What up, dawgs? Where my giant, monkish aspects of the gaping, formless void that preceded the creation of the multiverse at?!?
Wow. I really just typed that.
So yeah, part of the above sentence comes from Bestiary 5’s description of the hundun, and part does not. (I’ll leave you to guess which was which.) According to Wikipedia, the hundun comes from one of the murkier realms of Chinese mythology—and I do mean that “murkier” literally; the words “hundun” and “wonton” (as in the soup) share an origin—involving primordial chaos, the World Egg, an ancient son of a fiendish emperor, a being called Mr. Chaos…you get the idea. It’s complicated.
Pathfinder’s hundun narrows and—kind of?—clarifies this concept into a race of Large-sized, faceless, skin-robed monks devoted to (and who are likely an expression of the longing for) the void that existed before the multiverse. Got that? Good.
I think hunduns deserve to be treated like a Big Deal. After all, they’re CR 21 and get the two-page spread treatment—that alone indicates that they’re powerful and important. (Two-page spreads are giant boulders in the otherwise limpid river of Bestiary entries, which means that @wesschneider and the rest of the Paizo editing/design team give them extra attention.) Hunduns also just plain interesting for a host of reasons: They’re truly Big Bads from a non-Western mythology. Their existence suggests alien gods, but those gods aren’t known to us. They live on the Negative Energy Plane but aren’t undead. They use gravity, spacetime, and strange attraction as weapons, like something simultaneously out of a science textbook and a Dr. Strange comic. They hate all creatures of law, but they also think proteans (and probably demons, too) are wusses. Their bizarre staves are, simply put, effed up. And don’t even think about trying to read one’s mind.
So if you’re looking to do one of those campaigns with a Neil Gaiman or Terry Pratchett or latter-day Harry Dresden kind of ending, where strange hooded figures are trying to unmake existence itself…well, these guys are your huckleberries.
There’s another reason I like these monsters which is a bit esoteric and nitpicky, but bear with me: I like hunduns because they are ineffable agents of premultiversal chaos that don’t come from Lovecraft.
Don’t get me wrong—I love Lovecraft. I have his annotated works sitting on my to-read table, I occasionally pick up the love-letter-to-Lovecraft comic Providence, and I’m thoroughly enjoying Pathfinder’s current Adventure Path, Strange Aeons, being developed by @thedaigle himself.
But. But. Because of all that…and the re-release of Call of Cthulhu…and all the Mythos-inspired board games out there…we are currently at peak Lovecraft. We don’t need any more at the moment. Plus, Lovecraft homages tend to have their own gravity and logic. Lovecraftian adventures also have a way of trumpeting that they are such. It’s pretty rare, for instance, to have one Lovecraftian monster in an adventure…there will always be two or more, plus shrieks of “Iä!”, references to R’lyeh, and Yellow Sign graffiti. That’s perfectly fine in Strange Aeons, where exploring Lovecraftian tropes is the point, but in other adventures it often feels like an interruption. We wouldn’t let such obvious IP shout-outs as Jedi and Vulcans into our games, but we don’t blink at shoggoths—even when we probably should.
So as much as I love Lovecraft, I also have really begun to dig works where references to the Great Old Ones and other Lovecraftiana are more seamlessly integrated. For instance, I love the aforementioned recent Harry Dresden novels involving Outsiders. Ditto, I love the presentation of the Old Ones in Anthony Horowitz’s The Gatekeepers series (though I haven’t listened to the last book yet)—the whole pentad manages to be indebted to Lovecraft without ever aping him or referencing Cthulhu et al. That’s a pretty neat trick.
So why do I like hunduns? Because they offer another way of getting to notions of Chaos and alien gods without going through Lovecraft. And they also offer new connective tissue that helps connect the Mythos into the mythology stew that is the rest of Pathfinder. In the same way the fey umbrella embraces Greek satyrs and Welsh pookas without straining, hunduns give us sinews that join Azathoth to Bestiary 2’s sceaduinars to Bestiary 3’s imperial dragons, all in the same universe. In short, hunduns let us have lovecraftian adventures, not just LOVECRAFTian ones. And I am all for it.
After great struggle and clashes in two solar systems, adventurers defeat a void dragon in its lair. Among the wyrm’s many outlandish and alien treasures they discover a primordial egg that seems to have its own gravity. Unfortunately, the slaying of the void dragon was the trigger destined to hatch the embryonic hundun inside…
Adventurers have faced a strange array of creatures—wayward, wizard-slaying homunculi, masterless skum, mad lunar naga mediums, even the arrogant, libertarian dorvaes—and time and time again, signs point to a puppet master pulling the strings, a being known as Unraveling Hope. Eventually the adventurers’ search takes them to a dying planet shard, a gaping vortex to the Negative Energy Plane, and Unraveling Hope itself, a hundun about to sacrifice the dark planetoid to an even darker god.
Ever since an accident marked one of their number with a mathematically precise, swirling sigil, an adventuring band has had ties to the axiomites and the Planes of Law. Thus they have heard rumors of a new scholar come to stay at the Harmonious Academy of the Rule, a strange inevitable-like sage. Upon the recommendation of a suspicious ally, they attend a public lecture given by this mechanical master. There they witness the sage describe a calculus function that not only does not describe any known arithmetic or phenomenon…but actually undescribes it right before their eyes. The inevitable-like body hides a hundun inside, and the hundun’s function of unmaking begins to spread across the Academy campus like whitewash across the mural of logical existence.
—Pathfinder Bestiary 5 144–145
Apparently Kobold Press's Dark Roads & Golden Hells has an alternate take on the hundun. I own it but haven't read it yet. #theusualpatchproblem
Speaking of #patchproblems, one of my readers was a bit critical of my recent bath disaster, writing:
Sounds like you need to be more careful with your things…
Ouch, burn! Said reader clearly doesn’t know how anal I am with my books—I drive friends and significant others nuts. But this was an unfamiliar bathtub and I was exhausted—a bad combo on the best of days.
(Also I should stress that I found James’s tweet to be thematically appropriate and funny. If you’ve read his book, you know why.)
Grrrr…I knew there was a better photo for the heresy devil floating around somewhere, but my New Year’s accommodation’s lousy Internet kept getting in the way and I gave up. I wanted to link to this one.
Looking for the horn caterpillar? It’s back here.