Next on my monster list is not really a monster but instead a revered spirit of the forest that I found very cool. The otso is a bear-spirit guardian of the forests that was worshipped by ancient Finns. The imagery of the otso is of a giant bear with trees growing from its back.
I couldn’t resist making this into a monster.
Normally, the otso is a benevolent spirit, but if the heart of the forest is corrupted (one of the themes hinted at in Bursten Claw-Jaw’s origin story), then they can turn evil and become fell bears bent on destroying man and all they represent.
This corrupted creature is a jaeger, a cruel type of warg intent on punishing the weak and the isolated.
I don’t like the bear design I came up with the otso as much as the one I did for the moroi, as I was trying for a shaggy cave bear look and I’m not sure I did it justice. However, the point of doing these is to make them good enough, not perfect. Maybe someday when I have some downtime, I’ll rework this one.
The game with the boys was delayed another week. With Mother’s Day, me prepping for a business trip for the day job, and other commitments, we just couldn’t fit it in. We’re hoping to get the next session this upcoming weekend.
I was doing some monster research in the short chunks of downtime this week, because that’s what I do, and I was making notes to write out descriptions and some monsters for the game, when I came across a couple of monsters that caught my imagination earlier, but now really forced me to stop what I was doing and flesh them out.
The first was the moroi. Most descriptions of the moroi are that they are Romanian vampires or ghosts with some shared traits with werewolves. However, there is one particular description that really sticks with me: some versions of the moroi are spirits that like to possess the bodies of bears.
I still haven’t tracked down the origin of this, but I just love the thought of some demon spirit inhabiting bear corpses (I took the term “bodies” to mean dead) in order to get whatever vengeance or whatever else they were compelled to finish.
Since the main descriptions of the moroi are vampiric, I decided to have the spirits inhabit bear corpses to sate their need to taste blood.
I’ve tentatively assigned this monster to a type of ghost, the bound ones in my notes, but I may change it over to the thralls known as vessels, or even come up with a fourth ghost type if need be. I think it all depends on how characters would have to deal with the monster. If the purpose is just to destroy the bear corpse or break the link between the corpse and possessing spirit, then it should be a thrall, but if there needs to be a way to release the spirit itself, then I should stick with ghosts.
Definitely something to think about. I don’t have any immediate plans for the moroi in the game, but I do like to have them in the stable, ready to go.
The illustration I put together for the moroi, I didn’t want to go all gory and have bones and rotting flesh falling off, but more of a fresh possession. I’m fairly happy with it, though for some reason it feels like I’m trying to channel my inner Gary Larson.
I have loved monsters since I was a tiny child. Before my introduction to Dungeons & Dragons, I would get all of the books I could from the library on monsters and myths. I read Dracula way too early and I still get goosebumps when I think of some of the scenes. Later, the Monster Manuals took so much of my time and I spent many a sleepless night pouring over every detail of each creature.
Yet as I grew older, I found myself less interested in combat stats of the monsters and wanted to know their story. So I dug deep into the original folktales, ghost stories, sagas and myths from where they came. I studied the work of Marie-Louise von Franz and her explorations into the psychology of folktales.
I picked up DMing again with the release of D&D 5E, but the one thing I was always disappointed in were the monsters. It may just be failings as a DM, but the monsters simply ended up being something to cut down with an axe. I ended up exploring a number of more story-centric RPGs like FATE, Dungeon World, Fiasco, Seven Leagues, etc. but had a hard time getting a group together to play.
I doubled down on my research and had ambitions of making something where the folklore and the story of the monsters shined, but could still make something fresh and exciting. I created a monster taxonomy based on psychological traits and impulses and I catalogued all the ways I could find that “heroes” defeated monsters in the tales. I wasn’t sure what format this project was going to take—RPG, field guides, comic, novel—but I have tinkered with it for the last few years.
Working on the Harrowlands game for the boys has really allowed me to clarify what I want to share about monsters and stories in general. This search for a new Monster Manual page started long before the kids RGP journal, but has finally solidified into something I am happy with.
These monster sheets are almost entirely focused on role-playing. It emphasizes the instincts and mannerisms on the top of the sheet, with keywords right in the center to help get focused right away. The bottom has easy to find moves and precautions which further the role-playing aspects. There are a number of ways to deal with each monster that does not have to involve combat. In fact, some of their own moves may pull them out of a fight.
There is a lot of work to do on the design before I would ever consider putting it out for public use, but the format will work perfectly for my use in-game. I will tinker with them here or there as I build out the content, and the more monsters I add, I’ll inevitably get the bug to make it shiny. But for now, I am really happy with what I have to work with.
What I find odd about the first monsters I’m developing for the kids, is that they are not directly pulled from folktales and myths. I have a bunch of notes and sketches of more “traditional” monsters that I’ve collected and obsessed over the last couple of decades, and yet the first thing I do is start creating something new.
Not really sure what that means, but I think it will be fun to see play out. Now I have a number of partially formed plans that do involve real traditional monsters to let the kids run into later, but for now, I think I’m just focused on the particular situations and the types of quests I think would be fun and exciting.
With that, here are the first two monster illustrations:
The Grave Grim who haunts musty old tombs.
The Iron-toothed Grubkins, sentient plant imps that enjoy pilfering things from hunters and gatherers.
Later on, I will write out the full monster sheets for each of these with various stats, instincts, precautions, etc.