Sunday, January 31, 2016


(Illustration comes from artist Rogier van de Beek’s DeviantArt page and is © Paizo Publishing.)

Given that I’m on record being suspicious of new golem types, it's probably weird that I’m so into other kinds of animate statues.  (No doubt it’s because living statues were a classic element of the Mentzer era-Basic Rules red box for D&D.)  And that goes double for religious statues.  (See my rather involved “Graven Guardian” post).  So celedons are right up my alley.  Based off of living statues from Greek mythology (so that’s a hard “c,” as in “cat,” for you pronunciation sticklers), the celedon is an animate statue able to defend its god’s interests, use its god’s special ability, and sing its god’s praises.

It’s interesting that, unlike most constructs, celedons aren’t created by mortals.  They're created by the gods themselves…and I find it striking that a monster meant for such low-level encounters (a single celedon is CR 1) is nevertheless directly touched by a deity.  That means adventurers who fight or even ally with a celedon could be drawing much more attention than they realize.  It's also striking that celedons are a kind of hedge against imperfect humanoids, an acknowledgement that we aren’t good enough or reliable enough to protect a deity’s most sacred sites.  Given that religion is about faith, how does it impact the faithful if they ever realize the faith in a worshipper-divine relationship only goes one way…?

Novice adventurers are meant to deliver a poisoned relic to a remote and little-used sepulcher.  They are even made to memorize the prayer that the records say is the key to pacifying the guardian celedon.  There’s only one problem: The celedon was created before the Conclave of Senna, when the liturgy was translated into spoken Common.  The prayer needs to be sung—and in the original Draconic—or the orthodox celedon will assume the adventurers are thieves or apostates and attack.

A god devoted to martial perfection takes all hardy worshippers who trust in his instruction.  His celedons are emblematic of this fact.  In order to enter his training dojos, the worshipper must trust the guardian celedon to strike him or her with the flat of its blade.  Those tough enough to only be staggered may pass (incidentally bypassing the entranceway’s alignment-triggered magic missile trap courtesy of the celedon’s prophet’s touch ability).  Those who try to dodge the test or are stunned by the blow have a dicier time, courtesy of the same trap.  Once enrolled, worshippers may find the same celedon later teaching blocks and falls, copying prayers or fencing diagrams, or leading the choir during services.

In the church of the Prismatic Lord, it is an article of faith that the god of magic descended from on high to bring the arcane arts to man.  And so the original Prismatic Lord may have…but the current prismatic lord is an ascended mortal who took up the mantle of godhood only a few centuries ago—a fact he has been very careful to obscure.  When young adventurers seem on the verge of discovering the new god’s mortal birthplace, he sends a celedon to befriend, distract, or kill them—whatever it takes to get them off the scent.  Of course, if the celedon finds out the truth about its god, its resulting (and quite explosive) crisis of faith might kill the adventurers anyway.

Adventures find a remote town peopled only by celedons.  They are all that remains of an obscure goddess’s faith in this region (her mortal adherents having packed up long ago after a terrible plague ravaged this peninsula).  The celedons are eager to have a new audience to sing the praises of their lady to. But having mortals in their midst underscores the sad puppet show that is the town’s daily life, and one or more of the celedons may become angry enough to draw blood over this fact.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 52

Apparently I decided to write four adventures seeds…because I don’t even know why.  Also, apologies for the weekend posts, but I’m trying to work on the backlog a bit so that I can get January’s posts up to a more respectable number.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Caulborn Thoughtkeeper

(Illustration by Maichol Quinto comes from the Paizo Blog and is © Paizo Publishing.)

I’ve already talked about how caulborn are sort of Pathfinder’s answer to the world’s oldest role-playing game’s mind-flayers—more sagacious perhaps, definitely less ravenous or evil, but ultimately just as alien and unknowable.  Caulborn thoughtkeepers are the psychic and physical muscle of the hive—some serving as guardians of the hivemind’s living libraries, the chrestomaths, and others sent farther afield to harvest more compelling thought-matter to bring back to the hive.  (And given that caulborn thoughtkeepers can both plane shift and summon up a mindscape door, “farther afield” can be very far indeed.)  Which means that a caulborn thoughtkeeper might make its way into almost any adventure, assuming there are fascinating minds or great stores of knowledge involved. 

Aided by mind-fogging volcanic mists, a talented and powerful cerebric cyst has managed to slay and effectively replace a caulborn hive’s chrestomath.  The brain-like cyst directs the hive’s thoughtkeepers to bring it psychically potent individuals.  The cyst wisely allows the caulborn a few days to study the victim’s thoughts before it devours them.

A scholarly adventurer is invited to join the Concordia.  Known far and wide as a retreat for free-thinkers and absolute leaders in their fields, the Concordia’s campus sees kobold dracologists mingling with architects of Astral semi-real estate and drow flesh surgeons (on their best behavior, of course).  What none of the Concordia’s members realize is that it is not a retreat or campus—it's a zoo, carefully kept by caulborn thoughtkeepers who consume or mind wipe away any suspicions from the residents.

Adventures are drawn into the mindscape of a dying genie noble.  Unfamiliar with the mechanics of such a domain, they fear what will happen to them if the genie expires while they are still inside.  (This is complicated by the fact that the genie’s wishcraft still functions, occasionally making their fears real as his sickly subconscious misinterprets their speech and sends animate dreams and other hazards their way.)  Just as the genie is about to expire, a caulborn thoughtkeeper enters the mindscape, telepathically declares the whole affair a dull exercise, and invites the adventurers to leave the mindscape with him—for a price.

Occult Bestiary 12

Chrestomath!  It’s a monster, but it’s also a word.

Hey, my brutal personal schedule has seen me fall waaay behind on reader correspondence.  So please, please don’t be insulted if I haven’t written back to you—I’ve been too busy just trying to keep the posts happening on the regular.  That said, if you dig reader commentary, definitely check out the comments/reblogs buried in the notes over on Tumblr for the last few weeks’ posts.  There’s been a lot of great back-and-forth, alternate origin stories, some people flagging some stat blocks tidbits they wanted to call out, and the return (welcome back, man!) of dr-archeville’s very elaborate commentary (along with regulars filbypott, demiurge1138, ohgodhesloose, fortooate, cofinaldestination, and several others.  So, when you read this, click the notes.  And then go to yesterday’s entry and click the notes.  And then the day before…you get the idea.  It’s worth it!

Some I want to call out: crinosg references my home state’s own cryptid, the goatman of Maryland.  Reader hidrihime made me laugh by hollering back “hell yeah ordovicians” within seconds of my Cameroceras post landing.  Reader jakus wanted to know:

Okay, just curious, what is the absolute most horrific abomination of a monster that is in the manual? Show me the evil.

Setting aside the obvious Lovecraft candidates, I’m going to have to go with Pazuzu, for all the reasons I’ve written about.  If I take fiendish lords out of the equation…?  Hmmm, I’ll have to think about that one.  Any nominations from the audience?  And beowulfthecool asked:

Heyo, I was wondering how exactly I would look for specific Bestiaries? I want to look only at the ones I have but I'm not sure how.

Sadly, I didn’t think to tag posts that way—when I started, there was only the Bestiary, the Bonus Bestiary (which barely counted), and Bestiary 2 to worry about.  So I’ve got no good recommendations for you other than scrolling through the archives (this one or this one) and clicking on what you recognize, or just using the Find command.  Sorry!

Thursday, January 28, 2016


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

The Pathfinder Module Wardens of the Reborn Forge gave us capramaces, a race of diseased aberrant goat-men who come from Golarion’s Mana Wastes.  One of these creatures is a CR 7 problem in and of itself, but they have a tendency to herd in much greater numbers: packs of up to 11 and herds of up to 25(!).  And since one capramace’s rage call can summon every other capramace within a mile, that can easily mean the entire herd is bearing down on you in a matter of minutes.  (Did I say CR 7?  Time to recalculate this encounter’s Challenge Rating…by about +8 or +9…)

I’m also interested in the capramace because it’s a goat-man that’s not a fey or outsider.  (I have nothing compelling to say about that; I just like that it defies expectations a little.)  Golarion’s capramaces’ aberrant nature is likely the result of the mutagenic environment in which they live.  And on your world…who knows?  Subterranean radiation?  Unstable fleshwarping?  Nuclear war?  (Any Gamma World fans out there?)

If you’re someone who digs mythical monsters, the capramace is also not a bad stand-in for the Greek (and, give or take some syllable tweaks, the Serbian/Turkish/Bulgarian) kallikantzaros.  Descriptions of the kallikantzaros vary widely, but most sources agree it is a bestial trouble-maker, typically cloven-hoofed, that tends to run amok during winter religious feast days.  One could easily imagine seasonal hunger pangs driving kallikantzaroi/capramaces into civilized areas, where they are merely a nuisance at first, but then form deadly hunting packs after one is alarmed into bleating its rage call…

Believing them to be licentious, living embodiments of the cardinal sin of lust, the Church authorizes an attempt to transform satyrs into docile—and above all, abstinent—creatures.  The attempt backfires horribly.  Now the Church’s scientist-priests are dead of the waste trembles and their horrific creations, the capramaces, run wild in the streets of the Holy City-State.

A legendary chimera (see Mythical Monsters Revisited) terrorizes Thricia, punishment for that land’s neglect of the Grain Mother.  Now the braziers in her temples burn again and offerings of wheat are left in fallow fields for her birds, but still the beast comes.  Driving it off will be no picnic either.  The sea route to the chimera’s lofty perch passes the lair of one of the Grain Mother’s other aberrant daughters, a scylla.  And the land route is guarded by troublesome fey and hooting, bleating herds of capramaces that attack all but other goat-creatures and the local tengu shepherds.

Beggars are vanishing off the streets.  Farmers bring their wares to market and never come home.  The ratfolk, always the first to know of trouble, have fled the city.  And then the culprits behind the disappearances—morlocks—come boiling out of the sewers and into the streets.  They are being chased by flocks of cloakers, hordes of terrifying, goat-like aberrations, and worse.  These strange creatures (the capramaces in particular) are following instincts buried deep in their very essence long ago: the mark of their grande dame, the Outer God Shub-Niggurath.  The Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young is calling her children to rise up at last.

—Wardens of the Reborn Forge 61 & Pathfinder Bestiary 5 50

Seriously, how terrifying would the Darklands/Underdark/Deepearth be if capramaces were the default monster instead of orcs and goblins?

Is Wardens of the Reborn Forge seriously already over two years old?  I swear it came out, like, yesterday.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016


Human cantors (particularly in the Christian and Jewish traditions) lead their congregations in songs or call-and-response prayers.  Cantor kytons, on the other hand, seem to only unleash silent screams.  (Perhaps they do sing, but it’s not listed as a skill in the cantor stat block.  And with 100 ft. telepathy, one can imagine them not even bothering with Common or Infernal, thought they speak both.)  Thus we have to assume that instead of leading congregations, these cantors lead kyton hunting packs on terrible raids in the mortal realms.  (The Occult Bestiary describes the mind of a cantor as “a weapon against reality and a scalpel to excise sanity,” and a group of cantors is listed as an “expedition,” supporting that theory.)

Then again, their small size does recall images of castrati, the Vienna Boys’ Choir, and the children(/ground meat) from Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” video.  And I’m reminded of a scene in Alan Moore’s Spawn #8, when a demon posing as an angel collects the soul of a gospel singer to put in an electrified bird cage.  So perhaps the next time your PCs visit a kyton fortress, they’ll be greeted by choirs of silently screaming cantors…and all their terrifying congregants.

A cantor allies with some shadow-tainted spriggans, enjoying their madcap cruelty as a refreshing change from the calculated sculpture of the kyton realms.  The twisted gnomes’ ability to grow in size makes the illusory horror of the cantor’s oneiric invasion all the more convincing.

An ostiarius tempts a bard with the gig of a lifetime: a performance in the Basilica of Sin’s Sinew on the Shadow Plane.  The ostiarus makes his offer thrice, each time promising more riches, more glory, and especially more thrilling sensations.  Should he be rebuffed, the ostiarius (less patient than most of his kind) turns the performance into a command performance, sending a cantor expedition to hunt down the arrogant minstrel.

A halfling patriarch has never fully recovered from the psychic damage inflicted by a cantor’s lingering touch.  The only cure requires an ingredient that is particularly difficult and dangerous to obtain: a chunk of the shadowstuff that serves as a kyton’s form while in its shadow body.

Occult Bestiary 30

Having heard a number of stories from my suitemate, who sang in church choirs all his life and ran my college’s madrigal group, I’m guessing more than a few of you probably thought your cantors were kytons too…

Tuesday, January 26, 2016



Okay, so certain periods of prehistory don’t have the charismatic dinofauna of the Cretaceous or even the buggy glamor of the Carboniferous.  But when you need a primeval squid (and who doesn’t?), the cameroceras has you covered.  It’s perfect for subterranean seas, time-travel scenarios, and deep-water encounters (courtesy of Pressure Adaptation (Ex)).  And the fact it can grapple creatures right up into its shell and trap them there is pretty sweet.

Long trapped underground, a tribe of gripplis has evolved apart from their peers, both in terms of biology and culture.  Among other differences (such as worshipping various elemental powers of Earth), these gripplis carry their young suspended in jelly on their moisture-rich backs, rather than risk losing them to the predatory camerocerases that frequent the nearby subterranean lakes.

Adventurers investigate a strange rig out on the ocean—a dangerous wizard’s tsunami-harvester.  Some of the rig’s many spherical chambers are trapped to punish intruders.  One such sphere is weighted to drop more than 500 hundred fathoms deep, then open a series of valves to slowly release the air supply while allowing water—and hungry camerocerases—in.

Adventurers encounter a machine cyst and must destroy it before its automatons incorporate any more victims into its biomechanizer.  The cyst is not undefended though.  Robotic squids (treat as metal-clad or clockwork camerocerases; see the Advanced Bestiary) course through the cyst’s oily nutrient baths, acting as a sort of violent immune system.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 49

Metal squids?  Because I’m referencing The Matrix, right?  Nope!  I’m referencing the terrible beasts of Quintessa from The Transformers: TheMovie.

No radio show tonight.  I’m mostly dug out from the blizzard, but if I leave my neighborhood I will never see my parking space again, especially not at 12:50 A.M.

Monday, January 25, 2016


Say the word “cambion” to a certain generation of RPG player—1e AD&D Greyhawk fans, in particular—and they get a certain fervid gleam in their eye. 

There are a lot of reasons for this.  A) Cambions are half-breeds, and demonic ones at that, the result of a liaison between an incubus and a mortal woman.  In the post-3.0 world, half-demons/devils/celestials/dragons/fey/etc. abound.  But before templates became commonplace in 2000, half-breeds like cambions and dracolisks were rare and exciting monsters.  B) Cambions had some illustrious company.  No less than Iuz the Evil, Oerth demigod and Greyhawk’s answer to Sauron, began life as a cambion.  C) Well…there was something extra-forbidden about them.  Cambions by their very nature suggested sex, which was scandalous enough, and then 2e AD&D temporarily wiped demons off the map entirely, making cambions doubly alluring—a symbol of AD&D’s wilder days before (intentionally misinformed) moms “ruined” the hobby. 

(Cambions would return only three years later courtesy of the Outer Planes Appendix to the Monstrous Compendium, but 2e demons/tanar’ri never really found their footing again until Planescape came along and made everything planar amazing.  And then 3.0 came out and half-fiends made cambions redundant.  WotC didn’t even bother statting them up again until Expedition to the Demonweb Pits, when 3.5 was in its death throes.)

All that is a lot of nerd history, half of which I’m probably getting wrong.  The point is, when you put a cambion in your adventure, you’re not just fielding a special half-demon; you’re fielding a half-demon with some history, both in- and out-of-game.

Pathfinder’s cambion earns its singular status over other half-fiends because the mother resides in the Abyss throughout the pregnancy.  That’s plenty evil in itself—it means she’s either a prisoner of demons or their willing consort, both horrible things to contemplate—and the evil energies of the plane warp the fetus still further until it becomes a true outsider.  Cambions are also marked by their mortal parent’s sin, which is exhibited in a sinfrenzy that manifests once per day.  Even more fascinatingly, the sinfrenzy gives an added boost if the cambion has levels in the class that complements his sin.  That’s just awesome.  (In fact, I can totally see a GM never using cambions in a single adventure but still stealing the sinfrenzy list as a way to taint other monsters, NPCs, and even PCs.  (“Because of her actions in that last dungeon, your character has earned a free special ability.”  “That’s awesome!”  “…And she’s damned to the Abyss till she atones.”  “…Oh.”)

The long and the short of it is that cambions are all kinds of wrong in a demonically handsome package.  So when the Greyhawk fan in your life gets all excited at the mention of a cambion, now you can join in too.

Clavel and his Hounds are the scourge—literally—of the Andirons.  The flail-and flamberge-wielding demon keeps a cult of wrath sinspawn on leather leashes to serve as his hunting dogs, releasing them to harry escaped slaves and political dissidents.

Adventurers owe a demon a favor—and now the demon has called in his marker.  He wants his wayward sons found.  That means tracking down sloth and gluttony cambions in the fighting pits of two continents and an elemental plane.  (The demon of course intends to feed the adventurers to his boys in the end—they’re still growing after all—but that’s to be expected when you work for a demon.)

The specialist wizards of the Mightspire have never allowed mere morals or ethics to hobble their studies.  Nor are they shy about trumpeting the supremacy of their particular school of magic over all others.  But still a certain level of decorum was observed, if only to keep open spell battles from breaking out in the halls.  The cambion Marxys ignores even those basic courtesies, and he and his black-leather-wearing acolytes in the School of Admixture (see the Advanced Player’s Guide) are currently terrifying the other students and even some of the professors.  The fact that the Chair of the School of Banishment seems powerless to contain Marxys only adds to the demonic guest lecturer’s strange allure.  The other department heads don’t want to be seen moving against the cambion—who knows if his mother or patron might be watching?—but they want the problem ended…and quickly.

Pathfinder Adventure Path #76 84–85 & Pathfinder Bestiary 5 75

I usually think of devils as being more concerned with the seven cardinal sins than demons, and cambions are a useful reminder to me that that’s just not so.

The original entry on cambions in Pathfinder Adventure Path #76: The Midnight Isles goes into more details about Nocticula’s interest in and fostering of these fiends.

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the cambion’s female counterpart, the alu-demon, born of a succubus and a male mortal.  No official stats on that exist so far, I believe, though the Tome of Horrors Complete has a version.

Clavel is the name of an amazing mescaleria in Baltimore.  I’m sorry, Clavel.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Caller in Darkness

I could have sworn the caller in darkness was an older monster, but all my Google-fu reveals is that it dates back to 3.0’s Psionics Handbook, or possibly Dark Sun’s City by the Silt Sea.  In all of these sources, a caller in darkness is made of dozens or even hundreds of souls who died in terror. 

Pathfinder’s caller in darkness is a more run-of-the-mill undead, made from only a single soul (“a creature with psychic sensibility that died a violent death” says Bestiary 5).  One important detail is the same, though: The caller in darkness eats minds, and by extension souls.  So even a single caller in darkness is soon an amalgamation of many stolen minds, all trapped within the terrible swirling undead form.  Facing such a creature is enough to make you despair…and if you don’t, the caller is happy to help you with its Wrap in Despair supernatural ability.

So between its nasty attacks (I don't want to face anything incorporeal that does 6d6 plus Wisdom damage on a simple melee attack), the usual hooks associated with intelligent undead (particularly ones with access to the minds of their victims), a tradition of mass deaths in their lore, and a killer name, there’s a lot for a GM to work with here.

Musty tomes mention that a rare artifact, a cloak of living skin with magical and perhaps even psychic properties, is guarded by “a caller in that dark place.”  The adventurers’ researcher, a sage who specializes in subterranean races, thinks the passage may refer to a dark caller, a caste of dark folk of whom he has heard only rumors.  The adventurers have no reason to doubt his surmise, as his advice for dealing with dark creepers and dark stalkers proved invaluable on a recent adventure.  But translation is a tricky art, and the passage actually refers to a caller in darkness—an undead entity far more dangerous than even the priests of the dark folk.

Fifty years ago an unnatural sandstorm brought the desert to Tolemar…and with it, a plague of locusts and mindless mummies.  Over time the sands have receded, but the abandoned city is still dangerous.  Nor are mummies the only undead threat.  The trauma of the initial sandstorm and the plagues that followed created a caller in darkness.  The creature uses its ability to cause an aversion to keep interlopers away from Tolemar’s central acropolis.  A magical spring there could restore water and drive away the taint of undeath from the city, were it to be unplugged.

In organized crime families, loyalty is everything.  But criminal family ties often wind up ensnaring the members in ways they never expect.  When one of the Miko sons tried to outmuscle a strange vishkanya, the golden-skinned man obliterated him without a thought—or rather, he obliterated the Miko boy with a thought, an excruciating psychic flensing.  The trauma was so great that the young Miko’s consciousness persisted as a caller in darkness, which in its confusion fled back to the family home and soon consumed the minds of the rest of the clan.  But absorbing so many members with such close ties and similar mindsets has had an odd effect on the psychic undead.  Much of the time the caller in darkness is still a mind-consuming horror, but its lucid periods are frequent enough that it has managed to continue the Miko family’s vile schemes by passing orders on to (or just plain terrorizing) the right subordinates in a macabre parody of the clan’s usual business dealings.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 48

Trying to use this blizzard to catch up on some of my backlog.  Hooray!

Friday, January 22, 2016


I’ve been enjoying the way we've learned about dark folk culture in dribs and drabs throughout the Bestiaries.  It’s clear the folks at Paizo are fans of them—dark creepers and dark stalkers (and many other Fiend Folio monsters) got some love in the very first Adventure Path, Shackled City, back in Paizo’s Dungeon-publishing days—but the authors have shown a nice restrained touch in how they’ve dished out more dark folk subspecies and details over time.

Since Bestiary 4 revealed that owbs had a hand in perverting the dark folk race, it’s probably inevitable we got a prelapsarian dark folk species: the caligni.  A throwback to a nobler, less stunted phenotype, caligni are what dark folks were and could one day be again, were it not for the owbs.  They’re still dark folk, right down to the death throes, but they aren't the shrouded, rag-covered, disgusting messes so many of their fellows are.

Every caligni is a potential adventure—they are by their very birth chosen ones and messiahs, a challenge to the owb order.  They are also likely to be outcasts, murder victims, political prisoners, and just plan victims of the dark folk establishment.  A caligni encountered in dark folk society is either a leader or a target; a caligni found far from dark folk society is running from someone…or something.

And best of all, they're a playable race—perfect for that player who wants the Dark Outcast™ character without all the in- and out-of-game baggage of the drow or the planar ties of a fetchling.  (Did I say perfect for the player?  I meant perfect for his beleaguered GM.)  Not only are they a pretty reasonable build for someone who wants a tough and nimble character (they make absurdly good rogues despite the hit to Intelligence), but also their death throes make combat just that little extra more risky and meaningful for the player—never a bad thing.

A caligni returns to Shroud, the subterranean city of his childhood, a rare melting pot of tolerance and trade amid the many mad and evil races of the Lands Below.  But all is not well in the city.  Dark folk militants are moving into Shroud in threes and fours, pushing out the more discreet and peaceable dark folk who have always called the city home.  These militants hunt the Dark Messiah, a rabble-rouser whose very existence is a rallying point for those who have rejected more orthodox dark folk ways.  Worse yet, the Dark Messiah is the caligni’s identical twin.

A strange gray-skinned half-elf has become the grandmaster of the Night Hands thieves’ guild.  As the previous grandmaster was a noted follower of the Cat Lord, the new half-elf has worked to eliminate all Cat Lord worshippers, catfolk, and even stray street felines from his territory.  In fact, the grandmaster seems to have a hatred of all extraplanar creatures, which makes him a deadly foe of summoners and conjurers but a potentially useful ally against both the selfish wizards of the Protean Tower and the angel-leashing martinets of the Golden Dome.

When Oliver Cromwell’s forces took over England, wags joked that he would paint the country as black as the robes of his Puritan followers.  They were more right than they knew.  For ever since he became Lord Protector and closed England’s borders and ports, the country has been shrouded in a figurative fog of secrecy and a literal fog of dark magic.  Adventurers who dare to cross the English Channel or slip down from the Highlands of Scotland discover a realm shrouded from the sun where every man, woman, and child has become one of the dark folk…and only a few brave caligni stand up to the Great Owb Crom of the Black Well’s armies, zealots, and spies.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 66

Full fridge.  $44.00 worth of alcohol.  Netflix, two Lego sets, and more unread role-playing books than I could get through in a month, let alone one weekend?  Provided I keep my power/heat/Internet (*knocks on wood*), I am ready for this blizzard.

How is it Friday already and I haven’t posted this week’s radio show yet?!?  Tuesday I braved 22 °F temps to bring you tons of new music, plus bands we expect big things of in 2016 and a few classics.  Get everything from Bossie to Blondie, Tove Styrke to Titus Andronicus, and Chance the Rapper to Beck.  Stream or download it now, though, because the file disappears Monday, 1/25, at midnight.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Brain Mole Monarch

Sapience can be a terrible curse.  And few creatures experience that pain more deeply than the brain mole monarch.  The diet of psychic energy that enhances their intelligence to near-human levels is the very same diet that encourages the magical tumors that metastasize through their bodies.  Thus, hard on the heels of the arrival of their self-awareness comes the knowledge that they are sick, that their bodies are betraying them, and that they are mortal.  Worse yet, a brain mole monarch suffers this discovery alone, since the other unascended moles in its nest are just dumb animals by comparison, little more than components for the hive mind.

And so, desperate to leave a mark on the world in the short time they have, brain mole monarchs scheme, plot, plan, carve monuments, hunt humanoid candidates for mind swapping, attempt risky experiments, push their psychic-gestalt-linked kin to take ever-greater risks, and generally cause havoc in their wake.

One more note: Last entry we covered the theory that, since brain moles have six limbs, they might be from another planet  (that all hexipedal and/or psychic creatures come from space being a common trope in pulp fantasy).  But there’s another tradition, especially from sword & sorcery fantasy and 1e AD&D, that says that psychic creatures tend to come from Deepearth/the Underdark (or whatever your preferred name is for the subterranean realms).  And brain mole monarchs fit well into that mold too.  There’s another hook as well: One of the only evil gnomish deities, Urdlen the Crawler Below, resembles a giant naked mole rat, just as Pathfinder’s brain moles do.  If you don’t mind mixing Pathfinder and Greyhawk/Realms lore, brain mole monarchs might be Urdlen’s children, recipients of his mental gifts but cursed by the dark energies that long ago curdled his soul…

A wave of strange trances strikes the city of Nerislann.  The victims seem to suddenly understand no Common, fear bright light, and eagerly eat bugs and worms.  Often they are reported to have stolen books or other small objects.  Sometimes their minds return—always with tales of tunnels, and darkness, and the strange pressure of chittering minds inside their own—but others remain trapped in an animalistic state.  A brain mole monarch has been collecting humanoid minds and depositing them in the pale bodies of her servitors.  Soon she will have one trapped mind for every planet that tracks across the night sky…

Tormented by tumors that wrack her with pain and rendered her nearly blind, a particularly bright brain mole monarch, Soilsworn Fenn, has turned to the same answer so many death-fearing humanoids do: necromancy.  Now she rules an army of tiny skeletons, zombies, and even an attic whisperer or two (that latter drawn by the negative energy and the plethora of rodent skulls to choose from).  Hoping to cause a wave of deaths whose energy she can harvest for a ritual, Soilsworn Fenn has set her servants to work on destroying the dam that overlooks a nearby town. 

Adventurers exploring a dungeon come across a strange chamber whose floor is almost entirely taken up with a miniature city, and whose walls are lined with images telling a saga of some sort.  A brain mole monarch (whose mind is supposedly represented in the structure and street layout of the bizarre model city) seizes the opportunity to induct the adventurers into the rites and articles of faith of her “priesthood,” so that the outside world may know of her glory when the tumors take her.

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Thursday, January 14, 2016

Brain Mole

We often talk about a meme or an earworm burrowing into your brain.  (In fact, it's what I count on.  #askmeaboutmyadvertisingcareer)  Well, if that’s what earworms do, brain moles are what prey on them. 

Resembling naked mole rats, only more awful, brain moles use their clawed feet and terrible incisors to grapple the heads of humanoids (especially spellcasters) to drain their spells and mental energy.  This makes them potentially terrifying pests for dungeoneers.  And as they are able to sense psychic creatures while hiding from them at the same time, they not only fit well into their subterranean ecosystems, but are also useful familiars and service animals to spellcasters who can bring them to heel.

Of course, all of the above refers to ordinary brain moles.  Those in the thrall of a brain mole monarch form a horrible hive mind…but that is an avenue we’ll explore in the next entry.

Also note that brain mole monarchs are described as having six limbs, but we don’t know how many limbs ordinary brain moles have.  Perhaps the six limbs are just artifacts of the monarchs’ terrible transformation.  But if all brain moles have six limbs…?  Well, there’s an unofficial tradition in Pathfinder that creatures with too many limbs—aurumvoraxes, girallons, kasathas, etc.—are of alien origin…which is not a bad origin story for brain moles in campaigns with a pulp adventure bent.

Traveling through the Underchasm, young adventurers undertake a forced march through the Howling Deeps.  They’ve been instructed that it is essential to get to a way station tended by svirfneblin before any wights or hobgoblins inevitably catch them.  But when they reach the way station, they find it empty.  A nest of brain moles sapped the minds and wills of the deep gnome scouts not long ago.

Smart adventurers keep their eyes peeled for the red tabards and chainmail uniforms of the Mindguard at Arkenmeer.  The watchmen use caged brain moles to sniff out those with psychic talents, who are then promptly arrested.  Halflings have it the worst; they are sometimes jailed on sight due to their race’s talent for telepathy and phrenic amplification.

With the Ælfingates’ ancient links shattered, desperate elves must find new ways to travel from world to world.  Novice adventurers are helping to haul precious cargo, an elven Spirit Tree, when a fungal blight forces their ship to land and collect fresh soil.  Unfortunately, the replacement earth they collect is rife with brain moles, who promptly begin devouring the mental energy of the crew during Nightwatch.

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Previous incarnations of brain moles have resembled star-nosed moles, but I like Bestiary 5’s way better.

That last seed combines tropes from Pathfinder, the Realms, pulp sci-fi, and Companion-level 80’s D&D.

Thanks again for everyone who boosted my call for comments to the CDC last night, especially those of you who went the extra mile and left a message.  Very much appreciated!  Seriously, it meant a lot on this end.