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Friday, 8 December 2017

Crystalline Troll

Some trolls are described as having especially stone-like skin, and the crystalline troll is this to a particular extreme. Like most other trolls, they're capable of regenerating their injuries, but their crystal structure makes them immune to acid, the standard troll-hunting aid. Of course, this monster isn't without its weakness. Sonic attacks disrupt the healing ability. So if you're going up to the mountains where these guys live, pack a bard.

The description called for crystalline trolls to be more glass-like, but I took inspiration from tourmaline clusters. When I rolled this creature I was a bit disappointed that it was pretty much just a troll made of shiny-stuff. The illustration in the book isn't really that interesting. But I liked the idea of maybe making it so the crystalline troll looks kinda normal (albeit smooth) on the outside, but if you cracked it you'd get these really bright solid gemstone inside. No guts or bones, just solid stone.

Also apparently you can choose these as player characters? But with level adjustment and starting hit dice, you'd only be able to play a 1st level crystalline troll in a 15th level campaign.

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Sunday, 26 November 2017


The Hecatoncheires -- the hundred-handed ones-- are one of those creatures from the dawn of the universe, when the gods were birthing freakish horrors all willy-nilly. There aren't that many of these creatures out there, which is fortunate, since the Hecatoncheires has one of the highest CRs in the game (57!) They don't have much in the way of magic, the way a lot of the creatures at that level of play tend to have.

It just has a heck of a lot of arms.

Good for you if you're a human-sized creature, because this fella'll only be able to get its arms in order to hit you twenty times in a turn (and it probably won't miss).

Okay, so I said they don't have much in the way of magic, but that doesn't mean they're completely non-magical. For one, on the very small chance that it feels it needs help, the Hecatoncheires can summon another one of its kind. So now you're dealing with 200 sword-wielding arms wanting to chop you into hamburger meat. Also, they can make themselves fly.

An average intelligence combined with the madness of 50 arguing heads means that they have little in the way of ambition outside smashing stuff. Probably the best way to get rid of a rampaging Hecatoncheires is to get yourself a really really powerful wizard to teleport it to an empty spot in the universe every couple of centuries.

In Greek mythology, the Hecatoncheires (there are three of them) weren't benevolent per se, but they were definitely less evil than the version in D&D. They got locked up in Tartarus by their father Uranus when he feared that they would usurp him. Later on, Zeus busted them out to get their help in his war against the Titans. As a reward, the Hecantoncheires now guard Tartarus, where the Titans are imprisoned. There's probably some poetic justice there.

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Wednesday, 8 November 2017


The hollyphant is a celestial creature primarily associated with Chaav and Lastai, two gods of joy, acting primarily as their messengers. Most of the time a hollyphant is seen, it will appear as a petite flying elephant, about the size of a small dog. But if it needs to attack, it will shift into a giant, more threatening shape.

While small, the hollyphant is immune from all spells. It loses this protection when it shifts into its larger form, trading defense for offense. Despite the size change, it remains just as nimble both on ground and in the air.  It has as many magical spells, but it's main attack is it's trunk. As well as knock enemies about in it, the hollyphant can either release a shattering bellow or spray a shower of light (deadly to evil).

Note that both forms of the hollyphant are it's true form. If viewed through a true seeing spell, both its large and smaller selves will be seen at the same time.

This is one of those creatures that I always kinda rolled my eyes at when I saw it. The illustration of the big winged elephant thing is not that good. But then I noticed there was a CUTE TINY GOLDEN FLYING ELEPHANT hiding next to it and I was like yesssssss.

I chose to do this as two illustrations instead of one because the CUTE TINY GOLDEN FLYING ELEPHANT deserved to be more noticeable than it is in the book. Some liberties were taken with the design of the big form. It's supposed to have wings, but I like to think it can still fly with its ears. Just a huge bulk kept aloft by vigorously flapping tiny ears.

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Tuesday, 31 October 2017


Sometimes ghouls get lumped together with zombies. They're dead, they eat flesh, they're just a bit meaner, right? Well, zombies happen because of external circumstances (spells, curses...) and are mindless, so that's not right. They're not the same as revenants, another species of intelligent undead, since they're not motivated by revenge, anger or any sort of emotion.

The ghoul rises from the dead because it's hungry.

Those who practice cannibalism risk becoming ghouls. Now, this seems like an easier path to immortality than, say, discovering the philosopher's stone or going through all the tedious rituals to become a lich. Just eat a few orphans and homeless people and that's eternity for you, baby. An eternity of being hungry. But if you're the sort of person that would happily chow down on your fellow man, then you're probably not the type to be disappointed in the results. You don't get magical powers, but you get some poisonous claws so that's neat I guess?

Did a buncha research on ghouls, because I know they're a folkloric beast that's undergone quite a bit of transformation over time. I already knew they were an Arabic beastie (a ghûl), with them appearing in the Arabian Nights stories -- spooky monsters what hide in graveyards and eat corpses. What I didn't know is that that version of the ghouls are a mistranslation-slash-fabrication by the translators of the original texts. Early ghouls were more like demons or evil jinn that lived out in the desert and lured travelers to kill them. They were also often feminine, shapeshifters, and used as boogeymen to scare kids. Pretty much a generic monster that appears in every culture in the world.

But the Westernized version has stuck so that the ghoul as a skulking male/genderless grave-robber functions as today's definition. Lovecraft went in a bit of an interesting thing with them, making them appear less and less human the more time the ghoul has spent unalive.

Happy Spookoween, peeps.

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Monday, 30 October 2017


Zombies are perhaps the quintessential undead. Their ubiquity is due in part to their flexibility - anything that lives, dies. Anything that dies, can be raised as a zombie. Zombie humans, zombie dogs, zombie ogres, zombie dragons; all are potential foes when facing a necromancer of sufficient power.

In terms of necromantic finesse, however, zombies are pretty near the bottom of the barrel. An extremely quick fix to a deeply profound problem (death), they are often little more than hastily-recruited servants, capable of a narrow portfolio of limited tasks (such as biting adventurers, or carrying trays) and fall apart at the slightest pressure. Outside of amateur necromancy (where zombies and zombie-like efforts are drearily commonplace), zombies are rarely used except as a "meat shield" (grisly literal in this case) to absorb an attack, or as a swarm to overwhelm a weakened foe.

First post for me since the Colossus, which was ages ago! Oy. I actually did an earlier version of this but I didn't like it so I completely did it over. Maybe I'll post the other one sometime. It wasn't very good, though. I think both Blanca & I avoided zombies as a Dungeons & Drawings subject for ages because... zombies are quite ubiquitous as a subject of illustration? I hate saying stuff like that, but... I don't know. You just see them kind of a lot, I guess. My theory is that they're fun to draw because you can make them as ugly/deformed as you like and they don't look weird (you don't have to sweat proportions too much), and they are quite well served by relentlessly adding detail (wrinkles, wounds etc) - which also serve to mask any structural inaccuracies. Case in point - I only realised at the end of drawing this picture that the zombie's right foot is backwards. In any other humanoid creature that would be grounds for another tiresome redraw, but with the zombie - you can just explain it away by saying something like "oh, this zombie was just assembled poorly". Brilliant!

Anyway, Happy Halloween y'all!

- Joe

Monday, 23 October 2017

Gray Jester

Sometimes a circus appears in town. The music is joyous, there's laughter in the air, the sweet smell of butter and candied fruit. But the colour of the tents are muted, the animals in their cages are listless, and, despite the capering and smiles, there's something disingenuous about the entertainers. The ringleader, an especially tall lead clown, is the happiest of the lot, and his laughter and smiles ring true. Something doesn't feel right, but the show is good and the crowd has never found itself laughing so much. People return to their homes giggling and exhausted.

As silently as is appeared, the next day the circus is gone. People lie in bed, tired, faces aching from last night's smiles, and feeling strangely downhearted. It feels like after last night, they'll never feel that kind of happiness again, that every other joke they see will never be as funny. After some weeks, some people recover their spirits, but most don't. One night there's a laughing shadow in the streets. The next day, those listless few are gone. They're never seen again.


The Gray Jester is one of those fey creatures that prefers people to the forest. It's attracted to the feelings of joy humans are capable of, craving smiles and the sound of laughter, and strives to create those feelings in others. Of course, laughter is what the Jester feeds on. If it's antics don't work, it's fine. Tasha's Hideous Laughter can do the work for it. Its touch and its scepter can transfer the spell, and allow the Jester to feel on joy (leading to Charisma drain).

A spooooky creature for a spooooky month. I've always been kinda annoyed by the scary clown trope. Not the cliché-ness of it, but how some scary clowns go really over the top with the scariness with sharp teeth and tattered clothes and bloodstains and such. I don't find clowns scary, though I do admit they can be repulsive in that weird visceral way (especially Lou Jacobs; that head ain't right).

Having now attempted to draw a scary clown without trying to use those typical evil clown type markers, and I can say how difficult it is to do it. Thinking about Pennywise from the original It miniseries, part of what made him so scary was the jolly brightness of his outfit combined with Tim Curry's performance. With the new It, I really rolled by eyes and how spooky they'd purposely made him look. The parts were Bill Skarsgård got to goof it up like a real clown were gold, though. More of that and less screaming and running at the camera. Great acting on his part.

Anyway, turns out the performance aspect is really key, which you can't really communicate with a static image. This illustration was really tough and went though lots and lots different versions. My sketchbook has pages of jolly clowns now, and I've got two more files on my computer where I got really far ahead in the drawing before scrapping it. Another difficulty was trying to keep 2017's It design out of my head. The first version really ended up looking a lot like Fleischer's Koko the Clown cartoon.

Long post short, went for a pierrot look because I really like that design outfit.

PS. Do Gray Jesters update their look with passing time? Do they go from jester with a magic sceptre to a circus clown with an evil rubber chicken? Standup comedians with a mic?

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Monday, 16 October 2017

Lava Ooze

The lava ooze is generally to be found deep in areas with plentiful volcanic ability, as well as any of the warmer outer dimensions. While oozes generally feed on flesh, the lava ooze subsists on minerals, with any minerals with a melting point higher than its body being excreted. Because of this, the lava ooze is relatively non-aggressive. However, they are able to sense especially rich minerals, meaning that those wearing armour or precious stones may find themselves targets. But it's not that big a threat, since you can just amble away from the ooze. They are slow.

Me and Joe went to NYC recently and during our stay there I started doodling some oozes in my sketchbook. I've always found the ooze monster type really difficult to draw. Well, difficult to draw in an interesting way. There's only so many ways you can draw a blob. But I've recently been seeing a lot of really interesting sea slugs and I started using them as inspiration. I know most oozes are supposed to be kinda amorphous, blind, blobbity blobby blobs, but I kinda went for a half barnacle half snail thing here.

We fought a little pack of these guys in our current campaign. We mostly ran away from them. We've been running away from a lot of creatures.

It's honestly kinda fun to flee.

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Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Bearded Devil (Barbazu)

Bearded devils, called barbazu in Infernal, are on the lower end of the mid-level hierarchy of Hell. As such, they get to be squad leaders. However, since their squads tend to be made up entirely of lemures, it's more like herding and goading irritable sheep. Their short tempers make them ill-suited for greater command. The barbazu itself is quite dangerous, however. Their primary weapon is a serrated glaive which causes persistent bleeding, requiring especially powerful healing magic or skilled surgery. If somehow deprived of their glaive, the barbazu has a not-so-secret weapon: it's eponymous beard.

The barbazu's beard is covered in disease-bearing toothy tendrils. Despite its wormy appearance, the tendrils are not prehensile. Still, the devil's use of them is suitably horrifying; it gets a good grip on a target with its claws and forces them face-first into its gruesome beard, forcing them to endure hundreds of little scrapes and bites. Should said target survive an encounter with the barbazu, they develop a fever which slowly saps them of their strength. The victim becomes too weak to even breathe and suffocates.

A creature we've encountered in our current campaign, as part of Vecna's troops. I've used on myself in a previous campaign, where a character was eviscerated by its claws (no chance for a beard attack). The glaive is a neat weapon, obviously, but nowhere near as colourful as the claw-beard combo. Even though the potential maximum damage of the glaive and claw-beard attacks are essentially the same, I guess the subsequent bleed damage of the glaive puts it over the top. Still, it's kind of a shame.

Notes on the design here. In the books I have (3.5 and 5th edition), the barbazu's beard is described as being snakey. In most illustrations I've seen, this has been interpreted as thick tendrils with pointy ends, like a barbed snake's tail. I decided to go more for the head end of the snake because it's so much more gruesome to have lots of little mouth nibble-nibble-nibbling at you. They turned out a little wormy though. Originally the design had a big mouth as well, but I took that away too. Now instead of having one big mouth, the barbazu has dozens of itty ones. They came out looking more like earthworms than snakes but shhh.

Maybe I should've forgone the single eye too and made it just a blank face, with the beard having his eyes. Lots of little eyes and teeth. Nibble nibble nibble.

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Sunday, 16 July 2017


Illurien of the Myriad Glimpses is a mysterious creature living in a secret location in the Outlands known as the Atheneum Nefarious. Little is known about her or where she came from. Some theorize that she was created by the lich god Vecna, but this is unconfirmed. Those who have seen her describe Illurien as a silvery woman dressed in simple robes which seems to be made out of water. Her face is blank save for two penetrating blue eyes. She does not speak, but her voice patters like raindrops inside her head.

She is also one of the most knowledgeable creatures in the multiverse and her secret library is only second in size to Boccob's own. Each drop that makes up her body and floats around her represents a piece of knowledge that she's gathered over an indeterminate amount of years. The fine mist that surrounds her can daze nearby creatures by bombarding them with thousands of factoids at once. She can extend her body in a strike that sucks out the memories and thoughts of an opponent, leaving them a brain dead husk. Illurien's knowledge of combat techniques and psychology make her especially adept at dodging attacks simply by calculating the location of greatest advantage.

Ilurien of the Myriad Glimpses can be summoned to answer questions, but she must be treated with the same level of caution one would treat a demon. She cannot be trusted.

It was very very hard not to design Illurien in such a way to make her look like Blue Diamond from Steven Universe. Robed watery (blue) lady? Come on now. Eventually I came upon a design that made her look a little bit more alien and possibly ghostly, but I'm happy.

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Sunday, 9 July 2017

Earth Whisper

The town has an old man with a story. When he was young, he was part of a group of miners going to explore a nearby cave. No bears or wolves entered there; no drow appeared on night-time raids; there wasn't the sound of dwarf, kobold or goblin pickaxes.

He describes going in with a dozen other young men, seeing the green and blue copper veins in the walls, the faint light of quartz reflecting lantern light. He describes a feeling that overcame him , the rushing ice-water and sinking guts of fear. All of them starting running, not to the mouth of the cave, but deeper, deeper into the darkness. He doesn't know how it happened, but they got separated. It must have been the panic that disoriented him, that made him forget where cavern openings were, what made him miss the pits that seemed to suddenly appear beneath his feet.

He remembers hearing voices in the dark, the voices of his friends shouting on the other side of walls, angry, afraid. He heard whispers in his ears that tell him it's their fault he was trapped here, that they're getting rid of him.

He doesn't know how he escaped. But don't go in the old cave, the cave with no animal prints, the cave that houses no bats. There's something evil in that cave and it can't be seen.


The earth whisper in an earth elemental that uses mind-altering effects to drive people into caverns, which it reshapes using the stone shape spell, trapping intruders in tiny pockets until they either starve, suffocate or kill themselves. If more than one person is there, after trapping them it gives them a sudden rush of gold lust which makes them fight each other over whatever meager riches the other holds. The earth whisper is incorporeal (though not invisible) and hides inside the stone walls of its cave while it drives others mad.

This kind of monster has really great potential for a more psychological campaign, I think.

It has a really great concept, but boy is it difficult to come up with a visual design for. It's an incorporeal earth elemental sooooo... a ghostly lump of dirt? Ghost are easy to draw since it's easy to identify a translucent human, skeleton, animal, whatever. But here you have to communicate that it's this weird type of creature and also by the way you can't touch it.

I'm fairly pleased with the result which I think does the whole intangible thing okay. I wanted to make an earth elemental that looked different from my earlier attempt. Though I kinda pat myself on the back for making it not a lump of grey-brown stuff and basing it on malachite, I find that it looks a bit more watery than earthy (the foam-like dust mane doesn't help either). With this one I took inspiration for pyrite and bismuth minerals. Not terribly spooky, but I like colours.

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Sunday, 2 July 2017


The barghest is the particular flavour of hellhound that stalks the ashen slops of the Bleak Eternity of Gehenna. The barghest is especially ugly, looking like a bulky mangy wolf with goblinoid facial features. This beast is capable of shifting between a fully lupine and fully goblinoid form, but primarily stays in its hybrid body.

What makes the barghest a challenging opponent is its stealth capabilities. While it can't fly, it can surpass obstacles by levitating. It naturally leaves no marks of its passage and high-level spells are needed to detect nearby individuals. Larger barghests can also render themselves and members of their pack invisible. A barghest grows by consuming the corpses of humanoid victims, eating flesh and bone so nothing is left. The scant availability of puny mortals in their volcanic dimension means that any unfortunate interloper will find themselves greedily sought after.

The Barghest is one of the many names that the ghostly black dogs of British Isles. This particular name originating from Yorkshire. Other national variants include the yeth hound (Devon and Cornwall), Gwyllgi (Wales), Moddey Dhoo (Isle of Man), Grim (Lanchashire) and just so many spelling variations of Black Shuck. Black Shuck may be the most famous of these names, but I can't be sure. All of them are large ghostly dogs, black-furred with glowing red eyes, and death omens. The Hound of the Baskervilles was inspired by these legends. The name "barghest" is the one I was most familiar with because it was in a book of mythical creatures I had as a kid. I can't remember the title though. I had a lot of these books.

I'm not sure where the whole shapeshifting into a goblin thing exactly comes from; I've only found once instance of a legend that claims that black hounds can shapeshift. My closest guess is that somebody read the term goblin-dog ("goblin" meaning "monster" rather than your contemporary fantasy Tolkein goblin) and went with that.

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Sunday, 25 June 2017


You generally don't want to tick off a god. And of all the gods, Lolth the Demon Queen of Spiders, goddess of the drow, is most obvious when displaying her displeasure. Any drow who fail to live up to the harsh standards of their cruel society are at the very real risk of being transformed into spidery monstrosities.

The form of the Shunned is reserved exclusively for female drow. They are transformed into bulging malformed heads covered in twitching, spider-filled tumours, scuttling on insectile legs. The Shunned are forced to disgorge swarms of spiders as the population builds up inside their throats. All creatures cursed by Lolth are pathetic, but the Shunned endure the most mental suffering.

Despite their new form, madness and subsequent exile from drow population centres, the Shunned continue to crave the forgiveness of their goddess. The lair of a Shunned is generally located as close to their former homes as possible, and is decorated with pieces of discarded furniture and clothing as they try to hold on to a semblance of their lost lives.

This is totally not the head monster from The Thing you guys. This one spits spiders. Totally different, yo.

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