TL;DR Setting 2 and setting 4 are my favorites, but let me know what you think!
So I've decided I'm going to do a few of these, each using bestiaries from different games. I wanted games that are somewhat Kitchen Sink fantasy, but with some kind of twist, and then develop a new setting with a more narrow focus. For any given setting, I roll a random number to pick a monster (with possibly some vetos), and try to assign it to a role from the below list, and if I can't figure out how to make any available role fit without radically changing the monster, then scroll through until I find the next best fit.
This list is based on Chris Hall's suggestion in the linked 3toadstools post, except that rather than mythological being specific to monsters from real-world mythology, instead I'm interpreting it as being that the monster must fit into some kind of metaphysical, mythological, or divine aspect of the setting.
There are a few bestiaries in particular that I love, but that feel already so unique, or so singular or cohesive in their vision, that I didn't think it made sense to use them for this challenge (as much as I would have liked to). Those include (but are not limited to) Fire on the Velvet Horizon, Veins of the Earth, and Lusus Naturae.
Also, I really wanted to do a scifi setting, but none of the scifi books I own seem to have actual bestiaries :(. Most of the enemies are just humanoids, or random roll tables, which I think makes sense for a spacefaring campaign especially, but is still a little disappointing. Any suggestions for a scifi bestiary would be appreciated!
Since I couldn't find a scifi bestiary to my liking and already did two science fantasy settings, I decided to compromise and do a fourth setting with elements from Gamma World, Spelljammer, and the Gith from Planescape / Forgotten Realms. Given that the other two science fantasy settings lean more on the fantasy side, I figure one leaning on the scifi side would be novel enough.
In addition to picking 10 monsters based on the list below, I also explain why I chose the bestiaries that I did, provide a brief description of the setting, and then a more detailed setting description after the monster lists.
In a few cases, I included additional creatures besides just what I rolled for, but I tried to keep it all fairly tight in scope.
Great Wyrm / Lizard:
Lurks in the Water:
Foul Crawly Underworld Thing:
Setting 1: Dying Zothique
Source: Ninth World Bestiary 1, Ninth World Bestiary 2
Inspiration: I love the cypher system and the numenera setting. I think it's a really cool kitchen-sink science fantasy setting, but if there's one complaint I have, it's that it's just a little too unfocused. I don't necessarily mind it in the sense that I only run my own settings anyway, so it's more a toolbox for inspiration, but I think the lack of any kind of cohesion or through-line arguably keeps it from being a "classic" setting, even if it's intentionally done that way so that GMs can make their own through-lines. So I attempted to remedy that here by coming up with a more narrow setting using elements from the Ninth World Bestiaries.
Brief Description: Even further in the future of Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique Cycle, a Stonepunk world that has basically devolved into the stone age, with some technomagical artifacts of prior eras.
Semi-intelligent humanoid: Grush (Mutated morlocks)
Undead: Rorathik (blue cloud transforms humanoids into blue Predator-like super-killers)
Ancient Fey: Roummos (purple insect cloud-like extra-dimensional space, reinterpreted as insectoid pixie cloud)
Giant/Ogre/Troll: Culova Protectors (Spider humanoids)
Great Wyrm / Lizard: Terror Bird (T-Rex bird)
Aerial: Navarac (Man-sized flying lizards with moth-like patterned wings and two sets of vertically-positioned black eyes around their wide, crocodile-like toothy jaws)
Lurks in the Water: Kroth (mult-legged, multi-eyed, mossy, amphibious ambush predator with sticky digestive enzyme on it's stone-like back)
Extradimensional: Erulian (floating brain with one cyclops eye and brainstem-like appendage)
Mythological: Torlethis Companion (Eel-like symbiants that give humanoids supernatural physical abilities as well as the ability to summon dazzling bursts of holy light, viewed as angel-like stigma)
Foul Crawly Underworld Thing: Jesanthum (Wildflower Panther reinterpreted as fungus)
It is the far, far future, on the last habitable continent in the world, Zothique. Whereas human civilization as we know it has continually advanced, Zothique has continually regressed. Once a technological wonder, little by little it receded, into a superstitious world of swords and sorcery, and eventually to little more than stones and savagery.
There is a tear in the fabric of the world, where things from another universe leak into our own like a diffusive membrane. The tear brings with it life energy that had been lost in Zothique, and so massive dinosaur-like creatures and other monstrosities of life have evolved. The amphibious kroth lurk in the primordial swamps, the jesanthum packs stalk the caves and dark places, the navarac scout in the skies, and much of humanity has split off into the monstrous, mutated grush and other abhumans. Worst of all are the terror birds, like the T-Rex of the far ancient past. For as dangerous as the world is, for as out-classed as humanity has become, there is life, at least, something which had been thought long lost in the world of Zothique.
Then, there are the outsiders. The roummos, the insectoid manifestation of the tear itself, a purple pixie cloud of life energy and mutation, are the triggers of primal fear, like the spiders and serpents of the past. Those who do not flee become rorathik; blue-skinned monstrous abhumans with four-pronged jaws filled with rows of teeth, the ultimate hunter-killers, mind-controlled by the floating extra-dimensional cyclops brains known as the erulians.
Most of the surviving humanity is at the mercy of nature and those from outside, surviving as psychic-slaves to the erulians, or at the mercy of the culova protectors; hulking, cunning but simple-minded, predatory spider-men that spare humanity, at the cost of the occasional sacrifice.
And then there are the wizard-kind, those blessed with a torlethis companion. While some believe that these eel-like symbiants that provide supernatural physical abilities and dazzling powers of holy light, are themselves outsiders, this is considered taboo. Humanity believes in the altruism of the companions, because they must, if they have any hope of surviving, and those blessed are revered as heroes and demi-gods. Whereas most humans wield crude stone, the wizard-kind have the innate ability to carve and smooth the stones, to channel magical abilities through them, and slowly they work to bring civilization back to humanity.
Setting 2: Record of Machine War
Source: Anima Beyond Fantasy: Those Who Walked Amongst Us
Inspiration: Unfortunately, this system is no longer available on drivethrurpg, but if I remember correctly, it was an interesting collaboration between a Spanish creator and a Japanese creator. The game itself wasn't really to my tastes, waaay too crunchy, but the setting was very interesting, with a rich and politically-oriented mythology. It's kind of a science-fantasy setting, but much less overtly than Numenera. Anima felt consistent to me with Japanese versions of western medieval fantasy, where it has some of the tropes of traditional fantasy, but isn't afraid to put its own spin on things, add its own ideas, or randomly throw in science fiction elements.
Brief Description: Gothic horror science fantasy, somewhat inspired by the Diablo videogames, but could also be compared to Castlevania. There are heavenly and demonic factions, including a "second-wave" of fallen angels, and the factions are all morally ambiguous. I imagine it as being a medieval-esque setting, but could also work as a modern surrealist urban fantasy thing as well.
Semi-intelligent humanoid: Children of Baal (bat-like humanoids who have passed through the Gate of Hell)
Undead: Type-005 (alchemically enhanced super-zombies with bone weapons)
Ancient Fey: Shinigami (valkyries of hell)
Giant/Ogre/Troll: Humbaba (monstrous stone golems connected by floating rocks with long horns and spikes)
Great Wyrm / Lizard: Lord of the Dead / Beast of Beleth (draconic-demonic skeletons with humanoid head, scythe-appendages, sharp ankh-like tale, long horns, covered in spikes)
Aerial: Globe Frog (basketball-sized green and blue frog-like creatures with lizard wings that can inflate their belly to take flight)
Lurks in the Water: Balzak (ancient amphibious reptilian humanoids with chitinous plates, frond-like appendages on their backs, and elongated, creepy, mask-like faces)
Extradimensional: Etrian Gnosis (swirling black void with many arms and a glowing blue-indigo eye at the center)
Mythological: Praetorian (angelic insectoid cyborgs created by the queen bee-like Machine God)
Foul Crawly Underworld Thing: Lapsia (spider-flowers)
The All Father had many children, long before humanity, but his favored son was not one of his creation, but one adopted by his primordial foes. Loki the frost giant, Loki the trickster, Loki the cunning.
Loki, who defied the All Father, who gave humanity wit, and knowledge. Loki, who taught humanity the ways of fire.
Loki, who went to war with All Father, perhaps justly, but nonetheless failed. Loki, ruling the netherworld in his incarnation Hela, who threatens the tree of life with knowledge in his incarnation Jormungandr, who taught humanity the strength of social order in his incarnation Fenris.
The humans have all but eradicated the Frost Giants, and Loki's demons, and the beasts. They war now with the balzak, the amphibians of the swamplands, worthless to humanity except for extraction of magical essence. Their globe frogs and lapsia flower creations a guerrilla nuisance more than anything else. They hunt the remaining humbaba golems left behind by the Frost Giants for sport. Loki's remaining lords of the dead in the middle realm, the Beasts of Beleth, are the only true opponents to human civilization left (here be dragons).
Meanwhile, all is not well in heaven. Athena, the favored of All Father's children after the fall of Loki, the goddess of craft and wisdom, showed such promise. As sharp as Loki, but decidedly slower, and contemplative. Only once, Athena overstepped, she built a machine she could not control. It was supposed to be a gate to the netherworld, an attempt to open communication with Loki and bring peace to the lower and higher realms. Instead, she opened the gate to the Null, the Etrian Gnosis. Her soul was sucked from her physical vessel, into the vacuum of Null, leaving her little more than a cold, heartless machine.
And so now Athena, the inadvertent Machine Goddess, lives only to replicate, to spread homogeneity, to craft war for its own sake, for the base thrill of destruction, to fill the absence of soul with hot animal urges, underneath her cold metal exterior. She has come to the middle realm, a true threat humanity is not prepared for. She reanimates the dead with her alchemically enhanced Type-005 bio-machine zombies. Her angelic, insectoid praetorians are harbingers of destruction, every bit a match for the Beasts of Beleth.
Loki, seeing the carnage, has reopened Baal, the gate of hell, flooding the world with Baal's demonic children, and the shinigami death valkyries, to revel in the carnage.
Clearly out-classed, some believe it would behoove humanity to discuss an alliance with Loki, who must also be threatened by the Machine Goddess. Of course, Loki is known for his arrogance, in addition to his cunning, and would likely take offense at the claim that he could only defeat the Machine Goddess with the assistance of humanity. And of course, there are still many humans who do not believe in peace, who seek to continue to war with the balzak even as Loki's devils return and the Machine Goddess brings metal terror to the middle realm. Will arrogance and violence be the hubris of the organic and divine alike, or will cool heads prevail?
Setting 3: Oceans & Orkas
Inspiration: I wanted at least one setting that felt a little more rooted in traditional fantasy (even if it's really more so rooted specifically in Warhammer). The system is a bit too crunchy for my tastes, although seems functional enough, and the setting was more interesting than I expected it to be, but warhammer / 40K has always impressed me whenever I dig into it.
Brief Description: Despite the fact that I chose Zweihander to do a more traditional fantasy setting, I actually think Record of Machine War ended up fitting that bill already, and with these monsters, I thought it made more sense to do more of a pre-industrial naval / pirate fantasy setting. I'm imagining the main human kingdom being like the Spanish or Portuguese. Despite leaning into the fantasy of naval travel, the world is still Grim & Perilous in Warhammer / Zweihander fashion.
Semi-intelligent humanoid: Kobold Fanatic (goblin assassins)
Undead: Havoc Conjurer (abyssal, infernal humanoids in black robes)
Ancient Fey: Fomori Huscarl (chitinous humanoids with insect mandibles and cyclopean eyes)
Giant/Ogre/Troll: Bog Thing / Grey Men (mossy swamp monsters)
Great Wyrm / Lizard: Hydra (giant many-headed fire-breathing reptiles)
Aerial: Air Sylph (insectoid pixies)
Lurks in the Water: Siabra (reptilian sea-elves)
Extradimensional: Tlaloc (technomagically advanced frog-men)
Mythological: Zoatar (gorilla-centaurs, an ancient people that have mostly passed on to the Overworld)
Foul Crawly Underworld Thing: Filthy Nightmare (massive slug-like creatures wreathed in flies)
While the kingdom itself prospers, the commoners do not. Crime is rampant, and one must be harsh in order to survive. Whether seeking the riches of the oceans for a better life, or conscripted against their will, many choose to abandon the land, serving as sailors or privateers working nominally to better the kingdom.
In the open oceans, they face pirates (or become pirates themselves), the monstrous orkas and their unassuming, serpentine kobold fanatic companions, and the Wild Hunt of the siabra, the dark elves of the sea.
They face other threats as well, like the insectoid swarms of air sylphs in migration, the massive sea slug monsters known as filthy nightmares that portend the outbreak of disease, the chitinous monster-men of the depths known as the fomori, their huscarl warriors, and the abyssal havoc conjurers that harness the geothermal power of deep ocean infernos, servants of Mother Hydra and King Dagon, the god-royalty of the fomori and all creatures of the depths.
So far the kingdom has only claimed one island colony, on the other side of the world. They continue to struggle against the threats of nature on the island, like the bog things and grey men of the swamps, or the native tribes of zoatar. However, the nearby continent is the home of the tlaloc, technomagically advanced frog-men, who do not take kindly to the encroaching apes from across the ocean...
Setting 4: Song of Astralad (Song of the Astral War)
Source: Gamma World 4e, Monstrous Compendium Spelljammer Appendix I, Monstrous Compendium Spelljammer Appendix II
Inspiration: I wanted a true scifi bestiary but couldn't find a good one, and I wanted to do something with Gamma World and Spelljamers (and the Gith) but already had two science fantasy settings, so I figured I'd combine these left-overs into a more scifi-oriented science fantasy setting.
Brief Description: This is basically the Star Wars or Guardians of the Galaxy of these settings. The most significant feature is that the gith, rather than humans, are the primary species.
Semi-intelligent humanoid: Lensman (beholder humanoids with simian body, starfish-like arms and legs, tentacle sprouting from back, big eye in torso, toothy maw underneath)
Undead: Bionoid (necro-cyborg rastipede / gith hybrids)
Ancient Fey: Rastipede (intelligent insectoid-humanoids with bipedal upper body and arthropoid lower body)
Giant/Ogre/Troll: Hoop (large, monstrous rabbit-men)
Great Wyrm / Lizard: Blight (large white wyrm with draconic face and wings capable of invisibility and producing flashes of blinding / stunning light)
Aerial: Space Swine (boar griffon)
Lurks in the Water: Fens (fish-men that can transform into fish-like birds capable of space travel)
Extradimensional: Astro Sphinx (lion body, bronze scales, black bat wings, humanoid front limbs, head like a goat skull with thin layer of skin, empty eye sockets with small pupils of violet light)
Mythological: Yexil (intelligent orange-furred lion-bats with human-hand pincers at the ends of their wings, insectoid mandibles, and the ability to shoot lasers from their eyes, claim to be harbingers of the space gods)
Foul Crawly Underworld Thing: Asteroid Spider (globular body, ten legs, wormy eye-like sensory organs)
The gith lost their homeworld long ago, having been taken from their world and ensalved by the illithids. Countless generations later, the physically hardened and psionically advanced gith rebelled, becoming the war-like githyanki. They freed themselves from the illithid, and built up their warships in the astral plane. Within the astral plane, civilizations harden from existential threats within crystal spheres, manifestations of their psionic will, sustained in the phlogisten aether of mind and matter.
The githyanki god-queen is an immortal necro-cyborg lich, in a political marriage to Tiamat, the multi-headed queen of red dragons (although it is an open secret that they are, in fact, deeply in love). Together they have bred the Duthka'Gith, red dragon-githyanki hybrids.
The githyanki have become slavers themselves, incorporating the psidhe (psionic fey) rastipedes into their empire, working them to death and then mutating their exoskeletons into necro-cyborg bionoid power armors.
With their army of red dragons, githyanki psych-sorcerers, bionoids, hoop and badder mercenaries, and Duthka'Gith elite troopers, the githyanki were able not only to maintain their independence, but to hunt the illithids seemingly to extinction, and conquer a galaxy-wide swath of the astral plane.
Many of the githyanki suffer under the cruelty of the empire as well, and although the god-queen clutches her empire tightly, rebellion is not unheard of. There are space smugglers, pirates, and vigilantes, who do what they can to free the astral-galaxy, riding the phlogisten waves in stealthy ships.
These rebels must fend against beasts of space such as the stalker-predator asteroid spiders, herds of aggressive space swine, murders of draconic blights, and gangs of beholder lensman.
The rebels are led by the githzerai, an order of gith monks and templars who wield the psionically-powered silver astral swords, capable of cutting the cord between living things and the aether itself.
They seek to organize the thri-keen, mortal cousins of the rastipedes, the giff, the hippopotamus people with the only military able to match the githyanki, the physically weak but hardy and mobile fish-men known as fens, and even the crimelord-slaver neogi, in order to overthrow the evil empire.
The tragedy of it all, is that for all the unforgivable things the empire has done, trapped in her phylactory is a loving, merciful soul, the soul that empowered the god-queen in the first place. Tiamat, too, is not truly evil, she simply has no context for mortal concerns. Long ago, as she first learned the concept of love from the god-queen, there was a possibility that all of dragon-kind would change for the better. But something happened, something that changed the god-queen forever, and set her down a dark path. And so Tiamat put those feelings behind her, a novelty to be forgotten.
Meanwhile, within the phlogisten aether, there is another war, between the extra-dimensional astro sphinxes and the yexil, the self-purported harbingers of the space gods, a celestial war on a scale beyond the comprehension of githyanki or giffs or any of the other phlogisten-faring peoples. If they have any hope of surviving in the middle of this war of gods, they'll need to put their own differences aside and raise a unifying crystal sphere of pure psionic love.