Monday, April 25, 2011

Babbler Thru Bunyip Redone

Still renovating the Fiend Folio. Let's start on a high note: the Babbler.

Original babbler:One of the ubiquitous-in-the-folio 3rd level low-HD dinosaur-variants.
Good things about the Babbler:
1) It babbles: in a "quasi lingual" tongue which defies analysis.
2) It crawls up behind you on its loathsome belly and strikes its foes like a 4th-level thief.
3) The drawing has a crazy manic energy which makes it look like it goes "rawRRawRRAWR RARA!"

Questionable things:
1) It's basically, statwise, a wimpy dinosaur.
2) The babbling, while charming, is basically just window-dressing and has nothing to do with fighting/dealing with the beast.
3) Because the description says the babbler looks just like a gorgosaurus, it is hard to tell whether the distortions in the Russ Nicholson drawing are supposed to represent how the thing actually looks or whether it's just sort of expressionistic artistic license.

I have attempted to clarify point 3 in my picture (and end up with kinda a Russ Nicholson homage), which should make it obvious that Babblers look all fucked and go RawRawrarrrRARA all the time. I feel there are many solutions to problems 1 and 2 and that they probably involve tying the two together.
(click to enlarge all these pictures.)
Not as exciting, but not at all a thing to sneeze at is the Bat, Giant. Kinda surprising it wasn't taken care of in the Monster Manual. I have no bitching to do about this perennial classic, aside from saying that adding a dizzying sonic attack might spice up the mechanics a bit. However, I drew it anyway on account of it's fun to draw bats...
The Berbalang is an uninspired take on a kind of Phillippino vampire, and the folio description of its habits and tactics lines up surprisingly well with the description given by whatever member of the pith helmet brigade wrote the moustachey explorer description of the berbalang that Wikipedia quotes in its berbalang article, right down to the astral travel. I have redrawn the berbalang, but since Mandy wants to use it in her Arabian Nights game I have left the stats up to her...
And now, the Blindheim. The original is a kinda funstupid bipedal frog-midget that shoots eyebeams. Mine is more just a regular frog that's so fucked-looking you go blind. Also it can sing like a little girl. They also come in elephant-size....and it is all downhil from here: B in the Fiend Folio is for boring. No, worse than boring, B is for Bottom of the Beast Barrel. Many of these are not simply dull but downright bad monsters.

So: Blood Hawk. Not a crappy Christian metal band or a Thundercats villain, but just a slightly-more-optimistic-about-what-constitutes-prey version of a hawk. Problem with hawks as villains is anything a hawk can do as a villain, a crow or a stirge can do better. The other problem here is "bloodhawk" is a stupid stupid name. I decided "Blood Hawk" is what goblins call it when they stuff a hawk full of black powder and disease and send it winging its way after some distant foe. The hawk then explodes and gets infected blood all over the enemy. Problems solved.More adventures in half-assery: Bloodworm, giant. In case you didn't have enough giant worms already.

My take is that the giant bloodworm is the smart one. It is like possessed of a supreme but inhuman intelligence like the martians in Stranger in a Strange Land. It drinks the blood of gods. The polar worm, purple worm (though not the purple wyrm), remorhaz, etc., these are the mutant slave races descended from the wise old worms.The bonesnapper is another level 3 low-HD dinosaur. Where do all these come from? I decided "babbler" and "bonesnapper" are just colloquial names some cult or alchemist or tribe has for the products of their experimental mini-dinosaur breeding program. My picture is based on a rejected first draft of the babbler. The bonesnapper is your classic ride-on-able mini T Rex.Next one: totally hopeless synonym-for-fairy called a Booka. Even the name is stupid. I am hereby replacing it with the "Mahone": an equally annoying but much more drunk brand of fey.Next up is Bullywugs, which likewise partake much in suck. A world with Slaads and Blindheims does not need a weaker and more generic kind of frog-guy. The only interesting thing about them is they have natural camoflage powers so I am replacing them with Chameleon Men, which is more fun to say than "Bullywug". Isn't Dwellers of the Forbidden City like 10 times more exotic and Petalthroney now? Yes it is. Chameleon men are slow and cryptic and know the secrets of the Yellow Star. They communicate only through coded patterns on their skin. They think Lizard Men are unspeakably vulgar.
The Bunyip is a fucked thing. Basically if you research the word it's an Australian folk monster from the swamps which looks like...well, none of the descriptions agree. Some say alligator, some dog, some say starfish--the Folio went with seal, which seems like a transcendent miracle of underachievement and bad taste.

I decided the point of the Bunyip is it is indescribable but looks like different things to different people and its true form is just all screwy and it sits there in the center of the swamp being immobile and bizarre and waiting for like John Constantine to show up and ask where the Key To The Eighth Gate of Migraines is or whatever. Also, that name has to go. "Bunyip" may sound good in the antipodes, but here in forwardsland people eat hamburgers not the other way around. So I dub it the Unminion.
Next time: What's a Clubneck and how could it possibly be cool? I don't know either but we'll find out...


  1. all I get from "Clubneck" is a nickname some guy got in high school based on having an oddly-shaped wang.

  2. And the Babbler gives me the idea that each of them carries one secret told to them by the Gods in the ancientest of ancient times, which they repeat incessantly, but a) it's in a language so old that even the gods don't remember it that well and b) it's been passed from generation to generation such that it's completely garbled like the result of a game of Telephone.

  3. The funny thing is that there already are Bullywug-analogues in Empire of the Petal Throne ;)

  4. I'm detecting a recurring theme of 'monsters that wait in a wilderness location like a swamp or forest or high, lofty down, waiting to dispense arcane knowledge'. This is good.

    captcha = burialqu. Trying to get over the 'burial' in the name and not make it some sort of undead; instead, I'm going with some sort of Incan-looking totem-beast, an almost stylised snake whose odd, blocky dimensions are merely how the mortal brain processes something that slides in and out of the space we know. It is witnessed, in the distance, as much as encountered - phasing through solid objects and moving slowly but inexorably closer. The wise know to offer it sacrifice. The unwise find themselves becoming less and less substantial, less and less noticed by their peers, until one day they wake up and realise they aren't in Kansas any more. They are in the spaces between, and the burialqu is hungry.

  5. Secret origins of the Babbler: In Moorcock's Hawkmoon novels the marshes of the Kamarg are inhabited by the Baragoon, a race of mutant babbling lizard-men created from humans by a mad scientist.

    They're described in this excerpt.

    The Blood Hawk is an exception, but 90% of the sucky normal animals in the MM2 can be improved with the addition of "blood" as an adjective. Blood Goat! Blood Swan! Blood Squirrels!

  6. Booka in folklore is just the Welsh word for a Brownie. Properly spelled and pronounced it is 'Bwca'. Yay for Welsh!

    They were apparently grumpier than other brownies and more likely to turn into boggarts (a relationship that of course was lost to TSR). But yeah, besides plot hooks there's not much for it to do. Maybe it's the bwca's job to polish all the PCs armour and weapons and maintain their equipment, because they never ever do any of that stuff themselves.

    I love what you've done with the bul- I mean chameleon men. And the bloodworm. I want to actually use the chameleon men now. In fact I see them as just giant, intelligent chameleons - no need to be men at all. Chameleons already look like they have hands (and feet) that could use tools. And they have that weird slow way of moving. They just need some kind of tongue attack (!)

    I feel like the bunyip could do with more love but I'm not sure what.

    OK how about: in the same way spectres are a 'gestalt' ghost of some mass tragedy, the Bunyip is a gestalt ghost of mass slaughtered wildlife. Whenever entire species and ecosystems are decimated, a Bunyip may arise. They're too confused to be intelligent, being so many species in one, but they are pretty miffed.

    I think this draws nicely on the many wildlife problems in Australia. I might also have stolen it from an episode of the Real Ghostbusters cartoon.

  7. It is like possessed of a supreme but inhuman intelligence like the martians in Stranger in a Strange Land. It drinks the blood of gods. The polar worm, purple worm (though not the purple wyrm), remorhaz, etc., these are the mutant slave races descended from the wise old worms.

    Okay, now THAT is pretty awesome.

  8. In 4e, I think Berblangs have that thing where if you hit 'em, they split into two? I don't know how you are supposed to fight them-- since it is 4e, I assume it is just "more hitting"-- but I have heard from friends that they are a pain in the ass.

  9. Oh, and always a pleasure to meet the blllindheeim!

  10. I'm loving your new take on these old monsters. Not having a copy of ye olde fiend folio myself it's interesting for me to see monsters I know who seem to have found their genesis there. I've recently become hooked on Pathfinder, and this reminds me of their new treatments for old monsters. Most of the time the artwork is nice, but the descriptions are pretty much the same, the bunyip is still a mean seal and the blindheim is still an ugly midget frog. Bullywugs are merely renamed as boggards.

    Being one for whom a little lovecraft slides its way into nearly everyday I like to draw connections between boggards and skum and Dagon. I like the idea of a cult of Dagon where you go there, fight the cultists, and sack their town only to find a squalid nursery where the cults hideous spawn (blindheims and other freakish baby-esque monsters) prey on each other until they have grown large enough to get out on their own.

    I also have a berbalang D&D mini and always wondered where it came from, it must be in a 3.5 book somewhere, but i haven't the darndest clue where.

  11. Your versions of the Blood Worm, Chameleon Men, and Bunyip are all quite inspiring. Thanks for these posts--I never quite realized how ridiculous the critters in Fiend Folio were until now!

  12. Both the description and the Nicholson art of the Babbler put me in mind of the awakened lizard narrator gradually having a nervous breakdown in the Enigma comic.
    (little lizard guy was the best thing in it ...apart from the Interior League)

    Looking forward to the Zak take on the Crabmen, the Princes of Elemental Evil and the terror and might that is the Gorbel.

  13. I played in a game of 4e last year where one of the guys in our party was a Bullywug assassin named Heskan Toadgully. He was basically the most vile being imaginable, would stick to walls and ceilings and hang people with his sticky tongue, vomit in the eyes of guards before slitting their throats, and use his miasma of toxic fumes and flies to obscure his form and make it difficult for archers to hit him. Pretty sure he came up with some innovative ways to weaponize his excrement too - basically, if it was gross, it was an essential part of his M.O.

  14. apropos of nothing, I saw these Yugoslav monuments and thought "I bet Zak would like some of these, if he doesn't know them already."

    I think I already have my best gross frogman and threatening crabman in Pokemon's Croagunk and Kabutops, but the Giant Bloodworm! Now I know what the Dholes' footsoldiers are.
    ...and the hemogoblin from Tim Powers' Dinner at Deviant's Palace is actually quite a nice nasty little parasitic thing generated by the trauma of unnatural rituals and deaths. It's entirely useless but floats quietly after you until it can latch on and suck your blood, then it slowly grows stronger as you grow weaker until it replaces you. The bit I find effective is that it's sneaky first of all. And patient. It'll wait until you're tired or careless or vulnerable, and it'll run if threatened, but always come back. Great paranoia-inducer.

  15. @richard

    thanks for the monuments! they're amazing

  16. Bullywugs don't suck. Whats the point of having more lizardmen when you could have frog people.

    Craven frog people are awesome.

  17. @Evan

    not convinced, you are merely asserting. Again: we have slaads and blindheims. make a case for bullywugs in that environment.

  18. Bullywugs are a much more low level threat, while Slaads are high level. Blindheims are more regular frogs than frog-men.

    Still ultimately it is a matter of taste, and I'm sorry if I came off as too abrasive.

  19. @evan

    why not just make wimpy slaad minions?

  20. Bullywug

    I like these guys because of the way their two halves interact, servile human and the folk-sense attributes of frogs, their clamminess, their quizzical stare, their transitional nature as an amphibian that goes from water to air, egg to tadpole to frog. Bullywugs make ideal witches' minions because their subservience to the witch and their in-betweenness form instinctually demonstrate a parallel. It is a disturbing prodigy, but familiar and precedented one if a frog speaks, much as if a frog falls from the rain. Similarly so if the frog walks like a man, wears clothes, menaces you with a pitchfork.


    The important part of the blindheim is that it blinds you. Its being a frog is incidental, supplying a suitably ugly and goggle-eyed form. it could as easily be a wretched tarsier or a hopping flightless owl.


    Slaad, also, are frogs only obliquely. As manifestations of unreason, they are counterintutively consistend in their form - it doesn't make sense that they would all be frogs, therefore it is only apropos that they are all frogs. Another form could substitute, as long as it is slimy and ask the question "wait, why?" Slaad could be eels, seahorses, starfish.

  21. 4e actually has a cooler take on bullywugs than I would have imagined: nature itself *hates* bullywugs...and the bullywugs know this, which is why they are such horrible, miserable bastards.

    In 4e there is a mechanical effect that takes place when you kill a bullywug: you feel really, really good about having put one of these unnatural cretins to the sword. (You actually get some hit points back and feel invigorated.) For a more weird-school feel, I'd make killing bullywugs *addicting*. Each one you kill makes you want to kill more and more of them--perhaps they release some sort of psychedelic poison as they expire that inspires bloodshed, frenzy, euphoria, and hallucinations.