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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Monstrous Encounter: Bugbear

Most humanoid monsters have some level of intelligence and civilization, even if it is crude compared to humans or elves. Goblins and kobolds, orcs and lizardfolk, even the minotaurs and trolls have language and tribes. Bugbears are the exception to that rule.

For today's post, I'm going to talk a bit about a spin on the bugbear. In Dungeons & Dragons 3.5, they don't have much to distinguish them from any other humanoid monster. So, I thought it would be worthwhile to explore them and put out some useful content.


Bugbears are generally larger than humans, though not by much. They stand between 6 and 7 feet tall, and their hairy figures are often stooped over lower than that. Skin tones, fur color, and eye color varies wildly from one bugbear to the next. They lair individually, except during a 6-month mating period every few years. They will fight to the death to defend even a single bugbear cub. They prefer dry, dark areas, and often collect more food than they will eat. Bugbears are incredibly dangerous. They are strong and fast, with large teeth and long talons.

Physical description

1. A humanoid figure, about 6 feet tall but noticeably hunched over, staggers into the light. It is covered in dark red hair, thick and coarse, and its sunken eyes are pale yellow. Its movements are quicker than you'd expect for something of its size.
2. The creature looks up, the white fur around its mouth matted and stained with blood. Its eyes are completely black, and its yellow claws are stained with the life of the unlucky creature its hunches over.
3. The goblins scatter, opening a steel cage door as they do. A roar echoes from within, and a human-sized creature bounds out. Its fur is dark blue and its eyes are silvery-white, but not with blindness. It snarls and pounds its chest with clawed hands, preparing to charge.
4. But the last soldier is not an orc at all. It is humanoid figure, but stands almost 7 feet tall and is covered in patched brown fur. The orcs have strapped studded armor around it, and grafted iron blades onto its arms, making the beast even deadlier.


1. Just beyond the line of shrubs is a small garden area. An enclosed gazebo sits in the middle, well shaded from light and protected from rain. Lying in the gazebo is a yellow-furred bugbear sleeping atop a pile of fern branches.
2. The house has been abandoned for months, according to the villagers, but there are clear sounds of snuffling and movement from within. A peek through one of the shuttered windows reveals a black bugbear pawing at a cellar door, until it turns to the window.
3. The tunnels suddenly widen into a cavern, and light is coming from somewhere ahead. The floor in this area is sandy and littered with bones. Silhouetted in the exit against the midmorning light is a bugbear.
4. The trail leads directly to the campsite, as expected, but apparently the small, shady clearing has been claimed since last autumn. The fire pit has been dug out and a small clutch of colorful, mewling bugbear cubs wriggles in the dirt. A couple of large, angry, green-haired bugbear parents move to stand in front of the cubs and let out a pair of bone-rattling roars.


1. Bugbears have dragged off an entire herd of sheep over the last few days.
2. A bugbear has taken up residence in the prince's secret summer home.
3. A furrier is willing to pay handsomely for the pelt of a golden bugbear.
4. A bugbear cub wanders into the middle of a small village.
5. The local hedgewizard accidentally transfigures himself into a bugbear.
6. The King's Guard train against captive bugbears, but now several of the creatures have escaped into the city.
7. The Woodcarver's Guild will pay a bounty for each confirmed bugbear kill in the local woods.
8. A tribe of wild halfling warriors have tamed a family of bugbears and ride on their shoulders into battle.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Location: The Old Keep

A few miles outside of town is the old keep. You know the one. It was made by an ancient kingdom long ago and has been abandoned for many years. Legends about the keep, its content, and its inhabitants abound. Only one thing is certain: adventure awaits anyone bold enough to explore it.

The Old Keep

The keep is made of stone and fairly small. It doesn't have a wall surrounding it, but its few towers or small buildings are connected to each other, leaving a small open-air courtyard inside. The keep is in disrepair, perhaps covered in vines or moss, but it is (mostly) intact.

1. A band of orc bandits being manipulated by an imp
2. A poltergeist who is bound to the building until its ancient murder is solved
3. A few grumpy ogres or trolls who occasionally come out to hunt
4. A small tribe of fox-people who have turned the keep into a small trading village

1. An ancient sword bound with the magic of the stars
2. A few dusty tomes that tell of ancient prophecies and rituals
3. A hoard of coins and jewels hidden in a secret cellar
4. A cursed shield that leads its bearer into danger

1. The keep was built by dwarves who filled it with cunning traps and secret chambers.
2. Elves once lived in the keep, so their magic still lingers in the stones.
3. A young noble disappeared into the keep many years ago, never to be seen again.
4. A recent storm struck the keep, causing a wall to partially collapse or a tower to fall.

1. During storms, spirits of thunder and rain descend to the keep and hunt anyone foolish enough to be there.
2. The most famous bandit in the last 30 years hid is treasure somewhere in the keep.
3. An ancient bird-spirit lives in the keep and will grant wishes to visitors, if they are worthy.
4. The keep guards a door to the underworld, and on moonless nights, the restless dead haunt the halls.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Random Encounters: Post-Apocalyptic Ruined Building

This week I realized that I've left some important RPG genres out of my Random Encounters posts. So before I start cycling back through the genres with new locations, I want to hit up those remaining big genres, starting with today's: post-apocalypse.


1. Leather-and-steel clad raiders armed with spiked baseball bats and shotguns
2. A gigantic frog with acidic spit and/or mucus
3. A barely alive scavenger covered in bite marks
4. Radioactive mutant zombies!
5. An unhelpful maintenance robot
6. A large, black-feathered vulture with fire breath

Environment feature

1. A wall collapses onto the area.
2. Concrete rubble falls from the ceiling at random intervals.
3. Auto-turrets dot the walls and react to quick movements.
4. A pool of irradiated slime illuminates the area with a greenish glow.
5. Purple fungus growing in the area sends out psychic tendrils to manipulate the unwary.
6. A working juke box plays old music that echoes eeriely throughout the building.


1. An old—but still fully functional—tank crashes through the wall.
2. A pack of mutant wolves comes around the corner.
3. All of the building's old electronics and lights suddenly flash on and start working.
4. The floor rumbles and then mechanically separates, revealing a hidden underground chamber.
5. Bounty hunters (or trophy hunters) arrive to capture or kill the creature.
6. A wave of poisonous gas rolls through the area coming from outside.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Dragon Hoards

Dragons are everywhere in fantasy settings. Big dragons, little dragons, dragons that climb on rocks, they've all got one thing in common: they love treasure! They love treasure so much, that they collect it into huge piles and lie on it. But what's in that trove after the PCs have negotiated with, killed, or driven off the dragon that created it? In addition to the usual piles of coins and jewels and the magical equipment coveted by PCs, a dragon hoard is likely to contain some other items of immense value.

Dragon Hoards

  1. A full set of goblets, bowls, and plates made from astral crystal
  2. A silver-coated wooden chest with gold inlay filled with copper coins
  3. A golden owlbear skull
  4. Twin daggers made entirely of ruby
  5. A thrones and bones set with pieces of onyx and pearl
  6. A mithril throne engraved with a list of ancient kings and queens
  7. A pouch made of minotaur-leather and filled with glittering mind gems
  8. Dragon-sized cutlery made of platinum-plated steel
  9. A stained-glass image of a dragon, except the "stained glass" is actually incredibly thin sheets of colored gemstones
  10. A tapestry woven of gold and silver thread with an adamant frame

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Culture Concept: Nemeads

As I've already discussed, fantasy cultures are often flat and transparent copies of real-world cultures. I am trying to develop a method of creating cultures that results in cultures that feel more vibrant and less stereotypical. Yesterday, I posted on a winged giant culture called the stormwings, today I'm presenting a humanoid lion culture called the nemeads.


  • Nemeads are humanoid lions who live in a fertile savannah and worship a wide pantheon of nature deities.
  • Nemeadan society is feudal, and property and titles are passed down two-fold: fathers to daughters and mothers to sons.
    • Nemeadan nobles are responsible for the defense of their land and for paying tribute to the monarch in the form of money, supplies, or soldiers.
    • Nemeads without titles either work the land as serfs or train as soldiers.
    • All nemeads receive basic combat training at a young age, even those destined to be serfs.
  • The nemeadan society is ruled by a monarch who is elected in a council held among all nobles every five years.
    • The nemeadan monarch is advised by a high council of three: the Speaker, the Marshal, and the Treasurer.
    • Nemeadans often war with other nearby nations and peoples.
  • Nemeadan religion is centered around a large pantheon of gods and goddesses of nature.
    • Nemeadans are strong and organized, and their deities teach them that the abundance of nature is a gift to the strong and bold.
    • The gods and goddesses also teach the nemeadans that a life without struggle is not worth living, and that all peace is only temporary.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Culture Concept: Stormwings

Today's post is a brief examination of a fantasy culture. Most fantasy settings I'm familiar with stay in the "safe zone" of mapping their cultures to medieval Western European cultures and modernizing them a bit. Sometimes, there's a stand-in "Native American" culture that irreverently smashes together dozens of unique indigenous cultures. Or there's a "samurai-era Japan" culture that obsesses over familial honor. Those fit snugly into the old Planet of Hats trope. I hope that my own fantasy cultures do not fall into that trap, but I can leave that for others to judge.

I'm presenting my culture in bullet points, 1) because that makes it easy to absorb, 2) because that makes it easier for others to build off, and 3) because it is just a concept at this stage. So, I present for your judgment, modification, and use: the stormwings.


  • Stormwings are 30-feet-tall, winged giants who live in cloud communities above a vast scrubland and revere a long-dead god from whom they claim ancestry.
  • Stormwing society is strongly communist, and goods and resources are proportionately distributed among communities based on population. Their economy is based on raiding and tributes.
    • Stormwings collect tribute from the creatures that live below them in the scrublands and actually worship them as gods.
    • Stormwings perform long-range raids on distant cultures by moving an entire cloud community to hover over the foreign lands.
  • Stormwing society is led by a god-emperor called the Chosen. This is the stormwing who can claim and "prove" closest descent or union with the stormwings' dead god: Ythian.
    • Stormwing communities are led by cousins or other family members of the Chosen.
    • Upon the death of the Chosen, the stormwings hold trials of proof to determine who should be the new Chosen.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Random Encounters: Unexplored Sci-Fi World (Again!)

So, I had a lot of fun the last time I did the three random encounter tables for the Unexplored Sci-Fi World. I enjoyed the outcome so much, in fact, that I've decided to do another set with the same theme. All you have to do is roll 1d6 for each table and use the results to design your own encounter.



1. A cloud of glowing, sentient orbs the size of golf balls
2. Rubbery slime-beast with strangling tentacles
3. Jackal-headed humanoid with telekinesis and telepathy
4. A holographic projection of a humanoid with rudimentary AI
5. Cave dwellers that seem to be human
6. Huge serpents that spring up out of the ground

Environment feature

1. A hail of burning meteorites strikes the area
2. A patch of thick vegetation that grows back within moments of being cut is in the way
3. A pool of thick, black tar bubbles in the area
4. A heavy bank of fog hangs in the air
5. Light rain drizzles down, pinging against metal somewhere nearby
6. A wide fallen tree provides cover


1. The creature is only a projected aspect of a more powerful, dangerous entity
2. A swarm of tiny, ravenous ant-like creatures bursts forth from the ground
3. A metallic net emerges and sweeps everyone into the air
4. Energy blasts whiz overhead as armored soldiers come through the brush
5. The creature flees from a bellowing roar that comes from behind
6. A crack of thunder precedes a lightning storm

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Six-Word Sparks X: Noncombat Adventures

A lot of RPG adventures and campaigns revolve around violence. In fact, nearly all the content of this blog itself is violence-centric. Granted, the violence in my own games is directed at dangerous creatures and murderous villains, but it's still a lot of violence.

But not everyone wants that. Sometimes, I don't even want to deal with violence in my games. There are lots of interesting and exciting scenarios you can play out without using violence, and with today's six-word sparks, I hope to illustrate a few of those.

Six-Word Sparks

  1. Centaurs hold centennial games; everyone welcome.
  2. Elves begin sailing away en masse.
  3. Desperate priest warns of falling stars.
  4. Black rain dissolves stone, nothing else.
  5. Apprentice magician accidentally becomes permanently invisible.
  6. Restless spirits worry usually unreliable prophet.
  7. Tiny city discovered inside crystal sphere.
  8. Town drunk talks about treasure map.
  9. During thunderstorm, rain stops in midair.
  10. Merfolk abandon oceans and breathe air.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

More High-Tech Weapons

I've got a short post today that's a sequel to this one from February. I had another burst of inspiration for high-tech weapons, and thought I'd share a few more ideas.

More High-Tech Weapons

  1. Superheated plasma magna-lance
  2. Matter entropy inductor rifle
  3. Ambient sonic amplifier
  4. Instant transducer cannon with DNA-coded targeting
  5. High-cycle energized particle cannon
  6. Anti-proton grenade ("p-bar grenade")

Monday, June 1, 2015

Reskinned Monsters

Back in April, I talked about the idea of reskinning mechanics. This was probably not a new concept to you, but I hope that I expanded your idea of its scope. It's not just about calling taking the stats of an Ogre and describing it to your players as a Cave Troll, though that it still a fine use of reskinning.

I love reskinning mechanics so much, that my current campaign is almost entirely reskinned stuff from the Dungeons & Dragons SRD. I'm having a lot of fun with these, and I thought that some of my monsters would be worth sharing as examples.

Reskinned Monsters

Kobold –> Bronze Salamander: The change here was incredibly minimal. The kobold became a kobold-sized reptilian humanoid with brass-colored scales and a nondamaging aura of heat.

Dire Rat –> Cloudcat: I changed the Dire Rat's Swim bonuses into Jump bonuses, and more importantly, I reskinned its disease to Static Accumulation: targets accumulate static electricity from the air and suffer Dex and Con damage. And now, instead of a filthy rat that every level 1 adventurer must deal with, I've got white-furred mountain lions with static electricity bouncing along their bodies.

Kobold Fighter –> Bronze Salamander Mage: I'd already reskinned the race, all I needed now was the class. I turned the longsword and chain shirt into spells (spirit slash and lesser warding), and I made its longbow into a sparkwand. The mechanics are all the same, the only difference is that the sparkwand doesn't have ammo, which I don't track anyway.

Human Zombie –> Rumbler:
 This is always much more dangerous than I remember it being at low levels, so I finally decided to use it that way. I reskinned it as a dwarf-sized rock monster. The DR still works; I just changed it from slashing to bludgeoning. And as a rock monster, it still makes sense that it only gets partial actions. Now I have a stout, heavy, tough rock beast suitable for inhabiting the mine full of very valuable brightsteel.