Friday, February 27, 2015


Mythologically, there’s pretty much no difference between dryads and hamadryads.  If there is any, it’s pretty much splitting hairs, with hamadryads being somewhat more integrally tied to their trees.  But if you give something two names, it's an excuse for role-players to create two monsters.  (Which I fully support, by the way.  See my rant on oreads. But anyway…)  In Tall Tales of the Wee Folk, for instance, hamadryads are dryads who spontaneously arose out of trees, whereas dryads are the daughters of dryads and hamadryads who have to seek out a tree of their own to bond with.

In Pathfinder, a hamadryad is essentially super-dryads—queen of the entire forest rather than a single tree, and not bound to her ward.  Alone, she (with the aid of the dryads and trees in her charge) can tend the health of nearly every acre in her care.  When paired with an erlking sibling or spouse, they form a yin and yang of nature’s gifts—its patience and its passion, its stillness and its speed, its healing touch and savage bite.

An ancient forest covers the land bridge between Elurian and Kitsunar.  And where the two continents meet, so too do the spirits of those lands—which is how the hamadryad Querquetulania fell in love with the jinushigami Muk. But spirit love operates by different rules…and when a winter erlking (see Pathfinder Adventure Path #68: The Shackled Hut for the winter fey template) trespasses in the forest, his supernatural influence turns a helpless Querquetulania and her dryad handmaidens hateful and xenophobic.  Muk is outraged, of course (though in the slow, glacial manner of his kind) and concerned fey and kami of both woodland courts recruit adventurers to free the hamadryad from the corrupted erlking’s control before war rips the great forest apart.

The hamadryad Magnolia has a home forest.  She just chooses to ignore it, apparently.  Instead she runs a myrtle-shrouded teahouse and clinic in the Seventh Ward.  She guards the secret of her race carefully, however, and will attempt to silence those who probe too closely (usually via call lightning storm, summoned creatures, or by creating treant assassins with liveoak).  The reason she has taken up city life has something to do with the crossed scimitar and shillelagh hanging over her fireplace (and guarded by sentinels that are not readily apparent to mortal eyes) and a particular paving stone in her garden that is actually a stone table from legend.

A hamadryad is losing her memory.  A being of ancient age, she is fast losing her recollections of the present day, spending more and more time locked in the primeval memories of her past.  In her confusion, she summons dinosaurs, mammoths, and frost giants to comfort her and drive off the humanoids that “infest” her lands.  Adventurers become involved when sightings of dire tigers and tyrannosauruses become too common to ignore.

Pathfinder Bestiary 4 148

I don’t give two coprolites about college basketball, but my grad school alma mater does make some nice videos.

Oh, and the dress was really made of displacer beast hide, so it was black and blue and white and gold, but then disappeared because it wasn’t Open Game Content.

Thursday, February 26, 2015


The halsora is the metamorphic rock of fleshwarps—twice transformed into a creature with completely new characteristics.  From humanoid to plant to now a hulking (as much as a Small creature can hulk), acid-weeping aberrant thing, halsoras are the stocky hunting dogs of their drow makers and masters.

I’m curious about the halsoras’ self-hatred as described in the Bestiary 4, because you rarely think of plant creatures, even superficially humanoid ones, being so intellectually/emotionally/spiritually driven.  But maybe that spiritualism is the root cause (no pun intended, I swear).  Halsoras have been divorced from both their vegepygmy bodies and from the birth bodies they held such reverence for (and likely took mementos from).  What's worse, they have lost their connection to their communities and the russet mold patches that linked them together.  Instead they feel the mutated spores coursing through them and hate the weeping infection they are powerless to step.  It’s tragic, really…or would be, if they weren’t already body-stealing nightmares in the first place.

A drider lurks on the outskirts of a subterranean settlement, obsessively tending her “garden” of halsoras among the piles of trash. The mask and coverings she wears to protect her from the aberrations’ acid and spores have given rise to tales in the community about ghosts, clockwork creatures, and scorpion knights.

The small nation of Ilvdeep is run from below the surface by drow mages and warpriests who reject their kin’s demon-worshipping ways.  That doesn’t make Ilvdeep drow any more peaceable, however—they rely on the Houndmasters (half-drow rangers, slayers, and sorcerers) and their Hounds (trained halsora shock troops) to keep the fearful populace in line.

A besieged city needs hardy warriors, and adventurers find themselves pressed into service.  As they reluctantly go about missions on the defenders’ behalf, they discover a mad plan by one of the army commanders to create more powerful troops: first by infecting peasants with russet mold spores, then by fleshwarping the resultant vegepygmies into halsoras.  The commander firmly believe his actions are justified and that history will laud his actions…but just in case he sends his halsoras to silence the adventurers before they can go public with his plot.

Pathfinder Bestiary 4 104

Resurrecting Darth Maul as a drider wasn’t my favorite move The Clone Wars TV show made, but it gave me an adventure seed at least.  Meanwhile, if you like drow-controlled surface nations, Forgotten Realms’ Dambrath is another candidate for adventure.  (Shining South has some details— while it didn’t officially make my Top 18 list, I did give it some love and it's still a book I’d recommend to both D&D and Pathfinder fans alike.)

Sing it with me now: “Halsora, sora… Whatever will be, will be…”  I’m going to Hell for that, but TOO LATE!  It's in your head forever now.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Guardian Dragon

I don't like reducing monsters to statistics.  But CR 24/MR 10 is a number that has its own gravity. 

There are bigger, more powerful monsters in the Bestiary 4—demon lords and Great Old Ones and kaiju, oh my—but none of them have the dragon type.  That still matters—even in these enlightened latter days, when we’re more about finding paths than we are about delving you-know-whats guarded by you-know-whos.  At the end of the day, you picked up that sword to slay a dragon. 

And this dragon was created by none other than a god.  There are worse ways to start a tale…or end it, if PCs are unlucky.

So.  The guardian dragon.  As published dragons go, it’s second only to Mythic Adventures’s mythic wyrm red dragon in power (and that’s only by a hair).  Its spell-like abilities are there to foil and confound you.  Its immunities and resistances practically run the table.  Its physical abilities and attacks—and there are so, so many of them—are designed to punish you this round and for several rounds in the future.  It lairs in the farthest corners of the multiverse, can create demiplanes at will, and track all but Fine-sized intruders.  It can grant its mythic power to allies or use it to literally remake the world around itself.  And if you steal from it, it will find you—period.

A god of thieves has had his divinity stolen—a crime of such sublime irony that the god would laugh in delight, were he not terrified for his new life.  (Gods of thievery have a talent for making enemies with long memories.)  Worse yet, when he returned to his divine realm to retrieve an old blade still invested with his power, his guardian dragon servitor refused—or was unable—to recognize him as its master.  Believing retrieving the sword is the first in a series of necessary steps to reclaim his mantle, he teams up with some of his greatest mortal worshippers (or perhaps just some mortals unfortunate enough to be in his debt) for the (second-)greatest heist of all time: to steal from himself.

It’s the perfect heist.  Ally with your enemies to break into a guardian dragon’s secret lair and steal its divine treasure.  Wait for—and ideally survive—your enemies’ sudden but inevitable betrayal.  While they flee with the artifact, guardian dragon in hot pursuit, you return to the lair to clean out the dragon’s personal treasure after its private demiplane collapses.  Abscond with the treasure, race to your enemies’ location to finish off any combatants left standing, and claim the divine artifact as your own as well.  Again, it's the perfect heist.  What could possibly go wrong?

On some worlds, color is not the only allegiance.  On Helia, the elemental tide that pulses with every dragon’s heartbeat is stronger than any skin tone or moral/ethical pole.  As Fire dragons war with Earth and Water, only the beasts of Air and Cold stand apart, maintaining the balance.  But when a pair of guardian dragon siblings (which in itself should be an impossibility) joins the war on the side of the Water Sept, it may forever shift the balance of the war—and the makeup of Helia itself.  An adventuring company’s sovereign dragon patron begs them to come out of retirement for one last mission: end the threat of the guardian dragon twins or die trying.

Pathfinder Bestiary 4 146–147

I love me some one-off dragons.  Where my gorynyches at?

With that centurion-like armor and spiraling snake tail, Jorge Fares’s design for the guardian dragon underlines its singular nature.  Interestingly, while it has only two non-winged limbs, it appears to have true arms like a lamia noble rather than the crude forearms of a linnorm or the legs of the more birdlike wyvern.

Also, how much do you want to bet that planting the teeth of a guardian dragon would sprout udaeoi?

Finally, while guardian dragons don’t have a vomit attack per se, their blood is poisonous dragon bile and their breath is a lingering poisonous cloud…  Does that make us three for three on puke-themed monsters this week?

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


It’s only Tuesday and we’re already on our second puke-attacking monster in a row.  It’s going to be a good week.

Another drow fleshwarp, the grothlut is the product of fleshcrafting a human.  The result is an abomination that makes a lemure look cuddly.  Sluglike creatures that can barely hold themselves together, much less keep their gorge down, grothluts make everyone around them sick as well with their piteous moans.

Of course, in your campaign it’s easy to divorce grothluts from their drow origins.  They can be alchemical experiments gone wrong, the result of tortures inflicted by a totalitarian state, servitors to a cult of illness, aasimars who fell from grace, or anything else both pitiful and revolting.

Adventures are hired to lead the annual grothlut drive from Bleakheart to Chel Ne’Thram.  (The drow find the work too distasteful to do themselves.)  Along the way, the adventurers must defend their charges from rock falls, giant insects, troglodyte ambushes, and especially dire corbies, who like to feast on exploded grothlut viscera.  The party might also discover the vile origins of the creatures.  If they do, the adventures may come to suspect (quite rightly) that the only reward they will receive for a successful drive is to become fleshwarps themselves.

After a long time away, adventurers come home to discover a totalitarian ruler has taken over their hometown.  When they speak too freely with an old blacksmith friend, his forge sits cold and empty the next day.  Eventually in a secret gaol they will discover a grothlut bearing the blacksmith’s tattoo on its fleshy arm.  He and the rest of the disappeared have been warped to serve the new lord’s strange and vile ends.

Mozart didn’t die of the pox.  He was murdered for discovering a secret society devoted to Baphomet lurking within the already-secret Freemasons.  Adventurer friends of Mozart (they met gambling, naturally) are hired by a patron to clear the names of both the Masons and the unjustly slandered Salieri.  Among the culprits who murdered young Wolfgang is Maximilian Faustus, a descendent of the famous alchemist and a composer in his own right—or rather, rites.  A century and a half before Schoenberg, Faustus is already working on his own twelve-tone scale—seven for the Seven Deadly Sins and five for the five points on a pentagram—sung by a choir of chained and goaded grothluts, whose moans supply the vile scale in piteous (semi)quavers.

Pathfinder Bestiary 4 103

Indie rock?  Bah!  This week we veered hard into folk and country territory, as we looked at the album Tomorrow You’re Going from Richard Shindell and Lucy Kaplansky’s The Pine Hill Project, and did a more personal In memoriam as well.  Plus the Nields, Kasey Chambers, Nanci Griffith, and more.  Listen and download!

Also a heads-up: If all goes well—weather and Murphy’s Law permitting—I’m throwing an 18th birthday party for my radio show.  Tune in this Friday evening, 2/27, 8:00 PM–10:00 PM US Eastern, as we party like it’s 1997 and play college radio favorites from spring 1997 to spring 2000.  I promise it will be thoroughly undignified fun. 

Monday, February 23, 2015


(Placeholder post. Still in Illinois doing funeral stuff. Will post when life calms down.)

Friday, February 20, 2015


Cthulhu is a big deal.  Kaiju are big, too.  But it was cover model Grendel who gave us our first look at the Bestiary 4.  And B4 returned the favor, because Pathfinder did not skimp on one ounce of Grendel.

Now, you have to figure the Grendel of the Beowulf epic is probably somewhere in the CR 8–10 range—a serious threat to the ordinary warriors of Hrothgar’s hall, but one that a young hero like Beowulf could kill with his bare hands.  After all, he’s got to leave room for Grendel’s mother and a dragon, right? 

But since he’s been marinating in our imaginations since somewhere around 700 AD, Pathfinder’s Grendel got a slight power boost…okay, more than slight…okay, a lot.

Basically, he’s Doomsday. 

I mean, come on, this is a CR 19 monster with seven mythic ranks and a power called Gruesome Dismemberment (Ex).  He regenerates all but natural attacks.  “Unstoppable” isn’t just an adjective for him; it’s in his stat block.  On a cloudy day this Grendel could kill Superman.

And it is totally fine if you want to play him that way.  Fighting that Grendel could be a hell of a campaign finale.

That said, if you want to echo the true Grendel of myth, consider trying to work in some of these themes.

Grendel is nature waiting in the dark.  Grendel is the thing just outside the firelight.  Grendel mocks the very notion of civilization with his assaults. If you need a force of nature—not even nature wronged or despoiled, just nature dangerous and raw and hungry and bloody in its purest state—use Grendel.  When you need a super-fey or a monster wilder than Cernunnos on his worst day, use Grendel.

Grendel is envy.  Something in Grendel hates the fellowship of Hrothgar’s hall.  Though he’d never want to sit at those tables, he hears the happy voices and seethes.  If you have a sin-based adventure or need a (likely manipulated or conscripted) servant for an archdevil (say, Mephistopheles) or demon lord (perhaps Shax) of envy, use Grendel.

Grendel is other.  Grendel isn’t human.  He’s not an orc.  He’s not a giant.  Even other monsters don’t know what he is.  He doesn't fit the established taxonomies.  Supposedly he’s a descendent of Cain, but that just feels like a desperate Christian attempt to make sense of something far darker and older.  Even the Lovecraftian powers and Rovagug don’t claim him.  He’s one of a kind…or he would be if he didn’t have a mother.

Finally, and most importantly, Grendel makes a mockery of hospitality.  Hospitality was big deal in the ancient world.  You had a duty to treat your guests well, and once they were under your roof, to defend them as if they were of your household.  Gods like Odin and Zeus were reputed to travel incognito and reward or punish hosts for their behavior toward penniless strangers.  Likewise, guests were expected to be good conversationalists, take up arms in defense of their host, and not bring their troubles to his door without warning.

Grendel makes a mockery of all that.  Grendel comes into the hall and snatches warriors right out of their beds.  Men the lord has a duty to protect, he simply devours—and then vanishes, so no retribution can be made.  And then he returns night after night to do it again, underlining the lord’s powerlessness.  In a tradition where blood must be avenged in blood if weregild is not paid…where entire family lines are wiped out because one man says another’s daughter has snake eyes (Njal’s Saga)…and where the gods and the universe itself are destined to fall because when Odin became Loki’s blood brother he obligated himself to the half-giant forever after…if you treat that mindset as real, then Grendel is a big deal.

Grendel should kill PCs’ retainers, their friends, their families.  Grendel should strike and then vanish before they can respond.  Facing Grendel should be lose/lose/lose.  If they fail to protect those in their care, those innocents will die.  If they fail to answer their liege’s call to fight Grendel, friends and enemies alike will turn their backs on the PCs forever.  But if they fight Grendel, they will suffer just as badly.  Make them lose limbs.  Have Grendel attack when they're out of heals and wishes and miracles, or make fighting Grendel cost them these things so that they're out of boons for the next crisis.  Grendel should make them feel like nowhere is safe and that they have no good options.

One final important question: If Grendel CR 19/MR 7…what’s the CR of his mom?

The rejects of existence, a cabal of svartalfars and a family of taninivers team up with the daemonic servitors of the Horseman of Pestilence to unleash a plague that will wipe out mortals and fey alike.  With the right moves, adventurers can remove the svartalfars and daemons from the board.  But the diseased dragons have nothing to lose, and their machinations unleash Grendel upon the adventurers as a last retributive strike.

In a rush to stop the countdown to Ragnarök, adventurers must face death cultists, giants, fungal creature night hags, and a school of language-erasing sorcerers.  Their steps are dogged by Grendel, who hunts them for no discernible reason.  Is he simply a spoiler or does he, too, have an agenda involving the end of all things?

Adventurers craft a palace protected by a node of Lawful energy and alchemical signs worked into the very street layout.  Soon a gleaming city is under their care.  But like a body rejecting an organ, nature itself seems to reject this bastion of hope and civilization, attacking in the shape of Grendel.  Should he be defeated, the adventurers’ woes are not over.  Grendel’s mother—a larger, aquatic version of her son—soon attacks.  If she is brought close to death (reduced to 50 hp) or is able to consume any part of her son’s body, she convulses and turns inside out, dying to give birth to her true form: a jabberwock.

Pathfinder Bestiary 4 145

First, if you’re looking for the great white shark look here and the greensting scorpion here.

I don’t think it says so in the stat block, but I’m pretty sure Grendel should be able to breathe water.  Certainly his mom can.

I know zero about the pop culture Grendels (aside from the fact that there’s a comic Grendel who Venom kind of ripped off, looks-wise).  But John Gardiner’s novel Grendel is a must-read, one of the first “the tale from the monster’s point of view” books.

My myth and folklore professor Verlyn Flieger used to have a bone to pick with the Seamus Heaney translation of Beowulf, because he began it with “So.”  This one single word turns the great Old English epic into an Irish one—quite the offence to a serious Tolkien scholar.

This matters because Beowulf really mattered to Tolkien—his scholarship is why we study it as a poem and not just a historical artifact.  Beowulf also matters because it’s supposedly the only truly English myth.  Arthur is a British story, a distinction I can barely make sense of but that was really important to J.R.R. (and besides, the French embroidered it like crazy anyways).  Yet paradoxically, the quintessential English saga doesn’t take place in England, but in Denmark…which also drove Tolkien nuts.  Then English are almost unique in the world in that they do not live where their epics take place—a Greek can visit Thrace or Argos no problem, but a Midlander’s travels will never take him past Heorot—and in Tolkien’s eyes this divorce of language and terroir was a problem.  In fact, his frustration with this state of affairs led him to dreams of creating “a myth for England”…and that is how The Silmarillion and Middle-earth were born.  (So in the final analysis, did he make a myth for New Zealand?  But anyway…)

Autobiography time.  Indulge me.

I first studied Beowulf with one of my favorite teachers, Laddie Levy, in tenth grade.  In my memory, my high school and middle school English teachers Des and Cathy Corcoran gave me a copy of Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf as a graduation present.  But the Heaney translation didn’t come out until 1999.  So did they give me another book?  And if so, who gave me the Heaney?  Or did they mail me one for my college graduation?  Memory is weird.  Ever since I got my copy, I’ve been silently promising Des and myself that I would sit down and read the entire saga one summer day, when I could really devote myself to it.  Was I even making promises to the right person?  I still haven’t read it, and now I don't even know for sure who I’m letting down.

(I also just missed the chance to see Heaney read in person, during a blizzard no less.  My home county has an Irish poetry night I started attending a single year too late.  I did catch Frank McCourt in time, though.)

Cathy Corcoran was one of the first people to encourage me to write my own poetry.  And Des taught me Harding, Joyce, Gordimer, and more, as well as a few handy words in Irish (“Dia dhuit”).  He was also from Dundalk, Ireland (with a back-of-the-throat, almost Yiddish soft K at the end), which caused no end of amusement to those of us who knew only Dundalk, Baltimore (with the mandatory “hon” at the end), a challenged region a girlfriend of mine once described as “the place of no beauty.”  (I say, “challenged” because I am not allowed to say certain words in public anymore.)

I would later go back for one magical semester to teach with Laddie, but Des was retired and not really seeing visitors by then.  And now he’s dead.  I went to the memorial service.  We won’t be talking about Beowulf. 

I’m thinking about that, and about how in 2015 I’ve already sat by two three hospital bedsides, had a bout of (knock on wood) hopefully temporary partial facial paralysis, and will be (weather permitting) attending my grandfather’s funeral this coming week.  I’m thinking this needs to be the summer I finally read the Heaney Beowulf, so I can talk about it with someone, anyone, God willing, while I can.

Thursday, February 19, 2015


The graeae is an awesome example of a monster hiding right in plain sight.  The myth of Perseus is probably the most well-known myth in the Western world.*  Pretty much everyone can name-check Medusa, her Gorgon sisters, the Pegasus that in some myths sprang from Medusa’s dripping blood, and the sea monster Cetus he petrified.  And in one form or another those creatures have all made it into fantasy RPGs, even if only by name alone.

But Perseus’s first stop, the Graeae, have gone almost totally unused.  The grey witches or grey ones, these swan-bodied hags shared a single eye and tooth.  They also echo other famous mythological female trios, including the Fates, the Norns, and other triple goddesses.  (Mythology, like history, does not precisely repeat itself, but it very often rhymes.)

Pathfinder’s graeae ditches the swan body and keeps her own eye, and is a magical and mythic creature in her own right.  Her magical abilities are a mix of fortune-telling, minor curses/torments, and useful personal spells.  Even her languages seem to straddle several worlds: that of man (Common), nature (Sylvan), the monstrous (Giant, Goblin), and something far darker and older (Aklo).

I seriously love non-hag creatures that can round out hag covens (like the witchfire), so it’s obvious I love these gals.  Speaking of which, they can also form covens of their own, with an emphasis on (what else?) seeing via divination.  It is for these divinatory spells and fate casting that most adventurers will seek out a graeae coven.  But like the Weird Sisters in Macbeth, graeae covens may also have a talent for putting themselves in PCs’ paths…serving up an important encounter or side trek whether the PCs want to have such an encounter or not…  And as relatively low-level mythic characters (CR 5/MR 2), graeaes might be PCs’ first exposure to the wider world of legendary monsters and creatures from Mythic Adventures.

The corpulent, silk-bedecked owners of a bathhouse on Manticore Street are actually graeae sisters in disguise.  Their skill at fortune-telling is legendary, especially since they can ripple luck so patrons’ fortunes work out as promised.  The graeae sisters left their mountain fastness in search of the comparative anonymity a city provides.  A jiang-shi vampire searches for them ceaselessly, believing the coven can free him from his curse if they turn their eyes upon the burial prayer stitched to his brow.

A blood hag leads an unusual coven comprised of herself, her deceased witchfire sister, and a graeae.  The graeae seems to be by far the least bloody-minded of the three, but that is only because her evil runs far deeper.  She has ties to her island chain’s marsh giant tribes and the elder powers of evil they worship.  Indeed, the island cyclopes refer to her as “our mother,” since she shares their monocular view of darker fates to come.

Adventurers are mid-quest when they find themselves drawn into the mists of the Ethereal Plane, where a graeae waits for them.  She wants her sister’s eyeball back, and promises them aid if they help her, but to hinder their every step if they refuse.  Helping her means putting their quest on hold and traveling to a distant port city to break into a thieves’ guildhall and retrieve the eye.  Refusing means finding themselves drawn deeper into the Ethereal, facing fey, undead, and creatures of myth until the Jack of Daws (a fey creature tengu rogue/summoner) sends them home…but not before a final confrontation with the grey sister.

Pathfinder Bestiary 4 134

*I’m sure that statement made a lot of folks spit out their herbal teas, but I stand by it.  Only the cases of Oedipus v. Sphinx and Theseus v. Minotaur are real contenders.  Heracles’s labo(u)rs and Odysseus’s travels/travails are too convoluted to win this contest, and as much as it pains me to say so, English, Norse, and Irish myths are barely in the running, with the possible exception of Beowulf.  (More on him tomorrow.)

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Goliath & Scarlet Spiders

As far as I can tell, scarlet spiders don’t really exist.  (Hypsosinga rubens probably comes the closest in our world, but it’s an orb-weaver, not a hunting spider.)  But they're great fantasy spiders, in the sense that they’re instantly recognizable as dangerous and seem like they’ve come straight from the pages of a fantasy novel.  (They’re exactly the kind of spider the crafty vizier or power-hungry duke would introduce into the bedchamber of a rival.)  With their iconic appearance and a bite that saps its victims’ strength, it's no wonder they are prized by spellcasters of a predatory bent.

Meanwhile, goliath birdeaters in our world are known for hunting birds (obviously), though frogs and invertebrates are more commonly on the menu.  Whereas the goliath spider in Pathfinder, being of Colossal size, is big enough to hunt dragons and giant scorpions…but adventurers will do in a pinch.

A hunting party of phanatons (treat as ratfolk with the Gliding Wings (3 RP) movement racial trait from the Advanced Race Guide) invite adventurers to share their rather ingenious camp inside the shed husk of a male goliath spider.  Ingenious, that is, until a female goliath spider comes crashing through the canopy, intent of devouring the corpse.

Every Marday a court magister sends his scarlet spider familiar to bite the dauphin.  The weekly attacks have left the heir in fragile health for most of his life.  As the magister is also the one who treats the boy, his betrayal has so far gone unremarked.  But when adventurers come to visit, bringing with them a cleric whose healing power outstrips the magister’s own, the man grows convinced that he will be found out.  Convinced…and reckless in his desperation…

Adventurers are passing an old cemetery in the scrublands when the earth erupts and a goliath spider lunges forward.  What they had taken to be a cemetery is actually an artificial thing of dirt and stone slabs webbed together into a trapdoor for the spider’s lair.  While the goliath trapdoor spire is mostly interested in their mounts, the adventurers will have to survive falling debris and their own stampeding steeds.

Ultimate Magic 117–120 & Pathfinder Bestiary 4 252

I’m not a big minis guy, but Games Workshop’s Arachnarok Spider would make a pretty sweet (if slightly small) goliath spider.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Giraffe & Stag

Okay, we’re done with giant animals!  (And it didn't take us six weeks this go-round.)  So come on, alphabet, deliver us some real monsters.  Monsters like the fearsome…

Actually, holy crap—the giraffe is CR 3.  Do not be messing with the giraffe.  And the stag is all pointy.  Who knew herd animals were bona fide monsters?  Better stick to spearing kobolds.

A right of passage for cold-water-dwelling sahuagin is to retrieve the rack of a stag, braving the dangers of the surface world to do so.  When heavily armored adventurers stumble across a stag in the forest, the already-wounded creature mistakes them for its sahuagin pursuers and attacks.

A crooked caravan guide douses an adventurer’s pack in male giraffe urine, prompting an old bull giraffe to mistake him for a young rival and slam the adventurer off his mount.

Not all adventuring bands are formed at the behest of a hooded stranger in a tavern.  When the villagers of Wren discover their town’s horn dance costumes have been stolen, they send some of their own to get six new sets of caribou antlers before the midwinter ritual takes place.  Since caribou are rare in these parts, this involves a long journey that may involve unforeseen dangers.  Of course, if the fledgling adventurers happen to find the stolen set of horns, all the better…but who would gain from disrupting a harmless hunting ritual left over from another age?

Pathfinder Bestiary 4 150

“Hey, did you hear that?  Sounds like a giraffe is dying over there.”

I don't go see the Washington Christmas Revels every year, but when I do I love seeing their take on the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance.  Here’s a similar version if you want to show this slightly goofy but wonderfully haunting dance at the gaming table.

Eagle-eyed readers will note that the name Wren is a reference to another mummering tradition.

My friend Ruby’s guitar was on the new Dan Deacon album.  Not her, just her guitar.  Which makes me wonder what my instruments get up to when I’m not around.  But you can hear her guitar here on NPR.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Giant & Nymph Water Striders

Looking for an unusual mount?  If it’s a river or swamp-based campaign, you could do a lot worse than a giant water strider.  (Tremorsense that works on water?  That’s a nice mix of nature and game mechanics right there.)  And when you need to woo a fetching lady boggard, a gift of nymph water striders will do nicely.

Adventurers ally with river gnomes to ferry them across a great swamp.  The gnomes’ water striders are not the easiest beasts to manage and they attract the notice of giant water spiders, but they get the party across the swamp in days instead of weeks.  It might be best if the adventurers do not get too cozy with their guides, however, as the gnomes are smugglers who are happy to let adventurers take the rap should a patrol stop them.

Hunting nymph water striders is a rite of passage for young folk in Teller’s Ford.  Doing so means negotiating with—or fighting— young lizardfolk out on a nymph hunt of their own.  The lizardfolk also know a secret: The changing currents of the swamp have revealed the slumbering form of a giant stone statue.  Its style is that of the impossibly far-off Cerulean Raj.  Upon finding the statue, adventurers will come across a very confused undine who rides a giant water strider and speaks only Rajan, as well as a dagger-shaped raktavarna up to no good.

A boggard’s curse shrinks adventurers down to a miniscule size.  An atomie friend (who now towers over them) knows a hedge witch who may be able to change them back, but that means crossing a swamp full of suddenly giant animals.  These include nasty giant water striders and a cat sith (see the Familiar Folio) who apparently believes chasing the adventurers will toughen them up.  When they arrive at the hedge witch’s tree hut, the atomie reports that the animals who live in the area all say the witch has “gone in a cloak of feathers to sweep the moon.”  Deciphering what they mean may be the key to getting the party back to normal size.

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Can't get enough of the water strider?  Of course you can’t.  Good news!  The water strider swarm appeared in Pathfinder Adventure Path #49: The Brinewall Legacy.

As I mentioned last Friday, no radio show this week.  Here’s an old one from 2011 if you’re hungry for a fix.  It’s delightful, I promise!  Listen to Givers, the Rondelles, and hear me try to avoid saying Fucked Up’s name on the air.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Giant & Immense Tortoises

The giant tortoise is perfect for your fantasy Galápagos.  And at Colossal size and wearing trees atop its shell, the immense tortoise is your fantasy Galápagos.

In service to a ship’s surgeon, adventurers accompany him to a supposedly uncharted island.  Their task is to help the surgeon, who is also a naturalist, sketch these great reptiles that have never known civilization.  Unfortunately egg-stealing pirates have landed on this island before, and the tortoises now regard any humanoid larger than a water mephit as a threat.

The slow and steady immense tortoises can bear the weight of massive howdahs, war catapults, and artillery platforms.  So the genie-blooded orcs of the tropics, more disciplined than their northern kin, use the immense tortoises as siege towers.  Hanging their magical war banners from such great heights atop such ancient beings also seems to increase the power of these bloody artifacts.

An awakened immense tortoise prefers to feed on treants.  His strange diet has apparently given him the powers of a shaman, though he serves no power of nature other than himself—and as he is older than even a few gods, perhaps that is no surprise.  Even his spirit animal (a crane) seems to defer to him, rather than the other way around.

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I want to give a shout-out to this week’s silent hero, the alphabet, for serving up giant animals all this week.  I could not have handled both real life and blogging if it had been a week of dragons or Japanese ghosts or something.  (Also, no radio show tomorrow, for exactly that reason.  Life, that is, not Japanese ghosts.  So far.  But you can still get last week’s show for five more hours.)

Speaking of giant animals, here’s how I imagine editing the Tortoise entry went down in the Paizo offices:

“We need a name for a monster tortoise.”
“Giant tortoise.”
“That’s already a thing. That’s the basic tortoise.”
“We’ve used that.”
“Used that.”
No words, just a heavy sigh.
“Look, have you even read the Bestiaries?”
“Or a single Adventure Path issue?”
“This is Paizo, not Penguin.”
“For a tortoise?  Too Ninja Turtles.  Palladium’s lawyers will be all over us.”
“Um…”  Panicked page-flipping through a thesaurus.  “Immense?”
“Dude…nailed it.”