Monday, September 16, 2019

Phasmadaemon


The ram-horned, mantis-armed phasmadaemons personify death by fright. They also happen to cause death by fright (convenient, that!), courtesy of illusion spell-like abilities supercharged to be practically real, and they feed on fright, too—demonstrating, all in all, a horrifically efficient and thrifty biology.

Though phasmadaemons didn’t make it into the hardbound Bestiaries till number 6, they’ve been around since Horsemen of the Apocalypse, so GMs looking for a deep dive on their tactics, hunting habits and culture should look there. Two things in particular jump out at me, though. The first is how powerful (CR 17) phasmadaemons are—an indicator that causing death by fear alone somehow situates them closer to the daemonic ideal than, say, more base deaths such as drowning, being mauled, or exsanguination.

The second is that—though this isn’t really reflected in the rules, it’s a great story bit—phasmadaemons somehow also collect fearful imaginings and trade them with each other. I’m a big fan of the soul markets of the night hags, so the notion of even more quiddity-derived commodity trades excites me to no end.

Struck by an azata’s arrow, a thanadaemon goes mad as the celestial wound grows septic. No longer content to represent death by old age, it begins stalking the living, culling souls before their proper time—and in the process, disrupting a phasmadaemon’s carefully orchestrated hauntings. Offended, the phasmadaemon tricks mortal adventurers into hunting down the wayward thanadaemon, though all the while it also sends illusory torments to harry their progress and stoke their fear. Once the thanadaemon is slain, the phasmadaemon offers its thanks by revealing itself to the adventurers before attempting to murder them.

Fireworks, porcelain masks, and sinuous manticore puppets are all hallmarks of the Yung New Year’s celebrations. But the court sorcerer made a deal with the daemonic Lord of the Wastes to win Yung’s last war against the northern barbarian tribes, and now daemons have begun slipping unchallenged into the empire. The rise in terror and deaths are largely felt only as a malaise that hangs over the city. But that changes during the New Year parade, when a porcelain-masked phasmadaemon erupts out from under the procession’s manticore puppet and sends illusionary horrors to torment citizens.

Bugbears that perfect the art of stalking and terrifying victims are sometimes visited by a phasmadaemon. The daemon stalks the chosen bugbear over the course of three days and nights, attacking at random, setting up ambushes, and never letting the goblinoid sleep. Though few bugbears could hope to defeat a daemon in combat, if the champion does not show fear throughout the entire ordeal, the phasmadaemon will grant the bugbear some boon. Often these boons include the gift of an intelligent magical weapon, magical prowess (treat as added class levels or the half-field template),a spell-like ability, transformation into a greater barghest, or some other dark blessing.

Horsemen of the Apocalypse 52–53 & Pathfinder Bestiary 6 74

Hi guys. Been a while since we did a monster. For my Blogger readers, here’s some of what’s been going on—including some fun with monster reading recommendations, some big news, and some bleak news. For my Tumblr readers, thank as always for sticking around and keeping me company.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Pharaonic Guardian


As I’ve mentioned before, I have a love/hate relationship with fantasy Egypt tropes.  Mummies are interesting undead, period, and when done thoughtfully, Egypt-inspired adventures can be some of the best around (see the excellent Mummy’s Mask Adventure Path).  On the other hand, it can be way too easy to just drop fantasy-Egypt wholesale into your Pathfinder/D&D campaign without a lot of forethought (even Forgotten Realms was guilty of this), leading to trite adventures involving pyramids, death traps, and the obligatory cameo appearance by Anubis.

The pharaonic guardian, at first glance, looks both useful (it’s the kind of monster you’d totally see in a Mummy movie but that there hasn’t exactly been stats for yet ) and pretty generic (oh great, it’s still an undead tomb guardian, no matter what kind of head it has). 

But it shines in the details: A judging gaze and soul-rending wings are just cool.  The fact that it can use (and even briefly hand over) a +3 ghost touch speed longsword and shield is a nice cinematic touch.  Even the alignment is flavorful—not a bland N or LN, but not your typical undead NE or CE either.  And why lawful evil?  Because pharaonic guardians “are the product of fear and sweat wrung from slaves and other servants”—in fact, they’re made from an amalgam of these servants’ souls! 

So these are creatures born of atrocity.  And they probably will try to kill you.  But if on the rare chance you’re actually trying to preserve a pyramid rather than loot it…maybe you’ll get lucky.

But say you’re not down with Horus and Set.  It’s interesting to think of other reasons a culture might have animal-headed tomb guardians…

In the early stages of exploring a crypt, adventurers have an opportunity to step into magical mural of a garden, where they may ritually purify themselves and converse with the denizens therein.  One of these figments, a foul-tempered, warthog-headed armorer, will ask them to swear an oath not to disturb a certain burial chamber.  Should they do so (and keep their promise), he will come to their aid later in the depths, arriving bearing ghost touch-infused arms when the adventurers are set upon by the tomb’s more malevolent spirits.

Elves of Parnish have a taboo against being represented in images after their death.  Instead, they are depicted in carvings, paintings and tapestries bearing the heads of their totem animals.  To the Parnish’eya, it is an honor to have one’s soul be destined after death to become a tomb guardian.  But the elves’ strict religious and funeral obligations weigh upon the souls over the centuries, and most of these guardians grow cold and evil during the course of their endless watch.

A wise ruler puts some distance between his palace and his line's necropolis.  The Captive King is a lesson why.  When Tarpin XII decided to shore up his faltering reign by building a palace atop the burial city of Omun-Ke, it did not occur to him the pharaonic guardians would see fit to judge the weak king according to the harsh standards of namesake.  Now Tarpin XII is naught but ash in an urn, and his son Tarpin XIII has spent 30 years a prisoner in his own palace.  Praying for a rescue that never comes, he appears in public only to pronounce draconian edicts dictated by his undead jailers, who are intent in restoring the faith and territory of the first Tarpin's empire.

Osirion, Legacy of the Pharaohs 60 & Pathfinder Bestiary 5 191

I also like Mummy’s Mask because it’s one of the last APs I successfully read all of as it came out, rather than in desperate cram sessions after the fact.  My life got weird, y’all.

It’s been long enough now that I bet many of you have forgotten the truly messed-up elves of Eberron.  No matter what system you play, you owe it to yourself to pick up either the 3.5 Eberron Camapaign Setting, Player’s Guide to Eberron, or Races of Eberron.  At time of writing, used PGTEs are a steal at $16.50, and for value for money it’s still really hard to beat a used ECS at roughly $36.

Also, old-school (or at least, middle-school) D&D fans will remember the Dark Sun novels, specifically the Prism Pentad by Troy Denning.  The first three books were flat-out baller, but the fourth, The Obsidian Oracle, was a muddy, claustrophobic, and depressing read, even by Dark Sun standards.  But it featured some truly horrific bad guys—beast-headed giants that got those heads through magical manipulation that (if I’m recalling correctly—I haven’t re-read these books since, like, ’94) also doomed their children’s souls.  So there’s another source of animal-headed atrocities for you.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Peuchen


(Illustration by Dave Allsop comes from the PathfinderWiki and is © Paizo Publishing.)

I’m a big fan of Dave Allsop’s art—he did the Bestiary’s woeful mite and the amazing papinijuwari I was so excited about a few months ago—so I’m a little bummed that his peuchen, while beautiful, doesn’t capture the scale of the beast.  What he’s painted looks like an exotic species you’d see on display in a fantasy reptile house or curled around the arm of some sorceress.  But it’s actually a roughly human-sized (Medium) monster that punches in at a mighty CR 10.

And that, in a nutshell, is why I like the peuchen: It’s a pretty good dragon substitute for low-level campaigns.

But let’s back up.  The peuchen is a cryptid from Andean mythology, especially Chile and Argentina—likely a mashup of the boa and the vampire bat—that is a feared shapeshifter who drains the blood of livestock and lone shepherds. Pathfinder’s version follows that outline almost exactly (right down to bleed and blood drain abilities, as well as the ability to cast hold person and vampiric touch).

I’m always looking for good non-European monsters I can point GMs to, and the peuchen definitely checks that box.  (Which is awesome, as South America is probably our least-represented continent in terms of Bestiary monsters.  Even Antarctica has a better selection once you start throwing in Lovecraft, John Carpenter’s The Thing, Hollow Earth tales and other pulp inspirations.).  Then again, if you’re a Euro diehard, the peuchen reskinned could make a perfectly acceptable version of Fáfnir the dragon.  I’m also always looking for ways to tell bring more intimate, narrative and folktale-inspired gaming into Pathfinder.  And I can totally see a slow-moving, low-XP campaign where a PC’s parent’s death hangs over the campaign…with the peuchen teased as the culprit all along but finally revealed somewhere around Level 6 or 7, just as the players are really coming into their full powers.

But if you want straight-up hack & slash…well, Camazotz is about the most badass god/devil/demon (depending on your game world) out there.  Someone’s got to clean out his creepy jungle temple superdungeon…and guess what’s the perfect monster to fight on Level 10?

Nutmeg’s value to spice traders isn’t just from its rarity and taste—it’s also dangerous to harvest.  Peuchens delight in polishing their scales with the crushed aromatic seeds of the nutmeg tree.  Harvesters in the Bluewater Isles need adventurers who will guard their crews from the cunning winged snakes.

The fey of the Bier of Bone—bloodthirsty pixies, tooth fairies, quicklings, redcaps, and worse—all serve the mad leanan sidhe Umlar.  Her prize pet is a peuchen the blue of a bird of paradise.  Recently she has been distracted by the charms of a larabay (who secretly plots to steal her throne), leaving the peuchen as the main guardian of her ivory hoard.

Years ago, a silver-tongued drover talked his ways out of the jaws of a peuchen by offering to deliver livestock the likes of which the winged snaked had never tasted.  Intrigued, the peuchen agreed, and was rewarded with Huwari beef from the Olfshires—a kind of cattle newly brought by Northern colonists.  Desiring more such delicacies, the peuchen and the drover began trading Northern cattle for alpacas, llamas, and other livestock. Today the drover is the most powerful beef importer in the thriving colony Sor Pelag, with the peuchen as his silent partner—and occasional enforcer.  When a new source of flesh—glowing, duergar-raised deep oxen—threatens the pair’s monopoly, they turn to murder to keep their balance sheets in the black.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 189

The history of nutmeg is actually super interesting.  Nutmeg is also one of the reasons that, while Pepsi always does better in blind taste tests, Coke is more popular in reality—the nutmeg in a Coke Classic sets off more flavor sensors and yields a more complex, richer experience over the course of the entire can.  (At least according to some New Yorker article I read years ago.)

I keep waiting for my day job to hand my some kind of nutmeg-related project, but so far I’ve only played around with turmeric and bay leaves.

Looking for the penguin?  We covered that way back here.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Pelagastr


(Illustration by Roberto Pitturru comes from the PathfinderWiki and is © Paizo Publishing.)

The serpentine proteans are chaos incarnate—so much so that they can change their shape, their vital organs shift around constantly, they can just regrow new sensory organs, they are in constant flight, they are always under the effects of a freedom of movement spell, and many of them cause warpwaves that ripple through and twist reality itself.  But at least they’re bound by some basic laws of corporeal existenoh God there’s an incorporeal version isn’t there?

So, welcome to the pelagastr!  And it gets worse, because these creatures, while not being part of material existence, delight in it—the Material Plane in particular—dipping their limbs into reality to smack adventurers around or magic jar-ing themselves into humanoids to wear their skins for a while, just for kicks.  They are natural spies and investigators, and unlike other proteans seem to originate directly from the Maelstrom itself, rather than promotion/evolution through the protean caste structure.  So even for creatures of chaos, pelagastrs are…chaotic.

If you’re looking for more on pelagastrs, definitely check out Pathfinder Adventure Path #99: Dance of the Damned, which has room for far more lore (as well as teasing a possible pelagastr master) than the Bestiary 6 write-up.  But in the meantime, here are some adventure hooks to get you started:

Efreet loathe pelagastrs for the disorder the cause—and the plans they ruin with their incessant spying and possession.  Five maliks known as the Fist organize a pelagastr hunt every year.  The prize, a unique statue carved of ruby, is worth a fortune in and of itself, or it may be exchanged for a favor from one of the five fearsome lords.

The Anchored Isles are a chain (literally, thanks to adamantine fetters of extreme size and age) of floating earthbergs hovering where the Planes of Earth and Chaos intersect the Plane of Air. Here the artists and aesthetes from the Circum Sensoria allow pelagastrs to ride their bodies, unlocking the doors of perception for both parties.  But when a clique of pelagastrs begins a new fad of riding mortals into the experience of death, adventures must step in to separate the sense-mad participants.

The Snallygaster & The Pelagastr isn’t a sign you’d see above most public houses—but then again, Cardumond, with its cosmopolitan society and no less than three magic colleges, is no ordinary city.  And things are about to get even more unusual for the tavern.   Earlier this week, a pelagastr (a recent escapee from the university’s Hall of Conjuring) chanced upon the pub. Delighted by the sign outside, the pelagastr has decided that, now that he’s arrived, all that’s lacking is a snallygaster or two…and he his currently herding two giant specimens toward the tavern at this very moment.

Pathfinder Adventure Path #99 88–89 & Pathfinder Bestiary 6 214

My notes for the first draft of this post references a Snail Mail video where Lindsey name-checks my radio station—the link to which has long since vanished.  Oh, and it references me not doing my show the night before…because of snow.

Also the saved file dates from January 30. 

I…yeah, I should really post more often, huh?

Monday, January 21, 2019

Paradise Dragon


(Illustration by Leesha Hannigan comes from the PathfinderWiki and is © Paizo Publishing.)

It was pretty much inevitable that we’d get planar dragons.  (Honestly, I expected them sooner than Bestiary 6, but outer and esoteric dragons arrived instead, a sign of Pathfinder’s pulp sci-fi/horror obsession).

What’s not inevitable is their naming convention.  It would have been really easy to just slap planar monikers like “Abyssal” or “Maelstrom” on top of these dragons.  Instead, we got something far more interesting: names that seem more conceptual, more distilled, that tap into essential aspects of those planes—apocalypse, bliss, crypt, edict, havoc, infernal, paradise, rift.  You feel like each dragon species could have its own planar layer or demiplane based on its specific descriptor.  (Elysium probably has many fields; Havoc feels like a specific one.)  It’s not a huge difference, but it’s a subtle and meaningful one. More importantly, it’s a surprise from the authors, and this late in the Bestiary life cycle surprises are to be treasured.

So…the paradise dragon.  Like all planar dragons, it manifests a chunk of its home plane around itself (a nice touch that feels very video-gamey or anime but still awesome).  The paradise dragon’s specific special abilities also pack a lot of heavenly flavor.  The text indicates that they create holy sanctums of light and harmony to shield their followers, and that extends to their abilities, which aid, heal, resurrect, rebound, bull rush, or banish as needed, allowing them to reshape even the battlefield to their liking.

Like archons, these dragons are pretty much the ne plus ultra of right and good…but for adventure design purposes, there’s always that one bad apple more concerned with his particular rightness than the public goodness.  Also, in the single sentence of descriptive text we get, B6 mentions these dragons attract followers…and what policies or actions a planar dragon deems necessary to protect its followers may not jibe with PCs’ plans.

The paradise dragon Pearl of Moonlight discovered the long-hidden prison lair of Alefbetraxus, an elder wyrm.  Overawed and a little infatuated by his age and grandeur, Pearl seeks to free the primordial dragon, and she will brook no interference.  Unfortunately, Alefbetraxus is still guided by his instinctual drives, one of which (in fact, the reason for his imprisonment) is to eradicate any and all forms of elemental planar pollution.  Poor Pearl has no inkling what he might do to the world she guards, where one in twenty humans has geniekin blood.

Paradise dragons are discouraged from dwelling too long on the Material Plane, as cults inevitably form around them.  The empyreal lord Enoch the Admonisher, Scourge of Pride, makes it his business to test the character of these paradise dragons, often using powerful adventurers as cat’s-paws.

Since the Shattering, there has been no single lawful good plane—a triumph of existential undermining sponsored by the daemons of the Shroud.  What remains are scattered islands of conceptual reality—the Seven-and-Seventy Heavens—each one held together and defended only by the iron will and adamantine claws of a paradise dragon and its followers.  (This includes whichever archons haven't yet fled the multiverse in shame.)

Pathfinder Bestiary 6 104–105

Not all the planar dragons appear in Bestiary 6; some show up in Pathfinder Adventure Path issues.  I think at time of writing we’re still missing one from the Maelstrom (PathfinderWiki indicates it’s the tumult dragon).  (Or maybe that plane rejects having a designated dragon species as being too orderly…or maybe doesn’t need one, thanks to the protean race…)

Speaking of the dragons we got (or didn’t)…we were probably never going to get all of the abomination, humour, mineral, thaumaturgic, sin, and virtue dragons that Mike McArtor teased all the way back in Pathfinder #4: Fortress of the Stone Giants.  But I fervently wish we had gotten some of them, and to this day I love the weirder, wilder Golarion they suggested.  If you ever get the chance to dig up the early Pathfinder issues—especially those explosive first 18 issues—do it!

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Papinijuwari


(Illustration by Dave Allsop comes from the Paizo Blog and is © Paizo Publishing.)

As this blog has unfolded, one of the themes we’ve hit on many, many times before is that the larger and more powerful giants become, the more they move into the realm of folklore and myth.  You can envision a world where ogres, hill giants, and even certain conceptions of stone and fire giants could be natural outgrowth of evolutionary and environmental forces (for a given value of “natural”).  But once you get past frost giants, natural shoves out of the way in favor of supernatural.

The paradigm for this is the cloud giant race, which comes to us not from Norse myths, but children’s fairy tales—and boy does it show.  Between their magical powers, their cloud castles*, and the Manichean, good/evil alignment split of cloud giant societies, it’s clear we’re dealing with creatures out of story and legend. (*Cloud castles seem to be more a D&D thing than a Pathfinder thing if you’re reading the manuals closely, but I like them so let’s just go with it.)

Now, if you ever shivered in fear when your parents read “Jack and the Beanstalk” to you at bedtime…imagine the stories cloud giants tell their kids.  What could terrify a monster child who regularly helps his mother grind human bones into bread?  The answer is the papinijuwari.

As you might guess from the name, the papinijuwari is a monster from Australia’s indigenous people, specifically the Tiwi of Bathurst and Melville Islands.  It’s a cyclops but worse, searching with its single lambent eye for the young and the weak to devour.  They’re such figures of terror that shooting stars are thought to be papinijuwaris flying overhead (a pretty stark departure from the wishing stars we Americans grow up with!).  All in all, it's a hell of a monster.

What I love about Pathfinder’s papinijuwari is that the designers have translated the monster into game stats without sanding down any of the horror.  They feed on disease. They wear skulls, because of course they do.  And they fly through the air by clutching a burning torch, a detail from folklore I’m so glad the Bestiary 5 designers retained.  (Interestingly, according to the rules this talent works only when the papinijuwari is 500 ft. above the ground, which raises questions about how they take off and land—can they only fly from mountaintop to mountaintop, or magical cloudbank to magical cloudbank…and do they just plummet to the ground …or are they allowed to land?)  But never mind the physics—take a look at that image from Dave Allsop.  Now imagine that thing hurtling down from overhead, landing with a thud in a three-point stance straight out of Iron Man, torch held aloft, hunger gleaming in its eye as it sniffs the air for its prey.  Now that’s a monster.

In fact, it might be my favorite monster in Bestiary 5, and that’s a book that includes the liminal sprite.  Best of all, I never even noticed it—not once—until I sat down to write this entry.  Which is a great reminder that, even in a book I think I know, there are always surprises waiting—and the reason I blog is to find them and share the excitement with you all.

Now to spoil that valedictory ending with a postscript: I think the best way to deploy papinijuwaris is to drop mention of them in your very first session.  Make them sound like an old wives’ tale; make them sound positively ridiculous—nothing like the grim and gritty horrors your players are actually going to face.  Drop another mention at 4th level or so, and then say nothing for ages  And then, when they least expect it, rain evil giants down upon them with a vengeance.

Adventurers use an ancient ritual to call a meteor shower down upon the necropolis of a lich.  The aerial bombardment destroys the hated undead’s tower and reduces his city-state to rubble.  But the devastation also draws the attention of a tribe of papinijuwaris eager to feast on the lich’s diseased subjects…and perhaps make a home for themselves in this new untapped hunting ground.

In addition to its usual reprehensible cargo, a slave ship arrives in port with a strange cyclops chained in the hold and a crew sick with blister fever.  The slavers quickly grease the palms they need to slip free of quarantine, and soon plague and a papinijuwari run rampant through the city.

An adventuring party is brought together by loss. They are all survivor of cloud giant depredations—some lost family to raiders, others were raised in villages overseen (quite literally) by lords in cloud castles overhead, and still others had their homes just scooped away by giant dredges.  No matter where their travels take them, they all know that they are gaining in power and resources until the day they can challenge the giants on their own misty turf.  And just as they are gearing up for their first assault on their oppressors, the king—the high king!—of the cloud giants approaches them.  “I need your help,” he tells the shocked adventurers, “for my oracles have read the signs.  The enemies of both our races, the papinijuwaris, are coming.”

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 188

If you’re looking for ways to break out of Pathfinder’s and especially D&D’s default Eurocentric atmosphere, I think there’s an amazing campaign just waiting to be constructed out of fragments of Le Guin’s Earthsea novels, Australian and other Pacific myths, and your own imagination.  Start with the papinijuwari and go nuts.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Pakalchi


(Illustration by Jose Parodi comes from the Pathfinder Facebook page and is © Paizo Publishing.)

Pakalchis feed on the fear and insecurity of failing relationships,” says Bestiary 5.  And if you’ve ever been in a failing relationship, that’s pretty much all you need to know to convince you that these sahkils are the absolute worst monsters in B5—end of story, full stop, done.

And that’s even before you take into account that they can skip between the Material and Ethereal Planes (never a good thing) as a move action (even worse)…dominate you into giving into your worst instincts, fears, and insecurities and sabotage your love…and then strangle, poison, or pierce you to death when it’s all over and you’re no longer amusing to toy with.  Remember how mad Iago made you when you read Othello in high school?  This is Iago with game stats and semi-immortality.  She may be CR 9 on the page, but she’s CR 29 against your heart.

Also, one last note to underscore why pakalchis are the absolute worst: they feed on “failing relationships.”  Not troubled, not star-crossed, not tumultuous—failing.  (And since sahkils are former psychopomps, from a lore/flavor perspective it’s not unreasonable to assume that they have at least a little foresight/precognition about such matters.).  In other words, these relationships were already doomed.  The hurt was already there.  Pakalchis make it vastly worse so as to feed on the couple’s misery…but if you slay a pakalchi, that’s not going to lift the dark clouds over its victims and make flowers spring up in their footsteps.  It just means the relationship is likely going to flounder and fail anyway…and when the end comes, there won’t even be a monster to blame.

Young men in town have been disappearing—often after violent quarrels that leave their sweethearts heartbroken (and too often sobbing and bruised).  Certain signs—vines in unlikely places, bits of clothing caught on thorns, and trails of flower petals—suggest a nymph or some other fey influence.  But the true culprit is a pakalchi whose domain includes a thorny thicket in this world and a grasping, hungry forest on the Ethereal Plane.

Emika and Bez-Sha are twins—budded in the same instant from the same outcropping of direstone in the Cradle of Bones.  Though the catrina sisters were once mirror images of each other, Bez-Sha abandoned the psychopomp order to become a sahkil, gaining in power as she discarded mercy and other weaknesses.  The only hint at their kinship now is the swaying gait of their skeletal forms and the identical shade of tea roses adorning their brows.  The sisters have not spoken since Bez-Sha fled Death’s Realm, but Emika stretches her schedule and her oaths as far as they will allow to search the multiverse for news of her twin. Often this means hiring mortal adventures—sometimes with gold, sometimes with promises of future intercession in matters cosmic.

Napoleon’s occupation of Spain leads to calls for revolt throughout Mexico.  To suppress the uprisings, the Spanish colonial governments rely heavily on mercenary wizards, particularly conjurers whose summoned allies excel at breaking up demonstrations and ferreting out revolutionaries. Doing so, however, pierces the veils between this world and the next, allowing shadows, spectres, and extraplanar threats to creep through.  Recently a pakalchi managed to ooze over from the Realm of Mists.  She has taken to haunting the son of a local marqués and his betrothed, the daughter of a wealthy importer. The lovers’ misery has exacerbated tensions between the families and driven the distracted marqués to ever-harsher reprisals against his people, magnifying the fear and misery that fatten the pakalchi and her allies.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 216

The original image of La Calavera Catrina that inspired Pathfinder’s catrina psychopomp and possibly the pakalchi actually dates from a century later than the Mexican War of Independence: 1910, rather than 1810.  But today the images of a beautiful woman and/or a friendly skeleton wearing a flower crown is so tied to Mexico I couldn’t resist playing with history a little for that third adventure seed.  Mashing up wizards and Napoleon is, of course, also a big nod toward Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.