Friday, 29 March 2013

L is for Linnorm

"Doesn't matter how many legs we've got, we'll still give you a kicking!"

Linnorms are powerful monsters closely related to dragons. Like dragons, they also come in different breeds: forest, frost, land, grey, and so on. While none have wings, there's an inconsistency about how many legs they have: with some having just two, and others having four. Again, this could have something to do with real myth, as the linnorm (or "lindworm" to us English) can represent a variety of mythological dragons: whether wingless, legless, or bipedal. 

My personal favourite is the Lambton Worm, a monster from County Durham that grew inside a well after being dumped there by a young fisherman. Eventually it started eating children and livestock, forcing the lord of the manor to appease it with vast offerings of milk. Numerous villagers died trying to slay the beast, until at last it fell to the young fisherman who caught it - now a knight back from the crusades. He fought it wearing a specialised suit of armour covered in sharpened spear heads, which cut the worm to ribbons as it coiled around him. Now that's a D&D plan if ever I've heard one!  

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Maps of the Drowned Kingdoms 5: Odinessa

The legendary City of Ropes welcomes a new dawn.
I think this is the first map I've drawn that really hits the "big story" of Drowned Kingdoms: a world ruled by an ancient order of giants, perched on the brink of a new age.

Locked away in their towers and embroiled in petty politics, the giants have unwittingly ceded control to trusted stewards from the "mannish" races. I can picture the Groaning King tramping through his ramshackle hall, tended by degenerate servants, while his scheming steward runs the busy metropolis below. Odinessa also gives me a chance to explore one of the new classes from the latest packet - the warden - which manifests in Next as a "green knight" variant of the paladin. For Drowned Kingdoms I've made these the guardians of the city's great roc, which protects Odinessa from attack by scooping up ships and dashing them against the cliffs.

This is also the last map I intend to draw from the Widowing Sea region. Next up we're going on a trip to the mountains, where we'll explore some of the Highland Kingdom!

The "City of Ropes" is the gateway between the Widowing Sea and the upper reaches of the Highland Kingdom. Its citizens belong to the Groaning King of the stone giants, who rules from a castle overlooking the city.  
Population: 8,434 (85% human, 10% halfling, 5% other). Humans make up the vast proportion of Odinessa's population, with most indentured into service with one of the great guilds. The city's halflings are a throwback to the grim days of giantry, when most inhabitants worked as slaves in the king's castle (and halflings were prized as cooks). 
Government: The Groaning King may govern in principle, but the city is ruled by his steward: an office currently held by Bourne Cavendish, baseborn son of the late Lord Cavendish. "The Bastard" rules with an iron fist, and has brought the city's guilds to heel through a winning combination of threats, bribery and murder. Rumour has it that he clamours for yet more power, and is turning his eyes overseas in search of conquest.  
Inns and Taverns: Most of Odinessa's inns and taverns are found in the Wash: the tangle of streets honeycombing the city's crowded docks. Ragwork's mighty meadhall still does a roaring trade, even though the drink now comes at a price (under giantry, each of the king's slaves was granted a free flask of mead at the close of each day).  
Supplies: Odinessa was once a thoroughfare for highland merchants, with goods hoisted up and down its cliffs on massive rope lifts. Such industry collapsed along with the king's court, and now its ropes hang rotten. Today the city's trade is tied up by the guilds, with Odinessa supplying a steady stream of valuable ores and minerals to the economy of the sea kingdoms. Visitors should seek out the Crown Market, where trade goods can be purchased from all over the ocean.   
Temples: Temples for most modern faiths can be found on Burnt Hill. Chief among these is the Temple of the Sky, whose silvered dome is polished to a mirrored sheen that can be seen for many leagues. Sky priests are a growing power in Odinessa, and in recent years have even infiltrated the steward's hold.  
Laws and Customs: Guildrule holds sway in the city, with each guild providing their own tunics to maintain peace and dispense justice. Knights swear fealty to their steward, or tend the king's eagle (a giant even among its own kind). The mysterious Knights of the Roc are said to watch over a clutch of eggs that have lain dormant in its eyrie for almost two centuries.   

Friday, 15 March 2013

K is for Kenku

"Check it out, Pa - I'm gonna be a god!" 

Kenku are naturally drawn towards thievery, forming underworld gangs within the larger cities of the world.  These crafty birdmen earn their living through rigged card games, confidence scams and backstreet ambushes, sometimes using their talent for disguise to pose as humans (though their "telltale large noses" give them a mere 50% chance to pull it off). Infant Kenku quickly mature into criminals, with the younger members of the gang carrying out the most daring and audacious plots (such as "posing as a god"). Gold given by a Kenku crumbles into dust soon after it's received, and their advice is always misleading. A gibberish language of chirps and squawks masks their true method of communication: telepathy.

Kenku often feature in Far Eastern adventures, as they're loosely based on Japanese folk spirits called Karasu-Tengu: a race of mystical birdmen who supposedly taught martial arts to man. Interestingly, traditional Japanese depictions of Tengu have become less and less birdlike over the years, ultimately ending up as angry red-faced men with really long noses. I wonder if that's why the D&D Kenku disguises itself as a man?

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Maps of the Drowned Kingdoms 4: The Sunken Citadel of Ebb

What secrets lie hidden within the drowned fastness of Ebb? 

Aspirant wizards of the Widowing Sea are taken by sail to the Lullen, a vast stretch of water where no wind blows. Marooned on its edge, the aspirant must row alone into the doldrums, until they come at last to a place where bubbles break the surface. Quaffing the water-breathing draught given to them by their master, they dive down into the inky depths, where they are inducted into the sunken citadel of Ebb.

Ebb was once the home of a powerful storm giant wizard. By day her tower overlooked a windswept valley, but by night it tumbled through the planes on her command. Powerful wards protected it from the elemental chaos, allowing the wizard to explore the furthest shores of the cosmos. Nobody knows how her tower finally collapsed, or what fate befell the wizard herself, but Ebb had long fallen into ruin by the time of the deluge. Its magic still held though, stilling the wind for miles around its foundations, and holding its walls fast against the crushing pressures of the abyss. Filled with artificial gravity and flooded with fresh, cool air, the sunken citadel was found by adventurers of the Widowing Sea, who turned it into a grand college of magic.

A wizard of the sunken citadel dresses in blue, aquamarine or purple robes, often decorated with wave or tentacle motifs. Their staffs are surmounted by shards of coral or mother-of-pearl, and they typically take oceanic creatures as familiars: crabs, seabirds or snapping turtles. Graduates serve the navies of the Widowing Sea as war wizards, or carry out their studies in solitude from remote hermitages. Others quest in the company of sell-swords and sea reavers, searching for sunken secrets to carry back to their masters in Ebb.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

J is for Jackalwere

"No, boy. This form was made for killin', not playin' ball."

Absent from Wizards' recent article on shapeshifters was the notorious Jackalwere, a savage monster that preys on humans by masquerading as one of their own kind. Yes, that's right. The Jackalwere is actually the humorous opposite of a werewolf: an animal (in this case a jackal) that transforms into a savage human. They can also assume a halfway house between both forms: the half-human, half-jackal hybrid that Stacey's illustrated above. Somewhat surprisingly, this monster has infiltrated every edition of D&D to date.

In fairness, Jackalweres aren't proper lycanthropes. Great though it would be, they're not created by the infected bite of ravenous human: instead, they're a crafty race of jackals who can shapeshift at will to hunt down their prey (like that's any less silly). Of course, it works best if their prey is human. Isn't it strange there aren't any monsters that only transform into elves, dwarves, or gnomes? I suppose a Werehobbit doesn't have quite the same ring!