Friday, August 21, 2015

Styracosaurus & Velociraptor

(Image comes from the Paizo blog and is © Paizo Publishing.)

A star of dinosaur picture books for its horned frill, the styracosaurus in the Pathfinder game uses those horns in a devastating defense (up to five attacks of opportunity in a single round).  Meanwhile, the movie star velociraptor gets cut down to its paleontologically accurate size—only one-and-a-half feet tall—but with sickle-like claws and coordinated pack hunting, that’s still deadly enough when facing novice adventurers, particularly those who have never seen a dinosaur before.

Orcs love “spearshields—their word for styracosauruses.  They goad their beasts into wherever the fighting is thickest, where the dinosaurs’ thrashing can have the most devastating effect.  Orcs paint the frills of their beasts in tribal colors, and knowledgeable adventurers can use this to figure out which tribe is currently in charge—or even to sneak through orc lands themselves, if they have a styracosaurus companion they can paint.

Velociraptors are a constant hazard in the Oni’s Tears, an archipelago favored by pirates, smugglers, spice merchants, and drug runners (the last two often being one and the same).  More than one ghost ship has turned out to be the result of a pack of velociraptors sneaking aboard and eviscerating the crew.

Drought has struck the White Eagle Desert for the third year in a row.  Now even traditionally healthy rivers are drying up.  To the rock gnome village of Mollawud, this means they are no longer protected on three sides by water.  The gnomes need help defending their homes and fields against the velociraptors that are now free to strike at them day and night.  If the adventurers instead try to help the gnomes move, they must defend them along the way against heat exhaustion, fire wolves, thylacines, bunyips, and their fever gnome kin.

Pathfinder Bestiary 4 59

Man, you guys have gone nuts with the likes/reblogs this week.  Thanks!

I got several nice private notes from people reacting to this answer I posted two weekends back, and among the lines in one of them was the following:

I’d love for you to continue, as your posts are always fantastic inspiration for my own game, but it sounds like you’re getting a bit burned out.

To which my response was, “Oh noes!  Everyone thinks I’m burned out!”

If you read the other weekend’s post and thought that’s what I was saying, that’s my bad for leading you astray.  I am definitely *not* burned out on The Daily Bestiary—not at all; I could keep this up forever.  There’s just also all this other stuff I want to do too, and only 24 hours in a day.  It’s not a question of being burned out; it's a question of “How do I deliver the most awesome content I can and have fun doing it?”  Ideally I can do The Daily Bestiary *and* all that other stuff, but I also have to pay a mortgage and occasionally sleep, too.  So I’m just trying to figure out how to juggle all of that and still serve up the best entertainment I can, in whatever form it takes.

Which, by the way, is why you shouldn’t panic if I take chunks of the next two weeks off.  I’m hitting crunch time on several work projects and already know I’m working through the next two weekends.  (So instead of looking forward to a day off tomorrow, I’m looking forward to Day Six of a 19-day week—on the last two weekends of summer, to add insult to injury…and guess who had travel plans he had to cancel.  Sigh.)  We should be finishing up Bestiary 4 in the next two weeks, but since I can't guarantee I’ll have enough juice to post, I’ll instead use the time to catch up on some reader mail and otherwise work on my backlog.

See you in a week or two, and keep your eyes peeled in case I do any posting in the interim—I’ll keep you posted in the comments or over on Tumblr!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Stone Colossus

(Image by Damien Mammoliti comes from the Paizo blog and is © Paizo Publishing.)

A stone colossus is the dream of every master siege breaker: a castle that fights back.  Able to morph from a small keep into a 70-foot-tall construct (and better yet, one that fires ballista bolts the way Destro fires wrist rockets), a stone colossus is the closest most adventuring parties will ever get to fighting—or piloting—Metroplex.

Adventurers are on the trail of the Dancing Hut of Baba Yaga.  Following the outlandish artifact seems impossible, until they discover the hearthstone that will turn an isolated keep into a stone colossus that can keep up with the chicken-legged cottage.  And given that the colossus has the face of a fox, maybe that’s what its purpose was all along.

The Iathavos is coming….and if it reaches the Fountain of Souls in the City of the Risen, it may permanently dam the spiritual river that mortal souls ride to the afterlife.  Adventurers have little hope of stopping the mighty qlippoth, but if they can assemble the components to waken the stone keep that serves as Risen’s postern gate, they just might pull off a miracle.  Assuming, of course, no one beats them to the construct first…

On the world of Quake, lands move almost as frequently as cicadas spawn—every dozen or so years a tapped ley line will swell the borders of a magocracy, a plain will phase out of the Dreamtime and form a vast veldt, and an island might sink beneath the waves or rise into the sky.  Small wonder, then, that the subterranean realms are just as given to change.  Unable to burrow like the dwarves or glide through stone like the xorns, dark elves migrate during the shifts, following the path carved by Annelis the Burrower.  Most ride in great stone-wheeled barges or gem-powered skiffs, but some maverick dark elf lords command great walking colossi they can pilot along the Worm God’s trail and then fortify when their travels end.

Pathfinder Bestiary 4 37

I think I’ve mentioned before that I own all of two books for 4e D&D, Underdark being one of them.  I actually really dug that book’s vision of a constantly shifting Underdark ruled by an ever-crawling maimed god, hence the above adventure seed (along with nods to Roger E. Moore’s creation of Urdlen the Crawler Below).  For whatever reason though, 4e books didn't work for me, and I’ve barely cracked either Underdark or The Plane Above: Secrets of the Astral Sea since then.  Which is really too bad, because I love fluff for any system—hell, I buy old White Dwarf issues just for kicks—but something about 4e’s writing style and layout/design just never clicked.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Star-Spawn of Cthulhu

(Image comes from artist Scott Purdy’s DeviantArt page and is © Paizo Publishing.)

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him…”
—Genesis 1:27

I already shot my pseudopod re: pseudogod Cthulhu himself back around Halloween.  (And as far as I can tell it’s my most popular post, bar none.)  So I don’t have all that much to add about his star-spawn, especially since their entry in the Bestiary 4 is so comprehensive.  For all practical purposes, they look the same as their dark high priest, though they only top out at 30 feet high.  (As a bonus, their elastic limbs can also stretch 30 feet in combat—hope you have some polearms handy!  That’s assuming their telepathic minds didn’t already knock you out in your dreams last night.)  We know they warred with the elder things in the distant past and have manipulated the mi-go to their purposes, so if either of those two baddies have shown up in your game, you have a reason to tie in the star-spawn.  They also move and plan long-term—this is a race happy to use its immortality flying between planets with only the limited starflight ability—so PCs will likely never know if their interference saved the day or merely set back the spawn’s goals by a millennium or two.

But let’s face it…really, the reason you have the star-spawn of Cthulhu in your game is because it’s only a CR 20 creature.  I feel like I need sarcasm quotes every time I say “only,” but you get my point.  In other words, it’s a Cthulhu proxy most parties can face and possibly even survive against without resorting to mythic ranks and divine intervention.  Maybe the spawn is a servitor of Cthulhu…or maybe it’s actually an aspect of him intruding into the world.  (D&D 3.0/3.5 did similar things with aspects of the various demon lords.)  If the PCs win, they’ve saved the world (for a little while at least), and if they lose, they’ve still got a chance to pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and rally allies for another strike.  That makes fighting the star-spawn an epic task, but not an impossible one—perfect for heroic fantasy role-playing.

Best of all, if they have too easy a time of it, you don’t even have to sweat.  Just imagine the look on your players’ faces when you announce that, congratulations, the noise of their battle with the star-spawn has awakened 1d6 of his friends…

Adventures have fought the watery servants of Dagon their entire career.  They’ve battled cultists in sunken canals, defeated marsh giants in Drowned Ulm, took on mer-form to battle inside the gut of a ceratioidi temple-fish, and scalped a fiendish brine dragon.  Now as the demon lord’s temple city falls around them, they consider their work well and truly done…until the city is borne aloft on a cloud of noxious gases and coral sails.  And as the city ascends into space, the adventurers meet the Navigators—three star-spawn who bow before the same power Dagon does: Great Cthulhu.

Cthulhu is dead.  In fact, he never even existed.  The First Gods literally unmade a chunk of creation itself to remove the Great Old One from this reality, then shed the parts of themselves that knew of him, birthing the New Gods from their very own selves rather than keep even mere knowledge of the abomination.  But dreams of Cthulhu survived and birthed a star-spawn…or maybe a star-spawn survived and birthed the dream of Cthulhu.  The point is, books with Cthulhu’s name have appeared without anyone writing them.  Cultists have appeared worshipping a god who is not a god but nonetheless grants them spells.  And somewhere on the Demiplane of Dreams a star-spawn of Cthulhu sleeps, and if he is not slain before his dreams are finished, Cthulhu will be dreamed into full existence once more.

When even devils get nervous, you know something’s wrong.  And when a half-fiend kasatha arms dealer from Dis closes up shop and takes adventurers out for drinks—and actually volunteers to pay—on auction day at one of the biggest salvage planets in the Known Spheres, you know wrong isn’t even the half of it.  “It’s those fungus bugs, the mi-go,” he says.  “I found out where they’ve been getting their gear from.  Well, the idea-seeds for their gear.  Only it’s not a ‘where’…not even on a planar level.  It’s another dimension—you might say it’s a ‘when’ and a ‘what if?’ and a ‘once was.’  And it’s a ‘who’…this thing called—”  And that’s the last thing he says before the shoggoth bomb goes off and he is devoured.

Pathfinder Adventure Path #46 90–91 & Pathfinder Bestiary 4 254–255

The note count was up around 90 for yesterday’s post when I discovered some fluke of the mouse had linked to the wrong radio show.  *headdesk*  Sigh.  So if you tuned in and got my big anniversary show from last February I apologize—it was a fun show, but not exactly what I do week to week.  You were supposed to get this.  (BTW, yesterday’s link is now fixed on Tumblr; I can't fix it on Blogger but I posted the correct link in the comments.)

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Spring-Heeled Jack

Spring-Heeled Jack is inspired by a Victorian bogeyman, though if you’re anything like me you were probably first exposed to him via Stephen King’s short story collection Night Shift.  (If you haven’t read King—lugging around one of his ginormous paperbacks doesn’t seem to be the mandatory middle-school nerd activity it used to be—don’t underestimate his influence.  Jack, for one, seems to have made quite a comeback since that story.)

The original entry on Spring-Heeled Jack, from Pathfinder Adventure Path #43: The Haunting of Harrowstone, was purposefully vague about whether the name refers to a specific unique fey, a mantle/title picked up by a series of faerie murderers, or an entire race of fey beings related to quicklings.  Bestiary 4 seems to come down finally (if not firmly) on that last option.  Either way, he (or they) is a great villain.  Every campaign needs a recurring thorn in the side of the PCs; all the better if it’s one who whispers sweet nothings to his dagger while he carves them up.  And if the PCs fell Jack only to see him (or another one of his race) return, they will come to hate him all the more.

“Thrice and done” is important to faeries—they often grant favors and require tasks in threes, and offering three chances to seal a deal or saying a name three times often has binding import.  When adventurers stop Spring-Heeled Jack from murdering every carillon player in the City of Gods, he (or, if they killed him, his successor) returns with a new mission: to make the adventurers pay.  Only if they defeat him a third and final time (when he is armed with class levels and the half-field template) will they truly be rid of the monster.

Adventurers obtain an augury, only to be told to find love.  This seems like frivolous advice when the city is in the grips of a serial killer.  Their search uncovers a priest forsaking his vow of chastity to woo a dangerous thief, a former dryad who moved her tree seven leagues in order to be with her paladin lover, and a nosoi doing a treatise on the subject.  By coincidence, one of them also happens to have Love—Spring-Heeled Jack’s beloved dagger, the loss of which is causing him to cut his way through the city’s underclass in an attempt to find it.

Annunciation Academy is an isolated and forbidding New England boarding school.  On this unseasonably warm evening a ragtag group of students has gathered for Fencing Club practice—one of the only school activities that is both coed and permitted after Study Hours.  They are just wondering about one girl’s absence when they hear her scream.  Arriving on the scene, they see a tiny black figure leaping away from their friend, who is bleeding from multiple knife wounds.  If they give chase, they will find themselves led into the woods behind campus…and from there into another kind of woodland entirely, full of sprites, quicklings, and the deadly market of Gobbling Town.  Chasing down the knife-wielding fey will earn them friends and enemies alike in Gobbling—thank God for the fencing lessons—and  some of the students may even uncover a knack for magical powers.  All this will be useful for both facing down Jack and (assuming they survive) sneaking back onto campus.  Of course, their troubles won’t be over, as their first official fencing meet of the year will be happening at Faust-Gymnasium, a school that specializes in educating gifted students…gifted that is, with tiefling blood…

Pathfinder Adventure Path #43 88-89 & Pathfinder Bestiary 4 253

In high school I did a three-week exchange with the actual Faust-Gymnasium in Staufen.  (“Gymnasium” is German for a college preparatory high school.)

I especially dig the aforementioned Stephen King story for introducing me to the term “strawberry spring”—basically an Indian Summer in February.  I went to college where it snowed five months of the year, and strawberry springs were a real thing.  I remember literally tanning on the sidewalk in February because it was over 60°F but there was still too much snow on the ground to lay down anywhere besides the concrete.

A couple people wrote in to talk in specifics about the spawn of Yog-Sothoth and the story it came from, “The Dunwich Horror.”  And while I didn’t say much about this facet of spawn physiognomy, Wilbur Whateley fans will be glad to know that Bestiary 4 definitely does mention that spawn of Y-S often come as pairs of twins—one truly monstrous but the other in a vaguely passable humanoid form.

Also, apparently filbypott lives right near the genesis of that story.  Since we’re already discussing western Massachusetts, I have to admit it’s never occurred to me to stop by any of the towns he mentions, but I can assure you that the meeting of I-90 and I-91 is excellent evidence that the Outer Gods are alive and well and truly do hate humanity.  Ditto any part of 90 near Worcester, which of course the locals pronounce “R’lyeh.”

(I kid, I kid.  The real horror is Connecticut.  All of it, any road, all the time.)

(Also, my mom’s from Dorchester, so making fun of Boston accents is literally my birthright.  Pro tip to people from the other 49 states: Never, ever let a Massachusetts native have a complete set of silverware.  Watching them ask for a fork in public is wicked good fun one of life’s sweetest joys.)

Finally, NeoTiamat wrote:

I want to chime in (a trifle belatedly), and say that this is quite possibly the best gaming resource I have *ever* seen on the net. Hell, it's better than many a supplement I've spent money on.

I'm running a Planescape campaign right now, and the PCs are most of the way through an adventure inspired by one of your Morrigna Psychopomp plot hooks -- and a future adventure is going to spin off a Shaggy Demodand plot hook.

Amazing stuff!

NeoTiamat is now my official blurb writer.  I want “Quite possibly the best gaming resource I have “ever* seen on the Net…” to go on movie posters.

Oh, and no radio show tonight.  I’m still too under the weather.  Here’s a good one from a few weeks ago if you’re feeling sad.

Wait, how can you feel sad?  Not when Spring Heeled Jack is also the name of an amazing ska band!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Spire Drake

All drakes are degenerate.  (The Bestiary series is a bit judge-y on the subject of dragon evolution.)  But spire drakes…they’re just wrong.  Because anything whose breath and bite are so corrupted they can breed wights simply shouldn’t exist as a natural creature.  Yet the spire drake does.

My best guess is that some stunted offshoot of the umbral dragon line produced both shadow drakes and spire drakes, with shadow drakes getting a version of their progenitors’ shadow powers and spire drakes getting the umbral dragons’ taint of undeath.  Or you can skip the evolutionary root cause and blame the spire drakes’ environment.  Lands tainted by long exposure to undeath, storms of wild magic, or blood magic and other dark rites could certainly give rise to spire drakes.  (Russ Taylor’s “Ecology of the Drake,” from Pathfinder Adventure Path #92: The Hill Giant’s Pledge, blames mutations in other drake bloodlines caused by the Golarion settings deadly Mana Wastes.)

The point is, spire drakes straddle the line between the natural world and worlds far, far worse.  If PCs don’t want to find out what those worlds are like, they would do well to stay sharp and avoid the spire drake’s coup de grace.

Sometimes the hardest part of the dungeon is the journey home.  When adventurers reach sunlight for the first time after plundering the Spiral Crypt of Dorn, they are met by a rampage of spire drakes demanding tribute—namely, all the adventurers’ magic items.  If the adventurers refuse, the spire drakes attack immediately.  If driven off, they will nonetheless attempt to harry the adventurers all the way back to civilization in a series of guerrilla attacks, hoping to make off with what magic and hunks of meat they can.  Should the adventurers make it to the safety of the city walls, the drakes slink away in frustration…but not before warning an osyluth ally, in hopes that his infernal wiles may succeed where theirs did not.

In the Scar, divine magic withers and arcane magic blooms into wild energies.  Spire drakes, horribly warped goblinoids (including the mudlike murds), and greedy oozes hunt in the shadows of the canyon that gives the Scar its name.  Two of the most terrifying hunters in these lands are the spellscarred fext (a generic version of Inner Sea Bestiary’s Spellscar fext) Simon Kraal and his spire drake steed Lash.  Though Lash cannot bear Simon aloft, she can rampage along the blasted landscape with the undead knight astride her back, and together they hunt down any magic-employing prey they can find.

There are no undead on Vashon.  No undead that is, until they begin being born in the wake of spire drake attacks.  Where the drakes come from is still a mystery, but the spawning wights they leave in their wake inspire horror in every Vashon man, woman, and child.  Worse still, while these wights rarely last for long, other undead species seemingly unrelated to spire drakes have begun manifesting too, as if the door to the Realm of the Dead has suddenly been propped open.  If there is one blessing in all these dark tidings, it’s that clerics and other divine casters are discovering new powers they can use against these monsters—spells and channel abilities that have lain dormant for centuries.  But clearly these drakes must be exterminated and the way to Death shut again if Vashon is to endure.

Pathfinder Bestiary 4 81

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Spawn of Yog-Sothoth

Edit: Sorry this is late.  I caught a summer cold that knocked me for a loop last week, and Friday night I coma-ed out after work so hard I didn’t even get a placeholder post up.

A famous Lovecraftian creation, Yog-Sothoth in its Pathfinder incarnation is an Outer God from beyond the stars, according to Bestiary 4.  In fact, it might even be the void between the stars, because that’s just how Yog-Sothoth rolls.  But every so often it’s nice enough to take time off from being an unknowable horror in order to impregnate some human so she can give birth to a loathsome spawn of Yog-Sothoth.  That’s just the kind of giving alien entity Yog is.

The spawn of Yog-Sothoth are naturally invisible, smell to the high heavens (seriously, you have to save against it), and are basically squirming masses of awful.  They’re also geniuses and often take oracle and witch levels.  How that genius manifests is hard to pin down from a mortal perspective, since they’re basically nonstop ravenous killing machines.  So don't expect an edifying conversation from one (even assuming you can/dare to speak Aklo), but do expect that it will make wise tactical decisions.  And if you try to hide behind the puzzle-locked door of some dungeon chamber, it’ll just solve the puzzle in a flash of alien logic…or smash the door to flinders. 

And as with most horrors from beyond this reality, spawn of Yog-Sothoth rarely just happen.  Somewhere along the way, a cult was involved, a blasphemy performed, an Outer God invoked…so if you run into one of these spawn, expect to also run into whoever called it or whatever dark fallout accompanied its birth.

Lady Marchand has never been quite right, not since childhood—since the deaths of her sister, who fell prey to an attic whisperer, and her brother, who was carried off by the yellow pox.  She grew up a lonely and suspicious young woman, though her good looks and wealth guaranteed that she still had her pick of husbands.  After her first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage, she was determined to have a babe that would be “strong enough for this cruel world, and all the worlds beyond it.”  It’s unclear when she fell under the sway of the Black Gate or offered her body to Yog-Sothoth.  But dark things move through her manor now, will-o’-wisps circle in strings around the moat, and her misshapen but truly strong child slurps out over the drawbridge on overcast nights to feed…and grow.

On the night of the syzygy, adventurers race to align a giant’s magical telescope with one of the planets.  If they do so, they will form a link to that planet—one that could teach them many things, or perhaps even serve as a gate.  Of course, they are not the only ones in the observatory this night.  The local lord’s warmages want the telescope aimed at a nearby star whose power they can tap to fuel a doomsday weapon.  Meanwhile, a cult of mad prophets wants the telescope to remain where it is, pointed at the void of space.  If the telescope is pointed at nothing but blackness when the planets align, they believe the blackness will send its scion to bless them: a spawn of Yog-Sothoth.

Adventurers come across a room stained with dark matter.  A little later in a completely different part of the dungeon they come across the same room, only this time spotless but now filled with an invisible but disgusting horror.  If they defeat it, they recognize the crusty residue left behind forms the same stains they saw earlier.  But how could they have already seen the stains of a battle they had not yet fought in another room entirely?  Have they become unstuck in time and/or space, and if so, how?  Worse yet, if they don’t defeat the spawn of Yog-Sothoth in that room, the resulting paradox begins to unravel their connection to space and time, shunting them into a nearby dimension where the spawn of far worse creatures lurk.

Carrion Hill 28 & Pathfinder Bestiary 4 251

Thursday, August 13, 2015


Is it just me, or are mirrors underexplored in fantasy gaming…and maybe fantasy storytelling in general?  Lots of TV shows have episodes with mirror worlds or mirror antagonists, but they’re always one-offs or brief Lewis Carroll homages.  I’d love to see a campaign setting where the Mirror World/Plane is a serious player…but off the top of my head, I don’t know any.  (Thoughts from you all?  Maybe Zelazny’s Amber books?  (...Which I have to confess I still haven’t cracked.  I know, I know; I’m as appalled as you are.))

Maybe because it’s hard to know what to do with mirror worlds and mirror monsters.  A simply reversed mirror image world is boring, but if you go fantastic it’s hard to get out of Through the Looking-Glass’s shadow.  And meanwhile, in the hands of any tactically minded GM a mirror monster has the potential to be massively OP, as it could strike from literally anywhere a mirror shines.  It’s hard to even imagine a campaign world where every mirror hides a hungry outsider.  (Although I’d imagine living with bad hair days would be a small price to pay for safety.)

Pathfinder’s soulsliver solves this problem by being low-powered (only CR 2)—deadly enough for an ordinary victim, but not so deadly for an adventurer.  So the challenge is less in fighting a soulsliver and more about identifying it and isolating it so it can’t take full advantage of its mirror travel, perfect copy, and spell-like abilities.  And as only the wealthy or powerful are likely to have ready access to mirrors in a medieval-esque world, that limits the soulsliver’s menu of victims to a reasonable, not-campaign-destabilizing level (though servants working alone in their masters’ chambers ought to still beware).

So like doppelgangers (who might be related to them) soulslivers are a scourge of civilization, urban predators who prey on the wealthy and powerful…just the sort of people who have the most to lose from interlopers walking around with their faces, and who are likely to hire adventurers for protection.

That still leaves the Mirror World, which Bestiary 4 describes as “an aspect of the Plane of Shadow, with reversed and grossly distorted creatures and scenery from the Material Plane.”  That seems like a good enough excuse for you to pull out the Advanced Bestiary and start template-izing, not to mention throwing in the Lewis Carroll-inspired monsters from Bestiary 3.  I could also see the Plane of Mirrors as a transitive plane, where mirrors hang like stars and pathways wind like ribbons between them.  (I feel like I probably stole that from Teen Titans or Justice League Unlimited or The Wheel of Time, but whatevs.)  Or maybe you’ve got your own vision for the Demiplane of Mirrors…in which case, tell us in the comments.

Soulslivers are creations of the shaes—doppelgangers dipped in magical quicksilver and trained to hunt in the shape of their victims.  Not all those who move in Shadow appreciate the shaes’ assassins, however.  Shadowdancers consider it a sacred duty to kill these monsters, and these rogues and bards will set aside tribal differences and even the most violent vendettas when a soulsliver is suspected of being loose in the mortal world.

Every mirror in the world of Faern leads to the Specularium, a single city-sized cathedral of polished glass and silver.  Soulslivers are the deacons of this glittering basilica, peering into mortal worlds for victims upon which to sup.  They believe that feasting on the right mortals will get them closer to understanding the ways of the Old Ones.  Joining them in their worship are various other denizens of the cathedral mirror-city, from lay morlocks to ecclesiastical doppelgangers, huecuvas, and (most disturbingly) Aklo-speaking elves…

The colonizer never truly knows what he does to the colonized. On Arkhan every child knows the simple charms that make a mirror safe to use and the rhymes that banish soulslivers—which by now are considered merely old wives’ tales.  But when Arkhan explorers reached Davross, they made gifts of their fine mirrors and gems to the local human and catfolk tribesmen, never thinking to teach them the customary protections.  Now an entirely new continent is open to the soulslivers, and they feast with abandon.

Pathfinder Bestiary 4 250

The Carroll-inspired The Land Beyond the Magic Mirror was one of Gygax’s last efforts for TSR, apparently.  And from some of the reviews I’ve read, the recently released and much-celebrated A Red & Pleasant Land has some mirror action as well.

A lot of the best stuff in the 3.0 Manual of the Planes (which I dig) was hidden in the Appendix, including the Plane of Mirrors, mirror constellations, the mirror walking spell, and the dangers of meeting up with your mirror self.  I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the 3.0 Fiend Folio’s nerras, one of the new races created for that book. 

Also, some readers may recall my first aborted attempt at an RPG blog was in 2008; it was focused heavily on brainstorming new subraces.  I wrote this and this about mirror elves.

I hope you like Counting Crows.  Because this show has a lot of Counting Crows.

The Hot August Music Festival is happening this weekend, and to psych myself up for the concert I steered off our usual indie rock road right into a folk/country/Americana gulch.  Enjoy some Shakey Graves, Marah, Hollis Brown, and yes, lots of Counting Crows.  Here’s the link.

(And if that’s not your bag, don’t worry—I promise to be back in the world of indie rockers and girlpunk next Tuesday.)

(Link good till Monday, 8/17, at midnight.  If the feed skips, Save As an mp3 and listen from your desktop.)

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Soulbound Shell

As Bestiary 4 indicates, the soulbound shell is the soulbound mannequin recipe perfected, allowing even spellcasting abilities to make the transition.  “Perfected,” that is, for a given value of perfected…  After all, the wizard donating the soul dies in the process, and the spells he or she dies with are unalterably locked in the shell’s memory forever.  As with lichdom, clones, retreat to the Astral Plane, and so many other attempts at longevity, a soulbound shell is at best a half-measure…and like most such measures, one that has the potential to go badly awry.

Masonix doesn't believe he is a construct.  Something went wrong in the transfer of soulstuff (from a terminally ill donor), and the soulbound shell is convinced he is an actual wizard trapped within a marble body.  By abusing loopholes in his instructions he engineered the death of his master, and he now studies ways to return to a flesh-and-blood body.  Because Masonix does not understand his new state, he cannot comprehend why he is unable to change his spell roster.  So after months of frustration he has decided to research the minds of other mages to figure out how they work… a process that involves more than a little abduction, humiliation, and dissection.

The Angelspan connects the Merchant Quarter and the Heights, where the aristocracy lives in manor houses that climb the hills with stately solemnity.  Four statues grace each corner of the bridge, and at twilight they gleam in the setting sun more than they should.  These are the Angels the span is named for, soulbound shells dedicated to guarding the moneyed elite from the consequences of their actions…particularly when those consequences involve upstart commoner heroes trying to sneak into the otherwise warded Heights after dark.

Dwarven arcane spellcasters are rare—so rare it is considered selfish for them to die without offering one last service to clan and thane.  Thus many dwarven wizards and sorcerers on their deathbeds offer up their souls to be put into soulbound shells.  If the shells lack some of the creativity the souls had in life, they make up for it in tirelessness, and a construct workshop led by a soulbound shell can turn out fine alloys, mechanical marvels, and even other constructs and clockworks at an inhuman (or indwarven) pace.  Most dwarves do not realize, however, how susceptible these constructs are to mental manipulation…something the dwarves’ duergar enemies are adept at taking advantage of.  Fully one soulbound shell in four in most dwarf cities ought to be considered compromised.

Pathfinder Bestiary 4 249

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Soulbound Mannequin

Note: Before we get started, the "Pard" entry is now up.  Check it out here.

As if soulbound dolls weren’t creepy enough!  Soulbound mannequins are an improvement on the original—or an “improvement,” depending on your stomach for carving off larger and larger filets of soul.  The resulting construct has at least some of the donor’s personality, albeit with a flattened affect/aspect (hence the mandatory neutral alignment component). They are also armed with a number of utilitarian spell-like abilities that make them useful servants, guardians, and spies.  But their ability to convey emotion, traditionally displayed through a series of masks, makes them at best stilted actors on the stage of a much more lively world…and at worst, uncanny and disturbing monsters.

The mysterious Castle Marionette is so named because of the mannequins that hang on strings like abandoned dolls from its ramparts.  Hard-bitten adventurers might scoff at such whimsical decorations, given that most rulers achieve the same effect hanging caged criminals and political prisoners from gibbets.  But locals whisper of the real horror of Castle Marionette: The dolls are soulbound mannequins created from the souls of scores of kidnapped, purchased, and otherwise disappeared young women.  The (literally) ice-hearted mistress of the castle hangs the playthings that disappoint her outside to be worn away by the elements until she had forgiven them.

Adventurers destroy a soulbound mannequin, and as a bonus get to claim the construct’s cloak of resistance with a unique comedy mask-styled clasp.  The clasp is actually the mannequin’s soul focus—and the soul in question belonged to the creator’s husband.  When she discovers the adventurers have absconded with her only means for recreating her late spouse’s mannequin, she hunts them doggedly until the clasp is hers again, sending disguised soulbound mannequins to ambush, enervate, and otherwise torment them.

A director proudly shows off his newest actor: a soulbound mannequin whose expressions are painted on a series of masks. By the end of the performance, the director is dead.  Was it the crime lord to whom he was deep in the red?  The wayang shadow puppeteer who blames him for the wholesale theft of her repertoire?  Or the soulbound mannequin itself, who (when not employing disguise self) has refused to wear any mask but one with a hand-drawn smile since the night of the murder?

Pathfinder Bestiary 4 248

Emily!  That pun was a bit fishy.

I also wanted a masked shae to serve the crime lord in that third adventure seed, but it seemed like one too many shadow creatures.  You might disagree though!

So an anonymous reader wrote:

Not to put too fine a point on it, but you do have a few holes to fill in after you wrap up Bestiary 4. I actually happened upon your blog while searching for ideas about astral leviathans. That being said, no matter what you decide to do in the future, thank you for all you've already done.

Someone anonymous is getting a li’l sassy up in my feed!  (Though I do appreciate the thanks!)  By my count, I’m only short 22 monsters out of 1022 (which makes the math easy, at least).  Let’s just say that, with a 2% truancy rate, I will stake my record against any other weekdaily monster blog out there.  And it ain’t September yet…

Speaking of which, the “Pard” entry went up this afternoon.  So 21 monsters.  ;-)

And anomalitstic said:

This blog is part of what keeps me going through the week and gives me motivation for another day (of awesome adventure seeds I might add). If you want to keep the blog going it would be great, but if doing another project is what you want, I'm sure there'll be support for it from all the fans like me.

Dawww, thanks anomalitstic.