Saturday, December 31, 2016


Given that I’m currently fighting gremlins of my own (the guest access where I’m at could give the censors from 1984 a lesson in information control), it seems appropriate to close out the year with one of the malicious fey—in this case, the mysterious hobkins.

Like all gremlins, hobkins delight in causing chaos and destruction.  Unlike other, more hands-on gremlin species, their particular joy comes from tricking their victims into destroying their own possessions—startling a maid into hurling her precious looking glass through a window, for instance, or goading a smith into dulling a masterwork dagger digging for nonexistent rats in the walls (simulated via ghost sound). 

Then there are the hobkins malefactors.  Gifted with psychic magic, they are able to control and direct other hobkins.  Worse yet, they are not content with causing their victims to destroy mere possessions—they want their victims to destroy their loved ones.  When a hobkins malefactor and his coterie descend on a village, he won't rest until every child in the vicinity is slain…ideally by his or her parents’ hands.

Interestingly, hobkins are somewhat out of phase with the Material Plane.  What this means—whether they are more tied to the realm of the fey, some other dimension, or some other alien genesis is up to you.

A hobkins has fixed his glowing eyes upon the son of a glassblower.  He torments the boy to the point of madness, hoping to get him to destroy five years of his father’s work—the stained glass windows for the new cathedral.

A hobkins is obsessed with an intelligent magical sword.  Whenever the sword gets a new owner, the hobkins attempts to trick the owner into destroying in.  After years of such pursuit, the sword has become quite paranoid, neurotically begging its owner to take more and more outlandish steps to protect it.

The Roanoke Colony has vanished.  Adventurers dispatched to investigate find the village intact but abandoned.  Further inspection reveals a site of slaughter in the dell below the village—children murdered by adult hands, then a mass suicide of those selfsame adults.  The culprit is a hobkins malefactor and his allies.  Worse yet, they had help—a black-hearted girl named Virginia Dare, whose malice originally attracted the gremlins, and who now lives among them as a queen.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 131

Happy New Year, everyone!  Here’s to a fantastic 2017—and many more monsters, radio shows, and other surprises to come!

Friday, December 30, 2016

Hive Mind Beetle Swarm

Back before I stopped listening to Radiolab (because every single one of their shows eventually becomes about death, and it began to bum me out) I really enjoyed one of their episodes about emergence—how simple systems, including the behavior of individual insects, can yield surprisingly complex results and even problem-solving behavior when these entities work in concert.

And so we have the hive mind beetle swarm—a species whose control over electricity is such that, when coalesced into a swarm, they operate as a psychic magic-wielding, CR 13(!) creature so intelligent (Int 15) it can communicate with other electricity-users and even read divine portents in thunderstorms.

Of course, all that is dependent on having a critical mass of hive mind beetles swarming together in the first place.  And while PCs shouldn’t feel guilty about eradicating these lightning-charged horrors—they are ravenous consumers of mammalian flesh—they will be put in the odd place of murdering a mind well before they stamp out the swarm that constituted it.

A blue dragon uses a hive mind swarm as a sentry, spy network, and lair cleaner (the hungry bugs are very thorough).  Early on the blue dragon found it expedient to pose as a thunder god to compel the newly conscious swarm’s obedience. After a recent breeding cycle, the growing collective has gained enough sentience that it has begun to question its master’s divinity and his right to rule them.

Aboard a wandering starship, a crew of android biologists experimented with using a colony of hive mind beetle swarms as a kind of living computer.  After the ship crashed on a medieval world, one of the swarms got loose.  The three remaining swarms still inhabit the downed vessel, fed by the biomass the ship’s nanocollectors continually assemble for them.  The swarms have crude control over some of the ship’s systems (including internal doors, lights, and certain mechanisms they operate as traps).  If interlopers breach the vessel, the swarms use this control over the ship as leverage to gain their freedom.

A hive mind beetle swarm seeks to enter a college of the psychic arts.  This raises several questions, both philosophical (what constitutes a person versus a mind?) and practical (how do we keep it from eating the other students?) in nature.  The shedu psychic who runs the college seems inclined to allow the swarm to audit, but given his centuries of experience and the beetles’ facility in locating lost artifacts, his long-term plan may be more subtle than the education of insects.

Occult Bestiary 29

It’s been a while since we had an Occult Bestiary monster!

I’m spending New Year’s at a fancy private school in New England…whose guest Internet access blocks nearly every useful site on Earth, including Tumblr, Blogger, and even Paizo and Google, apparently.  Guess how amused I was to discover that at 11:30 PM last night…

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Heresy Devil

(Illustration by Eva Widermann comes from the PathfinderWiki and is © Paizo Publishing.)

I was raised Catholic, so naturally I love heresies.  (There’s nothing so fascinating to us as someone Doing It Wrong.*)  Naturally, that means I love the heresy devil.

First off, heresies are interesting in and of themselves—to see a belief evolved, reinterpreted, remixed, or straight-up perverted is a fascinating thing.  Heresies get even more interesting in a world where gods regularly manifest and grant spells to clerics.  In such an environment, how are heresies allowed to flourish?  How big do they have to get before a god notices?  Or can perverted belief pervert the gods in turn—“As above, so below” might work in both directions…

And so into this mix come ayngavhauls, the heresy devils—corpulent monstrosities that float on monstrous thrones, spewing searing words of blasphemy and honeyed whispers of seduction and flawed logic.  They are the authors of false apocrypha, the architects of flawed logic, and evangelists of error on a thousand worlds.  And like all heretics, they have an uncanny knack for gathering likeminded souls around them—especially other devils, which they are adept at summoning.

If you really dig these devils, check out their original entry in Book of the Damned–Vol 1: Princes of Darkness.  There you’ll also find out about the massive robes of lead that some ayngavhauls wear, as well as the obscure branches of wicked scholarship they pursue when not busy promoting their blasphemous works.

Stalled in promotion in the religious hierarchy, a prelate pursues advancement through the law instead.  As the High Adjudicator, he uses his pronouncements from the bench to subtly guide the direction of the faith (and not so subtly enrich himself).  But when he condemns an innocent man to death to undermine a rival, his perfidy inspires divine retribution—or a diabolic reward—and he metamorphoses into a heresy devil on the spot, while the Hall of Justice transforms into a tower of iron and volcanic rock.

As servants of the Blue Lady, adventurers are obligated to join the crusade against the Cerulean Flame, a band of upstart militant schismatics.  Along the way, they are tormented by powerful ghuls, rogue undead, and bone devils—all servants of the heresy devil who is stalling for time to allow his heresy to spread.

Convinced of his righteousness, a fallen paladin baron abducts clerics of a rival faith and imprisons them.  There he subjects them to a variety excruciations to spur them to penance and conversion.  One of his most notorious punishments is to submerge his prisoners in a vat filled with the bile of a heretic devil (said devil being hung in magical chains from the ceiling above the vat), sapping them of their strength and magical might.  It is unknown whether this is the same heretic devil who caused the paladin to fall.

Book of the Damned–Vol 1: Princes of Darkness 56–57 & Pathfinder Bestiary 5 80

*Especially since most of us are also Doing It Wrong.  For instance, my (Methodist) father was Director of Family Planning for our state.  So when the Knights of Columbus came into our CCD classes to teach Catholic sex ed, I brought pamphlets so I could correct their rather…creative…statistics on condom use and STDs.  I was very helpful.

Also I had a friend named Albie I more than once referred to as the Albigensian Heresy.  Now you know why I was popular.

PS: Anyone getting a Lynchian Baron Harkonnen vibe from the heresy devil?  Me too.

Maybe it’s because of the holiday season, or because people miss the days this blog was five days a week (believe me, I miss those days, too!) but recently a number of very kind readers have written in asking me if I’ve every thought about using Patreon. 

I totally, totally appreciate both the suggestion and the fact these readers are interested in supporting the site.  That said, at present I have no plans to—it’s just not something I’m comfortable with, especially given my current spotty posting schedule, along with some other reasons I won’t get into right now.

Some of the same readers have asked me about setting up an Amazon Wish List.  That I’m more comfortable with, simply because, a) I already set one up for my family and friends, and b) anything on there is simply more brain food for generating this blog.  So if you have a few bucks and want to help my complete my Dungeon magazine collection or dig up a few hard-to-find 2e softcovers, my Wish List is here.  And if you do decide to go that route, you have my serious thanks (and leave me a note to let me know if you want to be credited here).

Alternately, if you want to do some good but Amazon’s not for you, I encourage you to throw a few bucks the ACLU’s way.  I have a feeling they’re going to need our support in the next few years, and we sure as heck are going to need theirs.

It’s The New Indie Canon’s Best of 2016 show!  Enjoy two hours of the songs we loved from the past all-too-eventful year.  Stream/download it now through Monday, 01/02/17, at midnight.

Sunday, December 11, 2016


(Illustration by Jim Nelson comes from the artist’s blog and is © Paizo Publishing.)

Normally we speak of aberrations in terms of creatures from deep under the earth, who have strange physiologies, or who hail from the borders of reality or other dimensions.  (The Underdark in 2e/3.0 Forgotten Realms, for instance, was aberration central, as was anyplace that touched the Far Realms.)

But sometimes aberrations are just that—aberrations.  Something is just fundamentally wrong about their creation…or something went wrong and caused their creation.

And that’s where we get the heikegani from.  A samurai’s soul that can’t go to its eternal rest should become an undead or a haunt or something similar…and instead it gets trapped inside a crab zoea (great word!), doomed to spend its existence challenging interlopers from within a crustacean body.  It’s not undead, but it’s not released from its undying obsession either.  It is an aberration, full stop.

There are some nice crunchy bits in the heikegani stat block along with that amazing fluff—a heikegani can challenge opponents like a samurai, and may even try to wield a discarded dagger or knife like a katana (such a killer image!).  Also note that a heikegani can understand but not speak Common.  This likely leaves him all the more frustrated…but PCs who freely discuss tactics in front of the crustacean could be in for a nasty shock when it seemingly anticipates their every move.

All in all, the heikegani is a tragicomic figure.  If there’s one but of solace, it’s that a heikegani slain by the PCs can finally go to its rest…one hopes.

Heikegani patrol a forlorn stretch of beach.  They died defending the daughter of the shogun from hobgoblin mercenaries after both forces’ boats fetched up against the reef.  The girl still lives here, tended by awakened wolves and growing more feral by the day.  Her only connection to civilization is a tanuki who visits when he’s not too deep in his cups.  The heikegani ignore the wolves and the old drunkard but assume anyone else is an assassin.  Speaking of which, another detachment of hobgoblin mercenaries still hunts for the girl, driven by a ja noi master (Pathfinder Adventure Path #52: Forest of Spirits).

Elven samurai are especially prone to becoming heikegani, due to both their innate connection to nature and (many would argue) their overweening pride.  Sea, coral, and shoal elves thus treat all heikegani as honored brothers, especially as coral elves (along with grey and pine elves) are among those most likely to suffer this fate. 

Sages claim heikegani are intelligent and even wise, but in practice the pain of their condition often clouds their judgment.  A particularly crafty (Advanced) haniver gremlin has convinced a heikegani that she is his loyal servant, and that together they are the resurrected Red Ronin and Miyoko of the tavern tales.  The haniver prods the heikegani into performing “quests” that are really just bodyguard duty for the gremlin as she pursues her true goal of seeding the town’s water supply with ningyos.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 141

Heikegani crabs are a real thing and really do look like they have one of those Japanese masks imprinted onto the back of their shells.  Really cool.

Speaking of Eastern monsters, a little while ago someone asked me about jiang-shi/hopping vampires, and I mentioned that I didn’t have much of a background in Japanese folklore.  Another reader replied that hopping vampires were Chinese, to which I can only respond, egad, my sincere apologies.  (On the other hand, I certainly proved my point—apparently I really am terrible at Japanese (and Chinese!) folklore.)

Did I never post Tuesday’s radio show? That’s a shame, because it was a particularly excellent one.  Stream/download it here now through Monday, 12/12, at midnight for two hours of new Honeyblood, the capitalization-challenged pronoun, Kero Kero Bonito, and more.  Also, don’t be put off by the first 60 seconds—the rest of the show is neither jazzy nor Christmasy.*  Get it before it’s gone!


Monday, December 5, 2016

Hag Eye Ooze

Part of my mandate here at TDB is to make you fall a little in love with each and every Bestiary monster.  But certain monsters can be hard to drum up enthusiasm for—oozes in particular.  Once you start getting oozes made of gunpowder that splurt out flaming gobs of themselves, you start to feel like you’ve hit the limit for what oozes can be.

Not so with the hag eye ooze, though—because the hag eye ooze is a brilliant idea.  I mean, of course not all hags are going to trust their sisters or their minions with their precious hag eye stones.  What if they lost it?  What if they’re slain?  That’s a lot of trust to dole out.  Why not instead spend a little extra time in the hag eye enchantment process cooking up a minion goopy minion to bear the artifact?  Especially one that’s instinctively shy and stealthy in the bargain.  That’s the best use for an enchanted cauldron since boiling children and raising armies of the undead, right?

Remnants of a tribe of sprites beg the Big Folk for help.  A slimy monstrosity has been tormenting them, oozing into their homes and devouring them no matter how many times they relocate.  Now reduced to half their number, the fey seek salvation—and answers.  The culprit is a hag eye ooze under the control of a malicious green hag.  She has been consolidating power throughout her dismal wood; tormenting the sprites was just an enjoyable sideshow.

Adventurers make an enemy of a hag in wintertime.  The next time they are camped out of doors, the hag sends her cold-immune ooze through the snow to douse the adventurers’ campfire—with its flame-resistant body, if necessary—so that they either freeze to death outright or are softened up for the local bugbears.

Slirrup was an ordinary hag eye ooze—until the day the alchemist it had been set to spy upon spotted it instead.   The slimy creature found itself forced into a bottle and experimented upon for months.  Eventually, Slirrup’s creator tracked down the alchemist, slaying him. Her wayward ooze, however, was forever changed by the experience, the experiments having gifted it with physical power and a crude intelligence (per the Advanced simple template).   Slirrup still follows its mistress’s commands, but is restless and resentful in the manner of a neglected pet.

Pathfinder Adventure Path #72 86–87 & Pathfinder Bestiary 5 140

PAP #72 also features the coven ooze, which is what happens when a hag eye ooze eats its dead mistresses.   (Answer: It grows to Large size, gains rudimentary intelligence, and generally becomes a flesh-absorbing monstrosity.  Good times!)

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Gunpowder Ooze

(Illustration by Dieter Miller comes from the PathfinderWiki and is © Paizo Publishing.)

It must be hard to be a high school sophomore in a Pathfinder world.  Can you imagine taking chemistry in a reality where any mistake you make has, let’s be honest, a base 50% chance of becoming an ooze?  (The other 50% probably become haunts.)

So gunpowder oozes are what happens when gunpowder and magic mix.  (Throw in some alchemy and you get admixture oozes.)  Like other oozes, gunpowder oozes seek to absorb and devour other living creatures.  Unlike other oozes, they can blast gunpowder from their bodies.  (I presume this arose as a defense mechanism or waste byproduct.  I say “arose” because “evolved” doesn’t seem very accurate for creatures that are probably pretty new to most worlds, depending on how long the society has had gunpowder.)

And of course, even if you survive a gunpowder ooze’s initial blast, the gunpowder residue leaves you vulnerable to a subsequent fiery death.  One can imagine some inquisitors interrogating a party of PCs suspected of having robbed a gunpowder ooze-protected vault.  Checking for gunpowder residue in that scenario wouldn’t be an NCIS-style swab; instead the inquisitors would just brandish a torch and see who explodes!

So all in all, gunpowder oozes are signs of progress run amok.  When magic and technology collies, sometimes it explodes…

The Titan Wall separates Newland and the Reaches—a mile-wide, monumental structure that splits the world between the realms of Man and the realms of Magic.  But along the wall itself (particularly in the dungeons that riddle its core) exist chimeric creatures that could not survive in either realm, including dracolisks, girtablilus, and the notorious gunpowder oozes.

Master Qui-Sen has been making fireworks—an act forbidden to all but the emperor’s alchemists.  He has been careful to hide his wares and dump his waste products deep in the sewer.  Unfortunately, this has led to the creation of admixture oozes with strange abilities.  Adventurers get involved when one of the admixture oozes slithers up a drainpipe and sets a granary alight in the Ratfolk Quarter.

The inhabitants of the Seventh Age know nothing of gunpowder—to them, gunpowder oozes are “flash terrors.”  But the ubiquity of flash terrors in the Seventh Age is a legacy of the Fifth Age, when gunpowder and alchemy were commonplace.  Adventurers who study gunpowder oozes may be able to reëngineer some of these lost technologies…providing the inevitables of the Sixth Age’s Great Cleansing don’t reactivate to stop them.

Wardens of the Reborn Forge 63 & Pathfinder Bestiary 5 139

Monday, November 28, 2016

Guardian Scroll

The guardian scroll is a very Harry Potter-movie kind of monster.  I mean that very much as a compliment, both to it and the HP franchise.  Before Sorcerer’s Stone, if you sprang a guardian scroll on the PCs your players would be like, “You’re attacking us. With paper. Yikes.”  Post-SS (and especially post-Chamber of Secrets), it’s a lot easier to sell the image of a strangling, slicing, animate paper monster.

It’s also the kind of monster that has the potential to make PCs’ lives very difficult, irrespective of its CR.  Nine times out of 10*, if PCs encounter a guardian scroll anywhere that’s not a moldering dungeon or pyramid, it’s because they are Doing Something They Shouldn’t Be—consulting the Forbidden Section of the library, sneaking into the College of Wizards, stealing from the daimyo’s painted scroll collection, robbing the Pirate King, etc.  Perhaps the guardian scroll is a threat, perhaps not.  But fighting off a guardian scroll is almost certainly going to be a noisy affair—one that will cause other interested parties to come running (preferably aimed with pikes and spells).

*The 10th time is when the PCs’ enemies send them a guardian scroll in an assassination attempt.  Speaking of which, in a world where sepia snake sigils and explosive runes exist, it’s a wonder anyone even reads their mail.

The Shogun of the Brilliant Sunrise Prefecture is an avid collector of painted scrolls.  He is also an avid employer of guardian scrolls, many of which fold themselves into gorgeous paper cobras, cranes, and chrysanthemums before attacking.

The priests of the Bookbinder are known for wearing linen scrolls as stoles that drape over their chasubles.  Typically the scrolls are scribed with a sacred verse or a poem, and careful observers can detect praise, insults, or veiled warnings in a cleric’s choice of scroll.  The high priests’ stoles are often guardian scrolls, which explains why priests of the Bookbinder have longer lifespans than many of their ecclesiastical peers.

Adventurers are sent a guardian scroll by an enemy.  But as the scroll tube is not addressed to them specifically, they have the chance to pawn it off on someone else—assuming they suss out the nature of the construct within before it attacks.  Forcing the enemy who sent the scroll to either open the tube himself or be publicly seen refusing to do so could win them prestige in the cutthroat world of court.  That in turn could mean entry into the king’s intelligence service and/or lucrative charters to explore otherwise off-limits dungeons.

—Pathfinder Adventure Path #79 82–83 & Pathfinder Bestiary 5 138

The guardian scroll (including a more magical variant with spell-like abilities) originally comes from the Mummy’s Mask Adventure Path, which I rather dug.  For one thing, it was an AP I got to enjoy as it unfolded.  (I fell way behind my Paizo reading during Reign of Winter and Wrath of the Righteous and had to scramble to catch up, which is never as fun.  I’ve had the same problem recently, so I committed myself to keep on track during Strange Aeons no matter where I was in Giantslayer/Hell’s Rebels/Hell’s Vengeance.)  For another—and forgive me if I’ve mentioned this before, because I feel like I’m repeating myself—there’s a part of me that always resists pyramid/mummy setups because they’re so stereotypical, so it was nice to have an AP that executed those things so well I couldn’t help but be won over.  (The undead invasion that kicked off the second MM entry went a long way toward achieving that.)  Finally, after two or three APs that involved Really Big Stakes—the fates of Magnimar, Irresin, and the Worldwound/all of Avistan, respectively—it was nice to have an AP that kept it simple: stop a badass mummy. Sometimes you need a palate cleanser.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Gristly Demodand

Gristly demodands are stout, bat-winged brutes who wield bloody mauls.  Appropriately enough, they serve their fallen titan masters as assassins, executioners, and torturers.  Seemingly made of skin stretched over half-chewed muscle and tissue, gristly demodands’ hides literally split, ooze, and heal as they move about.  Their victims’ skins are usually not so resilient.

The marilith Me’salis was tired of quarreling with the demodands that lurked on the border of her domain.  So the brilliant tactician simply hired the gristly demodand and his tarry demodand followers, hoping to coöpt them through employment.  She has since tired of the disgusting brutes—while they are excellent torturers, their zeal for tormenting demons spills more ichor than secrets—and she wants them out of the tower they’ve occupied.  When mortal adventurers make an incursion into her castle, she allows them to clean out the demodands’ quarters without interference…though what the adventurers find there may aid them against Me’salis herself.

An arcane poem instructs adventurers that they must “spit in the eyes of the gods even as you deny them.”  Successful interpretation of the line indicates that they need to procure the sacrilegious spittle of a gristly demodand.

The executioner known only as the Stitcher is famous for flaying his victims…and worse still, for unashamedly making clothes out of their skin.  When adventurers try to stop him from executing a woman he knows to be innocent (but who was not released thanks to a technicality), they find his malevolence and his years of wearing skin-suits have turned him into a gristly demodand.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 72

Pathfinder Adventure Path #77: Herald of the Ivory Labyrinth has a big article on demodands courtesy of Amanda Hamon.

Speaking of executioners, has anyone read any of Oliver Pötzsch’s A Hangman’s Daughter Tale novels?  I listened to The Werewolf of Bamberg, and if you could get past the unlikeable protagonists it was worth it for the grim inspiration.  His brutish 1600s Germany is excellent fodder for an Ustalav or Ravenloft campaign.

Saturday, November 26, 2016


(Illustration by Miguel Regodón Harkness comes from the artist’s DeviantArt page and is © Paizo Publishing.)

Grioths, according to Bestiary 5, “inhabit rogue planets cast away from their stars.”  That seems to be an exceedingly rare ecological niche, which suggests that either a) grioths have a way of seeking out and traveling to such planets, especially during the eclipses that they love so much, or b) grioths have some foreknowledge of such calamities—or even play a hand in making sure said calamities come to pass.  Given that grioths worship the Outer God Nyarlathotep, who’s a bit of an expert in nudging societies toward apocalypse, the latter seems very likely.

Some other things to mention:

1) Grioths are only CR 1, which means they can be a useful way to expose parties to Lovecraftian or interplanetary themes very early in the campaign.

2) In The Dragon’s Demand, grioths had spell-like abilities; these have been changed to psychic magic in B5.  (Also, mentions of the grioths’ voidglass weapons were genericized down to “a strange metal.”)

3) Another quote: “The grioth race is prone to mutations.”  Translation: Go nuts with the templates and class levels.

4) Grioths hate many other alien races.  (In the Golarion setting, this means the Dominion of the Black.)  Which raises the question: What aliens are so awful that even worshippers of Lovecraft’s Outer Gods fear them?

A group of young adventurers begin their careers when an eclipse giant appears in their village and blesses them, forever marking them as destined in the eyes of the gods.  Soon after, the eclipse the giant foretold comes to pass…bringing with it an invading force of grioths from a wayward frozen planet.  The village elders tap the blessed youngsters to thwart the otherworldly creatures.

After a wizard is executed for vile crimes, some adventurers are tasked with clearing out his laboratory.  While they are there, they come across a strange bat-winged creature.  The grioth is also scouring the lab, seeking to erase all evidence of the collaboration he and the wizard shared.  The moment he sets his four eyes on the adventurers, he decides that they know too much to live.

Bartimaeus’s Bestiary of Beasts Most Baleful is widely regarded as the most fanciful—and dangerously error-ridden—manual of monsters in circulation.  Unfortunately for a certain young adventurer, Bartimaeus is also her uncle and her adventuring company’s main benefactor.  When rumors reach him of an urd sighting—urds being a race of winged kobold considered so unlikely that Bartimaeus’s publisher stripped them out of the third edition of the Bestiary—the old scribe sees a chance to restore his battered reputation.  He sends his niece and her compatriots to fetch him an urd, “alive or competently stuffed.”  Unfortunately, the bat-winged creatures are actually otherworldly grioths, with psychic abilities and strange weapons beyond even Bartimaeus’s wildest imaginings.

The Dragon’s Demand 62 & Pathfinder Bestiary 5 137

2e fans, that urd was for you.

One final thought: Both D&D’s Forgotten Realms (especially in 2e and 3.0/3.5) and Pathfinder’s Golarion are both exceptionally well-realized worlds that allow for a wide variety of adventure styles and settings.  (Want to fight mummies?  Vikings?  Ninjas?  Both pretty much have you covered.)  If there’s one way to quickly differentiate the two, it’s this: The Realms, thanks to Greenwood and Salvatore, teach you to fear what’s below the ground.  Golarion, thanks to Lovecraft and Jacobs, teaches you to fear the night sky.

Did any of you get that thing that’s going around?  Major congestion, bit of a fever, tiredness, general suckitude?  Because I’m on Day 9, and it is zero fun.

Sunday, November 20, 2016


(Illustration by Damien Mammoliti comes from the artist’s DeviantArt page and is © Paizo Publishing.)

The Abyss!  What a plane.  In the Abyss, grub eats you.

Extraplanar aberrations, grimslakes feed on corpses, lesser demons, and hapless adventurers.  (The first two are common in the Abyss; the last is typically found at the gaming table.)  Grimslakes resemble giant grubs and are known for sucking the marrow out of their meals, causing excruciating Constitution drain.

Given that they're so monstrous, it’s easy to forget that grimslakes are somewhat intelligent, speak Abyssal, and have spell-like abilities.  Granted, their conversation revolves around food and the savoriness of certain screams, but it is conversation nonetheless.

“The Iron Brethren never leave a man behind.”  So goes the saying, and often enough it’s true.  Disaster strikes, though, when an Iron Brother falls in the Abyss.  The Brethren send a sortie out to retrieve his body, not realizing that it is already incubating grimslake eggs.  By the time a party of adventurers reaches the scene, the young have hatched and devoured their way through a full third of the Steel Citadel.

Adventurers are sneaking through an Abyssal dungeon when they come across two cowering quasits—who surprisingly are not invisible.  The quasits were supposed to be herding dretches, but grimslakes tunneled into their stockyard and devoured most of the demonstock.  Too cowardly to either report the disaster to their superiors or flee into the grimslakes’ tunnel, the quasits beg the adventurers to help slay the creatures.  They even promise to throw in a casting of commune as payment, free and uncorrupted…honest.

Adventurers are forced to attend a ball hosted by a diabolist.  He tests both their command of etiquette and their fortitude with a succession of dishes ranging from the profane to the truly taboo.  At last he serves the pièce de résistance: grimslake young straight from the corpse (an especially daring choice giving grimslakes’ association with the Abyss).  Due to a “misunderstanding,” the adventurers are served an adult, very much alive grimslake instead…and naturally their host and the other guests will be so shocked, verily, shocked at the mix-up that it will take them several seconds (about three rounds) to recover and come to the party’s aid.

The Worldwound 55 & Pathfinder Bestiary 5 136

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Grim Reaper

(Illustration by Wayne Reynolds comes from the Paizo website and is © Paizo Publishing.)

Death has gotten pretty complicated in Pathfinder.  You’ve got psychopomps who want to shepherd souls to their just reward, sahkils who want to terrorize them, night hags who want to bottle and sell them, daemons who want to destroy souls entirely, shinigamis and inevitables who will take you out if you try to defy death (except the shinigamis who take bribes or go rogue)…look, it’s a mess.

And now we have grim reapers and lesser deaths to deal with, which is where I give up and hurl my Bestiaries into the air.  (And then duck, because five of those things are heavy and pointy.)

Except.  Except.  Hang on…I played 52-Book Pickup too soon.  It turns out those books are going to be useful after all.

Every threat we mentioned in the first paragraph above is an outsider.  They’re interested in souls.  Grim reapers and the lesser deaths are undead.  Their interest lies in death itself—the noun and the verb.  It’s a subtle distinction, but a significant one (one that puts them closer to nightshades than shinigamis, cosmologically speaking).  They are interested in the act of dying and the moment of death, not how the spirit is apportioned.  In fact, grim reapers are pretty much death itself given form—kind of like the purple-robed lady Thanos is always trying to get with in the Marvel comics, only more scythe-y.  To put it another way, while a shinigami is the farmhand busy harvesting his soul crop, the grim reaper finds satisfaction in simply cutting the grass.  When what you want is a well-mowed lawn devoid of life, wheat and chaff are all one.

By and large, all the nuance above is the kind of thing that matters to certain GMs a lot, and not at all to everyone else.  But on balance I think it’s good to know, because you never know what players will try to pull at the table.  At the very least, when the PCs try to challenge one of Bestiary 5’s grim reapers to a game of checkers, you can confidently say he isn’t that kind of death and roll for initiative.

Other tidbits: 1) Both grim reapers and lesser deaths (originally called minor reapers) have gotten a CR boost and I presume some stat changes since they were introduced in Pathfinder Adventure Path #48: Shadows of Gallowspire.  2) There may be just one Grim Reaper…or there might be nine (which, if you’ve been craving Nazgûl in your Pathfinder game, should have jumped out at you like a neon shark).  3) Grim reapers sometimes ride dragons, yet one more sign (along with, for instance, their elemental subtypes) that dragons are something more than just monsters and are tied up in the fabric of the world somehow.  4) Lesser deaths are associated with the deck of many things.  Who knows what other ephemera they might be bound into?  And if you can capture lesser deaths, could you capture lesser lives?  Births?  Menarches?  Fears?  Angers?  Joys?

Okay, on to the adventure seeds:

When St. Tomin’s Cathedral was erected upon Argyle Mound, the builders couldn’t eliminate the famous faerie gate there…but they could bar it.  Four stained glass windows representing the four seasons mark the ambulatory behind the chancel.  The figures that represent Winter, Spring, and Summer are trapped fey who block the way between the worlds.  The figure representing Autumn is a bound lesser death who manifests if anyone tries to tamper with the other three windows.

Adventurers must speak with a wyrm of ancient power and might.  Their timing, unfortunately, is abysmal.  The ancient dragon has just begun five centuries of service to a grim reaper.  Addressing the steed without insulting the deadly master will be difficult, especially when the wyrm has no desire to speak with them in the first place.

To save Death, you have to kill it. A cabal of daemons seeks to unseat Lady Death and tear down the ordered bureaucracy that guides souls to their proper rest.  Their plot partially succeeds, temporarily rendering the Final Judge mortal (albeit still mythic and mighty).  But the hint of a vacancy in the office allows the daemons’ co-conspirator, the god of murder, to call up a long dormant aspect of death, the Grim Reaper.  Now adventurers must leap to the defense of the Obsidian Alcazar, leading psychopomps to battle and preventing the scythe-wielding Grim Reaper from stalking and gruesomely murdering Lady Death in her own palace.

Pathfinder Adventure Path #48 86–87 & Pathfinder Bestiary 5 134–135

Speaking of magical beings and magical decks of cards, thanks to everyone who’s been engaging with my Campaign in a Bottle series.  Want to get caught up?  Click here.

Oh, and no radio show this week, so no link.