Sunday, June 11, 2017

Moldwretch


(Illustration by Will O’Brien comes from the artist’s DeviantArt page and is © Paizo Publishing.)

The moldwretch’s appeal for GMs is largely of a problem-solving nature.  It fills a niche when you need a higher-level (CR 7) fungus creature.  It’s a Small creature that nevertheless is pretty powerful (again, CR 7, and 10 Hit Dice besides).  It's got the toughness of the plant type while moving and thinking (Int 14) like a humanoid.  And because it comes in three moldy flavors (or more, if you’re using supplements like Darklands Revisited or some homebrew tinkering), you can keep players on their toes for at least a couple of encounters.

But what a moldwretch is exactly is still up to you.  A prehistoric vegepygmy?  The spawn of some long-ago infection that merged ape and fungus?  A result of drow fleshwarping?  There’s nothing that even says they have to look like the illustration in Bestiary 6—they simply need to have at least two arms, a tentacle, and an orifice for speaking—so they might appear as fungal spiders, tripod-like mushrooms, moldy elder things, or even more outlandish shapes.

A vegepygmy infestation that adventurers had previously cleared out returns again, as if guided by a more intelligent hand.  If they go back to attack the nest a second time, they find passages leading to a different cave system that includes gardens of musical mushrooms, a rot grub-covered dwarf crypt, and murderous moldwretch masterminds still wearing the skulls of the dwarves whose graves they desecrated.

Moldwretches have a complicated caste system devoted to the molds they tend.  A moldwretch may be a gardener, an ascetic, a warrior, a priest, a wanderer, or one of several other roles, depending on the kind of mold it has bonded with.  A given moldwretch will speak of its past roles as if they were performed by another being entirely, even if it has changed several times in a year.

Adventurers exploring a cave system come across a chamber covered in pebbles arranged in geometric shapes.  At first the shapes appear merely decorative, but studying the negative space reveals a message: the Undercommon word for “Help” written over and over.  A growth of moldwretches have become the unwilling thralls of a fungus queen, and they use every spare moment they have to add still more pebbles to their message.  They don’t dare be more direct, as they fear they will either rouse the fungus queen’s attention or accidentally infect their would-be saviors.

Pathfinder Bestiary 6 191

And for my Blogger readers, now it’s time for…

Audio News #1:
I like you so much better when you’re naked, and 31 other truths you will learn from Tuesday night’s radio show.  

Stream/download all the summer fun now through tomorrow (Monday, 06/12/17) at midnight.

Audio News #2:
I’m crazy-honored to have been a guest on the Laughfinder podcast this week, wherein I play Pathfinder with actual comedians and Baltimore luminaries of all kinds.

Thrill to the adventures of Aaron Henkin, Bryan Preston, Dorian Gray, Jim Meyer, Tommy Sinbazo, and me!  Red Point tourism (and Red Point’s mohrg population) will never be the same.

Edit: I forgot to mention how unbelievably awesome playing with an audiomancer (i.e. a sound-effects guy) is.  Total game changer, literally.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Mokele-Mbembe


(Illustration by Mike Corriero comes from the PathfinderWiki and is © Paizo Publishing.)

The mokele-mbembe is Pathfinder’s version of the mokèlé-mbèmbé, a cryptic from Africa’s Congo region.

Q: Did you make that pedantic distinction solely as an excuse to type a word with four accent marks going in two directions?

A: Yes.  Duh.

The mokele-mbembe isn’t going to blow anyone away stats-wise—it’s simply an animal, not even a magical beast, though it can bull-rush like a champ and the sonic boom of its Whip Tail (Ex) attack is pretty neat.  But it still pleases me for a number of reasons.  It widens our portfolio of African-inspired monsters.  It’s a jungle animal that’s also easy to drop into Lost World or alien settings.  It’s a cryptid that, like the Loch Ness monster, teases the hope that some dinosaurs still survive today (and likewise serves as a good excuse to stick a dinosaur into a campaign where one would usually be verboten).  And though most reports of the mokele-mbembe track (a little too) neatly with the early 20th century’s fascination with dinosaurs, the first mention of one by a European dates back to 1776…and who doesn't want to imagine Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson chatting away about the mokele-mbembe over a draft of a certain declaration?

Most importantly, it’s a monster that turns the players’ out-of-game knowledge against them.  The mokele-mbembe’s description reads like a standard sauropod.  (Even the osteoderms gesture toward saltasaurus or a similar titanosaur).  And while a medieval peasant running across a sauropod would likely be awestruck, even terrified, a player seeing a brontosaurus toy being used as a mini on the gaming table is likely going to write off the beast as an herbivore, and have his PC respond accordingly…right up until the minute that “bronto” makes a bite attack.  And if catching PCs flat-footed because their players made out-of-game assumptions isn’t pure GM gold, I don’t know what is.

Adventurers looking to learn a rare combat style (in game terms, a feat, rogue talent, hunter’s trick, or similar mechanic) make contact with the Thunderwhip Lodge, a secret society of jungle warriors with a great serpent as a totem animal.  After a welcoming dinner and a ritual sharing of a fermented drink, the adventurers wake to find themselves bound, gagged, and recovering from the effects of a strong drug.  The Thunderwhip Lodge members are not interested in sharing their secrets, but are very interested in sacrificing the adventures to their totem: a mokele-mbembe.  Assuming the adventurers survive their encounter with the predatory dinosaur, they can still learn the combat style by facing three or more Thunderwhip men in combat.

Adventurers hunting the rumored lair of a black dragon come across two of the dragon’s guardians: a domesticated (at least by dragon standards) pair of mokele-mbembes.  If the adventurers slay the creatures, they may find the dinosaurs’ eggs, which could fetch a high price.  They may also discover that the black dragon is dead, and recent sightings of her are the work of her half-dragon daughter.  She claims to be protecting the area from a green dragon who is even worse…

Gods above, it’s an escort mission.  Worse yet, it’s an escort mission in the fetid, stinking jungle.  But a band of not-so-merry adventurers owe One-Eyed Pike a favor, so they agree to take his priest—sweet pixie night sweats, not even a priest, but a godsbedamned shaman—up Triumph Falls to the Lakelands, so that the shaman may read the portents in the titanic battles between the mokele-mbembes and hippopotami there.  Of course, that means surviving encounters with the aforementioned mokele-mbembes, hippopotami, and feral wyverns to boot.  But when the shaman transforms before their eyes into a phoenix, and marks each of the adventurers with a magical tattoo of a flame over his or her right eye, it’s clear this was no simple escort mission after all.

Pathfinder Adventure Path #39 84–85, Mystery Monsters Revisited 22–27 & Pathfinder Bestiary 6 190

Note that in addition to its two-page description in Pathfinder Adventure Path #39: City of Seven Spears, Anthony Pryor gave the mokele-mbembe a full write-up in Mystery Monsters Revisited.

So in the past two weeks—crap, has it been almost three weeks now?—the Pathfinder community has experienced two seriously big events: the departure of Editor-in-Chief @wesschneider and PaizoCon 2017.  Both deserve more attention that I can give them today, so take this as a placeholder indicating that yes, I have thoughts and feelings and even feelz, but today is not the day.

Looking for the mockingfey?  It’s way back here.

I was a hair late for last week’s radio show, and (as is typical after a week off, especially at the start of a new semester) I was clunky and lame at the start.  But we gave away some Feist tickets, celebrated the music of Chris Cornell/Soundgarden and Gregg Allman/the Allman Brothers band, and played some new tunes besides.  Grab it now because it vanishes at midnight tonight (Monday, 06/05/17, U.S. Eastern).

I’m including the image for the Feist show I was giving away tickets for because it’s pretty.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Moa & Uintatherium


In our world, moas didn't do so well against humans—Polynesian settlers wiped them out in less than 100 years (roughly around the time of the Black Death in Europe).  But in a fantasy world they might have better luck.

Meanwhile, uintatheriums are ancient herbivores, roughly looking like a cross between a rhino and a hippo.  And while they didn't escape the Eocene Epoch (other large herbivores more closely related to our ungulates displaced them), they might roam the grasslands and marshes of your fantasy world.

Adventurers are aboard a ship whose cargo hold is full of moas.  (An intrepid baronet hopes to start a colony on his island.)  Midway through the journey a gremlin releases the birds from their pens, and the agitated moas lash out at any sailor who comes near.

Uintatherium skulls are prized by orcs, hobgoblins, and ogres as percussion instruments and ornaments for their battle standards.  Adventurers who wish a favor from a humanoid clan chief would do well to bring the warlord a uintatherium, alive or dead.

What adventurers first take to be a mirage turns out to be a moa nesting ground.  While they are observing the flightless birds, a gnoll hunting party (see the Monster Codex) attacks the nest and may stumble upon the adventurers as well.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 171

If you ever want to see a terrifying bird, check out the cassowary at the National Zoo.  It has a flashy crest.  It has barbed wing-claws.  It has a kick that can (admittedly more in theory than in practice) kill a man.  It is terrifying.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Mngwa


Inspired by tales from Tanzania, the mngwa is a magical beast indeed—a jungle cat that only exists between sunset and sunrise.  Of course, the reason that the mngwa exists actually puts it more in fey or undead territory, as it is “an incarnation of malevolent jungle spirits, driven by anger toward the focus of their hate,” according to Bestiary 5.  Typically taking the shape of a large, jet-black lion, the mngwa is nearly impossible to kill.  Its only real weaknesses are its vulnerability to natural sunlight and the daylight spell.  Hunters might also take advantage of the fact that it always appears in the place where it first manifested.  But since it comes back each night fully healed—and even if slain will return to life within five nights—the only safe bet for dispatching a mngwa is to right the wrong that caused it to manifest in the first place.

Fed up with mngwa attacks near his sapphire mines, the colonial governor of Azbian begins rounding up and executing the witch doctors he suspects of summoning the creatures.  But since it is the witch doctors who are responsible for appeasing Azbian’s omnipresent and fractious jackfruit, baobab tree, and water spirits, the governor is only breeding more of the beasts with each passing week.

A sacred grotto has two guardians—a guardian naga who minds it by day and a mngwa who prowls relentlessly around the rocky spring by night.  The mngwa mourns the wanton felling of a particularly ancient tree that once stood near the grotto.  It longs to slake its thirst with the blood of the traveling woodcutter who did the deed, but the man’s village is too far for the mngwa to reach in a single night.  However, it is more than happy to attack any other humanoids in the area until it can take proper vengeance.  The naga, meanwhile, is interested in a cache of wooden puzzle boxes it found near the spring, possibly carved by a supremely talented but long-deceased dryad.

Lions are the most common shape for mngwas to take, but tigers, jaguars, and leopards are also known.  Some tribes on the far edges of the world report mngwas in the form of bears, great wolves, leucrottas, or even bunyips.  While mngwas are mainly reported in jungle regions, the sun priests of pyramid-dotted Toth are particularly careful not to offend any local nature spirits, as their mngwas are particularly gruesome (Advanced) specimens: part lion, part hippopotamus, part jackal, part cobra, all murder.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 173

I can't remember if I own the Southlands Bestiary or not—I definitely Kickstarted the main Southlands book, but all my Kobold Press stuff is languishing in the “You should really read this sometime” pile.  But I believe (via some Googling) it has another version of the mngwa.

Eagle-eyed readers will note we last visited Toth in 2013.

It’s (a)live!

The PDF version of Pathfinder Adventure Path 118: #Siege of Stone—written by Thurston Hillman and featuring an article by yours truly—went live Wednesday night.  If you like PDFs, please pick it up here.  If you like actual books, the print version ships soon, so you can order it right now or just look for it at your local game store.  And once again, thank you all for your support!

(Illustration by Remko Troost comes from the Paizo website and is © Paizo Publishing.)

I was very late to my radio show last week because I was the guest on a comedy podcast—more details on that in a week or two—but I still made it into the studio to play exam-worthy jams for the UMD listening audience.  Stream/download it here until midnight tonight (Monday, 05/22/17, U.S. Eastern) at midnight.  FYI fellow DJ Adam covers for the first chunk; my stuff kicks in at the 37-minute mark.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Mnemor Devil


(Illustration by Audrey Hotte (I think; it’s a little unclear) comes from the Paizo Blog and is © Paizo Publishing.)

With distended jaws the reveal lolling, probing tongues, mnemor devils siphon up the memories of mortals. Some of these mortals are desperate to forget the past, and make deals to have their memories erased or altered…deals they later come to regret, as the new memories plant new doubts, suspicions, and fears.  Others are simply the victims of a devil so slippery that even the memory of him vanishes when he steps out of the room.

At first I was thinking that mnemor devils (also known as memory devils) would be hard to play at the gaming table—players know what they know.  (Think how many times you’ve struggled to RP a failed Perception check when you just know something bad is about to go down.)  But memory is a tricky thing, especially in a long campaign, and it’s easy to forget what happens session to session.  A GM who’s thrown a mnemor devil against his players a time or two could really mess with their heads next time they try to remember if they found a particular NPC trustworthy, or who really betrayed them at court that one time…

GMs will want to play mnemor devils, because at CR 5 they are easy to deploy at low-to mid-levels, with greater teleport making them consummate escape artists and recurring villains.  But PCs themselves may seek out a mnemor devil if they have memories they need wiped (perhaps to pass detect/discern spells or escape a Lovecraftian taint) or if they seek knowledge found only in the banks of a mnemor devil’s eidetic memory.

A young adventurer realizes mid-conversation that he is speaking with an infernal spirit dressed in the robes of a confessor.  As the devil teleports away, the adventurer can’t shake the feeling he’s met the confessor before.  In fact, the devil has appeared to him on and off again since childhood; this is simply the first time he has come back to awareness (in game terms, passed his Will save) before the devil could tidy up his mental manipulation.

A door in a wizard’s tower leads an otherworldly chamber.  There the adventurers find a psychic surgery staffed by a mnemor devil.  The wizard and he have a strictly business relationship, so the devil is unconcerned by the adventurers’ presence.  He even offers to remove a troubled memory from the party member who has most recently sinned…for a small price.

Both a library and a prison, the Memoriam was designed by inevitables to store important memories from across the multiverse.  With their typical cold, calculating logic, the inevitables deemed mnemor devils to be the ideal staff at such a facility—and thanks to a recent failed infernal plot, the inevitables had plenty of the memory devils locked in their prisons to choose from.  The paroled devils do indeed make excellent librarians, but their hellish system of cataloguing means that a patron researching a specific memory is utterly at their mercy.

Occult Bestiary 21

When we covered the mezlan the other day I suggested their stats might make good DS9 Founders (an idea badmadwolf seemed to like).  But Bucephalus pointed out the even more obvious movie monster I’d completely overlooked: Terminator 2’s T-1000 (right down to forming weapons with its body).  Duh, seriously, where was my head?

Monday, May 15, 2017

Mire Nettle

(Illustration by Will O’Brien comes from the artist’s DeviantArt page and is © Paizo Publishing.)

Like many small carnivorous plants, mire nettles are a certainly a hazard, but only truly pose a danger to the young and infirm.  Still, when attacking in groups (called thickets or groves) or when the boggy terrain favors them, they can be quite deadly.

What sets mire nettles apart from similar plant creatures is their utility. Bestiary 6 lays out a couple of uses for their nettles and toxin, including blowgun darts and coming of age rituals. Since they don't lull their prey to sleep or strangle it outright, mire nettles are also easier to manage and harvest…in theory at least.  (Their pain-wracked victims might argue otherwise…)

Gripplis hate mire nettles, going to almost any lengths to root them out.  Adventurers seeking to curry favor with a grippli tribe can earn potions and tokens of safe passage for a successful mire nettle eradication.  Some gripplis with the toxic skin racial trait (see the Advanced Race Guide) use mire nettle thorns for blowgun darts, and even engage in elaborate scarification rituals.

The local abbey, which also serves as a boarding school, is run by a strict headmaster.  In the head abbot’s absence, the school prior has instituted stricter rules and more arcane punishments.  He has even subjected some boys to the painful thorn spray of a mire nettle he keeps in a secluded grotto.  Adventurers may become involved when two boys abused in this manner run away from their dormitory and are snatched up by ogrekin.

A hell hound is famous for haunting the Bog of Bonny May.  The bog’s other dangers include a band of sprites made mad by gorse wine, two shrieking skeletons, and a thicket of mire nettles with absurdly large purple blossoms whose pollen causes profound anxiety in dwarves and goblins.

Pathfinder Bestiary 6 188


No stats for the mire nettle are online yet, so no link.  Also, apologies if the formatting for this post is different—Firefox and Blogger aren't coöperating tonight, so I'm using Safari instead.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Mezlan


If we were going to give the latest Pathfinder Bestiary a proper Hollywood sequel title, we could do worse than Bestiary 6: The Rehabilitation of the Ooze.  Every Bestiary engages in certain projects, and one of B6’s is trying to figure out what to do with the Ooze subtype now that we already have five monster hardcovers under our belts. 

The creation of blights is one answer—we’ve got our first blight coming soon, actually—and highly intelligent, high-CR threats like the mezlan is another.  Blurring the line between ooze and construct (with a dash of undead thrown in), a mezlan is an ooze created from the consciousness of a willing volunteer.  Nearly impossible to kill and often retaining their class levels, mezlans were the elite spies and shock troops of a long dead civilization.  Now they are among the last remnants of that civilization—some still carrying out old missions, others trying to find purpose in a world that has moved on. 

For players and PCs of a philosophical bent, mezlans raise questions about the nature of consciousness and humanity.  And because the techniques needed to create them have been lost, mezlans are a reminder that some secrets will always remain in the past…and probably should stay that way.

Told to seek a scion of the river god Proteus, adventurers instead encounter a mezlan posing as a shapeshifting ichthyocentaur.  If the adventurers have acquired the right symbols its fallen empire, the mezlan treats them as elite agents and begins reciting a millennia-old message.  But it will allow no one entrance into the temple it guards—even if the message instructs the adventurers to proceed inside.

The rivalry between the Golden Imperium of Nal, the first and greatest human empire, and the elven league of the Vith T’shir was a long and bitter one.  No less than three mezlans were created to kill the five elven royal families (for a sum that quite literally beggared a Golden colony and cost Nal its embassy on the Elemental Plane of Earth).  One was destroyed; the other is presumed to have followed the Vith Pana when they sailed to the Morninglands.  The third is still missing, and some elf scholars hope to interrogate it so they can learn secrets about the Vith T’shir they themselves have forgotten.

A mezlan operates an orbiting android manufactory—nevermind that no orders have come through in more than a century.  The mezlan sees her fluid form and dim memories of her natural life as proof that she is superior to the machinefolk she creates and tinkers with.  The presence of organic living creatures or proof of android souls (such as an android capable of casting divine spells) call that superiority into question and may drive her to violence.

Pathfinder Adventure Path #66 90–91 & Pathfinder Bestiary 6 186–187

(Note that at time of writing, the link to the mezlan’s OGC stats is cranky, but I’ll link above anyway.)

Not long ago I finally finished watching my first ever Star Trek series, Deep Space Nine.  Mezlans would serve pretty well for the Dominion’s Founders.