August 2012 Archives


We all know that adventurers are nothing without monsters to fight, right? Well, the same goes for monsters. Without adventurers, what would they do? Probably die of old age and actually keep their treasure, but that's beside the point.

This is the center panel of a three panel GM screen that I designed for personal use, and it kind of sums up my personal view of what low level fantasy adventurers look like. No storybook knights in shining armor or high-fantasy epic heroes here. These adventurers are hard-living, amoral, tomb-looting opportunists with beat up equipment and an axe to grind.

Even though my artwork doesn't take place on a particular "world," pieces like this can help put the monsters in context and maybe provide a little imagination fuel along the way.

Slavering Assimilator

Click to toggle between black & white and color.
Armor Category:
6 [13]
Monster Type:
Health Dice:
Malevolent Chaos
90' (30')
No. Appearing:
Attacks & Damage:
† 2 Tentacles (1d6) -- † 2 Claws (1d4) -- † Bite (1d6)
Special Attacks & Abilities:
Imitate Lifeform: Given sufficient time (usually 5-10 minutes), the Slavering Assimilator will ingest and faithfully replicate any lifeform it chooses. If interrupted, it will automatically attack with a random Defensive Mutation.
Treasure & Possessions: None

AC [Desc] 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0
To Hit 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
AC [Asc] 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

Toxin or Disease Magical Devices Ray or Gaze Blast or Breath Spells
11 12 11 14 12

Defensive Mutations
1. † Deadly Maw: (1d6) A ferocious mouth lined with rows of sharp fangs suddenly appears in the creature's chest or emerges from its splitting cranium.
2. → Digestive Acid: (1d4/round unless neutralized) The creature vomits forth acid that sticks to whatever it touches and dissolves metal plating in 1d4 turns.
3. Sentient Extremity: Limb or head separates with a sickening elastic pop, sprouts legs and crawls away or attacks.
4. Partially Assimilated: The assimilator's skin tears, revealing partially consumed creatures in various stages of consumption. May be recognizable.
5. † Assimilating Tendrils: Whiplike tendrils sprout from a random location on the creature's body, attaching to and enveloping whatever they touch.
6. † Insectoid Limbs: With a grotesque crunch, hideously oversized insect limbs sprout from the assimilator's body.

The slavering assimilator is not so much an individual creature as it is an insidious colony of single-celled organisms which imitate in both form and behavior any living thing they encounter. In its original form, this horrific thing ranges from six to eight feet in height with three hateful glowing red eyes. Writhing tendrils sprout forth from the pulpy, misshapen orb that passes for the thing's head.

In this form the creature is dangerous enough, but the fact that any given piece of this creature can potentially infect, ingest and mimic countless creatures of any species makes it a threat of the highest order. It is effectively a very dangerous and aggressive plague. If allowed to assimilate all life on a planet, it would revert to an amorphous protoplasmic ooze which would eventually devour all life.

Once encountered, the creature must be defeated and destroyed to the last particle (fire or acid make for particularly effective disposal methods) or it will either continue to attack or become dormant only to wait for another group of hapless victims. If the adventuring party fails to deal with it, they may find the next city or town infested with assimilators, or worse!

Ecology & Tactics
Slavering assimilators avoid direct combat if possible and prefer to hide in the shadows and pick off adventurers one by one, replacing them with assimilated copies. If attacked, it will respond quickly with whatever natural weapon it deems most appropriate to the situation.

When under attack or interrupted during an assimilation, the creature drops all pretense of imitation and attacks with a ferocity that matches its desire to survive. It will rapidly and grotesquely deploy any and all natural weapons in its biological arsenal acquired through millenia of ingesting a wide variety of creatures to defend itself from aggressors.

These defensive mutations can appear with alarming, unnatural suddenness and strike with deadly effect. A small but incomplete sampling is found in the Defensive Mutations chart. Feel free to add others. This is definitely a creature that benefits from improvisation during gameplay.

If played to the hilt, this thing is a potentially world-ending monster and is sure to undermine trust between members of any adventuring party. Of course, it can also be used largely for it's substantial gross-out potential as well.

Dungeon Crawling Rules

As far as gaming is concerned, I prefer dungeon crawls. There's just something iconic about sending a fighter, cleric, thief and magic-user into a mouldering dungeon like some kind of pseudo-medieval special ops team to hack their way through monsters and steal treasure. Provided they can survive.

Of course, dungeon crawling is not much fun without opposition, so having plenty of monsters is important. Those early RPG books (particularly the monster-focused ones) provided me with a lot of imagination fuel as a kid and inspired me to draw. That love of monster books continues to this day and is obviously a major driving force behind this blog.

Here are some of my preferred dungeon crawling games. Many of them are functionally equivalent, so for me the artwork is often a selling point, as it has always been with gaming books. The monsters on this blog are designed with these kinds of games in mind, and should be easily translated for use in any of them.


One dungeon crawling game towers above all the others in my humble estimation. These are the Basic and Expert D&D rules published by TSR in 1981. They have enough rules structure to make it sufficiently "game-like" for me, while leaving plenty of room for improvisation. The rules are clearly explained as well (though it took my ten-year-old self a while to figure them out). They also have great cover/box art painted by by the legendary Erol Otus. In retrospect, this is also the last iteration of D&D from TSR that would have that amateurish, fanzine-like charm. I highly recommend finding a copy of these rules, either online or at in the used section of your local game store.


A number of other games capture some of the feel of these early boxed sets either through rules emulation or artistic and literary inspiration.  These games have the advantage of currently being in print.

Labyrinth Lord, from Goblinoid Games is the closest to 1981 Basic and Expert D&D. This game is a retro-clone that utilizes the Open Gaming License (OGL) to loosely replicate the feel of the rules that inspired it, namely the 1981 Basic and Expert rules referenced above. Among the emulated rulesets, I'm partial to Labyrinth Lord for two reasons: it emulates my favorite rules and has great artwork.


Another OGL-based retro-clone is Swords & Wizardry from Mythmere Games. S&W harkens back to earlier incarnations of D&D (in this case the "Little Brown Books" or "White Box" D&D from 1974) and incorporates a number of changes that update and/or take creative license with the source material, but  it's an enjoyable ruleset and in its earlier printings had an amazing cover by Pete Mullen (I guess I do judge books by their covers).


The Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG from Goodman Games is the latest addition to the roster of games that try to capture the look and feel of classic role-playing games from the late '70s and early '80s. DCCRPG is not a faithful emulation of one particular era of D&D rules. It is very much a game of its own that combines rules inspirations from many sources in an attempt to be faithful to the pulp fantasy literature that inspired fantasy role-playing games in the first place. This is a massive book and has a lot of artwork, including the last professional illustrations by one of my favorite vintage TSR artists - Jim Roslof.

These are some of the games that I find particularly enjoyable (though I don't play them all). The monsters on this blog are geared towards the style of games that the above books embody. Of course, there's nothing stopping you from translating them to any game you like. If there's one thing monsters love, it's finding new adventurers to devour.

Read This...

Listen to This...