Friday, January 30, 2015


How is it that all those complicated, counterweighted poison dart traps can still work perfectly in a crypt after a thousand years?  Simple: A gearghost was maintaining them the whole time.

You might think I’m being cheeky, but I’m actually all about the gearghost.  I like in-game solutions to out-of-game/suspension-of-disbelief-type problems (Exhibit A: my love of Ghostwalk).  And it makes sense that a frustrated thief’s post-mortem existence could be just as unquiet as any fallen paladin or jilted lover (particularly in a game world like Golarion with deities like Norgorber and Zyphus roaming around).

If anything, I think we can expand our notion of where we find gearghosts.  I think they might pop up in any number of locations—any place where accidents happen too often or too many cogs and flywheels are involved.  There’s also something uncanny and almost alive about certain kinds of machinery…and in a fantasy world where elemental spirits power golems and undead servitors are more reliable than electricity, many machines may actually be (at least a kind of) alive.  When they break down or are discarded, where do those spirits go?  More than a few might become gearghosts.

So rather than provide adventure seeds for gearghosts in trap-filled dungeons—I figure you’ve got that on lock—here are some undead that might be appearing at a local golemworks near you.

A strange mill features a water wheel that turns and turns despite the absence of any river.  The mill actually harvests energy from a miniature vortex to the Elemental Plane of Air.  The mage who constructed the mill persists as a gearghost, and he has rigged traps all over the structure to prevent his life’s work from being tampered with.  If the gearghost is destroyed—even temporarily—the party’s troubles are not over.  The wheel ceases turning, and the obstruction causes two irate large air elementals to manifest and attack anyone they see.

A trapmaker dies in his own home after gremlins sabotage his handiwork.  Rather than be bound to his workshop, he is instead bound to the fey mob.  Every machine they destroy, he reconfigures into a trap.  To defeat his rejuvenation effect, all the gremlins must be slain and then anointed with holy water in the area of a hallow spell (as per the Bestiary 4).  Otherwise the gearghost will return with the gremlins in tow as zombie slaves.

Tinkerer Hamden Rhodes put too much of himself into his clockwork creations—for some of them grew to have souls.  When after decades of faithful service he junks the very first clockwork servant he ever built, the construct’s spirit returns in wounded outrage.  It wants Hamden’s corpse sent to the scrap yard, but not before terrorizing him and everyone in the vicinity with a series of deathtraps.

Pathfinder Bestiary 4 123

Thursday, January 29, 2015


Fey whose wings are actually symbiotic plants, gathlains were introduced in the Advanced Race Guide.  They were one of five new PC races that a) just by themselves were practically worth the price of admission, and b) were wild and weird enough that they expanded our sense of what Pathfinder could be.  At the very least they didn't feel very Golarion.  (It’s no accident that we’ve since learned kasathas come from anther planet.)  In face, they were among the freshest new races to show up in d20 gaming since Monte Cook’s Arcana Unearthed…and maybe even Dark Sun (the Holy Grail of racial rethinks).

(I wrote very similar things back here and here, but they're still true.  And I still wish we’d gotten about five more of these races, just to see what ideas the authors would have come up with.  This is why we need an economically viable Dragon Magazine or Kobold Quarterly.)

So it’s weird to see gathlains in among the other “ordinary” monsters of the Bestiary 4.  They still feel very different—foreign in a way that a pixie or a sprite just isn’t.  But as unique forest/jungle encounters they’re hard to beat.  Their rapport with plants is undeniable—they should almost definitely have the same plant companions as elves (see the ARG) or leshy servitors.  Their mistletoe wings recall old-school 1e AD&D druids.  If even gnomes find them flighty, they have the potential for some great role-playing encounters.  And their origin story offers the suggestion for a campaign-spanning adventure to save their race’s birth tree—perfect for fans of The Silmarillion, the classic D&D module The Tree of Life, or heck, even Fern Gully.

A gathlain’s mate has been captured, and she leaves the safety of the forest to look for him.  Overawed by the cities of men, she hides in the only greenery she can find: a grocer’s cart.  When a shop patron mistakes her for a head of lettuce and grabs her wings, havoc ensues—with local adventurers caught right in the middle of her color spray.

A gathlain’s sorcerer heritage manifests when she grows a pair of claws.  Her nervous kin shun her, fearing she may have the blood of a dragon…or worse yet, a demon.  Adventurers come upon her as she is testing out her new gifts, and how they react to her may determine whether she joins them as a sidekick, returns to her folk to demand her rightful place among them, or gives in to the violence coursing through her veins.

Young villagers are tasked with delivering the bulb of a rare magical plant to a wise woman two valleys away.  In doing so, they will take their first steps as adventurers, facing down wolves, negotiating with bullying ferrymen, and outwitting bloodthirsty sagaris.  They also have to protect the bulb from a flight of strange fey creatures—gathlains—intent on stealing it.  If they successfully deliver the bulb, it begins to glow and hatch just as they arrive, birthing a tiny fey creature.  The infant gathlain is the last seed of the First Tree…and the first clue toward finding this missing mythic life-form.

Pathfinder Bestiary 4 122

I totally should have mentioned meladaemons and the tintinnabulation of bells yesterday.  Good notes, demiurge1138, ohgodhesloose, and Anon!

Also wow, what are the odds that the Paizo blog and I would talk about galvos on the very same day?

And this will never happen.  But as a Mystara/Hollow World fan—man, I need to write more about Hollow World some time—I’m obligated to post it anyway.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015


I can only imagine that starving to death is a terrible fate.  So mass starvation must be truly horrific.  The gashadokuro is the embodiment of that trauma—a Huge undead giant composed of the countless bones of the starving dead and animated with their desperate hunger. 

Like devourers, gashadokuros are terrifying because they can consume characters nearly utterly, and they are even more indiscriminate, gobbling up any living thing in their path.  The bones then fall out of the gashadokuro’s rib cage—one explanation for its constant hunger—or are vomited up as a breath weapon.

Personally, I think a gashadokuro’s appearance should reflect the conditions where it was born.  A gashadokuro born in a dust bowl might be a sandy thing constantly surrounded by spiraling winds, while a gashadokuro born in a ghetto might have tenement floorboards and cheap shingles stuck among its many bones.

One final note: The gashadokuro’s stat block reads: “Organization solitary.”  And 99% of the time that should be the case.  But we have a name for that other 1%, one that could make for a hell of a campaign: Attack on Titan.

For years a decanter of endless water was all that kept an isolated valley fertile.  When the decanter was stolen, the river dried up and the people starved.  Now a gashadokuro tirelessly hunts the bearer of the decanter, and it matters little if the current owner is innocent of the original theft.

Adventurers airlift supplies to a far-flung colony…only to find it deserted.  The headman’s diary speaks of failed crops, famine, and growing desperation.  Then a gashadokuro erupts from the ground, crippling their flying mounts in gout of bone shards and stranding them far from home.

Even devils avoid the Tantalan Fields.  Here sinners used to harvest crops they would never eat and sit at tables where the food turned to ash on their plates.  The collective hunger of the souls was enough to create a fiendish gashadokuro that defied the minor devil overseers’ attempts to command or destroy it. They have moved the remaining souls rather than report their failure up the chain of command, leaving the Fields a blind spot that adventurers can take advantage of—if they survive the undead guardian.

Pathfinder Bestiary 4 121

More on the gashadokuro can be found in Pathfinder Adventure Path #54: The Empty Throne.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015


Pathfinder Adventure Path’s “Bestiary” chapters are often a dress rehearsal for inclusion in the big books, but I’d be lying if I said I thought the galvo (from #59: The Price of Infamy) would make the cut.  It’s a swarmlike creature made of electric eels—practically an eel golem (and you know my feelings on nontraditional golems)—that can “fire” component eels like darts.  As such, it’s a natural servitor for eel-themed monsters like the siyokoy.

That said, the animal-headed-humanoid-hangs-out-with-the-animal-it-looks-like trope can get old after a while.  (Gnolls hang out with hyenas!  Ratfolk hang out with rats!  Three-toed slothfolk hang out with three-toed sloths*!) So even though according to canon galvos are the work of siyokoy fleshcrafters, I’d rather see them paired with, say, gutaki (intelligent devilfish) or evil merfolk, just for variety’s sake.

I also think there’s a space for a galvo to be a really unique horror encounter, especially for a low-level party, a party unprepared for an aquatic encounter, or a character trapped alone.  Imagine PCs’ only escape off of an island involves retrieving an object from a wreck in the center of the lagoon. But every time they get in the water, eels attack them—first one, then two, then several.  Then dozens.  Then the eels seem to emerge into a humanoid shape.  And then it follows them on land…

Adventurers interrupt a tense exchange between lycanthrope toughs and ceratioidi smugglers.  The ceratioidi, thinking they’ve been betrayed, bob their lantern-like stalks in an urgent semaphore.  Immediately a tangle of galvos surges out of the pool in the center of the chamber, attacking any surface dweller they see.

Siyokoy will not settle where air breathers have drowned.  But they will not give up their claim to these sunken treasure sites either.  Adventurers who try to sneak into a sunken city by nightfall will be attacked by the galvos left behind as guards, supported by other fleshwarped creatures including aquatic, seaweed-like halsoras.

Adventurers explore the gut of an oma corpse drifting in space.  Their efforts to find any survivors or treasure are hampered by the parasitic galvos still clinging to life inside the dead space whale’s digestive tract.

Pathfinder Bestiary 4 120

*But never with two-toed sloths.

They know what they did.

Monday, January 26, 2015


Compared to the late Middle Ages/early Renaissance characters we tend to emulate at the gaming table, most of us reading this blog are lucky enough to be separated from death on a day-to-day basis.  This is particularly true as it applies to the criminal justice system.  We are (on average) not invited (or forced) to attend executions.  Hangings are not crowd entertainment.  We do not pass gibbets at the crossroads. 

That wasn’t always the case.  There was a time when going to the market also meant a decent chance of being confronted with a very public reminder of your own mortality and the mechanisms of power at work.  The gallowdead are that horror writ large.  Not only were these folk killed at the state’s command, they also rise to serve the power that killed them.  Not only did they die hearing the murmuring condemnation of the crowd, they also return robed in an aura of whispers.  (The text says it’s the gallowdead doing the whispering, but I prefer to imagine the whispers just surround it.)  Even death does not end your humiliation at the hand of the state.  Even in death you are made to kneel…and then attack.

Given the gallowdead’s high CR, they are likely incredibly rare, as only the strongest tyrants could execute someone with such malefic authority that the criminal’s very soul is dragged back into service rather than rebellion.  If a gallowdead is recently created, clues to its identity might be easy to find.  Even ancient gallowdead are likely to have been significant personages: upstart senators, war councils whose advice displeased, traitors to the crown, and the like.

The dead who hang from the bridge over the harbor mouth of Wake are no criminals.  They are gallowdead who guard the Port of Undeath from agathions and other would-be saviors—just as they once themselves were.  Any ship without an undead captain, an enchanted pass from the harbormaster, or a thanadaemon escort is attacked.

Some gallowdead outlive the master who made them.  Tessex is no more, but its shape can be easily drawn on a map, for inside its borders a roaming gallowdead known as the Pure Right Hand will not suffer a witch or wizard to live.

When the Great Khan rode to the trade cities known as the Five Swans, only Sunal refused to throw open the gates and kneel in subjugation.  They held out longer than anyone imagined possible—nearly eight months.  When the Great Khan finally broke through the walls, he rounded up Sunal’s leaders and hung them alive on hooks from the Palace of Flowers.  Then he made them watch as he burned Sunal to the ground and took the inhabitants as slaves.  Choked on the smoke of their burning city, the bey and his generals were gallowdead before the even ashes cooled.  Now they guard the Palace of Wilted Flowers and Sunal is known as the Black Swan.  But the Great Khan never found Sunal’s treasury—in his ire he hanged the bey too early—so the gallowdead presumably still stand watch over a fortune.

Pathfinder Bestiary 4 119

The other thing we forget about the Middle Ages: they stank.  Animal poo everywhere.  Thank goodness fantasy worlds have otyughs.

The gallowdead first appeared as a template in Dungeons of Golarion as a beefed-up variant skeletal champion serving the Whispering Tyrant.  The Bestiary 4 version is a more all-purpose thrall of tyrants everywhere.

I’m still under the weather—you’ll note my grin is more crooked than ever courtesy of Bell’s palsy—so I wasn’t up for my radio show or MAGFest this weekend.  But I wasn’t going to miss post-con drinks with college friends Rich (now a television producer) and Brian (a physicist and cofounder of The Story Collider). 

Some people have mentioned that there was another Brian in attendance at MAGFest, but I’m pretty sure that’s totally a coincidence. 

Edit: This photo has only been up a few hours and I’m already delighted at the hashtags it has produced.

Friday, January 23, 2015


Spirits of greed, jealousy, and gluttony, gakis are the “hungry ghosts,” constantly searching for the elusive combination of foods that will grant them new bodies.

Obsessive undead are always interesting (they are to me, at least) and that goes double for gakis.  Their strange compulsions mean they can pop up almost anywhere, including places monsters tend to avoid—a flower show, the church baptismal font, or guzzling the alcohol in a chirurgeon’s operating theater—so long as they avoid sunlight and moonlight.  But since they also crave the flesh of the sinful—and sometimes even evil creatures up to and including demons—they might make odd rivals or even (very) temporary comrades for PCs.

One last note: In our world tales of gakis were likely imported to Japan along with Buddhism from India, where they were known as pretas.  According to Wikipedia they were seen as creatures of air and space/void.  To me that’s super interesting, and could potentially tie them thematically to the Elemental Planes, powerful oni like the void yai (see also void magic from the Dragon Empires Primer and similar magic and creatures from 3.0’s Oriental Adventures), or even Lovecraftian and other sci-fi/horror realms.  In other words, your campaign doesn’t need to have Shinto gates and fox-tailed shrine maidens to have a gaki.  Hungry things are always out there…

Going to evening confession is a regular part of the week in Umberton.  But in recent weeks several parishioners have gone missing.  Suspicion begins to fall on everyone.  Werewolves are blamed due to the nighttime attacks; a homeless kitsune boy currently rots in prison, lucky not to have been lynched.  Others look for more mundane reasons; after all, weren’t all the victims owed large sums of money?  Even the priest is a suspect; who better to know his victims’ comings and goings?  The real culprit is a gaki with a compulsion to feast on the sin of greed.  He eavesdrops on the confessions from the catacombs below and then follows the most avaricious souls home.

A rakshasa haruspex is fascinated with portents in the sky and stars, and with the elemental powers of the void.  Having once trapped a gaki to learn more about its nature, he now keeps the undead chained in his dining room as a kind of court jester, feeding it scraps from his plate (and his auguries).  The gaki remains invisible when not compelled by hunger to perform for his dinner, so adventurers may not immediately realize that one of the room’s chains does not lead to the chandelier…

A legendary halfling adventurer is throwing himself a great birthday party—actually a retirement party—as well as a ceremony of investiture for his nephew, to whom he intends to give a powerful magical ring.  The elderly halfling has spared no expense, ordering dwarven fireworks, a wizard entertainer, and of course food and beverages for all.  Having spied the wagonloads of food passing through their town the day before, a gang of gakis hitched a ride to the shire on the fireworks cart.  When dusk arrives, the gakis plan to burst out of hiding and devour the food, the halflings, and anyone who gets in their way.

Pathfinder Bestiary 4 118

I’ve mentioned the Hungry Ghost set piece from Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior several times here before.  Only now when I double-check Wikipedia, it turns out it was a Sitting Ghost.  Sigh.  I’m sure Hungry Ghosts are mentioned, though, and it’s still a great scene.  And there’s always No-Face from Spirited Away, who may have a very different form but certainly has the compulsive appetite of a gaki.

Mini-reviews!  It turns out one of my weirder third-party orders ended up causing a logjam in my sidecart.  An easy call to Customer Service unstuck everything, but it meant that I got an entire fall’s worth of Pathfinder Campaign Setting books in one order.

I think as a general resource Ships of the Inner Sea might be the most useful long-term.  Deck plans tend to only show up sprinkled in far-flung adventure modules, so having seven ships of varying styles (slave galley, longboat, galleon, junk, elven corsair, etc.) in one place is handy.  (Take note, my seafaring fans—such as jenna-darknight, I believe?) 

If the waves aren't your thing, Undead Unleashed lays out notable undead from Golarion with enough lair/encounter details to serve as short adventures.  If you like the really detailed, comprehensive format of Pathfinder Adventure Path installments you might find these skimpy, but they’re far easier to insert into a home campaign.  (Besides, many of these undead are meant for pretty high-level play, and at those levels a single fight or two can run most of an evening.  So I’m betting they won’t feel skimpy at the table.)  Longtime readers will recognize some familiar names in the credits (I especially dug Todd Stewart’s mythic mohrg and Adam Daigle’s reluctant lich diviner).   In terms of new faces (at least to me), Jerome Virnich stood out as a name who delivered something special every single time he came up bat. 

Finally, Lost Treasures isn’t my usual type of book—unless I’m actively playing, magic item descriptions make my eyes glaze over in seconds—but there was plenty of lore to keep me entertained as I read during my lunch breaks.

Resolving the Campaign Setting logjam also freed up my original Monster Codex order.  It’s gorgeous, full stop.  Yes, in theory you could just read/refer to the entire thing online—it's up now for free on the PRD.  But trust me, you don't really want to.  The rich art is simply too evocative to do without at the table.  The chapters are simply too much fun to browse.  This is simply a book you want on your shelf.  (How do you know I’m serious?  Even after I was lucky enough to get another copy, I didn't cancel my original order.  I figured I’d want a spare.)

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Fungus Queen

When fungi sprout from humanoids or monsters, you get fungal creatures.  But when a fungus sprouts from the unholy corpse of a succubus…well, then you get something special: the fungus queen.

Created by James Jacobs, fungus queens have deep ties to the demons of the Golarion setting, having arisen out of a conflict between servants of Nocticula and Cyth-V’sug.  But they could fit in your campaign wherever evil powers of life and decay war with lust and desire.  (Zuggtmoy anyone?) 

Fungus queens’ ability to spawn even more fungoid creatures than they can control makes them a constant threat.  But in the right set of circumstances, a fungus queen may just be an adventuring party’s last hope, since she might be all that stands between them and annihilation at the claws of a succubus.

Dryads are dying all over the forest.  But the cause is unclear: no blight stains the leaves and no orcs rampage through the trees.  The cause is actually deep underground, where a jealous fungal queen salts the taproots of the dryads’ mighty oaks.  While she could easily control the dryads with her magic, the thought of their beauty drawing away potential mates and minions fills her with rage.

A renegade psychopomp is tampering with the minds and souls of mortals.  After the viduus locks away a portion of an adventurer’s memory, her friends take her to a powerful enchantress, hoping the mage can free her from deathly scribe’s tampering.  To their shock, they find the enchantress’s tower under attack.  A coven of fungal queens believes the enchantress to be a succubus and will stop at nothing to reduce her tower to rubble.

Already mysterious, a cliffside city of ghorans becomes even more alien when it falls under the sway of a fungus queen.  The fungus queen’s servitors have already claimed one whole terrace, and her fungoid servitors are busy excavating tunnels to hold more of her children.  The settlement’s druids and earthmothers suspect something strange is afoot, but the fungus queen’s power over plant minds has subverted every agent they send to investigate.

Inner Sea Bestiary 12–13

Glad you guys seem to like yesterday’s entry.  Confidential to badmadwolf: I always try to make the third idea the most awesome.  I’ll make you a deal: If I can ever kick this virus, you can take that idea and run with it.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Fungal Creature

Born from the flesh of decaying hosts, fungal creatures have all the abilities and intelligence of the original with none of the memories, soul, or humanity.  While they can think and even speak and reason, their overwhelming need to reproduce obliterates all other considerations. 

From damp subterranean caverns to faerie groves to orbiting biospheres to planar realms of decay, fungal creatures can sprout up almost anywhere.  They’re perhaps at their most deadly when they grow from woodland creatures.  Adventurers might not even they’re dealing with a fungal nymph, for instance, rather than the real thing until it’s too late.

Twice now the centaur Sengar Shorthoof has defied his people: once in helping adventurers against orders, and more recently in entering the forbidden Nymphwood, chasing after his wayward (and presumably enchanted) brother.  The tribe will waste no more tears on Sengar, but they grudgingly decide to let his adventuring friends know of his trespass.  Sadly, the trouble is worse than they know: the eponymous nymph is long dead, and the fungal nymph that has replaced her is well on her way to making spawn of the two centaurs as well.

Born from the corpse of a dark naga, Skullcap is a rubbery jet-black serpent with a white mushroom cap like a cobra’s hood.  When not directing his myceloid and vegepygmy servitors, he delights in reading the tomes of philosophy and magic left by his living naga predecessor.  Over time he has come to see himself as a new stage in evolution, and he warmly welcomes interlopers as future hosts and his own prodigal children—even as he seeks to feed them his spores and even his fungal blood.

A birdbath and sundial in a mysteriously well-kept garden is actually a portal to a series of magical realms, one for each of the twelve hours of the day. The realms belong to common figures from local fables, both beneficent and dire. (Adventurers who take the time to examine the illustrations on the rim of the dial before getting drawn inside will gain clues as to each realm’s inhabitants.)  The adventurers may move freely from territory to territory, but they may not escape until the have faced down the lands’ greatest master, a fungal wyvern that lords over the Realm of Noon.

—Pathfinder Bestiary 4 116–117

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Freezing Flow

Crystalline oozes that resemble needle-tipped serpents made of ice, freezing flows are born where the ice of the Elemental Planes meets the air of the Material…and grows hungry.  With their ability to remain dormant for so long they are as much traps as they are creatures, and their single-minded hunt for warm-blooded food means they show their prey no mercy.  A friend downed by a freezing flow is likely dead if you cannot reach him in time…but once sated, at least it will have no more interest in you.

A particularly cold winter sends the city’s ratfolk scurrying into their home of last resort, the sewers…only to come running out again.  The arctic cold has found its way even there, and brought with it a freezing flow that hunts the furry humanoids.  They seek help from adventurers, and intimate that in their flight they have uncovered a secret down below as well.

An ice devil encourages freezing flows to nest in the tunnels below his fortress, feeding them with scraps (that is, worn-out slaves).  While even the largest (Advanced) freezing flows cannot offer much challenge to a typical gelugon’s enemies, the caverns are designed to bring the sounds of even a minor skirmish echoing up to the guard posts, alerting the entire complex.  Using fire to end the encounter quickly only causes jagged icicle spikes to rain down on interlopers.

A mage experiments with scribing spells onto crystals, coaxing more uses out of the spell energy than she would from a single scroll.  One of her experiments involves inserting a core of elemental ice into a large geode; she believes the extreme cold will bind the spell energy even longer.  When she takes time off from her experiments to deal with a band of troublesome adventurers, the ice core stirs, brought to life in this world as a freezing flow.  It will eagerly feed on whoever opens the door next—the mage or her meddling foes.

Pathfinder Bestiary 4 115

For fantasy fans with long memories, there are shades of Finder Wyvernspur in that last seed.

Monday, January 19, 2015


Note: You know how I’m often mentioning I’ve been hanging out in the ER or spending time in the hospital?  And every time you all very worriedly ask me how I am, I’m always like, “No, it was for someone else; I’m fine.”  Yeah, well this weekend it was for me.  I had a pretty big health scare and am currently home from work.  I’m staying positive and keeping my spirits up, but I’m taking it very easy.  So blog posts will be short and sweet, and I’ll be taking a break from major intros and juggling reader comments for a while. 

Fossegrims are tempting water fey in the vein of the Lorelei (the folkloric one, not the game monster).  Unlike most water sprites who are content to just punish those who trespass into their territory, fossegrims actively lure mortals to their deaths with enchanting music and by appearing as glittering piles of treasure.

The Vale of Glittering Waters is famous for its abundant waterfalls and notorious for the number of fossegrims it hosts—fully a dozen or more spread out under the valley’s many cascades.  Nor are the glittering treasure forms of the fossegrims the only temptation.  Several of the waterfalls hide tunnels that go deep into the hills.  Here more treasures await, mined by creatures called knockers that seem to resemble evil or perhaps even undead pechs.

An undine desires to meet her real father against her elven mother’s explicit wishes.  She recruits adventurers to help her search.  Her true father turns out not to be a triton, marid, or other elemental creature, but a lustful fossegrim who dallied with her mother before attempting to drown her.  The fossegrim will not also attempt to drown his water-blooded daughter (seducing her might be another matter), but those traveling with her are afforded no such protection.

Vidgur the Proud was true to his name when he challenged a linnorm far beyond his ability.  One contemptuous bite from the dragon’s jaws severed Vidgur’s hand and poisoned his blood.  Rather than the usual venom, the poison cursed Vidgur to hunt ceaselessly for the linnorm’s gold in the waters where he was maimed.  Eventually Vidgur simply became one with the water, becoming a fossegrim who still sings of lost treasures to tempt similarly greedy men.  (He plays a lap harp specially tuned to accommodate his missing hand.)  The linnorm is long gone, but the descendants of Vidgur’s talking magpie companion still chatter in these woods, and one of them may set adventurers on the path that will—eventually—lead to the linnorm’s real treasure.

Pathfinder Bestiary 4 114

Sticklers will notice I fudged creature types/abilities slightly in the above seeds.  Ideas always win over crunch in my book.

3.5 fans will remember the fossergrim, which (in addition to having one extra letter) was a more benevolent fey figure bound to its waterfall in a manner similar to a dryad.  Pathfinder GMs will also find it has one tactic worth stealing: It prefers to fight from behind its waterfall, taking advantage of the one-half concealment.

This radio show started well, with some nice new music and a belated 20th anniversary salute to Bush’s Sixteen Stone.  But about 40 minutes in I had a health issue and had to go to the ER.  So yeah…that was a thing.  (Obviously, I’m better(ish) now.)  Enjoy what’s there, though.

If you’re a new listener or just need a musical fix, I’ve saved last week’s show over on MediaFire.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Formian Worker

In saner world, one not ruled by the tyranny of alphabetical order, we would have covered the humble formian worker before now.  Oh well. 

Anyway, you can't run an army of expansionist interplanetary/interplanar invaders without a pretty good supply chain.  And that’s where these lasses come in.  Alone they're little threat (Cr 1/2, bite +3), but in groups those aid another checks begin to add up.  And while it doesn't show up in the stat block, the flavor text indicates that sometimes these doughty workers come packing alchemist’s fire…

Kobold undermining brings a keep crashing down.  The rubble also happens to clog the spring that fed the keep, and the resultant subterranean flooding brings furious formian workers boiling out of the ground to find the cause of the disturbance.  When adventurers are sent to retrieve whatever is left of the baron’s property (not to mention tax records and collections owed to an impatient earl), they find themselves caught between trap-setting kobolds and formian workers lobbing alchemist’s fire.

A line of iridescent gorgets becomes all the rage in Abilard.  As prices go sky-high, a rival designer hires adventurers to find more of the exotic material.  It turns out they come from the shimmering hides of formian workers.  Once it becomes clear that the formians are intelligent, the adventurers have to choose between killing the humanoids for their chitin and disappointing their patron…which could have lasting consequences in the status-obsessed city.

For the Lyonessen pioneers, reliable food sources are a scarce commodity.  To feed a distant outpost, one of the army commanders hatches a desperate scheme.  Using an aromatic concoction that causes formian workers to obey humanoids as if they were taskmasters, adventurers will trick a caravan of workers into bearing their harvests to the outpost rather than their home hive.  But bad weather and a run-in with a crysmal slow the journey.  If the unguent runs out before the journey is done, the formian workers will shake off the concoction’s influence and attack.

Pathfinder Bestiary 4 113

And so Formian Week comes to a close.  Farewell, my insectile friends.

Near as I can tell, looks like I only lost one reader over yesterday’s rant(s)!  I call that a victory.

This video on Middle-earth mythology got a lot of attention on Reddit today.  I especially dig it because it gives a shout-out to my former professor, Verlyn Flieger.

In other People I Know news, my friend Amanda co-owns (coöwns?) and runs a coffee shop two blocks from my house.  In addition to being pretty awesome in general, in the last two years or so she’s become a big advocate for sick leave for all employees in Maryland.  I am now wishing that I had taken a sick day yesterday to hang out with her, because she (the very short woman in the photo) and friend-of-a-friend Brendan had a pretty memorable day.

Last chance to get last week’s show before it vanishes at midnight tonight!  But I’ll be on air tomorrow if you want to hear a request.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Formian Warrior

When PCs accidentally stray onto formian territory, it’s the formian warriors who surround them, javelins raised.  When a formian seedpod asteroid crashes into a planet, it’s the warriors who wake first, instinctively driving off any beings they encounter until the royal castes and taskmasters have marshaled the hive as a whole.  When protean warpwaves mar the carefully manicured landscapes of the planes of Law, formian warrior conscripts guard the axiomites tasked with repairing the entropic wounds.

Formian warriors are amazons, sterile females fanatically devoted to their hives…until the day they’re not so devoted, because a lifetime spent patrolling the hive’s borders on their own initiative can open their compound eyes to other ways of being.  The second-lowest caste of formians, they spend their days climbing the rungs of a rigid military hierarchy…until the day they grow too old, when they volunteer for starvation or a suicide mission outside formian lands.

In other words, adventure options abound.  As a knight once famously asked, “Is this going to be a stand-up fight, my lord, or another big hunt?”  With formian warriors, the answer is both.

Tribesmen are encountering formian warriors of unheard-of size and toughness.  The reason for their might is in how they were nurtured: Their grubs hatched in the corpses of behemoths, the likes of which no one has ever seen.  No one, that is, except for one sage, who calls them “the most terrible lizards, the dinosaurs.”

There are other names for the clockwork demiplane of Law that juts out over the Linnorm Wastes.  But the locals just call it “the Contraption,” and they live among its many moving weights and spiraling platform discs as if it were the most natural thing of all (which in this realm, it is).  Not all of the plane’s omnipresent buzzing and ticking comes from the Contraption’s mechanisms though…as a town of axiomites and gnomes finds out when formian warriors hatch out of the ground to attack, mandibles clicking.

The Lyonessens’ first hint that not all formians are mindless shock troops comes from a disgraced formian warrior, T’war, who has had her ornaments ripped off but escaped before her stinger could be ritually removed.  She agrees to explain formian society to the invaders if they will protect her from the patrol of warriors sent to reclaim her by the taskmasters of the Hive of Chitin and Bone.

Pathfinder Bestiary 4 112

I didn't have the right place to mention it above, but the Coordinate (Su) ability really hits home how preternaturally in sync formian warriors are.  And while none of my PCs have ever faced a formian, I bet Deadly Grasp (Ex) is nasty to be on the receiving end of.

I spent most of my summers growing up on Cape Cod not far from Plymouth, so I was basically raised on stories of Squanto, who provides the tiniest inspiration for T’war.  It turns out, by the way, that all those stories were crap and the real Tisquantum is way more interesting.

Speaking of which, uwtartarus wrote:

Now you got me all invested in the Lyonessens’ fate!

Me too. There are so many ways you could run such a storyline. And a Twilight Zone-style “It turns out we're the evil invading aliens” bent is only one possibility.

Glad you guys are liking these seeds!  Obviously, the Lyonessens’ ultimate fate is up to you and your players.  I pictured the scenario in the “Formian Queen” entry as the ultimate or penultimate adventure, with the rest of the seeds coming earlier in the continuity, because of their lower CR.

And yes, the Lyonessens are totally the invading colonists here, but their strategy is (to them at least) necessitated by the calamity of the Spectre Gout.  It’s also a strike back against the formians who invaded them first.  Right, wrong, and the price of survival are complicated issues in these campaign seeds—one your group may or may not wish to play out.

I’m really liking the Lyonesse adventure seeds. And while the Starship Troopers influence on the Formians is obvious, I also get a sense of the Buggers/Formics from Orson Scott Card's Ender series.

Another thing: the Formian Queen's prairie town seed makes me think of an insect-Western kind of thing. Formians have settled a boomtown at the foot of a mountain in the badlands, and are the owners and operators of the silver mine they've dug there. Relations are strained with the Thriae hive next town over after some disagreements about land claims, and with the nomadic Thri-Kreen who have lived in the desert for generations. Suddenly, the Thri-Kreen start swarming out in the wastes, half-panicked by some awful, muddled ancestral memory, and the Formian miners begin running across pre-existing tunnels under the mountain, made by a group of Azruverda who are determined to let them dig no further. What the Azruverda know and the Thri-Kreen can barely remember is that the wastes were once a fertile land, and they were only ruined by a great, devouring swarm of Apocalypse Locusts, which now slumbers beneath the mountain. Can a posse of travelling adventurers intercede between the Formians and the Azruverda before the Locusts are awakened, or will they have to saddle up and get the chitinous folk of the wastes to set aside their differences in order to weather the coming swarm?

I love it!  A badass badlands insect-focussed campaign could be really cool.  Way too go, Anon!  Add a couple of undead (like a pale stranger) or bulette/drake encounters so players don't get tired of bugs and I think Anonymous has a hell of a campaign.  (For Pathfinder players, there are plenty of conversions for thri-kreen online, or you can just cheat and use kasatha stats.)

As for the Ender connection, I can see where you could make that case.  It wasn’t part of my thinking though when I wrote these seeds.  Of Card’s novels, I’ve only ever read Ender’s Game, and I did so way later (grad school) than most people who fall in love with it, so it doesn’t form part of my landscape of influences.  I was (spoiler alert) one of those G&T kids who EG might have really struck a chord with if I’d encountered it at the right time, but by the time I got to it my reaction was more like, “Yeah, I see why people like that.  Back to Autobiography of Red.”

(I had a similar experience with Redwall, which I never read as a kid, but one of my friends loved.  As a (sort of) adult, my reaction was basically, “I have no response to that,” but I’m still glad my friend loved it, especially as he wasn’t a huge reader otherwise.)

Of course, you can't mention Ender’s Game without mentioning its author, Orson Scott Card.  The nicest thing I can say for him is that he is a problematic figure.  Now, typically “problematic” is a word people use when they suspect something is bad, but they don't have a convincing argument laid out yet as to why.*  But in this case, I’m using “problematic” to mean, “I do not want to open this can of worms in this space.  But I’m glad of the wonderful irony that his books gave comfort and strength to countless children who would grow up to be the confident, loving adults he fears.”

That’s all I’m going to say about that.  If you don’t like Card’s work, then I recommend you read Kate Bonin’s “In the Bugger Tunnels of Planet Eros: Gay Sex and Death in the Science Fiction of Orson Scott Card.”  If you do like Card’s work, then I recommend you read it twice, and take notes.

See you tomorrow, folks.

*Oh right, about that asterisk: Seriously Tumblr [and apologies to my Blogger readers I’m boring], let’s resolve in 2015 to work harder than this word. If you ever find yourself using the phrase “I think that X is problematic,” what I’m encouraging is that you please follow that phrase with “because” and then explain your thinking, no matter how inchoate and unformed.  “Problematic” is a useful word—a lot of the Internet, our favorite geek entertainments, and hell, life in general is hella problematic.  But too often we use it as a discussion ender; we say something is problematic and then walk away from the microphone, using the word itself as a judgment.  That’s a dodge, a cheat, a way of appearing to take a stand without saying anything.  We need to see “problematic” for what it is, which is a discussion beginner—a sign of discomfort, a disruption or a conflict that deserves to be examined.

I have a lot of readers who are in college and a lot of readers who are outspoken activists of one sort or another. I want all my readers to be the best, most vocal, empowered, intellectually honest thinkers and world-changers they can be.  “Problematic” is a useful word, but by itself it’s lazy word.  If you’re reading this blog, I already know you’re smarter, subtler, and more confident than that.  In 2015, let’s kill “problematic” until we’ve done the hard work it asks us to do.