Tuesday, March 17, 2015


As much as I would love to write about a mythic tree monster named after a Saxon pagan symbol and containing a portal to another plane, it’s just not going to be in the cards.

Today the strap on my laptop broke, sending it clunking to the concrete floor of a parking garage and killing the display.

(I’d be kicking myself more—I noticed the strap was loose last night but didn’t do any serious surgery on it, so it’s my fault—but it was 5.25 years old, which is more than 131 in Mac years, and had already survived another such fall and a hard drive failure already (not to mention having an entire beer poured into it when it was only three months old).)

So I’m going to be on a reduced blogging schedule for about two weeks or so until my new Mac arrives.  Even when I do get to write these entries during downtime at work (which is always the goal), all the proofreading/hyperlinking/posting usually happens at home.  With a loved one in the hospital and an overweight body demanding gym time, more hours spent at work just aren’t an option.

Thanks for your patience, please enjoy the archive, and please, please reblog and share old entries to your heart’s content.  You’re how this blog grows. 

(Good places to start include this entry, which is as close to an FAQ as I have, this entry, where I talk about some of my favorite 3.5 books, this entry, the start of my clockwork world of Cognomon, and this entry, because Cthulhu.  And then there’s always this.  (If the feed skips, Save As an mp3.))

Monday, March 16, 2015


Hermit crabs wearing the shells of mollusks?  How passé!  Aberrant nautiluses driving around corpses as if they were zombie cars?  Now we’re talking!

Deep-sea dwellers are known for making the most out of the few nutrients that make it that far down, so maybe the incutilis is the next evolutionary step.  But obviously the aberration type hints that nautiluses may not be entirely natural, and the full ecology in Pathfinder Adventure Path #55: The Wormwood Mutiny hints of dark trenches and incutilises being sent to the world above.  Certainly if you wanted to tie them to gutaki or krakens (or the world’s oldest role-playing game’s mind flayers) you could.

One caution regarding the incutilis: Its puppetmaster ability is nasty; in fact it’s an instant kill if the PC is helpless.  That’s good for ratcheting up the intensity if that’s what you’re aiming for—particularly if you demonstrate how quickly an NPC is killed and converted first—but be aware certain combos could get deadly fast.  If the party saves badly, even single sleep spell or two could result in a TPK.  (Which can happen and is fine, but you want to be ready for it.)

Adventurers are pressed into naval service, but such an unlikely group catches the eye of an equally unlikely captain, landing them duty on a submersible.  Soon they are seeing more wonders than they could have imagined…until a pair of incutilises work their way into the ship via the bilge pumps.  If the adventurers turned novice sailors don't catch on soon, they’ll find the dimly lit ship has become a ghost ship almost overnight.

Exploring a volcanic island, adventurers come across a settlement in the central caldera.  The people here are kept like herd animals, allowed off the island only to hunt porpoises for their masters’ hunger (and always leaving a family member behind as a hostage).  Freeing the captive people will earn their undying thanks, a map to a lost aquatic elf hunting ground, and a song that supposedly will make a silver stairway into the sky appear if sung from the dormant volcano’s rim.

The city of Nosis was born of a utopian manifesto: “We think, therefore we are citizens.”  Of course, even a city where pixies are meant to rub shoulders with hobgoblins didn’t count on telepathic corpse-riding nautiluses.  Now a once riotous and chaotic city is eerily quiet after dark, as the homeless and habitual drunks have all disappeared.  Yet without witnesses, proving an incutilis actually murdered someone to get its corpse host is difficult.  (Speak with dead provides no answers if the victim was unconscious or taken by surprise.)  When a sage an adventuring party needs to consult winds up missing, they have to venture into Squid Close to find him—or his body—amid the silent shambling puppet corpses of the incutilises.

Pathfinder Adventure Path #55 84–85 & Pathfinder Bestiary 4 157

I avoided the pun Squid Row.  BUT IT WAS HARD.

Apparently the recently released module Plunder & Peril has an incutilis lord, but my copy hasn’t come in the mail yet. 

Pathfinder Adventure Path #55: The Wormwood Mutiny also gave us the tidepool dragon, which is totally adorable.

For another cautionary note about gameplay, check out demiurge1138’s critique of the hypnalis, which I’ve been meaning to flag for you.

Blown away by the response to Friday’s entry on the immortal ichor.  Thanks, all!

Saturday I played an hour of SxSW music and an hour of Irish music.  Like yah do.  My listeners made it very clear which they preferred.

Spoiler alert: They were not chillin' with the uilleann.

(I was a hair late, so the music starts about 80 seconds in.  If the feed skips, simply let it load, Save As an mp3, and listen in iTunes instead.  Link good till Friday, 3/20, at midnight.)

Friday, March 13, 2015

Immortal Ichor

PCs, take note: It’s always a bad thing when the ooze is more charismatic than you.  Not to mention stronger, tougher, smarter, and wiser.  In fact, unless you challenge an immortal ichor to a tightrope-walking challenge, stat for stat it will demolish the average PC.  Hell, it can even fly!

What sets the immortal ichor apart from the many other mind-controlling atrocities that dwell in the Realms Below is that it is an object of power in itself.  Like the One Ring or the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Tesseract, it has wants of its own and can manipulate people/events to achieve them…but at the same time other Powers are going to want it.  After all, if dragon scales make good magical armor and pixie dust can improve spellcasting, imagine what the blood of a god can do!

So the very sealed chambers and bespelled vessels that keep an immortal ichor from wreaking havoc on the world are also paradoxically what protect it.  Once an immortal ichor gets loose, events are inexorably set into motion—either the ichor will attempt to claim its divine bloodright or it will be claimed in turn.

The Amaranthine Heart believes the world was destroyed.  The little the immortal ichor “remembers” of its life as a god is the moment a mountainous chunk of moon slammed into it, while behind it the sky burned.  In reality, the Amaranthine Heart is little more than a divine clot.  (And the cataclysm it remembers is one the god it came from caused.)  Blood from the crushed god’s body dripped into the deepest chasms of the earth, and there it has spent its time “saving the last remnants of existence” by creating a slave nation of troglodytes, mongrelmen, and strange aberrations.  Upon encountering surface dwellers, the Heart will be stunned, exultant…and then furious at having been “forgotten,” “made a fool of,” and “left to reign over a kingdom of wretches.”  Unless the surface-dwelling adventurers stop it, the immortal ichor will head straight to the surface to claim its rightful place as a god.

Known as the Sky Butchers and the Shrikes, the Lanian fleet rules the skies.  The secret to their capital airships’ design is that each is powered by a trapped immortal ichor.  When for the first time in history one of their carriers crashes, the immortal ichor gets loose and begins to set up a kingdom within the crashed hulk.  The immortal ichor is also a clue to a mystery: The act of procuring divine blood for her mortal patrons—either her own or her rivals—is what has turned the formerly benevolent and wise Lanian patron goddess into a weak, vile, and impulsive shell of her former divine self.

A desperate immortal ichor recruits adventurers to protect it.  Through its agents, it has discovered a humbaba is searching for it, planning to alchemically reduce it down to an ambrosia that will make the monstrous humanoid divine.  The ooze is terrified it cannot fight off the stronger demonspawn and begs for protection.  The party must weigh the risk of a Colossal monstrous humanoid scion of Pazuzu becoming a god versus allying themselves with an evil sludge that (for all its Wisdom) may not be able to resist its instinctual drive to dominate or devour its own allies.

Pathfinder Bestiary 4 156

It’s unclear whether the immortal ichor needs to eat—after all, it’s immortal (duh) and it doesn't have the usual growing/dividing rules of more ravenous monsters.  And anyway it’s more in the habit of dominating its victims rather than engulfing them.  (Hell, that would just eat away their flesh, and nobody likes a juju skeleton when they can have a juju zombie.)  That said…I like it when oozes eat people.  And if you were a divine essence stripped of your immortal body and soul…wouldn’t you be down for a nosh on occasion?

If you’re looking for the immense tortoise, we covered that a few weeks ago.

Thursday, March 12, 2015


Traveling in arctic climes is risky business.  Add the ijiraq, a fey shapeshifter whose gaze is so disorienting it causes a –20 to DC checks, and it can get downright deadly. 

The prime read on ijiraqs is that they are spirits of the untrammeled wilderness, dedicated to keeping their homes free from the taint of humanoid life.  They are also spirits of the dislocation that wilderness causes, especially at night, in foul weather, or because of optical illusions—the wild’s ability to make one lost even on familiar trails or in sight of home.

But we’ve also talked before about the arctic as a Lovecraftian place (most notably in the “Yeti” entry), where the North Pole really isn’t the most northerly or distant point, once other realms and non-Euclidean geometries are taken into account.  So another read on ijiraqs is that by keeping men out, they also keep certain eldritch creatures at bay and prevent men from bringing anything back with them…or in them…to the civilized world—even knowledge.  Because in a Lovecraftian universe, intent doesn’t matter, or purity of heart, or anything else.  Even merely seeing the things from the other side of reality is to become tainted…and as guardians of this world’s purity, an ijiraq cannot allow that taint to spread.

Half-Step is a club-footed ijiraq feared by the local Tara elves—even wolf shape is no defense against his disorienting gaze.  The castle-building Valan scoffed until they too began losing whole guard patrols and fishing expeditions to his influence.  Half-Step is kind to lost children, though, in his way—curing their wounds and sheltering them from the elements after their parents have become hopelessly lost.  These children sometimes return to civilization months or even years later sporting ice-blue hair and wearing reindeer pelts.  (Treat as changelings with the Mist Child alternate racial trait (see the Advanced Race Guide).  If they take the Mother’s Gift feat, they may only choose Hag Claws (Ex).)

Adventurers trying to sneak through Faerie through the domain of Winter run afoul of an ijiraq.  Ordinarily it would just allow them to get lost—Faerie’s paths are good for that—but it senses the presence of a dangerous artifact on one of their persons.  The artifact, a scarab, has ties to Leng, prompting the ijiraq to risk a close encounter in hopes of retrieving and destroying the pendant.

Stories of jackalopes, pookas, and pugwampis sometimes obscure a more insidious danger—a rare desert-dwelling variety of ijiraq.  These pronghorn skull-wearing fey are nearly identical to their arctic kin but seek to preserve the sanctity of their barren deserts, buttes, and mesas.  Instead of ice storm they cast sirocco (but only twice a day instead of three times; see the Advanced Player’s Guide) and their sleet storm is a driving spring rain that turns the ground muddy and treacherous.

Pathfinder Bestiary 4 155

One real-world explanation for this Inuit spirit is the presence of pockets of disorienting hydrogen sulphide.  If you’re looking to advance the ijiraq by a few Hit Dice, a poisonous breath attack or cloudkill ability wouldn’t be a bad way to go.

Do I use a hyphen or an en dash to represent “minus 20”?  These are the things that keep me up all night.  (Also, it’s an en dash.  I know this because I cut-and-pasted it from the PRD to check.  This blog does not f— around.  …Which it takes me an em dash to not say.)

Wednesday, March 11, 2015


Apparently the hypnalis wriggled into a brief mention in medieval bestiaries.  In our not-so-medieval bestiary (4 to be precise) it is the ether serpent, an intelligent, man-sized flying cobra that can shift between the Ethereal and Material Planes at will, and whose bite can force creatures back into the Material.

This last part is important, because hypnalises resent intrusions into their misty plane.  Bestiary 4 details the various ways that ether snakes deal with interlopers, depending on each hypnalis’s age and particular temperament.  Just why they behave this way is an interesting question, and may be tied in with whatever you imagine the hypnalis race’s origins to be…

The great serpentfolk kingdoms didn’t fall.  They retreated into the Ethereal Plane.  There they specially bred giant snakes and serus (see the Monster Codex) infused with magic to create a race that would both protect their secret and ward off the plane’s native inhabitants.  (While phase spiders, xills, and the like can jump planes freely, they don’t enjoy the forced trip nor the Con damage any more than PCs do.)  Adventurers who face a nest of hypnalises may be on the verge of discovering a new and terrifying nation of snake-priests.

Ether snakes are the Ethereal Plane’s immune system.  When material creatures spend too long on the mist-shrouded plane, their presences begin to glow like beacons in hypnalis sensory pits.  When adventurers need to make an extended stay on the Ethereal to find the victims of a xill abduction, they must first find a way to deal with the snakes.  At least one wizard has managed to befriend the phasing reptiles enough to make his home on the Ethereal, and his tower is not far…

On the world of Maka, the Ethereal is less a plane than a fence, a band dividing the Material Realm and the Spirit World.  The way between the two realms used to be porous, but three generations ago the People lost the ability to naturally step between the planes.  The borders of the Ethereal began to stretch farther and farther apart…and the hypnalises arrived.  The snakes seem eager to mock the People before they attack, and hint at being the vanguard of a far greater effort.  Recent reports of ethereal mi-go seem to suggest that the snakes are telling the truth.

Pathfinder Bestiary 4 154

Maka is apparently Sioux for “earth.”

I’m finally getting around to dropping my fussy “the” that I usually include with mentions of the numbered Bestiaries.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015


Okay, it’s time for me to gush about the hyakume.  Ready?  Ahem:

How cool is this thing?!? 

A corpulent blob of eyes and fat rolls strolling down the nighttime streets?  That sends disembodied floating eyes to follow characters around?  Floating eyes that can even drain memories?  (Not to be crude, but that sound you just heard off in the distance was Ed Greenwood having what the Brits term “a crisis.”)  And while it prefers to work from the shadows, should PCs corner one it can fell them with a blast of ice, sound, or a monk’s quivering palm attack.  How is this not in your campaign already?!?

(Well, maybe it is.  But it’s never been in a campaign I’ve been in, and it needs to be.)

And what is a hyakume enclave like?  Are they organized crime lords?  Mystic evil friars?  The secret masters of the city?  Pathfinder doesn’t have beholders or mind flayers—are hyakumes the replacements we’ve been looking for?  All signs point to “Yes.”  (As creepy as neothelids/seugathi are, their lack of humanoid aspect holds them back somewhat in the ol’ “looks evocative” department.  And urdefhans’ habit of worshipping oblivion is always going to make their recruitment efforts difficult.) 

If I have one quibble with hyakumes, it’s that they’re slightly too powerful for many campaigns—if they were CR 10 or CR 12, you could give them more face time with PCs and tweak them more easily with class levels and whatnot.  But that’s like complaining that the girl from Girl with a Pearl Earring should have thought about gauges instead.  These blobs of fat and eyeballs are one part Miyazaki fairy tale and one part body horror manga, and I love every ounce of them.

The Monster Parade is famous throughout the four realms.  Occurring once a season, always on the night of a new moon, kappas, fey, and yokai of all sorts march through the streets of Tomori, bearing lanterns to keep the dark away.  The strange sight is beloved by locals and travelers alike as a gift from the Underworld.  In reality, the tradition is a brilliant scheme by one of the stars of the Parade, the hyakume Father Eyes.  Thanks to the Parade he is able to hide in plain sight, sending his eyes off on mysterious missions and memorizing the faces of future memory victims.

A hyakume keeps oni and other fell spirits out of his city in the most efficient way possible: devil retainers, bound into service through carefully collected memories of truenames, words of binding, and the truths behind old betrayals.  But when one of his devils breaks free of his control, to be followed by reports of demons and an atamahuta (see Pathfinder Adventure Path #51: The Hungry Storm) running loose in the Lower Dens, the hyakume knows something must be done.  Through intermediaries he recruits adventurers to clean up the errant outsiders.  But when it turns out the incidents are all connected in one plot, the adventurers inevitably discover who the target of the plot was.  While grateful for their help, the hyakume nevertheless deems it prudent to have them killed to secure their silence.

An enclave of hyakumes runs the Evanescent Repository, a library for memories.  So respected is the collection that even viduus psychopomps and bishop agathions visit to consult particularly fine recollections.  The hyakume are shy nocturnal creatures that try to avoid conflict, but in their greed for memories they will occasionally abduct and even murder to claim a thought they need.  Adventurers who try to confront the enclave will have to defeat the Repository’s many guardians, talk or fight their way past the visiting scholars, and discern the hyakume librarians from the corpulent, many-eyed roper guardians who look almost indistinguishable from their hyakume masters.

Pathfinder Bestiary 4 153

Monday, March 9, 2015

Hungry Flesh

It’s always impressive when a late-Bestiary monster makes it into the top tier.  Typically this is because a monster just perfectly fills an empty niche or fixes some glaring oversight.  For instance, take the draugr.  Almost the second it was introduced, all talk of lacedons went out the window; the draugr has been our aquatic undead of choice in Pathfinder ever since.  And the Bestiary 4’s hungry flesh is already making waves in the same way…if  by “waves” you mean the “quivering […] tumorous flesh.” 

There’s just something forehead-slappingly obvious about it…as in, what’s taken us so long to get one of these?  And they’re just so flexible.  Need a failed alchemist’s experiment?  Hungry flesh.  A fleshwarp that didn’t hold?  Hungry flesh.  A rakshasa or oni who gave himself over too much to pleasures of the mortal realm?  Hungry flesh.  The immune system inside a dead titan?  Hungry flesh.  An infection on a biomechanical voidship?  Hungry flesh.  Troll afterbirth?  Hungry flesh.  Avatar of a spirit of cannibalism?  Hungry flesh.  A pile of animate hungry flesh?  Let me think…now, I’m just spitballin’ here…buuuttt…how about oh I dunno HUNGRY FLESH?!?

It doesn't hurt that it so easily scales up to Gargantuan size to face down tougher PCs.  And its monstrous growth and tumor infestation abilities are perfect for disposing of a few redshirts. 

Speaking of which…

There’s always that player.  Usually he’s someone who cut his teeth on 1e AD&D and fondly remembers the days when you got a whole retinue of followers just for hitting the right level (often appearing out of nowhere just when they were most useful, like Brother Maynard in Holy Grail).  Or it’s a tactically minded new player who reads all the hardcovers and realizes that for a handful of gems he can bring a literal army of literal spear-carriers into the dungeon.  (My own group apparently took advantage of my paladin’s absence—I was in Australia—to blitz their way through a dungeon using my Kingmaker citizens as death knell fodder.  Bastards.)

This time, let that player have all the NPCs and followers he (it’s always a he) wants.  Let him hire litter-bearers and apothecaries galore.  And then once the party is deep, deep, deep in the dungeon, with that army of redshirts between them and the exit, have a cluster of hungry fleshes arrive to snack on the redshirts.  Extra points if they’re hasted.

You're welcome.

Okay, alchemy schmalchemy.  Today’s adventures seeds ditch the usual hungry flesh origin story for more bizarre geneses:

When monks of the Claw of the Becoming Tiger deem themselves to have achieved enlightenment, they go through a secret ceremony, the Rendering, which flenses the flesh from their bodies and sheathes their bones in metal, leaving them as bronze-clad skeletal champions (see the Advanced Bestiary).  Immortality of bone and spirit does not end the hunger of the body, however, and the starving remains survive in the monastery’s deepest cellar as ravenous hungry fleshes.

The annis hag known as Agony Annie recently fell victim to one of her own traps.  But her decades of depravity still taint every aspect of her remote cottage.  Spells to make the dough rise and keep her victims fat turned the last orphan-meat pie she left cooling in her oven into a hungry flesh that boils out to attack intruders.  Meanwhile, the many maids she starved to death with overwork survive as a haunt that cripples interlopers with weakness just as the hungry flesh strikes.

The troll gods are barely gods at all—more like inchoate manifestations of primal concepts like Fire, Hunger, Fear, Desire, and so forth.  Gord the Hunger is the most fully realized, having devoured and partially digested several divine powers before he was forced to regurgitate them, included the ogre deity Vormus and the kobold trickster twins who managed to trap Vormus in his own cauldron in the first place.  Suffused with his sense of giantish pride (for only a giant god could eat another god, he reasons) Gord rejects all other humanoid worshippers.  Should a non-troll or non-giant divine caster grow powerful enough in his service that he notices her prayers (typically when she attempts to cast her first 3rd-level spell), he spontaneously transforms her into a Huge hungry flesh to teach her what appetite is all about.

Pathfinder Bestiary 4 152

Baroness Ahleah, paladin of Iomedae, will have her revenge on behalf of her lost men.

My conception of troll religion is one part D&D Gazetteer series and one part David Eddings’s Elenium.

Now tonight was a hell of RuPaul’s Drag Race episode.  I am determined to have you all converted by the end of the season.  The Venn diagram union of RuPaul-watching indie rocker Pathfinder players has to be bigger than just me.

Saturday’s radio show started with Mary Lou Lord and only got better from there, including just-released Iron & Wine archival songs, a salute to Ex Cops as they take on McDonald’s (#slownewsday my ass), and some lovely Lady Lamb.  Listen or download it here.

(Link good till Friday, 3/13, at midnight.  If the feed skips, or if you want to keep it forever, Save As an mp3.)

Friday, March 6, 2015


When that nice young shepherdess you meet accidentally reveals that it’s not her dress that’s backless, it’s her back…then you know you’re dealing with a huldra.  Oh, and her tail can literally slap you ugly.  Good times!

There should be an easy thematic link to make about a huldra’s emptiness and the fleetingness/hollowness of chasing beauty and sexual gratification.  And many of the stories about huldras do run that way—fairy tale morality doe not tend toward subtlety.  But there are also plenty of stories of huldras who are truly loving and who reward strangers for politeness and kind acts—there’s one such huldra in the Reign of Winter Adventure Path, in fact—so they can’t all be stereotyped so easily.  In other words, as with most fey, approach with caution but do not dare to presume too much.

Here’s another neat thing: Huldras seem to hold charcoal burners in special regard.  Why?  In our world, who knows?  But in Pathfinder it makes perfect sense, because charcoal is so useful for making sure practically everyone can stoke a fire to drive off trolls!  Isn’t it nice when real-life fluff and in-game fluff come together?

One of the charcoal burners stole a substantial amount of money from a traveler.  The collier hid the stolen coins in a clay jug and buried it in one of his charcoal pits, intending to retrieve it later.  When adventurers come to question the man about the theft, his huldra lover attempts to seduce or charm them away.  Meanwhile, an azer slave has discovered the jug in the ashes and seeks to use the money to buy his freedom.

A woman comes into the tavern on a winter night and begins to eat.  And eat.  And eat.  At first she is charming and the men (and women) are happy to share from their plates.  But soon she is demanding more and more. People begin to watch in disgust—it is winter and stores are meant to be parceled out judiciously—and then in horror as the half-chewed meals begin to fall out of the woman’s back.  She is a huldra with an obscene appetite for food rather than sex.  When the bartender tries to cut her off, she lashes him into ugliness with her tail and then begins to devour him in front of her shocked audience.  And then she turns to the rest of the room, licking her lips…

Lady Huriko wears not just one disguise, but two.  To the outside world, she is a respected geisha, the young consort of an elderly daimyo.  To her future husband (and a few eavesdropping servants), she is a kitsune sent by the Forest Spirit as a reward for his wise rule.  In truth, she is a fox-tailed huldra who has successfully hidden her true nature from all.  She plans to murder the daimyo and rule in his place just as soon as they are married.  Her impatience is beginning to show, however, which may tip off observant adventurers.

Lands of the Linnorm Kings 59 & Pathfinder Bestiary 4 151

By the way, personally I like my huldra with a cow’s tail, not a fox’s, for the simple reason that we already have plenty of fox-tailed monsters out there, the kitsune being foremost among them.  Fox-tailed huldras aren’t incorrect—it’s a totally acceptable variant—but I still think it smacks of Harpy Syndrome.

(Are any of you TV Tropes editors?  I want to know if there’s another name for Harpy Syndrome…and if not, I want to add it to the list.  #immortality)

Charcoal burning is one of those weird old-timey professions I think we forget existed—I know I’d never heard of them until recently.  I think most of us by now have run into our share of fletchers and coopers—both in-game and at places like Colonial Williamsburg and Renaissance festivals—but it’s the lamplighters, charcoal burners, catchpoles, broom-dashers, grinders, and pissprophets that grab my interest.  (I also spent a lot of time in college thinking about Aghori and Kāpālikas as liminal figures straddling the sacred and profane realms, so anyone who spends a lot of time around smoldering embers and ash has my attention…)

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Host Devil

Tired of the heavenly host having all the fun?  Here are the host devils!  Introduced as the gaav, the lesser host devil, and magaav, the greater host devil, in Book of the Damned–Vol. 1: Princes of Darkness, it’s the magaav that got the coveted hardcover treatment.

Host devils are for when Hell has given up being subtle.  When an important soul, treasure, or intended sacrifice slips through a major devil’s fingers and his infiltrators and persuaders can’t do the job, maybe a flying column of noxious-breathed four-winged nightmares will. 

The host devil stat block lists its organization as “solitary, pair, or flock (2–6),” but honestly if you’re seeing less than four of these creatures someone messed up, because these things are all about strength in numbers.  With shared sense they can act with one mind, and they use this ability to devastating effect in combat: flanking, grappling, bull-rushing, etc.

The people of Icaria aren’t angels, not really.  But long ago they combined the teachings of a swan maiden with their own clockwork tinkerings to create magimechanical wings that nearly all the citizens wear (not unlike gathlains and their symbiotic plants).  When adventurers come to the famous floating city, they arrive just in time to see it attacked by host devils.  To rescue Icaria, they need to get the object of the devils’ search, a young girl, away from the island.  But that means strapping on magimechanical wings they’ve never used and out-flying the grappling arms of host devils who all share the same thoughts and can turn on a denarius.

Moving a certain idol out of position releases a host devil.  If the idol remains out of position long enough (3 rounds) another host devil is conjured, until a full flock of six has arrived.  As each devil appears, it first attempts to summon one of its kin, then begins to move eerily in sync with the other devils to attack.  Should the battle turn against the devils, one of them shatters a magical orb, granting the original devil mirror image to further confuse the battlefield.

Known as a naturalist whose letters on avians are more widely read than his epistles, a priest asks adventurers to accompany him on a bird-watching trip—“To see a murmuration of starlings, essentially…coordinated flock behavior at its finest,” he says.  Despite being on the side of the angels—literally—the priest is not telling the whole story.  They are going to travel to one of the borders of the Abyss, were host devils whirl through the shattered sky in perfect unison.  The priest is a spy for the Heavenly Choir, gathering intelligence for a coming battle.

—Book of the Damned–Vol 1: Princes of Darkness 58–59 & Bestiary 4 53

Also note that flies are drawn to these guys…perfect for whatever analogue of Baalzebul/Beelzebub/the Lord of the Flies is active in your campaign.

Sigh.  Put out a two-hour radio show, week in, week out, and Tumblr doesn’t bat an eye.  Mention Hastur and fail to mention True Detective or the saga of one crazy guy in a single Cthulhu campaign—not even Call of Cthulhu, mind you, but Trail—and man did all 2,600 of you have something to say about it!

I kid, I kid!  And actually the tale of Henderson has thoroughly enriched my life—thank you all!  That said, now I know how Linkara got the way he is.  (“This monster SUCKS!”)

Wednesday, March 4, 2015


Hastur.  Our final Great Old One from the Bestiary 4. Assuming, that is, that he actually is a Great Old One, since there’s evidence that his King in Yellow manifestation is actually just an avatar of a greater Hastur who is an Outer God.  So the short version is that he’s seriously bad news.

I won't even get into Hastur’s origins, since we have Wikipedia for that.  Suffice it to say that Hastur/the King in Yellow goes all the way back to Ambrose Bierce and especially Robert W. Chambers in the 1890s.  Practically a meme from the beginning—think Slender Man for the literary set—he’s found his way into works from Lovecraft and Derleth to Stephen King to The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun and Dungeon magazine (Matthew Hope’s “And Madness Followed”).  And where he goes, the Yellow Sign follows—and with it, madness.

Hastur is by far the most flexible and utilitarian (in a good way) of the published Great Old Ones.  Bokrug is fine as a final boss monster in terms of statistics, but you’ll have to do a lot of work to build him up, as he’s not exactly a marquee name.  (He’s not even evil!)  Cthulhu is a problem on the opposite end of the scale—once you open that box, it’s open.  With all his baggage, once your players know they’re facing Cthulhu you’re playing a different kind of Pathfinder.  (One might even argue you’re playing…oh, I dunno, Call of Cthulhu.)  And once you’ve invoked Cthulhu you pretty much have to end with a really nasty Big Bad—a supremely powerful cultist or one of his CR 20 star-spawn, if not the Dreamer in the Deep himself.

But Hastur…  Well, the Yellow Sign has cropped up throughout the multiverse.  PCs might face Hastur’s minions once and never again.  Or, drawn to the chaos surrounding them, the King in Yellow himself might interpose in their final adventure, as one great penultimate hurdle, one last complicated surprise to be tamped down before the party can face their final foe. 

Yet at the same time, if you want a Great Old One to be in you game from Day One, there’s no better place to start than with Hastur.  In their first adventure, PCs find strange yellow glyphs in the bad guy’s lair.  As they progress in levels, they occasionally spot golden graffiti whose meaning eludes them.  The Sign pops up again at the asylum they clean out, then at the opera, then at the club for decadent nobles.  And soon they’re battling serious monsters, serious cultists, serious creatures from other worlds/stars/times/realities…and then finally the King in Yellow himself.  And gods forgive them if they touch his tattered robes…

Adventurers find themselves compelled to collect the pieces of an opera—a work of music, text, dance, and stagecraft that seems to promise great rewards.  Only as the publication date of the collected work nears does the dark nature of the manuscript begin to reveal itself.  Now the adventurers race against time—not to mention the aeons and inevitables who accuse the party of having threatened reality, and the proteans who want to devour the world—to stop the work from being published.  If the opera is performed, Hastur will enter this world—and the more complete the preparations have been, the greater his power will be.

Plane-hopping adventurers flee the Plateau of Leng and its monstrous denizens only to arrive at the shores of the Lake of Hali on Carcosa.  Populated by chaotic divs and azi, the cities of this place seem to crumble as the adventurers watch, then spring to life behind them.  Eventually, they meet the only true humanoids in this place—the Wizards in Marigold—who welcome them (and then trap them) in their sprawling complex, assuring them that the Master will be coming soon and that he longs to meet them face-to-face.

In the early Middle Ages, Charlemagne and his knights save the Pope from being torn apart by Romans driven mad by the Yellow Sign.  In the 1600s, Cardinal Richelieu’s rule is autocratic and sometimes cruel for a reason: Only he knows the House of Bourbon has given itself over to Hastur.  (Indeed, even the gold fleur-de-lis of France’s heraldry is a sanitized nod to Hastur’s influence.)  And on the barricades of New Eiffel in 2400, young technomancers and cyberberserks battle the morlock thralls and robot servitors of the Carcosan invaders.  Roughly every 800 years, Hastur threatens to destroy France…and now adventurers from three eras in history will unite to take the fight to Hastur’s mad home.

Pathfinder Bestiary 4 140–141

Tharizdun is not quite Hastur (for one thing, he’s more elemental-y or Far Realm-y or Abyss-y, depending on the edition), but he’s also not not Hastur.  In other words, it’s up to you.

Hastur is also the only Medium published Great Old One, meaning he’s a terrifying threat that doesn't have to level buildings to destroy the world.

Back when I did my big countdown of the D&D 3.0/3.5 books I thought every Pathfinder GM should have, I put the Book of Vile Darkness at #1.  I go back and forth over whether that was the right call, but if you’ve got Hastur in your game, it’s a must.  From feats like Dark Speech to rules for sadism and masochism to some really nasty Vile spells, there is no better was to portray a cult of decadent nobles and actors who are inexorably giving themselves over to evil.

Once again, apologies for the incompleteness (for Tumblr readers) or flat-out absence (for Blogger readers) of yesterday’s post.  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 full entry is now up on both sites.

(I probably can’t get away with too much sad violin music, because the work function was going to see the touring production of Chicago and then being lucky enough to go to the cast party afterwards.  My life is hard sometimes. For you theater/TV geeks out there, I did not meet John O’Hurley (Seinfeld’s J. Peterman), but he was great in the show.)