Monday, May 23, 2016

Dream Dragon

(Illustration by Christina Yen comes from the Paizo Blog and is © Paizo Publishing.)

It’s our first esoteric dragon!  Don't let the label scare you.  The dream dragon is definitely one of those “Even if you don’t use any other [insert monster category here], use this one” monsters.  Maybe your campaign is not much concerned with Occult Adventures migration of monadic souls across the Transitive Planes, so astral dragons and occult dragons aren’t your thing.  Even so, there’s still probably room for a dream dragon in your game…because hey, dream sequence! 

How you play dream dragons is up to you.  They might be the ultimate expression of the Dimension of Dream’s whimsy and chaos, acting similar to Alice in Wonderland characters.  Or dream dragons might be the calculating masters of the dimension, with the natural psychic might to dominate the countless dreamscapes that manifest every night.  Or they might be indifferent hunters, as happy to devour adventurers as they are to snap up animate dreams and night hags. 

Or they might be all three at once.  After all, dreams refashion themselves into new shapes with new moods every night.  Why couldn’t dream dragons do the same?

Adventurers are exploring the hazy Ethereal Plane, determined to track a raiding part of phase spiders.  When they reach the spiders’ lair, they find a dream dragon snacking on the magical beasts.  The dream dragon intends to take the spiders’ surviving captives back to the Dimension of Dreams, and she reacts violently to any attempt to rescue “her” thralls.

The senior faculty of the College at Redstone whisper that the lecturer on ley lines is actually a gold dragon living incognito among them.  In actuality, the lecturer is a dream dragon posing as a gold posing as a half-elf.  He has been using his vast talents to pick apart students’ dreams as if he is searching for something important.  Lately, though, his searches have gotten less discreet—and far less gentle—as if he fears some looming deadline.

Travelers to the Dimension of Dreams speak of a giant paddlewheel craft captained by a positively radiant dragon.  The craft was a dream vessel created by a great wyrm dream dragon (via dream voyage) and then enchanted again and again to become permanent.  Though the great wyrm has passed on, the vessel remains.  Adventurers intend to use the vessel to sail into the dreams of a sleeping crocodile god, but they must defeat the great wyrm’s heirs first.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 90–91

I’ve been too swamped lately to make a big deal of this, but unless something goes catastrophically wrong I’m planning to be at PaizoCon this coming weekend!

I’ve never actually attended an RPG convention before—I’ve only done anime and small-press comic conventions—so this will be a totally new experience for me.  

If you’re going to be there as well, you should totally reach out and say hi!  (I will be the guy with glasses and a beard wearing a lot of black.  How many of those could there be in fandom, right?)

Sunday, May 22, 2016


When the Golarion setting was introduced, it was very consciously billed as “the best of all possible worlds.”  That Panglossian take might have raised the eyebrows of the Candide fans out there, but it did clearly establish the philosophy underpinning Golarion’s construction: Golarion intended to give you a logical place to set pretty much every kind of adventure you wanted.  A Viking setting?  Easy.  Mummy-filled pyramids?  Sure.  But Golarion kept going places a lot of other settings don’t even attempt: Renaissance scheming, the French Revolution, mammoth taming, or Expedition to the Barrier Peaks-style sci-fi?  Done, done, done, and done. 

But where were those hoariest of fantasy tropes, the dragonriders and their loyal dragon steeds? 

Turns out, they weren’t on Golarion itself.  But they were a few planets over, on Triaxus.  And the dragons were actually dragonkin. 

These Large creatures are smaller and less powerful than true dragons, but more flexible in game terms.  Their alignments aren’t tied to their color, they can use arms and armor, and at CR 9 they are powerful PC allies without becoming game-ruining Mary Steeds.  That makes them ripe for using in your game, whether you want to keep them on a remote continent or different planet, sprinkle them sparingly throughout your setting, or go The Full Dragonlance.  Even to the most jaded fantasy player, there’s something magical about dragons, especially one you can call your very own.

When a ranger’s mother dies, it is her duty to take her place at the side of her mother’s dragonkin partner.  But a rift between mother and daughter is what set the young ranger adventuring in the first place, and the dragonkin still flies in the legion of a lord who the ranger has distrusted all her life.  The ranger and her friends must travel to the front lines to befriend the dragonkin and see what comes next.  If they don’t, the dragonkin will come looking for her anyway, possibly even becoming an enemy of the party.

Adventurers drilled to fear chromatic dragons and revere their metallic cousins are often caught up short by the wildly divergent alignments of dragonkin.  When good-hearted blue dragonkin scouts cross the Ambergris Strait in search of fugitives from the deposed Wraithflight, adventurers might attack them before the blues can make their friendly intentions known.  Meanwhile, one of the most brutal members of the Wraithflight, a gold dragonkin commandant, has installed itself at the right hand of the primarch of Redgate and begun whispering tales of blood, gold, and righteous fury into the primarch’s ear.

The planet of Tortal has only known two kinds of dragonkin: the stern whites who serve Gaullin’s Knights of the Air, protecting that cold land from serf uprisings and the clockwork Deathless, and the reclusive greens who dwell in jungle observatories along the equator and are bloodbound to their sorcerer-thralls.  When the greens in three cities collaborate to open a portal during the Concordance of the Fox, when the red moon darts in front of the constellation of Lupin the Hunter, dragonkin of all colors come spilling through the magical gate.  The resulting draconic, social, and political upheaval will change Tortal forever—and could send certain adventurers’ careers soaring…

Distant Worlds 61 & Pathfinder Bestiary 5 98

Last Tuesday's radio show had three missions: 1) Celebrate Pet Sounds’ 50th anniversary.  2) Honor Guy Clark.  3) And play a ton of new music, especially from Kyle Craft. Those are not goals that should be attempted in the same two hours, but I'm really happy with the results.  The bad news is, since I’m late posting this the link expires tomorrow (Monday, 5/23) at the stroke of midnight.  Stream/download it now to enjoy it before it’s gone.

Monday, May 16, 2016


It took me a while to find my way into the doppeldrek.  (Some monsters instantly have a theme or a hook or something that make them stand out; some take a bit more work.  Ironically, shapechangers are sometimes the most trouble—once you get past the shapechanging, it’s not always clear what makes them special.) 

Then I realized the answer was sci-fi TV (with a healthy dose of fantasy novels on the side).  There’s always that episode (or chapter) where the hero winds up trapped in a cave or a starship with a shapeshifting goo.  Worse yet, the longer the goo spends time in another shape, the more it tends to get ideas above its squicky station.  After that, it’s usually a race against time to escape the cave or space the goo before it gets all murdery.

The doppeldrek seems a bit more innocent than that…it seems to just want to belong…but once it gets an intelligence score, well, all kinds of things can happen.

A game warden notices something odd about the deer in the King’s Wood.  Some of them are acting oddly…just not quite right…  When he sees one of them nearly gore a local lord, then collapse into foam on the end of his spear, he knows something his wrong.  He hopes to hire adventurers to investigate quietly so he will not be punished for dereliction in his duties.

The elves didn’t leave this world.  They just hid in it, using powerful enchantments to tuck their vast domains inside much smaller forests.  These same enchantments also generate various guardians to protect the elfwoods, including turning river foam and fog into animate protectors.  The misty oozes typically take the shape of stags, horses, wolves, and gars that work to drive away intruders.  But as the elves become more insular and xenophobic, their guardians have begun to take the form of humanoids—even other elves—and sometimes exhibit a malign intelligence to boot.

A crashed kasatha starship holds a mimic sphere—a floating ball of ooze that spawns doppeldreks, who then take the shape of those they come in contact with.  The dreks seem to operate independently of the sphere, and the few surviving kasathas know little about them.  So where did the sphere come from?  Are the doppeldreks part of it…its servants…or entirely separate entities?  And what happens when they go from dumb miming to canny, self-aware mimicry in the course of only a few encounters?

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 85

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Domovoi, Dvorovoi & Ovinnik

I won't pretend to be an expert on these Slavic fey—Eastern Europe is where my grasp of folklore gets fuzzier.  But all three of these house spirits—the domovoi, dvorovoi and ovinnik—are charming wee folk with a lot of character.  They exhibit all the helpfulness of a brownie—well, the domovoi does, at least—and two of the three have the power of foretelling.  That’s quite a boon if you can convince the fey to grant it…but the transaction is not without risk.  Speaking of which, all three house spirits also have some personality quirks that make them highly entertaining as NPCs, but quite troublesome as adversaries if they ever go a bit…wrong. 

And so, while in the main these are mostly harmless and sometimes even helpful spirits, it’s that whole “gone wrong” bit I’ve emphasized in the adventure seeds below…  I mean, who doesn’t love pyromaniac cat-faeries?

A parsonage has long been blessed with a domovoi.  Some members of the family even suspect he is a reincarnated ancestor, or a household god from the time before the Azure Crusade.  But the family’s overreliance on the domovoi for auguries, as well as the Aklo-laced whisperings of a neighboring witchcrow, have driven the old fey mad.  He has become a barabashka, a knocker, using mage hand and telekinesis to hurl objects about and rap on the walls.  Unless restored to his old self, it is only a matter of time before he does real injury…or worse.

An adventuring party’s wealthy benefactor has a beautiful new wife…until, thanks to a polymorph lobbed by an old enemy, he suddenly has a beautiful new white cat.  The adventurers aren’t ready to take on the evil wizard yet, but they can try to keep the cat-wife in good health till a dispel magic can be arranged.  That won’t be easy, as the benefactor’s estate is watched over by a pitchfork-wielding dvorovoi, and the wild fey takes an instant (and murderous) dislike to the snow-white feline.

In Brementon the night is split with the howls of angry animals.  The cries are of such ferocity that instead of brandishing brooms and throwing stones to hush the creatures, the Bremenfolk instead lock their doors and shy away from the windows.  In daylight, they whisper of “the Dog War.”  Actually it is a war between house spirits and gremlins, the catlike ovinniks and the doglike pugwampis.  Driven from their canyon homes by filth, disease, and other monsters (including a possible looming invasion of flinds), the pugwampis attempted to move into Brementon en masse.  The local ovinniks are having none of it, but they don't have the numbers to rouse a proper defense against the gremlins, resorting instead to guerilla strikes.  As the conflict wears on, the collateral damage is beginning to grow.  The ovinniks have begun attacking anyone they regard as a pugwampi sympathizer, including harmless dog owners, and they have burned down a handful of houses they suspected of being gremlin-infested.  Meanwhile, the ill luck manifested by both sets of fey has settled over town like a miasma, spoiling milk, ruining cart axles, and generally making life miserable.

Pathfinder Adventure Path #67 86–87 & Pathfinder Bestiary 5 142–143

Actually house spirits versus gremlins is kind of a thematically perfect adversarial setup, and throwing 1st-level PCs in the middle could be a great campaign kickoff.  If you’ve got players who really like playing monsters, you might even skip the core races entirely and have the PCs start off as fey.  There might be some balance issues early on, but Pathfinder offers some guidelines for doing so.  (As a bonus, 3.0-era D&D had a whole book on the subject, Savage Species.  Normally I don’t recommend rule-heavy splatbooks, but you might find this one useful.)

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Dire Polar & Polar Bears

Even bigger and more powerful than the mighty grizzlies, polar bears are the undisputed lords of the Arctic Circle.  That crown is a little harder to hold onto in a fantasy setting (blame those frost worms), but the CR 8 dire polar bear can certainly hold its own against a remorhaz or even a young white dragon (particularly if they were, say, tussling over lairing rights in a cave that prevented the dragon from going aloft).  All in all, polar bears prove you don’t need a lick of magic to be mighty.

Some puffin sprites (treat as bird-bodied grigs with a swim speed that matches their fly speed; they play tautiruts instead of fiddles) are being preyed upon by a polar bear.  Adventurers who aid them will make lifelong friends skilled in navigating the arctic.

Bear-baiting is still a popular sport in Monkrot.  The half-orc fixer Ferston Two-Shames wants adventurers to capture him a polar bear to spice up fight night.

Some of the arctic’s most carefully kept secrets are the ley line refineries that mine and process raw magical power, driving factories that churn out enchanted weapons, metal ships, and even ritual firearms.  Magical pollution is rampant as well—for instance, the purple-black Aurora Eldrena is no true aurora at all, but a result of eldritch venting.  Said pollution has also caused warped creatures to be born, including dire polar bears of sizes not seen since primordial times.  The beasts lurk in the trash heaps and slag pits in the shadow of the refineries, scavenging for food and careless factory workers.

Pathfinder Adventure Path #67 82–83 & Pathfinder Bestiary 5 41

One of the first issues of Dragon Magazine I ever bought, #141, featured Mickey Zucker Reichert’s “The Ulfjarl’s Stone,” a great story about a son trying to live up to his father’s deathbed demands—and in doing so, having to face a polar bear alone in the wilderness.  Worth the read.

I feel like I’ve talked about this issue before, but if I have my Google-fu is failing me.  So to make sure I’ve covered my bases, let me officially say that this issue is very worth checking out even beyond the fiction, especially for a 27-year-old magazine.  (Not all 1e Dragons fare so well.)  Focused on humanoids and giants, it serves up a number of subspecies and new species that might inspire your own monster creation, as well as an article on tactics that might still be useful even today, and an encyclopedic article on the worship habits of humanoid and giant shamans and witch doctors.  (Given how demanding evil humanoid deities were back then, it’s no surprise humanoid spellcasters were so rare.)  History buffs will also be into “Hey, Wanna Be a Kobold?”, an early attempt at humanoid PC generation in AD&D.  (…Though D&D’s GAZ 10 The Orcs of Thar had already beaten them to it, because Bruce Heard is the bomb.)  So yeah, like I said, worth the read.

No radio show last night, as you may have noticed.  Lots of life stuff going on.  That’s also the reason this entry is a week late.  …Offfff course, it’s also late because I spent an entire evening searching for an entry on dire polar bears (along with some great lumpy dire polar bear art) that I swore was in the pages of Pathfinder Adventure Path…only to discover it was really in the 3.5 D&D tome Frostburn all along.  D’oh!  (PS: If you’re new to this blog, check out my thoughts on FB and so many other 3.5 books—why they're good on their own, and how they might fit in your Pathfinder game—right here.)

Wednesday, May 4, 2016


(Illustration come from artist Brynn Metheney’s webpage and is © Paizo Publishing.)

I’m not sure who decided fantasy role-playing needed a panther with the tail of an ankylosaurus and a name straight out of Digimon.  But thanks to Bestiary 5, we have one: the digmaul.* 

The editors/art directors made the smart choice of putting Brynn Metheney on art detail.  Metheney really commits to fantasy animals, which is crucial for selling them as believable.  Muscle structure in particular seems to be her specialty, along with smart attention to the fur/feather/scaly nodules of her beasts.  She even knows when to go off-script.  In this case, she gives us a lynx-like creature instead of the “cougarlike cat” of the flavor text, which at first seems like a misstep…until you realize how well the lynx’s pointed tufts and flared ruff complement the spikes on the other end.  It’s a genius move.

The end result is a cat I want to see in my game.  The digmaul is an ambush predator whose bone-crushing tail gives it the ability to maim and dispatch creatures that would ordinarily be out of its weight class, like bison, aurochs, and even the smaller dinosaurs and megafauna.  But that bite/claw/claw/tail attack will do just as well against adventurers.

And there’s even a subspecies (with a glyptodon tail, no less)!  I assume silvercats are the more mountainous or polar variety…particularly as scree, ice, or snow would make the silvercats’ bull rush attacks even more effective.

*All joking aside, digmauls and silvercats are part of a unique group of American cryptids collectively referred to as (I’m not kidding) fearsome critters.  Go down this Wiki wormhole and get inspired for your next frontier campaign!

Adventurers are trying to find a reclusive tribe of gripplis engaged in headhunting and necromancy.  They believe they are following the sound of the gripplis’ drums, when it fact they’re being stalked by a mated pair of digmauls pounding logs to warn each other of two-legged intruders.

A portal in a dungeon takes adventurers to a cave mouth in an arctic wasteland.  If they venture into the icy wilderness, they come across footprints that seem to depict an animal and a humanoid stalking each other.  A wikkawak and a silvercat have been hunting each other for over a day straight, each determined to feast on the flesh of the other.  They will not take interruptions kindly.

Young adventurers accompany their novice druid friend to visit another druid at his hermitage.  When they get there, they discover the druid, barely out of his novitiate period himself, has been devoured by a digmaul…and the cat is still lurking in the area.  Assuming the adventurers survive meeting the predator, when they return to report the hermit’s death to his druidic circle, they find themselves framed for his murder.  What is going on?

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 82

Last night’s show was all about pity sex.  Wait, no!  It was about Pity Sex.  And Eskimeaux.  And Seratones.  And all kinds of other great music, including a higher than usual dose of folk and twang.  Stream/download it here and do your Wednesday right—this is a good one.

(The mic levels seem a bit low.  Sorry about that.  Link good till Monday, 5/9, at midnight.)