Double Proficiency

by Anna Urbanek

Get ready for the spooky!

Today we will be talking about the spookiest plants you can put in your Halloween game. We’re not here to discuss the most toxic plants, because let’s be honest – death by poison is a rather boring thing to play out at the table. Instead, we’re about to go for a deep dive into the weirdest, the creepiest, and most horrifying. 

If you’ve been following Herbalist’s Primer and Globetrotter’s Guide to Greenery, you probably know at least some of them!

1. Deadly Nightshade

An illustration from Herbalist’s Primer by Anna Urbanek

Probably one of the most devious plants in folklore. It is planted and tended to by the devil himself, who only leaves it unattended for one night every year – Walpurgis night, known as Witches’ Sabbath. Which is, by the way, the night of 30th April to 1st May. While Devil’s out carousing, this toxic bush changes into a mysterious enchantress, as beautiful as she is deadly. 

2. Bladderwort

Image in the public domain through Biodiversity Heritage Library

This lovely carnivorous plant grows in lakes and ponds. The floating stems are covered in transparent bladders, almost invisible underwater. They suck in everything that comes in contact. All it takes is a fraction of a second, and a poor insect or a fish are trapped with no chance of escaping. Now, bladderwort is too tiny to be of any risk to a human… But in your game, it doesn’t have to be.

3. Baneberry

An illustration from Herbalist’s Primer by Anna Urbanek

Did you ever have the players’ characters walking through the forest and feeling as if they’re being observed? If not, this is the perfect opportunity to give them a taste. White baneberries are known as doll’s eyes, for probably obvious reasons. Next time the party feels too perky with their survival skills, they can have those disembodied eyes on fleshy stalks follow them around.

4. Corpse Flower

New York Botanical Garden corpse flower in bloom June 27, 2018 via Wikipedia Commons

This beauty is native to rainforests of Sumatra and can grow to over three meters tall, which is equivalent to a portion of a football field, probably. Not only the main leaf has the color and texture of fresh meat, the whole thing also stinks of rotting flesh and for as long as it’s blooming, it stays at the temperature of the human body. It also has a ridiculous Latin name if this is your type of humor. No judgement.

5. Aconite

An illustration from Herbalist’s Primer by Anna Urbanek

Also known as monkshood and wolfsbane. As the story goes, the first plant grew from the saliva of Cerberus, and ever since, it is strongly connected to all kinds of lore about wolves and werewolves. If you ever need some lycanthropy-adjacent potions or elixirs, aconite is your best bet.

6. Ghost Plant

Photo: Will Brown via Flickr

If, like myself, you grew up with stories about dark, scary forests, you’ll feel right at home. These delicate, parasitic flowers need no sunlight and can grow even in complete darkness. Usually white or pink, they can appear overnight like a tiny army of ghosts. Fun fact: in the 19th century, they have been used in Europe as an anti-anxiety medication, and I am personally convinced that they are the reason for the existence of Hattifatteners, which were the biggest scare of my childhood.

7. Pitcher Plant

Image in the public domain through Biodiversity Heritage Library

A scent of sweet nectar drives the misguided and misinformed straight into the shapely, colorful pitchers. Where they get trapped and slowly drowned and digested, of course, because nature is more metal than one usually thinks. Some of the pitcher plants come equipped with specialized leaves creating fake exits and mini-labyrinths to keep the poor prey occupied while it dies.

8. Mandrake

Image in the public domain through Biodiversity Heritage Library

Everybody’s favourite – it’s toxic, it’s hallucinogenic, it’s going to kill you with its scream when you pull it out of the ground. Obviously. Enterprising harvesters were using pigs or dogs for the operation, hoping the curse will befall the animal, although technically, it’s the string that should get hurt. In any case, the humanoid roots of mandragora were thought to cure anything from impotence to cancer, work as voodoo dolls, and sometimes walk around on their tiny legs and become familiars to witches and warlocks.

9. Venus Flytrap

Venus Flytrap showing trigger hairs.jpg
Photo by Noah Elhardt via Wikipedia Commons

There is just something inherently terrifying about the idea of a giant maw closing around you. Trapped in the darkness, fighting to escape, you can feel the digestive fluid slowly coating your body. Soon, you struggle to breathe… If you’re a fly, that is – or if your game master upsized the plant a bit. I don’t know if it helps that the digestion process takes around ten days, but it is a thing you know now.

10. Red Tide

File:La-Jolla-Red-Tide.780.jpg
Photo by Alejandro Díaz via Wikipedia Commons

We’re starting to cheat from here, because the following aren’t technically plants. They are, however, way too spooky to not be discussed. Red tide is caused by blooming algae. If you ever get stuck on the sea adventure, because the players’ characters have stolen a ship and now need to sail for two months in whichever direction, give them the proper fright by changing their whole environment into red, murky depths full of poisoned fish and shellfish, dead octopuses, and the unfortunate Kraken with an upset stomach. Oh, did I mention that the air is now full of toxins too?

11. Bleeding Tooth Fungus

File:Hydnellum peckii.darvin.jpg
Photo by Darvin Deshazer via Wikipedia Commons

Number eleven: bleeding tooth fungus, also known as devil’s tooth – by a very specific type of people, also known as strawberries and cream. These fungi ooze thick, blood-like substance – fun fact: the secretions have anticoagulant properties, so they can really make you bleed. Add to that nasty-looking spikes that cover the base, and you have a recipe for a Halloween special.

12. Octopus Stinkhorn

Clathrus archeri.jpg
Photo via Wikipedia Commons

A treat for all you warlock types. One look at these fleshy eggs erupting in an array of crimson tentacles, and you start designing a Fungus Warlock Patron for your next campaign. If the Devil’s fingers aren’t haunting you yet, just think about the fact that this lovely mushroom smells of putrid flesh and has a global distribution – which means there are probably some growing quite close to wherever you are.

13. Vampire Pumpkins and Watermelons

Via Rawpixel.com

This folktale comes from the Balkans, the source of all best vampire stories. According to the account, any pumpkin or watermelon that has been left outside in the night during a full moon will turn into a vampire, free itself from the ground and go for a hunt. They leave a trail of blood behind them, as they slowly creep towards houses full of sleeping people. (Read more on Wiki.)

Now, as it is the year 2020, let me just say that this Halloween is going to happen with a full moon right there on the sky, because of course it is. Even more, according to the Internet, the full moon will also be visible from every single place on the planet, for the first time since 1944. Oh, and it’s a blue moon.

In short, we’re doomed.

What’s Your Favourite?

So, what’s your Halloween favorite? Are you planning on using any creepy plants in your games or books? Let us know in the comments before the vampire pumpkins eat us all!

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by Jakub Wisz

As a hard-scifi writer, I rarely get to venture out into the magical realms of fantasy. To make a long story short, I intend to change that. Consider this blog post an announcement of my next creation after Project Aphelion and Incitatus, Blazing Aurorae. It’s going to be a fantasy novel and maybe a tabletop RPG as well, set in a world very much unlike our own.

It’s going to be a tale set in the cold darkness of open space, in the tail of a comet full of life, civilizations, and wonders. Full of people living their lives on islands of rock and ice suspended in the icy clouds of the comet’s tail, loving, fighting, and exploring space on wooden ships thanks to the magic and technology of their ancestors.

The universe of Blazing Aurorae is far from your run-of-the-mill fantasy pot of tired old tropes and stories. It’s an unusual world with unusual creatures, but I want them to be intuitively understandable and relatable. There are magic elements and impossible conditions throughout; nonetheless, I aim to build it in accordance with known physics and biology. I believe it’s entirely possible to create a fantastic universe based on our real-world reality. In fact, I believe that a world created that way will be much more engaging, consistent, and original than a complete abstract based on nothing but desire to create something fantastic.

In this and the next blog posts, I’ll go through the process of building the setting step by step as I create the world.

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If you, like many people in tabletop roleplaying circle, are waiting for the newest expansion for Dungeons & Dragons to land, you already know you’ll be probably spending some months around Icewind Dale. Arctic adventures are on multiple schedules this year, and there’s nothing surprising about it. After all, Rime of the Frostmaiden promises the players an opportunity to boldly go where snowman has gone before.

Let’s go on an adventure!

If you’ve read my previous post, you know we’re big fans of player agency in this house. If you haven’t – go give it a read. I assure you, it will make it obvious why I’m suggesting some of the solutions and not the others.

All of the advice below applies to running arctic adventures, whether or not you want to have them in Forgotten Realms. We acknowledge and support everybody’s right to not play D&D.

Do you want to make your traveling through the arctic tundra fun, engaging, and memorable? Well, read on, because we’re just about to embark on a journey. From prep to random encounters, we got you covered here.

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You see, I adore Arthur Rackham, I care deeply for Gustave Doré, I spent hours redrawing Aubrey Beardsley’s illustrations. But there’s one artist whose works I truly love. It’s Jan Marcin Szancer.

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At least for a historian. Seriously, those guys will raid your garbage bin and steal your receipts. And the humanity will be grateful. After a while. I’ve just put my hands on the last (well, fourth out of five, they weren’t delivered in the right order) volume of History of Private Life. It’s probably one of the best series about history ever written, especially if you’re interested in social changes, not the fates of battles and wars. And if there’s some study area I’d love more than social and cultural history, I haven’t found it yet.

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Tired of feeding your party the same staple food everytime they go out to eat in a civilized place? We’ve got your back: follow us for some tasty medieval recipes, and historically accurate food lore.

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We all know that roleplaying games are a theatre of the mind, but there’s nothing as fun as actually seeing your PC. It helps you to get in character, it helps your party members with visualisation, it makes it easier for your fans/friends to do fanart.

However, for those of us who aren’t artist, it’s either to commission some proper character portraits, do a lousy sketch ourself, or delve into the wide and deep ocean of internet resources. A side note: if you’re going to use somebody else’s art because it fits, be prepared to tell people who the artist is. You’re using their work, so let’s have the basic honesty to credit them when possible (e.g. when someone asks).

If you’re not willing to dig deep for appropriate artwork, or just want something that fits perfectly (more or less), there’s a massive amount of portrait generators out there that can help you in your RPG needs. Almost every RPG/MMO computer game (and Sims series, of course) also has a built-in generator which you use for this purpose (just take a screencap!), but I’m going to show you the free-to-use that you can use without installing anything on your computer.

To make it easier to show differences in the generators, I’m going to create portraits of two characters from a D&D 5E campaign played not so long ago: Enid, half-elven bard/warlock (think trickery with a bit of fae vibe thrown into the mix), and Kronis, human paladin of Kord (straight outta Skyrim).

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