Saturday, April 29, 2017

Makara Vahana & Vahana

Our theme of Hindu-folklore-inspired monsters continues with the makara vahana and the vahana template!

(By the way, if you think it’s odd that we’re getting a templated version of a monster without ever getting the plain vanilla monster…yeah, it’s hella odd.  Best I can tell, it was a call made because of how the Bestiary 5 team had to make the two-page spreads work, which is a perennial juggling/struggling act for the editors.  Bestiary layouts are harder than they look.)

Makaras in Pathfinder are part-elephant, part-crocodile (not half-and-half like a griffon, but more an all-over mishmash).  In mythology, by the way, the makara has a number of associations, including as a vahana steed for several gods, as well as connections to gates, thresholds, and weddings.  Meanwhile, vahanas are divine steeds in general.  (Elephant-headed Ganesha rode a giant mouse!  How awesome is that?  And how weird is it that the apocryphal elephant/mouse association goes that far back?)

Obviously in Pathfinder makara vahanas and vahanas in general will be serving favored prelates, gurus, and rishis, not the gods themselves.  But their speed, resistances, and magical rider bond and blended beast abilities ensure that the connection these steeds have to the divine is never forgotten.

Every year at the spring equinox, the priests of the Masked Moon ride their makara vahanas from the Winter Temple to the sacred lagoons where they reside in summer.  This year the stately procession is interrupted when the vahanas go wild and stampede, injuring dozens of onlookers.  Adventurers who investigate may find a plot to discredit the influential but mysterious religion.

A usurper seeks every possible sign to legitimize his rule.  He strong-arms some adventurers into retrieving a rare makara for him, so that he may ride it and claim it is his vahana steed as a mark of the gods’ approval.

The high priestesses of Bellvereth, goddess of love, are famous for the peacock vahana steeds they ride.  Those miscreants who assume these lovely birds are not up to the task of guarding the priestesses soon learn the error of their ways.  (Use the terror bird (a CR 4 Advanced axe beak) as the base animal.)

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 262

According to Bestiary 5’s Table of Contents, I should be tackling the makara now, but according to the big bold text of the monster entry itself, I should be waiting until we get to the “V”s.  These are the questions that keep me up all night.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Maharishi Manu

Hey!  It’s our first mana…manasa…manasap…manasaput…*deep breath* psychic reincarnated Hindu mythology-inspired Positive Energy Plane kinda-angel dude!!!

Pathfinder’s manasaputras are inspired by the ten sons Brahma created from his mind—according to Wikipedia, the name in fact means “mind-born son.”  In Pathfinder’s default cosmology, they are outsiders associated with reincarnation and the path to self-perfection.  Lawful good beings based on the Positive Energy Plane, manasaputras are benevolent and compassionate but remote and monastic—their touch upon the multiverse is light, and they are more interested in giving mortals tools to solve their own problems rather than wading in to render judgment or do battle.

That is a very quick gloss for a very complicated group of outsiders.  Spend some time with the Bestiary 5 entry to learn more—in fact, you’re probably going to want to read it twice.  Suffice it to say that the Positive and Negative Energy Planes have always been the z-axis to the Elemental Planes much simpler x/y grid.  Similarly, manasaputras sit above the typical good vs. evil tug-of-war for souls; their goals are more mysterious, more esoteric, and more concerned with cosmic truths than cosmic scoreboards.

Manus tend to have entire races for their portfolios; rishi manus have entire worlds.  Maharishi manus are the greatest of these.  This means they have accessed deeper truths, attained higher levels of self-perfection, and likely tend to larger portfolios—not just planets, but epochs as well (as is evidenced by their mastery of time-based special abilities.)  They say little (usually in riddle form) and act rarely, so when they do it is a momentous event.

Adventurers wish to destroy a succubus-wrought artifact that preserves the youth and beauty of the user for an ever-escalating terrible price.  The aging touch of a maharishi manu is required to weaken the object enough so that it may be destroyed.

Worlds with several satellites are often tended by a maharishi manu, a being with the foresight to observe a dozen moons (and their inhabitants) as well as the spiritual journeys of those on the planet below.  On the world of Beryl, adventurers discover their maharishi manu has left his post.  He has decamped to the moon Heliodor, where he has created a paradise full of creatures and races whose evolution he has personally overseen.  Unfortunately, this has not only left Beryl and its other moons untended, but also drawn the attention of the vile sahkils, who have begun building a chittering army on Heliodor’s dark side.

A bythos and a maharishi manu are playing chess.  Actually, they are attempting to repair a rent in the fabric of time, but they disagree on the precise means to go about this.  The resulting spirited debate (spirited for an aeon and a manasaputra, this is) is perceived by mortals as a game of chess that causes episodes of déjà vu and even timequakes across the world.  Adventurers might wish to pause the game, make sure one of the players wins, or even challenge the outsiders themselves, depending on their end goal.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 164

Alphabetical tidbit: Did you notice that the manu comes before the maharishi manu in Bestiary 5?  Not sure if that was intentional or not.

Monday, April 24, 2017


The lusca has a long history in Caribbean folklore as a oh who are we kidding it’s Sharktopus.

(Illustration by Bryan Sola comes from Gizmodo’s io9 and is © Paizo Publishing.)

It gets better.  The Pathfinder version has three heads.  So it’s a Cerberu-Sharktopus!

Okay, seriously, the lusca is actually a Caribbean cryptid.  But since there aren't many details on it besides that it’s an octopus-like creature, I can see why Isles of the Shackles author Mike Shel (or one of his developers/editors) Sharktopused it up.)

At this point you already know whether you’re going to use the lusca or not—you’re either the kind of GM who takes one look at that illustration and starts cackling evilly, or you’re the kind of GM who will never use the lusca and wishes the other GM would stop cackling so you can read your Bullfinch’s Mythology.  Whichever one you are, I wish you Godspeed.

Actually, three more notes, one or all of which may even sway the Bullfinchers.  First of all, if you can’t handle a Sharktopus in your game, there’s no reason you can’t reskin it.  A lusca would be an amazing servant of Dagon, Cthulhu, or some other aquatic power, especially with a template or two overlaid on top. 

Second of all, I’m really interested in the fact that this is such a nasty but practically nonmagical creature.  (What few spell-like abilities it has could easily be explained as natural phenomena.)  There’s something interesting to me about a monster this horrific not being the servant of a god, not being the creation of an arcane madman, not being a very magical creature, just existing.  That’s creepy.  (Of course, any sailor who comes across one will probably think they’ve upset a deity or two anyway.  You can imagine whole island societies falling into chaos just because a lusca swam by at an inopportune moment…)

Finally, this is yet another one of those monsters where you are about to close the book, and then you look again at the stat block and realize…it has languages listed.  Including Common.  It has Int 13.  It can talk.  And that’s a whole different level of Sharktopus…

One of the Red Lusca’s heads is dead—killed by a harpoon.  The other two, sadly, are quite alive, ravenous, and out for revenge.  If the halfling refugees are to be safely smuggled out of devil-tainted Satheriel, Red Lusca needs to die before the flotilla is launched.

Dirigibles are the main mode of transportation on the archipelago-continent of Quina.  In part this is because the floating ore hydrus is so plentiful, and in part because the fauna of the Quinan seas are so deadly.  But when a quest demands a party of adventurers travel to the Shores of Brass, they must go by boat—there is no guarantee they can carry enough hydrus to stay aloft—and that means braving the lusca-teeming seas.

The tritons of Maribus are not the benevolent coral sculptors of most worlds.  Instead, they are coldly militaristic (lawful neutral), their centurions keeping the aboleth and sahuagin hordes at bay while demanding tribute and trade monopolies from the surface lands.  Eventually this leads to a protracted war with the Coastal League of Bartag, and—thanks to the efforts of some impertinent but doughty adventurers—a tenuous peace.  But when the Maribean dictator sends a lusca to the treaty signing, he is clearly trying to restart hostilities.  The same adventurers must somehow keep the lusca from disrupting the signing, devouring the delegates, and sinking the floating tribute-city.

Isles of the Shackles 53 & Pathfinder Bestiary 5 161

April is the cruelest month…for blogging.  Sorry, guys.  My schedule lately has been like Tetris…I clear out my schedule only to have new obligations come down faster.  (Including an apartment-building fire—not mine! *knocks furiously on all the wood*—but still very scary and time-consuming.  It’s been that kind of a month.)

I can’t complain too much though, given the big news.  Speaking of which, my Blogger readers don’t know yet, so: Hey guys, check out the big news!

Yet again it’s Monday.  Yet again I’m posting last week’s radio show absurdly late.  But at least it’s posted—the previous show didn’t even get posted at all—and this time, Hanson and Third Eye Blind are involved.  For reasons.  You’ve got from now till midnight (Monday, 04/24/17, U.S. Eastern) to grab it, so stream/download it now.  (Also, no show this Tuesday because I’m probably filming on Wednesday and have an early call time.  See you next week, hopefully.)

Monday, April 10, 2017

Lotus Tree

Sometimes, you go looking for enlightenment.  Sometimes, enlightenment goes looking for you.

And then enlightenment punches you in the face with a tree branch and steals your hope for all time.

Lotus trees are one of the odder monsters in Bestiary 5…not because they are particularly outlandish, but because they exist as monsters at all.  In folklore, we tend to think of lotuses in connection with the lotus-eaters of the Odyssey, the navel of Vishnu, or the flowers that would spring up in the path of the Buddha.  In other words, themes of dreams, peace, calm, reflection, etc.

We don’t think of a CR 20(!) plant monster that can dish out up to 176 points of slam damage in a round, not to mention permanently charm a victim (with a mindwipe chaser), trap them in a microcosm, or choose from any number of other nasty mental effects.

In most high-level adventures, the lotus tree will probably be a role-playing encounter (“I respectfully seek an audience with the tree”) or a hazard (“We have to dig for the treasure in the Dream Lotus Grove without getting snared”).  It might even be a decent guard or penultimate bad guy, standing in as a kind of dreamy Cerberus for the right nature deity or fey power.

But at CR 20…with a neutral alignment, off-the-charts (23–30) mental ability scores, and a number of ways to bend minds and communicate with minions…why not make a lotus tree the Big Bad of your campaign?  Forget dragons and neothelids—there’s no reason the great mastermind behind it all can’t be a suspiciously lovely tree.

Adventurers must rescue a long-last war hero from the clutches of a lotus tree.  The famous tactician was fleeing the sacking of Tarkus when his trireme ran aground and the lotus tree, who does not approve of war, stole his mind.  The adventurers must first win over the tree, then convince the tactician, who has become a pacifist monk in the intervening years.

A lotus tree grove intends to resurrect the Queen of Thorns, an unnamed and long-deceased nature deity.  Certain adventurers have been encountering the trees’ minions since their first adventure, when they drove a mad druid out of their hamlet.  Now, years, later, they know the truth…but not in time to stop the lotus trees from unearthing the dead nature goddess (now a zombie-like plant kaiju).

Sailors who dare to sail the Far Western Ocean sometimes come across the Blessed Islands.  Each one is a strange and unique place, such as Jackdawlun, home to the jackdawmen (short-beaked tengus with the Claw Attack racial trait and the Scavenger’s Eye feat; see the Advanced Race Guide) or the Isle of Derig, populated by hopping fachen.  While these and a handful of others are well known and even charted, there are other Blessed Islands that exist only as rumors—an island populated by tigers and singing mists, a chain of islands that echo the parable of the 12 Carpenter Saints, a hungry island that eats travelers with its fanged caldera, and more.  These more elusive islands are actually the psychic creations of the native lotus trees.  They probe men’s minds for the paradises and purgatories of their dreams and then provide them…allowing just enough of their thralls to escape with stories that will draw new and more interesting minds on the next year’s tides.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 160

I’m not as familiar with the Occult Bestiary as I’d like to be—I like the classes, the themes, and the esoteric planes, but I’m shakier on the powers and phrenic pools and everything else mechanical.  I have realized one thing, though: I have absolutely zero ability to guess how powerful psychic spells are. 

When it comes to arcane magic, I get it—charm monster is going to be beefier than charm person.  Ray of frost grows up to be cone of cold grows up to polar ray. 

But I can't read psychic spells at all.  I quail in fear at id insinuation or oneiric horror…and then discover they're 2nd-level spells.  Meanwhile the harmless sounding microcosm…is a 9th-level spell that “Trap[s] creatures in a veiled mindscape permanently, causing their bodies to waste away in the real world.”  WHOOPS.  Pardon me while I hide all my character sheets forever.

Crap!  It’s already Monday, and I didn’t post last week’s radio show!  This installment was a total seat-of-the-pants affair—I had to spend my usual prep time doing my taxes—and it…um, shows.  So if you like a college radio show that definitely sounds like college radio, with indie and hip hop and country and whatever all crammed together uncomfortably like strangers in a cab, this is for you!  Stream/download it now, because you’ve got a little under an hour (till midnight tonight, Monday, 04/10/17) to grab it.  Enjoy!

Monday, April 3, 2017

Lotus Leshy

(Illustration by Daniel López comes from the Paizo Blog and is © Paizo Publishing.)

Why create a lotus leshy?  That, I think, is the most interesting question about these flower-faced homunculi. 

I use the term “homunculi” on purpose.”  Most leshys have clearly been created by fey or druidic masters to serve certain servitor roles: as assistants, gardeners, gamekeepers, guards, and the like.  In this, they resemble many constructs of similar power and ability created by wizards.

Lotus leshys, on the other hand, are clearly meant for higher purposes.  Certainly, they serve a role in guarding specific sacred pools and lakes. But they’re also strikingly intelligent (Int 16) and superhumanly wise (Wis 19).  In fact, in most cases they’ll probably outstrip their humanoid creators in raw mental talent, if not formal schooling.  So, why create a servitor who is bound to be smarter than you?

First off, many druids are loners or outright hermits.  A lotus leshy is excellent companionship and a source of conversation, albeit one the druid can still command—never a bad thing for a nature priest who has trouble with social graces.

Second, leshys are amazing companions for druids (and clerics and monks for that matter) of a philosophical bent.  When you’re probing the mysteries of existence, you need someone to explore and ask the hard questions with. Lotus leshys serve as a metaphysical bridge between the natural world and their humanoid masters.  They are also boon companions for meditative activities like sitting zazen or creating sand mandalas.

Third, leshys help masters who have sworn vows of nonviolence.  Most Pathfinder campaigns take place in worlds where steel and spells matter more than soft words.  That makes vows of nonviolence all the more laudable and profound…but having a lotus leshy around (with aura of tranquility, seed spray, and dream pollen at the ready) helps stop fights before they start.

Finally, legacy.  Not every druid is part of a circle.  Not every apprentice is ready to wear her master’s stole and shoulder his burdens when it’s time for him to pass on.  A lotus leshy can be the repository for a lifetime of natural and metaphysical study, quietly tending its sacred pools until the right student passes its way, ready to learn, question, challenge, and blossom into mastery.

The Pool at Nuar is only a minor holy site—just one of the Seven Dwarven Teachers lectured there—but the lotus leshy who minds it is devout, practicing the bhāvanā of the Still Pool and mentoring pilgrims.  The leshy mistrusts goblinoids, though, so as long as adventurers travel with their hobgoblin guide they get a cold reception (and possibly even an enforced nap or two).

To atone for a past sin, a cleric’s master gives her a water lily floating in a jug to deliver to a shrine 300 miles away.  The lily is actually a lotus leshy tasked to quietly spy on and occasionally test the young cleric to see that her contrition is sincere.

After invaders murdered the blossom kami Glorious Hatsue, chopping her down as surely as they chopped down her cherry tree.  All that was left of the toshigami was a handful of lotus leshys she enchanted to watch the many ornamental pools that filled her park.  The shock of Hatsue’s murder—not to mention the ruination of her beautiful park during the lean years of occupation afterward—turned most her servants reclusive and fearful.  But one of the lotus leshys believes she is the heir to Hatsue’s park—perhaps even the kami’s reincarnation—and she seeks revenge.  The philosophical questions she asks reveal a dark nihilist streak, and many of those she engages in conversation end up suspiciously drowned

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 157

Greetings from Oklahoma.  Specifically, Ft. Sill in Lawton.  Last time I was here I was 5.  TWA was still a thing.  Datsun was still a thing.  Auto-flush toilets and the Internet were definitely not.  We live in magical times.

(Actually, now I’m back in Maryland, but I wrote most of this in OK.  I was hoping to post every day I was away but I was busy with my family, so that didn’t quite happen.)

Looking for the locust plague swarm?  It’s back this way.

Edit: Once again, apologies to my Blogger readers, who only get a few hours to download this.

Am I losing my edge?  That’s for you to decide as you enjoy Tuesday night’s radio show.  Since it was my (belated) birthday radio show, I spun songs to work out a little aging anxiety and remind myself that a) life is awesome, b) my friends are great, and c) I was there!  Enjoy classic Beta Band, some Socalled, new Mother Mother, and more.  Stream/download it now through midnight (Monday, 04/03/17).