Friday, December 27, 2013

Umbral Shepherd

James Sutter brings us the umbral shepherd in the pages of the Inner Sea Bestiary.  These nasty parasitic outsiders like to possess host beings; they also have a nasty tentacle attack that dissolves flesh into shadow.  In the ISB they are heavily identified with Zon-Kuthon and the dark places that drove him mad.  Where they come from in your campaign is up to you—likely the deeper reaches of the Plane of Shadow, the dark places between the planes, or in other places reality breaks down.

The Company of the Blazing Banner are renowned adventurers (by now landed and titled) who recently destroyed an infestation of tenebrous worms in their hometown of Yomark.  But other shadow creatures escaped their attention.  Now their chief henchman, their treasurer, and several members of their staff are possessed by umbral shepherds.  The outsiders seem to be directing them to look for something in the Company’s vaults.  The search is taking time, though, the shepherds are eager to be done before the Company returns to Yomark.

The umbral shepherds known in Caern come from a place that is not a place—another dimension entirely that mathematicians understand better than clerics or wizards.  Hounds of Tindalos are terrified of the creatures, though, so striking a bargain with an umbral shepherd may be a way to throw these otherworldly hunters of the scent.

Teleportation magic is almost unknown on Stross.  Though the process is supposedly instantaneous, it feels like a frigid journey.  And all too often, porters come back changed somehow, and many soon sicken and die.  Scholars know this is the influence of the bleak riders, who hitch a lift within the bodies of teleporting mages to spread their evil into Stross.

Inner Sea Bestiary 53

SPLINTERWAIFS!  Alert reader demiurge1138 comes through with the save after my twigjack meltdown.  (The splinterwaif was created by James Jacobs and appeared in Dragon #307—the Westeros issue, for you George R. R. Martin fans—and the Monster Manual III). 

Also, dr-archeville dug deep into the udaeus—check out his excavation/explication here.

I’m going to be traveling through New Year’s, so The Daily Bestiary is likely going to be on vacation next week.  Not 100% sure, though, so keep checking here and we’ll see what happens.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Umbral Dragon

On the one hand, umbral dragons seem to be simply the Plane of Shadow version of their primal dragon cousins—the fifth and most powerful of the set.  And yet…well, there’s something about them that seems…off.  They are definitely creatures of shadow (their mastery of shadow magic speaks to that) but they are also creatures tied to undeath—able to touch, harm, and even consume the restless spirits of the dead in a way few other creatures could.  This speaks of heavy influence from the Negative Energy Plane…not surprising, since the Plane of Shadow is riddled with connections to that even darker place…but it almost seems like a taint.  One has the feeling that they sampled too deeply of undead flesh, lingered too long in the Deep Shadow, gave too much of their souls over to dark powers (to such a degree that some elder dragons can even create undead!).  They are the epitome of all that is the Plane of Shadow, but they are also contaminated and corrupt in ways the other primal dragons are not and never will be.

Killed by a rival, the inventor and philosopher Teolan has returned as a ghost.  Such a significant spirit has attracted the attention of an umbral dragon who longs to slake her thirst on the ghost’s ectoplasmic form.  Adventurers seeking Teolan’s wisdom will have to defend the ghost from her hunger—and defend themselves from the ghost, now a malevolent, bitter apparition who will strike them from behind even as they battle the dragon.

The umbral dragon Noxentia rules a cathedral-sized mausoleum, the dark mirror image of a college and seminary in the real world.  She keeps the place meticulously clean of undead, with the notable exception of allips.  These she allows the run of her lair, basking in the pain and loss inherent in their babbling song.

The Plane of Shadow does not only reflect environs, but sometimes individuals as well—those long-lived enough to cast a reflection across reality, that is.  The gold dragon Heiraurum has two twins: the sovereign dragon Mist’s Remembrance on the Ethereal Plane and an umbral dragon, Vertixpylus, on the Plane of Shadow.  Vertixpylus has recently become aware of his noble gold and contemplative sovereign reflections, and their very existence drives him wild with rage and envy.  Working through proxies, shadow servants, and the odd kyton, he seeks intelligence about his mirror twins and hopes to strike them dead when the time is right.

Pathfinder Bestiary 2 102–103

Any Ghostwalk fans out there?  I imagine Dracanish’s priests would be fascinated with umbral dragons…weighing their ability to quite literally eat the dead versus their chaotic evil alignment.

Also, for tips on role-playing umbral dragons, I have one name for you: Synn.  Synn was a night dragon on Mystara, a creature of Entropy not unlike umbral dragons, who was a major villainess in Bruce Heard’s “The Voyage of the Princess Ark” series.  When wounded by Prince Haldemar’s boltmen, what does she do?  Dog them through the skies.  Send a polymorphed possessed servant to spy upon them.  Ally with an order of sky knights against them.  Follow them into the Hollow World.  And then send them through a rift in time, and for good measure, dump a former passenger—a woman who assumes Haldemar abandoned her to rot in prison for decades—on the deck as a parting gift.  Now that’s how you play an umbral dragon.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013


Welcome to the letter U!  I take the holidays seriously, so pretty much the only reason I blogged this week was to give you this Christmas present: our very first Bestiary 4 monster and our first mythic monster in one fell swoop: the udaeus.

Inspired by Greek myths, udaeoi are perfect warriors—originally grown like seedlings from dragon teeth, rather than being born, though they now breed true. Not only are these myrmidons consummate warriors, but they also carry mythic power in their veins—a remnant of the divine spark that created them. 

How mythic they are in your campaign is of course up to you.  They might be a nation of warriors (like the Spartans), a sacred bloodline springing from otherwise human stock, statues brought to life, divine servants of the god of war, and so on.  You might even bring back that whole springing-from-a-dragon’s-teeth trick…

Jarl Snori Siggardson, himself an accomplished sea raider, is stunned when some foreign, bone-white warriors challenge him on his own lands.  Whether they are beaten back or not likely depends on the aid of some adventurers sheltering under his eaves.  Either way, he wishes to know more—these chalky warriors are the best he has ever seen, and they bear the plumed helms of far Tyresia.  He asks the adventurers to travel to that land and find out more.

Every year during the Longnight watch, the king grants an audience to the most unusual supplicants who come to call.  This year a man begs the king to witness him bring his crops forth from seed to harvest in a single midwinter day.  The king agrees, and the next day the man sews his seeds—linnorm teeth—into the frozen earth.  Immediately a squadron of udaeoi spring up and attack.

The Forbidden East is forbidden for a reason: udaeoi guard the only causeways connecting the Known World to the realms beyond.  Groups wishing to pass must defeat the warriors by strength of arms, and without the use of additional magic.  But even receiving this offer is a secret that must be earned: the udaeoi demand six wyvaran heads before even deigning to speak with outsiders.  Another option is to befriend a sphinx—the lion-like riddlers move freely in udaeus towns—but that carries its own risks…

Pathfinder Bestiary 4 267

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


Star deities from Aztec mythology, tzitzimitls in Pathfinder are monstrous undead from the depths of space.  In fact, they are creatures of such power that even many devourers and lesser nightshades have reason to fear them.  You know those folks who think aliens helped build ancient civilizations, or that the Nazca Lines were meant to be seen from space?  Well, imagine they were right, and then give those aliens a dash of Stephen King by way of Anthony Horowitz, and you’ve got a perfect tzitzimitl.

A tzitzimitl is a campaign-ending monster, rumored to be eclipse creators and apocalypse engines.  (At the very least, they bring the deeper darkness of space with them, and they can create powerful undead like mohrgs at a rate of one per day.)  Defeat one, and you’ve likely saved the world.  Or if you’re throwing a truly mythic campaign, tzitzimitls are what PCs find on the worst planet possible—scions of a great darkness they must never rouse for fear that it will turn its attention to their home planet.

One should also note that in mythology tzitzimitls were female.  Aside from certain drow nations, I don’t think we've had a prominent necromantic gynarchy.  Maybe tzitzimitls are the perfect excuse to create one…

In a canyon so deep its bottom exists on the Plane of Earth, a nation of death-worshipping shaitans and their slaves have toiled for generations delving for the remains of a strange comet.  They finally unearth the object of their search: a giant cask stuffed with the rock-covered skeletal form of a tzitzimitl.

Adventurers discover their world is hollow, stuffed with whole civilizations—some alien and futuristic, others seemingly relics of the past.  But no surface-dwelling mortal was meant to set foot upon the Land of the Ochre Sun, and there are contingencies in place.  In temples far away at the cardinal points of the compass, ancient undead queens sitting on far older thrones open their eyes for the first time…

When a party of adventurers ran across their first servants of the Ebon Way, they never imagined chasing the cultists would lead them to the moon and across space.  But when they follow bloodmage spy Herr Kölm and his ship, The Gangrenous Heart, when they crash-land on Shroud, they discover a planet of death and nightmares where tzitzimitls march like soldiers across the blasted landscape.

Pathfinder Bestiary 3 276

Ah, yet another Hollow World homage.

Golarion fans, James L. Sutter’s Distant Worlds has tzitzimitls being native to the lich-populated planet of Eox.  Meanwhile, for my 3.5 readers: if you’re a fan Elder Evils or end-of-the-world scenarios in general, tzitzimitls fit right in to that book’s themes.

Edit: Thanks for your patience with this late post.  Original entry: Only Christmas Eve could vanquish the mighty tzitzimitl.  Post to follow as holidays calm down.

Monday, December 23, 2013


What if the little stick manikins from The Blair Witch Project came alive?  What if they had really bad attitudes?  So bad in fact, that not even most other fey could stand them?  And what if they could dimension door through brambles and explode like a thorn grenade?  Won’t that be awful?

Twigjacks are those guys.

All fey tend to represent some aspect of nature, though, and twigjacks are that part that resists expansion, settlement, and otherwise being tamed.  Lone campers (and even adventuring parties) may not be harmed—it is the caravans, the wagon trains, the road crews, carpenters, and masons who suffer most from a twigjack’s malicious attentions. 

Construction on Fever Road claims more lives every day.  The mosquitoes and snakes were bad enough.  But the twigjacks are the real menace: piercing waterskins, firing splinters at workers from hiding, and even sending a hodag through camp.  The fey must be placated or driven off before work can continue.  Meanwhile, refugees and a dragon are hot on the road crew’s heels…

Kovalak is a bugbear who torments isolated farmsteads up and down Chimney Ridge.  He has bullied a gang of twigjacks into assisting him.  (Crushing one of them in a meaty paw while shrugging off its splinterspray was enough to convince the others.)  His modus operandi is to spy on the family for one night, haunt them the next, and then have the twigjacks attack the following day so that they dare not go for help.  On the third evening, Kovalak feasts on fear-marinated flesh.

Camberton hasn’t been a frontier town in years, and most of the region’s twigjacks fled or withered away.  Those that survived grew up still more twisted, their misanthropy warping into a kind of xenophobia.  They lurk in hedgerows and in the weeds of poorer neighborhoods, attacking obvious immigrants and inflaming racial tensions.

Pathfinder Bestiary 2 274

Twigjack’s are not to be confused with 3.0’s Monster Manual II’s twig blights.  Nor should they be confused with…with…mumblemumblemumble

…Are you still here?  The entry’s over. 

Have a great night.


Okay, fine!!!  They shouldn’t be confused with some kind of fey from Dragon Magazine that turned children into bushes and then ate them, but I can’t remember its name and I just spent 45 minutes looking through back issues and still couldn’t find it and I think I’m going crazy.

So…yeah.  Twigjacks aren’t those either.

Also, hooray for 600 followers!  Reader sanguinitywins, I think the honor goes to you.

Friday, December 20, 2013


My little exposure to Inuit myths and legends comes from my mentor Howard Norman’s In Fond Remembrance of Me, which documents his time in the Arctic collecting such stories.  

Partial digression: IFRoM is not the easiest book to find, but is so worth it.  The stories Norman specialized in are all “Noah stories”: tales about the time Noah sailed his Ark into Hudson Bay.  Which right there is bizarre—Noah, the Bible figure, being incorporated into the structure of traditional Inuit tales of life and hardship as if he’d been there all along.  Fascinating.  And the rest of the book is a moving memoir about a fish-out-of-water friendship, which is high praise coming from me because I typically have zero interest in moving memoirs, especially ones where [deleted because spoilers] is involved.  Look for it!

Anyway, in the stories Noah is a grump who doesn’t adapt to Inuit social norms, and in each tale he either dies or is sent packing south.  Some of the most interesting tales involve run-ins with shamans.  These are not kindly priests; they are strange men, possibly mad, who live by themselves on the outskirts of society or out in the wilderness.  Offend one and he is likely to put a curse on you or shove you up the nostril of a seal (which one of Noah’s daughters remarks is not a very pleasant experience.)  These shamans are important figures, but they are never safe.  They are proud, they are vengeful, and they will be respected…or else.

The tupilaq, then, is just such an instrument for insuring that respect…or for taking revenge upon anyone offering an insult.  But these carvings have to be used with care, because they can be turned against their creators. 

Of course, you can find ivory a lot more places than just a frozen north.  Tupilaqs are equally dangerous in the service of tropical shamans carving elephant ivory, kobolds guarding a dragon graveyard, or friars tending an ancient ossuary…

In order to learn a rare spell, adventurers must go to the frozen north and befriend an aging, cantankerous witch doctor.  Doing so is no easy feat…and even if they manage it, he dies before he can pass on the final components.  Worst yet, the old man had known his time was drawing to a close and had been busy settling scores.  When a tupilaq he sent to kill a rival returns after being erased, it sets its sights on the adventurers as the shaman’s heirs apparent.

After failing to reach the spirit of her dead child via a séance, a mother is convinced his animus has been stolen.  She is not wrong.  The local friars did not inter her boy—or any of the other hundreds of bodies they have collected over the years.  Instead they had beetle swarms strip the flesh from the skeleton, then used the bones as ornaments in their grizzly chapel and ossuary.  And one of the friars captured the boy’s spirit for use in a tupilaq, for what purpose only he knows…

In the city of Songsburg, music is king.  No fewer than three bardic colleges compete for influence, and the concert halls and opera houses are always packed.  It also means that competition for chairs is fierce, even lethal.  The church organist at the Fane of Evening has held his position for decades, but his fingers are beginning to falter.  Rather than retire gracefully, he holds onto his position thanks to a tupilaq he sends after likely candidates.  When not in use, the creature hides in the panel above the organ, masquerading as a grinning carving of a jester.

Pathfinder Bestiary 3 275

Edit: Apologies for the lateness of this entry.  Original post: Work party ran much longer than expected, so no entry tonight.  Have no fear; I’m excited about this one—look for an entry in the days to come.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Trumpet Archon

We’ve talked before about how archons tend to be associated strongly with their office—either the role itself or the symbol thereof.  Trumpet archons illustrate this to a T: They are the messengers and heralds of the powers of law and good, their magical trumpets equally adept at blasting enemies into paralysis as they are at playing fanfares.

Trumpet archons are CR 14, which is a nice power level—the gateway to high-level play, essentially.  Getting a message from a trumpet archon (or having to combat one) is a perfect indicator to PCs (and players) that they are about to ascend to a new level of reputation, expectation, and danger.  Heaven has taken notice, and the stakes will be a lot bigger from now on.

As usual with good outsiders, PCs will likely encounter trumpet archons as aides and boon-givers (they actually pack more than two dozen buffing or healing spells per day).  However, since trumpet archons are usually intermediaries, messengers, and soldiers, there are a reasonable number of excuses to put them in the PCs’ path as adversaries.  The message must get through.  A summit must be called.  The army must march.  If the PCs stand in the way of any of these goals—“The safety of one azata prince, even the Prince of Flowers, is not my concern”—and are not amenable to persuasion, then so be it.  Gabriel will blow his horn—at them.

A trumpet archon is a master at mixing music, magic, and blade work.  He offers instruction to good-aligned bards, magi, and rangers alike, but they must first prove their mettle (by wounding him to half hit points in single combat).

Some adventurers rely on a protean guide—which means taking time for numerous side treks and detours.  One of his pranks involves miring an axiomite caravan in entropic matter.  This in turn draws the attention of a trumpet archon, who sounds an alarm on his horn and then attacks the protean—and the mortals he perceives as its lackeys.

A hound archon, supposedly a seditious traitor, has been executed.  His celestial body is left impaled on the crystal gates of Caer Iffos.  A trumpet archon, incensed, promises to blast down the gates—and his vow is no idle one, as he holds a greater horn of blasting.  A party of adventurers has taken a vow to protect the dwarfhold, but with mounting evidence that Caer Iffos’s rulers are corrupt, do they honor their vows to the city or the Heavenly Spheres?

Pathfinder Bestiary 21

Did any of you 3.5 fans ever play a trumpet archon PC?  I know Savage Species had rules for them…

Of course, trumpet archons owe their inspiration to popular depictions of Gabriel (or Islam’s Israfil, who is very worth checking out if you’re looking for a wilder take on angelic imagery—“ a huge, hairy body that is covered with mouths and tongues” and four wings long enough to stretch across several of the Heavens, according to Wikipedia).

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


Beware people with unique pets.

Wanting a unique pet is totally fine.  (In my head, I am the owner of a magical snow leopard farm, the daily chores made easier by capable sylph druid sidekicks.)  But every time you actually hear about someone having a unique pet, it’s in the news story about how that pet got loose and ate his or her face off.

Why do I bring this up?

Because trollhounds are the unique pets of the fantasy world.  They do not belong in captivity…unless said captivity involves a troll.  (And in that case, you already have the fire and acid prepped—just watch out for that diseased bite and you’re good).

But if you see a non-troll with a trollhound?  Run.  That dude is bad news.  Nobody with good intentions has a trollhound lying next to his chair.  Wait, it’s your employer, the one who hired you for that latest heist?  DTMFA, or you will be cursing his sudden but inevitable betrayal.  Even worse: It’s an alchemist?  Then she made that thing herself.  It’s a rough draft; it isn’t even out of beta yet.  It is going to try to eat you.  Roll for initiative.

The alchemist Everan Sing is fascinated by trollhounds, one of which decimated a mercenary company she was traveling with.  She has begun experiments to create trollhounds of her own, and her recent efforts seem fruitful.  Her research has driven up her debts, however, and incurred the displeasure of a crime boss who has several trolls—and trollhounds—at his disposal…

Carcasses are being brought into Castle Ravenwood for the big feast—trussed-up fowl, venison, boars, a fatted calf.  But one of the carcasses is an armless, legless, beheaded trollhound.  Soon enough, though, the supposed carcass regenerates and runs amok in the kitchens, then speeds upstairs to lay waste to the party guests…which is just what the sender intended.

The world of Carcin has no trolls, just trollhounds.  Hobgoblins and bugbears favor them even above worgs as pets and weapons against orcs and humans alike.  Still, there are rumors…impossible rumors, of course…that there are creatures far to the north, the eponymous trolls of legend, who share the trollhounds’ mystical regeneration…but surely those are just fairy tales…

—Pathfinder #32 88–89 & Pathfinder Bestiary 3 274

Look for more trollhounds in Pathfinder #32: Rivers Run Red, including variants like the scraghound.

Re: my intro—“But I have a sugar glider!” you protest.  To which I reply, I don’t care how cute they are; those things are omnivores.  It’s still planning to eat you; it’s just waiting for the mother of all growth spurts.

(PS: If the Bestiary 5 has a dire and/or giant sugar glider, I’m taking the credit.)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


I don’t love TV Tropes* but their entry on trolls saves me a whole lot of typing.  So go there, then come back here.

Okay, you still with me?

The trolls of Pathfinder are not and yet still kind of are the trolls of D&D, the trolls of Tolkien, the trolls of Norse Mythology, the trolls of “The Three Billy Goats Gruff,” etc.   Every source seems to approach trolls from its own lens**, but Pathfinder has done a good job of making its trolls a little bit of all of the above without diluting their essential nature.  But it’s telling that even Pathfinder has had to work to reconcile the differences among its very own trolls: the dumb, walking underbite standard model versus the nearly fey trolls of the Lands of the Linnorm Kings versus the (absolutely genius, first-thing-I point-to-when-people-ask-my-why-Pathfinder-is-great) troll haruspices of Kaer Maga. 

Having trolls be giants from the First World (as is suggested in various places, especially Lands of the Linnorm Kings, I believe) is a really elegant fix: in one fell swoop it explains their regeneration, the magically plastic nature of their many subraces, and their occasional brilliance despite an average Int of 6.  Whether you choose a similar option is up to you.

Where am I going with all this?  All I’m saying is that, like every monster we talk about here, trolls are yours to play with, tweak, and rework for your campaign world.  You’ll be taking part in a very old tradition.

*Let’s be clear: Really useful tropes tend to arise (and stay) in popular parlance: Jumping the Shark, Cousin Oliver Syndrome, Space Jews, etc.  TV Tropes is a game played by pop culture enthusiasts with other pop culture enthusiasts.  It’s an exercise in cataloging by fans for fans.  Enjoy it!  Have fun with it!  But spending too long on there risks turning you into a walking wiki who can no longer communicate with Muggles.

**Interesting how we’ve totally fallen in lockstep with Tolkien’s portrayal of dwarves, elves, and (to a lesser extent) halflings, yet trolls seem to insist on remaining their own creatures.  Ironic that we have an iconic monster that refuses to be iconic.

Anyway, on to the troll adventure seeds!

A troll is held as a witness before a trial, chains and regular applications of torch fire serving to keep it bound.  But when the guard grows lax during the winter holiday season, the troll makes its escape. First it gnaws off its flame-burnt stumps to escape its chains and allow its arms to regrow.  Then it burst out of its tower cell and uses its own intestines to rappel down the side.  It lands just before a reveling party of adventurers, blood and guts steaming amid the snow.  Do the lightly armed and drunken adventurers dare tackle the beast, even in its weakened state?

A rogue backstabbed a troll, only to lose his magic dagger in the rubbery flesh.  The regenerating skin covered the dagger, which now sits encysted in the troll’s side.  The dagger hums to warn of danger, which makes this troll very hard to sneak up on.

The tale of the Goats and the Troll seems to have come to life at Wine Barrel Bridge.  All those attempting to go over the bridge must face three wild satyrs, while river traffic going under must contend with a scrag.  All four assailants have a reverence for riddle play—the troll’s long memory (and Wis 9) making up for any lack of intelligence—and they will break off an assault to play, but only if their victim proposes a game.

Classic Monsters Revisited 58–63 & Pathfinder Bestiary 268

More on trolls in (of course) Classic Monsters Revisited.  For you all who like to dive into the deep cuts, GAZ7 The Northern Reaches set the example of really dumb, sadistic trolls in D&D’s Known World, which Bruce Heard picked up in GAZ10 The Orcs of Thar.  But he played with trolls, too—the trolls of Alphatia’s Trollhattan are quite sophisticated, in fact.

On a personal note, a scrag graced the cover of one of the first issues of Dragon Magazine I ever bought, #133.  Man, do I like that cover.

Lots of comments on recent posts!  I definitely do read them all and I’ll try to tackle them as holiday craziness subsides; right now I’m in a bit deep.

Monday, December 16, 2013


Troglodytes are the stinky lizardfolk.  (That’s the short version, at least.)  They were noted in 1e and 2e AD&D for having a particularly lazy deity, which was good and bad for his shamans (good: he didn’t demand the harsh rites many other humanoid deities did; bad: if he did notice you, he or one of his minions would probably eat you).  They made it to the PC level in the (amazing) 3.5 Forgotten Realms sourcebook Serpent Kingdoms.  In Pathfinder, they are subterranean degenerates with a strong religious bent.  The lucky ones still live in the shadows of their ancient empires; the unlucky ones are slaves of drow and worse.

So for the most part, troglodytes are going to be spear-carriers (well, javelin-carriers) and cannon fodder in your campaigns.  But they still have things going for them, namely:

That stench: Trogs are low-CR monsters for low-CR parties.  At 1st level, the sickened condition (“–2 penalty on all attack rolls, weapon damage rolls, saving throws, skill checks, and ability checks”) really matters.  Play up the choking, gagging, retching experience of fighting these reptilians...especially when it makes a PC just miss his or her roll.

Rocky terrain: Trogs are stealthier in rocky areas, so encounters should feature lots of ambushes.  Granted, their stench diminishes the surprise factor up close, but with 90 ft. darkvision they’re happy to stay at javelin range.  (Plus, trogs aren’t intellectuals but they’re not stupid either….I can easily imagine them hiding under ratty gray blankets to conceal their forms and their odor, then bursting out of hiding to attack, reeking of death.

Planning and tactics: Once PCs have encountered the above, they should be encouraged to come up with ways to counter those advantages.  If the party starts working overtime to attack trogs only at missile range or stock up on alchemical cures or use the trogs’ stench to track them (or mask their own presences) they should be rewarded. 

Religion: Heavily religious natures plus isolation/fall to savagery means heterodoxy and fractiousness.  Every troglodyte tribe might have a different deity, demon lord, animist totem, etc.  Which means lots of excuses for you to customize spell lists, cult powers, religious iconography, and so forth.  (Not to mention really creepy/savage animal companions for the druids.)

Lost empires: Discovering that an ancient city used to be a troglodyte city is a great low-level mystery, which could lead—“But if that’s true…what happened to them?”—to great mid-level mysteries.

Reversed expectations: Have you stuck to a pattern of dumb trogs?  Then throw some smart trogs at the PCs.  That ought to first terrify and then intrigue them.

Or you can do none of the above.  Sometimes, you just need someone to carry a spear.  Or at least farm House D’Cherith’s mushroom plantation.

A well in the caverns below Choirstone is known to lead to a faerie grotto with magical properties.  But fresh water in the Land Below is rare, and bone-armored troglodytes have claimed the well.

A city-state of nagaji features altar-topped ziggurats, lizard-headed statues, and canals that dive deep into the earth.  But the nagaji didn’t found this city, as they suppose—their troglodyte slaves did.  A charismatic troglodyte shaman begins to rouse his kinsman to take back what is rightfully theirs.  The nagaji, caught unprepared, ask outside adventurers for help clearing the shaman out of the stinking sewers where he resides.

Surrounded as they are by dangerous neighbors, subterranean magicks, and the reminders of their own fallen grandeur, troglodytes cling to whatever numinous scraps of the divine they can access.  Magred is an exiled dwarven deity who answers the prayers of subterranean outcasts, the cursed, and cave lizard riders; his patronage of less violent troglodyte tribes has kept his divine spark flickering.  The Severed Tail tribe worships the demon patron of their drow masters, sewing on the remnants of their shed skin to their shoulders in honor of his flaying knives.  Cultists of the Great Old One Bokrug spend much of their time in mushroom-induced hallucinogenic hazes, dreaming of storms over a lake of some other reality entirely.

Pathfinder Bestiary 267

Friday, December 13, 2013


The quick way of describing tritons is that they are merfolk with two tails/legs (or leg-tails) originally from the Plane of Water—a touch more powerful/magical maybe (they can summon dolphins or Small water elementals), but that’s about it. 

A closer look (borne out in Pathfinder’s Bestiary 2 and older D&D books like Jim Bambra’s PC3 The Sea People) is that tritons are the coral-builders and nation-makers.  Merfolk tend to be more nomadic or even dwell in fresh water, while tritons are creatures of the great coastal shelves, building coral cities and guarding against evil underwater threats.  (This tendency is accentuated in Pathfinder, where merfolk are more neutral to the point of hostility compared to the world’s oldest role-playing game.  Similarly whereas on Mystara and Toril aquatic elves were forces to be reckoned with, on Golarion they are a diminished people barely holding their own against sahuagin and other threats.)

But for me, the two things that set tritons apart are these:

1) They’re the ones who are going to rescue you.  Aquatic adventures can go bad fast.  You’ve already used up a bunch of your resources buying potions or casting spells of water breathing (a 3rd-level spell, so not cheap).  If something goes wrong, you’re stuck far from help and risk drowning or being crushed by the pressure.  Tritons are your GM’s excuse to pull you out of the water.  Merfolk don’t care and aquatic elves are too scattered.  Only tritons have the organized patrols, territory, and the goodwill to plausibly be in the vicinity when you need a rescue.

2) Tritons are keeping the surface world safe.  From aboleths to adaros to krakens to sahuagin to shoggoths, the list of evil underwater threats is long.  If, like Earth, 70% of your game world is covered in water, it’s tritons that are making the beaches safe for swimming.  PCs thinking that they are the ones saving the world all the time should get a rude awakening when they go underwater and encounter their first triton patrols. 

In fact, as a GM you can really mess with them.  Ever see one of those movies where the real stakes aren’t clear till halfway through second reel?  (I’m trying to think of a better example, but for right now let’s go with that moment in From Dusk Till Dawn when a criminal misfits road movie suddenly becomes a vampire killfest.)  Imagine your players going charging in to defeat a kraken after weeks of preparation…only to discover a triton army encampment about to embark on a battle against the real threat…and if the PCs want to be in their waters, they better come along.

Of course, that’s when tritons are on your side.  Just because they’re neutral good, that doesn’t mean you can’t piss them off…

“You want to claim the wreck of the Hester?  You have to earn it.”  So says the triton captain who intercepts adventurers trying to plumb Daemon Gorge.  With sea cats, giant moray eels, and cannibalistic merfolk about—not to mention the rumored daemons that give the gorge its name—the captain is not about to let them pass.  Unless they can do a certain courier job for him…

When devils attacked the triton city of Davos, they triggered an epic contingency effect that sealed the city in a protective sphere…but the magical backlash flushed the city into the oceans of the Abyss.  Now the devils and tritons (and their fiendish triton offspring) must work together to power the magical dynamos that camouflage Davos from the Abyss itself.  The peace has held for years, but as more and more tritons are born tainted with Infernal and Abyssal energies, conflict is inevitable.  And into this mix comes a band of surface-dwelling adventurers on a plane-hopping barque…

Eight feet high, barnacle-chested, and blessed by the Daughters of the Current, Stefanic Landstrider is known above and below the waves as a triton champion.  But when he begins acting madly—rumors whisper of lycanthropy, possession, aboleth enthrallment, or worse—someone needs to bring him in…or put him down.  No triton will lay a finned finger on him, so their duke recruits a band of adventurers who have helped him in the past.

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Tritons have popped up here and there in the Golarion books.  A pretty much full list is here; your first stop should be “Oceans of Golarion” in Pathfinder Adventure Path #56: Raiders of the Fever Sea.