I reviewed Spears of the Dawn a few weeks ago, and it’s a nice little setting I recommend to anyone with interest in non-European influenced fantasy campaigns. I also really love the new classes and magic system based on Basic D&D that work much better for spellcasters in a Sword & Sorcery setting than standard clerics and wizards. But in addition to all that, Spears of the Dawn also has a short and very nice collection of monsters, which made me want to make another Fantasy Safari post.
As part of the funding campaign, all the art from the book was given away freely, which is always very nice when doing this series.
Spears of the Dawn by Sine Nomine Publishing, 2013; 11 pages of monsters.
Eloko are a race of tiny people who look just like humans but have grass instead of hair and wear clothes made from leafs. However, there is nothing endearing about these little guys, as they like to eat humans. Lone hunters are a welcome meal for groups of eloko, but they have a particular taste for the flesh of women. Before they reveal themselves to their prey, they make their presence known by the ringing of tiny bells, which have the ability to cloud the thoughts of any human to the point where they will simply stand around motionless while being devoured alive. If someone can resist the mind numbning ringing of their small bells, eloko are still much more dangerous than their small size makes them look and a single one fights about as well as a fully grown crocodile. In groups they can be a real threat to small parties of adventurers.
The Eternal are probably my favorite monster of Spears of the Dawn and the major antagonists of the setting. When their evil kingdom was facing defeat by the five other realms of the Three Lands, they turned to dark magic to make themselves immortal. After their death, a magic ritual made their bodies return to a state of unlife, where they need to neither eat, drink, sleep, or even breath. Nor do they bleed and they are impossibly to truly destroy. Stabbing wounds don’t harm them at all and the only way to really harm them is to break their bones or chop off their limbs. While they are able to exist deep in the deserts or underground without any food or water forever and can not be killed by weapons, their unliving nature also makes them unable to heal as they are still corpses. The only way to restore their mangled bodies after suffering the effects of injuries, blasting sand, and the blazing sun is to feed on human flesh. And that already tells you pretty much everything you need to know to understand why they are such a terrifying menace on the Three Lands. They are a lot like vampires in many ways, but also distinctively different creatures. They do not have to feed on humans, but if they do not the ravages of time and the environment quickly take a heavy toll on their dead flesh. They are not harmed by sunlight and in fact nothing can really destroy them. The only way to deal with them permanently is to decapitate them so they are unable to feed and heal their injuries, but even when burned to ash and their bones are ground to dust, their immortal spirits remain, unable to gain a new body or truly die. And like vampires, many eternal sorcerers know the old rituals and can raise the corpses of their enemies to be their slaves forever. Spears of the Dawn is an interesting setting in itself, but the Eternal are what really is selling it to me. They are somewhat similar to an idea I had for my Ancient Lands settings, and I got a whole number of new ideas I want to include from the Eternal.
Old friend, we meet again! The Fanged Ape is Spears of the Dawns version of the Evil Ape. The stats of fanged apes are just like those of any other big apes you’ll come across with no special ability whatsoever other than being as smart as people. But Crawford managed to given even these generic brutes a bit of a new interesting twist by describing them as sometimes raiding human villages in the night to steal children in their sleep to eat. That’s already a lot more sinister. One group lives in the mountains and likes to ambush human hunters and warriors with rockfalls. A great example of how a good monster really isn’t about looks or abilities, but it’s almost entirely their behavior that makes them interesting and frightening. Remember the apes from Princess Mononoke? These guys could easily be portrayed as just as creepy, without the sympathy for their plight.
Ghosts of the Three Lands are mostly like you’re used to from any other settings. They are the restless souls of the dead who linger on as incorporeal spirits. While they are not exceptionally strong, they are difficult to hit even with magical weapons and their touch drains the life force from the living who dare get too close to them. But there are a few new ideas for them too. Destroying a ghost is relatively easy if you can hit it and avoid its touch, as simply dealing enough damage with magic weapons and spells will force them to depart to their afterlife. Ghost always haunt the place of their death and never move far away from it, but most disappear after sunrise and only returning at nightfall. However, there are many exceptions to that rule and some ghost can fight even in the sunlight, take possession of corpses, or even make their own bodies out of earth or wood to attack any who draw their rage.
The Giants of the Three Lands look very much like large humans with perfectly black skin, but are believe to be in fact immortal spirit who were each created by the gods at the dawn of the world. They are all highly cultured and wear rich clothes and jewelry and each one of them is a great warrior and craftsman. Since they are few in number and become fewer with every one that is slain, most giants are solitary, but many have large numbers of human servants and slaves. They are believed to be the first children of the gods and most despise humans for being both so much weaker and still being favored by the gods. The houses of these giants are often dangerous mazes full of traps to kill human intruders, and even if the giant is dead, its home can hold many wonderous treasures that are not found for many generations.
An Ilomba is a spirit that serves the gods of the underworld and has the form of a snake. They seek out witches or priests to become their assistants in leading worshipers of the underworld gods and offer them many magical gifts. When bound together, both the ilomba and its master are invulnerable to normal weapons, but if one of them dies, they both die. The master also gains the magical powers of a low-level sorcerer. In turn, the ilomba gains the ability to perfectly assume the appearance and voice of its master, which allows him to seemingly be in two places at once and decieve any who might spy on him to discover the leader of the cult. While this all sounds pretty nice for the master, I also notice that this doesn’t mean that he is really in charge. He has no real power over the ilomba and the snake can just as well impersonate him before his own followers or deliberately leave hints of his involvment with any crimes it wants to blame on him. The bond between master and ilomba can only be severed by the ilomba and if the master would try to kill the snake he would also die himself. Since the ilomba is a devious evil spirit from the underworld itself, I can’t really see how anyone making a deal with it wouldn’t get screwed over in the end. This creature is less than a quarter of a page and only five sentences of description, yet it’s one of the most intriguing monsters I’ve come across in all the many monster books I’ve read.
The Kishi is another malevolent spirit who appears as a very handsome young human man with a rich mane of hair. However, it has two faces and when it attacks it turns its head around to reveal the face of a hyena on the other side and strikes with its long fangs. Looking just at the stats, it doesn’t have any special abilities. It either attacks with a weapon when posing as a human, or with its fangs. The only difference is the amount of damage it deals. However, a kishi always tries to disguise its true nature until right before it attacks to eat an unsuspecting human it manages to catch alone. They often appear like lone but charming travelers who seem like pleasant company on the road, or present themselves as young noblemen from distant lands or exotic entertainers. But no matter their disguise, their real goal is always to separate people from a crowd to devour them. Kishi are a lot like werewolves but instead of turning into a beast at night and being regular people at day, they are always on the hunt and actually much more dangerous as they are able to lure their victims into traps. Again, just a quarter of a page of stats and description, but a great setup for an adventure or even a mini campaign. Werewolf stories will be familiar to all players, but when the monster is actually fully in control of itself at all time, things get shaken up quite a lot. People disappearing and bloody remains being found in dark corners could be almost anything and a charming young men who mingles with the rich and beautiful might quite likely the last person the players would suspect.
Leopard Cultists are shapechangers very similar to werewolves and are humans who can transform into leopards to prey on other people. But unlike werewolves, leopard cultists are not the result of a curse or disease, but actually worshippers of leopards and their strength who love turning into a beast and welcome it. They are almost never alone and can appear in quite large groups and are always on the hunt for human prey as sacrifices for their beast gods. Simple cultists are merely somewhat mad humans who dress as leopards to hunt for other people in the night with claw-like knives, but the true initiates can turn into real leopards. This is an adventure that writes itself. First a village appears to have a growing problem with leopards and ask adventurers for help, who then discover that it’s really a mad cult who hunt people in animal disguise and sacrifices. But just when it seems the situation is about to get under control, another big twist reveals that some of them are not just mad but can actually become leopards. This makes the old generic European werewolf look rather bland and boring by comparison.
I thought this would be super short, but actually I think I need to split this up into two parts. For just 11 pages, this is really remarkable. Almost everything that is not a normal animal is worth talking about.