Friday, June 29, 2012

Harbinger Archon

After all this time, finally The Daily Bestiary’s first archon!  Archons are the solders of the lawful good Heaven(s) or the equivalent in your campaign—creatures that strive to uphold the ideals of good and order simultaneously for the benefit of all, as well as aiding the weak and inspiring self-improvement.  Of course, sometimes upholding means doing some throwing down…and most archons have the aura of menace, spell-like abilities, and weapons to do so.

With outsiders, it can also be difficult to separate the office from the individual, and this is especially true of archons.  Like a good parish priest or a beat cop on the job—where it can be hard to tell where the stole or badge leave off and the person begins—archons are often known for their trappings: a trumpet, a shield, a star.  In the case of the weaker archons, this is especially true—lantern archons are the lights they shine; harbinger archives are the floating orreries that reflect the heavens.

Harbinger archons are heralds by and large, but sometimes also companions, advisors, and familiars.  When they’re not acting as communing conduits, that advice is mostly proverbs and simple wisdom; harbinger archons are not much more independent in spirit than their gestalt-joining lantern archon cousins.  Still, it’s best to heed their words, and heed them early.  “Harbinger” is in their name for a reason—by the time big-time heralds like the trumpet archons show up, the metaphysical Scheiße has already hit der Deckenlüfter.

An apprentice at the Lower Arcanum has called a harbinger archon familiar years before he should have been able.  Stranger still, the archon’s discs and spheres describe no known set of planets, zodiac signs, or even planar configurations.

A constellation of four harbinger archons, servants of Lumiya, descend on a town formerly beloved by her, only to find her shrine long abandoned and her faithful gone.  Confused, they determine they must guard the shrine until they receive new instructions.  They threaten to use their blades on anyone tainted by evil or chaos who trespasses too near former shrine.  Given that said shrine is now a gambling hall and a den of spice addicts, blood may be spilled soon despite the archons’ clumsy best efforts.

Comet of the Stag’s Crossing is named for the celestial event her physical body tracks. She eagerly communes for the needy in order to aid and evangelize.  But during her last session, her voice came out harsh and grating during the last two answers, as if the message had been hijacked by a third party.

Pathfinder Bestiary 3 18

Should it be den Deckenlüfter?  Because the fan, being the thing hit, is a direct object, and thus in the accusative case?  Help me out, people.

Oh, and today marks 100 Tumblr posts and almost 300 Blogspot posts.  Go us!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Hangman Tree

The hangman tree is not subtle.  According to the flavor text, it “looms above a field strewn with bones.”  Its vines are “looped into nooses.”  Corpses hang from it like fruit.  Its Stealth is –2—about as bad as an untrained human with a Dex of 6.  If the hangman tree were the murder house in your neighborhood, it wouldn’t be the quiet ranch that smelled subtly of ammonia…it would be the gothic edifice with a clown-driven, blood-spattered ice cream truck out front and a neon sign reading “MURDER HOUSE THIS WAY.”

And that’s what’s so fantastic about it. 

Other monstrous plants rely on subterfuge.  Let them.  The hangman is a CR 7 death tree, and all the Perception in the world won’t save the PCs if they get caught in a cloud of its hallucinatory spores.  I haven’t faced one of these in game, but there’s probably a lot of fun in role-playing the poor stoned character stumbling over the bones of past adventurer fertilizer while his friends protest in horror.  Let assassin vines be sneaky—the hangman tree is too busy hangin’.

A murder of talking crows is said to have the gift of prophecy…or at least a lot of good local gossip.  The crows nest in a hangman tree that slowly trundles through the downs, moving slightly in the dark hours of each night.

A town in the path of an army of fey is spared when it promises to plant a tree in the center of the village green.  The gifted tree turns out to be a hangman tree.  Already folk are losing livestock to the tree’s vines.  But if they remove it, they will have an army of spriggans, quicklings, redcaps, and fey ettins at their doorstep.

Various monsters sometimes lair in the vicinity of hangman trees.  Angry or vengeful victims may rise as wights, still trailing the vine noose that killed them.  Sprites find hangman trees a safe place to rest after their revels.  Shocker lizards tend to drive the trees away, though—hangman trees instinctively fear their electric shocks, and the territorial reptiles scare off potential food for the tree.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Handmaiden Devil

Hell is a vile meritocracy only for some—female overlords are rare in the chauvinist hierarchy.  They and their handmaidens, the gylous, often chafe at the brimstone ceiling under which they labor—a fact that PCs (especially female ones) may be able to use to propose alliances or escape punishment. 

But they should never forget that handmaiden devils are beings of great power, subtlety, and evil.  Those of mortal extraction often committed dark acts of coolly logical social climbing—inventing accidents that caused rivals to miscarry, for instance, or having cynical abortions for purely political gain (typically to cement a rich marriage without calendar-counting).  Others caused underlings pain without even the balm of desire and physical reward offered by other fiendish dominatrices.  So any PC looking to create a bond of sisterhood with a gylous may find herself in bonds of quite another kind…

Lumial is an erinyes who longs to escape the attentions of her handmaiden devil duchess.  And she thinks she has found the key to her freedom: the soul of the gylou’s lost child—a babe whose crib death after a string of miscarriages broke the then-mortal duchess’s heart and sent her down the path to evil.  But the soul dwells in the Crèche of the Lost, where Lumial has no power, so she seeks mortal agents to gull into retrieving it for her.

Countess Evane’s godmother has always been a mysterious benefactress, whose insistence on flagellation and mortification rituals were paired with tutelage in spellcraft that has made Evane the foremost summoner in the land.  But now Evane is married and pregnant…and as her due date draws near, her godmother seems to be barely able to contain some violent fury.

The city-state of Temara is a rare example of a mortal city openly ruled by a devil. Gylou Amidela ascended to the throne after a complicated web of marriages, divorces and subterfuges ensured that three of the four possible claimants were her guises.  Now she rules an orderly outpost of the Hells.  The signs are subtle—too-clean streets that alternate with blocks of squalor, booming human and hobgoblin slave markets, and an influx of tiefling merchants.  And then there are the roving bailiffs from the Court of Silence, who—like centurions from the Book of Wren—dash the brains of any infant heard to wail in public.  And the queen herself is never without a thrall or prisoner of one kind or another trapped beneath the gown of tentacles—for what reasons only she can say.

Pathfinder Bestiary 2 86

Given that a browse of my Tumblr feed reveals that The Daily Bestiary followers include kick-ass feminists, proud queer theorists, and devoted Christian college students, I want to be clear that in the above I’m only talking about fantasy abortions by people of evil alignment for purely political gain.  We cool?  Cool.  Also real dominatrices are often awesome people who provide valuable services to consensual adults.  As far as I know they are not servants of Hell, but I do know they are hilarious at parties.  Trust me on that last part.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Half-Fiend & Half-Fiend Minotaur

For every good there is an evil.  Creatures born of seduction, rape, strange lusts, and fear, half-fiends represent the lasting aftereffects of evil in the world.  Most have family ties to devils and demons, but half-fiends can spring from the entire spectrum of evil—from asuras to kytons to divs to oni and beyond.

Some sages insist that the minotaurs were once a noble people despite their barbarity, before being turned to demon worship.  If so, the evangelists were probably half-fiends like Grazzajag, a traveling prophet of slaughter and rage who whips minotaur tribes into a fervor in the Maze Lord’s service and slays any chiefs who resist.

A lurking rooftop terror, Shadefang is a stealthy and malicious half-fiend wyvern unafraid to haunt the cities of men.  Rather than smiting good, Shadefang’s daemonic bite is imbued with bane and ghost touch abilities that allow him to snap up the psychopomps that guide goodly souls to their rest.

A lammasu’s noble nature is intrinsically tied with its magical abilities.  Thus the half-fiend Othenio, product of his mother’s violation by a pairaka, exists in a permanent state of magical backlash.  As a result, he suffers a split personality—one minute the kind healer, the next a cause wounds-hurling calamity.  What triggers his shifts is unknown; possible causes involve the sight of dwarven women, the sound of kwela rhythms, the smell of grass fires, and the presence of any paladin.

Pathfinder Bestiary 171

While writing this post I discovered the time-sucking rabbit hole of delight that is a good baby name generator.  “Othenio” means “give birth by night”!

Looking for the half-dragon?  (For some reason I’m guessing markwitharingrat is.)  It’s all the way back here with the dracolisk.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Half-Celestial & Half-Celestial Unicorn

The half-celestial template is perfect for populating the goodly planes, creating divine emissaries, or turning typically evil creatures into surprising allies.  And speaking of good, it’s hard to get much good-er than a half-celestial unicorn.

A winged unicorn, a legendary beast reputed to dwell deep in Arwen Forest, alights in the center of the sooty, cobbled city square of Dengulf.  Awe at the unicorn’s arrival and appearance—a beam of light seems to surround the creature—gives way to the usual cosmopolitan japes—predominantly about the paucity of virgins in Dengulf.  Unperturbed, the half-celestial unicorn appears to wait for someone, though it will not let unclean hands approach.

Kirtan Sah, a half-celestial rakshasa, shouldn’t exist—as native outsiders, rakshasas don’t count among the living per se, and as beings of spirit, their foulness is inherent in their very essences.  Nevertheless, the white-tiger-faced, twisted-limb monk calmly persists in being, seeking allies in his holy struggle against vile rakshasas and asuras alike.

Despite their good hearts, pride and vanity are two sins that dog many a paladin.  The Order of White Bastion has a cure: a custodian named Sheb.  Many a pompous acolyte has had her eyes opened by a month of sweeping duty in the half-celestial mongrelman’s company.

Pathfinder Bestiary 169

I can’t tell you how happy I am to have reached the letter H.  I love the G monsters, but we’ve been hanging in that corner of the alphabet since March.

Also, I am not one of those people that hates the United States Postal Service.  Personally, I think the USPS is a miracle.  Despite being the bleeding edge of the Millennial Generation (I missed the Gen X cutoff, so I got to watch their cartoons but never made any money on the Internet) I still pay all my bills by mail.  And ordinarily I receive extraordinary service at any branch I go to.  I like the post office.

That said, I hate my post office—my work one, that is: the Fell’s Point branch in Baltimore, MD, blessed by miserable hours and a pack of surly, slow-moving automatons who make getting personal packages at a work address as much of a trial as possible.  Which is why I did not get my Advanced Race Guide until today, rather than the promised last Thursday.

First impression: It’s pretty…  *Blinks star-dazzled eyes*  More to follow when I actually have time to read.

It’s a show!  On the radio!  With me!  Download it!  You might like the Passion Pit.  Or hate the ska interlude.

(Music starts three and a half minutes into the file.  If the feed skips, load in Firefox or Chrome, Save As an mp3, and enjoy in iTunes.  Link good until Friday, 6/29, at midnight.)

Friday, June 22, 2012


Note: To preserve my sanity, just for today I’m not going to link to any of the potentially clickable things below.  Google is your friend.

Clearly I need to read some H. P. Lovecraft.  (I’ve read tons about Lovecraft, and comic adaptations of Lovecraft, and bushels (thanks to The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror series) of stories written in homage to Lovecraft, but—embarrassingly—I’ve never sat down with a book that had “Lovecraft” on the spine.)  So I can’t speak knowledgeably about gugs or their role in The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath.  But with split vertical maws, bizarre physiologies, appetite for ghoul flesh, and ties to old, unknowable gods, gugs make it clear to players that the Realms Below are stranger and more terrifying than they even suspected.

A duergar thane directs his miners to dig in spiraling patterns with no regard to lodes or fault lines.  Their carvings meet up with the dizzying excavations of the gug savant that holds the thane in his power.

A portal shifts between views of crystal-lit caverns deep below the ground, a shattered asteroid belt, and a misty courtyard lined with statues of serpentfolk and proteans.  In each vista, camps of gugs can be seen gamboling and enacting strange rites.

A party of spelunkers is paralyzed and captured by ghasts.  Instead being devoured, they are brought miles below the earth to the Pale Kingdom of the ghouls for interrogation and disposal.  They are saved when gugs assault the city in an invasion that rips the entire kingdom into the Realm of Dreams.

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I keep forgetting to mention that last weekend was Free RPG Day! Still going through my haul, though, so no grand thoughts yet.

I love the Underdark by any name.  (I typically use the “Realms Below” or the “Deep Lands” or something to avoid copyright issues.)  I loved it even before it was called that (I have vague memories of the term “Deepearth” from the Dungeoneer’s Survival Guide from browsing it in the store when I was young); I loved Mystara’s Lower Thar, Oenkmar, and shadow elves; I loved Skullport, the temple of Elistraee, and Dunspeirrin in Dragon Magazine; R. A. Salvatore’s Homeland and the 3.5 Forgotten Realms Underdark sourcebook; and Paizo’s Into the Darklands.

That said, the wealth of these sourcebooks has made the Realms Below a known quantity, with whole nations and civilizations.  Give me a detailed enough map of the Underdark, and I can tell you what goes where: “Underground sea?  Aboleths.  Duergar here.  Drow on this level.  That rift will have cloakers…” etc.  I could probably plot out Lost World (“Dinosaurs and yeti here…”) or Weird Fantasy (“Animate fungi and clockwork creatures here…”) iterations just as easily. 

Gugs are a return to a darker, more uncertain Underdark.  You can easily insert them into whatever versions of the above Darklands you like (“Lower level, where reality is thin, near the ghoul kingdom, keeping undead from threatening the dwarves above…”).  But they’re also good if you’re trying to get back to a more Unfamiliar Underdark—a more 1st Ed., pulp-era world of dark caverns and lost, strange cities and weird, alien monsters.

And I do mean weird.  Look up Dragon 281 (this isn’t something I usually encourage, but you can find a PDF in seconds if you Google) and check out “Subterranean Scares” by Joseph Terrazzino.  In a world of two-headed jawgs, snake-vomiting genocids, and verx swarms, gugs fit right in.  If you want your players, especially the experienced ones, to rediscover the wonder and horror of reckless spelunking, gugs are a good place to start.

(Credit where credit’s due: 4th Ed.’s Underdark sourcebook, featuring a constantly shifting Underdark and a King’s Highway tunneled by a trapped, dying god was a great move in the Uncertain Underdark direction…but like all 4th Ed. stuff, it just felt…thin.)

Thursday, June 21, 2012


The guecubu was originally a Chilean spirit—details on the Web are scarce, but apparently it was said to ride horses to exhaustion and otherwise cause torments in the mortal world.  In gaming, the name (along with several other folk monsters like the dybbuk and the manitou) got applied to subraces of the loumara, a new race of demons introduced late in 3.5 (see below). 

The Pathfinder version, from Bestiary 3, returns to the spirit realm.  This guecubu is a vengeful spirit that has defied all the normal safeguards to ward against its return, making a body from the very earth itself.

After hearing him curse their names and swear vengeance, a party of adventurers did all they could to prevent the return of serial killer Bloody Michael—up to and including filling his mouth with holy wafers, cutting off his head, burning his body, and blessing and scattering the ashes.  But some rages defy even fire and death, and soon they cannot stop at an inn or share a campsite without someone dying.

Sellswords comes across a wicked man hanging from a gibbet.  So near to death, it does not matter whether or not they release him—they are the first targets of his guecubu when it rises.

Burying an evil man at a crossroads typically thwarts his spirit’s return—many clerics and oracles have a tale of a conversation held with a powerless shade they met in such a place.  Burying an evil woman, especially a witch, druid, or lamia, is another matter. The sympathy between Mother Earth and her daughters is strong regardless of alignment or crime, and she will clothe and arm her daughters in the soil itself if their pain and rage are great enough.

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Several notes here:

1) I loved 3.5’s Fiendish Codex I: Hordes of the Abyss, and the loumara were a great concept.  (Check it: Some gods ripped a layer out of the Abyss, and the plane itself reacted and destroyed them, then used their thoughts and dreams to spawn a new race of demons!!!  Forgive me for the italics and multiple bangs, but that’s pretty hardcore.)  That said, I’m against swiping the names of real-world mythic creatures and slapping them on completely fictional monsters.  The loumara would have just as easily worked with made-up names, freeing the manitou and the dybbuk to get stats that fit their cultural origins.  (More monsters plus more cultural diversity in gaming is always better.  Typically Pathfinder gets a gold star for this—we have stats for the dybbuk now!—albeit with a hefty asterisk for the oread, sylph, and undine entries, which I’m more than a little out of sorts about.) 

2) Gender and fantasy is a tricky thing.  On the one hand, I want women in fantasy to be as tough (or as craven) as men, to get armor that covers their whole bodies, and to generally be equal participants in the world.  That said, sometimes working with the female as “other” or with mythical feminine archetypes (the Earth Mother or the maiden/mother/crone trio, for instance) can lead to good scenario ideas—see above and the gorynych and green hag entries for examples.  So far I think I’m keeping a decent balance, but feel free to weigh in if you think I’m doing a sloppy job in this arena, whatever your gender identification.

3) I’m a big believer in rewarding players for engaging in the GM’s world.  That especially goes for folk remedies—if they bury one of their enemies at a crossroads so the corpse can’t rise up and find them, good for them!  If they sprinkle a circle of salt around their beds to ward off inn wights (from Sword & Sorcery’s Creature Collection), give them a scene with a frustrated spirit circling their beds, unable to breach the barrier.  Reward such engaged behavior in your players, again and again…

…And then give them the Harry Dresden treatment: After they’ve done everything right, and covered all the bases, send a guecubu after them to show them that no amount of hedge wizardry in the world can stop a real bad guy.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Guardian Naga

Despite being mostly benevolent lawful good creatures, guardian nagas are actually quite likely to come into conflict with adventurers.  After all, even the most good-hearted PCs tend to have a casual attitude toward things like grave goods, the preservation of relics, and not despoiling natural beauty.  So the aberrations can be forgiven for slinging a lightning bolt first, and asking questions later.  Win a guardian naga over, and it can be a valuable ally.  But when it says, “Don’t touch anything,” it means it.

Golden Hood is the latest in an unbroken 400-year line of guardian nagas to bear that name.  However, he chafes under the weight of the mantle.  No one can accuse him of being derelict in his duties—if anything, he covers his reluctance with too-forceful shows of zeal—but there is likely some subconscious self-sabotage in his spell choices (particularly fireball).  The sacred scrolls he guards would be a lot less sacred if someone inadvertently reduced them to ash.

For almost two centuries, Fire of Sunlight has protected the holy city of Antar, now abandoned to the desert.  He also eagerly sponsors young sorcerers, fostering their talents and training them in spell use.  But he demands they and all visitors follow the dictates of Antar’s lost caste of dervishes.  Those who stray into what he deems heterodoxy must flee or be cleansed of sin with his poison spit.

The Malkins are an extended family of cat burglars (naturally) and thieves.  Last night, three of them ran afoul of a guardian naga during a temple heist, and one of their number fell in the combat.  The Malkin sisters say they will do anything to get the body of their brother back, and have emptied their pockets to buy aid.  Actually, he is still alive—being blessed with a natural resistance to acid and a ring of regeneration—but he is also currently a lump in the stomach of the naga, who sees no reason to let him out.

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One of my dirty secrets is that despite Pathfinder/D&D 3.5 owning my heart and most of my wallet, my most concentrated role-playing experience lies with a phenomenal three-year, four-story-arc, same-character Vampire: The Masquerade campaign, the likes of which I may never see again.  This may explain why I like monsters who would plausibly say things like, “Well, this has been a lovely chat.  I’m almost sorry I have to kill you now.”

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


My feelings on the gryph have done a complete 180 in the past 24 hours.

But first, a little background: As near as I can tell, the gryph is one of those innumerable monsters that appeared in the 1st Ed. Field Folio, never made the jump to 2nd, and languished until statted up for Necromancer Games’ Tome of Horrors series.  Since then, it’s managed to flutter its way into a published adventure or two (I’m sure I saw it in a Pathfinder Adventure Path or GameMastery Module or something) before landing in the Bestiary 2.

So, it’s always been an evil too-many-legged bird that implants its eggs in people. Then Paizo made it not just any bird, but a stork.  Yes, that’s right—a stork that impregnates people.  Haha.  We’re veering into real Piers Anthony territory here.  (What’s next—an elf named St. Nikolaus who leaves severed heads in shoes?)

And yet.  And yet.  Paizo didn’t stop there, and that’s what saves this monster.  They also gave it a strange vermin affinity—almost guaranteeing that parties will encounter it in tandem with swarms or giant insects.  That’s weird.  That’s interesting.  And it’s that one extra detail that turns a joke monster into a compelling one, making the gryph a weird mix of fecundity and morbidity—a carrion eater, a disease spreader, and a parasitic plague all in one.  I love it.

Lomburg is famous for the storks that nest among its chimneys.  When a flock of gryphs settles in town after a flood, it soon decimates the stork population, then begins to infect transients and children caught out alone.

The ostler at the Manticore Downs stable yard apparently died with his abdomen burst open, as have many of his charges.  Giant flies roost on the carcasses.  And a price racehorse set to be sold to a visiting imam is missing.

A throng of gryphs led by a half-fiend harpy lurks in the swamps of Greenshire.  The pairing is the first move in a chess game of pestilence between a nascent demon lord of insect plagues and a daemonic scientist of disease.

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My mail just arrived with Pathfinder Adventure Path 57: Tempest Rising, Lost Kingdoms, and Coliseum Morpheuon.  I am a) excited, and b) now very behind on my reading.

Monday, June 18, 2012


How do you establish a creature as mythic in an already mythic game?  How cryptic can a cryptid be in a world where wizard consortiums hold colloquia on the proper taxonomy and dissection of owlbears and centaurs?  These are the questions a grootslang raises, if you want it to be anything more than a Monster of the Week.

(We’re not the only ones asking these kinds of questions, by the way.  Penny Arcade just pointed out this problem in one of their posts/comics: As Tycho observes, Deckard’s niece “grumps around in disbelief at her kooky uncle even when she is up to her philtrum in demonic, animate flesh.  This doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.”)

So the trick with the grootslang is to establish its wrongness and scariness.  Establish that it breaks your world’s rules somehow in a disturbing way. 

I’m not the biggest fantasy reader in the world—I spent too much time strictly in Middle-earth, Pern, and TSR when I should have been out exploring—but I can definitely point to Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series as a good model for this.  In this flintlock fantasy Earth, the British navy and aerial dragon corps are among the premier fighting forces in the world.  So when Laurence and his men go places that appear to have no dragons, like Africa and Australia, it becomes unsettling—then downright scary, when the true situation is revealed.

So let’s just steal that technique.  Imagine this: Your party is hired to help the coastal marines explore a newly colonized dark subcontinent.  The PCs are loaned griffons; a trio of officers accompany them on brass and bronze dragons.  Over time, they become disturbed.  The bronze reports there is no sign of dragons…anywhere.  The brasses, being brasses have heard…rumors.  Litter bearers who go to fetch water disappear and never come back.  And then, one night, one of the brasses dies horribly with a screech, in the dark.  Only part of a torn wing and one set of elephantine footprints remains.

That’s how to introduce a grootslang.

A colony establishes a distant diamond mine and begins producing smoky gems of remarkable size.  But getting them back to the colony proper, let alone the motherland, will be a challenge.  First their borings disturb a primitive kongamato that must be driven off.  Then a grootslang arrives, having scented diamonds in the mine tailings dumped downriver.  Speaking only in Aquan, demands tribute. If not appeased, it slaughters as many miners as it can and harasses the survivors all the way downriver with its aquatic elusion powers.

Demon-worshipping serpentfolk war with the surface nations.  Their struggle awakens the long-slumbering serpent god, Vessbenns.  But when the serpentfolk high priests call for his aid, he detects the demon taint in their prayers.  Rather than send his herald, he sends a grootslang to devour both his heretic priests and any brown- and pink-skinned interlopers.

Ambur’s Hearth is a continent said to be sacred to Ambur the Potter, a creator deity, who filled the land with marsupials, monotremes, sagaris, and other castoffs from his labors.  Grootslangs are the undisputed kings of this realm, hunting the quagga and kangaroo herds that visit their waterholes.

Pathfinder Bestiary 3 144

Last week over on Tumblr, syringesin asked:

“Have you ever read the “Ecology of” articles from the 1e and 2e days of Dragon Magazine? A trove of ideas in those articles.”

Answer: Totally, and you’re right!  A little context: Technically I have every issue of Dragon Magazine—a smattering from 132–151, every issue from 152 on, and a CD-ROM of 1–250.  I haven’t read all the CD-ROM issues yet, but if it appeared in print after 1989, I’ve read it.

So if you look through the archives I definitely reference them when I remember to—the gnoll and gibbering mouther entries in particular, I think also the dark naga entry, and of course there’s the barghest debacle. 

If you can find these articles in used issues or online, I encourage everyone to follow syringesin’s lead and check them out.  Spike Y. Jones’s articles in particular are mandatory, and Jonathan M. Richards are well worth it for the laughs.  If you’ve got a favorite “Ecology” author, write in and let us know!

So I may have missed my show last week, but I made up for it in spades this week, even despite some volume issues.  Download it here, and I hope you have as much fun listening as I had spinning.

(Music starts just over five and a half minutes into the file.  The feed can skip, so let load in Firefox or Chrome, Save As an mp3, and enjoy in iTunes.  Link good until Friday, 6/22, at midnight.)

Friday, June 15, 2012


The grodair is one of those magical beasts that looks stupid, right up until the time you realize that it’s totally brilliant

Let’s face it, we don’t talk about fantasy evolution much.  But it makes sense that creatures in a magical world would develop magical strategies for coping in that world.  After all, in the real world we have beetles and pines that depend on forest fires for part of their breeding cycle.  A magical world might have thrushes that only lay their eggs in spell-blighted areas, for instance, or when the Elemental Plane of Air is in congruence.

So the grodair, a fish that carries its own water with it, totally works.  It’s a perfect strategy for a creature from an unstable, constantly shifting realm—Golarion’s First World comes to mind, as well as Faerie, the Spirit World, Limbo, Chaos, or any number of demiplanes in other settings—where rivers cannot be relied upon to keep their courses.  But you don’t even need to keep the otherworldly setting—such an adaptation also works in subterranean realms, deserts, tundra, or even asteroids or comets.  The grodair can make a home in the harshest environments…and its long (if unreliable) memory ensures that PCs will always have a reason to seek it out.

Faerie is easy to find and nearly impossible to leave—especially after one has incurred any obligation to a fey lord.  Those so stranded might seek Blastofleur, a bloated grodair sage who travels the Ways in and out of Faerie on his self-made rivers.  He also offers a measure of protection, at least from fey of Small size or smaller—the local atomies and sprites avoid him, as he has a tendency to snap them up like flies.

A tribe of troglodytes has enslaved a grodair with drug-laced mushrooms and the threat of barbed harpoons.  The tribe uses the grodair to migrate through the most arid regions of the Realms Below, seeking relics from a now lost Kingdom of Reptiles once peopled by advanced troglodytes and serpentfolk.

A devious death trap suspends a grodair above a portable hole.  If not disarmed, the trap will drop the fish into the hole, simultaneously triggering the grodair’s death flood and creating an extradimensional rift to flush interlopers into the Astral.

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Thursday, June 14, 2012


I have a feeling that gripplis are going to get a lot more popular as soon as the Advanced Race Guide comes out.  (James Sutter is already showing the love.)  What can we say about them ahead of time?  Like halflings, gripplis are a doughty mixture of courage and caution—their small size and dangerous jungle homes demanding ample portions of both.  Living high in the canopies, they hold even their neighbors at arm’s length…especially when their neighbors (keches, charau-ka, girallons, and carnivorous apes of all stripes, as well as kobolds, jungle catfolk, and nagas) sometimes treat them as lunch.  PCs will likely find gripplis to be useful allies, but one wrong step will have nets and arrows raining down upon them.

Gripplis rangers save explorers from a giant wasp attack.  Pleased to have captured such delicious insects for their tribe—and envious of the large folk’s gems—they invite the explorers to join them for the night in the canopy.  But to comfortably reach the grippli settlement, the explorers will have to be magically reduced in size.

The emperor’s court musician, a marimba player of surpassing skill, is a grippli bard.  When he dies, the emperor commands his body be borne back to his home village, and his son invited to take his place.  The only danger in the journey should be the usual jungle hazards…but an assassination attempt just as the pallbearers set out indicates other forces are at work.

The most notable grippli village cannot be found on any map.  To avoid threatening hordes of charau-ka, Shambling Home moves about the jungle like a leafy Baba Yaga’s Hut.  A circle of grippli druids is responsible for animating the trees that hold the village aloft.

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Darth Vader voice: “The desire to base an entire grippli adventure on the Ewoks and not tell the players till after is strong in this one.”

Does anyone know if the Fat Goblin Games’ Racial Ecologies: Guide to the Grippli is good? How about the rest of the line?  On the whole I tend to be very skeptical of third-party stuff (and I vastly prefer books to PDFs), but these look pretty cool, and you can’t argue with the $1.99 price.

(A bit more about my third-party feelings, especially since I don’t want to give Fat Goblin a black eye they haven’t earned: I’ve raved about Sword & Sorcery on these pages plenty of times, and I’ve got Coliseum Morpheuon from Rite Publishing headed toward me as we speak (I browsed it in the store, put it back, and when it was gone the next week my curiosity of course became obsession).  But on the whole, non-Paizo or -WotC stuff leaves me cold.  Even when the ideas and writing are good, editing/quality control is almost always sloppy (even from authors I usually trust—a testament to the invisible power of good editors).  And third-party books are almost always over-designed, with so many “Oh, this will be so cool-looking” border elements and page backgrounds that the entire effort ends up muddy and hard to read, especially in black and white.  After one too many burns, I avoid on principle unless I’ve held the product in my hands and been impressed…but a $1.99 price tag might persuade me.)

This (which, I neglected to say yesterday, I had a very, very minor hand in,) is still going on.  The Blue Angels flying over my office is more than a little distracting…mostly in a good way.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


What a difference a decade makes!  An edition ago I couldn’t have told you what a grindylow was.  Add some China Miéville and Harry Potter into the mix, and now it’s practically a household name.

Despite their low CR, two things make grindylows scary: First, because of that low CR, PCs are likely to encounter them before they have access to regular or reliable water breathing effects—making fighting them anywhere near their own turf a dangerous proposition.  Second, look at that organizational chart.  Grindylows can scale up fast, both in levels and sheer numbers.  So a party should be encouraged to get in over their heads—literally and figuratively.  After killing one or two of the creatures, PCs are likely to get cocky…only to find themselves surrounding by 40 of the savage, needle-toothed beasts, along with all their pets, leaders, shamans, and mutant cousins.

The shark-like, bloodthirsty adaros are hardly sympathetic figures.  So when a mother adaro and her child wash up on shore seeking sanctuary from a warband of grindylows, a seaside village has a hard moral choice to make.

When raw octopus replaces the traditional fried squid as a delicacy in Portuwar, their fishermen leap to take advantage of the new market.  This angers the nearby grindylows, who begin swarming upon solitary ships en masse, leaving torn nets and skewered men in their wake.  Soon even Portuwar’s piers are not safe, especially at night.

A river is locally known to be haunted.  In truth, it is the domain of a grindylow matriarch whose monstrous spawn are particularly bloodthirsty due to some unknown force of corruption.  The local water nagas sometimes war with the tribe; the local nixies prefer to avoid them, but are not adverse to luring mortals who have offended them into the grindylows’ clutches. 

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Since we’re talking aquatic creatures, now is perhaps the time I should mention that I enjoyed Mike Shel’s Isles of the Shackles a lot.  Look for the usual nice omnibus of locations and adventure ideas, plus a particularly hefty does of monsters, which struck a nice balance between general (duppy, larabay), setting-specific (Aashaq’s wyvern, gholdako), and useful NPCs (pirates, jinx eater).

I’m also digging the Skull & Shackles Adventure Path—my current Aubrey–Maturin obsession having a lot to do with that—and so you can probably guess how much I dug the look at Golarion’s ocean races in Pathfinder Adventure Path 56.

Appropriately enough, thanks to this, there are tall ships literally outside my window right now.  I just saw the BAE Guayas go by with sailors lined along its yards.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


Grigs are a great argument for story awards.  They’re neutral good fey who like getting people to dance—killing one for XP would be like gunning down a wedding DJ.  And unless truly cornered, most grigs would flee (aided by entangle, invisibility, and flight) rather than fight anyway.  But PCs shouldn’t always have to engage them in combat—joining their dances, charming them with music, providing them with aid or otherwise peacefully interacting with them can and should be worth a reward.

A child is lost—not in the woods, but in the vaster, more magical, dire wolf-haunted Deep Woods.  The safest shortcut there is via the mushroom ring where a gang of grigs regularly dances.  Anyone who can join their dance without succumbing to its staggering effect will win their aid through the magical portal.

Mercenaries with blades of cold iron slew the leader of a band of grigs.  Outraged, their new chief declares war on any Big Ones wearing metal armor.  The band follows his orders with some reservations, but nevertheless get better at sniping by the day.

A grig hears a wedding in progress and decided to aid her fiddling to the festivities; in addition to her legs, she carries a magical viol that extends her own supernatural fiddling ability.  She must be convinced to stop lest she exhaust the wedding guests; then she must be offended from the outraged, orthodox abbot, who declares the naked fey to be an abomination to be baptized by holy water…or fire.

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Of course, there’s nothing saying you couldn’t change grigs’ alignment and make them creepy as hell.  Tim Hitchcock and Nicolas Logue’s GameMastery Module Carnival of Tears featured dark ice grigs who had no problem going toe-to-toe with PCs.  Or picture this: A band of Tiny elfin humanoids earn a party’s trust and ply them with wine and music.  As the night reaches a crescendo, the creatures’ grasshopper bodies burst out of their disguise self-enhanced false skin husks (à la Mantis Girl in Jim Butcher’s Small Favor), and they attack…

By the way, I was first introduced to grigs (and many other fey) in Dragon Magazine 155—positively one of the best themed issues the magazine ever put out (and featuring my first encounter with Bruce Heard’s “The Voyage of the Princess Ark” series).  I read my copy so much the cover fell off (and I made sure to keep that cover).

Speaking of which: Bruce Heard has a blog!!!  You have no idea how excited I am to see the Known World in hex map form again.  Seeing new nations and coastlines appear each month was one of the highlights of opening a new Dragon issue.  I’m no dogmatically old-school gamer by any means, but there’s something about well designed hex maps I just love…

Monday, June 11, 2012


Griffons make for excellent wilderness encounters or side treks.  At CR 4, they’re serious predators, but not so serious that they’ll throw off the pace of an adventure.  (Though for best effect, you should throw them at parties before the players get too many spells that go boom.)  Most of the time they’ll be more interested in the PCs’ horses than in the PCs themselves, but a griffon defending its mate, its nest, or its rider is not to be trifled with—especially since they understand Common well enough to coordinate with intelligent allies.

Barnabus Crump is looking to hire adventurers to find a griffon’s egg; he says he has a contract with the noble Grand Duke Ambrose’s sky knights. In reality, he wants the griffon for his traveling menagerie.  His last griffon doubled his profits for two years, but he beat it so severely it died.

The tawny-bodied griffons of Mekhtar are said to be sacred to the sun god, since they bear the falcon heads of his favorite son.  Sacred or not, they prey on horses just as rapaciously as their eagle-headed cousins—sometimes doubly so, as one in ten Mekhtaran griffons has two heads.

Elven griffon riders are renowned in song and legend.  Dwarven griffon riders are not.  This is because no one who has met the crossbow-wielding rangers and skirmishers has lived to report back.

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We last visited Mekhtar here.  Apparently it is a dangerous place.

If your players want griffon mounts, Mythological Monsters Revisited has more (courtesy of Michael Kenway) about their temperaments and capabilities.

Griffons are also ideal monsters in a low-magic campaign (say, one based on Anglo-Saxon, Arthurian, or Viking times)—just exotic enough to be a true monster but without the magical bells and whistles.

No show this week—I came down with a fever Friday and decided to play it safe Saturday.  But I’ve been meaning for weeks to put up my belated Easter mix.  The abridged version is here; if you want the full version, shoot me an email.

Friday, June 8, 2012


The grick is a relatively standard subterranean aberration without much history (dating back only to 3.0).  As a snatch-and-retreat predator that doesn’t immediately devour its prey, the grick is a good spark for a time-sensitive rescue scenario.  (“Sure you can stop to buff.  Of course, the butcher’s son will lose his leg.”)  There’s also the question of how communities cope with a threat that is hard to harm without magic…

Ironically, subterranean societies have just as many problems with their sewers and catacombs as surface dwellers do—perhaps even more so, since the deep-dwelling predators grow so much bigger.  Down-on-their-luck adventurers can find comparatively fair wages as grick hunters in dwarf or even duergar cities.  Drow are likely to force their slaves to do such dirty work.  None are likely to offer the necessary magic weapons, though.

Where jungle gricks are common, indigenous tribes use various means to ensure their safety. Crafting magic weapon salves is a daily chore for Mowatu shamans; Mowatu men keep these salves in jars worn on thongs around their necks in case of grick attack.  The Brilliant Talon tribe breeds shocker lizards for pets and defense.  The engineering-minded Weentar prize mobility, with vine-and-bamboo cable cars and zip lines keeping them high in the canopy.

Is a grick’s fear of the sky the instinctual impulse of an ambush predator…or something more?  A sage posits that gricks are refugees from the heavens who fear starspawn like akatas and shoggoths.  Of course, he needs specimens to prove his theory…

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