Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Monster Remixes 2: Frost Giants

Not that long at all before I had to choose my second monster to remix, and I chose Frost Giants. Mostly because I had already written a take on my other option, but also because I think that giants and their ilk are ill utilized. Too often they are bags of hit points and don’t present a real challenge or threat beyond “this is gonna take a while”, both in game and in reality. 

In Norse mythology, Frost Giants are one interpretation of Jotunn, a people who are often at odds with the Aesir and Vanir. They are often interpreted as trolls as well, and display a myriad of different skills and abilities. Sometimes they’re respected members of the community, and other times they’re clawed monsters with wicked magic who ride wolves. In D&D, they’re just big skyrim viking barbarians. 

Game mechanic wise, they’re the same as other giants, but smarter, more cultured, with resistance to frost and weakness to fire. They use some armor and stereotypical macho swedaboo barbarian weapons. Not a lot to work with, but enough. These guys are bricks and bruisers, and meant to soak up damage and dish it out in kind, capable of being villains with personality. By comparison, Hill Giants are the school bully who shoved you into a locker as a stereotype: big, dumber than the rocks he throws, and gross. A giant blob of flesh and farts with brute force and a low intellect meat-mind to vaguely pilot it. Frost giants are not that. They are tacitly abusive brutalists. Melee combatants meant to be equal to our stalwart fighters, capable of tactics. 

The obvious Appendix N inspiration for them is clearly “The Frost-Giant’s Daughter”, by Robert E. Howard. A shorter tale of Conan of Cimmeria, where he encounters a slightly more mythical and trollish jotunn in the form of Atali, and two of her brothers which fall much more in-line with the monster-manual default Frost-Giant. Both warrior-kin are quickly dispatched by the Cimmerian, as he falls prey to the magical lure of the winter-maiden. 

In basic 5e they’re effectively trailer-pagan wet dreams: giant blue-skinned horned helm lamellar clad axe-wielders with a nasty disposition. They’re cruel, bad-guys in fur cloaks, the Norse as ravaging pillagers and marauders, the heel-turn and villain-arc of all LARPers with side shaves and guyliner and beaded beards and Mjolnir pendants. A goofy chariacture of medieval Norse stereotypes cranked to 11 that would border on offensive if not for its semi-celebratory nature and dated inspiration. And that gives me an idea: we stay in the same genre, but switch sub-genres. We ditch the Amon Amarth and Wardruna for other artists.

Frost-Giants are Black Fucking Metal. 


Frost-Giants, Ymir’s Blood, Rimeserkers, Sons of Ice and Darkness, Black-Marked Raiders

Along the shores of the northernmost climes of the world, massive ships land on their beaches. Dragon headed longboats cobbled together from something like ribs and tusks, or fantastically large toenails, beached like invading wyrms. Hallmarks of raiders from across cold strange waters. And in the mountains, where the air grows thin and the hoarfrost clings to beards and armor like a stiffened corpse, tiered halls of blackened wood and knot-work carved stone rise from under snowdrifts under the light of wyrdling auroras like ghosts summoned from graves. Feasting halls and plunder hoards of winter’s warrior-kin. 

They rise into the sky, grim and gogmagog-like. Their torsos begin where most men’s heads stop, and their bodies are possessed of a rangey musculature and broad shoulders often seen in those who work oars for hours on end. The titans’ skin is corpse white, with a cyanotic tint. Blackened nails and lips, often with long hair and beards. Their faces are painted in a myriad of monochrome patterns with the ashes and suet of defeated beasts, and their eyes hold a menacing coldness more befitting iceberg crusted seas than living things. Their breath does not fog the air, and they often go shirtless despite the fanged bite of hypothermic winds. Sometimes they wear little but midnight black leather and cobbled armor. What protection they do wear is always adorned with spikes to menace the lesser creatures they’ve come to slay and slave. 

Mighty too are their weapons, forged under psychedelic aurora skies no man has lived to tell about. The rainbow sheen on their steel a hallmark of the bifrost pathways they’ve stridden upon at the behest of their darkling shamans and gothi. The axe and sword, hammer and shield are all known to them. Such is their might to crack stone and split skulls asunder like eggshells. The meat and make of men are like husk-dolls to them, as fragile in our forms to them as icicles are to us. Their training in the warrior arts is superlative. 

While little is known of their home and ways, a few foolish men have done some form of trade with them. What such titanic heralds of frosted midnight could possibly want is still largely unknown. But in the sale of pelts whiter than starlight and mead flavored with divine apples stolen from gods men don’t have names for, tales were told over gallons of ale and whole-roast horse carcasses. Tales told in voices that clawed like sleet in a graveyard, or broke like thunder from glaciers spilling across primordial skies. 

Tales told while the gargantuans drank from skulls.

The giants’ home is sunless, demon and battle filled, and in a state of perpetual winter. This has bred within its people an unending grimness. Half align with old gods and giants of their ancestry, and the other align with the ruinous demons of the pit. It is a place of constant war, and it is the only life they will know till the light takes them. 

Whether fodder for endless war, or for greed of gold and glory, or for cruelty birthed of a blackened world, their longships land on northern shores. Their booted feet crush walls and they raid and take what they can, giving nothing in return. Men stumble into blasted halls during blizzards, to find hearts colder than any ice they’ve ever known swearing fealty to behemoth jarls of sub-arctic mood or shadowed devils of hells best left frozen. Wind-scarred and snow-pale hands will eagerly carve out their mortal hearts for sacrifice to either set of pinprick eyes of cold cruelty. 


HP: 45, AC as Chain and Shield, Saves on a 12+, Immune to cold, double damage from fire. 

Attacks: Giant Weapon +4 to hit, 3d6 if single handed or 4d8 if two handed. Add +1 to AC if using a shield. 

Boulder Throw +3 to hit, 3d6 damage and on a crit knocked prone on odd damage or buried under boulder on evens. 

Glacial Might: instead of inflicting full damage, a Frost-Giant may instead do half damage but achieve a mighty deed (similar to DCC’s rule), enabling it to knock a target prone or disarm an opponent, or some other martial feat of incredible strength. They have advantage on all other strength based checks. 

Permafrost Champions: Every 3 rounds of being in close combat range of a Frost-Giant, combatants must Save vs Breath. A failure either moves their initiative to last or adds a level of exhaustion (DM’s choice) due to radiating cold. After 3 consecutive failed saves, enemies are frozen solid. 

Hearts of Blackest Ice: Cold damage heals Frost-Giants

Thursday, February 1, 2024

Monster Remixes 1: Barghest

In an effort to write more and generate “content” for my blog, I decided to take a hint from some other blog posts and also my initial writings for this blog (which I haven’t posted), and remix old monsters that need a refresher for D&D. If drastically changed, I’ll include stats, but otherwise it’s assumed you can use the old stat block and powers. Oliver at Graven Utterance and I decided to give each other monsters to remix, and I was given the Barghest. Mostly because I like their official art in older editions.

I traditional D&D, Barghests are demons from Gehenna that are goblin werewargs, with some nasty spells to help them avoid detection, beginning in second edition. In mythology and folklore, barghests are a kind of Black Dog trope, which are in itself a kind of hellhound. So right from the bat I can see why they chose to make them goblins (ties into English Folklore roots) and outsiders (plane or Gehenna) to help distinguish them amongst their peers. 

D&D and sword-dice games have a plethora of dog-monsters: wolves, wargs, winter wolves, werewolves, jackalweres, and a billion other variants. Especially with barghests, they’re a kind of shapechanger (also associated with wolves), and their spells are to avoid detection. They’re pretty powerful, so I see them as nasty hit-and-run tactics bosses from a modern tactical RPG perspective. 

Black Dogs can vary from mythos to mythos, even local areas in English folklore. Only some Black Dogs are Barghests. And so one of our tasks is to distinguish our remix just like the official version. Moreso, when I heard the term I think immediately to the rumor of Winston Churchill having depression he referenced as a Black Dog, and that gives me some ideas. 


Barghest, Stygian werewargs, Black Dogs of the Unseelie, Cocytus Baptised Wolves

From which underworld they come we do not know. Scholars and magi who’ve tracked them have gone mad, or worse- torn apart by invisible monsters, hunted back from their trips by black shadows with rictus grins at the corners of their peripheral vision, their powerful minds soured. 

Whip-thin, with bestial eyes and mouths too big for their bodies, and teeth that are all fangs. Some say they look like dogs or baboons, long and loping as they bay after those they chase. Others say they look like wild children with mange, wispy shadow-black hairs dangling lifelessly from moon-pale flesh. Their fingers and limbs gangrel, their ears pointed, and their glee sadist and malevolent. 

The barghests drink up joy and sorrow, feed themselves and sup on the pleasures of life, leaving none for their victims. A victim hounded by a barghest will find that neither drink nor food nor flesh nor any manner of pleasure provides but temporary relief. All in the world has devolved into a black pit, from which there is no escape. Their days will eventually be spent bedridden, and their emotions devolve into a sense of being a hollow shell. The Great Sorrow is ambrosia to the depression-drinker.

But the Barghest knows too well that a clean kill is that of the natural world. And they are far from it. Why kill the cow when you can bleed it? Drop. By. Drop. A Barghest will hardly fully kill a meal in one swoop, but will instead hunt in a wide pattern, performing all manner of cruelties and injustices to the preferred victim. A cousin passed. A lover has an accident. Good news doesn’t arrive (the messenger’s flesh rent and left to rot in the woods). Life’s cruelties are magnified by the unnatural beast, and it relishes every second of it. 

Lonely travelers are a favorite victim. A stroke of the claw like the reaper’s scythe and then they follow the trail of sorrows like a hound after a scent, tongues lapping the earth for traces of tears, licking up the laughter and leaving none for the new victim sitting by the windowsill or the mailbox. 

Invariably it is here, in the lonesome woods and darkling places of the world that adventurers meet the Barghest, or perhaps in some abominable crypt where insane priests have summoned or trapped one to pluck from it the blackest secrets of the netherworld. 

Whom do they serve? Why do they torture so? Who knows. And who cares when one has its fangs at your throat? Some more darker powers in the gloaming world employ barghests in pairs as hunting dogs, black-ops troops in the magical world of things that should-not-be. But never more than two, lest the pack turn on its handler, and then fight amongst themselves for supremacy. 


HP: 50, AC as leather and shield, Saves on a 14+, vulnerable to silver and iron

Attacks: Claw/Claw/Bite d6/d6/d8 +2/+2/+3 to hit/dmg, Hitting with all 3 attacks knocks the target down and allows them to be dragged/moved by the Barghest as it fights

Thief-of-Joy: mortals within 100 feet of a Barghest do not receive experience points from treasure found and must save vs magic to end a rest as depression takes hold of them. Carousing in the same building as a Barghest provides no benefit and consumes double resources. 

Spells: At will Invisibility, Dancing lights, ventriloquism, spider climb, pass without trace (or system equivalent)