The Golems of Dainiva

Throughout the vast reaches of the Dainiva Forest rest the ancient and overgrown remains of massive stone giants. Sometimes found slumped against a hillside, sitting slouched among the trees, or lying face down in a river, these silent golems offer scarce insights into how they got to their final resting places.

Even though often heavily weathered, missing large pieces, and covered in moss and lichens, each of these golems seems to have had a unique appearance, with no two known examples being the same in size, proportions, or the stone they are made from. Some appear merely mishapen hunks of rock whose blunt arms and legs only distantly resemble a person, while others show great amount of carving and chisseling to give them simple but distinguishing faces and hands and the proportions of a roughly hewn statue.

The origins of the golems is a mystery lost to time. The clans of Dainiva and the surrounding lands have no stories of their creation, or even about them being encountered alive. As far as everyone knowns, they have always been sitting motionless under the canopy of the forest. With no way to tell their original purpose, they now only serve as landmarks for the occasional hunters making their way through the forest.


I wanted to write this post a long time ago, but somehow I never got around to actually do it. The upload date on the image files is from over one and a half year ago. Such is the life of an AD&HD gamemaster.

I first encountered doppelgangers all the way back in my first introduction to RPGs, and really to fantasy other than The Lord of the Rings and kids TV shows, Baldur’s Gate. They are pretty prominent monsters in the last part of the game and apparently meant to play a big role in the story, but while their appearance looked really cool to me, the way they were presented was rather strange and felt quite disappointing to me even back then. They are these grey naked humanoids that can assume the appearance of other people and have at least some degree of telepathic ability to read your mind, which helps with impersonating the person convincingly. But in the game, you see people you know in the middle of a dark dungeon where they shout incoherent mad ramblings at you and then drop their disguise to charge at you with their claws. What was that all supposed to be about? There is another semi-hidden quest involving doppelgangers infiltrating a merchant company and wasting all its money in bad trades, as an attempt to help a rival merchant company to rise in power. That works better, but they still were really not subtle about it at all. And again, they drop their disguises to attack with their claws as soon as you confront them about something fishy going on.

In the 3rd edition Monster Manual, doppelgangers have one of the coolest illustrations in the book. I love all the Sam Wood illustrations in the book, but I think the Di’Terlizzi interpretation from 2nd edition still looks like a more interesing monster. But this was the first good closeup view of a doppelganger that I’ve encountered and it made me fall in love with them even back then. But even getting proper descriptions of these creatures from the 3rd and 2nd edition monster books, I still found them a bit difficult to make sense of. As described, doppelgangers are a race of humanoid creatures who have the ability to assume the form of humans and other people, and use this ability primarily to replace rich people and enjoy a life of luxury for as long as they can keep up the deception and the money doesn’t run out. Basically just being social parasites. Alternatively, they sometimes offer their services as mercenaries to spy on the enemies of their employers.

That does make some degree of sense, but I also find it really disappointing. Just look at these weird alien things with their featureless faces and blank eyes! They could be anywhere and anyone, with no way to tell how many of them there are and for how long they’ve already been in a place before their presence was discovered. And all they want to do is to eat other people’s porridge, sit on other people’s chairs, and sleep in other people’s beds? That’s so lame. These are some nightmarish horrors from that come to replace your friends and family and you might never even know it.

I always like to approach worldbuilding with the assumption that the world came into being as a product of more or less natural processes rather than the deliberate work of a creator, and that the supernatural forces at work in the world are vastly older than even the primitive ancestors of the civilized peoples inhabiting it today. Monsters existed long before people walked the earth, and any abilities that are directly targeted at humanoid victims would have evolved in these creatures alongside the mortal races. Comfy town houses for doppelgangers to infiltrate are a fairly recent new thing in mortal society, and an ancient creature perfectly adapted to infiltrate cities and palaces wouldn’t make much sense. And that raises the question of what doppelgangers would have been doing all day for the long eons in which mortals inhabited caves and roamed through the wilderness searching for food. There wouldn’t be any space for these creatures as they are commonly described and what would they use their unique ability to replace people use for instead?

There is a really simple and obvious answer to this question: To feed on the flesh of people.

The ability of doppelgangers to perfectly mimic the appearance of people, and to read the minds of people they approach to impersonate a person without acting suspiciously, is a perfect mechanism to get close to their victims and to lure them away from groups where they can kill them without being noticed. And then continue to devour them. When suspicion arises, the doppelganger can simply assume the appearance of a different person. Not only does it make it impossible for searchers to find the real murderer, it also leaves them with a false trail to the person last seen with the victim. A doppelganger that plays things careful and smart can feed on a single community for months before it becomes too dangerous and it disappears silently into the night.

The description of doppelgangers in the Basic Rules say that they assume the form of a PC and attempt to kill it, and if they can do it without being seen, they will use that PCs appearance to get close to others. That just doesn’t make any sense. If you take the appearance of your target it’s really the most straightforward way to tell it that you are some kind of shape stealing monster. This is just stupid. When you can immitate anyone, at least make an attempt at pretending to be someone trapped in a dungeon and in need of rescue. The players might not fall for it, but immitating the person you’re about to attack is literally the worst possible shape to pick.

A doppelganger as a monstrous spy or assassin hired by a villainous antagonist, perhaps even unknowingly, still is can make for really cool adventures. But it all becomes much more interesting and many times more creepier if the doppelgangers are not motivated by laziness but by the taste for human flesh.

Armour Class 14
Hit Dice 4* (4 – 32 hp)
Attacks Bite +3 (1d12)
Movement 30’
Saving Throws D6 W7 P8 B8 S10 (10)
Morale 10
XP 125
Number Appearing 1d6 (1d6)

Shape stealing: Can adopt the form of any human-like creature (7’ tall or less) observed.

Trickery: Will attempt to kill a PC, retainer, or hireling, take on their role, then lure further victims away from the group.

Reversion: If killed, reverts to its original form.

Spell immunity: Unaffected by sleep and charm spells.


Also, in the fantastic awesome movie The Thing, why are they always talking about “the Thing”. Clearly there are multiple of it running around, as at least two of them are seen to be killed.

From the Collective Cultural Subconscious

I was once again browsing through old posts on Planet Algol to help me get into the right mindset for overhauling Planet Kaendor as a more wild, more weird, and more quirky world than it’s been before. And there I stumbled upon this:

Also known as pack lizards, Nguamodons are a horse-sized species of iguanodon. Herbivores that can survive for two weeks without food or water, they are commonly used as pack animals although any burden limits them to a quadrupedal gait that reduces their speed and renders them unable to use their thumb spikes in combat. They are placid, stupid and easily spooked.

I know that thing! That’s a droha! Seen in the wild over six years before I thought about the idea. I based the droha on a hadrosaurus instead of an iguanodon, but otherwise it’s really the same thing. I even set it at the same 3 HD as the nguamodon.

So someone had the same identical idea, years before me. So what. It actually only proves that there is at least one person out there who agrees with me that this is the cool shit for making great alien fantasy settings.

That is not dead what can eternal lie

…and with strange aeons even my Kaendor setting may be finished.

As far as I am able to trace back, I first started working on Kaendor in February 2011. It’s undergone so many overhauls and revisions in the 11 years since then that I don’t even recognize many of the things I wrote about back then. Some elements I had discarded at some point but then had come back again in a later version. But overall, the general broad strokes concept has remained very much the same. A low-ish level D&D setting set on a forest world with small Bronze Age populations, abandoned by the ancient fey, and with sorcery being a demonic power that corrupts the people it touches and the lands around it.

There’s been many times I started to get tired of always working on the same concept, and it never turning out quite as I wanted, and so after some months of not really doing much with it, I sat down to start working on something completely new from scratch. But always I keep bringing back old ideas for places and creatures from Kaendor, until the whole place starts to look just like the one I just left behind.

I think I’ve now accepted that I am destined to keep coming back and working on this world forever.

And that is fine.

Because it’s a really cool concept.

Revised Magic for Planet Kaendor

One of the constant patterns in my many years of fantasy worldbuilding is my regular realization of “Make it smaller!”

Every time I come back to a setting idea to give it another revision, one of the main things I want to change is to scale it down significantly. I started some 15 years ago wanting to make a planet with a dozen outer planes, and ever since then my plans have gotten smaller and smaller as I realized much of what I had in mind would be completely irrelevant to the actual campaigns I am running. My last version was down to a small continent, but now I am scaling it further down to the size of just one of the larger European countries. That’s still huge, especially when dealing with a setting that is mostly wildeness. Dark Sun doesn’t need to be much larger than that.

In addition to just shrinking the map, I am also once again throwing out a lot of clutter that really isn’t needed to run adventures. Fewer cultures, fewer cities, fewer classes of supernatural beings, and fewer magical traditions. Recently I’ve been playing a lot of Bloodborne and Darkest Dungeon again, and I mentioned Dark Sun. I think I want to do something more strange and insidious with magic. An unsettling and eldritch force that defies nature instead of being a manifestation of the spiritual aspect of the natural world.

While I am not a fan of alignment as a character trait, to put it mildly, I think the concept of the interplay of Chaos and Order is a quite interesting one that has some things going for it. And I don’t remember where I got the idea, but I think it would be really cool to make all magic a manifestation of Chaos.

In the new theory of magic, the natural world is magically neutral. The supernatural exist explicitly outside of nature. But the gods exist. Maybe. And the supernatural is a manifestation of the gods direct interactions and interventions in the world. The gods guide history, steer fate, and regulate the environment through supernatural phenomenons. This too is part of the natural order.

But there are creatures of Chaos who do not belong into the natural world, or are partly physical and partly of the realm of Chaos. These demons too have the ability to interact with the world in supernatural ways, and they can teach mortals how to use the essence of Chaos themselves. To use magic is to defy the will of the gods and to interfere with their plans. Nothing good can come from that and it will only lead to missery and disaster. Sorcerers believe such a view is highly overdramatic. The plans of the gods, if they even exist, don’t really regulate nature in any meaningful way and there is no divine order that their spells could disrupt. Of course, magic is incredibly powerful and can be used very destructively, but its not any more inherently evil or unnatural than fire.

In addition to the magic of sorcerers and demons, there are also the arts to counter magic, but these are not considered magic in themselves. Many priests have the power to block or dispel magic and to banish demons, which break the unnatural influence of magic and restore the divine order. Though sorcerers can learn these powers as well.

Alchemy is not considered to be magic. It is simply a combination of ingredients that are part of the natural world that produce extraordinary effects. But most alchemists are under regular suspicion of dabbling in sorcery as well to enhance the potions they make.

In some cases sorcerers manage to convince people that they are an avatar of a god, which makes the spells they cast the devine powers by which the gods interact with the world, and as such not magic.

A picture says more than a thousand awkward words

Tired of trying to explain to your players the coloration of the peoples inhabiting your setting, and not having any illustrations to show them what you really mean them to look like?

Make a simple color palette and show it to them.

This rally isn’t anything fancy and there might be better ways to display the colors, but this is a fairly painless quick and easy way to it clear to players what I mean when I tell them that the Murya of Kaendor are “red”. That red!