Were-creatures are a common part of many world mythologies and fictional fantasy worlds. Depending on the origins for your therianthropes they could potentially be as varied and diverse as all the animal species and humanoid host societies. Thinking about that, I decided to jot down some thoughts on less-common forms of werecreatures, what humanoid species they might be most common amongst (using fairly generic fantasy species ideas), and what special features they might have.
All of these are mammalian carnivores, in keeping with the common were-species of werewolves, werebears, and weretigers. That’s not to say wereboars, weresharks, and werecrocodiles aren’t also well-established and interesting options, but I feel carnivorous mammals are the most typical therianthropes, and since I’m already going a bit far afield when considering nonstandard types, sticking with the most common classifications seems a good limiter.
So, what would YOU make as a new form of werecritter?
N, Dwarf, halfling
Vulnerable to gold, territorial, can shapeshift to change both badger-form and humanoid-form appearance
Catfolk, elf, human
Vulnerable to bone, immune to poisons, can move with extreme speed
Goblin, gnome, halfling
Vulnerable to copper, can cause despair in those that see or hear it.
CG-CN, Aquatic elf, elf, human, merfolk
Vulnerable to volcanic glass, can grant the ability to swim and hold breathe as a dolphin to other creatures… and can also take such abilities away.
CG-NG, Gnomes, faeries, halflings
Vulnerable to cold iron, have prophetic powers
N-NE, Dwarf, human, gnoll, goblin, orc
Vulnerable to stone, can break spells and curses and curse others
N-CN, Human, orc.
Vulnerable to fire, immune to cold, in animal hybrid or humanoid form can take off it’s skin as a cloak and give it to another to allow them to use that form, which is unavailable to the wereleopardseal until it gets the cloak back.
LG-LN-LE, Giants, ogres, trolls
Vulnerable to lightning, weakened by storms, can swallow people and even boats or small ships and keep them safe for weeks or months inside a magic space separate from their gullet.
Have charm powers
LN-NG, Goblin, gnome, halfling
Vulnerable to wood, immune to charm and fear
NG, Gnome, mouselings
Vulnerable to steel, can charm and command other animals
CG-CN-CE, Goblin, halfling
Vulnerable to anything polished to a high shine, gain natural thieving skills, can become invisible
Vulnerable to adamantine, has rage powers, regenerates.
(Hey, it’s good conceptual worldbuilding, even if the ideas are blatantly stolen.)
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I’ve had the dreaded scheduling conflict eat the past couple of Saturday games, and the next few don’t look good either, so no new session posts for my Gatekeeper’s campaign for PF2 for a while. But I am still jotting down PF2 ideas when they come to me, especially those that feel like they might make for interesting encounters or adventureplots.
I don’t know that this one will ever make it into the campaign, but if so I’ll list this to my Gatekeeper’s campaign index.
Old Witch Hazel
Also known as Grantha Mountain-Ash and Quickbeam Lament, Old Witch Hazel is legendarily old and grumpy arboreal (sometimes called a “treant” by locals) that appears to be a moss-covered, partially burned rowan tree, possibly wrapped around a larger, even older tree, with foliage and berries in states representing all 4 seasons. Old Witch Hazel can supposedly be bribed to teach occult and primal magic secrets, but no one knows anyone who has ever successfully done so. The treant is also known to oppose hags, skelm, and evil fey. While a few folks say this is also just rumor and myth, there are dozens of people who will attest to having seen Old Witch Hazel drive such creatures away from small farm communities, roads, and peaceful groves.
Old Witch Hazel is also well-known for thrashing younger humanoids, apparently for no reason. Such attacks always take place outside of settlements, and many adults claim that clearly the treant is warning adolescents away from dangerous creatures or punishing them for bad behavior or violating some secret tree-pace, perhaps without knowing it. Those that have been beaten by Old Witch Hazel protect their innocence, claiming they had done nothing and gone nowhere to invite such treatment.
When Old Witch Hazel attacks youngsters, all its attacks are nonlethal(taking the normal -2 to its attacks for dealing nonlethal damage). It also often throws clusters of rotting berries, which act like moderate water bombs (except they smell worse). If any target attempts to protect someone Old Witch Hazel was attacking, the treant always switches to the defender, ignoring the old target as long as it doesn’t make new attacks. After everyone has been hit at least once, or anyone knocked unconscious, Old Witch Hazel lets them flee, and wanders off into the nearest woods.
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So, I’ve written a few articles on my exploration of human-prompted, AI-generated images. There is going to be more and more public discussion about this, and I think articles like this one at Kotaku, are important to read and consider. Of course, such articles are generally an undifferentiated mix of fact and opinion, but even where I disagree with the opinions I want to be open to them and see if any new points of view or data are presented that may alter my current position on the issues.
I also want to keep exploring various possible ways to use human-prompted, AI-generated images. One of the things I’ve mentioned is the idea of using such an image as a visual reference for an artist.
So, I did.
Here is an image of a lich I got from prompts fed into MidJounrey.
I really like this image, including it’s sartorial style, but there are (at least currently) significant limitations I’d have to contend with if I wanted to use this commercially. Not the least of those is I have no way of creating different images of the same being.
So, what if I gave this as a reference to an artist I like? (And, you know, pay them to create more art.)
So, I took this to Jacob Blackmon and asked if he was willing to participate in my experiment (at his standard rate). He was, and sent me this sketch:
This highlights two of the things I love about working with Jacob. First, he did a LOT of design work in this piece, flowing from the reference image, but absolutely building well beyond either it or even standard fantasy lich images. Secondly, his sketch stage has enough detail for me to see where he is going and give useful feedback or ask for alterations. In this case, I gave an immediate thumb’s up.
So, that brought us to this, Jacob’s final.
This is awesome, it shows Jacob distinct and developing style, I love it, i can use it, Jacob got paid for it, and it would not have existed without MidJourney returning the top image in response to prompts I gave it. It’s not a duplicate of the original (nor did I ask for it to be), but it clearly uses that image as the umping off point for a new design.
I like this result, and can easily see going this route again. It remains to be seen how issues of legality, ethics, and public opinion shake out on any use of human-prompted, AI-generated images, but I found this a useful project to help me explore my own thoughts on the subject.
And, in this case, it put money in the pockets of an artist I like, which is always a plus.
Speaking Of Money…
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Before we get to any OGL content, an editorial aside:
This post is tagged as an “Owen Explains It All” post because it links into a show from the BAMF podcast I’m on, titled “Owen Explains It All!“. We do episodes picking new or classic things from the zeitgeek to use as inspiration for game material, specifically the Starfinder Roleplaying Game. This article ties in to the “Owen Explains It All: Ice Pirates” episode.
In this ep. we talked about a lot of the shameless scene-stealing of Ice Pirates (and, to be honest, added content warnings we discovered we needed after watching the movie for the first time in decades — not all old content holds up), and focused on the scenes that resented a small, fast, infectious threat that serves as a B Plot in the movie.
The show has a logo and everything!
This kind of small, infectious, lurking threat is fairly common in scifi fiction, but not well-supported by most existing Starfinder monsters. It works particularly well when the PCs are stuck in a specific area, such as on a starship during a long voyage, in a city or prison complex, or taking shelter in an ancient alien ruin to escape a deadly ion storm ravaging the outside. It can also work well as a recurring threat — a tiny terror that attacks the players, works to infect one, then flees the scene only to come back again later.
So whether your PCs are dealing with an alien that burst out of someone’s chest at lunch, acid-spitting reptilian aliens working to establish dominance, or a disgusting git that’s infected your ship, you can create a new kind of threat for your players by introducing a tiny terror to your Starfinder game.
THE TINY TERROR
Sometimes you encounter a hostile creature that’s not a threat in a direct stand-up fight, but rather a lurking threat you have to hunt down, trap, or maybe even blow up the whole planet just to be sure. Making a tiny terror can be easy, with this template you can slap onto any thematically appropriate creature. Shrink the monster down to diminutive or tiny size (no need to change its ability scores — if PCs can tap into the cosmic forces of gravity, entropy, and magic, a 6-inch insectoid threat can carry a man away with a +8 Str bonus, if that’s what the stat block has), and add the following special rules.
Dodge And Weave (Ex): A tiny terror ignores the movement penalties for difficult terrain, and treats difficult terrain as cover against attacks made by any creature larger than it is.
Duck And Hide (Ex): A tiny terror has Stealth as a master skill. If it already had Stealth as a master skill, it gains a +1 bonus on Stealth checks. It can make Stealth checks anytime it is 30 feet or more for any observer (even if it lacks cover or concealment), and anytime it is in difficult terrain. A character that has successfully used the identify creature task on a tiny terror(using whatever is the appropriate skill for the tiny terror’s creature type), can make an Engineering check to modify any equipment that qualifies as a scanner to detect the tiny terror. Such modified scanners allow Perception check to ignore the tiny terror’s Stealth checks, though only to identify what square it is in.
Hit And Run (Ex): Once a tiny terror has successfully damaged a foe, it gains a +4 AC bonus whenever it takes the fight defensively or withdrawal actions. This ability lasts until the tiny terror makes an attack roll, or is out of combat for 10 minutes or more. As a result once a tiny terror hits (and potentially infects) a foe, it generally seeks to escape the encounter, often by fleeing to an air duct, dense foliage, or other region where pursuers cannot easily follow.
Infection (Ex): If a tiny terror’s attack doesn’t already have a disease attached to it, it gains one. if it had a curse, poison, or other affliction, this is removed in favor of a disease. A target is exposed to the disease, (which is always a physical disease — select any you like the sound of), and the save DC is typical for the ability DC of a creature of the same array and CR as the tiny terror. If the target is killed by the disease, a new tiny terror is born out of the corpse in 1d4 hours. (A tiny terror may grow into the full-sized version of the creature you apply this template to, but how long that takes is a narrative decision made by the GM based on the story’s needs.)
Terror’s Sting (Ex): A tiny terror’s attacks are highly accurate and focused enough to penetrate most defenses, but deal little actual damage. The tiny terror gains a +2 bonus to all attacks, and ignores an amount of its target’s hardness, energy resistance, and damage reduction equal to its CR. However, its attacks deal a maximum amount of damage equal to its CR (roll its damage normally, but if it exceeds the tiny terror’s CR, reduce the damage dealt to equal its CR). In most cases this means it can easily hit target’s AC and bypass defenses, but will still only do a little damage.
Anytime a tiny terror’s attack damages a target, that target is exposed to the infection (see above).
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As work on ShadowFinder continues, I will occasionally preview things that will be in its Bestiary section. Many of these will be creatures from the ShadowBlast, but others will fill in the “normal” niches a typical modern adventure/scifi/fantasy/surreal/horror game might need.
For each of these, I plan to show some art, talk a bit about why I’m putting it in the ShadowFinder Core Book, and enough info a GM could create a version of the monster at any CR, using the standard Starfinder creature creation rules. In the final entries for these in the Core Book there will be at least one full stat block, but I do also want to give enough info on special abilities and role in an adventure that a GM can reliably make versions at different CRs as they need them.
So, let’s start with the soul lamprey.
Soul lampreys are creatures apparently native to the Shadowblast (though like anything in the Shadowblast, they might originally be from somewhere else and just trapped in that dim demiplane). They are driven by an insatiable hunger to consume the determination and drive of sapient beings, as well as the flesh of any sentient creature they can eat while it still lives.
The idea behind the soul lamprey is to get some of the player-dread that creatures that inflicted level drains and negative levels did in older ttRPGs… without the bookkeeping, refiguring, and literal inability to keep playing the character usefully in the same adventure that those rules often inflicted on players. Instead, soul lampreys eat Resolve Points.
To build a soul lamprey, you use a combatant stat array, a single bite melee attack that deals piercing damage, and give it these special abilities and adjustments:
Slow But Tough: A soul lamprey has EAC and KAC 2 lower than normal for the combatant array at its level, but also has 25% more Hit Points.
Devour Determination (Su): When a soul lamprey damages a target with tis bite, the target must make both a Fortitude and Will save. If it makes both saves, there is no additional affect. If the target fails 1 save, it loses 1 Resolve Point. If it fails both saves, is drained of 1d4 Resolve Points (+1d4 for every 4 full levels of the lamprey’s CR). Drained RP do not recover normally. Instead, each time the character regains their daily abilities, they reroll the Fort and Will saves, regaining 1 RP for each save they succeed at each day. If they make both saves, they regain an addition 1d4 RP (+1d4 for ever 4 character levels they have).
The soul lampry gains these Resolve Points, and can use them normally and to fuel its special abilities. While a soul lamprey has RP, any creature missing RP from a soul lamprey drain is flat-footed and off-target to the soul lamprey.
Digest Determination (Su): When a wounded soul lamprey devours determination, it can choose to expend any number of the RP it absorbs to heal itself as part of the attack. For each RP expended, it regains 1d8 HP + 1/2 its CR. It may only do this when it absorbs new RP.
Target Sense (Su): As part of any action it takes, a soul lamprey can expend 1 RP to gain blindsight (telepathy) with a range of 5 feet per CR of the lamprey. This only detects creatures missing RP drained by a soul lamprey. The ability lasts for 10 minutes per CR of the soul lamprey.
Trap Blind (Ex): A soul lamprey is vulnerable to attacks from things that lack their own determination. This includes traps, mindless creatures, and mechanic’s drones. Such attacks gain a +2 bonus to attack rolls and save DCs, and deal double damage, against soul lampreys.
Shudder Step (Su): When a creature damages a soul lamprey with a ranged attack, the soul lamprey can follow the trace of psychic energy carried by the decision to attack it back to its point of origin, teleporting to be adjacent to the attacker (or as close as possible if there is no safe space adjacent to the attacker). This does not take an action, but does expend 1 Resolve Point.
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I’ve been considering running a Pathfinder 1st-edition game sometime in the not-too-distant future, as a change of pace for when my current Really Wild West campaign wraps up its current story arc. I’ve been especially considering running a variant of the “E6” concept, where regular character progress ends at level 6, and after that characters get a feat (with some new feats to allow ability score progress, access to new spells, access to higher-level abilities as rituals and such).
One of the nice things about running an E6 style game is that lots of classic monsters remain relevant. You have a range from about CR 4 to CR8, and later even CR 9, where its easy to challenge but not overwhelm characters. That means bulletes, dire animals, tougher mundane animals, centaurs, chimeras, cockatrices, cyclops, dinosaurs, drakes, Medium and Large elementals, giant bugs, gorgons, hell hounds, hill giants et al, howlers, hydras, leucrotta, manticores, medusa, ogres, phase spiders, rust monsters, trolls, unicorns and most typical undead (just to name a few) are all easily introduced into encounters. For many people this power level is the “sweet spot” of the game, so E6 just makes that the default, with power increases increasing breadth of options more than raw power numbers.
But it can also mean it’s tough to have challenging encounters with 8-20 foes, which while needn’t be common can certainly be fun. One of the things that can feel good as a hero is to be able to kill foes in a single blow, take out small gangs that jump you in an ally, and hold the bridge against small armies. Doing that without huge numerical bonuses of being 5 levels higher than your foe is tricky, because being outnumbered gives PCs a massive action economy disadvantage.
Lots of games have solved this issue with “minion” or “thug” rules, creating a class of adversary who has enough offensive values to be a threat, but are easily killed. I’ve enjoyed using “rowdies” in my Really Wild West game, and a similar mechanism seems like it might be useful for the specific feel I want for my E6 Pathfinder 1st ed game. This is just a first stab at such rules, off the top of my head, using the template concept and referring to such quickly-defeated adversaries as “fodder.”
I specifically want to make fodder dangerous enough you can’t ignore them, but weak enough their big advantage in extra actions doesn’t allow them to overwhelm PCs. I also want to make sure they are debuffed both in combatant terms, and when thinking about spells and special ablities.
Six creatures with the fodder template are equal to a single creatre of the same CR. Thus, six CR 2 fodder worgs have a CR of 2. This also means you can have one CR 2 worg pack leader, and six fodder worgs, for a total of a CR 4 encounter.
Fodder have a -4 penalty to Initiative checks, AC, CMB, and CMD.
Fodder have a -4 penalty to saving throws against effects that do not deal hp damage, and if such effects have a duration of 1 round or more, the duration is doubled on a failed save.
Fodder have hp equal to the CR of the base creature. (Thus a CR 2 fodder worg has 2 hp).
Fodder do half damage with all abilities. The save DCs of their spells and abilities are reduced by 2, and on a successful save targets take no effect.
Any successful Knowledge check to identify a creature also identifies if it is fodder.
That’s just one change I am considering making to the rules–I have ideas about cantrips automatically scaling, feats gained from some classes have additional benefits (such as combat feats fighters gain from the class bonus feats automatically granting the combat stamina advantages if the fighter wishes, without needing to expend stamina points), and allowing PCs to gain abilities from other classes as feats.
But those are posts for another day. 🙂
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Look, maybe you want to run a fantasy ttRPG with giant animated fruitcake warriors… and maybe you’ll just get a giggle out of my actually taking this topic seriously. But if you want to reskin some class iron, clay, and stone constructs (or any construct-type creature) into holiday-themed materials, here are some options for powers to add based on the holiday material used.
Figgy Pudding/Fruitcake: Take half damage from bludgeoning attacks. Are sticky, so they gain a climb speed.
Gingerbread: As almost 2-d, flexible creatures, they can get through spaces a creature 2 size classes smaller could, without taking any penalties. Any fire damage sets them on fire, both damaging them and causing their attacks to do fire damage.
Holly: Anyone hit by the construct, or adjacent to it for a full round, must make a mental save or move towards the person present they would be most interested in kissing (though once they take that move, all compulsion stops).
Hot Cocoa: Gains all the powers of both a fire elemental and a water elemental of the same threat level. takes double damage from bite attacks.
Peppermint: These constructs are “curiously strong.” Tracking them by scent is easy, but they cover all other scents, and after being in an enclosed space for a minute, scent can no longer pinpoint their exact location with that space.
Yeah, it’s silly, but sometimes you want to throw players for a loop.
Roll 1d6 three times, and that puts together your chimera’s appearance. Depending on the game you are playing, you may or may not want to change any statistics from a base chimera.
Central Head and Front Body
Right Head and Rear Body
Left Head and Wings and Maybe Tail
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So, if I DO a ShadowFinder rpg, or campaign book, or Starfinder hack, or whatever, obviously it’s going to involve adventures that include fighting things (because if it didn’t, I’d pick a different game system). While part of the point of doing something compatible with an existing game system is to make all the existing options available for use as a GM pleases, we’d obviously need some other, new things.
So, what will PCs oppose in a ShadowFinder campaign?
Creepy things. Like a SlenderMan.
Apóleipa, Innocence-Eater (Slenderman) (Combatant)
CE Medium fey (Extraplanar)
Init +6; Senses blindsight (emotion) 30 ft., low-light vision; Perception +14
Defense HP 98
EAC 19; KAC 20
Defensive Abilities Only the Fearless (DR/Resist all energy 10 vs attacks from frightened foes), Tilted Away
Fort +6; Ref +8; Will +10;
Speed 40 ft.
Melee touch +13 (2d4+7 B), critical: staggered 1d4 rounds, 15-foot reach
Ranged warped world +15 (2d4+7 A)
STR +4; DEX +2; CON +0; INT +2; WIS +1; CHA +5
Skills Bluff +19, Culture +14, Diplomacy +19, Intimidate +19, Sense Motive +19, Stealth +19
Other Abilities alltongue, feats (Improved Demoralize), isolation (DC 19), warped world
Organization solitary, pair, or infestation (3–6)
Alltongue (Su): The Slenderman can speak and understand all spoken or signed languages, and is always able to be heard, even in areas of deafening sound and by creatures without a sense of hearing.
Isolation (Su): The Slenderman is a creature of isolation, and this extends to efforts to communicate with people far away by magical or technological means, or even just shouting. Anytime a creature within 300 feet of the Slenderman attempts to send or receive communication with anyone or anything not in their line-of-sight, they must succeed at a DC 19 Will save. On a failed save their radio turns to static, magic spell returns just whispered howls of pain, or their scream seems to die as soon as it leaves their throat. Once a creature fails this save, the condition prevents any communication beyond line-of-sight until it gets more than 300 feet from the Slenderman.
Any effort to record or preserve any image or sound of the Slenderman also requires a successful DC 19 Will save, with failure resulting in just a vague blur or feint whisper, or a picture of what appears to be a tall, thin, but mortal man in a suit, with a blurred face.
Only the Fearless (Su): Those who know fear find themselves nearly unable to damage the Slenderman. When a creature is suffering a fear effect (including the Slenderman’s own Intimidate check with Improved Demoralize), the Slenderman reduces damage from any attack they make by 10 points, regardless of damage type.
Tilted Away (Su): The space the Slenderman is in seems to ripple and roll away to make it difficult to make ranged attacks against it. Any ranged attack made against the Slenderman at a range greater than 2 feet grants the Slenderman concealment.
Warped World (Su): The Slenderman can reach out a long, crooked finger and cause someone to have a sense the world is spinning and twisting, wrenching their organs and insides as if they were being wrung out like a rag. This is a ranged acid attack against EAC, has a range increment of 50 feet, and has Knockdown as a critical hit effect.
Apóleipa are a form of fey native to the Plane of Shadow that represent the unformed fears of spaient creatures. As cultures form specific fears or hatreds, various apóleipa form to both try to stoke these negative feelings of natives to the mortal world, and to feed on them. Among the most recent form of apóleipa are innocence-eaters, also known as Slendermen, who feed of a sense of loss of innocence and self-loathing at having done horrid things. They operate mostly in places already suffering from great tragedy or resentment, often on the fringes of society, and seek to convince the most vulnerable members of these places to take actions that will deepen the fear and despair of the population.
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I love making new fantastic things. Not just “fantasy” things, but amazing and otherworldly things you could find in supers stories, or ancient mythology, or scifi, or weird west tall tales, or all of the above.
I especially love to make new things that feel like they have a long, established, iconic niche even if they are brand new. Obviously that’s a great *goal*, but it’s extremely difficult to do without making something that’s just a pastiche. It’s also extremely difficult to know when you have succeeded.
I do have some tricks I try to apply. Firstly, I often find if I can’t explain a thing within the number of characters allowed by a Tweet, I don’t have a firm enough grasp of what the core of that thing is. Second, I try to think about what the base of a thing is, and what the expansion is.
For example, today I had an idea leap into my head (likely due to insomnia-induced fatigue toxions) which I described thusly:
Ghortal are 7-8 foot tall unguligrade bipeds with roughly bull-like heads featuring tusks and 2-7 curling horns. Immune to undeath, if infected their faces take on skeletal features as their aging slows and they gain occult power.
They have a strong clan structure.
The base of ghortal is clearly that they are a kind of minotaur-kin, though with tusks and more horns. But then the idea is expanded to give them a special immunity to undeath, and a reaction to undead exposure that’s unique to them.
Minoaturs are clearly iconic, and there are a lot of similar beast + biped creatures in myth and fiction. Bovine skulls being used as masks and symbols is also extremely common, so I wanted to find a neat way to combine those into my minotaurs-with-extra-pointy-bits concept to make ghortal new and more interesting.
As for how I know when I have succeeded — it’s always a matter of how other people take to the idea.
But it’s sure a good sign when a professional cartoonist is so taken by the idea, they do art for it. Relatedly, here’s art the amazing Stan! did after reading my ghortal post earlier today. 🙂
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