Outland's most recent Kickstarter, Beasts & Botanicals: The Witches of Eruses, draws on familiar folklore, but asks readers to look at these elements in entirely new ways. The concept of a world with abundant life, sometimes scarily so, would mean a verdant look that inspired players and game masters to explore both sunny environments and the shadowy undergrowth, both abundant in life.
Creator Anton Kromoff knew that it would be important to collaborate with the right artist to really communicate the vision of the project. Enter Ann Marie Cochran, whose artwork has graced the covers of several Outland projects. From there, "The project came together organically, and I think that is fitting," Anton described. "Ann Marie and I really wanted to push the nature of symbiotic relationships between all levels of life in a given setting."
"When starting the Beasts and Botanicals series, I knew I wanted to start with a Baba Yaga," Ann Marie said. "I took the approach of how a Baba Yaga acquires a chicken house and how she raises chicks through their full lives before adding their souls and bodies to the house. She is compassionate if often misunderstood."
Anton talked about how the huge size of the chickens became the most important factor in "allowing the creature design and mechanics to serve the narrative—these towering chickens are dangerous not because they're some kind of demon infested hell-bird, but due to the fact they are just larger than the typical chickens. Anything the size of a house that is wandering through in the world can pose a threat to smaller creatures that get in their way."
He also leaned into the ambiguity that often surrounds Baba Yaga. Very often, fairy tale witches are the villains, but even in folklore, there are many tales where Baba Yaga is the person who aids a young hero with just the right tools to complete her quest. "It was really important to me that the Witches felt intentional and were not coded in a way that lent them to a particular alignment or trope," Anton said. "They needed to, much like any group, have the capacity to help or harm, depending on how Storytellers and Game Masters applied them to their setting, and how the player characters interacted with them."
The abundant life—monstrous or magnificent—will continue to be the core theme in future Beasts & Botanicals supplements. "The balance and symbiotic push and pull of each of these Beasts & Botanicals offerings is important to express the themes we really want to stand out in the work," Anton explained.
The Witches of Eruses is part of Kickstarter's Make 100 initiative—this short print run will only be available up through 100 physical copies. The Kickstarter closes on 1/31 at 10 CST, so if you want to be guaranteed a gorgeous copy of this artwork and the mechanics to introduce these characters into your Dungeons & Dragons 5e campaign, head over to Kickstarter now!