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


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.


The nurturing crocodile

On Sundays I normally post a monster illustration that I’ve made for Dungeons & Dragons games that I run. Today’s illustration is of a crocodile. In our society (particularly in Australia, where now and then someone is eaten by a crocodile) crocodiles are feared as monsters.


In ancient Egyptian society they were seen differently. They were respected as fearsome predators, but they were also associated with fertility and admired for the way they take care of their young – something that most reptiles don’t do. I wonder if there are any ways that this could be reflected in a game? (I have an idea that I’d like to try out, so when I’ve tried it out I’ll write about it to let you know how it went.

Frozen flame elemental

On Sundays I’ve been posting monster illustrations I’ve made for Dungeons and Dragons games I run. For the last few weeks it’s been monsters I’ve made or adapted, so I’ve also been including stat blocks. Today’s monster is a frozen flame elemental that I’ve made for the adventure I’ve been running over Twitter. You can download a PDF of the stat block, along with a bit of background, here. Let me know if you have any feedback.



On Sundays I’ve been publishing a monster illustration that I’ve made for Dungeons & Dragons games I run. Today I have another one that I’ve made up for the adventure I’ve been running over Twitter. With the alchemicats I wanted to create a monster that wasn’t a real threat but would just be annoying. It’s a monster that needs to be rescued, but doesn’t want to be rescued. It’s a monster that will attack adventurers, but which they need to bring back alive.

If you’d like to try this monster out, there’s a file here with stats and a bit of story. Let me know if you have any feedback.

Hydrous creeper

On Sundays I’ve been posting illustrations that I’ve been using in Dungeons & Dragons games that I’ve been running. Today I’m posting one that I’ve made for the experimental adventure I’ve been running over Twitter. I call this a hydrous creeper:

You can download the stat block and a short description here. If you try it out in your own game, let me know what you think.

Beware: Frog

On Sundays I’ve been publishing monster illustrations that I’ve been making for Dungeons and Dragons games that I’ve been running. Today’s illustration is a giant toad. Now when I came to drawing this I was thinking, Giant toad, what the hells is that? I find a lot of the giant animals in D&D a bit hard to take seriously. Reflecting more on the giant toad, I have noticed that it is more interesting than I initially thought.

As I reflected a bit on the idea of a giant toad as a monster I started to wonder about how you might end up with a giant toad. One of the things about frogs is that they are very sensitive to changes in their environment – particularly water pollution. If there are plenty of frogs around that is a sign that they water is healthy. This line of thought got me wondering, What if the giant toad is a mutation caused by water pollution? Or what if the giant toad is nature’s vengeance against civilisation for polluting the environment?

Another thought that came to mind was ‘The Gitrog Monster’, a recent card from Magic: The Gathering. The card basically represents a giant poisonous frog that destroys your lands.
I had a read of ‘Sacrifice’, the short story written by Michael Yichao about this particular giant frog and that has given me some ideas too. The story starts off with fishers’ tales, about horrors that might be lurking under the water’s surface. I think the story helped me recognise that a monster which might not seem so impressive can be really dangerous if there are enough villagers who are afraid of it…


Update: Here’s someone else’s attempt to translate the Gitrog to D&D.

What I’ve learned from #DungeonDrawingDudes

During February I participated in the #DungeonDrawingDudes challenge. For each day of the month there was a prompt for a D&D themed drawing. I’ve found it to be a big challenge. I’ve been stretched by it. I’ve enjoyed seeing what everyone’s contributed. I thought I’d post a few things I’ve learned and one thing that I would change.

I’ve learned to turn stuff around quick
Earlier in the year I had already set myself a challenge to draw something to each week to use in my own D&D campaigns. The daily challenges really intensified that challenge and meant that I really needed to get into a rhythm of producing daily. I subscribe to the idea that if you want to get creative work done you just need to get into the momentum of producing, even if what you’re producing isn’t the best. The discipline of finishing something sub-par can help you follow through into something decent.

I’ve learned how to draw figures better
In response to someone else’s contribution on Instagram one day I mentioned that I hate hands because I don’t know how to draw them well. In response I was told that I should channel my hatred of hands into learning to do them. I’ve often said that I’m not good at drawing figures acurately, that I’m not good at getting proportions right or drawing arms that look like they would work properly. I’ve hidden behind the fact that my signature style is pretty abstract. The idea that I should put energy into learning these things properly really inspired me. What I ended up doing to improve was downloading a couple of apps that allow you to manipulate anatomical models, and I used this to help me draw more realistic figures for a number of my contributions. (I still did plenty in my regular style.)

I’ve learned to look at earlier editions for ideas
I’ve played a little bit of 3rd Edition, Pathfinder and Labyrinth Lord, but most of my experience with D&D is of 5th Edition, and I doubt I’ll ever go back to early versions of D&D. However, there is so much creative contentavailable in the earlier editions which could be adapted for 5th Edition. I appreciated having the challenge of drawing an arachnomancer from 3rd Edition, and think it’d be intersting to adapt to 5th Edition. I’m also keen to have a look through other content from earlier editions for ideas.

I’ve learned to be creative and not just do stuff like it is in the Monster Manual
I noticed that some some of the challenges got a bit dull. I got up to the drider challenge and was thoroughly uninspired until I came up with the idea of giving the drider many eyes, making it’s elven fact look more mad and spiderlike.

What I’d change: the name
The one thing I’d change about this challenge is the name. I know what some people use ‘dude’ as a nongendered term, but a lot of people do see ‘dude’ as a masculine noun. I think that if a clearly non-gendered name was used, like #DungeonDrawingDorks, we’d see a more diverse range of contributors.

If you’d like to use my illustrations in your game, the files are here. (Please don’t publish them elsewhere without my permission though.)

If you’d like to republish any of the illustrations, or if you’d like to commission some illustrations for your own game, shoot me an email.

The challenge continues in March: