This post was written while moderately feverish. You've been warned.
It's good to have handy approximations for D&D purposes. You're about 5' tall. If you stick your arms up, you're 10' tall. A story of a building is around 14', so if you fall off a 10 story building that's 140'. Etc, etc. All GMs eventually come up with their own set of unstated mental yardsticks. Here are a few handy tips for high-energy physics. Wizards break rules all the time. Fall off a 10 story building? Hah! Try falling from 40,000' in the air thanks to a botched teleport spell. Use a sphere of annihilation to delete half a portable hole. Loot an ancient nuclear battery and cover it with lead. You know, the usual wizarding things.
If two objects of approximately equal density collide at high speed, the results will always resemble a ripe tomato thrown very hard at a cake. We're going to use density a lot, so let's figure out some mental yardsticks. Humans are approximately as dense as water. In fact, anything that's made of meat or plants is approximately as dense as water. Stone is 3 times as dense as water. Iron is about 8 times as dense as water. Lead (or gold) is about 10 times as dense. We're not going for accuracy, we're going for speed. So if you fire a tree at a dragon at a bullet-speed? Cake and ripe tomato. Fire a stone cannonball at a stone tower? Cake and ripe tomato. But what happens if you fire an iron dart at a dragon?
This is one of those rules that seems really obvious once it's pointed out. Momentum must be conserved. m1v1 = m2v2. So if you've got an object of mass m and velocity v heading towards a stationary object, and v is very fast, then all the object can push is the stuff directly in front of it. Once it's moved its own mass "out of the way", it'll stop. An object's impact depth, in a material of equal density, can therefore be approximated as the object's length. That's super neat! How deep is the impact crater? About as deep as the object. How far will bullets go through water? Well, lead is 10 times as dense as water, so a bullet will go only ten times its own length. That's not very far. And of course this ignores a ton of additional considerations, but it's a very handy rule if you start trying to run through walls or explode bunkers.
Air-to-air. Unguided. Nuclear. Weapons. Look, the past is a different country, but some parts of that country are ludicrously dangerous. I'm sure very sensible papers and sober papers were written at the time on the absolute necessity of unguided air-to-air nuclear weapons... but... really? Anyway, people (mostly the incomparable Alex Wellerstein) have created tools for visualizing various nuclear scenarios. Playing around with Nukemap will give you a few mental yardsticks for any potential nuclear disasters in your RPGs. Fallout-style nuclear cars, alien power sources, ghost-busting rayguns, or other high-tech but portable devices can be approximated as the adorably murderous Davy Crockett portable nuclear device. Should said device detonate in the hand of a hapless PC, One large building disappears, a city block is leveled, around 3 blocks are scorched and shattered, and 9 blocks are irradiated to the point of medical consequences.
4. At Sufficiently High Velocities, Everything Behaves Like A Fluid
"Fluid" is a bit like "fish", in that it makes some degree of intuitive sense but falls apart when examined. Still, if you're dealing with velocities faster than the eye can follow, using your intuition towards pudding is probably not a bad idea.
5. You Don't Have Time To Un-Fuck Up
High-energy phyiscs, in general, doesn't deal with round-by-round D&D very well. Round 1, you're a sauropod eating plants in a shallow swamp. Round 1.000001, you and everything you've ever seen is plasma. Fast extinction-type asteroids don't go skittering across the sky like meteors. They go from space to ground level between refresh cycles on your monitor. There's less of a shockwave and more of a shockwall. It's a nice sunny day until everything suddenly goes white.
Take some radioactive material from subcritical to critical? Your reflexes aren't faster than a speeding neutron. Decide to rewire your bathroom while the wires are live? Your reflexes aren't faster than AC. Etc.
The OSR generally supports the notion that you can make one really bad choice, then a whole string of good ones, and still be utterly fucked over when that bad choice hits maturity. So does high-energy physics.
I wasn't going to post this until I had everything completely written and organized... but quarantine measures are wreaking havoc on all sorts of income streams. This might come back to bite me, but I'm putting this call out a month early. I'm working on a massive bestiary project: the Monster Overhaul. 200 classic D&D monsters and a bunch of new ones, with functional stats and useful tables. It's going to be a massive tome of a book, and as such, needs some excellent interior art.
If you are an artist, send a portfolio link to coinsandscrolls [at] gmail[dot] com, post a comment, or send me a direct message on Twitter.
I'm a big fan of simple lines and clear direction. If you primarily work with watercolours, sculpture, or interpretive dance... this probably isn't the open call for you. Feel free to send in a portfolio anyway.
I am very picky. I can't art, but I know what I like. I typically hire artists whose style and abilities I can trust, give them a few broad pointers, and cross my fingers. If I don't reply to your message, please don't feel bad.
I don't care if this is your first project or your thousandth project. I don't care if you know what you're doing or figuring it out as you go along. All I want is good art.
Scope: -1 full-page chapter cover illustration (2000x2600 pixels, A4 sheet with margins, ~6.6" x 8.6" at 300dpi) -4-10 quarter-page creature illustrations (~960x960 pixels, ~ 3.2" x 3.2" at 300dpi) -black and white or greyscale.
Budget: I can't art, so I generally pay artists what they ask for. We'll figure it out in direct messages. Delivery Timeline: Will vary depending on when I get you the list of illustrations, but a minimum of 1 month and a maximum of 3 months.
Questions? Leave a comment or send a direct message.
The members of the Cat's Meow Trading Company are:
Granville Porter Cogflower
necromancer lawyer. A mutant human thief/necromancer and warlock of
Kon-Fabulate. Equipped with starscape skin, a vibrating thumb, a
telephone that talks to dead people, and a surprising number of
Lapis Bluelander engineer and autowagon mechanic. A human hunter on the run. Member of the Bluelander Liberation Front.
Gormog the Builder Safarian merchant adventurer. A half-orc barbarian/fighter and warlock of Kon-Fabulate, Gormog also carries .
pirate liberal. A half-elf barbarian chased out of the Red Lands for
their radical views, Clovis has a chainsword and a tattooed map to an
Karl Wine vampire priest. A
dwarf forcebender wizard and warlock of Deel, Orbital Wargoddess. Full
of a strange blend of bloodlust and diplomacy.
Frieda A dwarf demon hunter from the Red Lands secretly fighting the most perfidious demon of all: capitalism.
Full loaded with loot and supplies, the Cat's Meow Trading Company began their journey south. The Redmonth rains had covered the landscape in flowers and fast-moving creeks, but the first few days presented no significant challenges to the seasoned caravan-drivers.
Four days into the grasslands, the party camped near a tortoise-shelled hermit who, despite insisting everyone he encountered was a "holomorphic simulation" sent to torment him, provided useful information. He knew of a crashed "sky chariot" a day's journey into the wastes. Enticed by the thought of treasures from the Long Long Ago, the PCs cut east, heading away from both the Potsherd Crater and their eventual destination, the unseen Lake of Wyv.
Without the hermit's hastily drawn map the wreck would have appeared as nothing more than an old hill and an unusual canyon. With context, the signs of an ancient catastrophe were unmistakable. The wreck itself was buried under a thick layer of dirt and debris, but a few potential access points were, with difficulty, located. Decrepit robots cobbled, seemingly repaired with defective tools, guarded a few vents or portals. They were quickly dispatched. Gormog, dreaming of an army of robot servants, kept their component parts.
The PCs entered at , then cautiously navigated the ceramic corridors
to the bridge . They ignored a display of an unnatural egg, focusing
on the bridge's arcane controls. Whatever humanoids once flew this
craft had four arms and a language of obscure symbols, making their
holo-controls and mind-impulse helms dangerous to use. Lapis briefly
activated the ship's engines (or possibly a weapon), resulting in a
distant earth-shattering kaboom and a few new warning lights.
explosion also activated a titanic security robot. It lumbered from 
towards the bridge, displaying a menacing 6-barreled rotary gun and a
blue flamethrower. Its steel visor, serrated armour, and thick tank
treads inspired panic... and a surprising burst of tactical competence.
Karl instantly tossed up a 10' square wall of stuckforceas
the robot opened fire with its cannon. The invulnerable wall blocked
every bullet. A split second later, Gormog used his vomish disintegrator
arm to turn the robot (and a 10' cube of the ship's corridor) into
"I wanted that gun," Lapis said mournfully,
examining the neatly severed end of the cannon. The six barrels, sheared
at an angle, formed a set of panpipes on which the morose hunter could
play a dirge for lost weapons.
Now slightly more cautious, the
party ignored the sensor domes . The cargo hold  contained a
small city of 300 Veggie-Mites.
The diminutive potato-shaped creatures were excited to meet the PCs. They spoke an incomprehensible language and possessed no technology more advanced than a sharp stick, but they crowded around the party and seemed genuinely interested in whatever they were doing. While Lapis patiently tried to use diagrams and gestures to communicate, Oblong Dusk tried to convert them to the worship of Deel... and see how many Veggie-Mites would theoretically fit in a 30' cone. Wave of Mutilation would make quick work of the creatures if it came to a fight.
A small group of Veggie-Priests lead the rest of the party down a long and winding corridor. At the end, three human-ish skeletons in modern clothes, with well-preserved adventuring gear, were carefully posed in front of an elaborate gold door . As far as they could tell, the humans had come to the ship, attempted to loot the ship, and died of accidental poisoning from contaminated Veggie-water. The Veggie-Mites worshipped them as gods.
No visible locks protected the door, but Karl possessed a knock spell. With a quick cast, to the consternation and confusion of the Veggie-Mites, Karl caused the door to melt into self-assembling gold plates and slide open.
The room inside contained only a black cylinder. Radiating ripples of blue light played along the walls and floor, spreading whenever the party stepped. The black liquid in the cylinder slowly drained, revealing a towering four-armed porcelain-skinned humanoid. The tank itself melted and reformed into armour to clothe the naked figure.
"Hello," Lapis said, always eager to try diplomacy. "Who are you? What are you?"
The creature looked at the party with an air of palpable contempt. "To you," it answered telepathically, "a god." As if to demonstrate its power, it sent raw coruscating lightning from its fingertips towards the wall. "Kneel," it said.
"No gods or masters!" Frieda screamed. A loyal collectivist to the last, Frieda smashed her polearm of halberding into the lightning. Her weapon desperately tried to form an insulating grip, but the lightning was too strong. The dwarf caught fire and died.
"Fuck it, run!" Granville shouted, but the creature was too quick. In one swift movement it smashed Lapis into the wall, crushing her ribs. Clovis deployed the brass combat golem and sprinted up the corridor, tearing open the door to . The golem fought bravely, but all too briefly. Gormog was tossed aside; Karl knelt, and Granville took a solid ceramic strike to the neck.
Oblong Dusk, approaching from the cargo bay, tried to herd a few Veggie-Mites as ablative cover. The docteur also knelt, but at the last second sprang forward and cast a point-blank wave of mutilation at the ship's monstrous master. Amazingly, the attack actually drew blood. Fully enraged, and now completely focused on Oblong, the creature spent the next round scorching the quarterling with lightning. Before dying, Oblong desperately tried to mutate their attacker, but tragically failed.
Their sacrifice did allow the party to escape. Clovis had found what appeared to be a shuttle or escape pod . The half-elf hopped into a crash chair, pressed the obvious large red button, and prepared for whatever came next. The two doors to the pod began to close.
At the last possible moment, Lapis and Granville looped back through the central chamber and leapt through the closing doors. They had just enough time to wedge themsevles into chairs; Lapis upside-down, Granville with just entire torso off the seat.
The doors closed in the face of Karl and Gormog. With his lead skin mutation, Karl was unable to run, so Gormog used his vomish hover ability to magnetically drag the poor wizard through the ship. They tried another door, looted a half-drained paleo-nuclear power cell , and fled.
The escape pod had, somehow, worked. The hirelings on the surface saw it burst from the earth, fly a few thousand feet into the air on a column of blue-white flame, then drop like a stone. Inside, cushioned by a thick layer of expanding crash foam, the three PCs survived both the launch and subsequent impact.
"Run! That way," Gormog shouted to the hirelings at the cart. The carvan set off for the escape pod at top mule speed, trying to steer well clear of the buried sky-chariot and its murderous inhabitant.
Where did the pond land? What would the PCs do with a power cell capable of powering a town? What else would they find in the Ultraviolet Grasslands?
My latest project, the Monster Overhaul, is going splendidly. Here are some disorganized thoughts on monsters, layout, and choices.
Part 1: Design Notes
The chupacabra, the Mexican goat-sucker, first appeared in 1995. 1995! The first "eyewitness" account described a sort of lizard-like phosphorescent clawed humanoid alien. As early as 1997, the chupacabra had mutated into fanged hairless dog, sometimes winged, sometimes not.
Or consider the obscure Celphie, a "five-legged bovine with human hands", which A Book of Creatures painstakingly traces through the ages to a very surprising orgin. Which of its many transformations is "correct"?
In the classic AD&D Monster Manual, thanks to the dubious influence of Edward Topsell's History of Four-Footed Beasts and Serpents, the Gorgon is famously conflated with the Catoblepas. Should I list both? Include a cross reference? Or strike it out as an error and move on?
Stories are inconsistent. Creatures that are demons in one tale are flesh and blood in the next. Unique examples become species; species become individuals. Vital elements appear or disappear. Should the Medusa be winged? Should the Manticore be intelligent or bestial?
There are no easy answers.
Over the centuries, mankind has tried many ways of combating the forces of evil... prayer, fasting, good works and so on. Up until Doom, no one seemed to have thought about the double-barrel shotgun. Eat leaden death, demon
The Origin of Species
It sounds trite, but mythology was not written for RPG purposes. Creatures were written, adapted, or changed for specific reasons, but until very recently those reasons did not include "What happens if some imaginary people in a collective story framework bolted to a random number generator encounter this monster?"
Monsters of Warning
Bugbears, boogeymen, lamia, and other night terrors say "Don't go out at night, child, or you'll be eaten." The Minotaur, the Anaye, the Wendigo, and other unnatural creatures say "Don't break these taboos."
Like the Cephie listed earlier, many classic monsters are victims of enthusiastic translation. An obscure word in one version becomes something entirely new in a later collection. Citations are not provided, or if they are provided, aren't pursued. Over the centuries creatures grow stranger and stranger.
Monsters of Allegory
This temple is protected by a mighty guardian: the head of the wisest creature (man), the body of the strongest creature (bull), and the wings of the swiftest creature (hawk). This spaceship is haunted by a terrifying predator: the [redacted for sanity purposes.] The noble knight encounters Want and Despair, incarnated as a giant vole and a three-headed serpent for some reason.
The Bestiary of Christ, one of my favorite reference books, is entirely concerned with the allegorical implications of beasts both natural and fictional, and rarely distinguishes between them.
Function and Form
The first RPG monster lists were simple wargame stats. "Fights as two Fighting Men", etc. Numbers without words or context.
The first Monster Manual combined wargame stats with a medieval, or Borgian, bestiary. Creatures were described. Colours, lairs, and details were provided. It's an innovation. A birding guide doesn't typically tell you how hard it is to fight a goose; a medieval bestiary doesn't specify the treasures hoarded by a Sphinx.
In growing closer to a bestiary, the Monster Manual also acquired extra baggage. Creatures were included because they existed, not because they were useful. Not all fictional creatures need stats. A one-winged bird that flies in a
spiral is interesting, but does it need rules? Choosing which creatures
to include and which to ignore is difficult. Later books duplicated and triplicated entries. The AD&D Monster Manual II is a particularly egregious book: Raven, Raven (Huge), Raven (Giant), Swan, Vulchling, Vulture, Vulture (Giant), Cat (Domestic), Cat (Wild), Weasel, Skunk, and three different kinds of Squirrel!
Or the endless profusion of small fairies: Atomie, Bookia, Brownie, Buckawn, Grig, Gnome, Leprechaun, Nixie, Pixie, Quickling, Sprite, and Xvart.
In taxonomy, there are lumpers and splitters. When it comes to monsters, I'm a lumper. If a creature can be represented with the same stats, it should appear in the same entry. No two monsters in the Monster Overhaul will feel identical, or (hopefully) even close to identical. Writing a list of 200 monsters is not difficult. Writing a list of 200 completely different monsters, each deserving of rules, is tricky.
Originally, I wanted the "People" chapter to be entirely setting-less, but none of the drafts worked. I had to pick a centre point. Starting with generic medieval-ish tropes and spiraling outwards created a set of tables and stats that, while adaptable to many settings and game modes, still had enough flavour to be useful.
I want to avoid a sense of "othering". Splitting monsters into categories based on their cultural origins would be ridiculous. There used to be elephants in Crete and lions in England. Some entries have a "legendary abilities" table; I've raided real world myths and stories for suggestions, then filled in the blanks with plausible inventions. Some of the myths are very obscure. Finnish folk-tales get paired with Haida proverbs; in come cases, after translation, the say the same things.
As stated above, every adaptation of a monster changes the monster. Mythological creatures are in flux; even real-world creatures gain and lose connotations. It used to be care, not curiosity, that killed cats. In mangling monsters to fit an A4 spread and OSR numbers, I'm participating in an ancient tradition. I'm trying to mangle everything with approximately equal attention. Angels get the same treatment as Kappas.
Equal doesn't necessarily mean fair, but I suspect it's close enough for the purposes of this book.
Part 2: Organizing 200 Monsters
There is no description of the universe that isn't arbitrary and
conjectural for a simple reason: we don't know what the universe is.
-Jorge Luis Borges
I cover my choices in more detail in this post, but the Monster Overhaul will be split into 20 sections of 10 monsters. Alphabetical order is great for finding a monster in a hurry. It's useless for anything else.
Here are all the completed entries as of today. Most of them are available on Patreon.
Tabulated like this it seems like a depressingly small list, but the current PDF runs to ~100 pages.
Consider that most of the entries in the Elemental chapter cover 8 elemental variants, or that Griffon covers pretty much every hybrid non-chimerical beasts, or that Fairy encapsulates (what feels like) twenty different D&D monsters on one 2-page spread.
To make a setting, pick a handful of chapters. If you need a random encounter, roll for a chapter, then roll on that chapter's encounter table. Yes, each chapter has 3 encounter tables (one for lone monsters from the chapter, one for two or more monsters from the chapter, and one for a monster from the chapter and a monster from a different chapter).
The book will also contain alternative methods of organizing monsters. The full alphabetical index, which includes all the entries plus all named variants plus all monsters the stats could plausibly be used to represent, is going to be a thing of beauty.
Part 3: Art
The Monster Overhaul is going to be a massive book. That means it needs massive art.
I'm a firm believer in text over art. If I can fill a page with text, I will. But sometimes I can't come up with a tool that fills the space neatly. Sometimes, a monster cries out for an illustration.
I'm very picky when it comes to artists, but I'm slowly assigning chapters and planning sections.
What's a Minotaur without a labyrinth? A cult without a lair? A wizard without a tower? Maps for the Monster Overhaul are provided by the incomparable Dyson Logos. Some are off-the-shelf maps with light edits, but quite a few are exquisite custom pieces.
I don't want to confirm these artists yet because no money's changed hands, but most likely, if all goes well:
Of that Byzantine Empire the universal verdict of
history is that it constitutes, with scarcely an exception, the most
thoroughly base and despicable form that civilisation has yet
assumed. Though very cruel and very sensual, there have been times
when cruelty assumed more ruthless, and sensuality more extravagant,
aspects; but there has been no other enduring civilisation so
absolutely destitute of all the forms and elements of greatness, and
none to which the epithet mean may be so emphatically applied. The
Byzantine Empire was pre-eminently the age of treachery. Its vices
were the vices of men who had ceased to be brave without learning to
be virtuous. Without patriotism, without the fruition or desire of
liberty, after the first paroxysms of religious agitation, without
genius or intellectual activity; slaves, and willing slaves, in both
their actions and their thoughts, immersed in sensuality and in the
most frivolous pleasures, the people only emerged from their
listlessness when some theological subtilty, or some rivalry in the
chariot races, stimulated them into frantic riots. They exhibited all
the externals of advanced civilisation. They possessed knowledge;
they had continually before them the noble literature of ancient
Greece, instinct with the loftiest heroism; but that literature,
which afterwards did so much to revivify Europe, could fire the
degenerate Greeks with no spark or semblance of nobility. The history
of the Empire is a monotonous story of the intrigues of priests,
eunuchs, and women, of poisonings, of conspiracies, of uniform
ingratitude, of perpetual fratricides.
Tell us how you really feel, William Lecky. Even in 1886, this view of Byzantine history was far from mainstream. Today, no historians, aside from enthusiastic meme-based amateurs on the internet, commit to anything like it. Still, the word "Byzantine" tends to evoke clear reactions. Everyone has an opinion.
When the Last Emperor Gregoras VI sealed the gates of the Imperial Megapalace, his court of trusted advisors followed him into seclusion. The dubious benefits of Prophylactic Hell twisted the eunuchs of the court into empty, windy creatures. Their souls rattle inside their hollow skins like trapped whirlwinds. They can blow a cone of cutting breath, inflate to grotesque proportions, and take dozens of blows before bursting.
2. Greater Eunuch
Stats: as an Elemental (Wind)
The chief functionaries of state, the megas domesticus, the megas ducas, the oeconomus megalus, etc, etc, are even more swollen and proud. While the Bloated Eunuchs waddle, the Greater Eunuchs block entire corridors. Their faces remain the same size, but the rest of their heads and bodies have grown to fill all available space. Their slippered feet protrude from the bottom of their enlarged heads; their tiny arms stick out either side. Bursting one may be the only way to proceed up a path, for their progress is painfully slow.
3. Penitent Hecatoncheire
Stats: as a Giant (Cyclops)
After a great victory over a forgotten nation, the Emperor Demetrios the Great blinded ninety-nine of every hundred prisoners, and left the hundredth with just one eye to lead his compatriots back to their homeland. Some clusters of soldiers became lost and, rendered immortal by despair, were recaptured and placed in the Imperial Megapalace. A hundred bodies locked together, a hundred hands wielding spears and swords, and only one mad and miserable eye to guide them, locked behind a helmet of fingers and arms. The Penitent Hecatoncheires fight with grim determination.
Stats: as a Skeleton The shock troops of a dismantled necromatic army, Triskelos are three armoured skeleton legs fused into one implacable creature. What they lack in subtelty they make up for in speed. As the sages say, everyone has a plan until they get kicked in the face.
Stats: no stats required.
opposite of a Pegasus. A chicken with horse legs. Useless, hopeless,
and gormless. It just stands there, staring with orange chicken eyes.
Stats: as a Zombie with 50% spell resistance. The laws of the Empire record six hundred offenses for which the penalty is mutilation. Eyes, noses, and particularly, in the case of petitioners, tongues could all be taken for crimes ranging from treason to incorrect paperwork. Clusters of petitioners, in ceremonial copper helmets, were sealed in the Imperial Megapalace.
The greatest icons require the greatest sacrifices. Iconpainters, hollowed out by decades of unending labour and the siren song of the Prophylactic Hell, can drain both the life and the colour from other living beings with just a touch. Their masks are exploding fractal obscenities.
Outsiders may not carry weapons in the Imperial Megapalace. This decree is enforced by the Guardian Golems, carved to resemble generals and heroes of past ages. Their range is limited by the size of the passages they patrol.
Stats: as an Angel Those who would remake Hell would see it populated with obedient angels, not unwilling devils. A devil can empathize with a fellow prisoner. Angels, even artificial ones, lack the vice of compassion.
Only the Last Emperor can say why he sealed a foreign emissary in his palace. Perhaps it was an accident. The Red Emissary knows all the secrets of the palace and could be a potent ally to those who wish to topple the Last Emperor and his Prophylactic Hell. Unfortunately, the Red Emissary's appetites and eccentricities make any agreement both fragile and perilous.
Will the forces of Rogue Traders Barabbas and Barnabus Cadrel survive their venture aboard the Space Hulk?
Or will Magos Clarity Urksa obtain the hulk's treasures? Painting technique (if you really want to know): -prime flat black -fix all the spots you missed with black acrylic (lamp black) -daub on splotches of ochre, burnt umber, and burnt sienna. -overbrush white acrylic (titanium deep buff) -airbrush white acrylic to even out the layers -paint all metal with burnt umber -lightly drybrush with silver -overbrush with burnt sienna -outline panels in diluted black acrylic, black ink, brown ink, blue ink, and anything else you feel like diluting and using. -add texture (1:1:1:1 mixture of PVA glue, water, acrylic paint, and fine sand) -overbrush texture with mixes of burnt umber and burnt sienna -call it a day