What is This Thing ? #1

What is This Thing? is a series of creative writing prompts. Each starts an art thing, often by a friend, sometimes abstract. The art is used as inspiration to create RPG related stuff. Is it a monster? An item? A cool hat? We find out.

The Art Thing

Untitled By Paddy Gould (2021), you can find Paddy and his partner Roxy’s work here


First off, I love this thing. It is weird, fluid, clear, unclear, solid and impermanent all at the same time. It didn’t take that long to get my brain rumbling after having a good old stare at it. I also like that there is enough to it, that it is just physical enough that you can get a purchase on it. I also also like that there is not a full physicality so that you feel like its also slipping through your fingers like a wriggly bone-fish. That has lead to some ideas that somewhat straddle between being solid or well not so solid. It’s the kind of thing you could take to a party, plop it down on a table and someone might say: “Ewww! Get that outta here!” But immediately afterwards say: “tell me what the hell it is, it has wedged into my psyche and I can’t let it out”. Nice. I think we can riff off of that with some ideas, there are enough elements here to go a bunch of different ways. We can also recognise that without foreground or background elements there is a very vague sense of scale, which is useful. It appears to be a big toe…but is it BIG toe? Let’s tie it down, tickle it and get it to give us its secrets. Let’s find out what it might be.

So like what the actual actual is this in actuality?

It has been quite easy to come up with a few different possibilities for this one, eight in fact. I really liked some of the ideas so I might revisit and flesh them out more in some future additional posts – that will also prevent this post being unbearably long. The approach is a colourful sketch that should be enough to plop them into you game with only a little more work. So, let’s take a look at what this conjured in my brain:

1) A Witch’s Gravy Boat

Before she will help the PCs, the witch insists that they stay for dinner. She puts on a full roast dinner with the works. The roast lamb looks suspicious, the redcurrant jelly is too red, the carrots are green, the peas orange and the Yorkshire pudding looks like a mushroom. At least the roast potatoes look divine (they literally glow with light). The witch will lovingly place her favourite crockery on the table. She beams with pride as she presents the centrepiece of her dinner set, the gravy boat. The thick gelatinous gravy contained within is made from a mixture of meat jus, unfulfilled wishes, rendered down toe-nails and the tears of a grey toad. It looks suspicious but smells delicious. If the PCs accept her offer of gravy, she will pour it out with great relish and pomp. The gravy spills from the middle, runs down the glistening toe onto the plate. A grey-brown steam rises from the plate and making the temptation to tuck in irresistible. Eating food slathered in this gravy may have unpredictable effects.

If the PCs steal or otherwise gain possession of the gravy boat, treat it as a mild magic item. Unfortunately, its uses are limited unless it is fed by rituals known only to a witch (the ritual is intuitive and changes regularly). It will have d6 uses left. Once the gravy is poured on food by or for a creature, that creature must make a mental save to avoid eating it.

If a PC drinks gravy from the gravy boat roll a d6:

1Drinking the gravy fills you with vigour, like you are living life twice as fast. The imbiber gains a temporary bonus to their hit points but their nails and hair grow at a rapid rate.
2Make a mental save or break down and reveal an embarrassing secret to the other PCs. You gain a re-roll on one dice that you must use within 24hours.
3A random part of your body changes to a garish colour for 24hrs.
4Your visage changes to resemble one of the following for 24hrs: an NPC you have met and dislike, another party member but with a comedic moustache or other feature, a dead relative (zombie-like).
5Make a CON save or be turned into a small or tiny animal. This effect lasts 24hrs but remnants such as whiskers, spines, scales, hair or patterning remain a subsequent 24hours. If you save, you are only affected by the advent of the latter.
6You are beset by good luck for 24hrs, unfortunately those around you suffer quite the opposite. You may choose to re-roll any dice, you must accept the new result. Each time you do so, the DM may force another party member to re-roll one of their dice. You may use this luck 7 times in 24hours, after which the effect ends.

2) A Squel-Charm

Squel-charms are created by fleshcrafters to pursue and keep track on someone. Each day the magically imbued flesh will squelch quietly closer to its target. Once it is close to its victim it waits patiently until they are sleeping. It slithers onto exposed flesh, exudes anaesthetic slime, presses down and burrows painlessly inside its victim. The only external sign of Squel-charm infestation is a small lump or strange scabby flakes around the feet. The trail of these flakes leaves a trackable scent that is followable by fleshhounds.

Wonderous Item (Living Charm), Uncommon
A Squel-Charm can be activated with a ten minute ritual. Once activated, it relentlessly pursues a target known to you for one month, as long as they are on the same plane of existence. If it does not find the target in this time it melts into a pus-like mess. If the Squel-Charm infects its target, you can cast Scrying on the target once per day for free by holding your toe and entering into a motionless trance. This ability works for one week or until remove curse or restorative magic is cast on the target. The Squel-Charm has the following stats:

1 HP, 12 AC, advantage on DEX saves and +5 Stealth. It moves at the speed of a normal creature and cannot be tired.

3) Stubfruit (over ripe)

This strange smelling fruit is peeled from the top like a banana whilst holding onto the sweaty thumb nub-end. Once peeled, it reveals the smokey beans inside. Somewhat disconcertingly, it also weeps a thick blood-like juice. The flavour is earthy and strong, nice if you like fetid, damp rags mixed with honey, an acquired taste… Somewhat unsettlingly, after a Stubfruit ripens they drop to the ground, slowly crawl to a new location and burrow into the ground to gestate. Burrowed Stubfruit will only sprout and grow under a full moon. The sprouting trees have the appearance of a wide spreading Honey Locust. Its roots bulge up hazardously out of the ground leading to its common name: The Stubby Tree. The plant is sometimes considered bad luck and it is certainly invasive, tending to spread quickly if unmanaged. The origins of the tree are unclear. Perhaps it is a result of an intrusion from the Plane of Flesh or maybe a result of spellcraft or the machinations of hags.

Who wants it: gastronomers of the outer reaches, anti-connoisseurs, flesh crafters and unhinged horticulturalists
Uses: Food, potion ingredients, giving your mum a scare and flesh crafting rituals

4) A Newly Born Podiatrin

A Podiatrin uses the heavy nail atop its head to push out of its egg. This one’s nail has frayed upon gaining its freedom. It moves in a wriggling side to side motion, leaving a thick mucus path behind it. Holding its tail aloft in the air, highly developed scent organs along its length sniff out prey. The spotted back half pulses faintly. When prey is found, dazzling light is emitted in a pub-disco show that beguiles the unwary, freezing them in place. Rather than consume through mandibles, or mouth parts, the Podiatrin crushes its foe with the weight of its body slithering back and forth over it. A thick, sticky, digestive ooze melts and renders down the unlucky victim. Once sufficiently pulped, the Podiatrin absorbs its victim through its skin leaving behind only a heavy mass of indigestible matter, drag in colour. This waste material is sometimes collected by brave creatures following in its path. It is much sought after by doctors who grind it into a paste or powder and use it as a component in…

Smell: A fungal scent, sweet, sour and sweaty

Hit Points: A lot
Size: Dead big when fully grown
Attacks: Not really, more like it slumps on you, squishes you and soups you. Probably a lot of damage if you are slow enough to get caught
Senses: Nonsense and good smell doing
Treasure: Oh yes, the bits of you left behind will be valuable to collectors and miscreant wizards

5) A Seathumb

According to myth, the god Notrom lost his toes to Shakla, the great shark, after challenging him to a race to the surface. Where remnants of Notrom’s digits touched the seafloor the first Seathumbs grew. Fixed in place like gigantic sea-anemones, the Seathumb’s central vestibule contains a powerful neurotoxin that traps unsuspecting sea-life. Some aquatic creatures, such as the Wulsawu, are immune to this toxin live symbiotically with the Seathumb. Reproduction is asexual via transverse fission. When ready the Seathumb cracks open in the middle and releases a dangerous cloud of paralysing toxins into the surrounding water. This toxic wave allows time for each vulnerable half to grow back to full size. Large numbers of Seathumbs simultaneously reproducing can cause devastation in the surrounding sea. After such a spawning a Seathumb migration usually follows. When there is no food in a Seathumb’s vicinity it will gradually inch itself along the sea floor. Smaller specimens simply detach and let ocean currents or tides move them to a more favourable spot. The first sign of a mass spawning will be huge quantities of paralysed sea-life floating to the surface or shore. This is usually followed by a rush of scavengers and predators to the area eager to not let the bounty go to waste. Sailors and nomads sometimes track these spawnings to take advantage of the bounty.

Habitat: Sea water, not too deep, usually intertidal and revealed at low tide

Size: Like a curled up tiger shark
Hazard: Swimmers, toxins can paralyse, can be harvested, effects temporary and usually non-lethal
Other: Sometimes eaten by sea dwelling or coastal peoples. Harvesting is dangerous and difficult, the meat spoils easily.

6) Dopplooze

A mindless, gelatinous ooze which mimics the shape of living matter that comes into contact with it. Unsuspecting travellers who step on the ooze feel only a slight dampness as it seeps through the soles of their boots. Dopplooze will only mimic living matter in proportion to its original mass. This often leads to strange disconnected toes, feet and legs ambling around. The Dopplooze feeds on this process of mimicry, stealing a portion of life from those it touches. A larger Dopplooze will draining all joie de vivre from the unsuspecting, leaving them listless and uncreative. Overtime, a well fed Dopplooze will manifest a playful if cruel intelligence and eventually even a bizarre artistic aesthetic. Elder dopploozes combine and recombine themselves into rude, bricolage amalgams of the things they have mimicked over their lifespans. Deranged wizards and sadistic lords have been known to keep such paragons as enslaved living artworks. To such individuals, the sacrifice of lesser artists and the joyous is a small price for the orgiastic, ever-changing living sculptures. It is unknown how these oozes procreate but their apparent inability to age has also led to much study by those seeking immortality. Those who mistake Dopplooze for the much more dangerous Shade Thing may be relieved to find themselves depressed and slovenly rather than dead or mad.

Habitat: Usually underground, areas saturated with magic and forest floors
Smell: Like tar and burnt sugar
Sound: The ooze is absolutely silent until it mimics

Size: Usually small harmless patches, sometimes much larger
Attack: Drains charisma, spirit, humour and faith, mimicking Dopplooze causes damage appropriate to its size
Vulnerabilities: Melancholy, drab and indistinct people, strong acid

7) Phobasic Smoke

A treacly brown-black smoke sits heavy in the air and makes visibility low. It shifts and twists in the air as if barely contained within the space or moved by the motion of unseen limbs. When even a small amount of this smoke is breathed in, the rest follows it forcing itself into the inhalers lungs. Once inside the body it is implanted with the fears, phobias and squeamish thoughts of its victim. When exhaled, the smoke takes on the shape of those fears and phobias. The PC can suggest an appropriate creature, person or situation. Here we see the relatively common podophobic form. In general, the phobasic smoke is physically harmless, unless imbued with energy by a magic user or encountered in its pure elemental form. In such cases, phobasic smoke can take on a physically powerful and dangerous form. Even so and encounter with dilute Phobasic smoke can still be dangerous. Seeing one’s subconscious terrors made manifest by phobasic smoke can be psychically scarring. Whilst often a natural occurrence, the smoke is also often deployed as a deterrent or defence against unwanted intrusions.

Sight: Regular smoke that moves in unnatural ways, as if buffeted by unfelt wind
Smell: Like sad dreams and opium

Dilute Phobasic Smoke – Mental save or be terrified. Save again each round/turn. Smoke can be dispersed by strong wind.
Elemental Phobasic Smoke – Mental save or be terrified. Save again each round/turn. The smoke also takes a physical form. The smoke has equal power to the PC. Once destroyed or at the end of one minute it returns to its original smoke form.

8) Shade Thing

It slithers up the outside, wondering what it’s like inside, waiting and wanting to get in. Sometimes, a Shade Thing seeps from its dimensionless, exterior space into our plane of physics, time and substance. It will appear at first like dappled smoke or like lithe, sweaty air. It will appear around corners that aren’t there and spread in directions that have no names. It will interact with time and space like a child learning to grasp. It will begin its aimless attempts to mimic our matter, the results always unreal, horrific and disturbing. Seeing a Shade Thing is to view a decaying memory through a spinning child’s kaleidoscope while in a fever dream. Whether Shade Things mean us harm is hard to tell, no attempt at communication has ever been successful. Most of those who meet one find it difficult to stomach the strange combination of dimensions they inhabit. Pray you never see one. It will arrive hungry for shape, maybe your shape. Pray you never see one. It will twist space as if the air was flesh. Pray that you never see one. It will form flesh in a rude sweaty parody of itself. Pray that you never see one. Run fools! Or be consumed by its ignorant hunger for form.

Sight: Horrifying, morphing, indescribable shapes that burn the retinas
Smell: Like every scent memory in your mind at once mixed with the scent of fear and burnt, rotten meat

Size: All of them at once
Speed: It can be in several places at once but not permanently
AC: Hitting it directly is hard but sometimes you hit it just waving your sword around
HP: More than it needs to lose to flee
Damage: Looking at it hurts, thinking about it hurts, when it touches you, you might have a metaphysical crisis
Anything else: Hurting it makes you feel better about reality, it puts your mind back at ease. Hurting it is not easy without magic.


So that’s it folks. A rude journey down creative lane. I’m happy with the results and I think all of these could be expanded or given more detail if necessary. I’m looking forward to trying this again with another image. I also have an idea for expanding an unused idea for this post into a fully fleshed out NPC. Next up though might be another monster post, I’ve got a couple of ideas cooking so stay tuned. Let me know if you find any of these useful, we love hearing when our stuff gets used in games.

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