and most are put down when found as being "too dangerous"

Combat Tricks 
Hootroar: everyone within hearing range must save or become frightened
Bearhug-owlbite: If the owlbear can grab a target, they can automatically hit with their bite attack as long as the target is held (in addition to the crushing damage from the hug)

Valuable Resources 
Owlbear hide can make a supple and easily enchantable leather garment
Owlbear eggs allow talented people to raise them as loyal guards or mounts
Owlbear feathers can be used in the creation of ink pens for magical scrolls
Owlbear teeth and claws will fetch a good price at market

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