Owlbear illustrations and alternative origins

On Sundays I’ve generally been posting some of my illustrations, which can be used for miniatures in Dungeons & Dragons and other tabletop roleplaying games. This week @sethnidilaw mentioned on Twitter that he and his kids like seeing my drawings each week. So I asked if his kids would like to choose some monsters that I could present as options for this week. Folks ended up voting for owlbears, so here are a couple of owlbear drawings:

2 owlbears

As you can see, one of them isn’t like a standard owlbear – it has fully-formed wings. I’ve been thinking about how to alter the stats for a regular owlbear, to make it a majestic, flying owlbear. I think I’d give it a flying speed of 60 feet, less hit points (to reflect a lighter creature, with a flying ability), as well as decreating strength and increasing dexterity. This is @sethnidilaw and his daughter’s take on the magestic owlbear:


(If you’ve got any suggestions, let us know in the comments.)

While I was drawing these I was thinking about the origins of owlbears. It seems like most editions of Dungeons & Dragons suggest that owlbears were probably created by a wizard. But what other possibilities are there? (Some of these are a bit odd. But may I remind you that we’re talking about owlbears?)

  1. Mutation caused by a magical accident – owlbears could conceivably have been created by wild magic, or by fallout from a magical, industrial disaster (a fantasy equivalent of a nuclear meltdown)
  2. Missing evolutionary link – if you’re up for something absurd or surreal in your setting, you could suggest that owlbears are the common evolutionary ancestor of both owls and bears
  3. Polymorph chaos – sometimes, when an owl and a bear really love each other… Okay that’s a silly idea. But if you wanted to go with it, you could say that an owlbear is a bear who had a ancestor who was an owl polymorphed as a bear. (Similar to how tieflings, aasimar and genasi’s odd appearances reflect their planar heritage.)
  4. Planar influence – in issue #12 of Dragon+, Adam Lee described a pocket dimension inhabited mainly by cats. What if there were also similar dimensions for bears or owls? Maybe an owl who had grown up in a bear dimension, or a bear who had grown up in an owl dimension would become something like an owlbear?
  5. Fey origin – the 5th edition Monster Manual suggests that owlbears may have come from the Feywild, where it’s said that they’ve always existed

A foot in each world

On Sundays I’ve been posting some illustrations I’ve made for use in Dungeons & Dragons and other fantasy roleplaying games, based on what folks on Twitter choose for me. This week tieflings were chosen, so here are three I’ve drawn, representing three of the factions (Dustmen, Athar and Anarchists) from the Planescape setting:

3 tieflings

Tieflings have become a staple of D&D, but when they first appeared in the Planescape Boxed Set they were a fair bit different to the current 5th edition. Some of them have goat legs or spikes or scaly skin. In The Planewalker’s Handbook there is a one-page table to generate random tiefling features. It gives more of a sense that a tiefling could have any kind of bizarre planar heritage. In contrast, 5th Edition tieflings seem to all be pretty similar. (To be fair, Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide explains why they all look similar in the world of Faerun, and also allows for more diverse tieflings.)

Back to what I like about Planescape is that the diverse appearances suggest to me that although tieflings are often distrusted because of their fiendish heritage and appearances, they can’t all be put in the same box. A neat stereotype can’t be so easily applied. This line of though got me wondering about how the fiends see tieflings – do they see them as suspicious, just like humans do?

Dinosaurs, and some adventures to put them in

On Sundays I’ve been posting some illustrations I’ve made to use in roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons. Last week folks on Twitter voted for me to do some dinosaur illustrations, and I said I’d include some zombie dinosaurs. (The upcoming D&D adventure Tomb of Annihilation involves zombie dinosaurs.) So here’s a regualr version and a zombie version of a hadrosaurus and an ankylosaurus:


I noticed that Trash Mobs has also been designing some dinosaur miniatures, including undead versions.

I’ve also been thinking about what kind of adventures could be run involving dinosaurs in the meantime, and I thought of a couple of ideas based on exisitng stories from outside D&D.

Based on Jurassic Park

A rich and eccentric circus operator has set up a dinosaur park on an island off the Sword Coast, for the viewing pleasure of the aristocracy. Of course, everything’s gone wrong – perhaps magical wards keeping the beasts in their enclosures have failed. He needs some adventurers to go into the park to find and rescue any staff and visitors who’ve survived. Some of the adventurers might actually be rangers, alchemists or wizards who’ve been working at the dinosaur park. Alternatively, some of the dinosaurs may have escaped and begun to wreak havoc in settlements on the mainland.

I think an important theme to pick up on in this kind of adventure would be the failure of human and technological systems to contain wild nature.

Based on Terra Nova

I think there was a lot that didn’t work with the show Terra Nova, but I think the general idea could provide a seed for a story. I’d imagine a scenrio set after the Tyranny of Dragons storyline, where Tiamat and the Cult of Dragons now rule over the Sword Coast. A small group of survivors has fled to the ends of the earth, to Chult. They attempt to set up a colony among the dinosaurs in the jungle. But not everyone will agree about how the community should live together.
Another resource that I think would be useful in running this kind of adventure is the artwork from James Gurney’s Dinotopia books, which portray humans living among dinosaurs in a premodern setting rather than a futuristic setting.


Illustration by James Gurney

Svirfneblin

On Sundays I’m normally posting some illustrations I’ve made to use in roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons. This time folks on Twitter voted for svirfneblin (deep gnomes), so here are some svirfneblin from Out of the Abyss: (a svirfneblin mage, a svirfneblin priest and a svirfneblin ghost):


Svirfneblin are gnomes who live deep under the earth, in search of precious gems. Deep gnomes have to be resilient because their love for gems calls them to live in such a harsh environment. They have a reputation for being very serious and hard-working. Even so, in the midst of the darkness and confinement of the earth, the svirfneblin find ways to celebrate and recreate.

My experience has been that when you’re working in a difficult environment it’s really important to be able to find ways to recreate an celebrate. Can you find things to celebrate in the midst of difficulty?


Need your own character or monster illustrated? Send me an email.

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Slaadi and hybrididity

On Sundays I’ve been posting illustrations I’ve made to use in RPGs like D&D. I’ve started determining what I draw using a Twitter poll, and this week slaadi have been chosen. Here is my illustration of a red slaad, a blue slaad and a green slaad:
3 slaad

(I expect I’ll come back to these, and add the grey slaad and death slaad at some stage.)

The slaadi are beings from the plane of limbo, which is a chaotic mess of different elements. The look like bipedal, reptilian toads with sharp teeth and claws. One of the things I find most interesting about them is their origin story. They were actually created by Primus, the god of the lawful neutral modron race, in an attempt to bring order to Limbo. instead of bringing order to the chaotic plane, Primus’ intervention created rigidly hierarchical of chaotic neutral beings: the slaadi.

I think it’s often tempting to think we know what is best, and to think we can improve things by recreating others in our own image – seeing them as a blank slate for ourselves to work with. i don’t think this normally goes to plan. folks might take on some of what we direct at them, but merge it with their own identity. in postcolonial studies, Homi Bhabha talks about this as ‘hybridity’ – colonised people will take on the culture of the colonisers, but also find ways of subverting it by mixing it with their own culture. Something like this is has happened in the creation of the slaadi – Primus thought he would bring order to a foreign plane, but instead his intervention created a new chaotic neutral race, who nevertheless reflected the modrons’ rigid hierarchy.

 

Myconids and the illusion of self

On Sundays I normally post some illustrations I’ve made to use in roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons. I’ve started asking folks to vote onm Twitter about what I should draw, and today I’ve drawn some myconid sprouts:


Myconids are vaguely humanoid, fungal creatures that live in communities beneath the earth. Sprouts are the youngest members of a myconid community. Myconids don’t speak, but communicate by exchanging spores. Through these spores they can meld their minds into a communal consciousness. Myconids see this kind of connection as the purpose of their existance. Their selfless, collectivist mindset means are often happy to shelter adventurers who are exploring the Underdark.

A few years ago I spent some time learning about the teaching of the Buddha. My understanding is that he taught that the self is an illusion – that we create artificial boundaries between our selves and others, between ourselves and our environment. Much as that concept blew my mind, it’s not easy to keep in mind. If we want to be conscious of our interconnection with everything else, I think we need to make intentional time to reflect on it and observe the connections.

Australian megafauna for D&D

On Sundays I normally post illustrations I’ve made to use in Dungeons & Dragons games. The last two weeks I’ve tried out asking folks on Twitter to vote on what I should draw.


This week I’ve drawn some extinct Australian megafauna, and I’ll include some suggestions about stats.

Diprotodon This was a giant relative of wombats and koalas. I’d use the stats for a brown bear.


Palorchestes This was a marsupial tapir. I’d use the stats for a giant badger.


Thylaceo carnifex This was a marsupial lion. I’d use the stats for a panther.


Quinkana This was a giant, terrestrial crocodile. I’d use the stats for a giant crocodile, with some simple modifications. I’d remove the 50 foot swim speed, but I’d make it’s land speed 50 feet. I’d also remove it’s ‘Hold Breath’ ability.


Quinkana is named after quinkin –  spirits from Aboriginal stories. I think there’s a lot of Aboriginal stories that would be interesting to use in D&D. I know there are discussions of this online, but I think there are problems with people who aren’t Aboriginal doing this. (I’ll see if I can post a bit about that later.)

Fey possum for Dungeons & Dragons

Yesterday when I was asking what kind of monsters I should draw this weekend, the two more popular options were fey and forest beasts. @MichaelCayne suggested that I should do a forest beast with fey origins. (Basically, forest creature that originates in the Feywild.) I said I would, but when I was thinking about what to do I was aware that I’d like to do some kind of Australian animal, since there aren’t any uniquely Australian creatures in 5th Edition. When I thought of options, the I thought the most obvious option was to do a fey possum, based on the possum from Mem Fox’s picture book, Possum Magic.
How do I imagine this monster working? You’ll be able to see that the possum has the ability to turn invisible, but only turns visible again if it eats a vegemite sandwich, pavlova and a lamington – like Hush the possum in the book. It might be that an invisible fey possum asks some adventurers for help finding these items to that it can become visible again.

Fey Possum

Small fey, neutral good

STR 7 (-2)    DEX 15 (+2)    CON 11 (+0)    INT 10 (+0)     WIS 13 (+1)    CHA 11 (+0)

Challenge Rating: 1/4 (50 XP)

Armor Class: 12

Hit Points: 7 (2d6)

Speed: 30 ft. (climb 30 ft.)

Senses: Darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 10.

Languages: Common, Sylvan, Elvish


Fey Ancestry. The possum has advantage on saving throws against being charmed, and magic can’t put the drow to sleep.

Innate Spellcasting. The possum’s spellcasting ability is Wisdom (spell save DC 11). It can innately cast the following spells, requiring no material components:

At will: druidcraft

1/day each: charm person, goodberry

Keen Senses. The possum has advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on smell or hearing.


Actions

Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 1 piercing damage.

Invisibility. The possum magically turns invisible. Any equipment the sprite wears or carries is invisible with it. The possum only becomes visible again if it eats a vegemite sandwich, pavlova and a lamington.

Facing the bull

On Sundays I normally post a monster illustration I’ve made for Dungeons & Dragons games I run – but because yesterday was Easter Sunday I decided to hold this one till today. (I’ll probably be using it in the adventure I run at Games Lab today.) Today’s illustration is another more mundane monster: a bull.


Since ancient times many gods (Zeus, Dionysus, Mithras, Baal, El, Shiva) have been associated with bulls. Bulls have been understood to symbolise virility and fertility. In the ancient world fertility meant prosperity. If your crops grew well you’d prosper, if your livestock bred well you’d prosper.

It’s interesting that in our globalised society the bull has been retained as a symbol of economic prosperity. Tourists to New York City will often visit Arturo Di Modica’s sculpture Charging Bull (which represents the aggressive and unpredictable nature of the free market) and rub its testicles for good luck.
Last month, just before International Women’s Day, another sculpture, Kristen Visbal’s Fearless Girl was added, facing off with Charging Bull. It’s been interesting to see that the bull’s sculptor has been quite upset by the addition. Perhaps he’s unsure about the bull’s power?