[Apologies for the lateness of the corrected version of this post. Last night I had a work function that kept me out till nearly midnight, then I got home only to find my laptop had no juice and I’d left my charger at work.]
The harionago is another one of those Japanese monsters that is both awesome in its own context and easily exports into a Western fantasy setting. Whether PCs face a “harionago” or a “barbed ghoul,” it’s a great monster. (Also, for balance I hope somewhere there’s a Japanese version of this blog where some dude is going, “Okay so a pixie is like a kodama but with butterfly wings…” Actually, I think the Japanese word is yōsei, but you get my drift.)
Anyway, the harionago is an undead woman with barbed hair whose laughter is magically infectious. Originally the spirit of a brutally murdered woman, she is one of those troubled spirits that doesn't stop once her killing has been revenged, but continues to seek out her murderers’ families, then simply plagues lone travelers, especially young men.
A lot of monsters straddle the line between the realm of the fey and the realm of the dead, and the harionago is a perfect example of this (she even speaks Sylvan!). So you could easily cast her as an unseelie fey, with or without a stat tweak. (For a quick and dirty version, just consider her to have both the fey and undead types, change her DR to “10 magic and cold iron” and boost her channel resistance to +3 or +4 to even things out.)
A harionago haunts the crossroads of Blackwatch, having lost the trail of her murderer several seasons past. Her damsel-in-distress act slakes her bloodlust but not her undying pain and frustration at being stymied. She is too powerful for most adventurers who pass this way, and those that do are encouraged to run in opposite directions to foil pursuit. She might let a victim go if he or she promises to look into the whereabouts of her murderer, but she will interrogate the would-be detective thoroughly (with her Sense Motive +20 and charm monster as necessary) so that if she is being lied to she may hunt down the offender as well.
A pixie sorcerer falls under the spell of a magical tome. Already gifted with the ability to cause hideous laughter, the pixie soon transforms into a harionago. The book’s power is such that her butterfly-winged kin fail to notice her transformation, or are transformed themselves into necromancers, redcaps, grimstalkers, and worse. Only by destroying the tome will all the forest be returned to normal—all, that is, except the new harionago, who is too far gone for any fate but death.
Driven out of their homeland by crusaders and leopardfolk, gnolls pray to their blood goddess for revenge. They are shocked when their prayers are answered by the arrival of a white-skinned elven woman. In short order, the woman kills the tribe’s chieftain for weakness and its druid for blasphemy—with her hair, no less! Now the tribe is taking back its territory, a pack of gibbering, cackling hyenas led by their laughing harionago chieftainess.
—Pathfinder Bestiary 4 149
Yesterday I mentioned including adventure seeds for the torble from Pathfinder #25, which prompted demiurge1138 to write:
Is that the plan once you finish B4? To loop around to make seeds of the Pathfinder AP creatures that haven’t been promoted to a hardcover book?
Ha! I wish, but no. I definitely thought of doing that, but those plans were pre-Bestiary 3 and 4, when this was a manageable two-year project. Now that I’m almost four years in, that would just be crazy talk. So if there’s a Pathfinder Adventure Path monster you really want to see, send me an email (dailybestiary [at] gmail [dot] com; link written that way to avoid spam spiders) and I’ll see what I can do. (I also have a request for the aarakocra in the queue.)
Otherwise my most pressing post-Bestiary 4 plan involves a beach, a Mai Tai in each hand, and backrubs from a cosplayer with a thing for animal ears. (Pale cis females, the line to apply forms to the left. If you need a uniform, one will be provided for you.)
Speaking of females…only not necessarily pale, cis, or, well, female…RuPaul’s Drag Race is back on the air! Can I get an “Amen!”?
Amen? Anyone? No? Just me? …Okay bye.
In other “Things Only Patch Cares About” news: I did two radio shows last weekend. TWO. Here and here. FOR YOU.
One of the silver linings of my trip to Illinois last week was that I got to read Coliseum Morpheuon on the plane, which has been buried in my to-read pile forever. It was a third-party book from Rite Publishing by Clinton J. Boomer and Jonathan McAnulty, and it hooked me through its interesting NPCs (I think it was the Advanced half-copper dragon ravid sorcerer that caught my eye), and its setting on the Plane of Dreams. Also after I dithered on buying it, it totally disappeared from my comic shop, which sent my inner Gollum on a rampage until I ended up ordering it online.
Among the reasons I like it is that it’s clearly a writer’s labor of love. That has its downsides—the art budget was clearly modest (most of the illustrations are recycled from the covers), any map of the Coliseum Morpheuon is hand-waved away thanks to the plane’s morphic nature, and the layout could pretty much have been accomplished via Microsoft Word. (Seriously, there is actually underlining.) That said, it also means it’s a third-party book that is actually readable! I mean that in every sense of the word—it’s enjoyable to read and it’s not overdesigned like so many third-party books are.
(I’m not trying to be a design diva, but bad design is the number one thing keeping me away from third-party books. Even the biggest publishers can't seem to tell the difference between headline and type fonts, and I’m worn out from every page being cluttered with dagger-pointed subheads and art in the “margins” that takes up half the page. Design, layout, and font choices matter. One day I’ll finish my essay on why 3.0 Forgotten Realms was so much more readable than 3.5 Eberron. And I’m convinced the font was one of the reasons I could read page after page of 4e’s Underdark and The Plane Above and not recall a word.)
(It’s also clear that many publishers are making layout choices based on what they see on the screen but not looking hard enough at how it all prints out. Razor Coast, for instance, is a hell of a book—seriously impressive and worth getting in hardcover—but even so I’d swear it was meant to be read on a tablet, not on the page, based on how the leading looks on screen vs. in print.)
Speaking of Razor Coast, Coliseum Morpheuon operates in a similar fashion but on a much smaller scale. You get a setting, NPCs, and a strong overall plot, but you’re offered a choice of paths within that plot (courtesy of which benefactors your PCs attract and which interstitial encounters they stumble upon). It also adds some unique flavor and mechanics to the plane in terms of dreamburning—the ability to tap into your dreams/goals/hopes/aspirations (as well as those of your enemies—for extra power, but at a cost.
So your enjoyment of Coliseum Morpheuon largely depends on your engagement of all of the above. You have to want an adventure for high-level characters (16-20). You have to want to spend a lot of time on the Plane of Dreams—and not just on the Plane of Dreams in general, but alternately hobnobbing in the court of a lawful evil khan or fighting in the arena for the khan’s amusement. This last element is probably the strongest selling point—the NPCs are pretty unforgettable and could be adapted to any number of high-level campaigns, and the khan’s court and coliseum could easily be transplanted to the chaos of Limbo, the order of Hell, or any number of under-regulated neutral planes. If you want to flirt with Leng and Kadath without going the full Lovecraft, this is the book for you. If your big complaint about The Hunger Games is that there wasn’t a tarrasque, this is definitely the book for you.
That said, any time you marry terms like “third-party” and “labor of love,” along come their children “typos” and “how did you come up with that stat block?” and “too many callouts to other Rite Publishing books that aren’t explained.” (Wyrds for instance, play a role but are left almost entirely vague, and several of the included pregenerated characters have races like ironborn or jotun with zero explanation). I don't want to harp on that, though, because there are plenty of new spells/feats/etc. that are explained. And again: This is a readable third-party book! It seems to work as an adventure! I would show it to friends!
Can I recommend it? Not sight unseen, given the narrow audience it’s going for and all the narrative strictures I mentioned two paragraphs ago. But if you see it in your store, definitely give it a browse or consider getting the PDF. (Especially given that the Paizo Messageboards reviewers have slapped 5 stars on it.) If you’re really into planar adventures or mixing politics and combat in an evil NPC’s court, give it some serious thought. And if the notion of actually putting your hopes on the line to get a dice bonus appeals to you, or if you long to steal your enemy’s most cherished dream right out from under her nose, then this is your book. It truly does add something new to your game, and by taking dreams seriously it truly is doing something other settings simply aren’t. That’s a accomplishment for any book, third-party or no, and if you’re at the point in your collecting where that matters to you, Coliseum Morpheuon likely belongs on your shelf.