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!


  1. I got to second NeoTiamat's comment, nigh every session of Pathfinder RPG that I prep (and I game 17 nights out of 28, majority of which are Pathfinder that I run), I check the Daily Bestiary for whichever monster stars and for ideas on how to expand on it, its themes, etc. An essential resource.

  2. I linked to the wrong radio show and trying to fix it will screw the rest of the post up. Click here instead.

  3. ...Does the job of Official Daily Bestiary Blurb Writer come with benefits? Tell me I get a hat, at least. More seriously, at three thousand plot hooks and a thousand or so monster ruminations, if you ever turn this into a permanent PDF or some such, I would be the first to download. (Also, funnily enough I first learned of Spring-Heel Jack via Kenneth Hite's Strange Transmissions column, or at least the collected version).

    Two random side notes.
    1) I am amused that we are all from Lovecraft Country here (Boston REPRESENT!)
    2) Alright, Jenna, fess up, which one of my players are you. Sib, is that you?

  4. I really like that last one, wish there could be a game built around that ^_^ with more things for it.