Friday, November 28, 2014

Disenchanter


Ah, the disenchanter: yet another monster from the world’s oldest role-playing game’s Fiend Folio given the Misfit Monsters Redeemed buff & shine.  For those who don’t recognize it by name alone, the disenchanter is a blue-furred, camel-like creature with an elephantine nose it uses to suck up magic.  This includes disenchanting PCs’ weapons, make the disenchanter the #2-most-hated monster of all time, second only to the rust monster.

Colin McComb does the rehab in MMR, proposing that disenchanters were created by one powerful mage to undermine the plots of another (Nex and Geb, respectively).  That’s all well and good for the Golarion setting, but personally I prefer a more natural explanation.  I mean, if our nonmagical world can produce an elephant in a few million years, a magical ecosystem should be able to spit out a disenchanter in a couple of weeks.

The other thing McComb goes to great lengths to point out is how intelligent disenchanters are.  Which means simply dispatching or starving them isn't an option, especially if you have a paladin or good cleric in the party.  As a paladin player myself, I don’t believe in GMs baiting paladins into alignment conflicts unnecessarily…but for disenchanters, I think we can make an exception…

Prescott Turmint is a witch-finder with an unusual mount: a blue-furred disenchanter.  Not only does the beast help lead him to witches, but it also deprives them of their magicked objects while enchanting Prescott’s own (via magic weapon).  Prescott has grown more intemperate with age, however, and now regards anyone not willing to be sniffed out by his steed as a witch or a diabolist just waiting to be burned at the stake.

Exploring the Lost Island was supposed to be easy—the adventurers were to get ferried over on one of the natives’ catamarans, protect the professor while he made sketches, and bring back any loot or small exotic specimens they found.  But there was that incident with the wererats in port, storm wyverns harassed the party en route, and then the professor took ill.  Now the adventurers have finally made it to the island…only to have their gear disenchanted on the beach by strange blue camel-things with prehensile noses.  Suddenly the dinosaurs and megafauna of the Lost Island are looking much more menacing…

The mercanes of Starsail are notorious for a scam they pull on dirtworlders.  Posing as customs agents, they lead disenchanters onto the docks to search the cargo being offloaded from ships flying the colors of backwater planets.  In the normal course of events, the disenchanters suck up the magic from mundane items like scrolls and magical daggers, likely impoverishing the owners and making them more likely to need the mercanes’ moneylending services.  If the disenchanters get too excited about a find, the mercanes know they have an artifact on their hands, and they distract their disenchanter sniffers long enough for their confederates to open negotiations.

Misfit Monsters Redeemed 22–27 & Pathfinder Bestiary 3 81

For David Fanany and other budding Mystara fans out there, hang tight—I’m about halfway through my Known World primer, but I want to polish it up a bit more before I hit post.  Look for a full reply on Monday.

Stand back you guys.  This week I was a Pretty Big Deal on the Internet™.

So I’m a pretty big comic fan.  Not truly hardcore, but I go to the shop (Big Planet Comics in College Park) most every week after my radio show and I have a box there so I don't miss any issues.  And when I’m doing my timesheets at work I like to listen to Jeff Moss and Donnie Coulter’s podcast The Watchtower, because they’re super entertaining and it’s a great way to stay up on the comic industry with zero effort on my part.

A few weeks ago they had a show that really resonated with me (Episode 329: The Fury of Donnie) and they’re always asking for listener feedback, so I wrote them a long-ass email in reply.  And I expected I’d get a slight nod in the next podcast and maybe a comment or two. 

What I didn't expect was that they’d spend basically an entire show responding to it.

So despite absolutely butchering my first name, they were really gracious and kind of awesome about the whole thing, and I’m really flattered they took the time to respond in such a big way.  (They also gave this page a nice shout-out as well.)  If you’re a fan of comics, definitely check Jeff and Donnie out; their website is here and that particular episode (Episode 330: Programmed By You) is here.  Hope you enjoy!

PS: The guys actually only got to about half my letter—mostly the cranky bits—so here’s the whole thing (slightly edited for clarity) if you’re curious. 

Note that the tone is snarkier than a lot of my reviews here—in this space I keep things positive; I’m enthusiastic about the things I like and I rarely feel the need to mention the things I don’t—so be aware that you’re getting the far-less-edited version of the friendly neighborhood blogger you’re used to.

date: Fri, Nov 21, 2014 at 5:33 PM
subject: The Fury of Donnie gave me feelings

Hi guys, Patch here.  After last week’s show I had a bunch of random responses to…basically everything.  So I figured I’d email and you can use or discard as much as you like.

First the grumpy stuff:

1) So not excited about Hickman on titles.  He’s the reason I dropped Avengers during the “Ex Nihilo” storyline.  I want my adoptive dysfunctional family, not a military team.  It’s like he watched the Avengers movie and walked away convinced that the best parts were the Helicarrier and the hordes of faceless aliens.

2) Remender is killing me, too.  I finally dropped Uncanny Avengers. I also just nixed Axis.  I only have so many spins round the sun in this life, and Kluh did not belong in any of them. 

Plus, since I missed Remender’s apparently amazing run on Uncanny X-Force, I don't see his scripts as continuing the epic of the En Sabah Nur clan; I just see a dude who keeps getting his Apocalypse fetish in my Avengers peanut butter.

Of course, meanwhile the next issue of Axis was already in my pull box, and since I don’t want to screw my retailer I paid for it…and it was actually delightful and charming and full of delightful Spidey-Nova back-and-forth.  THIS IS HOW REMENDER GETS YOU.  It was great and for a second I wanted more…but I know the next 4 issues will be shite.

3) The big 4-series Aliens/Prometheus/etc. relaunch is also frustrating me.  Yes, the source material only gives us a limited world to work with, but I still want more story options than: go to a place, greedy person makes a bad decision, everyone dies, or go to a lab, make an alien/human hybrid, everyone dies. 

Not every Aliens series can have the vitality of the original Aliens graphic novel trilogy or the first nearly perfect Aliens vs. Predator trade, but Aliens: Genocide and A/P: Deadliest of the Species proved there’s still plenty to do in that world.  Prometheus should have been a giant shot in the arm to the whole franchise—so why am I this bored?

4) I may have to give up on Batman.  The art is great, no question.  The stories have been riveting.  But they have also been…similar.  I watched the Court of Owls torture Bruce for months.  Then I watched skin-face Joker torture the Bat-Family for months.  Then I watched Riddler torture Gotham for months—a great storyline, but once again, more deathtraps.  And now we’re back to skin-face Joker again!  I can't take all the grimdark, I’ve seen more bruises and bondage rigs in these pages than I would on Kink.com, and I feel like I’m just kickstarting the trade.  Give me some interlude issues and other tones!  There’s a reason the X-Men play basketball once in a while.  For one issue can’t somebody just, I dunno, rob a bank? 

5) Ranty tangent re: kickstarting the trade.  I know I’m doing it, but I don’t want to feel like I'm doing it.  That means I don't want to buy $5 comics that are going to show up in a $15 trade.  I want the occasional stand-alone story.  I want some plot threads to dangle between one arc and the next.  I know the economics of trades and the trade reading experience make tight arcs appealing, but there also needs to be a reason to pick up the next issue.  I feel like we’ve got the worst of both worlds right now—you have to read every arc because of whatever crucial death/plot point/crisis each one involves…but we lurch from arc to arc instead of flowing smoothly between them.

Don't make me feel like I’m kickstarting the trade, creators.  At least Powers and Saga have kickass letters pages.

6) PS: The answer to making the monthly comic worth it is not secondary stories, especially serial secondary stories.  I love a good anthology title—the first comic I collected was Avengers: Spotlight—but I have never read a secondary story in a standard comic that has been of any value.  That includes you, Batman.

OK! Enough negativity!  I don't want you to think for a second that I am a total curmudgeon, though, because there’s lots to love on the shelf.

7) Loving Batgirl and have added it to my pull list.  You're totally right it’s not the same Barbara Gordon.  But I have zero baggage, because I never read the old Batgirl or Birds of Prey stuff, and I’m okay with her being occasionally dumb.  (Let’s call it brilliant but scattered.)  I say, pick it up, pretend it’s an Elseworlds title, and just enjoy.  

8) Totally second you guys on Tooth & Claw.  Gorgeous art, shockingly elegant world-building for a first issue, and only $2.99. 

9) Ditto Copperhead at $3.50.  I hope the market doesn’t get flooded with sci-fi westerns—I don't know if I’d need Six-Gun Gorilla, Firefly, and Copperhead all at the same time—but for right now, yes please!

10) I’d love to hear more recommendations on some great comic books that are just happy to be comic books, particularly of the pulp variety, but straight-ahead superhero comics are fine, too.  Atomic Robo had me for a while for its clean art and humor, but I’ve fallen off it.  Spidey, Avengers, and the X-titles all have me in so much event fatigue—independent of their quality (Edge of Spider-Verse being fine doesn't make me any less exhausted)—that I’m putting my foot down on all spin-offs, weeklies, and tie-ins in my pull box. Recommend a comic that's a comic, please.

11) You know where crossovers are totally appropriate, though?  Annuals.  I used to love Marvel’s summer annuals, and a good crossover story would expose me to titles I’d never buy otherwise (Captain America, Avengers West Coast, New Mutants…).  I’ll happily do annual crossovers, because in an annual I get the story and three or four other stories as well.  (But they have to be fresh stories...none of this repackaging Silver Era issues nonsense.)  The crossover fan wins, the anti-crossover fan wins, and the regular story doesn't screech to a halt or skip like a broken record.  How about a year where we just keep the crossovers to annuals and limited series to let the other titles breathe?

12) Speaking of which, know any good anthology titles? I used to love Marvel’s Summer Spectaculars full of random-ass stories and characters.  Only one off the top of my head is Dark Horse Presents…is it worth it?  Anyone else?

I’ll shut up now.  I know this email is super-long.  Sorry.  Like I said, last episode just resounded with me, and since you want mail, I wanted to respond.  Later and thanks for the podcast!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Dire & Giant Weasels


I feel like giant weasels were a big deal in D&D 3.0/3.5—they basically made halfling paladins possible (and awesome!).  So I’m surprised it took till the Reign of Winter Adventure Path for them to make it into Pathfinder.  They’re here now, though, and ready for animal companion duty!  (Or even mount duty, if your GM looks kindly upon halflings, as all saintly GMs do.)

Meanwhile, dire weasels are even bigger and more aggressive than their smaller giant kin (…which I admit is a confusing sentence).  Pathfinder Adventure Path #67: The Snows of Summer points out that weasels must consume 40% of their body weight a day—which makes the Large dire weasels truly terrifying, both for the amount of food they need to consume and for how efficient they are in getting it (with abilities like compression, grab, and blood drain).  And should you hit one?  You now have a very angry (thanks to blood rage) dire beast on your hands.  Good luck!

Looking for their first adventure, a band of novice warriors finds it: in the trees.  A grippli town needs help defending itself from giant pine martens, who happen to find the frogfolk delicious.  The adventurers’ job is made more difficult by a wayang rogue with shadow magic who takes advantage of the confusion to rob the gripplis’ homes while the villagers are out keeping watch for the martens.

Adventurers hole up in a keep as hobgoblins surround them.  If they can hold out for four days, help will find them.  (Alternately, they can find the secret door leading to the caves beneath the keep.)  After spending the first night trying unsuccessfully to batter down the doors or scale the walls, the hobgoblins try a new tactic: They send ravenous dire weasels to flush the party out.  If there is a hidden hole into the fortress, the dire weasels will find it.

A pipefox becomes curious about a young traveling spellcaster…and even more curious about the books he’s carrying.  Seeking to test the abilities of the spellcaster and his friends, the pipefox lures giant weasels into their campsite. The magical beast watches eagerly to see what magic the adventurers use and whether or not the spellcaster leaves his books unattended (in which case the pipefox will try to make off with one of the slimmer volumes).  If the books ever appear to be in danger from the weasels, the pipefox will intervene to save them.

Pathfinder Adventure Path #67 82–83 & Pathfinder Bestiary 4 275

Wayne Reynolds’s halfling on a giant weasel cover for Dragon #292 is one of my favorites from that era.  (Also check out this blog post for thoughts that cover inspired.)

Speaking of which, that issue might be worth checking out if you see it lying around (and the PDF is easy to find online). It’s wilderness-themed, with barbarian multiclass combinations, four saurial PC races (the Forgotten Realms’ dinosaur-men) tweaked for 3.0, druid spells and PC archetypes, a decent elf hunter prestige class, and evil plant monsters.  It also has a fantasy RPG write-up of Edo (medieval Tokyo) for you historical fantasy fans. 

If you’re a comic book fan or a podcast fan, be sure to tune in tomorrow—something bizarre happened to me on the Internet that I’ll be throwing up a link to.  Also, David Fanany asked me a Mystara question that has an easy answer and a complicated answer, so naturally I’ll be serving up at least one or the other.

Oh, and happy Thanksgiving!

In conclusion: Take me to the weasels!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Dire Corby


Another greatest …hit from the world’s oldest role-playing game’s Fiend Folio.  (It’s conceivable that I’m missing a letter there.)  Wingless humanoid crows packed with muscles and sharp bits, dire corbies got a makeover from Rob McCreary in Misfit Monsters Redeemed and have been unleashing their terrible screeches at us ever since.

Honestly, that book is your best bet for more on these creatures (though you can find the gist here).  McCreary avoids easy answers for the dire corbies’ origin (they aren’t simply warped subterranean tengus), serves up a ton of variant subraces, and paints a picture of utterly mad, infanticidal (ovicidal?) monsters so bloodthirsty that they would rather leap to their dooms than allow prey to escape.  There’s a dark humor for players at the game table imagining a flock of dire corbies trying—and failing—to leap across a crevasse at their characters.  But when the GM starts pulling out more minis…and the dire corbies start sticking the landing…and still more dire corbies start arriving from the tunnels on the PCs’ side of the crevasse…well, suddenly dark humor turns to dark horror very quickly…

A banshee is said to haunt the Darkway between Worm Maw and the Severed Spine.  Actually, the haunting cry blamed on “the banshee” is actually a dread corby’s screech of doom.  The dread corby is an adept who seeks sacrifices to please his harpy mother—in his madness forgetting he devoured half of her and crucified the rest almost a month ago.  Her rotted body still bears a torc that offers clues to opening the back door to a duergar keep.  Any harpies who see the necklace will assume the bearer is a murderer.

Crow Keep is an entire tower relocated underground courtesy of a sinkhole.  Adventurers who try to investigate it will be set upon by dire corbies that spill out from the cliff faces surrounding the keep on all sides.  They are led not by a rookery chief, but by a gold-hilted intelligent sword that was once housed in the keep.  The evil weapon wants to command a kingdom, but until an adventurer can wrest it from its current holder’s grasp, it is content with its sunken domain.

During the First War of Souls, the old spirits of Chaos were driven away by the new Order—those celestial beings who would become angels and devils in their time.  The spirits who declined to fight on either side were dispersed into the world as fey and kami, guardians of the land, or as resentful oni and divs.  And then there were the crow spirits.  They ignored all calls to account whatsoever, choosing to devour and despoil the piled bodies of the spirit dead from both sides.  When they even drove off the psychopomps of the newly installed Lady of Graves, refusing to let them harvest the slain, the victorious spirits of Order had had enough.  They warped the crow spirits in body and mind and banished them underground, dooming them to war for every scrap of food and feast on their own young.  To this day, these dire corbies bear a particular hatred for the descendants of the kin who escaped their fate, instinctively attacking gnomes, sulis, and undines, oreads, or sylphs who come from kami stock before all other opponents.  In the Land of Brass Lamps they come boiling out of their cave homes to attack caravans that reek of genie magic, and their wars with the leprechauns in the Mines of Oloran are legendary—if you ask the right talespinner.

Misfit Monsters Redeemed 16–21 & Pathfinder Bestiary 3 80

Since I’m all about societies and role-playing and reinventing monsters, I sometimes am guilty of neglecting straight-up dungeon crawl adventure seeds.  Dire corbies are a useful reminder to go back to basics.

Happy Thanksgiving Eve, all!  May the dire corby on your table be properly stuffed and seasoned.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Dimorphodon & Diplodocus


Dimorphodon has a stupid name for an animal that should be labeled “amazing toothed toucan-pterosaur thing.”  It also makes a great animal companion.  Meanwhile, diplodocus gets the award for longest sauropod—with a 60-ft. whiplike reach to boot.

Climbing a sheer cliff, adventurers disturb a nest of dimorphodons.  Given the terrain, the flying pterosaurs have an advantage over the laden heroes.  Fortunately the flock is easily driven off so long as the adventurers don’t disturb the nest itself.  But the dimorphodons’ poisonous bites may make the rest of the climb difficult…and leave the party vulnerable to the entangling strikes of the assassin vine on the rocks above.

Dimorphodons are common pirate companions along the Wight Isles.  They're prized for being even flashier than parrots or toucans, as well as for wielding a bite whose poison can make the difference in a close fight.  It’s a buccaneer tradition to teach the dimorphodon (using the animal’s racial bonus trick) to snatch the hat off another pirate.  Doing so is a way to show you respect Wight Isle ways, and can get an outsider in good with a strange crew.

An adventuring company has been sparring with agents of the goddess of pain for months.  They are cleaning out her lushly appointed temple and gardens when the high priestess enacts the cult’s revenge.  She smashes an orb in the party’s presence and flees while the beast once trapped inside manifests.  It turns out there are whips and then there are whips…and long before the goddess became a deity of sybarites she was a far cruder orcish deity of retribution…which is why a full-sized, whip-tailed diplodocus manifests right in the middle of the city.

—Pathfinder Adventure Path #37 82–83 & Pathfinder Bestiary 4 58

Slightly more on the dimorphodon appears in Pathfinder Adventure Path #37: Souls for Smuggler's Shiv.  (I believe a few references also pop up in Animal Archive, but don’t quote me on that, since I’m at work and that book is tucked away in my nerd loft.  Which I should really post pictures of sometime.)

There’s just something about a hex map.  I don't care how gorgeous or authentically medieval the looser format of a Forgotten Realms or Golarion map is…I want my maps in 8, 24, and 40-mile hexes.  My brother used to stare at my Known World maps for hours, and he didn’t even play.  (In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t moved out right as he hit middle school.  His friends would have been awesome to GM for.)

Blogger is being cranky right now and won’t show me how I found this originally—through Bruce Heard somehow—but this map of Brun made me so happy.  And then I found this page.  If anyone needs me, I’ll be here for a while.

(Confidential to any Paizo staff who might come upon this: Hex map of one of the Golarion continents?  Like as a holiday download or a limited-run poster map?  Just a thought…)

Monday, November 24, 2014

Dimetrodon & Iguanodon


With their distinctive sails, dimetrodons are the charismatic megafauna of their clade.  (Seriously, how many other Permian animals can you name?  Okay fine, edaphosaurus; you’re very smart.)  In terms of ecological niche, think of them as crocodiles with their own HVAC systems installed.  Meanwhile, iguanodons get points for being discovered pretty much before any other dinosaur (except Megalosaurus hipsterus) and for having sweet thumb spikes.

The world tree Yggdrasil holds far more than the nine worlds.  Demirealms cling like mistletoe to its many branches.  In a swampy domain time lost to time, swamp korreds dance among the peat bogs and everglades.  They also happen to disdain outsiders even more than their highland kin.  One such korred offers to lead adventurers through the swamp.  As soon as it is close to a rock large enough to stone stride through, it unleashes a stunning laugh, attracting a hunting pack of dimetrodons who have learned such sounds promise helpless prey.

The nation of Belgroth is an unusual land where humans, kobolds, and awakened iguanodons dressed in courtly finery live in harmony.  Depending on their intelligence, the iguanodons are valued as judges, guards, and draft animals in carnivore and lizardfolk territory—all professions where a placid demeanor is useful in the course of day-to-day events, but the suggestion of a thumb spike through the eye never hurts.  Would-be thieves—including adventurers with cavalier attitudes toward breaking and entering—should be warned that iguanodons are herd animals, and that instinct to protect with violence extends to objects and buildings under their care.

Nemroth Green’s dimetrodon companion Pink has saved his life on numerous occasions.  Unfortunately, as the synapsid has grown in size (advancing from Medium to Large) it has become more aggressive.  Flashing its fuchsia sail in a mating display, the dimetrodon attacks objects it mistakes for rivals, including kite sellers’ carts, horses in brightly colored jousting caparisons, and pretty much any gnome’s hair.

Pathfinder Bestiary 3 78

Belgroth is definitely my nod to James Gurney’s Dinotopia.  I should probably clarify I’ve never read the books.  I was a high school freshman when it came out, and I remember looking at the pictures in Waldenbooks and realizing my mind would have been beyond blown if only they’d been published 10 years earlier.

I’ve mentioned this before, but as a Belgian by accident of birth, I’m irrationally fond of the iguanodon for Belgium-related reasons.

I am indebted to today’s entry for introducing me to Dinosaurs! WTF?, a blog fighting the good fight for humanity.

I am also super-aware that I am super-behind on reader comments.  Over the long weekend, hopefully? 

As we count down toward Turkey Day, another equally beloved holiday took place this past weekend: Skanksgiving on The New Indie Canon!

With the help of WMUC alumn, former Rudie Patootie host, and ska aficionado Amanda Gaines, this Saturday we abandoned the usual indie rock, pop, and folk to serve up two hours of first, second, and third wave ska to all you hip turkeys.  Here’s the link (good through Friday, 11/28, at midnight)—this is definitely one you’re going to grab as an mp3. 

(Forgive the mic levels—I’m too loud; Amanda’s too soft—but there’s only so much we could know/do with the tech we had.)

You can find more Skamanda on Twitter at @argaines.  She’s also got a blog at rudietuesdays.wordpress.com that she is admits she hasn't updated recently, but which I secretly love because the last update features my too-soon-departed friend Josh.  Special thanks to Aaron Smith and Robert Marbury (whose just-released book on taxidermy art will make a gorgeous Christmas gift) for helping me dig up some phenomenal old-school tracks.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Devilbound Creature


We know devils make pacts with mortals.  We know they offer boons.  And that’s fine at a story level.  But if you want to represent that mechanically, those details are often buried deep in a supplement or splatbook.  The devilbound creature template conveniently appears in the Bestiary 4 right with three other nasty devils you would have looked up anyway.  And it’s a good one—easy on the maths (the British spelling seems somehow appropriate here), but with tons of spell-like ability variation based on your choice of 16 signatory devils.

Already a nasty spell-blaster, Carrie Vasterling’s bargain with a pit fiend has now made her nigh-unstoppable.  As a dueler, she is simply hardier than the vast majority of her opponents, and this frees her to spend her magical might in summoning monsters rather than bolstering her defenses.  Both her aboveboard formal duels and her secret assassinations have managed to create a number of vacancies in the Congress of Mages—vacancies being filled by proxies of Hell who are shifting the voting blocs in subtle but sinister ways.

Guard duty: an easy enough assignment.  Even when the prisoner is captain of the house men-at-arms, accused of not only butchering half the royal family in a single night, but of also possibly being the Mustachioed Man, a killer wanted for a slew of murders along the Fogway.  It gets tougher when several of the other turnkeys express aloud that the captain should suffer “an accident,” or when the distraught house sorcerer comes down drunk, offering to interrogate the accused with creative applications of ray of frost.  But the real drama begins with a simple chambermaid is brought to the cells after curious objects are found in her room.  When black tentacles erupt from her body and begin to tear out the bars so that the panicked girl can escape, it is clear that there is at least one more mystery the castle tonight.

Desperate to get another soul for his roster, the imp Skiver made a rather dubious bargain…with an otyugh.  Now the poor folk of Wrendale are being tormented by a regenerating, fire-resistant, polymorphing sewer monster that won’t stay in the sewer.  Skiver, meanwhile, is tormented by his own impatience—he never expected the otyugh to survive this long.  But the beast’s own native cunning (Wis 13) and borrowed invisibility have kept it very much alive, leaving Skiver as eager as the Wrendale folk to see the dung-eater brought down.  But the imp needs to watch his back as well.  The lemure contracted to answer the otyugh’s summons is not the normal mindless blob of flesh, but a recently demoted barbazu who still retains his memories and intelligence.  He is absolutely livid about being an otyugh’s slave (and often its breakfast…because it’s an oytugh) and he will do anything to see Skiver dead.

Pathfinder Bestiary 4 56–57

Green Ronin’s Advanced Bestiary also has the devil-bound creature template, but that one’s got a hyphen and is, to continue being British, more mathsy.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Desert Giant


Desert giants are…yeah, you guessed it.  Giants.  That live in the desert.  Oh wait, I’m repeating myself from yesterday, aren't I?

Obviously desert giants are masters at traveling over sand, and they put even the usual desert dervishes to shame when it comes to their scimitar skills.  But that’s all price-of-entry, right?  So what else is interesting about them? 

First they're not very magical—much more on the mundane end of the spectrum than more mythic giants (for instance, the cloud giants that sometimes sail over their lands).  That means the clerics found in larger desert giant tribes are likely well respected, even at low levels.  Surprisingly, they also do not have the natural affinity for animals that most giants have.  Certainly, the nobles are likely to have eagles or other large birds, the way a human lord would keep falcons.  But instead of the usual cave bears or hell hounds, desert giants prefer humanoid slaves.  Also, even the most benevolent giants are rarely creatures of their word, making the lawful neutral desert giants a rarity among their kind (and slightly less likely to roast you alive than the lawful evil fire giants).

On a side note, not every campaign world needs every giant. I can easily imagine campaigns where desert giants are the only giants in the setting.  Encountering one of these 15-foot-tall men might be just one more reason going across the dunes is a dangerous proposition: “The South is a land of giants!”  Or if you're doing a One Thousand and One Nights-style campaign, you might have a single legendary city where all the inhabitants are giants—a nice change from the usual cavalcade of jann and rocs.

Anyway, on to the adventure seeds!

Adventurers share the hospitality of a desert giant tribe as they travel across the wastes.  Things get complicated when the tribe’s cleric passes away during the night.  Given the rigors of desert life, especially the need for healing and water purification, it is custom that no desert giant tribe should be without a divine caster…and the next caster who appears is duty-bound to serve a clan in need.  The apologetic but firm sheik shrugs that the adventuring company’s cleric is short but that she’ll do.  Meanwhile the entire tribe begins sharpening their blades in case the party attempts to defy custom.

Desert giants may come from the desert…but they don't have to stay there.  Their nimbleness and skill with blades make them excellent pirates, provided accommodations are made aboard ship for their size.  Many a corsair has swooped down upon what he thought was a simple dhow from afar, only to discover up close that the ship’s apparent small size was an optical illusion created by its 15-foot crew—who are now bearing down to board in turn.

Manticore Jack is haunted by a ghost train.  Years ago the desert giant guide lost a lightning rail work crew to a gnoll attack and a freak tornado that swept them both dwarves and gnolls into the sky. Now he relives that night in his sleep—a haunt of the train and its crew follows him wherever he goes, manifesting during storms and on nights the moon is just right.  Ending the haunt means finding what happened to the train or convincing Manticore Jack that the deaths weren't his fault.  But a side effect of the haunting is that while in its throes Jack can't tell friend from foe.  The afflicted desert giant may attack adventurers, thinking they are the hated gnolls come back to finish their raid.

Pathfinder Bestiary 3 128

Obviously, there’s no reason Manticore Jack can’t be the keffiyeh-wearing giant of the Bestiary 3, but for a more American Old West feel give him cavalry sabers and maybe a few levels in an appropriate hunter/tracker class/archetype.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Desert Drake


Desert drakes are…yeah, you guessed it.  Drakes.  That live in the desert.  Powerful ones at that, besting all but their neighbors, the rift drakes, and the hardy lava drakes.

Like blue dragons, desert drakes are earth dragons with electricity-laced breath.  Unlike blue dragons, they come in mottled tans and yellows and reds, mirroring the terrain of their desert habitats.  Thus, they are more ambush predators and burrowers than fliers, creatures of dunes, cliffs, and rocky outcroppings more than the open sky.

In addition to the usual drake abilities, desert drakes have a Dazzling Emergence (Ex) ability they can use during a surprise round.  The Bestiary 3 doesn't really specify what that ability looks like.  The default assumption is it has something to do with the drake’s bite or gnashing of teeth because of its Weapon Focus (bite) feat, but there are plenty of real-world lizard displays you could steal from.  Maybe it flashes an electric blue tongue like a skink, raises a frill like frilled lizard, or spurts blood from its eyes like a horned lizard.

A pair of desert drakes takes advantage of a giant ant lion’s sand traps.  When a victim stumbles into the vermin’s pit, the desert drakes race in to pick off his companions while they are distracted.  The drakes may even snatch a bite or two from the ant lion’s victim, relying on their speed surges to avoid the bug’s giant pincers.

A rampage of drakes corners a janni just as adventurers arrive on the scene.  They are better fliers, they press their advantage too closely for invisibility to work, and the janni already expended his ethereal jaunt on one of the strange errands of his kind.  He strongly suggests that there is a flying carpet in it for them if the adventurers aid him.  But he is careful to promise nothing, because his flight is an inherent gift and the carpet he sits upon is merely for show.  He plans to hand it over and vanish before the adventurers call his bluff.

The Endless White is a nearly lifeless salt plain populated by only a few pure white desert drakes.  Even the pillars they nest on are salt.  Possibly these columns are natural; possibly they are all that is left of unfortunates who offended some god.  (They may also indicate the presence of a portal to the Quasi-Elemental Plane of Salt.)  The drakes’ dazzling display involves shooting blood from their eye ducts, and the crimson splash on the white salt crust is often the last color their victims ever see.

Pathfinder Bestiary 3 105

Argh!  I keep forgetting to post my radio show.  Here it is!  Get it now!  The link expires Friday (11/21) at midnight, and it’s already Wednesday!

By the way, props to pierrotlunaire, brain-jack, eswynn, and pacific-resistance for showing support during the show.

Also, I’m getting this bizarre thing were my microphone vocals sound bad on my home computer but fine on my work one.  If it sounds bad for you, my apologies; I don’t know what’s up.  Listen anyway—the new Ex Cops track “White Noise” is awesome, and while I was never a rabid Shins fan, getting to hear early James Mercer vocals on the Flake Music reissue is just glorious.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Derhii


The derhii are a race of intelligent winged gorillas.  So in one sentence you already know if this is a monster for you.  Me?  I’m a fan.  (Real apes kind of trigger my uncanny valley alert, but apes in fantasy I like.  Speaking of which, fantasy illustrators and comic artists tend to love apes—maybe because of the expressive faces?  Gorilla Grodd…Gorillaz…Six-Gun Gorilla…Frank Cho’s entire career  In fact, I’m not even done this first paragraph, and I’d bet ten bucks that justjingles has already roughed out a derhii sketch in pencil and is setting up her inks.)

In Golarion, derhii are associated with the Mwangi Expanse and the (now-crashed/lost) flying cities of the Shory.  In your home campaign…well they might fit in anywhere, because when you’re an ape with a flying charge attack who can knock victims prone with your falchion, you don’t need to ask permission.

Lone or small troops of these apes often find it beneficial to ally with dragonnes, who are less intelligent but more powerful.  Larger family groups can fend for themselves but still might ally or offer fealty to powerful creatures like dragons and sphinxes.  And wise adventurers would do well to keep an eye on those or any other alliances the winged apes have.  As neutral carnivores, derhii aren’t immediately a threat, but they don’t promise peace either, especially in lean times.  Knowing if a derhii tribe owes allegiance to a benevolent dragon, a bloodthirsty dragonne, a mysterious magocracy, or no one but its silverfeather chieftain (and the mouths he’s honor-bound to feed) could be a crucial bit of intelligence to have before the Diplomacy and Intimidation checks start rolling.

Entering a mystic wood, adventurers find themselves observed by silent kodama for mile after mile.  Eventually the kami begin playing a percussive song on hollow logs, summoning derhii sentinels to question the party further.  The derhii are stern but will not offer violence if the adventurers do not.  However, under no circumstances will they allow the party to approach the lord of the wood, a near-mythical shedu.

Reincarnated as a strix, a warrior must relearn his craft in his new body—and hopefully pick up some new skills along the way.  His journey takes him and his companions to the cloud forests of Mobitar, where derhii dervishes wheel above the trees and stony agoras of a lost city.  The warrior is allowed to enroll and study with other derhii and strix.  Over time it becomes clear that something is rotten at the city’s core, and it involves the city’s owl-like priest caste, the syrinx.

Even the basest ape in Juwar pays homage to the Lord of Storms, a derhii king named for his booming voice.  An adventuring party has letters of passage signed by the king, but early in their journey the drums announce that the king is ill, and soon their letters are worse than useless.  At least two factions of derhii seek to overthrow the king’s tribe, and a spiny peluda and his girallon servants are taking advantage of the conflict to gorge themselves on apes and humanoids alike.

Crucible of Chaos 28–29 & Pathfinder Bestiary 3 75

Really, really close readers of my vaugebooking (vagueblogging?) will note that I was supposed to be on vacation in Portland/Seattle this week, but then…not so much.  More on that another day.  I’ve rescheduled for December if you want to point me to awesome game/used bookstores and other fun things to do.