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What was unleashed by dabblers

Posted: Wed Jun 24, 2020 11:43 pm
by Isuru
Tim Baker wrote:
Wed Jun 17, 2020 10:36 pm
Isuru wrote:
Wed Jun 17, 2020 8:53 pm
The Midgard CS proper was my first foray into the setting and OD projects. Over the years I did manage to grab an eBay'ed copy of the first Zobeck Open Design book. Copies of the early projects are so hard to find.
Agreed! I've picked up a few over the years, but not many. Regardless, if you ever want to chat about Midgard, that forum could use some more love.
Couldn’t think of anything specific to talk about, but figured I’d procrastinate on a real world stuff by chitchatting about how some of the patronage or backer submission process went for various KP projects I've been fortunate enough to participate in. It struck me that it’s been a few years since some of these submissions have gotten out into the wild and was curious to see what people have done with them. If anyone else has similar experience with their submissions, feel free to highlight what you’ve discovered during your process.

First up, the Xhkarsh (https://koboldpress.com/tome-of-beasts-xhkarsh/). This was a monster I submitted during the backer open call for the Southlands Bestiary. The artist really did a great job, I’ve seen KP use the art a few times for promotions.

Here are some of questions about the xhkarsh I found online on a recent search.
On the Kobold Press blog (May 2019) -
“Gates VP” wrote:“So does anyone know how to pronounce the name of this thing?”
The answer is any way you can manage. :) It’s meant to be a nearly unpronounceable approximation of some otherworldly language, taking much inspiration from mythos names. In my head, I sound it out as “Click(or Tsk)”-Khaarshh as if through some voice changer or digitizer with a bit of reverb. The transition between the first click-like syllable and the ‘k’ of karsh almost seemless. It starts rough, mechanical, inhuman, and ends sort of soft, hissy, echoing. Their modus operandi is a hard-soft cadence, basically intrusive snipping and tugging at the strands of fate, but they’re doing it as softly and quietly as possible.

When coming up with the name, I was looking for something that visually pops out on text, that looks strange and un-earthly, but with enough pieces that looked almost pronounceable (pieces of Chi/Xhi, Ankh, Harsh, Ash). If we went with something like “xhzctrbtp”, then we run the risk of it being completely incomprehensible and easily forgettable. All things being equal, probably wouldn't have made the cut with a full on gibberish name.

On the Kobold Press FB page (May 2019) -
“Paul O’Neal” wrote:“They remind anyone else of the Shadows from Babylon 5?”
A person of culture, I see, most excellent. One of the primary inspirations were the Shadows, also the unnamed aliens (solanogen-based lifeforms) from the Schism episode of Star Trek TNG, a tiny bit of xenomorph from Aliens, all in a mythos style wrapper. The mantis shape was probably because at the time I saw some nature videos on mantises hunting prey.

Can’t find the comment now, but someone asked online if the xhkarsh and thri-kreen were analogous as primates to humans. More like stranded extra-dimensional beings that happened to take after a vaguely similar shape in this reality. A humanoid shape should not be implied to be the most efficient form in most environments.

My goal was to target the CR to be parallel with the mindflayers, so that the xhkarsh could serve as “not-mindflayers” in a situation where the squidies cannot be used. Then built the stats and abilities from the ground up based on the xhkarsh theme and implied background. Probably bit off more than I could chew as a complete amateur. The original submission was for the Southlands Bestiary, built for Pathfinder 1E. The original write up made use of oracle curses for the fate venom/seize strand setup, flavorful but clunky and probably a huge no-no in any official style guide. The 5E conversion by the KP team is much more streamlined mechanically.

Since the original stat-block took most of the word count limit, I could only manage about two sentences between descriptor and flavor text. Really sweated bullets refining those lines as much as possible to get the write-up just within the allotted word count. It’s revealing to discover that with effort, one could relay the information of several lines in the space of one. For instance, this post far exceeds the word count of the original monster submission.

The counterpoint with the skein witches and valkyries was added by the lead designers of the Southlands Bestiary, because at the time, the backer open call submitters did not know the full extent of the monsters included (and it’s not like I had word count allotment to elaborate). That technique used by the lead designers adds nice tie-ins between different monsters in the book and gives them all more context in the grand scheme of things.

Fun aside, these were almost a backer tier lost kingdom submission, a small kingdom secretly run by the xhkarsh to further their goals. Understandably, that concept did not make the first cut for further development. The Southlands already had an actual insectoid kingdom in the form of the Tosculi who were more grounded in the here and now, rather than the disconnected "inscrutable plans from the far beyond" of insect-like aberrations.

If you've encountered the Xhkarsh on your adventures, please share your ordeals here!

Re: What was unleashed by dabblers

Posted: Thu Jun 25, 2020 12:03 pm
by Big Mac
Isuru wrote:
Wed Jun 24, 2020 11:43 pm
On the Kobold Press FB page (May 2019) -
“Paul O’Neal” wrote:“They remind anyone else of the Shadows from Babylon 5?”
A person of culture, I see, most excellent. One of the primary inspirations were the Shadows, also the unnamed aliens (solanogen-based lifeforms) from the Schism episode of Star Trek TNG, a tiny bit of xenomorph from Aliens, all in a mythos style wrapper. The mantis shape was probably because at the time I saw some nature videos on mantises hunting prey.

Can’t find the comment now, but someone asked online if the xhkarsh and thri-kreen were analogous as primates to humans. More like stranded extra-dimensional beings that happened to take after a vaguely similar shape in this reality. A humanoid shape should not be implied to be the most efficient form in most environments.

My goal was to target the CR to be parallel with the mindflayers, so that the xhkarsh could serve as “not-mindflayers” in a situation where the squidies cannot be used. Then built the stats and abilities from the ground up based on the xhkarsh theme and implied background. Probably bit off more than I could chew as a complete amateur. The original submission was for the Southlands Bestiary, built for Pathfinder 1E. The original write up made use of oracle curses for the fate venom/seize strand setup, flavorful but clunky and probably a huge no-no in any official style guide. The 5E conversion by the KP team is much more streamlined mechanically.
The xhkarsh actually remind me of neogi, from Spelljammer, in that you have a spider like body with a neck and a head on top of it.

It doesn't really go beyond that superficial shape, but when you said that you wanted them to work as "not mindflayers" that also puts them on the sort of power levels that the neogi were designed for.

Re: What was unleashed by dabblers

Posted: Fri Jun 26, 2020 12:04 am
by Isuru
Big Mac wrote:
Thu Jun 25, 2020 12:03 pm
The xhkarsh actually remind me of neogi, from Spelljammer, in that you have a spider like body with a neck and a head on top of it.

It doesn't really go beyond that superficial shape, but when you said that you wanted them to work as "not mindflayers" that also puts them on the sort of power levels that the neogi were designed for.
Interesting. For the longest time I thought the Neh-Thalggu (https://www.d20pfsrd.com/bestiary/monst ... h-thalggu/) from the Pathfinder Bestiary 2 were the Golarion version of the Neogi. Even the names have a vague similarity. Turns out the Neh-Thalggu were originally from Mystara (Castle Amber, so way back) (https://1d4chan.org/wiki/Neh-thalggu). I think they snuck into the SRD through the Epic Level Handbook. My encounters with those names happened Neh-Thalggu first (PF version), then Neogi later (forums), and no knowledge of the earlier history from Mystara or even ELH until looking them up. Figured Paizo needed a CR 8ish aberration mastermind monster (PF Neh-Thalggu are that level, the ELH ones are much more powerful), Illithids are out, and cloning them is too obvious. So take a less well known aberration and modify that, ends up they were playing with vintage TSR-era action figures all along.

Speaking of not overly original monsters. Let's move on to the Dragon Eel:
(https://www.5esrd.com/gamemastering/mon ... n-eel-3pp/).
This was a submission for KP's Journeys to the West, dealing with pirates and enigmatic islands. The stats from submission (PF) to 5E (Tome of Beast, converted by the designers) are more or less consistent. I guess my aim was better with the Dragon Eel than for the Xhkarsh. Used the Dragon Turtle (3.5E/PF) as a guideline and the inspiration was not surprisingly, electric eels with a dash of celestial lung dragon (with the storm glide). This also served to bring them out of the water a bit, making them a more useful monsters in terms of terrain. So as not to cover the same ground as the Dragon Turtle in terms of CR, I aimed it a few CR higher and balanced it using the monster creation guide at the back of the PF Bestiary 1. It leaned into the elemental theme a bit more, so this was a sensible bump up.

Like the Dragon Turtle, it's a mostly neutral monster. The ideas about bribery for passage, being worshiped by locals, and controlling pirate parties was all inspired by the piratical nature of the book it was submitted for. Also, this was pretty fresh from the brainstorms for the Dragon Empires of the Midgard CS. The electroplating their lairs was just a fun bit, figure they needed a hobby and it fit the theme. Every now and again, we have to ask, what do dragons do with their hoard?

Little did I know there was already a Dragon Eel in 3.5E in the Monster Manual III. I didn't have the book at the time. Turns out it was also a similar CR 11, a large, NE aligned, averagely intelligent draconic creature with improved grab, swallow whole, blindsense, keen scent, but no breath weapon. It essentially an uprated moray eel and hints of the draconic are nil aside from the dragon type. The Dragon Turtle has a breath weapon to set it apart from just a huge (or gargantuan) sea turtle. In popular imagination, electric eels are probably the most iconic type of eel known. This elemental affinity is a natural match for the corresponding draconic elemental link. At the time, I don't recall anyone invoking the MM3 dragon eel or objecting to the new version.

It's wonderful the Tome of Beast (electric) dragon eel is able to spawn adventure hooks like those found in this blog I discovered on a search: (https://paperanddice.wordpress.com/2018 ... ragon-eel/). I especially like the blog author's idea about a dragon eel getting killed for being a cruel lord, but before the locals could celebrate, the dragon eel siblings arrived in a great hurricane to claim the deceased's treasure hoard. The arrival by hurricane in a storming rage of dragon eel siblings seeking their inheritance is an awesome image.

The dragon eel was the first monster that I wrote up that ended up in a published source. By fortune and circumstance, it turned out to be a fun monster (even if the name and general concept aren't new). Even a rank amateur gets lucky once in a while and first one is free as they say.

Let me know if anyone has used the dragon eel in their games. I'd love to heard about it.

Re: What was unleashed by dabblers

Posted: Fri Jun 26, 2020 3:00 am
by Tim Baker
Isuru wrote:
Wed Jun 24, 2020 11:43 pm
First up, the Xhkarsh (https://koboldpress.com/tome-of-beasts-xhkarsh/). This was a monster I submitted during the backer open call for the Southlands Bestiary. The artist really did a great job, I’ve seen KP use the art a few times for promotions.
This is great insight! Thanks so much for sharing this with us. I had fun reading it. :)
Isuru wrote:
Wed Jun 24, 2020 11:43 pm
It’s meant to be a nearly unpronounceable approximation of some otherworldly language, taking much inspiration from mythos names. In my head, I sound it out as “Click(or Tsk)”-Khaarshh as if through some voice changer or digitizer with a bit of reverb. The transition between the first click-like syllable and the ‘k’ of karsh almost seemless. It starts rough, mechanical, inhuman, and ends sort of soft, hissy, echoing. Their modus operandi is a hard-soft cadence, basically intrusive snipping and tugging at the strands of fate, but they’re doing it as softly and quietly as possible.
I love getting the inside scoop on little details like these.
Isuru wrote:
Wed Jun 24, 2020 11:43 pm
If you've encountered the Xhkarsh on your adventures, please share your ordeals here!
I haven't, but now I'm pondering how I might convert them for use in 13th Age, my system of choice.

Re: What was unleashed by dabblers

Posted: Fri Jun 26, 2020 3:22 am
by Tim Baker
Isuru wrote:
Fri Jun 26, 2020 12:04 am
For the longest time I thought the Neh-Thalggu (https://www.d20pfsrd.com/bestiary/monst ... h-thalggu/) from the Pathfinder Bestiary 2 were the Golarion version of the Neogi.
I hadn't heard of these before. They remind me a bit of the ohmu from Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind.

Image

Re: What was unleashed by dabblers

Posted: Fri Jun 26, 2020 3:30 am
by Tim Baker
Isuru wrote:
Fri Jun 26, 2020 12:04 am
It's wonderful the Tome of Beast (electric) dragon eel is able to spawn adventure hooks like those found in this blog I discovered on a search: (https://paperanddice.wordpress.com/2018 ... ragon-eel/). I especially like the blog author's idea about a dragon eel getting killed for being a cruel lord, but before the locals could celebrate, the dragon eel siblings arrived in a great hurricane to claim the deceased's treasure hoard. The arrival by hurricane in a storming rage of dragon eel siblings seeking their inheritance is an awesome image.
That's a great blog post. I love the imagery of the dragon eel waiting in its gold-plated lair, too. I'm going to have to keep that in mind for any future underwater adventures. I wonder if there's an opportunity for lair actions, here. While electricity might not really work this way, a fantastic creature like this might "charge up" the walls of its lair, suddenly electrocuting anyone swimming too close to a wall/floor/ceiling.

Re: What was unleashed by dabblers

Posted: Fri Jun 26, 2020 4:13 am
by Isuru
Tim Baker wrote:
Fri Jun 26, 2020 3:22 am
Isuru wrote:
Fri Jun 26, 2020 12:04 am
For the longest time I thought the Neh-Thalggu (https://www.d20pfsrd.com/bestiary/monst ... h-thalggu/) from the Pathfinder Bestiary 2 were the Golarion version of the Neogi.
I hadn't heard of these before. They remind me a bit of the ohmu from Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind.
The Neh-Thalggu were pretty popular at Paizo for a bit, they're featured in an adventure (Iron Gods) and introduced an advanced version of them, the Yah-thelgaad. Just remember I kept seeing them mentioned and saw multiple art pieces. I think their connection deep into old TSR-era material helped and they are a gnarly looking bunch of alien brain collectors (can't go wrong).
Tim Baker wrote:
Fri Jun 26, 2020 3:30 am
Isuru wrote:
Fri Jun 26, 2020 12:04 am
It's wonderful the Tome of Beast (electric) dragon eel is able to spawn adventure hooks like those found in this blog I discovered on a search: (https://paperanddice.wordpress.com/2018 ... ragon-eel/). I especially like the blog author's idea about a dragon eel getting killed for being a cruel lord, but before the locals could celebrate, the dragon eel siblings arrived in a great hurricane to claim the deceased's treasure hoard. The arrival by hurricane in a storming rage of dragon eel siblings seeking their inheritance is an awesome image.
That's a great blog post. I love the imagery of the dragon eel waiting in its gold-plated lair, too. I'm going to have to keep that in mind for any future underwater adventures. I wonder if there's an opportunity for lair actions, here. While electricity might not really work this way, a fantastic creature like this might "charge up" the walls of its lair, suddenly electrocuting anyone swimming too close to a wall/floor/ceiling.
Indeed, the Paper and Dice blog has some fun ideas on using monsters, many from Tome of Beasts.

I'm sure there is something in the various dragon and dragon lair books (Draconomicon, Dragon Magic?) that can be repurposed into an electric trap. Messed around with electroplating in lab once. Can confirm, the method I described in the write up does not work like that in real life, thus why I added specific mention of the dragon eels using special alchemical reagents to help. Besides, they retain an Int of 14, good enough to be a wizard or similar, they can figure it out. When we depart the realm of science, we enter the realm of magi-science!

The desire to bling up their lair can also be another reason to deal with them. I've seen people spend inordinate sums of funds on pure aesthetics for their house or car. They can only leave water for a short time, so they would need intermediaries to acquire these alchemical reagents.

Re: What was unleashed by dabblers

Posted: Sat Jun 27, 2020 2:54 am
by Isuru
The Southlands Bestiary does give a pronunciation for Xhkarsh as sh-KARSH, so that’s one interpretation of it. No disagreements there.
Any way, how about a change of pace.

Minor Details of Triolo
On the old Midgard CS project, I somehow ended up with the honor of doing a map sketch for Triolo and Reywald. What I sent in were rough sketches to be sure, and immeasurable credit should be given to both Wolfgang and the cartographer for whipping the supplied scribbles and blobs (indicating districts) into coherent neighborhoods and streets. The map locales and districts not named in the original writeup were mostly submitted by me, while I made sure to comb the official draft and discussion thread for as many details on locales as possible. Much credit should also be given to the discussion brainstorm for informing the write up, which painted with words a detailed picture and feel for the city.

Some suggested locales were renamed to something more appropriate at the editor's discretion (Fort Isola is one, originally "Fort Plank"). Not all of the extra locales made it in due to interest of space. About 1-2 locales cut per most districts, while all the districts made it in as far as I can tell. Notice how the Triolo map has something like 58 location markers and 18+ city districts (before the addition of the Illyrian Quarter in the latest edition). This exceeds what is expected for the map (I think it was suggested to sent in 30-40 locations, inclusive of the official locations), and the result fills up the side space until nearly the edges of the map. The reason is I signed on to the project mid-brainstorm during the Seven Cities portion. I sat out most of the discussion and patron submission process for this part while I was getting up to speed on Midgard through the other completed regions/materials and observing the Seven Cities discussion as a way to “learn the ropes”.

The Triolo map sketch was near the last opportunity to submit any ideas before the final draft/editing/publication phase. I was going for broke. A lot of names were a play on the corsair and nautical theme: Seabed Inn, Black Flag Bar, Drafthouse of Sweet Drowning, Council Library of Logs and Ledgers, Brotherhood of the Deck and Hold. Some were just interesting or thematic names: Greater Bull Tavern, Salt Square, Briny Swill Preserves. One could guess the origins of those names fairly easily.

There is one interesting locale name that made the cut, and one would not be wrong to ask why is this one more special than any other. Let me tell you of the origins of:

Barquiere's Tavern
Barquiere's is named after Steve, a friend of mine from college. It's a play on his surname and an old joke that he looked like a dock worker trudging his way down to the harbor for another shift. In the winter months, he favored a wool cap and a padded vest despite the severe cold weather of the area. This somehow grew to include more made up history, maybe because his look resembled an old painting in someone's textbook or something, don't recall exactly. Next thing you know, he was an unassuming British-French agent, a gambler, a street fighter, a vampire hunter, on the run from a cult while disguised as a dock worker. He was a pretty normal dude, so all this was quite fun. The legend grew until the joke eventually fizzled out and we moved on to other laughs.

We played in a brief game of D&D 3E, he was a gnome. He mentioned he knew of the the game from his older brother, introduced using an old beat-up box set, probably BECMI era stuff. We kept in contact for a few years after college. The name fit the style of Triolo, perhaps a play on barque ship type, I added it in not thinking too much of it. Barquiere's made it on to the map. Unfortunately, he passed away several years ago after fighting an ongoing illness (cancer) for a few years before that.

So if anyone stops by Barquiere's Tavern on the Spada Quays, have a drink on the house; for Steve. He owns the place.

Re: What was unleashed by dabblers

Posted: Sun Jun 28, 2020 2:07 am
by Tim Baker
Isuru wrote:
Sat Jun 27, 2020 2:54 am
He mentioned he knew of the the game from his older brother, introduced using an old beat-up box set, probably BECMI era stuff. We kept in contact for a few years after college. The name fit the style of Triolo, perhaps a play on barque ship type, I added it in not thinking too much of it. Barquiere's made it on to the map. Unfortunately, he passed away several years ago after fighting an ongoing illness (cancer) for a few years before that.

So if anyone stops by Barquiere's Tavern on the Spada Quays, have a drink on the house; for Steve. He owns the place.
That's an amazing story. Thanks for sharing that with us. I'll definitely have to keep that in mind.