Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Rehabilitating The Gas Spore (And Comments On Other G Monsters)

Y'know, the recent controversy...JUST KIDDINGall the monsters starting with G....

Gar, Giant

Wikipedia: Gars are of considerable significance to Native American peoples of the southeastern United States where the gar figures prominently in ceremonial life and music.

You know what? They can have 'em.


Like the caryatid column, the haunted painting, the gargoyle introduces the concept of art-as-monster. A gargoyle isn't just a thing that looks like a demon--a gargoyle is a monster inspired by carvings on churches which were themselves meant to look like demons.

In D&D, it's often suggested that gargoyles actually hang out with creatures from the lower planes--which, on the surface, seems like Bjorn Again actually hanging out with ABBA.

The solution is to suggest that the human artisan's mind has been possessed by some sort of demon, which then forces him/her to carve an idol in the shape of the demon that's whispering in his ear and thus to create a body that the demon can inhabit on earth out of stone.

Oddly enough, this is more or less the theory that medieval writers and artists had about what was actually going on when they made stuff.

When Dante wrote the The Divine Comedy he wasn't thinking "Hey I'm making up a bunch of stuff about Heaven and Hell so I guess I'm risking blasphemy, but whatever, the Church is pretty laid back about these things, especially these days," he was thinking "I guess I want to write about the details of Heaven and Hell because God is telling me through the medium of my imagination what all is in there," only he was thinking it in Italian and in terza rima.

I think the whole idea of gods and demons telling humans to make things so that then these supernatural forces can use those things as instruments with which to make the world more like the one which they'd prefer is a pretty decent one.

Some people--some DMs--go to a lot of effort to create game worlds that simulate real-world-style political intrigues and have those worlds operate according to whatever emergent situation comes from running things that way--other people do it with the weather and create detailed and rational rules for how weather or trade would affect the game world. My simulatory urges tend toward making up rules for gods--assuming the god of x can only do z or y and the god of q can only do b or c unless d, then what would happen? The campaign you're in now is what would happen.

Anyway, point is, gargoyles are cool.

Gas Spore

Another Zak said it first:

"Okay, so a gas spore is a creature that has evolved a reproductive system that relies on fooling hapless adventurers into hacking it open because they think it is one of the most intelligent, rare, and deadly monsters. I see how that could happen."

Sure, the gas spore seems like the most re...I mean, the most developmentally disabled--thing ever and obviously one of those monsters Gygax thought up just to fuck with his own personal players that day.

But open your heart: think of it this way--maybe Beholders actually magically manufacture and cultivate gas spores and send them bobbing around their lairs on purpose as decoys and traps.

Alchemically bioengineering a hollow, living, self-replicating simulacra of yourself that's full of poison gas is a pretty decent trap--and way more disturbing than just some dumb illusion. Haha Mr. Bond, that was not the true Blofeld at all!

I'd like to think the gas spore represents the Beholder's sense of humor. These are the kinds of things you can do when you're a fucking sphere.

Gelatinous Cube

I just...I just can't do it. It's just too stupid. I've spent all my professional life trying to destroy minimalism--I'm not going to send it after my players.

And I know Otherworld makes awesome gelationous cube miniatures, but, really, you can buy resin at any hardware store and make one yourself in a half hour. It's this close to making a miniature of a rock out of a pebble on a base and selling it. Where there's a true gap in the market is in the fucking flail snail department. If Otherworld gives me a Flail Snail, I will give them Belladonna's home phone number.


You lost me at "indistinguishable from ghouls". Who themselves lost me at "indistinguishable from zombies". Who themselves lost me sometime around 2004. I'm sure I'll be ok with the walking dead again after the pop-horror-obsession pendulum finishes swinging back to vampires like it always inevitably does, but until then, don't bother me with zombies.


We fear the dead because we fear dying, but also because we fear that our memories of the dead may prevent us from properly living. (This is why cultures have rituals designed to decisively separate us from the dead.) The memory is the fear. A ghost is little else.

You can just say "when you go into the crypt there's a skeleton" and you've pretty much got all the villainy you need to get out of the skeleton--with a ghost, anything less is going to seem like you missed the point of ghosts. And Gauntlet and Ghostbusters made missing the point of ghosts way more fun than you ever will, so you're probably better off figuring out a reason this hooded fuck's trying to magic jar you.

So a ghost isn't a monster, it's a whole plot seed. Other than just writing a ghost plot from scratch, you could let the ghost run itself by writing up a table of factors that would make a victim come back as a ghost (victim killed while sleeping +10%, enemy killed unhallowed ground + 15% etc.) and make it known to the party's cleric, so that the party has to take precautions to make sure they kill things "properly".

This sounds to me suspiciously like something some game's already done. Anybody know if/who?


Ok, one thing I do like about a zombie is my players know what it is. If I say "you see a ghoul molesting Madame Prathentaler on the cricket grounds", I might as well be saying--"As you slide back the trap door, you gaze upon a fiend!".

What a ghoul is depends entirely on what game you're playing. Even D&D has other ghouls--the Newhon Ghoul from Deities and Demigods is totally different. Appropriately, the original Arabian Ghul was a shape-shifter.

If a thing is D&D-specific, then I want it to be visually distinctive in some way--like the lich--to evoke specific ideas--and the D&D ghoul isn't and doesn't. In veteran players it evokes a fear of paralysis, but there's a million other way to do that.

And it's a shame, because ghoul (like spectre) is a pretty good word, and deserves to be something special. My initial thought is that a ghoul has a big gross tongue, but that's about as far as I've gotten with it. I've been a little busy lately.


One of the things that struck me when watching the execrable Matthew Broderick Godzilla was that they'd gotten the scale all wrong, and it mattered a lot. The original Godzilla was big and so had to wade through buildings and power plants and all the works of men. He couldn't move without ruining something. That meant something.

The American version was skinny enough to not only dash between buildings but actually hide. They advertised the movies with these idiotic "size does matter" billboards, but they totally missed the point. Size doesn't matter--scale does. The huge monster isn't interesting because it's huge, it's interesting because of the weird relationship it forces it into with its environment.

I'm not saying giants should be as big as the original Godzilla, merely that the main point of them is the get us to think about scale.

Giant, Cloud

So: Giants are interesting because of the scale disparity, and their massive imposition on the physical world. Putting them in scaled-up magic cloud castles pretty much negates all that. No stomping, no wading through cities, just being up in the clouds and exotic because they're big and...that's it, just big. I can imagine them working in a sort of Little Nemo palace-but it's just not ominous enough. Somebody else can run that one--I'll play in it though.

Fire Giant

Unlike the "frost" in "frost giant", "fire" is not an environment. Or, if it is, the PCs have bigger things to worry about than the giant--namely, that they're in an active volcano, or Hell. When there is a giant, the giant should be the main event. Otherwise you are just wasting a giant.

Frost Giant

Frost giants are extraordinarily metal, and being metal is always good.

Interestingly, slaying frost giants is also metal--even more metal than being a frost giant. And therein lies a great insight into the nature of metal.

Hill Giant

Though it says they live in caves and the picture has him wearing this Fred Flintstone pelt thing, I figure the hill giant is the truly vanilla Mickey-Mouse-as-Brave-Little-Tailor scaled-up-peasant-house fee-fi-fo-fum giant.

Something to practice on before moving up to the major leagues. Unlike dragons, I don't see giants as getting diluted by appearing a few times in a campaign--they're a whole race, after all. Even Oscar Wildes's The Lonely Giant had more than one giant in it.

Cave Giant

I find the prevailing fashion sense among cave-dwelling species appalling and therefore shun them.

Storm Giant

I much prefer the idea that they call lightning down from the sky than they shoot it at you--I figure: they're around, so lightning just happens. I also think the levitating is a dumb out-of-scale afterthought. Despite being probably the closest thing to a god in the Monster Manual, they're surprisingly short-21 feet. So are the other giants and the titan, if you're used to Godzilla movies.

These things aren't built on a modern architectural scale, they're more Rancor or King Kong-ish. They can Harryhausen on over to you and have a conversation, rather than a Magatron-talking-to-Unicron godlike-monologue-altering-weather-patterns-type situation.


In general, I am ok with old-school D&D art, but, man, If I was a gnoll I'd sue early D&D for character defamation. The old gnoll pictures are laughable. It was only when they started making them really look like hyenas that I realized they were actually not dumb but perfect. They giggle and hunch and chew upon you.

Excellent evil humanoid. They'd stalk Bugbears in packs and eat them for breakfast.

Why isn't there a blog called Bugbears for Breakfast?


Do I have to? Our Thai food just got here and Mandy's got that episode of Top Gear where they go to the North Pole on.

Goat, Giant

Look at that, I didn't even realize this was in here. A giant goat--look at that... "5'+ foot tall at shoulder". Ok, that's a big goat.

Goats can be alright--Thor's goats were named Toothgnasher and Toothgrinder. If you were a Viking you could meet some kid at school and his name would be like Toothgrinder and you'd be like "What's up with that kid named Toothgrinder?" and people would be all "Oh, you know, his parents are real religious."


It's a wonderful word--Goblin.

A Goblin Wind. A Goblin Planet. An Empire of Goblins.

The band that supplies the music for many of Dario Argento's horror movies--which are always more about panic than they are about fear or gore--is called "Goblin". They are perfect for the movies and perfect for the name--shrill, piercing, relentless, weird.

Noisms makes some excellent points about goblins here.

What is it, exactly about goblins? Evil glee. Mischief beyond mere mischief. Like the worst children. Children without the redeeming vulnerability and sentimentality of children. The Lord-of-the-Flies butterfly-stomping callow consciencelessness of children taken to its extreme.

The Monster Manual goblin doesn't just look hapless, he looks too old.


The golems are really three completely different monsters, at least in terms of the feel of them:

Clay Golem

The original golem. I think the clay golem is a monster waiting for an illustrator. I've never seen a good clay golem picture( they always seem too oafish or too spry), but I can imagine the basic outlines--it would need to have tremendously dead eyes, a long, humorless, sagging mouth, silently moaning the same moan forever, a huge but unthinking head, hunching limbs barely differentiated from the body, and yet it would still have to seem implacable and murderous. It's hollowness would need to be countered by its inevitability--the way a slow crawling slug seems to not to need to move fast or to think--since it will get you in the end anyway.

Until that picture gets made, and made convinicingly, I won't be able to use a clay golem.

A thought: perhaps I'll be forced to. I am trying to picture Mandy saying "I wanna make a golem". I can see it. Justine would definitely do it if it occurred to her. Hmmmm...

Flesh Golem

The Frankenstein's monster. I personally would go for a post-Clive Barker/Tim Burton version gorily stitched together from mismatched parts. And probably have some animal golems, too. Cheap but effective. And it's fun to make the hopeless, plodding, dragging noises.

Iron and Stone Golems

The living statues. Obviously an excellent all-around monster for pretty much everybody but I like them in particular because I can dig up photos of old sculptures I like and go "and it looks, like, THIS...."

The only problem for the DM is casually throwing in enough descriptions of non-living statues (and non puzzle-statues, and non-trap statues, and non-important-NPC-just-medusafied statues) that the party doesn't just go around avoiding statues (or fucking with them) on general principle. Ever had that problem?


What do you do with this thing? A metal bull with poison breath named after the creature that D&D calls "a medusa".

First, change the name. Second, I think, is look up the (possibly apocryphal) Bull of Heliogabulus. This is a torture device shaped like hollow bull, into which the victim is placed. The bull is then heated, and bad things occur.

Perhaps the victim is still in there, and the posion breath is made from the dying breath of the torture victim, or the victims are all long dead and their spirits inhabit the bull. Perhaps it doesn't have to be a bull. I mean, minotaurs are better and kind of hog the slot. Maybe it's a metal...horse? Boar?

Gray Ooze

In the original Manual, some large Gray Oozes were psionic. But were these exceptional individuals wise oozes? No. Animal intelligence. There's something interestingly nightmarish about an unintelligent thing launching psionic attacks on you--forcing you to think ooze thoughts and grasp only what oozes grasp.

Green Slime

More bad goo. I think the implied vivid green of the green slime was an underappreciated psychoaesthetic landmark in the Erol Otus pulp-fantasy aesthetic of early D&D. This wasn't just some brown Medieval Europe, this wasn't just a gray, green, blue, bronze mythical Medieval Europe, this was a version of Medieval Europe where sometimes things were radioactive green. Often, actually, if Otus had anything to say about it.


I wonder how long you could live eating and drinking only at establishments that are listed in the Monster Manual--stagger home from the Griffon to unwrap your takeout from the Gold Dragon, then wake up before work with a cup of coffee at the Brown Bear and a sandwich from the Bachlutherium. There's probably a blog about it. ANYWAY...

I like griffons, but griffons as a riding animal seems unredeemably cheesey. It is both eagle and lion and I, Diomedraxx the Impressive, have conquered it and now bend it to my will! Whatever. I much prefer the griffon the way Lewis Carrol did it--as a fussy but oddly-affecting creature that asks a fake turtle to sing a song about soup.

Groaning Spirit or Banshee

This is basically a ghost with some built-in story (female and elvish and Irish) and with a special power--the save-or-die killing moan. I'd rig it like this: kill someone the wrong way and they come back as a ghost--kill a woman (or Irish woman, or Elvish woman, or some specific kind of woman) in the wrong way and they'll come back as a banshee, and let the players know that's even worse.


Once outside the Monster Manual, there are some interesting "G" monsters...

Gibbering Mouther

A mouthed plasm. In all ways admirable. I think of them as a pretty good lonely-wilderness encounter. You hear some people up ahead--oh no, it's just a blob alone in the woods talking to itself.

Creeping over rotting fungi, layers of dead leaves, all the while speaking in half-sentences.


Cricket-legged fey. More evocatively Midsummer-Nights-Dreamish than their blander cousins. They're the only fairie folk in D&D who consistently look like they might actually be trying to do something. The rest just seem like they hang around talking to bees all day waiting for you to show up so they can annoy you.


Tentacles, good. Brain, good. Beak? Mmmm... I can't decide whether it's worth trying to like the grell on pure gonzo principle considering how many other tentacle-monsters and brain-monsters there are that're worth digging up. Or building.


Completely redesigned it. Now it's just a giant moth with a rorshach-like pattern that causes despair when you look at it. A harbinger of other, more concrete things.


My players have no fucking clue what a Githyanki is. A describability problem. All I can do is show them that picture from the cover of the Fiend Folio and hope it seems to them at age 20-whatever as alien as it did to me when I was something teen.

I've never used them but have some ideas: I feel like the thing of the Githyani is: look at the cover to Iron Maiden's Power Slave and imagine a whole society that was like that. Play Nile really loud. They'll need weird rituals and societal rules. Like some ancient race that was here before men, marooned here. A little Lovecraft, a little Stargate, a little Predator. Could be a pip.

The Githzerai? Irrelevant. It's all about that merciless thing on the full-color cover. The rest is the real fluff.


2-foot treefrog people. I like the grippli as some sort of innocent slave-race for Slaads or otherwise hapless bystanders in the evil-frog hierarchy. I am also a litle afraid that one day one of my players will realize that it is--according to guidelines I myself have laid out--a playable race.

Galeb Duhr

A rock with legs. I figure the original one just sits there and asks riddles, but the new, Kirbyfied version over on the left there actually looks like it could put up a decent--and-interesting--fight.


  1. See, I so dig minimalist stuff like this...a wall-to-wall to floor-to-ceiling transparent cube of gelatin that can eat you alive and leave your cool crap behind. The Gelatinous Cube is probably one of my favorite ridiculous, non-mythical, Gygaxian monsters. Its just so imposing. Its the size of the entire corridor and its coming right at you. In my old games they moved fairly quickly. Not very fast but definitely 'The Blob' fast.

  2. @barking
    Well original Star Trek fans love minimalist monsters.

  3. I think you've written off Ghouls unfairly. Forgetting all of the specifics from the MM - they eat dead things and are way smarter than zombies.

    I like to use them as extreme cowards (who yet are very badass with multiple attacks and paralysis) who form packs to hound adventurers, waiting for them to die or leave foes slain behind them. Like way more evil and human-like vultures. They are an awesome way to pressure a party and create atmosphere. They lurk, remaining out of sight most of the time - just their pale lidless eyes reflecting in the dark.

    It's also fun when a party just finds bloody drag marks leading into darkness when they retrace over where they previously battled. I think they are hella metal.

    They aren't above ambushing lone, preferably wounded adventurers and of course will viciously gaurd their lairs.

    I can't express how well players get into the thought that they are being tailed by the tireless, hungry dead.

  4. You mentioned Dante's Divine Comedy. Larry Niven said that he considered the Divine Comedy to be one of the first hard sci-fi novels. It sounds odd, but it made a fictional story based on things that were considered to be accepted fact at the time.

  5. I've seen pictures of massive Alligator Gar's that impressed the hell out of me...metal!

    I play Ghouls as being like lovecraft's, subterranean chaotic society, meeping, an all.

  6. Damn, ravensconspiracy. That's awesome.

    So when do we get the visual? ;)

  7. I don't really even think of ghouls as undead. To me, they're like really brutal, savage goblin-type humanoids.

    I always picture them as long limbs, knotty joints, and loads of long teeth (gums rotten and receeding away from broken yellow stumps kind of teeth, not shiny fangs teeth). Everything inbetween spindly limbs and the teeth is irrelevant.

    I see them moving like xenomorphs from Aliens, clinging to vertical surfaces as they leap towards you.

    I think one could do worse than describing the encounter where you surprise a ghoul 'molesting' the croquet-player as: 'The thing lifts its head from the bloody ruin of her abdomen. You see teeth: grey and yellow and broken, slick with her blood and bile. Then it leaps for you."

  8. As for cloud giants, I never think of the giants as the interesting part: giant castles, though. Think of the scale issues when you're creeping around this thing's house. If it's 3 times the height of a person, that puts the average doorknob at arm's length overhead, and the doors will all be a foot thick, with hinges like suits of armor.

    I feel that any good cloud giant adventure takes place in a castle, and has an encounter with a giant cook in the kitchen wielding spoons and knives three times their normal size. Bonus points if the players hide inside a small door she can't fit through, and this door is actually the entrance to the oven, or the garbage chute.

  9. @Kevin
    True enough.

    Like little Nemo (and super mario)--I'd play it, but i couldn;t run it.

  10. Re: Ghouls Erol Otus did the definitive version:


  11. You asked, and now it exists.


    Give me a week to tart it up a bit - it's just bare, gnawed-on bones at the moment. Thank you for the name. I was stuck as to what to call my campaign and the attendant Blogger site. Now to live up to it.

  12. In my Pathfinder game, I made ghasts what gnolls can become if they faithfully worship the gnoll god of death. Eternal hunger and unlife as a reward.

    Ghouls are lesser spawn of ghasts, created from humans or demi-humans killed by ghasts and considered worthy only of enslavement by ghasts.

  13. I've always been a fan of the Lovecraftian gouls. They're fucking creepy, and they're, like, related to you...

  14. I think Ghouls are great monsters. For starters they're not mindless, like the other lowly undead, and secondly they want to eat people, not just kill them. What's more they want to eat them raw, or even alive. That's scary. I like the paralysis too, that makes them even scarier, and Elves being immune to it is a nice extra touch. They should be skinny, hideous and at least half naked though. Like this one.

    This is probably the best picture of a Goblin I could find. Thankfully, she's not one of mine, although my youngest is showing distinct signs of heading this way.

    Anyway, what I was getting to is that I'm not a fan of the Warhammer style Goblins. They're too cartoon-like and that just makes them silly. I like mine more like in Alan Lee's work. Less comical and more creepy. I like them with yellowish or orange-brown skin too, green is naff, unless it's a sickly pale green. I also like my Goblins to be a mix of creepy and cruel but blended with downtrodden and cowardly. They're not inherently evil they've just been physically and mentally abused from birth. They're selfish, mean and vindictive because they've never been loved but they're also terrified. They'll fear you if you look tougher than them but if you show weakness they'll bully you mercilessly. I also figure they'd use horribly sharp weapons to make up for their lack of strength. Probably with nasty serrations and barbs too. For armour they should have a diverse mix of mismatching styles and weird shapes. Like this or this.

    Lastly, I want to add that I was warming to you lot already Zak but now I know you like Top Gear, well that settles it.

  15. I have now gotten 7 times more messages defending ghouls than I have about the amount of adult content in the video.

  16. Resin? Fuck that. Make your goddamn gelatinous cubes out of JELLO, so you can eat them once they're slaughtered.

    And don't forget their vegan cousins, the glutinous trapezohedrons.

  17. I am a huge fan of the Grippli. It's a personal failing. I think however if I were ever to run them in a game they would be like amazonian arrow poison frogs, but with arrows, and bows, and attitude. The PC's would see some NPCs they knew get into a verbal conflict with one, an NPC would get mouthy, and get hit in the neck with a dart and collapse. The NPCs would be all like, "we get it your tough little buggers, fine we respect you, when does our friend wake up from you pixie dust darts or whatever?" He doesn't. He's dead. Don't fuck with us.

  18. @ Zak - This is because ghouls are seriously pimparian.

    I also run ghouls as being undead in a similar way vampires are undead. They need to feed and are not rotten (heal wounds etc) but are none the less undead. I think this makes them even scarier.

  19. The earlier comment on Yeenoghu says:

    "But still: he's a big gnoll, lord of the gnolls. He has a flail, but other than that--not much to go on."

    The Monster Manual entry also mentions that he "receives homage from the King of the Ghouls", which fits in better with Arabian concept of ghouls as intelligent, shapshifting demons dwelling in the empty desert.

    So: Gnolls are the result of centuries-old crossbreeding between hyenas and ghouls (which enjoy taking hyena form). The gnolls grew in numbers and formed strong tribes, which turned on their ghoul masters. The ghouls only saved themselves when their King submitted to Yeenoghu, agreeing to a pact that banished them to the wastelands. Since then, the immortal ghouls have plotted their revenge against the gnoll usurpers.

  20. Mental note: model little flail snail. Get job at Otherworld.

  21. Geez, getting totally sucked in to this project. Will limit myself to 3 comments:

    (1) D&D Giant scale is predicated on the game starting as minis fighting in Chainmail. Gygax had 1 or 2 foot-tall action-figure types, planted them next to 25mm minis, stole hair from his daughter's doll (seriously), and bam, there's your metal frost giant at scale. You can see how city-sized giants would be infeasible for mini representation. (Thought: Performance art where the DM gets on the table to portray the uber-giant at scale and in person.)

    (2) Interestingly, the "original" Golem (clay) did not appear when the golem type was introduced in OD&D Sup-I, just the other 3 types for wizards.

    (3) Once I ran a game with an orc culture and rolled up some Giant Goats. "Huh," I said, "guess they keep giant goats as herd animals. That's kinda funky". Well, OMG were my players FREAKED OUT by the giant goats. "How'd they get these goats? What does mean? Is there radiation or a curse or some magic effect in the water we should avoid? What about the GIANT GOATS??"

    Ironically the fact of being so mundane you overlook them in the MM, caused people to flip out all crazy when they saw them appear randomly in my game.

  22. Adam T.: "Resin? Fuck that. Make your goddamn gelatinous cubes out of JELLO, so you can eat them once they're slaughtered."


  23. Shit, posting again. I guess I just like the G monsters.

    Thinking about your goblins-as-evil-children thing: there's a monster in Mayfair's game Chill called the Gamin. They're basically evil children, who take pranks and games Too Far, adding a nasty edge of viciousness and brutality. I was always sad that the same niche was ultimately filled in horror film by that stupid little doll.

    Anyway, the interesting thing about the Gamin is that they're made. There's this other entity that turns neighborhood children into Gamin: the Mean Old Neighbor Lady.

    This led me to imagine a D&D adventure in which a seemingly endless plague of goblins is raiding a town, stealing toys and children and burning down shops and temples. And ultimately the PCs fight their way into the goblin lair, having killed most of the tribe, and that's where they discover the hag that's transforming village children... into the very goblins the PCs have been butchering.

  24. More love for ghouls: I like to distance them considerably from zombies and vampires both, to draw a bit on Pickman's Model and The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath but throw in the Cronenberg (from The Fly, especially) hints that were always implicit there—the path from human to ghoul is gradual, and you don't die along the way. You don't mean to become a ghoul, but sometimes you have to do extreme things to survive, or sometimes an obsession with dead flesh as tasty, juicy meat just won't leave you alone, waking or dreaming. Sooner or later, on purpose or by accident, you give in, and when you do everything becomes so much better.

    Like in Antonia Bird's Ravenous, good things come to those who eat the dead. You get smarter and stronger, like you were always meant to do this. It's not until later that the more terrible changes begin to manifest, dragging you the rest of the way away from your original humanity.

    It's also best when at least one of the ghouls is someone you knew, someone who still wants to be friends. Someone brilliant and charming and genuinely affectionate, but who has left their humanity and attractiveness far far behind. Maybe he saves your life, because he still likes and respects you, like some variation on Hannibal Lector, or maybe in many ways he's simply still your friend, who just likes to eat your other friends after they've died—waste not want not. Maybe he's a gourmet chef who cooks amazing meals, but you're always afraid he'll include his secret ingredient that he's just dying for you to try. People throw away the glory of the ghoul when they just make it merely rotting and gross like a zombie. It's so much better when the polite, charming, hideously deformed ghoul practices exquisite hygiene and does everything in his power to remain acceptable, to keep the players on the knife's edge about him for a long time, until maybe he slides just that little bit too far away from humanity.

    . . .

    And on an unrelated note: I love me some gibbering mouther. My DM, Kathy Ice, had us investigating a bookstore that was a front for twisted people dabbling in things man was not meant to know. When the creepy proprietor left us to our own devices, we're exploring the back rooms, sure we're going to find evil cultists summoning terrible blasphemies. We hear the indistinct, nonstop muttering coming from behind a door. We open it expecting cultists and instead, there's a gibbering mouther.

    We slam the door ASAP, but too late—several of us fail our will saves, including my I Hit It With My Axe-style half-orc barbarian, who unfortunately goes mad and begins tearing the party apart with uncharacteristically well-rolled attacks with my great axe, including critical hits. Oh, now the dice love me, now that I'm critting my own party? We've fought any number of terrible beasties, but bang for buck that two-second exposure to a gibbering mouther is the worst thing our party has faced so far. Happy happy joy joy!

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  26. We fear the dead because we fear dying, but also because we fear that our memories of the dead may prevent us from properly living.

    That's kind of a Victorian definition, really. The fact that synonyms for ghost, like phantom, spectre, apparition are what we use for false images or deceptions point to the original impression that they exist in some halfway point between real and unreal, or at least, between the shared social world of humanity and the deep abyss of otherness that is outside.

    Putting aside mythology for a second, there's two kinds of ghosts in forteana. Phantoms, which you can see, and not touch, and poltergeists, which can touch you, but which you can't see. Sometimes the two get conflated (i.e. seeing a ghost is inauspicious because it leads to a curse, which is spooky action leading to suck in your life), sometimes not. Generally, though, the first category points to our disconnection from the social world of humanity, and thus our ability to confirm idenity of ourselves, or anything. The spectre is a primarily individual-focused monster. The invasion of the social world by the poltergeist–mysterious unseen forces disrupting the normal flow of life–is more commonly centred around a Communtiy, be it a family (they're heeereee), building (gotta feng that shui) or a nation (socialism) which require Special Powers (dwarfish psychics, a stately white fu manchu or patriotic libertarianism) to percieve and root out.

    This is where you say "That sounds a lot like witches, too," and you'd be right. Hauntings, spirit bindings, necromancy, curses of ill health or insanity–all witchy things to do. Throw in the fact that 'djinn' and 'ghost' mean basically the same in Islamic countries–ghul take the form of dead relatives, after all–and it gets even more fun.

    Appropriately, the original Arabian Ghul was a shape-shifter.

    So they look like your grandma (someone should stat up pkd's martian sand-ghouls). Maybe add some sort of charm person whisper powers for desert magic.

    Or combine ghouls and gnolls and you get these guys.

    The Githzerai? Irrelevant. It's all about that merciless thing on the full-color cover. The rest is the real fluff.

    The Githzerai are the holy dervishes that live in the desert, fighting the insane overlords that built the bigass pseudogyptian temple-statues.

    Galeb Duhr

    The ones who just hang out in the ground talkin' to rocks sound like good guys. I mean, c'mon, does every monster have to be pissed off? what would piss off a rock? they're just hangin' out, singing some song that vibrates so slowly you'd need to be the age of the canadian shield to recognize it as a melody. just some dudes. you know. bein' rocks.

  27. Rick wrote:
    —the path from human to ghoul is gradual, and you don't die along the way. You don't mean to become a ghoul, but sometimes you have to do extreme things to survive, or sometimes an obsession with dead flesh as tasty, juicy meat just won't leave you alone, waking or dreaming. Sooner or later, on purpose or by accident, you give in, and when you do everything becomes so much better.

    I like that. It's like the Royston Vasey butcher in the League of Gentlemen.

  28. So... What if I get you some flailsnail miniature? It's not that I can sculpt it but I surely know someone than can, would that qualify for the prize?

    On second thought, better forget it, I don't think I can handle such a major leaguer :(

  29. Well, it may not be the one you want, but here's what I made of a clay golem:
    I went and painted the miniature like fine pottery, as much as I could at that size at least. I was bored of seeing them depicted as brown lumps when there is so much more you can do with clay.

    I'll give a shot at sculpting a flail snail. Sounds simple enough.

  30. Request sent to Otherworld Miniatures for a Flail Snail (of DOOM). I'll let you know if I get a response!

  31. I've never seen a good clay golem picture( they always seem too oafish or too spry), but I can imagine the basic outlines--it would need to have tremendously dead eyes, a long, humorless, sagging mouth...

    Paul Kidby's take on Discworld golems seem would probably fit the bill. They're stocky, slow, relentless, and burn with internal fires. Like The Juggernaut crossed with a kiln.

    Also, I agree with Mandy: "Top Gear" trumps Gnomes any day.

  32. Is this a place where we can talk about episode 2 of the show? I'll go ahead and do so, and just be chastised if that's what needs to happen.

    Anyway, there was a bit in episode 2 that raised an interesting issue I've been thinking about recently. Whenever you watch a movie or TV show where the characters go on a dangerous mission to a weird place, they say "We're going on a dangerous mission to a weird place!" and then there's a cut and they're in the weird place and you, the audience, experience all the weirdness and surprises as they happen. Ideally (I think), you the DM want the players to have this audience-like experience when they go to your dungeon. However, players inevitably want to ask as many questions as possible before they go to the weird dangerous place. If they could read a CIA Factbook about the goblin city cover to cover, they would, and who can blame them. But it feels like it's at cross-purposes to creating that "journey into mystery" feeling. I'm not sure if there's a better way to address this than to say, like you did, "Little is known about the goblin city!" even when it feels like a cop-out.

    Is this a problem or am I just being neurotic? If it is a problem, is there a better way?

  33. Nice! I like the goblins as malignent children take. What if Orcs and goblins were the same, with goblins as the children/adolescents, and orcs as the adults of the same race?

    Also, I've got a Grippli varient for you.


  34. Rick M., that's great stuff.

  35. Please reconsider Giant Gar. Once upon a time our hobbit was fooling around on a riverboat and the DM looked up with: "Make a DX save." He fell into the river and there was a giant gar. Instantly the player is truly freaking and the rest of us are running around like Keystone Cops. To make matters worse the DM then adds: "He looks big enough to swallow you whole." Suddenly a peaceful, even idyllic, scene becomes chaos. And the fact that this is a mundane, not supernatural, creature adds to the feeling. For the rest of the campaign the hobbit was terrified of bodies of water and went out of his way to kill fish. And 25 years later I still remember it.

    I'd say that monster has what it takes.

  36. This blog has officially been Grognardiaized--way too many comments on way too many things to deal with them all in the manner to which I am accustomed. I'll deal with the stand-outs...

    most of what I have to say about episode 2 i said here:

    your specific issue discussed here:

    I saw those

    A giant squirrel could do the same thing

  37. I'm not very old school, so I've never read the gas spore's entry, but if it's like you described, it's actually pretty easy to understand. Organisms with death tied directly to their reproductive cycle aren't uncommon. A gas spore starts out as a creature that produces airborne spores for reproduction. Rather than rely on wind or wild animals to spread spores like many normal organisms, gas spores rely on the fictional environmental factor of adventurers. A barbarian attacks it, spreads spores around and carries some with her throughout the dungeon; much like a bird carries seeds or a bee carries pollen. Once that niche is established, the secondary mutations of increased lethality (to leave the new, maturing spores a carcass to eat) and altered shape to attract the adventures (shifting from sphere shaped to beholder-shaped wouldn't take much) complete the gas spores' characteristics.

    Out of all of the creatures specifically designed for dungeons, the gas spore is one of the most reasonable. Assuming that it's anything like I imagine it to be, of course. If Zak left out details that contradict this post, I'm sorry to anyone who bothered to read it.

  38. This blog has officially been Grognardiaized

    You know you've made the big time when the name of your blog has been turned into a verb :)

  39. > This blog has officially been Grognardiaized

    Was gonna say same thing and feel same way about James blog.

    Zak, I like your blog cause I disagree with about 80% of what you say.

  40. apoptosis: "If Zak left out details that contradict this post, I'm sorry to anyone who bothered to read it."

    No you've got the gist of it. I don't think many people have a problem with the explody-spores thing.

    The issue I got from Zak was this: With real-stuff like this, the base creature is common and benign, the referential creature is relatively rare (thus surprising some target organism). With the gas spore it's flip-flopped: the base creature (beholder) is enormously rare and awful, the referential creature is itself more common. So environmentally you'd expect people to run into beholders and think they're gas spores and avoid attacking, not vice-versa.

  41. Zak, while the idea of a giant squirrel grabbing a hobbit and scampering into the trees (thereby proving what everyone had said, that he was a nut), leaving the party to rush behind and try to find a way to get the hobbit down without having him die in the fall is so enticing that I really wish there were a hobbit in my current campaign, (gasp) one major point of the gar is that it's underwater. In it you are out of your environment though in a familiar one. You can't see easily from one to the other and, if you go into it, you must give up your armor, your protection, or let only those least effective in combat fight. Sorry but I think we will have to agree to disagree. I like the giant gar.

    Delta, I think the point is to get the players used to gas spores instead of beholders. The only time I've ever heard of gas spores being used extensively in a dungeon, that was the goal. When the beholder put in an appearance, it was a big surprise. As an aside, one of the M-Us (a friend of mine) used Telekinesis to herd spores into one room. Later they drove the spores into the midst of some enemies with Gust of Wind and Tk.

  42. I'm going to have to put you right about my Gelatinous Cubes, Zak! Send me a mailing address and I'll send you one.

    Richard Scott
    Otherworld Miniatures

  43. Otherworld, you may have missed the part about the flail snail... :)

  44. No, I saw that. But I'm not sure if it would be worth the humiliation that would be heaped upon me for making such a ridiculous monster!
    What next? A Flumph, Modrons?!

  45. "factors that would make a victim come back as a ghost... This sounds to me suspiciously like something some game's already done. Anybody know if/who?"

    In Exalted, hungry ghosts often rise from murder victims or corpses that weren't properly interred or otherwise cared for. Sadly, this excellent rationale to say 'hey, I don't care if he's your enemy, do what's right and don't just loot the corpse and push it into the river' doesn't seem to get used in campaigns as often as I'd like.

  46. Here's the best picture of a Ghoul, EVER:

  47. In case you're still curious about ghosts: I believe that in Greg Stolze's excellent fantasy game REIGN, one can become a ghost if and only if one genuinely throws oneself on the mercy of one's attacker and the attacker hears, understands, and kills you anyway. If you're surrendering as a trick, no ghost for you; if your opponent speaks the wrong language, ditto. But if you match eyes with that dastardly assailant, drop your sword and communicate that you'd rather surrender than die, you'll have the rest of his life to torment him when he offs you.

  48. Gelatinous cubes were the first things that made me think about the procedural nature of DnD: it's like a satire on the dungeon. It's exactly 10 by 10 because that's exactly what the standard dungeon corridor is, so it reveals the pasteboardiness of the standard, like one of those giant Japanese municipal mazes made out of a grid frame and panels which changes every week. It fits down that dungeon corridor absolutely, mathematically precisely. Nothing escapes it. So it can be a herding mechanism, if only you beef it up.

    There's something postmodern cool about that, as long as it's all left as a suggestion.

    Now, the ghouls on the other hand make their own tunnels. Which means they can pop up anywhere, like Hounds of Tindalos boiling out of the corner of your belt buckle or eyelid. Which makes them a different sort of threat from those that wait behind the door you're listening at. If the gelatinous cube breaks the fourth wall by showing it to you, the ghoul puts it back by unexpectedly sliding out of it to steal your wounded.

  49. I wonder if you ever put some thought into the "Epic Rulebook" stuff. There's some seriously mental (as in mad) stuff there. Like, the sort that can only be killed by a blade forged in the future or by a sleepwalking smith during his sleep. Nothing keeps anyone from using these monsters as less "World-devouring-Galactus" type and more the "Weird lovecraftian creeps that are around there with dragons and demons to kill".

    Also, it has a proper Titan in the Elder Titan (or Ancient Titan, would have to check it out).

    That said, I'll steal your idea for a Boar Gorgon, with some Boar-related powers.

  50. Brian McNaughton, _The Throne of Bones_. Best way to learn to appreciate ghouls.

  51. Ghouls: Lovecraft version, punishment / reward for cannibalism, ever hungry tunnel dwelling undeat, more often encounter ghoul than ghouls e.g. apprentice mage studying necromancy takes a short cut to lichdom not knowing the consequences and gradually turns into a ghoul before finally succumbing and digging a tunnel down to join his new kin


    also Jorune has some cool creatures one of which "Ramian Gire" has a great image that would suit Githyanki