Friday, August 31, 2012

Invisible Stalker

Ah, the sshai.  (As a Mystaran American, I believe in respecting outsiders’ own names for themselves.  While we’re at it, big ups to all you haoou out there!)

Perhaps Planescape covered this conundrum—very likely it did—but core D&D never really explained how all those summoned creatures felt about being summoned willy-nilly—and Pathfinder has only gestured at it.  (Did The Order of the Stick cover it?  I know it covered the reverse.) 

The exception is the invisible stalker race.  In almost every edition of the world’s oldest role-playing game, they’ve been pissed.  And the ones in Pathfinder are only slightly more open-mined about it…and only while they’re young.

This is all background for most players—19 times out of 20, when they encounter an invisible stalker it will be as part of a trap or assassination attempt.  But if you're looking for a xenophobic encounter on the Plane of Air, or have a player that questions the ethics of the party summoner, the material is there…

A series of grisly murders rocks Amphilar, the City of Temples.  In actuality, there are two murderers—a cleric cursed to turn into a penanggalen during the new moon, and an invisible stalker summoned by her wizard rival to stain her reputation even more.

A library on a tiny scrap of land floating in the Plane of Air features books that appear to float in the air and scrolls that write themselves.  The library is staffed by invisible stalker cryptomancers studying true names and words of power throughout the multiverse.  The very nature of their studies makes them particularly prone to being summoned, however, and they can barely contain their hostility when interrupted by flesh-and-blood mortals in their sanctum.

The fact that an entire race is chained to the summoning whims of insignificant mortals is clearly the result of some ancient, dire compact—in other words, the work of an archdevil or deity.  Who that was is lost to history…which in itself is significant, as most powers would have gloated by now.  But adventurers planning a sortie into the Hells would do well to find out.  If they could promise a strike against the original contract-holder, they would find an army of aerial soldiers rallying to their banner.

Pathfinder Bestiary 181

Thursday, August 30, 2012


Interlocutors are the artists and scientists of the kyton race.  Eremites are the leaders, exemplars, and godheads; augurs are the voyeurs and scouts; and evangelists are the recruiters, soldiers, and (might as well say it) evangelists of pain.  Interlocutors are the scholars and sculptors.  Like grisly MFA candidates, pain for them is a field of study, but that study must never take a backseat to art and inspiration.  It is both a medium and a conversation they have with their victims—hence their name.  But because they are only interested in self-improvement and their eventual apotheosis, this conversation is inevitably, hopelessly one-sided.  Like Count Rugen in The Princess Bride or Firefly’s Adelei Niska (only, let’s be clear, vastly darker and more unfathomable) interlocutors are only interested in the answers that confirm their own appalling beliefs…and their victims are only future components for their vile bodies.

Velothrum the Maestro is even more of an aesthetic than most of his fellows. This interlocutor kyton specializes in incorporating bards and birds into his form, with a special fondness for tengus, harpies, and sirens.  He also constantly searches for malevolent musical instruments and sonic weapons that will turn his attacks into performances of majestic violence.

Captain Bloodwraith is the skipper of a kyton research vessel, the Fascia—a ship with sails of living skin that can cross the divide between the Plane of Shadow and the Material Plane.  Since the ship actually manifests a bit of the surrounding black ocean as well—and since the Shadow’s seas do not always follow the Material Plane’s coastlines—Bloodwraith sometimes strikes shockingly far inland.

Interlocutors on the mortal world often gravitate to certain objects of study.  Barbarians’ ability to sublimate pain into rage makes them ideal subjects.  Sorcerers seeking to unlock the secrets of their blood and mutagen-quaffing alchemists are often attractive targets (and yield unique organs and fluids).  But monks are perhaps the most attractive target of all, as their quest for bodily and spiritual perfection matches the kytons all.  Lawful evil orders in particular are ripe for interlocutor infiltration.  The Stone Crabs are taught to embrace pain and shed concern for their bodies like a crab ripping off a wounded limb, sparring with shark-tooth-tipped weapons and fighting off sahuagin incursions barehanded.  The beating heart of their dojo is an interlocutor kyton who secretly oversees all, seeking candidates to incorporate into his body or “promote” to the Plane of Shadow.

Pathfinder Bestiary 3 174

Yeah, you know the crab I’m talking about.  I’m not even going to link it.

The eremite was only the second Bestiary 3 monster The Daily Bestiary tackled, so I’ve had more time to think about kytons since then.  A lot of evil monsters are into torture, so I think part of the key to kytons is differentiating them from the other sadists out there (and, ideally, without making them cheesy S&M parodies despite all the whips and chains).  So: Devils torture as an expression of domination.  Demons torture to drive victims to despair while ruining their bodies.  Daemons are less interested in torture; they merely wish to see its effect on souls as part of their greater quest to snuff out all mortal life.  Other creatures feed on the fear or agony that torture produces, or do so out of a hatred of the living—many undead fall into this camp.

But with kytons what is striking is their simultaneous selfishness and interest in self-improvement.  They are after transformation, revelation, and apotheosis at any cost.  The anguish they cause is of interest because of how the kyton can feed on it and what it teaches the kyton about its own journey.  They are harvesters—of body parts, sensations, and agony—and editors—cruelly scalpeling away all that is deemed necessary, and revising till the original work is transformed or cut to ribbons.  Devils’ and demons’ aims for mortal victims are horrible, but vaguely understandable.  Kytons are chasing something else entirely.

Final thought: Remember, these are creatures so self-absorbed that Hell itself—a realm of infinite schemers and martinets—couldn’t hold them.  That right there?  That’s a thing.

Really final thought: I should crowdsource these posts more often!  Todd popped in from his summer home in the Cerulean Void to add to the imentesh entry.  Check it here.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Intellect Devourer

We recently discussed importing sci-fi-esque invasion scenarios into fantasy plots.  Few monsters work better for this than intellect devourers.  Being telepathic, brain-eating, body-snatching monsters makes them bad enough, but add in at-will invisibility and inflict serious wounds effects and you have some serious foes.  Eventually though, the PCs should be treated to the spectacle of a devourer claiming a host—the sight of a clawed brain possessing a helpless NPC (or PC) by crawling into its mouth should alarm the players quite nicely.

Parties in the city of New Flourint are famously decadent, yet no successful gathering begins without a spellcaster blessing the host and the guests of honor with protection from evil spells.  Four social seasons ago an intellect devourer wore the city’s best and brightest like a dandy going through new suits.  Though the body count stopped climbing, the beast was never caught, and the pall it cast still hangs over the formerly libertine aristocrats.  If alive, it likely dwells in the chambers just outside the city walls, where Old Flourint lies buried in lava.

Cave elves, dwarves, hobgoblins, and goblins alike congregate in Rift City—a series of terraced mushroom fields, simple neighborhoods, thermal baths, and rope bridges buried deep in a canyon.  The people are reserved but welcoming to travelers, especially those bearing exotic fabrics, foods, and spices, though they avoid questions about how such disparate races came to live in peace.  The only things that keep the city from being a veritable paradise are the gremlin pests who raid the mushroom fields and dismantle the city’s engineering.  But if questioned rather than exterminated, the gremlins adamantly maintain they are just trying to drive “the bad ones” out.

On an isolated mountain peninsula, a tribe of intellect devourers has held sway since their arrival in the heart of a meteor.  Posing as emissaries from the stars, the telepathic devourers are slowly working their way through the hierarchy of the nation’s lamas.  Two factors have aided their dominance—their original discovery by a deeply religious people already used to sending their elders and second sons to serve the monks, and a permanent gentle repose effect (the result of a planar conjunction) that has allowed the aberrations to inhabit their hosts for as long as six months, rather than a mere week.  But with the coming of a comet in the southern sky, the land falls out of phase with the Sphere of Harmony and the intellect devourers begin burning through their Most Honored Hosts.

Pathfinder Bestiary 180

Intellect devourers are definitely a relic from another age of gaming (Eldritch Wizardry, in fact)—another one of those monsters you either love (“It eats brains and possesses bodies!”) or hate (“It’s a brain crossed with a Schnauzer!”), and semi-psionic to boot.  You can tell the Paizo folk love them though—even before the Pathfinder Core Rulebook came out, intellect devourers got their own nicely creepy domain in Into the Darklands.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


Succubi’s slightly weaker male mirrors, incubi are persuasive, gifted in enchantment magicks, and not-in-a-good-way kinky to boot.

The goat-like schirs are not known for their wisdom.  Fleeing a party of adventurers, one of the schirs leads the party back to its incubus master’s back-alley lair.  The adventurers find its home is full of the usual sadomasochistic paraphernalia and cultists one would expect.  But the townhouse above features items out of character for a demon, including a collection of magical stamps and carefully painted miniature landscapes that offer clues to a hitherto unknown demiplane.

The marilith Vel’k’tiri’s favorite thief had the misfortune to fail her the same week she caught her incubus lover in bed with a vrock.  Deciding to kill two birds with one stone, she gutted the incubus and sewed its skin to the rogue’s flesh.  At night the rogue now has access to all the incubus’s skills, feats, and abilities, but during the day he labors under the constant effects of the demon’s crushing despair.

The shadow-shrouded nation of Antumbra has delivered a fresh insult to its agathion-revering neighbor Elevess: an incubus ambassador.  Weak from recent hobgoblin and adaro incursions, Elevess dares not spark a war by refusing the ambassador, but the queen’s counselors must now contain the chaos the incubus’s at-will powers of charm person and suggestion will cause in court.

Pathfinder Bestiary 3 73

Hey, slaad fans!  Reader Landon came through with the Dungeon reference.  Check the imentesh entry for his thoughts.

Also, weeks ago ttrpgh messaged me about a tumblelog he’s starting “to help players and GMs to design characters, story, and other things involved in a table top rpg.”  If that’s your bag, you can find him here.

Monday, August 27, 2012


Imps are the quintessential shoulder-devils of cartoon fame.  In essence, they are devils-in-training—it is in imp form that newly minted devils hone their skills of deception, seduction, and recruitment—and devils of training—for imps are eager to instruct and mold the young, the impressionable, the power-hungry, and those who perceive themselves (rightly or wrongly) as being in desperate straits.  An imp offers four adventures in one: What mortal master is it serving?  What deal is it offering?  To which diabolic master does it owe allegiance?  And where is the paperwork tying all of the above together?

Imps are notorious pests at colleges of magic, seminaries, and summonaria, whether called as familiars or on their own recognizance.  At the Cerulean Circle, the blue-veined marble summoners’ college in the cloud city of Muir, consorting with an imp is automatic grounds for expulsion.  Even summoners whose eidolons merely ape fiendish aspects (particularly red skin, bat wings, or an odor of brimstone) are likely to face years of academic probation, for fear that infernal secrets are informing the eidolons’ evolutions.

Imps damn their masters in two ways: by coercing them to perform lawful evil deeds or by getting them to sign away their souls.  This latter tactic can doom even otherwise spotless mortals.  Imp consulars are typically gifted with magical scrolls that vanish off to the Hells immediately upon signing.  But ordinary imps must file their signatures the hard way, by finding a gate back to the Inferno.  When the princess of a river gypsy clan signs away her soul to find a husband, it is a barge-leaping race downriver to catch the imp before it reaches the Black Lock in the canal city of Parsi.

Having fulfilled his soul mandate without being called back to the Hells, the imp Preebus now tends bar.  His small size is no obstacle at the Half & Half (a split-level joint catering to the worst examples of hafling and half-orc society in Near Limrick); he never talks down to his patrons and he can easily flit to reach the top-shelf liquor. For those on the shady side of the law, he also gives excellent one-time legal advice pro bono when his manager isn’t looking.  The success of their first endeavors tends to bring these ne’er-do-wells back as repeat customers—often in even hotter water than before—and for these, Preebus always has a second round of advice and a blood-red quill ready for them.

Pathfinder Bestiary 78

I really need to stop plugging an RPG supplement released 25 years ago, but you have to love the imp in GAZ3 The Principalities of Glantri.

Here’s the last episode of my show for the summer semester.  Everything from Mungo Jerry to MNDR, plus summer-themed songs, the 10th anniversary of Sleater Kinney’s One Beat, and a bunch of new music. Enjoy!

(Music starts 30 seconds into the file.  The feed sometimes skips, so for best results load in Firefox or Chrome, Save As an mp3, savor forever in iTunes.)

Oh, and this is pretty neat: my college friend H. is on Funny or Die.  I deem this legitimately funny.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Immolation Devil

There are the generals that plan, strategize, and give orders from HQ…and then there are the generals that charge in with the tanks.  If pit fiends fall into the former camp, immolation devils fall into the latter.  Let other devils play politics—puragaus exist to dominate and burn…not necessarily in that order.

A series of fires breaks out across the city.  At the third such incident, a howling mob of lemures is found at the scene, manifesting through some kind of planar breach.  Canny detectives will realize that, if left unchecked, the fires will mark the five points and five angles of a pentacle.  Further investigation reveals agents of a handmaiden devil are responsible.  Should they succeed, rivers of flame will connect the dots and the gylou will be able to bring her immolation devil lover into the mortal realm.

Fire-loving Anatark the Ashen was responsible for the holocaust at Dumaas and the leveling of Bon Mar.  But his latest assignment, securing the glaciar-world of Rime against recapture by monadic deva, marid, and silver dragon insurgents, has him miserable.  Though resistant to the cold, he loathes it in every infernal cell.  His pride won’t allow him to surrender his post, but any mortal with a plausible plan to get him reassigned has his ear—provided they don’t utter a word in front of his gelugon attaché.

Immolation devils sport dragon-like wings and they also favor draconic steeds, especially fiendish red dragons (preferably of lawful or neutral evil alignments, or magically chained and compelled specimens if chaotic), fiendish underworld dragons, advanced fiendish manticores, or advanced fiendish chimeras (again with alignment safeguards in place).  They scorn and resent tor linnorms due to some ancient prejudice; the tor linnorms scorn them right back.  Malfax the Tamer has perhaps the greatest prize of all: a tarnished gold dragon.

Pathfinder Bestiary 2 87

Hey!  I don’t normally reblog posts (especially non-music-related ones), but it’s not every day I see my friend Josh showcased on Tumblr!  Then again, this is hardly the first time he’s been on the Internet.  (For the record, he is a chaotic good barbarian in life, but a lawful neutral inquisitor at work.)

Thursday, August 23, 2012


Todd Stewart’s The Great Beyond introduced us to proteans—the serpentine creatures of chaos that have replaced the world’s oldest role-playing game’s slaadi.  Organized (though they would bristle at the term) into castes and choirs, these creatures work to spread disorder and entropy throughout the universe.  Surrounded by telepathic whispers, imentesh proteans are manipulators behind the scenes—treacherous Iagos equally determined to recreate the social and literal landscapes of the mortal world.

A mystic theurge is tricked by an imentesh masquerading as a divine herald and muse.  Under the protean’s sway, the theurge begins to make erratic but brilliant leaps forward in his studies.  In reality, the imentesh’s telepathic whispers are teaching theurge the rites to unleash an aeon upon his orderly, unsuspecting world.

The rise of a burgeoning middle class in Lochland has resulted in a new innovation: public museums.  A month of sell-out crowds draws the attention—and then ire—of an imentesh, who is appalled by the museum complexes’ aim of cataloging and ordering knowledge.  Employing its various spell-like abilities overnight with abandon (polymorphing, shrinking, and shattering some objects, while restoring and warping others with make whole and major creation), it seeks to turn the museum into a funhouse of chaos.

The imentesh Kemosh loves using honeyed words and wild warpwave strikes to undermine the resolve, intellects, and bodies of mortal religious leaders, philosophers, teachers, and sensei—sabotaging duelists and monks before a public bout, or sapping the will of a great debater just before an election.  Then again, if one of his warpwave ripples causes greater disruption—such as the elven pope he happened to baleful polymorph into a ferret—so much the better.

Pathfinder Bestiary 2 214

Proteans are a vast improvement on slaadi.  Despite being Fiend Folio classics, slaadi just don’t have the philosophical heft required to be real representatives of disorder—their approach to chaos inevitably boils down to: “Shall I eat you now or later?”  (Plus, all they do is hang around the Spawning Stone like surly teenagers outside a Wawa.)  The tribal, inscrutable choirs of the keketars appeal to me far more.

That said, I remember there being a decent Alien-style adventure based around a red slaad in an old 2e Dungeon, and an article on the slaad lords in Dragon Magazine around the time Planescape came out.  If I run across them, I’ll post the issue numbers and details.

Edit: Reader-with-a-long-memory Landon writes:

The Dungeon Adventure you were wondering about with the Red Slaad chestburster is “Jacob's Well” from Dungeon 43. Definitely a classic.

It's actually the first adventure I ever ran, watching my giggling preteen classmates spiral slowly into paranoia. Good times, good times.


Wednesday, August 22, 2012


Iku-turso are evil eel-men who worship disease.  How awesome is that?!?  Let me repeat that: Evil eel-men who worship disease!  That’s some China Miéville-esque shiz right there.  Sure, I probably should be saying some learned stuff right now about how Iku-Turso was originally a Finnish god, or talk about the iku-tursos’ amazing transforming-disease-laced bite, or their array of speedy physical feats (including Combat Reflexes, Improved Initiative, Lightning Reflexes).  But I’m too busy thinking about the bad-ass villainy of evil eel-men who worship disease!

While doing reconnaissance on a sea hag’s lair for a triton basileus, a party of adventurers is ambushed by iku-tursos.  Just as the encounter looks like it might go badly for the party, the cell leader gasps in apparent recognition and calls off the attack.  He then apologizes to one of the party members, referring to the bewildered woman as “The Thrice-Blessed Queen.”

Ceratioidi and iku-tursos are both creatures of the depths, as evidenced by their light lures.  Naturally, they also loathe each other.  Ceratioidi fear the stronger iku-tursos and their poisonous claws, and consorting with the eel-men is one of the worse crimes in ceratioidi society.  Nevertheless, ceratioidi cultists of foul entities like Dagon, the Grasping Deep, the Sponge Mother, and Naerus the Bleached all occasionally traffic with the abhorrent creatures.

The gift of a cursed dagger has turned an already vile cardinal into an iku-turso.  He now rules the city from the waterlogged catacombs beneath Cathedral Mount.  The people laud him for having opened two new public hospitals, but secretly he no longer sends clerics to tend to the sick. Meanwhile, his once noble Musketeer Guard has turned into a network of spies, enforcers and smugglers running black powder weapons and explosives to shadowy figures on the docks in the dark of night.

Pathfinder Bestiary 3 153

Okay, I had no idea Finns were going to come up again—and for real this time.  (Also, the Forgotten Realms’ Loviatar takes her name from a Finnish goddess—who knew?  Clearly I need to read the Kalevala.  My Tolkien professor probably wants to throttle me for not having done so yet.)  Also, Dagon was apparently a grain god before he became a fish god.  Bizarre.

Pathfinder Adventure Path 56: Raiders of the Fever Sea has a bit more on iku-tursos and pretty much all the aquatic races of Golarion, courtesy of Adam Daigle, et al.

Pity the poor iguanodon.  Because of the way I’m handling paired entries from the Bestiary 3, we won’t get to it until we circle round the alphabet and tackle the dimetrodon.  (If that pains, you, it pains me even more, given that (thanks to the U.S. military) I was born in Belgium.)

Also I’m 10 Tumblr posts away from 150, and six followers away from 100.  I can do something about the former; only you can do something about the latter.  Tell your friends!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Ifrits have the Plane of Fire in their ancestry…typically an efreeti, but sometimes an azer, fire mephit or other creature.  The Advanced Race Guide notes that they tend towards neutral morals while swinging wildly on the lawful chaos/axis.  Whether podium-pounding orators or attention-grabbing showoffs, one thing is certain: they are not subtle.

Though Shara’s parents were human, her four-foot-and-change frame, gravity-defying, flame-like red hair, and pointed, slightly bat-like ears point to a mephit in her family tree.  Orphaned or abandoned (the story seems to alter depending on which tale is more advantageous to her situation, though it nevertheless does seem to cause her genuine pain) Shara is a tout and guide to the warren-like streets of Warrant.  She appears to have a heart of gold (and the gold-flecked eyes to match) but she also sports a temper…which may explain why shopkeepers that mistreat her tend to have problems with fires.

Cyros Caltep’s great-grandfather was an efreeti, as his bronze skin, bald pate, and fearsome demeanor no doubt reveal.  Prone to pounding a gavel practically as large as a warhammer, he does not suffer fools in his courtroom, wherever that courtroom may be—as a traveling judge, his docket takes him in a circuit across the land.  He also has the ability to enlarge himself, thanks to his efreeti magic trait (Advanced Race Guide 126)…which means that in more remote jurisdictions, he serves as his own bailiff and executioner in a pinch.

Most element-touched humans never know communities of their own, owing to their accidental births.  This makes the mage Firros the Quick particularly jealous of his sylph duelist companion, Willowen.  Raised in a nation blessed by the spirits of Air, she has never known the isolation he felt all his life.  His envy of her, complicated by newfound feelings of love and admiration, threatens to boil over.

Pathfinder Bestiary 2 160

3.5 Forgotten Realms fans will of course think of ifrits as fire genasi.

Since we’re discussing the Advanced Race Guide, now’s a good time for me to weigh in with some vastly overdue thoughts.  I still haven’t read it cover to cover (and will be even more delayed since a box with Varisia: Birthplace of Legends and two(!) Pathfinder Adventure Path issues* showed up yesterday).  But after several browsings, I’m very impressed.  I was stunned to see such an emphasis on the core races, but it paid off—the sheer mix-and-match potential for all those traits and feats makes creating unique characters and subraces effortless fun for players and GMs alike.  (And if we know anything from my long-ago aborted blog, it’s that I like subraces.)

Other gut impressions: I dig plant companions for elves.  I love seeing tengu and ratfolk blown out.  Ditto all the uncommon races (though of course I’m waiting for fetchlings and strix to become the new drow/tieflings for players who gravitate toward adjectives like “bad-ass” and/or “tortured”); of these I’m personally most intrigued by sulis and changelings, though I’ll be intrigued to see what people do with vishkanyas and wayangs.

As for the expanded race examples in the Race Builder, I of course have only my usually complaint: I want more!  If we’re only going to get five new races, I would have loved more details.  (Are these Golarion races or not?  What are their societies like?  More backstory on the gathlains and wyrwoods?  Etc., etc.)  Otherwise, give us at least eight to ten examples…five only whets my appetite for more.

But these are selfish quibbles.  Ignore them, and me.  If you are a Pathfinder or 3.5 player who is at all interested in non-humans, this book is a must-buy.

*Final note: I’m intrigued by the Shattered Star AdventurePath.  I know next to nothing about it, but I’m thrilled we’re back in Varisia.  Some of the best Adventure Paths have taken place there, and Varisia always brings out the best, slightly off-kilter take on fantasy gaming that lies at the heart of Golarion.  Can’t wait to crack it open, but I have to finish Skull & Shackles first.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Ice Yai

Ice yai are oni who take the rough forms of frost giants.  Despite being chaotic, the ice yai race’s dedication to martial arts has taught them the value of discipline.  Their leadership and drilling can turn already deadly but unpredictable frost giant tribes into truly effective fighting forces, and their spell-like abilities make them very hard to pin down.

A mountain range has long been home to a wild tribe of frost giants that alternately invaded or traded with the other species that shared the range.  After last winter, the tribe has become dramatically more organized—and instead of raiding in a haphazard fashion, they now demand tribute for “protection.”  A tribe of snow elves, chafing under the giants’ demands, seeks a savior.

A party of adventurers intervenes in a spell duel in the corner of the city, where two rival sorcerers are blasting each other (and much of the surrounding neighborhood) with ice spells.  Even as they take the exhausted and battered magic-users into custody, they witness something horrifying at the center of the congelation—the birth of an ice yai, given physical form by the pain and sin of the duel’s devastating toll.  The oni immediately flees the too-warm southern city, and now the party must try to stop the outsider as it travels cross-country seeking more favorable climes…and thralls to boot.

An ice yai forces its frost giant, hill giant, and ogre thralls to act out complicated mock battles for its amusement.  Worse yet, it demands real bloodshed, choosing an actor from each side to wear a ring of regeneration and be gutted for its amusement.  Frost giant Snori Dwarfbane wants no part of this nearly lethal panto.  He will give up a rare magical dulcimer to anyone who can banish the oni before it is his turn to feel steel carving open his belly.

Pathfinder Bestiary 3 207

As I was thinking about this post, it occurred to me that you could build an awesome campaign around oni infiltration.  There’s something really exciting about a race of spirits bent on possessing mortal bodies.  And I think that’s territory underexplored in fantasy.  I’m generalizing here, but it seems like we talk a lot about transformation/conversion (undead, lycanthropes) or corruption/identity theft on a small scale (fiends, doppelgangers, rakshasas).  But we don’t go for the full-on Invasion of the Body Snatchers-style mass takeovers that sci-fi is so fond of (Eberron’s quori being a notable exception…although given that they’re psionic creatures, that actually backs up my supposition.) 

And we should, because there’s a lot of fertile ground there.  Imagine a campaign where players start facing baddies whose leader always has an extra eye.  Now imagine what happens if they then start uncovering kuwa in the society around them, either posing as mortals or even replacing and/or forcibly inhabiting mortal bodies.  Even their friends and family could be unknowing sleeper agents or Manchurian candidates for the outsiders.  And finally, out-and-out dueling with yai in the streets, as the oni invasion reaches a tipping point!  Excuse me, I have to go roll up some NPCs…

No radio show this week, sadly.  But if you haven’t already, now would be a great time to download the Hood Internet’s latest mixtape.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Ice Troll

“At least they’re not smart.”  That is always the mantra adventurers cling to when dealing with trolls.  But the Northmen know better—they know ice trolls are as smart as they, and if they ever truly organized, humanity near the Poles would be doomed.

Despite occupying a single blot on the map, the nation of Viriden is actually two coastal states separated by a broad plain.  Because this plain is a migration route for aurochs, bison, giant elk, and other creatures, it is also the breadbasket for four hordes of ice trolls.  The axes and appetites of these foul humanoids prevent trade from crossing the width of Viriden, and messengers there are accorded a level of respect most other nations reserve for their elite cavaliers.

Jutland is a remarkably diverse but desolate nation, where ice trolls and the occasional frost giant lord over human and kobold thralls.  Their witches are renowned for piloting animated wicker storks through the city streets with sobbing future meals in the storks’ woven bellies.  The hope for Jutland lies underground—in dwarven city-states that train all freedom fighters who would learn as scouts (rogues and rangers), quarrels (ninjas), and firestarters (fire elementalists and evokers).

After ice troll mercenaries saved the city of Karlstadt, the jarl opened his gates to them.  Two bars in particular seem to cater to the brutes: The Belch & Bodkin, which serves a gritty trollish brew that resembles badly aged malt whiskey and rocks, and the Pit, where ice trolls duel with torches in a makeshift arena.  The fights are always exciting—the fact that the lit torches are tied to the trolls’ right hands encourages them to finish their opponents quickly.

Pathfinder Bestiary 2 271

Looking for the ice mephit?  We sorted him out back in February.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Ice Linnorm

“Treacherous primeval dragons of the northern regions of the world” says the Bestiary 3 of linnorms, and ice linnorms double down on the northern aspect.  Thanks to its breath weapon, freezing bite, and death curse, an ice linnorm is cold personified, with a cruel streak to match.

The herders of Mindar speak of the lentävää poroa—the reindeer pegasi that dot Mindar’s shimmering boreal skies.  They also speak of Glacierbite, the ice linnorm who delights in blasting the magical beasts from the sky with his frigid breath, cackling as they shatter on the rocks below.

Where the tundra and the taiga meets, so too do the territories of ice linnorms and taiga linnorms.  Should these titanic beasts encounter each other, the result can range from cold condescension to cutting insults to all-out bloodbaths.  The exception is when the full moon and the winter solstice coincide.  Then, according to a few scattered reports, ice and taiga linnorms engage in sinuous, strangely beautiful dances that conclude in the ritual exchange of treasure.  The reports are unreliable because of another strange custom: the linnorms do not mind witnesses to the dance, but they vigorously hunt down and kill anyone who speaks of what they saw, or who attempts to help him or herself to the proffered piles of gold.

That linnorms speak Draconic and Sylvan makes sense—these are creatures with ties to both so-called “true dragons” and the lands of the fey.  That they speak Aklo, though, is surprising—while linnorms do lair in caverns, they rarely haunt the deep reaches where the aberrant tongue is favored.  But linnorms as a race remember previous ages and even other realities, when the dragons and fey had only just inherited the world from aboleths, ropers, and worse.  And ice linnorms in particular dwell in mountaintop and polar regions where the air is thin and the boundaries between dimensions even thinner.  An ice linnorm may be able to tell you more about Leng or the Realm of Dreams than any dragon has a right to know—if it doesn’t kill you for disturbing its already fitful, nightmare-wracked slumber.

Pathfinder Bestiary 191

Forgive me if you’re from Finland and I’ve butchered your language; I used to make my best guess.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Ice Golem

Ice golems are interesting, if somewhat limited, constructs.  They don’t risk going berserk like so many other golems do, but they are vulnerable to the energy type most spellslingers rely on more than any other: fire. Also, while their construction costs are low, their required caster level cost is high, especially for a CR 5 monster.  The end result is a servant that works best for a specific and somewhat eccentric subset of casters—particularly those that can bolster the golem with cold effects, especially water and certain air elementalists and evokers—or in situations where ordinary golems just won’t do.

The garden parties of Princess Anastasia are known for their ice sculptures, miraculously present even in the hottest summer months.  At least two of the sculptures in each display are secretly ice golems, typically in the shape of paired swans. The guards rely on these as a last line of defense for the princess, while still being easy to control and easy to dispose of if necessary (thanks to a healthy supply of flaming sphere scrolls).

The Carouwak halflings hunt and fish the frozen north, spending much of the winter in carefully constructed igloos.  The entrance to such an igloo is almost always a disguised ice golem, ready to defend against winter wolves, ice trolls, and the like.  Control over the golems is matrilineal; the headwoman in each family bears a token that marks the family golem as hers.  This provides a counterpoint to the largely male-dominated clan and tribal leadership roles.

It’s a classic locked room mystery—a prelate bludgeoned to death while shut up in the sacristy, blood spatter and an possible footprints obscured by a puddle of water (presumably from a leak or overturned vessel), and no possible means of escape beyond truly extraordinary means (e.g. ethereal travel).  But will the young friars investigating realize the victim shows signs of frostbite in midsummer, or note the unusual number of visits to the temple logged by a certain gnomish wizard?

Pathfinder Bestiary 161

Also, check out the Tumblr version of this post and yesterday’s for a discussion re: the Inner and Outer Planes.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Ice Elemental

Ice Elementals are born where the Plane of Water meets and freezes against the Plane of Air.  They have little need to interact with humanoids, but react poorly to those carrying fire or otherwise threatening their frigid privacy.  In your campaign they might also be the result of magical experiments (the forced merging of air and water elementals) or servants of the powers of cold and winter.

Icebergs from the Plane of Water can spill out into the Plane of Air.  (This is one source of many planar white dragons’ lairs.)  Provided the currents keep the icebergs cold and close to the Plane of Water, the ice elementals that dwell there are not disturbed.  But should their bergs drift too far or begin to melt, these ice elementals can become desperate to return home—and mortal adventurers’ airships are a too-rare and too-tempting target to ignore.

In academic circles, the most commonly witnessed form of ice elemental has generated comment.  At the Elemental College of Auxenholt, the prevailing theory is a connection—perhaps a kind of impression from early summoning encounters—to some mortal serpentine race.  Two rival scholars have taken sides on the issue—one posits primordial lamia matriarchs, the other the serpentfolk—and now both are establishing planar expeditions to prove their hypotheses.

For security, ice elementals on the Prime Plane sometimes ally with creatures that carry cold with them…but as most of these creatures are evil (such as yuki-onnas and various undead and fey creatures), ice elementals have earned a negative reputation by association.  This bothers the amoral and otherwise isolationist elementals little.  Also, over time they may begin to resemble creatures in their habitat, but only in form, not behavior—there are tales of ice elemental stags, crabs, and seals, athaches, and linnorms icewalking up sheer cliffs and even cavern ceilings.

Pathfinder Bestiary 2 114–115

Gather round, children, as I tell you the tale of the Para-Elemental Plane of Ice:

Once Upon A Time, back in 1e and 2e, there were these things called Para- and Quasi- Elemental Planes.  But that was before my time, and they vanished in 3.0.  The End. 

Now go fetch grandpa some bourbon.

(Actually, I like the idea of these interstitial planes—any excuse for more monsters is a good one—I just don’t know anything about them.  (I vaguely remember a Dragon Magazine article—issue 174 maybe?—talking about the Quasi-Elemental Plane of Minerals as the source for ioun stones.)  They seem to have lived on in the form of mephits and the various hybrid elementals.)

Monday, August 13, 2012

Ice Devil

The insectile gelugons are the Hells’ master strategists.  When serving others, they are the consiglieres, the evil Vulcan logicians.  When acting on their own, they are the Professor Moriartys of the multiverse.  In fact, they can be perfect masterminds behind an entire campaign (especially when beefed up with class levels).  Parties will come to hate ice devils like no other fiend.  Eventually, even the cagiest cornugon or pit fiend can be lured or shamed into a physical confrontation.  Ice devils won’t until the logic demands no other course.

Oh, and don’t forget that “stolen, frozen mortal heart” that sits not beating in the chest of every gelugon.  A grizzly origin like that is worth exploring, too…

Expecting to face roasting pits and magma pools, an adventuring party is stunned to discover Hell’s icy wastes.  After a battle against the elements and fiendish assailants, they manage to reach an isolated fortress, wherein lies a portal to escape home.  In the process, they disturb gelugons working to thaw out the body of a demigod frozen in ice (the devils’ distraction being the only thing that allowed the party to infiltrate so far).  Now the chase is on—for whatever the ice devils are up to, they do not care to leave witnesses alive.

On the Fields of Remembered Pleasure, azatas route the demonic forces of the Fungal Duchess after learning of a weak point in her line.  On the Chessboard, protean choirs are held at bay by inevitables that match them move for move, thanks to a newly published manual that provides counters to the proteans’ entropic rule-changing.  And in Torn Hollow, pig farmers have just chased off a band of orcs, thanks to a handy warning tied to a crow’s leg.  All of these victories for the forces of good, law, and civilization were engineered by an ice devil—the first feints in a battle for diabolic domination only he sees.

When the wish of his desperate monarch resurrects General Vintus d’Mantell (known to his soldiers as “The Manticore”) two weeks after his death, there is a problem—his heart was stolen from the battlefield by an imp servant of the gelugon metamorphosis authority.  The rejuvenated Vintus returns as a half-fiend with strange ice powers and chitin slowly overtaking his chest.  Meanwhile, the heart inside a the gelugon Ix’tichtl’akala has begun to beat, sending him into mad rages and a desperate urge to get to the Prime and lead “his” armies.

Pathfinder Bestiary 77

I would have loved to be in on the 2e brainstorming session that renamed the fiends.  “Gelugon” is definitely one of the better ones, along with “tanar’ri.”

I’ve mentioned this before, but Frostburn is definitely a 3.5 book worth checking out to get the most out of your icy villains.  At the same time though, you can bet any gelugon worth its salt is going to stock up on poison and acid attacks and traps to best cold-resistant mortal foes (and likely electricity and sonic widgets to best its rivals as well).

So Saturday happened, as it does most weeks, and that means I put monsters aside to concentrate on music.  This week’s installment of The New Indie Canon featured a look at Sebadoh, a twisted Tom Petty cover by Jahan Lennon (ha!), new Eternal Summers and MNDR, and some Professor Elemental just for the lulz.  Oh right, and new Green Day and the first new No Doubt in 11(!) years.  Download it.

(Music starts at just over three minutes into the file. The feed can skip, so for best results load in Firefox or Chrome, Save As an mp3, and enjoy in iTunes.)