Tuesday, December 4, 2012

REVISITING THE AJSALIUM BESTIARY

Hello again. To start with, let me welcome the latest followers that have joined this blog. Let's see if I can honour you all by updating this more frequently.
Also, if you check the links at the right you'll see there are two new additions (a couple forums I now take part in), and the disappearance of the Eolith site, since the company no longer exists.
Obviously, the blog template is new, too. Finally I wasn't able to fix whatever was wrong with my own made template, so I've had to use one of the pre-made ones offered by Blogger. I've chosed a black and blue scheme for a little continuity.
And now, onto the content of this post.

For a change of path and pace, I want to go back to the origin of this blog: the homemade fantasy world of Ajsalium. More specifically, its bestiary; the sneak peek of which I presented now three years ago. This bestiary is something I have wanted to go back to since Reaper Miniatures launched a Kickstarter campaign to found the production of many of their miniatures in plastic. The importance of this is that I have always dreamed of having a big collection of minis to represent all monsters that heroes may encounter in rpg games; but that was economically non-viable. But now it seems feasible. I'll need and use not only the Reaper plastic minis, but also those that come with some boardgames we own at my gaming club (Descent, World of Warcraft, Castle Ravenloft, Wrath of Ashardalon and Legend of Drizzt), and a good bunch of metal minis that I've bought over the years.
The backside to this is that I felt that I had to revisit the bestiary. With a slight OCD, I can't stand the idea of having minis for some monsters, but not for others. Since I was at it, I have also pondered on how well some creatures fitted in the background fluff of Ajsalium; and the balance of different types of monsters.
As a result of this there have been a number of entries that didn't make the cut, so to speak. Some I marked in yellow colour: those were the ones that will remain in the world of Ajsalium but only as part of the fluff, without a proper bestiary entry. And others I marked in red: the ones that will definitely disappear, as if they have never existed. Those two groups, encompassing 23 monsters the first and 31 the second, are the ones I began calling "the Lost and the Damned", inspired but the much fabled Warhammer Fantasy Battles supplement. Before we wave them goodbye, let's have some words about all of them. They deserve an explanation on their reject, don't they?

THE LOST
Arcane Tree: I like the idea of the existence of splinters of the cosmological ├╝bergod Kronait in Ajsalium giving birth to sylvan creatures and nature spirits, but I never really thought of having them as creatures in a combat situation. They'll be there, but in the section about religion, not in the bestiary.
Demon, Armageddon Beast: Demons hail from Thanatos, one of the three infernal planes. Since it's Inferno the plane that poses the biggest menace to Ajsalium, by far, I emphasize that reducing the number of demons presented in the bestiary to a mere little sample. That doesn't mean they don't exist, though.
Demon, Imp: As above.
Demon, Impregnator: As above.
Devil, Kyton: Similar case to those of the three demons above; Avernus exists and is inhabited by a multitude of fiendish races; but I don't want them to steal the show from the infernals that roam Ajsalium.
Devil, Mandrakes: As above.
Devil, Pit Devil: As above.
Genie: I'll keep them as a possible plot; but otherwise it's not advisable to have a monster that have access to the ultrapowerful "wish" spell. For the other possibility, an elemental spirit... well, we already have the elementals for that.
Hippocampus: Sure, they exist and are a mount of choice for aquatic races. But what are the chances of doing an aquatic adventure? Honestly? Almost negligible. Because of that I am reducing the entries related to sea races.
Infernal, Doom Fiend, Aquatic: For the time being, I don't imagine crafting adventures under sea or in the sky, so there's no need for specific entries for this variation. It will be mentioned that they exist, and that's all.
Infernal, Doom Fiend, Flyer: As above.
Kraken: The problem with the kraken is twofold. First, it's one aquatic monster (and see what I've just said about aquatic adventures). But second and most important, by definition it's a colossal monster. And I can't have a miniature so damned big. But the kraken is too famous to completely forget about it.
Locathah: I like the idea of this neutral sea-dwelling race. But in games terms they'd be too similar to merfolk, so I don't see the point of creating a specific entry for the locathath.
Magical Mount: Simply put, I'm retiring this creature because I have no idea how to handle the rules for its shapechanging powers. That said, still it's worth mentioning their existence somewhere and keep the players dreaming of getting one.
Nymph, Driad: This is a case where a main creature, the nymph, has three extra variations that are related to the specific terrain in which they live. Since their entries would be almost copies, with perhaps just one different power, I don't truly find the necessity for them, and so will get relegated to mentions in the background fluff of the nymph.
Nymph, Nereid: As above.
Nymph, Sylph: As above.
Roc: This is a similar situation to the kraken, in that the roc is a monster whose main point is its colossal size. That again poses a problem trying to find and use a mini to represent it. But since I kind of like the idea, I'll talk about the legendary birds that could be seen in the ancient skies.
Salamander, Frost: Yet again, variant version of the same monster (in this case, the "common" salamander), based on a different climate. Now I think that's not worth a separate entry in the bestiary.
Salamander, Sands: As above.
Satyr, Hipposatyr: Pretty much the same. It would have more or less the same stats and powers, so there's no real need for a differentiated entry; just a mention of its existence.
Tchekrick, Bug: Actually, all tchekricks were about to disappear, for lack of minis to represent them. But I wanted to keep them, because I like their imagined aesthetics and their place in the world that I have reserved them. As a compromise of sorts, I'll ditch the "bugs" for now and concentrate on the true tchekricks.
Titan: Titans are a fundamental race in the religious background of Ajsalium. It would be absurd rewriting all that history. But they wouldn't work well as a monster because they are immortal almost god-like beings; and anyway they live retreated and apart from any other race.

THE DAMNED
Avernal Boar: Actually, this began as a joke amongst my gaming group (one than involved a very loud and disgusting belch). So nothing really serious in the world of Ajsalium. And stripped down to its basics, an avernal boar is a quadruped animal, tainted by infernal energies, with a breath weapon. Guess what, we already have the charismatic hellhound for that role.
Chupacabra: I included this monster only because Reaper Miniatures released a model that I liked. But it doesn' really belong to the world of Ajsalium; it has too present-day-myth notes that would detract from the suspension of disbelief.
Cockatrice: Ajsalium saw life initially as a possible D&D setting back in the dawn of its third edition. Because of that I had to include all basic D&D material into it. Later, when it took a life of its own, I still left some of the more classic monsters as a homage. But lately I prefer downsizing the project; and since the cockatrice was never a proper part of Ajsalium, and it's anyway another variation of the petrificator beast (as the basilisk), I have decided against its continued existence.
Couatl: Another creature that was included only for being a D&D classic. Also, it's a benign creature, and I prefer not having many of those in the bestiary, because we should focus on the opposition to the heroes.
Displacer Beast: More of the same D&D homages that now seem inadequate. Add to it that I have absolutely hated every encounter against these things; combats last forever, which gets frustrating.
Doppelganger: One more D&D homage that gets relegated to oblivion. The fact that I have absolutely no idea on how to handle the shapeshifting powers have had something to do with the rejection, truth be told.
Dragon, Aquatic: This was my own invention (even if not original, I know). But on second thoughts it's too similar to the sea serpent, a monster that I prefer as I find it more "charismatic", so to speak. And this one didn't really fit well with the rest of the dragons.
Dragon, Spine: Another idea of mine that wasn't so cool after all. Specifically, I no longer like the idea of a devolved dragon; they are a magical race, and thus should remain always powerful. And after all, the spine dragon was little else than a wyvern on steroids.
Fallen Angel: The idea of a fallen angel is too typical, and I want a little bit of originality in my setting. Angels are inherently good; they can turn sad, sour, grave, or even fanatical... but never evil. It's against the laws of morals that govern these kind of immortal creatures. (Conversely, don't expect any fiend to ever redeem).
Fundamental, Air: Fundamentals were going to be lesser versions of elementals. But there's no true need for that since the elemental entries in the final bestiary are going to offer three versions of varying power. Apart from that, fundamentals were supposed to be truly neutral; but on second thoughts, I prefer the idea that there's always a malicious destructive instinct imbued in any elemental.
Fundamental, Earth: As above.
Fundamental, Fire: As above.
Fundamental, Water: As above.
Giant, Fomorian: I no longer remember why I included the fomorians in the bestiary in the first place. I don't need evil another evil giant, as there's the frost and fire ones for that. Deformed? Well, what for? The cyclops pretty much fills the role of a deformed giant, doesn't it?
Gnoll: A classic D&D humanoid. That had made its way onto Ajsalium solely because of that. But I have never had any idea involving them and the history of this setting, and I won't bother trying to come up with one. They wouldn't add anything to the setting, and don't even mix well. Bye bye.
Gnome: Poor guys. They were always on the edge: are they a player race, or a monster race? Well, in Ajsalium... none. My setting is supposed to be dark and grim (were did I hear that?), and I don't want to have too many good spirited nature feys that detract from that. The sprites are more than enough to fill that niche.
Helmed Horror: Too similar to the iron golem, anyway, so there's no reason to keep both. Simple.
Infernal, Varrangoin: These are obliterated because of two reasons. First, infernal hordes need no flying mounts since some doom imps already fly, as do the drahukpions warlords. And second, I am including a monster, the razorwing (lifted off the Descent boardgame), that is just too similar.
Kaorti: These twisted guys originated from a D&D supplement; were they were related to the Far Realm, WotC's take on the lovecraftian mythos (as is my Other Side). But as I want to emphasize that the main peril of Ajsalium is the infernal menace, I've saved in lovecraftian nightmares. Amongst the ones I had, these have the problem of being humanoids that had returned from the Other Side, an idea I no longer fancy: the Other Side is too outside the cosmos to be able to get there, let alone return from.
Lycanthrope, Wereboar: We already have three lycanthropes, so we have that cliche covered. And wereboars, truth be told, are very disgusting beings that I wouldn't share my lembas bread with. Nah, I want them in my world.
Owlbear: The owlbear per se is yet another D&D classic I didn't really like. Since I have some "wildkins" miniatures from the World of Warcraft boardgame, that look pretty similar to owlbears, but slightly better, these will replace them.
Plaguer: A plague spreading humanoid. First problem: what's a plague in game terms? Second problem: I want all Ajsalium humanoids to have a proper civilization, but these plaguers were just uncivilized monsters. Because of that, I'm parting ways with them.
Rakshasa: In the ongoing AD&D campaign I play with my friends, rakshasas kidnapped and killed the parents of my character. How I loathe them for that! But they have always been present in D&D bestiaries, so I included them in Ajsalium, too. Yet, now that I don't feel obliged to pay tribute to D&D, I take my revenge: down the gutter never to be seen again. Take that!
Shoggti: I chosed this weird monster because I wanted an aberration from the Other Side that had no psionic or magical abilities, and were little more than a beast bent on feeding. Even though I still like the idea of presenting the "transdimensional" equivalent of a predatory beast, the shoggti doesn't quite make it in the aesthetics department.
Slug, Giant: This is a classic monster from the D&D tradition. And as all of them that you're seeing here, that's not enough to justify their inclusion in the final compilation of the Ajsalium bestiary. More, this too have the problem of being a colossal monster, so difficult to proper represent on a tabletop.
Tarrasque: One of the more iconics D&D monsters. Too iconic, I'm afraid. It's supposed to be the ultimate menace; but in Ajsalium the ultimate menace is the infernal dragon. My setting is not big enough for those two doomsday monsters, and obviously the "foreigner" is on the losing side.
Troll, Two-headed: I have always thought of the two-headed troll as an elite troll. That makes sense. But what I don't like is that it follows the same patron as the ettin, that is, evil two-headed giant creature. That coincidence has buggered me so much that I have finally decided to reject the two-headed troll.
Uvuudaum: Much as I love the idea of a nightmarish centaur made of giant wooden fingers, there's no mini capable to represent them, even approximately. And neither can I think of a possible conversion. So I'm ditching this idea. I won't even mention them in the fluff, because these were a creature from the Other Side, but I feel the less said about that chaotic dimension the better for a sense of mystery.
Vegetal Being: These originated in a horror story drawn by Berni Wrightson. Translating them into common fantasy language, you can think of it as a pro-active warden treant. But we already have treants, and Nature warden duties are taken by the wildkin, so there's no space left for the vegetal being.
Will-o-wisp: I don't even know why I included this one. I've never liked this creature. I suppose it was just another homage to D&D classic monsters. But it doesn't make the cut.
Zaratan: The zaratan was included because it reminded me of one level of the Golden Axe videogame, that took place on the back of a giant flying turtle (!). But really thinking about it, this creature is too high fantasy, unlike the more realistic and down to earth tone I want for Ajsalium. And there's the fact that's impossible to represent it on the tabletop with a mini or otherwise.