Saturday, 30 April 2011

Monster Post About the Bestiary

DHBoggs said . . .
It would be interesting to know more "behind the curtain" details about the setting and monsters. I mean some seem to be obvious adaptations of D&D monsters, others of various Arthurian and folklore origins, others like your Hrafnmenn more original. But it would be nice to know what comes from where in more instances.

It’s great to be asked for actual in depth info on stuff, so I’ll gladly oblige. Three websites have been invaluable when creating the Redwald Bestiary . . .
and most of all

Most of the Google searches for the bestiary led to Wikipedia. I also sometimes use Bosworth and Toller’s OE Dictionary.
The reason I mention the webpages is because there are three ways in which the Redwald monsters have been created.

1) I have an idea for a monster and then use the translator to find a good OE Name.

The Hrafnmenn that DHBoggs mentions were created that way. The original idea comes from some fiction I’m working on. It has nothing to do with Saxons (it’s middle-east bronze age swords and sorcery) and the Crowmen of that fiction are nothing like the Redwald Ravenmen except for the cloak of black feathers. In the fiction the crowmen are a shadowy organisation who are kind of scavengers in search of new things they can take apart, learn about, and add to the empires knowledge base. Nothing like the Hrafnmenn . . .

Hræfnmenn (Ravenmen)
Little is known of these vile creatures. Some believe them to be evil spirits; others say they are a Réðealingas cult of death wittas. Some say they glide down from the trees to feed, some say they burst up through earth straight from the underworld. They appear as men with skin as pale as the moon. They go naked save for a cloak of Raven feathers and a raven beaked helm that covers their face but not their mouth. They carry black bladed short swords curved like a raven’s beak. They appear after small battles and skirmishes to feast on the eyes of the dead. They only ever appear in threes. They ignore the living unless they are foolish enough to interfere with their feasting.

The Hræfnmenn: AC: 3 [16]; HD: 3+3; Attacks; 3 Raven blade (3 damage each hit); Special: Eye pluck counter; Move: 13; HDE/XP: 3/333.
If anyone attacking a Hræfnmenn rolls a 3 on their to-hit roll he immediately counters by plucking the attacker’s eye out reducing them to 3 Hit Points.

. . . not at all like the Crowmen. The theme of 3 in the stats just flowed from the idea that they came in threes, which is a very ‘big’ number in magic and mythology, especially Celtic mythology. I think the Hræfnmenn have a definite Celtic vibe.

2) I take monsters associated with Saxon and Celtic mythology and mess about with them.

There are certain monsters you just have to have in a Saxon based RPG. Trolls, Giants, Dragons, being the main three. When creating these I’m looking at some of the sources in the bibliography, but mostly I’m Googling ‘Anglo-Saxon monsters’, ‘Trolls’ or running them through the translator and seeing what comes up.

For example Niht Genga (Night goer) is a term used in Beowulf in reference to Grendel, but it is also more generally used term for any monster that goes about its grim business and night and has a strong association with Goblins so I used Niht Genga for the Goblins. To make them stand out a little from D&D Goblins I simply made them the opposite of what they are in D&D I made them scarce, a breed dwindling in numbers and power.

The Giants I had some fun with. One of the hard parts of using Anglo-Saxon mythology is that it’s basically the same as Norse Mythology (Woden/Odin) but with less detail and often overshadowed by the Norse version. However, when it comes to Giants we have a great tradition in the UK although not necessarily Anglo-Saxon. So all of Redwald’s Giants are British Giants. Some are just stories and folk law, but they’re all asociated with various places around the country. Some can still be found carved in the landscape; such as the Rude Man of Hlæw . . .

The Rude Man of Hlæw
The rude man of Hlæw haunts the burial mounds of Midlandseax. Twelve foot tall, and naked he is a strange and intimidating foe. His head is comparatively small for his body size and he wears a constant expression of shock; perhaps because his manhood is comparatively large for his body size and is in a constant state of excitement. Any man thus confronted must make a Saving Throw or run in fear (or perhaps shame). Strangely, the Rude Man’s nakedness doesn’t seem to scare women. He fights with a war club, his only possession.

The Rude Man of Hlæw: AC: 6 [13]; Hit Dice: 8+2; HP: 33; Attacks: 1 Club (2d6); Special: Induces fear in men (ST) ; Move: 12; HDE/XP: 9/1100 . . .

The trolls I simply used a spin on the more Tolkinesque version, rather than the Poul Anderson stringy green D&D types. I also made them a single family of Trolls. Dwindling numbers of near extinct monsters is a theme in Redwald that I did have in mind from the start.

There are few things straight out of, or inspired by Celtic mythology such as the Cauldron Born who are from the Mabinogion, and the Deorcynn which are deer-headed beastmen inspired by the Celtic god Cernunnos.

Of course it’s not always clear cut, for example the creation method for the Redwald Dragons uses method 2 and method 3 . . .

3) Find intriguing monster names in the Old English Translator, investigate (Google) and invent (make shit up).

Obviously Dragons are a mainstay of myth, but one of the glorious quirks of Old English is that it often has a ton of kennings, or poetic turns of phrase, or variations for one thing. So, when I put Dragon through the translator not only did I find the OE word for Dragon I also found a whole load of colourful names for Dragons. As I had already decided I wanted individual dragons this was a Boon. I simply took these colourful dragon names (Twilightflyer, Flamespewer, Earthdargon, etc.) and used the names as inspiration when creating the individual dragons.

I’ve been using the translator constantly since starting Redwald. I can set out to look up one word, and before I know it an hour has passed as one word leads to another, kind of like a wikiwalk. A lot of the monsters were stumbled on and sometimes it kind of works in the reverse of method two. I’d accidentally find something intriguing whilst messing about with the translator, such as the Naedercynn (snake tribe) and Spiderwhit (Spider Wight) then I’d Google that and see if there was anything interesting in the mythology associated with the intriguing name. Sometimes there was, such as with the Spider Wight and I could use that to create the monster. Other times such as with the Naedercynn I couldn’t find anything so made it all up.

Other times I’d take something like Wælwulfas (Slaughter Wolves) now the listing in the translator has them as Cannibal warriors in modern English, but Wæl is OE for Slaughter, and Wulf is obviously a wolf. So there’s a good chance that Slaughter Wolf is just a kenning for Vikings, but it might also point to cannibalism because wolves would often feast on the dead after battle, and Bosworth and Toller have a listing for cannibal warriors under the same name. Then there’s the Andreas OE poem that mentions Cannibals from a fanciful place called Mermedonia, and then there’s the 13th Warrior. So throw ‘em all in the pan, bring to the boil, simmer and season and . . .

Wælwulfas (Slaughter Wolves)
Legend tells that the cannibal warriors known as the Wælwulfas came to Rædwald from a far off land called Mermedonia, but any who survive contact with them know these eaters of the dead must be denizens of the underworld. They are a primitive and violent tribe of cannibals who migrate from place to place, seeking new caves to dwell in and civilised lands to raid. They dress themselves in wolf furs, cover their heads and faces with wolf heads, and even fight with wolf claw clubs all to give the impression that they are an inhuman beast, but any warrior who has stood against them and lived to tell the tale is able to confirm that it was ‘just a man’ he fought.

Wælwulfas: AC: 7[12]; HD: 1+1; Attacks: Wolf Claw Club 1d6; Special: Fear the Wolf; Saving Throw: 14; Move: 14; HDE/XP: 2/20.

The first time these fearsome warriors are encountered a saving throw must be made. If it is failed the victim is overcome with fear of such an unnatural foe and runs. This affect only works on those yet to realise the Wælwulfas are merely men . . .

. . .This method is hard to separate from method two, because obviously if the monsters are in OE they’re from the mythology to a certain extent. In much the same way method one and three are similar.

So that’s it. Anyone who want a closer look at the Bestiary can find it at Mike D’s Sword+1 blog. Mike was kind enough to do the layout and host the Bestiary for which I’m extremely grateful.


  1. Very cool Lee. Thanks for such an in depth answer!

  2. We did it! Congratulations! I have an award for you!!

  3. @DHHBoggs: Cheers agian for asking the Q!

    @Elizabeth Mueller: Well I didn't finish, but I did just about survive so thanks!