Thursday, August 6, 2015

Sloth & Tuatara

Bestiary 4 was not shy about filling its roster with entries from the Skull & Shackles Adventure Path, so it’s not surprising that B4’s familiars hail from either the South Seas during the 18th century or the sea that was Europe around 180 million years ago.  (150 years ago, actually, but why let facts get in the way of such satisfying sentence construction?)

So if Dr. Stephen Maturin can have a sloth (or at least he did until Jack and his sailors turned it into an alcoholic), surely your ship’s mage can too (especially for those tricky Climbing checks in the riggings).  And meanwhile, the survivalist (and Survival check bonus-granting) isolated-branch-of-the-evolutionary-tree tuatara is a great companion for spellcasters as singular and indomitable as it is (as Pathfinder iconic shaman Shardra Geltl is already demonstrating).

The third eye in cave tuataras is incredible evolved, helping them to see far into the ultraviolet spectrum.  They have also evolved to flee from—or when cornered, viciously attack—anything that reeks of goblin…including unfortunate adventurers who have fallen into a goblin midden.

The armies of Lich-King Vedim have swept across Tarrow.  What was a war between armies is now a resistance movement against an undead occupation.  For their safety a party of youths is sent to fosterage in the Elvish Isles by their well-to-do families, but during a hurricane their ship founders and the youths wash up on shore.  They have made it to the Isles…but after disturbing a nest of lizard-like tuataras and fighting off curious rhamphorhynchuses, it is clear that the fabled islands are nothing like the forests back home.

An investigator is told to beware the servants of Sloth—and seeing as his adventuring friends are already investigating a mountebank with a sloth familiar, it seems like a hot lead.  Thinks get hotter when the sloth turns out to be no familiar at all, but an awakened sloth with the ability to cast a cantrip or two.  Surely this is an open-and-shut case!  …And then a raiding party of slothspawn and charmed slaves ambush the party, neatly fulfilling the prophecy.

Pathfinder Bestiary 4 96–97

Today’s post goes out to all my rivethun readers.

Regarding yesterday’s post (where we touched on a magical version of the Crusades with a cameo from Hephaestus), an anonymous reader wrote:

That last seed is particularly interesting. I feel like the texture of a war between two monotheistic cultures would be very different when the creations of a polytheistic pantheon are acting as third-party suppliers. I don't imagine the political realities of the Crusades changing much, but the religious side has got to look pretty wonky. I have to imagine either side characterizing these slag giants in terms that make sense for their own religions, even if omniscient narration means we the audience know Hephaestus is real in this world.

Hey, thanks for the thoughtful response.  I’m definitely interested in those questions too—though of course it’s up to a GM to bring them to life.  (By the way, it’s no accident that the books that finally converted me to thinking that historical fantasy was cool were the books in the original Kushiel trilogy, where the gods and God—albeit a radically reconceptualized version of Him—are all considered equally real and their worship has real consequences.)

Also, you’ll notice my adventure seeds never say, “The PCs do x”—not once in over five years.  At most I say, “The adventurers” …or “An adventuring party.”  This is strategic, because I want you to be able to drop your group’s PCs into the action at any point and on the side of any (or none) of the pro/antagonists I write about. 

Similarly, I explicitly wrote that adventure seed so that PCs could join either (or neither) side in these fictional, magical Crusades.  When you start messing with real-world history, I think it’s important to make the fantasy versions as complicated and nuanced as the real versions, and offer players opportunities to partake in the action from as many viewpoints as possible.  (My time as a Vampire player, especially Dark Ages, really hit that home.)  I have rules within that framework—I’m never going to portray slaveholding sympathetically, for instance; see my entry on Cthulhu—but in the rare times I have explored fantasy Earths I hope all of my readers have felt fairly included and your backgrounds respected.

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