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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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