Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Living Mirage


To someone seeking far-off wonders or desperately needed water, mirages already seem cruel.  So a living mirage—a creature that not only misleads such seekers but also feeds off them as well—is downright horrific, siphoning streamers of blood and fluids from its confused and terrified victims, who die in agony just as they reach the objects of their desires.

Most explorers never reach the Blackstone Sphinx.  Magnetic deposits in the sand befuddle lodestones, and landmarks are few and far between.  But really it is the explorers’ own hopes and dreams that do them in.  Many spot the Sphinx miles before they should, and rather than question their luck they run straight into the desiccating embrace of a living mirage.  Worse yet, their dying frustration and desperation often traps their spirits in undead forms of fear and confusion, such as allips and worse.

An enchanted isle lies at the tip of the Finger Bone Keys—according to rumor that is.  But sailors had best beware, the stories go, because fierce seaweed (treat as Advanced) kelpies protect the island’s secrets.  Actually it is the island itself that is deadly, for it is the home of a living mirage.  The kelpies are merely opportunists who try to snatch a share of the mirage’s victims.

Exploring a giant vessel that fell from the sky long ago, adventurers come across a kind of nursery chamber in one of the habitat pods.  Adjusting a dial causes the picture-walls to show a variety of fanciful and exotic scenes.  Soon phantasmal images begin appearing in the room as well—animals and fey with whimsical shapes that match the scenery.  These are actually holograms projected by a field of tiny nanobots.  Unfortunately, the nanobots have not been charged since the crash, and after five minutes the nanobots’ programming switches to molecular harvest mode, consuming all those in the room in the same fashion as a living mirage.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 159

Everyone like the reference to Ray Bradbury’s “The Veldt” there? #thanksmiddleschoolenglishclass

Also props to Bestiary 5’s authors for Ooze-type creatures that aren’t oozes—a smart move.

Regarding yesterday’s post, a reader alerted me to some of Pogo’s recent (2015) writing.  Sigh.  And sigh again.  (Nope, not linking.  MRA stuff.)  Given the amount of time he’s spent with Disney heroines, let’s hope he’s spent some time with—and learned something from—some flesh-and-blood women in the years since.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Lipika


Most aeons are experienced by mortals as avatars of contrast and opposites: light and darkness, beginnings and endings, freedom and fate, and so on.  Closer in apprehension to the Monad itself, lipikas know that these opposites are merely points along the same rippling sine wave of existence.  Moreover, lipikas are the Lords of Karma and the guardians of the Akashic Record, ensuring that the psychic truths of every moment are faithfully recorded and that karmic cleansings or stains are properly apportioned. 

But since the Lords move in mysterious ways, that means powerful adventurers can easily fall afoul of them.  Lipikas have their own imperatives and their own agendas—as Bestiary 5 says, “A lipika is just as likely to chastise a righteous person for her charity and goodness as it is to scold an evil creature for its misdeeds.”  All adventuring parties will know when they encounter a lipika (at least at first) is that karma is being adjusted…but not how, why, or where they fall in the accounting.

Adventurers raise a sunken island nation, capturing the imagination of the multitudes and royalty alike.  After helping to reactivate the risen capital city’s power system, the sellswords are on hand as their lord uses genie wishcraft to build a bridge of crystal and song to connect the island to the mainland.  Just as it is about to be completed, a lipika arrives to shatter the bridge, broadcasting visions of future disasters rippling across the multiverse due to the karmic resonances the wishcraft bridge is destined to transmit.

Seeking satori, a member of an adventuring party (likely a druid, monk, mystic theurge, or samsaran) discovers he must first defeat a lipika.  Worse yet, he must do it one-on-one (though his adventuring companions can certainly ward off the Advanced time elementals (see The Tome of Horrors Complete), time and occult dragons, and lesser aeons that might accompany such an august creature).  If the seeker of wisdom has been both dutiful in his studies and in leaving himself open to revelation, he will glean that the “defeat” does not have to be through single combat, but perhaps through the casting of spells and their opposites, a dreamscape philosophy debate, or by beneficially altering the karma of another.  That said, a lipika will likely try to provoke a physical confrontation first, if only to more quickly weed out the unready and karmically stained.

If there is a psychic record of the entire multiverse…might there not also be a psychic eraser?  This is the argument of the sage Algernon Absalos…or at least it was, before he was torn apart in his own study by ravening hounds of Tindalos.  His notes and papers postulate a kind of anti-lipika, to whom the Akashic Record is merely a slate that must eventually be erased.  Adventurers who explore further may find themselves being admonished by the fiery-winged exscinder archons…a sure sign they are on the path of some essential truth…or some truly foul lie.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 8–9

In our world, Lipikas are also the Lords of Karma, but details on where they come from are obscure to the casual Googler.  The name is Sanskrit, and I’ve seen them variously described as gods, devas, and angels.  They’re apparently important in Theosophy, but that is a subject I know zero about…and searching Wikipedia left me, if anything, knowing even less than when I started.

What would a lipika listen to?  With that sine-wave bass, Pogo of course.

Edit: Apologies to my Blogger readers.  Once again you are getting this link late.

Tuesday night I took advantage of UMD being on spring break to play songs that were longer than usual and world beater/Irisher than usual.

Enjoy new music from WHY?, Diet Cig, Sinkane, and Fleet Foxes; anniversary flashbacks to U2, Arcade Fire, and LCD Soundsystem; and some surprises.

Click here to stream/download, don’t panic at the IRS intro PSA, and enjoy!  (Link good till tonight (Monday, 03/27/17) at midnight.)

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Liminal Sprite


Okay, I’m warning you up top: This post is gonna go some weird places.  And it’s as pretentious and bloated as a Harvard admissions officer.  So if you keep reading, remember I gave you a chance to bail before I became utterly insufferable. 

We cool?  Okay, here goes…

Guys.  Guys.  GUYS.  You have no idea how excited I am for the liminal sprite.

My paper for my college’s famously hard Religion 101 midterm?  It was on liminality.  The reason I spend Labor Day and New Year’s playing board games?  I made a lifelong friend tutoring a frosh on her liminality paper.  My favorite school mascot?  The Liminal State Bobcats.

So yeah, this is my kind of monster.  Add to that the fact that it’s a fey with a killer backstory, great art, and a low CR, and this just all adds up to “Squeeeee!” territory for me.

Bestiary 5 gives us plenty to work with: These are sprites cursed to rest neither out in the open or inside any building.  This leaves them only liminal (that is, threshold) spaces in which to make their homes—in sheltered doorways; behind shutters; under eaves, porches, and outside stairs; and so on.  That’s an absolutely fantastic fluff detail that also suggests some nice encounter options.  Need a witness to a burglary?  Liminal sprite.  A guardian for a magical gate?  Liminal sprite.  Servant of your world’s version of Janus?  Liminal sprite. 

Liminal sprites also love comedy, so they might hang around actors and theaters, particularly outdoor stages.  The next time your PCs stop into town for supplies, a side quest involving a liminal sprite wielding a girdle of opposite gender could be a delightfully Shakespearean side trek.  They’re also knowledgeable about local events and stealthy as hell (+17!).  And as familiars, their Repartee (Su) ability, which turns the +2 aid another bonus to +2d4, can help a chaotic sorcerer or bard really punch above their weight on Charisma checks.

But there’s another way to use liminal sprites.  If you remember your college reading of van Gennep and Turner—actually, I think my copy of The Ritual Process is still on my bookshelf somewhere—the original notion of liminality was meant to refer to certain threshold moments in time, not space.  These were transitional phases during rites of passage, or special times of the year, neither sacred nor profane, where the ordinary rules are suspended and society’s low and high temporarily occupy an equal footing.  (The perfect example of this is the move between (profane) Ordinary Time in the Catholic liturgical calendar and the (sacred) Season of Lent.  What falls in between?  Mardi Gras, where we get ready for weeks of repentance by gorging on baked goods and showing our tits.  It doesn't get more liminal than that.  Communitas, bitchez!)

This is perfect for liminal sprites.  Like many outsiders and undead, the best fey not only exist in and of themselves, but also represent or embody a larger something…sometimes a thing (like a dryad’s oak), but sometimes a notion (like the fear of drowning or the joy of the hunt).  The very curse that hampers the liminal sprite ray also gives them a conceptual/spiritual reason for being.  It might even nourish them in some way—I can imagine scenarios where a liminal sprite gets a small bonus during times of ritualized upheaval (like Carnival), certain days of the calendar (like Leap Day), or specific astrological events (such as eclipses).

“But wait,” you remind me, “this is for a game.  That’s a lot of conceptual bull$#!† to hang on a CR 2 sprite.”  And honestly, you’re right. 

But when the party sorcerer’s liminal sprite familiar gets extra antsy or powerful or flat-out vanishes during your game world’s version of New Year’s Eve, you’ve just made that world a little more real.  And if your PCs are planning a Leap Day treasury heist and are agonizing over whether to wait an extra day to recover spells, or go today to take advantage of the ad hoc bonus you’ve announced having a liminal sprite along will confer…but only until midnight…well, suddenly all those ridiculously pretentious paragraphs above have at-the-table, tactical risk/reward consequences.  Not bad for a 3 Hit Dice, size Tiny fey, right?

Gnomish thieves are robbing the citizens of Westphal blind during the summer theater festival.  They pick the pockets of the distracted citizens during performances, then vanish under the stage, where an open manhole allows escape into the sewers.  The gnomes have attracted the attention of a court of liminal sprites, but the faeries are only too happy to guard the portal for the gnomes, so long as they get their cut.  Last night, though, sewer-dwelling derros discovered the open manhole, and now a lot more than treasure is going to disappear into the darkness.

After a contentious year of peasant uprisings and arguments with Parliament, the queen declares a curfew during Winterfeast.  Among other things, this will prevent the midnight crowning of a Lord and Lady of Misrule—conveniently sparing the queen the need to surrender her authority, even if only symbolically, to a couple of upstarts during the week of parades and masked games.  The peasants are disgruntled, even angered, at the news…but the region’s liminal sprites, who delight in the festivities and are spiritually nourished by this time of upheaval, are outraged.  Until a Lord and Lady of Misrule are crowned, the sprites do not intend to let the city have a moment of peace.

In the Polish city of Kraków during King Casimir the Great’s reign, liminal sprites have been delighted to find companionship and shelter under the eaves of Jewish households.  The sprites enjoy eavesdropping on the debates of the rabbis, and they treat guarding the mezuzahs on their neighbors’ front doors as an honored nightly obligation.  So when the day comes that every mezuzah in the Old Town has vanished, and not a liminal sprite is to be found, the concerned Jewish citizens of Kraków want answers.  Acceding to their demands, Kraków’s prezydent hires adventurers to look into the mystery.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 158

The Liminal State Bobcats are a creation of my college friend, Dorothy Gambrell.  (She lived one floor up and one suite over freshman year.)  Webcomic fans will know her as the creator of Cat and Girl, one of the longest-running webcomics to date.  She actually has a Kickstarter going on right now with about 4 hours left, so this is an excellent time to show her some love.

If you’ll indulge me for a second: That tutoring session I mentioned above has become something of a story among a different set of my college friends.  The short version is that the frosh originally thought I was horrifying.  To her, I was a drunken weirdo.  (I maybe used to bring 40s to pep band rehearsals.  Whoops.)

But then came her brutal Religion 101 paper.  (To give you context, I didn't have to do any reading for the first three weeks of my 600-level grad school courses because of this same Religion 101 class.)  Turned out we’d both written about liminality; turned out I still remembered the course; turned out my advice on revising her paper helped earn her an A.  We’ve been friends ever since. But her roommate later told me she came back to her dorm saying, “The drunk guy from Band saved my paper and I have to lie down because the world doesn’t make sense any more.”

For any of my high school readers about to go to college, there’s an Alien-esque moral here: In a single room, no one can see you study.  (And later on, you’ll really get to mess with people.)

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Liavaran Dreamer


(Illustration by Ben Wootten comes from the Paizo Blog and is © Paizo Publishing.)

In the Pathfinder RPG’s default solar system, Liavaran dreamers are relatives of the jellyfish-like Brethedan race.  Residents of a gas giant, the Brethedans sent colonists to their closest planetary neighbor.  After ages of no contact, a second convoy was sent, where they discovered the original Brethedans’ descendants had gone feral, lulled by—or even addicted to—Liavara’s numerous ley lines.  The resulting dreamer is a somnambulant creature more asleep than awake, following the ley lines in a dreamlike state.

None of this seems like the makings of much of a monster, especially since Liavaran dreamers don’t combine like their Brethedan cousins do.  (Even if you mind-link with one, the worst that can happen is that might be temporarily dazzled, too.)  But dreamers still need to eat…and unlike Brethedans, they have an engulf ability, with acid damage and paralysis in the bargain.  They also really, really like their harmonious sleep.  Remove one from its ley line for too long, or reduce it below half its hit points, and you essentially get a raging barbarian of an air jellyfish, liable to crit you into ribbons and/or a bloody pulp courtesy of tentacles that do bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage in an 18–20 range.  Think of them like you would a psychic longhorn—it’s a cow as long as you’re on the other side of the fence, but up close and riled up, it's a bull—and that’s a completely different animal, figuratively speaking.

This blog, however, is setting-neutral.  So if our Brethedans are just brethedans, and our psychic jellyfish aren’t Liavaran, what kind of dreamers do we get instead?

Brethedans are common visitors to the airship-friendly city of Spike—many are even citizens.  So the owners of the Metallos Menagerie should have expected some trouble when they chose to exhibit a flotilla of T’Sharan dreamers.  Still, even the most jaded Spikers were caught by surprise when the brethedans did not just protest the display of their degenerate cousins, but instead rioted and let all the menagerie’s beasts free.  Now wild monsters from three continents roam the Spire City—and the most dangerous of all are the T’Sharan dreamers.  Starved for both meat and the reassuring hum of a ley line, they are hours, if not minutes, away from atavistic fury.

“Don’t split the party.”  Even fledgling dungeon delvers know this.  But when a party of adventurers sets out to kill a psychic parasite, they have to do it on two worlds at once.  On this plane, they have to put down a Medusan dreamer driven mad by the parasite that distorts its precious ley harmonics.  And in the Dreamscape, they have to slay the parasite’s psychic form, that of an ioun stone-juggling munavri rake.  If either half of the parasite persists, it will regenerate in time...and with a vengeance.

“‘Aether prospecting’ they call it.  You dive into the gas giant’s psychic mantle and come up with tanks full of ley energy.  It’s a gig that pays obscene money; on top of that the aether yields are pretty much essential for most large-sale enchantment work.  We’re talking magical vessels or structures, mind you, not your run-of-the-mill sparkly sword.  You just have to make sure a flotilla of dreamers don’t paralyze you and melt you into goo for stealing their stash, or that one of those oma whales doesn't fry you like bacon as it’s swallowing your ship whole.  But you’re tough enough for the job…ain’t you?”

Occult Bestiary 31

Note that I linked to the Archives of Nethys for stats, since I know Paizo folk tend to be fans of that site.  Careful to avoid copyright issues, the d20PFSRD I usually use for such monsters calls them “sky dreamers.”

If you’re looking for the lesser death, it’s back here in the “Grim Reaper” entry.

No radio show tonight.  Post-snow the roads seem okay, but close to an hour commute each way on ice at night still isn’t the best move.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Leng Ghoul


(Illustration by Miguel Regodón Harkness comes from the artist’s DeviantArt page and is © Paizo Publishing.)

There’s no way I can do justice to Leng ghouls here.  For that, you of course need to turn to the work of H. P. Lovecraft, particularly The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath.  For a quicker overview of Leng and how it fits into Pathfinder, Greg A. Vaughan’s “Leng: The Terror Beyond Dreams” has a gazetteer of that nightmare realm, courtesy of Pathfinder Adventure Path #65: Into the Nightmare Rift. 

Here, then, is the short-short version: Leng ghouls are more bestial in appearance than other ghouls, having vaguely canine faces.  They’re also substantially more powerful, weighing in at a mighty CR 10 and packing a nasty version of ghoul fever.  (Also of note: Gugs fear them.  Meanwhile, while normal ghasts are fairly close cousins of normal ghouls, Leng ghouls and the bestial Leng ghasts hate each other with a passion.)

But despite all this, what really sets these undead apart is their intellect: Leng ghouls are civilized, even erudite, with close to genius-level intelligence, all Knowledge skills treated as class skills, and the ability to cast pretty much any scroll.  These are ghouls that, when they’re not trying to devour you for dinner, might invite you to a scholarly lecture or chamber music performance.  You just have to watch out around mealtimes.  (And there’s that nasty habit they have of worshipping the Outer God Nyarlathotep…)

The key hook for GMing Leng ghouls is surprise.  There should always be a twist somewhere in the encounter.  Maybe it’s the Leng ghoul delightedly inviting them to peruse its library.  Maybe the Leng ghoul acts like their friend only to betray them at the last minute.  Maybe the PCs descend into a Leng ghoul’s wine cellar only to find themselves climbing a tower on the moon.  Maybe after too long in a Leng ghoul’s company, the PCs find themselves tainted by the touch of the Crawling Chaos, or invited to be guests of honor at a ball in Hell.  The point is, when PCs encounter a Leng ghoul the adventure should either take a sharp left turn into Weirdsville, or else kick into high gear with the pedal to the floor.  Encounters with Leng ghouls don’t have to be a melee; they might be beneficial, even friendly—but they should always lead somewhere unexpected.

Adventurers arrive at the Kingdom of Ghouls during strange times—a delegation from Leng has just arrived for the first tome.  Expecting to have to slaughter their way through waves of feral undead to reach their nemesis, the fabled Ghoul King, the party members are taken utterly aback to find themselves given tokens of protection and asked to arbitrate trade negotiations between the Kingdom of Ghouls and Leng.

Adventurers are fighting gugs underground when the arrival of a Leng ghoul terrifies the great shaggy beasts.  The ghoul invites the adventurers back to its chateau, an otherwise ordinary-looking villa built into a barren cavern.  The Leng ghoul is a charming host, and only when the adventurers try to leave (and discover the villa now sits on a cliff overlooking an oily sea against a black sky) do they discover the ghoul’s true motivation for befriending them—one that involves a moon-beast potentate, drow flagellants, and a stock market for body parts run by the mercane.

Adventurers have found a scroll they cannot translate, written in hieroglyphics that conform to no known language.  Soon they find themselves the subject of a number of assassination attempts.  A Leng ghoul wants the scroll, as it will allow him to bind a good outsider to the helm of a skyship designed to sail on human-skin wings between the stars.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 120

For another look at the Leng ghoul, check out Daily Planescape’s take.

Original post edited for my Blogger readers:

Last week’s radio show had new Charly Bliss, new Lorde, old Red Five, classic Magnapop, and more.  You can stream or download the show till midnight tonight (Monday, 03/13/17, U.S. Eastern), so grab it immediately and enjoy!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Leechroot


Leechroots look like plant monsters.  But actually, they're undead.  And instead of creeping along like most plant creatures, they tend to burrow.  In fact, they can even grapple creatures and then drag them underground, literally burying them alive.  And their slashing roots cause bleed damage that resists even magical healing.

Bestiary 5 notes that leechroots “emerge from the remains of plants poisoned by the blood-drenched soils of war-torn forests.”  This makes sense—battlefields tend to have coherent battle plans, clear rules of engagement, and hospital tents (however makeshift) nearby.  On the other hand, fighting in the forest is close-up, dirty, and deadly, full of ambushes, quiet knifings, and men dying in the underbrush because their fellows couldn’t find them in time—all providing rich necromantic compost for an undead root.

Though it doesn't provide mechanics for it, B5 also suggests leechroots can turn dead plants into their spawn—a good excuse to slap an undead template onto your favorite plant creature.  And while the exact mechanics are again not explicitly stated, leechroots in groups of four or more can form a sentient network known as a hivemind that serves primarily as a mutual-defense pact…and a promise of deadly, soil-covered retribution.

The secret vampire lords of Ornov quietly encourage the growth of leechroot on their lands, procuring cuttings from over the border in war-torn Haig.  A leechroot’s presence easily explains any poorly buried, exsanguinated corpses, and a posse of men-at-arms leading a militia to burn out a leechroot infestation is a very visible—and popular—symbol of the princes’ dedication to their peasants’ well-being.

Vanaras and humans are engaged in a deadly battle over territory and logging rights.  This long-running conflict has only festered with age—so much so that leechroots are now responsible for most of the casualties.

Wars of ideas can be as deadly as wars of arrows and blades.  Adventurers visit an overgrown agora where philosophers used to debate in public.  Here Galen abandoned the utilitarianism of his teachers, transforming his master’s model of the Cunning Mind to the brutal Culling Blade—his first step to becoming the genocidal monster known as the Hand in Bone.  As the adventurers move throughout the complex, haunts offer glimpses of Galen’s development and fall—or rather, willful leap—from grace.  Not only is surviving the haunts a challenge, but the agora is infested with leechroots, born from the hate engendered by Galen’s cruel, honeyed words.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 155

Pedro Coelho created the leechroot as an RPG Superstar entry.  Check it and the judges’ comments out here.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Lead Golem


(Illustration by Ertaç Altınöz comes from the artist’s DeviantArt page and is © Paizo Publishing.)

Now this is a golem I can get behind.  (Longtime readers know that I am very skeptical of new golem types.)  Such an unreactive metal is the perfect thematic fit for the notoriously magic-resistant constructs.  Its low melting point means it’s easy to mold into useful forms.  The use of lead predates the ancient Egyptians, so you can stock them in dungeons of any age.  Finally, of course, lead is flat-out dangerous, even poisonous.  Sounds just right for a CR 10 golem.

Lead golems are notoriously hard to enchant.  Only dwarves construct them with any regularity, using them to guard trade secrets and prevent industrial espionage. After the crafting of a certain magical lens goes awry—and after much political deliberation—a beleaguered thane reluctantly sends for some adventurers. He confesses that, because of the accident, an umbral stain pollutes most of the hold’s lower levels.  What he doesn't know is that the adventurers’ cleanup efforts will be hampered by a tarnished scitalis, a colony of moulder dwarves, malfunctioning lead golems, and the ever-shifting shadowy stain itself.

An ancient lead golem knuckle-walks like an ape—and indeed, it resembles a crude gorilla.  It also shows an antipathy for elves…a strange trait, given that elves supposedly arrived on the continent of Davish only recently.  Exploring the tomb that the lead golem guards may upend the published histories of elves, apes, and men alike.

The famed alchemist Nicolas Flamel has cornered the market on lead throughout Paris.  This has caused the work of the stained glass artisans to grind to a halt, and they cry foul at Flamel turning lead into gold while their pockets remain empty.  As Paris is still reeling from Marcel’s rebellion against the Dauphin, the glassmakers are forced to hire outside agents to confront Flamel and demand restitution (or at least bring him to the bargaining table).  Adventurers who investigate his workshop find a secret warehouse guarded by tengu rogues and the beginnings of an army of lead golems.  Clearly, this is bigger than a guild war—Flamel must be stopped before any more of the things can be enchanted.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 127