Thursday, December 31, 2015

Blue Whale & Narwhal

Blue whales are the largest mammal on Earth…which means that even in a fantasy world they should be in the top 10 or so.  And your druid totally deserves a bigger pet.

Meanwhile, narwhals are the unicorns of the sea…or at least that’s what salty old sailors like to tell landlubbers.  The truth is more mundane, but you still don’t want to be gored by one.

A red tide kills fish…and maddens mammals.  Driven wild by the taint in their diet, a pod of narwhals harasses a party of adventurers, goring at the sides of their kayaks.  If the beasts are somehow cured of the red tide, they will flee in confusion but may remember the adventurers (or at least their boats) at a later encounter.

Someone harpooned a blue whale.  Never mind the taboos against it, never mind that elven corsairs will burn offenders to the ground, and never mind that right whales serve up better oil and sperm whales better ambergris…someone harpooned a blue whale. And now the injured and half-mad beast is smashing every ship that leaves Manticore Harbor into flinders.

It’s the perfect scam.  Join a whaling expedition, come back with a narwhal tusk or two, catch the cogwheel down south to Morrowton, present the narwhal horns as unicorn horns, and gain entrance to the prestigious the League of Hunters of Monsters Most Foul.  What could go wrong?

Pathfinder Adventure Path #59 86–87 & Pathfinder Bestiary 5 51

And that closes us out for 2015!  Thanks for your patience and fandom during these last two or three post-light months, and let’s look forward to many more monsters in the year to come!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Blood & Horn Caterpillars

Putting “blood” in front of a noun is practically cheating when it comes to monster names, but damn does it work wonders in the blood caterpillar’s case.  That’s a terrifying juxtaposition, particularly when the result is the size of a horse, deals Strength damage when attacked, and feeds on rotting flesh. 

Horn caterpillars feed on the hooves and horns of dead ungulates,” says Bestiary 5.  Which means that they should be at the top of pretty much every GM’s list of low-level monsters. 

One of the ways fantasy role-playing falls short in the verisimilitude department is that we don’t pay nearly enough attention to livestock.  Cattle matters to the pre-modern world, even a magical one.  The Táin Bó Cúailnge was sparked by a cow.  Half of Heracles’s labors involved one farm animal or another.  The defining crime of the bad guy in a Western?  Cattle rustling. 

So in any halfway “realistic” fantasy world, a monster that feasts on the hooves and horns of cattle and other livestock should be a pretty common nuisance.  Clearing out a clutch of horn caterpillars that have taken over the local slaughtering yard might be the first unglamorous job for many a would-be adventurer.

Just on the cusp of adulthood, a band of young friends is charged with escorting their clan’s dead to the traditional resting place, a network of deep caves.  Unfortunately, a clutch of horn caterpillars now infests one of the chambers near the surface, feasting on the offerings of antlers and horns left there by clan shamans.

Adventurers accompany a local celebrity, a renowned halfling sellsword, to the Moot at Highbarrow.  Spotting the telltale signs of battle and cobwebs strewn in the road along the way, he takes a detour to hunt giant spiders—a callback to the ambush that made him famous.  Only the cobwebs aren’t cobwebs; they're caterpillar silk…and the halfling’s famed magic sword carries no enchantment against other vermin.

High on their success defeating goblins, some fresh-faced party adventurers soon find themselves out of money and hurting for work.  They’re forced to take jobs at the local abattoir rooting out a horn caterpillar infestation…and then they come across a corpse that isn’t bovine.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 51

Achieved escape velocity, finally home in Maryland.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015


The blightspawn may look like a giant mosquito, but it’s far more deadly.  Not only is it man-sized and man-smart (a not-bad Int 7), it’s also got a poison sting, a stagnation aura that lulls its victims into torpor, and spell-like abilities—including bestow curse, blur, and contagion—even many druids would envy. 

But its neatest party trick is its ability to gestate for years and even decades inside a human host.  The blightspawn was originally introduced as the blightspawn of Ghlaunder (courtesy of the adventure Feast of Ravenmoor) and they are a combination boon/weapon from Golarion’s demigod of parasites and disease.  A cultist carrying a larval blightspawn may nurture the aberration his entire life, only hatching the creature in death…and all his children may be likewise so favored.  In your campaign, blightspawn might serve a similar god of disease, a Horseman of the Apocalypse, demonkind, or an evil plane itself.  Or blightspawn might just be a natural (if truly horrific) parasite, with no divine strings attach.  Fantasy worlds can be buggy like that.

One last note: A lot of GMs struggle with making character death scary in a raise dead world.  Having a character’s corpse birth a blightspawn (and all the complications for resurrection that implies) could be an ideal way to ratchet up the fear level.

Three separate groups of pilgrims embarked from Brighton today through the Gate of the Faithful…and one of them is hiding a pupating blightspawn among its number.  Adventures must attempt to suss out which band of pilgrims the ailing cultist is hiding among and apprehend the would-be aberration.

A remote stronghold struggles to contain an epidemic of thorny vines that seem intent on walling off the barony.  The glands of a blightspawn could be used to ward off the vegetable horrors and even stunt their growth (as per diminish plants).  Adventurers in search of these components follow disturbing rumors to a town given over to the worship of parasites, where every adult lives in service to—or as a future meal for—one entity or another, including several blightspawn.

An adventurer isn’t trying to stop a blightspawn—he intends to become one.  Raised by cultists from birth to worship the Maiden in Shrouds, the adventurer leaps into battle believing his death will only hasten the birth of the moth-winged avatar inside him.  If he succeeds in being slain in combat, he will leave his companions fighting one more monster.  Assuming they bring him around to the worship of another deity before this happens, the next challenge will be safely extracting the larval blightspawn from inside him.

Feast of Ravenmoor 29 & Pathfinder Bestiary 5 43

Another canceled flight.  Another night in Minneapolis.  Uff da.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Bisha Ga Tsuku

Imagine a cold so gelid even souls can’t escape it.  Now imagine a creature that creates that kind of cold—and feeds on the souls it traps.  That’s the bisha ga tsuku. 

[Those words were much more fun when I originally typed them more than a week ago.  Since then I a) contracted The Cold The Would Not Die that KOed all of the past week, including Christmas with my brother in Portland, and b) got diverted out of Chicago (still sick!) because of ice and snow.  I’m currently in a hotel room in Minneapolis, which gives soul-trapping cold a whole new meaning.]

Inspired by Japanese folklore—and check out the illustrations on this page if you want some wonderfully creepy yōkai art—the bisha ga tsuku is an outsider (not least because it is born from a soul, and consumes other souls in turn) but a native one (meaning it falls outside the usual planar’s not even an oni).  It’s almost a thing of pure cold itself…but it’s also not an elemental ice creature, as it clearly has some kind of vaguely amphibious (and tentacled) body.  Like those rare forms of life that only grow in the vents of undersea volcanoes, the bisha ga tsuku seems to be a thing that chucks the usual rules of spiritual taxonomy out the window.

In other words, it’s a creepy snow creature, but not in any of the ways most players would suspect.  And it’s creeping up behind you as we speak.  Bisha bisha.  Bisha Bisha.  Bisha Bisha…

Windmarsh Monastery is known to be haunted by a yuki-onna.  Historically the prayers and spells of the friars have kept the undead spirit at bay, but this season three brothers have been found frozen to death out on the moors.  One of the yuki-onna’s recent victims was a low-ranking member of the Assassins’ Guild, and he has returned as a bisha ga tsuku eager to kill without regard to contracts or holy ground.

Adventurers seek the dread plateau of Leng.  Before they can reach it, they must face a number of hazards in the high mountain passes, including avalanches, half-mad yeti sentinels, and strange stone monoliths that move on their own.  Worse yet, a bisha ga tsuku lurks near an otherwise ideal camping spot (a narrow ravine sheltered from the wind) sapping the soul energy of all who come through.

On the frozen moon of Wintersmith, the intrepid miners seek out mithral by sending diving bells deep below the frozen crust.  When a distant but profitable mining station goes silent, a band of sellswords is called in to investigate.  A bisha ga tsuku is the culprit, having already devoured the souls of most of the men.  Truly perceptive adventurers might also realize that the outsider’s presence foreshadows another mystery: Wintersmith was supposed to be uninhabited…so whose soul created the bisha ga tsuku?

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 42

Hey guys!  Long time no see.  I’d type more, but I need every ounce of strength to manage my nonstop tissues-and-lozenges regimen.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Bat, Locust & Rat Plague Swarms

When you’re a PC, fighting swarms is bad enough.  But plague swarms…that’s when things get really nasty.  Because plague swarms are manifestations of a deity’s wrath, sent in retribution for some slight.  That means they're more powerful (even the humble rat plague swarm clocks in at CR 11) and mythic (8 ranks!) to boot.  They multiply with alarming speed and reform until their destruction condition is met.  Sometimes they have beneficial strategic or defensive attributes (individuals in a rat plague swarm share a hivemind; bat plague swarms are divinely protected).  Worst of all, they all have a unique nasty attack.   Rat plague swarms are diseased, spreading lycanthropy.  Bat plague swarms cause bleed and negative level damage—which can birth vampires(!) that serve the swarm (not the other way around).  And locust plague swarms?  They just eat everything—including magic items—with what are effectively adamantine jaws.

So say your prayers and start researching destruction conditions…because once called, these magical beasts don't stop until an entire city is destroyed.

A ratfolk sage immolates himself in the central square of Newport, promising vengeance even as the flames take his body.  The vengeance, when it arrives, is swift and deadly: a rat plague swarm.  Adventures must not only defeat the foul skittering hivemind, but then solve the mystery of what Power sent it—for no one in Newport, including the small ratfolk community, understands what sin was committed against the sage or his faith.

Adventurers need to recover the body of Preston Melark, an oracle whose visions may hold the key to the defeat of the Minotaur Lord.  But Melark fell in the defense of Tamar, the Living City, whose very stones (courtesy of a divine blessing and a strong conduit to the Positive Energy Plane) heal the wounded and birth new defenders into being.  Now a vampire puppet of the plague bat swarm, Preston Melark’s undead corpse is caught in an unending cycle of death, coming every night to feed at the throats of the fresh soldiers born to the Living City that dawn.

It’s said that the Lur of Laram could knock down a city wall or rouse the Sleeping Celestials.  And it may be just the thing to stop Daemon Tide.  But some other player is at work, for when adventurers reach the city of Parsin, a locust plague swarm and its brood are already devouring everything in its path—including the ancient horn.

Bestiary 5 192–193

Working on getting this regular update thing happening again.  Please continue to bear with me.

I’m not finding stats for Bestiary 5’s plague swarms online yet, though Pathfinder Adventure Path #79: The Half-Dead City had several nonmythic swarms, including the plague locust swarm.

Wayfinder #14 went live on Monday, with fiction by yours truly—the first fantasy story I’ve ever published, and my first published work in ages.  It’s a dash of ghost story and a pinch of noir.  (The brutal word count restrictions inspired the staccato tone.)  I hope you enjoy it!

Thanks to Tim and Paris for the acceptance email, the other contributors for submitting, the slushers and patient editors (especially Charlie and Matthew, who went through my piece line by line) for all their hard work, and Stephen Wood for the great illustration.  Download it for free here.

Tuesday’s show turned out really nice.  I wasn’t expecting anything special, aside from things being a bit more gravelly/fuzzy than usual, but I relistened to it and was just like, “Yeah. Nice.”  Maybe you’ll dig it too.  Stream or download it till Monday, 12/7, at midnight.