Dorian Hart is an excellent addition to a hypothetical Author’s Monster Manual. His series, The Heroes of Spira (which is phenomenal, by the way) features many unique creatures. All of them would be great additions to any TTRPG.
First, a thank you to Jodie for including me in this most excellent feature!
I make no secret that my Heroes of Spira series uses a long-running RPG campaign as its source material. I’ve written at length about the perils and pitfalls of that approach, and about the fundamental differences between novels and campaigns. That said, like many a good RPG, my epic quest fantasy books sure do feature a wide variety of nonhuman creatures!
In no particular order, the Heroes of Spira includes, among other things:
One-eyed gopher bugs
A misanthropic living storm
A dangerous turtle
A cadre of evil, mathematically-inclined cultists
Intelligent giant ants AND intelligent giant spiders
A tentacled blob-monster
A bat-winged marble statue that’s deadly when animated
Joyously violent goblins
A powerful demon lord whose fortress hangs above a lake of boiling pus
A 9’ tall oracular toad
A snarky telepathic cat
A multi-legged but otherwise featureless ball of insect chitin.
Massively powerful talking gemstones
A giant acidic slug that, let’s be honest, is more-or-less a reskinned Gelatinous Cube, because those things are great
Avatars of multiple gods
Some good old-fashioned mummies
There’s more, but that should be enough to let you know what kind of series I’m writing.
For a stat block, I’ve chosen from that list the marble statue, whose informal name is a Blood Gargoyle, and whose official name is a [SPOILER REDACTED]. At the risk of some minor spoilers:
In The Ventifact Colossus, the first book in the series, one of the protagonists (named Dranko) meets a Blood Gargoyle in its inanimate form. Even as an inert statue, it scares the living daylights out of Dranko, instilling an unreasoning fear in the man despite not even twitching a wingtip. Here’s the passage where he first beholds the thing:
* * *
Dranko wasn’t sure what he was looking at.
No, that wasn’t entirely true. He knew it was a statue, half again as tall as he was. He knew that while it was humanoid, it wasn’t human; no man or woman or goblin-touched had fangs that long, or claws that sharp, or eyes that far apart, or a chin that long and pointed, or wings neatly folded behind its back. And he knew that it was made of rock, some kind of striated marble as orange and luminous as a harvest moon.
But he also knew that this thing was more, and that it was worse, and that he wanted as little to do with it as possible. Its deep-socketed eyes, two blood-colored marbles with cat-slit pupils, were like windows into the Hells, and something looked out of them, eager, hungry. Though it was just an inert stone sculpture, inanimate, incapable of causing him harm unless it fell on him, Dranko had to fight down his flight reflex from the moment he laid his eyes upon it.
* * *
Later in book 1, we learn that (off camera) the Blood Gargoyle attacked and nearly killed the heroes’ ancient and powerful wizardly patron, Abernathy. But while the reader still has not seen one in action by the end of The Ventifact Colossus, if you think I’m going to let a perfectly good Chekov’s Gargoyle sit around on the mantelpiece for a full five books without it going off, I can assure you that [MORE SPOILERS REDACTED].
It’s one of the more fearsome members of my novels’ bestiary, so I don’t recommend throwing it against low-level adventurers unless you’re itching for a TPK. If you want to use it in a campaign, I suggest first letting your characters encounter it in its inanimate form, and then springing the “live” version on them many sessions later, once they’re powerful enough to (maybe) handle it. Ideally, your PCs will burst into the villain’s sanctum just as they’re finishing up the animating ritual, and the blood gargoyle will fight your heroes while the villain escapes via secret tunnel, teleportation circle, enchanted flying contraption, or a similar contrivance.
Here’s a stat block for it:
Regretfully, I cannot supply you with art for the Blood Gargoyle, as my abilities in the visual arts can only be measured using an electron microscope. I hope the above description is sufficient for you to imagine one.
About the author:
Dorian Hart is the author of the Heroes of Spira epic fantasy series, which currently includes The Ventifact Colossus, The Crosser’s Maze, and The Greatwood Portal. He also wrote the interactive science fiction novella Choice of the Star Captain for Choice of Games.
In a bygone century, Dorian graduated from Wesleyan University with a degree in creative writing. This led circuitously to a 20-year career as a video game designer, where he contributed to many award-winning titles including Thief, System Shock, System Shock 2, and BioShock.
Now he writes books in his Boston-area study, serves as the stay-at-home dad for his two teenage daughters, and happily allows his wife to drag him off on various wilderness adventures.
Minotaurs are a fantasy staple. You can find them in most TTRPGs, but I guarantee that you have NEVER seen a minotaur like this. Author Sean Gibson takes the sense of humor that makes his side-splitting book The Part About the Dragon Was (Mostly) True so much fun and throws it at the mythical beast.
Sure, the standard-issue minotaur is “born into the mortal realm by demonic rites,” a “savage conqueror that lives for the hunt,” and whose fur is “stained with the blood of fallen foes”…but holy cow those things are giant wusses compared to the Flatulent Minotaur.
The Beast Without. While all minotaurs are solitary carnivores who roam labyrinthine dungeons, the Flatulent Minotaur is the standard bearer for lonely isolation. The Flatulent Minotaur’s sense of smell is not as keen as its brethren—save for its ability to recognize its own nauseating, old-cheese, diaper-filled stench, which enables the beast to unerringly navigate any area in which he has issued forth his fetid backdoor exhalations. Its rages, however, are legendary, making those of common minotaurs look like the mewling protests of a suckling unicorn. When the Flatulent Minotaur starts getting cranky…just run. Really fast.
Cult of the Stin-King. Minotaurs are descended from humanoids transformed by cult rituals, with one exception: the Flatulent Minotaur. The Flatulent Minotaur was once a greedy human king whose gluttonous debaucheries were infamous. Never satiated, the king sought ever rarer and more scandalous delicacies to quell his voracious appetite.
He quickly grew tired of roasted fawns, puppy kabobs, and ground meat patties made from disloyal subjects. He wanted more, something so rare that it was almost impossible to obtain: the fresh liver of a baby elf.
Though his most senior advisors tried to dissuade him, he formed a hunting party comprised of murderous scoundrels and ventured into the outskirts of an elven kingdom, intent on finding pointy-eared foie gras. An elven scouting party ambushed the group, and after a vicious fight, the king became separated from his band of marauders.
Stumbling blindly through the woods, he came upon a cave. On a pedestal in the center of the cave lay a newborn elf child, swaddled in a blanket and crying softly. The king’s eyes widened with desire, and he rushed forward, knife drawn, to murder the child and cut out its liver. As he plunged the knife in, he realized the babe was an illusion disguising a powerful spell, one that set off a horrifically painful transformation as his legs and arms lengthened, his head distended, and hair sprouted all over his body while horns emerged from his head.
Blinded with pain, he wandered to the back of the cave and down into an endless maze of tunnels, where he has lived ever since, cursed not only to live his life as a monstrous beast, but one beset by the worst gas in the history of malfunctioning bowels, mostly because the elf who cast the spell that caused the transformation really loved farts.
About the author:
Sean Gibson, “author” and slackonteur, is not a professional mini biography writer (if he were, this would be much more compelling). Instead, he’s a communications professional by day, hangs out with his amazing wife, son, and daughter by night, and writes somewhere in between. He holds a BA in English Literature from Ohio Wesleyan University and an MBA from the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University, though rumors persist that he also attended mime school (he is silent on the subject). Sean is a fan of sports teams from Detroit, a distressingly large number of bands that rose to prominence in the 1980s, and writing in the third person. He currently resides in Northern Virginia, and, given how much he hates moving, and given that his house has an awesome library, is likely to remain there for some time.
Sean is the author of several stories starring Heloise the Bard, including the #1 bestseller The Part About the Dragon Was (Mostly) True, the holiday novella “You Just Can’t Hide from Chriskahzaa,” and The Chronicle of Heloise & Grimple. He also wrote the Victorian-set fantasy thriller The Camelot Shadow and its prequel short, “The Strange Task Before Me.” Most recently, he contributed the short story “Chasing the Dragon” to the anthology “Dragons of a Different Tail” published by Cabbit Crossing Publishing. He has written extensively for Kirkus Reviews, and his book reviews have also appeared in Esquire.
Half tiger, half amphibian, the Mutant Bukki Tiger is the tragic result of a radioactive accident interfering with nature. The Mutant Bukki Tiger is confined to a roughly five-thousand-kilometer grid of jungle on the planet, Hesh-9, known as the Red Zone. A nuclear waste carrier heading to the capital city of Hikesh, from the far side of the planet crashed, rendering the area off-limits until radiation half-life reached safe levels. Rumors of mutations to whatever survived the bloom added disturbing flavor to popular myths and folklore about the rainforest region. Travelers who dare to traverse the Red Zone risk crossing paths with this most grotesque and ferocious creature.
The Mutant Bukki has five cat eyes, two jaws complete with fangs, four good legs, and one-half leg sprouting out of its spine, held together by a slimy frog-like torso. It is a radioactive horror that contains high levels of radioactivity that make it a most frightening and potentially deadly encounter. Yet, there are tales of individuals with powers of persuasion (driven by compassion) who have been able to calm the beast and sympathize with its tragic circumstance. Those who do so, it is rumored, have come to no harm.
About the author: Jonathan Nevair (he/him/his) is a science fiction writer and, as Dr. Jonathan Wallis, an art historian and Professor of Art History at Moore College of Art & Design, Philadelphia. After two decades of academic teaching and publishing, he finally got up the nerve to write fiction. His space opera trilogy, Wind Tide (Goodbye to the Sun, Jati’s Wager, and No Song, But Silence) was inspired by Ancient Greek texts and myths and released in 2021. Stellar Instinct, a standalone spy-fi space adventure, is slated to release in December 2022. Jonathan’s books explore speculative secondary worlds where language, culture, ethics, technology, and gender are reimagined to inspire human potential and growth (space opera sprinkled with a dash of hopepunk.) Find out more about Jonathan and his books at www.jonathannevair.com
I really enjoy playing TTRPGs. There’s always a moment when I’m reading a really good book where I muse a little bit on what some of the creatures in the book would be like in a D&D campaign.
It turns out I’m not the only one who would happily fight a unique book character during a gaming session. Today, Rowena from Beneath a Thousand Skies is here to talk about a character that she thinks would be a great addition to a TTRPG.
Not only is Rowena a TTRPG expert, but she also runs an awesome blog, so be sure to check it out!
Now, maybe it’s been because I’ve been itching to read Tamora Pierce for a while and this was the perfect excuse, but when Jodie asked me to join in with this week Stormwings were the creature that sprang immediately to mind. Which gave me the perfect excuse for a reread. While they feature primarily in the Immortals series by Tamora Pierce (Wild Magic, Wolf Speaker, Emperor Mage and The Realms of the Gods), they also appear in other series set in the same universe, including Protector of the Small (my favourite!!) and Trickster.
‘These were monsters. No animal combined a human head and chest with a bird’s legs and wings. Sunlight bounded off talons and feathers that shone like steel.’
(Wild Magic – Tamora Pierce)
Denziens of the Immortal Realms, these half-human, half-bird creatures (with the latter half made of metal, and razor sharp) are a fascinating part of the Tortall universe. Created from human nightmares, and intended to be a deterrent from war, they would make for a great addition to so many TTRPG settings, whether the world has wide-spread conflict where Stormwings could feast on the battlefield, to a world with plane-hopping (as a member of one such campaign, it’s been great to see the different denziens of the various planes even if they’re not always friendly) and more. Plus, fighting a creature that can fly and zap you from a safe distance is always a nightmare as a player, but makes for a fun combat encounter (until they kill you at least…)
There’s also a great intrigue/political aspect that you could use with Stormwings, because they are intelligent and sneaky, and while their interests will always be in favour of their own kind, especially their rulers, they are willing to work with humans and other creatures for those goals. Winged allies, who can travel great distances, and aren’t easily fooled by illusions or held back by barriers are a fantastic tool for any villain (or even just a leader trying to extend their influence) and as shown in the Immortals series, they can also provide an escape route as they are strong enough to bear a human away (although you would want a cradle, otherwise you might get some nasty cuts in interesting places from their wings and claws).
Or, for a more personal/emotional aspect, despite their nightmarish appearance, stench and the fact that they feast on the dead – Stormwings have a fondness for children of any kind, including human and will befriend and protect them. This is due to their difficulty in reproducing (all that metal makes creating life a little challenging); but could make for some interesting encounters in a ttrpg.
Blogger Bio: Rowena is a book blogger at Beneath A Thousand Skies blog and primarily reads and reviews SFF especially indie/self-published. When she isn’t buried beneath the TBR, she’s hoarding dice and playing D&D.
An Author’s Monster Manual wouldn’t be complete without including Geoff Habiger. Not only is Geoff the coauthor of the fantasticConstable 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.
There are always books that have amazing creatures in them that I would love to see featured in TTRPs. This month, some awesome authors have kindly joined me to give their creatures the TTRPG treatment. I’m excited to have J.E. Hannaford, author of the Black Hind’s Wake series, share more about her Leathergill Siren, found in The Skin (Black Hind’s Wake book 1).
About the author:
J E Hannaford is powered by coffee, dragons and whisky. She teaches Biology in the real world and invents fantasy beasts to populate her own. She lives in Suffolk, UK, and pines for the coast and mountains of Wales. A love of nature and the ocean washes through the pages of J E Hannaford’s stories and pours out of the characters who live in it. Her debut series is The Black Hind’s Wake Duology.
One of the great things about playing TTRPGs is that you never know what sort of unique creature might show up during a gaming session. Of course, we all enjoy the classics: dragons or ogres, but sometimes it’s fun to see something a little more…unique.
Author Andi Ewington is an expert at putting new, creative twists on fantasy. His soon-to-be-released book, The Hero Interviews, takes classic fantasy and shines a comedic light on it.
Here, he shares his STAT Block on the fantasy favorite, the Behol—wait, the Behearer???
Bewarned, brave adventurer, for there is a foe more dangerous than any found within these ancient pages, a monster so terrible that it strikes fear into the hearts of the bravest Paladins, the hardiest Barbarians and the most cowardly of Clerics. Whisper its name and pray the Behearer is not listening.
Behearers are notoriously grumpy creatures, a literal ‘ball’ of ears that has a gigantic central ear surrounded by smaller tentacled ears around it. As you can imagine, the Behearer can hear EVERYTHING, from the soft footfalls of a Rogue to the heavy clanks of an over-encumbered Fighter noisily crashing about. As a result, it’s not uncommon for a wandering Behearer to silently float up to an unsuspecting adventurer and ask them politely to keep the noise down a bit. More often than not, it’s this unexpected polite request that results in a full-blown noisy confrontation—with plenty of ‘shhhing’ added for good measure.
A legendary monster that surpasses all others, the Behearer is a monster that simply wants a bit of peace and quiet—which is exactly what an adventuring party is not!
Andi Ewington is a writer who has written numerous titles including Campaigns & Companions, Forty-Five45, S6X, Sunflower, Red Dog, Dark Souls II, Just Cause 3, Freeway Fighter, and Vikings. Andi lives in Surrey, England with his wife, two children and a plethora of childhood RPGs and ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ gamebooks he refuses to part with. He’s usually found on Twitter as @AndiEwington
Book banning, the Salem Witch Trials, twenty-sided die, and the Satanic Panic: what do these things all have in common? Fear and misunderstanding. While everyone knows about the Salem Witch Trials, and the attempt to ban massive amounts of books is still alive and kicking, the Satanic Panic pretty much ended in the 90’s. Right? Unfortunately, while things evolve to fit the times, the Satanic Panic is alive and well and continues to target table-top roleplaying games.
TTRPGs, or table-top role-playing games, have found themselves in the mainstream recently. From streaming shows such as Critical Role to the Netflix hit Stranger Things, suddenly TTRPGs have stepped out of basements (or den, in my case) and into the limelight. While there are many positives to its recent popularity, it seems that those old fears and overreactions have made a resurgence as well.
I play TTRPGs. I use them in my homeschool. Let me tell you, I’ve never summoned so much as the bag of Doritos from the kitchen (or would that be using the Force?), much less a demonic entity. TTRPGs, simply put, are fun. They give adults permission to do what children do all the time: use their imaginations.
My love of Dungeons and Dragons started in the mid-to-late 90s, so I only caught echoes of the panic that seemed to be everywhere in the 80s. By the time it got to me, it seemed everyone knew someone who was related to someone who played with “a guy who got sucked into the occult through D&D”. Usually, these “true stories” ended with injury or disappearance. To me, these tales felt very similar to Bloody Mary or other stories told at sleepovers.
If a teenager can see the ridiculousness of some of these fears, why couldn’t adults? And why was Dungeons and Dragons such a big target?
Margaret Weis, author of several bestselling series, including Dragonlance, was in the middle of it from a creator’s standpoint. I asked her what the Satanic Panic looked like from her perspective, as someone involved in the growing popularity of both TTRPGs and fantasy in general.
She remembers, “I was working at TSR at the time. I remember we watched the 60 Minutes show where they interviewed a mother of a young man who committed suicide and she was blaming it on D&D because she found a lot of D&D books in his bedroom. His death was tragic, but when you listen to his mother, you start to realize he was suffering from a great many problems that went unrecognized. Then there was the religious tract “Dark Dungeons”. People would place those inside D&D books at the local bookstores. We read that and honestly couldn’t believe people would think that D&D would give a person real “evil powers”. As one of the game designers said, if we really could gain such powers, why would we be working? Why weren’t we ruling the world?”
The suicide in question, that of Patricia Pulling’s son, is absolutely a tragedy. However, while he did play D&D, there has been absolutely nothing to suggest that a game of imagination caused his death. Pat Pulling was a grieving mom looking for answers and I don’t fault her for that. The problem is the answers she chose had no basis in reality and ultimately led to a spike in fears over TTRPGs and their supposed role in the occult.
Patricia would go on to form Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons (or BADD), a group that would fuel the flames that consumed reason and understanding in so many people. There was also a handy-dandy (and completely bonkers) pamphlet written by Patricia called Dungeons and Dragons: Witchcraft, Suicide, Violence. Thanks to The Escapist, I was able to get a look at this pamphlet. It’s so ridiculous, it would be funny if so many people hadn’t bought into it!
YoDanno, a Twitter friend who is incredibly knowledgeable on the history of Dungeons and Dragons, kindly sent me an article by Michael A. Stackpole, debunking her many claims in no uncertain terms (you can find that full article here). Not only did she make some choices of questionable legality, she also flat-out lied to add some semblance of credence to her accusations. Michael A. Stackpole concluded, “Her methods and tactics, at their very best, taint any evidence she might offer and, at their worst, construct a monster where none exists”.
Panic over the years often comes from a simple and even admirable trait: the desire to protect our children. Of course, we want our kids to be safe and loved. The problem arises when we have no idea of the reality of what we are condemning. How can anyone judge TTRPGs they’ve never played, or call for the banning of books they haven’t read with any sort of authority? (I’ll do my best to spare you my thoughts on book banning, but no promises because it is coming pretty dang close to the Satanic Panic in proportion).
“Experts” were quick to harshly judge what they had little to no experience in. According to Texe Marrs, author of Ravaged by the New Age: Satan’s Plan to Destroy Our Kids, “This game is nothing more than an introduction to the occult. Fantasies the players involve and indulge themselves in include murder, rape, arson, pillage, terrorism, brutal torture, etc. ” (Marrs). Um…no. Nothing in that statement is close to correct. I do my absolute best to avoid reading books with r**e in them; I definitely wouldn’t play a game that would glorify it or encourage my son to play.
I asked Ms. Weis, “Did stigma against your profession bleed over into your personal life and in what way?” Sadly, it did affect her on a personal level.
“I remember the elders in [coauthor] Tracy’s church (Mormon) wanted him to quit his job at TSR because they feared he was being corrupted. He invited them to play the game with him and if they still thought it was evil, he would quit. He ran an RPG for the elders one night. Not only did they not make him quit, they asked him if he would run a weekly game for them! My son came home from junior high one day to tell me that his teacher had asked if he tortured cats. He was astounded and asked why she would say such a thing. She said she assumed he must be a devil worshipper because his mother worked for TSR!”
All because people chose fear over an attempt to understand or learn something new.
I also asked Margaret Weis’ thoughts on why TTRPGs have been, and continue to be, such a target.
She answered, “I remember someone theorizing that the reason people latched onto D&D as being Satanic was that parents didn’t understand it and didn’t bother to take the time to learn about it. All they saw was their kids playing a strange fantasy game for hours or days, a game that didn’t have a board, used weird dice, and had its own language. The best way to deal with this is to invite these people to play! Like Tracy did!”
Of course, this article won’t stop the judgment that seems to once again be growing in volume. People are going to overreact and condemn what they really don’t understand. But here’s a thought; just ask. If you don’t know what playing a TTRPG entails (imagination and math, at its core), how on earth can you really judge it?
Marrs, Texe. Ravaged by the New Age Satan’s Plan to Destroy Our Kids. 1708 Patterson Road, Austin, Texas 78733, RiverCrest Publishers.
Since these delightful books could actually be easily combined into one volume, I’m reviewing them both in one post.
My thoughts on Lexcalibur: Useful Poetry for Adventurers Above and Below the World:
I was gifted this poetry collection. My friend described it as “Shel Silverstein poems for nerds”, and there’s really no better description. It’s all kinds of nerdy fun!
The poems are generally on the shorter side and are extremely clever. There’s never that feeling of trying too hard and I found myself chuckling as I read through the book. The poems are engaging enough for children with enough wit and little nods that adults will be just as entertained.
The book covers all things fantasy, ranging from important topics such as were-beasts, to concerns about viziers, and complaints about mimics. It’s incredibly obvious that both the author and illustrator are well versed in both the tropes and the lesser-known gems of the fantasy genre. They appreciate all things imaginative and fun.
Lexcalibur is made even better by the inclusion of whimsical and fun illustrations which are scattered throughout. They’re truly delightful and add so much to the book.
I should mention that Lexcalibur can only be found on the Penny Arcade website (link here, for your convenience). The Penny Arcade comics themselves are meant for adults to enjoy, but this book is all-ages fun.
I loved, loved, loved this collection of poems! If you’re a lover of all things fantastical, you’ll really enjoy Lexcalibur. I’ll leave you with one of the poems:
I got a ring, and it makes me invisible.
No one can see me! A marvelous thing!
As I suggested, your eyes have been bested.
Except for the ring.
Lexcalibur II: The Word in the Stone
Lexcalibur II continues in the delightful vein of book one, with fun and imaginative poems that are perfect for any fantasy or TTRPG lover. I smiled at the love of fantasy that shone through every page.
I sometimes cringe at poems that rhyme because they can feel so forced. Not so in this case, the rhymes added a fairy tale cadence that was endearing.
There were several poems that shared a common theme, which was a little different. The Eyrewood, a table-top roleplaying game, featured multiple times. I haven’t played it (yet), but as a TTRPG fan, I could still understand and appreciate the joy and nods. And that’s the thing about both Lexcalibur books: they brim with joy.
It’s wonderful to be taken to a place of unlimited potential and imagination. The playful illustrations added to the atmosphere and kept me grinning. I loved Lexcalibur II and really hope there’s a volume three coming before too long!
Here’s one of my favorite poems from this second installment. Enjoy!
This is a repost, because I loved it so much. This was originally published in February of 2021.
There used to a be a bit of a “these people are weird” attitude toward people who enjoyed roleplaying games, such as Dungeons and Dragons. It was pretty funny to hear it coming from readers of fantasy (or any genre, really: you’d be surprised at the similarities that can be found). I’m assuming some of the judgement came from a place of discomfort at older kids and adults using their imaginations. I’m honestly not sure. Fortunately, D&D, and other roleplaying games are becoming much more accepted, which is great because playing can be pretty stinking fun.
As I briefly mentioned, there are similarities between books and roleplaying games. Both require the use of imagination to fill in pictures, both allow for a suspension of disbelief, and both take us to new and unusual places, constrained only by the author (or Dungeon Master).
A ‘character class’ is a profession or set of skills that help differentiate different types of characters in roleplaying. I put a call out for bookbloggers and authors to give their thoughts on D&D classes in books and they answered in a big way! In fact, what I originally thought of as a single post has become a few, each post focusing on two or three of the main character classes. While I have each writer’s link attached to their amazing contribution, please make sure to check out a more detailed introduction to each of them at the bottom of the post. I’ve also included my own ideas here and there, as well as some loose definitions of each character class. Enjoy!
FIGHTER: This is pretty self-explanatory, but also has a lot of room for creativity. A warlord, knight, or rich person’s bodyguard are all different types of fighters. A fighter has a ton of skill with a weapon, and functions as a pretty good meat shield (can you tell I’ve used the fighter in that capacity before?).
“Atae from Kaji Warriors: Shifting Strength by Kelly A. Nix. To the Kaji warriors, being a halfbreed means being weak. Atae refuses to back down and engages in rigorous combat training to stay at the top of her warrior class. Strength and skill in battle are revered among the Kaji, and Atae will do everything in her power to become a true warrior. Trained in both hand-to-hand combat and weaponry, Atae will cut down her foes without a second thought.”
“Kate Daniels from the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews: Kate was raised to be a weapon. Forced into fighting pits from a young age, it was hit the ground running or die trying. Any weapon in her hands is lethal, though she prefers her sword. When she unleashes a combination of magic and blade, she is a near unstoppable force.”
“I gave him a smile. I was aiming for sweet, but he turned a shade paler and scooted a bit farther from me. Note to self: work more on sweet and less on psycho-killer.” – Ilona Andrews, Magic Strikes
Ricardo Victoria, author of The Tempest Blades series says: “Here, there is a lot to choose from in Fantasy. I think this is the class most well represented. So I will keep this one short: Boromir [from The Lord of the Rings]. Aside from the fact that he is the character from the Fellowship that needs more love, he is a classical fighter. Knows all sort of weapons, can improvise during a fight, has the Con [constitution] of an Ent (I mean, how many arrows did he take before falling?). He even trains Merry and Pippin. Had he lived to amend for his sole mistake, he would have been Aragorn’s second hand.”
Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub shares an opinion: For me, when I think of the D&D fighter class, my mind immediately goes to Clay “Slowhand” Cooper from Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames. He’s a used-to-be-impressive warrior, a member of an elite mercenary group. He has major fighting skills-or at least, he used to. He and his friends come out of retirement for one last impressive feat-one that may get them killed.
“Clay pushed his body off him and mumbled another apology – because, enemy or not, when you hit a man in the nuts with a magic hammer the least you could say was sorry.”– Nicholas Eames, Kings of the Wyld
Barbarian: the simplest way I can think of to describe a barbarian is as a fighter with anger issues. They thrive on violence and chaotic battles (although they may not always crave them). Their anger can give them a berserker state of mind: think an overdose of adrenalin allowing someone to do the nigh impossible.
Ryan Howse, author, reviewer for Grimdark Magazine and contributor for Before We Go Blog, weighs in: “For gamers, barbarians are often some of the most memorable and dynamic characters played. They tend to be chaotic (in earlier editions, being a lawful barbarian was against the rules) and their ignorance of civilized customs provides some obvious comedic fodder.
But barbarians are not fools. They just don’t care about civilization. People who are fools don’t survive the wilds—especially fantasy versions of the wilds, with all the strange new monsters and dangerous terrain that implies.
Fafhrd, from Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser series, is an iconic barbarian. He’s the bruiser of the duo, and the tank. He’s a massive man from an ice-covered land, and he mostly wants to spend his adventuring loot on women and ale.
The greatest part about these stories is that while they’re classics of the genre, they feel closer to a real tabletop game than even the best tie-in fiction.
In the first chronological story of Fafhrd, he straps rockets to his boots to make a jump down a hill. That feels absolutely like something out of an all-night gaming session where the barbarian has a ridiculous plan and rolls just well enough to make it work.
There’s also a story where Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser die, and end up dealing with Death Itself, which again feels like a DM trying to keep the campaign going after a TPK [total party kill]. (They get better.)”
“And even when we serve, we make the rules. We bow to no man’s ultimate command, dance to no wizard’s drumming, join no mob, hark to no wildering hate-call. When we draw sword, it’s for ourselves alone.”– Fritz Leiber, Sword in the Mist
Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub chimes in: I see Beowulf as the ultimate barbarian. He fights Grendel with near-supernatural strength (Grendel definitely meets his match), and several other feats of strength are boasted about throughout the epic poem. He feels no fear and isn’t big on laying traps or making battle plans. Any character that divests a monster of its arm without using a weapon to do it lands in the “berserker” category for me.
Meet the contributors: Behind the Pages is an excellent blog and beta reading site, run by the talented Tabitha. Her reviews are very insightful and incredibly well-written. She has excellent taste and never fails to review books that would have snuck under my radar, adding to my already way-too-long list of books to read.
Ryan Howse is a literary jack-of-all-trades. The author of several books, he also reviews for Grimdark Magazine and is a regular addition to BeforeWeGoBlog. I honestly have no idea how he found the time to contribute to my post, but I’m excited that he did!