Wednesday, September 26, 2012


Edit: In Safari, the Kappa and Kangaroo entries seem to be mashed up. Try the Tumblr versions here and here.

There’s a wealth of folklore out there about the bowl-headed, turtle-like kappa that one day I’m going to have to fully explore.  (Japanese myths and legends are not my strong suit, and the little I know has come filtered through anime.)  If you have that knowledge, you’re a step ahead (and feel free to tell us what more we should know!); if not, kappas are still a fantastic edition to your game.  At CR 2 they’re excellent low-level encounters that give both the GM and the PCs lots of room for creativity: kappas can be straight-up monsters, unlikely benefactors, comic relief, or a mix of all three, and how they react to your party (and vice versa) can be determined by attack roles, Diplomacy and Intimidation checks, straight-up role-playing, or (again) all three.  They’re a great replacement for trolls in the riddling-monster-under-the-bridge department, and the can be surprising villains for parties who expect every watery prank to involve a nixie.  And with their unique head bowls, they’re also creatures straight out of folklore and myth—indeed, an encounter with a kappa might be what inspires young villagers to leave their homes and become adventurers in the first place.

A party of adventurers meets a kappa in the temple raiment of a human priest devoted to ancestor worship.  That’s odd enough, but so is his location: climbing an arid mountain far from his watery home.  Sixty years ago a priest saved the kappa’s life, and the kappa became his assistant in return.  Now the priest lies dying unless the kappa can find powdered dragon claw for his medicine.  A party of adventurers could be a boon to him, but in his pride, distress, and discomfort so far from home he’s as likely to yell at or even attack them as he is to ask for aid.

Kappas are occasionally truly dangerous and lustful creatures.  A degenerate kappa known as Migurushii (“ugly”) has haunted a hot spring for years, devouring lone men and assaulting lone women.  Now a wrestling school for girls has opened up nearby.  Depending on the skill of the young monks, they could be easy prey, or Migurushii will finally pay for his dark appetites.

A lich, long the bane of the Daggerkite Peaks, has been destroyed by a strike force of sun clerics and other divine agents.  But the hunt is on for his phylactery.  Meanwhile, in the dike- and canal-dotted city of Delph, a kappa is terrified.  For years he has dwelt in a sunken grotto beneath the famous fountain in St. Yasin’s Plaza, accompanied by his tame phantom fungus companion.  The pair has led an idyllic life—the kappa delights in tormenting passersby at dusk and dawn, while the phantom fungus feeds well on local swans, pelicans, and drunks after dark.  But for the past three days, a skeleton has begun assembling itself out of nothing in the kappa’s grotto.  The aquatic humanoid is terrified, but can’t risk going for help without exposing his lair and his hungry pet to strangers.

Pathfinder Bestiary 3 166

I still recall me first kappa encounter: the cover of Dragon Magazine 151.  (I’m leaving that typo in because it makes me sound like a pirate.)

Speaking of pirates, swashbuckling reader Nick mixed some Magnimar and GameMastery Guide encounter tables to give us one last set of adventure seeds: Phantom fungus/Lich's phylactery/In a plaza.  Challenge accepted!

Of course, only after laboring to figure out a way to get combine a kappa, a fungus, and one of the undead did I realize the answer should have been obvious: base the adventure seed on a level of Super Mario Bros. 3 and call it a day.

More reader adventure hooks on the way!  If you want to join in, Gmail or send me your dice roll results.  Thanks!


  1. Why didn't I think of that! Kappa lich = Dry Bones! Brilliant!

    Kappa are one of the most popular yokai, and you've absolutely hit on why: they can be comical, menacing or social depending on the story and the context. And a menacing kappa is very menacing indeed: their favorite food is the "shirikodama", a mythical ball of flesh found by sucking a human's intestines out through the anus. Fortunately, they're also quite fond of cucumber, hence the "kappa rolls" in sushi restaurants.

  2. A few other things I have read/seen:

    1) Kappa have more variant names than any other yokai in Japan. Kataro, Gataro, Gakko, Gattai, Gattaraboshi, Gattaru, Kawataro, Kawako, Ingaraboshi, Kaakanba (bi, bu, be, or bo), Kaakozou, Kaasu (coincidentally also how one writes "curse" phonetically in Japanese), Kaasuppa, Komahiki, Gorambo, Zarappa, Sanbon, Sujinko, Sujindon... y'know, I've only made it through the first three sections of my big yokai book (out of ten), and I'm all tuckered out. Moving on...

    2) They get all sorts of stuff attributed to them. In one common story, a kappa teaches the man who saved its life the recipe for a miraculous medicine (usually an unguent), with which the man made his fortune as a doctor. In many others, they are the personification of deadly currents and the danger of swimming alone.

    They also have magic rocks associated with them, or have mummified limbs kept in special shrines. There's a story out of Oita in Kyushu) about a kappa that liked to trick young maidens into marrying him. A bit farther north, along the NE corner of Kyushu, there's even a story about a gang of evil kappa that could fly around and drain peoples blood (possibly but not specifically via the anus).

    One of my favorites is how some kappa are the masters of such awful punnery that they can force people into a state of shock, at which time they go for the shiriko-dama (either to eat it or to control a person with it).

    Seriously, this is a very versatile creature. Have fun!