Inspired by back-to-back campy horror creature features, this week features two monsters perfect for Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden from the DM’s Guild collaboration Chilling Tales from the Whispering Wind.
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Sebastian Yue: As you approach the beach, you see a sizeable crowd of people gathered on the shore. Moving closer, you can see that they’re clustered around some strange tentacle creatures. The creatures are dark blue and have electric yellow fins on their tails backs. You meet the eye of one of them, and it does only have the one eye in the center of his forehead. Tentacles protrude from the sides of its face.
And you see it’s long yellow proboscis tongue flicking out from between two rows of sharp teeth. But the creature doesn’t bare those teeth at you. And as you look at it, you swear, you spot a glimmer of sorrow in its eye. A villager reaches out to one of the creatures, but it lashes out with one of its face appendages, knocking the person back into the crowd.
It looks back at you, you feel a slight pressure in your head, not a violent or discomforting feeling, but it’s strange. Nonetheless, even though your eyes are open and you’re still looking at the beach, an image comes into your mind and you can see it as clearly as you can see the creature itself. It’s a large white egg with dark blue and bright yellow specs.
Lucas: Hello and welcome to Making a Monster, the weekly podcast where game designers show us their favorite monster and we discover how it works, why it works and what it means. I’m Lucas Zellers. This episode is a back-to-back creature feature with two monsters, two designers, and, thanks to my supporters on Ko-fi, two composers. After the release of D&D’s Arctic frontier horror adventure Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frost Maiden.
I connected with a group of designers on the DM’s Guild, D&D’s digital storefront for user-created content, and we created a book of 17 adventures for the setting called Chilling Tales from the Whispering Wind. Each adventure runs on a countdown, a dramatic tool designed to give agency to your own tagging lists and real consequences to your players.
It’s a design element we borrowed from the Powered by the Apocalypse game Monster of the Week, which I covered in episode six. Here’s creator Michael Sands:
Michael Sands: you create a countdown of the things that will happen. If the hunters don’t stop it. And it’s up to the hunters to figure out what’s going on, prevent all these disastrous things happening. And the countdown should escalate. So if it gets to the very end, it will be very bad indeed.
Lucas: It’s a new take on D&D in a setting new to many players. So let me introduce you to the game designers and the monsters who made it work, starting with
Sebastian Yue: I’m Sebastian Yue. My favorite monster that I’ve made, is one of the monsters from my stories in Chilling Tales. His name is Malquaestus Pizkor and his name is based on the Latin words for “bad business fish,” because he owns the fishery that’s polluting the waters and it risks driving out the native aquatic populations. I like for the names to mean things, and if you happen to know any Latin or any French, then if you’re, you might be able to figure out who they are before you meet them.
He’s my favorite, I think because I’m really proud of the abilities that I graded for him. I think they’re really unique. And I think that that requires some creative strategizing on the part of the characters. He’s a human man, he’s maybe six feet tall, his pale skin, short hair, and he’s wearing a very fancy tunic that has an angular cut.
So I’d say something like the equivalent of a business suit in D&D. He definitely smells like cologne and it’s like really overpowering. And his suit is probably a really annoying, like high-maintenance fabric, like linen it’s, light gray, I think. And it’s definitely something that needs to be cleaned with magic. He is definitely wearing a really kind of gross, smug smirk on his face. So yeah, pretty much the most terrifying thing I can imagine.
When I was making this monster, I thought of some of the things that frustrated me about management. When I worked in a corporate environment, I remember this one workplace I literally had my manager say to me that my job was to do whatever the vice president wanted.
And the quote was, “He says, ‘Jump,’ we say “how high.” So I made a literal boss, like he’s a boss monster who just is a boss, is a manager and he has abilities that are named for aspects of running a business that have negative effects on the workers. Some of them are more pointed and serious. There’s one called Exploit, which is basically when he hits with a weapon attack, he can use a bonus action to force the target, to make a Constitution saving throw.
And if they fail, then the target takes an additional 3d6 psychic damage, but also Malquaestus regains hit points equal to that amount. And so the idea is that you do the work and he benefits at your expense, and you sacrifice your own supply of hit points, unwillingly to increase his own. And that’s how he generates wealth.
Some of them are like more tongue in cheek and they’re based on like minor annoyances. Like he has another legendary action called Meeting Postponed, and it’s where you have to make an intelligence saving throw. And if you fail, then you can’t take your action on your next turn, but you can take an additional action on your following turn.
And that one came from having managers insists that meetings were super important. Then I’d have to rush to make sure everything was ready for them. And then five minutes before it would be pushed back and I’d be annoyed that I did all this work for nothing.
And I thought that was interesting because it’s not punitive, in the sense that your character doesn’t lose their action, they just can’t take it that turn. And I thought that would be really fun for the party to try and strategize around. And I feel like there’s a way for them to actually plan and hope that it happens. So then they can maximize damage on their following turn. But you might be able to get something out of it.
But he’s actually quite active in the village community where he is. And a lot of people that live there are glad that when he bought the fishery, they were able to get jobs. Some of them are concerned about the fisheries impact on the environment. And I expect that if the party fights him, they probably do it out in the open.
So I wanted him to actually be able to be found and for everybody in the community to know who he is and to have a differing opinions about it.
Lucas: There’s a definite catharsis to Sebastian’s design, allowing players to meditate on their daily life in a different way.
Sebastian Yue: A lot of people definitely do encounter people like this fairly regularly, and they might feel tiredness or feel upset that it’s very difficult to exist in today’s world.
But I wanted to, to demonstrate it in a way that was more tangible and that has mechanical consequences because then it’s a very, it’s a very direct way to confront those issues. I think that the medium of a tabletop role-playing game was a really cool way to say actually very explicitly. These are things that have negative effects on your character and you actively have to find ways to overcome them.
Lucas: There’s also kind of a Scooby doo mask reveal in this adventure, so, uh spoiler alert?
Sebastian Yue: This particular adventure is called tentacles of terror. And it’s called that because when the adventurers arrive, there are a bunch of tentacle creatures that are stuck on the beach, they’re very dark blue to black in color.
They don’t appear to have like visible eyes, but they do have mounds and they do have very sharp teeth, but mainly it’s the tentacles. They’re very long and very thick. They’re very intimidating looking that it’s set up in a way to make them expect that the tend to preaches are in fact, the most is the you’re supposed to fight, but actually it’s to submit their expectations and that these identical preaches are actually, uh, the ones who are being harmed by, by Malquaestus.
And I think that it’s just, it’s an interesting way to discuss the way in which we live. We interact with the environment around us. And it’s also a kind of comment on how D and D has just created this like category of creatures and just decided to call them monsters. And then by default, it’s okay to go in and kill them without really thinking about why they’re there or what they’re doing or what they need, what they want, even if it’s the adventure as who would going into the Monster’s cave or like its actual home.
So I thought that, so it’d be interesting to. To take that trope and reverse it and actually give the play as a reason to believe that that this guy is evil. And to understand that he’s a monster because he does terrible things. Not because his way of life is incompatible with the way that humans live.
Cassandra MacDonald: In the side of the mountain is a massive bird skull, 10 feet high, its mouth ajar, looking into an eight-foot-tall cavern with icicles hanging down from the ceiling. It follows for a short time, dark and dingy with a faint blue light. At the end in the middle of the room is a frozen-over pond. Walls of shelves and tables line the room crooked old rusty lantern hangs down, bathing the room in a dark blue color.
Strange implements, sit across the table, and a spiraling, twisting staircase leads upstairs. When you reach the upstairs, along the walls, more bookshelves and a nightstand, a stone slab, frozen solid, and on it lies like twisted old woman. Her face frostbitten, her nose gone, her arms dangly bone skin stretched around bone and overhead hangs a gray, gnarled staff of wood with a blue gem in its head.
Lucas: Welcome to the lair of the blue hag.
This is Cassandra McDonald, one of the editors and adventure writers for Chilling Tales. Four of the adventurers in our book center on hags, one for each season. A hag in European folklore is an ugly and malicious old woman who practices witchcraft with or without supernatural powers – thanks, Encyclopedia Britannica.
Cassandra MacDonald: I feel like five years, a really hard system to do horror well in everyone’s so heroic. It’s hard to scare them. And I really like to take that out a little bit. I’ve been getting into more where like world of darkness and blades in the dark, like Gothic punk set up. Well, I kind, kinda like to bring some of that to my creation in D and D.
Lucas: To that end, Cassandra created a blue hag named Saja Snowtooth and the small town of Faevris to fit the sub-arctic setting of ice wind Dale.
Cassandra MacDonald: Icewind Dale is a cluster of very resilient towns that survive in the frontier of the North, where pretty much the winter hits and everything becomes scarce. The weather itself becomes one of the greatest enemies in Icewind Dale. What could typically be a mild inconvenience for most party can turn into an incredible source of horror and danger as even just a couple of wolves to a low level party coming at them late at night when they’re cold and they didn’t.
They’re suffering levels of exhaustion from traveling in a blizzard or searching for a shelter from a storm. Even the smallest thing can become seriously dangerous in an environment such as that essentially favorites of the town, which is not a cannon town in favor. And I named it that so that it is.
You can drop it in any setting as you see fit. And it is small enough that it could reasonably not appear on a map. Uh, cause it’s only about 50 or a hundred people, something like that. They live in a shadow of a mountain and it is more or less unlivable territory by most people’s standards. Like when winter hits of the storms become too much, the winds coming down from the mountain, essentially scatter, anyone who tries to settle there.
So Faevris, and its mayor being a Druid, made a deal with this hag. The hag settles the winds and turns the wildlife away and gives the town a chance to thrive. And in exchange, they make yearly offerings to her. And this deal has been going on for 10 years and the offerings have gotten bigger and bigger.
They started out very small, very reasonable, until they got more and more serious. And now she’s pushing to see how much she can get them to do to survive. So the blue hag is interesting to me because this is quite literally the personification of the survivalist depth desperation. She is an image of how far people will go to survive.
She’s a creature, all the hags thrive on other beings, misery, but the blue hag in particular thrives on misery taken out of necessity. Things like people who steal to survive in cold environments or who killed to survive, that kinds of thing, driving people to the extreme. So I feel like Fear in Faevris really spawned from that very easily.
So it was very, it was easy to make her compelling. It was not hard at all to make her horrifying. My mindset was the old story of Theseus and the Minotaur. Turning over X number of young boys and girls to the labyrinth, just so the city could survive. And that’s the whole premise behind Fear in Faevris is that they’ve been forced to turn over one of their own if they want the town to survive.
And I just love that idea of being forced into this position of the needs of the many
Lucas: In Dungeons and Dragons, hags are Fey creatures, spiteful fairies in the shape of old women with subtle manipulative magic.
Cassandra MacDonald: Saja Snowtooth is a hag, of course, so she has her mix of hag like magic, uh, winter oriented. So a lot of it is ice spells.
Those kinds of tricks. The blue hag is a Fey of the worst kind of course, straddling the line between Fey and fiend. She’s effective because she’s a force of nature. Uh, she’s very much a part of the landscape and she herself, if the entire village turned to face her and stood firm and declared that they would not have this it’s possible, she would be forced to back down it’s possible.
She would be driven out what makes her so scary is that she preys on people’s selfishness. She preys on people’s egoistic desire to essentially survive. And she expects them to turn on one another and backstab and in fight. And I think that’s what makes her so scary is yes, she is terrifying. She could definitely take down a lot of parties.
That might be threatening her at full strength. She could probably drop a tier two party in a couple of rounds given the chance, but I think that’s not what makes her scary to me. It’s the way that she turns people on themselves, turns things around and makes it so that she’s not the villain. These people who squabble are
Lucas: The question of course then becomes what, if anything, does this tell us about the world we live in now?
Cassandra MacDonald: That’s a difficult question. So I think we are right now confronting the problem of struggling to get people, to act for the collective. Good to put it lightly. So I think she very much fits the current form. She really is that kind of villain, but if we all got together and worked as a group, And put our personal feelings aside and handled the crisis.
We might be okay, but it’s a lot more difficult when people start turning on one another. I didn’t write her to be so appropriate, but here we are. When I wrote this, it was a fantasy story that was three years ago.
Lucas: If you had it your way, what are the things you would want your players to – once we got past the, the spells and the critical hits and everything – what’s the things that you would want them to be talking about or working through after they’d been through this experience?
Cassandra MacDonald: I would want them to take the interpersonal drama with them because that, to me, when I ran this for a group that was the crux of what happened. Ultimately, when I ran this, the final fight with Saja was actually a little disappointing. Like they ultimately did decide we’re going to go there and we’re going to take that hag down and they did it. And ultimately it wasn’t that hard. They managed to rally a good chunk of the village and take her down.
But it was the nights before there were two or three nights before were villagers tried to betray them. And then others were like, this person betrayed us. I’m going to drag him to the hag and sell him out. And they had to like physically restrain people and talk people down. And it was that personal drama.
That I think my players still remember the fight. Wasn’t really the battle. The adventure was trying to survive long enough to get to the fight. And it was awesome. We got some impassioned speeches, some real personal like morals coming out because some of the members of the party were more.
Individualistic than others. Like we had a Paladin and then two criminals. So like, you can guess how that, but there were some very different opinions on how this should be handled. And I think it really drags out a lot of character. And that’s what I want mr. People to walk away from this and be like my character.
Their choices mattered here.
Lucas: Saja Snowtooth and Malquaestus Pizkor are two of the monsters in Chilling Tales from the Whispering Wind, a new adventure book just released on the DM’s Guild. Thanks for listening to Making a Monster. If you want to help me keep telling the inside stories of monsters with the people who make them.
Of course, you can share the show with your gaming group or leave me a tip on coffee. But for this week, the best way to support this project is to visit the DMS Guild and pick up a copy of Chilling Tales. Tell them what they’re getting casts.
Cassandra MacDonald: I would say it’s an anthology of fifth edition of horror on a ticking clock.
Driven by powered by the apocalypse systems adapted to our use short and simple. It’s a drop into any campaign, but I loved the idea of using the clocks to our advantage and setting up a series of threats and motivations instead of a clear one by one adventure. Because they’d run a fair bit of adventurous league.
And I always found it frustrating. Like I was trying to run these adventure that your players will do this next. And they never, ever do
Lucas: is on sale for a limited time. So get it now for less than $10 before the price goes back to its regular and fair, 1495 special. Thanks this week to both of my guests,
Sebastian Yue: I’m Sebastian Yue Sebastian Yue with a Y-U-E, and that’s my handle on Twitter.
That’s my website, name.ca. Cause I’m based in Canada. I am a writer and editor and also a model it’s a very odd occupation to do, but that’s what you can find me.
Cassandra MacDonald: I am on Twitter at the ice queer. I am on the DMS Guild as Cassandra McDonald. I am all about pushing the limits of D and D and finding new and strange ways to use the system.
And send me pictures of your cats and offerings to make weird content together. Please. If you think that idea’s too weird, I promise you it’s not.
Lucas: Thanks to a generous supporter on Ko-fi, I was able to license music for this episode from Will Savino and Adventure Music. The tracks you’re hearing are from a project called Shards of the Storm produced by a huge collaboration of D and D creators on Patrion, including Kyle Pointer of it’s a D and D Monster Now, who we met in episode nine. Yes, it’s all coming together.
This episode includes the tracks “Honor in the Storm,” “Winter’s Wrath,” and “In the Warmth of the Fire.” You can download the whole collaboration for free by visiting any of those creators on Patreon. And you’ll find links to everything I mentioned today in the show notes and on the show’s website, scintilla.studio/monster that’s S C I N T I L L A dot studio slash monster.
Next time on making a monster.
Justice Arman: I imagine a hollow knock deep into the night before the handle would begin to turn on its own and just kind of slowly open and baggers. They’re so tall and gangly that you would probably just see up to its chest as this very thin horn devil, just liens under the doorway.
And it’s just looming in this room and you’d. Probably hear the pause of a and hooves of this bloodhound, sniffing and snorting, as it points its way towards you.
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Michael Sands: https://twitter.com/MotW_rpg
Art by Vall Syrene: https://twitter.com/Valldoesdnd
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Music and more from Shards of the Storm:
Adventure Music: https://www.patreon.com/posts/shards-of-storm-41672951
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