Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Ant, Giant

First off, 'giant' is relative, they're actually about the size of a smallish dog. This ain't Them!
you'll want the Gamma World bestiary for truck-sized ants and other atomic mutants

They still have 2hd though, with soldiers having 3hd and poison. Presumably this is due to them being able to lose legs and antennae without dying of bloodloss and shock. Add a really high AC on top and giant ants are actually considerably scarier than orcs and other humanoids, at least stat-wise. While they're pretty stupid, they're not zombie-stupid but they're still not something the average party can communicate with, and they're also fast. Throw food at them and run to the nearest door to spike shut is probably a wise go-to.

A colony of ants that loses its 10hd noncombatant queen (guarded by 5d10 workers and 5 soldiers, mind you) is confused for six rounds, then leaves the nest, presumably with an egg that will become a new queen in tow. Or maybe just to wreak havoc on the countryside while slowly dying off, it really doesn't say. But this provides some incentive for a sort of 'assassination mission' to drive off the ant hordes, though the treasure type leaves much to be desired(a chance of a few gems and potions). Mostly I like their presence as 'dungeon cleaners.' Most monsters don't want to mess with giant ants, and they're small and climby enough to avoid many trap triggers and sneak through gaps in the dungeon, and so any edible scraps(ie, corpses) could be carried off by the ants and save the DM book-keeping by keeping the dungeon clean. Hooray, ants! (As an aside, I'd think the same would be true IRL for having ants carry off crumbs, but most people despise ants in their house. Personally I only have beef with them farming aphids on garden plants.)
what a cutie

Giant ants are ok as is, but it can't hurt to spice them up a bit. The explanation for them getting huge in the first place would be the semi-common occurrence of ant eggs being exposed to the light of the Spring or Autumn moons, so ants of unusual size would be exclusive to the Moonlands, though occasional attempts at moving into the Daylands would probably be possible in borderlands. Their most common predator would also be overgrown Birds of Spring/Autumn, as well as Brain Wasps, another Autumn-induced mutation of hymenoptera. In any case, their sizes would actually be variable based on the time of moonlight exposure.

1. Honeypot Ants- In a medieval world where sugary treats are rare and expensive, raiding a bunch of fat 'honey' filled giant ants would be lucrative venture, and one slightly less terrifying than doing the same with giant bees.
2. Aphid Farming- If giant ants, why not giant aphids? Again, this provides a sugary treasure to interest adventurers, as well as menacing plant life with giant aphids.
3. Mushroom Farming- And of course I mean Shriekers and other amusing monster-mushrooms primarily, though alchemically useful mushrooms that only grow in well-established ant dens could provide incentive to interact with giant ants in ways outside of 'aw hell naw, run for it Bartleby.' Also could turn into a cordyceps zombie outbreak to change up the dungeon. Also, many mushroom farmer ants cut leaves, so dryads, treants, and other leafy critters could offer rewards for dealing with leaf-cutter ants.
4. Talking Ants- And bam, the ants are now just another faction to play with. Alternately even funnier if they are regular-sized ants and relate to the players as cultists of eldritch abominations relate to their objects of worship. There was a reddit post or something to that effect that was quite amusing, stuff like ants surrounding humans in tiny rune-circles, chanting the human's name, and informing the hooman that they are bound to serve the ant (they aren't) and bring them a whooooole bag of grain, or make them queen, or destroy the red ants, or whatever.
ia, ia, Susan fhtagn!

5. Ant People- While there is naturally a considerable difference in the religious details, I really like skerple's ant people, especially adoring 'dig into hell to rescue ancestral ignorant heretics.' I'd probably make mine slightly cuter because I'm a filthy weeb and the hymenoptera order of insects are already halfway to being anime waifus (thin waists, giant eyes, quirky mannerisms) and slightlysimian has cute ant people portraits (among other things) that I wanted an excuse to post
just look at that clean linework, i'm so jelly
6. NecromANTic Applications- Actually this doesn't even need giant ants to work. But a queen ant is the master of her workers, both via pheromones and spiritual authority. As such, snagging the soul of a queen ant and either keeping her hostage or keeping her happy can provide necromancers with a bunch of obedient worker ant souls to animate corpses with. Admittedly their behavior is, depending on how intelligent* normal ants are, possibly limited to 'bite stuff, carry stuff back to the lair' but that can be pretty good for guards and corpse-harvesters.
*(in my setting all animals can talk in languages typically shared by Class or sometimes Phylum, though most rarely bother, on account of actions speaking louder than words. Compared to humans, animals are more at ease with the circle of life and death, having wildly divergent ethical and moral outlooks on common events like butchery and breeding at a farm or being preyed upon in the wild, and so are typically exempt from undeath or worse, becoming an adventurer. Ants, for example, would be far more outraged by a worker impersonating a queen than a human treading on a half-dozen of them.)

The subterranean corpse hoarding behavior of most giant ants would also make them considerably more tolerated by humans in lands where the dread moon Skull waxes ascendant. While most human spirits would prefer to not spend their afterlife dreaming amongst ants, it is certainly preferable to having your corpse hijacked by moonlight and turned into an undead murder-monster, and so having giant ants in a region wracked by war and brigands should provide an extra failsafe to forestall potential undead moonspawn apocalypses, which is nice.

Monday, July 29, 2019


A sort of 'creature feature' like enemy. Giant centipede-lookin things, burrowing through Old Jenkin's cornfields, able to tunnel away from hordes of peasants with slings in a round or two and way too dangerous for regular people to have much hope of defeating. The perfect sort of monster for heroes to defeat to earn the love of the common folk.

On the downside, treasure type C is a pretty unreliable sort of treasure, with some low chances of gems and jewelry and magic items and some lower coin denominations not even a level 1 adventurer would care much about. To make the arduous task of excavating an Anhkheg lair (Anhkheg only looks like a good word in all caps) worthwhile, I would recommend the treasure be pre-rolled so local peasants can tell the players if anything valuable got eaten, like a tax collectors ring or a failed adventurers magic wotsit.

The critters are real dangerous in a straight-up fight, too, and tend to come in small squads likely to have about one ankheg per player with a no. appearing of 1d6. The small 3hd ones hit just as hard as the 8hd monsters(3d6 damage), and have a once-every-six-hours breath weapon for 8d4, save for half. Yeeowch. Old tactics like burning oil and volleys of arrows are foiled by a burrowing speed, and they can attack from below using their own antennae to detect surface dwellers. An armor class of plate+shield, or chain+shield if you can strike the pink underbelly(I'd rule that if you're in front of them and they've reared up on their front legs to strike the belly is exposed), ensures that unless your party is entirely fighters, it's unlikely you can simply lean on the action economy to slay it before it slaughters people. On the plus side, they are fairly slow burrowers and should be able to be fled from.

So in my mind, the AD&D Anhkheg is an exercise in finding ways to kill them that aren't 'hit it with a sword' in an environment, typically a village or at least one farm, where the players have plenty of prep time and materials. Things that come to my mind immediately are deadfall traps with a person tied to the counterweight- anhkheg digs up beneath someone, they release a rope, and a hauled boulder falls and simultaneously drags the person up into the sky in case the anhkheg survives. I'm sure players would come up with something after an initial straightforward attempt ends in half the party melting and the wounded anhkheg(s) burrowing away before it can be finished off, or the wounded players running away before they can be finished off.
Maybe a cauldron of boiling oil, or a basket of snakes, or a poisoned dead animal

Modern drawings of the anhkheg made it progressively spikier, browner, and more monstrous, but I kinda like them as just kinda a mutant centipede/mantis thing, with a smoother outline for actually burrowing quickly instead of a bunch of body-spikes to catch on every root and rock beneath the earth. Plus, the modern variants, even the ones I like that are sleek and almost cockroachy, seem to have mostly done away with the pink underbelly, the cowards!

 Honestly they fine as is, a sort of filler episode monster to menace some small holding the players are invested in and teach them the value of prep time, or just be a high-stakes slugathon with acid and whack-a-mole shenanigans. The first H seems gratuitous and honestly I'm fine with just calling them giant mutant acid-spitting centipedes too to fully dodge copyright
please don't look at that back left leg extending back into some forbidden dimension
or the leaning hut of Pisa
or what appear to be unripe thatch roofs growing as fully formed vegetable life

Aerial Servant

This is the first of a series of posts where Imma re-imagine all the AD&D monsters from the monster manual(s?) into something more usable for my campaign, talk about my take on the original incarnations a little bit, and draw them too just to give myself a series of prompts to git gud

The Aerial Servant is a bit of puzzler. It is very similar to the largest variety of Air Elemental, but it is typically invisible, and furthermore, native not to the sky, but to the Ethereal and Astral planes, typically only seen in this world as a servant (hence the name) of a mighty cleric. Much is made of how strong they are, how much they can carry, how hard it is to escape being grappled by one, and so on, and have an interesting specification that, if frustrated from the completion of their assigned task, they go insane, return to the responsible cleric, and attack at double strength. It is also mentioned that, despite their impressive combat stats, they 'do not fight, per se, but are exceedingly strong and fast.' Clearly a monster with a very specific role, but it's the sort of monster that 12-year old me read and was like 'this is dumb bloat that overlaps with the air elemental, wtf' but modern me realizes it's a puzzle monster. Distant Evil High Priests (EHPs) can sic these on parties of pretty much any level with a 'capture or steal so-and-so' command, or probably even better, on valuables or VIPs the party is invested in protecting. If you force it into a fight you're probably going to get rent asunder, but if you can foil its directive with clever use of the environment and planning (my immediate idea is to seal the valuable item or VIP in an iron coffin that weighs in excess of 10,000 gold pieces) it will probably kill the responsible EHP, because even if 'double strength' only applies to their weight capacity, they're still an invisible flying monster that gets a surprise round 4-in-6 times and deals 8d4 damage.


Elementals in my setting are among the first entities of the world, composed of primordial dark matter entering a covenant with the Light of the First Sun and obtaining energy and orderly form, where before all was writhing, inchoate darkness. Elementals are the enforcers of biological processes like eating, aging, reproduction, etc. Anyone in violation of these processes is considered 'undead' and is probably gonna have a bad time as the world itself starts trying to go all Repo-man on the matter that was loaned to the spirit of the violating body.

Anyway, that means the people who would be able to summon and command Aerial Servants would be the Heleognostics, who worship the Sun(s) for bringing stability, warmth, and light to the Daylands so that humans can live more easily there. And the name would instead be slightly tweaked based on your knowledge.

A Heleognostic would call this being a Cloudless Windlass (or Windless) in reference to them being composed of pure air, that lifts things without wind, but rather, direct possession of the air itself.
Priests and scholarly adherents to the Law of Civilization would call them Air Servitors, servitor being a neutral term for any sort of non-mortal being that does not have an independent soul-light and instead has a soul light directly dependent on another, presumably greater, entity of light.
Everyone else who was mildly ignorant would call them Air Elementals, the key difference being that these entities respond to human prayer while Air Elementals are, well, just look at the weather for a demonstration of their temperament.
Anyone who was extremely well informed would call them by their truest name, Mirair, for indeed, these entities are in fact light-hungry reflections of air elementals. They hail from the mirror realm, and answer to Lumar, the mirror-goddess responsible for answering all prayers directed to the ineffable 5th sun.
Stats: As Air Elemental but invisible. I may have warmed up to the Aerial Servant in the end, but it still coulda been part of Air Elemental statblocks

Summoning Method- A circular mirror, at least 8' diameter and of high clarity, with a rim fashioned to mimic the outline of the 5th sun (10,000 coins if commissioned, though utterly still ponds with much careful artistic digging along the sides and so on can work too) must be used to reflect an empty blue sky in a region where no Air Servitor has been summoned before. Each cloud, moon, star, flying object (birds ruin the ritual all the time), or additional sunset hue will decrease the number of words that can be used to command the creature by 1, and the number of words are equal to the summoner's level + 1/3rd of their combined intelligence, wisdom, and charisma, and the language used must be either Elvish or a dead language of the forgotten age of the First Sun.

The resulting Servitor will attempt to complete whatever task is given to it, then return to the ritual mirror, meaning many requests can be worded such that they benefit from an implicit 'and bring it back here' clause at the end of the request. They cannot be explicitly commanded to harm or kill beings, presumably because of legalese with the elemental contract. Actually Lumar hopes to bring incautious heleognostics to her realm and bamboozle them into serving her, wittingly or no,
This ritual cannot be used anywhere on the isle of Heliologos due to all 'available' Servitors having long since been summoned in ages past. Most major Dayland cities are similarly useless save for those in Saresare (as the people there have a long habit of using Ifrits for such magical tasks instead). Anywhere in the Moonlands is probably fair game due to the rarity of worked mirrors and blue skies, though old Alvish ruins and living Elvish enclaves may have used the ritual in the past before, and ancient Serpentine ruins are probably no good either.
The reason for the murderous insanity and retribution upon failure of a task is unknown, but presumed to be some sort of violation of the forgotten elemental contract. But the most enlightened adherents of Lumar know that, having failed its contract that was to gain it purchase in the sunlit world with a lightful and lawful contract, the Mirair 'panics' and reverts to the common Mirror-Realm behavior of attempting to bring more light, typically in the form of the soul of the unfortunate summoner, back to the mirror realm to illuminate and shape that obscure realm. If successful, they can use that light to become full entities, but what usually happens is that the reflected air they were born of changes too much and they de-sync, becoming a reflection of something that no longer exists and so doomed to spontaneous annihilation.

In retrospect having the first monster of this series be an infamously invisible one was silly and this heleognostic
who is supposed to be being lifted up by a windless air entity is pretty obviously actually
just doing yoga

I expect being lifted by one of these entities would feel very strange, but not unpleasant- perhaps like an air mattress in terms of initial softness that becomes resistant hardness as further pressure is exerted, that can writhe and dis-corporate into the optimal shape to hold people and other fragile objects in place, for either safety or restraint. This departure from what you might expect, ie,  the air acting like wind buffeting you around, seems to me to be necessary to explain the invisibility and presumed quiet nature of the creature to merit such high surprise odds, and gives it some much needed differentiation from standard air elementals, which are noisy and messy.

Coolness: C
Can't see it which cuts down on the flashyness, the puzzle aspect is only good if there's forewarning otherwise it's a bit of a cheap shot, really advanced tactics and cleverness probably can't spice things up due to limited intellect and behavioral restrictions.
Lovability: D- Nothing to see, bad personality, expensive tastes. Saved from F tier only by the ability to hold you and offer air travel and furniture moving. 2/10 would not swipe widdershins on Monstr
Potential: C While perhaps decent for one plot arc of an EHP using these for no good in a series of different set pieces where the monster can shine (my immediate thoughts are a prison where it can go through bars and is aiming to capture a prisoner who knows the EHP's location, a canyon where the Air Servitor can strand people on top of rocks and toss them into a river 100 feet below, and finally a wizard lair where a berserk servitor defenestrates people and also drops other monsters and furniture atop them) I am hard pressed to imagine multiple campaigns making heavy use of them.