Zygmunt Bauman, social division and flesh golems

A couple of weeks ago I was reading Zygmunt Bauman’s book Community – Seeking Safety in an Insecure World in preparation for a book review. It was the same week that I first tried streaming my illustration process on Twitch. In a conversation with my friend Nicholas Moll (from Owlman Press) I mentioned that once I’d finished reading Bauman for the night I’d probably jump on Twitch and start drawing requests. Nick suggested I draw a flesh golem, and somehow we ended up with the idea of a Zygmunt Bauman flesh golem. (A flesh golem is basically Frankenstein’s monster – a person made from the parts of deceased people and animated through the power of ‘science’.)


I decided to draw the Zygmunt Bauman flesh golem with a third eye surgically added in the middle of his head, suggesting that his mind has been awakened. In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the ‘monster’ is more enlightened than the scientist who created him by the end of the novel. From reading Bauman’s book, I think he is also pretty awake to our current global situation. Bauman talks about how global elites have refashioned our society to suit their own ends. The problem is that because society has become very fragmented it is now very difficult to organise effectively. I think what my own country’s government is doing at the moment is exploiting some of these divisions through the public debate about marriage, in order to distract from the growing economic inequality, which I think is the real threat.

Here’s the Chant: Out of the Abyss

On Wednesdays I’ve been posting a roundup of content related to D&D and other roleplaying games. It’s on Wednesday anymore, and that’s because I’m finding my Wednesdays a bit too busy. I’m going to have a go at posting on Thursdays instead.

This week I thought I’d focus specifically on Out of the Abyss, and adventure that was published about two years ago, which I’m going to start running for my group next week. I’ll probably keep adding to this as I find more content on nthe Underdark, demon lords, madness, the drow, mindflayers. I can guarantee that this will contain spoilers, so if you’re looking forward to playing Out of the Abyss, you have been warned!

For players:

For players and dunegon masters:

For DMs:

  • ‘Out of the Abyss Walkthrough Poster’ Wizards of the Coast – Jason Thompson has illustrated a party of adventurers playing through Out of the Abyss. There are quite a few ideas here that could help you inject some humour into what could be a rather grim adventure.
  • ‘The Insanity of the N.P.C.’ Dragon+ – some crowd-sourced nonplayer characters to incorporate into your Out of the Abyss adventure, with illustrations by Richard Whitters
  • ‘Unearthed Arcana: Fiendish Options’ Wizards of the Coast – this playtest package includes lists of spells that different kinds of demon cultists would be likely to have
  • Tribality’s Out of the Abyss review – this review gives a pretty thorough overview of what’s in the adventure, as well as some thoughts about who this book is for and who should avoid it
  • Power Score’s Out of the Abyss review – the assessment here is that the book provides a lot of interesting NPCs and dungeons, but also requires a lot of planning and note-taking for the dunegon master
  • Power Score’s guide to Out of the Abyss – since Out of the Abyss requires a lot of notes to run, why not take advantage of these notes from Power Score?
  • Elven Tower’s guide to Out of the Abyss – more notes for dungeon masters
  • ‘A Guide to the Drow’ Power Score – more from Power Score? This blog just happens to publish a lot of great content, from across different editions of D&D. This article pulls together content about the dark elves of the Underdark.
  • ‘Out of the Abyss Needs More Mind Flayers!’ reddit/DnDBehindTheScreen – a lot of folks (myself included) were surprised at how little mind flayers feature in the books, especially since they were used to promote the story! This thread has some suggestions about how to involve them more in your own adventure.
  • ‘Mind Flayers Revisited’ The Monsters Know What They’re Doing – this post suggests that mind flayers as they are presented in 5th edition D&D don’t have the kind of stats and abilities that would allow them to achieve any of their schemes. It suggests some simple modifications that should make them a greater challenge.
  • ‘Survival Days’ Charm Person – Out of the Abyss involves a lot of walking through tunnels, often for weeks at a time. The published adventure presumes that characters will be foraging for food each day, which sounds tedious. This article looks at an alternative from the Dark Sun campaign setting.
  • ‘More Fungi for the Underdark’ Charm Person
  • ‘The Mock Dragon Turtle’, ‘Virnig the Dracopillar’, ‘The Similodon Cat’Charm Person – here we have some encounters based on scenes and characters from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which could be added to your Out of the Abyss adventure
  • ‘The Duchess’ Charm Person – another encounter based on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which allows you to incorporate Malcanthet, the demon lord of succubi, into your Out of the Abyss adventure
  • ‘Alternative Indefinite Madness Table’ reddit/DnDBehindTheScreen – here’s a madness table that will give your players some serious drawbacks
  • ‘NPC Companion System Idea’ Giant in the Playground – this forum post is about a system for simplifying NPC party members – because you’ll probably have a lot of them to manage if you run this adventure

My content:

Here are some creatures I’ve drawn recently, which you might expect to find in the Under dark – a quaggoth, a kuo-toa, a myconid, a rust monster and a grick:

Here’s the Chant: Tomb of Annihilation goes to Eberron and a Spiderman rogueish archetype

Each week I aim to publish a roundup of content related to 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons, and tabletop roleplaying games in general. Here’s this week’s post:

For players and dungeon masters:

  • Skum of the Stars Owlman Press via RPGNow – the core edition of Skum of the Stars, as well as the first issue of SkumMag have just been released. This looks like a very flexible sci-fantasy rule system, and I’m hoping to try it out soon. (I’m also working on illustrations for Owlman’s Phantasmagoria.)
  • ‘A Guide to D&D Coins’ Dungeon Master’s Workshop – ever need to know how many coins it would take to fill a treasure chest?
  • ‘State of Race in the Tabletop Gaming Hobby’ Youtube – Timothy Sherman talks about his experience of racism at the gaming table. People should not have to put up with slurs at the table.

For players:

  • ‘Fey-touched Backgrounds’ Tribality – this post provides a couple of backgrounds you could use if you’re making a character who has been influenced by fey magic
  • ‘Arachnoid Stalker’ Middle Finger of Vecna – here’s a rogueish archetype that seems to be inspired by Spiderman

For dungeon masters:

My content:

Here’s the Chant: Al-Qadim, murder hobos and other disruptive player types

Each Wednesday I’m posting a roundup of content related to Dungeons & Dragons and other roleplaying games. It’s basically whatevery I’ve found this week that I think is interesting, along with some of my own content at the end.

For players and dungeon masters:

  • ‘How This RPG Classic Helped Lift a Depressive Episode’ Optimistic Despite It All – this article looks at how trying out D&D helped get the writer off the couch and interacting with others on the weekend
  • ‘RPG Legends: Al-Qadim’ LitRPG Reads – this article details the history of the Al-Qadim setting (subsetting within the Forgotten Realms inspired by the Middle East)
  • @RichardWhitters – Richard Whitters is the senior art director for D&D, and he’s just recently started posting regularly on Twitter, often sharing artwork he’s done for D&D and Magic: The Gathering. If you’re not already, you should follow him.

For players:

  • ‘Clerics of Thor’ Kobold Press – here are some domains that clerics of the Norse god Thor might use, along with some new spells

For dungeon masters:

My recent content:

  • ‘Yuan-ti and Snake Symbolism’ – last week the party I DM for met a yuan-ti cult for the first time
  • I’ve been trying to find ways to share my drawing process online, so I posted an accelerated video of myself drawing and orc. I’ve also been trying out streaming my drawing process over Twitch, and I think I’ll find a regular time to do that. Here are some drawings I’ve done while streaming on Twitch this week. You can use them with your RPG group if you like.

Yuan-ti and snake symbolism

This post has spoilers about a Dungeons & Dragons adventure from In Volo’s Wake.

* * *

On Wednesday nights I’ve been running a D&D campaign, and this week we had our third session. I’ve been using the scenarios from In Volo’s Wake (but I’ve also been mixing in some content from Lost Mine of Phandelver). Last night the party investigated what the yuan-ti were doing in the quarry near Old Owl Well. The yuan-ti are humanoids who worship snake gods. Through foul rituals, they have been modified into terrible, snakelike forms. In the adventure, the yuan-ti have captured inexperienced adventurers, who they plan to transform into yuan-ti.

Snake symbolism in European societies seems to be dominated by the snake from the Garden of Eden, which originates in the Hebrew scripture and but been reinterpreted in Christian thought. It’s often associated with evil, temptation and trickery – but it could also be associated with hidden knowledge. We could look at the story as being about humans choosing their own path and the conflict that causes with their creator.

Snakes can also be associated with rebirth or regeneration because of their ability to slough off their old skin and emerge with a shiny new skin. In the Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh, it is the snake who possesses the secret of immortality. In paradox, many snakes are also poisonous. So they could be understood as having power over life and death.

I’d say the portrayal of the yuan-ti picks up more of the negative aspects of snake symbolism – evil and the temptation of hidden knowledge. In our game on Wednesday I also wanted to bring out some of the idea of rebirth. A kind of rebirth occurs when a humanoid is turned into a yuan-ti, or when a yuan-ti turns into a more powerful form.

When the players were getting close to freeing all the prisoners, I had a yuan-ti abomination turn up (I have a great abomination miniature that I wanted to use) and invite Sardior the dragonborn paladin to join the yuan-ti and be reborn. Sardior rejected the invitation, so the abomination cast the spell ‘suggestion’ on Sardior, instructing him to kill Kwinn, the half-elf warlock… I let Saridor repeat the Wisdom saving throw each turn (even though the spell isn’t supposed to allow that) and he did manage to beat it before he was able to attack Kwinn. I didn’t want him to actually kill the mage, but I wanted the party to get the idea that they could be corrupted by the yuan-ti.

If you want to read more about snake symbolism in mythology, I’d suggest reading James Charlesworth’s book The Good and Evil Serpent.

Here’s the Chant: Phantasmagoria, Off the Table, magical corruption

I’ve recently been getting back into the habit of posting a roundup of D&D and other roleplaying game content each Wednesday. Here’s this week’s roundup:

For players and dungeon masters:

For dungeon masters:

My recent content:

  • ‘Total Party Kill’ – last week I ran a one-shot where two level one characters ventured into the jungles of Chult…
  • ‘Poverty or Subsistence?’ – in the same one-shot the adventurers also visited the community of Malar’s Throat, and I wondered if the community was actually poor or just outside the cash economy
  • ‘Player Death’ Off the Table part 1 part 2 – on Friday I joined a discussion with some other DMs about the role of death in D&D
  • I’ve also been working on some icons for a new tabletop roleplaying game from Owlman Press called Phantasmagoria. Here are some of the ones I like most so far: 

Here’s the Chant: Tomb of Annihilation, feathered serpents and Hogwarts

I’m trying to get back into the habit of drawing toegther a weekly digest of content related to roleplaying games (particularly 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons). Tomb of Annihilation is already available some places, so I’ve included a couple of links to related articles.

For players:

For players and dungeon masters:

For dungeon masters:

  • ‘A Guide to Tomb of Annihilation’ Power Score – extensive notes (with page numbers) for running Tomb of Annihilation
  • Dragons Conquer America: The Coatli Stone Quickstart – Dragons Conquer America appears to be a tabletop roleplaying game about the European invasion of the Americas, featuring dragons and feathered serpents. This free introductory adventure is a promo for their upcoming Kickstarter campaign. I’m interested to see how they navigate colonial history and indigenous cultural knowledge. I’m be interested in having a go at running this, so I’ve done a drawing of a feathered serpent that I could use: 
  • ‘Couatl Tactics’ The Monsters Know What They’re Doing – this article suggests how a couatl (feathered serpent) might behave in combat
  • ‘What’s the Goblin Doing’ Raging Swan Press – here are some suggestions about what activities goblins might be doing when your party finds them
  • ‘Mystic College’ Tribality – this article looks at how to run a game with a feel similar to the Harry Potter series
  • ‘Mission to Sewertopia’ Elf Maids and Octopi – this post contains one hundred missions that players could pursue in the sewers beneath a fantasy city
  • ‘Village Backdrop: Farrav’n’ Raging Swan Press – this post features a village that could be included in a desert setting, including a couple of maps
  • ‘I’m Not Going to Let You Do That’ Medium – this article presents some reasons why a dungeon master might stop a player from doing particular things in the game

Content I’ve published recently:

  • ‘Repeating D&D Adventures’ – I’ve recently run a few different versions of the same scenarios from In Volo’s Wake, and I’ve found that’s been a good opportunity to improve my adventures.

Running Vault of the Dracolich

Today I was involved in running Vault of the Dracolich at Games Lab in Melbourne.

Vault of the Dracolich was a multi-table adventure originally released for the Dungeons & Dragons Next playtest, which eventually became Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition. You can purchase the adventure on the Dungeon Master’s Guild here. It was originally designed for four tables, each with a different party starting in a different part of the dungeon, but I think we were running it with about 18 tables of players. As you can imagine, there were a lot of opportunities for players to run into each other and team up against monsters and cultists. I thought I’d write up some of my highlights as a dungeon master today:

A deadline to brush up on the rules

A lot of the time when I’ve been running games I haven’t been certain about particular rules and so I’ve just fudged things. It’s okay to do that, but I wouldn’t feel great about doing that at an event. I’ve meant for a while to make a list of important, basic rules that I’m not clear on and make sure I learn them properly. This event was a good incentive to do that. I’ll probably post something more detailed about that in the next few days.

Spreading of (dis)information in game 

The premise of this adventure is that the adventurers have been sent into the dungeon to get some maguffins so they can get another maguffin. Their patron has given one member of each group a crown that allows them to communicate with the other groups. (We let the person with the crown go and visit other tables to share information.) It was interesting to see this information sharing in action. For example, our group started off in an area inhabited by lizardfolk. The lizardfolk had agreed to let our party pass if they could eat their bodies when if they died. So our party passed the information on, and it eventually as shared back to us. Members of our party also spread some false information about green crystals that were found in one area having magical properties, which led to another adventurer trying to eat crystals…

Three simultaneous hydra battles

We had three parties arrive in the hydra’s den at once, so we had a short conference between the three DMs and decided to run three different versions of the same battle. Our reasoning was that running one battle with all of our players would be too easy for the players. Two of the parties had used a magical portal to travel to the hydra’s den, so we said that something strange had happened while they’d travelled, and they ended up in the same space but on different time lines to each other and to the party that was already in the area. They could see the other parties fighting other instances of the same hydra, but we didn’t let them assist neighbouring parties until they’d dealt with their own version of the hydra. (I’d suggested that we could have just had one hydra with three times as many heads, but in hindsight I think that would have been really slow to manage and not very fun.)

Holding back an undead horde

At the end of the game we rearranged all of the tables, and gave each table a task that was part of a large, epic battle. The party I ended up with was trying to hold back a horde of 28 undead, so that they undead couldn’t get to the other end of the room to reinforce a group of dark priests another party was fighting. I used a whole lot of different zombie, skeleton and vampire minis (cardboard Pathfinder minis, my own cardboard minis, plastic Magic: The Gathering minis), but they actually all had the stats of either skeletons or mummies. Because I wasn’t being clear exactly what kind of undead they were (and because there were so many) most of my players were pretty cautious about fighting them. 
Laser-cut minis

Because I’m an illustrator, I often illustrate my own miniatures, which I print out myself. For this event Games Lab were laser-cutting a whole lot of miniatures out of wood, so that players and dungeon masters could all be supplied with the miniatures we’d need. Because there aren’t a lot of aquatic snake designs around and I had drawn an aquatic snake to use at my table, Games Lab ended up using my design. I’m pretty happy with how it turned out, especially since I hadn’t designed it with laser-cutting in mind.


Getting to play with a lot of different dungeon masters and players

I think the best thing about this event was that it was a great opportunity to play with a lot of different DMs and players. Often we stick to our own groups, which have their strengths, but having an event where players were constantly changing tables, where tables were joining together when they met, and where DMs had to work together allows for the creation of a really rich story. It was also kind of helpful when tables joined up together being able to throw to the other DM rather than having to make every call or have the stats for every monster ready to go.

#DungeonDrawingDudes – Week 4

For the last three weeks, I’ve been participating in the #DungeonDrawingDudes challenge. For each day in July, there’s a suggested Dungeons & Dragons creature to draw. If you have a look on Instagram, you can see what everyone’s contributed. I’ve put my contributions here, and you’re welcome to use them in your games if you like them.

I already wrote about my thoughts on day 22’s challenge.

I like drawing gnomes:

sewer-dwelling gnome

I haven’t been drawing bugbears as often as gnomes, but I’ve also been becoming fond of drawing bugbears:

bugbear shaman