“That same hideous nightmare thing,
Talking, as he lapped my blood,
In a voice cruel and flat,
Saying for ever, ‘Cat! … Cat! … Cat!…’”
-From “A Child’s Nightmare” by Robert Graves
Of all the forces in Hell, few are so ubiquitously known as the Nightmare Imp. Small things, they find it easy to slip onto the material plane and steal into human settlements. All too many people know the sensation of the waking nightmare, a memory of paralysis as the creature sits upon their chest and wracks them with nightmares. Then it slips away, invisible, to torment another, or, perhaps, to return night after night until a poor soul dies of its troubled sleep.
Forest Giants are vicious bandits and raiders from the edges of civilization. Able to pass in and out of the woods quickly and quietly, regions haunted by Forest Giants never quite enjoy peaceful times – the next raid could always be just around the corner. Thankfully, Forest Giants are rare compared to other kinds of giant, preferring the solitude of deep, trackless forests and only emerging to take what the lesser races have.
Infused with innate druidic magic, forest giants can speak with plants, teleport between trees, and call up the brambles of the woods to attack enemies. Their natural leafy coverings also allow them to blend in with the forest canopy – a natural consequence of their size. While their natural talents might earn them some respect from other giants, forest giants instead scorn giant society and prefer to go their own way – raiding or attacking their kin just as often as anyone else.
Forest Giants do not take slaves, mostly stealing or doing banditry to get things they can’t make themselves, like metal weapons and shiny, finished goods. Lazy to a fault, they much prefer to rob under threat violence or demand tribute than actually kill anything. After all, they’re smart enough to understand that dead humans aren’t going to have more things to steal next time they come around.
Though forest giants mostly act as isolated tribes, they are willing to cooperate with other forest dwellers – usually fey and fey-adjacent creatures like Lank Boars and Trumpeters of the Dark Woods, or perhaps the occasional exceptionally vicious pixie.
Ah, magic shoes! The plot of many a wondrous and fantastical story. Winged sandals, seven-league boots, spring-heeled shoes, ruby slippers – and more, of course, when we look at the fantasy adventurers of our favorite roleplaying games, the panoply expands: Slippers of Spider Climbing; Boots of Elvenkind, Speed, Swiftness, Striding and Springing, Teleportation… You get my drift.
So, of course, in a world of magic shoes there are those who prey upon magic shoes. The shoe thief is an odd meta-creature in the fantasy roleplaying world – it hits heroes where it often hurts the most. It is set upon a spellcaster or supernatural creature’s foes in order to weaken them. If heroes have wronged such a creature, well… they might wake up with missing boots.
Honestly, who doesn’t take off their shoes when they sleep?
Beyond the threat of revenge, a Shoe Thief might have been summoned to target a powerful patron or friend of the players. A duke or duchess’s bejeweled wedding shoes could cause all manner of upset should they go missing, and even a cursory inspection with divination spells and mundane expertise would determine that a supernatural thief was responsible.
The inspiration and art for the shoe thief come from a 15th Century Book of Hours. It is part of the Public Domain Adventures series, all based on works in the public domain.
Fey should be weird things, unfamiliar and odd and horrid. Satyrs are perhaps some of the more approachable, at least in the tabletop fantasy game tradition, where they’re just lovable scamps with a penchant for partying. But what about when their revels take a dark twist? What greater, stranger fey show up when they go hunting for human parties to crash, then ruin, and finally make violent?
The Trumpeter of the Dark Woods is such a creature, designed to haunt a party of heroes beneath the shadowed boughs of the forest when they’ve trespassed where they should not have. It can step handily from tree to tree, unleashing a blast of damaging noise before using its fear-causing abilities to keep heroes away from its fey allies – who’re likely harassing the enemy with their own bows and spells. It should take advantage of limited lines of sight to follow its enemies, taunting them with musical performances and mocking jigs.
The inspiration and art for the Trumpeter of the Dark Woods come from a 15th Century Book of Hours. It is part of the Public Domain Adventures series, all based on works in the public domain.
I have always loved Beast-Men. More than orcs, or goblins, or any other fantasy trope villain, I think Beast-people are a better substitution for abstract, purely evil demons and horrors out of the dark and unforgiving wilderness. That is, perhaps, a blog post all its own, but I often give thought to how such creatures would arise. I think they’re most effective when they spawn sui generis, in strange ways all their own.
Thus when I saw this picture I saw the goat-like weirdness of this monster and figured: Hell, there’s a good source for some Beastmen. Use orc stats for Goat-Men if you want to include them in an adventure with a Goat King – give them a headbutt attack if you’re feeling generous. A Goat King appears most often in an adventure as a sidebar or summoned minion of some other evil – where have the town’s goats gotten off to, and why are they filing into the nearby dungeon or up the nearby mountain?
The inspiration and art for the Goat King come from a 15th Century Book of Hours. It is part of the Public Domain Adventures series, all based on works in the public domain.
What if there was a creature like a sphinx, but where those creatures are noble and wise, this one is vile? A huckster, swindler, and thief, dedicated to the fine art of getting as much as it can from others while giving as little of its own as possible.
The inspiration and art for the Fool’s Sphinx come from a 15th Century Book of Hours. It is part of the Public Domain Adventures series, all based on works in the public domain.
In the deepest Fae forests, there are places where nature twists and bends itself around the fears of normal humanoids to create new and strange creatures not wholly part of the real world. The Lank Boar is one of these things, an unwholesome combination of bear and boar that Fey find rather charming, though mortals find it horrific.
Fast as a horse, territorial as a wild swine, and deadly as a bear, it’s not a creature to be trifled with. Worst of all, though, is its sensitivity to dark magic. The first sign that something’s wrong in the nearby woods may be a Lank Boar attacking travelers on the roads and uprooting the harvest.
I always find that the most interesting creatures in a fantasy RPG world are those which are a gloss on the real world – something that seems like it could have existed, but does not. A creature which appears normal, but has some malign or subtle intelligence to give flavor to interactions.
I like it most when these things are made by wizards with bad intentions.
The Catriculan Hound is part of a series I’ll be doing as part of Gorgon Breath Games – Public Domain Adventures. I’ll be taking material from the public domain – this time, from a 15th Century Book of Hours – and turning it into material for your OGL-compatible roleplaying game of choice.