Sunday, October 10, 2021

Jack-O'-Dungeons Returns! A week of monsters

 Last year, I attempted an Inktober inspired challenge called “Jack-O’-Dungeons” to write a blog post every day in the month of October. Some of the pieces turned out great, but others, well… Not only that, but I didn’t even make it close to finishing the whole month. This year I wanted to try again but with a few changes. Here are the rules I set for myself:

  • Every day, I will design a monster using the Magic Pyramid method

  • Since I very much want to improve my art, every day I will attempt a pen and ink drawing of the monster (my sincere apologies that you all will have to endure the life-draining work of a beginner amature artist) just like traditional Inktober.

  • Rather than flood the blog with posts, I will post once a week with the monsters created during that week.

I hope you all enjoy! Since I’ve been playing the second edition of the advanced game lately, all stats given below are designed for that game; however, converting them to the old school game of your choice shouldn’t be too difficult. 

A bit of a content warning here before we get started—these monsters are pretty much all horror-themed. There is some light nudity (one of the monsters shows off her butt—a bit “cheeky” of me, I know), mentions of addictions, and one of the monsters visits its victims during their sleep. 

The Living Diadem 

Worn by Kings and Queens as a crown, The Living Diadem is a powerfully psionic parasitic crustacean. When placed on a head, it gently inserts two arms equipped with special psychic and biological receptors into the ears of its prospective host. The Living Diadem is a favorite among the leaders of small, usually coastal kingdoms or provinces because of the benefits it provides the host:

  • Hosts can access the memories of all previous hosts, increasing their Charisma by 1 for every fifty years of the Diadem’s life and Wisdom by 1 for every 75 years (Diadems typically live 700-1000 years). Some city-states use the Diadem as a way of effectively extending the life of the host, allowing humans to live far longer than is otherwise possible through the memories carried by the Diadem.

  • The Diadem has precognitive powers and shares them with its host when it feels the host (and, by extension, itself) is in danger.

  • The Diadem grants its hosts heightened senses—especially useful for sussing out assassins.

The Diadem is no symbiont, however; hosts must be cautious or else risk losing control of their sanity or their body. The Diadem saps the strength of its host by 1 for every year it is worn down to a minimum of five so that it can control the host’s body easier. The Diadem will work to kill any who are a threat to its power. 

Removing the Diadem once it has latched is not easy--requiring a successful Medicine proficiency check to perform safely. It’s possible to simply rip the crab off, but it requires a successful open doors check. If the crab is ripped off or the Medicne proficiency check is not successful, both the crab and the host must pass a system shock check or die. If the Diadem is killed while style latched to the host, the host will die as well.

In combat, the Diadem usually relies on its host’s access to guards and servants. In danger, the Diadem generally prefers to flee rather than attack, using its heightened senses to avoid danger. If the Diadem is somehow cornered without a host, it will first attempt to latch itself to a new host, attempting to Switch Personalities in emergency situations.

Encounter Ideas

  • The party encounters a madwoman ranting about the “true king.” She is a former host to the Diadem, but she removed it when she discovered, through the memories of previous hosts, that the kingdom was stolen from its rightful heir, proof of which the King/Queen keeps in a dungeon beneath the castle. Unfortunately, with the Diadem removed her sanity is somewhat shaky.

  • The party encounters a group of hunters searching for a black-winged albatross—the bird pecked at the Diadem, and now the King/Queen is offering an enormous bounty to any who kill it. The hunters are willing to injure anyone whom they feel are competition for the bounty.

  • The party encounters a group of the King/Queen’s guards harassing an obviously pregnant person. This person is the former host’s lover who now carries a baby Diadem. The current host wants the baby Diadem dead as it could pose a threat to their power.


No. Appearing: 1

Armor Class: 5

Movement: 9

Hit Dice: 3+3

Thac0: 17

# of Attacks:1

Attacks: Claw d4

Special Attacks: Mindlink--See Above

Special Defenses: Nil

Magic Resistance: Nil

Size: T

 Morale: 5

XP Value: 650


Level: 3  Dis/Sci/Dev:2/2/7 Attack/Defense:-/IF,TW Score:13 PSPs:150

The diadem has: Telekinesis, Control Body, Inertial Barrier, Control Light, Switch Personality, Conceal Thoughts, Awe, Identity Penetration, and Send Thoughts

The Tree of Plenty

The Tree of Plenty resembles a gnarled willow tree with a human face (most often thankfully sleeping). Villages that form near or around a Tree of Plenty are blessed with bountiful harvests, good weather, and wise leadership. The tree does demand a price for this prosperity. Each year, before fall, the tree grows fruitlings—strange malformed little imps. The fruitlings do not speak, but they will choose someone from the village to be anointed at the fall festival. After a week of feasting and orgiastic celebrations, the Tree of Plenty awakens and the anointed one is fed to its open maw. The fruitlings only last 1d4+1 weeks before spoiling, but make good eating before then. In the next year, the fruitlings bear a strange resemblance to the previous year’s anointed one...

In combat, the tree will try to maintain distance from its enemies with its whomping tree branches. Those who are hit with a whomping branch must make a save vs. Breath or be thrown 10’ backwards, prone. It can bite those in melee, but has difficulty protecting its flank and back (since it can’t turn)—it has a -4 to hit and damage those in its flank or rear. It is immune to most projectile weapons short of cannon fire, but quite vulnerable to flaming missiles provided the presence of sufficient accelerant. 

Encounter Ideas

  • Roaming fruitlings try to wordlessly convince one of the party members to return to the village to be anointed.

  • The party encounters a prospective anointed one being chased through the woods by fruitlings and nude revelers from the village.

  • A woodsman and a monk are searching for help destroying the Tree of Plenty, but are facing opposition from village leadership.


No. Appearing: 1

Armor Class: 0


Hit Dice: 6

Thac0: 15

# of Attacks: 2

Attacks: Bite d6 or Limb Whomp d10

Special Attacks: Limb Whomp-See Above

Special Defenses: Immune to missiles--see above

Magic Resistance: None

Size: L

 Morale: X (can’t move)

XP Value: 975

Theseus, the Limb Peddler

Theseus was most likely a human in antediluvian days, but his actual origin is unknown. At some point, he was gifted or crafted a knife made of bone with the unusual property that any limbs cut with it are reattached easily, even to a different body. Theseus has kept himself alive by cutting off any limb or organ that malfunctions with a new one. As unknown years passed, no part of Theseus is original. By trade, Theseus wanders from town to town, offering to sell new limbs or organs for those that have failed in exchange for favors, money, or “unneeded” limbs. Any debts are collected by Theseus’s Raven, Melinda. Those who can’t or won’t pay are usually disassembled for parts.

In combat, Theseus has no abilities beyond a standard human. Melinda has access to spells such as Sleep and Hold Person that she uses to incapacitate enemies for long enough for Theseus to disassemble limbs. They do not want to cause direct damage to avoid any damage to limbs that could be sold, but will do so if necessary. Theseus’s knife requires 2 interrupted rounds to sever a limb. Severing the limb does not cause any damage or loss of hit points—the wound magically heals instantly. Reattaching the limb requires one full turn and can be accomplished by simply holding the limb to any desired spot.

Encounter Ideas:

  • The party encounters an obviously nervous highway robber who is much too young. He is desperately trying to raise money before Melinda takes his mother’s limbs.

  • The party encounters Melinda attacking a young child as Theseus watches.

  • Several of the limbs managed to crawl away from Theseus and are now in the same pub as the party getting drunk.



No. Appearing: 1

Armor Class: 8

Movement: 12

Hit Dice: 4


# of Attacks: 2

Attacks: Knife d3

Special Attacks: Separate Limbs (see above)

Special Defenses: none

Magic Resistance: None

Size: M

 Morale: 18

XP Value: 175


No. Appearing: 1

Armor Class: 7

Movement: 1, Flying 36 (Class B)

Hit Dice: 4

Thac0: 17

# of Attacks: 1

Attacks: Beck 1d2

Special Attacks: Melinda can cast spells as a 4th level wizard

Special Defenses:--

Magic Resistance: Immune to Fear, Sleep

Size: T

 Morale: 18

XP Value: 420


The toadfoot resembles a hairless human with extremely large legs. Their gray, warty skin exudes a chemical with a horrible smell that wards off any visitors—unfortunately, Toadfeet tend towards sentimentality and love visitors (perhaps a bit too much). Toadfeet live off a specific type of vine that grows in the swamp. Since the vine tends to accumulate heavy metals, the droppings of the Toadfoot are nearly always gold or other precious metals. Adventurers seek out the Toadfoot for its precious droppings. The Toadfoot is more than willing to share its droppings with any adventurers, but, since it loves visitors more than anything else, is usually less willing to let its visitors leave. In its eagerness, it’s not uncommon for the Toadfoot to accidentally kill visitors.

In the words of a Saturday Night Live sketch, “It’s a hundred floors of frights, they ain’t all gonna be winners.”

Encounter Ideas

  • The party catches a little imp running around the swamp trying to gather up the droppings of a Toadfoot.

  • Wandering through the swamp, they meet an old hermit who makes it his business to warn away newcomers. He feels it’s his duty to inform, but he won’t stop any party that “seems determined to make a damned fool of [themselves].”

  • A young couple on the run from the Toadfoot. They have stayed as “guests” of the Toadfoot for over a month. Their clothes are completely tattered, they have no supplies and no way of getting home, but they do have a large bag of gold.


No. Appearing: 1

Armor Class: 6

Movement: 12

Hit Dice: 6+3

Thac0: 13

# of Attacks: 2

Attacks: Kick 2d4

Special Attacks: Grapple 

Special Defenses: None

Magic Resistance: None

Size: L

 Morale: 13

XP Value: 1400

Nebuchadnezzar the Puppeteer

Nebuchadnezzar is small, boneless, shapeless, pink creature dredged up from the bottom sea, fell from the sky, or possibly somehow both. Like an oyster, it crafted a shell for itself in a shape that would be familiar to the inhabitants of our strange world— a marionette. As a skilled illusionist, the creature creates an illusory puppetmaster, travelling from town to town to entertain local audiences. Since Nebuchadnezzar does not understand human speech very well, the illusionary puppet master does not speak beyond introducing itself as “Nebuchadnezzar, the puppeteer.”

The creature genuinely loves our world, humanity, and the art of puppetry; however, it requires human pineal glands to survive. When a human with a sufficient pineal gland comes to the puppet show, Nebuchadnezzar will use Hypnotic Pattern to mesmerize the audience and its intended victim. The creature emerges from the marionette for long enough to discreetly extract the pineal gland, and then cast Forget. When the audience awakens from the Hypnotic Pattern and the death of the victim is discovered, Nebuchadnezzar simply dispels the illusory puppetmaster, allowing the audience to think he escaped. 

Nebuchadnezzer does not wish to cause more death than is necessary for it to survive. On the other hand, it has no desire to atone for its actions. It is completely helpless in combat, preferring to use illusions to deceive party members. It has in its possession a number of valuable artifacts.

Encounter Ideas:

  • The party runs into a down-on-their luck theatre troupe. Nicodemus always seems to visit the very same towns they want to go to--but by the time they get there, the town is always suspicious of entertainers. The troupe wants proof that Nicodemus is behind the deaths or at the very least convince him to follow a different route.

  • A pickpocket stole a crystal ball from Nicodemus at one of his shows. The crystal ball shows him visions of Nicodemus’s home, and now the pickpocket has quite lost his sanity. The party encounters the pickpocket attempting (badly) to steal from them.

  • A former baroness has become addicted to the hypnotizing effects of Nicodemus’s show and now follows him around from town to town. The party encounters one of  the baron’s guards—he is attempting to shadow the baroness at the baron’s request, but is now concerned that she might be behind the deaths.


No. Appearing: 1

Armor Class: 15

Movement: 1

Hit Dice: 1

Thac0: 20

# of Attacks: 0

Special Attacks: Can cast spells as a 6th level Illusionist

Special Defenses: None

Magic Resistance: None

Size: T

 Morale: 10

XP Value: 1400

One who Walks in Hallways of Glass

Seven days before a visitation by the One who Walks in Hallways of Glass, their servant will visit the home of the prospective victim at night, preferably while the victim sleeps. The servant is a humanoid, impish creature with grey, purulent skin that introduces itself as The One who Gnaws Bitter Air and tells the future victim to prepare for the One who Walks in Hallways of Glass before sulking off into the darkness.

Over the next seven days, the victim will be able to see the One who Walks in Hallways of Glass, a tall, robed figure with the head of an occluded glass orb, from any mirror. Distant at first, but getting closer as the seven days pass. At the end of the seven days, the One who Walks in Hallways of Glass will either present the victim a rare item, wondrously wrought and with great magical power OR it will drain the victim, leaving behind a dessicated corpse. There is no known reason for why it does this, and there seems to be no pattern to the types of people it visits, how frequently it visits, or how it determines the outcome of its visitations.

The creature is intelligent, and if attacked, will attempt to drain its weakest  enemy first—closing in on spellcasters and ranged weapon uses. The One who Walks in Hallways of Glass can be turned as a Wight.

Encounter Ideas:

  • The party encounters a woman who had been given seven league boots as a gift from the One who Walks in Hallways of Glass and now travels from city to city telling people that the figure is an ancient god who only harms those who harbor evil in the heart. She eagerly collections donations, especially from those who have been visited by the One who Gnaws Bitter Air.

  • A woman has been visited by the One who Gnaws Bitter Air, and, since then has desperately sought to discover some kind of pattern. After consulting various texts, she has decided that the only certain way to ensure the One who Walks in Wallways of Glass does not kill her is by offering a human sacrifice. She will offer party members work in her basement killing rats, but it is a trap—with the party ensnared, she will attempt to sacrifice them within view of a floor-length mirror.

  • A Scholar approaches the party looking for protection on the route to the ruined castle of a dead line of nobility. He believes that the entrance to the Hallways of Glass can be found somewhere within the castle.


No. Appearing: 1

Armor Class: 5

Movement: 12

Hit Dice: 4+3

Thac0: 15

# of Attacks: 1 

Special Attacks: Energy Drain (d4 and lose one level)

Special Defenses: Hit only by silver or magical weapons

Magic Resistance:

Size: M

 Morale: 14

XP Value: 1400

The Golden Goat

The Golden Goat is born out of an extremely rare genetic mutation to ordinary goat parents. Golden Goats have brilliant, nearly translucent skin and hair that emits a golden light. Both males and female Golden Goats are prone to philosophising and spirituality. The milk of a golden goat is particularly powerful—it can cure diseases and permanently reverse aging. The milk is also highly addictive. As a result, the Golden Goats tend to have whole communities organize around them in a communal lifestyle.

A talented Golden Goat who gives powerful sermons and provides ample milk can attract followers from great distances. The sick especially will travel great distances and make large donations to become a part of the commune. Once accepted into the common, the Goat demands a life of austerity and peace. Those who fail to abide by the goat’s laws are shunned and often die quickly when their illness returns.

In combat, the goat relies heavily on its followers, but is not above kicking or biting if necessary.

Encounter Ideas

  • One of the members secretly sells milk to a minor noble. Now the member is trying to blackmail the noble. The party encounters an assassin looking for the commune, posing as a devotee.

  • The party stops to rest for the night at a local farm. One of the farmer’s does gave birth to a golden goat, and is now getting pestered by members of a commune whose previous goat recently died.

  • A male golden goat with five attendees offers its profound wisdom in exchange for a small donation. The goat will not take no for an answer and the donation is never large enough.


No. Appearing: 1

Armor Class: 7

Movement: 12

Hit Dice: 3

Thac0: 17

# of Attacks: 2

Attacks: Bite d2, Kick d6

Special Attacks: none

Special Defenses: Magical Milk

Magic Resistance: Immune to darkness

Size: M

 Morale: 6

XP Value: 1000

Sunday, August 29, 2021

The INSTANT character backstory generator

 When 3d6 is rolled straight down the line to generate character stats, the dice are being asked to tell a story. The ritual is quite a bit like coin-operated toy vending machines: sometimes you twist the knob and get something quite cool; sometimes you twist the knob and get a misshapen lump of plastic; in every case, you twist the knob and something interesting happens. Although it is perfectly fine to "discover" the character's backstory and personality during play, knowing this information beforehand increases investment in the character, which makes getting into danger that much the zestier. The beauty of rolling 3d6 straight down the line is that, I find, once rolled, the character's backstory and personality seem to suggest themselves out of that simple arrangement of six numbers by virtue of their randomness. The generator described here is my attempt to amplify this oracular aspect of rolling stats to create a backstory that is still open to a player's creativity and interpretation.

The generator can be especially useful for new campaigns where it is uncertain what kinds of character will fit into the world or new players who bring a lot of creativity to the game, but might not be familiar with the tropes of D&D. The sample generator provided below is fine for any basic fantasy game, but, if the GM has the time and inclination, creating a customized generator for the campaign world is one method for organically introducing players to the campaign world and ensuring characters who mesh well in their environment without overburdening players with mountains of backstory.

The Rules

My recommendation is to offer the generator to players as completely optional. To use it, the player will need 3d6: one red, one yellow, and one blue. The player will also need a printed copy of the generator (see below).

The players roll the 3d6 for each stat in order as normal, dropping the dice onto the generator. If a "1" is rolled, the player marks the event the die landed on. The die's color indicates when in the character's life the event occurred: the red die for events that occurred to the character's parents or ancestors, the yellow die for events in the character's childhood or young adulthood, and the blue die in the character's recent past.

On average, a character will roll about three of these events. I would encourage players to be creative with what the events mean and how they fit together for the character.

As an additional note, if you use 4d6 drop the lowest for character stats or other similar systems, you could ask players to add a green die to the red, blue, and yellow. This green die is used as normal for calculating ability scores, but does NOT generate events, even if it rolls a "1."

The Generator

Click this link for a printable PDF!

Sample Character

So let's create a character! I take my 3d6 and roll the following stats:

11 STR, 12 DEX, 13 CON, 10 INT, 8 WIS, 14 CHA

Overall pretty good scores! For events, I rolled "Started a destructive fire" on the red die and "Endured long overseas voyage" on the yellow die. With the given prompts, I decide that my grandmother, in desperation, tried to steal from a temple, knocking over a censor of incense that created a fire that burned the whole temple down. She could not escape retribution, but my family still faced ostracization, deciding flee oversees while I was still just a child. Given my quite high charisma and above average Strength, I imagine that my character is a fisherwoman type, with a winning, cheeky personality who lives not to far from the coastal town where she grew up.

The GM can decide to leverage the character backstory into plot hooks: perhaps my grandmother did manage to steal a single, priceless idol from the temple that fateful day, an idol that nearby cultists are desparate to get their hands on... 

Of course, many more options are possible—perhaps my father was a freedom fighter who burned down a government building and our family was sent overseas to live in a prison colony. Or perhaps my mother burned down an ancient forest after being told to do by an evil spirit that invaded her dreams who later called her and her family to a strange city beyond the sea. 

Tips for creating your own generator

The sample generator above is designed for use with a straight-forward fantasy campaign—some odd bits here and there, but mostly straightforward. You can create a generator based around these rules that fits much better with your world and your GM'ing style. The best way I've found to create a generator is by brainstorming around fifty or so events and then selecting your best entries. I found it easiest to work from the center of the page out to the edges. A few tips to keep in mind:

1. Keep events open-ended. The more open-ended the events are, they better they will fit together when players roll multiple events. When writing the events, I recommend avoiding any specific subject to the sentence so that the event can work for the character OR for individuals in character's family.

2. Add specific places and items to your table. Establishing a character's relationship to a specific place in your world gives the player a reason to be invested in that place and, by extension, your campaign world.

3. As a general rule, players will be more likely to roll on the center of the generator than on the edges. I recommend keeping the more prosaic or open-ended entries in the centre and then have the more unusual entries towards the edges.

Why not just use a table?

The generator is all well and good, but wouldn't it work just as well to place all the entries in a table, asking players to roll d3 times per character? My answer is that yes, this works fine—in fact, character background tables are nothing new. I would argue, however, that throwing multicolored dice at a funky piece of paper is significantly more fun and involves fewer rolls. Some character backstory generators can seem a bit too restrictive: the character has X siblings, was Y social status, and so on. The very funkiness of this system gives players permission to be more creative while also providing some grist to work off of.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

The Magic Pyramid: A Tarot Card Generator for Creating Monsters


If an adventure is a wheel, the monster is the hub (whose actions and motives form the core of the adventure), the encounters are the spokes (the interactive elements that put the party in danger), and the map is the rim (the space through which the party moves). It’s essential, then, to have a good monster at the core of your adventure to set off the action and get your sessions rolling. While there are a number of monster generators out there that I love dearly (especially the Random Esoteric Creature Generator by James Raggi IV), my goal with this tarot card generator was a structure that leant itself to monsters less chimeric and more cohesive. The tarot card generator I will be describing is designed to create complex monsters around which you can create an adventure.

Using The Magic Generator

Deal ten cards in a pyramid shape as shown in this illustration:

  1. The Form

The card at the top of the pyramid dictates your monster’s physical form. In general, the court cards (i.e. pages/princesses, knights, queens, and kings) are monsters which take on a more or less human form such as vampires or zombies, minor arcana (the cards with numbers on them such as “ten of coins”) tend to be monsters that swarm in large numbers such as orcs or goblins, and the major arcana tend to be more exotic. Of course, this will all vary based on your mood and your deck.

  1. The Human

The left card on the second row of the pyramid is called “The Human.” I would argue that the appeal of creating a paper avatar to fight horrible monsters is not to fight the evil without, but to confront the monster within. I’m not sure I can think of a good monster design that does not have some element of humanity, whether that is in its behavior, the personification of an abstract human trait, or even just its form. The card in this position contributes the human element to your monster. In general, court cards tend to signify an element of the monster’s form, minor arcana some aspect of human behavior, and major arcana a bit of both...but of course this will again vary.

  1. The Inhuman

The right card in the second row of the pyramid is called “The Inhuman.” In order for the monster to evoke feelings of the weird, it must be at the very least supernatural—meaning a transgression of the natural order. The story goes that each morning a farmer comes and gives a group of chickens their feed for the day. The chickens all decide that the farmer is a benevolent deity and that this morning feeding ritual is simply part of the natural cycle of life that will never change... until the day comes when the farmer does not bring feed, but an ax. The monster is the ax in this scenario. The card in this position signifies the aspect of the monster that is utterly inhuman.

  1. The Cycle 

The three cards in the third row are called “The Cycle.” The idea for this generator came to me while reading Junji Ito’s Tomie. I was struck by the manga’s interesting structure—the work is composed of a number of discrete stories which are stitched together by the common thread of the book’s titular monster, Tomie herself. I wouldn’t dare spoil the manga, but each of the stories contained within Tomie follow a similar pattern, with much of the interest in the book coming from the variations on this central theme. Monster stories are frequently built this way— stories containing vampires, for example, have many of the same broad plot points, but are still interesting because of the infinite possible variations within that theme. The three central cards of the layout are meant to generate this central theme around which the players can create their variation during play. 

The three cards are read left to right individually, each forming a sequential part of the monster’s story. Again, this is meant to be a broad and loose scenario, not a series of sharply defined plot points lest the referee inadvertently commit the cardinal sin of railroading. Each of the cards are individually named after the stages of an insect’s life cycle like so:

  1. The Larva 

The leftmost card of the third row is called “The Larva” and represents how the monster first presents itself to the party. While this can be dramatic, it is more often subtle, with the party initially only encountering the secondary effects of the monster’s presence. The card usually designates a sign of the monster’s presence, an adventure hook, or a mystery.

  1. The Pupa

The middle card of the third row is called “The Pupa.” This is when the monster first starts to exercise its power over the party. This phase of the adventure tends to be more investigative as the party pieces together the whys and wherefores of the situation caused by the monster. The card tends to designate a special ability by the monster, some kind of complication it causes, or an event that deepens the party’s involvement in the scenario.

  1. The Imago

The rightmost card of the third row is called “The Imago.” This card represents the monster at its full, climactic power. Since this card tends to designate the monster’s ultimate goal, it is sometimes best to read this card first and work backwards towards The Larva.

  1. The Encounters

Thinking about some encounters at this stage will usher you into the next stage of the adventure writing process—the drawing and keying in of maps. After all, it's difficult to create a realistic place without knowing the kinds of things that can happen within it. When using tarot cards to create encounters, I like to read them in “clumps” or groups of three cards, taking an element from each card to create a single encounter. The top three cards can be read as one encounter, the three cards on the bottom right as another encounter, and the cards on the bottom left as a third encounter. 

Creating a sample monster

This generator probably requires more of an explanation than the other generators I’ve posted, so I wanted to create a sample monster as a demonstration of this method. I am creating this monster as I write this post, so I have no clue how well this monster will turn out. I will try my best to describe my thought process with each card, but chances are good that if you were looking at the same combination of cards, you would devise a monster completely different than what I created. I know very little about reading Tarot to be honest—most of what I learned I got from Italo Calvino’s novel Castle of Crossed Destinies, but it’s enough for me to get by. I am playing a second edition game with a party who are currently adventuring in Quercu Silvam, a forest filled with crumbling Roman-inspired ruins, abandoned statuary, and trees that are perfectly evenly spaced apart. I know that I want to create a monster involving an abandoned fountain of some sort, but beyond that, I don’t have any ideas for what kind of monster inhabits this fountain or what its deal is. I shuffle up my deck and deal out ten cards like so:

[insert image here]

  • The form: The card I have drawn to devise a form for my monster from is “The World.” My eyes are immediately drawn to the animals in the four corners (which my religious upbringing tells me probably represent the four gospels). I like the religious imagery of the card, so I decide to make a monster with the body of a woman dressed in a flowing white robe with four faces, the face of a woman in the front, eagle on the left, cow in the back, and lioness on the right.

  • The human: The card I drew for the human element is “The Emperor.” When I look at the card with its regal bearing, I feel that our multi-faced monster fancies herself a ruler of some sort. The rams on the card indicate that our monster is hard hearded--she has a goal of some kind, and will not be deterred, no matter the cost. The image I have in my head is our monster seated on a throne in the fountain, jets of water and mist obscuring sight of her.

  • The inhuman: The card I drew for the inhuman element is “Page of Wands.” The page on the guard regards the top of his staff with a curious wonder, something I’d like to somehow incorporate in our monster design—a gaze attack. Since our monster has four faces, it might be interesting if she could rotate her head on her neck as needed to deliver different gaze attacks:

    • The human face: All agreements made within her gaze must be kept to their fullest extent.

    • The Eagle Face: Target must make save or turn into a mouse

    • The Cow Face: Permanently lose -1 strength every round the monster holds her gaze on the target.

    • Lioness Face: Rooted in place as long as the monster holds her gaze on the target.

  • The Cycle: The three cards I drew for the cycle are “Justice,” “9 of Pentacles,” and “The Magician.” Since we know the monster thinks of herself as a ruler, “Justice” indicates that she holds court from her fountain, passing unfair judgement on her victims.

The power the figure in “9 of pentacles” holds over the hooded falcon is similar to the dynamic the monster holds over those whom she holds her judgement. I like the vineyard depicted on the card and decide that her kingdom is an overgrown garden with her fountain in the middle. She uses her quest spell to force her victims to work in her garden if they do not pass her judgement. 

Finally, the table on “The Magician” card feels like a sacrificial altar. Additionally, the magician’s pose on the card indicates a spiritual transcendence. The rose depicted on the card also stands out as a detail I want to incorporate. Building on this, our monster’s final goal is to become a goddess by growing a magnificent jeweled rose--a rose requiring the blood of numerous living beings to cultivate, but whose hips are said to grant immortality if consumed.

  • The Encounters: Now we have our monster: a woman with four faces and a head that she can rotate to deliver different gaze attacks. She lives in a fountain, and uses her gaze attack to force victims to work in her garden or sacrifice themselves to her rose bush under the guise of justice. I like her; let’s call her Sabine. The last step is to create three encounters using Sabine.

    • Encounter 1 [The World, The Emperor, Page of Wands]: A band of merchants headed by Julius, a young brash entrepreneur with a personality similar to the figure depicted on the Page of Wands, is travelling to Sabine’s fountain with a sack of gold with the aim of procuring cuttings and seeds from her much famed garden to create his own plants. He is accompanied by a gruff, bearded fighter (as The Emperor card), and a young illusionist (as The World card).

    • Encounter 2 [Justice, The Star, Eight of Cups]: Sabine’s sister, named Octavia, is sneaking into the Sabine’s fountain to steal the rose bush (like the sneaky figure on the 8 of cups card). Octavia discovered the rose’s seeds in an antediluvian pool (a different part of my campaign—it’s a long story, but it fits with The Star card), and was keeping them safe until they were stolen by Sabine. Octavia wants to steal the plant back as revenge (as per the Justice card).

    • Encounter 3 [The Magician, Five of Cups, 6 of pentacles]: The garden is home to many strange plants, one of which is the dream lilly (using the illustration of the lilly from The Magician card) which has the ability to induce a trance in which you can see one of you most likely causes of death. Unfortunately, use of the lilly is quite addictive (five of cups is giving me the vibe of “too much of a good thing” here). Two addicted thieves (much like the two figures depicted on the 6 of pentacles) have entered the garden and are trying to steal the Lilly, but their bumbling ineptitude is likely to get themselves (and the party) caught.

Some Concluding Remarks:

I have to admit that a weakness to using Tarot cards as generators is that they require so much creativity to read that it can feel like you may as well not even bother. In my adventure writing, I have tried both with and without tarot, and I prefer to use tarot simply because the cards constrain and focus your creative energy. I have used this method several times for creating monsters and each time I feel like the monster I create is more vivid than one I would have made just on my own.

But the monster is just one aspect of the overall adventure. Once your monster is made you can use this method to create the rest of the adventure… or whatever other method you fancy. Please feel free to drop me a line if you use this method to create your own monsters! I would love to hear about your results.