I couldn’t stay away. Monsters in the Machine returns for a fifth installment. This is roughly the time that most franchises begin to go completely off the rails. Anyone who was involved with the original movie has long-since quit, and they’re starting to get a bit desperate with the plot twists. Maybe the serial killer goes into space in this one?
But not here! The original writing team – yours truly and OpenAI’s Davinchi-002 – have reunited to riff on each other’s work. If you haven’t read this series before, what happens is that I feed an AI entries from the Vaults of Vaarn bestiary and let it come up with its own monsters based on the prompts. This post will be me commenting on the monsters Davinchi-002 writes for us, and I’ll release a follow-up later on, where I take my editor’s pen to the AI’s raw output and get them into a fully playable state.
With all that explained, let’s see what Davinchi-002 cooks up for us today.
Jade Tiger Biological
HD: 3 Armour: 9 Morale: 8 Appearing: d4
Attacks: Claws (d6) / Pounce (d8 damage, victim must make DEX save or be knocked prone)
Notes: Great cats that have been infused with jade by the College of Indigo Tigers. They are three times as large as a normal tiger, and their eyes blaze with green light.
This one’s ok. I like big cats as adversaries for low-level characters; they’re majestic and unpredictable, and their speed and climbing skills make them difficult to escape. I haven’t written much about the College of Indigo Tigers. They’re one of those organisations that I associate more with the Hegemony than Vaarn proper. I think the most I’ve written about them is the Indigo Servitor post, which more or less gives you their deal. The College is a necromancer’s guild, essentially.
I never saw the College as literally being about tigers. The Indigo Tiger was meant more as a heraldic symbol of wisdom, as well as perhaps representing a psychopomp-like figure in Hegemony culture. That said, I don’t hate the idea of them resurrecting actual tigers for whatever reason. Maybe as bodyguards for the College’s Lectors?
Stats-wise, Armour 9 is very low for a monster. I would either bump that up or come up with some reason why it’s so low. Is the creature resistant to physical damage? Does it regenerate? Something along those lines.
Jinn Hypergeometric HD: 6 Armour: 14 Morale: 11 Appearing: d4 Attacks: Claws (d10) / Special Notes: Jinn are creatures of pure hypergeometry, summoned by the College of Indigo Tigers. They resemble great cats made of swirling colours, and can phase in and out of reality at will. They can also grant wishes, but these are always twisted and dangerous.
Ok, this one I’m more excited about. We’re still dealing with the College of Indigo Tigers, but now they’re summoning hypergeometric tigers made from swirling colours? Count me in!
Phasing in and out of reality at will sounds like a good ability: either you can both hurt each other, or neither of you can hurt the other. I think in my edit I will roll this Jinn entry into the Jade Tiger above, and see if we can cook up something cool from a mixture of the two.
Lantern Beetle Biological
HD: 1 Armour: 13 Morale: 1 Appearing: d8
Attacks: Bite (d4)
Notes: A nocturnal insect that is attracted to light. It has a hard carapace and long, sharp mandibles.
This one’s fine. Quite a weak creature, but your encounter list can’t be nothing but TPKs waiting to happen. Their behaviour could use a little work. I would make them fanatically attack light-sources rather than just be attracted to them. Call it a ‘Lanternfoe Beetle’ or something like that. Something that keeps trying to destroy your light-source would be quite a good wrinkle to a dungeon crawling session. It’s also a predictable, tool-like behaviour that clever parties could learn to anticipate and even use to their advantage.
Laser Shrimp Synthetic
HD: 1 Armour: 10 Morale: 1 Appearing: d6
Attacks: Lasers (d4)
Notes: Small synthetic shrimp that fire lasers. They are often used as guard animals.
Absolutely perfect. The spirit of Vaarn made manifest. I don’t think a single word needs to be changed here. The detail that they’re often used as guard animals is the cherry on the cake.
HD: 2 Armour: 12 Morale: 6 Appearing: d4
Attacks: Claws (d6) + Poison (paralysis, save to resist)
Notes: A small, humanoid creature with a mandrake root for a head. The mandrake’s poison can paralyse a victim for d6 rounds.
This is clearly drawing from a more traditional D&D bestiary, but I don’t mind it as a starting point. Plant-people fit right into Vaarn, I just need to think about how. Weird little succulent-goblins that want to steal all your moisture while you sleep is a fun concept.
The paralysis poison I’m iffy about. I personally try to avoid giving my monsters abilities that stop players taking their turn if at all possible. I’ll have a think about something else their poison could do.
HD: 6 Armour: 16 Morale: 12 Appearing: d2
Attacks: Claws (d10) / Gaze (petrification, save to resist)
Notes: A monstrous creature with the head of a beautiful woman and the body of a writhing mass of snakes. Anyone who meets her gaze must save or be turned to stone.
Another traditional monster. I love Greek myths and I really enjoy trying to convert traditional fantasy monsters into science-fantasy creatures, so Medusa isn’t the worst fit for Vaarn. I’m unsure what direction I would take with her though. The description here actually says that she has a woman’s head and then a body made from a writhing mass of snakes, rather than just her hair, which is an interesting image. A huge head with a knot of anaconda-style bodies sprouting from the neck like tentacles is a horrible thought, and it’s pretty different to the traditional depiction of a Gorgon.
Unsure what to do with her gaze weapon. As stated above, I try to avoid paralysis abilities where I can. Hypnosis? Laser eyes? Calcifying beams? Something even weirder? I think this creature could be a decent boss monster with some work.
HD: 4 Armour: 16 Morale: 8 Appearing: d4
Attacks: Claws (d8)
Notes: A giant, man-eating plant that lurks in oases, waiting to devour unwary travellers.
Last but not least, we’re rounding up today with the Oasis Guardian. This one’s simple but I like the concept. Something that lies in wait at a place the PCs are hoping is safe. A carnivorous aquatic plant seems like a good fit for Vaarn. I’m imagining something that’s rooted to the bottom of an oasis, with long sensitive tendrils that detect any disturbance in the water. It grabs likely prey with the tendrils and pulls them underwater to drown, after which the plant eats at its leisure. Maybe there’s even a disgusting ‘larder’ underwater, with decaying corpses slowly absorbed into the root-structure.
Something that infests fresh water-sources and makes them dangerous creates instant drama in a setting where water is scarce. It’s easy to imagine low-level PCs being hired to remove one of these plants from an oasis or ancient stepwell.
That’s it from me and the Davinchi-002 today. I’ll be back next week with my own edits on these monsters, and most likely some illustrations courtesy of MidJourney.