Thursday, May 31, 2012

Gray Render

When Wizards of the Coast took over TSR, there was a lot of fretting that the world’s oldest role-playing game was going to turn into D&D: The Gathering.  That didn’t happen—in fact, WoTC completely reinvigorated D&D—and only one beastie in the 3.0 Monster Manual really felt like an import: the gray render.  With its descriptive name, bonding habit, smashy-smashy abilities, and hulking, multi-eyed shape that looked straight out of card flavor art, you could be forgiven for wanting to tap mana every time a gray render showed up.

That doesn’t make it a bad monster though.  The fact that it’s a predator who has herbivore pets is wonderfully weird.  Its lack of rhyme or reason in its affections means a gray render could show up as the bodyguard of your favorite dryad or the slave of your lizardfolk archenemy.  And it’s twice as deadly to structures…

Cursed with limited resources and poor soil, the thorp of Hamden is almost entirely reliant on shepherding to survive.  When a gray render adopts the little hamlet’s flock as its own, the townsfolk are unable to even shear wool without arousing the creature to violence.

Driven from town after its thoughtless pranks fouled the mill (and nearly cost the miller’s daughter her life), a disconsolate faerie dragon falls in with problematic company in the deep woods.  The first is a particularly large gray render that adopts the butterfly-winged dragon as its pet.  The second is a redcap determined to stoke the faerie dragon’s feelings of rejections into out-and-out hate.  He talks of nothing but using the great gray beast to take revenge on the townsfolk, and the faerie dragon is beginning to see things his way.

Perhaps it is the taint of iron in the river.  Perhaps it is the stink of black powder.  But the gunworks of Caer Iarann had only been up and running for three months when the gray renders appeared out of the forest…and began to try night after night to batter the wooden palisades of the new town down.

Pathfinder Bestiary 2 160

Yes, of course Caer Iarann is a Princess Mononoke homage.

Backlog alert: Cacodaemon, chernobue, dark slayer, dark stalker, and dragon horse entries are up (the last of which means we’re caught up for the month of December!).

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Gray Ooze

Gray oozes are Ooze 101.  The first lesson: Don’t hit them with your sword.

Adventurers expect oozes underground, but they often forget to keep a wary eye out for them in swamps.  When their native bearers refuse to drink from the only pond not encrusted with lime-green algae, a group of city slicker heroes might scoff until the first gray ooze pseudopod burns into their waterskins.

Aquatic societies loathe the difficult-to-spot crystal oozes—tritons in particular.  They train dolphins to search for the oozes with echolocation and then raise the alarm.  Rare outcast tritons sometimes use captured crystal oozes as assassination tools.

The half-elf enchantress Trienne suffered a magical backlash and had her consciousness swapped into an id ooze’s body.  She alternates between trying to beg for help by writing garbled messages in acid and having to answer her new body’s strange hungers.

Pathfinder Bestiary 166

Backlog alert: Bulette, cythnigot, derro, dire rat/rat swarm, dire shark/shark, and draconal entries are up.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Graven Guardian

As constructs go, graven guardians are relatively low level and affordable, making them common in temples, tombs, and other sacred sites.  Graven guardians can be especially useful for PCs who are investigating ancient ruins—a graven guardian’s visage, chosen weapon, and domains might offer clues as to the nature of the deity to whom these ruins were once sacred.

A respected nobleman dies bleeding in the street.  Across the city, the fox- and owl-headed graven guardians (with the Death and Repose domains) outside the Temple of Quiet Night bear short swords dripping with his blood.  Did the nobleman trespass on the temple grounds?  If so, why…and how did he traverse the city without being seen in his bloodied state?

The ruins of a city have been found in the rocky hills of Kern.  Graven guardians stand in front of important buildings—mostly spear-holding female figures of the Earth, Knowledge, Law, or Protection domains.  One site, however, hosts an ox-headed, peacock-winged statue of Madness and Sun.  The site supervisor will pay a fortune to those who can overcome or fool the guardians and reveal more about the wonders inside each building.

A priest enchants a graven guardian to honor his deity, yet it comes to life wielding a different weapon that that of the faith.  Is this a sign, or did someone subvert the ritual?

Pathfinder Bestiary 3 140–141

Want to pick graven guardian domains randomly or on the fly?  Grab some d10s and roll twice on this chart:

Graven Guardian Domains
d%                Result
01–03            Air
04–06            Animal
07–09            Artifice
10–12            Chaos
13–15            Charm
16–18            Community
19–21            Darkness
22–24            Death
25–27            Destruction
28–30            Earth
31–33            Evil
34–36            Fire
37–39            Glory
40–42            Good
43–45            Healing
46–48            Knowledge
49–51            Law
52–54            Liberation
55–57            Luck
58–60            Madness
61–63            Magic
64–66            Nobility
67–69            Plant
70–72            Protection
73–75            Repose
76–78            Rune
79–81            Strength
82–84            Sun
85–87            Travel
88–90            Trickery
91–93            War
94–96            Water
97–99            Weather
00                  Bonus domain; roll twice more on this chart ignoring subsequent rolls of 00.

You can also use the same chart to come up with new deities.  Just roll on the above chart two, three, or even four times and see what you get.  Then roll on the below chart for your new deity’s alignment:

Deity Alignment
d10       Result
1            LG
2            NG
3            CG
4            LN
5            N
6            CN
7            LE
8            NE
9            CE
0            Deity has multiple aspects of differing alignments; roll twice more on this chart ignoring subsequent rolls of 0.

Don’t stress if your rolls appear to conflict with each other; instead, think of it as an opportunity for invention.  An evil deity with the Sun and Repose domains might be a vengeful desert god who punishes both tomb defilers and the undead.  A deity with the domains of Good and Evil might be a god of balance or a mad god with a split personality.  A deity with the Nobility and Protection domain might be a patron of lords and cavaliers, while one with the Charm and Protection domain might be a domestic power of hearth and home or a patron of town criers, bards, or seductive servants.  The dice deliver the result; you get to craft the story.

Finally, backlog alert: Ettin entry is up, which finishes up the letter E for us.

Monday, May 28, 2012


In the world’s oldest role-playing game, death knights have a pretty long history, starting with the Fiend Folio.  Pathfinder’s gloss on undead anti-paladins is the graveknight, introduced during the Council of Thieves Adventure Path.  Graveknights are even more tied to their armor than death knights—it functions much as a lich’s phylactery—and each one is infused with some kind of fell energy, typically fire.  As with many powerful undead, each graveknight is an individual with a story of his own and tweaked abilities to match his tormented biography or necrography, as the case may be.

Sir Semual was a knight whose overflowing courage and charity were undermined only by his desire to share his loins just as freely.  When tarrying at an assignation cost him the lives of several of his companions and his knighthood, he gave into despair and died on a suicidal mission fighting greater shadows.  Rather than rise as one of them, he instead rose as a graveknight, whose sacrilegious aura and acid-laced arms and armor ensure he’ll never know the touch of a lover again.

The mirthless Regus of Lankshire never even noticed his death.  The cruel taskmaster of Rimereach, his determination to hold the fort against frost giant assaults led him to push recruits until they were maimed by frostbite or mauled in the practice field.  When he perished keeping watch in his armor during a blizzard, he was already a graveknight by the time his body was found.  The ice-encrusted undead knight has resisted all attempts to slay or exorcise him, and his order debates the wisdom of continuing to try or abandoning Rimereach altogether.  In the meantime, they still send him recruits—after all, the frost giants are still out there.

Selfish knights, cavaliers, anti-paladins, and brigands, the faithless Fists of the Black Banner traded the freedom of their grand duchy for infernal power. Now the eight graveknights ride on phantom steeds limned in fire and lightning. While the Fists’ armored helms reveal nothing of their former faces, each knight can be identified by the distinctive polearm he or she wields.

Pathfinder Adventure Path 26 84–85 & Pathfinder Bestiary 3 138–139

Finished reading one Pathfinder book last week and three more this weekend.  Giants Revisited was quite solid but left me wanting more—though I realize the title was not Giants Visited, I would have loved (and paid for) a slightly longer book to fit the new giants from Bestiary 2 and 3.  Mike Shel’s Tomb of the Iron Medusa had a nice set piece that brought the scenario’s backstory to life, and RPG Superstar! winner Sam Zeitlyn’s The Midnight Mirror was worth the prize, especially for the sick tallowthroat disease and truly wicked lurker in light.  Richard Pett’s Carrion Hill especially deserves a nod for being jus about the only full-length adventure I’ve ever felt like I could run after a single reading.  I’m not a huge Lovecraft fan, but Carrion Hill drew me in, moved along at a clip, and left me wanting to play it immediately.

Backlog alert: Bearded devil, bebilith, cheetah/leopard, clockwork golem, and crocodile/dire crocodile entries are up.  That means August is done, and we’re down to the last 20 or so unfinished monsters.

Hey!  It’s my show, here to close out your Memorial Day weekend!  Classic Love and Belle & Sebastian?  We got that.  New music from the Gaslight Anthem and the Mynabirds?  Yeah, we got that.  Harto from My Drunk Kitchen singing about food?  Oh, you best believe we got that.  Download it.

(Music starts just over one minute into the file, after—yeah, I know, I’m sorry—an Emergency Alert System test.  Just fast-forward.  The feed can skip, so let load in Firefox or Chrome, Save As an mp3, and enjoy in iTunes.  Link good until Friday, 6/1, at midnight.)

Friday, May 25, 2012

Gourd Leshy

Gourd leshys aren’t exactly tough combatants.  But for atmospherics and role-playing opportunities (not to mention adorability—I mean seriously, they have pumpkin heads!), they can’t be beat.  Their superstitions bring them to life as NPCs; their ability to hide MacGuffins in their heads can kick-start a campaign.

A girl in an isolated village believes magic is a thing of fairy tales and rumors.  When a gourd leshy surprises her on a moonlit night and produces a stone that unlocks her latent sorcerous powers, her world changes forever.

An angry-mouthed, squash-faced gourd leshy torments the nephew of its master with its entangling seeds.  The rude boy regularly humiliated the creature when his uncle was alive, and now the leshy is taking revenge.

An abandoned cottage has become the court of a patch of gourd leshys, who engage in small ritual actions with the devotion of priests—hoeing the garden in a widdershins direction, collecting blue jay feathers, pushing shells around on a chessboard, and so on.  They respond with silent approval to big folk who join them in their efforts, which may or may not unlock the site’s secrets.

Pathfinder Bestiary 3 178

If I ever GMed a really small role-playing group—say, one or two players—I would almost certainly insert a gourd leshy to get the campaign moving.

Backlog alert: Barghest/greater barghest and basidirond entries are finally up.

So on Facebook I do a thing called F--- Fridays, where I post a song I can’t spin on my show thanks to FCC concerns.  Here’s this week’s track to get you pumped for the long weekend: the Main Attrakionz remix of Dominant Legs’ “Make Time For The Boy.”

Thursday, May 24, 2012


Gorynyches feel like old-school dragons—manipulative, multiple heads, fire-breathing, a penchant for maidens—in a way that many dragons haven’t felt since the first edition of the world’s oldest role-playing game.  But they still feel very fresh at the table.  (They made their 2nd Edition appearance only in Dragon Magazine 158 and a Monstrous Compendium Annual, and didn’t pop up in 3.5 until Lost Empires of Faerûn.)  So they’re a GM’s dream: CR 15, able to play the brute or the mastermind, a throwback that’s as old as St. George but will still surprise and terrify.  Delicious.

Any wag will tell you that Amber Vrees, the daughter of the local viscount, is no maiden—which did not stop a gorynych from luring her away with alter self and charm person, and then setting fire to half the Blue Wald.  For while the young lady may be no virgin, the gorynych knows that Elissa, the underprepared paladin of Meris likely to be sent after her, most certainly is….

An ember of lust—for gold, for territory, for mates, for power—burns in the heart of even the noblest dragon.  The gorynych embodies that lust with no apologies.  In the bowl-shaped valley of Beggar’s Cauldron, the gorynych Sal Vesh Ru (each name corresponding to one of its heads and personalities) rules over a horrid city dominated by ogrekin, harpies, lamia nobles, and lustspawn, bestowing curses and limited wishes at its leisure.

The gorynych’s obsession with maidens is a hunger that goes beyond mere lust.  Consuming both the body and the potential spiritual energy of a virgin helps a gorynych advance in power in a manner similar to a barghest.  Unlike the barghest’s feeding, this ritual consumption and metamorphosis is a slow process that takes days, so it is not a threat during combat.  Still, it can yield gorynyches of unspeakable power.  The bogatyrs of Kern report that a specimen known as Grisha can regenerate, roar the equivalent of a sonic burst, and has birthed a deaf and dumb albino fourth head that breathes frost.

Pathfinder Bestiary 3 137

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


We’ve talked before about how weird decisions made early in the history of the world’s oldest role-playing game have embedded themselves in fantasy gaming’s DNA.  The gorgon is a classic example of this.  In Greek myths, gorgons were what we call medusas, and Medusa herself was just one named member of the species.  (Stheno and Euryale probably feel slighted that they don’t get her press, but then again, they got to keep their heads.) 

But Gary Gygax and/or Dave Arneson slapped the label on a stony bull-like monster (I’m assuming as some play on the verb “gore”) and it’s been part of the game ever since.  In the “basic” D&D I played as a kid, gorgons had ties to the Plane of Earth; where they fit in your campaign ecosystem is up to you.

Gorgons resist being herded, but they can be goaded.  Evil stone giants regularly drive gorgons toward human towns. The resulting mayhem leaves the battered settlements ripe for raiding, and the gorgons (now fat on the stony flesh of petrified citizens) ripe for slaughtering.

The breath of a gorgon is often one of the only things that can harm artifacts of moderate power. Destroying such an artifact can thus require travel deep below the earth, where gorgons thrive in distant caverns.  Assuming the explorers can avoid the gorgons’ petrifying clouds, they must also avoid the underworld dragons who jealously guard those lands.

Gorgons arose in the Realms Between, on stony worlds bathed in the energies of the Plane of Earth and the Material alike.  There oreads tend the placid beasts on rocky, butte-studded steppes, defending them from the predations of rocs and feral barghest packs.  It is only when gorgons migrate to other planes that they become so aggressive, driven mad by nutritional needs the foreign environments cannot meet.

Pathfinder Bestiary 165

Edit: This is what I get for posting early.  I completely missed today’s Moog-honoring Google doodle!  I think I just had an Emerson, Lake & Palmer-gasm.  Or maybe a Karmella’s Game experience?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Goliath Stag & Slicer Beetles

Someone once quipped—Darwin gets the credit, but it was probably J.B.S. Haldane, as possibly glossed by Stephen Jay Gould—that the Creator “has an inordinate fondness for beetles.”  So if the Bestiary 2 wants to throw a few more beetles our way, who are we mere mortals to argue?

A common rock troll test of manhood involves heading unarmed into a slicer beetle warren and coming out alive.  The leader of a rock troll gang may demand other humanoids survive the test before he will parley with them.

A goliath stag beetle’s preferred habitat is a stretch of forest that has suffered a calamity, such as a lightning strike or fire, where displaced game is plentiful and the thinned-out underbrush makes its trample attack all the more effective.  A logging team finds this out the hard way, as every acre it clears attracts more of the Huge vermin, as well as inflaming the local nymphs against them.

In the pyramid-studded land of Mekhtar, the sun is said to be a giant scarab pushing a ball of fire through the sky, and the moon is a giant slicer beetle that takes bits off the corpse of the Queen of Evening as it wanes.  In a grisly homage, the Cult of Night in Mekhtar’s capital abducts its political and business rivals and deposits them in the caves outside the city to be devoured by slicer beetles.

Pathfinder Bestiary 2 44

I heard Stephen Jay Gould speak once.  It was in college, where one does such things.

Backlog alert: I was so busy telling you about gold dragons yesterday I forgot to mention that I got the black dragon, brass dragon, and crawling hand/giant crawling hand entries up.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Gold Dragon

Most parties shouldn’t ever have to fight a gold dragon.  Typically they’re either far above the fray or far behind the scenes, and even when a party does encounter one, it’s much more likely to be a mentor or ally to good-aligned PCs (or even a mount, if a truly righteous cause and rider is involved) than an adversary.

Yet gold dragons can tarnish (albeit rarely).  And their vision for the greater good may involve cold math that does not jibe with the PC’s views of right, choice, and freedom.  (To make a crude analogy, as a society we value vaccine research, for instance, but we rarely ask the lab mice’s opinions on the matter.)  And just conversing with or outthinking a gold dragon may be worth a substantial story award.

After years of planning, a demilich manages to arrange circumstances so that one of its gems gets selected by a gold dragon as her luck gem.  Now an imprint of the horrific undead has imposed itself on the gold dragon’s consciousness, driving her to fulfill darker and darker urges as she quickly begins to tarnish.

Tired of their riddle games, a gold dragon and a sphinx embark in a new series of mental and physical challenges.  In their latest bout, the gold dragon has allowed the sphinx to send a party of adventurers against him, who will try to subdue the drake according the old customs long abandoned.  Should they succeed, each member of the company shall each receive a magic item, as well as a book for group to return to the sphinx’s library.

An entire flight of silver dragons is knocked out assaulting an Abyssal rift.  Maddened with grief, their gold dragon mentor drives back the invading demons—but she does not stop there.  Determined to bring the fight to the enemy, she has impressed every adult humanoid male in a fifty-mile radius and has begun building an army.

Pathfinder Bestiary 108–109

Regarding dragon subdual: Browsing through old editions of the world’s oldest role-playing game should give you some idea how to handle it, and there are plenty of rules and discussions online you can adapt.  A good rule of thumb is reaching 50 or 100 percent of the dragon’s hit points with nonlethal damage (using the flat of the blade, etc.) and no damage-causing spells directed at the dragon.

Of all the dragons, I feel like golds need the most thought before they get inserted into campaign.  They’re beings of such potential power that I think how the approach life in your world says something about that world and the role of dragons in general.  Are they wise counselors?  Open rulers?  Mystic sages?  Warriors for good?  Carefully hidden points of light?  Removed from the affairs of men entirely?  It’s worth thinking about.

Obviously, more about gold dragons can be found in Mike McArtor’s Dragons Revisited and in any Golarion setting book that references the island nation of Hermea.

I did almost zero planning for my show Saturday, so it’s even more old-school, fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants free-form radio that usual…which may explain why it’s more testosteroney than usual as well.  Listen (although forgive me if something seems slightly off, sound-wise—I think one of the channels was feeling weak).

(Music starts just over one minute into the file.  If it skips, you know the drill: Let load in Firefox or Chrome, Save As an mp3, and enjoy in iTunes.  Link good until Friday, 5/25, at midnight.)

Also, whether or not you download my show, you owe it to yourself to check out TV Girls’ The Wild, The Innocent, The TV Shuffle mixtape.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Goblin Snake

Goblin snakes…could make a bit more sense.  (Okay, so they’re aberrations, but also goblinoids?  Check.  And as far as their origins…well, let’s just say we know more about where baby owlbears come from, unless you’re going with the discount naga angle…)  But they make fun low-level antagonists for just that reason: a talking snake with goblin blood and halitosis has the surprise factor built in.

Through guile and intimidation Hiss, a female goblin snake, and Roarc, an intelligent +1 handaxe, have taken control of a goblin tribe.  The two argue incessantly, especially during combat.

Years of living just downstream from the wizard’s college have granted a goblin snake crude sorcerous powers.  Billing himself as a naga called Death Adder, he lords over the local water moccasins and a few famished river kobolds.  Despite the sad state of his retinue, he should not be underestimated—“Death Adder” resents any creature larger than he is, and the combination of the kobold’s traps, his moccasins’ poison, and the rushing river can be lethal.

The goblin snake Vulp lucked into a malfunctioning ring of flying (the sputtering magical item provides only three rounds of flight) that he wears on his tail.  If cornered in his lair, he hides in an ogre skull and hovers aloft, posing as an undead spirit and using his goblin breath to ward off anyone who comes to close.

Pathfinder Adventure Path 1 88 & Pathfinder Bestiary 3 132

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Goblin Dog

Goblin dogs don’t need a lot of explication—they’re dogs for goblins.  Duh.  So the real question becomes, how else might you use them?  Seeing goblin dogs in the presence of human or other supposedly civilized folk should set off alarm bells for observant PCs.

The Rittenvars are known as an unfriendly and eccentric family who can’t keep a servant longer than a fortnight.  The rare visitors to their manor house find the disagreeable, allergy-prone family to be shockingly poor hosts.  Closer inspection reveals more strangeness: the family hounds are really goblin dogs, and yellow runes are marked along the back passageways.

Ratfolk who openly move among the cities of men often find their dire rat mounts aren’t welcome.  They have taken to breeding hound rats (goblin dogs) as guards and companions, hoping these will be less offensive to their human neighbors.  Unfortunately, while ratfolk and goblins may be immune to the hound rats’ dander, humans aren’t, so the quasi-canines have done little to smooth relations.

A noted collector of rare animals, Professor Wiltshire is determined to enter his goblin dog into the Dowerton Dog Show.  Against the protest of everyone involved, the head judge allows the entry (the by-the-book aasimar noting that mange is an identifying characteristic of the breed).  Naturally, the goblin dog wreaks havoc, the show is a fiasco, and the professor is thrown in the clink overnight for causing a public disturbance.  But with the professor in lockup, there is no one to feed his menagerie at night…and that’s when the real fiasco begins.

Pathfinder Adventure Path 1 87 & Pathfinder Bestiary 157

Backlog alert: As a very belated Christmas gift, I finished the doppelganger and dracolisk/half-dragon entries.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


It’s not a long stretch to say that goblins made Paizo.  The goblins that kicked off the Rise of the Runelords Adventure Path showed Paizo’s flair for reinventing and reinvigorating the classics, making a familiar race feel new without feeling foreign.  (That trick, as I’m discovering every day I try to write this blog, is not easy).  The rewrite was a masterstroke pure and simple…and for a community already feeling jittery about the impending 4th Edition, it made the Pathfinder magazine/book hybrid (now Pathfinder Adventure Path) a life preserver.

So what will your goblins be?  The Gremlins-esque dog-slicing, horse-fearing, fire-setting vandals laid out in the Pathfinder books?  The grunts of Krynn’s evil armies?  The toad-faced backstabbers of Mystara’s Broken Lands?  They’re your monsters; go nuts.  (They might even be PCs!)  If you’re feeling stuck, here are a few more ideas…

The goblins of Vrin are a stunted, shriveled race, toiling beneath their human masters in the sewers and boilers rooms of great stone cities that used to be theirs.  In caverns far below that, however, their priests still rule, still perform blood sacrifices, and still pray to strange dark powers for their redemptions.  Their prayers are answered twice over: a pack of barghests arrive in the summoning pentacles, and the first generation of hobgoblins is born…

The Silk Road to Far Lu-Shong is a dangerous one.  The wolf-riding goblins of the steppes are numerous, and while most are simple warriors, some develop into fierce barbarians and rangers.  They are also deeply in touch with the spirit world, with their summoners commanding eidolons of surprising power.

On land, goblins are a nuisance.  Aboard ship they are a threat—able to climb ratlines with ease, hide in tiny bolt-holes, and demolish a ship’s stores with their ravenous appetites.  In space, they can be downright lethal, as a surprising number of them can hide in the crevasses of almost any asteroid with an atmosphere, and their mutinous exploits are notorious for fouling or consuming a voidship’s air envelope.

Classic Monsters Revisited 16–21 & Pathfinder Bestiary 156

After the reader reaction to yesterday’s post, I realize I should have just called my blog The Daily Gnoll 11 months ago and saved myself a lot of typing.  Thanks for the reblogs!

Backlog alert: Took care of some azatasBralani and brijidine entries are up.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


When it comes to humanoids, gnolls are either the best or worst of a bad lot.  They can be played as noble savages (see Mystara), remorseless slavers (see the Forgotten Realms), or gibbering maniacs (see Classic Monsters Revisited…oh, and The Lion King).  And since they travel in packs and are quick to ally with flinds, trolls, ghouls, and worse, they can quickly overwhelm unprepared PCs.

The Shattered Thigh gnoll clan, once a manageable nuisance on the frontier, has become a veritable terror since the spring floods.  A new witch leader has revealed a genius for tactics, and her successes have turned the gnolls away from worship of the Blood Mother in favor of her unnamed dark patron.  Some in the tribe are growing concerned, however, because the witch is becoming undeniably madder by the day.  A few even mutter it appears her tarantula familiar is really leading the tribe, if such a thing were possible…

Gnolls’ willingness to adopt outsiders into their midst can make for some very strange tribes.  Jemsin’s Mob is a flind-led lot featuring trolls, ghoul thralls, half-orc affliction-ridden oracles, and a mad band of human barbarian berserkers and anti-paladins that are truly terrifying in their savagery.

Gnolls are common in the servant, untouchable, and criminal classes of Punwar.  Among them are the feared Night of the New Moon, a group of thuggees.  These assassins kill for both money and devotional reasons, and have a number of taboos that determine the contracts that they will accept—for instance, they will never kill a priest or a pregnant mother.  They also engage in intermittent war with rival doppelganger-led guilds that they regard as anathemas.  They occasionally ally with the rare local rakshasas, regarding them as hyenas would lions on the savannah—as potential sources for spoils, but far too dangerous to be trusted.

Classic Monsters Revisited 10–15 & Pathfinder Bestiary 155

Gnolls are hands-down the most awesome humanoids ever.  Don’t believe me?  Best race in GAZ 10 The Orcs of Thar?  Gnolls.  Coolest nation in the Known World? Graakhalia, a subterranean desert nation of gnolls and elves.  Best Dragon Magazine Ecology?  “The Ecology of the Flind” in issue #173.  Gnolls: Love them and fear them.  This I command.

Given yesterday’s epic-length post, I thought I’d save nudging you about Saturday’s show—featuring a guest-DJ set by Nicholas Sjostrom—for today.  Download it!

(If the file skips, you know the drill: Let load in Firefox or Chrome, Save As an mp3, and enjoy in iTunes.  Link good until Friday, 5/18, at midnight.)

Monday, May 14, 2012


The world’s oldest role-playing game used to have a series of practically mandated monster combos: neogi and umber hulks, ghouls and ghasts, and githyanki and red dragons all come to mind.  Pathfinder adds to that list gloomwings and their doubly dangerous offspring, tenebrous worms.  Gloomwings are good for ticking-clock adventure scenarios, or for introducing PCs to the hazards of the Plane of Shadow.

An abandoned mill on the edge of town hosts several strange cocoons—nascent gloomwings about to hatch.  Worse yet, if they are not stopped from implanting in the local townsfolk, the resulting tenebrous worms will be far outside the local sheriffs’ ability to handle.  More disturbing is the reason for the cocoon’s presence: a rift to the Plane of Shadow that is slowly opening, due to some strange engine embedded in the still semi-functional mill.

A perfumer seeks gloomwings for their musky pheromones—her new fragrance is almost ready for market.  If a party can retrieve some for her, excellent; if they are foolish enough to become implanted, she can always just petrify them to keep the eggs in safekeeping.  Such are the options to a conscienceless medusa with a business to run.

Dwarven indigents have been disappearing from Belnott.  A wizard exploring the intersection of conjuration and shadow magic has found that a supply of helpless victims makes gloomwings eagerly accept his planar ally callings.

Pathfinder Bestiary 2 133

As Blogger readers, you’ve been able to comment on posts or email me pretty easily.  But over on my Tumblr feed, I just discovered how to turn on the “Ask a Question” link. One of my readers already found it and sent me a really nice note, including this: “I didn't realize that all of the adventure hooks you post were of your own creation. Where do you get all of your ideas from?”

My response: Thanks so much, seriously!  And wow…bear with me, this could take a while…

There’s never a good way to answer that question.  But having met a lot of writers over the years, I can tell you that those who don’t at least try are total jerks. 

So I don’t want to be that guy.  And actually, I was going to mention some of this stuff on the blog’s birthday next month, so I might as well cover it now.

So, where do I get all of my ideas?

1) I read a lot.  First of all, I’ve just read a lot of stuff: fantasy, sci-fi, literary fiction, classics, you name it.  In particular, I started reading Dragon Magazine in fourth or fifth grade and Dungeon off and on from middle school, as well as whatever D&D accessories and Gazetteers I could get my hands on.

This is not to say that I’m reading for other people’s ideas (and when I do, I’m pretty careful to document it; see my globster entry). But other people’s good ideas spark your own good ideas.  And it all goes into what Tolkien called “the leaf-mold of the mind.” 

Take gnomes: over time I’ve read about Krynn’s tinker gnomes, the Scarred Lands’ jungle cannibals, Eberron’s spies and elemental conjurers, Pathfinder’s fey explorers, as well as the gnomes in classic fairy tales (and, of course, Huygen and Poortvliet’s Gnomes).  So when it’s time for me to think about gnomes, I have plenty of models for inspiration, or to reject entirely.

(Also, you might notice that I wasn’t an Advanced Dungeons & Dragons player—something that I think actually helped me in the long run.  Being a D&D player in the ’90s meant always being a little envious of all the cool classes and settings and monsters and spells etc. that AD&D players got.  But watching what Bruce Heard and the other writers did with the Known World/Mystara was a master class in “Less is more.”  Also, not being able to afford all the big fancy AD&D books on my sad allowance, I pored through Dragon gleaning every detail I could about them, trying to guess at the larger whole I was missing.  I think this kind of mental weight lifting actually paid off—I learned to imagine big settings from little clues.

2) The entries themselves are packed with ideas.  A lot of the flavor text in the Bestiaries is packed with adventure ideas that you can then extrapolate from.  And even in the stat blocks, you might find a cool power or Feat you’ve never seen before, and it might inspire a scenario where it could best play out.  A monster with tremorsense suggests one kind of encounter; a monster that resurrects the dead suggests another. (And I tremble at the thought of a monster than can do both…)

3) Truth—and myth—are stranger than fiction.  The real world is plenty weird enough to inspire adventure scenarios.  There are tons of ideas lying around on YouTube or Wikipedia.  Take ants: There are ants that use their own bodies to form bridges, or that farm and milk aphids, or that cut leaves to grow fungi.  Now make them giant ants and you have an invading horde that can create their own siege towers. Replace “aphids” with “cows” or “people” and you’ve got an abduction scenario.  Make the fungi farms into caverns full of brown mold or ascomoids and you’ve got an intriguing dungeon delve.

And the myths monsters come from are also worth diving into.  Sirens in the Odyssey can lead sailors to their dooms.  So a straight side trek inspired by the myth might feature sirens or harpies as a hazard.  Or you can twist it: What if a deaf man needs to hear a siren’s song to be cured?  Or a bard needs to learn their melody for a grand performance?  Or the harpies are the only things protecting an enemy duchy’s vulnerable flank?  Now you have three ideas out of one Greek epic.

4) Where the ideas come from is a function of what I’m trying to do with the monster.  This sounds weird, but a lot of times, I’m working backwards—I look for ideas based on what I want my ideas to achieve once I have them.  Makes no sense, I know.

In every case, I’m trying to answer the unspoken questions a GM might ask flipping through a Bestiary: “How would I use this monster?” and/or “How does this monster fit into my world?”

Then I drill down a little deeper.

If it’s a new or hard-to-use monster, that’s all I’m doing.  I’m trying to give every GM a plug & play way to use that hard-to-use or unfamiliar monster.  I look for hooks in the flavor text or invent stuff out of thin air, and hope for the best.

(If I’m lucky, though, I can even take it a step forward, and promote a new monster into a potential star.  Take the fetchling: I’m really proud of that entry, and as far as I know I’m the first to posit anything like that for a race on the Plane of Shadow.  If even one person uses those ideas in a campaign, I’ll have added to the monster canon in a small but significant way.)

If it’s an established but uncommon monster, I look for themes that the monster can help explore.  Take the azer: I’m no expert (and never read much Planescape; see above re: my lameness and tiny allowance) but I soon realized that nearly every mention of them I’d read involved slavery in some way.  So these are more than just dwarves with fiery beards or super-excellent smiths.  They are oppressors and victims, bound by laws but not by much morality or compassion, and any adventure with them can explore those facts.

If it’s an established but too-familiar monster, then I’m looking for the way to reinvent or rethink the monster.  The classic example is drow: How do you save a monster the fandom loves so much it smothered the race completely?  This category also fits monsters that fit too easily in a certain genre or cultural context: Can I do mummies without pyramids?  Can I do djinn that aren’t Arabian?  It’s worth a shot.

And if it’s an iconic monster like a ghost or goblin, I’ve been beaten to the origin, the thematic exploration, the stereotyping, and the reinvention.  All I can do is offer my contributions and get out of the way.

But in all of these, I know what I’m trying to do.  So the idea doesn’t come from somewhere—I write until I feel I’ve written toward my target successfully. 

Whether I’ve reached my goal is up for you to decide.  But I’m trying, and I hope you’re enjoying.

Friday, May 11, 2012


You may be thinking—I certainly was—that in an otherwise pitch-perfect collection, the globster was the Bestiary 3’s flumph (…which is saying something, given that the Bestiary 3 already has a flumph).  But you’d be wrong—again, I certainly was.  The globster is a thing.  It has cryptozoologic origins and a Wikipedia page.  Thus it is real, (for a given value of “real”), and therefore it deserves our love and your PCs’ half-digested limbs.  (And let’s face it, while I normally advocate story solutions over dice-roll murder, if you’re going to kill a character, what better way to commemorate the act than by having the corpse vomited up to attack its former buddies?  For a GM, that’s a special day.)

The boreal Severed Fluke goblins both worship and hunt the whales that share their frigid homes.  Clan elders no longer able to fend off their rivals are strapped into kayaks and sent to sea, in the hope that they will be devoured by a whale and reincarnated.  Given the number of goblin teeth found in the area’s globsters, their faith is not misplaced. 

A crime syndicate’s plans to fix the annual Bright Cove Regatta have been spoiled—Bright Cove’s crooked mayor and the lead yacht captain were devoured by a globster as they met in secret on the beach.  The syndicate now needs a new captain and crew for the yacht.  The unlucky souls must throw the race, but not obviously so…so they will be killed if they win, killed if they lose by too much, and killed if they are discovered in ether case.  Worse yet, the globster is still on the loose, and spectators will be lining the beaches for the race…

A curse falls over the harbor on the morning of the Feast of Saint Evenstar.  Every fishing boat that goes out returns not with its catch, but with a globster in the hold.  Local sailors and adventurers must defeat the monsters and then discover the source of the curse.

Pathfinder Bestiary 3 131

Somewhere in the Hollow World box set Aaron Allston had a throwaway line about “shamanistic, whale-worshipping goblins” as just one example of all the cultures that could be squeezed into that setting.  So consider the above entry a tribute to him.

I know most of you are here for the monsters, but for those of you who also dig the music, tomorrow’s show is going to be special: Baltimore producer, bassist, and now solo artist Nicholas Sjostrom is going to drop by to guest-DJ.

Also, shout-out to fellow WMUC DJ Leila’s thisradio feed.  And if you haven’t checked out rememberedrealms’ tumblelog yet, do; she(?) has a great eye.