An Author’s Monster Manual wouldn’t be complete without including Geoff Habiger. Not only is Geoff the coauthor of the fantastic Constable Inspector Lunaria Adventures, but he has also designed games. I’m happy to feature him and his addition to a hypothetical Author’s Monster Manual.
Today, he’s here to introduce you (or reintroduce for those who have read the book) to the Disciple of Pain!
I have often thought that writing a book is like making a movie, except in a book the author is responsible for everything. The author is the location scout, set builder, wardrobe, and prop master. You pick the cast, write the dialogue, and try to get your actors to follow the script all while making sure that everything follows a plot the audience can understand. And if you write in horror, science fiction, or fantasy then you may also do fight choreography, model building, special effects, and creature design.
This can be a daunting task even for an experienced writer. I like to think that I have a secret advantage in this regard since I’ve been doing all of this for years before I ever became a writer. No, I’m not a famous actor or director. I’m not even the best boy or key grip.
My secret advantage?
I play RPGs.
I’ve been playing RPGs for 40 years starting with the iconic D&D red box in the 5th grade with the funky plastic dice you had to color in with a crayon. (Yes, I’m THAT old!) I was instantly hooked and have played and GM’d games ever since. Being the GM (game master for those of you in the back) is a lot like being a movie director or an author. The game system gives you a framework to build upon, but the game, like a book or a movie, is only limited by your imagination.
I you’ve ever played any sort of RPG you know that the rules for character creation and game play are important to making the game work. Ability scores, skills, hit points, powers or feats, and saving throws are there to shape the character, NPC, or monster. Giving them life and allowing them to interact with your imagined world with a few dice rolls.
Having spent so long playing RPGs the transition to writing fantasy felt natural for me. I’ve made hundreds of characters of the years, as well as creating the worlds into which to play them in. In fact, the setting for our Constable Inspector Lunaria Adventures is the world we (my co-author Coy Kissee and I) created for our D&D campaigns – Ados, Land of Strife.
While there are similarities between RPGs and novel writing, you can’t take a character or monster from your RPG and just plop them into your book. (Unless you are writing LitRPG, I suppose.) The stats for your character or monster need to be translated into the story in such a way that it doesn’t feel like you are using a stat block. (Stats, if you don’t know, are the numbers that make the RPG work – ability scores, weapon damage, hit points, etc.) In the RPG I can say that my character did 8 points of damage to a monster with their longsword and the GM will duly record that information, letting me know if the monster is still a threat or not. But that doesn’t work when writing fiction.
In our second Constable Inspector Lunaria Adventure novel, Joy of the Widow’s Tears, we introduce a creepy undead creature for our heroes – Reva Lunaria and Ansee Carya – to face. This creature, the Disciple of Dreen, was based on an undead monster we created for our D&D world. In the D&D game the Disciple is a nasty undead, able to resist being turned by clerics, deals painful attacks that drains a character’s strength, and, most nasty of all, reflects any damage they take back on their attacker so they can experience Dreen’s “blessing” of pain all while speaking a repetitive, droning mantra to their foul god. (Dreen is a minor god of pain and suffering in the Ados setting.) An unprepared party will be severely challenged by even a small number of Disciples.
But we couldn’t just take the Disciples and drop them into our novel. We had to figure out how their game states would translate to the novel so that a reader, even one who’s never played a RPG before (shocker, I know!), would be able to know what was happening. For example, a fear effect in the game only requires a dice roll to see if your character runs away or stands fast. In the novel we had to describe this game effect for the reader:
“Gania swallowed and felt his throat go dry and his palms begin to sweat. Butterflies shot through his gut and he had to steel himself to keep from running.”
Having the stat block gave us the framework we needed to write the fear that Constable Kai Gania felt and showed him making his save.
Having the stat block made the job of writing the Disciples into Joy of the Widow’s Tears easier. I knew what they could do from a game sense, so I didn’t have to think up anything new, just translate the game rules into the flowery descriptions needed for the novel.
In the end we were able to make a monster that was a very real threat for our heroes while grounding that monster in the “reality” of the RPG system. Could I have created such a monster without having the RPG background? Probably. But I don’t know if it would have been as menacing or felt as real. It would certainly have been less fun.
Here’s the D&D 5e stat block for the Disciple of Pain. It’s slightly different from the original one created for the 3.5 edition of the game, but still just as nasty. (Huge thank you to my co-author Coy for translating the Disciple from 3.5 to 5e as I have not played the 5th edition yet.)
Disciple of Pain
The creature shambles toward you, ragged skin falling off of flesh and bones. Holes and tears cover its body, and its bony claws reach out toward you. A hollow, nearly silent moan issues from it, the rhythmic tone becoming clearer as the creature nears you, “Dreen brings pain, pain brings life, join with the pain!” Strange tattoos and ritual scaring can be seen covering the creature’s body. A cold shiver of fright runs up your spine as you realize this zombie is not what it appears to be.
Disciple of Pain
Medium undead, chaotic evil
Armor Class: 10
Hit Points: 15 (2d8+ 6)
Speed: 30 ft.
STR: 13 (+1)
DEX: 6 (-2)
CON: 16 (+3)
INT: 3 (-4)
WIS: 6 (- 2)
CHA: 5 (- 3)
Saving Throws: Wis +0
Damage Immunities: necrotic, poison
Condition Immunities: poisoned
Senses: darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 8
Languages: can only repeat its mantra in the languages it knew in life
Challenge: 1/2 (100 XP)
Frightful Presence: Each creature with fewer Hit Dice than the disciple of pain within 30 feet of it and can hear it chanting its prayers to Dreen must succeed on a DC 13 Wisdom saving throw or become frightened for 1 minute. A creature can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, with disadvantage if the creature can still hear the disciple of pain’s chants, ending the effect on itself on a success. If a creature’s saving throw is successful or the effect ends for it, the creature is immune to the disciple of pain’s Frightful Presence for the next 24 hours.
Blessing of Dreen: In addition to bestowing the blessing of pain upon those that would be converted by the disciples, Dreen also gave them resistance to the actions of clerics to turn the disciples. A disciple of pain has advantage on saving throws against features that turn undead.
Reverse Damage. Dreen, in granting the final wish of the first disciple of pain, gave His disciples the ability to feel the pain of attacks directed at them, but the damage itself is redirected at the disciple’s opponent, allowing them to feel the glory of Dreen along with the disciple. Any time the disciple of pain receives damage from any source, it must make a Constitution saving throw with a DC of the amount of damage received, unless the damage is radiant or from a silvered weapon. On a successful save, the disciple of pain is unaffected, and the damage is reflected back at the attacker as though it originated from the disciple of pain, turning the attacker into the target.
Claw. Melee Weapon Attack: +3 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target.
Hit: 4 (1d6 + 1) piercing damage plus 3 (1d4+1) necrotic damage. The target’s hit point maximum is reduced by an amount equal to the necrotic damage taken. The reduction lasts until the target finishes a long rest. The target dies if this effect reduces its hit point maximum to 0. A humanoid slain in this way rises in 1d4 rounds as a disciple of pain.
Strategies and Tactics
Disciples of pain are feared in combat. They quickly move to attack any creatures that approach them, hoping to make a new disciple. Their frightful presence, relentless attacks and damage resistance make them dangerous opponents. A disciple of pain attacks with its clawed hands and will focus its attacks on the first creature it sees, ignoring all other attacks directed at it.
The first disciple of pain was a devoted cleric of Dreen who, upon his death, was raised by Dreen as an eternal disciple to spread fear and pain through the world. New disciples were formed, many willingly and some not, and now they can be found throughout the land.
Environment: Most disciples haunt ancient Dreen temples or places of worship, waiting for victims to be ‘converted’ until they have a large enough group to spread across the land. They can be found in any land or environment across the planet. They are most commonly found in dungeons, abandoned temples, or places of worship to Dreen.
Physical Description: A disciple of pain is often mistaken for a zombie at first. They move with a slight shuffling when not attacking and their bodies have a rotting appearance from a distance. Upon closer inspection an observer will notice that the bodies are relatively intact but are covered in scars, tattoos, body piercing, and flayed skin. Their skin is a pale white color and the hands have been skinned, their fingers elongated into sharp talons. A disciple of pain usually wears the clothing they wore at death, now torn and ragged. They constantly mumble prayers and praises to Dreen, usually a variant on “Praise to the God of Pain, praise Dreen.” When attacking they will let out a long wail and chant, “Dreen brings pain, pain brings life, join with the pain!” one of the lines of prayer in Dreen services.
Alignment: Disciples of pain are always chaotic evil. They seek to cause as much pain and suffering to the world as only through the glory of pain can Dreen’s blessing and knowledge be fully understood.
Disciple of Pain Lore
Clerics and others with access to the Religion skill are aware of many traits of the disciple of pain. When a character makes a successful Religion skill check, the following lore is revealed, including information from lower DCs. (Followers of Dreen automatically know all lore about the disciple of pain, though they would not share this information so their companions could feel Dreen’s blessing for themselves.)
DC 10: This creature is a disciple of pain. It is an undead creature devoted to Dreen, the Lord of Pain. Though they resemble zombies, they are very dangerous and constantly mumble prayers to the Lord of Pain. They have some resistance to being turned.
DC 15: The disciple of pain seeks out other creatures to ‘convert’ them to Dreen’s teachings. A person hit with one of their clawed hands will have some of their lifeforce drained from their body. A creature that loses all their lifeforce to a disciple will become a disciple of pain in short order.
DC 20: The disciple of pain blesses other creatures with Dreen’s teachings of pain. Nearly all physical and magical attacks directed at the disciple will instead deal their damage to the attacker, allowing him or her to rejoice in the pain. Only radiant damage or silvered weapons are effective in damaging a disciple of pain.
For Player Characters
A player character can create a disciple of pain by using the spell create undead. In addition to the normal components, the caster must also either be a follower of Dreen or have a holy symbol of Dreen. A follower of Dreen that creates a disciple of pain in this manner can automatically control the disciple.
A huge THANK YOU to Jodie for letting me ramble on about RPGs, writing, and monsters. Sorry if this was a bit long, but get an author and a gamer going and we just won’t stop.
About the author:
Geoff Habiger is the co-author of five books with Coy Kissee, 3 about Prohibition, Gangsters, and Vampires (the Saul Imbierowicz Vampire trilogy) and 2 Constable Inspector Lunaria Adventures. Our 3rd Reva adventure – Fear of the Minister’s Justice – will be out in October. No Disciples of Pain in that one (thank the gods) but there is a very determined wizard assassin who’s made Ansee his next target. Geoff lives and writes in the Land of Enchantment (kinda appropriate for writing fantasy don’t you think). You can learn more about him, our writing, and other cool stuff at our website: habigerkissee.com. Or follow Geoff on the blue bird app @TangentGeoff.