Monday, August 29, 2016

Fire & Water Veelas

(Illustration by Aleksey Bayura comes from Paizo’s Tumblr and is © Paizo Publishing.)

Pathfinder’s veelas are the beauty and exultant joy of raw elemental power given form.  A crackling fire, splashing waves, leaves caught in a whirling wind, the tumble of an avalanche—all of these are embodied in veelas.  As such, they straddle the line between elemental and fey, both of their element and a metaphor for it all at once.  And as with many fey, a dance with one is both exhilarating and exhausting, an experience that taxes even as it gives. 

The veelas in these particular adventure seeds are a bit more aggressive than most of their kind, but that’s intentional on my part so that you have plenty of excuses to use them as antagonists.

A smith has a secret: He is regularly visited by a trio of fire veelas who dance with him in his forge and help him craft elegant blades.  When adventurers go to ask him about the provenance of a murder weapon, the veelas ambush them as snoopers and stealers of trade secrets.  (Speaking of secrets, two of the outsiders are natural veelas, but one of the dancers has wispy memories of a long-ago mortal life—the one she lived before her village was incinerated by the red dragon Visarojax.)

A water veela has long visited the poor near the river docks, appearing as an azure ministering angel to sick Downsiders who can’t afford a doctor.  But as the city’s industry has grown, the waters of Downside have become polluted, and this seems to have caused a shift in the veela’s outlook.  Instead of offering the balm of cure serious wounds, she now beckons patients into exhausting dances.  Some have even turned up dead or with strange corruptions coursing through their bloodstreams.

The City of Brass has an embassy on one arm of the inevitable-managed planar city of Caltrop.  Among the staff are fire veelas whose ballet performances, fire cupping, and deft conversation are meant to set visitors at ease.  The veelas are actually all consummate spies and occasional assassins for the efreet.  Because the embassy is considered sovereign soil, the veelas are subject to Plane of Fire law, not inevitable codes of justice, should any “incidents” occur.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 264–265

I should of mention that veelas—or rather, vilas—come from Slavic folklore.  Of course, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire gave them their big break on the fantasy stage. 

Bestiary 6 has been announced!  Tumblr readers have already seen my reaction here.

I never posted my radio show last week—mostly out of aggravation, since circumstances beyond my control made me late.  But what show there was was still lot of fun, so if you want it you’ve got till midnight tonight (sorry!) to snag it.  Click here and fast-forward to about 35 minutes in.

Also, as of right now it looks like I will be back on Tuesdays for the fall semester, so look for me tomorrow night at 10 PM if you want to listen live!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016


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

In myth, the Fir Bolg are an early Irish race (descended from an even earlier Irish race that wandered off toward Greece and back…or maybe “Fir Bolg” is just another name for Gaul’s Belgae people), who were in turn conquered and displaced by the Tuatha Dé Danann, who would become the gods of Ireland.  That sounds complicated, but only because it’s totally complicated.  But it gets easier, because in fantasy role-playing firbolgs have been transformed into goodly giantfolk, often contrasted with the imposing fomorians.  (…Which is ironic, because in the myths the Fir Bolg never encountered the Fomors and suddenly now you see why they teach Greek myths in school and never touch the Irish stuff Jesus I am so lost right now.)

Pathfinder’s firbolgs are small for giants—only eight feet tall—though what they lack in stature they make up for in Huge-sized weapons.  But honestly most of the time they’ll probably avoid drawing steel, as in general firbolgs act more like fey, keeping to themselves and employing reduce person and alter self in order to pass unnoticed among humans.

As such, the firbolg is awesome when you need an NPC with something secret about him, a mysterious village that is More Than It Seems, or a giant that won’t immediately try to bowl the PCs’ heads off.  And if you want to evoke the Fir Bolg of myth, firbolgs make excellent remnants of a previous age, possessing knowledge or natural wisdom humans have forgotten.  Taller, stronger, magically talented, and simultaneously skilled at war and peace, firbolgs represent a raw, bygone golden age that makes the present one look shabby in comparison.

The duke has announced a bounty on ogres, so adventurers of all stripes gather in the taproom of the Boar & Basilisk to hear the details.  A stranger catches everyone’s eye—a man with a ginger beard standing a full eight feet high.  The stranger is a firbolg who has had a geas laid upon him: He must fight every ogre or troll he encounters or he will grow sick and weary.  He has been traveling with evil adventurers and would like to leave their company, but the blackguards are skilled with poisoned blades and threaten anyone who engages him too long in conversation.

A fighter is attempting to reconstruct the lost fighting style required to employ the gáe bolga (a kind of barbed chain spear launched with a kick, excellent for disemboweling foes).  He discovers hints that the lore survives in an isolated farming village.  The villagers are actually firbolgs who gently try to discourage the fighter from pursuing this bloody art.  One tipoff to their true identities might be the absurdly large bastard sword hidden under the floorboards of the guestroom the fighter and his friends are given to sleep in.

Adventurers crossing a bridge meet a proud warrior crossing the other way.  Rather than give way—whether out of a desire for a bit of sport, or in righteous anger, depending on how polite the adventurers were—the warrior challenges their best warrior to a duel with quarterstaves.  As the duel begins, the stranger casts reduce person on the warrior, while he himself grows to eight feet in height and swaps his staff for a tree trunk.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 116

Does anyone remember the d20 game inspired by Irish myths?  Came out early 2000s?  When Wizards of the Coast was shutting down its retail stores I bought one of those books at a fire-sale price, but it’s in some box now.  I vaguely remember flying longboats were a thing in the setting, but that’s about it.

Friday, August 19, 2016


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

At first I wasn’t going to do this monster, assuming it was a setting-neutral reskin of the Inner Sea Bestiary’s Spellscar fext.  But a closer look at the stats reveals the adjective-less fext is a horror all its own.

The notion of the unkillable officer or warlord is a pretty common one in fantasy—especially in novels, where a villain’s reputation can grow over the course of a whole book or even a series.*  So the fext nicely fills that thematic slot.  It’s also nice to have a lich-like undead option for martial types that’s not your standard graveknight.  (That’s a death knight to you 3.5 fans).

The fext is also one of those cases where it’s worth going back to the original Pathfinder Adventure Path entry (#71: Rasputin Must Die!).  It lays out a wicked ecology (necrology?) for how fexts are created, where children are corrupted in the womb and then raised to be great soldiers, ignorant (or not, depending on the process and local custom) of the premature undeath that awaits them.  Eventually, they surrender to fever, lying comatose until they rise as undead horrors, ready to resume their true destinies.  For some this transformation is a revelation, for others a shock that gives way to resignation…but for many of these grim butchers, their lives were already so blood-soaked that the metamorphosis is merely an interruption in a long parade of death.

Which raises the question, where do these creatures come from?  What sick individual or society would create them, given the time it takes to bring a single fext into being? The answers are many, but all of a piece: constantly war-torn countries, military dictatorships, occupied territories, sites of ethnic cleansing, families where honor and revenge trump morals and ethics, and so on.  Where are fexts created?  Wherever hate lasts for generations.

Tales of redoubtable, merry freedom fighters are usually exaggerations.  Most rebels nurse far darker thoughts of revenge, score-settling, and bloody redemption.  As adventurers with the Lady Light Crusade fight street-to-street in the spell-blasted district of Barshaw, trying to herd frightened citizens to Highgarten before rising floodwaters trap them, they find their way blocked by a platoon wearing uniforms from the last war, led by a grinning fext.

A surprising number of fexts were elves in life.  Already given to racial and class-related schisms, and with centuries to nurse their grudges, disgruntled elven houses will go to dire lengths to restore their honor and settle old scores.  Fexts also explain the reputations of certain dark elf generals as unkillable nightmares.  Drow matrons are quite happy to contribute a male child to their houses’ military aims, but more than one of these future fexts has grown to overthrow his mother after his apotheosis.

Rebel adventurers live double lives in a twin cities.  One is a desert city-state ruled by cruel philosopher-kings, the other a conifer-filled alpine temple complex where druids and skinwalkers walk with—and as—animals, espousing survival of the fittest.  The adventurers dance between the two via gates made of shadow, trying to improve the lives of commoners in both locations while uncovering what mystery binds these cities together.  One clue might be the cities’ respective rulers, who laugh at the bite of steel or claw.

Pathfinder Adventure Path #71 88–89 & Pathfinder Bestiary 5 115

*Novels also leave a lot of time for the characters to fret over said unkillability, which is key to building the tension.  I mentioned before that I’m listening to An Ember in the Ashes on audiobook, and 3/4s of the way in the Commandant is still positively terrifying. 

(On the other hand, fantasy films have to be more economical with their time.  That means they usually put the murderous McGuffin in the path of the protagonists early on, making the central tension not if the warlord can be killed but if in time.)

Tuesday night, in addition to the usual indie rock and pop, we took a deep dive into Paul Simon’s latest album, Stranger to Stranger, which is chock-full of microtonal thinking and world music influences.  I had a lot of fun with this one and I hope you do to.  Stream or download it here until Monday, August 22, at midnight.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016


There’s a being in Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series, He Who Walks Behind, who is a devastating hunter—in part because he is always behind his victims when he attacks, no matter how quickly they whirl around.  The feargaunt seems to owe some inspiration to him—with the Never Far Behind (Su) ability mimicking his signature attack, while Prideful Defense (Su) has shades of the Walker’s hubris—as well as to Bestiary 4’s nightgaunts, which in turn owe their inspiration to H. P. Lovecraft. 

All in all, the feargaunt is a unique ambush predator, able to inspire fear and then use that fear as a window to attack.  It may use fear, phantasmal killer, nightmare, and other effects to herd its prey and make the mental terrain more favorable, but the final tormenting touch will always be delivered personally.

In order to boost their abilities, a circle of psychics pool their mental energy to invent dream pylons, crystal shards called from the Dimension of Dreams.  The pylons are a success, empowering psychic magic in general and phrenic amplifications in particular.  But then new pylons begin appearing unsummoned from the dream realm, and with them come terrible feargaunts.  As long as they stay close enough to the pylons, the outsiders can attack from behind as if both they and their victims were standing in the Dimension of Dreams.

Adventurers are being stalked by a feargaunt as they journey through the Dimension of Dreams.  So far the being has only toyed with them, harassing them with its nightmare aura and the odd phantasmal killer.  But when a castle made of mirrors appears in the distance, the feargaunt howls in range and attacks in earnest.  The feargaunt is determined not to let his quarry reach the shining sanctuary where its every move can be observed.

The world of Murn has no Ethereal or Astral Planes.  Rather, the world is cradled by the Dimension of Dreams.  This makes it easier for the gods to touch the minds of sleepers—oracles and clerics converse with their patrons with a clarity that holy folk on other worlds might envy.  But physical travel through the Dimension of Dreams is dangerous, as feargaunts eagerly hunt those who would trespass on their domains.

Occult Bestiary 28

I typed “The world of “Mirn” in that first seed, only to discover on r/rpg some Kickstarter using the same name.  Great minds…?

Speaking of He Who Walks Behind, let’s talk about He Who Walks Behind the Rows from “Children of the Corn.”  Many readers caught the “CotC” reference in my “Fastachee” post—I figured it was so obvious I didn’t need to call it out—but for those who were wondering, yes, that was a straight-up Steven King homage there.

Still getting to the rest of my reader mail—it’s not you; it’s me; I am so behind!!!—but theravenousgm went hog wild on my fear eater post.  Read the whole thing here.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Fear Eater

(Illustration by Ben Wooten comes from the Paizo Blog and is © Paizo Publishing.)

Man, these guys.  Born (I believe) from Kalervo Oikarinen's RPG Superstar 2015 monster entry, fear eaters definitely stand out from the rest of the Occult Bestiary pack, courtesy of some creepy art by Ben Wooten.

You know all those ’80s kids’ movies—especially the live action ones—that now you look back and go, “How did they ever think this was kid-appropriate?”  (I’m looking at you, Return to Oz.)  This one fits right in there.  In fact, I’m gonna score this next sentence with daggers for creepy emphasis.  Imagine that the caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland(†) straight-up tied her up(††) with sticky strands(†††) disgorged from his own mouth(††††) and then caused mushrooms to burst from her body(†††††) and feed on her fear(†you get the point).

Yes, you read that correctly.  Forget fantasy role-playing—we’re in full-blown body horror territory here.  X-Files monsters aren’t this gross and scary.*

But the real horror is this.  Fear eaters don’t just devour the mushrooms for themselves.  They sell them(†) as a delicacy (††) to fey rulers(†††).  There’s a market out there for your PCs’ pain and suffering(††††).  One assumes fear eaters’ customers are mostly Unseelie fey (the Court of Ether in the Golarion setting).  But given the mercurial nature of the fey, one can easily imagine a faerie queen who has lauded adventurers in the past being unconcerned if they wind up as fertilizer once she no longer owes them any favors…

Drow already reject and loathe their surface kin. So any suggestion that they may also be related to the fey is typically met with scorn and drawn blades.  Still, the Defanwe drow tell a different origin story from most drow, one of a broken vow, an outcast queen, and the shearing of gossamer wings.  If the Defanwe taste for fear eater mushrooms is any indication, the tales may even be true.  Certainly, every Defanwe settlement has a sizeable minority of fear eater merchants and farmers.  And Defanwe drow do not callously murder their slaves as often as other drow, as there is far more profit in selling used-up livestock to the fey mushroom growers.

A fear eater found a giant’s discarded drawstring bag and was inspired to create her own trap.  Cutting open and restitching the voluminous leather with her own fungal spewing, she has created a snare that will close up after adventurers pass through it, blocking their escape.

The first disaster was the Dragon Dawn—a convulsive racial rage that overtook the dragon species, driving them to war with each other and with humanity.  With so many towns reduced to ash, roads in ruin, and ships lost at sea, the cities that remain have become isolated and fearful.  Then there came the Chitterbloom, which saw house-sized mushrooms sprout where trees should have grown, and insects the size of ponies run amok.  And finally, the Elfwind—not a wind at all, but a phosphorescent magical mist, part drug and part infection, that wafted from caster to caster sapping wit and will.  Now in the city of Vale whole districts are given over to spiders and hungry plants, and residents fight to eradicate the Elfwind and bring order back to their fallen land.  They are opposed by goblins, vegepygmys, ettercaps, and worse, all of whom delight in the new disorder.  Fear eaters, in particular, have profited in the chaos.  Having left their subterranean homes for the shady eaves under the house mushrooms, the fey have a world of new victims and new customers to cultivate.

Occult Bestiary 27

*Actually, given the themes of bondage/involuntary female transformation, maybe the better X comparison is any issue of X-Men written by Chris Claremont.  (Oh yeah.  I went there.)

Seattle alt-weekly nerds may remember that I like using daggers.

Thursday, August 11, 2016


(Illustration by Nikolai Ostertag comes from PathfinderWiki and is © Paizo Publishing.)

First of all, look at that fastachee art.  That is awesome.  Nikolai Ostertag knows his business.  It reminds me of Skottie Young’s work on Marvel’s various Oz series—that delightfully over-jointed, cobbled-together, natural-but-not look.  I love it.

Second, it’s so nice to to get a Native American (Seminole and Miccosukee, to be precise) monster that still fits so seamlessly into the (by and large) Eurocentric fey family.  I feel like I could use these in practically any campaign.  (Plus I’m sure there could be rice and manioc-themed fastachees too).

Third, holy crap, a Tiny fey at CR 11!  Which makes sense, when you realize this fey can sense—and cast spells through—any ear of corn within 18 miles.  That means it can baleful polymorph or flame strike you from a day’s ride away.  Tick one off, and you better have some teleport spells handy, because you could run a half marathon and not get away from it.

It’s going to be rare that parties fight one of these “Little Givers” (as they’re known in Seminole mythology).  They're neutral good and the literal manifestation of the life-giving properties of the corn plant, after all.  Still, if the PCs throw their weight around too much in a settlement a fastachee has adopted, they might encounter subtle reprisals.  And if PCs are part of a disproportionately more powerful force—say, a colonial expedition or invading army—or if they visit wholesale destruction too near a fastachee’s domain, the corn-silk gloves might come off.

Most fastachee are benign…but when they go wrong, the results are terrifying.  Adventurers fleeing from a river town full of deep one hybrids and other horrors make their way into farming country.  There they discover a town whose corn crop is thriving…but the few farmers they meet are skittish and afraid.  Determined to fend off the corruption downstream (or perhaps already corrupted by it himself), the local fastachee has formed the town’s children into a society that is part militia, part mystery cult…and any signs of corruption are to be rooted out.

Ghorans exhibit an almost religious devotion to fastachees.  Some ghorans credit the fey with the creation of the ghoran race, and even those that don’t still have heard tales of a helpful fastachee saving whole ghoran villages from invaders.  Adventurers who are wounded defending ghoran interests might be brought to a fastachee for healing and other aid.  But such help comes with a price—the fastachee might send them on an obscure errand of his own (and he has more than enough ears to keep tabs on them as they carry it out).

Prohibition is a booming business opportunity for adventurers, particularly ones that can fend off drakes with one blade and the revenuers with the other.  When a group of adventurers are contracted to see a shipment of elven spirits safely from Canada to St. Louis, it should be a milk run.  But thin men harry their route south, and a run-in with a spiritualist and some mummies blows their cover in Springfield.  They can lie low with some halflings if they're polite…but if they flash too much magic or any kind of firearms, the fastachee who protects the Small’uns will run them out of town.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 114

Seriously.  The fastachee’s Plant Projection (Su) is one mile per Hit Dice.  And that’s a radius.  For you East Coasters, that’s all of Manhattan and most of the other boroughs.  A fastachee standing in the right place could eavesdrop on Congress and then command plants just outside Baltimore the very next round.  Or, to put a more corn-oriented spin on it, 60 fastachees could pretty much protect Iowa—all of it.

My grandfather was from near Springfield.  And plenty of folks from the generation before him had Prohibition stories, as the Illinois legislators weren’t about to let their whistles run dry when Chicago was so wet.  As I recall, one car mechanic once got a call to go out and fix a supposedly abandoned truck.  By the time he was done, there was an envelope full of money on the seat that wasn’t there when he started, and he decided it was best not to investigate too carefully.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016


Exscinders,” Bestiary 5 begins, “are Heaven's censors.”

That frisson you feel—that spark created by the disconnect between “Heaven” and “censors”—that’s what makes this monster interesting.

To almost any modern fantasy fan, censors are bad.  They are the worst, in fact.  How many fantasy and sci-fi novels have you read where censors are the villains?  Fahrenheit 451, 1984…heck, I’m listening to An Ember in the Ashes literally right now, featuring an oppressed people known as Scholars who, ironically, aren't permitted to read.  Plenty of literary villains enslave, pillage, and murder…but it’s the censors and book burners that break readers’ hearts.

(I’m going to dive into a personal aside here, the kind I usually leave for the bottom of the post, because it’s germane to our discussion.  I think—and this is a total blanket generalization, so feel free to correct me—but I think this is especially true of fans born in the ’70s or before.  For those of us who grew up before the Internet, the power of information—and the power to take it away—were real things to us.  Adult books were on a different floor of the library, and even if you could take them out, you felt like an intruder for trying (and I lived in a liberal near-utopia; other libraries were stricter).  If you lived in a rural or religious area, lots of books just weren’t available.  Ditto music: Walmart wouldn’t stock CDs with warning labels.  Porn magazines, to kids, were literally currency.  And I got into role-playing in 1988, when a) the shadow of BADD and ’80s suburban panic about devil worship still hung heavy over the industry, and b) the Cold War was still very much a thing (perestroika notwithstanding), with all that implied about Soviet censors and East German secret police.  To a sensitive 10-year-old nerd, the sense that books were precious, rare, special, and that there were people who wanted to take them away from you, was real.)

So censors are bad. 


We don’t live in a world where books can come alive or steal souls.  If we did, we might have a different attitude.  Watch Evil Dead, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, or The Care Bears Movie, and tell me books aren't dangerous.  (You can imagine the PSAs: “Parents, have you talked to your child about incunabula?”)  

So exscinders—yes, this is still a monster blog—serve a valuable purpose in a Pathfinder multiverse.  There is Knowledge Man Wasn’t Meant to Know.  There are books too dangerous to read, pages that can literally warp your soul or open doors to evil realms.  Exscinders protect mortalkind from such pernicious heterodoxy.  They are strict for a reason, though those reasons are lawful and good.  Like the monks in A Canticle for Leibowitz, they know that while knowledge must be preserved, disseminating it is a different matter—particularly when that knowledge has the ability to usher in the Apocalypse.

Theoretically, this should mean exscinders are allies of the PCs.  But evil or neutrally aligned parties, servants of gods of knowledge or magic, freedom fighters, and even librarians or scribes might object to such paternalistic thinking—particularly if they need to tap (even with the best of intentions) that forbidden knowledge themselves.

The fight against the insidious gospels of the kytons has left one archon almost as cold and clinical as his quarry.  The exscinder Maritius wears a mask of stitched kyton leather that exposes only his eyes.  As he grows more and more dogmatic, he seems to increase both his mandate and his list of forbidden texts.  Other archons fear that if he is not reined in, he will give the kytons grounds to charge and try him in the multiversal courts (an axiomatic legal arena the kytons are skilled at manipulating).  Mortal adventurers are needed to subdue Maritius to keep Heaven’s hands clean.

An exscinder attempts to steal a party mage’s spellbook.  But that makes no sense…it’s an ordinary book of spells, one the wizard has been scrawling in since his apprenticeship.  Has there been some great Heavenly mistake?  Did the pages hide some secret?  Is the wizard unknowingly the vessel for some world-threatening heresy?  It’s a mystery—and one the party members may have to solve without the aid of their best caster’s complement of spells.

A heresy devil has managed to insert some lines into the Book of Fate.  Exscinders move to remove the verses, but as they delete them, the pernicious phrases pull legitimate stanzas out along with them.  Like a scar badly healing, the resulting tortured grammar contains new meanings, new fates—and thus potential new realities.  Every edit the exscinders make risks changing the world a little more.  They must be stopped before the revisions take hold.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 34

With my late ’70s birthdate, technically I’m a leading edge Millennial (depending on who you ask), but that makes a lot of my references and outlook pretty heavily Gen X.  (This list is strikingly accurate but, being BuzzFeed, way too self-congratulatory.)

At this point, my stack of unread Pathfinder books has gone from embarrassing through humiliating to “likely to topple over and kill me.”  (Speaking of which, one of those unread books, Heaven Unleashed, has a nice exscinder NPC and lair.)  That said, my latest box just arrived, and Horror Adventurers—which I’d planned to tease for you in my PaizoCon wrap-up (that I still haven’t, er, wrapped up…or even begun)—was inside. 

It looks, as usual, gorgeous.  And I’m so excited about the various corruptions, archetypes, and creepy horror rules within. 

I’m one of the rare naysayers (along with, apparently) who wasn’t all that impressed with 3.5’s Heroes of Horror—there just wasn’t enough for me to sink my teeth into that hadn't already been covered in Dragon Magazine or Book of Vile Darkness (or even Oriental Adventurers’ taint and blood magic rules).  But Pathfinder has been pretty solid on horror going all the way back to The Skinsaw Murders, and the corruption art previewed at PaizoCon was phenomenal, so I’m pretty excited to crack this book open.  If I have any profound thoughts, I’ll let you know.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016


Oh, fantasy role-playing editors!  When will you set aside your anti-umlaut prejudices?  First you morph the doppelgänger (from the German, “double-goer”) into doppelganger (from the West Side, “Warren G and Nate Dogg”).  Then you turn the exuberantly quadruple-tittled etiäinen into the workaday etiainen.  Honestly, it’s enough to make a man scheißen.

That said, the etiainen is a pretty cool monster.  It’s based on a Finnish house spirit that is a manifestation of a sort of pre- vu (now I’m the one mangling language)—that feeling you get, for instance, when you think you hear someone come in the door, but no one is there, only to have them arrive five minutes later in exactly the manner you imagined.

That’s not exactly the easiest concept to base a dungeon monster around, but the Bestiary 5 is game to try.  It makes the etiainen a psychic entity (“amalgams of the past and the future”) that can cause minor effects around the house, mimic people, and confuse them with deja vu and memory drain abilities.  All in all, it makes for a unique take on the house spirt concept, and it’s perfect at the CR 1 challenge level.  As I’ve mentioned dozens of times on this blog, I love low-level monsters that give new characters something to face besides rats and goblins.  And with combat being so high-stakes at 1st-level, it’s nice to have a good mystery plot or a monsters that take a lot of investigation to uproot—lots of excuses for skill checks, good role-playing, and story XP awards instead of stabbing your way to 2nd level.  So the etiainen should definitely pop up in your next low-level adventure, especially if you want to add a little Scandinavian flair.

An etiainen developed an attachment to an innkeeper’s husband, mimicking his movements and foretelling his actions.  When the man died cold and alone on a hunting trip after being mauled by a polar bear, the forlorn etiainen became resentful—particularly of all the inn patrons who indulged in the waystation’s celebrated sauna huts.  His coy pranks have become dangerous, and since a guest nearly died of heatstroke when the etiainen locked him in one of the huts, the innkeeper is now looking to pacify or exorcise the spirit.

An etiainen lives in the shadow of a great clock tower, acting out scenes from a murder it witnessed before appearing to wink out of existence.  Adventurers who study the etiainen’s behavior more than once might realize that it acts out the same actions at precisely the same time every night—a possible clue overlooked by the Watch.  Following up this lead could call into question the alibi of one of the suspects.

A bartender is convinced he has a clurichaun (a variant leprechaun) on the premises.  He thinks if he can capture it, the fey will boost his fortunes.  He cajoles some local youths into helping him hunt the clurichaun, but what they discover instead is an etiainen.  Assuming they don’t destroy it, the etiainen can reveal details of a battle fought where the bar now stands—including the burial chambers where a fallen lord’s grave gods still lie unclaimed.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 111

The Norwegian term for the etiainen is vardøger, another excellent word.  The Irish fetch is another similar creature.  (Actually, I’m kind of stunned “fetch” hasn’t been used as a name in the Bestiaries already…the closest we have so far is the fetchling.  Maybe for B6?)

Monday, August 8, 2016

Etheric Dragon

(Illustration comes from artist Christina Yen’s website and is © Paizo Publishing.)

When push comes to shove, stat blocks beat fluff in most monster books.  That’s especially true when it comes to dragons—three complete stat blocks on two pages don’t leave much room for description.  And so it is that 17 words in Bestiary 5 sum up all we know of etheric dragons in terms of personality, hunting style, culture, and outlook.

The good news is, that gives you plenty of space to play.  So, what do you want your etheric dragons to be like?

It’s a given that etheric dragons are at home in the gloom and mist.  They dwell on the Ethereal Plane and seem to almost have one foot in the grave (or at least the spirit world)—in fact, by the time they are adults, the mere act of traveling renders them incorporeal.  Their breath can leave a luckless victim only a few heartbeats away from becoming a corpse, and their claw/bite attacks are as deadly to spirits as they are to physical beings.

Beyond that, it’s up to you.  Has being surrounded by spirits left them cold, cynical pragmatists untroubled by mortality?  Do they take their survivalist instincts to extremes, hiding in multiple, trap-strewn lairs throughout the Ethereal?  Are they like intelligent jungle cats, slipping silently through the mists to strike and then fade away?  Has being neighbors with dangerous creatures like xills and night hags left them leery of other species?  Or, inspired by them, do etheric dragons treat mortals simply as otherworldly cattle to be subtly herded until their bodies or souls can be put to the dragon’s use?  Do they collect secrets of the living and the dead, acting as brokers for their nightmare and occult dragon kin?  Or do they resent these soul and scroll collectors, and guard their realms jealously?  It’s all up to you…

Unbeknownst to him, a recent encounter with a manasaputra has caused an adventurer’s chakras to shine like a beacon.  The glow of the pooled ki energy glitters so brightly to those who can see it that it lures an etheric dragon out of his den to investigate.

The ranger school at Landolin is more demanding than most.  Youths who join the school hone their woodcraft to a keen edge, with special attention paid to the art of camouflage.  The instructor is no human, elf, or even centaur, but an etheric dragon so stealthy and with wings so tattered that he appears as little more than a swirling flight of leaves when he moves.

The great city of Penrus, capital of the world (or so the Penran centurions would have you believe), is mirrored by a giant necropolis on the Ethereal Plane, were souls manifest before they make their pilgrimage through the Black Gate to the Land of the Dead.  Around it is a murky wood of trees bent by the weight of time and twisted by etheric currents.  Young etheric dragons hunt here, ignoring properly manifested souls on their pilgrimage but devouring anyone who strays from the path, be they alive or dead.  The etheric dragons are especially fond of hunting mortal spellcasters and occultists, who tend to have rare books and relics the dragons can pore over when they take up adult lairs in the Deep Ethereal.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 92–93

I have so much reader mail to reply to.  You have been heard, readers!  Your words are loved!  Stay tuned and I’ll respond as I can carve out the time.