Thursday, January 31, 2013


The necrophidius is a relatively standard tomb guardian, burglar alarm, and low-level assassin.  It can also be easily upgraded with contact poison, enchantments, magic fangs, and other nasty effects.  Your average necrophidius will be found in a dungeon, so here are a few less likely examples...

A necrophidius lurks in the gibbet cage at the crossroads, masquerading as a corpse.  Left as a trap for a meddlesome spellcaster, it attempts to daze and paralyze anyone in the robes of a wizard, cleric, or friar.  The battlemage who commanded the necrophidius intended to come back and humiliate his frozen rival, but was killed in border skirmish the next day.  The necrophidius has remained here ever since.  It has not been discovered because the road is little used, and scavengers make quick work of the construct’s victims—coyotes during the day, chupacabras at night.

A desperate rogue stabbed a necrophidius in the eye sockets with an intelligent +2 serpentbane dagger, wedging it in its skull.  The resulting magical feedback warped the dagger’s intelligence even as it transferred it into the construct.  Now the necrophidius is convinced he is Noble Hood, an undead guardian naga and heir to a reptile kingdom.  He demands to be treated as such should anyone find the treasure chamber he guards.  Noble Hood instinctively fears removal of the enchanted dagger from his skull and will attempt to slay anyone who approaches too close.  If the dagger is removed, the construct (assuming it has not already been destroyed) returns to mindlessness, but the dagger never quite recovers, sympathizing with the snakes, serpentfolk, and nagas it is meant to slay.

What was a river delta trading post at the foot of a school for female necromancers has grown into a small city—but the mages are no less in charge.  The gynarchy of Osdela Dame has grown into a thriving university town where the living share the streets with the bleached bones of the shambling dead.  Necrophidiuses are popular pets of the necromancer elites, who walk them in the streets as if they were dogs.  Typically a necromancer uses a former paramour’s head in the construction—it is a way of keeping one’s old lover close and reminding one’s current lover of the price of disloyalty.

Pathfinder Bestiary 2 196

Apparently the necrophidius was born in White Dwarf.  In the last two to three years I’ve started avidly reading White Dwarf even though I’ll never play the games.  If that’s not the nerd equivalent of pornography, I don’t know what is.

The necrophidius’s method of construction raises the question: Who looks at a python skeleton and thinks, “That would look even better with a human head”?  What kind of person treats taxidermy like a mash-up?  I mean, besides my coworker R.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013


The other proteans we’ve discussed so far have been schemers, philosophers, and scholars.  Naunets are a bit more straightforward in how they combat Order—they intend to dismantle it one acre at a time, and woe to any mortal that gets in their way.

The Bestiary 2 calls naunets “shock troops” patrolling the border of Limbo(/the Maelstrom/Chaos/Disorder/etc.).  But they could be found in other settings as well.  In a Darklands setting less ordered than Golarion’s (such as the Underdark of Torog as presented in 4e D&D), naunets might congregate in the ever-shifting caverns. And a spiky, tentacled, serpentine creature that destroys matter would also be perfect for a dreamscape encounters or psychedelic one-shots (Adventure Time Pathfinder, anyone?)…

To explore the Primal Storm, a wizard transfers his consciousness into the body of a golem.  He presumes the construct shell can stand up to the elemental chaos, but he did not count on the adaptive strikes of the cacophony of naunets that soon set upon him.  Now he lies crippled and in need of rescue, or his real body will starve while his trapped mind goes mad.

A rage of young chaotic dragons has an unlikely leader—a mad but quite charismatic purple-painted naunet who spurs their destructive flights.  His fog clouds provide perfect cover for them to strafe, burn, and despoil, and it is under his guidance they attack bridges, temples, courthouses, and other symbols of Law and civilization.

All of eight years old, the crown princess lies in a coma.  The court surgeon-seers summon and interrogate a psychopomp, who tells them that the princess in under no shadow from the Queens of the Dead.  The malady must then be deep in her mind.  The psychopomp leads a party of adventurers inside the princess’s psyche, where a naunet is unraveling her mental landscape for reasons unknown.

Pathfinder Adventure Path #22 86–87 & Pathfinder Bestiary 2 216

Once again, if you dig proteans, “The End of Eternity” in the Legacy of Fire Adventure Path is essential reading.

Got a really nice note from gentleman-nerd, who’s using one of the bulette adventure seeds (oh…the typos…they hurt) in his campaign.  Thanks, g-n!  Be sure to tell us how it works out.  That goes for the rest of you, too!  Leave a comment or email me via Gmail.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013


Back-to-back demons!  Today’s entry is the nalfeshnee.  Of all the demons, they operate perhaps the most like devils, in that they are the Abyss’s middle managers and serve mortal spellcasters with elaborate contracts.  But don’t be fooled: they serve themselves first, they Abyss second, and everyone else last—including other demons and even evil deities.  And, as Lords of Chaos and Ultimate Magic note, in the mortal world they are spies and keepers of secrets.  The contracts they sign are largely meaningless—contracts mean nothing to demons without the magical might to back it up.  Meanwhile they are learning far more than they spill—think Scarlett Johansson in The Avengers (but in a fat suit with a pig mask). 

In fact, the nalfeshnee’s bestial appearance might actually trick players into thinking a nalfeshnee is a brute.  It might not go amiss to leave the book open near players encountering the demon for the first time.  But while they’re looking at the picture and the damage stats, you’ll be putting the nalfeshnee’s Int 23, Wis 22, and Cha 20 to work…

In short, like all demons they are about ruination and destruction; they just go about it in a slightly less obvious way.

An elf archmage summoned and bound a nalfeshnee decades ago to learn secrets of the Abyss…or so he thought.  In actuality, the bonds wore off in the last 15 years, but the demon has stayed, gleaning the secrets of high elf portal crafting from the archmage without the elf’s realizing it.  Just as a party of adventurers arrives, the nalfeshnee tires of the ruse and attempts to kill the archmage and escape through an as yet unfinished portal—which could send him and the party anywhere in the multiverse.

A party comes across a nalfeshnee tending the bubbling Abyssal pits and cauldrons that melt souls into dretches.  The nalfeshnee does not recognize their Writ of Safe Passage (written by the demigoddess of scorpions herself), so he spills a vat of dretches on to them, then summons babaus to finish off anything that survives the ravenous soulspawn

A dance tournament is being held.  An elderly porcine man asks if he and his loathsome siblings (one brother and four beak-nosed sisters) can participate.  For a laugh the count says yes.  But the group is actually a nalfeshnee warband.  When they drop their disguises, the vrocks begin their dance of ruin and the nalfeshnee heads for the count’s solarium to claim a secret tome written on the skin of evil gnomes.  (The hezrou smashes with abandon.)

Pathfinder Bestiary 65

Short one today.  Think I am coming down with something grim.  Fever commencing in 3…2…1…

Monday, January 28, 2013


Before we get started, today is a big day for The Daily Bestiary.  We’ve reached the letter N—which means today we are officially halfway to the end of the alphabet.  That’s every single monster from A to M in the Bestiary and Bestiary 2 (and every monster from E to M in the Bestiary 3).  Whether you’ve been reading since “Aasimar” or you just joined with “Myceloid,” thanks for visiting and sticking with me.  Onward to Z!

And starting today we’ll also be adding Inner Sea Bestiary monsters—look for the nightripper in two weeks and the noqual golem in three.

Now, to today’s business…

Nabasus are demons that grow by devouring souls, creating ghoul minions in the process.  (Do I even need to say more?  If you’re a GM and you aren’t salivating by now, this may be a good time to leave this blog and find a Downton Abbey LARP.)  Interestingly, they also tend to manifest on the Material Plane (usually from the souls of gluttons or cannibals).  They then have to earn their way into the Abyss through the aforementioned soul devouring and advancement.

This makes them an ideal way of introducing the world of demons to PCs (assuming they haven’t already tackled a dretch or quasit).  At CR 8, a nabasu is powerful without being overwhelming, has manageable special abilities, and is usually solitary (even its summoning powers are limited).  But the stakes are very real—it is a pinprick of Abyssal terror in the mortal world, yearning to feed—and the lives it ends are not just lost, but turned into fuel and slaves.  PCs are likely to stumble upon its ghoul minions, and in the process of eradicating them discover the demonic puppeteer pulling the strings.  If they defeat it, they have killed their first demon, becoming aware for the first time of horrors worse than any orc.  If they don’t, then they have a score to settle that could take them into the Abyss itself.

PS: In Lords of Chaos, James Jacobs points out a delightful fact about nabasus summoned by mortal spellcasters: As they grow in Hit Dice, they often outgrow the bounds of the spell that called them.  This is another excellent excuse for an encounter: the demonologist whose servant has a will and servants of its own.  Plus, if you have a party of neutral or (*shudder*) evil PCs, an uppity nabasu is an excellent way of reminding them that toying with fell powers is not to be done lightly…and has costs…

Since today’s a big day, let’s have four adventure seeds instead of the usual three:

Adventurers discover that the renowned sensei they have been seeking since the start of their careers is actually their beloved neighbor—a matronly halfling who is secretly a monk master.  But before they can learn from her, she is captured by a nabasu.  The adventurers arrive just as the demon devours the last soul it needs to advance and plane shift to the Abyss, taking their imprisoned sensei with it.

Nabasus are a paradoxical link between the foul fertility of the Abyss and the corruption and ruin of undeath (and thus the Negative Energy Plane).  A sage, noting rough similarities in their physiognomies, posits that nabasus are evolved or corrupted sceaduinars.  He wants to test this thesis (and find ways to defend against both threats), but that means sending adventurers to the borderlands where the two most dangerous planes in existence meet…

An opera company revives a medieval mystery play, and inadvertently fosters the creation of a nabasu through one of their songs (actually a rite of summoning).  The demon traps the singers in the sprawling theater and begins to turn them into ghouls.  A party of the Queen’s Musketeers is sent to defeat the beast.  Afterward, the cardinal’s scholars are called in to identify the nabasu and the ghouls, neither of which have been seen in the kingdom in over a century.  The cardinal informs the party that the demon is a  servant of an entity of legend whose name has not been spoken in 200 years: Orcus.

On the Shattered World of Ens, a protean-generated near-cataclysm has made Law and Chaos the vastly more important axis than childish notions of good and evil.  And on this world a party of adventurers is roused from their beds and taken to see their half-devil lord.  The Hellmeister bids them kill a rogue nabasu and report back (or not return at all).  Before their search is complete, they must also contend with the demon’s ghoul minions, rabid owlbears, and a tribe of harlequin elf freedom fighters that will see them dead for being the Law’s lackeys.

Pathfinder Bestiary 64

Hope you all had a good weekend!  I’m super-excited to link to this week’s radio show, because it was super-fun.  Stars, Ben Gibbard, Ra Ra Riot, Whitehorse, and the Last Royals are all in the mix.  Even a Strokes flashback, because why not?  Download it!

(For best results—the feed skips on some computers—let load in Firefox or Chrome, Save As an mp3, and enjoy in iTunes.  Link good till Friday, 2/1, at midnight.)

Friday, January 25, 2013


In the world’s oldest role-playing game, you could usually trust mushroom people.  Provided some telepathic plant or evil druid wasn’t controlling them, they were usually one of the Underdark’s few nonevil denizens.  But that was myconids…and myceloids are more like something out of Jeff VanderMeer’s Finch.  Myceloids are everything poisonous and dark about the fungus kingdom brought to life.  As the Bestiary 3 puts it: “To a myceloid, a living creature has three uses—first as a slave, second as a host […] and finally as a banquet.”

So, to review: A creature that will poison your character, dominate her via the spores, grow a new myceloid inside her as she dies, and then eat what’s left of her corpse, making resurrection all but impossible. 

That sucks. 

What an awesome villain!

Oh and don’t forget they’re telepathic!  And come in encounters of up to 250(!) creatures!  (Even orcs don’t get an encounter listing that big.)  And they taste feelings as they eat you (presumably with their feet)! 

And they work equally well in traditional Tolkien-esque campaigns and much more contemporary or weird settings.  You may be tired of goblins and red dragons, but there’s still plenty of room for evil mushroom slavers in your steampunk dirigible campaign.  Or your Restoration swashbuckling epic.  Or your revolver-toting space Western…

Adventurers are hired by a gourmand to play bodyguard at a hush-hush function.  The reason why is soon revealed: The heads of the thieves’ and assassins’ guilds are attending, the diners are not all human or even humanoid, and the menu involves preparations with disturbing ingredients, including the milk (and possibly the meat) of good intelligent creatures.  Moreover, the event, billed as “The Sympathetic Feast,” features a myceloid host and magical wine that allows him to transmit the emotions he tastes to the guests.  It also renders them helpless when he announces that for the last course, he will be serving the diners to his mushroom minions…

A leprechaun steals from a party of knights.  Chasing her takes them to the court of the sidhe (elves with the fey creature template who use brass weapons).  The ri tuaithe says he will return their lost item—and promises more magic besides—if they can find his pixie ambassador, who he says has become lost in his Mushroom Grotto.  He doesn’t mentioned that she has been captured by myceloids, or that he flavored their food with myceloid spores to make the effort that much harder (their humiliation and death being far more exciting that his ambassador’s rescue).

After a peasant revolt, a myceloid elder approached the aristocrats of the Three Heavenly Fires Province with an offer of aid.  The wealthy landowners were only too happy to hear him out: he promised slaves for their paddies and orchards and an end to the rebellion in one fell swoop.  Soon the mushroom caps of myceloid farmers replaced the straw dǒulì hats worn by the peasants.  The aristocrats were ecstatic…until they themselves were replaced, and now myceloids rule the Tiger Kingdom’s vital breadbasket.

Pathfinder Bestiary 3 196

When I look at the myceloid art by Kieran Yanner, with its sumo-esque body and smug, steely expression (the twig that resembles a cigarette holder is a nice touch), I read a gang boss from a martial arts film—hence the last adventure spore—er, I mean seed.

Also, on Monday, we reach a big milestone: The letter N.  Also known as…halfway.

Tell your friends.  Share/reblog/spread.  Extra points if you post somewhere awesome.  We are headed Z-ward.  And if your friends like Pathfinder or D&D, it would be fantastic if they came along for the ride.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Mu Spore

“That’s no moon.”
—A noted knight

Mu spores are Colossal flying fungi the size of a meteor.  Mu spores are plant creatures of genius-level intelligence that descend to feed on the pitiful creatures below.  Mu spores rule like deities over underground caverns, raining hallucinogenic secretions on wretched populaces.  Mu spores are signs of the End Times.

…Or at the very least, they make great campaign-ending threats.  The last plant the mad druid commands to lay waste to civilization.  The last creature the death cultists call through their stone circle gate (devouring them as it passes through).  The last trick the nascent demon lord plays as it lays dying and discorporating from a vorpal strike.  The prophesied “cavern moon” that drops from the ceiling to feast on all sides of a drow city in the throws of a civil war.  The first scion of the Old Ones summoned by extraplanar gugs and moon-beast worshippers.  Etc., etc.  They are big, bad news.

PS: A mu spore can talk, too.  It’s never good when something has a swallow whole attack and can speak four languages.

Also, a final note: A spore is by definition a reproductive body, a precursor to the seed.  It is meant to germinate. 

So, dear readers: If a seed has 31 Hit Dice and clocks in at CR 21…and if (to quote the Bestiary 2), such a specimen is “the smallest of mu spores”…then just how big is the thing that grows out of a fully mature one of them?!?… 

A powerful asura sees the opportunity to lay waste to the gods’ creations.  It lures derro alchemists and the ships of Leng to the shores of the drow city of Zak’t’feth.  The resulting mix of trade and innovation gives rise to industrial chemical production—and pollution.  Adventurers from the surface world who try to stem the tide of drugs and reagents arrive at the drow city just as the alchemical pollution attracts—or births—a mu spore, who begins to devour Zak’t’feth as the asura beams in triumph.

Six mu spores hang above the 13 spires of the Aharalaya Mountains.  One drops flocks of dire corbies whenever the constellation of the Archer is overhead.  One is worshipped by gugs who brave the surface world to conduct orgies in its shadow.  One is a scholar, with demiliches circling its “head” like ioun stones.  All are voracious eaters, descending to feed at least once a century—but the Aharalayas are so rich in gems, mithral, and the mu spores’ own secretions that there are always foolhardy souls certain that the dormant mu spores will not awaken this year…

There are costs to killing a god—particularly an evil one.  In the Outer Astral where the bodies of dead deities float as giant asteroids, mu spores erupt from their mouths as the corpses begin to decay and petrify.  Sometimes the mu spores carry the godseed to new realities and rebirth; more often a spore hunts its parent god’s killer.

Pathfinder Bestiary 2 195

“Aharalaya” is my highly butchered Sanskrit for “abode of the eaters.”

Does anyone know the history of the mu spore?  First reference I can find is the 3.0 Epic Level Handbook, where it was a giant walking tree.  Into the Darklands and Lost Cities of Golarion have juicy tidbits here and there as well.

Also, four new followers in the past 24 hours?  Someone awesome must be plugging me.  Hi all!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


Mohrgs may be one of my favorite undead. But if I could only have one undead type in a campaign, I’d have mummies.

Mummies are created by cynical priest castes to consolidate their power even in the afterlife.  Mummies are created from fervent believers whose faith carries them on even in death.  Mummies are created by necromancers seeking powerful minions.  Mummies can boast clerical power to rival the greatest hierophants, and they can be windows into the rites of dead cults and forgotten gods.  The threat of a mummy’s curse can provoke any number of folk superstitions and taboos.  And mummies are created (super)naturally in barrow mounds, in peat bogs, in trackless tundra wastes, in hot baking deserts.  Wherever a corpse is wrapped or where nature preserves rather than decays, there is a chance of a mummy.

Oh right, and pharaohs and pyramids.  I seem to remember something about mummies and pharaohs and pyramids.  And curses.  And canopic jars.  Does that ring a bell?

Hrothdar Foxmantle was denied glorious death in battle, succumbing to disease in peacetime.  As if to compensate for this insult from fate, his plans for his funeral boat grew overambitious—and when he was finally laid to rest, it sank from the weight of its construction (and Foxmantle’s treasure) before the pyre could send his soul to Valhalla.  Preserved in the icy water, the dead jarl returned in rage and slaughtered his kinsmen.  Still seeking death in battle, he rules draugr minions and works to build a new fleet of undead raiders.  And instead of dust, his mummy rot causes his victims to burn with phantom flames till they collapse into ash—fate’s nod to the pyre that failed to consume him.

Priest of a god of assassins, Snake-Hearted Enomedjou still rules from the funeral city outside Lower Mashalkol.  The dead guildmaster and politician is actually two undead sharing one mind.  His mummy self worships, plots, and plans; meanwhile his preserved innards animate a mohrg that executes Enomedjou’s dire will.

The ecclesiastic life is not meant to be a route to temporal power—but it often is.  Bishop Niall O’Melaghlin chased the mitre his entire life, and refused to relinquish it in death.  He still rules from the crypt beneath his cathedral in a withered body redolent of peat and spilt blood.  Those clerics and friars who would not serve him were turned to dust, and the remainder follow him out of fear even as he flirts with devotions to ever-darker and older powers.  (A party wishing to face him would do well to befriend the brownies who still tend the cathedral grounds, unbeknownst even to the dread bishop.)

Pathfinder Bestiary 210

Paizo’s Classic Horrors Revisited has some really smart looks at the undead.  The mummy entry is one of the best and—no surprise—it’s written by F. Wesley Schneider, who points to covetousness as the classic mummy’s animating vice—they cannot relinquish the trappings, power, and treasure of their mortal lives.  He also lays out some perfectly (in every sense of the word) revolting variations on mummy rot.

(I also wish I’d read his Ossa Stormseer write-up more closely—I just noticed my Hrothdar seed above echoes it more than I’d like.)

One of the neat details of the Dark Sun setting (I never owned the products, but believe me I pored over every scrap of info Dragon and Dungeon let slip) was that there were supposed to be no stock undead—each was meant to be treated as a full-fledged NPC.  I particularly remember a line in Dragon #173 (which I may have echoed here before) that strange superstitions taboos can sometimes outline the borders of old kingdoms—after a series of attacks, people quickly learn to adopt an undead’s favorite customs to keep it from rising.  That’s a great concept to steal for your campaign, especially if mummies are involved.

Also, I have seen real mummies in the basement of a church in Ireland.  It was amazing and haunting.  Acidic bogs, man—they are a thing.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Mud Elemental

Back when we covered the lightning elemental, I opined that casters who favored summoning mud elementals are likely eccentric or self-taught, with druids and sorcerers being predominant.  I still stand by that.  I also think that mud elementals are more likely to thrive and prosper on the Material Plane than most of their quasi-cousins.  Ice elementals hate the hot mortal world, and lightning elementals and magma elementals tend to spontaneously arise in only the most remote places of natural violence.  But Earth and Water meet all over the planet—and given the right planar conditions, that means there are countless places a mud elemental might manifest.

The “Mud Sorceress” Shar is known for specializing in earth and water magic.  Her favored steed is a mud elemental toad.  Two mud elementals shaped like chameleons silently watch a beach that is said to hide a portal to the Plane of Water.  And on the Plane of Earth, the shaitan Houssam despises the soft, burbling things, but keeps a few in his household to serve as both servants and carefully calculated insults to unwanted guests.

Once a thriving city of scholars, Gilderhome is now little more than a necropolis located deep underground.  Its famous library is now the home of the ravener Harufex, a tarnished bronze dragon who embraced undeath in pursuit of his fell studies.  The easiest way to get there is through a sinkhole from the badlands above.  The sinkhole is guarded by mud elementals (perhaps called by the energies released in the sinking of the city or the raveners’ ties to water in life) who brook no intrusion on their domain.

The Jealous Mire is a planar backwater that is vaguely sentient—the whole marshy layer is somehow alive and aware.  Those who visit (typically those druids, healers, and necromancers who want to study the region’s magically accelerated rate of growth and decay) find the Mire as safe as any mortal swamp—quicksand is a real problem, for instance, as are drakes, but game and helpful herbs are plentiful.  The trouble is when visitors try to leave.  The smotheringly maternal Mire considers all creatures its children, and will send progressively larger mud elementals to persuade, detain, or entrap anyone make obvious preparations to depart.

Pathfinder Bestiary 120–121

First of all, hope you all had a long weekend (I did!) and hope it was happy.  Here in Baltimore, it was particularly nice weekend.  For those of you who don’t follow certain American forms of sport, let me put it in Golarion terminology for you: some New Andoran gunslingers got their blunderbusses handed to them by some Riddleport dire corbies.

Remember the Where’s Waldo book with the dryads(?) and their mud elemental servants?  Me, too.  Kinda.  Barely.

If you’re looking for the mu spore, don’t panic—we’ll get to it Thursday.  The only way I can possibly keep my sanity doing this is by ignoring spaces and punctuation, so this is one of the rare times that I deviate from the Table of Contents order in the Bestiaries.

You know how I say my show is “The best new and independent rock, pop, and folk in the capital region”?  This week the emphasis was on the “new”: two straight hours of new music, including new Tegan and Sara, Thao & The Get Down Stay Down, PAPA, and Erin McKeown.  Download it!

(Music starts 5:30 into the file—not because I was late this week, but because the computer is cranky.  If the feed skips, let load in Firefox or Chrome, Save As an mp3, and enjoy in iTunes.  Link good till Friday, 1/25, at midnight.)

Monday, January 21, 2013

Movanic Deva

Movanic devas serve in the infantries of the various angelic armies, as the Bestiary 2 notes.  That’s also why they guard the Positive and Negative Planes—where relations with the insular and disagreeable inhabitants don’t require the political finesse or stoic might of the monadic devas—and the Material Plane—where their numbers are needed to watch over the many different peoples and their souls.

As with most angels, movanic devas are far more likely to help PCs than hinder them, especially as summoned allies.  But there are still reasons to throw them in the PCs’ path if you want them to throw down…

Carsiel has been loaned out from his detachment to the house of a fey lord—a thank-you for a service the fey rendered a planetar colonel.  The fey is amused to have Carsiel stationed in the deadly hedge maze that he forces particularly insufferable mortals to navigate.  The movanic deva will do what he can to help good-hearted adventurers; aside from his arsenal of benevolent magicks, his nature’s pacifism ability is particularly useful for soothing the many aggressive animals in the maze.  But if they try to enter the garden he guards, they will still be met by his +1 flaming greatsword.

Psychopomps have spirited away an important soul a movanic deva was supposed to receive.  Instead, he encounters an adventuring party whose divine caster happens to serve the same deity as the psychopomps (or at least, as the psychopomps claimed to serve).  Suspecting the mortals of collusion, he attacks.  If the adventurers can calm him down enough to explain the situation, they will discover the soul is of interest to them, too.  Aiding the angel will take them to the brilliant cities of the jyoti, with flights of rogue psychopomps and sceaduinar harassing them along the way.

Movanic devas have a special loathing for devourers, who are twice damned—corrupted by the foul negative energy of undeath warped by exposure to places beyond even the Outer Planes.  After a Heavenly court charges an adventuring party with planar crimes, the court’s movanic deva prosecutor offers a plea bargain: aid her in tracking down a particularly foul devourer or face her in one-on-one combat.

Pathfinder Bestiary 2 28

I can’t find any definition for “movanic” anywhere…a made-up word perhaps?  The closest I could find was “movant,” which inspired the third seed.

I haven’t talked about the art in the Bestiaries much lately, but Kekai Kotaki’s movanic deva is really sweet.

Friday, January 18, 2013


I knew very little about the mothman when I first heard of it.  Fortunately, Mystery Monsters Revisited just came out.  And now I know so much more very little!

That’s not a dig at contributor Anthony Pryor.  He’s writing about a monster whose entire point is inscrutability, and he did a nice job with the leeway he had (plus he offered alternate abilities, cursed items, and plot hooks to boot).  Unlike, say, when Dragon Magazine pulled back the curtain on mind flayers (“Wait, they’re from the future and went back in time to prepare our world so that they can exist whaaaa—?”), it’s too early to reveal that much about mothmen—doing so will only pin them down.  (Heh.  See what I did there?)

So yeah, the mothman has some hurdles: 1) It’s a cryptid, and not a well-known one (dating only back to 1960s West Virginia, and without the Internet boost the chupacabra got); 2) it’s new to role-playing, and 3) it’s not supposed to be explicable.  Oh right, and 4) most people don’t think moths are that scary, let alone mothmen, especially when the cultural antecedent is that one guy in Watchmen and Arthur from The Tick.

So I think the trick with the mothman is to hint at its presence (or at least its possibility) early.  Have it come up in a tavern tale…and have those who don’t scoff at the teller be truly terrified.  Build up the victim’s credibility with the PCs (and the players).  So when the mothman finally appears, ideally the reaction at the table won’t be “A moth?  I’m fighting…a moth?” but rather, “It’s real!  Oh no!

Mothmen are also excellent success/failure-nudgers.  Did your party romp through the dungeon?  Have a visitation from a mothman as a spoiler to throw them off track or deplete them of loot.  And while parties that make bad decisions (“Leave the decapus in the jar alone!”) deserve what they get, some nights the dice can just crucify a table unfairly.  Let the appearance of a mothman be a balm (“We were meant to fail.”) and a dash of adrenalin “”There’s more behind this than we thought!”).

And of course, there’s that nagging sense that mothmen aren’t just visitors from afar…they’re visitors from the far future

An escort job becomes a race against bandits, humanoid ambushes, and especially accidents and vile weather.  Eventually the adventurers realize that someone is stacking the deck against them; someone wants their charge (a golden-skinned merchant of something he calls “chrysanthemum rockets”) to perish.  A mothman is responsible, and if it cannot achieve its ends through subtle means (especially nightmare and phantasmal killer) it will resort to black tentacles via its agent of fate power, and then attempt modify memory on any witnesses.

Delegates of the Elven Court visit the town of Robin Crest, long said to be haunted by a banshee.  The pair of clerics is tasked with laying the evil revenant to rest.  Their work reveals no banshee but a mothman.  But is its interest in the town it continually curses, or were the decades of disasters all a ruse to lead these particular priests here…and why?

Mothmen don’t look so alien in spacefaring solar systems.  Elven armadas have long used insectile ships and elf/insect half-breeds and hybrids as soldiers.  Mothmen appear to be some kind of super-weapons gone wrong—scions of an experimental, perhaps even far-future development gone rogue and now operating of its own accord.

Pathfinder #16 88–89 & Pathfinder Bestiary 2 194

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Moss Troll

Normally I like to point out in-game reasons why monsters are awesome, but with moss trolls it’s all about the stat block: They’re CR 3, AC 15 (flat-footed 11), and shaken by fire.  This means that they’re perfect (tough but not lethal) boss monsters for a 2nd or 3rd-level party (or even 1st-level one, if PCs are smart and plan ahead). 

Even this delightful bit of flavor text—“When a moss troll spots prey, it reaches or leaps down from above, heedless of dropping great distances in its eagerness to sate its ravenous appetite” (emphasis mine)—gives you a way to make moss trolls seem badass and yet still stack the deck in a young party’s favor. 

Picture it: The moss troll drops to attack.  It lands with a thud, just missing the PCs.  You describe how the monster shrugs off its bad landing, its regeneration relocating the troll’s twisted knee back into place right before their very eyes…but secretly only you know that the moss troll’s fall has done enough damage that the PCs have a round or two to get their act together.

And that’s great!  Low-level adventures are super hard to end satisfactorily with a fight.  A moss troll is a real monster, a real threat, a real challenge to overcome with both brains and brawn—but with plenty of Achilles heels built in.

And once your PCs are more experienced?  Throw a troop of 4–8 at them right after they’ve shelled out for vials of acid, and watch their dismay as their gold pieces go down the drain.  Or set them up for a jungle encounter with gorillas and dire apes—perhaps a specimen-collecting exhibition—only to have moss trolls come brachiating through the trees instead.

Oh yeah, the fact they can turn into a tree is pretty cool, too.  Add some levels of rogue or barbarian to that and you’ve got a pants-wettingly stealthy and fast ambush.  Have fun!

Fresh from its mother’s nest, a very young black dragon strikes out on its own.  Quickly growing used to throwing its weight around, it suffers its first setback when a gang of moss trolls shrugs off its acid spit and regenerates its talon slashes.  Now the dragon licks its wounds and plots its next move, as do the mossy humanoids.  Both the dragon and the trolls will rally to defend the swamp from outsiders, but a canny party might be able to set the two sides against each other again.

The Burrowback Boys have lamented their lost brother for a year.  Now they have discovered he is alive—captured by a traveling circus during its annual rounds and kept bound by his fear of fire.  Using a muck-encrusted but serviceable trebuchet they found moldering in a clearing, they plan to fling giant leeches into town as a distraction, free their brother, and split the corpse of the circus’s sorcerer master of ceremonies among them.

Born from a tree poisoned by hag blight, the dryad Merifex has always been a bit wrong.  Just how wrong became apparent when she tried to tree meld with a disguised moss troll—and promptly fell in love with the brutish creature.  Now she lures men to feed her monstrous lover. Assuming adventurers don’t stumble upon Merifex on their own, the satyr Cheridwen will beg for their assistance “rescuing” her.  In truth he is madly jealous of the troll—Merifex spurned him years ago—and he intends to rob whoever comes out the winner.

Pathfinder Bestiary 3 273

“What the deuce?!” you all exclaim, monocles cascading from your faces into your Martinis as you interrobang in shock.  “You neglected the mosquito swarm, you cad!”  Ah, but rest easy, it is here.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


Now in 2013 morlocks seem like a forehead-slappingly obvious addition to the game.  So it’s surprising it took until 2008’s Into the Darklands for them to really make their fantasy role-playing entrance—and even then James Jacobs and Greg A. Vaughan seemed to feel the need to justify their inclusion because of their sci-fi roots in H. G. Wells. 

It’s also one more reason a fresh setting can be a fresh start.  Morlocks never made it into 1e or 2e, and by 3.0 there was little room for them in an Underdark full of derro, grimlocks, meenlocks, skulks, and deep Imaskari/Lerara (not to mention drow, duergar, ghouls, kuo-toas, myconids, etc.).  But in the brand new world of 3.5 Golarion (Pathfinder wasn’t quite a game yet, just a magazine title), they were a perfect addition, and they promptly made their way into the first Bestiary.

And rightly so—because they’re awesome monsters.  Degenerate inbred humans turned into swarming, leaping, sneak-attacking ravening beasts?—yes, please, I want those in my game!

Do I really need to say more?  No.  But I will ask two questions: 1) Morlocks are most terrifying when they have enablers.  In The Time Machine it’s the Eloi; in Golarion it’s mongrelmen.  And in your game…?  And 2) just because they have light blindness, who says you have to keep them underground…?

The morlocks living under “The Stairway City” of Narsus have odd hunting habits—they drag their captives (preferably unconscious) down to the sunken city of Old Narsus, then let their captives come to and explore the ruins before hunting them down again.  This is due to the influence of their ruler, a dapper fear-feeding bogeyman who terrifies the morlocks more than even their worst hunger pangs.

The seneschals of Ableworth are loyal—too loyal.  When the aristocrats of Ableworth degenerated into infighting and inbreeding, the seneschals protected their secret feuds and hid their warped offspring.  When the elder nobles were laid to rest and the offspring came of age, the seneschals still sent tribute and servants to tend them in their manor houses, then their attics and basements, and then their underground lairs.  And now, generations later, the Iron Regents still send political prisoners, repeat offenders, and hapless travelers down into the depths to feed the morlock True Lords of Ableworth.

The world or Arbori is just that—an arboreal jungle planet where most inhabitants (excepting dwarves and orcs) never touch the ground, living high in the canopies.  Elves rule here, supported by human chattel and warring with the independent human states, while halflings caravans do most of the trading and secretive fey gnomes tend the trees. But every race knows to find secure, well-guarded shelter when nightfall comes.  That’s when the morlocks come out, leaping through the branches and snatching up anyone they catch outdoors to take back to their terrible hidden lairs.

Into the Darklands 54–55 & Pathfinder Bestiary 209

Arbori owes some inspiration to the world of Pryan from Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman’s The Death Gate Cycle.  I’m not sure how well the series has held up—the fact that I had to look up how it ended last night is a bad sign—but the first four books were fascinating world-building (particularly for showing a world of Fire that was not on fire—sheer genius actually).

See the 1960 The Time Machine if you get a chance—it’s a classic.  (My amazing school librarian Mr. B. used to show it, and I am in his debt for that and so many other great movies.)

Don’t see the 2002 film, which is terrible.  But it does provide an excellent lesson on the visual language of tragedy and comedy.  There’s a scene that is supposed to be the upsetting (second) death of a woman.  But because the director frames the death through a window while her lover’s back is turned, it stumbles into the terrain of visual dramatic irony and becomes an unfortunate laugh scene instead.  If you are forced to watch this film, look for it—it’s an epic blunder.