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Friday, 27 June 2014


The Griffon, along with the dragon and the unicorn, is among the most recognized of the world's magical beasts. Being a combination of lion and eagle, two very admired mundane animals, ownership of a Griffin mount or guard beast is seen as a great status symbol in the nobility. However, due to the Griffin's horse-like size, along with its ferocity and not-quite-bestial intelligence, mean that it makes for a very dangerous and unpredictable pet. It's possible to train a Griffon, but this takes a long time and must be started when the beast is freshly hatched.

Sometimes, despite my best efforts, I end up feeling like I struggle with successfully making images sufficiently different. I know artists have their own styles, with recurring motifs, colour palettes, shapes, what have you, but at the same time you don't want it to feel like you're just drawing the same thing over and over again. This one, for example, I found difficult to make different from my gynosphinx, another red leonine creature.

Inspiration for the griffon, rather than eagles, was actually vultures, since their feather ruffs actually make good parellels to lion manes. I specifically looked at the bearded vulture and Egyptian vulture, which are a bit more regal looking than the average vulture. Even if the Egyptian dude does look a little bit dead.

Friday, 13 June 2014


The veiled acolytes of the Great Red God of the Deep are a  most unwelcome sight on any lonely road. Known colloquially as "Redcaps" (on account of the great, blood-soaked hoods they adorn themselves with) these creatures are similar in stature to the halfling or the gnome - but should by no means be underestimated on account of their small size. Constantly whispering sing-song adulations to their dread God in a forbidden tongue, they offer praise to It in the slaughter of all living things (an act at which, either through some dark blessing or sheer fervour, they are fearsomely adept). Wielding an enormous crescent-shaped mowing-blade, they are as deadly in combat as they are difficult to kill; it has been said that woven into their hoods is some malign faery-magic that protects them from harm as long as the fabric is kept moistened with blood. If you have no choice but to fight a Redcap, it is recommended you arm yourself with a weapon of Cold Iron, as the metal's touch repels them (as it does most fey).

Finally getting back to creatures again! We actually had a Redcap illustration on the blog from a while ago (Ben Tobitt's wonderfully violent offering - it went up during a guest week) but the campaign I just finished involved a redcap and I wanted to do one that we could put in the second Dungeons & Drawings Book (did we mention? we're doing a second Dungeons & Drawings book!), so here we are. I kind of added the more Lovecraftian elements... you can see the sigil on his hat is the symbol of some kind of Squid-God. Although Redcaps to speak Aklo in Pathfinder, which is the language of the betentacled Elder Gods and such. So it isn't too far of a sidestep.

Despite their traditional depiction arguably not being that scary (short old man with spiky boots and a red hat), Redcaps are actually pretty beastly, stats-wise, for their CR, so I ended up spinning the encounter with more of a horror theme - one that would make the party just want run away from it instantly rather than try to fight it. I was actually pretty pleased with the result! I built him up a bit beforehand - someone examining a tapestry adorned with a throng of planar travellers rolled a high Spot check, so I told them they happen to notice, among the rest of the colourful creatures, one figure that sends an ominous chill down their spine -

And I drew ^this^ on the game mat we use. One of our PCs, Tythis, is an Oracle (another Pathfinder thing - Oracles are to Clerics what Sorcerers are to Wizards) whose backstory involves him being haunted by a strange spirit called Bartleby. I told Tythis that Bartleby (who usually keeps pretty silent unless called on) sees this little black-and-red figure and seems to recognise it, and his reaction is very negative. 

This was framed as kind of an aside, but I think it stuck in the players' heads. Later on, the players come to a strange underground labyryinth. It's pitch black, and the players are working their way through a puzzle involving some teleporters. The tension is ramped up gradually - I think just the idea of being in a pitch black place and having to make your own light makes things quite claustrophobic, and I described the sound of a strange piping in the distance (the Redcap's "singing"). After a few rounds of the singing getting louder and the players maybe starting to worry a bit, I bust him out - the Redcap appears in a doorway and runs at the players! The way I described him was less cartoony than the illustration above... I guess I pictured a sort of Pyramid Head thing (the game, not the movie!).  At the same time, I start playing this music, which is one of my favourite pieces ever: 

AAAAAAAAAA! Seriously, the first time I heard this - wow! How horrifying. It seemed to set off the panic well, and the rest of the encounter was pretty much one big mad dash to solve the puzzle without meeting the Redcap or his scythe on the way. The party seemed pretty terrified of the prospect of meeting him again throughout the rest of the campaign, which felt good.

Overall, it was just a brief horror excursion in a more typical fantasy campaign, but I think that was why it worked so well, like the sudden shift in tone added to the scare. I'm a real fan of genuinely scary stuff, not just blood and guts or jumpscares but creative and effectively-conveyed scares, especially things that seem scary to you without you being able to explain why. The sort of inexplicable fear you feel in dreams, that kind of thing. If you haven't played any Silent Hill games I'd really recommend them - I think videogames have a particular knack for being scary because you're more directly involved in them than you are in a book or a movie. Definitely play SH2 if nothing else - the various Pyramid Head sections are expertly built up and paid off.

anyway, hope y'all found this interesting. Got any stories about trying to DM scary stuff?

- Joe

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Elessia, Changeling Wizard

So this weekend just gone we finished the Pathfinder campaign I've been DMing for the last few months. It went off with a bang! You can see my previous post on the whole business here.

In commemoration of this I decided to make a post featuring my redesign of the campaign setting's Big Bad, Elessia. Spoilers on the campaign progression/ending below!

Elessia, though barely 20, is a wizard of no small power. Orphaned by the Nirmathas-Molthune war, she was taken in by a guild of Nirmathan mages after showing surprising amounts of innate magical ability (perhaps owing to non-human ancestry - she was almost certain her mother had been at least an elf, possibly something worse). By the time she came of age, Elessia was certain she had pinpointed the fault for the destruction of her family: the belligerent and expansionistic nation of Molthune, whom everyone knew had instigated the war in the first place, and its star Captain, a brutal man named Pavo Vos. Elessia knew that she could never stand toe to toe with the full might of the Molthune army alone - but with her startling (almost inhuman) ability to dominate or destroy the minds of all those she met, she set out with a handful of stolen magical artifacts to install herself as a spy in the Molthune ranks, who would destroy the country from within.

Elessia's name and role are taken pretty much as written from the Fangwood Keep module - a tricksy magic user who fights indirectly using enchantment and illusory magic. The character is written as an evil cleric - however, I changed her up in a few ways; mostly for the sake of it, but also because the villain in our previous big campaign (another Pathfinder series, The Price of Immortality) also happened to be an evil-god-worshipping lady, and I kind of wanted to do something different. I ended up writing Elessia more like a player character, with a traditional they-burned-down-my-village sobstory that had provoked her to just take the reins of life in order to ruin her perceived antagonists wholly and conclusively. She had a particular thing against the military, and given that the party were all from the Molthune army this gave her a good reason to specifically try and do them in.

The party itself was actually over-leveled (6 of them in a campaign meant for 4-5) and had been having a moderately easy time of killing hobgoblins, so i decided to make Elessia a lot more powerful. I gave her 8 levels in Wizard, giving her access to lots of fun mind-affecting spells but very little actual combat ability. She used mostly illusory/enchantment magic, so the idea was that the party would have to think their way around a lot of trickery to get to her but, once revealed, she was actually very weak. We had a fun fight involving lots of Naruto-style illusory clones (Major Image) and party members fighting party members (Dominate Person), all the while with Elessia running around under Greater Invisibility. But they got the better of her in the end! 

In the end, the death toll was pretty low - all but one of the party survived, although in order to escape they had to run through a busted planar portal which scattered most of the party across several different randomly-decided dimensions (I did a little epilogue for each). The one PC that died was the numerically-named "27"  - he got swallowed whole by a Gibbering Mouther summoned by Elessia just before the portal cut out and, having nowhere else to go, decided to go out with a bang and blew himself (and the mouther) to smithereens with a pellet grenade. RIP 27. 

I love cameos so I'm sure we'll see the other PCs again. Everyone did a drawing of their characters so I'll have to find them all and post them here so you can see what they looked like!

Anyway, I did some coloured versions of Vos' Vipers (now deceased), so I thought I'd post them too.

You can buy a pdf of the Fangwood Keep module straight from the Paizo website. I'd recommend it, the mix of sandbox-style exploration with classic dungeon crawling was really fun! Next campaign I run is going to be written completely from scratch - I'll let you know how it goes.