Today I’m delighted to feature not one, but multiple creatures! Jeffrey Speight is the author of Paladin Unbound, a phenomenal fantasy book that features it all: amazing characters, awesome worldbuilding, and the sorts of creatures that would make any TTRPG campaign fantastic.
Living with Monsters
When I was young, my mom was absolutely obsessed with antiques. During the summer, she would often drag me to flea markets across Long Island in search of her next piece. One time, dying of boredom, I looked through a pile of dusty old books and found one called The Fiend Folio. I had heard about Dungeons & Dragons through the older siblings of friends but had yet to play the roleplaying game that would prove to become a mainstay in my life.
The cover depicted a bejeweled, sword-wielding monster with evil red eyes and sharp teeth. I had to know more. Eagerly leafing through the pages, I admired the artwork and wondered what a world with Ettercaps, Githyanki, Hook Horrors, and Shadow Demons would be like.
I somehow talked my mom into buying it for me, and my journey into the world of Dungeons & Dragons began.
To be fair, my love affair with monsters started years earlier. Nearly every Halloween, as other kids ran from door-to-door dressed as Captain America and Spiderman, I would stalk my neighborhood dressed as Dracula with fake blood running from the corners of my mouth. One of my favorite toys was my Mighty Men & Monster Maker (if you didn’t have one, you really missed out), and nearly everything I read or watched was fantasy or “something spooky”.
I’ve spent a lot of time over the years thinking about monsters and what the attraction was at that point in my life. The best I can explain it, dreaming of the monsters that lurked in the shadowy recesses of other worlds made our world less scary. Fighting them in D&D allowed me to be the hero I was incapable of being as an undersized, socially anxious kid. Monsters gave me the power I thought I lacked in real life.
Today, things are a little different. I have come to view monsters as the physical manifestation of the evils I, as an adult, seek to understand in the hearts of mankind. Storytelling, whether that be through running a D&D campaign or writing a fantasy novel, is a way to explore the human condition, and monsters are the embodiment of the struggles we face along the way. So, when I was asked by W&S Bookclub to take part in An Author’s Monster Manual, I jumped at the opportunity.
In Paladin Unbound, I adapted many of the monsters Umhra and his companions face from the D&D campaign from which the story grew. Early in the journey we encounter archetypical vampires, zombies, and dire wolves. There are, however, a few monsters Umhra comes across that are quite unique in their construction that I’d like to share with you.
Outside the Stoneheart Pass, the Barrow’s Pact is attacked by a myriapede. While I don’t give much backstory on this gigantic centipede-like creature, there is more than meets the eye. Bettle, as he is known, is the Guardian of the Waystone at the mouth of the Stoneheart Pass, the last known of its kind. Bound to protect the stone by an age-old contract, Bettle relentlessly pursues and attacks anything that comes too close. For this job, I wanted a monster that could not be reasoned with, that would strike fear into the hearts of travelers. If Bettle’s enormous mandibles don’t snap you in half, the formic acid he secretes just may dissolve you on contact. His countless legs end in razor-sharp spikes and his tail has two elongated hind legs tipped with hook-shaped stingers. It’s one thing to dispatch him above ground but, in his lair, he’s got a few other surprises for his enemies. Here’s a character sheet for whoever would like to include a myriapede like Bettle in their game.
Next, I’d like to look at something a little more twisted. Viewed as a side quest in Paladin Unbound, the Barrow’s Pact’s short stay in the cities of Amnesty and Retribution puts them in the path of the Three, estranged members of the royal bloodline. Our adventurers are asked by the stewards of the cities to investigate reports of an infant crying in the catacombs beneath the city streets. Here, they come upon an Anathema. A pile of quivering flesh with eight eyes, Anathemas are very rare and are indigenous only to the chaotic alternate plane of Wethryn. The monstrosity lures victims toward it by mimicking the cry of an infant, renders the victim unconscious with one of many glares from its eyes, and then consumes them. Anathemas are highly intelligent despite their appearance and are capable of teleporting over short distances as they are unable to physically move. This one definitely checked a major box for me in the gross category. I like to offer readers and players a variety of monsters—some cool and calculating, others brutish and overpowering, and some just disgusting.
Finally, I thought it would be fun to give you a little preview of Mystic Reborn, the sequel to Paladin Unbound, which will hopefully be out Spring 2023. In the book, we meet plenty of new monsters. One that I am particularly fond of, however, is the Melacrite. The inspiration for these nasty little guys was my desire for an enemy with an almost Alien-like feel to them. Something skittering in the darkness that would add a touch of horror to the story. I won’t give much away here, but these twelve-legged wolf-sized creatures are half hardened carapace and half tattered fur. Their front appendages are like curved daggers, and they spit a tar-like substance that can slow the progress of an enemy. Melacrites live in large nests coated with their sticky saliva that make entering their homes a very unwise choice. I’m personally looking forward to using Melacrites in a D&D campaign, myself. While they are individually not all that much to worry about, in numbers they can be a formidable enemy. Here are the stats if you’d like to give them a try at home.
Whether you are a fantasy writer, dungeon master, or both, creating interesting monsters is as much a worldbuilding tool as developing a magic system or pantheon. Sure, our characters can run around fighting other humans. In fact, these adversaries are often eviler than any monster you can throw in your hero’s path. For me, it’s just more fun when the evil lurking around the corner comes with fangs.
About the author:
Jeffrey Speight’s love of fantasy goes back to an early childhood viewing of the cartoon version of The Hobbit, when he first met an unsuspecting halfling that would change Middle Earth forever. Finding his own adventuring party in middle school, Jeff became an avid Dungeons & Dragons player and found a passion for worldbuilding and character creation. While he went on to a successful career as an investor, stories grew in his mind until he could no longer keep them inside. So began his passion for writing. Today, he lives in Connecticut with his wife, three boys (his current adventuring party), three dogs, and a bearded dragon. He has a firmly held belief that elves are cool, but half-orcs are cooler. While he once preferred rangers, he nearly always plays a paladin at the gaming table.
Where to find Paladin Unbound:
Literary Wanderlust: https://www.literarywanderlust.com/product-page/paladin-unbound