Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Nuno


Major props to whichever Pathfinder author brought the nuno into the game.  It’s a Philippine monster (short for nuno sa punso, "old man of the mound") that Bestiary 5 gave a mushroom makeover and a branch on the gremlin family tree.  Best of all, B5 managed to translate many of the nuno’s original folkloric elements into game mechanics, such as the Nuno’s Curse (Su) and the delightfully one-of-a-kind Wax Locator (Su) vulnerability.  (In fact, my only quibble is that I think the Bestiary team should have added termites to the nuno’s Ant Affinity (Su) description—I recommend you house-rule that one.) 

It’s notable that while nunos are gremlins, unlike their kin they don’t go out of their way to proactively wreak havoc on others.  Instead they save their spite for those who disturb their homes…but those who suffer their unkind attentions will have no doubt that a nuno can be as spiteful as any jinkin.  You can also be sure that any villagers who live near a nuno will have a number of traditions to make sure they stay on the gremlin’s good side (as well as folk remedies to cope with any curses hurled their way).

Perhaps because they are more solitary creatures, some nunos become ascetics.  Most likely become geokineticists or psychics, but rare individuals might become mediums (if their mound is located near a place of power) or even spiritualists (the phantom likely coming from a corpse the mushroom-like nuno once fed upon to learn its secrets).  Nuno ascetics even get to customize their curses, which gives each one an individual signature.  (Revealing the extra details about a well-known nuno ascetic to PCs who take the time to make nice with the locals is a good in-game pat on the back.) 

One final note: The mound the nuno’s full name refers to of course means an ant or termite mound…but faerie mounds of quite another sort are also part of the legends of British Isles faerie stories.  And this happy accident of language is a great excuse to mash both traditions together.

Adventurers come across a young tanuki in the throes of agony after having disturbed a nuno’s mound.  If the adventurers can alleviate his suffering—most likely by dispatching the gremlin, but other means might be found—the tanuki will reward them with his grandmother’s magical cloak of transformation.  Of course, he doesn't have the grandmother’s permission to offer up such a treasure, which may get the party into trouble with an entire village of sake-enraged raccoon-dog-folk.

A group of youths become adventurers after a giant ant abducts one of their sisters.  A nuno took a fancy to her and wants her to sit for a portrait, so that he may have her image in his lair forever…but he thought nothing of sending one of his giant ant servitors to fetch her, rather than just asking.

At the winter solstice, the trooping faeries come to the faerie mound of Dun Gallar.  Led by the bronze-clad sidhe lords (treat as elves with the fey creature template), the fey circle around the mound three times until it rises up and opens to greet them.  There they remain for a week, before vanishing into the Underworld to return to their homes by spring.  The rest of the year Dun Gallar is guarded by the Old Man of the Mound.  This powerful nuno ascetic is said to draw power from the keepsakes of all the mortal heroes who have died beneath his faerie mound when they foolishly challenged the sidhe for one reason or another.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 132

The fact that I came down with fever yesterday afternoon as I was writing this was all that saved you from timely puns about the Nuno, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria.  You’re welcome.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Nulmind


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

Quite powerful (CR 11) for a plant creature (especially at size Small), a nulmind is a caterpillar-like fungus that drains minds and feeds on magic—especially psychic magic.  Worse yet, those unfortunate enough to have their intellects drained by the fungus become its puppets, luring in other prey (until they starve themselves, that is).

While nulminds have high Intelligence and Wisdom scores, these should probably be considered to represent the fungi’s mental prowess and sheer cunning—they can’t speak, don’t remember to have their puppets feed themselves, and are as happy to slurp up the minds of each other as they are their humanoid victims.  That’s not to say you can’t have a nulmind be a mental mastermind or even the main antagonist in your games…but in most cases, the nulmind’s intelligence is likely too alien to really judge on a human scale.

Speaking of alien-ness, that’s one of the interesting things about nulminds: It is strongly suggested that they are extraterrestrial (which is always a bit weird and odd in a fantasy world).  Perhaps because of this, they also have no taste for fey minds…and even seem to actively avoid them.  Two reasons for this suggest themselves—though interestingly, they're a bit contradictory.  The first is that, since nulminds are strangers to our natural world, and fey are the ultimate expression of it, fey minds must somehow be too anchored to this world for the alien nulminds to latch onto.  Alternately (and a bit paradoxically), it’s often suggested that fey were once part of an older celestial order or rough draft of existence…and as such, they just aren’t enough in this reality to be a meal for a nulmind.  Pick the explanation that works for you.

While exploring a newly discovered vault, an occultist disturbed a long-dormant nulmind.  The nulmind awoke from its torpor too late to feast upon the occultist’s mind and magic, but it tracked him back to a school for psychics that was briefly housing the scholar.  If not stopped, the nulmind will positively gorge itself on the psychic energy there, and many of its victims will be teens and children.

The antler-headed, half-fey elf king is known for having a subterranean labyrinth so deadly that even necromancers speak of it admiringly.  He is known to possess at least one nulmind, penning it in by surrounding it with undead horrors and distasteful fey guardians, including several powerful (treat as Advanced) morgodeas (vermin-loving fey from Pathfinder Adventure Path #99: Dance of the Damned).

Adventurers are collected as specimens by some sort of cosmic biologist or avid collector.  While they are prisoners on his ark, one of his other specimens, a nulmind, escapes.  The adventurers have an opportunity to make a deal with the collector: Free them, and they’ll take care of the mind-eating fungus before it mentally masticates the rest of his menagerie.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 184

Every once in a while I remember to throw a bone to the pure dungeon delvers out there—and those second and third adventure seeds are definitely for them.  Not every campaign can be half-Pathfinder, half-Monsterhearts; sometimes you just want to kick down a door…

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Ningen


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

While they’re everywhere in comics and cartoons, we don’t get a lot of Colossal monstrous humanoids at the gaming table.  Things that aren’t dragons or colossi or space whales just don’t tend to get that big—even dinosaurs rarely get much past Huge.  So the ningen is neat just because it’s that big.  Like, how do you show Colossal on the battle mat?  (I’m remembering an ad for a Gargantuan blue dragon D&D mini that used a whole frozen chicken to give you an idea of scale.  I’m guessing for a Ningen you’d need a turkey.)

Reclusive and mysterious, barely having more than a suggestion of a face, ningens are creatures of the polar waters, more whale than person to most human eyes…or even more iceberg than person in some cases.  But behind that blank face lurks intelligence, the ability to converse in Aquan, and some (highly dangerous) magical control over water and ice.  A ningen can also breach and crash down on ships or icebergs for a combined brutal total of 20d6 points of cold and piercing damage to creatures and objects—damage that will sicken and stagger your characters and smash their vessels to flinders.  So maybe just because you can hunt these intelligent folk for cold-related magical ingredients, that doesn’t mean it’s wise.

A rakshasa noble believes the key to awaken his dormant magical blade is to slay “the whale that walks” with it, per an ancient scrap of text he recently unearthed.  The tiger-headed native outsider is willing to stake his fortune and risk the lives of his retinue of fiends and nagas in the frozen south, just to slake his sleeping dagger’s thirst.

The songs of ningen bards have power over ice.  Their songbergs fetch exorbitant prices in the planar art trade.  Sadly, so too do the artists themselves—when rendered for spell components—and their demise only drives up the price of their existing work.

Adventurers are too late to stop an artifact from triggering eternal winter.  Still on the trail of the now-very-active relic over a suddenly frozen ocean, they come across a ship locked in the ice…and the crew trying to defend itself from a ningen enraged that it can no longer reach deep water.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 183

#notsobabybeluga  <—Admit it, you were all thinking it.

Ningens are cryptids from our world, but Wikipedia doesn't say much and I can't vouch for the quality of the other sites that mention them.  Also, you can’t mention reports of ningens without mentioning “whale research” vessels, and…yeah, that’s a can of worms.

In between training some fledgling DJs, I managed to work in a radio show! This week was more Canon than New or Indie, for obvious (Tom Petty) reasons.  Stream or download it now till Monday, 10/09/17, at midnight.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Nightmare Dragon


(Illustration by Christina Yen comes from GeekDad and is © Paizo Publishing.)

It doesn’t take a lot to sell the nightmare dragon.  It’s a shapechanging, acid-spitting dragon that lives in the nightmare section of the Dimension of Dreams—that’s scary enough.  You know who else lives in that neighborhood?  Soul-stealing night hags.  And Leng.  Like, all of Leng.  You get the picture.  (And if you don’t, a quick look at the nightmare dragon’s stat block, especially at higher age categories—with abilities like terrifying presence, rising nightmare, and dream terror, not to mention the magic of a full-fledged psychic—should convince you.  These dragons are bad news.)

Interestingly, the nightmare dragon isn’t the strongest of the esoteric dragons—not by a long shot.  This may be a statement about the redemptive power of dreams and hope, or the triumph of the conscious mind and willpower (and thus the Astral) over the depths of the subconscious.  It may also explain why nightmare dragons, particularly the younger sort, are so eager to team up with night hags—for power in numbers and access to sleeping minds and souls—but in doing so, they humble and debase themselves further.

Also, like certain other dragon species we’ve covered, nightmare dragons are worth including in your campaign even if you never touch the rest of the esoteric dragon species.  If dragons are rare in your campaign, PCs might never know they face a Nightmare Dragon™—they’re facing Rannix, the Crawler in Dreams, who then surprises them with horrifying psychic powers.  Or, if you’ve drilled into your players that your world’s dragons operate on very Krynn-ian lines—metallic dragons = good, chromatics = bad—imagine their shock when they encounter nightmare dragons completely outside their understanding of draco-cladistics.

Against their better judgment, adventurers take part in a drug handoff down by the docks.  This is a bad idea in most cities, but it’s particularly foolhardy right now—because they are in a city on the shores of Leng.  The adventurers’ exchange with their denizen contact is almost complete when two nightmare dragons burst from the water, breathing acid everywhere.  Someone narced on the deal.

A nightmare dragon resents the rule of the Nightmare Lords.  She wants to carve out her own domain—and she thinks she’s found a way to do it.  By harvesting the silk of bloated spiders known as fever weavers, she can stitch together the dreamscapes of sleeping mortals, forcing them to share each other’s nightmares.  The sewn-up dreams of a small city would be an excellent start to her empire.

A magus of the Black Blood is determined to unlock the secrets of kundalini, the serpent fire—specifically, its dark opposite, the ashen shadow.  He abducts an adept of the Hidden Flame and tortures him, forcing negative energy-laced needles into the monk’s chakras.  Attempting to rescue the monk, adventurers arrive just as the last needle pierces the poor man’s crown chakra.  As the monk writhes in agony, the ashen shadow erupts from his brow as a nightmare dragon determined to torment the bodies and dreams of all it encounters.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 94–95

Anyone else notice the nightmare dragon illustration seems to have too many eyes?  (Or the right number of eyes, in very wrong places?)  A nice touch.

I’ve mentioned her before in these pages, but if you’re looking for a role-playing model for an older nightmare dragon, a great option is the night dragon Synn from the “Voyage of the Princess Ark” series—a creature far more interested in sowing emotional pain, fear, and loss than any amount of crude physical destruction…and willing to spend a once-in-a-century wish to see her plans to fruition.  She pops up in various places in early “VotPA” installments, but Dragon Magazine #163 was her crowning achievement.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Neothelid Overlord


The neothelid, as I’ve written before, was Pathfinder’s answer to D&D’s proprietary mind flayers.  But it served another purpose as well.  Remember that, originally, Pathfinder was not a game system; it was a game setting—and as such, it needed to differentiate itself from the other 3.5 settings out there.  Neothelids, with their wormlike shapes, suite of mental powers, and seugathi servants, confirmed what other early Pathfinder products had already begun to suggest: Golarion was a world where Lovecraft’s Old Ones and Outer Gods had a definite footprint...or rather, a definite pseudopodprint.  

The neothelid overlord is a neothelid on its way to becoming…something else.  Something much closer to those entities that dwell in the blackness between the stars.  The overlord’s head splits.  Its consciousness begins to transcend its biology.  Its tails dig as if they want to become roots.  Its psychic powers become true psychic magic.  And just looking at it risks madness.

At CR 20, neothelid overlords are campaign-ending villains.  Defeating a conclave of these creatures should be the culmination of years of effort in game time (and possibly even real time).  Of course, failing to defeat a neothelid overlord conclave…well, that doesn't even bear thinking about.

Adventurers bring down a city’s ruling class of necromancers…in the process, exposing a subterranean kingdom of ghouls to the notice of the surface world as well.  But it turns out the ghoul kingdom is a necessary evil, for they are all that keeps a neothelid overlord in check in his mushroom-forest vault.

Strange benefactors have aided a party of adventurers against demons and devils throughout their career.  But then these same benefactors begin to suggest strikes against druid stone circles, goodly temples, and even angelic redoubts and hidden celestial cities—a pantheistic hatred alarming in its intensity.  Careful investigation uncovers seugathi cultists and rumors of dark wormlike lords older than the gods themselves, who worship Powers from a reality that predates this one.

The world of Chasm should have split in two—as is all too apparent from the near-bottomless canyon that circles the planet like a hellish meridian.  The only thing holding the shattered sphere together is a monstrous bhole trapped in stasis long ago.  Now, a neothelid conclave seeks to awaken the bhole and free the worm to split Chasm like an apple in an offering to their dark gods.

Occult Bestiary 36–37

This week’s radio show had a pretty big AAA radio (adult album alternative) feel to it.  Listen for new Courtney Barnett and Sunny & Gabe, some great Mason Jennings, and even a Judy Collins song for the protest-minded, written by Where the Sidewalk Ends author Shel Silverstein.  (I even play some songs I know you like, dear online readers.)  Stream or download it now till Monday, 10/02/17), at midnight.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Nemhain


Named after an Irish war goddess, the nemhain (pronounced “NAY-wuhn,” because Irish spelling is the world’s greatest exercise in trolling) is an undead creature who is interesting on a number of levels:

1) The nemhain chose to become undeadBestiary 5 says “as a means of protecting a person, object, place, or ideal.”  That’s automatically interesting to me—committing yourself (and your loved ones; see below) to eternal unlife to protect something is devotion/fanaticism on a grand scale.  You don't do that just to guard treasure in a 10’x10’ room…but you might for a holy (or unholy) relic, a political movement, a beloved hero, etc.  Every nemhain once made a choice, and that means every nemhain has a story…perhaps one that your PCs would be wise to ferret out.

2) The nemhain is surrounded by a cloud of bound spirits—usually the spirits of her relatives or friends.  I love this because it recalls one of my favorite undead of all time, the gray philosopher (from the Creature Catalogue and the Monstrous Compendium: Mystara Appendix), whose malevolent thoughts took shape as wispy spirits called malices.  I also love it for the pure horror of this scenario—B5 makes it clear that these souls were usually unaware that they would be drawn into the nemhain-to-be’s self-sacrifice.  It’s one thing to consign yourself to eternity; it’s quite another to bring the local PTA along with you.  And speaking of which…

3) Some nemhains start out good—but they all become evil.  No matter how pure a nemhain-to-be’s motives, the vileness of undeath and the violation inherent in harvesting the souls of her loved ones seals her fate.  So the nemhain is at best a tragic figure whose single-mindedness damned both herself and those around her.  At worst, she’s an abomination willing to sacrifice anything—and anyone—to her cause.

All in all then, every nemhain is special, every nemhain has an interesting story, and every nemhain is deadly (CR 15) at the gaming table.

The pride of elves is dangerous indeed.  When a wild elf soothsayer foretold that the Rose Chamber would be claimed by the dead, the grey elf princess Dharotea swore it should never come to pass.  She promptly closed the borders to the human mage-scholars, the halfling river traders, and especially the dwarf nations and their necromancer-kings.  Even as her self-isolated nation suffered, Dharotea, now queen, never wavered—she would protect the capital, the palace, and its glittering Rose Chamber at any cost.  Finally, to stave off her own death, she performed the Act of Reaping to become a nemhain…inadvertently slaying the rest of the royal court and fulfilling the vision the soothsayer warned of so long ago.

No one expects a bardic college to be deadly—especially not one famous for its jugglers, tumblers, and acrobats.  But the nemhain known as the First Harlequin roams the Laernuin College grounds, and those he selects to perform in his monthly pantomimes must have the ancient forms memorized exactly or be struck down mid-performance.

The worst revolutionaries are the time-traveling ones.  After thwarting a dangerous anarchist—a fiendishly charismatic bard with enough alchemy under his belt to be a literal bomb thrower—adventures discover that he has hatched plots in both the future and the past to undo their hard work.  Worse yet, defeating the anarchist’s allies in one time period doesn’t always mean they’re off the game board.  While in their own time the anarchist’s chief lieutenant, Victoria Graves, is too elderly to do more than fund whisper campaigns against them, in the past she is a dashing vigilante, and in the future she is a nemhain determined to see the Scarlet Revolution come to pass.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 182

I’ve always wanted to learn Irish (I’m still in touch with my whatever-cousins-however-removed in Carndonagh) but I’m pretty sure I’m 20 years too late for my brain to expand as far as it needs to.  (Hell, I bought a bodhrán in Donegal when I was 17 and I still can't play it, and I’ve been drumming since fourth grade.)

If you’re looking for a fantastic fall-from-grace tale that echoes the nemhain’s, I highly recommend Garth Nix’s Clariel: The Lost Abhorsen, as well as the rest of The Old Kingdom series.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Nekomata


To say I am a cat person is an understatement.  (If I did not have allergies, I swear I would have five.  And I would be creepy about it.  Like, I’d name them all after Roman emperors and give them each their own Instagram account.  …I should stop talking now.) 

But even I am willing to acknowledge that yeah, if you die in your house with only your cats around, they are probably going to eat your corpse.

The nekomata goes one better: It doesn’t eat your corpse; it animates it—just by licking it!  Oh, and the animated corpse is a free-willed juju zombie or skeletal champion, because of course it is.

But let’s go back a second.  A nekomata comes about when a cat lives past its allotted lifespan.  Should that happen, the cat becomes an evil spirit, grows in size (with its tail splitting in two along the way), and begins casting spells and taking on the shape of nearby humanoids.  It then goes about humiliating them, ruining their reputations, driving them mad, killing them, and then animating the corpses—starting with the family that loved and cared for it.  And after everyone is dead, it picks a new family and starts all over. For no reason than that it overstayed its welcome in life. 

In other words, it’s a goddamn CAT-LICH. With a SNUFF-CEST FETISH.

Now that’s a monster.

I love having a fresh shapechanger-that-impersonates-your-friends-and-neighbors to work with, especially one with a bit more CR heft than the doppelganger.  I love the friendly housecat suddenly becoming a malevolent beast merely because it had its claws too deep in life to die.  And I’m a sucker for any living creature that creates undead—lookin’ at you, pukwudgie!—and the fact that the nekomata creates intelligent undead is just icing on the cake.  And since it’s a reputation destroyer, put it in any context where honor and shame are on the line—samurai clans, knightly orders, paladins on crusade, etc.—and it can do damage in your campaign that far outlasts a single encounter.

This would also be a killer monster for a solo adventure or one-shot. Next time you want to run a game for just one player, or if one character needs a side quest for character development or XP catch-up, the nekomata is waiting

Beset by orcs from the Wastes and fevers borne by the yearly swamp flooding, the city of Engelyn prospers because of the ceaseless labors of Kelman the Robed.  With no heir to take up his mantle, he has extended his life twice through dangerous magic so that Engelyn remains protected.  But the same magic preserved his feline familiar…with dire consequences.  While Kelman was away fighting orcs, the cat became a nekomata under the black of the new moon.  The magical creature then triggered the wards which seal Engelyn Castle from disease, trapping the duke’s family and his retinue inside a magical bubble.  Now the nekomata stalks the halls in stolen shapes, murdering as it goes and creating undead monsters in its wake.  Adventurers in the duke’s service must act to save the duke’s family—and themselves—or the entire household will be slaughtered before Kelman can return to undo the ward.

Adventurers are on the trail of a necromancer…or so they think.  Actually, they hunt a nekomata that was once a barge cat.  The nekomata happily goes from town to town along the river spreading undeath.  If it realizes the adventurers are on its trail, it tries to frame them as necromancers instead.

A nekomata impersonated Lord Tono, and its actions nearly sparked war between the Third Shogunate and the ninja clans of Cliffreach.  Outraged, the shogun demands Tono cut his hair and make the Walk of Repentance or be executed.  Tono plans to acquiesce, but his son, First Lord of the Admiralty, swears to lead the navy in revolt if his father is so shamed.  Tono’s wife, once a renowned geisha, uses her underworld contacts to recruit sellswords to find the nekomata and prove Lord Tono’s innocence before the Walk occurs.

Pathfinder Bestiary 6 201

There are hints of Daniel Polansky’s Low Town in that first seed.

Also: Hey, nekomata, whaddaya say? / I just got back from the auto-da-fé

That’s been in my head all day, and now it’s in yours.

Switching gears entirely, have you guys been following Lindsay Ellis?  She always kills it, but she’s been killin’ it to the killeth power lately.  For a critical one-two punch of awesome, check out her look at the male gaze in Michael Bay’s Transformers franchise and her take on the theme of fatherhood in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.  Both are must-watches.  (And since I referenced Mel Brooks’s Spanish Inquisition song, maybe check out her take on his movies, too.)

And hey, Shanah Tovah to my Jewish readers.  5777 wasn’t exactly an easy year, so best wishes to all in 5778.

Oh, and if you’re looking for the narwhal, it’s here.

YOU’RE NOT PUNK / AND I’M TELLING EVERYONE

Stream/download last night’s radio show here!  New Blondie, classic Jawbreaker, Professor Elemental for the nerds, and “Dammit” turns 20.  Enjoy!  (Link good till Monday, 9/25, at midnight.)

Oh, and I finally met my Dream Daddy.  Specifically, Dream Daddy director/lead developer Tyler J. Hutchison. He was at SPX, conveniently tucked between Abby Howard (of Strip Search/Junior Scientist Power Hour fame), who I was excited to meet, and writer/illustrator team Matthew Swanson and Robbi Behr, who I went to college with.

Naturally, Tyler and I got someone to take our picture.  Three guesses who we sent it to.