Wednesday, March 30, 2016


Cytillesh is a mold from Pathfinder’s Golarion setting, a poisonous fungus that boosts brainpower and longevity while causing birth defects and insanity.  Derros being derros, this is a trade-off they're quite willing to make, and the glowing blue fungus features in many of their mad experiments. 

Of these sick lab protocols, cytillipedes are a rare success: Large magical beasts (their Int 6 score being far too high for mere vermin) covered in glowing fungus that they can flash in a disorienting manner.  Naturally, derros are immune to the cytillipedes’ flash and poison, and they use the creatures as guard and mounts.

So how do we make the cytillipede interesting?  Well, when a monster is part of a natural pair…remove the other half of the pair.  Here are three options for derro-less cytillipedes:

Adventurers cross into the Green World.  There in the misty faerie borderlands, glitter gnomes cling to the fey natures denied the rest of their gnome cousins.  (Treat them as gnomes with the fey creature template.)  A diet of hallucinogenic and even poisonous fungi helps keep the Small Folk in the Green World and gives them their luminescent hair and eyes but saps their constitution as well.  Moreover, glitter gnomes must always be on watch for cytillipedes, who are both quite intelligent and happy to prey on fey and mortal alike.

Aquatic cytillipedes (add swim 40 ft. to their stat block) live in the deepest seas where little light shines.  They attempt to immobilize prey with their stunning flashes—a highly effective tactic in the black water.  The flashes also tend to attract giant anglerfish and other aquatic predators, eager for their share of stunned meat.

Adventures fight through the bowels of a Gormlish Render Cube, where androids and humanoids are flensed alive for their biomechanical data.  Along the way the adventurers must fight swarms of flashing cyanopedes that skitter through the sewer-like ducts, conveying information and devouring organic infections as they go.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 65

The Green World is also a Dar Williams album I highly recommend.

Yes, I know it's been a while, and I should be well into the letter D or even E right now.  Birthday plus hospital duties plus Easter travels plus this week’s launch of Light City kept me far away from my computer and game books.  (I did buy more books, though—I’ll post pics soon.)  Again thank you, thank you, thank you for your patience.

And if you live anywhere near Baltimore you really should check out Light City this week.  I would be heading to a DJ set by Rob Garza of Thievery Corporation right now if I weren’t about to fall asleep on my feet.

Last night’s radio show was the kind of show you get when your boss keeps you at work writing scripts till 8:30 at night—pretty much totally unplanned and utterly free-form.  Reader/listener bootchieahah wrote in to say, “Those are the most fun shows to do, right?”  Damn right…if a tad scattered.  You can be the judge here.

(Link good till Monday, 4/4, at midnight.  If you have any trouble with the stream, just click the link and Save As an mp3.)

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Cursed King

I don't envy game designers who get assigned undead, particular in a latter-day creature collection.  Once you’ve covered the basic archetypes—skeleton, zombie, vampire, etc.—and then hit the deep cuts and specialized variants—bodak, dullahan, juju zombie—I imagine it’s easy to feel boxed in.  By the time you get to a third or fourth collection, even international haunts like the manananggal are largely played out.

That’s why I’ve been so impressed with the Bestiary 5 undead we’ve seen so far.  By and large, they've managed to feel very fresh and delivered fun abilities to try at the gaming table—no mean feat after five volumes.  The bone ship is ridiculous but also ridiculously cool in the right adventure, the caller in darkness leverages the new psychic magic rules, and the crone queen risks being basic but supplies an undeniably useful build, combining a witch’s hexes with a suite of cold powers.  These are all good monsters, all the more so more showing up in a book with 5 on the cover.

Which brings us to the cursed king.  This is such a smart monster, and one that is so well concepted that after you read its entry, its creation seems inevitable—“Of course there should be a monster like that”—but that feeling of inevitability actually obscures the labor that went into it.  (For another example, a lot of Decemberists songs do the same thing—they skip right from “I don't know that song” to “I’ve always known that song” with no in-between period.)  The animal-headed gods of Egypt are truly iconic—so much so that many designers lift them wholesale for their campaigns without even a name change—but they’ve almost never been mined for monster inspiration before.  (Mystara’s jackal-headed Hutaakans are a rare exception.)  So in hindsight, it makes forehead-slappingly obvious sense to come up with an animal-headed mummy variant.  And yeah, the Demanding Aura (Su) and Berserk (Ex) abilities makes sense too. 

But the fact that these animal-headed mummies are created as horrible punishments for usurpers and false prophets?  That’s some nice flavor.  And Bestial Curse (Su)—if you kill a cursed king, you risk being baleful polymorphed into the animal whose head the mummy worse?  That’s just genius.  That’s just right.  It seems so obvious now…but someone had to think of it first.

Adventurers are raiding the tomb of the Pharaoh of Sunrise when they are confronted by guardian undead, including a crocodile-headed cursed king.  However, the spirit that animates the cursed king—formerly the pharaoh’s treacherous vizier—is dangerously close to going berserk.  If it does, it will begin smashing adversaries, allies, and canopic jars with equal ferocity.  Worse still, the four jars that contain the Pharaoh of Sunrise’s organs are in the room, and if they are smashed eternal night will fall over the kingdom.  Apparently the pharaoh’s title was no mere honorific…

The Queen of Cats takes care of her heralds.  Not only do they have nine lives, but each of their nine corpses also reanimates as a cat-headed cursed king.  There is a story that the assassins who struck down Queen Angela’s astrologer (and consort) did not know they were murdering the Feline Lady’s beloved as well.  The rogues were tracked down the very next night by the astrologer’s corpse, now wearing the face of a Wayangese.  Even those who survived the fell undead’s assault did not survive wearing their original bodies…

In Caerduwin, everyone has a familiar.  Tied to the person’s soul, the animal presents itself sometime during adolescence and remains by her master’s side for life.  Caerduwin criminals who earn the death penalty are buried with their familiar’s head swapped for their own.  This terrible fate explains much about Caerduwin’s low crime rate, but those criminals who are so executed and interred often rest uneasy in the grave, returning as cursed kings to haunt the barrowlands.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 63

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! And 5,000 thank-yous to everyone who helped me reach 5,000 followers on Tumblr.  You guys are the best.  Thank you, every one of you.

Monday, March 14, 2016


At first, cueros appear to be just another fantasy batoid species.  But with their relatively high intelligence (Int 6, well within human range) and the ability to speak Aklo, it’s clear that something more is going on here.  Such scores put them in the company of cloakers and trappers (the mature form of female lurking rays).  In fact, cueros may even be degenerate cloakers, having lost some of their power when not in the Shadow-energy-bathed subterranean realms.  (Actually, in the Golarion setting the opposite is likely true: cueros were probably the original stock from which the aboleths created cloakers.)

In any case, cueros are riverbank hunters, ambush predators, and potential moon worshippers.  They may not have magic or the malice of their cloaker kin, but they make river travel in the tropics—already plagued by disease, piranhas, alligators, and drakes—still that much more dangerous.

Cueros have a taste for ungulates…and centaurs.  After the death of a foal, a centaur tribe is desperate for revenge, but with the monsoon season in full swing, there is too much danger from quicksand, flooding, and the cueros themselves for the horsefolk to organize a counterstrike.  Adventurers who aid the tribe will find their next few quests free of wandering monsters, as they are discreetly shadowed by centaur rangers who see that they remain unmolested.

An augury to seek “the prayerful ones who swim like bats and call to the moon” leads eventually to a tropical lagoon filled with cueros.  Diving into the right tide pool on the solstice or the equinox leads adventurers to a silver city on the moon populated by cloakers and a half-mad and truly tarnished silver dragon.

Since the death of Dyana Foss at the hands of charau-ka, scholars and field researchers once again begin employing adventurers on a regular basis to protect expeditions. National Geographick hires a party of adventurers to accompany a top loremaster into the Amazon to study the mysterious one-eyed, one-armed, and one-legged fachens.  There is the usual run-in with skum at the port—Brazil has long been aboleth country—but the adventurers don’t really get a taste of what a dangerous task they've undertaken until they are attacked by a pack of cueros not even one day out of Manaus.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 62

Last week I got zero useful hits when I searched for this monster, but this week I’m getting directed to all kinds of South American cryptid sites.  Google is weird. 

By the way, “cuero” apparently means leather, skin, or animal hide in Spanish.  It also apparently means prostitute in the Dominican Republic.  I haven’t explored that particular nuance of the word…but cueros do have Int 6 (again, well within human range)…so maybe some aberrations gonna be aberrant?  If you want your next jungle adventure to reach truly Apocalypse Now levels of dark…well, there ya go.

Also, is there such a thing is post-ipation?  I’ve had this thing half-written since Wednesday—Wednesday!—and it would not come out.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Crystal Golem

Note: The “Crone Queen” entry went up earlier today, so be sure to check it out too.

I’m not sure where the association between psionics and crystals came from in D&D—it seemed firmly in place by Dragon #281’s exploration of the 3.0 psionic rules (which was pretty much the apex of my paying attention).  (Out-of-game, I’m assuming the answer is pulp sci-fi novels and the ’70s in general).  But vestiges of that connection linger in Pathfinder’s psychic magic, giving us the crystal golem.

These are not golems to dis either.  They basically throb with psychic energy, acting as metamagic amplifiers for any psychic caster within 30 ft.  (That can lead to some interesting tactical choices on both sides of the table if, say, a psychic bad guy and his crystal henchgolems go up against psychic PCs).  Crystal golems can also punch into the Ethereal Plane.  Oh, and they have the ability explode head.  I repeat: explode head.  THAT IS A REAL THING THEY CAN DO.

Given that I grew up game-planning what I would do against the laser-shooting sphinxes of The NeverEnding Story, crystal golems that hum with such energy that they can burst crania don’t seem that outlandish.  So I’m on board with these guys!

A series of meteors slam into the Anchorite Peaks, cracking open to reveal dazzling geodes—and crystal golems.  The fact that the gemstone monsters are constructs and not biological or elemental creatures suggests that the meteor strikes are no natural phenomena. 

Dwarves who fight aboleths and other psychic threats sometimes learn psychic talents of their own…talents that often get them ostracized from their communities.  Rather than upset their superstitious neighbors, these dwarves dwell in the lowest chambers, holding lonely vigils against threats in the dark.  Rather than rely on nervous (and easily dominated) guardsmen for assistance, they craft crystal golems to be their backup instead.  In contrast, duergar (particularly duergar tyrants) embrace both psychic magic and crystal golems, but their shoddy craftsmanship usually manifests in the end result, leading to golems that are more brittle (DR 8 instead of 10) or more vulnerable to shatter (slowing the golem for 4 rounds instead of 3).

The Star of Bessaly is a famous asteriated ruby whose star seems to float in the air above the surface of the stone.  A Shermod merchant prince announces his plans to make a gift of the gem to the dowager queen—and set in the brow of a rose quartz statue no less.  The gift is a trap.  The Shermod prince is a rakshasa psychic assassin, and the Star of Bessaly powers an especially fearsome crystal golem.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 126

I had a babysitter named Crystal.  This was a thing that could happen in 1982 in Oklahoma.

The psionic-focused Dragon #281 is actually an issue I’ve found myself going back to several times.  The three psionics-focused articles were great teasers for the then-new Psionics Handbook while still being complete, interesting pieces themselves.  It’s also got a Fool Wolf story—pretty much the only fiction in Dragon worth discussing after 1995—and “Subterranean Scares,” a bestiary of weird Underdark monsters that I’ve referenced several times in this space.  Worth looking for.

Crone Queen

(Illustration comes from artist Jason Rainville’s webpage and is © Paizo Publishing.)

In the Reign of Winter Adventure Path, crone queens bear the weight of legend, story, and a key mystery of the Golarion setting that was preserved in our world for at least five years.

In Bestiary 5, they get all of one sentence of description.

From a page layout sense, this makes sense—crone queens are so powerful that their entries are essentially all stat block.  But for our purposes it means we can disregard that single sentence entirely (especially since it happens to be a RoW spoiler anyway) and come up with our own origins for these frozen monarchs. 

Best of all, the crone queen’s tidy list of icy hexes and spell-like abilities make her incredibly easy to run compared to a lich at the same CR.  Oh, and if you do use these queens—particularly if you use more than one—don’t forget to give them each her own personality and special power.  The original entry in Pathfinder #72: The Witch Queen's Revenge should get you started.

A crime occurred.  It battered the elves’ ties to the powers of nature and earned the entire gnomish race banishment from Faerie.  It marked the decline of witchcraft and the ascendency of the spellbook.  It even knocked the world off its axis to its present obliquity, burying some empires in glacial sheets while exposing new lands to the glare of the sun.  The evidence of the crime—and perhaps the perpetrators as well—are locked in a citadel of rime-covered stone, guarded ice devils, undead sovereign dragons, and a ruling council of crone queens who may or may not have handed down the forgotten criminal’s sentence so many millennia ago.

A staff-wielding magus belongs to the Order of Hawthorn, an ancient league of practitioners who take the art of staff crafting, casting and combat to whole new levels.  But rumors persist of a shadow order, the Blackstaves, who use their power for dark ends and travel the world unlocking fell mysteries.  Chasing this order takes the magus and his companions to a lotus-shaped palace carved out of snow, where a crone queen bars their way through a portal with her staff of magical ice.

As freshmen, a group of private school students opened a matryoshka doll they found in a cupboard and were struck by a curse laid by Baba Yaga herself.  Their minds leapt into the minds of adventurers in three eras, where they have had to fight for their survival with shield, spell, and primitive musket against a variety of foes (all of whom happened to be Baba Yaga’s rivals), while at the same time keeping their school safe from invasion by fell forces using the skills they’ve learned along the way.  Now the students are seniors in their time and accomplished adventurers in three others.  But a trio of crone queens still stands between them and freedom.  Their final exams have begun.

Pathfinder #72 84–85 & Pathfinder Bestiary 5 61

Any fans of Arcana Unearthed (the Monte Cook book, not to be confused with any of the Unearthed Arcana titles) out there?  It’s not a book I own, but I’ve peeked through it enough to guess that the magister class would go well with that second adventure seed.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Corpse Lotus

The corpse flower is a real thing, as many of you know (because you are on the Internet and the Internet thinks science is neat).  So if you’re a game designer, you don’t leave a name like that just lying around.  You turn it into a plant monster—the corpse lotus—and set it loose on the battlefields of countless worlds.

The first trick in fighting a corpse lotus is spotting it in advance—it tends to resemble the local greenery and has the Camouflage (Ex) ability besides.  Then you have to watch out for its vines, which pack all the punch of a full-grown Audrey II.  And you have to watch out it doesn’t swallow any corpses—or your friends—because it can gulp down and digest them as fast as a carnivorous plant in a Hanna-Barbera cartoon for a fast healing boon.  (And since these things tend to crop up amid battlefields and are pretty good at hunting prey on their own, chances are they’ve got a corpse handy even if none of your PCs volunteer.)

Unless your PCs are specifically hunting for alchemical components (corpse lotuses produce a mist that mimics the gentle repose spell, making them a good choice for various oils and tinctures), a corpse lotus is always going to be a side encounter, never the Big Bad.  But they might move the plot forward in some interesting ways.  Bodies preserved by a corpse lotus’s mists last indefinitely, which can allow PCs more time to raise an important NPC, speak with dead, or otherwise find evidence or personal keepsakes that would otherwise be lost to decay.

Adventurers want to travel to the lower reaches of the Delve.  But there’s an obstacle: the winter grounds of an orc horde.  Rather than engage in conflict and rouse the ire of the horde, the adventurers plan to sneak through the settlement disguised as corpse collectors (or as the corpses riding the wagons).  After snaking through the horde, the adventurers then discover why these otherwise filthy orcs are so meticulous about gathering up their dead.  The corpses are dumped into a shallow ravine filled with corpse flowers, protecting the horde’s rear flank from monstrous threats below.

Unable to defeat a red dragon in combat, a smaller blue dragon sows corpse lotus seeds throughout his territory.  She hopes that when he wakes from his long hibernation, the plants will have taken root and driven off much of his game, forcing him into territories guarded by other dragons or obstreperous humans.  Adventurers may become involved when the corpse lotuses spread into their holdings, or because rare attacks by the ferocious red, though horrific, are to be preferred over the systematic dominance of a blue dragon suzerain and her minions.

At a peace treaty, the losing general promises to cover the graves of the fallen in crimson flowers as a monument to the spilt blood on both sides.  True to his word, he plants the flowers…but they are corpse lotuses.  The plant monsters quickly grow fat on the still-to-be-interred dead, just as the bitter general intended.

Pathfinder Adventure Path #78 84–85 & Pathfinder Bestiary 5 60

It’s the Tumblr version of this blog’s 4th birthday today.  Woo!  (The real birthday is of course in June.)

You know I’m old school because my blue dragons are always suzerains.

Thursday, March 3, 2016


If I were to tell you that in Pathfinder a) spontaneous human combustion is a real thing, and b) that there is an undead creature created by the phenomenon, you would quite frankly c) probably say that is dumb. 

So how about I tell you that the combusted is an always-on-fire skeleton that is perennially screaming with a stunning Howl of Agony (Ex), that it hurls fire like a kineticist, and that its slam attacks carry a curse that actually sets PCs on fire…and if reduced to below 0 hit points, they die instantly of combustion too?  How’s that sound?

Yeah, that’s right—it sounds awesome.  Because it is.

Besides, while SHC is a myth and a joke in our world, in a fantasy setting plagued by wild magic, haunts, and psychic upwellings, it's a very real potential threat, however rare.  And while magical or psychically induced combustion may be rare, it makes sense that the victim’s horror and pain would be enough to spark an undead rebirth.  In fact, you won't find this text in the link above, but the full entry from Occult Bestiary features two locations in Golarion where these creatures are common, and for good reason.

And here’s one more reason to use combusted.  Say you’ve never had psychic magic/occult/psionic rules in your campaign before, and you want to introduce Occult Adventures.  You can hand-wave it and say that psychic classes and monsters have been there all the time and the party just didn’t notice them.  Or you can have them be the product of a far distant land or alien influence (or both, like Eberron’s Kalashtar/Quori from Sarlona).  Or you can make the advent of psychic magic in your world an event—something game-changing that happened to your campaign.  Such a violent upwelling could have all kinds of crazy effects—included setting fire to many poor mortals right where they stand, leaving only undead horrors behind.  Then for the rest of the campaign, combusted are one more sign of the new world the PCs must contend with.  (Which is bad enough on its own, but it’s even worse if the psychic eruption was because of something the PCs did…or failed to do…)

Dishonor is considered a fate worse than death in Sapphora…but for the Mikhal clan it is the literal truth.  The Mikhal family labors under an ancient curse: If one of their number dies with a stain on his honor, he reincarnates as a combusted—a fiery monster screaming in agony that then attempts slay all who encounter it.  Desperate to avoid this fate, Mikhal youths often pursue callings as samurai, paladins, and priests (all careers that afford them clear codes of conduct and ready paths toward absolution).  They will also accept any duel, answer any challenge, and otherwise go to any lengths to keep their honor intact—no matter the cost.

The lesser wendigos of the Kaltan Reaches are not the wind walking, dream haunting nightmares that plague other arctic realms.  Nevertheless, they are still terrifying hunters.  Roughly resembling flying, elk-headed bugbears, lesser wendigos lure their prey away from the safety of the longhouse, then chase them through the woods until their victims literally burn away in fear and exhaustion.  Many of these victims never stop running or screaming, transforming into undead combusted on the spot.  The lesser wendigo loses interest at that moment, leaving the undead to haunt the snowy woods in eternal fiery agony.

The blue-skinned, gray-haired Merovians are blessed with an elemental connection to the Plane of Air (treat as sylphs).  Indeed, the fact that they carry their own breezes with them is all that allows them to survive on their isolated, nearly airless moon.  But their oxygen-rich natures make them vulnerable in fire-rich environments.  In fact, they cannot enter certain sun-filled crystal spheres or risk bursting into flames on the spot.  The trauma of their combustion leaves only the undead husk of the Merovian…but that fiery husk is often more than enough to murder every hand aboard a voidship.

Occult Bestiary 16

What’s a group of combusted called?  That’s right: an effigy.

Why yes, I did have the Ray Charles version of “Busted” playing in my head the whole time I wrote this.

Speaking of songs, I had a suitemate who loved “Spontaneous Human Combustion” by the Bobs.  Like, way too much.  I feel like my life has been leading up to this link.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Clockwork Familiar

Toads aren’t that cuddly.  Weasels smell.  And vipers are so déclassé.  It makes you just want to throw in the towel and build your own familiar—specifically, a clockwork familiar.

Usually designed to look like dragons or birds or spiders (that’s the way we do it in the Wild, Wild West), clockwork familiars are an Improved Familiar choice that leverages the advantages of having a construct at your beck and call rather than a flesh-and-blood creature.  (They can't, for instance, be healed normally and rust is a problem, but that just makes them all the more obedient to their masters.)  Even better, their owners can customize them by incorporating temporary magic items into their bodies, granting them both an ongoing effect as long as they possess the item and a more powerful ability if they choose to drain the item’s charge.  This flexibility endears them to wizards who plan for contingencies (which is every wizard who hopes to live long).  It’s never a bad thing to have a portable detect magic source on hand—especially one that can talk to you—and a clockwork familiar’s stored potion of invisibility, fly, or gaseous form could easily be the difference between life and death for its master.

A journeyman wizard’s master has passed away.  The adventurer is first notified of this when his master’s clockwork familiar comes looking for him.  Long neglected by the ailing wizard, the familiar has barely survived the arduous journey to reach the journeyman.  The battered, half-mad construct attacks the young mage, seeing him as the heir to not only the master’s books and wisdom, but also his failures.

Knowledge of the crafting of clockwork was snuffed out in Oyroa when barbarian hordes overran the City of Miracles.  But the clockworks themselves remain—shiny brass ravens, badgers, bees, even delicate bejeweled carp.  It is considered an auspicious feat for a caster to coax one of these creatures into her service.  And not all of the familiars are benign.  Some still act on the instructions of mages long dead, others have been perverted by the animating spirits inside them, and all are potentially dangerous.

Most clockwork familiars are bespoke creations.  But some cosmopolitan magocracies have artificers who can help a mage with the construction.  Fabriker Nicholas Sturmhandt is renowned for his clockwork constructions, particularly his ambulatory birdcages (with mechanical signing birds inside) and the clockwork familiar kits he supplies wealthy wizards.  Darker rumors suggest that he also specializes in creating clockwork gnomes…and that real, quite unwilling gnomish victims are essential to the process.  Getting into his compound to investigate will be difficult, as Herr Sturmhandt has several clockwork familiar lookouts—far more than any one mage could ordinarily bind.

Pathfinder Adventure Path #63 86–87 & Pathfinder Bestiary 5 57

Philadelphia, I am dominating your station.  #mydayjob

After two weeks off, The New Indie Canon is back!  Today I’m going to take you from the Low Anthem’s “To Ohio” to the Violent Femmes’ “I Held Her in My Arms,” with stops along the way for Beverly, Spacehog, Into It. Over It., the Sun Days, some SXSW teasers, and more.  Stream it.  Download it.  Love it.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016


Welp, the vore fans are going to love this one.  And actually, I love it to.  So let’s go:

The chyzaedu are Gargantuan intelligent worm zealots from another planet which has since been devoured by a black hole, and their response to said catastrophe was to turn eating into a religious rite and a racial habit.

You got all that?

We talked way back in the day about how ropers want to chat with you while they devour you.  Chyzaedu go one step further, becoming hurt and puzzled as to why you aren't thrilled to be sharing in their ecstatic experience—particular as you’re the guest of honor at the feast, as it were.  (They also help organize efforts to toss thousands of other races into black holes.  And they can’t gather in groups for long without eventually going all schismatic and fighting with each other.  Good times!)

Pathfinder has no shortage of psychic worm things.  What sets chyzaedu apart (aside from their fanaticism) is their mithral-like vestments, their connection (in the Golarion setting anyway) to the Dominion of the Black, and the auras these worms possess that broadcast their hunger to all around them.  In other words, fail your Will save and you’re going to be guzzling every potion you have…which might be delightfully comical or downright dangerous in combat…particularly if you have an old-school GM who uses potion miscibility rules…

Adventures find themselves aboard a new kind of chyzaedu vessel—the World Awl, a cylindrical biomechanical starship designed around a central core of shovels, blades, mashers, and gears, meant to bore into planetary bodies like a giant purple worm.  The adventures need to shut down the ship while it is still only coring asteroids, not puncturing their homeworld’s crust.  The good news?  There are a number of chyzaedu priests on board, and the long voyage has already exposed philosophical and liturgical rifts among them.  Sparking a religious war inside the vessel might be one way to take out the voracious worm-priests.

A chyzaedu apostate (it eats sentient beings for the sheer pleasure of it, without any religious connection) and a fear eater have created a dining society that specializes in the consumption of rare delicacies.  They are always looking for new species to consume (live in the chyzaedu’s case, carefully mulched and then used for mushroom food for the fey).  Their prisons, breeding pens, and marinade pools now occupy an entire level of a Roritan ruin, and several ghouls, lamias, and rakshasas seem to be involved as well.

A set of chyzaedu mithral vestments sits in the shop of duergar dealer specializing in rare weapons.  The alien worm who crafted the vestments wants them back.  To have been tricked out of its garments is both a sacrilege in itself and particularly humiliating in this instance, as the culprit was an Ethereal elf arcane trickster—in other words, fast-talking, plane-hopping food.  The chyzaedu is willing to bend the rules to send its otherworldly minions after the vestments, but that is likely to rile both the duergar nation and the planar allies of the Ethereal elf, all of whom funded the expedition and own shares against the vestments’ eventual sale.

—Occult Bestiary 14–15

Hey, did I tell you I actually bought another 4th Edition D&D book?  And enjoyed it?

I actually picked up Menzoberranzan: City of Intrigue way back over Labor Day weekend for 50% off at a game store in East Greenbush, NY, and it’s been my weekly dinnertime read before my radio show ever since (thus the slow progress).  And all in all I dug it. 

It didn’t hurt that it was basically a system-neutral book of fluff, coming so late as it did in 4e’s publishing schedule (though with a nice intrigue/family honor system that would be worth stealing for pretty much any campaign featuring warring houses or thieves’ guilds).  In a smart move, it was also era-neutral as well, with details that made it work for both classic and post-Spellplague campaigns.  And it was tidy at only around 120-some pages (plus a great poster map), compared to the 224 pages of 3.5’s over-padded Drow of the Underdark. 

But most importantly, the writing was vastly improved compared to the few other 4e books I’ve tackled.  Like, I could actually turn the page and still remember what I had just read.  And I could see myself going back to use this book as a resource.  (That should be price of entry for an RPG book, I admit, but you work with the industry standards as they are, not as you’d like them to be.)

Is M:CoI a must-buy?  Not by any stretch of the imagination.  And it’s not worth the list price either.  But if you’re in a used bookstore and you like drow and you have a spare $10?  Then, yeah, give it a look.  (Just make sure you own a copy of Dragon #298, too.)