I'm obsessed with the bizarre 16th century inspired creature design in roguelike deckbuilder Hermetica

Strange medieval creatures
(Image credit: Red Mountain)

A naked man with a face covering its torso. A snail with a human head. And one that's half-nun and half…I don't know what.

In my office I have a wall hanging of the carta marina: a big map of the Nordic countries drawn in the 16th century. I love it because you can peer at any small section and find it filled with interesting details, like tiny soldiers marching to battle, a herd of reindeer prancing in the mountains, a man fighting several snakes with a club, some sort of mountain lion taking a huge dump... you can examine it for hours and still find something new to enjoy.

Best of all is the ocean, because it's packed with fantastic sea creatures: a whale with the head of an owl, a fish with elephant legs, and of course the Sea-Cow, which is the size of a boat and has the face of a bull. Every creature in the sea is weird, and most are combinations of two or more animals. 

So when I played a demo of roguelike deckbuilder Hermetica at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco last week, I was immediately enthralled by the enemy designs. Its art is also based on old European weirdness—the game is set in 16th century Toledo, Spain—and just about every creature in it is fascinatingly bizarre.

Hermetica works like lots of turn-based deckbuilders: your character, an alchemist, faces off against a handful of monsters in each level, which you visit by moving from point to point on an overland map. But unlike standing still during battles as in Slay the Spire, you move around in each arena, and so do your enemies. The arena grids are littered with traps: some might stick you in place for a few turns, a puddle of water gets zapped by a lightning bolt if you step into it, and one trap, weirdly, summons a creature that carries you off to some distant square on the grid. 

(Image credit: Red Mountain)

Each card you play also has a movement scheme on it: a few steps diagonally, maybe, or a long straight path, so instead of just attacking, you also move on each turn. Arenas also contain alchemical ingredients you can collect as you move around, and then you can use them back at your lab to cook up enhancements for your cards.

The rat was standing right next to an enormous turnip with a human face.

Yeah, yeah, fine, can we get back to the weird monstrosities? Hermetica wastes no time in revealing them: right off the bat my intrepid little alchemist had to face a "Nanus Caprinus," which looks like a naked goblin riding a three-headed, two-legged lizard. There was also a rat. Hey, a rat. Nothing weird about that… except the rat was standing right next to an enormous turnip with a human face.

There was also a large rabbit that looked mostly normal, but it bit me so hard in the face a fountain of blood erupted from my head: a little homage to Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Things only got weirder from there. A pale naked man with no head but a huge face growing out of his chest ran around the map, arms flailing, before bombarding me with poison. I fought a snail with the head of a deer, which I expected to slither but instead it hopped. And then there was something that might have been a deer with sharp antlers but the head of a woman. This was all in just the second arena. 

(Image credit: Red Mountain)

There's more to gawk at, even in just the handful of levels I played, including a creature that is the top half of a nun—with the familiar black and white habit and everything—and the bottom half of a… I don't even know. It's got two legs, and spots, and a sort of feathery tail. Whatever it is, I doubt anyone would let it into a church.

They're pale, chubby, naked little demons with exposed breasts and leathery wings

Things get worse at night. If you don't beat the strange bestiary of creatures quickly, the sun goes down and the map goes dark and you can't see more than a few squares away unless you have a candle. It's bad enough with those weirdos running around where you can't see them, but the night will also spawn vampires—and they don't look much like the Dracula we're used to. Instead they're pale, chubby, naked little demons with exposed breasts and leathery wings twice as wide as their bodies. A bite from them will curse you, which can only be cured by holy water. On the plus side, the sun will eventually come up again, instakilling a vampire if it's still alive.

I didn't last too much longer. A creature that has a vulture's lower body and a woman's head—and just her head, growing out of the vulture's stomach—finished me off before a bipedal rabbit holding a sword and shield could kill me. Hermetica is weird, man. My alchemist is armed with a knife, but it doesn't feel like enough. I think I should be cleansing these abominations with fire, so hopefully the alchemy system will let me craft some explosives.

Hermetica is "coming soon," but there's a demo on Steam if you want to check it out in the meantime. Just maybe don't play right before bed. And here's a gallery of a few more oddball creatures just for fun:

Christopher Livingston
Senior Editor

Chris started playing PC games in the 1980s, started writing about them in the early 2000s, and (finally) started getting paid to write about them in the late 2000s. Following a few years as a regular freelancer, PC Gamer hired him in 2014, probably so he'd stop emailing them asking for more work. Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring storylines in RPGs so he can make up his own.