Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Building the Bestiary #18: Aberrations

Froghemoth, rust monster, cloaker, and chuul.

Between a change of jobs and a hefty amount of gaming, it's been over six months since my last "Building the Bestiary" column. I've given a great deal of thought to what to cover in this next installment, and settled on aberrations. In D&D 3E and Pathfinder lore, aberrations are unnatural creatures, often with alien origins connected to the Far Realms (3E) or the Dark Tapestry (PF). Many aberrations have alien anatomy such as tentacles, or the wrong number of eyes or mouths, but not all can be identified in this way.

My past columns in this series have featured a number of aberrations, which I won't be covering in this installment as a result:
However, this still leaves an even dozen of Things That Should Not Be.

Starting Small

The simplest aberrations are also the smallest. A will-o'-wisp can be represented by a crystal ball or other transparent brick, by a skull-faced minifigure head "floating" on a clear brick, or even by an unusual color of flame.

A choker is a short black-skinned humanoid with unnaturally long arms. You can represent these long arms by attaching a lever to each of the minifigure's hands, or by attaching 1x2 plates with clips on the end (which become the claws). For the latter, attach the hand to the post inside the bottom of the plate; this gives better "clutch" than simply inserting the stud-sized hand into the end of a 1xN plate.

An intellect devourer looks like a giant brain on legs. so showing or suggesting the brain is the key element. The photo shows a couple of examples of brainy bodies: a clear minifigure head printed with a brain (a classic brain in a jar) and the brainy "headpiece" from the Alien Conquest theme's Alien Empress. The plate that forms the legs of the latter is inverted, so the head/brain is attached with a Technic half-pin. In the absence of special pieces like these models use, a 2x2 domed brick placed on four legs would be a good approximation.

A gibbering mouther is a mass of protoplasm covered in eyes and mouths. Rendering this as a Medium-sized mini is a bit challenging, but still possible using the smallest SNOT bricks, toothed plates, horns (for tongues), and eye tiles.

Building a mimic depends on the form it has taken to disguise itself. The classic example is a chest which sprouts a toothy maw and pseudopods when it attacks. To build one, simply attach bricks with clips to the handles of a LEGO treasure chest. A tongue can be made with a small Castle cape attached to a few bricks that sit inside the chest.

To create other disguises for a mimic, take an existing part or assembly (such as a sarcophagus or door) and find ways to attach a mouth and attacking limbs to existing LEGO models. If those parts can be quickly added to the base item when combat begins, even better.

Rust monsters resemble giant beetles more than anything else, so can easily be built with some of the techniques from my column on Vermin. The two models shown here are built from a variety of small plates and bricks. The one on the left uses two 1x2 plates with bars to attach the front legs (to the lower plate) and head and antennae (upper plate).

The rust monster on the right is built around a base of three 1x1 SNOT ("studs not on top") bricks. The middle one has studs on four sides; the other two each have studs on two sides, and are attached sideways to the center brick. 1x1 plates with top-clips are used for the beak and to attach the tail. The faucets forming the upper legs are inserted into holes in the side-studs.

Larger Horrors

SNOT bricks are also used heavily in the bodies of my otyugh models, in order to attach their three legs, two tentacles, and a decorated plate for the mouth. The eyestalk (featuring a headlight brick) is centered on the body using a 2x2 jumper plate.

A roper can be built using gray bricks in a vaguely conical shape, with an eye and a mouth added. Include some rock-textured bricks if you have them. The photo shows a couple of examples, as well as a stalagmite model that can be used for a camouflaged roper. (This idea works best if you already build parts of your dungeon scenery in bricks.) A roper's tendrils can be created with the same smooth, curved parts as the otyugh's tentacles (above), minifigure whips (as shown here), or fully jointed subassemblies (like the snakes in my Serpentine Creatures column).

Cloakers resemble giant bats or manta rays. The old LEGO manta ray (see Aquatic Animals) is a little oversized for a Large creature, but would still do nicely if given an appropriate base and a couple clear bricks to make it fly.

I have presented two brick-built models here to demonstrate different approaches to crafting a giant ray- or bat-like monster. The first one combines a hinged wing technique (see For the Birds) with a hinged tail (see Serpentine Creatures). A couple of jumper plates on the base plate allow it to stand upright in an attack posture.

The other model is based on the giant vampire bat from the LEGO Games HEROICA set Ilrion. The base of this model--a special SNOT brick with bat/dragon wings attached using 1x1 clip plates--is very versatile, and has been used in other official sets such as the microscale Minecraft Ender Dragon (see How to Cheat (at Building) a Dragon). A couple of toothed plates provide ears or horns, and a printed 1x1 tile suggests the gaping mouth. The same model can be used for a dire bat or mobat, and a rider can be added by using a microfigure (or by using the anti-studs in the legs of a seated minifigure, though the result will be a little off-center).

A chuul is a large lobster-like monster with a mass of tentacles around its mouth. For my model, I've built the body and limbs out of a variety of hinges and ball-and-joint connectors. The tentacles are a couple of seaweed bricks attached to the head with clips. This miniature is a little bit oversized for a Large creature, but it was a challenge to fit the amount of articulation I wanted into this size. (As it was, I kept the front pair of walking legs straight and rigid to help the model's overall stability.)

Massive Abominations

The first Pathfinder RPG Bestiary includes two Huge aberrations: the aboleth and froghemoth. My models for these two monsters are actually older than most of the others in this column--I built them for fun some years ago, and have made minimal changes to them for this column. (The aboleth has seen play since then, in my last Freeport campaign.)

An aboleth has a vaguely fish-shaped body, with three eyes arranged one above the other, and four long tentacles. I used plates to built the outline of the body, with a few hinges to allow the tail to bend. The tentacles are whips attached to 1x1 plates with bar-sized hoops.

The froghemoth is a giant alien amphibian that first appeared in Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. Due to my interest in that module, I've followed Erol Otus's original design rather than the more recent art used in Pathfinder and D&D 5E. (The snorkel-like nostrils, built with faucet bricks, are one of these original details that I kept.) The body is built out of sloped bricks to create a hulking frog shape, with lighter colored bricks on the belly. The model is mounted on a 8x8 plate to mark the Huge space it occupies; I chose a transparent blue plate because of its watery home.

The four tentacles are attached to 1x1 cones and then to SNOT bricks; mini-slopes beside their bases help bulk up the "shoulders" a little.

The eyestalk is attached to a hinge mounted on jumper plates. (If the GM desires, this subassembly could be removed and placed on a smaller base, for when the froghemoth hides underwater with only its periscope-like eyestalk showing.)

The mouth's upper jaw is built as an extension of the main body piece, but the lower jaw is mounted on a 1x2 hinge brick so that it can open wide enough for the tongue (built from a 2x2 round plate and an orange vine piece) to shoot out to menace the froghemoth's prey.

Appendix: Past "Building the Bestiary" Columns

[#0]: How to Cheat (at Building) a Dragon
#1: Humanoids
#2: Underwater Races
#3: Giants
#4: Undead
#5: Tiny Creatures
#6: Four-Legged Friends
#7: Oozes
#8: Spell Effects
#9: Elementals
#10: Devils
#11: Aquatic Animals
#12: Vermin
#13: Non-OGL Monsters
#14: Plants
#15: For the Birds
#16: Serpentine Creatures
#17: Demons

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Phryx and the Queen of Winter

"Ice Woman," by Tim Emrick, Copyright 1992
The realm of Faerie is found partly in the Ethereal Plane, in areas co-existent with natural forests and plains in the Material Plane, and partly in the plane of Espral (Elysium, CG). Portals between these planes are numerous, but most are known only to the fey and the azata. The elves and gnomes were once natives of this highly magical realm, but they lost the means of returning after settling in Udara (the Material Plane) for too long.

The Seelie Court is composed of good-aligned creatures (mainly fey, but including many other magical beings) who serve the Summer King, Vanatar, a massive divine unicorn. Opposing this very loose alliance is the Unseelie Court, ruled by Maridor, the Winter Queen; many of the Unseelie are openly monstrous beings, and all are evil. (See the Seelie Creature and Unseelie Creature templates in Green Ronin's Advanced Bestiary.)

Maridor herself is the oldest and most powerful of a family of winter spirits known as phryxes. The Winter Queen resembles a majestic elf woman shaped out of living ice or snow. When she chooses to wear clothing, it is made of white fur, crystal the color of ice, or black leaves. She tempted the first fey to evil, creating the cursed Unseelie, who cannot return to the realm of Faerie. Maridor can still do so herself, but prefers to wander the forsaken wastes of the Material Plane. Her children, the phryxes, have inherited both her aloof, perfect beauty and her icy, pitiless heart.


This unearthly beautiful creature looks like an elf with snow-white skin, long white hair, and piercing ice-blue eyes. In spite of its gossamer garments, it does not appear to feel the wind or the cold.


XP 2,400
CE Medium fey (cold)
Init +5; Senses low-light vision; Perception +14
AC 20, touch 16, flat-footed 14 (+5 Dex, +1 dodge, +4 natural)
hp 44 (8d6+16)
Fort +4, Ref +11, Will +9
DR 10/cold iron; Immune cold
Weakness vulnerability to fire
Speed 30 ft.; icewalking
Melee freezing touch +9 (1d6 cold) or sickle +9 (1d6+1) or unarmed strike +9 (1d3+1 plus 1d6 cold)
Ranged mwk composite longbow +10 (1d8+1/x3)
Special Attacks freezing touch
Spell-Like Abilities (CL 8th; concentration +13)
At will--gaseous form, obscuring mist
3/day--charm monster (DC 19), chill metal (DC 17), gust of wind (DC 17), sleet storm (DC 18)
1/day--ice storm (DC 19)
Str 12, Dex 20, Con 14, Int 15, Wis 17, Cha 20
Base Atk +4; CMB +5; CMD 20
Feats Dodge, Improved Unarmed Strike, Persuasive, Weapon Finesse
Skills Bluff +16, Diplomacy +18, Intimidate +15, Knowledge (nature) +13, Perception +14, Stealth +16 (+20 in ice and snow), Survival +11, Swim +12; Racial Modifiers +4 Stealth in ice or snow
Languages Common, Giant, Sylvan
SQ wild empathy
Environment cold forest, hills, or mountains
Organization solitary, pair, hunting party (3-6), or family (5-8 plus leader of 3rd-6th level; 10% chance of 1 noncombatant)
Treasure standard (sickle, mwk composite longbow [+1 Str] with 20 arrows, other treasure)
Special Abilities
Freezing Touch (Su) A phryx's body continually radiates cold. It can inflict 1d6 cold damage with a melee touch attack, or as bonus damage on an unarmed strike or grapple. Any creature that strikes the phryx with a natural weapon takes 1d6 points of cold damage, or 1d6 per round if grappling.
Icewalking (Su) A phryx can move at normal speed over snow and ice as if using a water walking spell, and never leaves tracks on ice or snow. It cannot, however, walk over the other terrain types that spell normally allows.
Wild Empathy (Su) This works like the druid's wild empathy class feature, except that the phryx has a +4 racial bonus on the check. Phryxes with druid or ranger levels add this racial modifier to their wild empathy checks.

A phryx is almost indistinguishable from an elf except for its snow-white coloring and the look of fey wildness in its expression. These creatures are the embodiment of winter's freezing cold, potent blizzards, and bitter famine into a deceptively attractive form. These fey are distantly related to dryads and nymphs, but unlike those two races, may be either male or female. A phryx is the same height and weight as an elf of its gender, and like many fey, look youthful and beautiful throughout their entire lives.

Phryxes live in cold climates, typically in forests or mountains, but may also be encountered in hills or plains that provide substantial cover. They are omnivores, but mostly subsist on the meat of animals and humanoids who are too weak to escape their hunting parties. (These cruel creatures consider the flesh of a good-aligned fey to be a delicacy.) They are unrepentantly evil, and seek to destroy or enslave nearly every other creature that they meet.

Most phryxes are nomadic, as they continually need to find new places to hunt when game grows scarce. They often travel in extended family groups. Phryx births are widely spaced over the mother's lifetime, and offspring mature to adulthood in the space of a single winter, so juveniles are very rarely encountered (10% chance for one noncombatant in any family). The more ambitious and daring leaders might ally their family with a frost giant tribe, but such agreements rarely last long due to both races' treacherous natures. Similarly, an experienced phryx might acquire a young white dragon as a cohort.

Phryxes commonly use gaseous form and obscuring mist to ambush prey and to escape battles that turn against them. They prefer to fight most battles from a distance, using their bows and spell-like abilities. If forced into melee, a phryx fights with its freezing touch attack or a weapon. When encountered in groups, phryxes make intelligent use of their numbers and supernatural powers, often using multiple charm monster spells at once to nullify opposition prior to combat.

Elder Phryx

A phryx advances by gaining levels in a character class. Leaders are almost always bards, rangers, or sorcerers, and the majority are female. Clerics worship Maridor, the Winter Queen, and may choose from the Animal, Death, Madness, Plant, and Water domains (and the Decay, Fur, Ice, Murder, Nightmare, and Undead subdomains).


XP 6,400
Phryx bard 7
CE Medium fey (cold)
Init +6; Senses low-light vision; Perception +21
AC 29, touch 18, flat-footed 22 (+7 armor, +1 deflection, +6 Dex, +1 dodge, +4 natural)
hp 103 (15 HD; 8d6+7d8+45)
Fort +7, Ref +17, Will +14; +4 vs. bardic performance, language-dependent, and sonic
Defensive Abilities gloves of arrow snaring; Immune cold
Weakness vulnerability to fire
Speed 40 ft. (base 30 ft.); icewalking
Melee +1 keen shortsword +14/+9 (1d6+3/17-20), or +1 defending sickle +16/+11 (1d6+3), or freezing touch +15/+10 (1d6 cold), or unarmed strike +15/+10 (1d3+2 plus 1d6 cold)
Ranged +1 frost composite longbow +16/+11 (1d8+3/x3 plus 1d6 cold)
Special Attacks bardic performance 23 rounds/day (countersong, distraction, fascinate [DC 20], inspire competence +3, inspire courage +2, suggestion [DC 20]), freezing touch
Spell-Like Abilities (CL 15th; concentration +22 [+26 casting defensively])
At will--gaseous form, obscuring mist
3/day--charm monster (DC 21), chill metal (DC 19), gust of wind (DC 19), sleet storm (DC 20)
1/day--ice storm (DC 21)
Bard Spells Known (CL 7th; concentration +14 [+18 casting defensively])
3rd (3/day)--confusion (DC 21), haste
2nd (5/day)--cure moderate wounds, detect thoughts (DC 19), enthrall (DC 20), hold person (DC 20)
1st (6/day)--comprehend languages, disguise self, grease (DC 18), identify, ventriloquism (DC 18)
0 (at will)--detect magic, lullaby (DC 18), mage hand, message, prestidigitation, read magic
Str 14, Dex 23, Con 16, Int 17, Wis 16, Cha 24
Base Atk +9; CMB +11; CMD 27
Feats Combat Casting, Dodge, Improved Unarmed Strike, Persuasive, Point-Blank Shot, Skill Focus (Perform [sing]), Spell Focus (enchantment), Weapon Finesse
Skills Acrobatics +17, Bluff +28, Diplomacy +27, Fly +17, Intimidate +28, Knowledge (arcana) +19, Knowledge (nature) +19, Knowledge (other) +6, Perception +21, Perform (dance) +17, Perform (sing) +28, Sense Motive +28, Spellcraft +16, Stealth +21 (+25 in ice and snow), Swim +18; Racial Modifiers +4 Stealth in ice or snow
Languages Abyssal, Common, Giant, Sylvan
SQ lore master 1/day, versatile performance (dance, sing), wild empathy
Combat Gear potion of jump; Other Gear +2 elven chain, ring of protection +1, +1 keen shortsword, +1 defending sickle, +1 frost composite longbow (+2 Str), 20 arrows, 3 adamantine arrows, 17 silver arrows, boots of striding and springing, efficient quiver, feather token (swan boat), gloves of arrow snaring, silver holy symbol (Maridor), traveler's outfit, 234 gp in coins and jewelry

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Heroes of Freeport: Bloody Lucille

The "Heroes of Freeport" series on the Green Ronin News blog has not yet addressed the iconic freebooter depicted on the covers of Freeport: The City of Adventure (FCA) and the Freeport Bestiary. The class's flavor quote (FCA 365) indicates that her name is Bloody Lucille. Freebooters are so central to the Freeport setting that I have decided to not wait any longer to work up her stat block. If Green Ronin does someday release a new "Heroes of Freeport" column about Lucille, then I will adjust her stats to match.

Just as I did for Janica Flamefist, I have attempted to produce a stat block for Bloody Lucille suitable for use with 1st-level Pathfinder adventures such as "The Ironjack Legacy" (in FCA) or Return to Freeport Part One: Curse of the Brine Witch. Design notes follow the stat block.


XP 200
Female human freebooter 1 (FCA 364)
CN Medium humanoid (human)
Init +3; Senses Perception +3
AC 15, touch 14, flat-footed 11 (+1 armor, +3 Dex, +1 dodge)
hp 12 (1d10+2)
Fort +3, Ref +5, Will -1; +1 vs. disease, poison, and mind-affecting effects
Speed 30 ft.
Melee gladius +3 (1d6+1/19-20) or two gladii +1 (1d6+1/19-20 and 1d6/19-20)
Ranged light crossbow +3 (1d8/19-20)
Special Attacks dirty fighting +1d4
Str 12, Dex 17, Con 13, Int 10, Wis 8, Cha 14
Base Atk +1; CMB +2; CMD 16
Feats Dodge, Two-Weapon Fighting[B], Weapon Finesse[B]
Skills Acrobatics +7, Climb +5, Perception +3, Profession (sailor) +3, Swim +5
Languages Common
Traits blood of pirates (FCA 424), fencer (Advanced Player's Guide 328)
Gear haramaki (Ultimate Combat 128), gladius (2) (Ultimate Combat 144), light crossbow and 10 bolts, backpack, bedroll, belt pouch, flint and steel, waterskin, whetstone, basic pirate clothes (Pirates of the Inner Sea 20), 74 gp, 8 sp, 8 cp


When building Lucille, I tried to embody her race and class as best I could. As with Janica, I used the elite array (15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8) for her stats for simplicity's sake.

Lucille wears little or no armor. For the purposes of this stat block, I have treated her leather vest and her multiple layers of belts and sashes as a haramaki (see Ultimate Combat or Ultimate Equipment). Alternately, her vest, gauntlets, and high boots could be treated as piecemeal leather armor (also a +1 armor bonus; see Ultimate Combat).

The cover of FCA (see above) shows Bloody Lucille wielding two short-bladed swords. The basket hilt suggests a cutlass, but the blade is not curved like one. The optimum interpretation of this weapon is to treat it as a gladius, which is a light weapon (minimizing two-weapon penalties) and can do either piercing or slashing damage (unlike the P-only shortsword).

A 1st level character cannot afford firearms, so I have given her a crossbow instead. By 4th-5th level, she should have plenty of wealth to replace it with a brace of pistols (1,000 gp each, plus the cost of shot, powder, and a gunsmith's kit) and find a way to gain training for Exotic Weapon Proficiency (firearms) and Craft (gunsmith).

At 2nd level, Lucille will gain Flashy Defense. As she advances, her freebooter talents and bonus feats should be chosen to improve her skills with swords and guns, as well as her defenses and maneuverability. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Return to the Barrier Peaks: Prep Work, Part 1

[This blog post is based on a lengthy post I made to the LEGO Dungeons & Dragons Facebook group in February 2018.]

I've always wanted to try running the classic AD&D Dungeon Module S3: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks again. As I posted here a while back, I started running it back in the 2nd Edition era, but we only got through one or two sessions before the game and the group fell apart.

SPOILER ALERT: Friends who might ever want to play this adventure with me should turn back now.

Converting the adventure to D&D v.3.5 or Pathfinder would require more extensive rules for tech and creatures, and thus quickly bog down the game in too much crunch for my taste. So I plan to use D&D 5E, which is relatively rules-light and captures the feel of earlier editions well. I've found a couple of 5E conversion guides on DM's Guild, which will help with the mechanics. (Those links are gathered at the end of this post.) And I will definitely use LEGO to build minis for it, and share them here! I've built several of the creatures in the past, just for fun, so I can refine those models rather than start completely from scratch.

However, the maps are going to be a royal pain to render into battle maps as we play, even if I just draw them on an easel pad like I do for my other games. It's a huge dungeon (6 levels, with each one a 540 ft. diameter circle), so the original maps use 10-foot squares. I'm working on copying them to 5-foot squares on graph paper so that I don't have to convert distances as I'm running it. (On a 1/5" grid, this takes six 8.5" x 11" sheets per level!) There is also a lot of empty space on the maps, so I will almost certainly draw the map for them on graph paper as the PCs explore, and only draw rooms at miniatures scale when they find something to fight.

The original maps, at 1 square = 10 feet
Levels I-III rendered into 1 square = 5 feet.

Levels IV-VI rendered into 1 square = 5 feet

There are a couple areas that I might render in LEGO at a 1 stud = 5 feet scale, like the huge, open habitat level (which would be 2.5 feet across even at that scale).

Level IV: the habitat level
This is a long-term project, because I want to finish running Tales from the Yawning Portal first, which will help my family improve our mastery of the 5E rules. But I'll be tinkering with it until then, and will post updates here from time to time.

Related Links

Dungeon Masters Guild now offers Expedition to the Barrier Peaks in PDF form, as well as two products that provide D&D Fifth Edition conversion notes for it:
The Daemons & Death Rays blog (by Brian Rubenfeld) has numerous articles converting monsters and other mechanics from the adventure to 5E.