The addition of oni to Pathfinder is supremely satisfying. It explains—finally!—ogre magi in a way the world’s oldest role-playing game never did—oh, so they’re spirits that crave and emulate but distort standard physical forms, gotcha—and introduces a whole new class of evil outsiders to fight. Like divs, oni suggest a side of the Other World we know little about, and they have complex psyches and real motivations beyond destruction (unlike, say, daemons). And while clearly they owe a debt to Eastern legends, I can easily imagine them in Western adventures as well. All of which makes fire yai an excellent place to start…
A fire giant tribe captures a mountain sacred to the area’s oracles. The tribe’s fire yai leader demands the construction of a combination fortress and bathhouse for dark spirits over the sacred hot springs—managing in one fell swoop to claim a home and a source of income, dislocate and disempower potential threats, and serve his own hedonistic instincts.
A fire yai and an ice yai have engaged in a war of insults and skirmishing strikes lasting half a millennia. Frustrated by the stalemate, and with his fire giant troops being too few in number to send against the ice yai, the fire yai has begun experimenting with alternate forms. His current favorite is that of an elf, and he is beginning to rally the griffon riders to his cause.
A talking statue claims to be the soul of a wizard trapped in stone by an evil oni. He sends a party of adventurers to retrieve a rival fire yai’s third eye, claiming that doing so will break the spell. In reality, the statute is really the mouthpiece of a dybbuk who envies the fire yai’s mortal body and acquisition of physical sensations.
—Pathfinder Bestiary 3 206
I just finished the DragonEmpires Gazetteer and Horsemen of theApocalypse. James Jacobs/DaveGross/Rob McCreary’s DGE was a sheer pleasure, just as its preview in KoboldQuarterly suggested. Paizo has created a wonderful pan-Asian-esque continent I want to explore. When’s the big fat version come out?
HotA was another mater. Though I enjoy Todd Stewart’s work on the whole, this was a miserable slog—not because the writing was bad, but because it was too good. I don’t like Golarion’s daemons, especially when compared to Planescape and 3.0’s yugoloths. Yugoloths were self-serving mercenaries who switched sides at the drop of a hat. In other words, they were deliciously fun. Pathfinder’s daemons, on the other hand, want utter destruction of all mortal souls. That works logically in the cosmology (demons want to despoil, devils want to corrupt, daemons just want it to end), but it ends up being such a stark, bleak vision that I barely want to read about it, let along contemplate it.
Most role-playing games, ideally, let you fight battles on a grand scale. Along the way, they often take you out of the world for a while. But Stewart convinces us in HotA that your characters are definitely, finally going to lose—and along the way, makes you feel the chill of your own mortality in an unrelenting, awful way. Rather than offer you escapism, you get nihilism and existential dread. It’s a testament to his writing, but there is such a thing as succeeding too well. HotA ends up being book I never want to pick up again, full of enemies my characters can only forestall, not vanquish. It took something of my soul reading it, and that’s not a sensation I care to repeat.