D&D’s ettercaps are clever humanoid spiders fond of traps – but stories grow in the telling, and Critical Crafting’s monster became a god of merchants.
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Lucas: [00:00:00] Your 10 foot pole is broken. You’ve lost your 50 feet of rope and you’re down to your last torch. Its guttering light shows your footprints in the muck of the dungeon floor behind you and disappears into the ominous darkness ahead. Loot or no loot, you just don’t have the resources to make it much farther.
You hear the scraping of long claws on rough stone and outta the darkness. It appears a nightmarish fusion of human and spider, six feet tall and easily 200 pounds. Long, gangly limbs hang from hunched shoulders over a pale pot belly. It’s needle-sharp teeth are hidden behind grasping, glistening fanged appendages on its face. As its beady eyes meet yours, its mouth opens in a nightmare smile in a raspy voice it says,
Dillon Olney: Oh, jolly good, sir, you’ve wandered right into my web! What ho!
Lucas: Welcome back to Spooktober on Making a Monster. In this, the most monster-filled month of the year, I’m bringing you episodes with the monster creators I met at GenConn 2022, leading up to a couple of Halloween episodes I’m really excited to share with you.
It has been the contention of this show that monsters don’t level up. After all, that’s what heroes do. Gaining experience, abilities and tactics is the defining element of player characters in role playing games and monsters are the static stepping stones that let characters reach those new heights. And in that role, in this archetypical story structure, monsters do and don’t do very specific things. Occasionally though, I meet designers whose monsters are stories that grow in the telling.
Meet Critical Crafting
Dillon Olney: I am Dillon Olney. Uh, I am the creative director, founder, writer of Critical Crafting. And we put out 5E content every single month, uh, on Patreon, normally between 15 to 80 pages of everything from adventures and encounters, monsters, [00:02:00] classes, subclasses, items, spells, maps,
Cameron DeFord: and I’m Cameron DeFord. I am the, uh, co-writer and marketing director of Critical Crafting. Dillon focuses more on the monsters and the items, spells, feats, that sort of thing. Um, I do our subclasses, our classes, our player races and maps.
We started playing back in 2017. Dillon was teaching most of us in our group for the first time how to play D&D. So We would play our D&D games at Dillon’s house. We would play for four hours or so, and then the game would wrap up. We’d go upstairs and we’d get stalled in the kitchen while we’re talking about the game we just played. And we’d finally wrap up the conversation. We’d move to the driveway, we’d get talking again. So a lot of our stuff was just the, the early ideas of our content was just coming out of these, Oh, that was really cool, but it would’ve been cool if this or if that.
Do Ettercaps Speak Common?
Dillon Olney: So Ol’ Chap Ettercap, he’s our mascot. The original idea from him actually came from, um, an old meme, people were making fun of the fact that, uh, you know, three five ettercap spoke common.
Lucas: In the lore of Dungeons and Dragons, an ettercap is a spider-like humanoid that lives underground and cooperates with other spider creatures to set elaborate web traps for passing adventurers. First edition D&D, in 1981’s Fend Folio, gave this description: “a biped, roughly man-sized, with very long arms, protruding potbelly, short legs, and hairy skin, the ettercap has clawed hands and two poison fangs protruding from each side of its mouth. Apparently it protrudes a lot. In subsequent editions, ettercaps became more and more like the spiders they befriended, gaining eyes, pedipalps, and fearsome claws as they went. But they have always been presented, as in the Fiend Folio, as “cruel, cunning, and treacherous.”
Now representing intelligence in game mechanics is notoriously difficult, and ettercaps have [00:04:00] always fallen in that especially problematic range between what second edition called “Average Human Intelligence” and “Semi-intelligent”. In 2003, Monster Manual 3.5 solved this problem by giving ettercaps the ability to speak Common, the language shared by all player characters. This decision has not been repeated in any other edition of D&D.
Dillon Olney: And people were joking around like, you know, Oh, jolly good sir You’ve wandered right into my web.
Like what ho kind of a thing. Like here’s this ettercap, you know? And we thought that’s hilarious. Like, that’s so much fun. And so I started introducing Ol’ Chap Ettercap. And what would happen is when the players were in like a bind, like they’re in the middle of a dungeon, they’re low on potions or whatever, like they’re all kind of like about to die kind of a thing.
Well, Ol’ Chap Ettercap would wander into the room with his, you know, top hat that has a whole plane of existence inside full of magical items in his shop and all this. And it was a, you know, oh, Tally ho boys, like, what’s going on with you, sort of thing. And I’m just wandering through this dungeon, selling my wares, cuz where do you sell magical items? In a dungeon, that’s where people need the most. Uh, so that was kind of the idea. And then he would do things. You know, instead of just, Oh yeah, you buy this stuff because the DM wants you to like, not die here. It was more like he could give you fun little side quest, or it could be a fun break from like some of the serious stuff in the campaign. And that’s kind of where he started initially. Um, and then we decided to, to make him into like an NPC in some of our adventures for our Critical Crafting content.
An Ettercap NPC for your D&D game
And eventually we said, we gotta stat him out. And when, when we decided to stat him, the month that people had voted on was called Cults of the Outsiders.
And the Outsiders are are gods kind of a thing. So we made them to exist in any pantheon you want. They can still exist in it cuz they exist in their own little sort of pantheon. But we didn’t like that. Five E did not have stat blocks for gods other than Tiamat and technically like Vecna, [00:06:00] now, um, but we’ve always found very lackluster as a stat block.
And we wanted god stat blocks that felt like they were god’s. So we said, Well, if we’re gonna do a god stat block, who better than Ol’ Chap Ettercap to make you know, the god of merchants? Um, so that was kind of how he got started.
Cameron DeFord: The whole fact that his, like Genesis was around the idea of him just being able to show up at the right place at the right time and help the players out of a bind. Um, the inside the hat, he has the store and inside the store you can find magical items you might need, but they’re very expensive, so he’s gonna send you on a quest instead and working it right into the, the story in an organic.
Um, but so with that being the, the concept behind him, um, we just think, Okay, well if, if he is a god who’s gonna worship him. Okay. So he’s the patron of merchants, of, of, of, inn keepers, of anybody that’s working in that sort of environment.
Dillon Olney: And then we wrote the, the warlock subclass around the fact that, you know, he’s the patron of merchants. He has the, the Old Sports’ Society, which are the people that worship him, essentially. Those are all the guys sitting in the smoking room drinking scotch and, you know, uh, taking over the world with their words or whatever kind of a deal. Um, so Cameron wrote the, the subclass for the warlock for people that worship ol’ chap, but kind of the abilities that they get.
Um, so, and we wanted to give, like, we did stat blocks too for, for his minions, the, the old sports society. And we had wanted to figure out a way, like the other problem we had, because we have some morally ambiguous characters, is they come to the. What’s the first thing that they try and do? They try and rob the shopkeeper, right?
We said, Well, we wanna make sure that we’re making something that makes sure that they don’t want to rob every shopkeep they see. So if you mess around with one of the shopkeepers that worships Ol’ Chap Ettercap, you can expect that you’re gonna be in some trouble pretty soon. Whether it’s ol’ chaps showing up, or the merchant, you know, old sports society coming after you, or just the fact that the [00:08:00] merchants themselves have special abilities that.
Basically knock people unconscious, hold them in place. Uh, they know the location of like every item they own. If it’s stolen, they know who stole it and where it is kind of a thing. . So that’s kind of some of his domain stuff, I guess.
He’s really not supposed to be used in combat. Uh, but he does have some, some combat special abilities. So, um, some of them are kind of funny. I think he’s got like, what, who unhand me or something as one of his, and it’s something, I can’t remember the exact wording of it, but essentially he can like teleport.
So, you know, you grab the ol’ chap, Ettercap the shop, keep you’re trying to rob him or whatever, and he just, Oh, you’re grappling me. No, you’re not anymore. I just teleported over here kind of a thing. Um, so he is got a lot of special abilities though. He’s got. You know, like we said, he, he’s got his top hat that has an extra dimensional space inside of it.
It’s basically a whole plane of existence that’s all made of interconnecting rooms. So he’s got, uh, his shop kind of on the main area, but then he’s got libraries and b theories and tea rooms and rooms that he’s forgotten for so long that people who’ve been in there have formed civilizations and he’s completely forgot they exist, you know, all inside of the top app.
Uh, and then we gave him like a gold tooth that basically lets him take anything gold and if he touches it to the tooth, Like transports inside the tooth and then he can pull it out at any time he wants. Uh, we gave him some spells, uh, and like appraisal things. So like being a god of merchants, we’re like, what’s he do all the time?
He’s gonna be appraising stuff. He’s gonna be looking at magic items. So he has things that allow him to identify magical items just by looking at them. Uh, probably his most powerful special ability is that he can just summon magical items at will of, I think it’s very rare rarity and lower. So he can summon them at will and he can attune to, Oh, I haven’t read the stat block in a while, but it’s something like 10 magic items at a time.
So when he shows up, if you’re gonna mess with him, you’re also gonna mess with at [00:10:00] least 10 very rare magical items that he can summon and attune to very, very quickly . So, yeah, and I think we made it so that he did not take a long rest to attune to things either. So in the middle of combat, he could just be like, Boo attune, boo attune, kind of a.
So the DM had a way, uh, to kind of be like, Okay, the party’s really, you know, messing him up or whatever. I need to get him outta here. Well, I’m gonna give him, I don’t know, carpet of flying or whatnot, and get him out kind of a deal. Uh, we also gave him regenerative abilities because why not? So he’s a god.
So if he’s, if he’s reduced to zero hit points, essentially him and his top hat vanish. His top hat reappears in the nearest marketplace to him, and then he regenerates within a few feet of that top. So that was a fun one too.
The Old Sport Society of ettercap worshippers
Lucas: Ol’ Chap Ettercap is a meme that went too far. Or you know what? Maybe just far enough, but it carries with it a certain satire of the age of the gentleman explorer that forms such an integral part of the DNA of role playing games.
Dillon Olney: We kind of gave him that, like the old British clubs, right. The portly men with the cigars and the scotch and all that. And the whole idea being that there’s these very affluent people that can kind of control whatever they want, right?
Uh, and so we kind of took that and ran with it and kind of made it into a bit of a farce. He’s a benevolent character, but at the same time, like one of the big things about him in our campaign is that he really doesn’t understand how the common person operates. So, like when he sends an adventure on a quest, he’ll, Hey, you know, Oh, what ho I just need you to go deal with a few like spiders that are in my, you know, shop.
Like, could you just clear them out for me? And the adventures that are lower level go in there and there’s like six beboleths running around and they’re like, Holy, we’re all gonna die, kind of thing. And he’s like, I don’t understand what the problem is. Like, you know, so we, we kind of, I don’t know that we thought too much on like commerce as a whole with him being the god of it.
It was more we wanted him to take something and kind of. Take it, take it a little [00:12:00] too far, right? Like take it and blow it out of proportion into sort of a funny, fun sort of a character.
Cameron DeFord: Uh, he’s been a lot of fun though, just because it, it’s been interesting the fact that he originated in our actual home game and I, like, I met him the first time as a player and he was our, our ticket out of dying or whatever.
Um, then the, it came at a cost. We had to go do a, a side quest to be able to earn what we needed, uh, from him or whatever. Uh, but, so it’s been cool now, like getting to flesh him out now on the other side, the creative side. Um, and then just, yeah, like the, the, the cool thing that kind of came with it too was that, uh, once he was just an NPC or a monstrous NPC or whatever, and then seeing him grow into the, the god.
Like, at first it was just almost a joke. Like, Oh well, Ol’ Chap Ettercap, where would he get a, a pocket universe inside of a top hat, right? Like, that’s obviously something that only like a god would have. So, oh, actually why isn’t he a god? Let’s make him a god. And then so him growing into a god. And then when we were for that same month needing a, um, a player subclass, and we thought, Oh, well let’s do a warlock patron because we’re doing four gods this month.
Like, oh, well, why not have him be a warlock patron? And so, I don’t know, it’s just been cool just to kind of see him. Yeah. Flesh out and grow into what he’s become or whatever.
Dillon Olney: So he’s started, like Cameron saying, he started, you know, in our home brew setting and we were playing 3.5 at the time. Uh, and he didn’t have any stats, like at that point I was. I want a cool like, you know, funny sort of ol’ chap ettercap guy to throw in at my players. And, and it was, it was a running joke too cuz I, I love ettercaps.
Like that’s one of the, I just, I don’t know why. I just love them. And I always argued with another guy cuz we were doing 3D sculpts and he is like, nobody wants enter caps. Like, nobody likes enter caps. I’m like, but they’re going to like, just wait. And so, you know, I’d wear, I’d, you know, back then I had a shirt that said, you know, ol’ chap enter cap on it and everything.
And uh, so he started out just, you know, no stats, just an mpc and [00:14:00] then, I guess we officially put him into content in October, so we stuck him in our first release, Unhallowed Eve. Um, essentially, you know, not showing his divinity or anything like that. He’s just an mpc that essentially we wanted, uh, a a, he wanted one of the grandmas that was handing out candy.
There’s like a trick or treat thing in the town. And his little like side quest is he wants the candy from this grandma. Let’s say he’s not a kid, she won’t give it to him, and so he hires the adventure. To go pretend to be children in whatever way they can and go and get this candy right, and bring it back to him.
And of course he gives them like awesome stuff if they do it. Um, but, and the funny thing too with that is like, he could totally do that. Like he could get whatever he wants, but he just sort of has fun messing around with people all the time. Right. So he did that and then we put him in our may release.
Um, and that version we put him in like old Jurassic Park kind of style or like a safari. Uh, and we stuck him on an island. So we called that one old CHP ettercap’s Dino Safari, and essentially he’s going on safari, but he’s too lazy to hunt the dinosaurs himself. So he asked the adventures to go do it for him so that he can mount them and claim that he, you know, well he’s sponsored the hunt, so, you know, he’s the one who did it.
Uh, and he, he’ll give them different stuff if they bring them back alive so he can put ’em in his, like menagerie, um, or dead kind of a. Yeah. Um, so that one was fun. And then in June we’re like, Well, we’ve done him twice, but we never gave him stats. It’s time to finally stat him out.
Cameron DeFord: really cool too, because the, when we just played with him in our game as an NPC, we would just like theater of the mind that going inside of his hat and what it looks like and stuff.
But when we then added him to the game, we were like, Well, we obviously need to make a map for it. So we made a map that’s just a, a little tiny magic shop. When you go up to him, you just kind of hop right into his hat and now you’re in this shop. And then as we’ve kind of like used him more, we’ve like built off of that.
So, um, we then updated the map to now there’s a spiral staircase and he has a tavern upstairs with some [00:16:00] beds. So if you’re in the middle of a dungeon and you need to crash somewhere, sleep, you can sleep here, but it’s gonna cost you a lot of money. So, um, we then, like Dillon said, we used him for May for the Dino Safari.
So now there’s an additional floor that has a, basically like a, a monster menagerie inside. A little observation deck and then different bios where he can put his little dinos once you collect them. So it’s been fun just from that standpoint too, just the, um, all the things that are exist within this, uh, this top hat.
But, um, kind of along a similar line though, when we were building, because he’s so like far out there and just so like different, we wanted to reflect that in the subclass we did. And so we tried to, to come up with similar things. Uh, when you, when you choose the subclass, when you make that patch with the ol’ chap, you select a hat and so you pick a top hat or a bowler, or we had a third hat, uh, maybe like a trico or something.
But anyway, so you, you pick, you pick one of three hats and now that becomes your, your ol’ chap hat. And so right at first level it, inside of it, it exists like a, a two, a two by two, by two cubic foot of, of like just a pocket. And so you can just store little things in there. And as you advance throughout the class, it gets bigger and bigger and bigger just to emulate you becoming a, a, a follower of his.
And, um, an ability where you can spend a, uh, I think an hour observing an inn or a tavern. And, uh, you basically, essentially attune yourself to this, this physical location. And once you’ve done that, um, you have advantage on any Charisma check with the, the owner, the proprietor of that location. So if you’re trying to gather intel, if you’re trying to, you’re trying to haggle on getting room prices from a place. Um, you also then, while you’re attuned to it, you always, uh, magically know the location of that place as long as you’re within a thousand feet of it or a thousand miles of it or whatever. So we, we came up with ways where it’s like warlocks are always seen as just this eldtrich blast, rinse, wash, and repeat.
So let’s take some really far out there, ideas and injected into it. So that’s been really fun too.
Monsters Grow in the Telling
Lucas: [00:18:00] Monsters grow in the telling and the space where that narrative growth overlaps with the mechanics of the game is the unique joy of tabletop RPGs for its players and for me as a monster journalist. So thanks for listening to Making a Monster. If you wanna fill your game with charmingly lazy merchant spider kings, you can get Ol’ Chap Ettercap in every form a tabletop needs courtesy of Critical Crafting.
Dillon Olney: We actually still have our freebie up on our. Uh, so if you go to the website, you can get the free STL for him as well as his free, uh, NPC card. So that has like some lower like, role playing tips and stuff and the art of him on it. And then there’s also a map of, uh, one of his top hat rooms.
Uh, so you can get that for free on the website. Uh, if you want more than that, obviously you can check us out on Patreon. The time is now five o’clock, you know, we’ll be closing in one. We have over 700 pages now. It’s all backlogged, so if you become a patron, you get access to all of that. Uh, so we’re on Patreon under Critical Crafting and Ol’ Chap and a whole bunch of other monsters are in there.
For the store with the Ol’ Chap Ettercap welcome pack is, uh, critical-crafting.com. And then you can find us on Patreon as Critical Crafting.
Lucas: And before we close this episode of Making a Monster, I wanna ask you to consider supporting me through Patreon. Producing this show takes a lot of time, commitment, and an increasing amount of travel as I interview experts on game design, literature history, and conservation biology. Just a few bucks a month can help keep this show a part of my professional experience and bring you new stories and insights almost every week. Plus it comes with fun bonuses, like behind the scenes content snips and clips from my interviews and my own monster design work, the Making a Monster Discord, and stickers!
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Stick around for Spooktacular Monster stories all through the month of October, including more interviews from Gen Con and Ghost Stories from the IUCN Red List as the podcast explores the monsters in my upcoming project Book of Extinction.