Wednesday, April 30, 2014


Another Advanced Race Guide monster already!  Wyvarans are a magical crossbreed (supposedly by dragons) between wyverns and kobolds—likely an attempt to breed out the brutishness of the former with the small size and resentful cowardice of the latter.  (No link to stats today—in what appears to be an oversight, I can find no stats for the wyvaran on the or anywhere else.)

I’m glad, though, that the wyvaran is more than the sum of its parts.  I like that wyvarans are lawful neutral, loyal, and property-obsessed, for instance.  And the fact that the default wyvaran is an inquisitor of Air raises all sorts of my favorite kind of questions.  (What does that guy even look like?  Or believe?  What are the tenets of that faith?  Most air deities in published books tend toward chaotic—what does one within one step of lawful neutral represent?)

In fact, I want to go further—I want wyvarans in general to come out of left field.  Sure they can lead kobold tribes…but maybe they're astrology-obsessed like Golarion’s green dragons.  Or they have a fierce system of blood pacts and weregild.  Maybe they hate creatures of Earth or launch crusades against gargoyles.  Maybe they run a crude kind of Western Union, remaining stingy with their own gold but happy to fly letters of credit and contracts from place to place.  Who knows?  It's a brand new race—the cavern mouth of opportunity is wide open.

Wayvaran astrologers have claimed an ancient ruin on a strategically valuable mountain peak.  Whether adventurers are interested in exploring the ruin, claiming the height for their lord’s military, or taking star readings themselves, they will find the devout seers are more than ready to defend what they see as theirs with lightning arcs.

Wyvaran samurai come to the aid of an adventuring party against a tribe of keches.  On the one hand the samurai might demand the party pay for their assistance (even though no such thing was agreed to beforehand); on the other hand the battle takes place close enough to the wyvarans’ lair that the party may claim the right of hospitality and a night’s lodging.  One complication, though: Custom dictates the wyvarans kill all ninjas and confirmed thieves on sight.

A gold dragon is served by the retinue of wyvarans he created.  The wyvarans are loyal but concerned with rank and territory to an almost comical degree.  Taking advantage of this inbred trait, the gold uses the wyvarans as toll agents guarding the seven entrances (bridges, passes, and underground tunnels) into his domain.  Each is allowed to employ whatever aides and henchmen it needs, from other wyvarans and kobolds to air elementals, iron cobras, eidolons, goat-centaurs, and traps.

Pathfinder Bestiary 4 281

Man, compared to wraiths you guys hate wyrwoods.  Or drag queens.  I guess my next set of adventure seeds shouldn’t include wyrwoods in drag.  #toolate)

Tuesday, April 29, 2014


Lots to talk about here.   So much.  And I can't even get into it because I’m still incensed by what happened last night on RuPaul’s Drag Race.

(What?  I’m allowed to have outside interests besides Pathfinder, D&D, indie rock, folk, ska, comics, cosplay, nerd culture, film noir, kayaking, neo-burlesque, and girls with pixie cuts (call me!).  Sometimes I need me some drag, hunty.)

A race of constructs, wyrwoods are—

I mean, were we watching the same episode?!?!

Hang on, I’ll get over it.  Breathe, Patch.  Just breathe.

Wyrwoods are one of the five new races introduced in the Advanced Race Guide.  At the time of publication, it wasn’t even clear if those races would have a life outside that book.  In retrospect, it was probably inevitable that they would find their way into the Bestiaries and Golarion proper—Paizo doesn't tend to create content they’re not going to use—but in that moment there was an up-in-the-air, this-is-just-for-the-appendix-ness about the gathlain, kasatha, et al.  This was reinforced by the sketchy write-ups and comic book-inspired art that said, “Look what these rules let you make!” not “These guys are canon.”

Naturally I loved that sketchiness and all the unspoken possibility there.  (In fact, I wanted more—my big complaint about that section was that there should have been double the number of new races.)  But of all five races, wyrwoods were the obvious candidate for importing into Golarion—the setting simply has too many gestures toward constructs, clockwork, androids, and otherworldly technology to exclude them.

So, wyrwoods are a race of constructs.  On the one hand, I think it’s a little too easy to call them Pathfinder’s warforged—their personalities are vastly different, for starters, plus warforged have different mechanics and were an integral part of the Eberron setting (to the point of being cover art material and getting major roles in two sourcebooks), while wyrwoods will likely always be a specialty race (and a Small one at that). 

On the other hand, I think the example that the warforged set is instructive.  There was never a question of why warforged existed on Eberron.  Aside from the Mournland, there was no more stark reminder of the Last War for the people of Khorvaire than the animate robots walking in their midst.  The warforged themselves, meanwhile, struggled to find meaning and reasons for being in a post-war world. And the answers to who created them and exactly how were left vague to serve as nice plot hooks.

In the same fashion, the wyrwoods in your campaign can’t just come out of nowhere.  They have to have a reason.  You can go with the “xenophobic and hyperlogical constructs who rebelled” tale from the ARG and the Bestiary 4—though it needs a lot of embellishing, as that’s a pretty price-of-entry origin story—or you can create your own.  Are they a secret race, confined to a select geographic area, or as omnipresent as dwarves?  Are they crafted from dryad wood?  Are they accepted by local thieves’ guilds or viewed with suspicion?  Doesn't matter, as long as you know why they exist and how they got that way.

The Malabar Imperium has long used construct-crafting as a way to rid themselves of undesirables, stripping away memory and personality from offenders and depositing their spirits in wyrwood shells.  But during the Akarthian Genocide the Imperials created too many wyrwoods too quickly, and the constructs revolted.  They now form their own people, made xenophobic by the trauma of their creation and estranged from the free-spirited Akarthians they once were.

Every wyrwood knows the secret of its construction.  Not every wyrwood knows restraint.  A wyrwood has turned the bowels of the World-City into a craft cyst, churning out wyrwood rogues at an alarming rate and sending them on inscrutable missions.  One is known to have stolen every cat statue from the Museum of Lower Race Arts, another spies on the doomsayers in the Street of Judgment, and a third is planning the assassination of the undersecretary to the Safari Guild.

An order of paladins has run the cathedral city-state of Chancel ever since they rescued it from the clutches of hobgoblin corsairs.  Their rule has resulted in a fair-minded and prosperous but dull city.  When the church elders begin to replace the holy knights with efficient but mercilessly oppressive wyrwoods, the paladins find themselves in an odd position of being rebels against the law.

Pathfinder Bestiary 4 280

Sorry, Game of Thrones fans, but it’s a completely different kind of wood.

I overlooked something yesterday, as filbypott mentioned: I did an entire entry on wraiths without once mentioning Tolkien’s Ringwraiths.  (Which is just kind of a “Duh” moment on my part.  I mean, seriously.)  The simple answer is that I was just distracted by work and not thinking clearly.  But let’s also chalk it up as another victim of last night’s calamity.

Monday, April 28, 2014


Wraiths are sort of the generic incorporeal undead.  Spectres are the spirits of the murdered and hateful; ghosts have unfinished work and seek justice; allips are suicides; shadows seek to have others join them in their ruined domains…  But wraiths’ complaints against the living world are less specific, their forms are the most insubstantial of all—barely more than a misty shape with pinpoints for eyes—and they exhibit little memory of what came before.  

And they hunger for the life force of the living—let’s not forget that.

A wraith might not even be the spirit of one specific deceased person; it might be the amalgamated collective of tattered wisps of souls, a foggy memory of a past event given sentience, or a spirit ripped from the underworld by a foul spell.  If a wraith is someone specific’s soul, there is no redeeming or solving a mystery for it like one might for a ghost; the wraith is simply too far gone. 

And then there are the dread wraiths: kings of their kind grown huge with stolen life force.  Who needs living memories when you can reign in undeath…?

A fetchling cleric wields a magical flail that calls to wraiths.  The Shadow Plane-touched creature has enough negative energy in his soul that the wraiths will not sup on his life force, but he is dangerous to both friend and foe when they are hungry.

Unable to exorcise the wraiths of Sorrow’s Heap, the church of St. Michael’s on the Hill did the next best thing: they surrounded them.  The clerics expanded the holy edifice until it formed a consecrated stone ring encircling the entire burial mound.  The wraiths have raged impotently inside the doughnut hole of the sacred building ever since…until a freak tornado accompanied by a lightning storm shatters the south wall.

Halflings and catfolk of Terrus worship Small Gods—not a reference to the halflings’ size but to the scope of the deities’ domains.  These are animist gods of small places: certain grottos, rivers, old trees, graveyards, and hillocks.  After they cease to be worshipped, sometimes these spirits grow bitter.  If disturbed, they send the spirits of their worshippers to attack, flocks of whom gather together into wispy wraiths to maul the disrespectful.  In dire circumstances, the Small Gods themselves will manifest as dread wraiths.

Pathfinder Bestiary 281

More on wraiths is in Brandon Hodge’s “Spectral Dead” chapter of Undead Revisited, including the white wraith variant.

If you like wraiths, the master of shrouds is the prestige class for you, courtesy of 3.5’s Libris Mortis.

My “Small Gods” reference above is less a reference to Terry Pratchett’s Small Gods (though admittedly that book did have some lonely, hungry spirits) and more a reference to Geoffrey McVey’s “Small Gods” from Dragon #293, the gray philosopher’s pet malices (from D&D), and the creepy face-spirits from Troy Denning’s The Obsidian Oracle.  (Also holy crap I referenced a Dragon issue from later than 1995!  I’m current!)

No radio show this week—another memorial service.

But friends J. and A. were on the cover of another thing this week, so let’s all look at that, shall we? 

Also, an old co-worker of mine, TK, is up in Boston these days on WMFO.  He’s got a thing he does called Music You Might Otherwise Miss and this week’s track by Alvays is worth the listen.

Finally, since it’s Poetry Month, a lot of my grad school friends are getting published/press.  See what you think!

Friday, April 25, 2014


I love one-off dragon species.  The true dragons are all well and good, but the idea of tidily categorized dragon species was overdone even when I was a kid.  (Best of “Dragon Magazine” Vol. III had already introduced me to the gem dragons by 5th grade.)  So I love things like gorynyches and tatzlwyrms and peludas—anything that returns me to the days of Fáfnir (or hell, even Xanth *shudder*), when “dragon” could mean any number of reptilian shapes, and you never knew what foul energies were going to come out of their mouths.

The Inner Sea Bestiary’s woundwyrm (courtesy of Jason Nelson) is an eyeless creature of Abyssal pollution—on Golarion, a product of the demonic incursion that is the Worldwound (hence the name).  But with “rainbow hues drift[ing] out of their gullets,” according to the ISB, and a maw that can “inhale and ingest the very substance of reality,” I’d be stunned if they didn’t own some of their inspiration to Bas-Lag’s Cacotopic Stain (which we last mentioned here).  So you could use them anywhere entropy holds sway—Golarion’s Maelstrom/Limbo…“basic” D&D’s Entropic Plane…any Abyss…The NeverEnding Story’s Nothing…or a setting of your own—wherever there is corruption so deep that reality itself becomes uncertain.

The Cambrian Empire runs on lightning stone and wraith oil…but few of the tethercar-riding citizens have ever visited the vast, desolate fields where these fuels are mined.  In the swampy deserts of rust and oil and ether, woundwyrms are a constant threat, spreading the very pollution that created them with their entropic breath.  Officially the dragons do not exist, but the Cambrian government is always quietly looking for bounty hunters to kill the beasts…and for still more bounty hunters to kill those who don’t keep their mouths shut.

Even the Abyss has a Lost & Found.  The Abandoned is a barren realm that once bordered the Plane of Battle before that realm long ago moved on.  What’s left is a sort of junkyard of everything evil in existence that has ever been lost.  If travelers are lucky, they will only run into gremlins, gearghosts, fiendish giant vultures, and the odd dretch or omox demons. If they are unlucky, they will run into a woundwyrm, long ago mutated by the foul energies here but no less eager to blindly devour whatever warm thing they scent.

The land of Umber is a fiction—a bubble in the demiplane of dreams that captures other sleepers.  To the residents—a mix of human, catfolk, kobold, leprechaun, lammasu, saguaroi, frost giant, and dire corby races—it seems quite real, and generations have lived their entire lives in the expansive dreamscape.  Journey too far or ask the wrong questions, though, and the demiplane of (Sl)Umber will defend itself, sending the woundwyrms that forever gnaw at its borders to hunt down offenders.

Inner Sea Bestiary 61

Speaking of one-off dragons, one day I need to work some azi into these posts.

Paizo must have known I’d gotten through my stack of softcovers, because my latest order arrived today as a monster combo of five books: a Pathfinder Adventure Path, two Player Companions, and two double-sized adventures.  “Just when I thought I was out…”  By the way, if you’re short on cash (or order a lot, like me) look for their non-mint offerings on modules—a ding or two in the corners is worth the discount.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Worm That Walks

Part humanoid, part swarm; nearly undead, yet literally squirming with life—the worm that walks is literally a walking contradiction.  It’s also one of the standout monsters of the Bestiary 2, instantly recognizable as it perfectly straddles the line between fantasy and true horror.

According to Amanda Hamon’s “Ecology” in Pathfinder Adventure Path #75: Demon’s Heresy, worms that walk have popped up everywhere from Lovecraft to Buffy.  (My favorite example is The Hooded One from Jeff Smith’s Bone).  They have featured prominently in several Adventure Paths, especially Dungeon’s Age of Worms and the recently completed Wrath of the Righteous.  And, as I just mentioned, Demon’s Heresy serves up a very nice ecology with several example NPCs and variants. 

So rather than retread that ground, I instead just want to take a moment to discuss the difference between worms that walk and liches.

Despite its fearsome reputation and the risks involved in its pursuit, lichdom is, at its core, a conservative existence.  It’s an insurance policy for those mages who don't have the tools or talent to achieve immortality in life.  A lich’s originating impulse is the desire to cheat death, and every other goal they work toward—greater magical might, domination over a kingdom, divine status, you name it—is secondary to that.

Becoming a worm that walks, on the other hand, is a Hail Mary play.  It’s difficult to become one intentionally—doing that involves actually dying and burial in vermin-infested unholy ground.  So most worms that walk arise spontaneously, out of a confluence of environmental evil, luck, and their own indomitable wills.  It's what happens when a spellcaster is so obsessed with his goals that death itself becomes a mere speed bump.

All of which means that worms that walk are not going to hide in a deathtrap-filled dungeon or deep under a secret library the way a lich might.  The worm’s very existence is a miracle.  Every worm that walks, whether generated spontaneously or via careful preparation, knows with absolute certainty why he or she was spared death’s embrace.  The worm that walks walks for a reason; it is a creature actively pursuing its goals and ambitions.  It has plans—big ones—and gods help the PCs who get in the way.

The man who would become Rancor’s Embrace left nothing to chance when he became a worm that walks.  He buried himself alive in a potter’s field reserved exclusively for tieflings, using his last telekinesis to cover himself and consign his body to death. Now returned as a scuttling mass of beetles, he intends to kill every last one of the Maimed Maiden’s priestesses for helping his wife to flee with his infant child.

Yertham Mar died at sea, but his spirit returned in an amalgam of worms, minute crabs, and a thousand other oozing, wriggling creatures.  Barely able to hold himself together above water, he should nevertheless be feared.  The crustaceans that compose his body hunger for flesh more than the average worm that walks, and they strip away meat every time they engulf someone (consider the engulf damage to be one Hit Dice category higher and normal).

While undeath is abhorrent even to evil druids, becoming a worm that walks sometimes holds a macabre appeal.  Reese o’ the Wildwood still thinks of himself as a defender of the forest, despite his wriggling shape.  But his obsession with reanimating pixies, wolves, and bugbears as undead shows that his power now stems from some other unnatural source.

Pathfinder Bestiary 2 286–287

We covered the woolly rhinoceros back here and the worg just a few days ago.

Work is kind of crazy, but rest assured I’m still reading all your comments, messages, and reblogs.  Also, just finished Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora.  Pretty great!  If you like heists and thieves’ guilds, I recommend it.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Wood Golem

The wood golem is journeyman work—not the crude mishmash of the carrion golem, but not a polished product of stone or brass either.  Even the wood is unfinished (though this likely aids in the golem’s splintering attack…plus, since the woods involved are expensive and rare, it's probably easier to find castoff and reclaimed lumber than carve or commission a proper statue out of teak, mahogany, and whatnot).  Nor are its weaknesses—magical fire and spells that affect wood—any sort of surprise, unlike some golems.  So all in all, the wood golem is likely a hasty effort, made from what is on hand when you need a construct to get the job done.

When the mage Avril was captured by druids for the crime of writing down their lore, he had to think fast before his sentence went from prison to death.  Using the materials on hand—including spices he traded away a jeweled dagger to obtain—he crafted a wood golem out of the very bars of his prison.  As the golem smashed its way through the druid circle’s camp, Avril fled in the opposite direction.  Warped but not destroyed, the wood golem is said to still wander Tarfell Forest—and some of the forbidden lore Avril recorded may still be inked on his body.

“Honest Jonathan” is the wood golem servant of the inquisitor Tav Relus.  When criminals go to ground, Honest Jonathan smashes a way in for Relus.  The inquisitor is a bit of a sporting fellow, however, and he will sometimes agree to let defendants not suspected of a capital crime attempt to win their freedom in a wrestling match against the golem.

Bayeux wants to be a real boy.  Its creator used an intelligent magical mace in the golem’s construction, and the weapon’s sentience transferred itself to the construct.  Hence Bayeux’s discomfort: The mace’s original compulsion was to fight undead, and the conjoined weapon/golem is disturbed by the similarities between its construct body and the zombies it was enchanted to pulp. In fact, Bayeux has killed several innocents when his frustration at not being human has grown too strong.

Pathfinder Bestiary 164

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Wood Giant

I’m so glad Pathfinder got rid of the ears.

Wood giants (sometimes called voadkyn) in the world’s oldest role-playing game had weird ears set super high on their heads for no reason whatsoever that I could tell.  Pathfinder’s wood giants still have elfin ears, but at least they don’t resemble Franken Berry anymore.

Wood giants seem like both a natural extension of the giant family (“Hill…taiga…marsh…well of course there would be wood giants!”) and a little unnecessary (“Pointy-eared dudes in nature?  So they’re…giant elves?).  Mostly they just seem a little strange.  They lack both the physiognomies and the ferocity of the Norse-inspired giants, instead feeling more like something out of Native American, Russian, Japanese, or African folklore.  And with their chaotic good natures, plant-related spell-like abilities, and animal friendships, they seem practically fey.  To elves, they would likely be the Elder Brothers in the woods; to fey, they might be the Big Big Folk; to sasquatches, they might be the Trusted Tree People; to treants, they might be “tolerable.”

That’s if you play them as written, of course.  But what if they weren’t so benevolent?  Wood giant clans are just as likely to feature witches and dire wolves as they are druids and giant eagles.  A little tweak of the alignment to chaotic neutral (or chaotic evil) and wood giants could be terrifying opponents—able to pass without trace, speak to and charm animals, take on tree shapes, and grow even larger at the moment of battle.  In other words, when wood giants go bad, the whole wood goes bad with them…

Seafaring explorers are tasked by the jarl to explore his holdings in the New World.  Used to the rapacious hill, frost, and fire giants of their home fjords, the adventurers will probably see any wood giants they encounter as enemies.  But if they take up arms against the giants, they will find the forest itself turns against them.

Adventurers seek the aid of wood giants during a harsh winter.  To earn their trust, the adventurers must spend a week in the giants’ company, living as they do—which means keeping up during their travels (despite the giants’ 40 ft. movement rate), tending their dire wolves and giant eagles without injury, and sleeping exposed to the elements…even during a blizzard.  The giants will not let them die, but if they fail two of the tests they are deemed too weak to be worth the clan’s trouble.

The wood giants of the Elk March have grown dark and dangerous in their isolation.  Their rangers treat humans as their favored enemies.  Their witches make crude waxen images out of giant wasp wax and favor patrons of the elements, strength, transformation, and trickery.  Many Elk March wood giants keep moss trolls as slaves. And they allow no one to enter their forests…

Pathfinder Bestiary 2 132

If you’re missing the wolverine, we covered it way back here.

Monday, April 21, 2014


You would think, given its name, that the wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing would be some kind of deadly wolf camouflaged as a sheep.

You would be wrong.  The wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing has fooled even you!  You are flat-footed for the rest of the surprise round.

The wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing is an alien refugee from Gary Gygax’s famous 1e AD&D module S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks.  The Bestiary 3 covers the basics—it's a hungry stump with tentacles that uses the corpse of something cute and fuzzy as a lure.  And in Misfit Monsters Redeemed (which features a wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing on the cover), Colin McComb covers the monster’s possibilities in exhaustive detail. 

I won’t repeat his work here, other than to note that he rightly identifies the wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing as a surprise that you only get to spring on a party once.  So whether you deploy it in an alien spaceship or in the woods just outside of town, you want to make it count.

Why stop with squirrels?  A wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing in the Mundiyanha Game Preserve uses the corpse of a rare pearlescent peacock as its lure.  This could be a problem for adventurers if, for instance, they were sent to capture one of the rare birds alive and run afoul of the imposter instead…or if they best one of the aberrations in combat, only to have a game warden spot them loitering with gore-stained weapons over a peacock corpse…or if they accidentally kill one of the harmless birds, thinking it is another wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing…or all the above.

Atomies adopt a party of adventurers into their society—which has the side effect of shrinking them to less than a foot tall.  It also means they run afoul of an aberrant secret society that reveres a wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing as a particularly hungry avatar of the Trickster.  The alien creature is actually an immature specimen, but to the shrunken adventurers it seems positively enormous.

A doppelganger shadowdancer is absorbed in the study of camouflage as a discipline and as a means for questioning reality.  His manor (courtesy of the last identity he stole) features a grotto whose statuary and furnishings are mimics…to distract from the wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing that is the real threat.

Misfit Monsters Redeemed 58–63 & Pathfinder Bestiary 3 285

If you’re looking for the wolf, it’s hanging out with its dire cousin all the way back here.

If you’re looking for the dreaded death sheep (as well as the blink wooly mammoth), look in Dragon Magazine #156. 

Friday, April 18, 2014


There’s a scene in The Vision of Escaflowne where the eponymous Guymelef (essentially a dragon-mech) is damaged and all seems lost.  Then the repair crew is summoned.  A rift opens in the sky, a ship featuring technology like nothing else in this fantasy series descends through the hole, alien creatures make the necessary repairs to Escaflowne, and then the ship disappears from whence it came.

At the time this scene drove me nuts, because a) it felt like a cheap deus ex machina, and b) the sci-fi elements totally ripped me out of Escaflowne’s world.  But over time, I’ve mellowed—I’m more into genre-bending Weird and New Weird Fantasy than I used to be, and I don’t need my worlds to be as neat and tidy anymore.  In other words, I’ve come to appreciate a little messiness. 

Witchwyrds are exactly that kind of messy…because they are, quite literally, out of this world.  Just when your players have a handle on a world of dragons and elves and even demons and angels, you throw a four-armed alien in a turban at them.  (“And does he have a deal for you!”)

On Golarion, witchwyrds are notable because their alien presence goes way back—I remember references to the mysterious Pactmasters of Katapesh in some of the earliest supplements—and it has since been confirmed that they are from Golarion’s Mars analogue, the red planet of Akiton.  In your campaign, they might be from anywhere, and what’s most notable about them is their four arms and their ability to manipulate force effects.  I’d suggest playing up this last bit: No matter what the spell name in the stat block, the witchwyrds’ use of its spell-like abilities should feel like one seamless whole.  The same mastery of power that allows them to levitate objects (floating disc, unseen servant) also allows them to defend themselves (resilient sphere, absorb force), hurl energy (force bolt), defy physics (displacement, dimension door), and otherwise be the consummate interplanetary merchants (detect magic, suggestion).

Also, witchwyrds join the mercanes and the denizens of Leng as Pathfinder’s core otherworldly mercantile races.  If I were going to systematize the three, I’d say that witchwyrds trade across the planets, mercanes trade across the planes, and the denizens of Leng trade across the dimensions and other realities.  But like we said at the top, maybe it’s better to resist the urge to clarify and systematize.  Since all three are going to go where the profits are, they could wind up trading anywhere with anyone.

A year of caravan work has yielded an adventuring party much gold, numerous experiences, and the trust of their employer…which in turn means the trust of his employer.  It turns out he answers to a holding company whose turban-wearing representative has decided to search for new markets to open.  Only after the adventurers sign on does the rep reveal that he is a witchwyrd…and these new markets are on other worlds.

Adventurers seeking the advice of a shedu have competition: a witchwyrd and his band of human, gnoll, and tiefling mercenaries.  The witchwyrd plans to make off with the shedu—to him the magical beast is prized cattle with the benefit of prescience to boost.  If the adventurers are overwhelmed, they may seek aid from a sect of kasathas that resent their ancient racial rivals’ meddling in their territory.

Deep in a temple complex, an incongruous artifact opens a magical portal to a shop manned by a witchwyrd.  Conveniently, the alien’s wares could mean the difference between life and death in the booby-trapped edifice.  Unfortunately, the shop has another patron: an imp the party has had dealings with in the past.  The imp reveals the party’s wealth (undercutting their efforts to haggle), tries to frame them for shoplifting, and otherwise makes a nuisance of himself.  But if the adventurers take any action against the devil, the witchwyrd will deem them bad customers and possibly send its clockwork entourage against them.

Pathfinder #14 88–89 & Pathfinder Bestiary 2 285

Thursday, April 17, 2014


I like undead that can function in the living world.  Spectres/wraiths/devourers/etc. have their place, but it’s nice to have some undead besides liches that aren’t compelled to murder every last thing they see.  (Over the long term, motive is always more interesting than mayhem.)

Which doesn’t make witchfires benevolent by any means.  It just means that when they kill, they kill by choice…or at least out of habit.  (A lifetime of fricasseeing babies is hard to shake.)  These are hags with unfinished business, and they’re not about to let something as trivial as death get in the way. They may resent and even hate the living—including their former sisters—but the obsessions that called them back to unlife come first.

Of special note are the powers a witchfire grants to her coven, which tap into both her undead state and the witchflame that surrounds her.  Using fire storm on targets already covered in witchflame is a favorite tactic.  These covens are likely to have ghoul servitors as well thanks to create undead.  (That’s if you’re following the rules, which say the spell functions at 9th level.  You can easily rationalize that a rite that utilizes certain sacrifices and takes longer than create undead’s standard one hour—say, over a month or so—might serve up more powerful undead.)  And that’s in addition to the will-o’-wisps the witchfire can summon on her own, or that naturally follow in her green flaming wake.

A swamp is filled in to expand a city, disturbing the bones of a long-dead hag.  Now a figure limned in green flame flits through the cobbled back alleys, trying to come to terms with the passage of centuries and the loss of her beloved marsh.  She trails a string of will-o’-wisps equally consternated by the change in scenery but happy to feed on the drunks and indigents they find.

Havelin is thrilled to have reincarnated as a witchfire.  After a lifetime of ugliness (which for a hag is very ugly and very long indeed), the return to the lithe form of her youth is intoxicating.  The annis hag in her coven is less amused, and seeks ghost touch enchantments so she can gut the vain and frustratingly incorporeal undead.

Changeling Thistle Bloodheart is on the run from her dead mother.  Emma Bloodheart’s coven was close to opening a portal to the Verdant Planet when adventurers slew her and drove away her hag spellsisters.  Emma returned to existence as a witchfire, determined to get Thistle to take her place in the coven before the next planetary alignment.  Tired of running, Thistle will cling to the most powerful adventurer she can find.  If necessary, she employs her roguish charms—or her witch charms.

Pathfinder #5 84–85 & Pathfinder Bestiary 2 284

Though mayhem has its place

I still need to get to your comments—a lot of fantastic Polynesian monster suggestions, as well as some other great contributions—but I’m walking out the door for a flight to Boston for Easter.  Will do my best to tackle ASAP.

Also, I recently discovered the Know Direction podcast because I was interested in their discussion with Wes Schneider on incorporating LGBTQ characters into Golarion.  I let Ryan and Perram know about this blog, and they were nice enough to give us a shout-out as they closed out the live episode last night.  Doesn't look like the link is up yet for that particular episode, but here are links to the full archive and Facebook page for you to check out.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Winter Wolf & Worg

Note: The Water Orm entry has surfaced.  Go check it out!  Especially since (though I didn't realize it at the time) that would have been the second anniversary of our move to Tumblr.

Worgs and winter wolves upend traditional notions of domestication.  Taking inspiration from Tolkien’s wargs, worgs bear goblin riders but are often the ones in charge.  (Worgs in the service of hobgoblins or orcs get less leeway, but even then it’s likely a constant push/pull battle for pack dominance.) 

And winter wolves don’t even pretend to think of themselves as anything but superior to humanoids…until they run into one powerful enough to bring them to heel.  Frost giants are an exception—winter wolves willingly heed them, in some cases because the frost giant is so powerful, in others simply because aiding a frost giant is a far more comfortable, fattening life than hunting in the wild (not that any winter wolf would ever admit that to himself).

Both worg species speak as well.  It’s bad enough to be hunted by predators, but to hear the pack coordinating, closing in, and making ready for the kill in a language you understand must be a truly hope-extinguishing experience.

Chief Pustongue is terrified of his worg steed.  In fact, the worgs have been ruling the goblin clan in all but name for months.  During raids, he has begun discreetly dropping fake ransom notes and terribly spelled letters from a “damsel in dis dress,” all in the hope of attracting adventurers who will deal with the worgs.

Winter wolves hunt and harry an adventuring party through the snow, turning them this way and that.  The chase appears random, but the wolves are actually steering the adventurers toward a specific mountain pool that remains mysteriously ice-free.  There the winter wolves’ ally, a rusalka, waits to claim her prizes. Her lair may contain fey tokens or other bits of faerie magic beneficial to the wolves.

The party druid adopts a wolf pup as a companion…but several growth spurts later, it is clear he has a worg on his hands.  Will the canine remain loyal, or is the breed simply too bloodthirsty to be redeemed?  Meanwhile, the other members of the party find that having a talking worg in their midst makes civil conversation and negotiation almost impossible—comments like “He smells of weakness and pigeon-fear” come off as demeaning somehow.

Pathfinder Bestiary 280

If you’re into winter wolves, Cities of Golarion and Pathfinder Adventure Path #68: The Shackled Hut introduced the Howlings, a district of Whitethrone where winter wolves can take human shape.  The Shackled Hut also has Russ Taylor’s “Ecology of the Winter Wolf” to boot, making it must-read if you’re a fan of these wicked creatures.