Thursday, December 29, 2022

Product Identity Schmoduct Schmidentity

 My friend and colleague over at Prismatic Wasteland made a post recently all about coming up with non OGL names for those monsters considered Product Identity by Wizards of the Coast and the Open Gaming License. Check out that post over here! But I noticed some... discrepancies, which left me an opportunity for a post in response.

So the whole premise of Mr. Wasteland's post over there is going through the whole list of Product Identity monsters, cataloguing which legally acceptable names have been used by other games over the years, and coming up with the best new name to use. But I noticed two monsters that I thought were listed as Product Identity which weren't included: the Kuo Toa and the Slaad. Now, this is where the discrepancy comes in. Turns out there's some inconsistency in the listings of Product Identity on different versions of the OGL/websites that refer to the OGL. Namely, the OGL document that he referred to did not include the Kuo toa nor the slaad, but I found them on the d20 SRD, and on multiple online references to the OGL... so what is the truth? It would seem that the law says you can use Kuo Toa and Slaad just fine, but the SRD and just about all online mentions of it include those two. What a conundrum!

But really, who cares? I sure don't! What's more interesting than the question of whether WotC considers these two monsters to be Product Identity is just talking about the monsters themselves and coming up with names for them!

Kuo Toa
I already wrote out my thoughts about the Kuo Toa here in an earlier entry in the Goin' Through the Fiend Folio series [which, as an aside, will make a return soon!]. Suffice to say, I think they're my favorite of the many piscine humanoids in AD&D, perhaps tied only with the morkoth.

Dwiz over at A Knight at the Opera has already begun a list of names for Kuo Toa over here in his response to Warren, including the classic Deep Ones from Lovecraft and Darkest Dungeon's Pelagics. Old School Essentials Advanced Fantasy also uses the term Deep Ones, although they drop some of the more interesting elements of the Kuo Toa lore from the Fiend Folio, basically just making them underground dwelling fishmen led by cultic clerics. A great archetype nonetheless of course! OSRIC, meanwhile, appears to have made an attempt at dodging the Kuo Toa problem; I can't find them or anything like them in the OSRIC monster listing, despite including both of AD&D's other main fishmen types [Locathah and Sahuagin] as well as a number of other monsters from the Fiend Folio. Same for Labyrinth Lord. What gives?!? The Kuo Toa are much much more interesting fishmen than the alternatives, why are they just avoiding them. Outside the realm of retroclones, Pathfinder has the Skum as their replacement for the underground dwelling fishmen niche that the Kuo Toa hold in D&D.

(As an aside, as I was scrolling through a PDF of Advanced Labyrinth Lord, I noticed that while they avoided including the Kuo Toa at all, they renamed the thoul of all things, instead calling it a "throghrin". That is SUCH a terrible name, literally why would you use that fantasy gibberish vaguely orcish sorta name instead of the weird Thoul... I just really like thouls, so I figured I'd comment on it.)

If I'm being completely honest, while I really like iconic well established names like Deep Ones for the Kuo Toa, I am not inclined to use them personally. I'm honestly just more likely to call them fishmen, or even more likely gillmen. I am a Universal monster movie kid after all! Perhaps another option for the Kuo Toa could be something evoking their dark, cultic, superstitious nature... maybe paranoiacs? Yeah, I think I like that. It makes them feel less like dark masters a la Lovecraft's Deep Ones and more like paranoid cultists. The Kuo Toa aren't really their own masters in the Drow series adventures anyway! Perhaps they could be godmakers (of no relation to the Frank Herbert novel of the same name) due to their psychic ability to create their own gods in physical form.

A green Slaad, despite appearances

Oooooohh the slaad. I will save sharing my more detailed thoughts on these nefarious toadies for the future Fiend Folio review post that will feature them, but suffice to say I quite like them. My first introduction to them was actually in the very first D&D book I ever personally owned, the D&D 4e Monster Manual 2, which uh... was not necessarily the best introduction to the game. Nor was it the best form of the Slaad, but I think the basic idea was impressed on me. They ultimately fit into the honestly unnecessary taxonomic impulse in AD&D, as the chaotic neutral inhabitants of the plane of Limbo, but other than that they are honestly more interesting paranormal inhabitants of the outer realms than most demons and devils! Weird sadistic chaotic frogs, coming in a variety of types, led by [in the Fiend Folio version] a strange skeletal warlord riding on a dragon? Vastly prefer these guys to Asmodeus. 

A red Slaad

Now, the Slaad seem to not be featured in the bestiaries of Advanced Labyrinth Lord or Old School Essentials Advanced Fantasy. They also aren't featured in OSRIC, but strangely enough there is a type of devil called "Scaly Devil" that has almost the same colored subtypes as the Slaad; otherwise they don't have anything in common with the Slaad so I'm honestly just confused. They also don't appear in Pathfinder, where instead the inhabitants of Limbo are the serpentine Proteans. A crying shame that it seems most games aren't interested in including these kooky guys!

On to the new names: maybe something emphasizing their amphibian nature... battletoads, perhaps?

Or well, maybe chaos frogs is more honest than a reference to the classic 1991 beat 'em up. To me that evokes the chaos dwarfs from Warhammer Fantasy, a personal favorite of their lesser appreciated armies. If one wants a name in keeping with the sinister otherworldly vibes of the name Slaad, maybe one part or the other of the line from Aristophanes' The Frogs: Brekekekex koax koax. More than a bit unwieldy, but maybe that's the point. I could see Brekekekex koax koax as the proper name for these off brand Slaad, while mortals, fearful of their sadistic mischief, call them some more mundane like chaos toads or something more direct like The Terrors. Otherworldly entities like these are a fantastic opportunity for having a more esoteric name only used by wizards and other spirits and a name used in more normal conversation.

As an aside, isn't it interesting how overrepresented the Fiend Folio is among the product identity monsters? Four on the list are FF originals: Kuo Toa, Slaad, Githyanki, and Githzerai. And only one of those was created by Gary! I find it kinda interesting how, in the case of the slaad and gith, the creations of British fans ended up treated as important copyright by a company that at the time didn't even exist.

Coming Up Next
I'm not quite done with Mr. Warren Wasteland's Product Identity post just yet. Coming up next is going to be a new original monster, an alternate take on his alternate name for a beholder, panoptikhan. Along with that, on an unrelated note, will be the return of the Goin' Through the Fiend Folio series, picking back up with the Penanggalan!

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

The Taste Testers (A Monster for Gamma World)

Oozing along the crumbled alleyways of Gamma Ohio are the pitiful taste testers, half mobile and half intelligent, vaguely humanoid forms made from spewing vomit. They grasp at the air with the silhouettes of hands, dripping with sick, bubbling coughs that occasionally reach their permeable surfaces. They tend to congregate in small pitiful packs, huddling together in sewers and ruins, scraping every surface for food to sate their search for deliciousness that they can rarely find. They reach for interlopers' faces with their stinking puke paws, both to get an idea of what they look like since the taste testers lack eyes and to slurp up any dead skin cells or oils accumulated on a traveller's face. Unfortunately for the taste testers, however, most don't take kindly to having their faces fondled by living vomit.

Taste testers are unfortunately maligned and disgusting creatures born into the worst of circumstances. At their core they are ambulatory living entrails, a simple mouth, esophagus, stomach, and set of intestines to be exact, all perfectly human in genetics. Lacking a brain, the taste tester is instead animated by a neural net that it is able to extrude through its mouth in order to puppet objects, most often its own vomit. These accursed things were made this way by a long forgotten candy and chicken byproduct meal company, in house, in an effort to replace human taste testers for their product. Originally centered on the first production center in what was once Cincinnati, they later expanded in their use, including to companies bought up by the taste testers' parent firm. Thus, they were made as a genetically modified human clone, a hominid worm made up of the human digestive system and with the bare minimum of the rest of human anatomy, with the express intention of mass testing product for human consumption with simple binary outputs of acceptable or unacceptable, communicated through the only method left available: vomiting.

That was all before armageddon, of course. With the supply chains drying up and the factories collapsing in on themselves, the vermiform taste testers found themselves surprisingly resilient, fleeing into the sewers to proliferate. The unfortunate thing is, however, that what might be available to eat in sewers or post apocalyptic ruins is nothing compared to the mind numbingly delicious treats they were genetically engineered to taste test, leaving them constantly vomiting up whatever filth they ate. In time, however, the smarter of the taste testers figured out how to extrude their neural net to puppet around their puke, allowing them to venture further afield and be more discerning with what they put in their mouths. They do still have to eat awful things in order to produce the vomit that makes up their very own bodies, however; it is an awful cycle indeed.

Thus the taste tester of today is born: a squirming worm of guts controlling a puppet of puke vaguely shaped into a humanoid form by faint recollections of what their ancestors were and who they were around in the ancient factories. The product of the profit hungry hubris of ancient humanity clinging to existence as a blind pitiful gourmand of discerning taste and hazy memories.

Sometimes, taste testers are kept as an unusual pet by certain distasteful types, or they are taken in by the more well meaning cults and secret societies. They are unlikely to seriously hurt anyone individually, but some warlords and crime lords keep taste testers as torture devices, putting people in a room with an especially stinky vomitoid or keeping a well fed one as a mockery to prisoners they keep starving.

Taste Tester
Number Encountered: 2d6
Hit Dice: 1
Attacks: 1 vomit swipe (1d6)
Armor: none
Morale: 4
Reticent: Taste testers will never initiate combat, although they may approach the players and even touch them without realizing any problems with that.
Stench: Taste testers smell so bad. Those with sensitive senses of smell must save or puke themselves when close to them.
Oozing Body: Attacks to the main body of a taste tester deal no damage; all you're attacking is congealed vomit! To damage it, the worm like digestive system "true body" must be targeted, giving disadvantage to most attacks. When submerged in water or blasted with water, the vomit body dissipates.
Vomit Swipe: Taste testers can attack with a swipe of a pukey tentacle dripping with stomach acid. This weakens armor; for every 2 hits, -1 AC.

Taste Tester for GW 1e
No. Appearing: 2d6
Armor Class: 10
Movement: 5
Hit Dice: 2
These slimy humanoids are the half sapient pitiful result of corporate genetic engineering, now abandoned. They have worm like "true" body made of a stomach and intestines, and a false body made of vomit. They are constantly in search of good tasting food, and rarely find it. They are timid creatures and will never initiate combat. Their vomit bodies take no damage, but dissipate in water; their "true" body is hard to hit due to its relatively smaller size, giving you disadvantage on attempts to hit it. Their acidic swipe gives -1 to AC for every 2 hits.

Taste Tester for GW 2e
Number: 2d6
Morale: 3
Hit Dice: 2d6
Armor: 10
Speed: 5/300/2
MS: 1d6            IN: 1d4
DX: 1d6            CH: 1d4
CN: 1d10+8      PS: 1d6
Attacks: Vomit swipe
Mutations: N/A
Description: see description above

I also do realize that the above drawing takes a lot of cues from Sickly Stomach from Awful Hospital but I'm pretty sure I drew my original doodle of these guys before AH even started, I've had Gamma World vomit oozes kicking around in my head for a while

Monday, December 19, 2022

Isle of the Cyclopean Monolith (A Ten Room Dungeon for King of Kings)

So I've been wanting to post more adventure locations for a while, and a format that I think is great is Tristyn's Ten Room Dungeon. She made a bunch of them earlier in her blog's existence, but recently made that post I just linked to with a general overview of the format. So here I've made a ten room dungeon for King of Kings, Tristyn style! The rooms don't really stick completely to the guidelines in the post, but yknow its close enough. I'll start posting more of these, its a really fun way to make a nice lil adventure location!

Your ship rocking in the rough waves of the Sea of Giants, you spot a little black crag poking out of the seafoam... "Land ho!" you cry, turning toward what you hope is a respite from the storms and the schools of raucous dolphins, but instead you find...


You're gonna take this sketchy almost purely relational dungeon map and you're gonna LIKE IT

Wandering Monsters
Roll 1d6
1-2: Pygmy Giants [Total number: 16]
3-5: Pariah Dogs [Total number: 23]
6: The Piscine Apparition [Total number: 1]

Piscine Apparition % in Lair: 50% 
Pygmy Giant % in Lair: 80% 
[I include % in Lair here to account for reaching the lair/house of the respective creature while they may not be there.] 

Platform 1: A platform made of lashed together driftwood. The smell of briny sea air, the bitter feeling of salt on your face, the sound of yipping dogs. Small wood and rope pens hold a total of 21 fat pariah dogs. Connected to the pier by a wooden walkway, and to platform 2 by a rickety wooden staircase.

Platform 2: A platform made of lashed together driftwood. Frigid wind rushing through your hair, the floor shifting beneath your feet. Five small tents serve as houses for 10 pygmy giants, as well as 2 pariah dogs that sleep up here. Not all of the pygmy giants will be here all at once. Connected to platform 1 by a rickety wooden staircase, and to platform 4 by a wooden rope bridge. Beneath the platform lives a degenerate octopus that has grown fat and lazy on the waste and effluvia of dogs and does not take kindly to being bothered. It roosts on a large clam that holds a pearl worth 325 drachmae.

The octopus
A pygmy giant

Platform 3: A platform made of lashed together driftwood. The smell of briny sea air, the bitter feeling of salt on your face, the feeling that something you wouldn’t want to see has happened here regularly. Most of the platform is taken up by a pen used for breeding dogs. Beneath the platform is the little moray eel style lair of the piscine apparition.

Number Encountered: 1 
Hit Dice: 3 
Attacks: 1 kick (1d6) 
Armor: none 
Morale: 8 
Aquatic Curse: The piscine apparition can cast a curse of water breathing. Pointing with its big toe, which puts it off balance, the target must make a save vs. spells or have their respiration transformed to water breathing. 
Mischievous: The piscine apparition is a silly little thing that delights in causing problems.  
Spirit Being: The piscine apparition is a spirit of the Sea of Giants. It is immune to damage from mundane weaponry, fire, acid, electricity, etc. The only things that can harm it are immaterial weapons, spirit wards, and magic.  

A gawping fish thing sat upon two chubby humanoid legs. It wishes to get to the antediluvian monolith but cannot pierce the wards placed around it by the pygmy giants. 

The Piscine Apparition

Platform 4: A platform made of lashed together driftwood. Frigid wind rushing through your hair, the floor shifting beneath your feet. Three small tents serve as houses for 6 pygmy giants, with a fourth serving as a smokehouse for dog flesh. Not all of the pygmy giants will be here all at once. Connected to platform 2 by a wooden rope bridge, and to platform 3 by a wooden staircase.

Cave Room 5: Smoked dog meat and dog cheese storage facility used by the pygmy giants. Connects to room 8 and cave room 6. The passage to room 8 is marked by multicolored ragged flags and occult wards.

Cave Room 6: A chamber of things gleaned from the sea. A hostage sailor is tied up against the slick cave wall. He is desperate to be freed, but is liable to steal from the party if he has the chance. There is also a box of gold teeth, small pearls, sea glass, and scrimshaw collectively worth 450 drachmae. Connects to cave room 5 and cave room 7.

Cave Room 7: Soggy cave smell and the sound of dripping water. Empty except for a cave painting of octopuses, dolphins, and the outlines of squat hands. Connects to room 8, cave room 6, and cave room 9. The passage to room 8 is marked by multicolored ragged flags and occult wards.

Room 8, the Open Air Clearing: Wide open under the cloudy sky, ringed by the cracked craggy rocks at the peak of the island, sits the ancient, antediluvian monolith carved in days long forgotten. It exudes a terrible aura that causes intense nausea and confusion the closer you get to it, the cnidarian tentacles stabbed into its surface seeming to squirm in the corner of your vision. It is covered with a thin layer of green and black slime, algal and fungal, which prickles the skin to the touch. The pygmy giants hate to approach it.

Save vs. poison or be unable to approach the antediluvian monolith without collapsing and/or vomiting. If touched with bare skin, it deals 2 points of damage per turn to all touching it. The monolith is worth immense amounts to the right buyer, upwards of 2,500 drachmae if you can find someone who can stomach its unwholesome vibrations. If yanked out of the ground, beneath the monolith are the mummified remains of an anomalocaris. Connects to cave room 5 and cave room 7.

The cyclopean monolith

Cave Room 9: An eroded cavern dripping with caustic green slime. On the ground, amidst the half melted remnants of a human corpse, is a lapis lazuli statuette of a goat shaped goddess, worth 400 drachmae. Connects to cave room 7 and cave room 10.

Cave Room 10: A small cave marked only by a single cave painting of an eye in a star. Connected to platform 3 by a rock cliff that can be navigated with rope.

Saturday, December 17, 2022

A Terrible Weight Pins you Down (A Monster for King of Kings)

On occasion one may wake up in the middle of the night, pinned down by a terrible weight, barely able to move. Sleep paralysis and terror in the night, shadowy forms crawling about you, your breath forced out from your lungs and your ribs pressed in to not let you take in air to replace it. Eyes staring out at you from the dark, hungry and avaricious.

This is the terrible bakhtak!

By Norma Tattoo, for the album Bakhtak by Hassan K., which you can listen to here. It's pretty good!

Number Encountered: 1
Hit Dice: 5
Attacks: 2 claws (1d6+1)
Armor: as chain
Morale: 8
Nightmare: The bakhtak can induce sleep and a sudden night terror in a target by simply pointing and giving them the evil eye. Save vs. paralysis or fall asleep and thrash about in an intense nightmare, with the chance of dealing damage to yourself if holding a weapon. The bakhtak's nightmare ability is stopped if its eyes are covered.
Nocturnal: A bakhtak is only ever encountered at night.
Nose for Treasure: A bakhtak can smell gold, silver, and jewels. If its nose is held, it will point you in the direction of nearby treasure.
Sleep Paralysis: The bakhtak sits on the chest of a slumberer, pinning them down. Determine who the bakhtak sits upon randomly, or if there is a particular member of the party which attracts the attentions of unclean spirits. They who the bakhtak sits upon, once they have woken up, must make a save vs. paralysis with disadvantage to be able to move at all, repeating every other round. The one sat upon by the bakhtak loses one point of CON and one point of WIS.
Unclean Spirit: Bakhtaks are unclean spirits and as such are able to be turned by those with the proper capability. They are immune to damage from mundane weaponry, and are immune to fire, acid, electricity, and large blunt force attacks like boulders. The only thing that can harm a bakhtak are immaterial weapons  and items specifically aimed at warding off unclean spirits.

The bakhtak appears as a dark, shaggy, shadowy thing, its long awful hairs swimming about in the air as if it were submerged. Above its moustache as dark as night sits a pale nose, and above that are two pinprick eyes which stare out like baleful stars. Its hands are like those of a woman more than a century old, knobby, lanky, and bent, but its legs are bestial and on thick haunches. It is these creatures which cause sleep paralysis, solely out of malice, taking delight in the discomfort and pain they cause when they suck all the air out of a sleeper's lungs in the night.

At the very least, however, the bakhtak does not wish violence on anyone. While they will use their crone claws to their defense in the rare circumstance that one has an ectoplasmic sword or painful warding rune of some sort, they will never kill anyone, only bring them near to death. After all, if they killed someone that is one less person to torment in their sleep. On top of this, if the sleeper or a friend of theirs is at least able to feebly reach up and grasp the nightmare's moon pale nose, the bakhtak will panic and point them toward the nearest cache of treasure. Normally, the bakhtak uses their awareness of nearby gold to mock the poor sleeper, tantalizingly bringing bounty to their attention in their fitful sleep only for it to be forgotten the next morning, but if one is able to grasp the thing's nose it can be very fruitful indeed. There are tales of great thief kings making their start extorting a sleep paralysis demon for its buried treasure.

But such successes are few and far between. Much more likely than grasping the bakhtak by the nose and forcing it to guide you to gold is that you stay pinned under its weight, for they are far heavier than their small hirsute appearance would suggest, barely able to breathe as you slide in and out of consciousness, the only thing remaining in your mind the vision of terrible hateful stars, a pair of them, staring at you from the night sky above, as shadowy hands surround you.


The bakhtak has been on my encounter tables for KoK for a while but I hadn't really written it up yet. It's not intended to be a fully fledged combat encounter, more a stressful weird set piece encounter, but I suppose you could fight it with the intention of grabbing its nose and pointing you toward treasure! RIP to whoever it is that got sat on though, unfortunate for them really.

Also, here's three drawings of nightmares/night hags by the great German expressionist Fritz Schwimbeck that don't really have much to do with the Iranian bakhtak but which I just think are cool:

It has been too long

 Had yet another hiatus of posting, my bad! I was so very busy this semester with two research projects at the same time taking a large chunk of my time, but now one of them is completely done with and the other just has to be edited over the course of the next several months. So I'm going to get back to posting on this here blog!

King of Kings has been on a hiatus just as long as the blog, so no new session reports unfortunately. I also made the stupid mistake of not packing my physical notes and maps and such when I left for winter break from university, leaving me unable to run the game. Whoops! KoK will get back on track in January, when I have access to my notes again.

Other plans:
  • FINISHING THE FIEND FOLIO REVIEWS. I meant to finish it by the end of this year, but as is probably painfully obvious that is not going to be the case. I'll get back to reviewing Folio fiends this month, aiming to finish up the series ASAP. I low-key can't believe how long I've been doing that one review series, but its just taken so long because of long gaps in posting, so.
  • More monsters!!! King of Kings, Gamma World, horror games, etc. Always got more ideas for creatures for games.
  • Continue making worldbuilding posts for King of Kings. The next one I intend on making is about religion in the Enlightened Empire, building on some of the mentions of gods and cults from some of the other posts. I have also been thinking a lot about expanding out to make worldbuilding posts about other parts of the King of Kings world, including posting a world map.
  • ADVENTURES!!! I have a zine esque adventure set in the world of King of Kings that I have been working on off and on since last August, which I intend on finishing at some point in the not too distant future. I also just want to post more adventure locations, because ultimately its adventure locations that are the backbone of this kind of adventure fantasy that I'm a big fan of, not classes or worldbuilding nor even really monsters.
  • Putting together the notes for my previously mentioned Underneath minicampaign and publishing it on here. I've had the ability to do that all this time I just keep putting it off so I'll do that soon.
  • Unrelated to the blog but I really want to get back to working on my neocities site.
Keep an eye out for more posts forthcoming!! Love you all, happy holidays, and hope you're having a good one!

Monday, August 29, 2022

Pygmy Giants

Drawn by yours truly

Pygmy Giant
Number Encountered: 1d8 (5d8)
Hit Dice: 3
Attacks: 1 weapon
Armor: as leather
Morale: 8
Bullied Followers: Pygmy giants are often bullied or otherwise forced into submission by other giants and sometimes the few humans who come by their islands, and will often be found in the service of giants and sometimes in the crews of sailors and pirates.
Herding and Fishing: Pygmy giants are avid herdsmen and fishermen; they will react violently if their herds or nets are disturbed.
Weapons: Wield clubs, stones, and spears.

Pygmy giants are children of 'Ajuj and Majuj, the monstrous pair of the far north, the twin fathers of monsters, beasts, and giants... but unlike 'Ajuj and Majuj's other children, they are much, much smaller. Having been confined to isolated islands in the Sea of Giants, or distant frigid crags on the always frozen sea far to the north, they have undergone insular dwarfism, shrinking down to just under the average size of a human. They are just as muscular and dense as true giants, however, packing a lot of punch in a rather small package. Their heavily plodding feet leave deep furrows and prints in the wet sand of their salty islands, as they herd beasts of burden and fish from the depths. However, sometimes pygmy giants are pressed into service for their larger brothers and sisters, sometimes especially callous giants depopulating whole islands of their pygmy giant inhabitants for some raiding campaign thousands of miles away. The pygmy giants are xenophobic and wary of outsiders, and resentful of their elder brothers and sisters, but size and might makes right in the terrible family of 'Ajuj and Majuj.

Pygmy giants in the northern reaches of the Land of Darkness tend to be furrier and woolier than their more southerly cousins, but there isn't a hard divide of pygmy giants into two groups, and they can be just as visually diverse as other giants.

I just really love including real world biological concepts in my games and in my settings, and insular dwarfism is such a fun phenomenon! I also just love the image of little squat giants fending off adventurers trying to land on their island, or using these little guys as go to humanoid opponents in scenarios involving giants. Thinking up adventure locations using them as we speak!

1d12 Herds of the Pygmy Giants
1. Sheep
2. Walruses
3. Land octopuses
4. Cows
5. Coconut crabs
6. Giant (or normal sized) snails
7. Goats
8. Sturgeon (herded in water for their caviar)
9. Dogs
10. Pygmy wooly mammoths
11. Pygmy wooly rhinoceroses
12. Ostriches

1d12 Pygmy Giant encounter activities (home islands)
1. Spearfishing in the craggy shoals, the salty waves licking at their ankles.
2. Roasting a herd animal whole over a fire, filling the air with jokes and booming laughter.
3. Cooking one of those comically large cauldrons, or possibly a clay vessel, full of boiling broth over a fire.
4. Reciting poetry to one another in their gravelly deep voices.
5. Goading on a pair of crabs to fight each other.
6. Crushing seashells between two stones to create pigment.
7. Absentmindedly staring out over their herd, leaning on a club or crook.
8. Squeezing a very stressed looking sturgeon to push out its caviar directly into their mouths.
9. Painting an elaborate scene of dolphins and flying fish on a cliff face.
10. Curing beast skin into leather on a rack of driftwood.
11. Wrestling each other in a dusty circle on the ground.
12. Butchering a herd animal into pieces, and attempting to glean prophecies from its guts.

1d12 Pygmy Giant encounter activities (elsewhere)
1. Being beaten with a whip by a giant general.
2. Getting in a fistfight with one another, with brass knuckles made from seashells.
3. Getting their teeth pulled out.
4. Riding on wooly rhinos, two or three pygmy giants to a beast.
5. Practicing combat maneuvers in a field.
6. Roving the countryside harvesting branches to make wicker shields and arrows.
7. Rolling a boulder through the valley to bring to their giant master.
8. Hunting birds with spears and slings.
9. Groaning in pain, recovering from injuries.
10. Carrying armfuls of eggs in a panic, chased by angry chickens and/or peasants.
11. Sharpening their tusks to razor sharp points.
12. Playing games of dice carved from sheep bones, betting on meager pieces of fish and mutton.

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Inhabitants of the World (Peoples of King of Kings)

I puzzled over what to title this post for a good while, mostly because I don't want to use the clumsy language of "races" that D&D stuff has been stuck with for a while, but inversely trying to puzzle out what the name for a broad group of people groups was really difficult and I didn't really want to use super scientific terms like "species", "genus", or "family". I think the incredibly vague and unhelpful word "inhabitants" does the closest thing to justice to the topic of this post, so it's what I went with.

So yeah, this is a setting post for King of Kings about the intelligent inhabitants of the world! It is more of a semi "world bible" of sorts, rather than an in universe statement of lore; the creatures and characters described in this post, and the categories into which they are placed in, are more for my benefit to define what sorts of creatures I use in the world rather than pure world building. I'm personally not a huge fan of the intense taxonomical drive that is present in a lot of D&D stuff, which you can read a very interesting and good post about here, from the wonderful Zedeck Siew. Obviously I am still putting things into categories in this post, but I'm aiming for relatively vague and general categories defined more by connections to fictional cosmology and myth than by how D&D races work, taking cues more from groups of spirits and creatures from real world myth and folklore. So there is still a taxonomic impulse, guilty as charged in that regard, but for King of Kings I want to keep taxonomy as light as possible, and instead emphasize geographic location, familial ties, or political/religious allegiance. If I ever make a KoK book in the future, I'd lean more in that direction for that more "official" presentation, but this post isn't the final official presentation, its basically just a collection of notes put together here for my sake and for anyone who wants to read about my setting.

Maybe that rant was unwarranted, I don't know, I just think about this stuff a lot!

Without further ado!

A person, on a rug

I think I would hope that everyone reading this post knows what these are. While King of Kings takes its cues from the world of late antiquity and the early Middle Ages, fundamentally people back then were still just people! Humans are the main inhabitant of the world, living just about everywhere, forming tribes and nations and polities together, etc. etc. Not all humans are visually identical, however, and this is where KoK leans into ancient and medieval conceptions. People groups that would appear at first to be very different from humanity, such as dog headed men, amazons, men of the deluge, and the mouthless astomi, are all still human no matter their, from the perspective of people in the Enlightened Empire, strange customs and appearances. Here I'm trying to lean into ideas of the "monstrous races" from Ancient Greek natural histories and travelogues from Greece, Rome, and the Christian and Muslim Middle Ages. There's a really good book that I'd recommend about this topic that provides a detailed listing of such peoples from ancient and medieval sources, The Monstrous Races in Medieval Art and Thought. I find this topic super interesting, honestly kind of deserving of its own post, obviously of even more than a post because its a historical topic that has garnered plenty of attention in like, book length works and such. These ancient and medieval conceptions of people from faraway lands being monstrous are something to be careful about though because they're, yknow, tangential to and prefacing racism that developed in the modern period & etc. I find them to be a very fascinating and fantastical element of how real premodern people perceived their world, and I like using them as inspiration for KoK, as a basis to then provide some real depth and complexity onto, but just as with anything else really it's good to try and be mindful and whatnot.

Also people

But yeah uh, other than humans like the dog headed men and amazons, there are also humans that are closer to real world ancient human cultures. City dwelling Shahanistanis, rural farmers, nomadic pastoralists or raiding warriors, etc. etc. I'm going to make more posts in the future with more character backgrounds and stuff about different polities in different parts of the world, so there's plenty more to say. But yknow, its just humans.

from the Kitab al-Bulhan

Spirits, including Jinn
Possibly the broadest group mentioned here, spirits encompasses all manner of immaterial and supernatural entities that dwell all across the world of King of Kings. Mischievous kalikantzaroi, morning star worshiping liliths, burgeoning bakhtaks, all manner of ghosts and lingering auras, localized nature gods, and jinn of all sorts, including afarit like Fire Eater, ghuls, marids like the headless bull thing, and the half jinni half human nasnas. Spirits can be basically anything, which is kind of on purpose so that I can encompass all sorts of supernal immaterial entities and atmospheres in here. Jinn are to the world of spirits as humans are to the material world, and so jinn come in just as much staggering variety if not more than people do. They share in all being made from smokeless fire, and have a parallel and often very different society to that of humanity, but are otherwise incredibly diverse. I would never want to try to make any attempt at like, summarizing all spirits or all jinn in a single paragraph, let alone a whole post or book, though I do want to start writing up more spirits for King of Kings for the blog.

For resources that I've taken inspiration from for spirits and jinn in KoK, check out Legends of the Fire Spirits: Jinn and Genies from Arabia to Zanzibar by Robert Lebling, Islam, Arabs, and the Intelligent World of the Jinn by Amira el‐Zein, relevant entries in the Encyclopedia of Islam and the Encyclopaedia Iranica, and of course The Thousand and One Nights. Also I'd be lying if I didn't sometimes just take info from Wikipedia for folkloric creatures, or at least as a starting point. Who doesn't use Wikipedia as a resource these days? It's generally pretty good.

Sea Tyrants, including Amphibians
I've made a post about these before, although I'll definitely return to the topic in the future. The sea tyrants are the primordial once rulers of the world, the ancient despots from when the world was wet and the world was young. They flooded the world in an effort to take control of it in its entirety, but were rebuffed when some among them acted as a sorcerous Prometheus and stole star magic to give to mortals. Ever since then, they have dwelled deep at the bottom of the sea and deep in the depths of the earth, while humanity and the traitors to the sea tyrants thrive on the surface. The sea tyrants who betrayed their brethren and stole magic to give to humanity were the amphibians, namely the froglings, salamen, and elder olms. The froglings live among humans, in their cities and towns, and continue to practice magic and  serve as sailors and merchants, while salamen tend to live out on their own in isolated wilderness and swamp communities, and elder olms serve as a potential friendly faction in delves underground. I have so many ideas for sea tyrant related stuff, so keep an eye out for that in the future.

If you couldn't tell, the main point of reference for these guys is almost entirely Lovecraft stuff, yknow Deep Ones and Cthulhu and the subterranean city of K'nyan from The Mound and all that. Add in aboleths and mind flayers from D&D and other underdark goodies and you've got it. And with regards to the froglings, I can't help but bring up my love for Frog from Chrono Trigger, even if my frog people here don't have That much to do with him. Sure these are some of my most overtly pop culture inspiration creatures but who cares its my setting.

Moses tells the giant Cuj ibn Canaq how to curb an appetite

Giants, or the Children of 'Ajuj and Majuj
Far to the north, in the snowy Land of Darkness, dwell the ancient 'Ajuj and Majuj, twin fathers of monsters. Their offspring form monstrous man-eating lineages that roam the wintry vastnesses, attack human settlements of northern nomads, and on occasion raid down south. The Conquering King, when he took hold of all the world, built a great metal and stone wall with a great looming gate in the mountains on the southern edge of the Land of Darkness, to keep the Children of 'Ajuj and Majuj out. Also, I have an idea for a horizontal megadungeon of sorts which would be the slowly rotting body of a giant that you could dungeon crawl in, I think it'd be super fun and cool.

Like I keep on saying, keep an eye out for more posts about giants, especially since I haven't posted really anything about them so far. With regards to references, check out the Penguin book Ibn Fadlan and the Land of Darkness: Arab Travellers in the Far North and certain versions of The Romance of Alexander. King of Kings's giants are another example of taking cues and inspiration from how premodern people perceived people from other parts of the world, similarly to the dog headed men et al. I discussed in the section about people above.

Don't know the source of this one unfortunately

Daevas, or Divs/Dews
Dwelling on the upside down underside of the world, daevas are embodiments of all forms of evil and untruth. They are more than simple unclean spirits, they are the living forms of deceit and lies, and live completely alien and surreal lives on the flat plane of the underside. Some divs are collaborating with the sea tyrants in their efforts to slowly seize the surface world, but most divs are lonesome creatures serving only deceit. Like I keep saying, keep an eye out for more posts about these guys.

Here, the main point of reference is to daevas from Zoroastrianism and, later, the Islamic Persianate div; while the names are super similar, it's an important distinction to make, I think, between these religious/historic references and devas in Hinduism, especially since Zoroastrian daevas are comparable to demons. Just sorta making a note of that. For stuff I've taken inspiration from, the Shahnameh by Ferdowsi which I need to read more of, I haven't actually finished it and Manifestation of Evil in Persian Mythology from the Perspective of Zoroastrian Religion by Elnaz Bakhshayeh and Reza Ebrahimil. Also the Encyclopedia Iranica and Wikipedia again. I wanna do more reading to find good inspiration for these entities.

Skeleboy with some carvings made by the ancient Dinosaur Kings

A bit of an outlier for this post, because the dinosaurs are more or less all dead. Once the rulers of the eastern satrapies and other lands before the time of the Conquering King, many of them were killed or forced into hiding once they were defeated by his armies, either by his very soldiers or by their human subjects' retribution. Today, they are little more than carvings on walls and rumors of ancient tombs.

Beasts and Birds
Yknow, animals. I wasn't going to include them in this post because I feel like it's kinda self explanatory that animals exist in the setting, but I figured hey why not I can still say some stuff about some weirdos. Obviously, most beasts and birds are just normal animals, but King of Kings has some unusual creatures, whether they are fictional animals that are still more or less comparable to real world things like the lizardmen herded and bred by the Dinosaur Kings, or intelligent beasts like manticores or pigmen, or birds so beautiful that their plumage inspires awe like the huma, or monotremes like gryphons, owlbears, or the swamp dwelling platypus. Just figured I'd note them.

This is what came up when I googled "byzantine elf". Source

Elves, namely the Gnostic Elves
A last but not least, the newcomers on the scene, the Gnostic Elves. The Gnostic Elves rule an empire directly to the west of the Enlightened Empire, the two neighbors being in a constant slow and grinding war that has been going on for generations. They took over the western archipelago and their portions of the mainland a few centuries ago, having come in from across the sea on pale white boats. They wrap themselves up in full body coverings and often wear masks, and believe that the flesh is sinful and must be destroyed, and that through ascertaining hidden knowledge the material world can be transcended. There are, however, heretic sects of elves who reject that gnosis, most notably the Hedonist Elves who dwell underground in isolated colonies.

I know I sound like a broken record but yeah keep an eye out for more posts about the gnostic elves and about the never-ending war between the gnostic elves and the enlightened empire. The Gnostic Elves have taken a lot of inspiration from a variety of sources: obviously their religion is derived from ancient Gnosticism, while visually and with regards to their role in the fictional world they take cues from the Eastern Roman Empire (for which I really like to refer to The World of Late Antiquity by Peter Brown and the History and Secret History of Prokopios), and their history of having come here from across the ocean to conquer takes inspiration from the Tarascans/Pur├ępecha of Mexico who have a similar story of coming from across the Pacific, and the Seljuqs who conquered Anatolia from Central Asia.

And that's it! Those eight inhabitants of the world are going to serve more or less as a guide for my world building and adventure location making, and a bit of a taste of some posts to come as I elaborate on some more of these in more detail! Hope you have a lovely day!