Wednesday, August 31, 2011


You can tell that somebody at Paizo loves boggards.  After all, they appeared in the very first Adventure Path, “Rise of the Runelords.”  Maybe it’s their old-school-bullywug-made-new-ness, maybe it’s their murderous rituals and society, or maybe it’s just nice to write a swamp adventure that doesn’t involve lizardfolk, gators, or a black dragon.

The boggards near Pine Wallow were always a threat to lone travelers, but in recent weeks they’ve taken to attack outlying settlements and even the village proper.  Purple paint markings the boggards have left on trees seem to be religious in nature—perhaps indicating a shift in their devotions to a more martial, aggressive power.

A boggard king believes his clansmen are the world’s best singers.  He begins capturing bards to be an appreciative audience—for a chorus or two, at least, until he gets hungry.

Boggards are amphibious and need water to spawn.  In the rainforests, boggard villages sometimes climb high into the trees, using elaborate catch basins, gutters, and cisterns to gather enough water for the clan’s many needs.

Pathfinder Adventure Path 2 84–85 & Bestiary 37

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Bodaks apparently date back to The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, but not until this year’s Undead Revisited does it seem they received serious attention (at the hands of Eric Cagle).  They are created from mortals killed from exposure to absolute evil.  Evil so pure is typically only to be found on the Outer Planes.  PCs encountering them on the Prime Plane had best cover their eyes and pray for dawn.

The Smoking Field is an Abyssal realm where a company of paladins met its end.  The gate through which they came still stands, but holy abjurations bar the now-undead paladins from returning through.  Hungry for mortal souls, these bodaks stand at the edge of the spells’ boundaries, pacing back and forth like a fell crop of ashen corpses.

An artist is visited by a spirit from beyond who shows him sights of abject horror, then forces him to paint what he sees.  The nightmares on his canvas eventually turn him into a bodak.  Anyone attempting to lay him to rest must now also contend with a studio filled with his bodak assistants and avoid glimpsing his blasphemous final work.

A medusa necromancer seeks bodaks to study, seeing a perfection in their deadly gazes that mirrors her own.

Pathfinder Bestiary 2 48

Monday, August 29, 2011

Boar & Dire Boar

Anyone who’s read any medieval literature (or—spoiler alert?—seen Old Yeller) knows that, in a non-magical world, boars are lethal.  As for magical worlds, well, that’s what dire boars are for.

In the forest kingdom of Tuarth, the druids send the king to slay a boar once every seven years.  Armed only with a spear, if he returns he keeps his throne; otherwise his life is forfeit.  This year the hunt involves a dire boar.  Is it an omen from the spirits of the wood, or is a druid trying to force the issue of succession?

An antelope-like savannah satyr sends a sounder of warthogs through the camp of anyone who despoils his water hole.

The Ogre Kingdoms of Harsk are home to daeodons of monstrous proportions.  The superstitious ogres alternately farm and worship them as avatars of the Hunger Lord, or hunt them as spies for the orcish deity Hamilg the Cannibal.

Pathfinder Bestiary 34

Friday, August 26, 2011

Blue Dragon

The watchword for blue dragons is mastery.  In previous editions of “the world’s most popular role-playing game,” blue dragons were masters of the desert skies.  Dragonlance held theirs to be the most successful Dragonarmy.  3.0/3.5.turned them into ceratosaurus-horned, burrowing, Earth-subtype brutes.  In Pathfinder, they’ve returned to the air.  But in every incarnation, blues have been absolute masters of their domain.  They are the most likely to have humanoid networks, the most likely to rule as lords (either openly or behind the scenes), and the most likely to have half-dragon offspring to further their aims.  Even their special abilities allow them to control the battlefield—destroying liquids, calling storms, mimicking voices, and even creating mirages of themselves.  But the most dangerous blue dragon is the one you don’t know you’re even fighting…or serving.  (It’s also the most common one.)

Through their servants, a blue dragon and a djinni fight a proxy war with a yearly test of strength and skill.  The annual games present an ethical quandary—the chaotic genie is good-hearted but an appalling cheat, while the lawful blue dragon, though a malevolent slaver, is a stickler for the rules.

A blue dragon has forced two young brass dragons into servitude, while a third hangs crucified by the wings in the fort of the blue’s seneschal.  The brass’s mother wants them rescued.

A new merchant consortium begins to dominate trade and government in the emirate of Yul.  They seem to be immune to the attentions of an increasingly active blue-sashed assassin’s guild, and to the gnoll packs that haunt the nearby wastes.  Close investigation reveals correspondence among the three groups, caches of lightning-infused weapons, and some half-dragon lieutenants.  Rumors of azure-scaled chimeras and lamias abound as well…

Pathfinder Bestiary 94–95

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Blink Dog

If you take the notion of a magical world seriously (and that's why we're here, isn't it?) blink dogs make sense—on a globe bathed in eldritch emanations, magical flora and fauna are bound to appear.  Traditionally, blink dogs have also been enemies of TSR/ Wizards of the Coast’s displacer beasts, but Paizo's substitution of phase spiders works just as well (and explains why phase spiders haven't decimated the Material Plane by now).  Add to that the canines' fondness for astrology, and you have lots of reasons a pack might aid—or attack—your PCs.

A bronze dragon astronomer and a blink dog pack argue over the import of a comet in the southern sky.  Somehow the comet's passing is linked to an ostinato of necromantic pulses and the coming of strangers—a party of sellswords—to their lands.  The bronze dragon urges caution, but the blink dogs are determined to harry the party and test their reactions.  As lawful good creatures, they will not kill without reason, but they will savage any spellcaster who shows the slightest propensity toward using the vile magic.

When adventurers finds themselves beset by phase spiders, a blink dog sage comes to the rescue.  A sorcerer of the destined bloodline, the sage reveals his destiny has arrived.  He has been meant to find the party and recruit them against an evil from the void between the stars.

Planewalking heroes are asked to broker a peace between the phase spiders and the xills (having fought both, they are considered ideal impartial interlocutors).  If they reject the offer, they will be attacked by champions of both races. if they accept, they will be hounded by blink sages instead.  If the two Ethereal enemies ever stop fighting, the blink dog alphas believe, the Material world is doomed.

Pathfinder Bestiary 2 47

All of the above comments apply even if your world is not a globe.  Substitute disc, ring, plane, conic section, asteroid shard, Möbius strip, or what have you.

Also, I'm guessing blink dogs hate kamadans, too.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Let’s be honest: blindheims are mostly set dressing.  At CR2, they’re only going to be a threat to the most novice of parties.  But for atmosphere, they’re phenomenal.  With their glowing eyes and eerie silence, they introduce PCs to a new underground world.

A novice party of adventurers, fresh back from their first sortie against goblin raiders, plummet through a sinkhole down a deep dark shaft.  Giant pillowy bracket fungi and mushrooms arrest their fall on the way down, sparing them from damage, but now they must find their way back to the surface.  And even as they scramble to orient themselves, four pairs of glowing white eyes light up the dark, focusing on them.

Below the earth, wherever there is water, there are predators.  To combat this, an outpost of svirfneblin has befriended the local blindheims with food.  Now the frog-like creatures stand watch over the cavern where the svirfneblin fetch water and bathe, alerting them to dangers—including surface adventurers.

A drow wizard specializes in light spells to dazzle his sun-hating rivals.  He keeps three blindheims on a chain and takes them for walks through the dark city.  Their flashing white eyes are meant as a deliberate insult.

Pathfinder Bestiary 2 46

It is totally fine to shut off the lights and shine flashlights while role-playing a blindheim.  Wearing a frog mask might be a little much, though.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Black & Cave Scorpions

Giant scorpions too giant for you?  Or not giant enough?  Try the cave and black scorpions on for size.

A conjurer’s summoning goes horribly wrong, and instead of the giant scorpions he meant to call, a Colossal black scorpion muscles its articulated body through the spiritual gate.  Now the man they were just fighting moments before begs his attackers for their help—if they cannot join forces to contain the beast, it will destroy the city.

A dwarven rogue enters the clanhold with the stingers of a dozen cave scorpions, seeking a hefty bounty.  But the rogue is a scam artist—he did not kill the scorpions, but merely sliced off their tails when they were just rousing from hibernation.  At least half the scorpions still live, and though maimed have followed the scent of dwarf back to the clan.

The emir of Ettamark has constructed a metallic juggernaut in the shape of a scorpion, and has commissioned a party of dervishes and fortune seekers to drive it.  Unfortunately, the juggernaut resembles nature perhaps too well—during a test run, a black scorpion erupts from out of the earth and attempts to mate with it.

Pathfinder Bestiary 2 240

That illustration in the Bestiary 2?  Of a black scorpion knocking camels dozens of feet into the air?  Awesome.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Black Pudding

The black pudding has certainly transcended its joke-name origin.  And since green slime was reduced to the level of hazard in 3.0 (what I would have given to sit in on that Human Resources meeting—“I’m sorry, Mr. Slime, you’re just not meeting your monthly quota of dwarves”), the black pudding is, for my money, fantasy role-playing’s iconic Ooze. 

Typically it’s a subterranean ambush predator—with a CR, acid, and corrosion that guarantees it gets taken seriously.  But there’s always some mad alchemist or druid who thinks he can control one, and that never ends well…

Oxenhill Aberforth was a chemist determined to control black puddings via alchemy, conditioning, and patience.  All three ran out on him: he overfed his specimen, it split, and the resulting pair of oozes cornered and consumed him.   Adventurers expecting to pick up their potion commissions must now contend with the ooze that has burst out the window to attack passersby on the cobblestones below, and the ooze still in the shop, feasting on a fortune in rare spell components.

Tan puddings live in the shady sides of desert dunes, moving over the surface of the sand in undulating waves that can be hard to spot.  A traveler’s only warning might be the sight of a beige pseudopod engulfing a sidewinder just ahead.

The famous Stone Lake Tar Pit is not a tar pit at all—it is a Gargantuan black pudding held in place by ancient abjuration magic.  The spells are maintained through a network of menhirs that give Stone Lake its name.  A team of archaeologists, unaware of this, has begin to remove the menhirs, and the “tar pit” begins to stir…

Pathfinder Bestiary 35

As a fledgling “basic D&D” player who didn’t even yet have the Expert Set, my first exposure to black puddings was the Bruce Heard-compiled AC11 The Book of Wondrous Inventions, where the inclusion of black puddings in fantasy dishwashers made for guaranteed mayhem.

Also, did Stephen King’s “The Raft” and/or Creepshow 2 freak anyone else out?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Black Dragon

Black dragons practically exist to be fought—they are evil to the core, have acid breath, torture prisoners, lord over boggards, kobolds, and lizardfolk, and try to enact genocide on almost everything else.  So the tricky part isn’t getting players to want to kill black dragons; it’s simply getting PCs into the swamps in a way that isn’t cliché. 

Most black dragons kill any warm-blooded humanoid in their swamps. Zheros the Jet Talon dimly recognizes that the presence of the coastal trading town of L’Onzal brings fat, wealthy prey closer to his swamp.  So he tolerates the town…but once a month he paws through the main streets, corrupting the water wherever it strikes his fancy.  Should anyone open an alchemist’s or an apothecary’s shop, he is sure unleash his magic there first.

Sadism is a black dragon’s calling card.  When a cult of the goddess of torturers opens shop near Blackfens, they contact a young black dragon to aid them in their rites—driving their devotions to new ecstatic heights in the eyes of their goddess while filling the dragon’s pickling pools.

Some black dragons do have a single soft spot: bards.  If a bard is abducted near a swamp, chances are a black is involved—and sometimes, they’re even released unharmed.  The one-horned Oxipitus is particularly prone to abducting female elven bards because they live so much longer…if he is careful with them, which these days (thanks to his penchant for face-maiming) he is not.

Pathfinder Bestiary 92–93

Mike McArtor’s Dragons Revisited indicates that blue dragons are the most likely to have half-dragon offspring.  But a quick glance through published adventures easily hands the title to blacks, who seem to have bred with anything vaguely reptilian.  (In 3.5 their rutting even spawned a new race: Monster Manual III’s blackscale lizardfolk.)  A simply way to reconcile these facts: Blue dragons are much more likely to breed strategically, to gain loyal lieutenants, servants who can move around human societies, and as en expression of dominance.  Blacks breed out of sheer lust divided by a narrow range of opportunities.  Hence blues being more likely to carefully breed across many species, while blacks stick to the reptiles in their swamps (crocodiles, basilisks, dinosaurs, lizardfolk, etc.) who sate their desires and aren’t likely to raise offspring that could eventually become a threat.

By the way, the look of black dragons has changed a lot over the years, from Dragonlance’s sleek Clyde Caldwell-painted black to Todd Lockwood’s 3.0 “skull dragons.”  In the Bestiary, Ben Wootten goes for a practically antler-horned, fan-fringed beast that’s pretty cool and definitely evil.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


The look of the belker has changed from 3.5 to Pathfinder—the former was droopy-faced and demonic, the latter more like a smoky, insectile bat—but the essentials are the same.  They are hateful beasts of smoke, an edgy alternative to the usual air elemental.

Talidar is a prosperous city, whose gleaming, high-walled streets look out over a glittering azure sea and a harbor full of eager tradesmen.  But if the walls and towers are freshly whitewashed, it is by necessity.  Talidar is home to a sprawling university for mages, whose many rival colleges might as well be feuding social clubs.  Talidar’s wizards and summoners are unique in that all are taught to bind small belkers, whose size then grows with the wizards’ power.  Dueling by belker is the norm, and the sooty trails left in their wake (along with the occasional fireball char) keep the rest of Talidar’s citizens scrubbing furiously but saying little.

Earthquakes cause a pocket of gas to rupture up into the market square.  In addition to the threat of poisonous fumes, a pair of belkers menaces all who come near.

A janni’s human husband is found dead of smoke inhalation and internal injuries.  A belker is the likely culprit, but did it act alone or under the compulsion of some other foe?

Pathfinder Bestiary 2 45

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Belier Devil

Bdellavritras’ sweet voices belie (naturally) their loathsome natures.  Masters of possession, teleportation, and plane-shifting, belier devils are very, very hard to confront directly.

The Tellish ambassador has been revealed to be possessed by a belier devil, but under the fiend’s control he fled to his magical yacht. Catching him on the high seas could take months and puts his life at risk, but a journey to the Ethereal Plane might unearth his possessor.

A prince of the Amber Throne is forced to kill his beloved sisters one by one as each inexplicably tries to assassinate him.  Divinations reveal a belier devil is possessing them by turns.

A bdellavritra in Belial’s court augments his powers of persuasion and domination with bardic talents as well.  Becoming a favored courtier has helped him hide from the azata who placed a price on his four heads.

Pathfinder Bestiary 2 85

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


Lightning-spitting behirs are not quite dragons and not quite anything else.  And that, in a nutshell, is what’s wonderful about them.  Say you want an encounter that feels draconic, but for campaign reasons you’d like true dragons to be rare.  Use a behir.  PCs abusing dragon bane weapons?  Surprise them with a behir—the villagers who come begging their aid certainly wouldn’t know the difference.  Running a low-magic, primitive, or Viking campaign?  Throw in a behir among the linnorms and drakes.  Any time you need to emphasize otherness—throughout uncharted landscapes, foreign continents, and alien planets—behirs are a go-to monster.

The cyclopes of the Cassic Wastes ride behir steeds and war with the native perytons and slate-furred weretigers.

An advanced behir demands tribute from all who pass beneath his cliff face.  But he is a devoted servant of an archaic deity of weather and endurance, and clerics and witches who revere similar powers might find him accommodating.  He can also detect the presence of anyone who is oathsworn, naming them so aloud but offering no further comment or challenge (beyond his usual extortion).

Blue dragons and behirs typically loathe each other.  But one ambitious blue dragon suzerain aspires to an empire, and consenting to clutch half-behir offspring would cement alliances across the desert.

Pathfinder Bestiary 34

Monday, August 15, 2011

Behemoth Hippopotamus & Hippopotamus

Any player who has watched a nature documentary knows that hippos are dangerous.  But it’s nice to have the statistics to deliver the message home to cocky PCs as well.

Most elves revere graceful creatures: deer, unicorns, cranes, kites, and the like.  However, the mysterious wooden-masked elves of the Pel Menj jungles hold hippos in special reverences, with crescent moon-marked behemoth specimens guarding their most sacred temples.

A hippopotamus-filled river is the only thing keeping a village safe from goblin marauders on the opposite bank.  When a magical disease strikes the hippos, the entire village is at risk.

During the rainy season, flooding deltas cause the territories of fresh and saltwater creatures to overlap.  Travelers report of titanic struggles between behemoth hippopotami and tylosauruses—the marine lizards are longer, but the river horses’ bulk usually tells in the end.

Pathfinder Bestiary 2 157

Friday, August 12, 2011


Perhaps the most terrifying thing about the Abyss is that demons aren’t even the most terrifying things in it.  There are creatures in the Abyss that stalk demons they way a tiger—or a carnosaur—might a man.  The bebilith is one such creature.  Not that mortals are any safer: a bebilith can peel the armor from a soldier’s body mid-battle and follow him across the planes to finish its meal.

A famous ranger has stalked demons from almost the beginning of his career.  Now he seeks allies to join him in tracking even more dangerous game—the demon-hunting bebiliths.

In a plane-hopping race against time, a party of adventurers takes a risky shortcut through the Abyss.  The demons that might otherwise menace the party seem to avoid the layer, as it is frequented by bebiliths.  But the guide himself is a tiefling sorcerer, and his Abyssal-tainted blood is potent enough to draw the spider-like outsiders straight toward him.

A cosmopolitan succubus and her quasit footman need bodyguards to protect them from bebilith assaults.  (A bebilith once tasted the succubus’s ichor on an ill-fated journey, and now a plane-shifting band waits to ambush her whenever she leaves the confines of civilization.)  The adventurers whom they approach would probably be happy to leave the pair to their much-deserved fates, but the quasit claims to be in possession of a soul of great interest to them.

Pathfinder Bestiary 32

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Bearded Devil

Barbazus are Hell’s career military—rank-and-file troops who are nevertheless worlds more capable than the mobs of lemures serving under them.  They are interested only in bloodshed…and as long as PCs understand that, they may be able to outfox the devils.

The paladins of the Iron Ring have taken to using wickedly toothed glaives.  The Red Hand Inquisitors are privately certain the polearms are of barbazu make, but so far the paladins do not seem to have lost their divine patron’s sanction.

A merchant swears “by all the beards of Hell” that he will best his rival or give up his business—a business that includes the contracted services of several highly skilled men at arms.  When he fails, a squad of barbazus comes to collect, slaughtering all who interpose themselves between the devils and their targets: the merchant and his men.

Adventurers ambushed by bearded devils may expect to be eviscerated, only to find themselves pressed into Hell’s armies.  They might even be well treated—by devil standards anyway—provided they follow orders instantly, without question or hesitation.

Pathfinder Bestiary 73

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Bat Swarm & Dire Bat

The dire bat entry is proof positive of the value of flavor text.  The only complaint I have with the Pathfinder Bestiary’s otherwise outstanding design is that sometimes the eye just travels right over the flavor text blocks, tucked away in italics as they are above the stats.  In that case, one sees a CR 2 monster—ho-hum, a big bat, barely a threat to even a beginning party.  But the flavor text: “This giant, furry bat is nearly the size of an ox”!  That is what I want characters to experience—a monstrous beast with wings “wider than two men.”  Not “You see a dire bat.”  Meanwhile, bat swarms are likely to be one of the first challenges PCs encounter with the swarm and wounding features.

Halfling servants are disappearing from Lord Cheswick’s house.  A dire bat that has settled up a disused chimney is to blame.

The Leatherwing goblins hold the eating of gnomes to be taboo.  Instead they leave gnomish victims hanging in cages above a nearby cave mouth.  Swarms of bats pass through at dawn and dusk, feasting on any sacrifices as they go.

Bugbear rangers and druids are fond of dire bat companions.  They share a similar love of the night and are both sharp-eared predators. The fear the bats inspire also makes the bugbears’ murders that much more delicious.

Pathfinder Bestiary 30

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Bat, Cat & Hawk

As wizard’s familiars go, bats, cats, and hawks are practically paradigms—only owls and the corvidae (ravens and crows) arguably have a better claim.  The non-arcane versions of these animals can spur adventures, too.

Bassinghust the Red is a kind-hearted wizard of middle years who is also somewhat of a botanist.  In summer his valley suffers lightning strikes, so he keeps a lookout for wildfires from his tower by day, while his bat familiar holds vigil by night. The valley’s residents thus now regard all bats fondly, even though Bassinghust’s, a lazy lump called Snipe, spends as much time as possible napping on the brim of his master’s hat.

The cats of Cleobury all disappear on the third night of every week, as well as the vernal equinox.  A lammasu seems to be responsible.

The archaic practice of employing a use name to disguise one’s true name has largely fallen out of favor (the use name was proof against most kinds of charms, compulsions and possessions, but left one uniquely vulnerable if one’s true name were known).  Still, it was once common, especially among the elves—a Lohengrin Evetheress might go by “Silverleaf” or “Lark.” The elf clan of Verniloss goes one better—they embed pieces of their spirits in hawk and falcon familiars, who are then loyal for all time.

Pathfinder Bestiary 131

Monday, August 8, 2011


In mythology, basilisks and cockatrices were practically identical.  In role-playing games, less so—for one thing, basilisks are a lot bigger.

The Order of the Basilisk is an offshoot of the Order of the Cockatrice.  On the whole these cavaliers have a better reputation than their parent knights, known for being slightly less mercenary and for keeping their armor polished to a mirror shine.  Interestingly, a basilisk is kept in the vault of the Order’s chapterhouse, and worshipped as something akin to a god.

Myths about the enmity between basilisks and weasels are only helpful if you happen to have one on hand.  Cobble Whimmith, a gnomish breeder of weasels, ferrets, martens, and other mustelids could be a valuable ally to would-be hunters, provided they can teach him a new skill as payment.

A sheik’s son has been kidnapped.  Rather than risk him escaping, his abductors trapped him in a box canyon known for desert basilisks.  Rescuers must find a way to tell him apart from the other statues of terrified victims that line that canyon floor, and administer stone to flesh before the basilisks have him for a meal.

Pathfinder Bestiary 29

Friday, August 5, 2011


Basidironds present an interesting role-playing challenge.  The gut reaction is to use them for comedic encounters—the d6 Hallucination table certainly pushes GMs in that direction with nicely silly, exclamation point-studded prose, and a DC 16 Fortitude check isn’t insurmountable.  Yet there is an underlying danger there as well—the plant is still CR 5 and demands that save be repeated each round, so there’s totally possibility for the dreaded TPK…which will, in the players’ minds, likely turn the preceding comedy into insult turned to unforgivable injury. 

One way to balance the two is by teaming basidironds up with fey masters.  Good faeries can laugh at the PCs’ folly and rescue them if they get in over their heads.  And a party facing evil fey will know that behind the illusions are alien, wicked minds, and they must break through the comic hallucinations to survive…

A clurichaun (a kind of leprechaun particularly devoted to brewers and drink) spreads chaos at the local ale festival by hiding a basidirond in an open but unremarked cask.  It’s all meant in fun, until the clurichaun gets too deep in his cups to monitor the madness and the basidirond escapes its barrel prison while surrounded by drunk and hallucinating potential prey.

The Nymph of the Grotto guards an underground vivarium of ferns and cave plants with a grove of basidironds.  She attempts to blind any threats that do not fall under the plants’ hallucinatory influence.

In the Void, basidirond spores are considered a drug.  Most of the seedier bars in the asteroid red light districts have at least one basidirond plant, usually tended by lizardfolk druids.

Pathfinder Bestiary 28

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Barghest & Greater Barghest

Barghests are awesome monsters. For one thing, their ability to feed makes them downright terrifying at the table.  GMs wishing to take advantage of this should be sure there is a disposable NPC handy when the PCs first encounter one.  Seeing an NPC’s corpse (and soul(!) if you’re using 3.5 rules) vanish down a barghest’s gullet should absolutely horrify the player characters and players alike.

They also have the advantage of surprise and scalability at just the right time in your campaign.  By the time PCs encounter barghests, they should be walloping goblins and even hobgoblins fairly easily.  Barghests add an x factor to the tunnels that players probably thought they all but commanded.  And barghests point the way to greater mysteries—goblin gods, devils and daemons, the Lower Planes and beyond—that could occupy the next several arcs of the PCs careers.

A tribe of hobgoblins shows signs of fiendish blood.  The cause is the tribe’s secret barghest leader, who has charmed the chief and bedded most of tribe’s women.  He is grooming his young barghest and half-fiend children for assaults on nearby human and half-orc towns.

Chaos reigns in the city as packs of werewolves and barghests duel in the street.  So far the barghests’ magical talents (especially blink and the greater barghests’ mass bull’s strength and mass enlarge) is more than offsetting the werewolves’ damage resistance.  Meanwhile, the town is powerless to stop the feuding or the collateral damage, as the guard captain and most of the Watch have been revealed to be lycanthropes during the struggle.

Planar barghests live in the Hells but aren’t devils themselves—making them among the lowest rungs of a truly soul-crushing ladder.  And they need the union of corpse and soul to feed—the soulstuff of Hell’s larvae and lemurs will not sate them.  But they are also have more opportunities than devils to escape the obligations of Hell’s hierarchy.  Barghests will often go to great lengths—including allying with neutral and even good spellcasters—for the slightest chance to feed and grow in the Prime Material plane.

Pathfinder Bestiary 27

I’ve been avoiding the barghest entry for one simple reason: shame.

Back in grad school or just after, I worked on a “The Ecology of the Barghest” article for Dragon.  I sent it in and actually got it returned with encouraging comments.  The piece needed work, but it definitely saw some kind attention from an editor.

This is where the shame comes in: I never touched it again.

Why not?  Mostly stupid quotidian reasons.  Time was a huge factor—I was juggling several teaching gigs/starting my career in advertising, living in my parents’ guest room, and generally going nuts.  Oh, and I moved…the draft definitely came with me when I decamped to Baltimore.  Plus the usual psychological barriers: procrastination, fear the article I wrote wouldn’t be as good as the one in my mind, etc.

But there was another reason: As much as I liked my article (and barghests), I only sort of liked it.  The reason was the formatting—I could never get behind the new Dragon Ecology format.*  I wrote my article because that was the idea the editors selected from my query letter, but my heart wasn’t in it.  I was checking off boxes, not putting passion onto the page.

Still, I always assumed I’d have time to revise my article.  But then Dragon closed up shop (through no fault of its own).  So I never got to contribute my take on the barghest, and now that Kobold Quarterly has covered it, there’s no reason for me to.

All in all, a lost opportunity I don’t intend to repeat.  Next time—if there is a next time—I’m going all in.  No procrastination, and definitely no more shame.

*I can talk more about this if people want me to.  Or not.  It was a rare stumble from an otherwise fantastic magazine—an awkward intermediate step between the old brilliant story Ecologies and the Pathfinder’s equally brilliant Revisited series.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Barbed Devil

Jailors and coin-counters, hamatulas guard the treasures of Hell, including their own.  They are miserly and bloodthirsty by turns, and, as F. Wesley Schneider notes in Princes of Darkness, loath to be summoned by mortals.  Barbed devils don’t have to necessarily be outsiders, either—fans of darker fairy tales and films like Pan’s Labyrinth might easily adapt barbed devils for their purposes.

Elaborate dungeon complexes sometimes pierce the barriers between the planes.  More than one party has attempted to leave a dungeon only to come upon a plainly appointed room—surely not present a moment before—with two doors, each guarded by a barbed devil.  One door leads up and out to safety, the other to the devils’ personal treasure hordes and Hell.  Of course, the hamatulas do not intend to let adventurers through either.

A barbed devil is proud of his collection of grigs, pixies, and other winged sprites, kept suspended alive in magical cases with his very own spines.  Now he plans to auction off his collection.  The Queen of Zephyrs, a nymph air elementalist, wants the captive fey of her court freed, especially her favorite pixie cavalier.

Speaking of fey, barbed devils have analogs in the faerie realms.  Needlejacks are appallingly thorny, powerful fey as like to torment their kindred as they are mortals.  The unobservant might mistake one for a hamatula, but needlejacks have fey traits, tend toward Neutral Evil, and replace hamatulas’ unholy, fire-related, and summoning spell-like abilities with ones devoted to illusion, predation, and pure pain.

Pathfinder Bestiary 72

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


From the Irish bean sí or bean-sidhe, banshees are the spirits of elven women tormented by grief and betrayal.  In folklore, a banshee’s keening is sometimes even said to foretell death.  Given the deadliness of her wail, she is also likely to be the cause.

Laird Loark Elf-Friend gave his life to save the elven nation of Aspensong from a red dragon.  His sons were promised that elf swordmaidens would guard his grave, and theirs, and those of his heirs, to ten human generations.  Then plague wiped out twice-cursed Aspensong, but the vow held, and now banshees stand vigil over the Loark crypt.

Betrayal is a fact of drow life, so those dark elf banshees that do arise are not always as hopelessly enraged as their surface counterparts.  A few matron mothers even relish their newfound status and powers, and pick up ruling right where their corpses left off.

An evil crystal artifact from the Plane of Earth can only be shattered by the wail of a willing banshee skilled in song (minimum bard 2).  A copper dragon knows where one such spirit might be found—a lyrist slain by a shaitan’s scimitar.

Pathfinder Bestiary 2 41

Monday, August 1, 2011


What can be said about balors that hasn’t already been said?  Pit fiends may get a lot of press, but if you have enough firepower, they’ll listen to reason.  Balors won’t.  Balors can summon a CR 19 vrolikai with 100% accuracy…y’know, just because. And it was a balor by another name that brought down Gandalf in the Mines of Moria.

Since learning the shadow demon Fusziarch’s true name, a balor summons him almost exclusively.  A lord among his own kind (CR 17), with eldritch oracle powers boosting his own umbral abilities, Fusziarch will promise adventurers almost anything if they can disrupt the balor’s control.  He’s so desperate, he might even keep his word.

A balor’s power approaches nascent demon lord status.  Ambitious, he begins to search out a realm to own and a portfolio to claim.  His choice of the former arouses a dangerous qlippoth; his choice of the latter could wake an ancestral nemesis of the taiga giant pantheon long thought deceased.

Balors lead the hordes of the Abyss to battle against the legions of the Hells.  When a balor lord routes the demons in his charge through the Demiplane of Mirrors and the halls of the Morrowmaze, a whole mortal world trembles in fear.

Pathfinder Bestiary 58-59