Thursday, June 24, 2021

Amish Characters for Gamma World

This is mostly just a post for my sake and to share a small aspect of the Gamma World game I previously posted about here

So traditionally in Gamma World, there are only three options for characters: Pure Strain Humans, Humanoids (sometimes rendered as Mutated/Mutant Humans), and Mutated/Mutant Animals. There have always been options for making plant-based characters since the first edition but there were also always strict "no players can be plants" stuff which honestly is kinda cringe; basically the mutant plant rules were there to make mutant plant NPCs. Not like the "players can't be plants" rule would really stop you, since NPCs/monsters basically function the same as player characters. Some later games inspired by Gamma World have expanded that to definitively include mutant plants and/or robotic beings (both of which are included in Mutant Future, the Gamma World-based ruleset put out by the folks over at Goblinoid Games).
The classic "Hopeless Character" from GW1e... sadly not very represented here in this mutationless post

I've always found it kinda interesting how Gamma World and other similar post-apocalyptic science fantasy rulesets rarely go beyond that. The biggest example I can think of is Gamma World 7e (the one that used D&D 4th edition rules), which completely did away with the character types from the older editions in favor of random combinations of "origins" that represented different kinds of mutants or groups in the game world. That mode of character creation is definitely cool, but its kind of incompatible with the way old school Gamma World works. I've been interested in potentially taking a Gamma World esque game in the opposite direction: instead of generalizing things into broad categories like GW7e's origins or even classic GW's character types, having something like D&D "races", more or less genetically stable populations of mutants that have a kind of community identity. Obviously I still love the weirdos too, but I think tying character options more directly into the world would be a really cool change.

This is kinda like that but not really, because this post isn't about mutants per se. The Amish are the unmutated overlords of an expansive empire stretching from just south of Gary, Indiana to the Hudson river valley in the world of my (hopeful) Gamma Ohio game, and thus I felt I wanted to make a distinction between Amish unmutated humans and other unmutated humans. With the character type described below, there would be four available: Amish, Pure Amerikan, Humanoid, Mutant Animal. Since I'm splitting PSH into two, I'll also include the modified form of that too below.

Hooligans of some lesser noble line, of course

  • They can defend, but not attack in Mental Combat.
  • They roll 4d6 for Intelligence and Constitution rather than 4d6 drop the lowest.
  • They will be recognized (sometimes obeyed) by certain normally troublesome robots or security systems.
  • They won't normally be attacked by robots except for those programmed to kill (such as military machines, securidroids, or crazed robots).
  • They exert a level of social influence over all characters or intelligent creatures that rank below them. Mutant animals and humans give way when they approach, and a +3 is added to any reaction rolls with creatures that recognize the authority of the Amish.
  • They can send for assistance from their family back in Amish Country. This is only possible if they still have a family, are on good terms with their family, and have access to a messenger/courier. The Amish character can request a specific need or type of assistance, and there is a base 2-in-6 chance that their request is granted. This roll is modified by the manner of the request and the relationship that the character has with their family. It will take a number of days for the request to be granted or for the character to be informed that they have been denied based upon where in Amish Country their family lives.
  • They have good knowledge of architecture, ancient Merigan history, and agriculture. They speak the Deutsch language.
  • When fighting unarmed, the fight as a character of half as many hit dice.
  • They roll 1d8 for the figuring out of artifacts (same as Mutated Animals).
  • They will receive a negative reaction if other Amish characters see them using ancient technology, with repeated instances of prominent technology usage resulting in them being anathemized. Other Amish characters in the party don't count for this (unless said Amish character's player wants to be mean).
  • They do not mutate during play.
The archetypal Amish character is a young man or woman, an offshoot of some lesser noble line, out on Rumspringa in the wasteland. They're not completely cut off, able to send messages back home for help from Mama und Papa, and they have been prepared for adventure with their... rather academic knowledge base and almost ritualized refusal to use ancient technology.

GW7e's unmutated human illustration... pretty alright if I do say so myself, if not really the most inspiring or interesting.

Pure Amerikan Characters
  • They can defend, but not attack in Mental Combat.
  • They roll 4d6 for Dexterity, Constitution, and Charisma rather than 4d6 drop the lowest.
  • They will be recognized (sometimes obeyed) by certain normally troublesome robots or security systems.
  • They won't normally be attacked by robots except for those programmed to kill (such as military machines, securidroids, or crazed robots).
  • They roll 1d12 for the figuring out of artifacts.
  • They receive +1 when fighting with a weapon type of their choosing (must be mundane weapons, not ancient technology).
  • They are compatible with all medical equipment and do not suffer social consequences for using advanced medical tech (or any other ancient tech for that matter).
  • They fight unarmed as normal (unlike Amish characters).
  • They do not mutate during play.
  • They speak the Amerikan language.
Making these exposed me more to some of the rather obtuse and not so good rules of Gamma World 2e, which I think has spurred on thoughts of house rules and such in future... but for now I'm mostly happy with it! I hope these character options are interesting enough, even if you're not intending on playing with GW2e... Personally, I already see places where I want to change things (starting with that ability score generation system, I already wasn't the biggest fan of 4d6 drop the lowest and then GW2e throws in 4d6 just keeping it even if its over 18 when the game is just designed for stuff up to 18?? I kept some of that in here just to not muck with the number balance of the game but in making my own post apocalyptic game I would uhm... want to change that.) I've honestly always had a weird feeling about the "Pure Strain Human" character type in these post apocalyptic games... on the one hand yeah not everybody should be a mutant so the mutants stand out and it wouldn't make sense for Everyone to become so weird and monstrous, but on the other hand the unmutated human archetype I like the most is by far the isolated weak but intelligent Vault Dweller type, yknow what I'm talking about, and the Gamma World PSH just... isn't that. I've tried to keep closer to the Gamma World PSH but in future I might mix things around, who knows.

Have a lovely day!

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

King of Kings Session 8 After Action Report

Picking up where we left off last time!

Dramatis Personae
Ishthyromeda the Small, level one amazon
Kusa, level one cleric of the exiled and half-dead foreign goddess Nasitu-Neb
Manchugo Coldeswain, level one cleric dedicated to Damir, foreign god of the trade routes
Rohm'Daan, level one cleric dedicated to Anzhalar, a local chthonic god of subterranean flame

(Zana the Charlatan's player was not able to join us so I just said that Zana went home instead of venturing on with the group the following day)

Waking up in the Snail's Trail (or out in the wide open plaza in the case of Ish), the group of four congregates in the eatery at the fore of the establishment. They proceeded to just kind of ask around for work to do, not finding any interested parties there (despite Ish advertising herself and the group as a bunch of mercenaries), but they do hear from some pilgrims that a dehqan (landowning noble) along the road to the north has been worried about unproductive farms under his sway. Apparently there is talk that his peasants are disappearing, but he refuses to believe such things no matter how much his attendants visit the places. His name is Shahab, and the proprietor of the establishment (a wide-smiling sacred one clad in red silks and wearing a prominent nose ring) inform them that yes he is wealthy and yes he is in need right now, but also that he is very rude, capricious, and paranoid. They also inform them that he is a member of house Manati, a noble family here in the satrapy especially prominent in Tabur city. As they leave, Kusa leaves a little tip for the proprietor.

I think in my mind the biggest visual inspiration for the proprietor was Maya from KSBD, if not necessarily in personality.

Before leaving for dehqan Shahab's estate, the group decides to make a visit to the shrine of the Morning Star in Temple Town, where there is a deaf oracle that can speak with the voice and the certainty of the Morning Star herself. Entering the shrine, they are met by a small group of priestly functionaries in red robes, the whole place lit up by flaming torches and sunlight through red-hued hangings between the black stone columns. They set up some sacrifices (a cow and two sacred owls) and tell the scribe what to write down on the paper for the oracle to read from. Four questions were asked:

Does the Morning Star shine on our work with dehqan Shahab?
Is there anything we need to know about the situation?
Does Ishthyromeda have great herds and wealth in her future?
On what and which axes will Kusa's path converge with that of Silvered Nasitu?
(All the exact phrasing of the queries)

After the animals were sacrificed and the group was brought into the chamber of the oracle, the deaf oracle made her pronouncements with suitable ritualistic pomp and circumstance. I can't reproduce all of this scene here because that would just be too long but here is the bit where they enter the chamber: 
"with the floor now slick and shiny with blood, the looming yellow door beyond is dragged open from within, smoke billowing out from the room beyond and into the chamber which houses you now... stepping within, you are greeted by the sight of a woman in black and scarlet robes, a hood hanging over her eyes leaving only her chin and expressionless lips visible. She sits upon a looming wrought iron throne, flanked by chalices billowing with flame, the scribe you saw earlier standing beside her and holding three parchments in his hands. She reaches for the first, and holds it before her eyes."

Here are the verdicts the oracle provided:
"The fateful Morning Star, ever-glorious in her flaming beauty, shines on your acts and deeds. Her baleful light will show you the way into the darkness that now sits before you. The Morning Star wishes you to only know one thing: beware that which yawns deeply."
"The woman of the long axe shall sit upon a woolen fleece, gazing across the wide expanse of her homeland. The Morning Star speaks to your god now. Many steeds shall become thee."
"You who is in exile, you who has fled the destruction wrought on your people and your land, you shall hear your goddess once again and see your goddess once again. In the shining hills of the east, where gold is wrought and war is fought, there you will find her. The Morning Star shall see to it that the crimes of the ones who hate flesh and blood will be avenged. The Silver Star is in a golden valley."

With the knowledge from the Snail Trail's proprietor and the oracle in their hands, they depart for the estate of dehqan Shahab, cracking jokes about the sleepy Rohm'Daan being "that which yawns deeply" that they are supposed to beware. Riding on Ish's cart, they converse among themselves on the way. Manchugo tells a folk tale about a man traveling through a desert unable to refuse the coats and furs that the people he meets offer him while Ishthyromeda listens, Rohm'Daan explains the story of Anzhalar to Kusa while Kusa shares some of the tales of Nasitu-Neb. Their talk is cut off, however, when they come across a group of six gryphons desperately scratching at themselves and rubbing themselves on trees just off the road. Debating what caused the creatures to suffer, they ultimately decide to go on, concluding that it may have something to do with the peasant disappearances.

Griffon vulture scratching... closest thing I could find

After another few hours of travel, they came upon a small group of goatherds crossing the road with their flock. One of the goatherds stopped to speak with the travelers, she told them that the gryphons probably just had sky fleas and that they could find "Shahab the Worrywort, that piece of shit" in the garishly-colored estate home on the next hill over. Dashing back to be with the rest of the goatherds, the group overheard her being mocked by her fellow herders for wasting time talking to city folk that look like they have a load of debt.

They travel just that short distance and are at the home of dehqan Shahab, a looming staircase winding up the side of the hill, two guards and a trumpeteer stationed at its base. The trumpeteer asks who they are, Manchugo replying that they are craftsmen here to offer mutually beneficial trade with the dehqan, the trumpeteer letting out a trumpet blast to call forth a servant-messenger in a short tunic who, after being informed of who the group are and what they are actually here to do, goes to retrieve the dehqan. Shahab emerges from the home with the messenger, clad in an ill-fitted facsimile of a military uniform, with a wooden panel hanging from his neck and a silver diadem upon his brow, a ragged beard hanging down recklessly. Manchugo engages in some deft persuasion to convince the dehqan to hire them, and negotiates a payment scheme with the assistance of Kusa and Rohm'Daan (20 drachmae each up front and 1.5 drachmae per peasant's tribute debt retrieved or peasant confirmed dead or disappeared). The paranoid and cowardly Shahab haggled with Manchugo but ultimately gave in, fearful for what might be around him and antsy to just get a conclusion to his present problem. Shahab informs them that what falls under his domain is a small worthless village and a small handful of farming estates, three of which have been particularly problematic and failing to provide anything to him. 

Oh also they asked dehqan Shahab if he had heard anything about bird lice or sky fleas and all he said was that a friend of his in Humakuyun apparently had lice in his pigeons.

This was where we ended the session, with the next session presumably going to feature the group investigating the three supposedly abandoned farmsteads!

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

The Grand Hospital of Humakuyun, d8 Unclean Spirits, and d12 Things the Nurses Want You to Do

On the shores of the northern sea, at the confluence of the roads which travel east and west, sits Humakuyun, last stop before the wilderness. While infamous for its dreaded assassins, Humakuyun-on-the-sea is also widely loved for its lively parties and its beloved hospital. The Grand Hospital of Humakuyun is a veritable pilgrimage site for doctors, alchemists, and nurses, and a regular destination for adventurers. Whether you have been subjected to a horrible folding curse, been bitten by a venomous snake, or contracted the red death, the nurses of the Grand Hospital will accept you with wide open arms (though they might not hug you, depending on how leaky your buboes are).

The Grand Hospital is the only place in the east where you can get real medical attention. You might be able to rest and recuperate in other places, sure, but only at the Grand Hospital will most maladies be addressed. The building is kept completely clear of any foul odors (seeing as, of course, plague is spread through miasma), fastidiously cleaned of any stinky filth by a veritable army of servants clad in distinct green robes. When resting and recuperating at the Grand Hospital, you receive a +1 hp per day bonus to daily healing, and have no risk of contracting disease or being possessed by an unclean spirit. Resting and recuperating in most other environments brings with it associated risks. Injury makes oneself more susceptible to intrusion by unclean spirit or plague.

Resting and recuperating in any spiritually unclean or filthy location (graveyard, sewer, pigsty, deep underground, building built atop any unclean location) prompts a save vs. ritual uncleanliness (save vs. death) or you are taken by an unclean spirit or disease. Until the disease or spirit is purged from your body, you cannot heal anymore. Being subjected to a curse also makes you susceptible to unclean spirits. Roll on the table below to determine the nature of the possession.

1d8 Unclean Spirits and Diseases
1: Spasmodic Spirit: When viewed with eyes unclouded appears as a stiff many-legged thing. Causes random uncontrollable spasms. When this spirit possesses you, roll 1d20; any time you roll the number produced, you go into uncontrollable spasms, unable to act.
2: Dysentery: Diarrhea! Slower movement and faster fatigue; dehydration requiring double the water, rest, rations. Disadvantage on saving throws against disease.
3: Heavy Shoulders Spirit: When viewed with eyes unclouded appears as a wide-eyed long-trunked ape-thing sitting upon the victim's shoulders. Move encumbrance status up one step: from unencumbered to encumbered, from encumbered to heavily encumbered, from heavily encumbered to immobile.
4: Sweating Sickness: Intense fevers and sweats. Too uncomfortable to wear armors or thick clothes. Inability to focus on anything, no attack bonuses and must roll for any spells cast.
5: Stolen Sight Spirit: When viewed with eyes unclouded appears as a dark black glistening insectile thing clinging to the victim's face. Forces the victim to see a horrible dream at all times, unable to stop it by closing their eyes and unable to see their surroundings.
6: Consumption: Difficulty breathing, coughing up blood, rapid weight loss. Steady loss of 1 point of STR and CON every week, and unable to run (automatically captured if in a chase).
7: Pitiful Wrath Spirit: When viewed with eyes unclouded appears as a small crawling mammal-thing, two humanlike faces on either end of its body. Every so often, the victim makes a reaction roll to determine their current emotional state, with low results as more negative emotions and higher results as more positive emotions.
8: The Red Death: Horrible red buboes leaking pus and blood. Physical frailty, difficulty breathing, bleeding from eyes, eventual bleeding in lungs. To be detailed in a further dedicated post.

Intense disease and curses take time to heal even at the Grand Hospital. Constant attention, priestly cleansing rituals, wafting of sweet smelling plants, exorcisms, sacrifices, application of poultices or imbibing of potions all take days, weeks, months. There is a base number of weeks that different levels of plague or curse take to heal (1 week for very basic diseases such as the sweating sickness (influenza), 3 for more involved afflictions, 6 for certain curses, 12 for the worst plagues and curses), and every week after that span of time, the patient makes a saving throw vs. death, recovering more or less fully on a success.

The nurses and doctor-savants and alchemists of the Grand Hospital are always in need of something. Since they expect to see an adventurer again in the future anyway, they often ask new arrivals to go retrieve some item, manuscript, herb, or piece of information for them.

1d12 Things the Nurses Want You to Do
1: Go to the Hinterbog in the east and retrieve the skin of a bright yellow frog; you will know it by the shape of the spots on its back, forming a six-pointed star. Do not lick them! They will make your tongue swell up.
2: Go to the Wall of the Conquering King and ask the Wallmasters how they deal with the thin air in the mountains.
3: Go into the Holy Cedar Forest and snatch up a mossling, just one... and be sure to figure out how to not catch the mosslings' ire, at least not on yourself. How you do that is up to you.
4: Go to Temple Town and retrieve the toes of mummy-saints. Don't take more than one toe from each mummy-saint! We don't want to anger our forefathers... nor the high priests of the fire temple.
5: Go to the Great Desert to the south and bring us a baby sandworm. Please keep it alive, if you bring us a dead one we won't pay you. How you keep it alive for the hundreds of miles between the city and the homes of the sandworms is for you to figure out.
6: There is a snake-vampire living in a copse of evergreens to the east. Go get cursed by him, and come back for us to examine the effects and determine a cure. Do not kill the vampire, that might ruin our findings.
7: Travel to the edge of the satrapy of Numistan, where the red-frond flowers grow. Harvest their stamens and bring them back to Humakuyun, but be sure to keep them out of the sun.
8: Consume this entire barrel of lizards all by yourself and go about your normal business for a week and then report back.
9: Visit the distant leper colony on the edge of Great Desert and remove all your clothes except for this amulet we will provide. Report back on what happens.
10: Travel to the rotting corpse of the slain giant in the territory of the client king to the northeast and harvest part of his liver. We have heard it grows back unceasingly and want to understand it.
11: Go into the Land of Darkness, cross the northern sea if you must, and return with as many individual pine needles as you can. Ideally store them in animal skins.
12: Drink nothing but this mixture of silver and water and sleep in a circle of salt for one month. Report back to us every week.

Friday, June 18, 2021

Gamma Ohio: Preliminary Notes on a Gamma World Game

So y'all might not know this since I haven't made any posts about it thus far, but I actually love post apocalyptic science fantasy roleplaying almost as much as or just about as much as I do the kind of weird fantasy OSR play that most of my posts have been all about. Gamma World was actually the first RPG I was exposed to that I really understood as an RPG (I had read the 4e Monster Manual 2 beforehand but I just thought it was a cool monster book, not something for a game), and Gamma World was the first roleplaying game I ever ran! I've made myriad attempts at making my own post apocalyptic roleplaying game or setting throughout the years, but pretty much none of them ever saw the light of day, and barely any made contact with play. So I'm gonna try and fix that! I'm going to run some games using classic Gamma World (probably the second edition), in an original setting centered on my homeland: the great state of Ohio. To get started on this, below are some setting notes derived from a conversation I had about this idea.

It is the 32nd year of the reign of Balthazar the Young (not so young these days), scion of the line of Methuselah the Great, ancestral King of the Amish.

Northeast Meriga 500 Years Since Apocalypse

The Empire of the Amish is a looming hegemon over what remains of Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York state. Ruled by a long line of anabaptist kings, it is an edifice of military power built on a foundation of pacifism, a land of contradictions. The Amish form a ruling minority, separated by language (they speak a future descendant of Pennsylvania Dutch, the rest of the population speak a future descendant of English), religion (the Amish have de facto asserted themselves as a select group within a kind of American politics-Christianity fusion), and mutation (genetic mutations, even slight ones, are not uncommon, but the Amish seem to be consistently genetically unchanged). The Amish do not fight, instead hiring beastman mercenaries from Michigan and conscripting their subjects into wars with the heretic snake-handlers of West Virginia or the pagan merchant lords of the Great Lakes.

Ohio is a bare hinterland of Amish country. While a band in the north is settled with Amish lords and ladies, the southern fringe of Balthazar's state is permeable, its largest settlement being the shantytown of Syoto in the ruins of what was once Columbus. Just beyond that border is the wide floodplain known as the Emerald Expanse, the area that was once the Miami River Valley and the city of Dayton. During the great conflagration that engulfed the world long ago, Dayton was a target of nuclear armaments for its proximity to Wright Patterson Air Force Base, destroying not only the military base but also the dam that kept the city safe from flooding. Add onto that the extreme weather from global warming and nuclear armageddon, and you get a city completely flooded, downtown Dayton turned into a swamp pockmarked with what remains of its buildings. Surrounding the great marsh that forms the center of the Emerald Expanse are dozens of petty tyrannies, little fiefdoms ruled by monstrous mutant dictators, prophets, warlords, and sorcerers in what remains of the suburbs that surrounded Dayton.

Dayton has a lot of really cool art deco style buildings, sure the apocalypse happened in the future but I would want to maintain that unique aesthetic.

In the minds of just about everyone, whether mutant from Injunboli, Amish prince-scholar, or conspiracy theorist mud-scavenger, the greatest mystery is what is hiding beneath the terrible sky-base that seems to have been the reason the Emerald Expanse was targeted. Most people believe the collapse to have been the Ancients committing nuclear suicide, and many wonder at what might have been at the sky-base that the Ancients wanted to keep hidden. Delving into its depths is the dream of every mud-scavenger and steel cultist.

The steel cult is a political-religious movement that has emerged in what was once the steel/rust belt, a cult born out of labor unions, Larouchites, the remnants of the American socialist movement, and post-apocalyptic cargo cults that emerged at the edges of robo-factories that use automation to incessantly churn out resources. While its true heartland is in the holy city of Great Chikago, Birthplace of Steel, the two most significant representatives of this cult near Ohio are the High Bazaari of the Union State of Klevan and the Grand Fordist of the People's Republic of Motown. These two, and the followers of the steel cult more generally, have a fascination with the Emerald Expanse, and always have coin for any who can bring forth glorious Machine, the blessed product of Labor. Of course, Amish and Amerikan bishops will remind you that the steel cult is the worst sin, just the latest way that Jay-Eff-Kay and his foul masters Papa and Castro have their claws dug into the world. Even still, Amish kings make pilgrimage to holy Chikago even as it is ruled by heretics.

I honestly really do love the monster art from the WotC Gamma World 7e

Another reason to pass through the Emerald Expanse is to make your way to Gateway, a merchant republic on the Ohio river and the first stop on the way to the Mississipi Kingdoms of the south, the true heartland of east Meriga. Amish country is a backwater compared to the elegance and decadence of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Texas. Though, even those places have their wastelands, beyond the shoreline.

So there we have three reasons to go to the Emerald Expanse: travel to Gateway for trade, scavenge for glorious Machines for the steel cult, or investigate the esoteric mysteries beneath the long-destroyed sky-base. Well, you could easily have lots of other reasons to explore and adventure, I just like having built in common motivations for settings. Also uh the Emerald Expanse is probably bigger than on the map, I just cobbled that together for a visualization.

Uhhhh other ideas for this:
In the conversation I had there was a parallel campaign idea where you would play as beastmen (mutant animal) mercenaries traveling from Michigan, buying up guns in Motown, crossing the Great Black Swamp (and contending with mutants from Toledo to Lima), getting in Amish country, and being carted on down to West Virginia to fight against the heretic snake-handler kings and whatever other petty tyrants hold sway over the valleys of Appalachia.

Extensive exaggerated Amazon fulfillment center inhabited by cannibalistic morlocks cowed by robotic task masters.

Peasant commune shining city on a hill style, inhabited by exile mutants building a better life for themselves, on top of the hill that was once Oakwood, while beneath the city-commune there is a vault of cryogenically frozen Ancient elites.

Opossum people curled up on trees, keeping watch with one eye open.

A mad sorcerer-queen of the fetid floodplain holding sway over fearful beaver-man serfs with reprogrammed gardening robots.

A free-for-all fight over the title of Mayor of Day Town when an Ancient polling location (a sacred temple to their glorious rulers) is uncovered.

Pale white squirrels swarming on vine-choked trees, acting as if by one mind. Albino rodents with thief-like cunning.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Goin' Through the Fiend Folio Part 6 (Firedrake to Frostman)

 When I started posting on this blog again, I began to run King of Kings again and began posting most of the regular things I posted before going on hiatus, but one thing was conspicuously absent... reviews! Specifically monster reviews! My lovely friend over at The Cosmic Orrery has already made a return to making their review-through of the Fiend Folio, and at a much quicker pace than me to boot... I gotta catch up! So here I am, picking up where we last left off back in January.

On the one hand, this isn't the most necessary creature, basically just being a weaker red dragon so you can have your players face off against a flying fire-breathing reptile that they can actually potentially beat. HOWEVER on the other hand this is such a fun take on the iconic fire-breathing reptile. Namely I'm referring to how it actually doesn't breathe fire. Instead, it spews flammable blood. Like, oh my god?? That alone brings this up from the one or two stars I would give a rather generic drake-type monster. Also I like the bit about how swords dipped in the blood become flaming swords, always a fan of parts of monsters that can become/relate to items. The art also just makes it, of course Russ Nicholson would draw a good dragon. I think I would probably use elements of this in an actual dragon, instead of justifying it by making a weaker creature for lower-level players.

One of the best full-pagers in the Folio

I was so torn on this... on the one hand, they're actually a pretty fun race of humanoids! Well, I hate that whoever wrote this beat me to using the name "salaman" and didn't even highlight it, instead just putting it in a completely offhanded comment, but like other than that they're pretty cool! The only problem is, they don't bring much new that "lizardmen that live in a volcano" wouldn't have just by being a) lizardmen and b) fire-themed. When I was reading the description, I found myself mostly uninterested in their breath weapon and percentages of leaders etc etc... their priests using druid spells is kinda cool, them riding giant striders is kinda cool cuz I like that it uses another Folio monster, and I really love the bit where they say that firenewts "delight in torturing and roasting victims alive before feasting on them." Mostly I'm neutral, but the bits I like I do like a good amount!

Fire Snake
I kinda feel bad giving these guys one star, I love snakes and I love the cute art that the fire snake has, but there just isn't much going on here. They're just snakes that happen to live in fire; at that point, I would just use an enchanted snake, and connect it to some outside part of the setting! They kinda go for that with the note that fire snakes might be larval salamanders, but they don't commit to it!! Without being actually tied into the setting, they're very boring.

Fire Toad
Not a whole lot going on here but its more interesting than the fire snake at least. It being pushed back by water is very fun, and I find it interesting that the fireball of the fire toad deals damage equal to its current HP a la dragon breath. Between the firedrake and the fire toad you already have two really fun takes on a dragon! I know I just said with the fire snake that I wasn't a fan of it basically just being "snake that lives in fire", but the fire toad just Feels better, I think I would be more inclined to use it in my game than the fire snake. Maybe that's just because I like toads, I don't know.

Hey I figured since now we have a bunch of fire-themed or otherwise fire-related monsters I might as well rank them! The Definitive A-F Fiend Folio Fire Tier List is below:
1: Firedrake
2: Firenewts
3: Fire Toad
4: Fire Snake
5: Imix (Prince of Evil Fire Creatures)

Imix is just very boring.

Flail Snail
You KNOW how I feel about the flail snail. Or well, okay maybe you don't, I've never actually made any posts about the flail snail before. Giant snails are just great, and the flail snail is to me at least one of the most iconic D&D monsters. The manner in which you generally have to fight the flail snail is very good (having to incapacitate each tentacle, taking out its mode of attack as you kill it) and it letting out a "pitiful, wailing cry" when it dies that can attract wandering monsters is fantastic, I always love monsters that cause problems even after dying and that interact with other parts of the game. The shell being an incredibly valuable piece of treasure is fantastic; its anti-magic properties are a bit annoying but I think it is more than made up for by the difficulties that dragging that rich shell back out of the dungeon to sell brings. It is almost a whole adventure just to try and take the shell back with you! Now that is what I call a good monster.

Flinds are pretty boring, but I will admit they're kinda iconic for the Fiend Folio for some reason. I generally don't like "x monster but more powerful" type creatures, which I feel like 1e AD&D had a gradual steady increase in by the time of the MM2. The flindbar is the one redeeming quality they have, it is really cool to have a creature that highlights a disarming weapon, feels really real in a sense. I think I wouldn't have the flind as a separate species, but rather as a kind of monstrous humanoid caste, a kind of warrior class trained in exclusive weapons like the flindbar. But as it is in the Folio, I'm not inclined to use it.


WOOOOOOOOOO!!! I'm gonna be real, I think this is one of the best monsters in the Folio by far, and not in a "haha so bad its good" way, just in a completely played straight way. I really don't like all those people who crack jokes about the flumph being cringe or boring, those FOOLS just don't have CREATIVITY (note: I'm just being silly, I don't think any less of you for not liking the humble flumph). I just think that when you get down to it, the flumph is a very compelling and unique alien creature, and one that fits into a unique conceptual niche by being an ally of the (presumed aligned with good) characters. They are something like the nice underdark svirfneblins or whatever, a group of creatures that can be an asset to the players, and I find them much more interesting than other manifestations of that concept because the flumph is like an alien emissary of law. I think this gets a bit muddled by the time the Modrons get introduced, but here the flumph is a completely abnormal being that somehow aligns itself with the standard of morality of the characters' world, or with some eternal concept of "good", and that is just really cool and interesting? I'm much more into using flumphs as the supernatural representatives of law/good than vaguer angels. Also their powers are just fun, the repulsive liquid is very evocative and the vertical drop attack makes good use of 3D space. I've seen people crack jokes at "A flumph is helpless if turned over" but that's great!! It provides an easily understood tool to use against them if the need arises, and one that doesn't actually kill them! Interrogating an upside-down flumph just sounds like a good time.

I think its easy to forget that there are two forlarren illustrations, so I just wanted to highlight the one on the title page.

Very folkloric vibe on this guy, the whole "descendants of the offspring of a good nymph and the greater devil who enslaved her" thing reminds me a lot of the Children of Ana from Romani folklore, though I don't think the forlarren has a direct folkloric inspiration. Ana's children are much more interesting than the forlarren to be clear. I do like the art, Russ did a great job yet again, I like the heat metal power that it has, and I like the vibe of it flipflopping on its personality... however I don't think it should be presented as it is in the Folio. The Folio just says that it will attack the players, heat their metal, etc., and will only switch to acting in a friendly manner after that. Personally I would prefer a randomized thing, probably just tying it to the reaction roll, maybe making new reaction rolls every so often... I dunno, I just think there are some good ideas here but its not presented in the best way.

Why is this like the only monster that is presented so vaguely... I like the idea of the eye under the eyepatch that releases a cone of cold when it is lifted up, feels very folkloric, very cool vibes, but why is this a "race" of ice-themed human-adjacent types that you only ever meet one at a time and only "maybe" have a whole society?? If you're going to have an intelligent society for the players to interact with, commit to it!! If you want the monster to just be a unique human or a small group of weird humans, commit to it!!!! I think if I were to use the frostmen they would just be humans that developed the cold-eye power, a small faction or maybe even a unique NPC. There is nothing gained by making these a separate race, at least not in the way it is in the Folio.

Now as a sad note: I wanted to include the Fiend Factory versions of some of these monsters, or at least the ones that actually were presented in the Factory column. The only problem is that as of right now (June 16 2021) The Trove, where I accessed a pdf collection of all of the Fiend Factory columns, is down. I can't reference the original forms of Fiend Factory monsters without having a Fiend Factory to reference! Sorry about that! Really hoping The Trove can come back up soon.

So this edit is coming super soon after posting it, but a lovely friend of mine reached out to me saying that they have full scans of old White Dwarf issues so I can include Fiend Factory monsters in this post! There's only one monster that had a version in Fiend Factory though, so I'll just share that below!

The fiend is the original version of the forlarren! Gotta say, really prefer the Russ Nicholson rendition of the art, this drawing feels pretty generic, even if I do love its weird expressionless face and wrinkles. Powers-wise it is exactly the same, although in the text it specifies a "fallen angel" and "the evil god Pan" as its ancestors rather than the much more vague "good nymph" and "greater devil", much prefer the fallen angel x evil god Pan version. Also I just really wanted to share this for Don Turnbull's comment: "Not a bad reason for wearing chainmail (which presumably produces a waffle effect on the character when the Fiend attacks)." That is just SUCH a good aside. Extrapolated conclusions like that are some of my favorite little things about Don Turnbull's comments and other takes on roleplaying in the late 70s early 80s. Still not one of my favorite monsters though.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Froglings of the Enlightened Empire

 So I was in the process of writing a post with random tables and city information for one of the cities in the eastern satrapies, but I realized it referenced a people that hasn't yet been discussed at all on my blog! That's because it is an addition to the setting that I made during my posting hiatus, but I just figured it would be an important thing to post about first!

from The Mandalorian


When the antediluvian days were waning and the men, women, and sacred ones of the First City were rising, there were some among the sea tyrants who saw their fate, even as the spell to flood the world was being woven. Chief among these were the amphibians, who knew dry land much better than their brethren. The salamanders and the frogs even included some in their number who had visited the First City and dwelt within its walls. The amphibians wanted to keep the land, for they feared that if the whole world became ocean then they would shrivel up in its brackish depths, and they would be consumed by the guilt of the death of humankind. And so, the frogs and salamanders and olms conspired to give humanity magic, to protect them from the horrible flood. It is a frog named Prometheus who is said to have given the first, now long lost, clay tablet of spells to the the thief Keyumars in those long forgotten days. In the telling of events more well known among men, Keyumars simply dove deep into the kingdoms of the sea tyrants and stole it for himself, but those who study the depths of history know better. The first spells for humankind were written in a frog-like hand.

For this, the frogs and salamanders and olms were forced out of the sea and branded as traitors. The traitor frogs fell upon the First City and its surroundings and built a new home there, and began to live among humanity. The traitor newts fled into the wilderness, willing to go along with the frogs' plan to give humans magic but not as enthusiastic about the change. The traitor olms fled into the depths beneath the earth, since they among the three amphibians did not have the physical forms to survive on land. When the sea tyrants began to take over the underground, the olms fought back and to this day that struggle continues. A giant friendly olm is a fine sight for any spelunker in need.

These mythic days are long behind them all, however, and whether there is any truth in the stories of the deeds of the great heroes of the frogs and salamen is a matter for debate. Since the froglings (as they are now called by humanity, although the name "traitor frog" has not left them) descended on the First City after the end of the Deluge, they have been a consistent feature of urban communities. Coastal areas especially, both within the Enlightened Empire and without, very prominently feature frogling communities. They are exiled from the ocean, but often skirt upon its surface on boats, their sails pushed along by the flapping of innumerable fly wings.

The traitor frogs, as the premier masters of magic on the surface world, have developed many unique forms of sorcery. Chief among these is Diptomancy, the art of communication with flies (and other small buzzing/stinging/biting things, although notably bees refuse to speak with diptomancers). This began as a form of divination, ascertaining fate through the shapes of poetically-conditioned fly swarms, but it has developed into a science and an art all its own. During the ancient days of the Warring Kings, there were many frogling principalities lorded over by batrachian sorcerer-kings and mage-mothers, and their spell tablets, secreted away in dank depths and crumbling ruins, hold some of the most powerful spells of history.

I don't intend on having froglings ride on giant frogs but aren't these just so good?


I was going to write up a frogling race-class but I'm at a bit of an impasse with regards to what to do with these guys with regards to the players. I could keep them as NPC-exclusive (keeping the game completely human-only as it currently is (technically the amazons, brinemen, and half-jinn are humans)), or make them a race-class (which to me seems a bit weird because they have honestly just as much flexibility as humans do), or fully separate race and class (which I'm worried about how to puzzle through because of how I've boxed myself in with some of the human nations), SO instead of presenting any character information, here are some example diptomancy spells.


Fly's Last Meal
Level 1
Duration: Until caster ends
Range: Touch
When this spell is cast, the caster touches a fly and is able to ask this fly any question relating to what it has eaten and what was surrounding it when it ate it. The caster is able to end the interrogation at any point. This spell is often used to find out what happened at the scene of a death, assassination, or murder.

Gust of Fluttering
Level 1
Duration: 6 turns
Range: 120'
A training spell of diptomancy. Any and all flying insects in the area congregate in a point designated by the caster within the spell's range and flap their wings very rapidly. Their fast flapping creates a noticeable wind, which will cause any light objects to be caught up in it. The caster can order the cloud of flies to release a sudden and massive gust of wind in one specified direction, pushing any being or object not too heavy back up to 240'. Doing so causes the cloud of flies to immediately dissipate.

Advanced Gust of Fluttering
Level 2
Duration: 6 hours
Range: 120'
The most commonly learned diptomantic spell. Any and all flying insects in the area congregate in a point designated by the caster within the spell's range and flap their wings very rapidly. This maintains the attention of many more flies than the simpler version. Their flapping creates a noticeable wind, which will cause any light objects to be caught up in it unless it is focused in one direction. The caster can order the cloud of flies to release a continuous gust of wind in one specified direction for up to the spell's entire duration. This gust of wind is strong enough to push heavier objects and creatures.

Item: Barrel of Flies
A common object kept by frogling sailors, the barrel of flies is just what it sounds like: a wooden barrel filled with flying insects. These are usually caught and barreled at "fly-factories" that keep rotting material to grow flies in for sale. When at sea, the frogling sailor-sorcerer has no flying insects around to provide for their advanced gust of fluttering, so the barrel of flies is a must.

Noxious Discharge
Level 3
Duration: 3 turns
Range: 240'
A biting insect emerges from somewhere within the caster's robes, and seeks out the target which the caster points at. The target makes a saving throw vs. poison, failing to do so causing them to begin to incessantly spew forth a stinking corrosive acidic discharge, the very same sort that houseflies use to digest their food. They are unable to take any actions in combat other than struggling against their vomiting, and if they fail a DEX check they also begin to take 1d4 damage every other round as they stumble around and cover themselves with their corrosive vomit. The vomit is able to melt through wood and other organic material.

Level 6
Duration: Indefinite
Range: Sight
The caster points at a target they can see. If they have the ability to feel romantic/sexual attraction, they must make a saving throw vs. death or be overtaken by the instincts of the adult mayfly. Those who do not feel romantic/sexual feelings are immune. If they fail their saving throw, they are overtaken by intense romantic feelings and the need to have a romantic moment with someone, anyone. However, the moment they so much as move away from a kiss or finish up with a romantic dinner, they will die, having fulfilled their immediate goal. The only way to stave this is to stop them from being intimate with anybody, and the only way to end the curse is through a magical ritual.

Friday, June 11, 2021

Spark of Inspiration (The Mad Poet: A Class for King of Kings)

 He appeared now here, now there. He wandered about in the small alleys between the tents and in the bazaar where the merchants and artisans have their stalls. He walked aimlessly, driven only by his aching heart, without heeding the staring eyes; tears springing from under his eyelashes like wild mountain streams. All the time he sang melancholy songs such as lovers are wont to sing in their misery.

When he passed by, people around him shouted: "Look, the Madman, Majnun is coming... Majnun!"

The reins had slipped from the rider's hand. His innermost being was revealed like the heart of a split fruit. He had not only lost his beloved, but also himself. Everyone saw in his face the reflection of the fire scorching his heart, saw the blood running from his wound. He was suffering because of his beloved, but she remained far away. The longer it lasted, the more Qays became Majnun. Burning like a candle, he did not sleep at night and, while he searched for a remedy to cure soul and body, both were filled with deadly pain. Each day, at dusk, the ghosts of his vain hopes chased him out into the desert, barefoot and bareheaded.

Then strange things began to happen. Majnun had been separated from Layla, yet his longing made him the slave of his imprisoned Mistress. A madman he became-- but at the same time a poet, the harp of his love and of his pain.
-The Story of Layla and Majnun, from the Khamsa or Panj Ganj of Nizami Ganjavi

Majnun visited in the wilderness

Not all who hear the whispers of the stars above can handle their poetry. Not everyone receives the kind of training, experience, or rigor that makes a true sorcerer. A spell is more than just a word; it is a stance, a dance, a gesture, a mentality. It is difficult to achieve these things! That is why to be a sorcerer takes dedication, same as to be a true swordsmaster. When the stars deign to whisper into a sleeper's ear, the hearer does not always have such resources or dedication. Often, the words must flow out from their mouths like sweetened honey or poisoned wine, or onto the page in the form of black ink. That is the mad poet, a poet possessed by the maddening glory of the stars above. From which star their dreams come they do not know, for they have not been trained in astrology. They are artists who wear their emotions on their sleeves, and awaken each morning with a new idea on their lips.

Sorry for the shitty pretentious quote and description I just thought it would set the mood. Oh also for those who don't know majnun basically means "bejinned" or "the jinn-haunted/jinn-possessed", translating is kinda hard.
No clue what this is but doesn't it look cool?

The Mad Poet

Requirements: None
Prime Requisite: CHA
Hit Dice: 1d6
Combat Bonus: 1/2 level, rounded down
Armor: Leather, chain, no shields
Weapons: All except polearms, two-handed swords, and warhammers (no big military-type weapons basically)
Languages: Shahanistani, one additional language
XP to Level 2: 2,300

The mad poet is an able lyricist. They know all about the art of poetry, and their reputation as an artist precedes them. Their poetry is moving and beautiful to the ear. If they write a poem, speech, or song for a particular purpose (persuading a given character, communicating a plan, inspiring love or hatred, etc), there is a base 1-in-6 chance of it being successful (i.e. convincing its reader/listener, etc). You have to be fluent in the language of the reader/listener for this to have any success. The chance of success increases by 1 every third level (2-in-6 at level 4, 3-in-6 at level 7, etc). You can receive a +1 modifier if you have a preexisting relationship with the reader/listener.
Just as their reputation as an artist precedes them, so too does their madness. People will treat you strangely, and often rather dismissively or patronizingly. You are often called mad, and the effect of the whispers on your personality can be determined with the table below.
Mystic Whispers
Every night in their fitful sleep, the mad poet receives feverish whispers from the stars. They remember them only partially, and have to decipher their meaning and purpose by piecing them together. You receive a number of mystic words equal to your level + 2 (3 at level 1, 4 at level 2, etc), which you can speak aloud to produce magical effects. These can be spoken singly or in combination, but the particular effect must be determined by discussion with the referee. You roll for new mystic words every morning, and any words you knew the day before are abandoned. The die you roll increases with level: 1d6 at level 1, 1d8 at level 3, 1d10 at level 5, 1d12 at level 7, 1d20 at level 9. The table for mystic words changes depending on certain moon phases and auspicious (or inauspicious) stars. When mystic words are spoken aloud, make a saving throw vs. magic, with a penalty equal to the number of words spoken in excess of 1. On a failure, roll on the magical mishap table. You lose a mystic word when it is spoken. Actually writing up said table and all of the special mystic words tables is going to be for another day however.
Saving Throws
Mad poets save as magic-users, but receive +2 to saving throws against illusion effects.
Mad poets are able to take their mystic words (see below) and scrawl them on paper to create scrolls. This takes one week and 100 drachmae per mystic word vested in the scroll. Since these words are trapped in a paper prison, they do not dissipate until spoken; the mad poet permanently loses that many words until the scroll is used. For instance, if a level 1 mad poet creates a scroll with two mystic words on it, from then on they only receive 1 mystic word each day. Creating a scroll does, however, allow non-spellcasters to use the magical effect even if the mad poet is not present. Most magical scrolls were penned by desperate madmen attempting to get the whispers out of their head and onto paper, and the scroll burns into nothing but ashes when its words are spoken aloud, casting the spell and opening the poet's head to the stars.

1: Obsession with a particular number
2: Rapid mood swings
3: Fear of clowns (you don't quite know what they are, but you have seen visions of them and you hate them)
4: Intense paranoia
5: Claustrophobia
6: Poor anger control
7: You walk on all fours
8: Almost always crying
9: Can't stop dancing
10: Anxious around people, calm around animals
11: Anxious around animals, calm around inanimate objects
12: You believe you are already dead and rotting
(To be clear, the discussion of "madness" and such here isn't reflective of how I see or treat neurodiverse people, and more about exploring how neurodiversity has been treated historically/in fiction)

Portion of a magic scroll from Ethiopia

1: Light
2: Rough
3: Egg
4: Strong
5: Dark
6: Warm
7: Fire
8: Child
9: New
10: Soft
11: Pain
12: Owl
13: Steel
14: Blood
15: Muscle
16: Tooth
17: Love
18: Snake
19: Ax
20: Old

A multi-purpose magical mishap table is forthcoming.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

King of Kings Session 7 After Action Report

 King of Kings has RETURNED, or well it returned a few days ago, the session was last Friday. But I've been rather busy since then with Things and haven't had time to write up a session report for it.

Dramatis Personae
Ishthyromeda the Small, level one amazon
Kusa, level one cleric of the exiled and half-dead foreign goddess Nasitu-Neb
Manchugo Coldeswain, level one cleric dedicated to Damir, foreign god of the trade routes
Rohm'Daan, level one cleric dedicated to Anzhalar, a local chthonic god of subterranean flame
Zana the Charlatan, level one magic-user

To begin with, treasure from the previous session was handled, resulting in 85 drachmae being given to each of the five players present (technically a bit wonky since most of these players weren't at the previous session but it all evens out in the end). Clerics receive 76 after the tithe was taken off. BUT after Housekeeping from the unresolved session from months back was handled, things actually got started in earnest.

It was a fine and sunny day, and a holy day at that! The festival of Jumhura, the Rebel Saint, He Who Broke Spears on His Knee, He Who Spoke with the Voice of the Sun was here! The whole of Tabur was abuzz, and the five adventurers decided to make way to Temple Town for the festival. Shortly before leaving, however, Kusa went to the group's patron Farzaneh Taburi to hand over the clay lamp in the shape of a huma bird that she began work on some time before. The group decided to take a less direct route, leaving via the northern gate of the city and traveling on a wilderness road, astride their horse-drawn cart.

On the road, however, they came across a horrid figure... Jamshid, the mercantile rival of Zana from his previous life as a less than successful merchant. The muscular black-bearded man seemed to be visiting Temple Town to take advantage of all of the captive customers during the festival. Immediately, Manchugo and Zana started yelling at him, and a shouting match ensued where Jamshid mocked them and made only small shifts out of the way of the cart. The loud yelling attracted a group of goatherds, who at first were concerned but very quickly took to resting on their staves to watch the situation go down. Ishthyromeda rode up ahead and attempted to push at Jamshid's cart with her javalin, but he budged only slightly. The group considered ramming his cart to push him off the road, but didn't act on it. Kusa ran up ahead and asked for a ride on Jamshid's cart, which Jamshid gave... and then Kusa turned to look at her friends' cart behind her, showing off her firestarter in her hand. For the sole reason of Zana's backstory rivalry, they collectively decided to just make this the worst day for Jamshid.

In short time, the two carts both reach their destination: Temple Town, more properly called the Hallowed Halls of the Holy Mountain, the ritual epicenter for Elburz satrapy and the headquarters of the temple bureaucracy for the whole of the east. The wide plaza of Temple Town was teeming with the raucous crowd, and just as the group arrived the mummified corpse of Saint Jumhura, curled up with his bony legs drawn up to his chest, was borne out of the fire temple at the center of the ritual plaza to be taken up to the cliffs where the mummies of the eastern saints reside... And at the same time, Kusa set fire to Jamshid's cart and quickly dashed away into the crowd. From this point on, the group somewhat split up: Kusa, Manchugo, and Rohm'Daan dashed over to the market-temple of Damir in Temple Town, while Ishthyromeda haggled in the crowd and Zana focused on his rival's fire.

Their messing about with Jamshid prompted a lot of memes to be made... this is only one of them!

Zana (and Kusa somewhat): As the fire grew and blazed ever-larger, more and more of the people in the crowd noticed and began to panic, and the guards posted at the gates to Temple Town's mausoleum-laden depths dashed over to attempt to put out the fire. For setting the fire, Kusa received 20 XP. Zana stood by and watched as the fire raged, and when it began to dwindle down, he stepped over and helped put out its last remaining embers, turning to mock his rival as he sat on the ground staring fearfully at the ashen remains of his cart. For mocking his rival and putting out the fire, Zana received 20 XP.

Ishthyromeda: Ish haggled with a sacrifice-seller in the crowd to buy a goat from him, and did so for only 8 drachmae!

Kusa, Manchugo, and Rohm'Daan: Visited the market-temple of Damir, which is operated by the former master conman turned... well, he's still a conman, but now its part of his official job, Mansour Jir. He is a young man with a short cropped black beard, and almost immediately took to selling trinkets to the trio. Rohm'Daan bought a tooth of Saint Melcayak, the blind and de-fanged dogman saint, while Manchugo sat in awe of Mansour's fame as a conman-merchant, and then began to explain the importance of mercantile activity to Kusa and sold a small basalt idol of the Conquering King to her.

After all of the above, the crowd had dissipated and the group decided it was time to bring the day to a close. Rather than making the journey back to Tabur, they decided to rest in one of the two pilgrims' houses in Temple Town, marching over to the Snail's Trail. Within, they found a small dining area with a wide clinic-hospital off to the side where groaning men and women could be seen on low-lying beds. There was a counter toward the back of the entrance hall, with a large snail's shell resting atop it and a woman in a thin purple veil and green robes standing behind it. Kusa, Manchugo, Rohm'Daan, and Zana each bought a room for the night (for 12 drachmae each), while Ishthyromeda slept on the cart with her newly bought goat and her horses.

Thursday, June 3, 2021

d8 Alternative Mind Flayers

 So I was reading this post by the wonderful semiurge over at Archons March On, and it got me thinkin'. Thinkin' about my own introduction to D&D being relatively similar (my first exposure to D&D was the 4e Monster Manual 2, along with the 3e-era kids book series that WotC put out, gazing in awe at the 3e books my mom's friends had, flipping through the pages of Pathfinder bestiaries while sitting on the floor of bookstores... though my first actual game was a boxed set, the box for the 7th edition of Gamma World). Also thinkin' about one bit that is mentioned in the post:

"Urophions", mind flayers made out of ropers, are born losers. An SCP-ish list of other attempts at making non-humanoid mind flayers would've been neat. 

I'm already familiar with those Urophions and other illithid-variants (alhoons (illithiliches) and vampire illithids for instance) so well, I thought I might try my hand at writing a few of those "attempts at making non-humanoid mind flayers"! Another big inspiration for this post was definitely the line of Alien toys by Kenner, which included a number of xenomorphs that had taken over non-human life. Oh also technically there is another mind flayer with a non-human host in the tzakandi which is a mind flayer in a lizardman, but its kinda boring if I'm completely honest. 

The urophion mentioned above... I wanna say this is from 3e? Love the colors and the horrid little mouth!

Alternative title for this post: d8 Mind Failures. This was going to be d12 but it has been taking me a bit too long to write.

1: Illithox: An attempt at developing an illithid to infiltrate human societies unnoticed, the illithox is a looming monstrous thing of an only loosely bovine inspiration. The host creature, the humble cow, was too large for a single larval mind flayer to take control of the whole body on its own, and so a second was introduced to speed along the process. This has resulted in a two-headed beast, long stiff necks tipped with tentacular heads jutting out from front and back. It groans incessantly, its back weighed down by a large udder-like growth that produces a sweet jelly that is sometimes used as bait by other mind flayers. The two heads of the illithox can oftentimes come to disagreements, and it is not uncommon for an illithox head to request being removed from its body so that it won't be around the other head anymore.

So I only found out after writing this that there already is
a gnome illithid but I think my attempt is distinct enough
2: Half Brain: Although the small races (halflings, gnomes, leprechauns, etc) are of a similar form to humanity, when a mind flayer larva is inserted into their skull, it finds little in the way of body matter to work with. The product is a half brain: an engorged mass of tentacles and valves with only the most vestigial of humanoid bodies hanging on like a skin tag. They move very slowly and are relatively dim witted since they lack a body to sustain them. They can reach the heights of mind flayer intelligence only shortly after feeding, their oversized brains filled with nutrients that steadily dwindle down, leaving them dumber until their next feast.

3: Calcium Creature: The rust monster is an ubiquitous presence in the dungeon ecosystem, its unique mouthparts and feathery tendrils adapted to melt away metal at the gentlest of touches. When a mind flayer takes control of these insectoid beasts, their rusting mouthparts are twisted into corrosive bonesaws that melt away calcium to leave the underlying organs defenseless. The carapace of the calcium creature is a lavender purple speckled with pale white spots, its long mandibles wrapping around limbs and heads and leaving them soft and flimsy.

4: The Colony: A desperate mind flayer larva, abandoned in the wilderness, comes across an underground maze of naked mole rat tunnels and nests. Crawling within, the wriggling thing finds the abode of the colony's queen, sliding into her mouth and taking root. What emerges is a mound of wrinkly flesh, its limbs turned vestigial, a circle of tentacles tipping its nose. The new mind flayer mole rat's psychic field takes control of the other rodents, already evolved for a eusocial existence, and bends them into a powerful colony united by one ur-mind. The colony hides beneath the surface of the earth, sometimes emerging as a many-limbed mass of earth puppeteered by the mole rats under the sway of their mind flayer queen.

5: Cerebroid Birther: In the depths of hot jungles dwells the pipa pipa, a strange little frog with a flat appearance and a unique style of birth. The female pipa pipa lays eggs which the male then forces into the female's back, the skin growing over them to keep them protected until it is time for them to hatch. When a larval mind flayer takes control of the pipa pipa, it uses these adaptations to its advantage. Although sex matters little to the mind flayer, the cerebroid birther comes in two forms: a wide limbless egg-holding form that crawls about on a ring of wriggling toes on its underside, and a slim egg-placing form with long and surprisingly strong forelimbs. Both forms produce partial larvae as clones of themselves, with the egg-placing form inserting them into the back of the egg-holding form. These partial larvae are little more than a brain with a flagellum, able to produce a slight telekinetic field that allows them to fly through the air when released from the back of the egg-holder. When the partial larvae are in the back of the egg-holder, it is also able to fly in the air, and can use the collective telekinesis to lift large objects, sometimes with the assistance of the strong forelimbs of its "mate", although this telekinesis dissipates as the larvae are launched.

6: Postoina: One of the more common variant mind flayers, the postoina is born from a larva inserted into the body of the olm, a pale and eyeless cave salamander ubiquitous in the wet caverns beneath the earth. Its pale purple skin is drawn tight on its frail bones, its head a perfectly smooth shield over a wide mouth filled with small teeth and a mass of flailing growths. Those growths are the center of the postoina's psionic power, able to cause hallucinations strong enough in the minds of creatures within a certain distance of it. Often, the postoina tricks the viewer into seeing it as much larger than itself, and as breathing a poisonous fume that can ignite easily. Because of this, the postoina is sometimes called a mind flayer dragon, but in reality the thing itself is rather small and physically weak.

7: Blattobrain: A last-ditch attempt to save whole societies of mind flayers from utter destruction, the blattobrain is a cockroach (multiple varieties of which are ubiquitous in subterranean environs) bred to large sizes and taken over by a cloying illithid larva. Dungeon cockroaches are kept as a foodstuff for the juicy mammals and reptiles that illithids eat, but during intense societal collapse the elder brains can ordain to force new larvae into especially large specimens in order to relocate. Found in massive swarms that carpet every surface as far as the eye can see, blattobrains carry their elder brain masters upon their backs, protecting the relocating society with a collective psychic blast that can put the victim to sleep. They are able to collaborate and form vaguely humanoid shapes in a pinch as well, but do not rely on that ability, instead focusing on relocating the elder brains to a new home.

8: Kavalrax: The mind flayers are fascinated by the phenomenon of otyugh intelligence, the beasts' large stumbling bodies endowed with the gift of telepathy and a mild sapience. Born from a larval illithid inserted into an otyugh, the kavalrax is a creature torn from its natural environment. The otyugh, like the cow, is too large for a single mind flayer to control, but this issue is compounded even more by the otyugh's mind already being endowed with mild psychic ability. No matter how many illithids take control of the bottom feeder's body, its mind will remain in the dark recesses, able to send out psychic screams or periodically take over the body's tentacular limbs. As a result of the uncertain control the mind flayer has over the kavalrax body and the disgust that mind flayers have for the otyugh's home in refuse and sewage, the kavalrax is typically held in a tight metal cage, kept absolutely clean and perfumed, only able to walk around when allowed.