Tuesday, December 31, 2019


Planktas are odd. Bestiary 5 describes them as “stony creatures formed from the shattered remnants of ancient island civilizations devastated and inundated by natural or magical cataclysms”—okay, check, we got that—“and given life by unleashed magical energies and the anguished spirits of those lost in the tragedies.” Makes sense. Except…planktas do not remain creatures of unleashed energies and spirits—in other words, they are not outsiders or fey or even undead. Instead, they become aberrations—true mortal creatures, albeit alien ones.

Of course, becoming such a creature also means having the drive to procreate…and in the plankta’s case, that means destroying more island civilizations. It’s a grisly life cycle to say the least.

None of that will probably ever come into play at your game table, unless you’re really deeply exploring themes of climate change and island cultures. And even the choice to make them aberrations probably had to do more with behind the scenes math—“We need X number of aberrations in this book, and we only have Y, so get brainstorming.” But once the monster is in print, I find it super interesting to wrestle with the implications of what’s in the stat block.

One more thing about planktas: They are described as animate jumbles of buildings and rock, and the illustration makes them look vaguely hermit crab-like. But that’s by no means made explicit in the text, so their forms might be even more outlandish, depending on the nature of the cataclysm that formed them…

A band of adventures began its career in the shadow of an exploding volcano, ferrying passengers out of the doomed city of Hestius. Now the Hestian Beast, a plankta born of Hestius’s destruction, threatens their adopted home of Sanctis. Now far more experienced and with a clear enemy in sight, this time they resolve to fight rather than ferry.

Ships have been disappearing along Giant’s Foot Strait. A clan of deep merfolk has been blamed, but the truth is a plankta has been raining boulders (and its own discorporated rocky body) on the passing ships. Investigating the mystery may uncover the hitherto unknown sunken city whose destruction birthed the plankta, as well as unlock a runic alphabet that has had researches stumped for years.

The Ringwrack is a vast chain of archipelagos circling the Sea of Rage. Planktas are more common here than anywhere else in the world, thanks to the extreme level of volcanic activity in the region and the destructive procreation of the planktas themselves. Planktas that were fathered rather than arising spontaneously tend to resemble their sire. Those that resemble stony hermit crabs were born from Old Karg, those that resemble weeping whales made of marble were sired by the White Witch, and those that resemble massive iguanas seem to trace back to a mystery progenitor near the equatorial line.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 195

I have feelings about 2019. I have feelings about the last decade. I’ll save them for another day, but suffice it to say I’m ready for 2020 in a big way. Happy New Year, everyone.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Plague Giant

(Illustration by David Melvin comes from the artist’s DeviantArt page and is © Paizo Publishing.)

I’m on record as being very picky when it comes to certain kind of [noun] monsters. I want my [noun] giants to be from some kind of recognizable landscape or elemental force. (I grudgingly accept rune giants because they are dope.) I want my [noun] golems to be from things you carve or mine—no web or stained glass golems, please. I’m basically done with [noun] dragons altogether, preferring more unique branches of the family tree.

Yet all that goes out the window when I hear the word “plague.” Plague golems? Sure. Plague dragons? BAD. ASS. Plague armadillos, plague puddings, plague leprechauns? Why the heck not—let’s make galarchauns a thing! (Somewhere I have an Irish reader who is wincing. Tá brón orm!)

So I like plague giants as they're presented in Bestiary 6.  I mean, who doesn’t love the special ability Hurl Corpse (Su)? (And imagine the cinematics of a giant lair just having stacks of corpses piled around for ammo, or a giant pushing a massive corpse cart the size of a cottage through a blasted landscape.) And they cause a disease that withers limbs. And what kind of monsters do they summon? Vultures maybe? Rats? Nope—tick swarms! I don’t even know why I like that; I JUST DO.

Obviously, plague giants are the result of some curse or divine intervention or some other dire event…and what that event was might be something your PCs can discover in the course of the game, or it might be a mystery they never learn, as they’re too busy dodging rotted corpse missiles.

Adventurers are providing aid to a plague-stricken town when an unnatural mist rolls through town. Out of the fog comes a pair of plague giants pushing a massive cart, offering to collect the town’s dead. The offer is a sincere one, and removing the corpses will help stem the tide of infection. But then the plague giants make their way to the hospital, and begin collecting still-living victims with no regard to their prognosis.

After their service preventing diabolists from disturbing the Storm Moot—and enduring much anti-human prejudice and violence in the process—a band of adventurers are allowed the rare honor of sitting in on giant summit. The meeting is thrown into turmoil when a delegation of plague giants arrives. While not precisely banned from the Moot, the cursed giants have never attempts to attend before.  Most present wish to bar them entry, but they insist, particularly as they come bearing the corpse of the exiled fire giant jarl Vulsk with them.

One reason plagues aren’t more prevalent is that the plague powers are a fractious, jealous bunch—a mix of demigods, daemons, demons, and divs jockeying for worshippers and warring over ownership of specific strains of infection. One sign a plague power is in ascendance is when it has the puissance to transform nearby giant tribes into plague giants, sending them out as earthly avatars to further the power’s ends.

Bestiary 6 134

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Plagued Beast

Whenever demons or undead take over a country, or some horrible magical event happens in a region, there’s always the question of what life in a realm of death is actually like. Like, what happens to the animals? Do they flee? Do they remain, skittish and agitated? Do ghouls eat them all or do they find a way to persist? Or are they, too, morphed?

The plagued beast is the result of demon plague—in Golarion, yet another stain from the Worldwound. But in your game it can work for any necromantic or fiendish affliction, and is useful for giving your undead something to ride that’s sturdier than a skeletal steed.

The centaurs of the Iron Lands are in dire straights. Demon plague is racing through their herds, decimating the stock just before the yearly horse fair the centaurs depend on for buying winter stores. If they can’t cull the undead beasts and save their horses, they will have to rely in the Medichar Bank for a loan—an ill prospect, as Medichar law protects only humanoids from slavery if they default. Adventurers are needed to hunt down the plagued steeds (possibly hindered by Medichar Bank agents) and discover the root of the infection.

Loch Annis is famous for three things: a series of three sentry keeps, the hag (long slain) that gave the loch its name, and a serpentine beast, likely an elasmosaurus, that draws tourists and naturalists. But when some necromantic storm engulfs one of the keeps, the lake monster “Annie” becomes a plagued horror, terrorizing towns up and down the loch.

A traveling circus’s showstopper is covering one lucky farmer’s animal in gold. Crowds for miles around come to watch the Eeling & Sons Circus lead a horse, mule, or kite deer through a magic mirror, which it comes through dusted in real gold leaf the farmer can then curry out of the animal’s hide. But three months into the act, an alarming pattern is emerging: Every animal that has gone through the mirror comes down with demon plague. After a plagued deer terrorizes a halfling village, the sheriff wants the circus stopped—permanently.

The Worldwound 56 & Pathfinder Bestiary 5 194

Long time no see, huh? Happy holidays, everybody.

Looking for the piranha swarm? We’ll cover it when we cover the dunkleosteus.

Monday, September 16, 2019


The ram-horned, mantis-armed phasmadaemons personify death by fright. They also happen to cause death by fright (convenient, that!), courtesy of illusion spell-like abilities supercharged to be practically real, and they feed on fright, too—demonstrating, all in all, a horrifically efficient and thrifty biology.

Though phasmadaemons didn’t make it into the hardbound Bestiaries till number 6, they’ve been around since Horsemen of the Apocalypse, so GMs looking for a deep dive on their tactics, hunting habits and culture should look there. Two things in particular jump out at me, though. The first is how powerful (CR 17) phasmadaemons are—an indicator that causing death by fear alone somehow situates them closer to the daemonic ideal than, say, more base deaths such as drowning, being mauled, or exsanguination.

The second is that—though this isn’t really reflected in the rules, it’s a great story bit—phasmadaemons somehow also collect fearful imaginings and trade them with each other. I’m a big fan of the soul markets of the night hags, so the notion of even more quiddity-derived commodity trades excites me to no end.

Struck by an azata’s arrow, a thanadaemon goes mad as the celestial wound grows septic. No longer content to represent death by old age, it begins stalking the living, culling souls before their proper time—and in the process, disrupting a phasmadaemon’s carefully orchestrated hauntings. Offended, the phasmadaemon tricks mortal adventurers into hunting down the wayward thanadaemon, though all the while it also sends illusory torments to harry their progress and stoke their fear. Once the thanadaemon is slain, the phasmadaemon offers its thanks by revealing itself to the adventurers before attempting to murder them.

Fireworks, porcelain masks, and sinuous manticore puppets are all hallmarks of the Yung New Year’s celebrations. But the court sorcerer made a deal with the daemonic Lord of the Wastes to win Yung’s last war against the northern barbarian tribes, and now daemons have begun slipping unchallenged into the empire. The rise in terror and deaths are largely felt only as a malaise that hangs over the city. But that changes during the New Year parade, when a porcelain-masked phasmadaemon erupts out from under the procession’s manticore puppet and sends illusionary horrors to torment citizens.

Bugbears that perfect the art of stalking and terrifying victims are sometimes visited by a phasmadaemon. The daemon stalks the chosen bugbear over the course of three days and nights, attacking at random, setting up ambushes, and never letting the goblinoid sleep. Though few bugbears could hope to defeat a daemon in combat, if the champion does not show fear throughout the entire ordeal, the phasmadaemon will grant the bugbear some boon. Often these boons include the gift of an intelligent magical weapon, magical prowess (treat as added class levels or the half-field template),a spell-like ability, transformation into a greater barghest, or some other dark blessing.

Horsemen of the Apocalypse 52–53 & Pathfinder Bestiary 6 74

Hi guys. Been a while since we did a monster. For my Blogger readers, here’s some of what’s been going on—including some fun with monster reading recommendations, some big news, and some bleak news. For my Tumblr readers, thank as always for sticking around and keeping me company.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Pharaonic Guardian

As I’ve mentioned before, I have a love/hate relationship with fantasy Egypt tropes.  Mummies are interesting undead, period, and when done thoughtfully, Egypt-inspired adventures can be some of the best around (see the excellent Mummy’s Mask Adventure Path).  On the other hand, it can be way too easy to just drop fantasy-Egypt wholesale into your Pathfinder/D&D campaign without a lot of forethought (even Forgotten Realms was guilty of this), leading to trite adventures involving pyramids, death traps, and the obligatory cameo appearance by Anubis.

The pharaonic guardian, at first glance, looks both useful (it’s the kind of monster you’d totally see in a Mummy movie but that there hasn’t exactly been stats for yet ) and pretty generic (oh great, it’s still an undead tomb guardian, no matter what kind of head it has). 

But it shines in the details: A judging gaze and soul-rending wings are just cool.  The fact that it can use (and even briefly hand over) a +3 ghost touch speed longsword and shield is a nice cinematic touch.  Even the alignment is flavorful—not a bland N or LN, but not your typical undead NE or CE either.  And why lawful evil?  Because pharaonic guardians “are the product of fear and sweat wrung from slaves and other servants”—in fact, they’re made from an amalgam of these servants’ souls! 

So these are creatures born of atrocity.  And they probably will try to kill you.  But if on the rare chance you’re actually trying to preserve a pyramid rather than loot it…maybe you’ll get lucky.

But say you’re not down with Horus and Set.  It’s interesting to think of other reasons a culture might have animal-headed tomb guardians…

In the early stages of exploring a crypt, adventurers have an opportunity to step into magical mural of a garden, where they may ritually purify themselves and converse with the denizens therein.  One of these figments, a foul-tempered, warthog-headed armorer, will ask them to swear an oath not to disturb a certain burial chamber.  Should they do so (and keep their promise), he will come to their aid later in the depths, arriving bearing ghost touch-infused arms when the adventurers are set upon by the tomb’s more malevolent spirits.

Elves of Parnish have a taboo against being represented in images after their death.  Instead, they are depicted in carvings, paintings and tapestries bearing the heads of their totem animals.  To the Parnish’eya, it is an honor to have one’s soul be destined after death to become a tomb guardian.  But the elves’ strict religious and funeral obligations weigh upon the souls over the centuries, and most of these guardians grow cold and evil during the course of their endless watch.

A wise ruler puts some distance between his palace and his line's necropolis.  The Captive King is a lesson why.  When Tarpin XII decided to shore up his faltering reign by building a palace atop the burial city of Omun-Ke, it did not occur to him the pharaonic guardians would see fit to judge the weak king according to the harsh standards of namesake.  Now Tarpin XII is naught but ash in an urn, and his son Tarpin XIII has spent 30 years a prisoner in his own palace.  Praying for a rescue that never comes, he appears in public only to pronounce draconian edicts dictated by his undead jailers, who are intent in restoring the faith and territory of the first Tarpin's empire.

Osirion, Legacy of the Pharaohs 60 & Pathfinder Bestiary 5 191

I also like Mummy’s Mask because it’s one of the last APs I successfully read all of as it came out, rather than in desperate cram sessions after the fact.  My life got weird, y’all.

It’s been long enough now that I bet many of you have forgotten the truly messed-up elves of Eberron.  No matter what system you play, you owe it to yourself to pick up either the 3.5 Eberron Camapaign Setting, Player’s Guide to Eberron, or Races of Eberron.  At time of writing, used PGTEs are a steal at $16.50, and for value for money it’s still really hard to beat a used ECS at roughly $36.

Also, old-school (or at least, middle-school) D&D fans will remember the Dark Sun novels, specifically the Prism Pentad by Troy Denning.  The first three books were flat-out baller, but the fourth, The Obsidian Oracle, was a muddy, claustrophobic, and depressing read, even by Dark Sun standards.  But it featured some truly horrific bad guys—beast-headed giants that got those heads through magical manipulation that (if I’m recalling correctly—I haven’t re-read these books since, like, ’94) also doomed their children’s souls.  So there’s another source of animal-headed atrocities for you.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019


(Illustration by Dave Allsop comes from the PathfinderWiki and is © Paizo Publishing.)

I’m a big fan of Dave Allsop’s art—he did the Bestiary’s woeful mite and the amazing papinijuwari I was so excited about a few months ago—so I’m a little bummed that his peuchen, while beautiful, doesn’t capture the scale of the beast.  What he’s painted looks like an exotic species you’d see on display in a fantasy reptile house or curled around the arm of some sorceress.  But it’s actually a roughly human-sized (Medium) monster that punches in at a mighty CR 10.

And that, in a nutshell, is why I like the peuchen: It’s a pretty good dragon substitute for low-level campaigns.

But let’s back up.  The peuchen is a cryptid from Andean mythology, especially Chile and Argentina—likely a mashup of the boa and the vampire bat—that is a feared shapeshifter who drains the blood of livestock and lone shepherds. Pathfinder’s version follows that outline almost exactly (right down to bleed and blood drain abilities, as well as the ability to cast hold person and vampiric touch).

I’m always looking for good non-European monsters I can point GMs to, and the peuchen definitely checks that box.  (Which is awesome, as South America is probably our least-represented continent in terms of Bestiary monsters.  Even Antarctica has a better selection once you start throwing in Lovecraft, John Carpenter’s The Thing, Hollow Earth tales and other pulp inspirations.).  Then again, if you’re a Euro diehard, the peuchen reskinned could make a perfectly acceptable version of Fáfnir the dragon.  I’m also always looking for ways to tell bring more intimate, narrative and folktale-inspired gaming into Pathfinder.  And I can totally see a slow-moving, low-XP campaign where a PC’s parent’s death hangs over the campaign…with the peuchen teased as the culprit all along but finally revealed somewhere around Level 6 or 7, just as the players are really coming into their full powers.

But if you want straight-up hack & slash…well, Camazotz is about the most badass god/devil/demon (depending on your game world) out there.  Someone’s got to clean out his creepy jungle temple superdungeon…and guess what’s the perfect monster to fight on Level 10?

Nutmeg’s value to spice traders isn’t just from its rarity and taste—it’s also dangerous to harvest.  Peuchens delight in polishing their scales with the crushed aromatic seeds of the nutmeg tree.  Harvesters in the Bluewater Isles need adventurers who will guard their crews from the cunning winged snakes.

The fey of the Bier of Bone—bloodthirsty pixies, tooth fairies, quicklings, redcaps, and worse—all serve the mad leanan sidhe Umlar.  Her prize pet is a peuchen the blue of a bird of paradise.  Recently she has been distracted by the charms of a larabay (who secretly plots to steal her throne), leaving the peuchen as the main guardian of her ivory hoard.

Years ago, a silver-tongued drover talked his ways out of the jaws of a peuchen by offering to deliver livestock the likes of which the winged snaked had never tasted.  Intrigued, the peuchen agreed, and was rewarded with Huwari beef from the Olfshires—a kind of cattle newly brought by Northern colonists.  Desiring more such delicacies, the peuchen and the drover began trading Northern cattle for alpacas, llamas, and other livestock. Today the drover is the most powerful beef importer in the thriving colony Sor Pelag, with the peuchen as his silent partner—and occasional enforcer.  When a new source of flesh—glowing, duergar-raised deep oxen—threatens the pair’s monopoly, they turn to murder to keep their balance sheets in the black.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 189

The history of nutmeg is actually super interesting.  Nutmeg is also one of the reasons that, while Pepsi always does better in blind taste tests, Coke is more popular in reality—the nutmeg in a Coke Classic sets off more flavor sensors and yields a more complex, richer experience over the course of the entire can.  (At least according to some New Yorker article I read years ago.)

I keep waiting for my day job to hand my some kind of nutmeg-related project, but so far I’ve only played around with turmeric and bay leaves.

Looking for the penguin?  We covered that way back here.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019


(Illustration by Roberto Pitturru comes from the PathfinderWiki and is © Paizo Publishing.)

The serpentine proteans are chaos incarnate—so much so that they can change their shape, their vital organs shift around constantly, they can just regrow new sensory organs, they are in constant flight, they are always under the effects of a freedom of movement spell, and many of them cause warpwaves that ripple through and twist reality itself.  But at least they’re bound by some basic laws of corporeal existenoh God there’s an incorporeal version isn’t there?

So, welcome to the pelagastr!  And it gets worse, because these creatures, while not being part of material existence, delight in it—the Material Plane in particular—dipping their limbs into reality to smack adventurers around or magic jar-ing themselves into humanoids to wear their skins for a while, just for kicks.  They are natural spies and investigators, and unlike other proteans seem to originate directly from the Maelstrom itself, rather than promotion/evolution through the protean caste structure.  So even for creatures of chaos, pelagastrs are…chaotic.

If you’re looking for more on pelagastrs, definitely check out Pathfinder Adventure Path #99: Dance of the Damned, which has room for far more lore (as well as teasing a possible pelagastr master) than the Bestiary 6 write-up.  But in the meantime, here are some adventure hooks to get you started:

Efreet loathe pelagastrs for the disorder the cause—and the plans they ruin with their incessant spying and possession.  Five maliks known as the Fist organize a pelagastr hunt every year.  The prize, a unique statue carved of ruby, is worth a fortune in and of itself, or it may be exchanged for a favor from one of the five fearsome lords.

The Anchored Isles are a chain (literally, thanks to adamantine fetters of extreme size and age) of floating earthbergs hovering where the Planes of Earth and Chaos intersect the Plane of Air. Here the artists and aesthetes from the Circum Sensoria allow pelagastrs to ride their bodies, unlocking the doors of perception for both parties.  But when a clique of pelagastrs begins a new fad of riding mortals into the experience of death, adventures must step in to separate the sense-mad participants.

The Snallygaster & The Pelagastr isn’t a sign you’d see above most public houses—but then again, Cardumond, with its cosmopolitan society and no less than three magic colleges, is no ordinary city.  And things are about to get even more unusual for the tavern.   Earlier this week, a pelagastr (a recent escapee from the university’s Hall of Conjuring) chanced upon the pub. Delighted by the sign outside, the pelagastr has decided that, now that he’s arrived, all that’s lacking is a snallygaster or two…and he his currently herding two giant specimens toward the tavern at this very moment.

Pathfinder Adventure Path #99 88–89 & Pathfinder Bestiary 6 214

My notes for the first draft of this post references a Snail Mail video where Lindsey name-checks my radio station—the link to which has long since vanished.  Oh, and it references me not doing my show the night before…because of snow.

Also the saved file dates from January 30. 

I…yeah, I should really post more often, huh?