Thursday, March 16, 2017

Liminal Sprite

Okay, I’m warning you up top: This post is gonna go some weird places.  And it’s as pretentious and bloated as a Harvard admissions officer.  So if you keep reading, remember I gave you a chance to bail before I became utterly insufferable. 

We cool?  Okay, here goes…

Guys.  Guys.  GUYS.  You have no idea how excited I am for the liminal sprite.

My paper for my college’s famously hard Religion 101 midterm?  It was on liminality.  The reason I spend Labor Day and New Year’s playing board games?  I made a lifelong friend tutoring a frosh on her liminality paper.  My favorite school mascot?  The Liminal State Bobcats.

So yeah, this is my kind of monster.  Add to that the fact that it’s a fey with a killer backstory, great art, and a low CR, and this just all adds up to “Squeeeee!” territory for me.

Bestiary 5 gives us plenty to work with: These are sprites cursed to rest neither out in the open or inside any building.  This leaves them only liminal (that is, threshold) spaces in which to make their homes—in sheltered doorways; behind shutters; under eaves, porches, and outside stairs; and so on.  That’s an absolutely fantastic fluff detail that also suggests some nice encounter options.  Need a witness to a burglary?  Liminal sprite.  A guardian for a magical gate?  Liminal sprite.  Servant of your world’s version of Janus?  Liminal sprite. 

Liminal sprites also love comedy, so they might hang around actors and theaters, particularly outdoor stages.  The next time your PCs stop into town for supplies, a side quest involving a liminal sprite wielding a girdle of opposite gender could be a delightfully Shakespearean side trek.  They’re also knowledgeable about local events and stealthy as hell (+17!).  And as familiars, their Repartee (Su) ability, which turns the +2 aid another bonus to +2d4, can help a chaotic sorcerer or bard really punch above their weight on Charisma checks.

But there’s another way to use liminal sprites.  If you remember your college reading of van Gennep and Turner—actually, I think my copy of The Ritual Process is still on my bookshelf somewhere—the original notion of liminality was meant to refer to certain threshold moments in time, not space.  These were transitional phases during rites of passage, or special times of the year, neither sacred nor profane, where the ordinary rules are suspended and society’s low and high temporarily occupy an equal footing.  (The perfect example of this is the move between (profane) Ordinary Time in the Catholic liturgical calendar and the (sacred) Season of Lent.  What falls in between?  Mardi Gras, where we get ready for weeks of repentance by gorging on baked goods and showing our tits.  It doesn't get more liminal than that.  Communitas, bitchez!)

This is perfect for liminal sprites.  Like many outsiders and undead, the best fey not only exist in and of themselves, but also represent or embody a larger something…sometimes a thing (like a dryad’s oak), but sometimes a notion (like the fear of drowning or the joy of the hunt).  The very curse that hampers the liminal sprite ray also gives them a conceptual/spiritual reason for being.  It might even nourish them in some way—I can imagine scenarios where a liminal sprite gets a small bonus during times of ritualized upheaval (like Carnival), certain days of the calendar (like Leap Day), or specific astrological events (such as eclipses).

“But wait,” you remind me, “this is for a game.  That’s a lot of conceptual bull$#!† to hang on a CR 2 sprite.”  And honestly, you’re right. 

But when the party sorcerer’s liminal sprite familiar gets extra antsy or powerful or flat-out vanishes during your game world’s version of New Year’s Eve, you’ve just made that world a little more real.  And if your PCs are planning a Leap Day treasury heist and are agonizing over whether to wait an extra day to recover spells, or go today to take advantage of the ad hoc bonus you’ve announced having a liminal sprite along will confer…but only until midnight…well, suddenly all those ridiculously pretentious paragraphs above have at-the-table, tactical risk/reward consequences.  Not bad for a 3 Hit Dice, size Tiny fey, right?

Gnomish thieves are robbing the citizens of Westphal blind during the summer theater festival.  They pick the pockets of the distracted citizens during performances, then vanish under the stage, where an open manhole allows escape into the sewers.  The gnomes have attracted the attention of a court of liminal sprites, but the faeries are only too happy to guard the portal for the gnomes, so long as they get their cut.  Last night, though, sewer-dwelling derros discovered the open manhole, and now a lot more than treasure is going to disappear into the darkness.

After a contentious year of peasant uprisings and arguments with Parliament, the queen declares a curfew during Winterfeast.  Among other things, this will prevent the midnight crowning of a Lord and Lady of Misrule—conveniently sparing the queen the need to surrender her authority, even if only symbolically, to a couple of upstarts during the week of parades and masked games.  The peasants are disgruntled, even angered, at the news…but the region’s liminal sprites, who delight in the festivities and are spiritually nourished by this time of upheaval, are outraged.  Until a Lord and Lady of Misrule are crowned, the sprites do not intend to let the city have a moment of peace.

In the Polish city of Kraków during King Casimir the Great’s reign, liminal sprites have been delighted to find companionship and shelter under the eaves of Jewish households.  The sprites enjoy eavesdropping on the debates of the rabbis, and they treat guarding the mezuzahs on their neighbors’ front doors as an honored nightly obligation.  So when the day comes that every mezuzah in the Old Town has vanished, and not a liminal sprite is to be found, the concerned Jewish citizens of Kraków want answers.  Acceding to their demands, Kraków’s prezydent hires adventurers to look into the mystery.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 158

The Liminal State Bobcats are a creation of my college friend, Dorothy Gambrell.  (She lived one floor up and one suite over freshman year.)  Webcomic fans will know her as the creator of Cat and Girl, one of the longest-running webcomics to date.  She actually has a Kickstarter going on right now with about 4 hours left, so this is an excellent time to show her some love.

If you’ll indulge me for a second: That tutoring session I mentioned above has become something of a story among a different set of my college friends.  The short version is that the frosh originally thought I was horrifying.  To her, I was a drunken weirdo.  (I maybe used to bring 40s to pep band rehearsals.  Whoops.)

But then came her brutal Religion 101 paper.  (To give you context, I didn't have to do any reading for the first three weeks of my 600-level grad school courses because of this same Religion 101 class.)  Turned out we’d both written about liminality; turned out I still remembered the course; turned out my advice on revising her paper helped earn her an A.  We’ve been friends ever since. But her roommate later told me she came back to her dorm saying, “The drunk guy from Band saved my paper and I have to lie down because the world doesn’t make sense any more.”

For any of my high school readers about to go to college, there’s an Alien-esque moral here: In a single room, no one can see you study.  (And later on, you’ll really get to mess with people.)


  1. My papers on liminality -- concerning the Blessed Virgin and some of her derring deeds in the miracle stories and other texts, along with figures in Gowther, Gawain, and Orpheo -- are among my favorite pieces of writing I've done. This anecdotal entry came at a serendipitous time which is, in itself, liminal for many: midterms. I enjoy the relevance, and the fresh eyes for creative hooks you have. Your blog is always a joy to read, even though I've moved into 5e since my usual group disbanded (graduate school works wonders in that department). You're among the first resources I cite for budding DMs, and your entries are always engrossing -- even when the monster isn't quote-unquote sexy (re: Giant Crabs, etc.). All that said, thanks for the work you do. The blog is really a work of art.

  2. A monster problem involving religious minorities taking place in Poland? This looks like a job for Geralt.

    1. I had to Google Geralt. I am so lame.

    2. Given your blog, you might want to consider giving the books or games a try, if you've got time. Lots of monsters running amok, mixed with a healthy dose of philosophy.