Nagas are already halfway dreamlike (or nightmarish) creatures. (We’re used to half-human, half-animal creatures—minotaurs, centaurs, harpies—but a snake with a human head? Who measured out the portions in that recipe?) Even the benevolent nagas have a remote, reptilian perspective, and they are often driven by odd obsessions, especially regarding relics or astrology or places of power. And their magic tends to lurk on the outskirts—they cast spells as sorcerers, are often described as witches, and some species can even pluck spells from the cleric spell list. Whatever naga traditions are, they are esoteric almost by definition.
So already we’re dealing with semi-occult creatures. Dream nagas go the whole way—not just studying the occult, but inhabiting it, slipping in and out of dreams as easily as a garter snake slipping through a fence. Sure they're beautiful, but that cobra’s hood reminds the viewer that beautiful can also mean deadly. And given than they “fly through dreamscapes in some unknowable plan to alter the destiny of the universe” (according to the Occult Bestiary), how you feel about them might depend on what side of that destiny you’re on.
Cut off by a rockfall, adventurers are trapped in a maze with a spirit naga. Meanwhile, in their dreams they are met one by one with a dream naga. Sometimes the naga’s advice in dreams helps them in their waking fight with the spirit naga; other times the advice seems to betray them. By the time the adventurers escape the underground labyrinth, it is no longer clear which snake-woman is more dangerous.
Where the cops employ diviners, criminals employ abjurers. Adventurers are sure a local crime lord is guilty of a brutal murder and kidnapping, but he’s far too well shielded to prove it. There might be a way around that, though, as they've heard that a naga fortuneteller in the market can actually see dreams (if the price is right, of course). In fact, she can do more than that…but she’s already in the crime lord’s employ.
A dream naga chases and devours an adventurer every night in her dreams—indeed, some nights when the adventurer sees her, the naga is still bloated with the adventurer’s digesting lucid body she swallowed only the night before. When questioned, the dream naga says only that she is “writing the destiny your mother wished for you.” What she means, and how it fits in with the dream naga race’s larger plans for the multiverse, is still a mystery.
—Occult Bestiary 35
Below is something I posted over on the Tumblr version of this blog. Since I want to get this out before midnight, this version may not have all the hyperlinks and bells and whistles of the original. If you’re feeling out of the loop, go read the full version here.
The Daily Bestiary Turns 5 Today
Five years ago, on a Monday night just like this one, I sat down on the loveseat in my living room, opened my laptop and my copy of the Pathfinder RPG Bestiary, and wrote three adventure seeds for the aasimar. Then I posted it on the brand-new Blogger page I’d created just for the occasion.
And it felt good. Really good. Great, even.
Actually, let’s go even further back for a second.
The plan—The Plan—when I was in grad school was that I would pay the bills teaching, write short stories or maybe even a novel some day, and submit articles to Dragon Magazine on the side. But The Plan went haywire pretty fast—in good ways and bad. I didn’t produce enough work in grad school, and the brutal world of being an adjunct professor and itinerant teacher whupped my ass. Then I stumbled into a career copywriting, and a job DJing professionally landed in my lap for a short while as well. Those things and a move to Baltimore were all seriously awesome…but they distracted me from ever revising the one article that the Dragon editors had given me encouragement on, and the next thing I knew the print magazine as I knew it had closed up shop. Meanwhile, I’d moved up to my state’s best ad firm (at least according to Adweek), and that was whupping my ass as well, with later nights and longer hours and general misery.
Fast-forward to 2011, and I started kicking ass back. But I still wasn’t writing for me—not short stories or novels or fantasy stuff.
The Plan was in shambles.
So to get myself moving again, I cast about for something to write about. In the summer of 2008 I’d mucked about writing a blog about demihuman subraces and other D&D-related stuff, but I needed something that was more manageable (those posts took forever to write) and (ideally) that other people might want to read.
That’s when I noticed that Pathfinder Adventure Path had dropped the adventure seeds from its back-of-the-book “Bestiary” entries. I had always loved that section’s unusual approach to monsters—the seeds rounded out the monsters’ characters and personalities, and there was always at least one nonintuitive, truly surprising seed among them. And yet now they were gone.
Huh, I thought. I bet I can do that.
And so on that Monday night I sat in my loveseat and did just that for the aasimar. On Tuesday I did the aboleth. Wednesday, the accuser devil. And then I kept going.
I don't think I was even a month in when Paizo announced Bestiary 3, adding at least a year or more to the project. Around the letter D I finally began to tell people on message boards about the blog. (Having already abandoned one blog, I hadn’t wanted an audience to see me fail during A or B.) A few months more I got to G and decided Tumblr was way better for shareability. So I started posting here…and 5,400+ of you guys later, the rest is history.
In the last five years, we’ve covered the Pathfinder RPG Bestiary, Bonus Bestiary, and Bestiary 2 completely. We’re basically done with Bestiary 3, 4, and the Inner Sea Bestiary as well, though I’ve got around a dozen monsters I need to go back and finish (including Dagon). I’ve also been lucky enough to correspond with you guys (and even meet some of you—props to anomalitstic and gojira-and-gaming!), some very special readers who shun the spotlight have shared with me their Dungeon Magazine collections (only 16 more issues to go!), and I’ve had both Paizo freelancers (especially Todd Stewart, though I know I’m missing some other folks) and staff (especially Wes Schneider and Adam Daigle) poke their heads in to offer their thoughts and kind words.
It’s been a lot of fun.
Now for some real talk: Since September of last year, my rate of posting has fallen off. The Daily Bestiary is not as daily as it once was. For that I’m sorry…and I’m not sorry.
Some of the change is less urgency—I’m not juggling two or even three hardcovers at a time anymore, just one and a softcover, so I don't have that constant drumbeat of pressure to finish. I’ve also been making a lot of changes to improve my life. I’ve moved my radio show to Tuesdays, freeing up my weekends for the first time since 2003. And I’m seeing a personal trainer again once a week. All these things are great, but they’ve cut into my weeknight blogging time significantly.
I’ve also been involved in supporting a loved one who has been living with a genetic disease for the past two and a half years. More entries than I can count have been composed hard against midnight with my hands still smelling like latex gloves from my latest hospital visit. And while in 2014 and 2015 keeping the blog going despite all the health events was a point of pride, in 2016 self-care has been a big deal. I love this blog, but I also love weekend trips together, and long walks, and losing at video games, and sleep, and friends, and reading, and doing chores, and a lot of other things that have become really precious to me. Some sunsets are worth skipping a monster for.
Plus there are other things I’d like to write, too. The blog was always meant to be for priming the pump and generating excitement for all the other parts of my life, not the thing that stresses me out. So I’ve been adjusting some priorities.
But don’t worry—five years in I still love this blog, I still love you guys, and I still plan to finish the Occult Bestiary and Bestiary 5. Thanks for your patience if it takes me longer than it should. I promise it’s for a good cause. (Even if that cause is, well, me.)
I also want to salute the people who have picked up this blog’s format and run with it on Tumblr. Whether you’re reading dailycharacteroption or wanderingmoonsword or dailyplanescape or thecreaturechronicle or dr-archeville or any of the others, they are all fun and creative people, and all of them have been super nice about pointing out the Daily Bestiary DNA in their makeup, the same way I’ve tried to point out the Dragon and Dungeon and Pathfinder and Bruce Heard and Roger Moore DNA in mine.
And their niceness is part of a larger phenomenon, which is you guys: the readers. You guys are the best. You are welcoming, you are encouraging, you like and reblog, you comment, and you keep it all fun to do. Literally, I’ve had to suffer maybe two snarky comments in five years. On today’s Internet, that’s unheard of. There is a lot of real awfulness out there in fandom right now—not just snark, but insults, flame wars, physical threats, and more -isms and -phobias than I can count. You all haven’t let that happen here, no matter where I’ve taken the conversation. Because you all are awesome. Thank you.
More monsters are on the way—maybe not daily, but often. More RPG book reviews and reminiscences are on the way. More radio shows are on the way. Hopefully I’ll even sit down and get my PaizoCon 2016 thoughts in order. And who knows what else? After all, there are an infinite number of worlds out there to explore.
Happy birthday, guys, and thanks for reading.