Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Which Literary Cleric am I ripping off for this NPC

I love Jack and his blog, but given that he's already moved on to villains I think this one is gonna have to fall to me. Answer key will be posted when I feel ready to.

This blind wanderer carries the last copy of a forgotten holy book, in a language only he knows how to read. The gods guide him with such surety that few people ever notice he can't see them.
As a world-shaking disaster loomed and chaos reigned, he stood in public and delivered a sermon, urging people not to lose faith. Then a few started listening to him. Gradually, a few became many, and then many became all. Their hope was rewarded, and so was his.
Believe it or not, the small animal this simpleminded novice keeps by his side is his god's earthly form.
This gentle priest has a suspicious amount of pull with those in power, and an equally suspicious knowledge of the ways of thieves and assassins. He is deceptively handy with a weapon. Though he has taken a vow never to kill, he maintains that he is under no obligation not to cripple his enemies.
This fat friar settled down with a band of outlaws to keep them on the up-and-up. He can wield sword or staff alongside any of them.
This stern archdeacon is tormented by his lustful obsession with a wandering dancer, whom he believes is a witch that has enchanted him.
This scheming patriarch seeks to expose the indiscretions of the queen in order to increase his political influence over the king.
This deathless outcast has fought against and fought alongside his half-demon brother countless times. Unbeknownst to him, the higher power he conducts dark rituals in the name of is none other than the son of the corrupt king he seeks to overthrow. It is whispered that there is one day a year on which he can never be defeated.
This small, worn-looking high priest was granted his office after the assassination of his predecessor, when a mass of his supporters invaded the chamber of the church's council with him raised upon their shoulders. Thanks to his negotiating of a deal with the Regent of a major kingdom, clerics of his faith are no longer barred from fighting.
This scarred warrior-priest has renounced his religion, but has sworn to avenge the people who practiced it on the order of wizards who committed genocide against the people who practiced it using their own magic.
This dark-haired priest has killed hundreds, always after he solemnly repeats a single phrase in a foreign language.
For this axe-wielding reverend with an excruciatingly long name, the crusade against evil is not just a metaphor.
Though only twelve, this fun-loving youngster rose high in the ranks of his monastic order-- even without taking advantage of the fact that he is the vessel of a powerful spirit.
This plain-speaking dwarvish cleric was turned into a vampire recently, but he still intends to keep to his good-aligned faith.
This devout missionary once went astray and became second-in-command of a legion of brutal slavers, but returned to the fold after its leader had him set on fire and thrown off a cliff.
This well-dressed, doddering clergyman speaks at great length with an incredibly annoying speech impediment-- unless a nearby nobleman orders him to hurry it along.
While he has a good reputation, this depraved bishop openly practices cannibalism and usury.
A brutal warlord, this unaging snake-cult leader maintains that flesh is the strongest thing there is-- evidenced by the near-mindless obedience of his followers.
This dark-skinned young girl showed a gift of prophecy from an early age, leading her to become the spiritual leader of a nation when she was only four, after she ferreted out a cabal of disguised rakshasas. She shows a cleverness and wisdom far beyond her years. Within the temple that is her home, she is much stronger than she would be outside.
The daughter of a priest who sacrificed his life in a vitally-important ritual that must soon be repeated, this sheltered priestess is expected to follow in his footsteps, but she has fallen desperately in love with one of her traveling companions.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Okay I promise this will be the last post about how devils look for a while

My man Shonuff over at the Basic Fantasy RPG forums agreed to take my request for devil designs, and I'm proud to report that three are already done.

There's the Barbed Devil:

9/22: The Bearded Devil

9/23: The Chain Devil. Man that looks metal.

The Ice Devil (which I showed you before:

And the Pit Fiend (with, apparently, a friend):
I'm extremely happy with them, and if he does the rest I'll add them to this post later.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

On overcoming my problem with demons and devils Part two: Devils (this one is less heavy on the pictures)

Okay, so when last we left off I was gonna get into devils, yes?

Devil Overview
I think that in general devils should look more consistent and alike than demons do. That imp back in the other post, or the abishai from way back in the first post of the series? Those are my template for demonkind. Here they are again if you want a refresher.

So keep that in mind.

Barbed Devil
I actually have a really specific vision of what a barbed devil should look like in my head, and it comes down to this: Porcupine quills. This should be a devil with lots of porcupine quills. The illustrations are always this weird chupacabra guy and I hate 'im. Sadly I couldn't find an exact illustration of what I've always thought they should look like. Here's a couple of devils that do have nice quills though.

Bearded Devil
A lot of the old illustrations of bearded devils look...grubby. I don't like that, I think a devil should tend to look professional, I guess. This 4e Dragon Magazine cover does something interesting by making the beard out of snakes. That could work for me. Though actually... I also kind of dig the idea of the beard being a bunch of horn spikes, or having blades braided into it or something. I dunno.
UPDATE 9/16: Had a thought yesterday I quite like: The beard has burning strands of matchcord or embers in it like Blackbeard, wreathing the face in nasty, brimstoney smoke.

Bone Devils
Actually, not too bad either, though some old versions of them have insect wings that I thinktotally take the wind out of their sails. I'd like to see more typical horns and wings on one of these just to see how it goes. I think the name for them is kind of bad, something like "hunger devil" or something might have been cooler. Or else give them some better connection to bones than just being skeletally thin.

Chain Devils
My brother is really fond of these guys. I think they look like knockoff cenobites. But the idea of a "chain devil" works for me, I could see cool stuff happening with it. I hear pathfinder spun Kytons off into their own thing separate from devils. I don't know if that's an improvement or a detriment to them. I see them as having a couple of great big heavy piercings (one on each arm, one between the wings, one between the horns, et cetera) that they hang chains off of. Sometimes they're bound by nailing the chain to one. Maybe a bit like this?

Fallen angels are good. I like them more as punishers, as their name implies, than as the lawful equivalent of succubi. I think Pathfinder might have wrote them that way? They drag you to hell. They probably get a lot less pretty as they get more pissed. I don't think they're actual devils, but they are part of the forces of hell.
Horned Devil
Well... aren't they all? I like horned devils to have big, impressive ones, maybe unique. Antlers are a good look, but also those times Hellboy's horns have grown out all the way are good. Or maybe they have rhino or triceratops or styracosaurus horns? Lots of good possibilities here. I tend to see them as being more on the aristocratic, lordly side, but powerfully built.

Ice Devil
Actually, this pic was a factor in me thinking about the appearances of demons and devils in the first place. For some reason this picture totally says "ice devil" to me. I've never been huge on the insectoid appearance of the ice devil traditionally, because it seems so inconsistent with the rest. A beetle carapace on thisguy could be kind of interesting.
Aren't lemures just damned souls? I dunno, they probably just look kind of ghosty. I can't remember the last time I thought too hard about it. Properly speaking I don't think they count as devils. Maybe they're all chained up like Jacob Marley?
Pit Fiend
These guys have a problem: They're just lawful balors. Solution, make them more princely, more Mephisto. They are men of wealth and taste. Probably wear robes.

On overcoming my problem with demons and devils Part one: Demons (Abnormally picture-heavy for my standards)

Okay, so last night's post was kind of a haze of exhaustion, but I hope it was still clear.

Anyway, I want to relate what's happened to me this afternoon. I was looking through the "more like this" page for this picture:

When I stumbled upon a glabrezu drawn by the same artist. And... it didn't look like a four-armed dog-crab-ape-guy, it looked like... well, a demon. So I decided to do a little experiment-- I'd look for demons and devils of a similar nature to the classic D&D ones.
And lo and behold: results!

Type I
I actually like Vrocks a lot. Something about a lanky, stooping vulture-man is Boschy enough to stand out, but seems classic enough to suit my sensibilities. In my mind they hardly need fixing at all, just a reminder that they should be less a person that is a vulture and more some kind of horrible vulture that walks like a man, so here's some that are just nice examples of awesome vulture demons:
Type II
Now Hezrou, them I don't like. D&D is littered with toad monsters, from slaads to bullywugs to froghemoths to just plain old giant frogs and toads. They need an angle. But starting from toad isn't too bad, toads are warty and gross and associated with witches sometimes. However the goal is less a toad-demon and more a demon that is sort of toadlike in execution. These three hit the spot for me:
Type III
Glabrezu are so absurdly specific in their design I thought I could never like one. But this is the pic that kicked this whole silly art show off. This doesn't look like a thrown-together mass of animal parts, it just looks like a demon to me.
I think being hulking and four armed works in general-- searching for "four armed demon" resulted in a couple other winners:
Type IV
I can't hate Nalfeshnee too much actually. I think boars work. But the standard of giving them tiny little angel wings is stupid-- I think maybe someone was trying to inject some sort of bathetic humor and failed. Still, the pig demon is a good concept. I always liked Ganon after all, and most of the pics here are of him
Type V
Actually Mariliths don't offend me so much either. I don't know that they look like demons to me but they look like they belong on a heavy metal album, which is good enough. Less convinced of the need for six arms, but I don't hate it either. They should not be as sexy as succubi, but there's no reason they can't have a sort of aggressive dominant sexuality about them-- nor is there any reason they have to be sexy.

Type VI
Balors are balrogs. And that just works, no need to reinvent the fucking wheel. Here's some nice balrogs. Downward curving horns are a must for me, on Balrogs and on black dragons alike.

Well like I said before succubi are another one that I don't have an aesthetic problem with. Also, I'm not your fucking spank bank.
Well, okay, here's one.

 This is running a bit long so I'll put devils in their own post, up next.

On my problem with Demons and Devils

Jeeeeezis, has it been two weeks already? Sorry, guys, real life has been eating me alive. But there is some good news, I have plans to set up an LGBTQI and allied women's West Marches game! Neat, huh? But that's not what this post is about. Though if it gets off the ground I will post about it, I assure you.

So here's what this post is actually about: For a while now I haven't liked most D&D Demons or Devils and I never was able to put a finger on why. Until tonight. Tonight I realized that the ones that I like the best (Balors, Succubi, and Imps/Quasits, and to a lesser extent Malebranche/Cornugon and Abishai-- Abishai in particular, as they were illustrated in 3.5, are in my opinion particularly attractive) all have something in common. Or rather, that the ones I don't like all have something in common. Iconicness. Those three demons are all very recognizable, very easy to grok. And for me that's an important part of D&D's specialness-- it's built on images that just about anyone who's read a few fairy tales or mythology books or been to the movies in their lives understands well enough that they can follow along and work with. Even many of its monsters, I think, are easy to make sense of. A mind-flayer is a tentacle alien that eats brains. A carrion crawler is a big scavenger worm. An owlbear is exactly what the name suggests it would be. A Bulette is a land shark, literally. A rust monster is a silly looking animal that makes metal rust.

But so many of D&D's fiends feel like... well, strange hodgepodges of thrown-together animal parts with a random assortment of magical spells. If I say "devil" or "demon" your brain probably doesn't leap to "insect person with ice powers" or "four-armed dog-gorilla with lobster claws", it's probably more like one of these bastards: exaggerated, funny-colored humans with goat horns and bat wings and tails with a little arrowhead thingy on them and fangs, and perhaps cloven hooves, conjuring up fire and darkness and either here to kick some unholy ass or buy your soul for wealth, power, or wishes, but either way here to make sure somebody goes to hell; the stuff of heavy metal album covers.

The weird thing is that most of the highest ranks of D&D's demons and devils look like this. Asmodeus, Orcus, Grazz't, they all look like devils and demons. But their underlings just don't click for me.

Of course I like the occasional possessor too. D&D never really had that, as far as I know, the closest it ever got was the Shadow Demon, which isn't too awful either, but even that only sort of felt like it was the thing.

So here's how it'll be. My next several posts, I'll give you some demons I might use. I'm not saying they're original. I'm not saying they're clever. I'm definitely not saying they're gonzo, they're about as far from that as you get. But if you want them, you'll have them.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Would I sell hagga to a slayer such as you?

Although the common pink or white lotus is a simple flower with edible shoots that grows in the rivers and swamps of some of the world's warmer regions, it has relatives whose effects are rather more exotic. Some of the more notable such flowers are described here (As is a trigger warning for drug use and potentially for rape, seriously I tried to steer as much clear from explicating it as possible but I am just warning you now that it might come through anyway).

  • Black Lotus: Black lotus is probably the most famous and dangerous of the lotuses. Legend states that the plant itself is ambulatory, and that even the smell of its flowers can put a grown man to sleep in a single breath. The crushed stamens of the black lotus may be smoked, requiring a save against poison. If the saving throw is unsuccessful, there is a 1 in 6 chance of death. If it is successful, there is a 1 in 6 chance that the smoker will be blessed with visions granting them insight as if they had successfully cast a commune spell. Either way the smoker will fall into a state of paralysis for 1d4+2 hours. The sap of the black lotus's stem can be boiled down into a black, syrupy liquid which is among the deadliest of poisons. However its dark color and strong taste mean it is favored more for poisoned blades or needles than it is for tampering with food and drink.
  • Yellow Lotus: The resin of the yellow lotus's buds is greatly prized by spellcasters, as it restores magical energy to those who eat or smoke it. One who partakes of the yellow lotus will lose consciousness for 1d4 hours, but when they rise will be able to prepare spells anew as if they had slept through the night. Any spells the user has prepared at the time are lost, however. It is said that overuse of the yellow lotus can cause the loss of mental faculties over time, resulting in dependence upon it to be able to prepare spells at all.
  • Grey Lotus: Also called red lotus, ash lotus, or flame lotus, the stems and leaves of the red lotus may be chewed, or the juice rubbed into the gums, nostrils, or other mucous membranes to induce a berserker rage lasting 1d4+1 turns. It tends to cause itching and sensitivity in the tissues it was rubbed into, so the depraved and the reckless sometimes turn small doses of the stuff to uses that they would probably not want to discuss in front of their mothers.
  • Blue Lotus: the least potent of the lotuses, blue lotus is used by steeping the petals in hot water, then drinking the resulting tea. It is commonly used as a soporific in the lands where it grows, and in addition to a feeling of drowsiness that makes it easy to sleep, one who drinks it will take a -1 penalty to saves against charm or sleep effects.
  • Purple lotus: Purple lotus is a favorite drug among decadent merchants and nobles. Smoked or eaten, it is known to cause unconsciousness with vivid, but meaningless, dreams for 1d6 hours at a time. Purple lotus can also be steeped in strong drink for the same effect, but it is weaker in this form and the drinker is entitled to a save.