Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Doing Names Backwards, With Devils; Or: A Method By Which One May Gain Inspiration From The Innumerable Subtypes of Monsters

A thought hit me in the shower the other day: You know how in D&D there's dozens of different kinds of devils & demons, and a lot of them are X devils or Y demons? If you're struggling for inspiration for a magic item, trap, weird device, or some other sort of object, you could do worse than flipping the name of one of those monsters around for inspiration.

The Process, Illustrated

Devil Ice: A baby's heart is a warm thing, and a child's heart is warmer still, burning with imagination, though often untempered by empathy. It is the hearts of adults that can grow cold, whether through heartbreak or despair or plain damn meanness. In the coldest of hearts a peculiar ice starts to clog the ventricles like cholesterol. That ice is treasured by witches and torturers. It absorbs hope, joy, love, and all other bright and precious things it comes into contact with. Charged with stolen light or otherwise, it is a key ingredient in many vile potions and enchantments.

Devil Chain: Take the noose a debtor used to hang himself with. Wrap around it the hair torn out by a grieving mother. Affix it all together with nails - ideally from a crucifixion, but a prison will do. That's your devil chain. Put your devil chain around someone you've proven yourself stronger than, someone you've beaten down physically, mentally, financially, whatever, and you'll have them bound. Doesn't matter if they take it off after, or you lose it. The object's just a carrier for the curse. Wherever they go, at any time, you can have them immobilized as if by invisible manacles, until such as time as you release them or the curse is broken. The Men With Eyes That Flash Like Silver Dollars make extensive use of devil chains.

Fiend Blood: One of the more popular drugs of prisoners in the depths of Carceri, as well as one of the more common causes of death. The name is only slightly euphemistic. It is not the blood of fiends, but the putrescence of dead prisoners from higher cells that slops down in gutters and cracks, crudely filtered for the most rarefied elements within: the juicy bits of planar outsiders. Hopefully you'll end up with a hit that has enough angel in it to leave you floating in bliss. Bad hits of fiend blood are so toxic they'll just kill you. Really bad hits are just toxic enough to leave you at the mercy of your fellow prisoners. Really really bad hits end up with a bit of Far Realm stuff in 'em that'll fill your head with infinite torments you couldn't name or explain if you had a billion years to try. In any case, it's the closest to an escape from Carceri most prisoners will get.

Demon Iron: The priests of holy Mount Bezelurra were zealous in their crusade against the evil spirits plaguing humanity, yet their crusade proved endless, and their mortal bodies grew weary. Banish a spirit, and it would return to harrow the next generation. Their solution was as simple and brutal as they could be. The priests prized the holy ore from their holy mountain and forged the evil spirits they captured into it, cowing them through a thousand folds of white-hot metal and a million blows from a blessed hammer. This binding proved inextricable. None of the stalkers or lurkers or sicknesses or delusions they captured ever escaped the iron of Mount Bezelurra. In the end the priests martyred their god. Their mining became rapacious, the tailings poured day and night from their mines, all to keep the world piling accolades at their feet. The priests are no more. The nails, horseshoes, keys, and so on they made with their silently shrieking malignancies within remain a historical curiousity.

Devil Bone: A dousing instrument created by soaking a sliver of goat bone in soured wine for just under a week, plucking it out on the sabbath. A correctly made devil bone is thought to be able to point towards veins of gold, diamonds, bitcoin wallets, and other such concentrations of wealth. In truth, devil bones detect murderous desire and the potential thereof. Wise users make their money as facilitators of that desire and then run far away.

Demon Shadow: An urban legend among streamers, e-sports performers, and camgirls. They say if a particular pattern of dead pixels that resembles a run-over seagull appears on your screen, you have three choices: forsake digital technology forever, forward the pattern to people who cumulatively have a larger audience that you, or be taken over body and soul by some orphaned corporate algorithm that'll use you as a puppet in some dot com boom scheme that doesn't even have the potential to take off anymore. They're two-thirds of the way right, but the truth's worse.

Devil Beard: The Agolifolgin family was as hated as they were ungroomed, which is to say very. At every turn their patriarch would cheat and steal and abuse, and every son would be worse than the last. On inheriting their office, they would all grow out that same gnarly, unwashed, untrimmed beard. The Agolifolgins, rather predictably, did not last in their title longer than four generations. Their daughters fled, their sons died in mysterious accidents, and their last patriarch was called to court and hanged for treachery against his higher-ups. All this meaning: their estate was ripe for looting, and yet, whatever treasures it may hold still lie within. The looters that have tried until now have been unaware that the Agolifolgin beard still guards Agolifolgin halls. Enter, and you will find yourself growing increasingly hirsute. First on your head - nothing to worry about. Then on your face - blinding you. Then on your body - snaring you. Finally, down your throat - suffocating you. Find a way to escape this fate, and their stolen inheritance will be yours.

Demon Whisper: Dungeoneer slang for infrasonic reverberations of the deep underground, whether produced by natural tectonic events or rifts in reality itself. These "whispers" have an insidious effect on human cognition, causing paranoia, greed, poor impulse control, and flatulence. Despite being among the least physically threatening phenomena of the depths, demon whispers are a disproportionate cause of expedition failure.

Devil Glass: According to apocryphal history, the west rose at Notre Dame was not in fact the oldest stained glass window in the church. There was another, just before it, far more beautiful, made by an artist of such talent as to never have been seen before or since. After a glance, the archbishop of Paris of the time ordered it destroyed and replaced - and then killed himself almost immediately after, to be replaced by an impostor to save face. If you believe the apocrypha, this window depicted the crucifixion of Christ in such beauty that those who beheld it would have no choice but to emulate it. A memetically viral suicide. Shards of glass, supposedly from this original window, were traded like relics throughout Europe for centuries, as common as nails claimed to be the ones that pierced Jesus's hands and feet. This trade is still allowed. This trade is considered harmless. After all, each carries only a fraction of the original work's effect.

Does this work with other kinds of monsters? Certainly not so well with giants, I can tell you that right now. Giant cloud, giant rock, giant fire, pretty one-note results with them. Other sorts of monsters do better: naga water, naga darkness, hydra frost, all fairly inspirational.

Could be more than just stuff even, could do it for geography too. Seawraith, Sea Hag, Seawolf => Sea of Wraiths, the Hag Sea, Sea of Wolves, are there a bunch of wolves in the sea they named it after?

There's no end to the elemental and other subtypes of monsters in D&D that have piled up over the years, and I think this is one way to get some good use out of them.