Monday, November 20, 2017

Obcisidaemon


Avatars of the darkest elements of war, obcisidaemons primarily serve that particular apocalyptic Horseman (Szuriel, if you’re following Pathfinder canon).  Resembling a cross between a man, a wolf, and a smilodon—plus wings, because of course it has wings—this daemon’s most singular feature is the misty cloak of stolen souls it wears around itself.  It can tap the power of this supernatural cloak to boost its weapon, pump its saves, or heal itself—consuming one of the poor souls, of course.  But don’t worry; it’ll get a new soul when it kills your character.  Which it will, because did I mention it’s CR 19?

The obcisidaemon represents the horrors of war stripped of all the trappings of honor, loyalty, and glory, and then taken to their logical extremes—in particular, genocide.  Mass graves, concentration camps, super-weapon test sites, razed cities, and similar locations may draw an obcisidaemon if the planar boundary with Abaddon is thin enough.  Adventurers who defeat a genocidal tyrant may later find their foe’s shade serving one of these creatures.  Worse yet, their foe might be reincarnated as one of these creatures.

Duergar manage to set off a volcanic eruption and guide the subsequent rain of ash and lava to destroy a surface city.  Their triumph is short-lived, as the devastation causes an obcisidaemon to manifest in their capital with a number or daemonic retainers in tow.  Adventurers who wish to bring the duergar high archonus to justice will first have to retrieve his essence from the cloak of souls the daemon wears around itself.

The Horseman of War has been felled by a coup.  Now rival obcisidaemons hope to claim her mantle, and an axiomite city finds itself in the no man’s land between the two monsters’ forces.

Adventurers befriend a dusk elf—a gray-skinned, half-drow exile from another world.  Good-hearted but suspicious and close-mouthed, he says little about his native land, other than that it was ravaged by war, genocide, and blood feuds that go back hundreds of years.  (Indeed, his very birth is the end result of a breeding program of half-castes meant to serve as guerilla warriors and irregulars).  Only when the adventurers’ own nation becomes torn apart by civil war does he open up.  His nation was turn asunder by armies led by obcisidaemons that had broken free of their foolish summoners.  Worse yet, the adventurers discover that one of these daemons has seeded his true name in their world as well…and their own nation’s generals have made plans to summon him.

Pathfinder Bestiary 6 72–73

Oh hey guys!  There’s less that an hour to download last week’s radio show!  Maybe you should do it right now!  Featuring new Superchunk, new J. Roddy Walston, 25 years of R.E.M.’s Automatic for the People, and more! Get it before midnight tonight (Monday, 11/20/17, U.S. Eastern)!

PS: Tomorrow night’s show is gonna be speeeeecialllll!  Stay tuned!

Monday, November 6, 2017

Oaur-Ooung


From an age before demons—from before even proteans—a Colossal fungal jellyfish undulates in the deepest oceans of the Abyss.  She is a being of evil fecundity who births inhuman monsters from blisterwomb pustules in her bell…half of which she devours on the spot, but the rest of whom escape to torment all creatures born of souls and sin…

This is the qlippoth lord, Oaur-Ooung.

You’re probably expecting me to invoke Lovecraft here.   But nope.  Oaur-Ooung isn’t a being out of Lovecraft—she’s a being out of Justice League Unlimited.  (The DC Animated Universe was very, very good at creating undulating blob monsters that birthed horror after horror. Tentacles, pseudopods, and flying jellies were all in the DCAU wheelhouse.  Lovecraftian it wasn’t, but Lovecrafty?  Sure.)

There are lots of stat block reasons for a wicked GM to love Oaur-Ooung, including mythic ranks, near-immortality, tentacle attacks that reach 600 ft. (hope you brought a big enough battlemat), skin that spews swarms when wounded, blisterwombs that can birth a CR 20’s worth of qlippoth each day…oh, and any creature she kills with her slam attack rises as a qlippoth too. Good times!

But the best reason to use her is that she is a truly terrifying mother of monsters.  Everyone gets that.  If you’ve spent too much brainpower trying to parse the subtle gradations of lawful evil separating asuras, devils, kytons, and rakshasas, or if you’ve faced a table of blank-faced players as you attempted to make effable the ineffable horrors of the Outer Gods vs. the Dominion of the Black, there’s something wonderfully simple about Oaur-Ooung.  “Before demons existed in the Abyss, there were these horrible bug-crab-dog-proto-demons called qlippoth.  This one is their queen.  In fact, she might also be their mom.  She’s a jellyfish who flies.  She gives birth to monsters, and she looks like she’s about to disgorge something the size of Godzilla any day now. Roll for initiative.”  It turns out horror can be cosmic and from the-time-before-time and yet not make your brain hurt.  Who knew?

PS: For those parties not up for tangling with a mythic CR 23 qlippoth lord, she has cults too!  Dedicated to surgical alteration, fleshwarping, and consuming one’s enemies.  So that’s always fun.  Even if your PCs never actually face Oaur-Ooung at the table, she can still inspire plenty of lower-level evil.

One final note: In D&D 3.5, the tanar’ri (roughly equivalent to Pathfinder’s demons) once overthrew the obyriths (Pathfinder’s qlippoth)…but a new race known as loumaras was growing in strength.  Pathfinder doesn’t have a loumara equivalent…but maybe that’s what Mama Oaur-Ooung is cooking…

To their horror, adventurers discover that their entire career has been guided—and even, at times, aided and abetted—by the dread hand of the demon lord Pazuzu.  Yet even the party’s holiest allies can detect no sign of the demon lord’s corruption upon them.  The reason for Pazuzu’s machinations eventually becomes clear: He fears the child swelling in Oaur-Ooung’s greatest blisterwomb, and he needed to hold a few pawns untouched by the Abyss in reserve to end the threat the qlippoth lord and her child pose to existence.

The good news: Adventurers don’t always have to fight Oaur-Ooung.  They bad news: They may have to act as bait.  Adventurers tasked with returning a long-lost race of sylphs to the Elemental Plane of Air must first ferry them through the waters of the Abyss.  Such a foul baptism is the only way to remove the ancestral curse the sylphs have labored under for so long…but it will put them dangerously close to the qlippoth lord’s domain unless she is distracted elsewhere…

After repelling an invasion of fleshwarped corsairs aboard skinwing cutters, a party of do-gooders has taken the fight against demonkind to the stars.  Their adventures have seen them hopping from planet to plane and back, introducing them to water-tainted dwarf summoners, girtablilu temple ships, dream-farming dragons, angelic anarchs and a moon lost to oni corruption.  But always the adventurers have sought ways to drive the skinwing fleet from their solar system…which will eventually lead them to a dead star, an ark made of chitin, and a qlippoth queen who long ago traded the waters of the Abyss for the vacuum of Birthspace…

Pathfinder Bestiary 6 236–237

If you’re at all curious about D&D 3.5’s demons, I once again invite you to check out my series on the best D&D 3.0/3.5 books for Pathfinder GMs, especially this entry (which covers Hordes of the Abyss) and this entry (Book of Vile Darkness).

Tumblr readers got a preview of this on one of my radio show posts, but for my Blogger readers and those who missed it, I’ll paraphrase: After a promising start, October became the perfect storm of bad health (mine this time), caregiver demands, and unexpected surprises. Please bear with me for a little while as I (hopefully) start to right the ship. I’m starting to have more breathing room, but it’s a ways off yet.  Thanks.

If you didn’t get enough Halloween fun last week, there are just a few more hours left to snag my Halloween radio show.  No “Monster Mash” here, but plenty of songs about ghosts, devils, hauntings, and other things that go bump in the night.  You’ve got till midnight tonight (Monday, 11/06/17, U.S. Eastern) to stream/download it, so click here!

(Also, while a few October radio shows never got posted, I think on the whole you only missed one or two, since my recent scheduling woes also hammered my radio show attendance.)

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.