Friday, July 28, 2017

Moon Giant

It’s a miracle my interest in D&D survived my first play session—in one of those classic situations that can only happen in fourth or fifth grade, my DM refused to give me any guidance on equipping my character, leaving me to face, if I recall correctly, Cerberus and Zeus armed only with a club.  I was not pleased to be handed a d4 and told I had picked the worst weapon in the game.

But said awful DM was in my Cub Scout troop, and on one of our first campouts he brought Dragonlance Adventures.  I still remember sitting in his tent skimming page after page until I came to the chart about tracking the phases of the moon for your magic-user.  That kind of detail was totally my jam—so much so that I almost forgave him the club incident.  Almost.

So needless to say, I dig Bestiary 5’s moon giant.  (In fact, if anything I wish its waxing and waning lunar auras were dependent on the phases of the moon, because I’m weird like that.)  I like the idea of notions like a bad moon rising having consequences in how an encounter plays out.  I like the little touches of theming that went into the stats (control water tucked in among the spell-like abilities for divination and communication was a nice touch).  And who doesn’t love an ability like Impact Crater, which is both evocative in itself and has an actual effect on the terrain?  All in all, a nice marriage of flavor and abilities for an unusual giant type.

While attempting to decipher the glyphs of an ancient stone calendar, adventurers inadvertently wake the magic in the rocks.  This opens a secret door to a cavern complex they can explore…but it also summons three moon giant cults to conclave.  When the adventurers return to the surface, the moon giants demand that they participate in the giantmoot—they put out the call, after all.  If the adventurers are perceived to be shirking their duties, the giants attack.

The moon giants of Imar originated on the moon.  They are the descendants of explorers who became trapped on Imar, their gate magic inexplicably failing them on the return trip.  For the most part they have accepted their lot, but recently a lunar dragon’s tales of some vague calamity befalling the moon giants’ ancestral capital has had the tribes clamoring for some method—any method—to return home.  This has led to otherwise peaceable moon giant clans suddenly consorting with shantaks, witchwyrds, and worse.

Moon giants on worlds with more than one moon tend to physically favor one particular satellite—for instance, an individual giants’ skin may be more of a bluish or reddish cast to reflect the terrain of the particular moon he was born under.  These giants still feel the pull of all the moons, however.  Often this makes them more gifted in oracular powers than ordinary moon giants, but also far more likely to fall sway to the influence of a bad moon and other dire astrological combinations.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 122

I now own Dragonlance Adventures.  (I bought it earlier this year.)  I should write a “Books of Magic” installment about it sometime.

Also, I think my Cub Scout DM did let me have a dire wolf puppy, so he wasn’t all bad.

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Monday, July 24, 2017

Moon Dog

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

In Pathfinder’s default cosmology, Nirvana is basically Furry Heaven, with animal-headed agathions and intelligent animals and magical beast being the norm.  Moon dogs split the difference, possessing the intellect and hands of a human but preferring to run about on all fours.  In fact, they split a lot of things: they are devoted hunters who nevertheless aid the weak.  They live in the Outer Planes but hunt in the Transitive and Material Planes.  And like the Jim Henson creations they resemble, they straddle the line between serious (as wise counselors who can magically comfort the afflicted) and totally silly (they dispense said comfort with seriously, licking is a spell-like ability for them).

As you might have guessed, moon dogs are consummate allies—tough enough (CR 9) to actually hang with a mid- to high-level party in a scrap and loaded with a ton of useful magic and banishing/curative powers.  Unless your PCs regularly side with evil, combat encounters against the wise, neutral good moon dogs should be rare.  Still, they are hunting dogs, so conflicts may occur if PCs invade their territories, attempt to apprehend those under the moon dogs’ protection, or otherwise threaten their pack.

Xills ambush adventurers while they are exploring the Ethereal Plane.  After taking a beating, the party is saved in the nick of time by a hunting pack of moon dogs.  After the battle, one of the moon dogs agrees to stay with the adventurers and aid them with counsel and magical healing, since he has recently come up lame and cannot continue the hunt.  He has an ulterior motive, however: His sister’s pack lost a pup in this area not long ago and he hopes to pick up some sign of the lad.

An intelligent magical khopesh has seduced a moon dog.  While not evil, the blade’s constant challenges to the moon dog to prove his valor have caused the outsider to abandon his hunting pack, walk on all his hind legs, and get himself into some major trouble in some of the seedier multiplanar bars.

Adventurers just killed a legendary—and recently demon-possessed—stag. Congratulating themselves on vanquishing a fiend, they are stunned to find themselves hunted by a moon dog tribunal intent on justice.  If they consent to the trial, they have an uphill climb to prove their innocence—the demon covered the signs of his possession carefully.  If the adventurers flee or otherwise defy the moon dogs, they will find themselves quite literally dogged from plane to plane.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 174

Moon dogs totally get points for having a lunar light supernatural ability that mimics the actual moon dog phenomenon.

Looking for the monkey goblin?  We already covered it way back here.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Mongrel Giant

After a long time out of fashion, templates seem to be poking their way back into the d20 design space. (Why they fell out of fashion: The hangover from 3.0’s template-palooza was a looong one, especially because so many Paizo staffers cut their teeth working on Dungeon, where half-dragon submissions were a veritable plague.  Also two editions of Green Ronin’s Advanced Bestiary, which the Pathfinder team treated like an honorary core rulebook, meant that most every template one could want had already been covered.)

If they are back in vogue, it’s because of templates like the mongrel giant: templates that open up opportunities for surprising/interesting play.  Templates that make as world feel more real.  Templates that make you go, “Of course that should be a thing.”  And in a world where giants can comingle, it makes sense that there would be mongrel giants, so this template definitely fills a void.

Why mongrel giants exist is up to your worldbuilding.  Straight interbreeding is one explanation. But, if you treat the original description in Pathfinder Adventure Path #93: Forge of the Giant God as canon, such giant unions are sterile, which begs other explanations.  Perhaps all giants spring from a progenitor species, whose traits sometimes manifest far down the genetic tree. Or, as we’ve discussed in this space before, giants may have some mystical connection to their environs. A giant tribe that lives at the border of two terrain types, or that suffers from climate change, or that is forced to migrate a long distance might all see their offspring born as mongrels, or even spontaneously manifest mongrel traits themselves…

One final note: The template in Bestiary 6 gives traits for all 24 types of mongrel giants (that’s every hardcover Bestiary giant race except for the hapless hill giants).  The original template in PAP #93 only covered six giant races, but went the old-school route of giving you a bunch of traits to choose from/roll for.  If you live to randomize your monsters, or if you want to really detail out the individual members of a mongrel giant steading, that may be the template you want to use.

The Cromark stone giant has always been polygamous, but the current thane has pursued the practice with a jealous vengeance, claiming nearly every female not directly related to him.  Frustrated Cromark males have been forced to turn to the nearby Nightclaw cave giant clan for comfort (though this comfort has usually taken the form of coercion, prostitution, and worse).  A generation in, at least a dozen mongrel Nightclaws have come of age.  Meanwhile, the thane of the Cromark clan has begun sending raiding parties deep into human lands to keep his young warriors too occupied to challenge his power.

Orphaned as a child, the simpleminded hill giant Crusher has been collectively raised by the kindhearted folk of Whistledown, becoming a kind of town mascot.  But Crusher has just entered his teens, and with maturity has come a growth spurt and the blue-tinted skin of a frost giant.  Now, as autumn approaches, Crusher has become prone to violent moods and bloody threats, and townsfolk aren’t sure what to do.

Driven from their lands by logging and poachers, a wood giant clan has been forced to make a long sojourn toward a new homeland, a great forest which they know only from rumors.  Their tribe has been marked by the journey, with their young bearing the weathered tan skin of desert giants.  A solar eclipse marked the tribe even more dramatically: every mother who conceived in the next year bore twins, each with the heavy frames, gray skin, and magical nature of an eclipse giant.

Pathfinder Adventure Path #93 90–91 & Pathfinder Bestiary 6 192–193

You ever had a day where you go in to DJ and the mic falls apart when you touch it?  Yeah, that happened.  But here’s this week’s radio show anyway!  Two hours of the best new and indie rock, pop and folk.  Stream or download it here till Monday, 07/24/17, at midnight.

Monday, July 17, 2017


(Illustration by Kieran Yanner comes from the Paizo Blog and is © Paizo Publishing.)

Hold on to your tophets, ladies and minotaurs…it’s Moloch time!

Moloch’s inspiration is a Canaanite god who gets a lot of bad press in the Torah and the Bible—two holy books that, let’s be fair, don’t exactly have a track record of playing nice with the neighbors.  But Moloch also gets some pretty bad press from the Greeks and the Romans, and the phrase “child sacrifice” gets thrown around a lot, so I’m perfectly fine with him being used as an archdevil.  (There’s actually a post floating around the Paizo Blog that basically says, “Well, that’s kind of how religion worked in those days”…but I possess the ultimate authority on good vs. evil—Monte Cook’s Book of Vile Darkness (what, you were expecting Spinoza?)—and it firmly puts child sacrifice in the Evil category, so screw Moloch.)

In early editions of AD&D, Moloch ruled Malebolge as Baalzebul’s viceroy.  In 3.0 and 3.5 Moloch had an even rougher time of it, getting replaced first by the Hag Countess and then Glasya.  Pathfinder’s Moloch, on the other hand, is firmly in control of both the Sixth Layer and indeed all of Hell’s armies.  If you’re looking for a devil who’s a servant or a patsy of another power, Pathfinder’s Moloch is definitely not it.

Probably the four most interesting things about Moloch are as follows:

1) Moloch is publicly worshiped.  Devil worship is not popular, by and large.  Even for truly dastardly faith communities, worshipping gods, even evil ones, is a safer bet than worshipping beings that explicitly come from Hell.  (“Would you like to spend eternity building a pyramid for the Pharaoh God of Taxation and Making Slaves Grovel?  Or go to the place with the fire pits and devils and eternal torment?”  “Gosh, the fire pits do sound appealing.  But seeing as I’m already experienced at being taxed and groveling...Imma hafta stick with what I know.”)  So devil worship is usually a cult thing.  Heck, even Asmodeus isn’t that popular in any land where he doesn't have governmental backing—without a throne, inquisition, or similar power structure in place, his church is at best seen as a necessary evil.  The other archdevils’ cults mainly stick to the shadows.

But not Moloch.  His worship happens out in the open.  His followers build giant sacrificial ovens.  Whole armies subscribe to his message.  Of all the archdevils, he is the one most likely to be worshipped under the glaring eye of the midday sun.  And he gets that worship, because…

2) Moloch is responsive.  He answers the prayers of his followers—often in a quite literal and personal fashion.  Is your village threatened by flood?  Forget subtle shifts in tributary courses—Moloch just shows up in avatar form and dams the river.  Is an army about to ransack your town?  Moloch’s army is bigger, assuming he doesn’t just squash the looters himself.

Yeah, the price for this prompt and professional service is an eternity slaving away in Moloch’s army for anyone who asks for his aid or offers even the slightest hint of praise.  But when floods, rapine, and slaughter regularly threaten your subsistence-farming-level existence, being a mule skinner for an archdevil might seem like a decent trade, especially if you don’t have to pay it off till you’re dead.  Which means that Moloch has a surprising number of worshippers, despite being a walking metal furnace that swallows victims whole and to burn alive in his stomach.  Speaking of which…

3) Moloch has interesting symbolism and visual associations.  Which means interesting worshippers and sidekicks.  He’s got a bull thing—use some minotaurs as his cultists.  He’s got a furnace/child sacrifice thing—use the tophet.  He’s got a walking, fiery suit of armor thing—there are tons of constructs, golems, elementals, devils, and undead like that.  And he’s a general—which means animate war machines like juggernauts or colossi.

With a lot of archdevil nemeses, the PCs’ journey fighting their servants goes tiefling —> lesser devil —> medium devil —> nasty devil—> archdevil, with maybe a fiendish dragon or something in there for variety.  Moloch’s followers are waaay more interesting that that.  Literally any soldier of any race might be found in his legions, either living, undead, as a fiendish version of itself, or as some kind of twisted einherjar.  Pick up thematic cues from his description and his mythology and go nuts. 

And since we’re on the subject of him being a general…

4) Moloch is a general.  He’s the leader of Hell’s armies.  This means facing him is going to be like facing any general with godlike power.  He’s going to have lots of troops he can call for aid.  He’s going to have aerial assault teams and assassination squads and giant hellfire-fueled juggernauts.  He’s going to be physically powerful himself, and canny and strategic as well.  If you come at him, you risk literally having all the armies of Hell chasing after you.

That said, it also means he has other fish to fry.  He has Heaven assaulting one front and the demon hordes assaulting the other.  He has lesser generals and colonels who want his job.  He has some mighty demanding bosses to please.  And, as noted above, he’s very attentive to his flock.  No matter how big you think your beef with him is, you’re probably the lowest item on his to-do list.

Which means you might be able to sneak into his vast army camp and ambush him.  You might be able to challenge him to single combat to gain some small concession.  You might be able to put a treaty in front of him to sign.  Keep your goals reasonable and small, and he might just to decide to send his flunkies after you in retaliation rather than deal with you personally, or burn your great-grandchildren to cinders a few generations from now…but that’s their problem.  Generals are patient, generals can wait, and generals pick their battles.  He will always come down on you like a hammer, but it might not be today.  And when dealing with archdevils, those are as good odds as you’re going to get.

Adventures are asked to investigate a so-called Children’s Crusade, only to discover it is a sham—slavers are herding the children (and their hapless friar guardians) like cattle to boats crewed by gnolls, hobgoblins, witchwyrds, denizens of Leng, and worse.  The trail leads past strange cyclopean isles to a forbidding and cruel coastal nation of military dictators.  There the children are to be fed to giant, animate tophets meant to fuel the archdevil Moloch’s fires in Hell…unless the brave adventurers step in.

A solar and an uinuja formed an unlikely friendship, despite their differing ethics, spheres of influence, and relative power levels.  Now the solar languishes in a Hellish prison, and the plucky azata wants to do what even the archons do not dare: stage a rescue, even if it means facing the Lord of the Sixth himself.  Fortunately, she knows some adventures who are just as plucky—or crazy—as she is.

The cult of Mithras has spread throughout the Roman Empire—in particular, throughout the Roman Legions.  But as the cult has spread, so have disturbing rumors about secret rites, bloody and fiery sacrifices, and worse.  At first, the Senate and certain famous adventurers chalk this up to the usual politics and rumormongering Rome is famous for.  But then word comes out of Anatolia that the great god Mithras is dead, slain by an imposter who now usurps his throne and perverts his rites.  The usurper is Moloch, and he has turned much of Rome’s military might to his service—for even those who resist his call in life have sullied themselves enough so that he may claim their souls in death.  Worse yet, the dour god Pluto is angered by the potential theft of shades from his kingdom.  His priests threaten that if this Mithras/Moloch is not stopped, Pluto will send an army of undead through the Lacus Curtius to drag the Roman army down to the Underworld, no matter what the collateral damage.  Great heroes have to act—and fast.

Pathfinder Bestiary 6 30–31

(I’ve always thought the rapid spread and equally rapid decline of Mithraism throughout the Roman Empire was pretty fascinating.  So naturally I wanted to give your PCs an excuse to be players in that particular rise and fall.  Now, on to some housekeeping…)

Hi all.  First of all, again, apologies for the absurdly late post.  This article literally sat half-written on my desktop since something like June 18.  We’re talking a month.  Sure, this blog isn't the *daily* Daily Bestiary it once was, but I’ve never been as lax with my posting as that.  Two posts in June and none so far in July is unacceptable.

Toyota earned its reputation for amazing cars not through one outstanding model or innovation, but through a company-wide suggestion system that leveraged lots of tiny improvements.  Unfortunately, the same is also true in the negative.  There’s no one reason I haven’t been able to blog or one big nightmare I had to tackle (okay, there was one—a four-day, 46-hour workweek that sucked beyond measure—but let’s pretend I didn’t say that).  There have just been a thousand tiny distractions and mini-hurdles.  The short version is: June was lame, I had to take some time for me, I probably took too much, and I’m hopping the end of July is better.  Much love and thanks to you all for your patience, yet again.

Tumblr folk already know this (so forgive me if I quote myself verbatim) but my Blogger folk don’t: My second episode as a guest of the Laughfinder podcast is up!  Once again, I aid Bryan Preston, Jim Meyer, and Tommy Sinbazo to fight evil conjured by Dorian Gray and Ben Hancock.  Once again there are many NSFW riffs on Baltimore landmarks.  And most importantly, my blood feud with Aaron Henkin erupts into passionate FURY.  Enjoy!

Also once again it’s Monday, and once again I’m wishing I’d posted the archive link for my radio show last week—because this is a really fun show not to be missed, with hot takes from JAY Z, Jason Isbell, and St. Vincent, as well as a look at 20 years of the Singles soundtrack. It vanishes tonight at midnight (Monday, 07/17/17) so stream or download it now!