Friday, September 26, 2014

Chemnosit, the Monarch Worm

And another night of hospital visits, so no entry for tonight.  I think at this point I'm going to take next week off to recuperate and fill in some of these missing entries.  Thanks again for your patience (especially you new followers that I'm neglecting), thanks for all the continued likes and reblogs, and have fun exploring the archives while I get caught up.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Charnel Colossus

Different night, different (fingers crossed) hospital.  Entry to come as soon as things calm down here.  Thanks for your patience.  Enjoy the 3+ years of archives in the meantime.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014


Another night, another visit to the ER because important people need visiting.  But I *love* the changeling and all things hag-related, so check back here for the completed entry which I'll have up ASAP.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


The chaneque is a bat-like fey that kills other fey, stews their brains in their skulls, then uses the skulls to steal the souls of mortals—mortals which, by the way, the chaneque controls until the soul is recovered.

I’m going to say that again in case anyone missed how cool this is.

The chaneque is a bat-like fey that kills other fey, stews their brains in their skulls, then…you get the idea.

Let me back up.  Fey are vaguely defined supernatural spirits.  They’re usually described as guardians of nature, but there are plenty of spirits of the farm and the home as well, like brownies and domovoi (see Pathfinder Adventure Path #67: The Snows of Summer).  But then there are fey that are older…far older.  Who don't just guard nature—they are nature—and the chaneques fit this category.  To them, guardian fey and house spirits are weak.  Puerile.  Sentimental.  Nothing more than prey to be hunted, devoured, and used.  “They see themselves as dutiful punishers of the fey,” the Bestiary 4 notes, but at best that means they’re following the rules of an extinct old order.  At worst it means they’re delusional fratricides.

(Here’s another take: Maybe they're fey corrupted to the service of a jungle deity, like the bat demon/god Camazotz.  Alternately, some fey aren't old at all but are in fact recently reincarnated spirits…basically Nature’s version of undead.  So while chaneques of legend date back to Aztec times, in Catholic areas they are also seen as the spirits of unbaptized children returned as child-demons.  If you use this origin, chaneques are probably children who died unblessed in the wild and who hate both forest spirits and mortals alike for not protecting them.)

Also, the chaneque is mythic!  In fact, at CR 1/MR 1 it might be one of the first mythic creatures your PCs encounter, while still being well within the reach of nonmythic parties as well.

I think the GM will probably need to use a little kindness when it comes to the chaneque’s steal soul ability—as it’s written, it looks pretty easy for the chaneque to dominate and kill off a low-level PC almost effortlessly just by giving the right commands and then hiding the soul-skull carefully.  So you should provide plenty of opportunities for PCs to recover any lost skulls.  Thankfully the duration of the effect is short due to the chaneque’s low Hit Dice, so it would need to have the skull on hand to top off the compulsion (and it also lacks the invisibility of many other fey).  Or maybe the signs of where they hide the skulls are obvious to the learned.  In stories they prefer to lair in kapok trees, so maybe PCs can find the skull by finding the right tree… 

Then again, maybe you just go nuts.  If a PC loses his soul, it's his own fault for not being mythic enough…

A chaneque has teamed up with a gang of tooth fairies, raiding from house to house.  While the tooth fairies go to work with pliers on the humans, the chaneque brutalizes and slays any domestic and garden fey it finds, then uses their skulls to steal the souls of the town’s wet nurses and maids.  (In its mortal life, the chaneque was an infant who died after both its mother’s and the wet nurse’s milk failed.)

Adventurers come across a skull-filled side chamber in a many-tiered pyramid.  If they fail to perform the right rituals, several bat-like creatures crawl out from the mural, attack, and then flee.  The creatures are chaneques, fey of another age long thought extinct.  Returning the things to the mural might spark the adventurers’ mythic ascension.

People are disappearing.  Farms are going untended.  No one returns from the deep woods.  An adventuring party’s career is launched when a battered brownie arrives on their door, pleading for help as if it knows them (which it does, having secretly served on the orchards where they grew up).  The town guard arrives just as the brownie expires; taking the small form to be a child’s, they try to arrest the adventurers.  The young would-be heroes must escape the guard and find the chaneque who is the source of all this misery.

Pathfinder Bestiary 4 28

Monday, September 22, 2014


Did you ever watch The Fifth Element and think, “Man, I wish I had Zorg’s mini-elephant thing, only blue and with claws!”?  No?  Well too bad, because this is the monster for you!

Cerus (possibly short for “cerulean”?) are blue, cat-sized, elephant-like creatures bred for the rich by mages and alchemists.  Mostly I think of cerus as set dressing.  They're a reminder to PCs that they're in a magical world in town as well as in the dungeon.  “The wizard’s solarium is a riot of papers and scrolls.  A telescope sits in one corner next to a golden cage.  Inside is a tiny blue elephant covered in spikes.  Because, duh, wizard.”  Especially if PCs have just crossed the border into a magocracy or ventured across the sea or you’re trying to go from a low-magic setting to high—it's a great way to highlight that they've crossed from Robin Hood’s Sherwood Forest into Aladdin’s Baghdad.

But if you’ve got a player who wants a really interesting familiar…if you’ve got a player who really likes tweaking dice rolls with a little extra good or bad luck…if you need a MacGuffin for a shaggy dog (spiny elephant?) story of an adventure…or if that wizard’s solarium described above is the chamber the PCs are robbing, not visiting…then the ceru is ready to go from set dressing to companion/combatant. And just think how much fun it will be to kill a PC with the Con damage from an intelligent poisonous lap elephant…

Criminals steal a ceru belonging to the wife of an important minister.  Unprepared for the magical beast’s nasty temper and nastier spikes, they lose the ceru down a sewer.  Adventurers are recruited to find it, but they aren't the only ones looking.  In addition to the original gang of criminals, who are still hoping to recover and ransom the ceru, sewer doppelgangers see an opportunity improve their lots in life—first by replacing the adventurers, then the minister and his wife.

Rumors persist of a formula for a reliably fertile ceru.  Unfortunately, whatever ingredient promotes the beast’s fecundity also robs it of its sweet nature.  Adventurers arrive at an island breeding facility only to discover the breeders dead and the grounds overrun with very intelligent, very evil cerus.  Worse yet, the ceru bull plots to escape the island, and he intends to commandeer the adventurers’ skiff.

After a mage dies, his pseudodragon familiar plots to keep his tower out of strangers’ hands by marshaling the mage’s many pets and companions in its defense.  He manages to organize a pipefox, several warty ooze mephits, a band of sprites and their leshy bondservants, a giant skunk, and a litter of cerus in fending off intruders.  All of the combatants are basically good-hearted but scared of change and suspicious of outsiders.  They don’t realize that their ferocity in defending their homes might get them—or someone else—killed.

Inner Sea Bestiary 9

By the way, cerus were statted up in the Inner Sea Bestiary by Jim Groves.  We can only assume his next project is the petite lap giraffe.

I hope you’re wasted and ready, because it’s time for another radio show!  Re: Scottish independence: I didn't have a horse in the race. But most of my friends and my favorite bands did—and that horse was a Shetland pony. In honor of them, here's two hours of music, including a six-song Scottish super-set. Also enjoy new music, Chris Walla's last song with Death Cab for Cutie, and more.

(If the feed skips, let the page load and Save As an mp3.  Link good till Friday, 9/26, at midnight.)

Friday, September 19, 2014


Named for a Celtic stag figure we don’t know much about, Cernunnos is an empyreal lord of nature, wildness, and the hunt.  He’s the most powerful (CR 30) empyreal lord we have stats for…yet the most likely to mix it up with mortal PCs.  (Lucky them!)  As an azata lord, he is on the side of righteousness, but you know how those chaotic good near-deities of the hunt are…  Roil his temper, pick the wrong side in a battle (especially against elves or fey), agree to the wrong wager, carry a demon-tainted weapon, bargain with an archdevil, despoil the wrong wilderness (even accidentally or for a good cause), and you might be fair game in Cernunnos’s book.  (His book, of course, being a hunting and fishing license.)

Admittedly, the PCs who are able to even think about tackling a CR 30 empyreal lord are going to be few and far between.  That said, once PCs get to that level of power, they’ve probably made a string of enemies and are so powerful in mythic might that they risk treading on the toes and portfolios of any number of Powers.  (I probably drop references to the Dresden Files too often in these pages, but see the more recent entries in that series for how much trouble one mortal with serious magical weight can get into.)  It may seem unlikely that PCs, especially good PCs, would ever tangle with the Stag Lord…but when your peer group is that small in a multiverse so fractious, perhaps it’s inevitable…?

And of course, that’s all assuming you keep Cernunnos as an azata.  In the Golarion setting, Cernunnos was originally a lord of the fey.  A few stat/spell swaps, and Cernunnos can serve as the nastiest sidhe this side of Tír na nÓg…

An arcane archer reaches the pinnacle of her abilities.  Soon after, a strange figure recruits her and her companions to hunt in his game preserve, promising trophies found nowhere else in existence.  He also asks them to kill any poachers they encounter, and he proposes several side wagers “to make things more interesting”—money and magic items at first, then memories, years of life, and more esoteric commodities.  Meanwhile, the game preserve slowly reveals itself to be a nightmare realm.  In the end, it is revealed that a monstrosity-creating elohim and its demodand servants are behind the entire affair, trying to trick the arcane archer into wounding “the poacher”: Cernunnos, no less, who opposes the mythic outsider.

Cernunnos is wounded in a fight with a demon lord.  The demon prince even manages to rip the high azata’s shadow and portfolio of hunting from him.  He infuses the shadow with enough unholy energy for it to live on as a dark mirror image of the empyreal lord.  Once Cernunnos heals he will have no trouble reclaiming what he has lost—the demon lord, wary of his rivals, did not sacrifice enough of his own might to power a more permanent animation.  But that could take centuries in mortal terms, and with more demons gathering on the border of Elysium, the chaotic evil Cernunnos clone needs to be stopped now.

Cernunnos occasionally takes dragon mounts, particularly those that breathe lightning (as he is immune to and can redirect electrical energy).  When adventurers slay an exceedingly wicked cloud dragon, his sire, a former mount of Cernunnos, appeals to him for revenge.  Honoring the old debt, the empyreal lord will not slay the party outright, but he may demand satisfaction in other ways, including duels, archery and wrestling contests, a period of service, tests of druidcraft, and so forth.

Pathfinder Bestiary 4 88–89

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Cerebric Fungus

What is it with alien plants and mind control?  Seemingly part brain, part morel, and part mouth, the cerebric fungus is a mobile carnivorous fungus that is also maddeningly intelligent—literally.  At only CR 3 and straddling the line between pulp alien and Lovecraftian horror, these fungi are a good introduction to weirder and more dangerous horrors down the road.

Adventures come across a downed vessel of some sort, a vast silvery craft.  They each “hear” a single piercing telepathic cry for help, interspersed with other far more alien telepathic impressions.  Inside the vessel they find scores of corpses—aliens killed in the crash.  They also find a colony of cerebric fungi sitting unharmed in a greenhouse module.  The single clear cry from help comes from a cerebric fungus that has been experimented upon so often it is now insane…and thus paradoxically safe for humans to communicate with.  The other fungi simply try to eat the adventurers.

The red men of Tinagh (treat as half-elves with red skin) avoid the Jungles of Madness at all cost.  As green plants are a rarity on the dry planet, one would think that travel to the southern continent’s lush tropical forests would be worth the risk.  One would also be wrong—the unsettling appearance, maddening touch, and horrible star-shrieking of the jungle fungi make inland travel nearly impossible.

In an effort to stop serial killers, the Watch has entered into a dark pact with a cerebric fungus.  Discovered in magician’s menagerie during the Winter of Razors, the otherworldly fungus saved itself from extermination by deciphering clues that led to the apprehension Jehmany Razor.  Now the Watch semi-regularly consults the telepathic thing, never realizing that it is slowly perverting the minds of its handlers, who have begun feeding it prisoners and paupers.

Pathfinder Bestiary 3 52

Touches of Barsoom in that second adventure seed.  And I call that last effort “Silence of the Yams.

I’m sure one of my alert readers will tell me if the cerebric fungus resembles any particular monster from film or fiction.  Also, the Pathfinder supplement Distant Worlds has these plants hailing from at least one moon and one planet in Golarion’s solar system, and a cerebric fungus oracle is one of the least disturbing things about Pathfinder Adventure Path #46: Wake of the Watcher.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


At a reader’s request, we covered the cerberi way back in February of 2013 as a postscript to the “Noqual Golem” entry.  Here it is again (edited for clarity) in its proper place in the alphabet:

What sets the cerberi apart isn’t the three heads; it’s what those heads represents—a pedigree.

Every cerberi comes from the mythical Cerberus (who we can assume is a unique Advanced and templated-up paragon of the race).  So even the wild examples are special.  Roving packs of them might be a nuisance to devilkin, who would have to guard prize souls and slaves against them…but like the gray wolves in today’s American West, they’re simply too special to just dispose of like you would a coyote (or hell hound).

The vast majority of cerberi, though, are going to have owners.  So most aren’t going to show up randomly—they’re going to be guard dogs or pets.  If you kill one, someone is going to come looking.

Also—again, because of pedigree—they might be incredibly useful gifts.  A devil might give one to powerful mortals, axiomites, daemons, fey…even archons or angels as a calculated provocation.  The recipient likely can’t refuse the offer or risk offending the giver…and the cerberi’s power to scent souls is just too useful to dismiss.  But now they’ve got a repulsively skinless, too-smart, ticking time bomb in their courts.  So into the kennel/dungeon/labyrinth/spare bedroom the infernal dog goes, ready to meet the PCs at some point in the near future.

Wild cerberi rove in packs along the outskirts of the Hell border town of Surety, eating garbage and preying on the occasional soul or hapless human.  The town’s mortal merchants complain, but the tieflings who run Surety have little incentive to eradicate the dogs.  The town used to be a staging ground for diabolitionists, but the cerberi packs have cut the number of escaped slaves and souls in half.

The cleric Brentus is famous for his zealous service to St. Kumin, the Bane of Undead.  He is even more famous for the three-headed cerberi he holds on a barbed choke chain.  The hound’s ability to track even the spectral dead is undeniably useful, but Brentus’s superiors have all placed wagers either on the day the cerberi turns on him, or on the inevitable day the lawful neutral cleric goes too far…

Known wicked personages who can boast of owning a cerberi guard dog include the antler-headed sidhe lord Cerwidon (use stats for an elf with fey creature template), the Conjuror-Baron Vitus, and the ja noi (hobgoblin oni) Yamato Nine-Tongue.

Pathfinder #28 84–85 & Pathfinder Bestiary 3 51

Note that in the original entry I forgot to mention the cerberi first appeared in Pathfinder #28: The Infernal Syndrome, including the more hellish, 400-pound Malbolgian cerberi variant. 

Now let’s ditch the italics and get to some new and backlogged reader comments:

In other news, demiurge1138 wonders about aboleths vs. ceratioidi.  I also want to call out this yokai project he’s working on over on the Paizo boards.  Meanwhile, dr-archville goes octo-nuts.  He also reminded me that the caulborn’s brain-sacks actually got statted up themselves in the Shattered Star Adventure Path.  And a bunch of you chimed in about the bogeyman.

Clearly some celestial lord of irony has decided to torment me, because I still can't believe that, given my noted anti-golem bias, you all have decided to make my “Cannon Golem” entry one of my most popular ever.  Well played, readers.

At least you all liked the “Blood Hag,” too.  Speaking of which, after that entry I got one of my most favorite comments I’ve ever received, from Goddess Thain:

I’m from the Caribbean.

It is so heartwarming (in a weird sort of way, but that’s honestly the best kind) to see our local legends expressed in other places. ^(;,;)^

Damn right.  One of the best things about fantasy role-playing is that, given enough time, it lets the whole world in—every monster, every bit of folklore, every myth, every piece of pulp fiction, every wondrous idea is welcome.  And every new monster that enters opens the door for players and GMs to explore the culture or story or author it came from.  It’s not appropriation—it's appreciation and an invitation.  You bring in the blood hags, the golems, the tupilaqs, the divs, and the oni—and the wise women, defiant rabbis, stern shamans, proud janissaries, and Woman Warriors come in with them, each with a map to follow that leads back to a home worth exploring: ours.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


China Miéville loves sexual dimorphism—the more extreme the better, particularly with the females being much larger or more dangerous than the males.  Two such races, the anophelii and khepri, even got statted up for D&D 3.5 in the pages of Dragon #352.  So it’s no surprise we were introduced to ceratioidi in his contribution to the Guide to the River Kingdoms, the nation of Outsea.  (They would be properly written up a few months later in Pathfinder #32: River Run Red).

Enough history!  Let’s get to it.  Ceratioidi are angler fish-like humanoids that hail from the deepest parts of the ocean, complete with their own glowing lures bobbing from the tops of their heads.  Most ceratioidi that adventurers encounter are also actually two creatures: a large female and a tiny parasitic male bonded to the female and dwelling beneath her flesh.  The two retain their individual minds but are telepathically linked. 

This unique mental structure is the source of many of their advantageous special abilities and heavily influences their class choices (Pathfinder #32 mentions wizard/witch casters and rangers being especially popular.)  It also raises some interesting role-playing questions.  Is the ceratioidi’s dual nature a secret or is it public knowledge?  Do they pass as purely female or use “we,” the collective “you,” “it,” and/or “they” pronouns?  And let’s also not forget their similarly dualistic leaders, as described in the Guide to the River Kingdoms: great bloated house-sized god/goddess entities that lure sacrifices willingly and inexorably toward their gullets.  When your gods live among you, it is both a gift and a burden.

For no real reason—other than that’s where my head seems to default to—I’ve used ceratioidi as organized crime figures in several posts.  Here are a few more ways to tackle these undersea creatures:

The great ceratioidi city of Thaumatin perches on a series of shelves leading down into the Ebon Trench.  Great diving bells on miles-long chains serve as elevators between the levels, helping surface dwellers and even shallow-water races like merfolk accustom themselves to the gloom and pressure.  These diving bells often attract hungry sea monsters and other malefactors, so adventurers are always needed for escort duty.  Depending on their level of experience and how far down they travel, volunteers might face ceratioidi outcasts, devilfish, drowning devils, sea serpents, or one of the great krakens itself.

The Proctor of Enchantment at Griffonspur College is a regal ceratioidi.  The fact that she is never without her fascinating lure, yet is secretly impervious to mind-affecting effects herself, has played no small part in her meteoric rise over her enchanter peers.  (The fact that “she” is actually a “they” is a secret the proctor guards closely as well.)  A special bath in her private chambers supplies her with the daily seawater she needs to survive.  Triggering a secret catch on one of the faucets also opens a portal to a bioluminescent ceratioidi city beneath the waves.

Ceratioidi fundamentalists rise up and conquer the aquatic elves of Limuleth.  They put elven clerics to the spear and force the worship of the Living Mother on the populace.  Adventurers are needed to smuggle the Limuleth princess to her half-elf kin in far-off Shoal.  Alternately, they can help rebel druids shatter the ceratioidi power base—literally, by awakening the temporal stasis-held Colossal horseshoe crabs upon which Limuleth was built.

Pathfinder #32 80–81 & Pathfinder Bestiary 3 50

Pathfinder and Merriam-Webster disagree on whether “angler fish” has a space or not.  I stuck with the Paizo version, but it hurts like watching Mom and Dad fight.

A peek over at The Daily Character Option reveals the ceratioidi Order of the Deep Lantern.  Check it out!

I’ve linked to this before, but…

Monday, September 15, 2014


You have to love fantasy role-playing logic.  If something is even slightly different in our world—columns made to resemble women, for instance, or statues who happen to carry their heads in their arms instead of atop their shoulders—then in the worlds of our imaginations, those differences signify whole new monsters—in this case, the caryatid column (see that entry here) and the cephalophore.

Cephalophores as described in the Bestiary 4 seem to be particularly resistant to the passage of time.  Pathfinder Adventure Path #64: Beyond the Doomsday Door goes into a bit more detail, describing how they typically guard holy sites or react to certain triggers (or the lack thereof).  Even setting aside their usefulness as traps, cephalophores are a great way for a congregation to remember its saints and martyrs.  (Their dazing grazes and strikes might even be interpreted as coming from the statue’s halo, if your world’s saints sport such things.)  They’re also favorite decorations in the chapterhouses of inquisitors and paladins, who tend to have secrets worth guarding and where dying for one’s faith acquires a certain glamorous reputation.

A cephalophore stands alone amid a “temple” made out of thorny vides.  The original house of worship that stood here rotted away long ago, but not before the vines grew up around it, taking on the shape of the now-vanished edifice.  A hollow beneath that animate statue contains an urn filled with holy ashes that serve as four doses of dust of tracelessness (see Ultimate Equipment).

When relic hunters steal the skull of a long-dead pontiff, the great man’s effigy does not take the insult lying down.  On the next new moon, the monument stirs to life and begins to track down the thieves, holding its own head in its arms to signify their crime.  Once it hunts down the original grave robbers, the cephalophore will then move on to whoever has the skull now—for instance, some unlucky adventurers (assuming it wasn’t they who stole the skull in the first place!).

The headquarters of the Order of Ash protect some of the vilest artifacts these inquisitors have ever recovered: magic items whose existence should not be borne by men of law, but that have proven too difficult to destroy (on this plane at least). A succession of traps guard the apparent path to the vaults, including a floor mosaic that summons dusk kamadans, a fresco that traps the viewer in an illusory, thin man-haunted vineyard, and a symbol of fear that herds the panicked into a pit trap. The way to the true vault is actually beneath the main dining table in the officers’ mess, but anyone trying to reach it must contend with a menacing pair of cephalophores whose eyes weep blood when they animate.

—Pathfinder Adventure Path #64 82–83 & Bestiary 4 27

Bring on the weekend! Wait, no, I mean, relive the weekend. Here's Saturday's radio show, with new Fly Moon Royalty, Phox, and J Mascis.  Also celebrating 10 years of Stars' Set Yourself on Fire and Arcade Fire's Funeral and 20 years of Liz Phair's Whip-Smart and They Might Be Giants' John Henry.  Enjoy!

(Link good till Friday, 9/19, at midnight.  If the feed skips, Save As an mp3 and enjoy in iTunes.)

Friday, September 12, 2014


Cecaelias are “intelligent human-octopus hybrids,” to quote the Bestiary 3.  In other words, think Ursula from The Little Mermaid.  (Which sounds lame, but is actually awesome.  Seriously, remember how creepy and sassy she was?  One of Disney’s best villains.  Now imagine a hunting party made of her chiseled-abbed nephews.)  Forget sahuagin or adaros—shark-men are so last edition.  It’s time for the reign of the octopusfolk!

Lots that’s interesting about these guys:

1) Unlike many other aquatic folk, cecaelias have a decent land speed.  Get on their bad side and they are perfectly capable of following you on land to duke it out.

2) Speaking of speed, they have a jet move of 200 ft.—perfect for hit-and-run attacks (emphasis on the run…or rather, squirt).

3) Their skin mutates to resemble the humanoids around them.  The B3 lists this as taking only a generation or two.  But perhaps cecaelias are renowned as spies and rogues, who can shift their skin color in only days or weeks…?  (However, this would of course run counter to the B3’s description of them having negative attitudes toward deception. Speaking of which…)

4) Cecaelias are also “quickly frustrated by wordy attempts at diplomacy—which they nearly always view as attempts at deception.”  Suddenly the trade summit just got more difficult.  But that description leaves lots of room to play with…are they illiterate, magic-fearing barbarians?   Proud amazons who speak with their spears?  (The Spartans could be a model for cecaelias played as martial wits.)  Furtive druids and water priests?  Fey-loving nomads who swim with nixies and nereids?  It’s up to you.

Which brings me to the most important part about cecaelias: They’re a blank slate.  Aside from a single paragraph in Pathfinder Adventure Path #56: Raiders of the Fever Sea, which describes them as boastful nomads and traders, cecaelias have no RPG history to speak of…which means, even more than most races, you can make them your very own.

Every season men and merfolk meet in the vaults under Florian for a handoff of goods—the merfolk hand over pearls and sunken salvage for alchemically treated metal weapons and specialized goods.  Adventurers are always needed to provide a little extra security (and some parties also make side deals to obtain or get rid off magical artifacts).  This year the handoff goes awry as magically tattooed cecaelias burst in to claim the booty as their own.

A brine dragon and a colony of cecaelias are engaged in a battle of wits—with the stakes being the cecaelias’ freedom from the brine dragon’s obsessive control.  The brine dragon has challenged the octopusfolk to face four challenges in a nautiloid obstacle course.  But the cecaelia rovers, always looking for an angle, plan to beat the dragon at its own game by getting landlubbers to serve as their proxies.

In the Great Mere, cecaelias are also known as “the scyllaborn” and are regarded as the cursed offspring of cursed abominations.  Already twice damned (in undersea society’s eyes at least, if not the gods’), it is no wonder that many cecaelias fall under the spell of powerful asuras.  These cecaelias revere asura ranas, who in turn help the divine casters among the octopusfolk to steal spells from the gods without offering up prayers or worship.  Many of the larger cecaelia communities in the Great Mere are advised by aquatic upasundas who spread their gospel of annihilation.

Pathfinder Bestiary 3 49

Thursday, September 11, 2014


In the Golarion setting, the cayhound (statted up for the Inner Sea Bestiary by Jim Groves) is an outsider descendant of Cayden Cailean’s loyal divine hound Thunder.  If your setting has a similar deity of freedom, spirits, revelry, and/or bravery, then you’re good to go.  If not, your local azatas (eladrin to you 3.5 fans) will be happy for the cayhounds’ company instead.  The god of thieves and other trickster deities can always find a use for servants who ignore locked doors.  Cayhound stats also work well for representing coin-sith and other fey dogs, particularly those that accompany the goodly trooping faeries. 

Be careful, though—these are dogs that crave adventure, battle, and alcohol.  These dogs might get you out of trouble, Lassie-style…but they’re far more likely to get you into it.

Fearing betrayal from within their household, the local monarchs ask adventurers to spirit their child out of the palace to safety.  There is only one problem: They never cleared this plan with the dog.  A gift from the child’s (very real) faerie godmother, the great mastiff is actually a cayhound charged to guard the prince with his life.  Before they depart the adventurers will have to overcome the suspicions (not to mention the thunderous bark) of this dog who only speaks Celestial.  If it comes to combat, the sound of the dog’s thunderous bark will alert both the family guard and the would-be usurpers.  And if the adventurers end up slaying the cayhound, they will have an outraged fey lady to deal with down the road.

Man’s Grace Isle is, ironically, uninhabited by men.  It is tended instead by roving dogs that effortlessly resist any attempt to collar, cage, or otherwise round them up.  The dogs seem to have a playful sense of humor, and those who speak Celestial can confirm their good natures.  But they allow no one to travel the island unaccompanied.  Persistent treasure hunters and those who try to stay past sundown are unceremoniously herded to the beach to board their boats or suffer the less-than-tender mercies of the Isle’s selkies.  Devoted to freedom they may be, but these mastiffs clearly wish to keep at least one secret locked up.

Coerced into joining a celestial hunt, a party of adventurers is paired with a hound archon and a cayhound.  Both canines love the hunt but bicker constantly about almost everything else, from where to set up camp to what that smell is to whose translation of St. Xiophenes’s Last Tract is better.  But both are happy to have the adventurers help them bring down the hunt’s quarry: fiendish gargoyles.  The cayhound is particularly good at savaging the monstrous humanoids with its bark and its righteous bite, but will need help against a foe the hunt is unaware of: roaming packs of caltrop-hurling schirs.

Inner Sea Bestiary 8

This isn’t the first time I’ve suggested using another monster to represent the dogs of Faerie.  The “Hell Hound & Nessian Hell Hound” entry offers another approach.

Note also that, for IP reasons, the OGC’s cayhound entry linked above has been shortened.  The Inner Sea Bestiary has the full ecology.

That noise you’re hearing while reading this is the Blue Angels flying over my head as I type.  Spoiler alert: They are loud.

Also, I am going to a sportsball match of some sort tonight.  Athletic contests are not my forte, but I’m wearing a shirt with a bird from an Edgar Allan Poe poem in defiance of a bunch of louts known as “the Stealers,” so I’ve at least got that part down.  The rest I’ll fake when I get to the coliseum.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Cave Giant

Giants are big.  Caves are not.  Usually.  It depends on the cave.  But the confines of the Lands Below are cramped more often than not, so it stands to reason that a species of subterranean cave giants would be among the most stunted and degenerate of the lot.

(Degeneration also explains their affinity for axes despite their inability to smith them—perhaps they had the craft knowledge at one point, then lost it over time as their society waned.  The Golarion setting’s Earthfall is the type of cataclysm that could have sparked such a decline; for 3.5 fans, similar events occurred on Oerth, Krynn, and Mystara.)

Then again, brutal humanoid societies have their own Darwinian logic.  Maybe cave giants aren’t degenerate giants, but really big ogres and orcs.

Cave giant encounters are a great way to throw a bunch of monsters at PCs, possibly all at once.  A typical tribe, for instance, features cave giants, two giant lizard species, and dwarf, orc, and troglodyte slaves.  That right there is a readymade night of combat—just draw a map and you have an adventure.  And one out-of-place NPC found in a cave giant slave pen—from a hissing snake-man to a purple-skinned elf to a tiefling with a demon-grafted limb to a barbarian from another age—could point the way to any number of encounters deeper in the earth.

The great secret of the Steelgrip tribe is that they partner with cave giants to forge their famous axes.  Cave giants work the bellows, push carts of ore, and test out new design prototypes on other humanoids—including dwarven prisoners.  Other dwarves would regard this as treason, and the Steelgrips will kill to protect the secret.

A famous smith has been abducted by cave giants and put to work crafting axes.  If the party does not rescue him in time, he may lose a foot (but never a hand) to one of his captors’ hungry lizards.  If they do rescue him, foot or no, he won’t want to return immediately.  During his captivity he found a seam of skymetal, and he will risk gangrene to follow it to the source.

“Lizards?  I crush lizards.”  So says Serg, chieftain of the Land Dragon tribe.  The “land dragon” in question is actual an immense tortoise.  The unstoppable tread of this Colossal beast has allowed the Land Dragons to move out of the caves and into the badlands.  Serg can’t really control the tortoise, but for now he is content to let the beast do the navigating.  As it follows the spring flowering of dawnglory cactus plants, the cave giants raid any towns or caravans they come across along they way.

—Pathfinder Bestiary 3 127

Lots of comments on the caulborn, including role-playing input from demiurge1138, a stat conversion from filbypott, and Todd Stewart and Kinak are both pushing me to read James L. Sutter’s Redemption Engine.  (Embarrassing confession: I have not read a single Pathfinder novel yet, though Know Direction’s Ryan Costello Jr. has given me a reading list for when I finally get my feet wet.)

Tuesday, September 9, 2014


The enigmatic caulborn are not Pathfinder’s version of mind flayers.  Certainly they were raised in similar soil and perhaps casked in the same barrels—like the mind flayer, the caulborn features a strong aroma of memory stealing, a full-bodied hive mind, and top notes of enigmatic purpose—but the caulborn ends up being quite a different beast. 

The world’s oldest role-playing game’s mind flayers are evil gourmands at beast, slavers on average, and cataclysm-encouraging masterminds at worst.  (Over time it’s become generally accepted canon that mind flayers are from space and/or the future and trying to snuff out the sun—or several suns.)  Caulborn are ultimately sadder creatures—beings who can only be sustained by the psychic energy of others’ thoughts, never their own—less evil—but only because they seem to be beyond morality, and because their dining habits don’t involve a tentacle-rimmed beak—and more mysterious in their ultimate aims.  Their great living libraries are not the mind flayers’ mighty elder brains.  Instead their society features barely sentient brain-sacks, a kind of primitive computer made from dismantling caulborn into “fluid and curd,” according to City of Strangers.  They are symbionts, librarians, scientists, and prophets, not genocidal predators…at least for now.

But I’m probably being too portentous.  Caulborn colonies actually have a lot to offer a party of PCs skilled at negotiating, including centuries of memory, computer-like calculations and prognostications, the spying skills of hive mind with cooperative scrying, and an easy source of plane shifts.  A little diplomacy could go a long way for parties willing to treat with the blind psychic sages.  Well, a little diplomacy and a few memories, that is…

An augury points secret-chasing adventurers to the “Library of the Blind” at “the root of the Mistborn Mountains.”  A series of false starts and red herrings present themselves, including a school for the blind where the young women learn spells from raised impressions on a page, a nest of sabosan atop great carved pillars, and a xenophobic choir of cave gillmen.  Eventually, the adventurers stumble upon a fleshy cavern of gray matter tended by the mysterious caulborn.

Trying to escape the fungal penal colony of Xat Par, adventurers are met by a strange caulborn bridge keeper.  His price for operating the arcane mechanism that lowers the drawbridge seems a small one: a taste of one of the adventurer’s thoughts.  However, something in the volunteer’s mind apparently triggers treachery from the caulborn, for it then attempts to modify her memory, employing vampiric touch on anyone who interferes.

On Caldera, caulborn and mothmen are two sides of the same coin—but from different realities.  The strange otherworldly mothmen appear at key nodes in time, trying to prevent a great cataclysm from occurring.  The subterranean caulborn are from an alternate future, studying the present to figure out why the great cataclysm never occurred in their timeline (with equally calamitous results).  Adventures might get caught up in the plots of one side or another…or try to break the cycle of destruction by bending reality toward a third, hopefully brighter future.

City of Strangers 62–63 & Pathfinder Bestiary 3 48

I’ll leave you to wonder what a continent/world named Caldera would be like.  Any theories?  Put them in the comments or email me!

I’m assuming caulborn are a James L. Sutter creation.  There’s not much about them in the sourcebooks, but for best results check out City of Strangers, which has details on the symbiotic caulborn/vampire society that dwells far below Kaer Maga.

My college friend Maggie, previously published in such venues as Strange Horizons, is now doing a mommy/daycare blog.  IN SPACE.