Friday, October 30, 2015


Amanusyas are beguiling performers and seducers.  Interestingly, they are not interested in the seduction of souls per se, but rather that of the body—welcoming new partners in vice, gaining new victims to toy with or devour, and turning ascetics into the worst kind of addicts and gourmands.  Of course, if their actions cause a victim’s soul to fall off the wheel of reincarnation and return as a rakshasa, so much the better.

Since the last time a party of adventurers was in town, an amanusya has reduced a once popular local street preacher into a babbling, paranoid wreck.  The adventurers might not have even noticed, but they have been recently charged with administering a dead man’s estate by the local magistrate.  The dead man left a sizable fortune and a public hall to the preacher, and the adventurers could face criminal charges or ruinous tax bills on their treasure if they don't find the preacher (and ideally ease his torment).

In the guise of a beautiful woman, an amanusya asks the party’s help in saving her fiancée from temptation.  Apparently he has fallen in with servants of the Nine, rejecting the 1,001 gods of the Heavenly Panoply for the small, dour pantheon of the North.  She fears his soul may be lost from the cycle of reincarnation!  The truth, though, is that the man sought the missionaries’ help in curing his many addictions.  The amanusya, certain she was grooming a future rakshasa mate, is determined not to lose her toy after part of only one lifetime.

A troupe of amanusyas has permission to dance in the lobby of the Palace of Souls.  Those they lure away from the Procession of the Dead are reborn as rakshasas (typically raktavarnas). Unable to break the letter of their agreement, some pychopomp clerks hire mortal adventurers to drive off the troublemaking troubadours before any more petitioners are lost.

Occult Bestiary 48

I know “amanusya” means something like “any other being but a man” or “demon,” but all I’m finding is links to an anime.  Thoughts?

Yes, I only posted about monsters twice this week—but there is a method to my madness!  (That method involves making sure that Friday’s post is always a multiple of five in the archive, so I don't go mad.)

Also, today I blabbed about Eberron on Reddit during my lunch break.  It’s nothing you all haven’t heard before, but if you’re new to the blog check it out!

Did you appreciate this?  Because I did.

This week’s radio show was all about big anniversaries: 20 years of Smashing Pumpkins' Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and Alanis Morrissette’s Jagged Little Pill.  Also a massive set of strong ’90s/’00s female artists, plus new Grimes!  The link is good till Monday, 11/2, and you can right-click/Save As if you want to download it.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Alter Ego

I never really got into psionics.  To a vanilla D&D player like me, they were a complicated sci-fi system bolted onto a fantasy game that was already more Overcomplicated than Advanced.  And even when they did work and were coherently fit into a setting (like in Dark Sun and…um…Dark Sun), the point management and clinical language of the powers definitely felt alien in Vancian AD&D.

That said…sometimes some of that language—especially the terms borrowed from Georgian and Victorian-era psychology—transform concepts we take for granted into honest-to-God monsters.  So in Pathfinder, an alter ego isn’t just a concept—it’s Mr. Hyde sprung to life!  And with a strong dash of OCD providing drive and motivation, an alter ego can have a big effect on its real counterpart’s reputation in a short time…and that’s assuming it doesn't just kill the original first.

But these obsessive ectoplasmic creatures don't just have to be the result of trauma.  Dungeon crawls, planar adventures, and even random treasure tables are always throwing magical looking glasses or mirror dimensions in the PCs’ way.  The alter ego gives you a quick way to stat up such a character while clearly answering all those thorny questions about “Does my double have my gear?” and “Why does it hate me so much?”, etc.  So the next time you’re GMing on the fly and a mirror of opposition comes up on the treasure table, you can roll with it instead of rerolling.

Annie Scythetooth is an annis hag known throughout the Lakelands…and that was almost her downfall.  Adventurers combed through the local folktales to track her down and nearly succeeded in exterminating her.  The trauma of that encounter caused an ectoplasmic double of herself to be born, bubbling out of her cauldron like stew coming to life.  A rejection of the brash and boastful nature that got the hag in such hot water, Annie’s alter ego is paranoid, fearful, and terrified of discovery.  Ironically, this makes her even more dangerous than Annie, who, as a child murderer, at least had reliable habits and diet.  Annie’s double, meanwhile, hides her existence by murdering nearly everyone she comes across and filling the woods with complex hedge mazes and deathtraps.

According to the scrolls, alter egos arise from moments if incapacitation.  In Sir Gerald’s case, it was decapitation.  Fortunately, the headsman botched the job, failing to sever the neck cleanly, allowing Sir Gerald’s own healing magic to sustain him as his friends rushed to his side.  (The trial and execution were a sham from start to finish, with the crooked judge, bailiffs, and barristers fleeing the scene rather than finishing the job.)  But the trauma was more than enough to leave a psychic residue, creating an alter ego of the paladin.  This version has no faith in the institutions of law, including the local constabulary and the church.  The resulting obsessive construct is a dull-eyed, puppet version of a freedom fighter, doing his best to make life miserable for the local institutions, but without any of the passion or derring-do of a true rebel.

A mesmerist has found a magical mirror that he believes can draw out the dark side of the viewer.  Happy to capitalize on his discovery, he has set up a clinic where those with troubled pasts and dark rages can literally confront their worse natures.  He even went so far as to have his patients room with their alter egos…until the murders started. Now the mesmerist is desperate to hide the evidence or lie his way out of his situation (all the while continuing to produce doubles to refine his technique) while alter egos of some of the most dangerous men and women in the city run free, committing all kind of out-of-character acts (some noble, some vile, some bizarre) while wearing their real counterparts’ faces.

Occult Bestiary 4–5

I did not just cave into temptation and buy a bunch of Dark Sun books online.  I did not cave into temptation and buy a bunch of Dark Sun books online.  I did not…

Yes, this is last Thursday’s entry.  It is now Tuesday.  I kind of suck.

But hey, it says “most every weekday” on the masthead for a reason.  I’ve been pretty good about the “every,” but some weeks I need the “most.”  You guys feel me on that, right?

My absence caused Alex to ask:

A 15-day gap!? Are you doing okay?

Thanks, man!  (Or woman?  With Alexes you can never tell.)  I’m doing fine, thanks!  It’s just the usual—demanding career, a chronically ill loved one (who logged some more hospital time over the past three weeks), the radio show, and I’ve been refocusing on my fixing my sleep and exercise schedule.  For the past few weeks, that’s meant not typing blog posts past 11 PM and offering myself a little forgiveness when they get tardy.  I’m engaged in a project to return some sanity to my life, and part of that is giving myself the room to not always be so on point in every aspect of my life 24/7.

Also I was in Atlanta this weekend.  Not as hot as advertised.

While we’re on the subject of personal stuff: Michelle Panik was my classmate, then my roommate, then she regained her senses and moved to California.  She was just named the runner-up for Feminine Inquiry’s Fall Fiction Contest.  I don’t think the story is out yet, but you can find FI here and the rest of Michelle here.

Meanwhile, Kate Miltner and I were in a wedding party a few years ago, and we hit it off immediately, if mostly over Facebook.  Kate’s been looking at the history of Internet trolling, and her research got a big write-up over on Slate last week.  Here’s the link.

Back to monsters:

Adam Daigle—you know him as thedaigle—put up a post on the Paizo Blog about scary-movie-inspired Pathfinder monsters.  Check it out here.  There’s also buzz about the forthcoming Bestiary 5 here. 

And reader Alaizia took a look at the final adventure seed for Spring-Heeled Jack and wrote:

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

I think there is, and it's called Pathfinder!  One of the reasons I do this blog is to highlight the fact that Pathfinder works for more than just Golarion…and even for more than just late-medieval/early-Renaissance-inspired fantasy.  You might need to tweak some skills and whatnot, but with a copy of the Core Rulebook, Ultimate Combat (for the gunslinger), and Ultimate Equipment (for some more modern weaponry) you can go pretty far in most eras.  For a private school campaign like the one above, I’d also go for the Advanced Player’s Guide (the school’s chemistry wiz could be an alchemist; inquisitors, witches, or oracles make good villains) and the Advanced Class Guide (for the brawler, swashbuckler, and investigator).  Try it, add some skills to reflect the modern era, and go nuts.  Or steal the idea and import it into d20 Modern or Monsterhearts or something.   I won't tell!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Yithian Elder

[Before we can tackle the yithian elder, we need to tackle the yithan…whose entry is now up!  Check it out/like/reblog here.]

Aaaaannnddd we’re back!  Yikes.  Sorry about that unexpected vacation.  It took me as much by surprise as it took you. 

Thanks to all of you rebloggers who have kept the flame alive, most especially dungeoninspiration, who has gone above and beyond these last few days.  Cheers, everybody!

So…the yithian elder.  Occult Bestiary’s cover g—errr, entity.  This is the CR 13 upgrade to the base model monster from Bestiary 3.  Although really, yithian elders are closer in spirit (and stat block) to the Great Race of Yith from Lovecraft’s stories, for the simple reason that (given proper prep time) they can actually fling their minds through pretty much all of time and space, not just to creatures in telepathy range.  They also have an array of psychic powers for intelligence gathering and defense, and lightning guns that deal more d12s of damage than you’ve ever held in your hands at one time.

So when you face yithian elders, you’re facing the real deal—alien scientists and artists who hop from planet and eon in pursuit of knowledge, experience, and especially survival.  Which means you might be taking a mental vacation on another planet while a yithian rides your body…or you might be defending your own planet from a yithian invasion should they decide their need outweighs yours.

Adventurers wake in strange bodies, their minds flung far into the future and possibly across space.  Horrible pyramid-shaped attendants patiently explain that their minds have been swapped with yithians, and they are in a hospice for the safety of themselves and their hosts.  Assuming the adventurers don’t immediately stage a jailbreak—an adventure all its own in their foreign bodies—they have a chance to learn about the strange world and culture in which they find themselves.  Unfortunately, they currently reside in the bodies of academic and political dissidents (as these spheres are pretty much one and the same to this scientist race), and the dominant faction has decided to take advantage of their rivals’ mental absence.  The establishment yithian elders storm the hospice and attempt to see the adventurers, seeking to put them through a show trial and have them executed before the dissidents return to themselves.

Adventurers find themselves at an auction for a planetoid shard.  Among the bidders are a pair of yithian elders who propose establishing an observation platform on the shard.  No matter what the outcome of the auction, the yithian elders intend to mentally possess or capture all of the auction participants for further study.  The adventuring party’s main rival intends to use his time in a yithian elder body to reduce the adventurers to lightning-charred ash.

Yithians were originally a reptilian people before the great mind migration that gave them their present shape.  The remnants and outcasts they left behind—those few yithians that survived decimation by flying polyps—evolved into the serpentfolk and xulgath races, whose empires rose and fell to slumber and barbarism in their turns.  Longing to return to the world and the bodies of their birth, the yithians are now back…and they are horrified at what the races descendants have become.  Below the depths of the earth yithian elders are engaged in the campaign of extermination and reverse genetic engineering, attempting to remold the scaled races into proper host vessels. Needless to say, the serpentfolk, xulgaths, and troglodytes are not submitting quietly.

Occult Bestiary 62–63

And with that…WE’VE FINISHED OUR SECOND TRIP THROUGH THE ALPHABET!  And it only took 16 months this time, instead of three years!  How cool is that?

But don’t worry, we’ve still got plenty of Occult Bestiary monsters to keep us busy for Round 3.  See you later (today hopefully, but definitely by this weekend) for the alter ego.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015


History is written by the victors—or at least by whomever has the most ink and quills to hand after the fighting stops.  Which is why so many groups of people are named in fashions that originally marked them as alien, other, or less: barbarians (from barbaros, meaning the opposite of citizen, as well as babbling), for instance, or the Welsh (from wealas, strangers).  And so in first D&D and now Pathfinder we have troglodytes, who clearly did not name themselves. 

We always talk about troglodytes as a degenerate race, which clearly means there had to be an original (generate? pregenerate?) race out there: the xulgaths.  Not only are they more physically powerful than troglodytes, but their mental powers are also on point—able to telepathically communicate, share information quickly, and manipulate minds and senses.  Even their version of the legendary troglodyte smell isn’t smell at all—it’s a psychogenic aura that recalls the worst thing the victim has ever smelled (which is just freaky)!

Between the Occult Bestiary and the Monster Codex, there’s plenty of information out there about xulgaths, troglodytes, and their decline to inspire adventures in the xulgaths’ canal-lined temple cities, both in the Golarion setting and beyond.  With that in mind, here are a few other ways to approach these psychogenic threats…

The Silent Jungle is so named because those who enter it are never heard from again.  The cause is an isolated branch of the xulgath race who have retained their ancient psychic powers. Traveling in hunting packs—usually accompanied by well-trained and even awakened deinonychus dinosaurs—they carve up all interlopers they encounter without exception.

The troglodyte race didn't fall into degeneration—it was poisoned.  The same chthonic energies that power the drow and duergar nations sapped the strength and intelligence of the hapless lizard races.  Those xulgaths who survived were of a priestly caste that worshiped a god of drowning.  Traveling endlessly on barges they poled through the dark waterways of the Lands Below, they stayed healthy as their kin sickened from soil-born radiation.  Even now they build vast temple cities that are permanently afloat, and they sacrifice captives to their dark lord in a vigorous display of thanks.

The Aromaeum is a wonder of the world: a library that catalogs the smells, sensations, and mental imagery of ages past.  Here you can bathe in the brine that sank Morella, taste the timbers of the Wooden Titan that the Chell foolishly let pass their gates, and waft the incense that Yaenah smelled as he tattooed his one and only poem on the flayed skin of his bride.  The strange many-towered and many-tiered ziggurat library hosts mesmerists, occultists, and psychics of all kinds, but it was made by and for the xulgath race.  Awash in the scents and memories of their storied past, these xulgath librarians alone remained undiminished while the troglodyte race foundered.  They rule the Aromaeum with iron (and clawed) fists, and every decision they make is calculated to preserve their control and restore their race.  After all, the smell of a mammal’s blood as it dies is the sweetest smell of all, very worth cataloging for the museum...especially if they are calling your name when you start to devour them…

Occult Bestiary 61

Monday, October 5, 2015

Xill Matriarch

Answering a reader’s question this weekend, I compared xills to the xenomorphs from the Alien franchise.  And while the films have never played too much with this, the Dark Horse comics/graphic novels have often implied that the aliens, especially the queens, employed some basic level of psychic communication/connection.  At its most extreme, this mental connections could even bleed over into humans, explaining some of Ripley’s dreams in the movies and the activities of various xenomorph-obsessed cults in the comics.

Now xills aren’t simply Alien analogues (at the very least they’ve got plenty of Predator in them, too) but their matriarchs, like the alien queens, have some mental powers under their skulls.  In particular, they are able to dominate and scry upon anyone implanted with their eggs—across both the Ethereal and Material Planes.  Which by itself is a potent and terrifying ability…but imagine what would happen if they could somehow manipulate their eggs’ gestation period to last longer than 24 hours…

Adventurers are hearing a bard’s last tale.  A family curse prevents healing magic from working on her, and now that she has been implanted with xill eggs, she assumes she has less than a day to live.  She is trying to pass on both the oral epic she recently completed (which grants morale bonuses to those who hear the whole work) and enough details about the xill attack so that others may succeed where she failed.  If she takes too long in the telling (and every nonmagical healing attempt counts as an interruption), the xill matriarch behind her suffering is likely to spy on her and then force her to attack her friends.

Xills travel across Ethereal seas in lateen-rigged skiffs.  Xill matriarchs captain these skiffs, judging when they are near enough settlements on either the Ethereal or Material planes to attack.  Usually these are two-pronged assaults.  First the xills implant as many eggs as possible, after which they flee to the Ethereal.  The xill matriarch then forces her implanted, dominated slaves to foul rigging, throw open gates, and otherwise pave the way for a second attack 24 hours later, when the xills collect their newly-hatched young and plunder food and supplies with abandon.

The duchy seat is in the throes of arachnophobia.  A new cult has arisen dedicated to fighting spiders of all kind.  This is not an unpopular move this close to the Skittering Halls, where giant spiders weave webs throughout the hilly forest.  But it is surprising how quickly the cult has taken off, and just how many young initiates have donned the red cloak of the cult and left home to fight the spiders.  The truth is that these eager young recruits are being manipulated by an Advanced xill matriarch.  She has learned to slow the gestation of her eggs to upwards of a week, giving her time to make full use of her puppets and get them out of town before the xill young devour them from inside.  The fight against the Skittering Halls is real, though—the forest is infested with phase spiders as well as more mundane varieties.

Occult Bestiary 60

For my Blogger readers (or my Tumblr readers who were busy): I hit 4,000 followers this weekend, so I celebrated with some Q&As.  Find them here and here.

Also one more Q from catdragon: Do you ever take guest posts? You know, having someone write for you when you were too busy or on vacation?

I have only done guest posts as part of a contest.  Otherwise (while I totally appreciate the kind thought behind the offer) reading/vetting/editing reader responses would be just one more thing for me to manage…and if I had time for that, I would have time just to write the post.  (That’s the nasty secret of editing—it's a full-time job.)  I also don’t want to be in the position of having to judge or pick and choose from my readers.  (It felt weird enough doing it for the contest.)  Better to have you guys add your own comments and commentary (like dr-archeville and so many others have done) or post your own seeds on your Tumblrs (or even start whole new Tumblrs like dailycharacteroption!), and then let us know so we can link to and share them.  Thanks!

Friday, October 2, 2015


(Image by Jason Juta comes from the Paizo Blog and is © Paizo Publishing.)

The vayuphak is one of those “If you use only one monster from Book X, use this one” monsters.  Even if you don’t care about psychic monsters, this asura deserves a look. 

A) It’s a monster of Thai origin—cool!  (Though my Googling has found me only one reference, on a royal barge.  If you can find out more, definitely shoot us a comment.)  B) It’s got such an instantly iconic look: blue skin, black feathers, bird feet, elaborate gilt armor contrasting with bestial tusks, and of course a wicked spear.  And C)…

There’s something that happens in certain works of fantasy.  Especially in novels, but in movies as well—NeverEnding Story and The Black Cauldron come to mind.  It’s that moment where the heroes are too late or have royally effed up.  They get to the Important Place, but it is already ruined, and the Enemy has moved on.

Or rather, mostly moved on.  Because in the most truly brutal of these fictions, the Enemy (or sometimes just the uncaring universe) leaves someone behind to gloat.  To mock the hapless heroes.  To be seen literally pissing in the ashes.

That’s what the vayuphak is. 

And (off the top of my head, at least) there’s no one great default candidate for doing that in the Bestiary books.  Even the other vulture-esque creatures don’t help: harpies have gotten too sexy; succubi are all about the foreplay, not the afterglow; vrocks like ruining, not ruins.  None do precisely what the vayuphak does, which is to laugh at the PCs’ pain and make sure what is ruined stays ruined.  They’ve even got an enveloping winds ability to make sure no one plugs them with a crossbow quarrel mid-gloat.  And with an at-will teleport, good luck landing a killing blow.  This monster has seen heroes like your PCs come and go, and even if it is driven and the defiled site reconsecrated, it knows it has done its work.  The vayuphak revels in the fact that what is broken cannot always be mended…and it is confident that it will eventually micturate on the PCs’ bones as well.

Young adventurers have made names for themselves as demon hunters.  Granted, that was only some tiefling toughs, a quasit, and some dretches—but still, bona fide demons.  When they are sought out by a parish priest to stop the desecration of an isolated shrine, they take the job immediately.  But when they arrive, they find the shrine long despoiled, as well as a corpse that looks identical to the parish priest who hired them.  Even as they attempt to work through their confusion, they find themselves mocked—and then attacked—by outlandish blue bird-men.  After the unsatisfactory battle, a traveling monk (bearing a bound, very resentful raktavarna) informs them that the bird-men were asuras, fiends rarely seen in these lands of angels and demons, that the monk has been tracking.  Clearly, something is going on…but what?

Gillmen have discovered a lost city—not one of their race’s great lost metropolises, but a settlement famous for herb lore and enchanted clay vessels.  Vayuphaks guard the city, though—even now they still manage to find new crockery to shatter—and the young gillmen don’t have the martial skill to tackle flying foes.  A cut of the discovery will go to the mercenaries who aid them.

The original cursed artifact that caused the birth of the vayuphak race does exist.  It is a gem-encrusted barge capable of flight between planes, and the vayuphak progenitor still sleeps aboard.  Claiming the barge will not be easy, even if adventurers can somehow move the slumbering fiend, for it is well guarded by a calikang (see the Inner Sea World Guide) and an Advanced vayuphak easily as large as its six-armed companion.

Occult Bestiary 8

Speaking of the Paizo Blog, apparently the first printing of the Advanced Class Guide had some issues…?  (I haven’t played with that book, so that news missed me.)  Details on the fix and the second printing are here.  Also hella free swag.  Have a good weekend!

Thursday, October 1, 2015


Desna, the goddess of dreams, and her butterfly-winged servants have been at the core of Golarion since its birth—Desna and a lyrakien even graced the second-ever issue of Pathfinder.  So it makes sense that an azata who serves the Great Dreamer would appear in a Bestiary devoted to mind monsters.  While Desna protects many travelers on many roads, uinujas protect mortals who travel in dreams from the predations of dreamthief hags, painajai demons, and worse.

In your campaign, uinujas are likely going to be PCs’ allies; their mind-spires might be one of the few safe places a dreaming self or Astral traveler can find shelter and protection.  But all azatas are mercurial, and uinujas are quick to combat those who trespass in Dream where they are not wanted, no matter what alignment it says on your character sheet.

Traveling in the Ethereal Plane, adventurers come across a phantom they have encountered before: a servitor of a spiritualist ally.  The phantom has been trapped here since his mistress’s dreaming mind was captured by a dreamthief hag.  He seeks the return of his mistress’s consciousness, but that mind is going on a strange journey.  Rather than the hag torturing the spiritualist’s mind or using it to power her magic, she has instead sold the dreamstone to a mercane who seems to have found a way to use dreams to power voidjammers.

Trapped outside the Dimension of Dreams and warped by long captivity in the kyton realms, the uinuja Recall the Blooming Nightshade is now Blade Belladonna.  Though not a demon yet, her spirit is blackening by the day (for instance, she already inflicts serious wounds instead of curing them).  Adventurers hoping to rehabilitate Blade Belladonna cannot simply return her to the Dreamlands, where she will only become one more nightmare creature, but must instead transport her all the way to Elysium to be tended to in the healing springs.

There are no angels or archons—or even gods—on Terpanor.  Priests and clerics have limited powers gained by praying to ancestral spirits and genii loci, entering into compacts with devils, or earning an azata’s favor.  But the gods, angels, and archons are not dead—they sleep.  And the uinujas will do anything to keep them dreaming, for their slumber holds the Abyss in repose as well.

Occult Bestiary 9

One idea I didn't explore is the fact that uinujas can't visit the Material Plane on their own and love stories about the planes in general.  A uinuja desperate to get to the real world might cause all kinds of trouble for PCs…

Terpanor is a world on the back of a giant chelonian.  You can tell from the name.  #feartheturtle

Tumblr readers, Tychilarius now has a picture up.  Go see!  Blogger readers, I can’t edit posts without ruining them forever, so check the comments.

Regarding my message yesterday about going back to do monsters I missed, goluxexmachina wrote:

I am not sure if I’ve noticed every originally-skipped monster that you have since gone back and done… I recall there were a few I really wanted to see, though not what they are.

God(ish?) news!  In most cases—at least recently, like the past two years or so—when I go back and fix a monster I also make sure to call it out in the latest entry, usually at the top of the post and usually in italics (which makes it easy to scan for in the archive).  I don't have a perfect record, but I’ve been pretty good about it.  Hope that helps!

Important message to my Millennial and post-Millennial readers:

(WAIT!  Don’t panic.  I’m a Millennial, too.  So I swear I’m not about to be a judgmental jerk.  But I’m just old enough that a lot of my thoughts/habits/references lean heavily Gen X.  Hence this next sentence…)

I promise it is okay to just pick up the phone and call.

I write this because of this Reddit thread re: Paizo customer service, which literally left me Jean-Luc Picard-facepalming due to all the references to email attempts and forum posts.

Paizo’s customer service is awesome.  Their reps are super nice and have never once failed to resolve my (rare) issues on the first call, within five minutes.  (Okay, maybe once, because they were personally calling the warehouse team and the third-party publisher to make sure the fancy-schmancy hardcover I wanted was still in stock.  Then they called me back.)

If you have a problem with your Paizo order or delivery, fixing it is honestly that simple.  No emails.  No forum threads.  No waiting. 

Just. Call.

Now if you need me, I’ll go back to yelling at clouds.