By whatever name, the Deepearth/Underdark/Darklands—this blog generally sticks with “the Land Below” to avoid treading on anyone’s IP—is a magical place.
Like a pizza made in the Hyborian Age, fantasy worlds’ crusts are stuffed, not with rock and magma, but with strange radiations, dying gods, mysterious vaults, lost worlds, seas that never see the sun, and magic, magic, magic. So it makes sense that the fauna and especially the flora would reflect this. Competition for nutrients is fierce in the dark, and enough evolution and magic combined would certainly produce a fungus that moved, hunted actively, and even turned invisible.
(Also, on the metagame level, phantom fungi are an easy way to train players about prepared strikes and greater invisibility.)
That said, I think it’s easy for phantom fungi to feel…just plunked down in the dungeon. I think phantom fungi are best used when they feel natural—in fungal forests, near streams, growing out of graveyards, and in magical places where other features fade in and out, glow, or otherwise defy expectations. And like a lot of plant monsters, they work especially well when combined with other monsters—plant or otherwise.
The ranger Cambersun hides just outside the graveyard of the duergar town of Jord. A magic ring renders him invisible to plants, and so he has cultivated a number of deadly fungi to protect his lair. A combination of strategically placed yellow musk creepers and brown mold patches complement three voracious phantom fungi.
The Vanishing stole the gnome kingdom of Bettenwurf from this reality, beginning their long exile and their transformation from dwarf-cousins to the fey creatures they are today. Where Bettenwurf stood is now a land only semi-real, stuck half in and half out of the Ethereal Plane. Since plants grow poorly in the mists, fungi have replaced them in most ecological niches, and phantom fungi line the borders of what is now “the Bettengulf” as sneaky and effective natural sentinels.
In the rainforest of Cosa, phantom fungi move about the branches, sheltering in the dark beneath the shelf-leaves of the giant canopy trees. Though slightly weaker than most underground specimens, they make up for this by being more maneuverable. Sticky filaments on their stalks allow them to cling sideways to tree trunks and even hang upside down, the better to take prey by surprise. Their favorite food is giant frogs, and gripplis hunt these beasts with a passion.
—Pathfinder Bestiary 3 219
Confession: I don’t love the phantom fungus—I find the fake mouth kind of illogical (and this is coming from someone who can’t say enough good things about shadow-stealing stag-birds) and its habits as described (prefers not to attack groups, but if it does, it prefers loud individuals?) contradictory. It’s always felt very much like a check-the-box monster—“We need a plant at this CR”—and the way its invisibility works feels a bit video-game-y, something I could easily imagine fighting in some Mario ghost house. Of course, rescuing/refurbishing creatures like that is the whole reason this blog exists. But apparently my gut wasn’t far off—this post is fascinating, given the author.
Filbypott popped by to weigh in on petitioners. Any other 2e and Planescape fans out there have favorite petitioner NPCs/factions/hooks involving them? And A.A. sent me a trove to dig through—I haven’t checked out the links yet, but feel free to join me.
In other news, my coworker (actually one of my bosses) texts me over the weekend. Says his cousin is coming to town. Cool, I reply. Says, A drummer. Double cool, I reply. Says, Have I ever heard of the band Fol Chen?
Um, hell to the yes.
So guess who I hung out with last night…?