Thursday, October 27, 2016


Many bogeymen exist and persist because they illustrate a certain theme or fear.  The wolf from “Little Red Riding Hood,” for instance, is a symbol of Stranger Danger to the young, and a smooth-talking stealer of virginity for the not-so-young.  He looms large because he’s a potential villain in our lives as well as Little Red’s.

For a long time, one of the main things vampires represented was the fear of being buried alive (and/or the fear of accidentally burying a loved one too early).  It’s all there in the early folktales: the grave dirt under the claw-like nails; the gaunt, hungry features; the thirst for blood, particularly the blood of those the victim knew in life; and so on.

But as vampire legends became codified and romanticized around the Dracula and Lestat models, they’ve become symbols of other things: fear of death, the lure of immortality, the horror of sexually transmitted diseases (attention, post-AZT kids: AIDS was a nightmare and you need to learn your queerstory), eternal love, and so on.  In the process, dirty fears of the grave fell away.  When your pop culture portrays every vampire having Spike’s looks and Christian Grey’s bank account, the fear of having to smash open your casket and then dig through six feet of earth just doesn’t compute.  Meanwhile, other candidates for the theme are also too burdened with cultural weight of their own: Zombies stand for pandemics and the breakdown of the system, while ghouls are much more about fears of grave robbing and cannibalism.

All of which is a very long-winded way of saying that we needed an undead to fill the thematic void left by vampires—and the gravebound is a perfect candidate.  Not only is it obsessed with its own unfair death, but it’s got some nasty mechanics to inflict that death on others.  It can make a pit appear under a victim as a standard action, and then fill the pit up with grave dirt the following round as a full-round action.  Even if a gravebound’s victim escape its clutches on the initial encounter, he could well contract a disease that sends him into a coma almost indistinguishable from death…dooming him to an unfair live burial despite his best efforts.

Whoever created this monster also gets points for a nice bit of flavor as well: the gravebound’s dirt body has a shovel sticking out of its back.  Not only does this detail feel very true to folklore—I can especially envision such a detail appearing in a Japanese ghost story—but it gives PCs who vanquish the gravebound some in-the-nick-of-time assistance in recovering their buried comrades.  All in all, this is an excellent monster and a great example of how to make a new creature feel as authentic as one from folklore with just a little attention to detail.

After losing his gold to a devious country parson, a leprechaun became consumed with hatred for humanity.  Most leprechauns who give in to such feelings murder the objects of their ire and become redcaps, but this particular fey went unrevenged when the parson died unexpectedly.  The leprechaun still lurks in the graveyard by the parsonage—he has knocked over the cleric’s headstone so often the burial society has stopped resituating it—so he was first on the scene when a premature burial caused a gravebound to rise from the earth.  The leprechaun now has a new revenge plan: lure as many people as he can to the graveyard and then aid the gravebound in sending them to an untimely rest.

A doge protected the location of his treasure vault in the most efficient way possible: He buried alive everyone who worked on it.  When the workers arose as gravebound spirits, the callous doge was unconcerned, as he could dimension door into the next chamber past the atrocity.  His son, however, does not have such magical talents.  Having taken his father’s place, he hires adventurers to open the vault so that he can claims his legacy.  (Of course he pleads ignorance when the gravebound manifest.)  He also fails to tell them—because he does not know—that his father survived the assassination attempt and secretly plans to retaliate against his son and all his allies.

A kami asks a party of adventurers for aid.  A gravebound has arisen in his ward, and he lacks the power to dispatch the creature by himself.  If they aid the kami and slay the gravebound, he rewards them with an old prayer scroll that hides a secret on its reverse side.  However, doing so complicates their social lives and possibly their honor.  First, a rival of theirs spots them with the gravebound’s shovel and spreads rumors that they are doing menial labor below their station; second, the kami’s ward is devoted to the Turtle God, whose worship is despised by the current regime.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 128

Looking for the goliath frog?  We covered that a few days ago.

Get ready for Halloween with this week’s radio show!  New music, a Phantogram spotlight, and close to an hour of songs about ghosts and hauntings for you spook fans.  Stream/download it here till Monday, October 31, at midnight.

Monday, October 24, 2016


(Illustration by Rogier van de Beek comes from the artist’s DeviantArt page and is © Paizo Publishing.)

Ho.  Ly.  Crap. 

When the glaistig came up on the schedule (yes, I have a schedule—this operation may be tardy, but it’s organized), I had in my head the image of a goat-legged woman with some dancing skills and maybe a little blood-drinking.  That’s the one I knew from books like Brian Froud’s Faeries or 3.5’s Monster Manual III.

I was not expecting a CR 21 mythic creature.  (And not a little bit mythic; we’re talking MR 10).  We haven’t seen fey like this since the Kingmaker Adventure Path.

Turns out there’s another take on the glaistig, the nobler and more tragic Green Lady archetype.  But Paizo’s glaistig isn’t quite that either.  Instead, she’s a full-on faerie queen with mythic power in spades.  And “spades” is the operative word, because she’s also an earth-moving machine, courtesy of terrakinesis and various spell-like abilities.  Plus she’s a witch as well.  (And yes, there’s also plenty of dancing—emphasis on the irresistible.)

In other words, she is the ultimate fey spirit of the land and the green wood.  When kings go to faerie mounds to make pacts with the land, she’s the one who consummates the arrangement (and I do mean consummate).  When mythic heroes go to meet the Spirit of the Forest, she’s the one sitting on the throne.  When there’s a forlorn heath or a fertile valley whose sanctity even angels and demons respect, she’s the reason why.

Bound by oaths of fealty they cannot break, adventurers serve a king who takes his marching orders from Hell itself.  The arrangement has always been tolerable, as the canny liege makes sure to send them on errands—kill the chromatic dragon, slay the demon, rescue the princess—that align with their goals as well as his.  All this goes out the window when a glaistig swears vengeance against the hellspawn king.  Years ago the king made a contract with the glaistig, then exploited a loophole to ignore its strictures.  To a devil, this is fair play…but to a fey queen used to the equally slippery contracts of the fey, it is a base insult.  Now the glaistig is on the warpath, causing the very earth itself to hammer the king’s vassals.  The adventurers must choose: subdue the glaistig or take up arms against their lord...possibly forfeiting their souls.

Glaistigs are almost always encountered singly.  When they do gather in groups (usually known as circles or dancing circles), it is to face truly existential threats to their lands or to the fey realm.  On the world of Shadovan, a circle of glaistigs helped hide the elven homeland from ravening orc and half-orc hordes.  But when the elves who knew the secret of return were slain, their kin became a lost, nomadic people, forever searching for a way back to their lost land.  After millennia of searching, a ragtag group of adventurers may have found the key…but it means defeating the circle of glaistigs in tests of magic, riddles, and mythic combat.

Well-known glaistigs on Erren include the Green Lady of Loch Lalan, who rose the standing stones at Ashford; Hope of Summer, a golden-haired maiden who helps shepherds who give her gifts of milk and barley wine, but who once crushed a dragon’s throat with her kinetic whip; and Mae F’nula, who is slowly dying of an otherworldly fungal infection that has turned her woods to slime.  Finally, Queen Stoneheart is a glaistig warrior who regularly sends summoned earth elementals to spar with the equally huge bone constructs of the Bleached Court and the golem chariots of the Clockwork League.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 124–125

Sorry about the delays, guys.  I’ve spent the past two weeks doing hospital visits and catsitting, the combination of which is brutal to my writing time.

Once again I’m posting a radio show link with only about an hour to go before it expires.  Stream/download it now because it vanishes at midnight tonight, U.S. Eastern.  Don't miss it though—it’s good!  New Crying, Flock of Dimes, Mannequin Pussy, Amber Coffman and more.  But first, songs about the news...  Seriously, snag this before midnight. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Giant Termite & Termite Swarm

Most monsters are scary when you’re a kid, not so much once you grow up.  (I no longer have flashes of Audrey II every time I go into a dark basement, for instance.)

Termites, on the other hand, get even scarier.  You 15-year-olds have no idea.  For those of us with mortgages, a termite swarm is legit the most terrifying thing in the Bestiary series.

Termites are also cool because they actually build something—huge mounds, 17 feet or higher, according to National Geographic.  Which means the pony-sized giant termites could build truly epic structures—easily a mile high if I’m doing my math right.  Even taking into account something like real-world physics, mounds the size of cathedrals (as Bestiary 5 suggests) would easily be possible, provided there were a large enough food source nearby.  And speaking of buildings, giant termites can also do what termites do best—take down earth and wooden buildings—ignoring hardness of 5 or less.

To sum up, much of adventuring comes down to “Explore the thing,” or “Defend the thing.”  Termites give you things to explore and things to defend aplenty.  For simple vermin, that’s not bad.

The annual Woodcarving Festival at Schönholt is a celebration of all things carving and carpentry-related.  So it is naturally a scene of absolute bedlam when several termite swarms are let loose in the main exhibition hall.  The culprit, not unexpectedly, turns out to be a gremlin.  But in the course of the battle and subsequent cleanup, adventurers discover that many of the intricately decorated hope chests were being used to smuggle contraband alchemical items—and worse.  Was this luck on the gremlin’s part, or was he following some obscure moral code?

The Black Hills of Heaven are a series of strange outcroppings that turn out to be the cathedral-like mounds of giant termite colonies.  (Their black color comes from the dark sandy soil of the area.)  But some of the hills, when seen from above, suggest eldritch symbols…and at least one of the colonies shows signs of aberrant corruptions.

One bright Tirsday, the city of Hindon awakens to birdsong…from below their houses.  The entire town as been hoisted into the branches of a giant oak that stretches more than two miles across.  Worse yet, the tree is infested with giant termites that skitter through the cobbled streets, devouring buildings and people alike.  Only when the termites are slain can adventurers uncover what is really going on: A branch of the multiversal World Oak, Ysfarn, has manifested in this world, hoisting Hindon hundreds of yards into the air.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 242

During last night’s radio show we listened to Death Cab trump Trump, gave some love to Told Slant, and looked back at 10 years of the Hold Steady’s Boys and Girls in America.  You can do all of the above till Monday, 10/17, at midnight by clicking here.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Giant Scarab & Scarab Swarm

At its lowest form, the scarab is a humble beetle that rolls, devours, and lays its eggs in a ball of dung.  In its highest form, the scarab is a form of the Egyptian sun god Ra, rolling daily across the heavens to give life to all below.

That’s pretty much spans the entire gamut of respectability right there.

Technically we’ve already had the giant scarab (as the scarab beetle from Inner Sea Bestiary, though the Bestiary 5 version has slight differences in the stat block and packs filth fever in its bite), so let’s focus on a bit more on scarab swarms.

Adventurers come across a witch trial in progress.  In the excitement, a farmer’s manure cart is overturned.  Not only does this cause a mess, but it also attracts a swarm of scarabs.  Unfortunately for the accused woman, scarabs are considered guides to the land of the dead, effectively sealing her fate unless the adventuring company intervenes.

In order to bribe an orc king, adventurers must find a steed worthy of his greatness—ideally, one of the titanic megafauna.  Fortunately the large animals aren’t hard to track, thanks to the copious amounts of spoor they leave behind.  Unfortunately, dung-hungry giant scarabs trail the great beasts, becoming violent if approached.

Adventurers infiltrate a medical school searching for suspected necromancers.  When they find a secret door in the basement leading to sub-basement not on the official maps, they think they’ve cracked the case wide open.  Unfortunately, all they've found is the school’s body farm—a set of sunken graves where the faculty and students examine cadavers in various states of controlled decomposition.  A locked door leads to the “cleaning room” stocked with beetles used to pick clean the bones of corpses.  The beetles instinctively dislike torches and will attack as a swarm if one is held too close.

Inner Sea Bestiary 5, Pathfinder Adventure Path #79 88–89 & Pathfinder Bestiary 5 221

Friday, October 7, 2016

Giant Muckdweller & Muckdweller

Muckdwellers and giant muckdwellers might be getting a bad rap.  They’re often described as pretty simple, having only a rudimentary intelligence and the barest sketch of a society.  But they've actually got Int 9—the same as lizardfolk, and basically the same as your average human—and Wis 12.  So they’re no dummies.  It’s just that, since they’re Cha 7, they likely don't have the strongest personalities or much of a desire to mingle.

Why am I bringing this up?  Well, because it’s nice to have in your back pocket.  Chances are you’ll just be using muckdwellers as a random encounter or side trek.  But the potential for surprise is there—given the right trigger.

Maybe one of the characters drops a charm on one, only to discover it’s quite intelligent and talkative…or your sorcerer hurls some insults in Draconic only to have even filthier insults hurled back…or the PCs try to rob a lizardfolk town’s “stables,” only to discover that the compound is actually a separate village, and the giant muckdwellers therein are no ordinary mounts…  Suddenly it's a different adventure.  You know how Terry Pratchett’s humanoids have a way of surprising their human neighbors, or how a single charm person spell in the course of the Dragonlance playtest changed how the playtesters (and later novel readers) saw gully dwarves?  That could happen with muckdwellers in your game.

Three times in four, it won't come up.  The hungry muckdwellers will spray their blinding spray, the PCs will return fire, and in a few short rounds the encounter will be over.  But the potential is there, and that’s good enough for me.

Obviously you know how to use muckdwellers in swamp and jungle encounters, so here are a few slightly more unusual places you might find them:

A malfunctioning magical artifact teleported the battle-damaged galleon Heart of the Pegasus far inland, deep in a marshy wetland.  The muckdwellers who found the ship, having never seen anything larger than a skiff before, became enchanted by their discovery and have lovingly restored it.  The Heart is now their (somewhat listing) castle—much to the confusion of the intelligent (and still malfunctioning) artifact.

The ratfolk-led Guild of Ragpickers & Muckrakers goes on strike.  A nest of dark nagas discreetly promises the town fathers that they will “resolve” the situation.  But the giant muckdwellers the nagas sneak into the city aren’t schooled in the finer points of strikebreaking and they begin eating the ratfolk citizenry.

Oni pleasure barges create a lot of waste as they soar through the night sky.  In many of these floating palaces muckdwellers toil at the pumps and in the bilges, talking care of the giant vessels’ more menial tasks.  Adventurers experienced and brave enough to fight oni will likely have little difficulty defeating a swam of muckdwellers in combat, but more savvy parties will work out ways to sneak past, sabotage, or recruit the lizard creatures.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 175

Apparently I had sewage on the brain today. 

Also, just for kicks I was Googling the Irish derogatory term “muck savage” when I came across a Dr. Mucksavage at U. Penn who is (I am not kidding) a urologist.  Aptonym much?  You do you, Dr. M.!

Looks like my sass from last entry struck a nerve!  Lots of people wrote into defend the honor of the giant mantis shrimp.  (I got nothin’ but love for y’all, myth-lord!)  Check out their responses here.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Giant Mantis Shrimp

There’s no question that Bestiary 5’s inclusion of the giant mantis shrimp is a trendy choice.  This is a creature that received an encomium in The Oatmeal and got the Ze Frank treatment to boot. The authors might as well have statted up the honey badger.

“Trendy” doesn’t necessarily mean “bad,” however.  Some creatures just enter the public consciousness and refuse to leave.  Most role-playing games wouldn't have had stats for the velociraptor in their hardcovers before 1993.  But after Jurassic Park, not including velociraptor or deinonychus stats would be straight-up malpractice.

The same goes for the mantis shrimp.  It is a shell-cracking, ultraviolet-seeing, cavitation-bubble-creating, honest-to-God miniature monster.  Before 2013 you might not have heard of the mantis shrimp.  But now in 2016 you totally have, and so have your players, so you might as well use it in your game.  (And with three variants, that’s a total of four giant murder shrimp to choose from!)

The giant pearls used in the creation of crystal balls that can see into the Astral Plane are difficult to harvest.  Even if you get past the sahuagin raiders and triton patrols, you still have to survive the aggressive giant mantis shrimp that live among the gargantuan oysters.

The impetuous young pharaoh was out hunting desert lions when his chariot was smashed by a giant sand mantis shrimp.  He was thrown clear but survived, as the shrimp was busy devouring his charioteer.  Nursing a broken leg, the pharaoh retreated to the safety of a nearby ruin, only to be trapped by a sphinx.  The sphinx will release the pharaoh, but his price is the instructions for creating the lightning mirror that guards the harbor at Napsos—something the pharaoh’s advisors refuse to turn over for reasons of their own.

The glass viewing ports of the hammerhead-shaped Dauntless are supposed to be invulnerable to nonmagical attack.  This is put to the test when a mantis shrimp lord attempts to smash the submersible’s windows and feast on the fleshy creatures inside.  The crustacean seems especially attracted by the Dauntless’s astomoi medic, as if it sees something no one else can.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 232

Last night’s show, here for your downloading pleasure!  Killer new Drive-By Truckers, Infinity Crush, and LVL UP.  Plus Seattle grunge icons Hazel and a band from my high school.  Stream/download it now through Monday, 10/10, at midnight.