Monday, March 31, 2014


Wererats may or may not be inspired by Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar novels.  But even if they weren’t, it's pretty much a given that wererats (or some kind of intelligent rat creature) would be in the game.  Fantasy cities need urban monsters, shapechangers, thieves, plotters and schemers, and disease vectors—and wererats fit the bill on all counts.

Which is why you don’t see me sniffing all haughtily that wererats are trite and overdone.  Sure, the fact that they are pretty much always found in sewers and pretty much always associated with thieves’ guilds can get old fast.  But wererats are still the consummate urban dwellers, able to fit in both ecological and cultural niches that other monsters and the lawful citizenry overlook.  A city without wererats is actually suspicious—it forces the question: What drove them out?

If you’re trying to refresh wererats in your game, what if they were accepted members of society (provided they didn't pass on their curse)?  How might they compete or cooperate with ratfolk?  Do they spread their affliction carefully or indiscriminately?  What are they if not thieves.  (But they're probably still thieves.)

“The Scarlet Mouse” is a superhero of sorts to the citizens of Reven.  The masked wererat in the red half cloak is known for defending damsels in distress and foiling muggings, all while evading capture by the Night Watch.  In reality, though, the Scarlet Mouse is a criminal.  He and his guild are using his antics to study the Night Watch’s patrols and response tactics, with the added bonus of stirring public resentment against the hapless guardsmen.

The wererats of Tembril are fierce patriots—their clan founder having been saved by a kindly priest during the Revolution.  Now they spy for the Republic against the Monarchists and the xenophobic Bluecoats.  But wererats new to Tembril, including a cult of disease-spreading druids, have infiltrated Tembril’s back alleys and threaten to wipe out the natives.

The wererats of Janderholm are particularly aggressive in spreading their affliction.  Moreover, they often bear signs of mutagenic influence.  This is courtesy of their patron and mastermind, a legendarily long-lived awakened styracosaurus alchemist.  The sewer-dwelling dinosaur finds humans that turn into rats to be a proper correction to what he deems “the crime of mammalian evolution.”

Pathfinder Bestiary 197

Blood of the Moon features wererat-kin known as nightskulks.

It's worth noting that in “basic” D&D, it was suggested more than once that wererats are not men who change into rats but rats who change into men.  (Why?  Because red box D&D could be cray-cray.)  This may also explain their resistance to normal weapons even in human form.

And speaking of “basic” D&D, moebiusloop blew my mind:

Don’t forget X8: Drums on Fire Mountain. A wereboar was the main villain of that module. He convinced the local Polynesian-esque orcs that he was their god and was using them to have revenge on his rivals.

From pretty much the moment I started playing D&D, I always wanted a copy of that module.  (And the fact that the kara-kara got reprinted in AC9 Creature Catalog just made me want it more.)  But I never bought it, and it disappeared off the hobby store shelf.  Now that I know that it had a devil swine, I’m going to have to track down a copy.

Meanwhile, evillordzog writes, “I quite liked the Werewolf take on werecrocs”—I don’t know much about Werewolf, so please tell us more!—and ohgodhesloose offers:

A great independent Ravenloft site came up with a great idea for werealligators, swamp dwelling loners who alternate between mellow and murderously sadistic:

Plus filbypott and mordicaifeed (read his stuff!) weigh inon werebears.

My little brother took time out of his busy schedule to tell me that this show was not as good as last week's show.  Now who are you going to believe—me or my smarter, more charismatic sibling? 

...Don't answer that. 

But if you’re a board game fan, tune in—this show is directly inspired by Ticket to Ride!

(I was a hair late, so the music starts about two minutes into the file. If the feed skips, Save As an mp3 and listen in iTunes. Link good till Friday, 4/4, at midnight.)

Friday, March 28, 2014


The Wereboar entry is now up.  Give it some love!  Also, you’ve got until midnight U.S. Eastern to download last week’s radio show—which you should, because it was awesome.

You'd think—given my by-now-well-established suspicion of monster series that get overgrown and unruly (Does every material on Earth Oerth Golarion need a golem?  Does every terrain need a giant?)—that I’d hate the werecrocodile.  Because it totally falls into that familiar pattern:

“Okay, desert setting.  Needs a werecreature.  How about a were… *consults book on Egypt* crocodile?  Everyone good with that? Okay, let’s move on—how about a golem made of sandstone?  Because desert, amirite?”

But I don’t hate the werecrocodile, because werecrocodiles are awesome.  I mean, who doesn’t like bloodthirsty reptile-men?  Especially ones that can sprint 60 feet in a round and execute a death roll on a grappled foe?  Plus, as I mentioned on Tuesday, werecrocodiles tend to always get associated with evil desert cults, and evil desert cults are phenomenal.  If you send one of my characters into your Fantasy Cairo, you’ll never even get me near a pyramid—I’ll be too busy clearing cultists of Set out of the sewers and riverbanks, with a smile on my face the size of Indiana Jones’s after a particularly good day.

But maybe you’re bored of reptile cults.  As shapechangers, werecrocodiles are excellent low-level allies for rakshasas (who also often have croc heads).  As brawlers, they might show up in bareknuckle boxing rings, gladiatorial pits, or even one of the more martially minded monasteries.  They don't have to be underground terrors either—a City Watch made up of werecrocodiles would have a fearsome reputation…

The feud between the Vance and Mossbrood families has been terrifying the folk of the Semper Bayou for 15 years now.  By rights the werecrocodilian Mossbroods should have driven out the half-ogre Vances years ago, but the latter family’s rapacious (in every sense of the word) appetites and sheer martial ability have bred dozens of seasoned ogrekin warriors more than capable of gutting “them shifty gators.”

The Satrap of Ishuth disdains the pagan religion of his subjects, but he recognizes the expediency in appearing to have adopted the worship of their animal-headed idols.  Plus, inserting his werecrocodile servants into the priesthood has been a way to keep the troublesome clerics in line while appeasing the gullible masses.  However some of the werecrocodiles carry knowledge of blood magic from the Sea of Elephants, and the cursed arcana is beginning to taint the city in disturbing ways.

Treacherous reefs and the ever-present threat of bunyips make anchoring at Fort Tribulation a risky endeavor…and this gives the Local Order of Stevedores and Longshoremen surprising political and monetary clout.  In reality, Fort Tribulation’s last bunyip was driven off years ago, and any “incidents” are caused by the dockworkers themselves, many of whom are werecrocodiles.

Pathfinder Bestiary 4 189

Blood of the Moon features werecrocodile-kin known as scalehearts.

Also, yeah, priests of Set and I have some history.  Specifically, my Vampire character (and therealkendrickdane) nearly burned down San Francisco trying to get rid of some of them.  I hate those guys.

Thursday, March 27, 2014


As I noted on Tuesday, I like wereboars because they're just so bizarre.  Most other lycanthropes have some sort of clear mythological antecedent, but wereboars really don’t.  (The only likely candidate is Circe transforming Odysseus’s men into pigs, and that’s more like a straight-up polymorph than lycanthropy.)  My guess, as I already mentioned, is that they sprang from the same love of wordplay, happy accident, and malformed miniatures that gave us the ochre jelly, the owlbear, and the thoul in early editions of the world’s oldest role-playing game.

But wereboars still feel kind of right, don't they?  There’s something at once simultaneously storybook and gritty about them.  I could just as easily imagine them in an adventure based on Grimm’s fairy tales as I could on the streets of Thieves’ World’s Sanctuary.  (And boars are not to be sneezed at—Ian Frazier had a famous article in The New Yorker about what a problem feral pigs have become in the southern U.S., and Eurasian boars imported for hunting have become an invasive species in New York.)

I also want to give wereboars some love since I don't think I remember them playing a major role in any adventure ever.  They’re pretty much just random encounter fodder, or are used to spice up encounters with orcs (who tend to dig dire boars).  I think they deserve better.  What if they were the default (or only) lycanthrope in your campaign?  What if they filled the role of biker gang or crime family?  What if they were sought-after mercenaries or hated berserkers from a particular nation?

OH!  And let’s not forget devil swine!  Appearing in the D&D Expert Set (and in the Mystara Monstrous Compendium Appendix as “wereswine”) and possibly inspired by the Biblical story about demon-haunted pigs, devil swine were corpulent humans who could turn into giant pigs with potent charming gazes.  So cool.  And so easy to make with Pathfinder/3.5’s advancement rules!  Add the Advanced or Giant template and a 3/day charm person gaze attack with the DC bumped up by 2 and you’re good to go.

And it gets better: According to the mythology of D&D’s Known World/Mystara, the demon lord Orcus started out as a devil swine in his mortal life. 


If that’s not a reason to dig wereboars, I don’t know what is.

The Cousins are an extended family of wereboar toughs who lurk in the narrows of Karse.  For a while they casually ran a protection racket, but the stress of city life is getting to the, and they are beginning to lose control of their transformations.  The Cousins are also known for attacking half-orcs on sight, as their grandfather was long the slave of the Broken Mace orc tribe.

Typically lording over only small fiefdoms and isolated villages, wereboar troupes are rarely more than glorified gangs.  At least one troupe, though, aspires to knighthood.  These cavaliers have found the Order of the Cockatrice suits their self-centered need for glory and domination nicely.

A devil swine and a ghast have entered into a particularly repulsive partnership.  Masquerading as an undertaker, the devil swine (treat as an Advanced wereboar) robs his charges of their wealth, then turns over the remains to his undead compatriot to devour.  So far the scheme has gone swimmingly, though the bard who runs the grave dancers’ society has begun to be suspicious.

Pathfinder Bestiary 2 182

More on wereboars can be found in Blood of the Moon, which also features wereboar-kin known as ragebred.

Finally, thanks for your patience with the tardiness of this entry.  Original post: Post to come tomorrow.  I spent all day helping artisticlicensetokill discharge from the hospital.  Think good thoughts for her and we’ll tackle the wereboar and werecroc ASAP.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


Everyone knows that, when it comes to lycanthropes, werebears are the good ones.  Right?  Ever since Gandalf knocked on Beorn’s door in The Hobbit, werebears have been portrayed as the benevolent exception in a typically evil lot.  The one exception is if your GM is a Norse fan, in which case you’ve probably run into a shapechanging berserkr or two…and even they probably bought you a drink after the battle if anyone was still standing.

So if you’re looking to refresh werebears in your game, maybe the best thing to do is make them flat-out evil like the rest of their kin.  Or refresh who becomes werebears.  Maybe it's not rangers, northmen, and tribal braves.  Maybe it's witch skinshifters who physically climb into bearskin suits.  Maybe it’s bugbears or hill dwarves.  Maybe werebears are dark creatures that serve hags and changelings exclusively.  And, of course, you can change the species of bear: polar bears, sun bears, moon bears, and even spectacled bears or pandas are all up for grabs.  The Beorn model is an option…but not the only option.

Cursed after an affair with a river spirit, a samurai turns into a giant moon bear on the full moon.  So far he has hidden the affliction from even his wife and family—he claims to be fulfilling a religious obligation—though it has meant killing a witness in at least one case.  His heart grieves for the man he slew, but the honor of his family and his daimyo come first.

Adventurers travel to Hochheim, the High Home of the Gods, seeking a rogue ice troll witch.  They spend a night in one of the Halls of the Valorous, one of the great longhouses where warriors who died in battle on the mortal plane are reborn to fight again.  While there the adventurers must best one of the reincarnated warriors in a feat of strength or bravery.  During the competition, they soon find out that the warriors have all been reborn as werebears—and since anyone they slay will join them as a werebear brother, they are not gentle combatants.

Spriggans aren't the only foul shapechanging fey.  Exiled sidhe (treat as elves with the fey creature template) are stripped of their rank, their names, and even their fey natures.  This last is accomplished by sewing them into enchanted bearskins.  They spend years inside the cursed and rotting hides in bear form, and their only option for escape is to become humanoid—surrendering every last bit of their fey power not tied to the shapeshift in the process.  Travelers in the pine forests are advised to beware any hirsute half-elves, for they are bloodthirsty killers who hate the limited mortal beings they have become.

Pathfinder Bestiary 2 181

Blood of the Moon features werebear-kin known as coldborn.

Comments!  Our Ravenloft expert ohgodhesloose weighs in on a werebat from that setting, and filbypott is already excited about weretigers.  Readers masahiro-the-zero and speculativeartisan, just go for it!

Also, in regards to werebats yesterday I probably should have given a nod to Golarion’s (and the Mayans’) evil bat-god Camazotz.  And while I only have a little familiarity with Wofgang Baur’s Midgard setting, I seem to remember a Kobold Quarterly article that focused on an evil bat-god/demon for that world, too…

Speaking of which, knightdiscipline took me to task for my offhand joke about werebats being blind as a bat (I promise I know they're not blind; I subscribed Zoobooks as a kid!) and offers an epic post on neutral or good fruit bat-inspired varieties.

Now, don't get me wrong.  I love bats.  I love the Bronx Zoo bat house.  And one of the coolest things about my trip to Sydney was looking up and seeing wild m----f---ing flying foxes hanging like gourds right above me and using their own wings as sleeping bags!  Pardon me while I squee.

BUT.  I also think there’s some virtue (bad word choice…maybe some iniquity?) in having some evil things just stay evil.  We fans tend to want to glorify/redeem the things we love, whether or not they deserve it.  *coughHarleyQuinnisstillamassmurderercough*  *dittoDeadpoolcough*  The Forgotten Realms setting in particular was really bad about turning every evil thing good (and we can’t blame Drizzt for it all—there are more than enough baelnorns and lythari and worshippers of Eilistraee and tieflings to go around).  But a little of that can go a long way.  That’s part of why I like Pathfinder’s goblins and drow—they are evil, full stop.  So even if we are doing an injustice to real-world bats (who I think need to be protected and given as much habitat and space and pesticide-free food as possible), I’m okay with my fantasy werebats being creatures of the night/darkness/vampires/wickedness/sin/etc.

That said, knightdiscipline has thrown down the gauntlet, so if you want more subtle, nuanced, or even straight-up benevolent werebats in your game, go check out his comments.

Speaking of Beorn, I just discovered the column Advanced Readings in Dungeons & Dragons by Tim Callahan and Mordicai Knode.  I will definitely be reading these articles in the days to come.  Also this.  And hopefully the books in the future…?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014


Werebats are creatures of contradiction.  Resembling vampires but loathing them (especially because they are so often forced to serve them).  Social creatures by day and savage by night.  Communally minded and ordered in their dealings with each other, but chaotic and unpredictable in combat and in their dealings with outsiders (for an overall net neutral evil alignment).  And to top it off, many are as blind as…well, you know.

So maybe your werebats are the go-to henchmen for a vampire…or maybe they’re the unpredictable allies who might team up with the PCs to take him down.  But if you’re good at creating an atmosphere of mystery and paranoia, where werebats really shine is in “Everyone’s a monster but us!” adventures—where the PCs suddenly realize that everyone, quite literally everyone around them is a lycanthrope…that the townsfolk are all in on the ruse together…and that the jig is now up and moonrise is coming…

By the way, more on werebats can be found in Pathfinder Adventure Path #45: Broken Moon, where they were introduced to Pathfinder, and Blood of the Moon, which also delivers their bloodmarked werebat-kin.

A crucial bridge lies between the territories of a werebat clan and a strix aerie.  Both groups resent travelers passing through their domains, often exacting tolls in the form of gold, magic items, or blood.  Notable encounters include the Siphus, the bloodmarked toll agent who marks likely victims for his clanliege, and Vermizus, a strix newly afflicted by lycanthropy who bitterly fights the change.

Adventurers are well paid to escort their wealthy patron’s daughter to her new school, an academy for the blind.  But they are still in town making preparations to leave when the daughter’s fox familiar (that she typically uses as a guide animal) arrives with a note tucked into his collar.  The school for the blind is not what it seems: All faculty and students, save for the very newest enrollees, are werebats in service to the vile headmaster.

Their most recent army having disbanded, wereboar mercenaries move into town and begin wreaking havoc among the locals.  The burgomaster asks adventurers to help bring the wereboars to justice.  But in the course of the investigation, the party discovers that the attacks suffered by the sizable Paleck population in town are quite different in nature from the harassment and assaults being inflicted by the wereboars.  It turns out every Alatian in town—more than half the citizens, including the burgomaster and the town council—are werebats who resent the wereboars moving into their territory.

Pathfinder Adventure Path #45 88–89 & Pathfinder Bestiary 4 188

First off, holy crap.  I hit send on the Wendigo entry right before bed last night, and woke up to a wave of support.  Thanks everyone!  Special mention to the comments of ohgodhesloose and majingojira for pointing us to more great wendigo stories and Native American tales.  Meanwhile fortooate was surprised I didn't say more about the whole legs-burning-into-stumps transformation (that’s what I meant by “creepy”, I promise!) and posits a kinship between wendigos and oni.

And now on to today’s entry: 

Truthfully I’ve been dreading this section of the alphabet.  Because werecreatures…guh.  Sure, they're a crucial part of modern folklore, but for me they’re just…whatever. 

Actually, a lot of my antipathy may be reserved for werewolves.  I like wererats because they’re the quintessential urban monster (and a nice stand-in for Skaven), werebears because of their connection to Norse berserkers, and wereboars just because they're so weird (I’m guessing they arose more from Gygax & Friends’ love of wordplay (bear → boar) than any mythological foundation) and because Expert Rules-era D&D’s devil swine were awesome.  Weresharks and werecrocodiles seem appropriate in the right settings, especially since they tend to have ties to cool evil gods/cults.  But werebats/weretigers/werewolves/wereimpalas/werethree-toed sloths…?  Meh.

Then again, overcoming that antipathy—giving every monster its moment in the sun (or full moon)—is the point of this blog, right?  So we shall forge ahead.

(Interestingly, I dug werewolves back when I was playing Vampire.  A werewolf showing up always meant s--- had gotten real.)

I also have to give a shout-out to Ann Dupuis’s Night Howlers, the only D&D Creature Crucible supplement I didn’t own as a kid (somehow it never showed up in my hobby shop) and finally got a hold of a few years ago.  It even had werebats! (So did the Master Rules, which I never did get around to getting…yet.)

Speaking of which, if any my readers are from Baltimore there’s an incomplete copy of the first Creature Crucible, Tall Tales of the Wee Folk, sitting over at Collectors Corner right now.  (Yes, it’s missing the cover and the DM book, but you should go buy the hell out of anyway as a salute to Awesomeness in Supplements.  (That’s a real Oscar Category.  I just created it.  Neil Patrick Harris will sing about it next year, you just watch.)

Monday, March 24, 2014


Wendigos are one of those “Everyone go grab a snack” monsters, like doppelgangers and succubi.  Your character failed a save, or had a particular dream, or heard something the rest of the party didn’t.  The other players file out of the room.  You and the GM stay.  While everyone else reaches for pizza slices and their cell phones, the two of you reach for the dice…because something bad is about to happen.

Whether portrayed as undead or outsiders (in Pathfinder they are outsiders), thematically the wendigo has always been about the twin endemic dangers of northern winters: cabin fever and cannibalism.  Greg A. Vaughan’s chapter in Mythical Monsters Revisited has much more to say on the subject (and offers up some regional variants), but basically wendigos are the result of (and often the instigation for) someone’s mind snapping in the dead of winter.  The unfortunate soul does the unthinkable, murdering and consuming his kin, and then—whether driven by pure madness, spiritual possession, or shame at having broken the ultimate taboo—runs off into the air and transforms into an otherworldly creature, who then continues to cannibalize its former people and inspire more lost souls to do the same.

Maybe one of the best parts about the wendigo is that it can deliver “We’re snowed in and being stalked by a monster!” terror to even the most high-level parties.  With nightmare, it can even invade a character’s dreams.  What it does to the victims it doesn’t kill is just creepy.  And +26 to hit ain’t nothing to sneeze at.

Since wendigos come from Native American myths and also (very, very superficially) resemble Grendel (I’ll have more to say about that subject another day), wendigo-themed adventures set in isolated longhouses automatically come to mind.  Here are some other options:

In the summer, Fur Seal Island supplies everything a hunter could want to survive: fur, meat, and oil aplenty, courtesy of the seals that give the island its name.  But every year a captain will grow overconfident, his hunting party will stay too long, and strange squalls and blizzards will trap their ship in harbor or sink it below the waves. This is the work of the Fur Seal Island wendigo, whose real hunting season has just begun.

Unlike most elves, the snow elves of the Crystal Fastnesses don't live with nature—they defy it.  Living in palaces of heated quartz, glass-domed greenhouses, and aquamarine tunnels of ice, they live carefully tended lives of plenty that most northern races only dream of.  But sometimes the magic fails…the domes crack…the cold seeps in…  And with the cold comes the wendigo, and gods help the elves who hear its haunting call.

Agriculture on the Plane of Air is a tenuous thing—rainfall is sporadic, seasons don't occur with any reliability, and few of the floating islands have much in the way of topsoil.  One spell of bad luck can doom the hardscrabble communities eking out a living on these flying earthbergs to starvation…and if this occurs too close to the frozen borders of the Para-Elemental Plane of Ice, a wendigo might manifest.

Looking for all the world like a child’s jack made of emerald, the Netherspine orbits the moon, quiet as a grave—which it is.  The heat and artificial gravity in the “north” spine have failed, and half-eaten bodies hang in the frigid air like meat in an invisible larder.  A beetle-eyed void wendigo (see Mythical Monsters Revisited) uses the floating bodies to hide its own stump-legged form until it can stow away on a new ship.

Pathfinder #6 88–89 & Pathfinder Bestiary 2 281

I added a bonus adventure seed!  Just because!  (Really I just had to sneak the elves in there.  I’ve tried to hide it, but I have fierce elf feels.  I just finished Bastards of Golarion, and I can’t tell you a thing about it because my brain just goes, “New half-elf heritages… *drool*”)

My first exposure to the wendigo was in the first Halloween/undead-themed Dragon Magazine I ever picked up, #138, courtesy of an epic article on undead by Tom Moldvay called “The Ungrateful Dead.”  Very worth checking out if you can find a copy, despite being a 26-year-old article for a different system, because Moldvay’s emphasis on going back to the folklore for each undead creature makes for incredibly engaging reading and will point you to some folktales you might not find anywhere else.

Speaking of going back to the folklore, it's nice having readers who can catch me when a monster creeps past one of my blind spots.  Since I’ve never seen/read/heard the original source material, it didn't even occur to me until filbypott mentioned that whipweeds might be an homage to the John Wyndham’s triffids.  Thanks!  Also dr-archville took a closer look than I had time to at the dire implications of an “innocent” verdict from a water wraith and looked back at older versions of the wax golem.

While we’re hanging out up north: Vikings!

I crammed my annual SXSW, St. Patty's Day, and birthday shows all into one 2-hour block. Give it a listen—I promise it's a good one.

(For best results, let load in Firefox or Chrome, Save As an mp3, and enjoy in iTunes.  Link good till Friday, 3/28, at midnight.)

Friday, March 21, 2014


Crops up—sometimes overnight—in the most unlikely places.  Does what it says on the tin.  Cue the Devo.

Deep in a cavern, adventurers are forced to abandon the body of a slain comrade, opting to forge ahead in hopes of finding enough treasure to raise their dead friend.  Despite covering his body with a cairn, when they return they find a strange lily-like plant has taken root in it…a plant that suddenly attacks when they come too near.

Crotchety farmer Turk Whallot was determined to never let anyone take his land.  His independence ultimately killed him when he tried to exterminate a weedwhip without aid.  Putting his affairs in order (or claiming his valuable land) will be difficult, however.  The weedwhip still dwells on the property.  Its fishy odor has attracted several giant flies that are now breeding maggots.  And Turk himself is so dedicated to driving off intruders that his corpse will animate to attack them (as a zombie if they are merely sorting through his affairs for his kin; as a wight if they are claiming his property as their own).

A young otyugh trundles into the town market (much to the horror of all the residents), repeating such phrases as “Help,” “’Ventures” “Swords,” and “Bad plants.”  For the moment it is harmless, thought it will quickly become agitated if ignored for too long and violent if attacked.  A patch of weedwhips recently took over the otyugh’s favorite offal pile, and during molting season the creature’s skin is too soft to protect against the plants’ whiplike tentacles.  Having had its life spared by adventurers before, the intrepid otyugh seeks their aid now.

Pathfinder Bestiary 4 276

If you’re looking for the weasel, it already weaseled its way into our monster countdown here.

Thursday, March 20, 2014


Introduced as a PC race in the excellent Dragon Empires Gazetteer, blown out in the Advanced Race Guide, and finally statted up in the Bestiary 4, wayangs are creatures of shadow inspired by Javanese shadow puppets. 

What do you need to know about them?  First off, ignore the illustration in the other books and check out the one in the ARG.  The strange, almost two-dimensional figure barely looks like it belongs in Golarion, doesn’t it?  That’s not a criticism—that’s a compliment.  Wayangs are meant to be otherworldly, meant to be alien—in fact, the DEG notes that they are creatures from the Plane of Shadow stranded on the Material Plane—and their oddly proportioned portrayal in the ARG underscores that notion fantastically.

It gets better: Wayangs resent the world they find themselves in.  They come from a culture that “idealizes a shadowy state of nonbeing.”  (I cannot tell you how much that excites my inner Williams College Religion 101 student.)  Oh, and they can choose to swap how positive and negative energy affects them for one minute.  Just because.  That’s amazing!

Like tengus, wayangs are a race that, were I starting a campaign today, I would almost certainly include in the setting and would seriously consider making a core PC choice.  How better to say, “This is my world”?  How better to escape the nearly inexorable gravity of Tolkien or the Realms?  And don’t get me wrong, I love fetchlings—I’m still very proud of my entry on them—but wayangs are by far the more evocative shadow monster.  And in terms of worldbuilding, I keep mentally slotting them in to see how they upend my default settings (pun!).  What does a campaign look like where wayangs are your halflings?  Your gnomes?  Your gremlins?  Your goblins?  Your elves?  And while Golarion’s wayangs tend to be reclusive jungle dwellers, yours might be hiding right in the shadows of your campaign’s largest city.

In a hobby that treats dwarves and elves and dragons as perfectly ordinary, wayangs are still fantastic and strange in the best ways.  If you haven’t already, definitely check them out.

The wayang Waskita the Quick is more than just a rogue-for-hire.  He has a particular specialty: He is a cleric killer.  He uses his mastery of shadow magic to strike at his victims from concealment while mimicking one of the undead.  Should he get bogged down in combat, careful use of his light and dark ability ensures that channeling attempts meant to strike him down only bolster him instead.

Jungle-exploring adventurers come upon a small wayang nation in a state of upheaval.  Proselytizing outsiders promise a return to the Plane of Shadow—the dream of many a wayang.  But the evangelists are kytons in disguise, and the home they offer is a realm of torture.  Worse yet, even if the kytons are exposed for what they are, some wayangs’ yearning for the Plane of Shadow is so great they would offer up their own people into slavery.

Females are not allowed onstage in Dessex, as the puritan Cardinals of Might deem their presence too provoking.  The one exception is the popular art of shadow puppetry, long the specialty of the nation’s wayangs.  Now the Cheapside district’s shadow puppet theaters are becoming hotspots for actresses, dramatists, suffragettes, revolutionaries, and all kinds of shady folk—literally and figuratively—who wish to see the Cardinals toppled.

Pathfinder Bestiary 4 274

Way more about wayang (the theater, not the monster) is here.

I also owe Williams for my knowledge of Restoration theater, which comes into play above.  Any era that returns women to the stage and where pox and venereal diseases are so prevalent that wearing patches becomes a fashion statement is an era worth exploring.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Wax Golem

Before we get started, the Water Naga entry is now up!  That entry was a big day for this blog, so please forgive my tardiness, check it out, and if you feel so inclined throw some likes/reblog its way.

Wax golems!  Okay, for this adventure seed exercise let’s just take wax museums off the table, shall we?  No disrespect—I live in a city famous for its National Great Blacks in Wax Museum.  But a museum of statues coming alive is a little obvious, right?  (Plus, speaking as the player of an eldritch knight, if the GM sends my PC into a wax museum, I’m going to have a flaming sphere prepped before I’m two steps into the room.) 

Instead, here are some adventure ideas that (with a little help from Wikipedia) ditch the museum setting entirely and take into account the golem’s troublesome habit of gaining sentience…

When the archduke died, a wax effigy was made so that mourners from afar could pay their respects even after his body was interred.  Weeks of lying in state absorbing tributes and whispered comments arouse the wax golem to sentience, and it seeks to take its place on the grand ducal throne.

The sculptor Camton Trass is in dire financial straits after buying precious materials for a lord’s commission, only to have the noble rescind the offer.  The need to raise cash fast has led Trass into some shady entanglements that are now quickly unraveling.  Depending on what side of the law they are on, adventurers might be hired to call in his debts, stake out the workshop for the local authorities, search for smuggled goods, or toss the place as a message.  Doing so exposes them to an unexpected danger—some of the wax models Trass uses in his bronze castings are now golems.  Trass’s apprentice, a young orphan boy, has an innate talent for magic, and has animated Trass’s leftovers to ease his solitude.

A medical college uses wax statues when fresh corpses are not available from the resurrectionists.  The moulage bodies also make excellent after-hours guards should adventures on the lam attempt to raid the college for spell components and supplies.  The golems attack anyone not in the designated garb of a professor or chirurgeon’s assistant.

Pathfinder Adventure Path #47 90–91 Pathfinder Bestiary 4 133

Just because the wax golem is a Pathfinder monster doesn't mean my D&D 3.5 readers shouldn’t check it out.  Tome and Blood’s candle casters and the Monster Manual II’s abeils are both begging for wax golem defenders.

Tim Hitchcock’s Hungry Are the Dead also features a tallow golem courtesy of Tome of Horrors Revised.

Also, I got through this entire post without referencing “puttin’ it on wax” as the new style of golemcrafting.  You're welcome.

Want to delight a hospitalized girlfriend?  Pictures of robots are requested.

Finally, one of the nice side effects of all the recent upheaval and plane flights in my life is that I have finally gotten caught up on all my unread Pathfinder Campaign Setting books (even Pathfinder Online: Thornkeep, which had been languishing at the bottom of the pile forever).  I’m also all caught up on all my Pathfinder Player Companions and am tearing through Wrath of the Righteous as we speak (on the third installment now).  I also enjoyed Mike Shel’s The Dragon’s Demand, which struck me (at least as a reader) as a very easy-to-run but still engaging adventure.  Any modules/sourcebooks striking your fancy?