Knight in tarnished armor
Chapter Seven: A Bestiary of the Three Lands
This is the section of the book detailing not just sample monsters, but rules to create your own adversaries and creatures for campaigns. Like many OSR games, monsters and NPCs abide by different rules than PCs. While they share common traits such as hit points and hit dice, Armor Class, and attack and damage modifiers, they have a more simplified way of doing things. All NPCs and monsters roll d8 for hit dice (the lack of bonus hit points for Consitution is balanced out by the d8); they have a singular Save category which applies to all saving throw-related effects instead of 5 different ones. They have a skill single modifier (ranging from +1 to +4) which applies to things the creature would be skilled at. Finally, we have a Morale ranging from 5-12. A 2d6 is rolled whenever the monster suffers fear effects, the tide of battle turns against them, or similar things; a lower result than the score causes the monster to flee or rout. Naturally, some monsters have Morale 12 (fearless fanatics, mindless creatues, etc) and fight to the death.
And finally, monsters and NPCs might have unique abilities, or limited or even full spellcasting potential.
For example, here's a stat block for the Eloko:
1 Eloko: AC 6, Move 20’, HD 3, Atk +5/1d6x2 claws, Save 14+,
Morale 8, Skill +2, bells chime as a Nkisi of the Deadened Mind
Morale 8, Skill +2, bells chime as a Nkisi of the Deadened Mind
The following page has three sample tables for creating new creatures. The first table divides game stats into rows based upon the monster's role: a Fast Chaser might have a 60' movement (twice as fast as a normal human)and 4 Hit Dice, while a Brutish Meat Slab might have only 20' but 7 Hit Dice. The second and third tables determine typical behavior in combat (loves false retreats, panicked by fire or magic, etc) and special abilities (Leadership grants +2 to attack and morale to allies, etc), both determined by a d20 roll. Of course, you can choose an appropriate feature instead (and the book tells you this).
I really like this monster creation method; the math values for hit dice, saves, etc is in line with the rest of the manual, so it should be consistent.
Creatures of the Three Lands
There are 26 separate entries for monsters and human NPCs in this section, not including variants under the same general entry (such as vipers and pythons which have their own stat blocks under "Snake"). In addition to mundane animals, the bestiary borrows heavily from African folklore instead of rehashing common D&D creatures.
As there are so many creatures, I'm going to give one or sentences for descriptions instead of repeating all their stuff.
Buffalo are strong herd animals of the Yellow Lands. They are incredibly aggressive and will work together to rescue injured and captured herdmates.
Crocodiles hunt among the rivers of the Three Lands. Although known to gather in groups, they rarely work together to bring down prey.
Eloko are 3-feet tall cannibal dwarves with a burning hatred for humanity and love to feast on the flesh of women. They wear bells around their necks which can mesmerize victims with their ringing. Grass grows from their bodies instead of hair, and their nails are long and sharp.
Eternal are the undead survivors of the Sixth Kingdom of Deshur, although they turned many others to an undead state with the spread of their atrocities. The majority of Eternals are but Dreamers barely aware of the world around them, commanded by Nobles and Lords who retain all the skills and intelligence they had in life. It's easy enough to create a Dreamer, but turning a corpse into a Noble or Lord requires very expensive rituals of occult knowledge and relics (10,000 for a Noble, 25,000-50,000 for a Lord and ranks in Occult).
Fanged Apes appear much like their peaceful gorilla counterparts, except with an oversized set of sharp teeth and an eagerness to use clubs and thrown stones as weapons. They love to hunt humans and their favored targets are children, and are most common in the jungles of Lokossa; a few hill-based variants lair in the crags of Kirsi.
Ghosts are incorporeal spirits and undead who are tethered to a limited area in the material world. They are usually the result of a poorly-planned burial or an extreme unwillingness to accept death.
Giants are the tall inhabitants of the Mountains of the Sun. They were fashioned at the dawn of the world before the spirits created humanity; each of them is a unique creation, and their uniqueness combined with their age makes them both arrogant and skilled in many arts, from craftsmanship to war and even the art of ashe. However, they are bitter towards the gods and spirits and can never be marabout. Giants tend to either slumber deep beneath the ground or rule over mountain fortresses, with a retinue of weaker humans and monsters as servants.
Horses are a common feature in the northern Three Lands. Nyala's army makes use of horse-zebra hybrids, scouts for Sokone merchant caravans ride them, and the Kirsi's cavalry are the best in the land. Although horses largely share the same stats, different breeds have unique features: the sturdy hill barbs ignore movement penalty on hill terrain and roll twice per hit die, taking the best result; pit ponies are bred for mine work and never panic underground and nimble enough to go wherever a human can go; Imperial zebras are the pride of the Nyalan Empire and gain +2 hit points per hit die and attack rolls.
Humans of the Three Lands come in all walks of life and occupations, and thus don't have a typical stat block. Instead there are six common types the PCs are likely to meet or fight; commoners, bandits, soldiers, elite soldiers, nobles, and merchants. None of them are impressive stat-wise, with only the noble going above 2 hit dice, and their effectiveness in combat is largely determined by available weapons and armor.
Hyenas are pack scavengers fond of stealing prize kills from larger predators. Humans see this as being against the natural order and view sightings of such animals as an ill omen. In Spears of the Dawn, all Dire animals are spirit versions of their normal counterparts. In the case of Dire hyenas, they're possessed of a wicked intelligence and fond of feasting on human leaders and nobles.
Ilomba, the Witch-Snakes are serpentine servants of the Gods Below. They seek out suitably talented cultist leaders and occult scholars, offering them power in exchange for a symbiotic bond. When a bond is formed, the serpent can take the form of the human and grant them immunity to non-magic weapons and minor spellcasting ability. However, if either the human or Ilomba dies, then both die.
Kishi, also known as the Two-Faced Ones, are evil spirits who take the forms of handsome and beautiful humans with thick braids of hair. They seduce people to accompany them to an isolated location alone, whereupon their head turns around to reveal their second hyena-like maw to eat their new victims! They operate in both rural regions and urban centers, carefully planning their attacks to avoid detection and choosing prey who are unlikely to be found or missed.
Leopards are cunning predators found and feared throughout the Three Lands. They are wary of humans in groups, although they've been known to hunt and eat them in desperate times. They are swift runners and fast climbers, easily able to evade the reach of common hunters and soldiers. Leopard-skin cloaks are viewed as status symbols, and the pelt of the mighty Dire leopard can fetch a high price on the marketplace.
Leopard Cultists are humans who pledge allegiance to malevolent and bestial spirits in exchange for gaining the powers of a leopard. They form secret societies, kidnapping folk to sacrifice to their patrons in exchange for gaining these special abilities. Most cultists are normal humans, but a few adepts blessed by the spirits can transform into leopards or a hybrid form.
Lions are noble felines of the savanna. They hunt wildebeests and zebras, and are even known to take prey claimed by leopards, cheetahs, and hyenas. Statwise they're a lot like leopards except slower, stronger, and tougher. Dire lions are arrogant creatures which seek to become rulers of the land that they survey, and any human settlements falling under their gaze are forced to worship them with human sacrifice or be slaughtered.
Moatia, known as the Dwarf Sorcerers, are short limping folk with a foul disposition. They are famous for their mastery of herbal lore and the magical arts; people seek out their huts deep in the forest to heal some incurable disease or end a plague. Moatia are easily offended and hateful to all living creatures (especially their own kind), and are fond of casting curses at those who don't show them the proper respect.
The Night Men are humanoids who live south of the Akpara River at Lakossa's border. They are hairless and bear all manner of ugly scars and deformities, and crippled Lokossans take to growing their hair extra-long to not be mistaken for a Night Man scout. Night Men live in the ruined cities of the southern jungles, subsisting on strange crops and pend most of their lives fighting each other. Every so often a particularly skilled warchief or priest unites the Night Men to lead a large horde against the Lokossans, embroiling the entire country in prolonged jungle warfare. Nobody knows why they do this or their origins.
Ningiri are reptilian beasts with the body of a crocodile and a long sinuous neck. They often hide their 30 foot long bodies behind cover while their head quickly snatches any surprised prey. They are of animal intelligence, but very cunning and dangerous.
Obia are hulking, jackal-like spirit-beasts who are hired by witches to serve as household guards and to kidnap women for wives (no respectable father will allow his children to marry a witch). Their grip is so sure that a successful attack grapples and immobilizes a target.
Rhinos are tough-as-nails beasts of the savannas and grassland, fond of charging anything they consider a threat (which includes a great many things). A sick or injured bull rhino can be devastating to a village, viciously fighting to the bitter end heedless of its survival.
Humans often call the rodent-like Rompo "singing jackals," even though it bears little resemblance to such a creature. They haunt graveyards and tombs, surviving off of the rotting flesh of humans as it sings sweetly and softly. They're intelligent as a human, and often hide bodies of murdered folk to feast upon later. In groups they might even adopt the use of tools and weapons and wear clothing obtained from corpses, and their united melodies can mesmerize those who listen to them.
Sasabonsam are winged people who lair in jungles and high mountain peaks. They nimbly snatch traveling humans off the ground to carry back to their lairs to sacrifice to their bat-like gods. Those few survivors tell that their cavernous aeries are home to evil nganga working with them, and a few are certain that the Moatia are their leaders. Sasabonsam can wield objects and weapons in their talonlike feet, and can be motivated to work with evil humans with sufficient promise of reward.
The Three Lands contain countless breeds of snakes, but the ones detailed in the Bestiary are regarded the most dangerous to humans. Giant vipers can grow as big as a man and their poison can bring down an adult buffalo. The black python, which can grow up to 20 feet in length, crushes its prey with mighty constrictions. The assassin snake possesses an alien intellect, and accepts blood sacrifices from worshipers of the Gods Below to sneak into a hated foes' houses to poison and kill them.
The Umthali are a race of humanoid serpent folk descended from Gods Below-worshiping mortals whose blood mingled with that of snakes. They constructed many grand and terrible cities while humanity was freshly created, and in the days of recorded history only one city remained. This city went to war with Sokone's ancestors and lost, and now the remaining Umthali live in scattered cells. A few Umthali are accomplished nganga or marabout, and those who can pass for human often worm their way into human centers of power.
Walking Corpses are possessed by angered souls unable to escape, lashing out at their inability to depart to the spirit world. Like ghosts, they're often created as the result of improper burials and linger around the places of their death. Fun fact: the concept of the zombie originated in African folklore.
Witches are humans who possess the potential for working ashe, but are either unaware of it or did not receive the proper training to become a nganga. They are both male and female and can be found wherever humans gather. Witches are capable of casting minor spells and rituals, but are oftentimes uncontrolled and manifest from unconscious desires. Due to this, villages and towns make an effort to recruit ngangas to properly train witches so that they don't inadvertently harm their neighbors and family.
Witches are capable of being self-taught, the most infamous rivaling the powers of learned nganga. The temptation to use one's powers is great, for it takes only a moment's thought to inflict a harmful spell with a wrathful thought, and most witches hide their powers out of fear and shame. It's possible for a nganga to "cure" a witch of their powers with a curse-removal spell, although said witch must genuinely want to be rid of the burden.
Libertad's Thoughts: The bestiary is both well-sized and diverse, and should provide GMs with plenty of adversarial fodder and a useful system to create their own creatures and NPCs.
Next time Chapter 8: Treasures and their uses!