Thursday, September 29, 2016

Giant & Great Assassin Bugs

Assassin bugs are already gifted with a great name.  But they’re also perfect for fantasy role-playing for more National Geographic-y reasons: they live in caves, suck blood, and have a nasty venom-packed proboscis or rostrum.  Coming in giant and great varieties, Pathfinder’s assassin bugs are a nice new option when you need an ambush predator.

Trapped in a cave by giants, adventurers have only one option for escape: dig through a caved-in section of tunnel and hope it leads to an exit.  It does—but the rockfall hides giant assassin bugs as well.  Lucky adventurers may also find the skull of the unlucky gray who triggered the avalanche, cutting short its otherworldly expedition.

Minotaur slaves are difficult to control at the best of times.  Worst yet, they attract pests: giant assassin bugs, who seem to delight in feeding on the bovine humanoids.  Down on their luck, an adventuring party has no choice but to accept a job at a plantation clearing out a nest of assassin bugs.  Unfortunately, that means that when the minotaurs stage a revolt, they see the adventurers as simply more overseers to be slain.

Great assassin bug eyes glow for several hours after death.  After getting on the wrong side of some duergar in a bar, adventurers must defeat they gray dwarves in an assassin bug race—essentially, a steeplechase where the racers must slay a great assassin bug and return with the still-glowing eyes.  This being a duergar game, the adventurers should expect ambushes, deadfall traps, psychic attacks, and myriad other underhanded schemes, particularly on the return route.

Pathfinder Adventure Path #81 82–83 & Pathfinder Bestiary 5 36

Apparently the assassin bug in D&D dates all the way back to early White Dwarf and the 1e Fiend Folio.  Not a bad pedigree, though the Pathfinder version sticks much closer to the real thing.

Looking for the ghoran?  We covered her waaay back here…but damn, she got an art upgrade in Bestiary 5.  Props to Aleksey Bayura for making this plant PC race look properly badass.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016


(Illustration by Nemanja Stankovic comes from the artist’s ArtStation page and is © Paizo Publishing.)

What a difference some flavor text and an art choice can make.  Gegenees are deep cuts from Greek mythology: six-armed giants from Turkey with only a small mention in the Argonautica to their names.  But those arms also recall the Martians from Burroughs’s pulp novels, and Bestiary 5’s decision to make gegenees blue recalls the multi-armed azure gods and heroes of Indian lore.  It’s just one more reminder that RPGs are the ultimate myth remix engine. 

Gegenees are easy to drop into high-level adventures.  They’re somehow both novel and still classic guards for mythic sites.  Their venerable mothers may have insights into realities non-giants can’t perceive.  And gegenees sorcerer exiles might be found wandering anywhere—perhaps hunting for obscure secrets, perhaps longing for revenge against their xenophobic kin, or perhaps looking to found kingdoms of their own.

Exiled from his people, a gegenees sorcerer employs genie slaves to dominate a city.  He demands the citizens scarify themselves with symbols denoting their castes.  This in turn draws the ire of the venerable mothers who cast him out, for the patterns too closely resemble the holy patterns of their clan.

The lamia queen Ovencia has already conducted two dark rites to transform herself into a half-fiend and make her palace feed, vampire-like, on other cities.  Now she seeks to create an army that will do her bidding by sowing dragon teeth into a fertile field.  Unfortunately for her, she actually used linnorm teeth.  The gegenees warriors that sprang up from the field immediately began wreaking havoc on the surrounding lands, entirely out of the evil serpent-woman’s control.

On the outskirts of Limbo, islands float upon seas that will eventually melt into the chaotic realm’s mists of possibility.  Gegenees live upon these islands, equally suspicious of the proteans who are their neighbors and of strangers from more lawful planes who sometimes land upon their shores.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 118

If there’s one complaint I have about the gegenees, it’s that CR 16.  It’s a giant so powerful that many parties will never face one.  I’d love to see a CR 10–12 cousin.

PS: If you’re looking for the gearsman, we covered his clanking self back here.

Last night at the radio station I was training new DJs, so I barely even remember my show happening. Let's listen to it together, shall we?  (Link good till Monday, October 3, at midnight.)

Hmmm…I wonder what (NSFW) thing I’ll be doing on Monday, October 3, at midnight?

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Gate Archon

Nobody likes the bouncer.  Even when your name’s on the list he’s a figure of menace, because there’s always the chance that there’s been some miscommunication and you’ll get turned away.  (I didn’t even like the bouncer when I was the bouncer—I’m thinking of one Run-DMC show in particular.)

Or take St. Peter.  When you think of him, do you think of the most human of Jesus’s apostles, the most fallible, the most relatable, the one most like us?  Nope, you think of the cartoon guy at the Pearly Gates—the one who’s probably not going to let you in.

All of which is to say that, despite their lawful good alignment, gate archons are going to give your PCs plenty of reasons to pick fights with them.  To adventurers, doors are meant to be opened, bars are meant to be bent, and gates are meant to be crashed.  When the greater good is at stake, you can bet they’ll be willing to thrash the lawful good archon in their way.

Or at least, they’ll try.  At CR 17, the gate archon can more than thrash right back.

When the High Templar was slain atop the Altar of Light, the holy city of Nashon fell around him.  Towers fell, black mold grew over white marble, and the trees wept blood.  And in the High Temple itself, the gate archon who stood in the north transept become a devil of anguish and rage.

Breaking into Heaven’s First Precinct was easy.  Breaking out will be the hard part.  Psychopomp clerks detected the party’s intrusion into the Hourglass Aviary, and now a gate archon bars their way back to the land of the living.  The price of Paradise, it appears, is a permanent residency.

Famous gate archons include Atimixus, the quetzalcoatlus-winged archon whose statue guards the gate to the realm of lightning dragons; Evinen’shen, who loves the little liminal sprites and looks after them despite their chaotic fey natures; the Keeper of Autumn; and an unnamed archon who bravely bars one of the otherwise-accurately-named Seven Demon Doors.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 35

There was one doorman everybody liked—so much so that a D.C. blog once suggested dressing up as him in a list of D.C.-themed Halloween costume ideas.  His death has left a hole in the hearts of a number of people close to me, and he is profoundly missed.

Yesterday’s post stirred up quite a lot of Tumblr comments, which I honestly wasn’t expecting.  I had meant to mention that gancanaghs were friendly with leprechauns, but by the time I sat down to write the post I was tired and plum forgot; fortunately filbypott didn’t.  (Blogger readers, tired-me also forgot to attach the picture so a link is in your comments as well.)  And demiurge1138 and others dove into the various male rapist/seducer figures in myth and how they’re perceived in the game. 

For the record, demi, I’m going to go with your Narnia theory.  Gygax was a huge reader, famously recommending a number of books in Appendix N of the 1e Dungeon Master’s Guide.  While Narnia isn’t on that particular list I think there’s no question that Lewis’s wise woodsmen centaurs provided the template for Gygax’s.  And as we’ve talked about before, Gygax’s shadow over the hobby is (understandably) pretty long—so that the tiniest idiosyncrasies in the 1e Monster Manual tend to be with us even today.  That wagon left some deep ruts.

For the record, apparently in the 5e Player’s Handbook there’s a new list, which I just discovered courtesy of this post.  I’ve got some quibbles here and there, but good for them for expanding the canon!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016


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

Inspired by the gean cánach or “love talker” from Irish mythology, Pathfinder’s gancanagh got upgraded from fey to azata.   Unlike many outsiders though, at CR 4 he’s easy to insert into even a low-level adventure.  Any number of jilted lovers, jealous husbands, and irate fathers or magistrates might hire adventurers to take revenge on a gancanagh…and what will they do when they find out that he’s not only a good guy, but a guy for Good? 

(Moreover, just how far are they willing to go to get the stat boost from the gancanagh’s Invigorating Passion (Su) ability?  Wouldst thou hit that for a Hit Die?)

Gancanaghs typically woo shepherdesses and milkmaids.  Iefan of the Silver Glade wooed the head of the Inquisition instead…and when he ended the affair to pursue another woman, she took it poorly.  As a luckless adventuring party is currently under the High Inquisitrix’s thumb—they were caught stopping a witch-burning and their paladin has been threatened with censure—it becomes their job to round up the azata before he slips away to Elysium.

The lizardfolk of the Sword Reach are accomplished sailors and whalers despite their cold blood.  One, the white-scaled Griznak, is never to be seen without his pipe, which he says he carved from the thighbone of a living frost giant. In truth, he stole the pipe from a gancanagh…and now that the azata is back on the Sword Reach after questing in Ettinhope, he wants his pipe back.

Determined to take down the sorcerer-bishop of Axburg, adventurers seek to learn more of the bishop’s crimes by freeing his hated rival.  Known only as “the Elf in Irons,” the renowned swashbuckler has been locked in a tower for 15 years.  In truth the imprisoned “Elf” is no less than a gancanagh.  But years of being bound in a mask of cold iron in a cell lit by smoky braziers have rendered the azata quite mad, and he attempts to kill his would-be rescuers.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 38

Since one of the reasons we know about the gancanagh is through Mr. William Butler Yeats, now is the time where I point out I took my senior yearbook photo at Yeats’s grave.  Pretentious much? 

(It was a sweet photo, though.)

Last night’s radio show!  No big theme, no magical arc, just two hours of solid tunes.  Stream/download it now through Monday, 9/26, at midnight.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Frog Father & Goliath Frog

Giant insects are a staple of fantasy gaming (and with five Bestiaries to draw from, Pathfinder’s giant bugs are even nastier than most).  Naturally, that means you need some equally giant insectivores.  The goliath frog and frog father are Large and Huge options with which to terrify your low-level parties (especially any halfling and gnome PCs).

Stat-wise, these are pretty utilitarian amphibians—you’re picking them for their size and CR, not flashy abilities—but it’s still worth diving into their stat blocks and descriptions to mine for interesting encounter setups and tactics.  Goliath frogs have an excellent Climb skill, so having them attack from the trees is a nice way to surprise a party carefully skirting around the edge of the local swamp.  And the long reach (30 ft.) of frog fathers’ tongues makes a pair of the Huge beasts a potentially lethal encounter for a bridge or ford scenario.

Fed up with an infestation of kikimoras, a village purchases a magical bell meant to drive the beak-nosed fey away.  Once installed at the top of the steeple, the bell’s peal will send any fey within earshot scurrying away—but to work it must be blessed by a bishop and installed on a high holy day…so some adventurers have been hired to make sure the ceremony goes off without a hitch.  The kikimoras are naturally determined to foil this plan, doing everything from recruiting gremlins to sabotage the tower to attempting to kidnap the bishop.  In a desperate last-ditch effort, the kikimoras ride goliath frogs into town on the day of the blessing, hoping enough townsfolk are gobbled up that the survivors will never be so impertinent again.

“Frog father” is a name with mysterious, almost mythic overtones.  While most frog fathers are dumb beasts who munch on giant insects and cattle, rumors persist of certain elder frog fathers awakened to a modicum of intelligence and even crude magical powers.  Said intelligence does nothing to curb these frog fathers’ base appetites, however.  They squat in their swamps like corpulent green lords, croaking demands for food and slurping up any supplicants who come within 30 feet.

Where the Plane of Air brushes the Plane of Wood, clumps of trees the size of towns roll like giant tumbleweeds through the air.  Blessed with enough biomass to have their own mini-atmospheres, these tumbleworlds are humid enough that animals and vermin of all kinds can flourish despite not having any firm soil beneath them.  Plane of Air denizens and visitors alike seek out these tumbleworlds for rare fruits, orchids, medicinal herbs, but they must beware the goliath frogs that are happy to snap up large birds and even sylphs without hesitation.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 117

D&D 3.0/3.5 fans will remember the Plane of Wood as a variant elemental plane from the Manual of the Planes.  (There were even stat templates for wood elemental creatures—perfect for you My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fans who want timberwolves in your game.)  If you’re looking for a reason to use the Plane of Wood, it fits in excellently with certain Oriental Adventurers cosmologies that have five Inner Planes (Air/Fire/Water/Metal/Wood) instead of the usual four.

Edit: Another week, another late radio show update for my Blogger readers.  Grab it before midnight!

This week’s radio show celebrated 20 years of Cake’s incomparable Fashion Nugget, nodded toward 20 years of R.E.M.’s divisive New Adventures in Hi-Fi, and played an assortment of new and classic indie faves.  Stream/download the file here till Monday, 9/19, at midnight.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Flytrap Leshy

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

Flytrap leshys were teased back in Bestiary 3, so it was pretty much a guarantee we would see them statted up sooner or later.  (A flytrap already has a mouth after all; why not give it a body?)

What we didn't expect was that they could have as many as 30(!) Hit Dice.

In addition to having a nasty bite and mini-flytraps for hands—because of course they needed mini-flytrap hands—flytrap leshys can combine into one giant amalgam creature.

This terrifies me.  Not as a player—as a person.  My dad took me to see Little Shop of Horror in the theater, but since a) I was in 3rd grade, b) no one explained to me it was a comedy, and c) I was in 3rd grade, I didn’t make it very long once Audrey II grew up.  We had to leave the theater, and I disliked any dark basement where a carnivorous plant could hide for a good while after.  Even years later, when I actually liked the movie (a friend of mine and I got really into the soundtrack one summer), the climactic battle scene was a hard watch—especially because Audrey grows dozens of more little buds with mouths of their own.

So the thought of a 30-Hit Dice Gargantuan amalgam flytrap leshy brimming with snapping jaws is…yikes.

Granted, most flytrap leshy encounters will be with the standard 6-Hit Dice model.  But you know in your evil GM hearts that the option is out there…

Having traveled into a magical egg made of folktales, adventurers must chase an evil fey druid through a hedge maze.  Several of the maze’s dead ends hold flytrap leshys, and as they chase the adventurers through the labyrinth they combine into one ever-more menacing threat.

A moon naga oracle named Lily tends a circle of standing stones near Medford Downs.  Prone to fits, she is often ill, so a local cluster of flytrap leshys has taken it upon themselves to protect her.  In their zeal they snap first and ask questions later.

An arctic dome hides a jungle biosphere: the science station of a long-dead horticulturalist who had the skills of a druid and alchemist.  Her life’s work continues, though, courtesy of a cluster of flytrap leshys that tend the facility.  Their devotion is cultish enough that both the horticulturalist’s spirit and that of her chief rival have become tethered to the dome, manifesting as witchfires.  Only the rival’s spirit is truly evil, but both are mad from long confinement and will lash out at intruders.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 156

I’m not the only one who noticed the flytrap leshy’s party trick.

Looking for the flying fox?  We covered that here.

Edit: Apologies once again to you loyal Blogger readers.  Because of my spotty posting schedule this week, you’re getting last week’s radio show link late.  Grab it before midnight!  The Mitski show is also in the past, but you may dig the in-studio link.

This radio show starts off with some Los Campesinos! and doesn’t let up for two hours.  Stream or download it here.

(The intro to this show got cut off by the computer, but you didn’t miss anything.  Link good till Monday, 9/12, at midnight.)

(Also, if you’re in the Baltimore/DC area, Mitski is doing a show in College Park this weekend.  Details are here, and here’s an in-studio she did at 88.1 earlier this year.)

Monday, September 5, 2016

Fire & Water Wysps

Wysps should be nothing more than Tiny elementals.  Instead they are sympathetic supporters of other elemental creatures (and kineticists), living batteries that can sacrifice themselves for those with whom they resonate, and instinctive musicians whose symphonies may have had their origins in the multiverse’s creation.  Perhaps the fabled Music of the Spheres isn’t really about the movement of celestial bodies at all, but refers instead to the songs of these helpful orbs…

Lynden Aethersmith—he picked the name himself—had grand plans to unlock the secrets of the multiverse, beginning with the binding of an aether wysp.  Not having the proper level of skill, he failed utterly.  However, his wild gyrations and pseudo-ceremonies did attract the attention of a curious but shy fire wysp.  The wysp now follows the disconsolate Lynden around from a discreet distance…inadvertently starting several fires, which is why he now finds himself branded the town arsonist.

A water elementalist mage is studying the properties of a font of elemental power, and has befriended a cloud of water wysps along the way.  The local ooze mephit grand poobah regards these wysps as his vassals and is determined to seek retribution.

A ring of dancing sprites is led not by another fey, but by a water wysp conductor.  The sprites are all bards and kineticists gifted in water and ice magic, and the wysps will aid them in any way they can, up to and including sacrificing themselves to guard their conductor and the sacred glade.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 282–283

Sorry about the posting delay.  Aside from my usual Labor Day travels, thanks to frakmito I was lucky enough to spend last Thursday in The Room Where It Happens.

Edit: Due to the differences in Tumblr and Blogger’s formats, you loyal Blogger readers never got the link to last week’s radio show.  Here it is, but be warned you’ve got less than 30 minutes to grab it.  Huge apologies!

Last night’s [Tuesday’s] radio show had to do a lot of work—say goodbye to summer, welcome UMD students back to campus for a new semester, serve up new artists, and celebrate two big anniversaries: 30 years of Paul Simon’s Graceland and 20 years of Pearl Jam’s No Code. All in all, it was a busy two hours. Stream or download it here.

(For best results, Save As an mp3 to your desktop.  Link good till Monday, September 5, at midnight.)

IMPORTANT PS: If you’ve ever bookmarked my show link, bookmark it again.  They’ve corrected the typo in the link so that it says “Canon,” not “Cannon.”