Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Hound Archon

As loyal as the dogs whose faces they bear, hound archons are sentinels and guards.  Like dogs, they can be as gentle as a retriever or sheepdog…or as vicious as a pit fighter.  On the whole, though, their willingness to fight to disarm (rather than to maim or kill) and their willingness to hide in the form of humble strays speaks to a humbleness other celestials in the goodly planes might do well to emulate.

Though human-looking, a tiefling foundling has the blood of a pit fiend and a rakshasa in his veins.  A solar oracle has foreseen the boy doing mighty deeds, but their nature is unclear. In order to turn his heart to mercy, a hound archon has followed the boy in the shape of a lame cur, using his mortal form to gently inspire the boy’s kinder and more protective impulses.

Bascomb the True is said to be able to track an evildoer by scent across even the Astral.  He faces a hard choice when the scent of the young druid he has been tasked to protect goes one way, and that of his nemesis, a strange hive-mind-led yeth hound pack, goes another.

The foppish Lafont is known for tailored heavensilk shirts, tight breeches, and womanizing (or at least the appearance of it) to a degree most archons find shocking.  But he also has the reflexes and disarming abilities of a duelist or monk, and despite his carousing, he is able to keep his partner-in-hijinks, the bralani Éleveth, in check.  If it’s all an act, though, it’s quite a good one.

Pathfinder Bestiary 19

Monday, July 30, 2012

Horse & Pony

Horses and ponies are—oh hush.  I was at Otakon all weekend; my notion of what constitutes a pony may be a little skewed. 

Word is spreading like wildfire of a minstrel who has dubbed himself “Sir Seamus.”  The grippli bard is famous for being able to sing, play the lute, and accompany himself with bass croaks at the same time.  His shaggy pony, known as “The Táin,” is almost as famous—for its insatiable appetite for pears and for having killed a hobgoblin with one irritable hoof strike.

While technically horses, the swimming ponies of the White Channel Islands are a tough, hardy breed.  They migrate from island to island to avoid the predation of local merrows.  Some are rounded up each year by dwarves as well, as they are useful for pulling ore carts, though the local wild elf and halfling tribes keep a careful count of how many beasts are claimed.

The destriers of the principality of Rex are especially fierce fighters.  Many have the Firelord’s thumbprint, a red whorl on one shoulder or forehead. Such a fine horse is often the top prize at a Rexian jousting tournament.

Pathfinder Bestiary 177

Obviously, no radio show this week.  Also, if you didn’t already click above, more Otakon courtesy of my ex-roommate and his pals at the Sun here.

Sir Seamus is not the only one who can accompany himself, though I’d peg Rahzel as a jann (amazing breath control, flows like water, built like stone, blows up a room).  (Plus, y’know, there’s “Four Elements.”)

Also, I am not going to give my Eagle badge back—I worked too hard for it, and got it so late I never got to wear it on my uniform.  But the Tumblr for those who are is here.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Horned Devil

Cornugons are the Hells’ elite soldiers and commanders.  Among other things, they are highly adept at delivering damage while shrugging it off themselves.  One might wonder, too, whether the spiked chains they wield are more than weapons, but also symbols of their servitude…

It’s cornugon-on-cornugon warfare as two malebranche praefects duel for power.  Now is the perfect time for a plucky band of adventurers to steal back the imprisoned soul of their loremaster friend.  But first, they might want to check out the reputation of the mercane who sold them the information…

Those looking for the samurai/duelist sifu Shax are in for a surprise: he’s a horned devil with a passion for collecting exotic weaponry and martial arts styles.  Those who are accepted as his students may study without fear for their souls—supposedly.  Even so, there are no guarantees until they pass the entrance exam, which has left many a hopeful dead from blood loss.

Every spiked chain forged in Fettersmythe has a spiritual link to one in the Inferno.   Over time, the wielders’ destinies mirror each others.

Pathfinder Bestiary 76

Is it Friday already?  Last Friday I got a box with Blood of Angels, the Rise of the Runelords anniversary hardcover and two(!) Adventure Paths (and I haven’t even finished the last one).  That’s in addition to having barely cracked the Advanced Race Guide.  I am so behind.  But between Spain, last weekend’s Artscape (featuring some people I know on the local stage), and Otakon (which is starting today and I’m not there thanks to work and other people’s vacations and more work and so very, very angry), I have no idea when I’ll catch up.

I will say this: I bought Rise of the Runelords because I’m a completist and to support Paizo—after all, I already have the original (phenomenal!) series.  But I’m really questioning some of the design choices that went into the book.  In particular, the background page texture is way too dark for easy reading.  It’s the kind of muddy work I normally expect from third-party publishers (I’m talking to you, Open Design/Zobeck folks!) and I’m stunned to see it here.  I can’t believe I’m saying this about a Paizo book, but Try Before You Buy.

Thursday, July 26, 2012


Homunculi are imp-like constructs that toe the line between creature and tool.  In addition to being lab assistants, they are, to quote the Bestiary, “effective spies, messengers, and scouts.”  A homunculus even shares its creator’s alignment and aspects of her personality.  Unless, of course, it’s lost its master…in which case, things get interesting…

Eloise Raven is frantic.  Her homunculus Bazelfisque has gone missing, perhaps abducted.  A local expert on bandits and trade, Eloise has already survived one assassination attempt, but after a recent illness she doubts she could survive the shock of Bazelfisque’s death should he be killed.

Mad King Bladetail rules a tribe of kobolds.  His favorite pet is bloodthirsty homunculus whose master was cut down by orcs.  Utterly shattered in brains and sanity, the creature roamed the caverns until ensnared by the kobolds.  The Mad King (far less mad than he appears) calmed the construct by retrieving what remained of its master’s spellbook and robe from the corpse, then chained the homunculus by his lair’s secret exit to stand watch.

Radovan Charr, Chair of Transmutation at Darkwater College, is actually a homunculus.  Its former master released it from service on his deathbed.  The sleepless construct mourned for a year, then simply took its master’s name, headband of intellect, spellbooks, and (after much study) eventually his departmental chair.  At another university, this would have been sacrilege, but Darkwater’s transmuters, used to far more extreme changes of state, shrugged and carried on.

Pathfinder Bestiary 176

Homunculi and familiars fascinate me from a story perspective.  As a PC, I would need a really compelling reason to ever call a familiar (my eldritch knight has been saved way too many times by his arcane bonded amulet) or give up blood and hit points for a construct.  But as a GM and world-builder, how an arcane caster surrounds himself with allies and servants is fascinating to me.  Depending on your setting, the choice to have a homunculus might be a taken-for-granted given in the world, a rite of passage once an adventuring wizard settles down (homunculi don’t like to be too far from their creators after all), a custom of one particular school, or a rare, blasphemous event.

Plus, not every Pathfinder game is a four-person-plus-GM combatfest.  In a more story-oriented game, particularly a wizard-focused one in the tradition of Ars Magica or Mage: The Ascension, or in a game with only one to three players, creating a homunculus could be a rich role-playing experience.  (Similarly, Bruce Heard’s amazing GAZ3 The Principalities of Glantri offered suggestions on how to run a campaign for students at the Great School of Magic—years before Harry Potter—and homunculi would fit right in with all the hijinks, imps, and manikins.)  Just learning the spells and collecting the ingredients alone could open up the PCs to any number of short adventures…

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Hollow Serpent

Hollow serpents are just that: empty snakeskins animated as undead.  Which works thematically—they’re not just made from corpses, they’re made from shed empty skins, so they’re twice as empty as typical undead (even their original bodies rejected them!) and they hungrily seek to fill the void.  GMs will note that CR 16, 20 Hit Dice undead don’t just pop out of mortal hands willy-nilly—these are monsters created by truly ancient rituals, artifacts, or the will of a god.  Players won’t care about any of that; they’ll be too worried about the creatures’ lifesense and special abilities, all of which (channel, aura, coils, wilting, waves, strike, and 10 feats) punish PCs who get too close.  But since hollow serpents are most likely to be encountered in the tight tunnels and temples of the serpentfolk (yuan-ti to you 3.5 fans), encounter distance is a luxury the GM can easily deny.

The upper levels of the Labyrinth of Shan-Voss have hosted minotaur paragons, dueling gynosphinxes, and at least one tataka rakshasa.  But none venture into the maze’s third level, the Wilting Deep, where a hollow serpent circles endlessly, attended by serpentfolk huecuvas.

The Mouse Lord and the Cat Lord are two immortal spirits whose warring roles in children’s folk tales have imbued them with semi-divine status.  Barely demigods, they still dwell in the mortal realm, however.  An inveterate scavenger, the Mouse Lord guards his home with a hollow serpent he stole from the high temple of Bas-Seth itself.  The Cat Lord sniffs that he could gnaw the head off the monstrosity in a heartbeat, but all his attempts to invade the Mouse Lord’s home have ceased.

Other reptiles also shed.  Advanced hollow serpents are rumored to have been crafted from amphisbaenas (featuring extra bite attacks), behirs (lightning breath), couatls (flying), and even the fearsome imperial dragons.

Pathfinder Bestiary 3 149

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


Another cryptid, this one of American vintage, to torment hapless treasure seekers courtesy of the Kingmaker Adventure Path.  If you do want to maintain the local legend flavor of the hodag as presented in the rulebooks, start dropping references to it early—that way it will make a satisfying cap to low-level PCs’ development arc.  Otherwise, it’s a great wandering monster, lizardfolk mount, exotic pet, gladiatorial combatant, proto-dinosaur, or dragon thrall…and with Int 7, it’s by no means stupid.

An enchanted paddlewheel boat steams up and down the length of Brambleguard River.  Once a popular floating casino, the mindless boat still keeps roughly to its old schedule long after its owner was knifed in port, stopping here and there for a night to lower its gangplanks and pipe phantasmal sounds of music and laughter through the air.  Enough rubes wander by to keep the paddlewheel’s new “owner,” a lazy hodag, reasonably well fed.  The beast’s desire to avoid the sun means it always manages to return up the gangways before dawn breaks and the boat slips away.

On a newly discovered continent, colonists live uneasily next to the couatl-venerating native tribes of the region.  When several settlers wind up missing, the colonists blame the natives and the natives blame the hodag.  Having formed a friendship while locked in the stocks, a colonist rogue and a native gunslinger resolve to settle the matter.

Gregory needs help.  An entire village watched him spear a hodag through the heart—the lucky result of a clumsy fall, a long lance, and a true strike spell.  Now hailed as a dragon slayer, everyone—including his fiancée—expects him to drive off the hodag’s much larger mate.

Pathfinder Adventure Path 32 84–85 & Pathfinder Bestiary 3 148

I’m not a huge miniatures guy, but hodags are a great argument for them.  Half the fun of fielding a monster with the toss special ability is getting to slide your players’ minis around to show just how far they got hurled.

Monday, July 23, 2012


Hobgoblins don’t need this blog’s help.  Most GMs already know hobgoblins are awesome…and if they don’t, there are a host of supplements—including Classic Monsters Revisited—eager to inform them so.  In fact, they’ve replaced orcs as a lot of GMs favorite military threat—after all, orcs may have hordes, but hobgoblins have armies.  Their disdain for elves and dwarves is well known.  They just as easily adapt to serve the khans of Eastern campaigns as they do the evil overlords of Tolkien-esque settings, and they even have aquatic cousins (koalinths).

So yeah, you know what to do with hobgoblins.  But if you want to weird them up a little, here are a few more ideas for inspiration:

A party of adventures reaches the afterlife, only to discover the City of Ordered Celestis is like nothing their priests have advertized.  While archons and angels still soar overhead, and inevitables perch statue-like at every major intersection, it is hobgoblins that walk the avenues and process—and punish—the many souls that stream through the Gates of Bone and Brass.

Orcs of the void build no ships of their own, prefer to seize the vessels of other races, then warp them to their own vile aesthetic.  Hobgoblins are another story.  Enslaving their goblin kin to mine for ore under the harsh whips of their bugbear cousins, hobgoblins smelt iron and starmetals to create gargantuan warblimps.  The aether dirigibles of the Yellow Legion are the worst: having already undergone their funeral rites, these hobs fight fearlessly in space side by side with the wights of their fallen companions.

On the world of Pylar, hobgoblin tale-drummers know a secret few civilized sages have ever guessed—that the Sundering of the elves and the devolution of the hobgoblins into goblins and bugbears share the same primeval source.  Now a squad of hobgoblin commandos has gone back in time to change history—by halting the Goblin Plague and eradicating the elven nations in one fell swoop.

Classic Monsters Revisited 22–27 & Pathfinder Bestiary 175

Yeah, hobgoblins are pretty sweet.

Edward Terry’s “Paragons of War; The Ecology of the Hobgoblin” in Dragon 309 was one of the great late-period Dragon Ecologies.  One of the more interesting hobgoblin deities came from Mystara’s GAZ10 The Orcs of Thar: Yagrai, He Who Always Rises.  To be one of his shamans, a hobgoblin first needed to have 12 death scars, earned by being raised from the dead 12 times (…which didn’t make a lot of sense in terms of game mechanics, given that most humanoid shamans couldn’t cast such a spell, but it was an evocative detail nonetheless).

Back from Spain means back on the air, with Barcelona-themed songs, a lot of Wilco, and new music.  Download it.

‎(Music starts about 11 minutes into the file—weather and related traffic accidents made for a tardy Saturday morning.  If the feed skips, load in Firefox or Chrome, Save As an mp3, and enjoy in iTunes.  Link good until Friday, 7/27, at midnight.)

Friday, July 20, 2012


While doing the usual browsing to prep this entry, I was surprised at how sketchy the details on hippogriffs were—even to Renaissance-era writers, they seem to be a byword for rare and/or fantastic.  And they’re equally sketchy in-game—sitting somewhere between griffons and pegasi in the aerial food chain.  One area where hippogriffs do stand out is maneuverability—with the Dodge and Wingover feats, they can turn on a dime, performing aerial acrobatics to foil predators and foes.  And while they’re less intelligent than griffons, they’re also less demanding as mounts, making them a good option for militaries that can’t afford griffons’ proud and particular natures.

The griffon wings of the Fendaril elves are legendary, having kept the forest nation safe for a millennium.  Envious of their aerial superiority, the human nation of Middlemark has just unveiled an air force of hippogriff-riding crossbowmen and alchemist bombers who now patrol the Fendaril border with brazen openness—perhaps as a precursor to future hostilities.

The zebra-striped Talisar hippogriffs soar on thermals above that fertile grassland.  They prey on wildebeests and flee from the red-feathered, charcoal-furred griffons with whom they share the skies.  The kite-winged barred hippogriffs dwell in box canyons where no predators but the most agile wyverns can menace them.  The osprey-marked griffins of the Prayerful Coast hunt for swordfish, tuna, and hippocampi and nest on the cliffs where only the kittiwakes, gannets, and leprechauns can reach them.

Teuflandt has finally escaped the yoke of its former lords, a cabal of sadistic flagellants who worshipped the cleansing power of pain and treated with fiends.  Their stain lingers, however.  In particular, the majestic Teuflandt hippogriffs have gone extinct…or rather, they have been permanently altered: fiendish blood corrupting the breeding colonies has resulted in flocks of bat-winged hippogriff monstrosities.

Pathfinder Bestiary 2 156

Thursday, July 19, 2012


Famed in heraldry, hippocampi are the steeds of the sea.  Most encounters with them will therefore usually be encounters with their riders as well.

Good-hearted does not equal welcoming.  The key to winning an audience with a triton tribune is to participate in the annual roundup of the wild hippocampus mustangs off the Plymouth Shelf.

Polar hippocampi can be quite loyal.  The Inu tribes of the North are human, not even gillmen, yet as soon as the pack ice melts their hippocampi steeds return to take them hunting, bearing their harpoon-wielding riders safely above the frigid arctic waters.

The rare giant hippocampi often have adaptations appropriate to the darker depths in which they dwell—bioluminescent orbs, razor-sharp, spines, expandable jaws, and so forth.  Most are wild, and those few that have been domesticated are the property of ceratioidi crime families, who jealously guard the secrets of their breeding.

Pathfinder Bestiary 2 155

By the way, yes, I’m back from vacation—hi!—and yes, the hill giant entry has been updated in full.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Hill Giant

The hill giant is—hey, wait a minute…

The Daily Bestiary is on vacation!

I’m spending the week in Barcelona.  And while I’ve been good about updating when I’ve been in the U.S., this is one trip where the big fat Bestiary hardcovers are going to have to stay behind.  Stay tuned for more monsters and full-length posts when I—Desna willing—get back.

…And back I am.  Thanks for your patience.  So let’s get to it, shall we?

The hill giant is the smallest of the true giants, as well as the most common—its larger cousins tend to be confined to the far corners of the world, but the hill giant could be lurking just behind (or throwing) the very next boulder.  And this ubiquity is key to hill giants’ utility to the GM.  As boss monsters, they’re duds; there’s only a narrow window in which attacking a hill giant steading is a challenging adventure for the PCs.  But as henchmen, side treks, wandering monster encounters, etc., hill giants are fantastic.  Any encounter is bound to be more challenging, chaotic, and spellcaster-squishing when a boulder-throwing, Cleaving, CR 7 dimwit is involved.

Two-House (named because he’s as big as two houses) was orphaned as a teenager and made his way to the town of Marsden, where a mason recruited him to help with bricklaying, demolition, and any other jobs requiring either muscle or height.  He’s very impressionable, though, and has recently fallen in with a bad pack of thugs.  They quickly realized he was too well known to do second-story work and too strong for simple muggings.  But by sending him on ludicrous errands (like climbing the clock tower to give it a polishing), they’ve managed to keep the Watch distracted during a number of successful heists.

Signal towers keep being destroyed along the Inneskell frontier.  The culprits are two tribes of hill giants who meet every year for caber tossing and mating.  The tribes have realized that knocking down the wooden towers and harvesting the corner posts for cabers is way easier than chopping down and stripping trees themselves.

Con artist Shyven Duarte aimed big this time.  On his direction, a hill giant band walked off with the wagon carrying the viscount’s tax haul and his daughter.  Duarte’s plan was to get a cut of the loot (“some small compensation for my troubles”), plus a reward (“a referral bonus”) from the viscount for hiring adventurers to slay the beastly kidnappers, plus his share (“a finder’s fee”) of whatever the adventurers acquired in the effort.  One problem: the hill giant chief ate the lady the very night of the raid.  Now Duarte desperately tries to stall the very adventurers he hired from finding out the truth, while being constantly haunted by the image of the woman being devoured before his eyes.

Pathfinder Bestiary 150

Ryan Costello has more on hill giants in Giants Revisited, including a harsh look at their child-rearing (or lack thereof) and some good advice for GMs on handling combat with them.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Whether we’re talking the world’s oldest role-playing game or Pathfinder, the amount of ink spent on sphinx mating habits is singularly bizarre.  (Given the subject matter, maybe I shouldn’t have used the term “spent” there.  Spilled?  Oh wait, that’s worse.  Dribbled?  Dripped?  Splattered?  Yikes.  Distributed.  That’ll do.)  I think it’s telling that with nearly every other monster type, I crave more information—I want mating habits, cultural mores, adoption rituals, a map of the menstrual hut even.  With sphinxes, my response is: T. M. I.

In part, I think my resistance is because this information is clearly the kind that’s appealing to monster nerds, writers, and GMs, but will go over like a lead zeppelin with most players.  And in part, it’s because almost every member of the sphinx species is so unsympathetic (by turns lofty, haughty, wheedling, or outright rape-y), it can be hard to relate to them (see below).  What was a one-note monster (riddles!) is now a two-note one: riddles and sex (or frustrating lack thereof).

That said, hieracosphinxes are the most clearly monstrous sphinxes, born of rape and driven by lust to assault in turn.  Parties with gynosphinx allies are more likely to run into them, but they can be also found serving domineering masters or jealously guarding their own territory.

Collectors are sent to claim a griffon for the baron’s mews.  Only when the beast lets out a horrific shriek do they realize their quarry is actually a hieracosphinx.

The roof of the Chapterhouse of the Sphinx caves in, struck to flinders by the body of the battered gynosphinx that was the cavalier order’s mascot and muse.  The knights demand the head of the hieracosphinx they believe to be responsible, but with war brewing they may need outside aid to achieve vengeance, no matter how much it galls their honor.

The sphinx race is at a tipping point—flocks of hieracosphinxes have become so prevalent and bloodthirsty they have driven the last few andro- and criosphinxes into hiding.  But prophecy tells that an androsphinx needs to be at the Moonstone Dias to read from the Scroll of Days at each lunar eclipse, or the Owl Goddess will die.

Pathfinder Bestiary 3 253

I may be wallowing in outdated stereotypes—RPG geeks are a lot less nerdy than we used to be—but I’m having trouble picturing the average group of gamers ginning up a lot of sympathy for a gynosphinx, particularly the dice-wielding dudes:

“So we’re supposed to take this sphinx—who wouldn’t even talk to us unless we solved her riddle—500 leagues out of our way in our new airship—even though she can fly—so she can mate with an androsphinx—who doesn’t even like sex—just because she’s too stuck up to date the local criosphinxes, who are totally nice and spoil her and offer to help raise the kids?”
“Um, right!”
“So you’re three days into your journey—wait, what?
“Pass.  Look, we’re not about violence against women—if a hieracosphinx shows up wanting to start something, we’ll come running to the rescue.  But Shorty can either stop putting the nice criosphinxes around her on the Just Friends list, or she can fly herself.  Side quest refused.”

For more on sphinxes, check out Jonathan H. Keith’s contribution to Mythical Monsters Revisited.  He also did a nice job on the harpy.

Also, if you missed yesterday’s music because I posted pretty late in the day, scroll back!  Your ears will thank you.

Monday, July 9, 2012


Hezrous are brutes, but they come from the souls of poisoners—not the subtle poisoners employed by assassins’ guilds the worlds over, but the careless, indiscriminate poisoners: polluters, drug pushers and addicts, and placebo hawkers.  The woman who kills with an envenomed dirk becomes a babau; the mad who poisons an entire well to avenge one grudge becomes a hezrou.

The locals may call it Hell’s Swamp, but it’s demons and daemons that shape its deadly reputation.  It’s a war of amphibian fiends as hezrous, working through boggard and lizardfolk factotums, battle hydrodaemons and each other.  The reason is the weaver mushroom, a supremely rare, stringy, and lethal fungi that affects even outsiders.

A prolific inventor has just cut the ribbon on a factory to produce dragonfly-shaped ornithopters.  The metallic and magical wastes spilling from the edifice threaten the willow dryads downstream. They send emissaries to plead with the well-meaning but careless inventor, but the hezrou who has been whispering in his ear is determined that the corruption will continue.

A village births ogrekin and mongrelman children almost as often as human and halfling ones, through no fault of its own—it has the misfortunate to lie downstream from a gang of hezrous, stranded in the mortal realm for the past two generations.  But the high incidence of deformities also calls to the skum and their dark masters, who now eye the village and the demons with interest…

Pathfinder Bestiary 62

Not being a 1st Ed. AD&D player, I was never inducted into the world of the type II demon.  (I do remember the croaking demon/fiend, though!)  As much as I am a monster taxonomist, I can see the appeal of an era where a demon was a demon, with only the DM needing to know the difference.

(Should I make the switch to writing “1e” vs. “1st Ed.”?  I’m starting to feel like a fuddy-duddy.  Oh God, I feel like a fuddy-duddy just typing the words “fuddy-duddy.”)

Something I should have mentioned last week: It’s always nice to see your friends succeed.  Especially when the place they succeed is Adult Swim.  Hell yeah, J. & A.

Speaking of which, I’m happy to report that this week’sedition of The New Indie Canon was a return to form: a tight two hours of great new music, including new Wye Oak, Pet Shop Boys, and Blur(!).  (Okay, okay, so there is also, a cringe-inducing 40 seconds of silence in the middle.  Pretend that didn't happen.  Concentrate on the Blur.)  Anyway, download it.

‎(Music starts about 17 seconds into the file. If the feed skips, load in Firefox or Chrome, Save As an mp3, and enjoy in iTunes. Link good until Friday, 7/13, at midnight.)

Friday, July 6, 2012

Hellwasp Swarm

Most swarms aren’t all that interesting, in and of themselves, aside from whatever special feature (disease, contagion, wounding, etc.) they’re packing.  But hellwasp swarms ooze (buzz?) intriguing plot hooks.  First of all, they’re from Hell…which means either the PCs have a reason to be on their turf, or they have a reason to be on the PCs’.  Second, even other fiends hate them.  Third, they’re intelligent—a swarm with a hive mind that goes out of its way to insult you as it’s stinging you to death is pretty novel.  Fourth (and most interestingly) they can inhabit both the living and the dead—turning friends into (usually short-lived) unwilling slaves and corpses into horrible vessels.  Which raises the question of “Why?”…leading to the fifth and final tick on our checklist: hellwasp swarms may or may not be the dispersed soul of a greater devil

In one of her first adventures, a cleric and her friends defeated an accuser devil servant of some entity called He Who Is All.  Later, she saved an inquisitor rival from a group known as the Legionnaires.  Clues from that encounter point to a long-lost infernal duke of swarms…a suspicion confirmed when she is assaulted by a hellwasp swarm during her research.

Entering a lonely inn—kept dark even in the middle of the day—adventurers find a surly married couple—actually two hellwasp swarms in disguise, with their hosts near death.  If they defeat the threat, the company may be able to save the couple.  They may also find the tiny rift in reality that leads to a seemingly identical bar in the infernal city of Dis.

A hellwasp swarm has mutated.  This more docile, less voracious breed seems compelled to emulate humanity, attempting to continue its hosts’ former lives even after inhabitation.  (For some reason, they seem especially taken with bankers—perhaps for the order and reserved remove with which they conduct their lives.)  If the dumb show is revealed for what it is, though, the threatened swarm still attacks with all the ferocity of its forebears.

Pathfinder Bestiary 3 146

One final thought: hellwasp swarms are likely particularly beloved of whatever your fantasy world’s equivalent of the Lord of the Flies is—Baalzebul on Golarion, or Beelzebub, etc.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Hell Hound & Nessian Hell Hound

In theory, hell hounds are, like hellcats, proud outsiders who won’t submit to being treated like pets.  In practice, though, everybody uses hell hounds—fire giants, efreet, devils, evil spellcasters, fey lords, etc., etc.  (Heck, chaotic good water elementals probably even use hell hounds.)  So the question is, who is holding the leash?  And in the case of Nessian hell hounds, which power in Hell signed the adoption papers?

A wayang sorcerer named Ki Suyang Anan is always accompanied by two hell hounds.  He delights in their presence, particularly the fear the light of their burning breath inspires in his Shadow-touched countrymen.  As for the hell hounds themselves, Marxus sees his service as a way to escape a far worse placement under an infernal lord.  Meanwhile, Cinder has never tasted wayang before and looks forward to the day when Anan grows too familiar with her, so she can take offense and devour him.

A cloud giant seeks to enslave a fire giant clan in the name of his dark deity.  As proof of his right to do so, he displays his pack of Nessian hell hounds.  Even stranger, their barding is of dwarven, rather than infernal, make.  The fire giant thane needs someone to unravel this mystery—fast.

Elven dogs, more properly known as coin-sith or cooshee, serve fey and traditional elf houses.  They are limned in green fire and often have a greenish cast to their fur as well.  Treat them as hell hounds with the fey creature template and alignments that match their lords’.

Pathfinder Bestiary 173

No longer blogging from the beach.  *Sad face*

Wednesday, July 4, 2012


Hunters and mounts of Hell, hellcats (sometimes called bezekiras) aren’t quite devils, but it matters little.  If low- to mid-level PCs have made themselves a nuisance to some devil, they are almost guaranteed to face a hellcat enforcer in the near future.

Amblewroth likes to slowly drive his victims mad before pouncing.  A large male hellcat with a great smoky mane, he hunts during the day under complete invisibility, tormenting his victim with telepathic commentary on how frail she is, how delicious she will taste, and how no one will believe that she’s hearing voices.  If he has a weakness, it’s his love of waiting till dusk for the actual attack—finally showing off his glowing, leonine grandeur for maximum terror, but leaving himself more open to strikes in return.

Saberquick is a hellcat assassin famous among her kind for her a three-century stalk of an elven circle mage who failed to treat her with the proper respect.  This hunger for validation could be her downfall, however.  In the last decade, a belier devil has convinced her the only true path to advancement in the Hells is transformation into a full member of devilkind—the secret to which he will reveal if she finds him just a few more souls…

Hellcats look down on the weaker hell hounds and barghests as overloud, pathetic puppies.  They cannot afford to be so sanguine about greater barghests and Nessian hell hounds, and usually conspire to never be in the same vicinity as one (the inevitable fights for dominance being a costly distraction).  A gift of a barghest’s entrails might endear a mortal to a hellcat long enough to propose an alliance.

Pathfinder Bestiary 2 153

Personally, I liked it when hellcats were listed with the true devils/baatezu—the fact that one of the links up the infernal career ladder could be spent as an invisible lion was amusing to me, even if it made no sense.

If they made a Hellcats musical, I would go see it.  I mean, Mr. Mistoffelees is clearly a play on Mephistopheles.  Griddlebone is a pretty infernal name.  Let’s see…Hellicle cats?  Mungoscary?  The Rum Tum Mugger?  Nimbleshank?  This could work… *Mental cash register noise*…

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


The Hundred-Handed Ones are titanic even to the Titans (whom in Greek myths they helped overthrow).  As far as I know their first appearance in the world’s oldest role-playing game was (appropriately enough) in the 3.0 Epic Level Handbook.  Pathfinder’s Bestiary 3 has a detailed origin for the hekatonkheires in Golarion’s multiverse, as well as adding their plane shifting/smashing abilities. 

Whether you use that origin or one of your own, certain themes tend to emerge: These creatures are old—beginning-of-time, mythic-old.  They have been prisoners, exiles, or otherwise wronged.  They hate and they have the power to act on it, able to menace even the gods’ mightiest servants…and perhaps the gods themselves.  And facing a hekatonkheires is likely the penultimate conflict in a high-level Pathfinder campaign.  I say penultimate because if the hundred-handed ones are prisoners, someone had to let them out…

The god of war has been slain by his servants, twin hekatonkheires, using a now-shattered artifact.  Now they seek to assume his mantle before the crime is revealed. 

A balor lord is dead—eviscerated in his lair.  Mother Treant has been hewn down to a stump.  An axiomite city has vanished from terraces of Order and manifested in a formerly empty plain on the mortal world, following emergency protocols scribed deep in the city’s founding constitution.  The cause of the upheaval: a raging hekatonkheires cutting a swath of destruction through the planes.  He glimpsed a rune giant conjuror spy on him in his umbral prison, and now seeks to carve out the offender’s eyes, carving through planar layer after planar layer to get there.

Sojourners on walkabout in the Dreamlands tell tales of unearthly windmills whose spiraling arms gleam through the morning haze.  These are hekatonkheires going through their morning exercises before shuddering back into silent, stony stillness. 

Pathfinder Bestiary 3 268–269

Even if you think hekatonkheires are too outlandish for your campaign world proper, they work perfectly deep in the multiverse, in alternate realities (remember The Maxx’s Outback?) and as divine servants/guards/heralds/tools of vengeance…albeit likely rebellious ones.

I got my first book on Greek mythology in fourth grade (and as far as I can tell that’s what started the ball rolling on this whole fantasy thing for me—with Norse mythology, Narnia, Middle-Earth, Stephen King’s The Eyes of the Dragon and the red Metzger Basic Set following soon after).  And aside from some sketches in the background of one picture, it didn’t even try to illustrate the Hundred-Handed Ones.

Speaking of illustrations, are you seriously not following justjingles yet?  Because…damn.  Get clicking.

Hey, I forgot to pimp my show yesterday!  This week The New Indie Canon was the epitome of college radio (by which I mean: tardy, scattered, and plagued by technical difficulties).  But I played new Matt & Kim, Icona Pop, a Fleetwood Mac tribute from the New Pornographers, an homage to video game music, and gave love to the Singles soundtrack’s 20th anniversary.  Download it.

(Music starts five and a half minutes into the file.  If the feed skips, load in Firefox or Chrome, Save As an mp3, and enjoy in iTunes.  Link good until Friday, 7/6, at midnight.)

Monday, July 2, 2012


Harpies are the original charming monsters.  (Well, not actually.  In fact, D&D/Pathfinder harpies actually owe more to the myths of the sirens than they do to Phineas’s tormentors.  Still, I still remember the harpies from the sample dungeon in the DM’s book from the red Basic Set—along with the strict instruction not to let the PCs in until they were at least second level…)

Kyliss has traded the marshlands for the city, becoming a fighter and a sellsword in her own right.  She lives and works out of the half-orc quarter, where her skills are appreciated and her rank odor is not a detriment.  She now schemes to join the assassins’ guild, but so far no invitation has been forthcoming.

Many harpies like conversation with their meal.  Tessandra takes this further than most.  Not content with simple travelers, this highly intelligent bird-woman has made a study of captivating philosophers, mathematicians, and chess masters—particularly loners and eccentrics.  Those she cannot get to easily (such as university professors) she corresponds with, hoping to one day lure them to the wastes.  In the meantime, though, her epistolary education has made her a reasonable scholar and chess player herself; her first paper is soon to be published.

Harpy nations are rare—the feral creatures squabble so often that most only join flights when forced to for protection.  But the parrot-feathered harpies of the Southlands are more gregarious, forming preening matriarchies that lord over the native humans, goblins, and nagaji.  They will leave travelers unmolested if paid in magic items.

Pathfinder Bestiary 172

Blogging from the beach!

I feel like I’ve covered this somewhere before, but let’s repeat it: It is a universal law that if a creature’s femaleness is core to its nature, the world of fantasy art will eventually make it sexy by default.  We need a name for this—“fantasticabimbofication” or “manga goggles” or “DeviantArtificiality.” For now, I’m calling it “harpy syndrome.”

Harpies used to have the bodies of vultures—vultures! (maybe on a good day eagles)—and the heads of women (maybe on a good day the busts and arms of women, too, and if I recall my ’80s illustrations correctly, those arms held handaxes).  But by 3.0 we were getting sleek and sexy bird-girls, and that tradition has continued in the Bestiary: “Save for the tattered wings and taloned feet, this creature resembles a feral woman.”  Er…really?  We are talking harpies, right?  Sigh.  At least they still “reek with the stench of consumed victims”…

I love Pathfinder art.  But the Bestiary’s harpy looks like she waxes and sees a personal trainer, and that’s just wrong.  (No matter what Hesiod says.)

Classic harpy syndrome.  She better at least have gingivitis.

Edit: I should have mentioned that Jonathan H. Keith does a great job tackling the harpy in Mythological Monsters Revisited