Friday, January 24, 2014


“Simba!”   —Noted vanara cleric

Vanaras date all the way back to the Hindu epics, and they migrated into 3.0 D&D in Oriental Adventures—part trickster, part mystic, mostly monkey.  Pathfinder’s vanaras continue in this vein; they’re presented in the Bestiary 3 and the Advanced Race Guide as the simian versions of Ewoks—treetop villages, rope bridges, lead by a cleric, oracle or monk, etc.—but with the bonus of a prehensile tail.  (The Advanced Race Guide also offers some variant races, monk archetypes, and other player options as well.)

Vanaras are a great “replacement” race—to make a campaign or locale instantly more exotic, you can easily swap them for halflings, gnomes, or elves.  They’re also fun to role-play—you can model them after everyone from the apes in Disney’s The Jungle Book, to Marvel’s Beast, DC’s Ultra-Humanite, or even your favorite kender.  (Not to mention the characters from a certain Planet of the Apes.)

As monkey-men, vanaras straddle the line between human and animal perfectly; they also straddle the line between wise man and fool, mystic and rogue, civilization and the jungle…and (thankfully rarely), the line between right and wrong.  The following adventure seeds detail a few of those rare malevolent exceptions.

An adventuring party is visiting a vanara treetop village when it receives the worst news: the charau-ka (see Pathfinder Adventure Path #40: Vaults of Madness) are coming.  The village wavers between resistance and flight when the decision is taken from them: the village cleric reveals himself to be allied to the evil ape-men’s demon patron, and he demands the party be handed over as a sacrifice.

The tree stranger vanaras of Torum are scholars (see the Advanced Race Guide); often they outnumber the human sages who attend the city’s many lectures.  But a rift has emerged between two rival schools, and previously peaceful academics now brawl in the streets.  The catalyst for the violence seems to be a document of questionable provenance and a ravishing vishkanya bard.

Vanaras are prized sailors on ships.  Unfortunately they also make fearsome pirates.  Between the earthbergs of Hearthome and Nightwood, the airship captain Sable raids at will.  Her specialty maneuver involves sending her ship into a barrel roll so that her agile crewmates can drop into the riggings of opponents’ ships.

Pathfinder Bestiary 3 280

I knew all the craziness of this winter meant things were getting away from me, but I cannot believe I missed this show.  *forehead slam*  Should have bought tickets the second I heard about it.  Damn.  Meanwhile…

Happy birthday, Dungeons & Dragons.

I heard about Dungeons & Dragons from my first friend in Maryland, Vince, and first saw the early red box books (the one with the sorceress and the serpent) and the 1e Monster Manual over at my friend Kevin’s house, in the basement lair of his older brother.  I played my first game with a dude from my Cub Scout troop.  And eventually I would ask my parents to buy the Elmore cover red box Basic Set. 

Even more fatefully, I bought a copy of Best of “Dragon Magazine” Vol. III and Dragon Magazine #140 (another Elmore cover) sometime in fifth grade at the toy store in the mall. This began a love affair that would last (with a slight interruption in college, coinciding with some rough years for TSR and WotC) until the magazine ceased print production in the 300s.  I subscribed to Dungeon briefly in sixth or seventh grade (and now bitterly regret not keeping it up) but Dragon I never subscribed to as a kid—going into the hobby store to look for the new issue week after week was too much fun.

My playing has always been sporadic (going to private school, I lived far from any game-playing friends), but my reading never has.  I feel in love with D&D sourcebooks and gazetteers and box sets and snapped them up.  I stuck with D&D for familiarity and cash flow reasons, but I would steal glances at AD&D books as well—my middle school library accidentally got a copy of Forgotten Realms Adventures and I devoured ever page on the bus—and I tore through Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms and Dark Sun and Spelljammer novels at a terrifying pace.  We also weren’t allowed TV in the summers, and so I began to re-read my Dragon and Dungeon issues cover to cover and back...again, and again, and again.

College was the low point of my D&D engagement—TSR was in shambles and I had too much else to do, though I did get at least one summer campaign in with an elf cleric who got seduced by a weretiger in Ravenloft.  Then 3.0 happened just as I was entering grad school.  I resubscribed to Dragon and Dungeon, and for the first time I had money and time and wasn’t playing the neglected stepsystem and had neighbors to share books with.  So I bought the 3.0/3.5 books—lots of them—and I read and I talked and I played.  I even sent in two articles to Dragon: one got rejected, one (a barghest ecology) got returned asking for revisions, which stupidly I let slide due to a move and being disenchanted with the mandated “Ecology of” article format at the time.  Chalk it up to a low Wisdom score on my part.

I won’t get into my disenchantment with 4e—I had just stopped DJing professionally and was at a career crossroads, and I just had a sense that I didn’t have the heart for a new system.  Then Paizo began releasing Pathfinder and I was blown away.  I peeked at the 4e books…didn’t like what I saw…bought one or two and really didn’t like what I saw…and pretty much walked away.  I had plenty of holes in my 3.0/3.5 collection to fill, and new material coming from Pathfinder every month.  Soon I even stumbled upon a Pathfinder gaming group near work and played through most of Age of Worms, a combination of Shackled City and Kingmaker, and a few homebrews.  Pathfinder was all the D&D I needed.  I was set.

That said, D&D has a huge share of my imagination, my bookshelf, my hours of reading, and my memories of friends.  (I wouldn’t spend a week recommending decade-old D&D books to my Pathfinder readers if I didn’t.)  The debt I owe to Gary Gygax and everyone who came after him—especially to Roger Moore, Bruce Heard, Barbara Young, and Ed Greenwood—is huge.  They took me to worlds I never knew existed.

So happy 40th birthday this weekend, Dungeons & Dragons.  Funnily enough, it feels like I’m saying happy birthday to myself.

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