Welcome to my second series of Monster-themed deep dives. In these posts, my son Xander (7), and I will dig down into what’s good and great in the Fantasy AGE Bestiary. Each week you’ll see some original art from Xan alongside observations, plot hooks, and other miscellany about each creature.
As a byproduct of my research this week, I discovered a site that Bestiary fans will find useful. (Bonus points if you already knew about this.)
It’s Tim Emrick’s FAGE Bestiary errata page, which nicely plugs the holes I’ve noticed here and there in the text. Tim made the leap from fan creator to setting contributor, and since I’m in the process of doing a similar sort of thing, Tim has my profound respect.
Let’s Talk Monsters…
As usual, the Green Ronin gang made a nice design choice here by putting all the murderous greenery in one spot. The three creatures here cover a lot of ground, no pun intended!, but this is a listing you could riff on all you want.
If you want to create something new based on plant stocks from the real world, you could look at flypaper traps, which catch their victims in a glue-like residue. Perhaps a predator is clever enough to lurk around a stand of these, and grab a morsel every now and then. I didn’t see a Sticky stunt or quality, but it wouldn’t be difficult to build one. Just set a TN number for Strength based on how strong you want the glue to be. And if you’re feeling nasty, you can allow others to help, but on a failure, they’re stuck too. Bladder traps are neat, too, especially if you want aquatic plants. They create an internal vacuum and then use that to immobilize or capture their prey.
Of course, if you want to get weird there are all sorts of things to add from the Modifying Monsters chapter. For a horrible fungus-thing add Sunblighted. Makes it supremely tough unless you can drag it out into the light.
Adding Winged to a plant would be a creepy choice. Perhaps there’s a tree with leaves that detach and fly autonomously when they detect prey. They stick to their victim and start dissolving it. If they prey succumbs, its essence is absorbed into the hungry blood-colored tree roots that twine just beneath the surface.
The adventure seeds here are all very playable, but another that you might enjoy came to me while I was mulling over the listing…
Someone, or something?, is corrupting crops across the land. An apple tree in an orchard goes feral and bites a picker’s hand off. It rampages in a cattle pen until farmers hack it apart with hoes and axes. A couple of youngsters on a midnight rendezvous fall into a Pit Plant that spontaneously appears in a cornfield. They’re only teeth and bones by the time they’re found. The most horrifying, of course, is the folk-trap that somehow blooms inside the muck of a privy.
The PCs are either hired on to solve the mystery, or just happen to be in the afflicted area. Our heroes have to battle these plants as they keeping popping up, while simultaneously investigating the mystery. (Bonus points if it turns out to be an old foe with a new trick that’s messing with them!) The closer they get to the heart of the conspiracy, the more frequently innocuous plants in their surroundings lash out at them. Beware the greenery around the inn, and that beautiful bouquet of flowers left by an “admirer.”
There’s a little mix up in alphabetical order in the book here… Charnel should come before Chimera…
For the first time in the Bestiary I see some influence from the 5E Monster Manual. The doppelgänger in question is D&D’s Death Knight. (It’s always possible that there’s some earlier inspiration for both of these listings.) Like the Charnel Knight, the Death Knight has a latent urge to redeem itself. Here’s a snippet from the MM:
Immortal Until Redeemed. A Death Knight can arise anew even after it has been destroyed. Only when it atones for a life of wickedness or finds redemption can it finally escape its undead purgatory and truly perish.
In the Bestiary that urge gets shaped into an actionable adventure hook, The Penitent Woman. When I wrote about the Death Knight, I discussed how affecting I found the idea of an undead creature that’s still capable of making a moral choice… and what a conundrum it would put the PCs in. Little did I know that the Bestiary team had already deftly captured that in this hook!
Both listings also mention that the Charnel/Death Knight can draw undead hoards to them. In fact, the Charnel Knight gets an upgrade from the usual mooks. (They get the cream of the zombie warrior crop.) This ability to field a force perhaps as large as an army got me thinking…
Skeletons in the Closet
After decades of Civil War a monarch has managed to bring peace to their realm. Our heroes serve, and even admire, this ruler… but the ruler’s family did numerous dark deeds during the war. Things unspeakable and no longer mentioned.
Word starts coming in from the border that a vast army of undead is making its way into the kingdom. It’s led by a Charnel Knight that claims it can only make atonement for its crimes by extinguishing our beloved monarch’s royal line.
Is this a trick? How can our heroes verify that the Charnel Knight’s claims are true? And even if they are true, what choice do they make? Do their loyalties lie with crown… or kingdom?
The really sweet part of this listing is the “make your own Chimera” table. So, why don’t you join me for a little keyboard improv, Dear Reader? I’ll roll something up and then we’ll see what we want to do with it.
Roll one: 2 and 5. Crocodile.
Roll two: 4 and 6. Eagle/Hawk.
Roll three: 1 and 2. Bear.
Yup, that’s a chimera alright. Let’s start with that big, power bear body and stick the eagle head on there. So, it’s strong like a bear, but with the acuity of a raptor. The wings, oh yeah, you want wings on this sucker… they’re leathery but the trailing edges and tips are feathered. And of course the wings are huge, pteradon-style jobs. You’re never getting the mass of a bear of the ground with wings, but it’s fantasy, right? The out-sized flappers are there to give it a dash of verisimilitude. Hmmm… I was thinking that it’s a flier, but maybe it just glides. It climbs up to a perch, and then drifts down silently for the kill.
And it’s crocodilian. I don’t think it spends any time in the water, but let’s pull in some of those crocodile traits. Once it bites you in combat, it subjects you to a bruising Death Roll (see below). Oh, and it’s also got a wicked Tail Lash for one its attacks. Just like a crocodile, it’s content to wait for hours and hours, completely motionless, before it jumps its prey.
Our Chimera will stand motionless in the shadow of a rocky crag, glide down, pounce on its prey, and then finish it off with a Death Roll or Tail Lash.
All it needs now is a name. Thanks to its gargoyle-like quality, people have started calling this it the Garghast.
Here’s how to alter the generic Chimera listing to build this beast:
- add Dexterity (Stealth)
- bump Perception up to 4 and replace the Smelling focus with Perception (Seeing)
- change Speed to 10 (Glide 15)
- lower Bite damage to 1d6+7. (The Bite is mainly for clamping down and holding on.)
- add Tail Lash as a +6 attack that does 2d6+6 damage
To the Favored Stunts add Dual Strike (3 SP) and remove Poisonous Bite.
Obviously remove the Special Qualities that don’t apply: Breath Weapon, Many Headed, etc., but retain Tough Hide and Charge.
Add the following Special Qualities…
Flail Tail: The Garghast’s tail flashes through the air like a whip. It can make the Dual Attack stunt for 1 less SP with its Tail Lash.
Death Roll: After a successful bite attack the Garghast may immediately follow up with a Death Roll. The target is held, rolled, and torn at by the Garghast, suffering 2d6 damage. The only way to escape a Death Roll is to defeat the Garghast in an opposed Strength (Might) test. The Garghast may continue to deal Death Roll damage against a held target in subsequent rounds, but it may not attack or harm any other target.
[If you feel like Death Roll is too powerful, consider making it a Stunt that costs 4 SP to activate.]
There you go. With just a few minutes of work we’ve built something your players have never seen; with a little imagination you can build an encounter, or even a short adventure, around it.
If the Garghast makes an appearance in your game be sure to let me know how it goes!
Nice… the Craterling here manages to scratch a couple of monster itches at the same time. There’s the “it came here from outer space” vibe from the old school horror flick The Blob, alongside the terrifying Xenomorph popularized by the Alien franchise. That’s two very cool touchstones to invoke in one package.
Their Egg Spray ability is both gross and darkly comic. Imagine how surprised our heroes will be when they’re splooged on by some random Xenomorph.
As funky as these look I’d go out of my way to run young Craterling as curious and sort of timid. They exhibit the kind of behaviors that encourage someone to say, “Hey, come on out, little buddy, we won’t hurt you.” And then once the Craterling comes out of the bushes, or the rotting old shed, it’s game on. To me that’s more fun than having them go after people in full face-hugger mode.
Also, there’s something especially awful about a creature that bides its time for a meal, like the tick, or manages to spread itself around quietly, like the bedbug. Maybe some Craterling species are the bedbugs of the galaxy…
“I’m thinking about visiting Earth again—”
“Uh, no, haven’t you heard?”
(clutching space pearls) “They’re just infested with Craterlings.”
There are a lot of ways to riff on the Craterling, here’s the best one that came to me…
The Cuckoo’s Nest Egg
For a time the “hot” treasure in the kingdom was a kind of opalescent ovoid gemstone. It shimmered and glowed faintly with an otherworldly light. Even though people weren’t sure where they came from, some wag started calling them dragon eggs, and of course the name stuck. For a time, you couldn’t get a royal portrait done without holding one of the damn things. Eventually the fad passed, and the eggs got stored away in strongrooms, safes, and royal treasuries, rarely to be seen again.
For what it’s worth a few scholars who knew these stones had nothing to do with dragons warned that that they could be dangerous, that they should be studied, but you know how that goes. The brief stir they caused died down a hundred years ago…
But right now in treasure rooms all across the kingdom, the “dragon eggs” are softening and shimmying… something long dormant is coming to life. Eventually one of the eggs cracks open, revealing a tiny, hungry, eyeless face…
As a bonus, perhaps these Craterlings end up encrusted in the gems and coins they’re born in… upping their Armor Rating to 5 or 6, but also making them a prize for monster hunters, or (even better) untrained treasure seekers.
However it goes, just be sure to hum Jemaine Clement’s Shiny the entire time your heroes have to deal with these things.
It’s not perfect, but remote learning is going much better for Xander than a lot of kids. (My friends already have tons of stories. I’ve got a pretty good one, too, but it’s not appropriate to share here!)
Anyway, with Xander on the computer for school… I’ve finally had time to work on a pet project for my group. But the post about that will have to wait until later in the week.
Until then, stay safe, and stay sane…