Wednesday, June 29, 2016


We’re finally at the letter E!  (D took ridiculously long, I know.)

Inspired by medieval bestiary descriptions of remoras, the echeneis is basically a magical remora (surprise, surprise!) with the delightfully frustrating ability to sap the speed of larger animals or vessels while magically hasting itself.

As with a lot of CR 1 monsters, the echeneis is a great way to kick off a 1st-level campaign.  A simple job cleaning the magical remoras off the hull of a ship can lead to any number of adventure, depending on who or what they encounter in the job. 

Of course, if you’re running a chase scene and the party members are getting  too lucky on the die rolls, a run-in with a school of echeneises is a perfectly fair in-game way of evening the odds…

Captain Cole hires a group of local youths to scrap echeneises of his hull.  The job runs long, and they are just finishing up when they hear muffled voices above them on the pier.  The speakers toss a roughly dwarf-sized bundle into the harbor…but when they check to see whether the parcel has sunk, they spot the youths.  The strangers draw knives and approach, aiming to eliminate any witnesses.   Meanwhile the corpse—for that is what the wrapped shroud contains—draws larger, lamp-eyed night echeneises out for a feeding.

The aquatic elves of Merinar have a rule: They guarantee safe passage but no human may enter their waters—ever.  So why is the adventurers’ boat being chased by river pirates?  It’s a mystery they have to survive to solve, and that task isn’t made any easier when they run aground on a sandbar and an  echeneis latches on to their ship.  Fighting the fish means breaking the elves’ treaty…if it’s even still in force, given the presence of the pirates bearing down on the doughty adventurers.

Seagoing echeneises are a hassle.  Voidgoing echeneises are a true hazard, particularly on long journeys where any loss of speed can keep ships from achieving escape velocity or cost the crew precious hours of oxygen.  Gnomes in particular hate the remora-like beasts, as void echeneises plague the skywhale pods upon which the gnomes rely.  For adventurers looking to get off world, a few days’ work unhooking echeneises might be just the ticket for getting in good with a pilot.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 103

Most of this was written during jury duty yesterday.  I did not get picked.  (The prosecution did not seem to want me for some reason.)  Sadly, there was no Wi-Fi, in the Quiet Room, so I couldn’t post either.

Wes name-checks the echeneis in this important article.

Looking for the earth vela and earth wysp?  We’ll get to them when we swing back around to A (for the air vela and the aether and air wysps).

Also, I should have mentioned on Monday that if you’re looking for the dvorovoi, we covered it back here.

Hey, here’s my Brexit radio show!  Okay, it’s only got a li'l Brexit, but still I think this is one you’re going to want to check out, because I’m pretty proud of it.  Also new Maggie Rogers, Cymbals Eat Guitars, and Wye Oak.  Stream or download it here till Monday, 7/4, at midnight.

Monday, June 27, 2016


(Illustration by Damien Mammoliti comes from the Paizo Blog and is © Paizo Publishing.)

This is some First Edition $#!† right here.

Bulbous body?  Check.  Snaky/eely mouths?  Check.  Weird, sucker-footed legs?  Check.  Unexpected portfolio of magical abilities?  Check.  And a gullet that extends into the extradimensional?  With a seemingly infinite intestinal tract?  Oh, hell yes.  (Or Abyss yes.  Whatever.)

The dwiergeth is old-school nuts.  And that's totally a good thing.  We need monsters that are just balls-to-the wall crazy as much as we need more non-European monsters and androids and magical animals that still make ecological sense and compelling humanoids with rich cultures.  It’s about balance.  This is the kind of monster you only find in a dungeon crawl or an expedition to the Abyss, and that is just fine.  I never would have combined an infinite gullet and wind powers, but it makes a wonderfully weird kind of sense.  Every Bestiary monster should not look like this, but I’m glad a few do.

(By the way, despite being an extradimensional being, the dwiergeth is an aberration.  I believe the logic there is that outsiders are made of the stuff of/intrinsically tied to the plane they hail from—their nature is bound up in their home plane.  Whereas other extraplanar creatures just live there.  The dwiergeth is from the Abyss and its forever gullet wouldn't be possible were it not for the Abyss’s vile energies, but it is not of the Abyss in the same way as a demon is.)

A vrock has a magic ceremonial rattle it uses in its ruinous dances.  Adventurers seek the rattle for their own ritual purposes.  The hunt leads them to an otherworldly cliffside where the vrock and his fellows fell prey to the native dwiergeths.

Having exhausted the mathematical possibilities of studying elf knots (Möbius strips) and vizier bottles (Klein bottles), a sage wants to study a thornier conundrum: the forever gullet of a dwiergeth.  He seeks adventurers to capture such a beast and help him survive an expedition into its toothy entrails.

A clan of people-under-the-mound (treat as elves with the fey creature template) has turned to darkness.  Their once stately subterranean palace is now riddled with strange cracks and chasms, as if it had burst open and given birth to a mountain range.  Now going from one room to another sometimes means a day of scaling cliffs and building crude bridges.  Dwiergeths hunt these cliffs, making such travel dangerous…and the corrupt fey elves are too lost to decadence and violence to be any aid.

The Worldwound 54 & Pathfinder Bestiary 5 102

“Dwiergeth” is a very Welsh-sounding name, so I needed an encounter with some Mabinogion-style elves.

Also, for 1e/2e fans, dwiergeths would be great allies of Miska the Wolf-Spider against the Wind Dukes of Aaqa.

In terms of other monsters with extradimensional stomachs, check out Dragon #271, which rethought the bag of devouring as the mouth of a planar sarlacc, or one of those worm-things from Tremors.  Unfortunately I don't have a convenient PDF to link to, but here’s the RPGnet entry for that issue.

Thursday, June 23, 2016


Just as draugrs have become the default aquatic undead for low-level adventures, duppies seem to have become the default at mid-level, regularly popping up in seacoast random encounter tables.  (Side note: I originally typed “popping up practically overnight”…and then I double-checked publication dates.  Turns out it’s been four years since Isles of the Shackles was published.  …Time and I are not friends.)

Wikipedia can give you the historic/folkloric lowdown on Caribbean and African duppies.  In the Pathfinder game, a duppy is “the spirit of a cruel and brutal sailor who died by violence on land […] and thus was unable to receive a proper burial at sea,” according to Bestiary 5.  Not only is this an evocative description, but it also easily inspires murder-mystery-type scenarios.  A single duppy can be a very worthwhile adversary for low-level adventurers, while still remaining defeatable courtesy of its vulnerability to daylight and raise dead spells.  Half the adventure is overcoming the duppy; the other half is in unraveling the crime that created the undead in the first place.  (Kind GMs might also structure adventures so that solving the mystery and/or performing proper burial rites might stagger the angry spirit or otherwise aid in its eventual destruction.  The party that does their religious legwork gets the edge.)  Meanwhile packs of duppies can indicate greater crimes, such as sabotage, mass poisonings, ship burnings, and other monstrous deeds.  PCs who only uncover the undead and not the crime might be missing out on an even bigger adventure.

A blood hag has pressed a pair of duppies into service.  The soucouyant uses the ferocious undead to guard the perimeter of her mansion, their hounds keeping interlopers at bay while she is out hunting.  (It would not do for anyone to see her daytime skin lying discarded like a corn husk in her bedroom.)  When a new schoolteacher moves into town, one of the duppies breaks from the hag’s control.  He wants to drain the young woman’s life, as she is the innocent daughter of the man who killed him, but since the schoolhouse and its apartment are on sacred ground, he can’t get to her—yet.  Meanwhile, the hag covets the young woman’s skin…so the schoolteacher may be doomed anyway, unless adventurers act fast.

The halflings of Jermoa have a dark secret: They have given themselves over to worship of the Old Ones.  Abducting sailors to be sacrificial grooms and brides has become something of a cottage industry (more accurately, a sea-cave industry) in this harbor town.  They are careful not to abduct any of the Her Majesty’s naval men, but they have still made off with enough deserters, drunks, and smugglers that the outskirts of Jermoa are plagued with duppies.  Between halfling black masses and packs of undead and their howling hounds, Jermoa is not a place to visit at night.

Not all duppies were sailors.  The particularly harsh beliefs of many humanoid races often encourage their creation as well.  Gnolls in particular tend to birth them—usually lame or injured males who have died after slinking away from their responsibility to their packs (said responsibility being to have perished in glorious battle or limped home to be cannibalized by their successful packmates).  These lonely undead haunt the places of their demise, their ravenous hounds taking the form of cackling hyenas.

Isles of the Shackles 48 & Pathfinder Bestiary 5 101

Bestiary 5 is on the PRD now!  I can finally link right to the source!  Woo!

After an unexpected week off, I was back on air last night with a new show!  This week was more canon than new or indie, as we celebrated 20 years of Beck’s Odelay.  (Also 20 years of the Cable Guy soundtrack, because why not?) But I made sure to hit Wye Oak’s new single and drop in some classic ’90s hip-hop as well.  Stream or download it here till Monday, 6/27, at midnight.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Duergar Tyrant

Okay, let’s get this out of the way first: It’s time for a serious duergar novel, from the duergar point of view.

I am about the biggest elf fanboy there is, but even I think we’ve done dark elves to death.  Where are the novels about the gray dwarves?  The surprisingly good (if I recall correctly) Dwarven Nations Trilogy for Dragonlance certainly featured some dark dwarves, but they weren’t true duergar.  And while I believe some of the War of the Spider Queen novels for the Forgotten Realms setting gave the duergar some love (I’d stopped reading FR novels by that point, so I’m relying on quick Wiki and Amazon searches here), the spotlight still was on the drow as far as I can tell. 

I bring this up because I want to know more about duergar—particularly as they are a race in constant opposition to…well, everything, including themselves.  They toil endlessly, but unlike their surface cousins they seem to find no joy in it.  They are the crushing rule of law in a realm usually defined by cold, brutal neutrality at best and unrelenting (and often sadistic) chaos at worst.  They are dwarves, yet (again unlike their cousins) they are inherently magical…and a corollary to this is that they are dwarves who are able to become giants (courtesy of enlarge person).  What must it be like to spend time in a gray dwarf’s skin?  What must their cities be like?*  How does the architecture change when your entire society can become as tall as an ogre, but only once per day?  And speaking of once per day, what freedoms, temptations, or taboos arise when most members of a lawful race can become invisible…but only for a minute or two a day…in a police state, no less?

But here’s what we do know: Even more than hobgoblins, even more than the azer, even more than other subterranean races in general, duergar are about slavery.  Duergar simply expect to enslave others—their society and economy are based around this fact—and they are in turn slaves (or at least serfs) to their lords, their priest class, and their god.

Which brings us to the duergar tyrant—whose essential nature is right in her name.  When you can master the very elements themselves with your mind alone, in duergar society it is simply unthinkable that you would do anything less than master those around you too.  And since one duergar tyrant arises out of every 100 births, they are the literal 1%, a nearly inevitable aristocracy at least, if not a full-on ruling class.  There’s a reason psychic duergar are not called duergar file clerks or duergar abolitionists—in gray dwarf society, no such creature exists.  If you meet one, she expects to own you, crush you, or both. 

Duergar geokineticists are true lords of the earth—literally masters of all they survey, given their subterranean homes—and they rise to leadership positions in all but the most religious duergar societies (or they join the priesthood themselves).  Duergar hydrokineticists are civil engineers and cruel misers, guiding precious water to parched settlements with one hand while depriving (or lashing out at) their opponents with the other.  Duergar pyrokineticists are skilled blacksmiths and warmasters…if they stay part of duergar society at all.  (The chaos of their element often drives them away from their hidebound peers, and many become hermits or explorers.)  Duergar aerokineticists seem strange and alien to most dark dwarves; they tend to gather in monasteries near bottomless chasms to hone their craft.  Duergar aetherkineticists are more alien still, but the sheer flexibility of their powers and the indomitability of their wills often make them the most terrifying tyrants of all.

Adventurers are hired to escort a new prelate to the Fane of the Suffering Hand and see him installed with all the pomp he deserves.  But the Fist of the Twelve, the ruling cabal of geokineticists, do not wish to share any of their considerable power.  They plan to kill the prelate before he ever reaches the gates of Ard Agham.

The Monastery of the Winding Stair is a gloomy retreat where duergar aero- and aetherkineticists hone their crafts.  Captured adventurers are deposited at the monastery as part of a shipment of slaves.  Before they can escape, they receive a divine sign that they are to temporarily submit to the gray dwarves’ psychic lashes and follow the Winding Stair to its end…but their divine patron does not yet reveal why.

Occult Bestiary 23

*Related comment to all of the above: At this point I know more about Forgotten Realms’ Menzoberranzan—and, to a lesser extent, Greyhawk’s Erelhei-Cinlu and Golarion’s Zirnakyanin—than I do most non-coastal U.S. cities.  I didn't even have to look up how to spell Menzoberranzan. 

That said, I do have the amazing Dragon #267, an Underdark-focused issue I’ve raved about on this blog before, which features a gazetteer of Dunspeirrin, the duergar City of Sunken Spires.  Very worth searching out. 

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the section on duergar in Pathfinder’s beautiful Monster Codex, which has a bit more on the duergar race and plenty of ready-to-run NPCs that bring this dismal race to life and to your gaming table.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Dreamthief Hag

To me, night hags are sort of the be-all and end-all of hags.  I mean, these are creatures of the planes, monstrous women who regularly haggle with much more powerful outsiders over the going rate on souls.  These are not creatures to be taken lightly.

So I was amazed to find that dreamthief hags are even more monstrous than night hags—CR 11 and packing a host of psychic abilities.  Dreamthief hags don’t waste time in ethereal form hovering over creatures waiting for them to fall asleep.  Instead they can literally drag a creature into a dreamscape just by touching(!) it, after which they can force the creature’s mind into their dreamstone to be used as a psychic battery.  (PS: Don’t let one bite you either, if you’re a spellcaster.)

So what are dreamthief hags?  Are they their own unique species?  Night hags who have achieved some fell apotheosis?  Or who long ago gave up on the endless pursuit of souls in favor of the more esoteric mysteries of the mind?  Whatever their origin, they have the potential to be major adversaries if your PCs get too casual about strolling through the Ethereal Plane or the Dimension of Dreams.  Ordinary hags may be all about snatching up children and lost travelers; dreamthief hags are after much bigger game…

A dreamthief hag steals an adventurers’ mind, rendering her comatose.  Fortunately, she returns it in a day, (mostly) unharmed—and with the memory of an offer tucked away inside.  The dreamthief hag has a demon problem (a painajai demon, to be precise), and she promises quite a boon should the adventurers deal with the interloper.

In a gothic, fog-shrouded land where the local lord is as likely to be a vampire or weretiger as he is a mortal, the Carstonheld family stands apart as being utterly, almost defiantly human and noble-hearted.  So sad, then, that no Carstonheld has ever reached 50 without falling comatose, and some are ensnared by the disease as young as 16.  Many Carstonheld scions never wake up; the others wake irrevocably changed into nervous, fidgety wrecks.  What no one in the great family knows is that the entire family line is haunted by a dreamthief hag who once happened to be a Carstonheld herself.  Her palace in the Dimension of Dreams is lined with the bottled minds of her clan—indeed, some of the vintages date back centuries.  Meanwhile, despite their curse the Carstonhelds are nonetheless an influential family.  What might they accomplish if the dreamthief hag threat was discovered and dealt with?

A king empties his treasury trying to find a cure for his son, a promising lad who has fallen mysteriously comatose.  Finally, some adventurers find him an almost-expended ring of three wishes.  When the king wishes for the cure, he is whisked away to the lair of the coma’s real culprit, a dreamthief hag who dwells on the shore of the Land of Dreams where it meets the gorynych-haunted Gray Misery.  Now the adventurers have a quandary: do they rush off to rescue the king?  Defend his empty throne from usurpers?  Or claim the high seat for themselves?

Occult Bestiary 22

Even when I try to get posts out in a timely manner I am foiled!  (My ISP crapped out earlier this week.)  Also, no radio show this week—I had to help with a hospital discharge at the very last minute.  But I’m excited about the playlist I had ready so I’ll be sure to save it for next Tuesday.  (Also, apologies to any Blogger readers who didn’t get the link for last week’s radio show.  That’s also my bad.)

Monday, June 6, 2016

Dream Naga

Nagas are already halfway dreamlike (or nightmarish) creatures.  (We’re used to half-human, half-animal creatures—minotaurs, centaurs, harpies—but a snake with a human head?  Who measured out the portions in that recipe?)  Even the benevolent nagas have a remote, reptilian perspective, and they are often driven by odd obsessions, especially regarding relics or astrology or places of power.  And their magic tends to lurk on the outskirts—they cast spells as sorcerers, are often described as witches, and some species can even pluck spells from the cleric spell list.  Whatever naga traditions are, they are esoteric almost by definition.

So already we’re dealing with semi-occult creatures.  Dream nagas go the whole way—not just studying the occult, but inhabiting it, slipping in and out of dreams as easily as a garter snake slipping through a fence.  Sure they're beautiful, but that cobra’s hood reminds the viewer that beautiful can also mean deadly.  And given than they “fly through dreamscapes in some unknowable plan to alter the destiny of the universe” (according to the Occult Bestiary), how you feel about them might depend on what side of that destiny you’re on.

Cut off by a rockfall, adventurers are trapped in a maze with a spirit naga.  Meanwhile, in their dreams they are met one by one with a dream naga.  Sometimes the naga’s advice in dreams helps them in their waking fight with the spirit naga; other times the advice seems to betray them.  By the time the adventurers escape the underground labyrinth, it is no longer clear which snake-woman is more dangerous.

Where the cops employ diviners, criminals employ abjurers.  Adventurers are sure a local crime lord is guilty of a brutal murder and kidnapping, but he’s far too well shielded to prove it.  There might be a way around that, though, as they've heard that a naga fortuneteller in the market can actually see dreams (if the price is right, of course).  In fact, she can do more than that…but she’s already in the crime lord’s employ.

A dream naga chases and devours an adventurer every night in her dreams—indeed, some nights when the adventurer sees her, the naga is still bloated with the adventurer’s digesting lucid body she swallowed only the night before.  When questioned, the dream naga says only that she is “writing the destiny your mother wished for you.”  What she means, and how it fits in with the dream naga race’s larger plans for the multiverse, is still a mystery.

Occult Bestiary 35

Below is something I posted over on the Tumblr version of this blog.  Since I want to get this out before midnight, this version may not have all the hyperlinks and bells and whistles of the original.  If you’re feeling out of the loop, go read the full version here.

The Daily Bestiary Turns 5 Today

Five years ago, on a Monday night just like this one, I sat down on the loveseat in my living room, opened my laptop and my copy of the Pathfinder RPG Bestiary, and wrote three adventure seeds for the aasimar.  Then I posted it on the brand-new Blogger page I’d created just for the occasion. 

And it felt good.  Really good.  Great, even. 

Actually, let’s go even further back for a second.

The plan—The Plan—when I was in grad school was that I would pay the bills teaching, write short stories or maybe even a novel some day, and submit articles to Dragon Magazine on the side.  But The Plan went haywire pretty fast—in good ways and bad.  I didn’t produce enough work in grad school, and the brutal world of being an adjunct professor and itinerant teacher whupped my ass.  Then I stumbled into a career copywriting, and a job DJing professionally landed in my lap for a short while as well.  Those things and a move to Baltimore were all seriously awesome…but they distracted me from ever revising the one article that the Dragon editors had given me encouragement on, and the next thing I knew the print magazine as I knew it had closed up shop.  Meanwhile, I’d moved up to my state’s best ad firm (at least according to Adweek), and that was whupping my ass as well, with later nights and longer hours and general misery.

Fast-forward to 2011, and I started kicking ass back.  But I still wasn’t writing for me—not short stories or novels or fantasy stuff. 

The Plan was in shambles.

So to get myself moving again, I cast about for something to write about.  In the summer of 2008 I’d mucked about writing a blog about demihuman subraces and other D&D-related stuff, but I needed something that was more manageable (those posts took forever to write) and (ideally) that other people might want to read. 

That’s when I noticed that Pathfinder Adventure Path had dropped the adventure seeds from its back-of-the-book “Bestiary” entries.  I had always loved that section’s unusual approach to monsters—the seeds rounded out the monsters’ characters and personalities, and there was always at least one nonintuitive, truly surprising seed among them.  And yet now they were gone.

Huh, I thought.  I bet I can do that.

And so on that Monday night I sat in my loveseat and did just that for the aasimar.  On Tuesday I did the aboleth.  Wednesday, the accuser devil.  And then I kept going.

I don't think I was even a month in when Paizo announced Bestiary 3, adding at least a year or more to the project.  Around the letter D I finally began to tell people on message boards about the blog.  (Having already abandoned one blog, I hadn’t wanted an audience to see me fail during A or B.)  A few months more I got to G and decided Tumblr was way better for shareability.  So I started posting here…and 5,400+ of you guys later, the rest is history.

In the last five years, we’ve covered the Pathfinder RPG Bestiary, Bonus Bestiary, and Bestiary 2 completely.  We’re basically done with Bestiary 3, 4, and the Inner Sea Bestiary as well, though I’ve got around a dozen monsters I need to go back and finish (including Dagon).  I’ve also been lucky enough to correspond with you guys (and even meet some of you—props to anomalitstic and gojira-and-gaming!), some very special readers who shun the spotlight have shared with me their Dungeon Magazine collections (only 16 more issues to go!), and I’ve had both Paizo freelancers (especially Todd Stewart, though I know I’m missing some other folks) and staff (especially Wes Schneider and Adam Daigle) poke their heads in to offer their thoughts and kind words.

It’s been a lot of fun.

Now for some real talk: Since September of last year, my rate of posting has fallen off.  The Daily Bestiary is not as daily as it once was.  For that I’m sorry…and I’m not sorry.

Some of the change is less urgency—I’m not juggling two or even three hardcovers at a time anymore, just one and a softcover, so I don't have that constant drumbeat of pressure to finish.  I’ve also been making a lot of changes to improve my life.  I’ve moved my radio show to Tuesdays, freeing up my weekends for the first time since 2003.  And I’m seeing a personal trainer again once a week.  All these things are great, but they’ve cut into my weeknight blogging time significantly.

I’ve also been involved in supporting a loved one who has been living with a genetic disease for the past two and a half years.  More entries than I can count have been composed hard against midnight with my hands still smelling like latex gloves from my latest hospital visit.  And while in 2014 and 2015 keeping the blog going despite all the health events was a point of pride, in 2016 self-care has been a big deal.  I love this blog, but I also love weekend trips together, and long walks, and losing at video games, and sleep, and friends, and reading, and doing chores, and a lot of other things that have become really precious to me. Some sunsets are worth skipping a monster for.  

Plus there are other things I’d like to write, too. The blog was always meant to be for priming the pump and generating excitement for all the other parts of my life, not the thing that stresses me out.  So I’ve been adjusting some priorities.

But don’t worry—five years in I still love this blog, I still love you guys, and I still plan to finish the Occult Bestiary and Bestiary 5.  Thanks for your patience if it takes me longer than it should.  I promise it’s for a good cause.  (Even if that cause is, well, me.)

I also want to salute the people who have picked up this blog’s format and run with it on Tumblr.  Whether you’re reading dailycharacteroption or wanderingmoonsword or dailyplanescape or thecreaturechronicle or dr-archeville or any of the others, they are all fun and creative people, and all of them have been super nice about pointing out the Daily Bestiary DNA in their makeup, the same way I’ve tried to point out the Dragon and Dungeon and Pathfinder and Bruce Heard and Roger Moore DNA in mine. 

And their niceness is part of a larger phenomenon, which is you guys: the readers.  You guys are the best.  You are welcoming, you are encouraging, you like and reblog, you comment, and you keep it all fun to do.  Literally, I’ve had to suffer maybe two snarky comments in five years.  On today’s Internet, that’s unheard of.  There is a lot of real awfulness out there in fandom right now—not just snark, but insults, flame wars, physical threats, and more -isms and -phobias than I can count.  You all haven’t let that happen here, no matter where I’ve taken the conversation.  Because you all are awesome.  Thank you.

More monsters are on the way—maybe not daily, but often.  More RPG book reviews and reminiscences are on the way.  More radio shows are on the way.  Hopefully I’ll even sit down and get my PaizoCon 2016 thoughts in order.  And who knows what else?  After all, there are an infinite number of worlds out there to explore.

Happy birthday, guys, and thanks for reading.