Tuesday, April 30, 2013


Quasits are the ultimate demonic familiar—the Abyss’s answer to the imp.  The difference is that the imp is a subtle manipulator leading the caster to damnation, whereas the quasit is the id unbound…the gleeful co-conspirator in the caster’s worst schemes…the invisible friend who urges the child to burn down the house.  Think Ralph Wiggum’s leprechaun with horns.  If a chaotic evil caster is a ticking time bomb, a quasit is the hand gleefully ripping out wires so it will go off sooner.  Admittedly, the quasit has to suborn its will to its master’s commands.  But you can be sure it is always waiting for the opportunity to claim its master’s soul in a bid for advancement or freedom.

Finally, don’t forget the quasit’s weekly commune ability.  Putting this expensive (500 gp), relatively high-level (5th) spell in the hands of a comparatively green spellcaster is quite a boon, and likely the reason many casters who should know better give in to the temptation to summon the demon in the first place.  But since the quasit is the conduit through which these questions must be asked and answers received…and since the Abyssal powers are not reliable truth-tellers in any case…the opportunities for leading the caster astray are boundless.

An adventuring spellcaster unknowingly tries to bond a familiar in an area corrupted by Abyssal magic.  As a result, a quasit manifests, despite the difference in the caster’s alignment.  Now the caster has a problem—a chaotic evil, invisible at-will demonic menace has a claim on her soul.  Moreover, the caster is not sure what is worse—the occasional pranks, crimes, and mutilations the quasit causes, or the unerringly good advice it gives…

A spellcasting prodigy has drawn the attention of a free quasit and a lyrakien.  The lyrakien knows she needs to get the boy to resist the demon’s urgings.  But her own flightiness and independent streak have left her ill-prepared to out-argue the cunning tempter.

When a party of adventurers kills an evil sorcerer, his quasit familiar hares off in search of his soul.  Unfortunately, the adventurers are standing too close and get dragged along in the plane shift.  The good news is that they are not taken to the Abyss itself, but to a swampy netherplane whose rivers all lead demonward.  They need to escape before the region’s fiendish boggards catch them or before they are washed toward the Abyss proper.  Ideally they can dispatch the problematic quasit and the vile sorcerer’s soul larva as well.

Pathfinder Bestiary 66

Since I played “basic” D&D instead of AD&D (e.g. 1e and 2e) my first exposure to the quasit (and the slaad) was this Yamara during spring of sixth grade.

Also, a quick perusal of the Paizo messageboards indicates that the quasit in the Rise of the Runelords Adventure Path gave people a lot of trouble.

Man!  There are posts I know y’all are going to like.  There are posts I think you all are going to like if I write them just right.  And then there are posts I just go, “Bwuhhhhh?  I…not know…for why I…good did?”  Thanks, guys!

Finally: Admit it, Mr. F. Wesley Schneider—if that’s your REAL name—you’re trying to kill me, aren’t you?

(Actually, Schneider has sent me two very nice emails in the past, so he is guilty only of killing me with kindness.  Kindness and monsters.)

Monday, April 29, 2013

Quantium Golem

We’ve reached the letter Q!  Which I plan to race through as fast as a quickling, appropriately enough.  And the first up is an Inner Sea Bestiary monster courtesy of Russ Taylor: the Quantium golem

Since I can’t link to stat blocks of ISB monsters, here’s a quick rundown: In the Pathfinder home setting of Golarion, there are two Quantium golems, both created by the legendary archmage Nex to guard his capital city of Quantium.  These are twin CR 20 Gargantuan creatures capable of dealing staggering amounts of damage (how do 30d6 eldritch blasts work for ya?) and who are resistant or immune to most attacks.  In short, they are one…er, two-of–a-kind constructs PCs will only encounter at the highest levels.

Obviously, you don’t have to use Quantium golems solely on Golarion—change their names and they can go anywhere.  But many of the same attributes should apply.  1) They should be so iconic that they are as much landmarks as they are guardians—we’re talking Colossus of Rhodes iconic.  Like the adamantine golem, they should only be in the service of legends, great metropolises, and gods.  2) Each should definitely have a certain thing to guard (most likely a city or set landmark), so that its Urban Defender (Su) ability (which gives it 150 extra hp) is put to use.  3) Though this is less crucial than #2, keeping the golems a matched pair keeps the spirit of the original constructs. 

Attacking a Quantium golem should be an act of hubris or suicide.  Actually defeating one should be the stuff of legends.

The scarlet Titan of Antapolis stands astride the city’s harbor, ever staring out to sea.  Two green boots only guard the High Gate on the opposite side of the city.  The blue dragon Queveros the Mad Azure smashed the green Titan golem to pieces with its lightning breath and adamantine tail-mace before the scarlet Titan finished the legendary wyrm off.

Ambulos, the Walking City, does not actually walk—it floats on a cushion of gravity-defying magic.  The nickname comes from the two golems that labor beneath the city-state, appearing to carry it on their backs.  When Ambulos needs defending however, they effortlessly shrug off their shared burden and draw their Gargantuan +5 bastard swords in answer.

The Lawful Foundry of Ordinance is said to be the most fabulous golemworks of the Planes, where inevitables craft themselves and axiomites break new ground in robot design.  But experienced travelers scoff at Ordinance.  They whisper of the Twins, gigantic golems that guard the android moon known as the Forever Crèche.

Inner Sea Bestiary 19

Thanks to alchemyprime for the vote of confidence and the reblogs.

In other news, I don’t know much about sports.  So if you really like sports—say, enough to take off work to watch the NFL draft with your buddies—you may want to turn off your phone if I have your number. 

The bad news about this radio show: You have to fast forward through four and a half minutes of dead air to get to the start. The good news about this radio show: It starts with "You! Me! Dancing!"  I suggest you download it.

(Aside from the fast-forwarding mentioned above—I wasn’t able to get to the station early this week—the usual drill applies: The feed skips on some browsers, so if this happens to you, try loading in Firefox or Chrome, then Save As an mp3 and enjoy in iTunes forever.)

Friday, April 26, 2013


Give pretty much anything a vulture’s head and it becomes awesome.  Nagpa?  Awesome.  Vrock?  Awesome.  Skeksis?  Muppet awesome! 

So how about CR 18 12-foot-tall vulture-headed daemonic Deacons of War that create and store magical weapons by stabbing them into their own bodies?!? 

Pardon me, I think I just had a goregasm.

Oh, wait, before I go—purrodaemons are war incarnate.  That means against most adversaries they revel in bloodlust and slaughter, often breaking agreements and switching sides to cause more carnage.  But when fighting in their own interests, they are canny and ruthless.  Once a purrodaemon suspects a party is a true threat, its next attack against them will always be a feint (often through the use of minions while the daemon observes in secret), so that at subsequent encounters it will have a properly enchanted blade ready to carve through the party’s defenses.

The Glaive of the Denier is a weapon of great power.  It is also currently sheathed between the shoulder blades of the purrodaemon Camulus, who is busy storming the celestial storm giant ice castle of Helm.

A party of adventurers brings back intelligence that ensures the Banner of the Lion a decisive victory.  But in their absence, Lord Lionheart turned to bargaining with purrodaemon mercenaries.  Preferring the carnage not to end, the purrodaemons turn on Lord Lionheart in the middle of his next council of war—unless the very same adventurers can stop them.

The War College at Ashfall is carved into the side of an extinct volcano, overlooking the rusting-weapon-strewn Fields of Ruin.  Warlords from all across the Planes come to train here, learning stratagems and feats that can be found nowhere else.  But the price is high.  For every three months one stays at the school, one’s alignment shifts one step closer to neutral evil, and the graduation requirement is always the same—to survive seven rounds against one of the purrodaemon masters.

Pathfinder Bestiary 2 73

Why is this post late?  Because I was hanging out in this guy’s living room with these guys.  Who are all going to be here tomorrow (which, by the time this is posted, will be practically today).

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Purple Worm

If you’ve read Dune, you want to ride one.  If you’ve played an old-school D&D module, you’re terrified of running into a wandering one.  And if you played the Curse of the Crimson Throne Adventure Path, you had to hurl yourself into the maw of one.  Ah, purple worms.  Good times.  (By which I mean bad.)

Dungeon Denizens Revisited has the skinny on purple worms, and is worth checking out on several levels: for its unique take on their origins (spawn of a Star-Worm that crashed to Golarion in a meteorite), for its hints on the metagame uses of worms (from foreshadowing to dues ex machina devices), for some really nasty combos (purple worm plus intellect devourer, anyone?), and of course for all the many varieties and Advanced versions (mottled worms, worms with breath weapons, etc.).

So I’ll just say this: purple worms are forces of nature.  They embody that terrifying sense that something could just burst out from any direction and—*GULP*—eat you.  Unless you’re a truly high-level adventurer, purple worms aren’t monsters you fight; they’re monsters that happens to you.  
As DDR suggests, if you’re a GM, put the PCs in a bad spot—outnumbered, on a cliff’s edge, low on resources…and then have a purple worm be the thing that saves them.  As the watch their enemies vanish into the worm’s mouth, any relief they have will be tempered by the knowledge that they are way too far down and that that thing could come back

One last thing: No matter how scary a beast is, there will be someone (or ones) who can ride it.  If you meet that person or people, be afraid.  Ask House Harkonnen how that went for them.

Deep in the caverns of Ayergard lie the Bones of the God—strange white stones purported to be the bones of the buried viking god Valkurrod.  Born of the semi-divine maggots that feasted on Valkurrod’s flesh, purple worms are thus eternally hungry creatures.  Many of the larger specimens even emanate necromantic energy, and the souls of those they kill never reach Valhalla but instead go straight to Hel. Of course, no true Northman would allow his friend’s soul to suffer this fate…but getting to Hel might mean following your dead friend through the gullet of the worm.

It is said that there are men who ride the worms of the Sand Reach the way other folk ride horses.  Not true—they are not men but oreads, who know how to walk the earth without waking the worm, and whose stony flesh dulls their hunger.  Hitching a ride on one of these worms is typically forbidden, and even in the rarest cases one usually must best an oread in single combat first.  There is one exception though: By ancient custom these oreads will never refuse one of the ratfolk.

A spherical metal chamber holds a purple worm in stasis, magically suspended weightless in the center of the globe.  If the room is entered without the proper key, gravity returns after three rounds, and the purple worm is released.  Worse yet, the friction of its bulk grinding against the floor causes the entire chamber to spin, sending the doors spiraling away and anyone standing to be knocked off their feet and sent sliding toward the worm.

Dungeon Denizens Revisited 40–45 & Pathfinder Bestiary 230

Lots of love for yesterday’s post—thanks all! 

So uwtartarus (still love that name) writes:

I have been waiting for the Pukwudgie for a couple days. I blame the latest Adventure Path from Paizo.  Huzzah!  Witch's Shack turned extradimensional meltdown is too good not to borrow.  I look forward to unleashing some curiously quill-studded undead at my party that is exploring a Fey border-plane.

Wait—does the current adventure path have a pukwudgie?!?  Aaaugh, I’m so behind!  I only got halfway through the first Reign of Winter issue when I was in Illinois, and then got distracted by work/birthday/work/Easter in Boston/work/a monster stash of less-than-mint GameMastery modules from a Paizo sale/work.  Must.  Catch.  Up.  Winter witches!!!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


Some monsters are hot messes, and this makes them stupid.  Some monsters are hot messes, and this makes them awesome.  A shapechanging, child-devouring porcupine-man whose quills raise the dead as zombies…?  What’s not to love about that!?!  (In a monster I mean.  Public service announcement: Kids, eating babies is wrong.  Don’t eat that baby.)

I’m surprised the pukwudgie isn’t considered fey, but maybe that’s because of its origin—it’s a Native American creature from New England rather than some kind of English bogey.  That said, I don’t think anyone will complain if you put one in a faerie-focused adventure.  Given their necromantic abilities, maybe they are fallen fey instead—porcupine or hedgehog spirits whose attraction to dark powers cost them their connection to the natural world.

Also, pukwudgies have a host of abilities that let them weaken characters—and monitor that weakness.  A PC who goes down fighting a cult of pukwudgies is not going to be ignored—he’s going to get a death knell.  Players, you’ve been warned.

Children are going missing.  Dead men shamble through the streets at night.  Townsfolk blame the Witch of the Woods, a local menace though driven off.  Investigation reveals that the witches cabin is empty and ruined—in fact, the shattered shack looks like it fell from the sky.  A pukwudgie has taken up residence inside, and it is responsible for the deaths and the zombies.  Worse yet, the cabin was magical in nature, larger on the inside than out, and as the enchantments decay strange extradimensional things are beginning to emanate from somewhere else

A village’s orange stands have been cut down, as if by giant beavers or porcupines, and the logs used to block up the local wells.  Three homes have burned to the ground.  And only hardened gunslingers and fighters will leave town due to undead attacks.  A cult of pukwudgies riding zombie antelopes and mountain lions is on the loose. But what foul goal or necromantic rite is making them move so brazenly?

Decimated by illness and bulette attacks, a tribe is not able to pay the wampum levy to the Fireheart nation.  They recruit adventurers to seek out the wampum bird, a kind of magical roc whose feathers rain shells.  But a pudwudgie sees an opportunity to ruin the tribe for good, and seeks to kill the adventurers before they can harvest the purple shells.

Pathfinder Bestiary 3 223

Prompted by A.A. yesterday, I tried to strike a conciliatory tone re: 4e and D&D Next. The ever-feisty filbypott was having none of it.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


The mongrel-faced pugwampis have the burden of not looking very much like gremlins.  But that’s also a positive: Since they don’t look very much like gremlins, so you might find them in any number of settings or situations.  (For instance, if you (like me) miss the days when kobolds were canine instead of draconic, pugwampis fit the bill perfectly.)  

And it shouldn’t be hard to come up with adventure ideas for the wicked, prank- and gnoll-obsessed fey.  The Pathfinder crew outdid themselves with lines like, “Their ‘jokes’ tend to involve spikes and excrement.”  So dive in, have fun, and spread the unluck!

Even other gremlins hate pugwampis.  Denied entry into a gremlin conclave (if an orgy of stolen food, fighting, and sabotage can be called a conclave), a mob of pugwampis decides to earn entry to the feast by serving up some hapless adventurers.

A frontier town has been beset by gnolls.  Fortunately, the mission and the bank were well armed, and many of the citizens are ex-crusaders with experience in sieges.  But after two weeks the various barricades begin to collapse and nearly ever firearm in the compound breaks under mysterious circumstances.  Apparently, the gnolls held their noses and recruited a nearby infestation of pugwampis to help, and the fruits of this alliance now quickly become apparent.

Pugwampis were tolerated near the grounds of a remote dojo for a year, thanks to a beneficent senior abbot.  But when their pranks became too frequent (and too manure-focused), they were driven away.  Now the abbot is sick, and his students (likely a motley mix of monks, ninjas, clerics, and others) are sent to retrieve a rare herb to cure him.  Resentful and vindictive, the pugwampi mob sees an excellent opportunity to revenge themselves on the abbot’s young charges.

Pathfinder Bestiary 2 144

First up: Do you guys do Twitter?  I’m @patchdj if you want to add me.  I’m still a total n00b at it, though.

Comic relief opportunity: Pugwampis who swear at party familiars/companions/mounts nonstop via speak with animal.

I…am not going to put my feelings about Charles De Lint’s work into print.  (Let’s just say I was enchanted by the stuff I read in early editions of The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror.  And do not enchantments in fairy stories exist solely to be broken?)  But pugwampis remind me of the bogan Rabedy in Widdershins.

Mailbag!  Regular commenter syringesin writes:

Dinos and dinolike creatures have never made an appearance in my games. I just can't bring myself to use them. Unless PCs were to visit the Beastlands...

I totally respect that.  In fact, I actually struggle with it, too; way back in the comments to the Arsinoitherium & Glyptodon entry I confess to having what I call a “paleontology problem.”  But part of the exercise of this blog has been to get over that—otherwise every one of my dinosaur entries would be “The PCs go to a spooooooky lost continent.” So I try to mix it up.  (I think the glyptodon-loving shogun was a bit of a breakthrough for me.)

I think dinosaurs are one of those things like gunpowder or ninjas or even monks (martial art monks, not friars) that need to be decided upon early in the game, so you and your players understand your world.  I think any number of approaches are equally valid—1) No dinosaurs exist, 2) dinosaurs exist only in isolated Lost Valleys or magical caverns, 3) dinosaurs exist but only in far-off continents and jungles, 4) dinosaurs are rare but do exist in the local wilderness, 5) dinosaurs are as common as any other animal—but you have to decide early.  Are they as commonplace as wolves…manticores…dragons…or presumed to be myths?  Likewise, nomenclature matters—is it a T. rex or a “sharptooth”?  Players who scoff at hobgoblins riding velociraptors may be petrified by “mounted sickledeaths.”

And A.A. writes:

This question isn't related to monsters, but I still was wondering it.

D&D Next seems to be getting rid of a lot of the stuff 4e did, such as Healing Surges/non-casters being able to heal via inspiration, merging the Warlord and the Fighter, merging the Warden and the Paladin, ghettoizing the Dragonborn and Tieflings as “Rare” races, and so on.

A lot of 4e fans are really, really pissed about that, especially given the promises of this being the “Unifying” edition, and as one who wasn't into 4e, I was wondering what you think of it.

Interesting question.  I’m honestly not following the D&D Next stuff except for listening to the D&D podcast.  So my only knowledge comes from that.  To use a cliché, I hope they don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater—there had to be some good stuff in there.  But 4e is up against 30+ years of tradition—and for every one fan that loves it, there is a vocal critic who regards it as the George W. Bush of D&D.

So I can’t speak to the warlord—seems like it would make a better prestige class to me; I can’t picture a 1st-level warlord.  I could see keeping the warden if they differentiate it enough from the paladin.  (Or maybe having it would shut up all the people clamoring for a non-lawful good paladin.  And by “people” I mean savages.  …I kid, I kid!  (I’m not kidding.)  And dragonborn and tieflings don’t have to be rare in your campaign—that’s your call to make.

Personally, though, while I don’t love healing via inspiration I would totally keep healing surges in some form—I thought they were a good idea—and casters having at least one ray or magic missile or something they can use every turn—even if it’s just a single d6.  Resting for spells and healing is the single number-one biggest killer of momentum in an adventure, and anything that keeps the party in play from in-game dawn to dusk is fine by me.  A d6 ray attack or a single magic missile every turn isn’t much, but it’s better than a dagger or napping by noon…

Monday, April 22, 2013

Pteranodon & Stegosaurus

You cannot have a Lost World adventure that does not involve a pteranodon encounter.  Those are The Rules™.  (Said encounter will likely take place aboard ship, against a crumbly cliff face, or in the pteranodon’s nest.  Again: The Rules™.)  Obviously, a little tinkering with the stats will get you a good pterodactyl, quetzalcoatlus, etc. 

And the stegosaurus is probably most like any bull or other large dangerous ungulate—herbivorous, but you don’t want to piss it off.  Of course, given that stegosauruses make good animal companions for cantankerous druids, you might as well call them “spike beasts” and resign yourself to fighting them sooner or later.

The Impossible Canyon separates the continents of Alm and Berowar, and on Alm’s side time has stood still, creating a preserve where dinosaurs and troglodytes still roam.  The canyon cannot stop the flight of pteranodons, though, and the flying reptiles are a menace for up to 100 miles into Berowar.  Shepherds must learn to fend them off the way other farmers fend off wolves and drakes, and many a thatched roof has been ruined by a resting pteranodon.

Hobgoblins in wooded areas cannot rely on ankylosauruses like their hill and canyon-dwelling cousins—the squat beasts are too bulky and slow. Stegosauruses (“spike tails”) handle the underbrush better and do even more damage with their terrifying tail sweeps.

The nagaji of Nagarra regard pteranodons as honored spirits.  The tops of their temples feature hollows to allow pteranodons to roost, and watchful garudas sometimes send pteranodons to aid good nagaji in times of crisis.

Pathfinder Bestiary 85

I love that even with only 50 words of room, Paizo knew it had to clarify that pteranodons are not technically dinosaurs.  Clearly they know their audience.

I’m currently reading Greg A. Vaughan’s River Into Darkness.  If you don’t have that or the Tome of Horrors, I bet a half-dragon pteranodon would make a good dragonnel.

Speaking of dinos, my last two Sundays in a row at the gym have found me watching Lost World-type movies—1975’s The Land That Time Forgot and the terrible Will Ferrell Land of the Lost.  Needless to say, I enjoyed myself immensely.

So…what on Earth do you play on the radio after the Worst Week Ever™?  A lot of Dar Williams, apparently.  Download it.

(Sometimes the feed skips, so for best results let the file load in Firefox or Chrome, Save As an mp3, and enjoy in iTunes. Link good till Friday, 4/26, at midnight.)
Also, hope you all had a good Record Store Day.  Mine was decent, and I had a great waiting-in-line partner…but I did not get the swirly Porno for Pyros vinyl I wanted.  Sad face.

Friday, April 19, 2013


Who doesn’t want a pseudodragon familiar?  Even I, on record for preferring bonded objects, am tempted by the idea of giving my character a dragon best friend.

Of course, it’s more complicated than that.  Because pseudodragons, with Int and Cha 10 and Wis 12, should essentially be full-fledged NPCs.  While you may have control over your owl familiar, any GM worth his or her salt ought to role-play your pseudodragon.  Not that that’s a bad thing—since they communicate telepathically, it’s a great private two-way line for your GM and you to trade information, hints, and secrets. 

Otherwise of course, they might show up anywhere from the depths of the woods, hanging out with fey like their cousins the faerie dragons do, to the spires of Korvosa.  And while they’re neutral good, think of them as intelligent flying cats: temperamental, mischievous, motivated by food, and more likely to train you than vice versa.

Oh, and one final fun thought: If a pseudodragon tags a spellcaster with its sleep poison while the wizard is flying…well, that could be amusing for everyone involved (minus the caster).

Rabbit is a thief.  She’s also eight and an orphan, so she can be excused her petty thefts, since they keep her alive. Her pseudodragon friend Stephanos watches over her, making sure she gets enough to eat and serving as Rabbit’s conscience when her fingers get too grabby.  When an attic whisperer steals her voice and spirits her away, Stephanos is desperate to find her, turning to adult (and preferably armed) help.  And if he has to attack them to get their attention, he will.

Carter is a young sorcerer with a pseudodragon familiar.  Actually, he is the familiar; the pseudodragon is an aged drake with decades of spellcasting experience, so when Carter tried to call him, the boy found himself bound in return.  Carter is humiliated by this turn of events, not realizing he is being groomed to be a metamagic specialist.  The pair engages other spellcasters in (hopefully) good-natured duels.

Pseudodragons in Tempest Wood interbreed with faerie dragons; like them their skin colors as they age, and some manifest the ability to cast cantrips.  The blue-and-white striped pseudodragons of Nestor Falls dart like swallows and are highly territorial.  Years of having their sleep venom harvested by assassins and alchemists have made the pseudodragons of Vash used to humans; they are even lazier than most pseudodragons, prone to neutrality, and some can sting with more than just sleep venom…

Pathfinder Bestiary 229

God, I hate the name “pseudodragon.”  Dragonet or drake would have been so much more elegant.  Where’s Anne McCaffrey when you need her?

“The Ecology of the Pseudodragon” was a product of Jonathan M. Richards’s heyday in Dragon, specifically #269.

I love how Korvosa is an instantly recognizable city because of its pseudodragons and otyughs (and, of course, the big evil castle on the pyramid).  That’s actually not a bad way to design a city: Where is it, what’s the most distinctive building, what two monsters do you find there, and how do all of the above add up to shape its feel?  So, for Korvosa: An oppressive castle, pseudodragons, and otyughs make for a city where adventure can happen from the sewers to the rooftops in the blink of an eye…but watch out for the law.”  Done.  If you can describe each of your cities this way—and if your players can do the same after a session or two adventuring in each one—you’re golden.

Yesterday I left out a certain aspect of the popobala myth, because this is an all-ages kinda show.  Tom Johnson did not, and got in a killer Meet the Feebles reference in for good measure.

Oh, and if you’re looking for the mighty porcupine, it’s here.

This has been a hell of a week.  Let’s end it on an awesome note, shall we?  I turn things over to my friend B. and his co-conspirator Danny Sexbang.  Yes, this is yet more shameless promotion of people I know, but for a good cause.  I mean seriously, imagine you’d had the misfortune to release a comedy album on this week of all weeks.  Ladies and gentlenerds, I give you “Unicorn Wizard” from the just-released Strawberries and Cream.

And don’t forget, tomorrow is Record Store Day!  Get there early—and you better save the swirly Porno for Pyros release for me.

Thursday, April 18, 2013


Pathfinder’s version of the popobawa, the popobala is a cyclopean bat-winged (duh) shapechanger that thrives on strife and fear.  What’s particularly interesting is that it thrives on social unrest in particular.  Plenty of tropical creatures feed on blood or fear (the manananggal and the larabay (the latter from Isles of the Shackles) come to mind), but the popobala’s appetite is larger in scale: It prefers social upheaval such as a society’s first elections, first contact with outsiders, women rising to power, racial conflicts, war, and so forth.  Which is appropriate for a CR 15 creature…and which makes the need for adventurers all the more dire, since it is a rare villager who can stand up to such a beast.

Speaking of CR 15, popobalas actually leave the body count of a much weaker creature.
If you’re interested in really giving the popobala character, check out its full description from Pathfinder Adventure Path #40: Vaults of Madness (reprinted (legitimately, I think) here).   But the gist is that popobalas prefer a terrified populace to a slaughtered one.  They rarely kill their victims, choosing instead to leave them traumatized so that the tale spreads to their neighbors.  In fact, it’s often the act of standing up to a popobala that puts its victims at risk—that’s when the flayings start.

(And don’t forget, for a nasty combo try pairing the popobala with other monsters or effects that cause characters to be fatigued, staggered, shaken, etc., so that the popobala gains fast healing.  Just off the top of my head, an Advanced version of yesterday’s poltergeist would do nicely.  You can probably come up with much better combos—and you should tell us about them in the comments—but whatever creature you choose, it would have to be subservient to the proud popobala.)

A long-fingered foreign harpist becomes an object of suspicion when popobala attacks are reported.  The suspicion is right, but for the wrong reasons.  The harpist is a penanggalen witch who hopes to bind the popobala in a ritual honoring the Hunter Behind the Hedge.  But she did not account for the keen powers of deduction of the local townsfolk.  Now she must defend her innocence while keeping her dark hungers in check…and a party of fellow foreign adventurers would make excellent assistants and patsies in these efforts.

The imams of Port T’Walar have been lobbying for women’s rights in the city-state—an effort blessed when they summoned an agathion to lead them in public prayer.  Outraged at this intrusion into his domain, a popobala riles up T’Walar’s poor workingmen against the effort by posing as a cleric of the rival genie-worshipping Four Towers sect.

The island nation of Pakau is constantly beset by troubles—vandalism, fire, plagues, and witch hunts.  Ever since rescuing them off a sinking ship, an adventuring party’s patron has kept them busy hunting wererats, ghuls, adaros, and devil-worshippers.  But the sharp accusations of a cyclops and the investigation of a halfling paladin/inquisitor team point toward a disturbing conclusion: The party’s patron has been a popobala all along, eliminating monstrous rivals even as it causes ever-larger societal disasters.

Pathfinder Adventure Path #40 84–85 & Pathfinder Bestiary 3 221

Like the chupacabra and the mothman, the popobawa is particularly interesting in that it’s such a recent cryptid—dating only back to the ’60s (at least in terms of Western awareness), with 1995 standing out as a big year.  That’s practically yesterday.
I was about to type, “Hey Paizo, can we have some more shetani in the next Bestiary?” but it looks like that’s already been covered and answered for now.  Until then, based on what Wikipedia has to say, popobalas also might have ties to (or more likely rivalries with) genies or divs.

Shameless promotion alert!  My friend Clay Risen writes about whiskey.  And riots.  He also gives talks—check out this one.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


“Noisy ghosts” auf Deutsch, poltergeists are the spirits of those who died in great agitation and/or with things left undone, or whose graves have since been desecrated.  As the Bestiary 2 makes plain, their trauma turns them evil, and they take their pain out on the living by hurling objects telekinetically and frightening those they encounter.

I like the poltergeist a lot.  It’s a nice low-level undead threat, but since it requires PCs to use their detective skills (and compassion) as much their brawn, it’s a deeply satisfying role-playing spur.  Sure, you can have a poltergeist attack just be a random encounter at a crossroads—they’ll never know it comes back in 2d4 days.  But how much better to have to lay to rest a poltergeist in a castle, museum, college, guildhall, or some other site!  It’s a chance to get PCs out of the dungeon and into the town, interacting with NPCs they might never meet otherwise—all showcasing a range of reactions against the terror/threat/nuisance of the ghost.  (Plus, you can enjoy the frustration on your players’ faces when their patron complains they didn’t finish the job the first time: “You mean we have to go back?”)

Also, historically poltergeists have been tied to sites of teenage strife.  There’s a world of squires, apprentices, trade schools, seminaries, and colleges (magical or otherwise) waiting to be explored.  A hazing ritual turned murderous, a master whose beatings go too far, a lovelorn suicide, a hidden pregnancy birthed and then discarded…  Take the worst teen crisis you’ve ever heard of, put it in a medieval context, and you have a reason for a poltergeist to manifest.   It could even be one of the PC’s own crimes come back to haunt her…

If you’re a GM into customization, the poltergeist practically begs to be tinkered with, since its telekinesis is tied to its Hit Dice.  Bump up that number and add some more special abilities (perhaps cold damage or an unholy aura, for instance) and you have a unique undead encounter that’s useful long beyond CR 2.

One final thought: In “basic” D&D (courtesy of the Companion Set, I believe), the poltergeist was a way nastier threat—one that, if perceived through …hmm, I can’t recall if it was through its invisibility or when glimpsed on the Ethereal Plane…was revealed as a many-limbed/tentacled horror. 

There’s something really interesting about spirits having a different manifestation depending on the plane/dimension—that what we see in the Material Plane is just an aspect of a being’s whole.   It’s something to think about for many incorporeal or semi-corporeal undead—allips, bodaks, poltergeists, spectres, and wraiths in particular—particularly if you have a campaign that bounces back and forth into the Ethereal (Limbo/the Spirit World/etc.) often.  (See “The Voyage of the Princess Ark” in Dragon Magazine #190 for more on that as well, with poltergeists as servants of the Minion of Chaos.  A quick Google will find you a copy…)  I didn’t work that thread into the adventure seeds below, but you might…

A wizard’s college is plagued by a poltergeist—the soul of a student murdered by his classmates in a grisly prank.  The poltergeist has lingered so long because the guilty students have sworn blood oaths to preserve the secret, and the proud headmaster refuses to consult any clerical help, having run the last monsignor out of town.

An avowed racial separatist, fencing instructor Marcus Lido makes sure each of his half-blooded students meets with some terrible accident.  As yet no one has identified the pattern—if anything, the diverse (if often scarred) faces in each graduating class attest to his training academy’s open admissions policy.  But now a slain half-elf hurls blades in the same studio where he fell.  To lay the poltergeist to rest, adventurers must not only find and properly prepare the half-elf’s body, but also reveal Marcus’s secret—that the elfin, rapier-quick man’s was born to a half-orc mother.

A fight against a poltergeist turns deadly inside a gigantic windmill.  The Advanced poltergeist is particularly adept at not just hurling objects, but also manipulating the mill’s many gears and levers by its mere presence.  While the poltergeist alone may not be able to kill meddlesome adventurers, it can ensure they are crushed between the runner stone and the bedstone…or pushed off the tower in full metal armor…

Pathfinder Bestiary 2 211

The Bestiary 2’s poltergeist illustration by Branko Bistrovic is nicely creepy.

Looking for the poison frog?  We covered it more than a year ago.

And thanks to work/life obligations I’ve been posting just minutes before midnight all this week…so in case you missed them don’t forget to check out the plasma ooze and pleroma.