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:
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?
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:
(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.
Each Sunday I’m publishing a monster illustration I’ve made for use in tabletop roleplaying games like Dungeons and Dragons or Pathfinder.
This week I’ve drawn a black dragon. (I used this to represent a black dragon wyrmling – a very young dragon – in our game yesterday.)
The breath of a black dragon is burning acid. Black dragons also enjoy witnessing the corrossion of civilisations. They collect precious artifacts from fallen societies.
In the current political situation in Australia, as the government seems to be falling apart day by day. It can be tempting for those of us who oppose the current government to gloat about the government’s problems. It might be sobering to consider what will be left of our society once the corrosion is complete?
You might be wondering why I’m posting a drawing of a fantastical creature on a blog called Ordinary Time. Fair enough! One of my working assumptions about stories, however fanciful or mundane they might be, is that they always have something to say about ordinary life. I’ll write a bit more about this tomorrow in a post about Dungeons and Dragons.
In the main D&D adventure that I’ve been running, the adventurers have previously encountered kobolds, which are considered to be a bit like small, unintelligent, cowardly dragons. What I’ve appreciated while reading the most recent D&D book, Volo’s Guide to Monsters, is that familiar monsters are described in much greater depth. Volo’s Guide suggests that kolbolds are part of a collectivist society, which is why one kobold might choose to fight aggressors alone, while their comrades escape. It might seem foolish to other creatures, but it might also ensure the survival of the wider group.
I’d say that rather than being alien to us, monsters are very human, and they invite us to explore the monstrous and alien aspects of our humanity.
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I’ve just today kicked off my Patreon page, where I’ll be posting weekly monster illustrations for folks to use in fantasy RPGs. Head over and become a supporter: patreon.com/ChrisABooth