Wednesday 9 December 2020

Miniature painting: The Baron's Men

This is the Baron.

Not the best of my miniatures, either in terms of painting or sculpting, but easily one of my favourites.

The Baron serves as the default leader of my collection of miscellaneous 'medieval soldier' miniatures, who, like the Greenwood Gang, are united by theme and colour scheme and very little else. I collected and painted them over the course of the last two and a bit years: they include fantasy miniatures and historicals, old metal figures and modern plastics, figures from different cultures, figures from different centuries, and figures sculpted in very different styles. Some are figures I'm quite proud of, while others are far from my best work. If I ever fielded them together then my excuse would be that the Baron had been made so desperate by the antics of the Greenwood Gang that he'd started hiring anyone who turned up, from foreign mercenaries to dungeon-crawling desperadoes. I imagine they could be used as opponents to the Greenwood Gang in a skirmish game, or combined with them into a single force for a larger wargame.

Here are the ones I've painted up so far.

Axemen and swordswomen.

Miscellaneous soldiers.

Spearmen (and one spearwoman).

Soldiers with polearms.

The Baron and his knights.

More miscellaneous soldiers.

Dungeon-crawling adventurers on the Baron's payroll.

The whole force gathered around a village smithy, ready for a showdown with the Greenwood Gang!

Saturday 5 December 2020

Ghoulstorm part 2: ghouls from G-W

Part 2 of my Ghoulstorm. Part 1 (ghouls A-F) can be found here

24: Ghoul-blooded. Not actually undead, just humans with enough ghoulish ancestry to make its mark. They tend towards long nails, pale skin, hunched postures, and a natural aptitude for digging and butchery. Strong stomachs and an innate resistance to disease makes them natural survivors, often clinging on in ruinous and marginal communities long after almost everyone else has died or left. Some long-lived ghouls, especially socially-adept kinds such as beguiling ghouls and enchanter ghouls, end up siring whole broods of ghoul-blooded offspring who look up to them as the immortal patriarchs or matriarchs of their clans. Most ghoul-blooded families live blameless lives as grave-diggers or slaughtermen, but those of them that dig too deep into the secrets of their own ancestry have a tendency to go very bad very fast. 

25: Ghoul gourmets.
Like Feasting Ghouls, but genteel. They pride themselves on not just eating any old carrion, and indeed they usually don't even eat the entire corpse: one may fancy himself an expert in livers, another a connoisseur of tongues, and so on. They gather in grotesque 'dining clubs', and dress to match, but they're still ghouls and cannot pass for human: consequently they hold their 'meetings' in ruins and graveyards, lolling about on mausoleums wearing ragged top hats and tailcoats, nibbling daintily on cannibal confections and having long, tedious debates about the merits of different forms of pickling. Tend towards either skeletal thinness (for those that are picky eaters) or grotesque obesity (for those that are 'fond of good living'), with barely anything in between. They pride themselves on their manners and good breeding, and will always treat visitors politely - unless they do something 'uncouth' like screaming or vomiting or objecting to all this cannibalism, in which case the mortuary knives come out. They will pay well for new and exciting delicacies.

26: Grave ghouls. Burrowing horrors that live in subterranean lairs dug out beneath graveyards, from which they dig upwards into the bottoms of graves, clawing through the undersides of coffins and dragging corpses down to be devoured. They dig vast tunnel networks, and when a cemetery has a long-standing grave ghoul infestation these networks may end up stretching for miles, connecting widely-separated graveyards, basements, and sewers. They have a natural kinship with rats, who serve them as pets and spies and messengers, and often grow huge and sleek in their service. They prefer their food good and putrid, but if their cemetery is exhausted and not replenished they are not above digging into people's houses and making their own corpse supply. If the closure of the local graveyard is followed by a rash of mysterious disappearances, then grave ghouls are probably to blame. 

27: Great ghouls. Enormous monsters, much larger than a man: hugely swollen, hugely strong, waddling, gluttonous, and virtually unstoppable. Their massive bodies can bludgeon their way through almost any obstacle, and their huge, distended jaws can tear off entire limbs at once, swallowing them whole and digesting everything from skin to bones in the gurgling acidic hells of their bloated stomachs. They aren't stupid, but they're so strong and so hungry that they tend to do very little thinking, just smashing through whatever lies between them and their next meal. Sometimes act as leaders to packs of smaller ghouls. 

28: Gutter ghouls.
Wretched ex-humans who come creeping up in the dark from forgotten pits and basements, their inhuman features hidden beneath layer upon layer of filthy rags. For the most part they shuffle along pretending to be lepers or beggars, slurping up foul offal from the gutters when they think that no-one is looking, or surreptitiously licking the trampled corpses of dead rats or pigeons from the cobblestones by night. They are dreadful cowards, and will cringe and whine and flee if confronted - but if they spot a good opportunity for murder they will take it, mobbing unwary victims and dragging them down into sewers or alleyways to be strangled and devoured. They desperately fear the light.

29: Horned ghouls. Possibly the devolved remnants of some demonic cult now thankfully lost to history, these ghouls have skull-like faces topped with long, curving horns like those of an antelope. They lair in hidden chambers beneath old standing stones, ruined temples, and ancient monoliths from which the blood stains cannot be cleaned, and wrap themselves in tattered, flapping black robes and ancient ceremonial jewellery made from rich red gold. For the most part they sleep through the years, emerging only on certain unholy nights in search of living victims: these they abduct, drag back to their stones for ritual sacrifice, and then devour, before crawling back into their hidden lairs leaving only a scattering of gnawed bones behind. They fight with corroded swords of ancient iron, and with a gesture of their clawed hands they can call forth blasting hellfire, induce crippling pain, or summon insects in buzzing, biting clouds. However, their insistence upon taking their victims alive and bringing them back for proper ritual sacrifice means that those they take can sometimes be rescued before it is too late, whereas most other ghouls would simply eat them at the first opportunity. 

30: Human ghouls. Otherwise-normal people who practise ritual cannibalism as a means of enhancing their strength and prolonging their youth. In civilised regions, human ghouls will usually be lone practitioners or horrible cannibal cults: in more remote areas, whole clans or communities might engage in such practises, although they probably won't talk about it when outsiders are around. Those who make a habit of such practises end up marked by weird growths of bulging muscle and an unhealthy corpse-like pallor. Their cannibal elders, their lives stretched into centuries by regular meals of human flesh, devolve progressively into warped and monstrous creatures that have to be kept hidden from strangers, brought out only when their memories need to be consulted or when there are annoyingly inquisitive outsiders to be killed.

31: Hunter ghouls. The wolves of the ghoul world: tireless, baying pursuit predators who lair deep in the wilderness and hunt in packs, tracking their victims by scent, running over the rocks or swinging through the trees in howling mobs. They chase and chase and chase until their prey is ready to drop from sheer exhaustion: only then will they close in for the kill, their yellow eyes glittering in the dark. They dislike anything resembling a fair fight, so if you can wedge yourself in a place where they can only approach one by one then you might be able to hold them off until dawn: failing that, your best bet is to try to wash away your scent, as their smell is by far the keenest of their senses. They are sometimes used as hunting dogs by royal ghouls.

32: Ice ghouls. Arctic horrors resembling frostbitten corpses, missing fingers or toes or noses, their flesh blue-white with cold. They bury themselves in the snow, burrowing through it until they feel the vibration of approaching steps, then lying in wait for victims, ready to come bursting out of snowdrifts and paralyse their prey with their freezing hands. Their touch sucks all the warmth from living beings, and those killed by it are left frozen solid: the ice ghouls will drag these frozen corpses back to their lairs in icy caves carved from the flanks of glaciers, where they will be devoured slowly, joint by frozen joint, over the course of many years. Ice ghoul caves often resemble bizarre and horrible freezers, crammed with frozen corpses in various stages of dismemberment and consumption.

33: Involuntary ghouls. Sometimes people come through a bout of ghoul fever with their minds relatively intact. Theirs is a miserable state, tormented by a cannibalistic hunger that simultaneously tempts and horrifies them. Many destroy themselves, or commit 'suicide by cleric': others flee into the wilderness and end up going completely feral, or spend years living ghastly double lives, pretending to be ordinary people while making surreptitious trips to the graveyard on nights when the moon is dark. For those strong-willed enough to hold their hungers strictly in check, the occasional carrion feast might seem a small price to pay for agelessness: but the urges only grow with time, and few indeed manage to retain their sanity for more than a decade or so. Some kind of medical and/or magical cure might be possible for those who aren't too far gone. 

34: Lake ghouls. They resemble drowned corpses, livid and bloated and swollen. For the most part they sleep at the bottom of lakes, covered in mud and silt - but when they sense the characteristic vibration of human voices through the water they will swim stealthily upwards, lurking in the darkness of the water, swathed in floating weeds for camouflage and looking for a chance to feed. They will grab paddlers by the ankles and drag them into deep water, pull down unwary swimmers, grab fishing lines or nets to yank in fishermen, or tear open the bottoms of boats in order to sink them and devour their occupants. Their favoured method of murder is by drowning, dragging their victims down into the dark depths and holding them there until they expire. Whenever possible they prefer kills that look like accidents, and many a lake has an undeserved reputation for treacherous tides when in fact it harbours a lake ghoul lurking on its bed, surrounded by the mud-covered bones of its previous meals.

35: Mystic ghouls. These are what Fallen Ghouls pretend to be: mystics who have taken up ritual cannibalism as part of a deliberate course of antinomian mysticism, systematically breaking moral laws and taboos as part of an effort to attain enlightenment. They probably do all kinds of other awful things, too, but they commit their atrocious acts with a weird detachment, as though in states of abstract contemplation or ecstatic trance, utterly different from the revolting bestial gluttony of most other ghouls. When they're not ritually killing and eating people they're usually to be found in ascetic meditation, often seated on old tombs or in open graves surrounded by circles of grinning skulls. They possess great wisdom and mystic knowledge, and are sometimes sought out by aspiring contemplatives who aren't too picky in their choice of gurus. 

36: Radioactive ghouls. All fans of post-apocalyptic fiction know that the first symptom of radiation poisoning is nausea, and the second is degenerating into a cannibal mutant. These blighted creatures roam the blasted radioactive deserts, warped and hungry, their pale skin faintly luminescent in the dark. Often they lair in the shattered ruins of bombed-out cities, in zones so radioactive that no normal creature could survive in them for long. Their touch causes radiation burns. Their eerie keening can be heard for miles across the wastes.

37: Royal ghouls. Remnants of noble houses long since collapsed into degenerate insanity, these ghouls still cling to their crumbling castles or ruinous manor houses, mad cannibal kings of their own desolate domains. Dressed in bloodstained finery, they rule over courts of cringing sycophants, sending forth their minions (whether human or undead) to bring them the ghastly foodstuffs they now crave: sometimes they even ride forth to hunt in person, mounted on immense black horses, with packs of hunter ghouls baying at their heels like hounds. Some maintain bodyguards of chivalric ghouls, or install church ghouls as their personal chaplains: in such cases, they demonstrate their generosity by sharing their prey with their household retainers, presiding over grotesque cannibal feasts in which human carrion is served on the massy gold and silver plate of their ancestors. Many possess innate sorcerous powers inherited from the corrupted bloodlines of their diabolist forebears. They are usually quite insane, and such is their narcissistic pride that they can be easily manipulated by playing upon their monstrous vanity and hunger for flattery. Prone to lunatic rages if disappointed or defied.

38: Smoke ghouls. Huge, pot-bellied monsters, their flesh burned black by the smouldering fires that burn continuously within them. They haunt lands blasted by certain magical disasters, smoke drifting from their mouths, their cracked skin burning hot to the touch. Those they kill are fed, limb by limb, into their huge mouths as fuel for the unquenchable fires that smoulder in their bellies. (If you kill a smoke ghoul you can extract this fire if you're careful, which will burn forever as long as you feed it a little flesh and blood from time to time.) They can vomit forth fire on their enemies, or belch out enormous clouds of singing cinders to blind them. If the fires inside them are ever extinguished (by e.g. pouring water down their throats) then they die instantly.

39: Stalker ghouls. Unlike most ghouls, with their indiscriminate appetites for carrion, a stalker ghoul will fixate on a single victim at a time, drawn to them by some indefinable quality of their scent. Once it has chosen a target it will stalk them tirelessly, always watching, always lurking, waiting for the moment to strike. They are very agile and very stealthy: they will skulk in shadows, crawl across rooftops, and squirm through narrow windows to get to their prey. Their patience is endless, as they are watching not just for an opportunity to kill their victim but for a chance to steal their corpse and drag it away to be safely devoured, and they are quite prepared to wait for months on end for a suitable opportunity to arise. If necessary they can assemble crude disguises to pass as human, though one glimpse of their crazed eyes and fang-filled mouths is enough to reveal their monstrosity. They cannot speak, only hiss. If spotted or challenged they flee at once, but they will resume their stalking at the first opportunity, ceasing only when they or their quarry meet their deaths.

40: Swamp ghouls. They resemble leathery bog corpses, so twisted they are unable to stand upright, squirming and moaning as they slither through the swamps. When prey comes close they sink down into the mud, twisted claws reaching stealthily out from stagnant puddles to grab unwary victims by the ankles and yank them down into the mire. Horribly strong, they will drag their prey into the marshes and hold them down, trying to drown them in mud: then, when all the struggling has stopped, they will pull them down beneath the surface to be slowly devoured. Their eyes glow with a dim green phosphorescence, like rotting wood, and their tough, sinewy bodies are frustratingly resistant to injury.

41: Trapper ghouls. A nest of trapper ghouls will lay claim to a territory - a wood, perhaps, or a ruin - and fill it with traps designed to catch and cripple the unwary: snares, pits, spikes, punji sticks, bear traps, weighted nets, deadfalls, and whatever else their cruel and ingenious hands can devise. They are skilled mechanics, expert in the use of improvised materials, and the longer they remain in an area, the deadlier it will become. The ghouls themselves will lurk in some lair surrounded by deathtraps, which only they know how to navigate safely, emerging periodically to reset their traps and retrieve whatever prey, living or dead, has fallen into their snares. Even after the ghouls are cleared out, their leftover traps may go on killing and maiming for months or years to come. 

42: Vault ghouls. Remnants of an ancient people who were sealed beneath the earth in great vaults long ages ago, although whether this sealing was an accident, a punishment, or a deliberate attempt to escape catastrophe is unclear. For years - perhaps for centuries - some kind of organised society persisted in the vaults, but eventually everything fell apart, and every vault that has been opened has contained nothing but mad, ragged cannibals, warped by the weird energies of their ancient machines, and pale from generations beneath the earth. From within the vault doors are impenetrable, but from the outside they are easily opened, and several unfortunate mining or caving expeditions have accidentally unleashed cannibal plagues upon their communities after incautiously opening the ancient metal doors they found embedded in the rock deep beneath the earth. 

43: War ghouls. Huge pallid brutes used as necromantic shock troops and terror weapons, with legs powerful enough to leap over trenches, huge hooked claws for climbing up fortifications, and massively-muscled bodies capable of simply smashing through wooden barricades. Often equipped with bulky spiked armour that allows them to function as humanoid battering rams, smashing their way into buildings and proceeding to slaughter and devour everyone inside. Only vestigially intelligent: they aren't so much given orders as simply pointed in the correct direction, and once they've killed a bunch of people they will stop to eat their corpses, taking no further part in the battles around them unless their feast is disturbed. On the rare occasions when royal ghouls ride into battle, they sometimes do so perched on a war ghoul's shoulders, steering their savage mounts by means of implanted chains welded to their bones. 

44: Wood ghouls. They resemble humans grown, rather than carved, from dark wood, with dark pits for eyes and long, branching fingers and wide mouths full of sharp wooden spikes. Arising apparently spontaneously from the trees of certain accursed forests, they are not truly undead, but hunger for human flesh none-the-less - not to feed themselves, but to fertilise the evil trees from which they are born. They scuttle along the forest floor, hiding themselves beneath the leaf litter until it is time to strike, or else camouflaging themselves against the bark of trees, their bodies almost indistinguishable from the wood they cling to until it is too late. Their victims are ripped open with their hooked talons, their bleeding bodies dragged back and forth across the forest in order to fertilise its soil with their blood, before being reverently buried beneath the oldest and most evil trees. In woods with long-term wood ghoul populations, the soil beneath these trees may eventually become positively choked with bones, their roots twisting though skulls and rib-cages, each new death feeding the dark enchantment from which the wood ghouls are born. 

Tuesday 1 December 2020

Ghoulstorm part 1: ghouls from A-F

Ghouls have always been one of my favourite D&D monsters. Partly its the imagery: crazed eyes, pale faces, fanged mouths, and long, long reaching arms are literally the stuff of nightmares. (Trevor Henderson has built an entire career out of them.) Mostly, though, it's the associations: hunger, madness, degeneration, desperation, loss. Those thin, emaciated bodies; those desperate, grabbing hands. Zombies are often cannibals too, of course, but they're mindless cannibals, whereas the point of ghouls is that they aren't mindless, which makes them much more horrible. There's a person in there, and all they can think about is just how much they want to eat you. 

I started brainstorming some ghoul ideas recently and it got out of hand and I ended up with loads of them - so many I had to split them into two posts. Using them all in the same campaign would be massive overkill, but hopefully most readers will find one or two in there worth using in their own games!

1: Ancient ghouls. Certain ancient desert ruins are less abandoned than they appear to be, and by night the degenerate descendants of their original inhabitants come crawling up out of hidden vaults to kill and devour any who trespass in their ruinous domain. They speak a corrupted form of the original language of their people, although the skill of reading its hieroglyphs has long since been lost to them. They are adept at tunnelling into long-lost tombs, which they loot without compunction, convinced that they are the only true heirs of their long-vanished builders. They wield the rusted khopeshes of long-dead warriors, cram the rings of vanished kings onto their bony fingers, and wind the jewels of ancient queens in ropes around their withered necks. 

2: Anti-personnel ghouls. Barbarous traps devised by ingenious necromancers: ghouls are packed into iron coffins like sardines, which are then sealed shut and buried beneath the earth, their lids spring-loaded to open when a pressure plate is triggered or a lever is pulled. In a field mined with anti-personnel ghouls, one incautious footfall can bring mobs of mad and ravenous undead bursting to the surface to feast upon whomever triggered their trap. Some ancient necromantic battlegrounds are littered with hundreds of the things, still rusting away in the earth centuries after the battles they were originally deployed for. If retrieved intact they can be reused as traps, or even as unconventional catapult ammunition - hitting the ground should trigger the pressure plate, releasing the ghouls to devour everyone around the impact zone. 

3: Beguiling ghouls. Thin, pale, sensuous, and glamorous, with kissable red lips and knife-sharp cheekbones and truly amazing hair. Often splendidly dressed, as they usually have no shortage of admirers willing to ply them with expensive gifts. Discreet cannibals, with tasteful little kitchens hidden behind secret doors where their least-fortunate lovers are butchered, cooked, and eaten. Their beautifully-manicured nails are razor-sharp and capable of injecting paralytic venom. Capable of putting on a good show of sophistication, but under all the fancy cookery and beautiful clothes they're every bit as much in thrall to their vile hungers as the lowest ghouls that slurp carrion from the gutters. Their children often become ghoul-blooded.

4: Bioweapon ghouls. Vat-bred mass-produced clone warslaves, aggressive and hardy and ravenous, designed to spill over enemy territory like locusts and strip it bare of life before dropping into catatonic suspended animation. Dead white skin apart from the tattooed serial numbers on their foreheads. Had a nasty habit of turning upon their creators. Expect ancient laboratories, shattered glass, and hulking ghoul-kings in tattered lab-coats wearing the skulls of long-dead scientists as crowns. If you're lucky they'll have enough intact psycho-surgical programming to recognise their own deactivation codes when they hear them. 

5: Bone ghouls. While they share the hunger of all ghouls for flesh, these have a special relish for bone marrow: they crack open bones with their sharp yellow claws, and slurp out the marrow with their long, warty black tongues. They dwell in dismal ossuaries hung with bones, tessellated together across the walls and dangling from the ceiling on cords of woven sinew: bones likewise furnish them with both weapons and armour, whether worn across the body for protection, sharpened into knives or spearpoints, or simply wielded as clubs. They lair together in savage clans, all sharing one bone-pile, and often led by skull-wearing chieftains of prodigious size and strength.

6: Butcher ghouls. Brawny, no-nonsense murderers who dispatch their victims with a minimum of fuss, usually via an unceremonious blow to the back of the head with something heavy and sharp. Then they drag the corpses back to their lairs where the real work begins, setting about with knives and grinders until the bodies have been processed into steaks, joints, sausages, and pies. Butcher ghouls usually work in family units, with older ghouls instructing the younger in the mysteries of the trade, and they sometimes act as provisioners for the superior sorts of ghoul, such as beguiling ghouls and royal ghouls. If cornered in their slaughterhouses they fight with meathooks and cleavers and a disturbingly perfect knowledge of human anatomy. 

7: Cave ghouls. Thin and pale and spindly, they hide themselves from the light, folding themselves into narrow cracks in the rock and listening in the dark for prey. They can climb along walls and ceilings like awful white scuttling spiders, moving horribly quickly, a flicker of white limbs glimpsed by torchlight deep beneath the earth. Long, long arms reach out unseen from the hidden crevices they hide in, to snatch victims and drag them down into concealed pits to be devoured. They will sabotage climbing and caving expeditions, cut ropes, pull out spikes, yank people off ledges whenever they have the furthest to fall. They will wait until all the screaming is over and then come climbing down the cave wall, cautious and pale and silent, to feast on the broken corpses and lick the cooling blood from the rocks below.

8: Chemical ghouls. The botched results of ghastly alchemical experiments, these creatures are pale and hairless and feral, constantly twitching and shivering, glistening with a sheen of acidic sweat. Their supercharged metabolisms mean that they are always hungry. Mostly they just lie in the dark, whimpering and quivering, but when they scent prey they transform at once into terrible predators, leaping and sprinting and howling as they run down their victims and pin them down with their burning, acidic hands while tearing at their flesh. Fortunately they are near-mindless and are easily tricked or lured into traps, their desperate hunger overriding all other concerns.

9: Chivalric ghouls.
Huge, pale, hulking cannibals in rusted, bloodstained plate mail, their mad faces and monstrous fang-filled mouths hidden behind visors of tarnished steel that are forged in the shape of fantastical monsters and are never lifted except to allow the ghoul knights eat. They wield enormous swords and axes, hacking their enemies to bloody ruin and feasting on their remains. They are capable of more restraint than most ghouls, and could pass for 'just' a company of psychopathic super-heavy infantry until you see them feed. Happy to fight for any tyrant who can guarantee them a steady stream of victims. 

10: Church ghouls. Among humans they pass as monks, shuffling along in the twilight, their hooded cassocks concealing their awful faces. Among their own kind they are revered, presiding over ghastly cannibal masses in hidden subterranean shrines of dark and dripping stone. Theirs is a dreadful faith of pain and hunger, built around the deified memory of the tyrant kings of grim antiquity, who filled the world with luscious carrion wherever they went. In their sermons the church ghouls give themselves over to apocalyptic visions, prophesying to their baying congregations of a coming age of universal slaughter when the faithful shall glut themselves upon the world's offal. When they must travel above ground they take retinues of chivalric ghouls as escorts, whose intimidating presence serves to discourage anyone from looking at these 'holy men' too closely, or from asking too many questions about why people seem to go missing every time they pass through. 

11: Claw ghouls. Hunchbacked and skeletally thin creatures, with rictus grins on their skull-like faces and yellowish skin stretched tight over their misshapen bones, their long, long arms ending in enormous curving talons like those of a bird of prey. They come crawling out of pits to hunt by night, disembowelling their victims with a single swipe of their awful claws before slurping up their entrails with horrible avidity. They aren't stupid, exactly, but their minds have been so eroded that all they understand is hunger and a certain instinctive cruelty. They sometimes serve as attack dogs for more lucid ghouls.

12: Cyber ghouls.
Recipients, willing or otherwise, of baroque and fantastical cybernetic grafts, whose machineries have been modified to run on flesh and blood. It is not their own hunger they seek to assuage but that of the machines bolted to their bodies, the ever-grumbling engines whose artificial stomachs break down animal tissue and convert it into the chemicals necessary to keep their malfunctioning machine-body interfaces running, at least for now. Fresh kills are cut up and fed, piece by piece, into the blood engines, where they are ground up by whirring metal teeth and prepared for chemical digestion. Common prosthetics include powerful spring-loaded legs, patchwork subdermal body armour, drug glands, pop-out metal claws, and stainless steel teeth. In an emergency the powerful digestive acids within the blood engine can be vented at attackers in a corrosive spray.

13: Desert ghouls. Pale burrowers that sleep beneath the sands of the desert by day, and dig their way out by night to scamper across the dunes in search of prey. It is not the flesh of their victims that they hunger for but their fluids: they will drink their blood, slurp up their humours, even lick the sweat from their cooling skin. Their hollow teeth can suck the moisture right out of their living victims, leaving their flesh dry and dessicated, like that of a mummy left out in the desert for years. They prefer to attack from ambush, and if faced with sturdy resistance they will dig their way back into the sand and await another opportunity to strike. They have an instinctive fear of fire.

14: Devolved ghouls. Originally ghouls of some other kind, these ghouls have devolved so far under the influence of their curse that they have become little more than worm-like burrowing maws, their limbs dwindling to vestigial paddles used to clear the earth away. They tunnel mindlessly through the soil, pale and wriggling, their tooth-filled circular mouths twitching convulsively whenever they scent new prey. They will burrow into basements and come wriggling up the stairs in search of food. Sometimes, if you follow their tunnels back far enough, you will find lairs containing hints of the beings they once were before being overtaken by this final devolution. 

15: Enchanter ghouls. These ghouls have learned how to use illusion magic to pass among men undetected, appearing human until it is too late. The same magic that they use to disguise themselves can be used to disguise other things, too, allowing them to make rags and pebbles appear like silk and gold, and they use this gift to lure people to their lairs - homes which, under the influence of their illusions, appear to be luxurious boudoirs, but which in fact are filth-streaked abattoirs where their victims are murdered and consumed. They like to pose as wise sages or seductive lovers, but the presence of true holiness dispels their illusions, revealing them as the hideous, ragged, blood-spattered horrors that they truly are.  

16: Fae ghouls. Slim, pale, and beautiful, and glimpsed only at twilight, usually doing something picturesque like dancing in snowstorms, drifting through forests, bathing in rivers, or kneeling mournfully among the tombs. They are very graceful and have beautiful singing voices, and their teeth are very white and very sharp. They speak movingly of love and passion and beauty, but are totally heartless and amoral, and will paralyse you and eat you alive the moment they get the chance. (They will, however, carve extremely tasteful memento mori curios from your bones.) They prefer to flee if confronted, but if cornered they fight with great agility using thin blue-steel blades. When they're not too hungry they enjoy talking to interesting humans, and could even become friends or lovers provided you don't mind the whole 'eating people' thing. 

17: Fallen ghouls. They may have started out as free-thinking heretics or daring explorers of forbidden secrets, but it turns out that if you expose yourself to too many demonic energies then the day comes when all you can think about is eating people. Utterly ashamed of their horrible addictions, not least because their progress toward unholy enlightenment has completely stalled now that all their intellectual energy is devoted to obtaining human corpses for dinner. If confronted they may claim that actually they engage in cannibalism because of its potent symbolic resonances, but it's a total lie:  they're just filthy addicts, and they know it. For now they look mostly human apart from their too-sharp teeth and too-long nails, but they're liable to devolve into even more feral forms, such as claw ghouls, if no-one catches them and kills them first. 

18: Famine ghouls. Cursed revenants of famine victims who committed awful acts of murder and cannibalism against those they most loved in order to survive. Utterly gaunt, with dull, sunken eyes and dusty rags that hang loosely from their skeletal frames. Just looking at them makes people feel hungry. They are filled with a terrible cannibal hunger, but under their accursed touch even the plumpest of victims withers away to mere skin and bones, leaving them forever unsatisfied. If they stay too long in one place the crops start to fail, so they are always on the move, tramping wearily along the roads with a stumbling, hopeless tread. They devoured those they loved in the name of their own bare survival, and so only an act of pure self-sacrifice will release them from their curse. 

19: Feasting ghouls. Affable grave-robbing hedonists, who love nothing better than a good cannibal banquet under a charnel house, feasting on carrion and drinking vile brews distilled from grave water and corpses. Enjoy singing songs and whirling around the room while dancing with dead bodies (which they then eat). Dab hands at making musical instruments from skins and bones: bone flutes, rib xylophones, skin drums, bone fiddles with corpse-hair strings, etc, etc. Anyone who discovers them mid-feast will be given a choice: join the meal as a feaster, or join it as food. They'll happily talk to anyone willing to join them in their ghastly meals, but doing so is a quick way to end up becoming a feasting ghoul oneself. 

20: Feral ghouls. All ghouls can be pretty feral at times, but these are the worst: insane pale-skinned berserkers who leap on their prey to claw and chew in a mad rage of hunger, indifferent to pain or injury, continuing to rip and bite until they are literally hacked apart. They are strong and savage, capable of terrible feats of leaping and sprinting, but their mindless hostility and indifference to self-preservation makes it easy to trick or misdirect them into their own destruction. 

Trevor Henderson, Tree Man

21: Forest ghouls. Lurking horrors that sleep inside hollow trees by day, and by night come creeping out to climb across the forest canopy like awful pale spiders. In the dark their long spindly limbs and reaching fingers are almost indistinguishable from branches, making them terribly hard to spot as they stretch down from above, slowly, slowly, before suddenly grabbing their victims by the throat and hoisting them, kicking and choking, up into the branches to throttle them with their dreadful strangling hands. They climb with astonishing speed, and are much stronger than they look. 

22: Furry ghouls. Bestial, stinking, shrieking monsters covered in thick coats of black, matted hair. They come swarming from caves and fissures, seeking to pulverise their victims with thrown rocks and powerful fists before devouring them with mouthfuls of chipped yellow fangs. The stench of them is indescribable. 

23: Future ghouls. Refugees from a devastated future timeline, in which the world has been stripped of all resources and the handful of degenerate cannibal survivors have taken to jumping through unstable time portals to the past, heedless of when they end up as long as there's someone to eat on the other side. They wear makeshift armour soldered together from random bits of future machinery, all ultra-lightweight alloys and shattered masses of circuitry, and wield priceless ultratech relics as clubs, their beautifully engineered nanolathed machineries now valued only for their sharp edges. Their bodies are festooned with semi-operational cybernetics, their blood spiked with malfunctioning nanites, their heads studded with digital implants gibbering horrorshow static into their drug-fried brains. They have no way to get home and wouldn't want one if they could, seeing the past as a paradisal all-you-can-eat buffet. Possibly if one could be interrogated about the history of its dying world then their awful future could be prevented from coming to pass...

Friday 30 October 2020

20 double-edged potions for the ingenious adventurer

I've written before about item-based problem solving in D&D, and the principle that creatively solving problems using whatever random junk you have lying around is always going to be more satisfying, and more memorable, than just beating them down with brute force. Magic items open up possibilities for all kinds of even more creative solutions, because they don't have to be limited by what's physically possible. But a magic item that grants a permanent new ability is likely to radically change the nature of the campaign.

One solution is to be generous in giving out one-use rule-changers, or 'potions' as D&D calls them. Plenty of things that would be game-breaking in a spell or item become perfectly viable if they can only be used once. But a good potion should be versatile: the kind of thing that could be used in all kinds of different ways, in all kinds of different contexts. No-one's ever going to be proud of the time they worked out that maybe they should drink a fire resistance potion just before fighting the red dragon. But beating a red dragon with a creatively-applied potion of levitation is the stuff of which gaming legends are made. 

Here's a list of twenty potions. All have been written with an eye towards OSR-style problem solving, and most of them are versatile enough that they can potentially be used in all kinds of different ways, including as weapons. Because why fight fair when you can cripple your opponents with potion side-effects instead?

Delivery system (roll 1d4)

  1. Must be swallowed. (Have you considered dosing your enemy's food?)
  2. Must be injected into the bloodstream. (Putting it on a sharp weapon and stabbing someone with it is sufficient.) 
  3. Works on contact with skin. (Throwing the bottle at someone should work unless they're covered in heavy clothes or armour.) 
  4. Gaseous: must be inhaled. (Throw it at your enemy's head!)

Effects (roll 1d20)



Beneficial uses

Hostile uses






Antigravity. User ‘falls’ upwards for six seconds unless something gets in the way.

Getting to hard-to-reach places on ceilings, overhangs, etc.

Six seconds of unimpeded reverse freefall will leave you 176 metres up in the air.


Hatemask. For the next 1d6 hours, the user takes on the appearance of whichever living being they most hate. (If the being they most hate is is a radically different size to them - e.g. a human who hates a dragon - they appear as a them-sized version of it, instead.)

Infiltrating the stronghold of your archenemy. Potentially a useful disguise if your archenemy is of a different gender / ethnicity / species to yourself.

Learning about your enemies. Revealing their secrets. Potentially getting someone killed by their own allies, by e.g. making someone look like ‘the enemy’ in the middle of a battle.


Nilbog essence. For one round, the user is harmed by healing and healed by harm.

Use it just before taking massive damage, e.g. walking through a wall of fire or jumping off a cliff.

Use on an enemy just before they get healed.


Soulfire potion. Magical flames burst from the user’s body, burning everything for 10’ around them for 1d6 minutes. During this time they are totally immune to heat and fire, though their equipment isn’t.

Protecting yourself from fire, or from being swarmed by enemies.

Breaking up enemy formations. Destroying someone’s equipment.


Beast-tongue. For 1d6 hours, the user gains the ability to communicate with animals. They lose the ability to communicate with any creature of above-animal intelligence.

Talking to animals.

Preventing someone from communicating with their allies, giving orders, etc. (Especially handy if used against summoners, who will be unable to command their summonations!)


Psychic sensitivity. For 1d6 hours, the user can detect the surface thoughts and emotional states of all nearby sentient beings by sight. Powerful emotions cause confusion and painful headaches.

Reading people’s minds.

Use it on someone in the middle of a riot or battle and watch them have a psychic meltdown.


Rust monster extract. For 1d6 rounds, every ferrous object that comes in contact with the user’s skin turns instantly to rust.

Rust your way through metal locks, barriers, etc. Destroy enemy weapons and armour on contact.

Use it on someone with metal weapons and armour and watch their equipment turn to rust.


Stoneflesh. User’s flesh becomes grey, heavy, and super-dense. For 2d6 minutes the user becomes slow, clumsy, and almost impossible to harm.

Endure damage. Survive dangerous environments.

Make someone too slow to catch you. Render finesse-based fighters ineffectual. Make flying creatures drop out of the air, or swimming creatures sink to the bottom of the water. Or use it on someone standing on a flimsy bridge or walkway and watch them fall through the floor.


Elixir of undeath. For 1d6 hours the user becomes pale and cold to the touch. They do not need to eat, drink, or breathe, and will register as undead to Detect Undead spells. Mindless undead will ignore them unless directly attacked. Sunlight is painful to them, holy water burns them, and they become vulnerable to Turn Undead.

Feigning death. Sneaking past zombies. Pretending to be a zombie. Navigating environments where breathing is dangerous or impossible.

Use it on someone and then get a cleric to Turn them, or douse them in holy water. Prevent someone from operating in bright sunlight. Get someone mistaken for a zombie and murdered by passing paladins.


Clawbrew. Causes the user’s jaws and hands to warp into huge, bestial fangs and claws for 1d6 hours, capable of inflicting terrible injuries. Clear speech and fine manipulation are impossible for the duration.

Scaring people. Boosting your unarmed combat capability.

Rendering someone unable to talk effectively. Preventing someone from carrying out delicate manual tasks (e.g. archery, lockpicking). Getting someone lynched as a werewolf.


Potion of photosynthesis. For 3d6 days the user’s skin turns green, and they are able to gain all the nourishment they need from sunlight and water. Lack of these things causes them to weaken and wither.

Subsisting without food. Pretending to be a Martian.

Use it on an underground predator and wait for it to starve to death.


Arctic Adaptation. Causes all temperatures to be experienced as 20C (36F) higher than they actually are for 3d6 hours.

Surviving ice and cold.

Use it on a warmly-dressed or armoured person on a sunny day and watch them pass out from heatstroke.


Gluesweat. For 1d20 minutes the user’s body exudes a sticky, gluey substance, making them stick to everything they touch unless they slowly and deliberately rip themselves away.

Use your glue-hands to climb along walls and ceilings like a spider.

Laugh as the feet of monsters stick to the floor, the arrows of archers stick to their fingers, thrown weapons stick to their wielder’s hands, etc.


Mistform. The user (and all their equipment) turns into a cloud of gas for 2d6 minutes. During this time they cannot move under their own power, but will move with the prevailing winds.

Turn to gas and get your allies to fan you through prison bars, across pits, etc.

Turn someone else to gas and fan them off a cliff, or into a box which you then lock shut, or just use it on someone in a strong wind and watch them blow away. Can also be used just to get rid of someone for 2d6 minutes.


Nighteye. For 2d6 hours the user can see perfectly in poor light, and dimly even in complete or magical darkness. Ordinary daylight is painful to them, and bright light is blinding.

Use it to see in the dark.

Use it on someone at midday or near a light source to blind them.


Gillbrew. The user grows gills, and for the next 3d6 minutes they can breathe underwater. They cannot breathe in air during this time.

Use it to breathe underwater.

Use it to force someone else to start suffocating unless they shove their head underwater.


Lightfoot. For 3d6 minutes the user’s mass is reduced by 90%, as is the mass of their equipment.

Balance on twigs, climb over damaged surfaces, make enormous leaps, carry someone bigger than you are.

Use it on someone, then shove them hard and watch them go flying. (Makes it much easier to push people into things!) Renders enemies largely ineffectual in physical combat.


Rubberflesh. For 1d6 hours the user’s flesh becomes stretchy and rubbery, allowing them to stretch their limbs 50%  further than usual. Their weird, rubbery flesh is hard to crush but parts easily beneath sharp edges, taking half damage from bludgeoning attacks and double damage from slashing attacks.

Stretching to get something just out of reach. Protecting yourself against crushing attacks.

Rendering enemies vulnerable to cutting attacks.


Slipperiness. For 2d6 minutes the user’s body becomes slippery and almost frictionless. If they are barefoot this requires them to move slowly and with great care to avoid slipping over with each step.

Slithering out of bonds, webs, etc.

Slowing barefoot enemies. Preventing people from following you up ropes, ladders etc. Making people’s tools or weapons slip from their hands. Making people lose their grip on ropes or ledges.


Magnetism. For 1d6 minutes the user becomes powerfully magnetic, attracting all nearby ferrous metals to them.

Stick to metal surfaces. Make an enemy’s weapons stick to you. Could also be used to suck metal objects out of pools, mud, pits, etc.

Make someone a literal magnet for arrows and other metal projectiles. Make someone’s own weapon stick to them. Make the weapons of their allies stick to them. Make a whole bunch of heavily-armoured opponents stick together in a big magnetic ball with the user in the centre. Point and laugh.