An Engorged Chthonian

I made a fun encounter to run for a game I forgot to prepare for. I liked it so much that I decided to write it up and maybe write a few more D&D 5e Lovecraft bits.

Today, I’ve ran out of time! So here it is so far.

If anyone fancies having a go at drawing art for it, please do get in touch. I have always have a small art budget!

I like the idea of a bad guy that doesn’t just want to kill everything. This dude specifically needs the characters to remain alive, which means his combat style needs to change.

I’m playing through Baldur’s Gate 3 at the moment, which may have nudged me into reading through the Call of Cthulu rule books and inspired this. That game’s opening scenes are delightfully creepy.

You can grab the encounter here.

Hey. It’s so artless that I forgot to draw even a basic map. Here’s what it looked like on roll20.

Icons from 2minutetabletop.

Tavern Fare

I had a free afternoon and fancied fooling around with Affinity Publisher some more. I’d also spotted some of Leonardo Azevedo and Guilherme Gontijo‘s work, which got me excited about folded zines/leaflets. So, I decided to spend some time making a menu that you can give out to your players.

The meny comes with “serving suggestions” – DM notes about what each of the special food items do. It’s a way to spice up a character by giving them a short lived, potion-like perk. It also might be useful to drain some cash from characters who have enough money to start their own hoard.

This was quite fun because I did it whilst on a call with a few of my D&D friends, and got lots of different ideas from them all.

The art all came from the British Library, which has a huge selection of public domain images.

Lady Nine-Bone’s nine bones

I haven’t thought about The Medusa in a little while, so I’m unsure how much of this is homebrew and how much canon. Your mileage may vary, I suppose. It’s fun to share though.

Lady Nine-Bone’s fingers allow her to read the surface thoughts of the original owner. The fingers grow back quickly after being taken. She carried a device – The Stripper – to do this.

  • Psathyrella. The Medusa. [Cells. Stoney, snake fangs.] Has one charge of Flesh To Stone per day, which persists as long as the finger exists. (She is usually thinking of how lonely she is, or admiring a piece of art which she finds either boring or fascinating.)
  • Torgos Zooth. The Selenian. [Almery. A slight glow of moonlight.] Has one charge of Compel Truth Or Lie, which lasts for one hour. (He’s looking for ways to find his children, or chasing off Critics or Pelory.)
  • Xanthoceras.The Obsessed Lich. [Gardens. Dripping wet.] Has one charge of Gain Lich Immunities, which lasts for 1 hour. (He’s trying to decide what his next bounty should be in an attempt to impress Zamia.)
  • Seeme-no-more. The Invisible Lizardman. [Archive. Flickering between visible and not.] Has one charge of Greater Invisibility, lasting 1 hour. (He’s cursing those that know his name and wondering how to break that particular part of the curse, or he’s considering new alchemical agents.)
  • Kinxys Ziteki. The Last Saurid King. [Gallery. Bones. The flesh rotted away.] Has one charge per day of Regenerate Limb. (His thoughts are slow and old and mutters only of being hungry. She’s not listened to them recently, as they were boring. After all, he’s dead.)
  • Torcul Wort. The Gold Boy. [Wedding. A golden digit.] Has one charge per day of diving the provenance of gold. Aurem Spectors avoid her. (His thoughts are of the machine and how fantastic it is, or cursing his mother for being a traitor.)
  • Milo DeFretwell. Psycopath. [Gallery. Dripping blood.] Has one charge of Detect Intentions each day. (She does not read his thoughts. She only has the finger to ensure he’s still locked away.)
  • Quatri-Glotta. The Elephanine True Teller. [Cells. Tiny elephant foot.] Has one charge of Detect Secret per month. (He’s quiet when alone, only wanting food.)
  • Dendro Blackpoll. Severed Hands. [Almery. Blackened evil.] Can open any of the doors in the Almery at any distance. This is how she makes her way through. (Dendro suggests a way of the Medusa dying, and Blackpoll disagrees. Drendro always thinks he can save her. Blackpoll is unsure.)

Draw from your genre, follow your plot

There’s not a great deal of descriptive language in 1968’s Do Androids Dream of Electronic Sheep (which would become better known as Blade Runner once the film was made). In the opening scenes we’re on the roof top of an apartment block where the tenants tend to their gardens and – most importantly – their livestock, electric or not. The surrounding buildings weren’t really described, but imagination fills in the blanks with run down, abandoned high rises. It helps that we all know the dystopian genre of the book going into it making it easy to summon up descriptions we’ve seen from other books and films.

For the DM, leaning into genre like this means you can focus more on your story than room-by-room descriptions. Setting your campaign in the Underdark does a few things which homebrewing your own world fails at: veteran players already know a lot of history that the Underdark brings, as well as letting everyone know you’re in a fungus coated cave system the size of a continent. This isn’t just for brevity (and the fact that you’ll probably run out of synonyms for “mushroomy”) but the less you describe the more freedom comfortable players have with adding to the scene. Setting the scene doesn’t require a full inventory of a room and doing so means their imagination is limited. You should be able to say “yes” whenever someone asks, “is there a sconce I can take?” They’ll do cool things with that sconce.

The fact of the matter is that our brains do a good job at filling up the spaces which narrators leave for us. This is likely why nerds who with vast amounts of cultural references to pull from enjoy D&D so much. What we need help with is filling that world with function. As the DM, in your prep time, you should be thinking about the impact of your plotline on the world. Philip K. Dick spends most of his book on this: what if there are drones? Smart drones – smart enough to do their job creatively. Well, these drones won’t want to keep working if they had a choice. So, there would have to be bounty hunters who seek out these escapees. Since these drones are so well camouflaged as real, red-blooded humans, the hunters will need a way of sussing them out. Some sort of weakness. Maybe they struggle with comprehending the full range of human emotions. In a world full of suspicion, actual humans would want to show off their emotional aptitude. Taking loving care of an animal would do that.

So, a trait of all humans is that they want to have an animal to take care of and advertise. In a world where most animals are extinct, that makes a curious market appear…

Following this one quirk of the story fills of a society of nameless NPCs to life. Maybe there’s a curiosity of society that comes from a conceit of your campaign. Are devils slowly infiltrating all levels of government? That must have an impact on something – certain rules getting laxer in places where a devil really wouldn’t care. Temples defunded, just enough to notice. Follow the premise of your campaign to its natural, societal conclusion. You’ll be building a much more tailored world to your story. As an added bonus, your group will be constantly reminded of their current quest which some players are in dire need of…

Adventure prompt: Sputput, the most famous gnome tinkering in this neck of the woods, has been produced a shocking number of Whizzbangs, Tidbits, and Doohickies. Until one day his factory goes quiet and nothing comes out. As the characters venture inside to find out what’s happen to the well-loved inventor, they discover his collection of unlawful clones have taken over the shop. It’s time for the adventurers to save the day, but which of the identical Sputputs are they supposed to be saving..?