Friday, February 28, 2014


So the vulnudaemon is—

No, vulnu. With an N.

Stop snickering.  I’ll wait.  I’m the son of an OB/GYN; you cannot embarrass me.

So the vulnudaemon, based solely on its illustration, looks like your standard possessed and/or zombified creepy child.  (“Aw look, her blade’s dripping blood and everything.”)  Then you look more closely…and you realize that slit in her neck isn’t the wound that killed her.  It’s a mouth.  You can just picture a cleric seeing her in the streets as she stumbles from the doorway…him running up to her to apply his healing touch before the life pours out her jugular…only at the last minute to see that slit widen into a toothy grin…and seeing only too late the knife coming down to end him.

That is the vulnudaemon in a nutshell: murder spiced with betrayal from the body of a child. 

And while they recall the vengeful spirits that spawn certain undead, the soul that forms a vulnudaemon is not going to stop after dispatching her killers, her family, or other innocent children like herself.  The vengeful dead have rules, categories, taboos to obey.  Daemons defy all of the above, because daemons are the end of all of the above.

Following their lord’s orders, adventurers guide his wife and child to the city of Mersk.  Upon arrival, the mother turns around and sells the child into slavery.  (Unbeknownst to her husband, she has arranged a more advantageous match in Mersk and refuses to be weighed down by former attachments.)  Then she tries to have the adventurers killed.  Meanwhile, the child dies at the hands of his new master, and a particularly vengeful vulnudaemon inhabits the corpse.

Fenton Chesterfield has kept a vulnudaemon bound in his tower for months, probing it for secrets of the dark planes.  The bonds are beginning to slip, though—the daemon’s aura of doom, even just felt through the floor, has managed to drive Chesterfield’s maid into a deep depression.  Meanwhile, cacodaemons have begun to lurk near the base of Chesterfield’s tower, preying on stray dogs as they build up strength.  If not intercepted, the shaken maid will soon either commit suicide or kill her master—pleasing the daemon either way.

The doppelgangers who mind the child beggars of Punjar have turned to the worship of daemons, and now at least three vulnudaemons walk the streets wearing the skins of betrayed children.  They murder other beggars (both children and adults), local priests who provide services to the unfortunate, and any alms-givers traveling too late at night.  For adventurers, cleaning out the daemons and the doppelgangers is only half the trouble—if they do not find a strong leader to look out for the beggars’ interests, a tribe of skum are poised to move into the sewers to pick up where the doppelgangers left off.

Pathfinder Bestiary 3 63

A teensy bit more on vulnudaemons (including their true forms and their role on the plane of Abaddon) can be found in Todd Stewart’s Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Thursday, February 27, 2014


Wait, did I really dis gargoyle-esque demons yesterday?  Whoops.  Because vrolikai are among the most classic-looking demons of all: horns, bat wings, stinging tail, the works.  The four arms wielding black flame knives are new, though…

The fully mature form of a nabasu demon, vrolikai are terrifyingly powerful, almost to the level of a balor.  No longer driven by the gluttonous/cannibalistic urges that birthed their nabasu selves, the now-sated vrolikai are the true death demons—engines of efficient, elegant killing at knifepoint. 

Once again, I’ll point you to James Jacobs’s Demons Revisited for vrolikai tactics and physiology.  I only want to add a bit about where they fit in the larger Abyssal and campaign picture.  Nabasus/vrolikai are unique in that they spend so much of their life cycles on the Material Plane.  This makes them highly knowledgeable about mortal affairs…and comparatively ignorant of Abyssal ones.  This makes the vrolikai a canny foe—the demon knows how mortals tick and how best to manipulate them or strike them down.  But even a vrolikai who has been in the Abyss for centuries has centuries less experience than his other demonic rivals.  This may explain why so many vrolikai either act as assassins or ambassadors—it gives them a place in the ever-shifting Abyssal hierarchy and a master to obey while keeping them largely out of politics.  Alternately, many vrolikai simply light out for the Abyss’s territories, finding a patch of evil terrain to call their own far from the grasping claws of the demon lords and balor generals.

Which means, if you are taking a vrolikai down, you’re likely taking him down alone.  He probably doesn’t have a backup team beyond the marilith or glabrezus he can summon.  As an assassin or ambassador, he is meant to operate on his own recognizance; as a lord, he rules a distant fiefdom in a little-traveled layer (likely staffed only with nabasus and juju zombies).  He won’t be an easy kill by any means—I did mention the energy-draining knives, right?—but he also won’t be calling many reinforcements.

The vrolikai Chemtazzin lives in the drow city of Dor Fell as an ambassador, tended by his juju zombie retinue.  He has convinced several of the city’s Majestic Mothers to accept his creations as gifts and bodyguards.  With so many intelligent undead in place (as well as his own considerable talents), he awaits the day he can turn on the Mothers and claim the city for his own.

The Black Flames are a league of halfling assassins that wield magically enervating black knives of living flame.  They are sometimes hailed by their people as resistance fighters against would-be human oppressors; the fact that they actually murder far more halflings is often overlooked.  The head of their order is a vrolikai, though this fact is only known to senior-level assassins. He finds creating a fiefdom in the mortal realm (and a regular buffet of mortal souls) far preferable to squabbling for real estate in the Caverns of Anguish.

The buzzing, preening coloxus Lord Vemblitarq loathes serving in the swampy backwater that his been his post for the past century.  He sees his vrolikai master as a “Material Plane bumpkin” with no sense of the finely choreographed dance of Abyssal politics.  The quickest way to get out of this dump is to offer his resignation…that is, to trick a certain company of mortal adventurers into murdering the vrolikai in his own realm.

Pathfinder Bestiary 2 81

Awww yeah—nothing like slipping a reference (however twisted) to the halfling relic of Blackflame from “basic” D&D.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


Back when I was a “basic” D&D player, I examined the many AD&D articles and adventures in Dragon Magazine and Dungeon (which is to say, practically all of them) like someone peering through a fence at a construction site, straining for a glimpse of the building inside.  So I remember vividly that the demon that appeared in the very first issue of my short-lived Dungeon subscription (and which I can’t currently find, so if anyone has #25 I’ll take it) was a vrock, in the adventure “The Standing Stones of Sundown.”  I’ve liked them ever since.

For a detailed look at the vulture-headed vrock’s ecology, abilities, and tactics, James Jacobs’s Demons Revisited has you covered.  Instead I want to talk about the vrock’s significance and versatility. 

There’s a reason vrocks were “Type I” demons in 1e—they perfectly demonstrate the entire suite of nasty demon abilities: wicked special attacks; corruption (in the form of spores); the ability to buff themselves, evade or confuse others, summon aid, and attack outside the box (telekinesis is the Swiss Army knife of evil…and evil GMs); and they’re absolutely brutal in groups.  They represent wrath and ruin—pretty much the ur-impulses of demons everywhere—and they can be found almost anywhere in the Abyss that has a sky.  Outstanding.

Plus, there’s also just something about them.  It’s nice to find a fiend that doesn’t look like the typical gargoyle but is still clearly a fiend.  The vrock is always a demon but never cliché.  And its vulture-like nature fits in just about any setting. I’d be reluctant to put, say, 20th-century private eyes or 17th-century musketeers against the bat-winged thing from Fantasia—it would feel a little silly to me—but I’d use vrocks in a heartbeat.  In a Classical setting vrocks might be servants of Hecate of Greece or Nekhbet or Set of Egypt.  I can easily imagine cosmologies (like Eberron’s) that throw out the categories of demon and devil altogether—in such settings, a fiend is a fiend is a fiend—but I would still use vrocks with enthusiasm.  Wrathful, ruinous, bloodthirsty, and shrieking, vrocks deserve a place on your gaming mat.

Summoner Weston Lin is a budding demonologist with an eidolon whose resemblance to a vrock (see Ultimate Magic) is unmistakable.  Or rather, Lin was—because the vrock he just attempted to summon gutted him like a trout.  Now two vulture-headed beasts rampage through the city: the vrock and Lin’s now-unfettered eidolon, driven mad by grief and rage.  Woe betide the party that encounters the eidolon and accidentally uses up the resources they’d been saving to face the demon.

Overfond of mortal flesh (in every sense), vrock matron Tessar Gzyllack has tended clutch after clutch of half-vrocks (see Demons Revisited), who in turn have spawned tieflings far and wide.  Now Tessa seeks to gather her hook-nosed descendants to her for an as-yet-unspecified dark purpose.  She has turned the storage wing of the art museum into her rookery, allowing her to destroy things of beauty at her leisure while she tracks down her kin.

As the armies of the Second Confederacy and Mexico bear down on him, the High Inquisitor of the Theocracy of California is desperate for an edge.  He forces the shamans of several local Native American tribes to perform their war rites over his men, hoping to bend the power of their faith to the service of his own.  The heresy must be answered, and instead of a blessing and visions of eagles, a gang of vrocks led by a mythic vrock manifests and begins a dance of ruin.  Any mercenaries and adventurers in the area will have to act fast to save innocent (and not-so-innocent) lives.

Pathfinder Bestiary 69

PS: Mythic Adventures has a mythic vrock, for those who want new ways to beef up this already nasty threat.

The hillside chalk images and eponymous standing stones of Sundown were inspired by those in England.  I was lucky enough to get to see some of them over my holiday break last winter—very cool.

Still behind on reader mail and comments, but since we’re on the subject of Dragon Magazine, dr-archville responded thus to my question about favorite issues.  (Go read the whole thing, then tell us yours!)  The first issue he mentions, #188, has a great Elmore cover and an Ed Greenwood “Wizards Three” article.  It also features the end of an era: the last installment (barring one or two by-popular-demand revisits) of Bruce Heard’s “Voyage of the Princess Ark,” which you’ve heard me rave so much about.

Also check out his responses to many of our recent monster entries posts; just add a /tagged/Pathfinder and you’ll find them easily.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014


Wow.  Wow.  What a weird monster.  It was weird in the pages of Pathfinder and it’s even weirder in the Bestiary 4.

I love it.

How in hell did the vouivre come about?  Magic is the easy answer, or (in the Golarion setting) perhaps the fertile riot of life that is the First World.  Then again, if orchids in our world can evolve over the millennia to resemble the bees that pollinate them, why should dragons or behirs or lamias not evolve the same way? 

And are they women with dragons below the waist, or dragons with humanoid tails?  Who can tell?  Does it matter?

Typically a vouivre will be a side trek encounter, but it might feature as part of a larger plot—it makes an unforgettable sidekick to the Big Bad Evil Guy, and its habit of passing on the traits of its meals to its offspring gives it an excuse to hunt down charismatic or talented PCs.  The vouivre also pairs well with the more exotic snakes and fey in your Bestiary collection.  (It makes the amphisbaena look downright normal!)

Like certain other monsters that rely on the element of surprise, you can probably only use the vouivre once with the same set of players.  But what a surprise that once will be…

A rusalka and a vouivre share the same pool, posing as sibling washerwomen.  Recently there has been tension between the two—the rusalka has found a magical necklace she does not want to share, and the vouivre has begun enviously eyeing her fey “sister”’s ageless youthful body.  But they will cease any arguments if attractive prey comes along, especially of the half-elven variety.

A vouivre has come into possession of a portrait of a famous adventurer, and longs to devour her so that its child will carry her features.  It sends out nixie and gremlin servants to arrange matters so that they adventurer finds her way to it.

Drax is a vouivre crime lord.  The dragon-like monstrous humanoid rules the Whitetemple underground from quite literally underground, with lizardfolk and hobgoblins adding a little extra muscle to his mostly human gang.  Interestingly, Drax treats his female-appearing tail as if it were his girlfriend or crossbow moll—even to the point of making his men dance with her or buy her drinks.  No one complains though, because Drax always asks his tail’s opinion when he executes someone, and she’s never said, “No.”

Pathfinder #30 88-89 & Pathfinder Bestiary 4 270

Edit: Again, sorry for the late entry.  Original post: I have to beg off tonight—another 12-hour day has me without the joie de vivre to tackle the vouivre.  And I want to get it right—it’s a truly weird monster that deserves a second (and third) look.  Bear with me and I’ll cover it (and the rest of my backlog) in the coming days.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Vortex Dragon

Another outer dragon—in only a week!  How cool is that?

If void dragons were about the horror of empty space (or worse yet, the tainted horror of nonempty space), vortex dragons are about space’s malleability—its behavior at light speeds, around wormholes, of quantum there-and-not-there-ness.  The universe has laws, every system of laws has loopholes, and the lawful neutral void dragons exploit these loopholes, simple as that.  Heck, they might even be the loopholes—after all, a void dragon’s very presence seems to distort the space around it.  It can breathe fire or gulp up a target with the tenacity of a black hole.  (Note that the description doesn’t put a size limit on the victim or the dragon’s stomach—and given its nature, I don’t think there should be one.)  And range attacks?  Forget about it.  Once a vortex dragon becomes an adult, it can bite you through a rift in space—anywhere in a 180-foot radius…and that radius only gets bigger as it ages.

And then there’s whom (or what) these dragons serve.  After all, if you’re an intergalactic dragon, you’re not going to be an errand boy for just anyone.  So they serve greater outer dragons—one can imagine older solar dragon stay-at-homes would use vortex dragons to correspond, and time dragons would recruit them to observe far-off events—and godlike entities (and probably the gods themselves, for that matter). 

Hmmm…a creature that speeds through the stars serving godlike entities…  Does your campaign need a Silver Surfer?  Now it has one.

Many vortex dragon belongs to the Order of the Comet, a guild of draconic couriers dedicated to making sure the message arrives—anywhere in the galaxy, and often across the multiverse as well.  The Order instructs member dragons about the celestial byways, teaching them to use solar winds, wormholes, and reliable gates to boost their own galactic emissary talents.  Their dedication to their duties is known across the spheres—in fact, the post horn symbol used on so many worlds as a postal service emblem recalls the Order of the Comet’s own spiraling sigil.  The Order and the dragons profit as well—reliability has a price, and by the time young comets have aged to mature adults they have padded their hordes enough that they can retire and pass along their routes and contacts to younger kin.

Trapping a devil is no easy feat.  When adventurers capture Barnabulus in a warded trap, they unknowingly trigger a magical alert that summons a vortex dragon.  Honoring an age-old agreement, the dragon speeds to the devil’s side.  The vortex dragon may not be able to spirit the devil away (unless it swallows him, which may be one option), but it can certainly make life difficult for the devil’s would-be captors.

A dimensional mishap deposits adventurers in a desert world where the laws of magic are different, the gods they know are absent, and once-familiar races seem sinister and warped.  Almost immediately they are embroiled in a war involving city-states and slave armies—and, without meaning to, turn the tide.  Doing so must upset some cosmic balance, because a vision of an aeon-like entity appears and pronounces, “Here+You+Should/Not/Be.”  Within days, a vortex dragon homes in on them—but whether to rescue or obliterate them is an open question.

Pathfinder Bestiary 4 74–75

A little love to Dark Sun in that third adventure seed.

Got a nice note from a Redditor that included this question: 

Throughout your article you referenced Dragon Magazine a lot. I used to love the ones with great feats, spells, and other variant options. I was wondering if you had a list of any Dragon Magazines you would recommend I get my hands on?

My response, in part, ran like this:

“I have actually seriously thought about doing a 'Patch Rereads His Old Dragon Magazines' blog […]  (If I ever do, I'll be sure to let you know.)

“I'll warn you that I'm more about settings, gazetteers, and stories than feats or spells, so I may not be the best person to ask about the articles you like.  But since you asked, off the top of my head, I'd say grab from two eras:

“1) Anything from the years that the ‘Voyage of the Princess Ark’ series was running, from around issue 153 to 200 and maybe until around 224. In addition to ‘VotPA,’ Roger Moore was editing, the fiction was great, and since TSR was kicking out new settings practically every six months, there were always lots of interesting articles and extras.  The 160s and 170s were especially strong, and I reread my copy of 155 so many times the cover came off.

“2) This may be more your cup of tea: The first two to three years after 3rd Edition came out—I don't remember issue numbers off the top of my head, but from August 2000 on.  The new edition was a nice reset for the game, and suddenly you had all these authors rethinking and refreshing the basic races, classes, and settings.  The quality is up and down sometimes, but there are a lot more hits than misses (and the prestige classes were a breath of fresh air at the time […]  Dig up the Dragon Magazine Annuals from those years as well if you can find them—they were quite good.

“Hope that helps! I loved Dragon, and love talking about it, so maybe one day I'll scribble down more thoughts.”

That's a super-vague answer that's missing a lot of great material, but it was the best I could do at work.  Are any of you big Dragon fans?  I would love to compare notes/favorite issues sometime.

For personal reasons and because I was busy with new DJ training, this week's show was pretty much a rerun of old favorites and not a lot of new tunes.  That said, there is one new track from the Menzingers you have to hear.  Listen here!

(If the feed skips, let it load in Firefox or Chrome, Save As an mp3, and enjoy in iTunes.  Link good till Friday, 2/28, at midnight.)

Friday, February 21, 2014


The voonith is another Lovecraft beast from his Dreamlands, courtesy of The Dream-Quest Of Unknown Kadath.  And for once it isn’t a horrible, mind-ruining thing that comes from beyond the stars; it’s just an intelligent lizard with an unsettling howl.  Granted, as a race vooniths’ collective sense of humor leave something to be desired, but for a Lovecraft creation, these things are practically cuddly.

I think of vooniths as canary-in-the-coalmine monsters.  They’re not so bad in and of themselves—provided the PCs don’t look like easy prey—and they might serve as decent guides or temporary companions.  But their presence is a warning that things are not right…and getting worse.  Demon-led lizardfolk or boggards are more dangerous, but when a party encounters vooniths, they know they are on the border of places—or states?—of madness, dreams, other planets, and worse.

Adventurers seeking a guide into the Malgavi swamps find one in the form of a cowled man who speaks little.  He makes up for his taciturn nature with his woodcraft, ably guiding them away from snares, boggard traps, and even a dire crocodile.  But as the journey progresses, the guide gets stranger and stranger, reading the stars as much as the swamp, speaking to the villagers they meet in the dark tongue of Aklo, and leaving bloody handprints on certain tree trunks.  The land changes, too, until eventually it becomes apparent that the party has left the natural world behind.  After nights spent listening to howls of vooniths from all around, it is almost a relief when the cowled guide turns on them…

Vooniths ambush explorers, chittering and howling horribly as they try to snare the humanoids with stolen nets.  A few rounds of combat reveal that the vooniths do not actually want to hurt the explorers; they just know of no better way to announce themselves to armed men.  An animate dream is stalking the vooniths from the Dimension of Dream, and the vooniths seek folk able to drive it off.  If the explorers comply, the vooniths can reward them by guiding them to a supposedly relic-filled secret catacomb hidden behind a waterfall.

Not all realities have an Ethereal Plane.  Turngard is bounded instead by the Blinkscape, a kind of spirit world that can be reached by certain creatures (blink dogs chief among them) and adept spellcasters (those above 4th level and that have a certain feat, along with anyone in skin contact).  Vooniths are among the most common creatures of the Blinkscape, and many a blinker has fallen to a voonith clutch before they learn the safe ways to move about the unreal swamp.

Pathfinder Bestiary 3 283

I probably should have made “Lovecraftian” a tag here.  Oh well.

Finally survived my huge presentation, so desperate to catch up on sleep.  Reader mail and other ranting s to come soon!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Volnagur, the End-Singer

The Daily Bestiary has always been setting-independent.  So what does a unique flying cousin of the tarrasque, one of the spawn of Rovagug, do when we remove it from Golarion?

Answer: Anything it wants.

In your campaign Volnagur, the End-Singer, might be a creation of the Old Ones, demonspawn, or an abomination (unwanted progeny of the gods) similar to the 3.0 Epic Level Handbook’s chichimec.  No matter what the origin story, it’s a literally unkillable, apocalypse-level monster likely to be the ultimate (or at least penultimate) encounter in your campaign.  But the PCs have to stand up to it anyway.  Thanks to the madness the End-Singer inspires, blood will run in the streets and nations will fall if it is not stopped.

Besides, won’t this be fun to say to players:

“You’ve heard of the tarrasque?  This is like that.  But flying.”

Burned by previous liaisons, yet needing a lieutenant, the demon lord Pazuzu once tried to breed via parthenogenesis.  It did not go well.  The resulting creature is not even a demon, just a colossal flying engine of destruction that Pazuzu’s own servants fear due to its sonic eye rays.  Desperate to rid the Abyssal skies of the thing, Pazuzu will often lure the creature to the Material Plane to fly amok.  But it always finds its way back to the Abyss—and its father.

Minotaur astronomers spot a meteor streaking for the city of Tinapolis.  Disorder and lawlessness reign after their pronouncement.  But when the object streaks into the atmosphere, it does not strike.  Rather, the heat of entry causes the “meteor” to awaken from hibernation, unfurl its wings, and begin a carving a path of destruction with winds of vengeance.

Bardic masterpieces can go wrong.  When you tap into the true magical harmonies, be they songlines or the music of the spheres, sometimes the tune plays you, not the reverse.  Camiel Vascar may have prepared for years for his performance at the Oracle of Mielal, but he didn’t understand the real stakes.  When the song took him, discordance took over, and it poured out of him until his body swelled, split, burst into light, and then hatched forth the End-Singer to ravage the world.

Inner Sea Bestiary 48

Jason Nelson created Volnagur, by the way.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Void Yai

As this week is quickly making clear, “void” has a lot of meanings in Pathfinder and fantasy role-playing in general.  It can mean the void of space (often Old One/Outer God-infested).  It can mean the void of Limbo/the Maelstrom.  Taking a detour back to the world’s oldest role-playing game, it can mean the absence that holds together the four elements and the silence between notes of the music of the spheres (all of which is then manipulated by Oriental Adventures and Complete Divine’s void disciple class). 

To its credit, the Void Yai entry in the Bestiary 3 does not shy away from this complexity—“The concept of the void is a difficult one for many individuals to grasp”—and adds “the heavens above […] the nature of the spiritual world, and even the capacity to create and envision new ideas” to the above list.  It also says this: “The void yai represents all of these possibilities, interpreted in a way that exemplifies the evil of the oni race.”

So…that’s a thing.  And when you put that together with their true appearance and abilities—a shadow compressed into the husk of a rune giant, who wields powers of darkness and nothingness (like leaving spheres of annihilation around like scat)—you get the sense of the shadow cast by existence itself…the oppressive weight of the sky personified…the dark consequences that trail every new idea given form.  Void yai (and the world-conquering voidlords in particular) are the classic anime final bosses…the various incarnations of shadow from the Earthsea novels…or even Raven’s father Trigon from Teen Titans.  A void yai envies the world, all of it…and yet cannot even move about it easily, trapped as he is in his giant, monstrous form.  So he must rule—that is the only way to sate his hungers and assuage his envy.

One final note: I’m also interested in void yai for how they work with or butt up against other fiends.  After all, not every cosmology needs all the fiends available in the Bestiaries.  In your campaign void oni might be another subset of devil (due to alignment), in the same family as rakshasas (both being beings of hedonistic appetites with twisted forms), or servants of the void along with the game’s Lovecraftian beasts.  Or they might just as easily fight other fiends.  Void yai and especially voidlords want the whole world—and they don’t want it destroyed.  Daemons rob them of servants.  Demons ruin their lands.  A voidlord won’t tolerate that…and might be all that stands between your world and fiendish domination…

Tainted places birth void yai.  And the killing fields of Elgin are more tainted than most.  There the Corpse Grinder was created—a machine that reduced Elgin’s political prisoners and undesirables into so much bone dust and slurry.  The Weeping Lord was born out of the bloody muck, a void yai determined to claim all the lands and luxuries of the nobles the Corpse Grinder mashed into pulp.  The Grinder itself is now the void yai’s grim familiar, animated by the oni’s evil energy into a juggernaut that trundles along after him like a faithful hound.

Onyx is a remarkable stone giantess of glossy black hue who resides in the Court of the Dream King.  So long as she was the object of the Dream King’s affections, she was relatively content to live the life of a pampered courtier.  But now the King is obsessed with an albino half-celestial brass dragon, showering her with gifts…and Onyx, actually a disguised void oni, is enraged.

The orange world of Olm, the Night Topaz, hangs like a jewel in the sky.  Up close (assuming adventurers find a means to travel there), the view is much grimmer.  To its residents, Olm is Okamiyo, a world in thrall to a single brutish emperor, the voidlord Moro the Lash.  Humans and lizardfolk alike toil for Moro’s pleasure, overseen by a rigid but often fractious oni aristocracy.  Only the catfolk and the yeti resist—the catfolk due to their mountain forest hideouts and skill at constructing airships, and the yeti because of the berserker rages their blood cults drive them to.

Pathfinder Bestiary 3 210–211

Space catfolk?  Yeah, I love me some “Voyage of the Princess Ark.”

Have I mentioned you should look for Oriental Adventures?  You should look for Oriental Adventures.  Then you should look for the Dragon Empires Gazetteer and read them both together, dreaming of monks and blades and tea ceremonies and your next character sheet.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014


Baby protean familiars!  (Of course, the established protean castes dispute this…which goes to show that even beings of misrule personified can have their scales ruffled.  Apparently even at the heart of Chaos there is a tiny smidgeon of order, or at least pride of place…)

By the time most characters get to Limbo, even a school of these creatures will likely be no more than a nuisance.  So they have the most potential—and potential for trouble—as familiars.  Sure, they offer leaps of intuition in the lab and can distract foes during battle.  But in other situations…well, imagine having a ferret with the smarts (and impulse control) of 6th grader that can change shape, cast prestidigitation and ghost sound, and even commune once a month.  If you’re lucky, it will be an affectionate, spontaneously morphing creature in the vein of The Golden Compass’s Pantalaimon.  If you’re unlucky (I did say “ferret” and “impulse control of a 6th grader,” didn’t I?)…well, that barbarian in the corner who just found a talking newt in his beer would like a word with you.  (And seriously, commune?  Would you really want to communicate to a Power from the Beyond by playing 20 Questions via your housecat?  Yikes.)

Speaking of which, there is no way in Hell that a voidworm familiar should be in the hands of the player 100% of the time.  Like all intelligent familiars, it’s half an NPC and should be treated as such.  A) That means more opportunities for role-playing and plot complications.  And B)…

Well, let’s be honest: Most players who pick chaotic neutral characters want to cause at least a smidgen of trouble.  Which isn’t a bad thing—in fact, it’s totally acceptable in a career path that involves a fair amount of slaying, looting, and disdain for 9-to-5 employment.  But every once in a while, it’s nice to saddle a chaotic neutral character with some trouble of his or her own.  Maybe this is the paladin in me talking, but I think a GM-controlled, hyperactive planar ferret familiar might be just the thing…

Arriving in Limbo, adventurers are enchanted by the sight of a school of voidworms skimming through the chaos—until a naunet barrels past, trying to consume the voidworms (and the adventurers for good measure).  If the adventurers drive the larger protean off, the voidworms will “adopt” the mortals as long as they remain “interesting,” defending them fearlessly until the adventurers stop to rest or pray longer than an hour.

Talimiditeron is the voidworm familiar of the sorcerer Pax Tinalt, a hired wand operating out of Basin.  The gender-shifting Tali—usually a she, sometimes sexless, sometimes hermaphroditic, never male (“They’re icky”) unless the moon is full (or very pretty)—is obsessed with finding Pax a mate.  Pax, despite his alignment, has never let go of the dwarven ideal of marrying for life…which makes Tali’s efforts at matchmaking (which usually involve ill-considered pinches via prestidigitation) rather difficult…and his own penchant for catfolk and half-orc prostitutes rather problematic.  Still, he is an excellent dungeon delver skilled at using evocation spells in close quarters, so long as female dwarves in the party can put up with his and Tali’s advances.

The party sorcerer’s voidworm familiar is especially adept with its commune ability, allowing one extra question every session.  If this question is taken advantage of, however, the protean then speaks a single sentence in a multitude of voices.  This is the semi-harmonious exhortation of a chorus of proteans that has big plans in store for the hapless adventuring company, whether they are willing or no…

Pathfinder Bestiary 2 217

As ever, more on the proteans can be found in Todd Stewart’s “Keepers of Chaos” from Pathfinder #22: The End of Eternity.

Also, for my Tumblr readers, I can imagine there are those who would take exception to my use of “gender” and “sex” as synonyms in the second adventure seed.  Rest assured I am well versed in the difference between sex and gender, as well as capable of teasing out notions of the gender one presents, the gender one performs, biological gender, heteronormative expectations thereof, and the tyranny of binary gender identity.  Just sayin’.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Void Dragon

The Bestiary 4 does not mess around. So far we’ve had a mythic myrmidon, a psychopomp, an empyreal lord, and now a dragon.  From SPACE.

Void dragons are outer dragons, and—wait, let’s talk about that first.  Outer dragons are a branch of true dragons…but they go beyond that simple definition.  Like the primal dragons, outer dragons tread that line between dragon and aspect of a higher concept: the sun, moons, vortices, the depths of space, even time itself.  A lot of dragons act like they are celestial beings, but outer dragons can actually make that claim.  In many role-playing game settings, dragons even have a hand in their respective worlds’ creation myths—at least according to themselves, and often according to others.  Outer dragons make those stories more complicated (for where are they in the myths?) and more plausible (by virtue of simply existing).

The otherness of outer dragons is accentuated by their abilities.  Their presence is more than frightful; it’s downright alien.  Their breath weapons take on heavenly attributes as they age.  They don’t need to breathe, and they can fly between the planets and even the stars in mere hours or days.

Of course, straddling the line between being a mortal creature and something else also leaves outer dragons exposed to that else.  (We had a similar conversation about the umbral dragon; void dragons are even more far-gone.)  In the void dragons’ case, they have spent too long in the empty spaces between the stars, exposed to the baleful presences of the entities that inhabit that blackness.  If you ever wondered what a dragon servant of the Old Gods looks like, the void dragon is it.  If you ever wanted to replicate the servants of the Shadows from Babylon 5, void dragons are it.  Fighting a void dragon means fighting enfeeblement, exhaustion, confusion, nightmares, insanity, a bite that can reduce one to dust, and a breath weapon that delivers the cold and suffocation of space.  It means trying to hit a thing so far gone from reality it can blur or dimension door out of the way.  They are just wrong somehow, and in a way that seems to sicken others.  (Again, comparisons to Bab 5’s Shadows seem in order.)  Representing the darkness of the void would be bad enough, but they are tainted by what happens when the void becomes polluted.

One final note: Another reason to love outer dragons, especially void dragons, is their ability to terrify normal dragons.  Adult red dragons actually slightly outweigh adult void dragons in the stat block…but imagine in real life: an adult red dragon facing a dragon that can outmaneuver it, with breath that carries the cold of the blackness of space, who can haunt the red even in its dreams and then retreat into the suffocating void.  The red would flee in terror at the first encounter.  That doesn’t mean it wouldn’t plan its revenge—it might even try to threaten or blackmail some old adventuring foes to aid it—but the encounter would forever shake its confidence that it was the supreme ruler of the skies.

The space station Molinar is a metal ring in the sky, forbidding and cold and humming with alien power.  The void dragon Molinar is its sole ruler (having forgotten his own name eons ago, he has adopted the station’s moniker as his own).  The station leaks radiation from an alien reactor core long ago altered to serve the inscrutable needs of the Entities of the Black.  Molinar himself is uninterested in the device, content to devour star monarchs and bask in the evil energies, but the station itself will rise to the core’s defense by activating all manner of constructs.

The blue dragon Califor has been a thorn in the side of a company of adventurers since almost their first quest, when they cleaned out a nest of kobolds recently expelled from her service.  The adventurers have battled her proxies and the Califor herself ever since, and the dragon has returned their antipathy with interest—she even artificially aged herself in the fey realms to stay more powerful than the troublesome humanoids.  So the company can be forgiven for being shocked when she and a green dragon astrologer arrive unannounced during a wedding feast to recruit them to their cause.  The Time of the Void is at hand, and she urges them to join her—even at the cost of some of her hoard—to travel to another planet with her so they can pair with dragonkin and head off the invasion.

Not all void dragons listen to the susurrus of voices beyond the stars.  Abbatorus hates the pollution of his race, from the greenish taint on his scales to the madness he holds at bay through sheer will.  He cultivates adventurers to his cause of fighting the servants of the Old Ones.  Early on, they will not know who their patron is, but after they find themselves fighting elder things and being gifted shantak steeds, they will likely suspect something is amiss.  Nor are his motives altruistic—Abbatorus craves the silence of the void, and that makes most other life forms an inconvenience—and even in the short term he will not hesitate to kill his servants if they fall short in his estimations.  The last mortals who failed him are still digesting in their shantaks’ bellies.

Pathfinder Bestiary 4 72–73

No radio show this week—worked through the whole three-day weekend.  Have Wye Oak’s new one instead.