Tuesday, October 10, 2017


Major props to whichever Pathfinder author brought the nuno into the game.  It’s a Philippine monster (short for nuno sa punso, "old man of the mound") that Bestiary 5 gave a mushroom makeover and a branch on the gremlin family tree.  Best of all, B5 managed to translate many of the nuno’s original folkloric elements into game mechanics, such as the Nuno’s Curse (Su) and the delightfully one-of-a-kind Wax Locator (Su) vulnerability.  (In fact, my only quibble is that I think the Bestiary team should have added termites to the nuno’s Ant Affinity (Su) description—I recommend you house-rule that one.) 

It’s notable that while nunos are gremlins, unlike their kin they don’t go out of their way to proactively wreak havoc on others.  Instead they save their spite for those who disturb their homes…but those who suffer their unkind attentions will have no doubt that a nuno can be as spiteful as any jinkin.  You can also be sure that any villagers who live near a nuno will have a number of traditions to make sure they stay on the gremlin’s good side (as well as folk remedies to cope with any curses hurled their way).

Perhaps because they are more solitary creatures, some nunos become ascetics.  Most likely become geokineticists or psychics, but rare individuals might become mediums (if their mound is located near a place of power) or even spiritualists (the phantom likely coming from a corpse the mushroom-like nuno once fed upon to learn its secrets).  Nuno ascetics even get to customize their curses, which gives each one an individual signature.  (Revealing the extra details about a well-known nuno ascetic to PCs who take the time to make nice with the locals is a good in-game pat on the back.) 

One final note: The mound the nuno’s full name refers to of course means an ant or termite mound…but faerie mounds of quite another sort are also part of the legends of British Isles faerie stories.  And this happy accident of language is a great excuse to mash both traditions together.

Adventurers come across a young tanuki in the throes of agony after having disturbed a nuno’s mound.  If the adventurers can alleviate his suffering—most likely by dispatching the gremlin, but other means might be found—the tanuki will reward them with his grandmother’s magical cloak of transformation.  Of course, he doesn't have the grandmother’s permission to offer up such a treasure, which may get the party into trouble with an entire village of sake-enraged raccoon-dog-folk.

A group of youths become adventurers after a giant ant abducts one of their sisters.  A nuno took a fancy to her and wants her to sit for a portrait, so that he may have her image in his lair forever…but he thought nothing of sending one of his giant ant servitors to fetch her, rather than just asking.

At the winter solstice, the trooping faeries come to the faerie mound of Dun Gallar.  Led by the bronze-clad sidhe lords (treat as elves with the fey creature template), the fey circle around the mound three times until it rises up and opens to greet them.  There they remain for a week, before vanishing into the Underworld to return to their homes by spring.  The rest of the year Dun Gallar is guarded by the Old Man of the Mound.  This powerful nuno ascetic is said to draw power from the keepsakes of all the mortal heroes who have died beneath his faerie mound when they foolishly challenged the sidhe for one reason or another.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 132

The fact that I came down with fever yesterday afternoon as I was writing this was all that saved you from timely puns about the Nuno, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria.  You’re welcome.

Friday, October 6, 2017


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

Quite powerful (CR 11) for a plant creature (especially at size Small), a nulmind is a caterpillar-like fungus that drains minds and feeds on magic—especially psychic magic.  Worse yet, those unfortunate enough to have their intellects drained by the fungus become its puppets, luring in other prey (until they starve themselves, that is).

While nulminds have high Intelligence and Wisdom scores, these should probably be considered to represent the fungi’s mental prowess and sheer cunning—they can’t speak, don’t remember to have their puppets feed themselves, and are as happy to slurp up the minds of each other as they are their humanoid victims.  That’s not to say you can’t have a nulmind be a mental mastermind or even the main antagonist in your games…but in most cases, the nulmind’s intelligence is likely too alien to really judge on a human scale.

Speaking of alien-ness, that’s one of the interesting things about nulminds: It is strongly suggested that they are extraterrestrial (which is always a bit weird and odd in a fantasy world).  Perhaps because of this, they also have no taste for fey minds…and even seem to actively avoid them.  Two reasons for this suggest themselves—though interestingly, they're a bit contradictory.  The first is that, since nulminds are strangers to our natural world, and fey are the ultimate expression of it, fey minds must somehow be too anchored to this world for the alien nulminds to latch onto.  Alternately (and a bit paradoxically), it’s often suggested that fey were once part of an older celestial order or rough draft of existence…and as such, they just aren’t enough in this reality to be a meal for a nulmind.  Pick the explanation that works for you.

While exploring a newly discovered vault, an occultist disturbed a long-dormant nulmind.  The nulmind awoke from its torpor too late to feast upon the occultist’s mind and magic, but it tracked him back to a school for psychics that was briefly housing the scholar.  If not stopped, the nulmind will positively gorge itself on the psychic energy there, and many of its victims will be teens and children.

The antler-headed, half-fey elf king is known for having a subterranean labyrinth so deadly that even necromancers speak of it admiringly.  He is known to possess at least one nulmind, penning it in by surrounding it with undead horrors and distasteful fey guardians, including several powerful (treat as Advanced) morgodeas (vermin-loving fey from Pathfinder Adventure Path #99: Dance of the Damned).

Adventurers are collected as specimens by some sort of cosmic biologist or avid collector.  While they are prisoners on his ark, one of his other specimens, a nulmind, escapes.  The adventurers have an opportunity to make a deal with the collector: Free them, and they’ll take care of the mind-eating fungus before it mentally masticates the rest of his menagerie.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 184

Every once in a while I remember to throw a bone to the pure dungeon delvers out there—and those second and third adventure seeds are definitely for them.  Not every campaign can be half-Pathfinder, half-Monsterhearts; sometimes you just want to kick down a door…

Wednesday, October 4, 2017


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

While they’re everywhere in comics and cartoons, we don’t get a lot of Colossal monstrous humanoids at the gaming table.  Things that aren’t dragons or colossi or space whales just don’t tend to get that big—even dinosaurs rarely get much past Huge.  So the ningen is neat just because it’s that big.  Like, how do you show Colossal on the battle mat?  (I’m remembering an ad for a Gargantuan blue dragon D&D mini that used a whole frozen chicken to give you an idea of scale.  I’m guessing for a Ningen you’d need a turkey.)

Reclusive and mysterious, barely having more than a suggestion of a face, ningens are creatures of the polar waters, more whale than person to most human eyes…or even more iceberg than person in some cases.  But behind that blank face lurks intelligence, the ability to converse in Aquan, and some (highly dangerous) magical control over water and ice.  A ningen can also breach and crash down on ships or icebergs for a combined brutal total of 20d6 points of cold and piercing damage to creatures and objects—damage that will sicken and stagger your characters and smash their vessels to flinders.  So maybe just because you can hunt these intelligent folk for cold-related magical ingredients, that doesn’t mean it’s wise.

A rakshasa noble believes the key to awaken his dormant magical blade is to slay “the whale that walks” with it, per an ancient scrap of text he recently unearthed.  The tiger-headed native outsider is willing to stake his fortune and risk the lives of his retinue of fiends and nagas in the frozen south, just to slake his sleeping dagger’s thirst.

The songs of ningen bards have power over ice.  Their songbergs fetch exorbitant prices in the planar art trade.  Sadly, so too do the artists themselves—when rendered for spell components—and their demise only drives up the price of their existing work.

Adventurers are too late to stop an artifact from triggering eternal winter.  Still on the trail of the now-very-active relic over a suddenly frozen ocean, they come across a ship locked in the ice…and the crew trying to defend itself from a ningen enraged that it can no longer reach deep water.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 183

#notsobabybeluga  <—Admit it, you were all thinking it.

Ningens are cryptids from our world, but Wikipedia doesn't say much and I can't vouch for the quality of the other sites that mention them.  Also, you can’t mention reports of ningens without mentioning “whale research” vessels, and…yeah, that’s a can of worms.

In between training some fledgling DJs, I managed to work in a radio show! This week was more Canon than New or Indie, for obvious (Tom Petty) reasons.  Stream or download it now till Monday, 10/09/17, at midnight.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Nightmare Dragon

(Illustration by Christina Yen comes from GeekDad and is © Paizo Publishing.)

It doesn’t take a lot to sell the nightmare dragon.  It’s a shapechanging, acid-spitting dragon that lives in the nightmare section of the Dimension of Dreams—that’s scary enough.  You know who else lives in that neighborhood?  Soul-stealing night hags.  And Leng.  Like, all of Leng.  You get the picture.  (And if you don’t, a quick look at the nightmare dragon’s stat block, especially at higher age categories—with abilities like terrifying presence, rising nightmare, and dream terror, not to mention the magic of a full-fledged psychic—should convince you.  These dragons are bad news.)

Interestingly, the nightmare dragon isn’t the strongest of the esoteric dragons—not by a long shot.  This may be a statement about the redemptive power of dreams and hope, or the triumph of the conscious mind and willpower (and thus the Astral) over the depths of the subconscious.  It may also explain why nightmare dragons, particularly the younger sort, are so eager to team up with night hags—for power in numbers and access to sleeping minds and souls—but in doing so, they humble and debase themselves further.

Also, like certain other dragon species we’ve covered, nightmare dragons are worth including in your campaign even if you never touch the rest of the esoteric dragon species.  If dragons are rare in your campaign, PCs might never know they face a Nightmare Dragon™—they’re facing Rannix, the Crawler in Dreams, who then surprises them with horrifying psychic powers.  Or, if you’ve drilled into your players that your world’s dragons operate on very Krynn-ian lines—metallic dragons = good, chromatics = bad—imagine their shock when they encounter nightmare dragons completely outside their understanding of draco-cladistics.

Against their better judgment, adventurers take part in a drug handoff down by the docks.  This is a bad idea in most cities, but it’s particularly foolhardy right now—because they are in a city on the shores of Leng.  The adventurers’ exchange with their denizen contact is almost complete when two nightmare dragons burst from the water, breathing acid everywhere.  Someone narced on the deal.

A nightmare dragon resents the rule of the Nightmare Lords.  She wants to carve out her own domain—and she thinks she’s found a way to do it.  By harvesting the silk of bloated spiders known as fever weavers, she can stitch together the dreamscapes of sleeping mortals, forcing them to share each other’s nightmares.  The sewn-up dreams of a small city would be an excellent start to her empire.

A magus of the Black Blood is determined to unlock the secrets of kundalini, the serpent fire—specifically, its dark opposite, the ashen shadow.  He abducts an adept of the Hidden Flame and tortures him, forcing negative energy-laced needles into the monk’s chakras.  Attempting to rescue the monk, adventurers arrive just as the last needle pierces the poor man’s crown chakra.  As the monk writhes in agony, the ashen shadow erupts from his brow as a nightmare dragon determined to torment the bodies and dreams of all it encounters.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 94–95

Anyone else notice the nightmare dragon illustration seems to have too many eyes?  (Or the right number of eyes, in very wrong places?)  A nice touch.

I’ve mentioned her before in these pages, but if you’re looking for a role-playing model for an older nightmare dragon, a great option is the night dragon Synn from the “Voyage of the Princess Ark” series—a creature far more interested in sowing emotional pain, fear, and loss than any amount of crude physical destruction…and willing to spend a once-in-a-century wish to see her plans to fruition.  She pops up in various places in early “VotPA” installments, but Dragon Magazine #163 was her crowning achievement.