Saturday, August 30, 2014

Mercy Me, The Fantasy Ecology

Image found HERE
When scientists cracked the DNA code, and started re-mapping the Tree of Life, they found some pretty interesting things – animals one would not think were related, it turned out, actually were. It's amazing the way different animal families manage to fill ecological niches. Heck, just looking at a Chihuahua and Great Dane will tell you that life is pretty mutable.

This led me to thinking about how one could create weird, fantasy ecologies. Imagine categorizing animals into broad ecological niches – large predators, small predators, small scavengers, large grazers, for example – and then randomly picking from the various families of the animal kingdom to fill those niches. The next step would be hardest, of course – imagining how the selected animal family might fit into that niche. Of course, if you draw a feline for the large predator category, you can just stick in a tiger. But what about a large equine predator? What might that look like?

Okay – one note for what follows … it ain’t science. It’s an affront to science. The idea here is to stimulate one’s imagination and come up with a twisted ecology that will entertain and delight the people who play in your games. The below tables are designed to start with something you know, and then turn it into something you don’t. Insectivores will become herbivores and herbivores will become carnivores, etc. Have fun, use your imagination and if you have a few bucks in your pocket, commission and artist to bring your creation to life.

First, determine the sizes of the animals in you fantastic ecology. This is dependent on the availability of food in the environment, which itself is usually dependent on the availability of water. For marine environments, it should probably be based on the availability of sunlight (SUNNY-MEDIUM-DARK).

Tiny creatures will rarely serve as anything but a prop when running an adventure; unless they swarm or are poisonous they won’t threaten adventurers, and grand hunts are not organized to kill them. Hence, don’t worry about creating too many.

For each animal size, determine its general strategy for feeding itself by rolling 1d6 on the following table.

Carnivores eat meat, and will usually hunt for it or scavenge the kills of smaller creatures

Omnivores eat meat and plants, and might pose a danger to adventurers

Herbivores eat plants, and are usually only dangerous in large, stampeding herds; they do, on the other hand, serve as prey for adventurers

This will give you a variety of interesting animals that might be encountered (randomly, of course) in a region by adventurers. The point here is not to build an actual viable ecosystem, but rather to build a dangerous backdrop for exploration and adventure. Naturally, you’ll want to fill out a random encounter table with more fantastic monsters as well.

To determine what fills the niche, roll on the tables below. These tables are designed to produce something weird, so keep that in mind.


01-02. Aardvarks
03-04. Anapsida – turtles
05-06. Ants
07-08. Anura – frogs and toads
09-10. Apoidea – bees and wasps
11-12. Arachnids – spiders and scorpions
13-14. Bats
15-17. Birds – I could be more specific, but I like the possibilities of throwing them all into one category
18-20. Bovines – including cattle, goats, sheep, musk oxen and antelopes
21-22. Caelifera – grasshoppers, locusts, crickets and katydids
23-24. Camels – including llamas
25-27. Canines – wolves, dogs and foxes
28-29. Caudata – salamanders and newts
30-31. Coleoptera – beetles and weevils
32-33. Crocodilians – crocodiles and alligators
34-35. Dinosaurs – you should have no problem fitting them into any ecological niche
36-37. Diptera – flies, mosquitoes, gnats, and midges
38-39. Equines – including horses, asses, and zebras
40-42. Felines –cats, including the related sabre-toothed paleofelines
43-44. Hippopotamuses
45-46. Hyenas
47-48. Insectivores – including moles, shrews, hedgehogs, and moonrats
49-50. Lepidoptera – butterflies and moths
51-53. Lizards
54-55. Mantises
56-57. Marsupials – kangaroos, wombats, opossums
58-59. Mongooses and linsangs
60. Monsters – mythological beasts
61-62. Mustelids – weasels, badgers, otters, wolverines and the related skunks
63-64. Odonata – dragonflies and damselflies (dragons and damsels – funny)
65-66. Pangolins
67-68. Pecora – deer, giraffes, okapis, pronghorns
69-70. Pilosa – including sloths, extinct ground sloths and anteaters
71-72. Pinnipeds – seals and walruses
73-74. Primates – including lemurs, monkeys, apes and humans
75-76. Proboscids – elephants, mammoths and mastodons
77-78. Raccoons
79-80. Rhinoceroses
81-83. Rodents – rats, squirrels, guinea pigs, hamsters, porcupines and capybara!
84. Snails
85-86. Snakes
87-88. Swine – including peccaries
89-90. Synapsida – mammal-like reptiles from the primordial world
91-92. Tachyglossids – including echidnas and platypuses
93-94. Tapirs
95-96. Ursines – bears, including the extinct bear-dogs
97-98. Viverrids – civets
99-100. Worms


1-2. Cephalods – including octopuses, squids and cuttlefish
3-4. Cetaceans
5-6. Crustaceans – lobsters and crabs
7-8. Dinosaurs
9-10. Eels
11-12. Jellyfish
13-14. Lampreys
15-16. Manatees and sea cows
17-18. Monsters – fantastic creatures
19-20. Osteichthys – bony fish – i.e. fish with bone skeletons rather than cartilage
21-22. Placodermi – armored fish
23-24. Sharks and rays – including ghostsharks
25-26. Shrimp
27-28. Turtles
29-30. Roll on land table and adapt to marine environment

To help you along, you can consult the following table listing existing animals in each niche, modeling your make-believe animal on the survival techniques of a real animal.


My weird savannah is dominated by tall, broad herbivores descended from crocodiles. They have short snouts and thick tongues that pull in grasses. Mostly slow and ponderous, they retain their crocodilian patience and ability to generate a short burst of speed. The grazing tortoises are about the size of water buffalo, with shells that are spiked, providing a means of defense. The savannah is also grazed on by wombat-like creatures that resemble long-legged, antelopes. The swiftest herbivores on the savannah are medium-sized descendants of rhinos; they look like springboks with rough, rhino-like skin and small horns on their foreheads. Seeds on the savannah are collected by sparrow-sized dragonflies and a rodent that resembles a cane rat.

The only true carnivore on the savannah is a burrowing, carnivorous hedgehog that preys on the rodents and dragonflies. Packs of these creatures prey on such creatures as the long-fingered and ring-tailed raccoons that live in colonies in large trees and the small anteaters that scurry among the tall grasses. The savannah also has a wolf-sized feline that feeds on smaller animals and the long, purple fruit that grows on the savannah trees, and a panther-sized arachnid that hunts at night in small prides.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Monster Tome and Maps

It took a little longer than I wanted due to a need to alter the cover when I got my first preview copy, but the Blood & Treasure Monster Tome hard cover is now available for sale at

What do you get for $21.99?


Who doesn't need a few more monsters to menace their players? This tome includes 258 monsters, all statted up and ready to go. Most of the monsters also include a sample encounter to help you work them into your games. Although written for the Blood & Treasure system, the monsters are compatible with most old school fantasy games. 172 pages.
PLUS - If you buy the hard cover and email me with a copy of the receipt, you get a free PDF! To paraphrase Eddie Murphy - What a bargain for you!

IN ADDITION - I did a little redesign work on the NOD page on the blog, with (I think) better links to better copies of the hex crawl maps. Check it out if you've a mind to.

COMING UP - A different way to value treasure, Trojan campaigns (the city, not the ... you know) and whatever else my fevered little mind can dream up. NOD 24 is in the works as well!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Navigating a Fantasy World with Google

I was looking at some paintings this morning by British artists working during the Victorian period. The painting below was painted by Richard Parkes Bonington in 1826. It depicts the Rialto in Venice.

From this great blog

Since the Rialto is a landmark, I decided to have a look on GoogleEarth ...

Not the same angle, of course, but close enough. This got me wondering how useful it would be to use GoogleEarth's street view for fantasy gaming. I've used it in the past for a Mystery Men! game, mostly to stage a chase and fight in Chicago IL. That was set in the 1960's, so not so far in the past that the modern cityscape wasn't close enough to use "as-is".

This section of Venice has some nice alleyways that appear to be "walkable" in GoogleEarth, and the buildings don't seem terribly different from 1826, when the above painting was painted. It makes me think that by picking an old city, and jumping into the old part of that city - the part that's been kept "oldey-timey" for the tourists - you might be able to turn it into a fantasy city and navigate players through using random encounters and random building tables, and a few set pieces, to facilitate play and give them a better reference point when fights break out or cut purses nab their gold and a chase ensues.

Some other cityscapes that might prove useful ...

Carcasonne, France - be sure to have your adventurers stay at the Best Western Hotel le Donjon.

Edinburgh, Scotland

Ghent, Belgium

Prague, Czech Republic

Siena, Italy

Unfortunately, many cities outside of Europe don't have street views available, such as Algiers' famous Casbah. You can at least use the street maps, though, and supplement it with old paintings.

You can also use real world landscapes from GoogleEarth for wilderness exploration to provide something more visually stimulating than a simple hex containing a landscape symbol. The NOD hexcrawls use 6-mile hexes. Below, a roughly 7-mile wide chunk of the Himalayas.

Much better than a hex with a triangle in it, don't you think?

You can zoom in as you play and, depending on the resolution of an area, have a better understanding of the path that has to be taken, and maybe find a convenient spot for a dwarf village or red dragon lair. The pictures can give the players a better understanding of what they're going through.

You're walking up a narrow defile. The ground is covered with gravel and boulders, and the slopes tower above you on either side. Strange noises echo down the defile ...

And what about random weather? Well, why not just use today's forecast? How is this bit of the Himalayas doing today? Rainy, fairly warm (well, when this post was written, anyways).

Just a few ideas for leveraging modern technology for better tabletop gaming. If you have any tips and tricks, please wax poetic in the comments, or toss in a link to a blog article you wrote.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Crunching the Literary Numbers

I just recently found out about Google's Ngram Viewer. This neat little gadget allows you to search within the books on Google Books, from 1820 to 2000, for words or phrases. It then graphs the percentage of books from these different years where the word or phrase shows up.

Let's see what we can find.

Warriors hit their heyday in 1851, but have been making a comeback since about 1978. Hmmm - what else happened around 1978. Wizards were never as popular as warriors, but they started an upswing in 1991, pre-Harry Potter even!

Speaking of the grand old game ...

Well, perhaps 1975. Makes me wonder about the miniscule references to the phrase "Dungeons & Dragons" in the 1940's and 1960's. A few of the mentions appear in the following tomes:

Boy's Life, 1980 - an advertisement

Freshman Register - Mark Lloyd Coleman represents!

InfoWorld, 1979 - Chamelion releases a solo dungeon adventure!

How about monsters?

The traditional dragon remains more popular than the vampire, but the vamps are gaining ground.

And those damn zombies ...

 ... relentless, as always.

 As for my own baby ...

... things are looking up!

Have fun, kids!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Thirty Years Campaign

Taking of Breisach by Jusepe Leonardo | via Wikipedia

As the land of the Brothers Grimm, Germany seems an obvious inspiration for a fantasy campaign. Castles, tiny kingdoms (or marks, or duchies, or palatinates, etc.), dark woods, tall mountains, Germanic mythology … it all works.

Dungeons & Dragons (or whatever version you prefer), though, has at its heart the idea of the fantasy apocalypse. Adventurers combing through the ruins of ancient civilizations for wealth and fighting the monsters that now control these ruins and wastelands to make the world safe for civilization. Medieval Germany might not be the best place to set a fantasy apocalypse … but how about Germany during the Thirty Years War?

Round about 1618, Catholicism and Protestantism decided to have it out, and Germany was unfortunate enough to be located between the largely Protestant north and the largely Catholic south. As the war dragged on, religion became less of a factor, and the struggle between the Hapsburgs and Bourbons took center stage. Whatever the opposing sides, the German states took the brunt of it. Thousands died from war, famine and disease. Death, war, famine and disease – sounds like the apocalypse to me. Towards the end of the war, witch hunting came into vogue.

A landscape with travellers ambushed outside a small town by Sebastian Vrancx | via Wikipedia

So what do we have? A once prosperous country ravaged by war, disease and famine. Lots of ruins, foreboding landscapes, etc. With all that disease and death, the undead are a natural. Undead that spawn by killing make a great stand-in for plagues. You’re in Germany, so all sorts of fey and dragons make sense. As human civilization retreats, the monsters begin expanding their ranges. You have two formerly Lawful Good religions that have probably become Lawful Neutral (at best) clashing over matters of liturgy and ritual, and opening the doors to Chaos. The goblins have retaken the woodlands! Hobgoblin mercenaries are plundering the countryside! Ruins! Treasure! D&D!

For characters, you can bring in dwarfs from the Alps and elves from the Black Forest, or you can just focus on humans. Germans sure (though German was still a nebulous term – think Saxons and Bavarians and such instead), but the war was also fought by Swedes (led by Adolphus Gustavus), Danes, Bohemians, the French, Lowlanders, Prussians, Transylvanians, the Spanish, the Italians, Scots, Croats, Czechs, Poles, Hungarians, Lithuanians, Austrians … plenty of variety for human characters.

Batalla de Rocroi (1643) por Augusto Ferrer-Dalmau | via Wikipedia

Fighters can be modeled on Halberdiers or Pikemen or, best of all, zweihander-armed landesknechts. Paladins would be great in a setting like this, and Rangers are perfect guides through the wilderness. Most of the armor we're used to would work fine in this setting. The Thirty Years War also has muskets, pistols and cannon. Oh – and Cyrano de Bergerac!

Clerics can be Catholic or Protestant (and may represent the good members left in those religions, on the hunt for relics to save or destroy) or they can be anti-clerics sewing discontent in the name of Chaos. Jewish clerics would make interesting characters, for sure. Druids could be complicated, and would probably be better modeled as wise women or cunning men from the countryside, or followers of primitive Christianity trying to get back to the basics of life. Cardinal Richelieu is a participant in the wars – wouldn’t he make an interesting patron for a French cleric?

Magic-users could be learned alchemists and pseudo-scientists, or they could be those witches the bishops were hunting down.

Thieves and assassins are naturals in a setting like this – the assassins working for the different political factions, the thieves just being normal folks who have lost everything and had to turn to robbery to support themselves.

So, how about a campaign set in the depths of a fantasy-style Thirty Years War? Bold adventurers delve into ruins in search of loot or holy relics (or both) and battle roving bands of brigands, mercenary companies and the monsters that are emerging from the edges of the empire. Sometimes the adventurers retreat into France or Italy or England to rest, buy supplies and hire retainers. As the campaign continues, they become powers in their own right, rubbing shoulders with kings and princes and generals, and eventually joining in the famous battles of the war – what a great excuse to drag out Chainmail and its fantasy supplement! Maybe the Erlking of the Alps is planning to join the war with his dwarves and elves and trolls and giants? The possibilities are many.

Soldiers plundering a farm during the thirty years' war by Sebastian Vrancx | via Wikipedia

Monday, August 18, 2014

Are Treasure Hordes Too Small?

I was looking through some Victorian paintings at the Victorian British Painting blog (not just a clever name), and came across this one by Benjamin Walter Spiers.

One heck of a horde, but fantasy gaming standards. No coins, of course, but in terms of other items ... well, here's my thumbnail inventory:

Books (130)
Bottles/decanters/jugs (33)
Paintings/pictures (21)
Bowls/dishes (18)
Blankets/rugs/tapestries (9)
Vases/urns (9)
Helms (3)
Mirrors (3)
Swords (3)
Boxes (2)
Censers (2)
Daggers (2)
Statues (2)
Violins (2)
Base (1)
Candlestick (1)
Clock (1)
Compass (1)
Globe (1)
Halberd (1)
Hourglass (1)
Inkpot (1)
Lute (1)
Map (1)
Musket (1)
Necklace (1)
Pan pipes (1)
Pipe (1)
Powder horn (1)
Stained glass (1)

255 items by my count, and that's just items visible to me. I'm sure I missed a few, and of course there would be items obscured from view.

I can well imagine a scene like this in a wizard's cramped study or in the castle of a lord, and certainly an ancient wyrm should have as many items collected. But how to do this in a game without it just being a huge headache? I admit that I don't know.

Still, it's a really wonderful painting.

And speaking of dragon hordes ...

 Always one of my favorites. By Denis Beauvais, of course.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Twelve Kingly Archetypes

If a campaign goes on long enough, with PC's gaining more and more power, wealth and ability, there's a good chance they'll eventually deal with a king (or queen). But what kind of king? Oh, it could just be a very basic monarch type who hands out a quest in exchange for money or some other royal favor. If the focus is the dungeon, the king doesn't need to be particularly interesting.

On the other hand, you could leverage the amazing potential kings offer for role playing and campaign play. A monarch can become a very important NPC in a game, hindering and helping the PC's in a wide variety of ways. A helpful king might have a much less helpful rival in the wings, making him a resource to be protected and making his protectors targets for that rival and his faction. On the other hand, a cruel king might have a more worthy successor somewhere around whom the referee can build a campaign of regime change and revolution. So many possibilities, but only if you put a little time and effort into creating a king worthy of a campaign.

So - today we look at twelve archetypes that you can use in your campaign. Later, I'll try to do the same for queens later, though clearly these archetypes are as applicable to females and males.

God be praised!


The heroic king is a fixture of mythology and folklore. King Arthur is a good example, a storied monarch that founds a nation, protects it, and, after death, is expected to return to usher in a new golden age. In a campaign, you might use the Hero-King when he is a young man, still founding his kingdom, or when he is an old man, largely inactive as an adventurer but commanding a renowned band of knights. Of course, a young adventuring king does present one problem - why is he sending the adventurers on a quest when he might do it himself. Well, even hero-kings have paperwork.

A hero-king is almost certainly going to have levels (at least 9) in a PC class, with fighter, paladin and barbarian being likely candidates.

Warrior kings at play


Warrior kings aren't uncommon in history. After all, it takes a fair bit of war to establish and maintain a kingdom in a medieval or ancient milieu. Famous warrior-kings include Richard I of England (the Lionheart), his rival Saladin (or Ṣalāḥ ad-Dīn Yūsuf ibn Ayyūb to be more precise), Agamemnon, Henry V of England, Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, Napoleon of France, Genghis Khan and William the Conquerer. All of these men were known for personally leading their followers into battle, and that's the key to a warrior-king - they actually fight. They may be great strategists and tacticians, or they may just be brave men who like to wade into melee. In either case, they will tend to be resolute and decisive when dealing with adventurers, and they will always be very goal-oriented. Their own past success in battle will tend to make them less accepting of failure on the part of others.

Warrior-kings might be simple aristocrats in armor, but they are more likely to have levels (at least 5 to 6) in fighter or another warrior class.

Bring on the girls!


No man better represents this archetype than Henry VIII of England. The young Henry, for sure, but especially the older, fatter Henry. Lusty kings are all about indulging their passions. They are headstrong, stubborn and do not deal well with being told "no". Lusty kings are selfish and egotistical, and quests for them may very well be about settling scores and seizing prizes on their behalf. Fail a lusty king and ... well, just ask Henry's wives how that works out (if you have access to a speak with dead spell).

Lusty kings may very well be simple aristocrats with massive egos. If you were to give then class levels, consider barbarian - an enraged lusty king throwing a temper tantrum would be all the more dangerous and entertaining if they have a few levels of barbarian to draw on.

Squeeze every last drop out of those insolent ... musical ... peasants.


Prince, and later King, John, the brother of the Lionheart, has come down to us through the pen of Shakespeare, as a weakling intent on tyranny. Ustinov made him a sniveling moron in Disney's version of the Robin Hood tale. The real story is a bit different, though to be fair, he did attempt a coup d'etat while Richard was on the 3rd crusade. Still, he proved an able administrator, if not a brilliant leader during war. John represents the politician king - not powerful or popular enough to have his way, he must bargain and triangulate. He is a master of political, if not military, strategy.

Politician kings can rarely be trusted. They are out for number one, and they are willing to get where they want to be though almost any means (or any means, if they are evil) necessary. They are also patient, and understand that to get what they want, they must make a bargain. Adventurers will be fairly paid for their service, but when they become a liability, they're dropped like a hot potato.

Politician kings are probably just aristocrats with no, or few, class levels. They probably have higher than normal intelligence, wisdom and charisma scores, for without them they would be poor politicians indeed.

Yeah, he's every bit as big a d-bag as he looks


When Europe's monarchs found themselves in control of nation states, the old relationship between the royal court and the royal subjects changed. With large, standing armies at their disposal, the old parliaments of Europe fell by the wayside, leaving the power of the king virtually unchecked.

Tyrant-kings, like King Louis XIV, believe they are and must be supreme over all their subjects. There is no possibility of power-sharing, in political terms, and more importantly, there can be no intimation that they are not perfect human specimens. They are, after all, placed on their throne by the will of God, and God would not put an inferior man upon the throne.

Tyrant-kings are no picnic, and adventurers, who represent not only an independent streak but also a potentially competing power center, must almost certainly run afoul of them. Even tyrant-kings who are not egomaniacs must behave that way in their dealings with others to preserve the edifice of the absolute monarchy and stave off rebellion. Tyrant-kings will go to any length to maintain their hold on power, so assume they are at least mildly evil in alignment. Their lack of respect for man-made laws would tend to rule out the lawful alignment - neutral, chaotic neutral, neutral evil and chaotic evil are probably the most likely alignments for tyrant-kings.

Caligula - not the most "safe-for-work" Google search you can do


While Ludwig of Bavaria (Mad King Ludqig) might be the most famous of the mad kings (which is unfortunate, because later evidence suggests he was not insane and that this was merely an accusation made by his ministers to reign in his spending), there have been many over the centuries. Caligula, Charles VI of France (Charles the Mad), Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah (the Mad Caliph), and Tsar Ivan IV of Russia (Ivan the Terrible) - all lacking in the whole sanity thing.

Mad kings are unpredictable, which means they can be the adventurers' best friends one moment, and their worst enemies the next. This makes them tricky patrons, but terribly useful to game masters, as they can generate all sorts of fodder for the campaign. Maybe the best way to model a mad monarch is to randomly determine their alignment whenever the adventurers meet them, or maybe begin with a good alignment of some sort, and then begin making some sort of insanity check for the monarch each month. Maybe their alignment changes a bit, maybe it stays the same. If it does change, only change it one step. As time progresses, make those checks once a week, and allow more severe alignment changes. Eventually, the king will be checking each day, with alignments being almost random - though never Lawful.

The Wisdom of Solomon


Solomon is a by-word for Wisdom - just ask Billy Batson. He is the perfect model not only for a wise king, but for the magical king, for Solomon was by all accounts a magician. He could control devils and genies and the like, and raise palaces in a day and even convince that super-fine Queen of Sheba to drop by for a visit.

A magical king is probably a magic-user rather than a cleric. Solomon was interesting in the stories because his great magical power eventually turned him against his patron, God, and led to his downfall. Fantasy game campaigns are better served by a story arc of this sort than by just sticking a 20th level magic-user on a throne and having him send the adventurers on quests he could probably better perform himself.

The Queen's okay, but the king ... not so much


Not every king is strong and resolute. Many weak kings - either weak physically, mentally (but not to the point of madness - see above) or morally - have sat on thrones, at least for a while. Boy kings, kings henpecked by their more willful queens, and kings controlled by their advisers are included in this category, as are kings who would be better off if they were being controlled. The depiction of Phillip III of Spain in The Adventures of Don Juan is a great model for this sort of king.

When there is no leadership on the throne, a kingdom soon falls into chaos. What a wonderful place for adventurers to play. The value of a weak king on a throne is probably that his kingdom is embroiled in revolution, rivalry and brigandry - the perfect spot for a brave band of plunderers to work. Those adventurers might also be cast into the role of protecting the kingdom as it disintegrates, hoping to keep it in one piece until a new king can take the throne.

Marcus doing his impression of a Jack Kirby character - Image found HERE


Marcus Aurelius has come down in history as a philosopher king, the real-life embodiment of Plato's philosopher kings that ruled over his perfect society. Setting aside how well academics do when put into positions of power, the ideal philosopher is wise, logical and calm - an able administrator and a preserver of justice.


Well, not necessarily. A philosopher-king might rule over a civilized, peaceful land, but in a fantasy world, that peaceful land may have chaos lapping at its shores. Where there is chaos, there is something for adventurers to do - and in the case of a kingdom ruled by a philosopher-king, a safe place to return to when they are done.

As a patron, a philosopher-king is going to be trustworthy and even-handed. Adventurers will have to watch what mischief they get into, as he might not be inclined to tolerate trouble in his kingdom, even by useful allies. Philosopher-kings are probably lawful good or lawful neutral, since they rule within the law rather than above it, and since they generally show an interest in the well-being of their subjects.

Not the nicest fellow in town


While the tyrant-king is willing to do evil to maintain his power, and the mad king might well do evil because he has little control over himself, the villain-king is just out and out evil. Villain-kings are needlessly cruel - they hurt people because they enjoy it. They are treacherous and murderous and in all ways not fit company for paladins. Attila the Hun got the reputation for being a villain-king, and Claudius, slayer of Hamlet's dad, could also fit the bill.

If a villain-king is the patron of a band of adventurers, they can at least take solace in the knowledge that there is nothing they can do that will offend him morally or ethically. On the other hand, the man is not to be trusted, especially if the adventurers seem to challenge his authority in any way shape or form. Because villain-kings are so cruel and despicable, their lives are constantly being threatened. In a fantasy game, it's likely they'll need class levels (and extra hit points) just to keep them alive.
Not only saintly, but apparently huge - looks like he's winking in this shot - "Say no more, nudge nudge, wink wink"


In the real world, a sainted king often received his sainthood for primarily political purposes. Everyone knows that two of Saint Louis' miracles were card tricks, after all (yeah, I ripped off Father Guido Sarducci). Sainted kings include St Louis of France, St Edward the Confessor, St Alfred the Great, St Stephen I of Hungary and St Charlemagne of France.

In a fantasy world, of course, a sainted king can really be a saint, or at least a trusted ally of the higher (or lower) powers. The saint-king might be a cleric or druid, but they might also simply possess great spiritual powers, a la a demigod in Deities and Demigods or a saint in "Setting Saintly Standards" (Dragon Magazine, Nov 1983).

Assuming the saint-king is lawful good in alignment, he can be a powerful ally and a powerful enemy of a band of adventurers. He's good, so when they're serving him they have access to his powers. But when adventurers start acting like, well, adventurers, they may find themselves in a sticky situation.

I bid you ... welcome


Vlad Tepes. Enough said. Okay - he was only a count, and in reality he was just a homicidal maniac (at least, from what I gather), but in a fantasy milieu we know that he became a vampire.

A monster-king is literally that - some creature taken from the pages of a monster book and sat upon a throne. In NOD, I have a gynosphinx ruling the pseudo-Egyptian city-state of Ibis, and in the Ende hexcrawls I'm finishing up, four rival city-states are ruled by nagas.

The monster king probably exhibits some aspects of the other archetypes provided here, and those should be referenced based on the monster's alignment and inclinations. They make obvious foes for a band of adventurers, of course - turning the royal palace into an above-ground dungeon for a group powerful enough to challenge the legal ruler of a kingdom.

Hopefully these archetypes will aid you in creating some memorable monarchs to help and hinder the adventurers in your game.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Gads of Goblin Goodies

Goblinoids, especially the lesser versions of kobolds, goblins, orcs and hobgoblins, are crawling all over the average fantasy world. They make great opponents to low-level parties, and in large masses are pretty good against mid-level parties. Eventually, though, their usefulness either runs out, or you and your players just get plain sick and tired of them.

So, how about 100 little modifications you can use to spice up these well-worn monsters?

You can use these to change entire tribes or war bands, or just to spice up individual goblins to make them a bit more distinct and to play up their ties to Chaos.



1. Acid spit – resistance to acid, bite attack +1d6 acid, +1 to sunder items
2. Ape arms – move faster on all fours
3. Bat ears – huge, flapping ears allow fly speed (slow)
4. Big lungs – hold breath longer, +1 save vs. exhaustion
5. Black skin - +1 to hide and surprise in dark areas
6. Boar tusks – gore attack (1d4)
7. Bouncy – jump
8. Cat’s Eyes - +1 to reflex saves, +1 to missile attacks
9. Croc tail – tail attack, save vs. trip
10. Crusty - +1 AC
11. Death saliva – poisonous bite, +1d6 poison damage, can spit 10 feet
12. Dynamo – shocking grasp once per three rounds
13. Evil eye – bestow curse with gaze attack
14. Extra brain – higher intelligence level, +2 to will saves
15. Extra heart - +1 hit point per hit dice, +1 save vs. exhaustion
16. Four arms – extra attack and shield
17. Frog tongue – 10-ft ranged attack to grab items
18. Fullback - +2 to bull rush attacks
19. Gnarled - +2 AC
20. Goblin-queen – remarkably attractive … but no less evil
21. Goliath – one size category larger, but one intelligence level lower
22. Greasy – can slide at double speed down grades, +2 save vs. grapple
23. Green skin - +1 to hide and surprise in woodland environments
24. Hairy - +1 AC, resistance to cold, +1 damage per die from fire
25. Halitosis – breath weapon – 5-ft cone – every three rounds – save vs. nausea
26. Hammer fists – increased unarmed damage and grapple attack
27. Head ridges – head butt attack
28. Hook claws – claw attack, +1 to disarm and grapple attacks
29. Horns – gore attack (1d6)
30. Hound dog – knack for tracking
31. Iron stomach - +1 save vs. poison
32. Lantern-eyes – beams of light can blind
33. Monkey tail – prehensile
34. Nose spike – gore attack (1d3)
35. Pitch-skin – flammable skin, immune to fire
36. Puffer – can blow up, knocking people back, no damage from bludgeoning weapons, piercing weapons can puncture
37. Radioactive – all within 10 feet much pass a fort save or be nauseated; miss by 5 or more energy damage
38. Razor teeth – bite attack, and save or grappled
39. Rooky – crow wings to fly, crow beak to peck
40. Runt – one size category smaller, but one intelligence level higher, chance of spells
41. Scaled - +3 AC
42. Speed demon - +10 speed
43. Spikey – damage from grapple, or when struck by natural weapons
44. Spy – passes for human
45. Stinker – troglodyte stench ability
46. Third eye – immune to illusions
47. Translucent – big bonus to hide and surprise
48. Troll-blood – regenerate 1 hit point per round
49. Wall crawler – climb speed
50. Weird – first level psychic power (offensive, of course)
51. White skin - +1 to hide and surprise in arctic environments
52. Wolf ears - +2 to listen at doors, surprised on d8
53. Wormy – gnaw through stone (burrow 10)


54. Acrobatic - +2 to reflex saves, slow fall as monk
55. Backstabber – attack, hit points and abilities of first level assassin, one vial of poison
56. Berserker – 2 attacks per round
57. Black knight – weird sense of honor, warhorse, lance, platemail, pennons, squires from lesser goblin race
58. Brigands – brigandine armor (studded leather), longbows, surprise in woods
59. Bushwhacker – attack, hit points and abilities of first level scout, longbow
60. Dark Lord’s man - +1 to hit, upgrade armor and weapons
61. Desert Rat – unaffected by heat and sand movement, +1 bonus vs. fire
62. Evil High Priest’s man - +1 bonus to save vs. cleric spells, chance of 0-level orison
63. Hexenhammer - +2 save vs. spells, 1d6 bolts with silence cast on them, light crossbow, warhammer
64. Hoary – extra hit dice, +1 to will saves
65. Ice Demon – unaffected by cold and ice movement, +1 bonus vs. cold
66. Necromancer’s man - +1 bonus to save vs. magic-user spells
67. Pickin’ and Grinnin’ – attack, hit points and abilities of first level bard, banjo
68. Pilferer – attack, hit points and abilities of first level thief, thieves’ tools
69. Psycho – 2 attacks per round, immune to fear, max hit points, immune to confusion
70. Savage – attack, hit points and abilities of first level barbarian, greataxe
71. Sea Wolf – swim speed, hold breath like lizard man
72. Thugee – attack, hit points and abilities of first level assassin plus four 0-level cleric spells
73. Veteran – attack, hit points and abilities of first level fighter, platemail
74. Warrior princess – females, studded leather, falchions, chakram, ululating battle cries (save vs. fear)


75. Amazon – female, longbow, short sword, breastplate
76. Boar rider – rides a battle boar
77. Blitzkrieg – chainmail, spiked tower shield, short sword
78. Cannonball – small cannon – spiked platemail – launches self into battle, 10% chance of living through the experience with 1 hp
79. Canter – 1d6 magic-user scrolls (can cast them), robes, curvy dagger (+1 damage)
80. Costermonger – looks like ugly old man or woman, sells poisonous or magic apples
81. Dashing – leather armor, rapier, ruffles and bows and feathers in wide-brimmed hat, leering eye
82. Fire-breather – petrol, torch, resistance to fire, once per round 5-ft cone of fire (1d6), or 10-ft cone every other round
83. Fire bug – 1d6 alchemist’s fire, leather armor
84. Flailer – great flail (double damage) – attack by hurling self 10 feet, once every two rounds
85. Hacker – black hood, great axe or executioner’s sword (+1 damage), leather armor, dagger
86. Hammerer – great hammer (higher damage) – hurl up to 20 feet once every two rounds
87. Infiltrator – padded armor, silk slippers (+1 to move silently), three daggers, hand crossbow
88. Kamikaze – bat-winged glider, goggles, devil-may care attitude, catapult launch (if necessary), dagger
89. Magic hat – can produce a spell effect from hat, must make Will save to make it work, 10% chance of random spell of level 1d4
90. Plunderer – light warhorse, leather armor, composite bow, short sword, knack for riding
91. Porcupine – spiked scale mail, spiked club, spiked gauntlets
92. Rhino rider – rides a battle rhino
93. Ronin – splint mail, grotesque mask and great helm, scimitar and dagger
94. Sapper – heavy pick, mining helmet, leather armor, dagger, 1d6 bombs, goggles
95. Sea dog – blunderbuss, leather armor, hook hand, dagger in teeth
96. Slimer – 1d6 glass spheres of green slime, +1 bonus to save vs. acid and slimes
97. Tinker – armorer’s tools, portable anvil
98. Twister – two chains, chainmail, chain letter tucked into belt
99. Swineherd – two boars on a chain
100. Wolf pack – two wolves on a chain

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