Monthly Archives: November 2016

Shadows

Like my vampirism article, we can also examine what else fits in the shadow’s space.

For clarity, call the monster manual shadow the “enfeebling shadow”, and my improvement the “exhausting shadow”. My personal decision to rewrite the shadow (strength saving throw instead of attack rolls; levels of exhaustion instead of damage to the strength stat) is still, I think, a good one, so I don’t think I’ll use the as-written enfeebling shadow, but naming things helps.

There are (of course) others; a partial list:

  • Ruinous Shadow. Save vs Dexterity for its touch, which deals necrotic damage and then includes the rust monster’s Antennae property. It also has the rust monster’s Rust Metal trait. I’d be inclined to let both work on leather and wood as well.
  • Withering Shadow. Save vs Constitution for its touch, which deals necrotic damage and the target is cursed; they must repeat the save each time they would regain hit points (and on a failure, they do not regain those hit points). Ends at the end of a short or long rest.
  • Bleeding Shadow. Attacks against AC dealing necrotic damage. If the creature is already bleeding, it takes +1d6 damage; if it is not, it makes a save vs Constitution; on a failure it begins bleeding, taking 1d6 damage at the start of each of its turns. An action to make a wisdom (medicine) check against this DC ends the bleeding, as does any amount of magical healing. Its “shadow stealth” instead grants it invisibility while it is adjacent to a creature not at full hit points.
  • Burning Shadow. Attacks against AC dealing fire damage. Gives off light as a torch, sets its hit targets on fire (1d6 damage), and deals 1d6 damage to those who touch it or hit it in melee. Its “shadow stealth” instead grants it invisibility while adjacent to a source of at least 10 feet of bright light which is not invisible, and its “sunlight weakness” actually applies to areas where the temperature is below freezing. Fire immunity, cold vulnerability.
  • Frost Shadow. As Burning Shadow, but cold and fire are swapped, and it uses shadow stealth and sunlight weakness as per normal rather than as the Burning Shadow overrides.
  • Corpse Shadow. Has no special rider on its attacks, but also has the possess corpse action instead of shadow stealth; if it is adjacent to a medium corpse it may use its action to enter its space and become a medium zombie with 1 hit point (and the Undead Fortitude trait), using the zombie’s stats for all purposes except as noted. If the zombie is destroyed or turned, the corpse shadow reappears in the space the zombie had occupied. While inside the zombie, it may use its touch attack instead of the zombie’s slam if it prefers.
  • Darkening Shadow. Per the Sight Rot disease; its touch forces a Savs vs Constitution, dealing necrotic damage and imposing a -1 penalty to attacks and checks which involve sight. At -5, the victim is blinded instead. Effects end at the end of a short or long rest.
  • Entombing Shadow. Save vs Strength for its touch, which also sinks the target 1 foot into the ground. Each foot sunk into the ground is the number of feet their space is considered difficult terrain (2 feet into the ground means each foot of movement costs 3 feet of movement through their space); a creature which leaves their space while sunk into the ground is no longer sunk into the ground, a creature buried half its height is restrained (escape DC equal to save DC), and a creature buried at or beyond its total height begins to suffocate.
  • Despairing Shadow. Save vs Wisdom for its touch as though against fear, which also forces the victim to choose one of the following (they cannot select a choice if it would have no effect): reduce speed to half, cannot move except via dash, lose reactions, lose bonus actions, lose actions, lose speech, or become stunned, die. The choice(s) persist until the end of a short or long rest if the target is not dead, and any effect which can remove fear or paralysis removes all afflictions chosen so far.
  • Treacherous Shadow. Save vs Wisdom for its touch as though against charm, which deals psychic damage and removes its victim’s reaction. The victim may then choose; take 3d6 psychic damage, or make a melee attack against an adjacent creature of the shadow’s choice (not the target themselves).
  • Mind Shadow. Save vs Intelligence for its touch, which deals psychic damage. The target is then cursed; losing one precious memory and one skill, tool, language, weapon, or armor proficiency to the shadow; a creature unable to sacrifice both is slain. A target who is a spellcaster additionally loses access to a spell known or prepared. Both losses last until the end of their next short or long rest.
  • Arcane Shadow. Save vs Charisma for its touch, which deals force damage. The target is then cursed; each time that creature tries to cast a spell with a slot of at least 1st level before the end of their next short or long rest, they must repeat the saving throw or lose the spell, ending the curse on a success. The shadow can also dispel magic by touch, as though the spell were cast at the 0th spell level.

Whence come these different shadows? They’re the forces of entropy made manifest. As many ways as there are for entropy to enter the world, these beings creep, bringing misery with them.

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Vampirism

Vampires are just generally compelling. In D&D, there’s quite a few things they do that feel very right; unfortunately, by hitting “vampire” square in the center of the target, the game removes some of the flexibility of the archetype. Let’s put it back!

Things I like that are core: Vampires are twisted and hungry: they have a bite attack which drains the victim and sustains the vamp, and a list of taboos which prohibit action or deal them damage. They use their bite to breed vampire spawn, a simpler monster which shares these traits (though sadly, can’t breed; vamps can up-convert their spawn, but then they become free willed). Vampires themselves have other forms (bats, mist clouds) and can use them to cheat death.

The big themes here: Sunlight. Running water. Blood. Thresholds. Piercing weapons made of wood to the heart (but only while incapacitated). Seduction. Creatures of the Night (calling, becoming; bats, rats, mist, even wolves).
Things to note: There’s nothing special about holy symbols repelling vamps. Turn undead or GTFO. Garlic has no effect, or even mention. It’s not clear how to sanctify a vampire’s resting place; I’m sure magic circle or forbiddance could hedge out a vamp, but it’s not clear whether you could fake it with an aspergillium and a tank of holy water. I suspect not! Killing a vampire within 2 hours of its resting place requires staking it while incapacitated and then dragging the assemblage into sunlight or running water, since other sequences of events trigger its dying-mistform state. Or slay it and then use a shopvac. The Dracula myths don’t make as much of the wooden stake as the game rules do; another Bram Stoker short story has a similar vampire paralyzed with an iron bar through the heart, and in general I’m willing to allow any sort of transfixion to work, so long as it literally pins the vamp in place.

The nature of the vampiric curse is centered on their heart. That’s what the transfixion relies upon, somehow: a pierced heart is held in place, and prevents the vampire from using their shapeshifting to escape it. If we start from there and move outwards, we could impose material restrictions on what can transfix the vamp in place; this kind of vampire needs lignum vitae stakes and this one a piece of glass and this one copper tubing and this one a javelin of lightning and so on. That actually doesn’t interest me, though; like I said upthread, I think focusing on the material from which the stake is made is a mistake, folklorically.

For clarity, the vampire we have on the books now is the Dracul Vampire, continuing the theme of naming a monster after the individual instance. The resonance of Vlad Dracul, the dragon, being the Dungeons and Dragons platonic vampire is just too good for me to pass up. So where did this Dracul “bloodline” come from? We know that Strahd is the result of the Dark Powers and it’s not unreasonable to assume a similar source for the case of Vlad Tepes, Dracula’s historical counterpart. The bat connection seems particularly strong; perhaps Dracul (Draculi? Draculs?) are the spawn of some bat-aspected death power, like Camazotz. The linkages to sacrifice and night are great, as is the link to the Vargouille or Penanggalan, with the ripped-off-head thing. Tying that power to the forbiddance of a threshold, with the threshold between day and night, life and death, home and wild — that’s pretty interesting to me.
This cluster of behaviors, substances and taboos fascinates me because, absent folklore, there’s nothing to tie them together. Yes, dawn is a natural dividing line between fear of the dark and safety; yes, a threshold represents that same division between home and the wilds; yes, a heart would be important to a creature sustained by blood. But all three, and the strength of those mythic ties? There’s more here. Obviously.
So let’s have at it.

Another potential vampiric line might hold no fear of the sun nor of water, such as ocean-based vampires. Instead, they are ruled by the tides and by salt. They suffer Dracul-like sunlight exposure on dry land at low tide (unless they are immersed in water), and Dracul-like running water exposure when exposed to at least 1 pound of salt crystals; additionally, they are unaffected by holy water, but are affected equivalently by salt. Thresholds hold no fear for them, but rigging lines do, and if captured in a fishing net in their place of rest, they cannot transform. Their form associations are not with mist/bats/rats/wolves but pooled dark water (with climb speed!)/water serpent/shark. Some hungry deity of the deep such as Dagon or Hydra is their patron, and their alignment is chaotic evil.

We might replace their charming gaze with a charming call, since these vampires are shaping up to a sort of siren. But the as-written gaze works fine too. Optional.

The Indian vetala gives us another vampire: it is its mist form and is capable of inhabiting any corpse; destroying its shell forces the mist to depart, reform, and then seek a new corpse-shell. Wikipedia gives us no further details, so I shall now free-associate. I want to differentiate these misty beings from our Dracul, so I shall say that they are bound not by sunlight, but by scent. They lose their sunlight hypersensitivity. Instead, they gain a scent hypersensitivity; while they are exposed to any domestic smell (incense, fresh bread, garlic, herbs, cookfires, hay, petrichor; not to include an adventurer’s burning oil, torch, trash fire or offal), they are affected as though a Dracul by sunlight. Additionally, they are unaffected by holy water, but are affected by scented oils or perfumes. They retain their susceptability to running water and to thresholds. They lose their charm gaze, replacing it with a fear gaze; while frightened, the target is paralyzed. I like the idea of their “mist form” being truly an “ash form”, as they’re cremains; with that principle, their animal association might be with beetles.

The oneiric vampire is a different sort of beast, but we can think of it like a vampire. It’s a sort of haunting or psychic projection of an otherwise inanimate corpse which must remain interred in its resting place or else the vampire is destroyed. Their “mist form” is instead an invisible, incorporeal form which, if their projected form is forced into, must reach and rejoin their corpse to rest and rejuvenate; their “animal forms” are humanoid physical alterations similar to those of a doppelganger. They do not fear sunlight, running water, nor thresholds. They do not have a charm gaze; instead, they have a sleep gaze. They do not deal nor resist necrotic damage; instead, psychic damage. Their appearance in a mirror matches their corpse, not their current form; the presence of “holy sounds” at the proper times (calls to prayer such as churchbells or muezzin, or the actual prayers at the proper times) is treated as thunder-dealing immersion in running water, and the presence of “holy symbols” a sort of muted sunlight: it deals no damage, but shuts down regeneration, altnerate abilities, and the vampiric drain itself. Direct contact with the symbol deals radiant damage. The vampire is unaffected by holy water, but may be targeted by prayer with similar effect; a recital forces a wisdom save with a DC of 8 + the wisdom of the reader, dealing thunder damage as holy water if failed, and granting immunity to that reader for 24 hours if succeeded.

The icelandic Draugr makes a decent vampire: they can take the form of wisps of smoke, swim through solid rock, devour flesh (a fine substitute for sucking blood), and can drive foes mad, though do not seem to retreat to their place of rest. Instead, if destroyed, they rejuvenate unless their corpse is treated correctly. In any case, they have a confusion gaze in place of charm. They tend to remain in their barrows; they can enter any place that has even a single coin of their treasure (but are otherwise pent by thresholds); they can take on any animal forms with challengeless than their own challenge, even the spawn forms have this ability, and they tend to have a variety of magical powers atop this (darkness, etc — spellcaster variant vampires would be good enough). The spawn might be called “haugbui”, a lesser form. They have no especial fear of water (indeed, they were often drowned fishermen). It is by no means clear that they have sunlight hypersensitivity either, though their nocturnal-only activity points in that direction.


Monsters that can assimilate: there really aren’t many!

There’s some undead that reproduce themselves, generally through the transformation of a humanoid; there’s other monsters which evoke a transformative effect on their victims through a curse, poison, or disease. Let’s talk about a few of them!

The heavy hitters here are the various lycanthropes, werewolves, wereboar, wererats and so forth. They reproduce without even having to kill their victims; a single bite, a failed constitution save, and the victim inherits the curse. That means that werewolves should ‘breed’ quite quickly indeed, since they can attack a community, widely inflict the curse, and retreat. That goes well with my immunity-to-regeneration change, since regeneration heavily rewards hit and run tactics. The only real downside is how long this takes to spread; the monthlong latency puts a crimp in their velocity.

For undead, the shadow is the canonical and, indeed, only example. They don’t eat or sleep; they can walk through walls, and they can disappear nearly every round. The turnaround on their touch is a few hours, which leads to a very rapid induction of a village indeed; there’s no limit to the number of turned shadows, and they’re unable to harm each other (well, maybe: it’s not clear that their strength drain doesn’t apply to undead, but I’d rule it doesn’t!). See previous article for a rework of the shadow that makes them exhaution-based, so that they have less of a special system. 

That last paragraph may have caused some consternation. Aren’t I forgetting wraiths, wights, and vampires?! Actually, no, I’m not. Their victims do not become instances of the creator’s type; they’re specters, zombies and vampire spawn (respectively). Those types lack the ability to turn their victims, and so cannot start a plague of undeath! There’s usually the concept of dread wraiths, wight lords, etc; those are great ideas but would probably produce the base types (wraiths, wights), so their plague is still limited. That said, the wraith’s quick turnaround is terrifying, and since victim specters (like victim shadows) cannot harm their progenitor, the wraith can spawn indiscriminately, even if only a small number of spawn are controlled. This army can go through a small village before anything can stop it as a shadow army would, only slower, with linear instead of exponential growth.

There are other undead which do not currently reproduce, but really should. The sorest thumb are the ghouls; how am I supposed to have a Walking Dead-style plague of undeath if I don’t have a disease-based vector? See previous article for a rework of the ghoul that makes them disease-based, giving them a vector for multiplication. 

The mummy is the most processed undead in the player’s handbook. It seems unlikely they could spawn by inflicted curse, but they should surely take their victims back to their sarcophigi and enact dark rituals to transform them into bandaged servitors? I’d assume that’s what mummy lords do via create undead but they don’t (canonically) have that prepared! To make it worse, they do canonically have harm prepared, and that’s surely too useful, and too much a part of their challenge calculation, to swap out! Luckily, we can freely swap prepared spells around between levels, given how preparation works in this edition; we can drop spiritual weapon in favor of create undead and then only cast one or the other in a given day. Now, as the spell is written, they can’t actually create mummies as a 6th level spell, but I think we can give the mummy lord a break (either as a special rule or by pulling the special monster types down in the spell). The create undead spell spends most of its time on the ghoul/ghast family, which (based on my desire to use them as a spread vector) is uninteresting to me. But it also gives me an idea of equivalence: as a 8th level slot, 5 ghouls = 2 wights; as a 9th level slot, 1 ghast = 1 wight; therefore, 6 ghouls = 3 wights = 2 mummies. Which means, if I’m willing to  break things up a little, that as a 6th level slot it’s a mummy or a wight, as a 7th it’s 2 wights, 8 is a mummy and a wight, and 9th is 2 mummies and 3 wights. Now, I know why the spell doesn’t do this; wights can breed zombies, so limiting wights to 8th level prevents the spell from breeding quickly. But I say damn the torpedoes, it’s not like the mummies are gonna breed!

Anyway, a mummy’s touch leads to death (and it is a curse, not a disease), so they don’t breed, they (at best) construct new members, and are animated by external forces. Sort of like the skeletons, which also don’t reproduce. They’re produced via a low(ish) level spell. Is it possible that they’re only produced around a necromancer (or naturally occurring necromantic energy)? That interests me, because it means the relationship between skeletons and mages (or evil priests or other spellcasting necromancer-types) is very similar to that between zombies and wights. Of course, zombies can also be manufactured via animate dead, which somewhat ruins the symmetry, but that’s life.

The skeleton has always been the odd-one-out in this sense. It feels in some ways more like a construct, all clacking-bones and maybe-grandma-wouldn’t-mind-eternal-servitude. 5e gives them back that moral dimension (maybe other editions did too?) by making it clear what they retain of their former lives and their bloodthirst. But I still wonder; if you made them constructs (instead of undead; this would make them immune to clerical turning and un-hedge them from magic circle and so forth), would that be worse for the universe of the game? Legitimately not sure; the scarecrow is still a construct, despite its soul-bound and wicked construction.

Slaadi are perhaps my favorite. The game has long needed a self-replicating aberrant — the Xenomorph from Alien, perhaps? — and the slaad is very wiling to provide. I don’t care about their “I’m the paragon of chaotic neutral” thing, in fact, it’s the first thing I discard. But I adore their chestburster/chaos phage lifecycle, and all of the good ones can shapechange, hiding their infection for a good long while. Great for an invasion-of-the-pod-people scenario. They trigger on a pretty long cycle, though — months for the eggs to proc, days for chaos phage to finish. C’est la guerre.


Some Magician’s Guilds

The Invisible College of Aten-Örm
Concept: An order of wizards which claims traditional descendance from Khufic sorcerers.

This many-named arcane fraternity, also called variously the House of Aten or the Ormetic Wizardry Tradition, is ancient. Founded by Aten-Thoth during the Second Dynasty, the order has preserved in one form or another through the Mana Wars, the Holy Crusade of Thrane, the Lignification of Illyria and the Secession of Fymory, and several internal schisms. Whether its continuity can truly be said to extend back to its founding is a theoretical question, since Aten-Thoth was a sorcerer who founded a sanctum and school of wizardry, and its guiding members are now mostly wizards, who occasionally accept sorcerers as agents and associates.

The founding members were Rary, Bigby, Otiluke, Drawmij, Tenser, Nystul, Otto, and Aten-Thoth herself. All were potent wizards seeking access to magical resources, which the Khufic sorcerer-queen granted to her court viziers. Their organization was damaged by internal treachery, but survived; it vowed thereafter noninterference with worldly affairs. Their retreat during this schism to the extraplanar Fortress of Örm gave the organization its second name; the Ormetic Citadel lies in a pocket of astral space, unassailable save through its Silver Gates.

The Ormetic wizards are currently led by eight potent magisters: Mordenkainen (the current Sorcerer Supreme, an assumed name and title, since he is in fact a wizard), Yrag (presumed warlock), the House Iggby (Belanna, Robilarr and the adopted Zedloff the Gnome, all wizards), Felnorith Evenstar (sorcerer), and the elf-twins Vram and Vin (bard and druid). They watch in horror as the world veers, but find themselves unwilling — or unable? — to interfere. It worries the otherwise cosmopolitan human members of the council that to maintain their roles at full strength they have had to call upon elven wizardry’s aid, and that moreover the Sorcerer Supreme has not been seen in over a decade. To address that deficiency, they seek new candidates. Jallarzi Sallavarian (sorcerer), Warnes Starcoat (wizard), Alhamazad the Wise (wizard), and Theodain Eriason (druid) are currently undergoing trials to take the seats of the elves; Zedloff shows no sign of wishing to step down.

Below each full member of the Invisible College lie a dizzying array of apprentices and sojourners; most Ormetic Wizards are of this latter type, a title relatively easily won. These members are significantly more cosmopolitan and, notably, Sallavarian and Eriason are not currently affiliated with the House of Aten, despite

Their interests are the study and curation of pure magic, and the removal from the world of ancient magics such as were used in the Mana Wars, the elven catastrophes, and other era-definining events.

Grey Riders
Concept: Travel-writers to the Queen of the Elves

Founded by Queen Yaralay before it sunk beneath the ice in order to catalog the whole world, the Yelendirim, also known as the Grey Riders or the Order of the Silver Star, travel under a cloud of opprobrium. Their membership is made up of travelers and scholars bound by ancient treaty to a variety of worldly princes and powers. The members of the order are effectively stateless diplomats, charged to be given food, rest, and supplies in exchange for information and granting magical aid to local authorities. The treaties are especially strong in elven communities, where recognition to the order may safely be assumed; in human communities, the treaties may not be well recognized. This loose structure survived the destruction of Yaralay’s courts, as well as those of her successive successors; the Grey Riders’ numbers are currently at a peak, as each rider for the past several generations has been committed to training and setting loose new riders, until they’ve become a reasonably recognizable group.

Grey Riders interests focus around planar magics especially; whatever their original mandate, their several lesser fortresses now focus on the activities of Dis and Thrane, as well as far-flung sites in Berlaine, Millepelagos, Barovia and beyond. The Berlish Rider-Lord, a half-elf known as Daen Theodorim Dux, seems focused especially on finding gate level magics and summoning. His response to questions from apprentices have centered around the interest of his predecessor, prophecy: he fears some external force.

The Grey Riders are most interesting because, at intermittent periods of months at a time, they provide to diplomats and kings their Missives, a summary of information from the preceeding year. This is publicly available information, but detailed and well-sourced, and so provides a good basic-level even understanding of the world. From this, their relatively arcane interests can be difficult to discern, but their general patterns become obvious.

Vorn’s Word
Concept: Religious group which enforces the Iron Laws Against Witches.

Like all Vornish groups, the basic unit of organization is the squad: a fighting body with a chain of command under commission from some other Vornish body like a church or a thane of the faith. Also like all Vornish groups, questions of loyalty to nation, god, and commander can put the groups in a difficult position often solved through declaring all loyalties but to their deity heretical. The witchfinder-generals of Vorn’s Word levy pilgrims, paladins and peasants to confront the dark things in the night.

The witchfinders themselves are a deeply religious group. The most frequent classes among their number are, obviously, clerics and paladins; unusually, these types are much more devoted to the study of magic and of magical objects than most. As a result, sorcerers frequently find their way into the Word, as they provide protection and tutelage to gifted youngsters.

Oddly, however, actual wizards also find themselves working alongside the Word. While some witchfinders are more staunch than others, the actual laws against witches mostly proscribe actual crimes; abjurers, evokers, diviners, careful transmuters and conjurers, and certain illusionists are perfectly able to operate within their strictures. Enchanters, necromancers, and the balance of transmuters, conjurers, and illusionists tend towards a more criminal bent, and therefore also a sinful bent.

As with all Vornish groups, in areas controlled by Thrane they co-identify with Mertion as Mertion’s Word; in areas controlled by Dis they are the Iron Word, and in Barovia they are called simply Witchhunters.

The Khufic Heresy
Concept: Anti-Thranish group which explicitly positions itself as a shadow government

The influence of the Celestial Court on the empires of humanity cannot be overstated. The unprecedented levels of health, wealth, medicine, culture, and technology which the contact has created is enormous. Two neighboring cultures — the sorcerer-kings of Khuf and the Turathi that would become Dis — reacted in different ways. The Turathi sought and found a patron which could provide an alternate way to the celestials, the very forces of Hell. The Khuf came to a different understanding of the Celestials.

The Khuf had long had demigods in their midst. The first sorcerer-kings left their kingdoms behind, taking their servitors with them through gates to other skies. When the Celestials arrived, similarities between the patrons of the sorcerer-kings and the Celestials were undeniable, and the Khuf quickly realized that the worlds commanded by the Celestial forces could not be entirely bound to the will of the angelic beings they beheld. Instead, more likely, the angelic beings were themselves a property of the plane, and moreover, that plane was therefore unlikely to be relatable in the way that frail mortals are. In other words: the Celestials are puppets, and the universal forces which drive them are potent forces which can be channeled by those who master the proper disciplines.

Thrane began their First Inquisition to cast the Heresy as in league with Hell and oppose it, casting the Church and the Heresy forever into opposition. And yet, they could not destroy it; the fine degree of theological construction (what is the basis for the Celestial’s goodness and power? Are they both intrinsic, or are they independent qualities?) proved difficult to discover in the priests of the Church. Worse, the dialectic is very useful to arcane study; power divorced from its moral element can still be invoked, and so it seems that the Khufic Heresy may indeed be correct. The brotherhood moved underground, teaching its potent perversions of Church liturgy in the dark and, satyrically, clothing themselves in the garbs the Church assigns to its foes. Whether they are truly as dark as all that centers on whether their views are objectively correct; both sides have committed atrocity in the name of their viewpoint and each becomes monstrous if it is wrong.

Regardless, the Antipope of the Heresy seeks out free-thinkers, outsiders, and iconoclasts; anyone interacting with Thrane may ultimately find themselves approached.


D&D’s repetitive notes

One of the wonderful things about RPGs is that they give us a mechanism to deliberately categorize the world; this is a ghost, while this is a specter, and this other thing a wraith. Sure, none of them exist, but now we know exactly what their differences are and what they can do. It’s the modern version of counting dancing angels on the head of a pin, I suppose.

But it has some downsides, too: there are explicit lists of monsters, but also the leaders of monsters. For all the worlds of D&D, there is one canonical Hell and it is named Baator and ruled by the Lords of the Nine and this is Stygia and this is Cania and this the dark heart of Nessus. It’s all actually interesting stuff, with a lot of resonance and echoes, but it’s also static and dead. Your campaign world is your own, wide and varied with hills and forests, but it makes Hell itself small and sad and prosaic, stuck in the ruts laid down twenty, thirty years ago. It shifts; the Harrowing swapped out some of the faces for others, but still, we publish products specific to this view.

Too, each of those products needs to fill page count, so there’s a lot of repeated flavors. Tiamat and Demogorgon need to work hard to differentiate themselves; while their physical forms are fairly different, they’re both reptilian-aspected polyfurcated evil snake things. It’s actually kind of odd that the five-headed Queen of Greed is so on-message; surely her heads should be plotting against themselves, as Demogorgon’s component parts, Aamuel and Hethrediah, do? So Tiamat gets greed and Demorgorgon dissociative identity disorder; we distinguished them. This duplication functions as a spur to creativity, and it means there’s lots of different high-challenge potent beings out there, but… meh?

Tiamat is one half of an ophidian dyad, the other half of which is a bright and shining exemplar to her perfidy. Sort of like Asmodeus and Ihys, if the dark of late-90s Planescape is to be believed! Sort of like Eberron’s celestial dragons (though they add the middle sibling, of course)! I guess that’s all the paired one-good-one-bad snake creatures I can think of, but isn’t that enough?