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

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

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.


Displacer beast, and the normalisation of the bizarre

On Sundays I normally post a monster illustration I’ve made to use in Dungeons & Dragons. Today’s monster is a displacer beast:

One of the things this monster got me thinking about is how the most bizarre monsters in D&D can become normalised. It’s basically a panther with six legs and clawed tentacles, but any seasoned player is going to know what makes this monster tricky to deal with. Displacer beasts are based on extraterrestrials called Coeurl, featured in the work of sci-fi author A. E. van Vogt. In his writing, humans who first encounter them don’t realise that they’re dangerous or even sentient. I think in D&D it can be hard to recreate this kind of situation with seasoned players if you’re using monsters from official books. Dylan has suggested using some features from Dungeon Crawl Classics, which allow the DM to generate monsters with random features so that the players can’t predict the creature’s behaviour. (If you can get a hold of the DCC core rulebook, check out the section called, ‘Making Monsters Mysterious’.)

My enemy’s enemy is my friend?

On Easter Monday I ran a short Dungeons & Dragons adventure, Drums in the Marsh, which I mentioned last week.

What I found interesting was the question of who you can work with. If you have a good charcater can you cooperate with a evil character? (I touched on this when I was talking about nonviolence in D&D.

The series of adventures deals with the Cult of the Dragon, who are trying to summon Tiamat, the god of evil dragons. In this particular adventure, a black dragon who is part of the cult has deposed a lizard king and taken over leadership of three lizardfolk tribes. The dragon, Thostugrael, was making the lizardfolk raid nearby farms to work out which tribe’s chief should be Thostugrael’s representative among the lizardfolk. During the adventure, the players disovered that the lizard king’s successor Bogclaw was still around, getting ready to try and taken back the throne. The players had to work out whether they were okay with helping Bogclaw, knowing that lizard kings and queens tend to get their power from a demonic patron. Even so, with Bogclaw in charge, the lizardfolk would probably stick to their marsh, rather than raiding farms or helping summon an evil dragon queen…

Plesiosaurs and milk demons

On Sundays I nromally post an illustration I’ve made for the Dungeons & Dragons games I run. Today’s is a plesiosuarus, which I made for the short adventure I ran on Monday’s public holiday.

Most of the adventure involved lizardfolk, and I realised that a lizardfolk shaman could summon a plesiosaur, which would pose a pretty serious challenge. At the end of the encounter, one of the players said, ‘We killed Nessie!’

I had a look into the history of Loch Ness Monster sightings, which have in modern times been described as similar to plesiosaurus. The earliest report, recorded in the Sixth Century CE, tells of St Columba visiting encountering a ‘water beast’ and rebuking with the sign of the cross it when it threatened one of his followers. The same text, volume two of Vitae Columbae, describes the Irish monk exorcising a demon from a bucket of milk. Could this be an idea for a new D&D monster?

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.

Ordinary monsters

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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