Wednesday, June 19, 2013


First off, The Daily Bestiary is going on vacation!  I don’t like to do this to you all (especially with three-plus months of S monsters ahead of us), but I need a break from work and some time in the sun.  So I’m seeing Wilco and Yo La Tengo this weekend, then heading to Cape Cod to relax, swim, sip cocktails, and read a ton of Pathfinder books!

But first—the sceaduinars!  Created by Todd Stewart (I have proof) for The Great Beyond, these are the gargoyle-like crystalline creatures that live on the Negative Plane of Energy, seething for hatred at the jyoti, undead, and especially…well, quite simply every living thing.  More inimical to life than anything except perhaps daemonkind, they exist to snuff out the spark of life all across the universe.

Of course, enemies like this can create some odd bedfellows.  Since sceaduinars hate undead as much as the living, these same undead miught be eager to ally with adventurers they might otherwise disdain.  Even devils and demons, while having nothing to directly fear from sceaduinars, may resent having their soul stocks snuffed out. 

Of course, you might try to bamboozle your players instead.  If they’ve met the awful jyoti (and been on the pointy ends of their spears), they might be suckered into believing that the sceaduinars are just misunderstood…for a short while at least.

Having been spurned by the haughty and reclusive jyoti, a scholar makes contact with a rogue sceaduinar.  Intrigued, the outsider tamps down its native hatred of the living long enough to learn of the scholar’s bruised feelings.  It begins to manipulate the scholar into opening a voidcyst into the Negative Energy Plane, promising friendship, knowledge, and anything else the scholar wants to hear.

Taking a darkskimmer into the Negative Energy Plane, a corsair collects what he believes to be geodes to bring back to the marketplace of Netherhag Island.  But the geodes are sceaduinar eggs, and when they hatch his crew (including a certain adventuring party) must contain the fully formed death squad that hatches.

An adventuring party’s lich enemy teleports into their midst.  Before they can react, the badly injured skeletal mage cries, “There’s no time for that you fools; this is bigger than us; we—“ and then a death squad of sceaduinars arrive and rip off the lich’s skull right before their eyes.

Pathfinder Bestiary 2 239

No discussion of sceaduinars is complete without a look at the jyoti.  And it’s one of TDB’s better entries (if I do say so myself).  If you haven’t yet, go read!

And see you in two weeks!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013


One of the great Larry Elmore Dragon Magazine covers graced issue #150, with a baleful-looking scarecrow glaring directly at the viewer over the shoulder of his witch creator.  Ever since then, I’ve wanted a scarecrow in my games.

The main benefit of scarecrows?  Well they’re creepy—having dwelt in the uncanny valley since even before we knew that was a thing.  Yet they’re also stealthy—just another part of the rural landscape right until they make their move.  The main drawback is their vulnerability to fire—and let’s face it, even the most pathetic peasant can weld a torch. But with the ability to hold victims in terrified fascination or send them fleeing with a fearful touch, most scarecrows can dispatch foes before fire becomes a problem.

Two final notes: First, look at the requirements to create a scarecrow.  One of those things is not like the other.  (Hint: It’s geas/quest, a 6th-level spell far out of reach of the typical scarecrow’s 6th-level creator).

Now obviously, those rules are in place for balance—no GM needs PCs creating construct armies in their spare time, and the high gold piece and spellcasting costs prevent that.  But you can also use this as a story opportunity.  The scarecrow is a low-level guardian for a low- to medium-level casters…so to get that high-level spell, the caster is going to have to hustle.  That means owing some more powerful spellcaster a favor.  Sacrificing innocents to a dark power.  Raising gold by selling questionable potions to gullible villagers, or bilking the local lady of the manor with false portents and charms against the evil eye.

NPCs get to cheat.  That’s why they’re NPCs.  But if you assume that they have to be play by the same rules as PCs, then there’s usually a story in how they cheat, too.

Second, I think scarecrows are just asking to be messed with.  I’m not the guy to do it, but I know several of you all are real stat jockeys and system converters.  (Monsters-A-Go-Go comes to mind, but I know he’s not the only one—I definitely stumbled across one of you doing cool things with fey…)  How about a scarecrow infused with Abyssal cold?  Or with hellfire, bursting into flames like Jack Skellington?  Or intelligent?  Or able to regenerate using the corn stalks and wheat shafts from its field?  I think the scarecrow as listed is just the start.

A scarecrow guards the corner of a witch’s fields.  In a bit of irony, if the scarecrow is killed its head explodes, the light from which summons a gang of dread dire corbies to finish off the intruders.

When the Bleak Warlocks come out of the Dire Wood to attack Newcomb, their pet ice mephits fly before them, ducking down chimneys to snuff out the lamps and cookfires.  Then in the spreading darkness, the platoons of scarecrows come…

The gourd-faced scarecrows of Teixeira’s sun-baked hills may seem less menacing than the jaggedly grinning jack-o’-lanterns of more wintry climes, but they are no less dangerous.  The bards who travel from town to town doing the sacred (and occasionally profane) Death Dance use them as dance partners, bodyguards, and secret assassins all at once.

Pathfinder Bestiary 2 238

Yet another week where I forgot to tell you about my show!  This is my last one for three weeks (got a vacation coming up) so I’d humbly suggest downloading it.  Especially since I packed it with summer tunes and the radio world premiere of the Barnyard Sharks.  Get it here.

(Usual caveats apply: If the streaming file skips, Save As an mp3 and enjoy in iTunes. Link good until Friday, 6/22, at midnight.)

Monday, June 17, 2013

Scarab & Stalk Beetles

We’ve covered beetles before at a variety of sizes (from Small to Huge) and CRs (1/3, 4, 4, and 8).  So where do scarab beetles and stalk beetles fit in?  (Note that these are Inner Sea Bestiary monsters (courtesy of Jason Nelson), so I have no stat blocks to link you to.)  At CR 6 and 2 respectively, they fill out the gaps in terms of combat ability.  But the real reason to give them a look is their special abilities.  The corpse-eating scarab beetles are a nasty surprise for lightly armored PCs (and resistant to most tomb-dwelling undead to boot).  And the bleed-biting, property-damage-causing stalk beetles are as deadly to things as they are to people.

After much investigation (and a difficult Perception check), a party rogue spots a loose stone that will allow him entrance into a crypt—provided he shucks off his armor to squeeze into the tight space.  But the loose stone is a lure—the crawlspace drops the would-be thief into a den of gnawing scarab beetles and chained ghasts.

Adventurers may turn up their nose at textiles, but for merchants they can mean big money—and that means brutal competition.  When silk imports from the Lung Province disrupt the native linen and wool industries, the local spinners, carders, and weavers strike back, releasing stalk beetles into the caravan district to devour the imported fabric.  But when the beetles spread to their own warehouses, the locals regret their actions and recruit hometown heroes to undo their mistake (ideally without revealing their own culpability).

When the daring General Yves Vigneault returns from his blistering Southern Campaign, he brings crop-devouring stalk beetles with him.  His plan is to unleash them upon the fields and windmills of neighboring Uleem, destroying in one fell swoop the heretic nation’s food supply and its only means of keeping out the sea.  Unless adventurers intervene, whatever the beetles don’t finish, the rising waters and attendant dyke drakes (Advanced river drakes) will.

—Inner Sea Bestiary 5

Friday, June 14, 2013


So Paizo’s Fey Revisited didn’t show up in time for the rusalka entry, but it did show up in time for the satyr.  Pathfinder fans will be glad to know Jerome Virnich adds to the lore nicely (and creates a solid CR 7 version for more advanced parties to face).  Meanwhile 3.5 and other D&D fans will be happy to know the book is stats-lite enough that they can get plenty of use out of it, too. 

Of course, there are also plenty of other satyr resources to draw from—I’ve mentioned Dragon Magazine #155 and Tall Tales of the Wee Folk before for those of you with the time and energy to dig into the 1e/”basic” D&D archives.  And let’s not forget the original Greek and Roman myths!  (Unlike, say, oreads, there are plenty of satyr stories from which to draw inspiration.)

So let’s take it as a given that you know how to play satyrs as seducers, rakes, drunkards, and flighty, mercurial fey.  A satyr wants something the party has, uses his pipes, the party makes or fails their saves, etc., etc.  Right?

But there’s nothing saying that in a cosmopolitan campaign you couldn’t deĆ«mphasize their more licentious aspects and have them be just another race in the throng.  How cool would it be to have the guy at the bar next to your fighter sporting hooves instead of boots?  One could easily imagine them in the more bohemian districts of your fantasy cities, hanging out with barbarians, taking mercenary jobs, and generally living it up.  They also might be sought after as lovers, slaves, or entertainers.  They are nature’s lust and appetite personified, its greedy, Bacchanal aspect writ large…and that aspect translates into many facets of the adventuring lifestyle.  So why keep them in the woods?

A bard goes looking for a famous instrument maker, only to discover he is a satyr.  Worse yet, the goat-man objects to the stink of metal on the bard and his companions, and he instigates the local woodland defenders into attacking them.  The party must pull their punches to avoid untoward bloodshed and win over the satyr.  Sadly the local fey, animals, and plants have fewer scruples.

A faun goes looking for his absent satyr father.  The boy is quite optimistic—his memories of his father’s occasional visits are fond ones, and his very existence speaks to the real love his parents shared.   But his father’s mind is not his own anymore.  Warped into evil by an intelligent magical scimitar, the satyr now serves as a counselor and (thanks to his pipes, very persuasive) lobbyist for a local warlord.

Satyrs are prevalent in Kadrian as mercenaries, hired hands, and entertainers.  They enjoy staying in the rough-and-tumble districts for a season—hanging out with the Sark barbarians, drinking in pubs, and taking odd jobs and as many lovers as possible.  Strangely, these liaisons seem to be largely fruitless—certainly, one does not see many young satyrs or fauns in the streets.  But closer investigation reveals a striking number of lower-class women and artists who vanish from their beds in the dead of night, typically after a visit from one of the red-curtained coaches that may or may not have a connection to Kadrian’s power-hungry archduke…

Pathfinder Bestiary 241

PS: We’ve already talked about this before, but it still boggles my mind: In Pathfinder, satyrs in loving relationships produce weak fauns, while satyrs engaged in seduction or rape produce satyrs.  *facepalm*  Has anyone informed Todd Akin?

Thursday, June 13, 2013


I don’t want to get too into detail with the sasquatch—Amber E. Scott has pretty much covered that ground in Mystery Monsters Revisited.  In particular, she offers a number of scenarios where sasquatches serve as the “villain” because they are misunderstood, victims of prejudice, or under the real villain’s control. And that’s certainly the role that works best for me.

(Then again, you could mix it up.  I can imagine a really devious GM setting up an entire adventure arc where PCs prove a sasquatch’s innocence after a string of murders, only for the sasquatch to reveal he was the actual perpetrator—or guilty of far worse—all along.  (“But Bigfoot, we trusted you!”  “Funny, the name’s actually Bloodsmite.  Allow me to show you why…”))

Since my work has pretty much been done for me, I’ll just add that the sasquatch’s primitive timelessness gives you as a number of ways to work them into your world’s ecology and stories.  Are they throwbacks to Neanderthals and similar primitive humanoids?  Are they a common ancestor of men and giants, before the family tree diverged?  Or are they a replacement for giants on your world’s North America analogue?  (One continent might have tribesmen, sasquatches, and raven-headed tengus, the other vikings, giants, and elves.)  Are they, like gnomes, former refugees from the fey realms?  Or are they tied to yetis in some fashion (and if so, do they guard nature from aberrations the way that yetis watch for creatures from other worlds)?  Once you know the answer you know how to place them in your world and what adventures might result.

Sasquatches live in the high alpine regions, but each one must undertake a vision quest, the centerpiece of which is traveling to the seashore to find a conch or cowrie shell, from which the sasquatch will carve her personal flute (the mark of an adult).  During these quests they do their best to remain hidden, but accidents happen.  When a sasquatch is mistaken for a hill giant and attacked, she kills in self-defense, and a party of adventurers must decide how best to bring the creature in for trial.

The yeti clans of the Fire Alps have fallen to madness, and now their sasquatch cousins seem doomed to follow them.  A sasquatch oracle makes the treacherous journey to civilization with a heartbreaking request—that adventurers aid her in seeing that the remaining members of her family, all corrupted to the worship of the Old Ones, are put down.

Young adventurers are training to join the Ash League, a group of rangers, druids, barbarians, and other wilderness-focused specialists that defend the Northwood.  (A cluster of ash leaves is the organization’s symbol.)  One of their tests is to bring back proof of a sasquatch sighting (pitting their skills against the ape-man’s +14 Stealth).

Bestiary 3 236

I got my first ever piece of fan art! ArtisticLicenseToKill served up a My Little Sagari that shall haunt my dreams for days to come.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Sargassum Fiend

The Sargasso Sea has held a place in the imagination since its discovery—the Wikipedia page is a who’s who of fictional and cultural touchpoints.  Kelp beds, too, like aquatic redwoods, impress us with their towering heights/depths.  Why so much seaweed?  Why such giant fronds?  And what wonders—and monsters—might be hidden within?

It’s also no accident that the Sargasso Sea lies in the doldrums—flotsam and jetsam collect where the currents and winds die away.  To sailors in a pre-engine age, the doldrums are a terrifying place, where boredom soon gives way to starvation, dehydration, and desperation.  And when captains are desperate to get power out of even a puff of wind, anything that holds the ship back—particularly seaweed lining the keel or fouling the rudder—is quite literally the enemy.  Sargassum fiends are the fear of being trapped in the doldrums (and all this fate’s attendant madness and hallucinations) personified and given angry, hungry motive force.

A tribe of evil selkies worships a Gargantuan sargassum fiend as a god.  The selkies use their powers (or just their mere appearances alone, sailors being sailors) to lure ships within range of the plant’s mirage field.  Doing so both buys them protection against their ocean’s fearsome adaros and fuels dark, strange rites that empower their sorceresses’ spells with strange metamagic effects.

A gnomish city can only be reached via diving bell.  When an adventuring party takes its first trip down, sargassum fiends attack their vessel.  They must end the conflict quickly, because every round takes them closer to the depths where they will either drown or be crushed outright by the pressure.

Sargassum fiends aren’t limited to terrestrial seas.  In the Shatter Belt, the asteroid field that surrounds Staranchor, sargassum fiends are a notorious threat.  These spacegoing versions of the plant can exist in the vacuum of space for years at a time, only to flourish when exposed to ships’ magical radiation or the light of certain stars—sometimes at an exponential rate.  A salvage crew might brush against a patch of sargassum seeds in one system without realizing it, and be utterly overwhelmed by fully-grown space sargassum fiends before they reach home.

Pathfinder Bestiary 3 235

In our continuing series of “Patch’s friends and acquaintances that are way more successful than him,” J. dropped a new video yesterday.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


So is it a sard or the Sard?  The Bestiary 2 indicates the former.  Pathfinder #36: Sound of a Thousand Screams leans toward the latter thanks to a James Sutter article on the First World; he speaks of “the witch-tree Sard, Storm of Insanities.”  As with all such things, it’s really up to you.  A sard is one of the Tane, a living siege engine created by one of the fey Eldest.  Or it can be a demon tree.  Or an avatar of an enraged nature god.  Or…  Well, it’s a CR 19, at-will-lightning-spewing, poison-thorn-hurling evil plant so infused with the power of nature it acclimates to any plane it finds itself upon.  Surely you can think of something fun to do with that, right?

A shard of the World Tree has been carved off by Donar’s lightning hammer.  Filled with the god’s rage at his trickster half-brother’s betrayal, the Colossal splinter takes on a malevolent sentience.  Ironically, the most effect weapon against the tree belongs to the same wicked half-brother: a horn of artifact-level might guarded by jotund trolls.

The Metropalypse is more than a citadel—it is a giant juggernaut propelled by a strange mixture of clawed mechanical feet and dwarf-wrought treads, which consumes all in its path to fuel its fiery furnaces.  Two elven nations and countless arboreal preserves have fallen to the walking city thus far.  But the forest of Aspenholme strikes back, defending itself with a sard of great might.  With the sard’s help, adventurers might be able to shut down the Metropalypse…but they must then contend with the sard, whose rage at all humanoids energizes it like lightning.

Hoping to take a shortcut on the road to power, a nalfeshnee tries fill himself with the power of Nature by inserting a sliver of his essence into a magical elder tree’s heart.  The plan backfires catastrophically.  The tree awakens as a sard while simultaneously summoning qlippoths that devour the nalfeshnee alive.  Not only must adventurers defeat the qlippoth swarms…and reconnect the gobbets of half-digested demon soulflesh harvested from the creatures’ thoraxes to permanently banish the nalfeshnee…but they must also destroy the sard before it completes its destiny in calling a fiendish jabberwock to itself as its protector and spiritual mate.

Pathfinder Bestiary 2 237

We’re skipping the sapphire jellyfish because it shares page space with the death’s head jellyfish, which we’ll tackle when we swing back ’round to D.

Theorem: Any radio show that starts with the Sundays and Melissa Ferrick is going to be a good one.  Proof: Right here.  Also listen to me squee about RVIVR.  Download it!

(There may be a flaw in the proof at 1:15:50. That's what I get for trying to play Ween on a busted channel. Or any channel. Usual drill, BTW: Link good till Friday, 6/14, at midnight; if the show skips on your browser, try to Save As an mp3.)

Monday, June 10, 2013


Like invisible stalkers, sandmen hate being summoned.  To have their spirits ripped from their elemental homes and bent to the service of a mortal spellcaster is galling to them to no end.  The difference is that while invisible stalkers want to be left alone on the Plane of Air, sandmen are perfectly willing to tarry on the Material Plane just for a chance at a little revenge. 

As the Bestiary 2 notes, sandmen have a variety of ways to torment foes.  Some sandmen are happy to cause mischief from hiding—many a traveler has fallen off their mount and been lost in the desert forever just for walking through a sandman’s sleep aura.  But others will be more proactive, acting as sandy ghosts that blow away when approached, or setting up avalanches and ambushes to attack foes directly.

An airy appendix of the Planes of Earth, the Uncertain Plateau is a planar dumping ground of sorts—the kind of place adventurers tend to wind up after a mishap with a bag of holding or similarly unorthodox means of travel.  The sandmen who live in this windswept desert are fiercely independent dervishes who hide their names under pseudonyms to avoid being summoned.  Egalitarian and communistic to a utopian (or perhaps dystopian) degree, all proposals are submitted “the Collective” for ratification.  Adventurers stumbling upon a shoal of sandmen are likely to hear the merits of attacking them being voted on just before the sandmen strike.

Even by the standards of ancient Toth, where scribes were as honored as priests (the two often being one and the same), Parse, the Valley of the Books, stood apart.  There the pharaohs spent their wealth on libraries and auditoriums rather than pyramids.  In the millennium since sand covered the valley and drove out the human inhabitants, sandmen have moved in, picking up right were Parse’s old philosophers and debating societies left off.  It is hard to know whether they are furthering the intellectual pursuits of the ancients or just parroting them, influenced by some magic in the stones to replay centuries-old arguments.  However, actually suggesting the latter to any of the sandmen will earn an immediate outraged attack.

Wanted by the fey courts for his own crimes, a bogeyman finds a useful henchman in a murderous sandman.  The bogeyman is able to feed off the sandman’s victims’ fears without leaving the stink of his own magic on the crime scene for other fey to trace.  Meanwhile the sandman is able to slake his bloodlust while the bogeyman researches (or at least claims to research) the location of the last human that had the sandman summoned and ensorcelled.

Pathfinder Bestiary 2 236

Looking for the salt mephit?  He and his pals are here.

Also, author Todd Stewart checked back in to offer more of his thoughts for salamanders: 

They'd have their own kingdoms, and they'd probably be wary in dealing with some of their neighbors to avoid being largely a slave race like the azers. I'd probably split them into a number of nations, each with a slightly different viewpoint on relations with those from outside of Elemental Fire (some as clients of the shaitan genies for instance), others as slavers no better than the efreeti, while still others as isolationist racial and elemental purists.

Read his full comments here and be sure to tell him how much you love his fire mephits (and everything else)!

Also, therealkendrickdane had a girl.  Tell him congrats!

Radio show will go up tomorrow. 

Finally, thank you again for all the emails!  I’m going to officially stop asking for them (and start replying to them) but feel free to continue to say hello and tell me about yourselves if you haven’t already.  You know the drill: dailybestiary [at] gmail [dot] com is the addy.

Friday, June 7, 2013


Salamanders are…

YOU GUYS, WAIT!  We totally forgot something!  Yesterday was The Daily Bestiary’s SECOND BIRTHDAY!  And I missed it!  …I forgot to acknowledge the birth of my child.  Worst.  Father.  EVER.

But seriously, two years ago yesterday I sat down on my loveseat and began this crazy endeavor.  Definitely feel free to check to check those older posts out—they were shorter, sweeter (originally all I posted was adventure seeds, with no intros), and I buried my personal thoughts in the comments.  Obviously I’ve loosened up since then.

Want to help me celebrate?  You know what to do: Get your friends to read the DB.  Reblog or otherwise share (especially the cleaner, less typo-plagued Tumblr addy).  Post it to message boards you like.  And there’s always listening to the radio show (link good from noon Saturdays through midnight Fridays) or following me on Twitter—but if that’s more Patch than you can handle, I do not blame you.

Pardon me as I shove a frosting-covered candle into my CD drive. Huzzah!

Okay, salamanders.  Here’s how you know salamanders are bad news: They often hang out in the Abyss by choice.  If that’s not indicative of their natures, I don’t know what is. 

The other concept to keep in mind with salamanders is inertia.  They are lazy, surly, prone to violence, and like dominating those weaker than themselves (…basically like teenagers, really.)  (Or picture the worst parts of orc and lizardfolk society mixed together…and then set on fire.)  If they start fighting, they will keep fighting; if they can be persuaded not to fight, their more sluggish instincts will take over.  Unfortunately, the cold makes them irritable, and almost everywhere is colder then the Plane of Fire.

An aasimar is found murdered—or is it martyred?—with iron spears piercing his body and his clothes charred as if by a fire.  Is he the victim of random violence, or did his charitable work arouse the ire of dark forces?

Traveling to the Abyss, adventurers discover few demons but many salamanders—they have been transported to a salamander ghetto.  Their goal is to get to the next portal with fewer than three street fights.  If they manage this (ideally with quick, clearly decisive victories) the salamanders let them leave; if not, the various street gangs unite to enslave and sell the heroes.

Adventurers discover the mansion they have been staying in exists on the Material Plan and the Plane of Fire simultaneously—and their host is an efreeti.  Taking advantage of the debt they owe him, he asks them to retrieve some valuable escaped salamander slaves.  Turning the offer down will offend not only their host but also high society in both cities—the rites of hospitality must be observed.  The efreeti also makes a persuasive case that salamanders kept contained is the lesser evil than salamanders left at large.

Pathfinder Bestiary 240

Does anyone know why salamanders became humanoidish?  All the descriptions I’ve read of them in folklore were of “ordinary” magical salamanders.

Speaking of Twitter, this, this, and this.

Yes, I still need to do a big mailbag post (looking at you, A.A.!).  But real quick I have to thank the always-perceptive minneyar42 for a thought-provoking reblog.  (Go look!)  And Pathfinder author Todd Stewart popped by to fill us in a bit:

So as it turns out, I wrote that part of Heart of the Jungle, and originally they started out as sasasbonsam (from West African myth). During the book's editing/development the name got changed to sabosan.

Ah…the name change explains why I couldn’t find anything about them while Googling.  *Shakes fist*  You win this round, Paizo.

While we’re at it, Todd, The Great Beyond doesn’t really cover salamanders.  Thoughts?  I presume they want to stay as far away from the stifling strictures of efreet and mephit society as they can…

Thursday, June 6, 2013


Sahuagin are pretty much the default enemy aquatic humanoid.  Other aquatic monsters may have more dire plans for humanity in the long term (aboleths, krakens) or may be more horrific (scyllas), but sahuagin are the basic adversary—the hobgoblins or drow of the sea.

Normally this is the part of the blog where I’d spend all this time telling you how to make your sahuagin unique.  But the default sahuagin doesn’t feel played out to me.  After all, most Pathfinder campaigns don’t spend a lot of time aboard ship in the first place.  And now that we have three Bestiaries out, the seas are teeming with other enemies—you have a buffet of villains to choose from, not a prix fixe menu.

Plus, there’s something satisfying about a race that just sucks to face all the time.  This is one case where a little metagame knowledge isn’t a bad thing, as it can just add to the atmosphere of doom around the table when your gaming group’s veterans react like resigned, grizzled old salts:

GM: Nice Perception roll.  You spot a shark fin poking out of the water…and a coral spear.

Player 1: Well, crap.

Newbie: What?

Player 2: We’re done for.

Newbie: Why are we done for?

Player 3: I’m just going to start rolling my new character now.

Newbie: New…*ulp*…characters?

Player 1: Remember what happened to Sam?

Newbie: What happened to Sam?

Player 2: We don’t talk about what happened to Sam.

Newbie: What happened to Sam?

Player 3: Ever.

Newbie: What.  Happened.  To.  Sam?!?

You can take sahuagin as written, offer no quarter, and have a ball.

That said…well, the sea is big.  So there could be countless sahuagin tribes and cultures.  A lawful evil society inevitably means scheming and rivalry, and a religious one guarantees schisms and competing claims for souls.  Different tribes might have different obsessions and outlooks—xenophobic vigilantes with druid levels versus mercenary ranger guides versus proudly martial shark-riding cavaliers.  Or they might have different appearances or favor different shark species depending on their habitat and depth in the ocean.

And let’s not forget mutations!  Four arms!  The mystery of malenti and their outward elven appearances—what is that about (and what does it mean for the sahuagin race…or the elves)?  Sahuagin with alchemist levels might even mutate themselves on the fly.  And don’t stop at alchemist levels…if there’s an archetype, bloodline, domain, prestige class, or template you want to try, sahuagin are a great excuse to give any of the above a test drive.  After all, the sea holds plenty of mysteries…

Travel to the Phoenix Peninsula requires striking a deal with the local sahuagin—a difficult but not impossible feat for a brave band of adventurers.  But their alchemist cohort is less interested in the journey than in learning the secrets of sahuagin mutations.  His curiosity could spell doom for the entire mission.

Rejecting the tenets of the sahuagin priesthood, a valuable malenti girl has fled to the surface.  A strike team of clerics and inquisitors is sent to retrieve her.  She, meanwhile, tries to start a new life as an elf.  But the number of bodies turning up in the canals with their throats torn out indicates she is having some trouble adjusting.

The sahuagin of the Gypsy Ocean have a unique biological imperative—they are compelled to return to land to mate.  When they do, they surge up onto the sand attacking anything in their path, their blood frenzy active even without an injury trigger.  The native humans, gnomes, and vanaras know and plan for this event, migrating to avoid the orgiastic bloodbath, but colonists and naturalists new to the region might not.

Pathfinder Bestiary 239

More notes: In D&D 3.5’s Eberron, sahuagin got the same “They’re bad, but not that bad” treatment most evil humanoid races in that setting received—in fact, they were even regarded as reliable guides from Sharn to Stormreach.  I should also mention that late in TSR’s run there was a 2e AD&D sahuagin sourcebook, The Sea Devils—anyone know if it was any good?  And while “basic” D&D didn’t have sahuagin per se, it did have shark-kin (see the Creature Catalog and The Sea People), who had to return to land to breed.  Sound familiar?  I might have just stolen it.  #seewhatididthere

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


One of the challenges of fantasy role-playing is: How do you make your game—and game world—unique?  Especially at lower levels?  We know instinctively how to make a game that feels like Pathfinder or D&D—we’ve got almost 80 years of Tolkien and roughly 30 of Oerth/Krynn/Toril from which to draw.  But what if you want your game to feel like Princess Mononoke or Spirited Away?  Earthsea?  The Name of the Wind?  Sabriel?  Or something all your own?

One of the ways is to very carefully select what the initial threats are going to be.  Notice how most original fantasy novels (as opposed to shared-world ones) do not dump a bestiary’s worth of monsters on you.  They tend to pick all of about three or four creatures, develop those really well, and stop.  Also, at least one if not all of these monsters is the author’s own invention…or at least a heavily modified version of an old standby (think Robert Jordon’s take on trolls/orcs, the trolloc)…as a way of putting the author’s stamp on the world.

There is something to emulate here.  Obviously, that’s not going to work for your entire campaign—players would get bored silly fighting the same three things.  But that careful picking and choosing is worth doing at the start of a campaign.

Which brings me to the sagaris.  Man, these guys are fantastic.  Horse-headed flying tentacles from Japanese folklore!   With a…terrible…death…wh—excuse me, baleful whinny.  And they’re only CR 1/2!

So what happens if you put them in your game?  When your PCs first take up arms to explore their neighbor’s abandoned farmstead, and find themselves attacked in the dark, blood-spattered barn by flying, whinnying eels?  When the men at the tavern warn them not to go into the woods past sundown, because that’s when the sagaris come out?

Suddenly you’ve shifted player expectations a bit.  Maybe now this is not the world they know.  It’s your world.  When every other campaign starts with dire rats, kobolds, and goblins, yours might start with sagaris, small earth elementals, and fire beetles.  It will still be Pathfinder…but it will also be something else.  It’s not a big change…but it might be just right.

Let the baleful whinnies begin.

Halfling smugglers use a sagari-haunted wood as their base of operations.  Already well armed and lower to the ground than sagaris usually like, the halflings also wear spiked shoulder guards and helms to keep the aberrations at bay.  Their pursuers are rarely so prepared.

A harras of sagaris has taking up residence in a venerable old willow.  If the aberrations are driven off, the tree’s kodama will grant the rescuers a boon.

The Sickwood, an aged, moss-hung forest, was once home to a colony of drow trying to acclimate themselves to sunlight.  They gave up the endeavor, but not before accidentally allowing sagaris to bubble up from below the earth into the dark wood.  The Sickwood’s sprites hate the creatures, but not everyone is so unwelcoming.  The local jorogumos speak Aklo, and after trapping several of the creatures in their webs to feed to their spiders, they have turned the surviving horse-headed pests into reluctant minions.  Meanwhile, the abandoned drow colony is still untouched and ripe for exploring.

Pathfinder Bestiary 3 234

What have we learned so far this week?  That you all love rust monsters and hate sabosan.  It’s okay, sabosan…I love you.

Speaking of love…I love you guys and want to learn more about you.  Details at the bottom of Monday’s post.  So far the dudes are overrepresented (let’s get it together, XX-chromosome crew), you all seem to be over 30 or under 20 (apparently the millennials are all too busy moving to Portland to reply), and most of you play Pathfinder but have an abiding love for at least one TSR/Wizards of the Coast setting.  Thanks for the notes so far; would love to hear more from the rest of you!