Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Broken Soul

The broken soul template exists so you can throw good monsters at your PCs with utter abandon.  Period.

There’s simply no doubt about it—particularly since the Bestiary 4 uses a broken soul lillend as its default example.  Had Pathfinder used, say, a brass dragon, perhaps the matter would be still open for debate: “The template says, ‘Any living creature with an intelligence score of 3 or higher.’” “But are outsiders alive in the way we understand the term?” “Hold on, let me check—oh crap.” [Sound of reference books falling.] 

By using a lillend, the Bestiary 4 authors might as well be declaring open season on angels and gold dragons.  “You want your players to fight a ghaele but can't think of an in-game reason?  Here you go: broken soul ghaele.  Broken soul planetar?  Sure, why not?  What?  They stiffed you on pizza again?  I have a deal for you, my friend: broken soul Cernunnos.”

Don't let my metagame analysis distract you from the true horror of broken souls.  Like the antagonist in the Firefly episode “Bushwhacked,” broken souls have experienced so much suffering and horror that they are changed at the most fundamental level.  Serving the pain they have endured and internalized back into the world is the only option they have left to them, and even their stats and horrific abilities reflect this.

Torturers, sadists, and psychopaths of any species might create broken souls.  Certainly demons, devils, and asuras create their fair share, as well as drow and the evilest fey.  (The former add the mutilation of fleshwarping to their already monstrous tortures and the latter use the time-shifting and regenerative natures of their realms to great effect.)  But it is the kytons and other broken souls who create the most new broken souls.  Indeed, for someone in the kytons’ clutches, embracing the anguish and becoming a broken soul may be the only rational response to their many inventive torments…

Just after their latest kingdom-saving victory, some adventurers are approached by an artist who wishes to paint them “in the fullness of their glory.”  But this is no portraitist—the artist is a disguised kyton who specializes in grisly allegorical hellscapes.  When the adventurers arrive at his studio—likely lightly armed and missing most of their gear—they are dumped into a dungeon filled with deathtraps, monsters, and the broken soul victims who came before.

The extended torture and eventual slaying of a hamadryad sends shockwaves through the Great Forest, rendering every one of the wood’s dryads into a broken soul.  A call goes out from the Elf-King for teams of adventurers to lay the poor creatures to rest—a move supported by many of the forest’s elves and fey, but opposed by others.  Care must also be taken in disposing of the broken soul dryad’s bodies, or else they will rise as banshees.

An adventurer is a neglected middle child.  After her younger sister was abducted by bandits, her already distant father lavished attention and advantages on her older sister while spending a fortune to research the fate of the younger, all while ignoring his remaining daughter—a state of affairs that pushed her into an adventuring career quite young.  Now, after years of searching, she has uncovered her younger sister.  The girl was never abducted at all, but sequestered away for years of horrific experiments and torture games at her father’s behest.  Today she is a broken soul antipaladin, almost the polar opposite of her eldest sister (an aristocratic sacred servant in a faraway city).  Only when the adventuring middle sister crosses swords with her mad sibling does she realize the reason for her father’s neglect: If it was all an experiment, she was the control.

Pathfinder Bestiary 4 24–25

Funniest line of the broken soul template, coming as it does after abilities like “Agonized Wail,” “Baleful Gaze,” and “Torturous Touch”: “Organization: Solitary.”  Yeah, ya think?!?

I should also mention that the broken soul template originally comes from the Advanced Bestiary, a Green Ronin book I own but have not spent nearly enough time with.  (I got my copy during a massive Green Ronin inventory dump, and all the books in that stack have gone under-read).  Broken soul advanced nymphs make an appearance in Pathfinder #36: Sound of a Thousand Screams.

I saw “Bushwhacked” when it first aired on TV.  Given how fast Firefly came and went, this has always felt like an accomplishment.  I remember thinking, “This show is great, but it is on a Friday night on Fox.  I will never see it and then it will be canceled.”  Behold my powers of Fox-nostication! 

A reader asked (weeks ago—sorry, Anonymous!):

I'm about to start GMing a campaign, and am intrigued by an idea you had in one of the oni prompts. Where should I turn to find more oni besides Bestiary 3?

Hey!  Good question!  The short answer is the Jade Regent Adventure Path (Pathfinder Adventure Path #49–54.)  PAP #49: The Brinewall Legacy has the “Ecology of the Oni” by Mike Shel, and each of the issues has at least one new oni in it. 

If you’re looking for yōkai and Japanese monsters in general, it would also be worth checking out 3.0’s Oriental Adventures and the 3.0/3.5-compatible Rokugan books, especially Creatures of Rokugan.  (I should have bought that at Powell’s in Portland and didn’t, though I did buy and am most of the way through the campaign setting book.)  Browse through the Bestiary 4, too; a few yōkai (like the aoandon) crept in there as well. 

Hope that helps!  Anyone else have any suggestions for Anon?


  1. "broken soul Cernunnos.”

    That's probably how he felt after both seeing his bungled stats and the creative director's indifference towards them.


  2. I don't really get it about Cernunnos What's the problem with him ? I thought he was so cool, when I redacted my setting, without angels or fiends, I kept him as fey lord.