Thursday, August 4, 2011

Barghest & Greater Barghest

Barghests are awesome monsters. For one thing, their ability to feed makes them downright terrifying at the table.  GMs wishing to take advantage of this should be sure there is a disposable NPC handy when the PCs first encounter one.  Seeing an NPC’s corpse (and soul(!) if you’re using 3.5 rules) vanish down a barghest’s gullet should absolutely horrify the player characters and players alike.

They also have the advantage of surprise and scalability at just the right time in your campaign.  By the time PCs encounter barghests, they should be walloping goblins and even hobgoblins fairly easily.  Barghests add an x factor to the tunnels that players probably thought they all but commanded.  And barghests point the way to greater mysteries—goblin gods, devils and daemons, the Lower Planes and beyond—that could occupy the next several arcs of the PCs careers.

A tribe of hobgoblins shows signs of fiendish blood.  The cause is the tribe’s secret barghest leader, who has charmed the chief and bedded most of tribe’s women.  He is grooming his young barghest and half-fiend children for assaults on nearby human and half-orc towns.

Chaos reigns in the city as packs of werewolves and barghests duel in the street.  So far the barghests’ magical talents (especially blink and the greater barghests’ mass bull’s strength and mass enlarge) is more than offsetting the werewolves’ damage resistance.  Meanwhile, the town is powerless to stop the feuding or the collateral damage, as the guard captain and most of the Watch have been revealed to be lycanthropes during the struggle.

Planar barghests live in the Hells but aren’t devils themselves—making them among the lowest rungs of a truly soul-crushing ladder.  And they need the union of corpse and soul to feed—the soulstuff of Hell’s larvae and lemurs will not sate them.  But they are also have more opportunities than devils to escape the obligations of Hell’s hierarchy.  Barghests will often go to great lengths—including allying with neutral and even good spellcasters—for the slightest chance to feed and grow in the Prime Material plane.

Pathfinder Bestiary 27

I’ve been avoiding the barghest entry for one simple reason: shame.

Back in grad school or just after, I worked on a “The Ecology of the Barghest” article for Dragon.  I sent it in and actually got it returned with encouraging comments.  The piece needed work, but it definitely saw some kind attention from an editor.

This is where the shame comes in: I never touched it again.

Why not?  Mostly stupid quotidian reasons.  Time was a huge factor—I was juggling several teaching gigs/starting my career in advertising, living in my parents’ guest room, and generally going nuts.  Oh, and I moved…the draft definitely came with me when I decamped to Baltimore.  Plus the usual psychological barriers: procrastination, fear the article I wrote wouldn’t be as good as the one in my mind, etc.

But there was another reason: As much as I liked my article (and barghests), I only sort of liked it.  The reason was the formatting—I could never get behind the new Dragon Ecology format.*  I wrote my article because that was the idea the editors selected from my query letter, but my heart wasn’t in it.  I was checking off boxes, not putting passion onto the page.

Still, I always assumed I’d have time to revise my article.  But then Dragon closed up shop (through no fault of its own).  So I never got to contribute my take on the barghest, and now that Kobold Quarterly has covered it, there’s no reason for me to.

All in all, a lost opportunity I don’t intend to repeat.  Next time—if there is a next time—I’m going all in.  No procrastination, and definitely no more shame.

*I can talk more about this if people want me to.  Or not.  It was a rare stumble from an otherwise fantastic magazine—an awkward intermediate step between the old brilliant story Ecologies and the Pathfinder’s equally brilliant Revisited series.

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