You’ve heard of the wicker man, right? A giant effigy of a human (supposedly) used by the druids to (even more supposing necessary here) burn human sacrifices?
Well, if you remove the space (and happen to be a 12th-level caster) you can make that giant effigy come alive.
I love the wickerman because as a player you get it, instantly, how awful it is. It’s absolutely ginormous. It’s permanently on fire. It can throw burning chunks of itself, yet remains intact and aflame. And it can cram people inside itself like a devourer (or D’Compose, who I really should have referenced in my original Devourer entry). Only it doesn’t devour souls (ain’t no wickerman got time for that) so it just burns them alive instead. Yet despite being a Colossal CR 13 creature, it’s a snap to run—the GM barely even needs to glance at the Special Abilities text block. Priceless.
As for who creates wickermen…well, true neutral characters sometimes make different moral/ethical calculations than the rest of us (and neutral evil characters often do). Sometimes nature is not red in tooth and claw, but rather scarlet in crackling flame. Wickermen are the wrath of nature (or a nature deity) given form—a dramatic way to even the odds against the intruding forces of civilization. They are also a sharp and effective retort to any giants that lumber into their territory. And they’re the druidic answer to arcane golems and constructs. (Alternately, if your world is a young one (or just recovering from a cataclysm), constructs might instead be a response to wickermen—a fledgling mage college’s first attempt at throwing off the chains of the old, superstitious order…)
Then again, why let druids have all the fun? There are plenty of clerics of agricultural deities, demon and devil worshippers, and foul ifrits that could potentially do a little woodworking of their own…
When the Church Knights drive the druids out of Falgrim Forest, the cardinal pays a handsome bounty to have every sacred oak in the region cut down. Adventurers might find themselves on either side of the conflict—hoisting axes and felling limbs for profit, or defending the revered trees and the men and dryads who guard them. Meanwhile the cardinal is eager for conversions, so when the defrocked druids ask to convert one of their wicker creations into a statue of the cardinal’s divine patron, the proud prelate assents—thus sealing his doom.
When a powerful witch is burned at the stake, her spirits rides away on the sparks to inhabit the local effigy of the Harvest Man, animating it as a vengeful wickerman. If this wickerman is destroyed, a fire opal may be found buried in its smoking heart. But if not removed quickly enough, the gem reanimates the ruined wickerman as an Abyss gigas (see The Witchwar Legacy)—demonstrating that the late witch was favored by a dark and powerful patron indeed.
The annual Spokane Wyvern Cull is now in its fourth decade, despite even the recent addition of the Oregon Ridgeback to the threatened species list. Barnstorming, Winchester-bearing sharpshooters and evokers continue the hunt proudly, pointing to every crashed biplane and sting-riddled corpse as evidence that it is they, not the Ridgebacks, that are endangered. But when Cull organizers propose expanding the hunt to include the nearby Colville National Forest, the druidic Circle of Okanogan sacrifices one of their own to power a wickerman and reduce the Cull’s airstrip to a flaming ruin.
—Pathfinder Bestiary 4 277
Okay, apparently this week is Scarred Lands week, because if there’s one Pathfinder monster that would be at home in the wilds of Ghelspad, it’s the wickerman. I’ve talked about this before, but for those new to this blog or the setting, one of the Scarred Lands setting’s central conflicts was between servants of the Titans (druids) vs. servants of the divine gods (clerics). Wickermen are a fantastic and deadly addition to the druid side of the equation.
“The Voyage of the Princess Ark” was riding high in 1991/92, and Dragon Magazine #177 might well have been its zenith, with the Princess’s crew landing in a Celtic-style country that was half Asterix, half The Mists of Avalon. Wickermen would have fit right into that druidic knight-ruled nation as well.
Speaking of Dragon, I’ll really have to dig to remember which piece of fiction inspired that third adventure seed…
Sadly, I have never seen 1973’s The Wicker Man, but the TV show Coupling informs me that Britt Ekland is…phenomenal.
In other news, I’m really psyched about Paizo’s The Mummy’s Mask. I really enjoyed reading through Reign of Winter and Wrath of the Righteous, but it’s nice to see the stakes racheted down several notches for a more casual Adventure Path the likes of which we haven’t seen since Kingmaker. Jim Groves gets extra points delivering a 1st-level adventure with interesting monsters and absolutely zero rats. The current economic/political situation of Wati is a nice way to serve up dungeon crawls without making them seem so dungeon-crawlish. And Paizo as a whole has always done a great job of making Egypt-inspired adventures—which risk being trite—thoroughly engaging. I’m a fan.