Monday, May 20, 2019

Pharaonic Guardian

As I’ve mentioned before, I have a love/hate relationship with fantasy Egypt tropes.  Mummies are interesting undead, period, and when done thoughtfully, Egypt-inspired adventures can be some of the best around (see the excellent Mummy’s Mask Adventure Path).  On the other hand, it can be way too easy to just drop fantasy-Egypt wholesale into your Pathfinder/D&D campaign without a lot of forethought (even Forgotten Realms was guilty of this), leading to trite adventures involving pyramids, death traps, and the obligatory cameo appearance by Anubis.

The pharaonic guardian, at first glance, looks both useful (it’s the kind of monster you’d totally see in a Mummy movie but that there hasn’t exactly been stats for yet ) and pretty generic (oh great, it’s still an undead tomb guardian, no matter what kind of head it has). 

But it shines in the details: A judging gaze and soul-rending wings are just cool.  The fact that it can use (and even briefly hand over) a +3 ghost touch speed longsword and shield is a nice cinematic touch.  Even the alignment is flavorful—not a bland N or LN, but not your typical undead NE or CE either.  And why lawful evil?  Because pharaonic guardians “are the product of fear and sweat wrung from slaves and other servants”—in fact, they’re made from an amalgam of these servants’ souls! 

So these are creatures born of atrocity.  And they probably will try to kill you.  But if on the rare chance you’re actually trying to preserve a pyramid rather than loot it…maybe you’ll get lucky.

But say you’re not down with Horus and Set.  It’s interesting to think of other reasons a culture might have animal-headed tomb guardians…

In the early stages of exploring a crypt, adventurers have an opportunity to step into magical mural of a garden, where they may ritually purify themselves and converse with the denizens therein.  One of these figments, a foul-tempered, warthog-headed armorer, will ask them to swear an oath not to disturb a certain burial chamber.  Should they do so (and keep their promise), he will come to their aid later in the depths, arriving bearing ghost touch-infused arms when the adventurers are set upon by the tomb’s more malevolent spirits.

Elves of Parnish have a taboo against being represented in images after their death.  Instead, they are depicted in carvings, paintings and tapestries bearing the heads of their totem animals.  To the Parnish’eya, it is an honor to have one’s soul be destined after death to become a tomb guardian.  But the elves’ strict religious and funeral obligations weigh upon the souls over the centuries, and most of these guardians grow cold and evil during the course of their endless watch.

A wise ruler puts some distance between his palace and his line's necropolis.  The Captive King is a lesson why.  When Tarpin XII decided to shore up his faltering reign by building a palace atop the burial city of Omun-Ke, it did not occur to him the pharaonic guardians would see fit to judge the weak king according to the harsh standards of namesake.  Now Tarpin XII is naught but ash in an urn, and his son Tarpin XIII has spent 30 years a prisoner in his own palace.  Praying for a rescue that never comes, he appears in public only to pronounce draconian edicts dictated by his undead jailers, who are intent in restoring the faith and territory of the first Tarpin's empire.

Osirion, Legacy of the Pharaohs 60 & Pathfinder Bestiary 5 191

I also like Mummy’s Mask because it’s one of the last APs I successfully read all of as it came out, rather than in desperate cram sessions after the fact.  My life got weird, y’all.

It’s been long enough now that I bet many of you have forgotten the truly messed-up elves of Eberron.  No matter what system you play, you owe it to yourself to pick up either the 3.5 Eberron Camapaign Setting, Player’s Guide to Eberron, or Races of Eberron.  At time of writing, used PGTEs are a steal at $16.50, and for value for money it’s still really hard to beat a used ECS at roughly $36.

Also, old-school (or at least, middle-school) D&D fans will remember the Dark Sun novels, specifically the Prism Pentad by Troy Denning.  The first three books were flat-out baller, but the fourth, The Obsidian Oracle, was a muddy, claustrophobic, and depressing read, even by Dark Sun standards.  But it featured some truly horrific bad guys—beast-headed giants that got those heads through magical manipulation that (if I’m recalling correctly—I haven’t re-read these books since, like, ’94) also doomed their children’s souls.  So there’s another source of animal-headed atrocities for you.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019


(Illustration by Dave Allsop comes from the PathfinderWiki and is © Paizo Publishing.)

I’m a big fan of Dave Allsop’s art—he did the Bestiary’s woeful mite and the amazing papinijuwari I was so excited about a few months ago—so I’m a little bummed that his peuchen, while beautiful, doesn’t capture the scale of the beast.  What he’s painted looks like an exotic species you’d see on display in a fantasy reptile house or curled around the arm of some sorceress.  But it’s actually a roughly human-sized (Medium) monster that punches in at a mighty CR 10.

And that, in a nutshell, is why I like the peuchen: It’s a pretty good dragon substitute for low-level campaigns.

But let’s back up.  The peuchen is a cryptid from Andean mythology, especially Chile and Argentina—likely a mashup of the boa and the vampire bat—that is a feared shapeshifter who drains the blood of livestock and lone shepherds. Pathfinder’s version follows that outline almost exactly (right down to bleed and blood drain abilities, as well as the ability to cast hold person and vampiric touch).

I’m always looking for good non-European monsters I can point GMs to, and the peuchen definitely checks that box.  (Which is awesome, as South America is probably our least-represented continent in terms of Bestiary monsters.  Even Antarctica has a better selection once you start throwing in Lovecraft, John Carpenter’s The Thing, Hollow Earth tales and other pulp inspirations.).  Then again, if you’re a Euro diehard, the peuchen reskinned could make a perfectly acceptable version of Fáfnir the dragon.  I’m also always looking for ways to tell bring more intimate, narrative and folktale-inspired gaming into Pathfinder.  And I can totally see a slow-moving, low-XP campaign where a PC’s parent’s death hangs over the campaign…with the peuchen teased as the culprit all along but finally revealed somewhere around Level 6 or 7, just as the players are really coming into their full powers.

But if you want straight-up hack & slash…well, Camazotz is about the most badass god/devil/demon (depending on your game world) out there.  Someone’s got to clean out his creepy jungle temple superdungeon…and guess what’s the perfect monster to fight on Level 10?

Nutmeg’s value to spice traders isn’t just from its rarity and taste—it’s also dangerous to harvest.  Peuchens delight in polishing their scales with the crushed aromatic seeds of the nutmeg tree.  Harvesters in the Bluewater Isles need adventurers who will guard their crews from the cunning winged snakes.

The fey of the Bier of Bone—bloodthirsty pixies, tooth fairies, quicklings, redcaps, and worse—all serve the mad leanan sidhe Umlar.  Her prize pet is a peuchen the blue of a bird of paradise.  Recently she has been distracted by the charms of a larabay (who secretly plots to steal her throne), leaving the peuchen as the main guardian of her ivory hoard.

Years ago, a silver-tongued drover talked his ways out of the jaws of a peuchen by offering to deliver livestock the likes of which the winged snaked had never tasted.  Intrigued, the peuchen agreed, and was rewarded with Huwari beef from the Olfshires—a kind of cattle newly brought by Northern colonists.  Desiring more such delicacies, the peuchen and the drover began trading Northern cattle for alpacas, llamas, and other livestock. Today the drover is the most powerful beef importer in the thriving colony Sor Pelag, with the peuchen as his silent partner—and occasional enforcer.  When a new source of flesh—glowing, duergar-raised deep oxen—threatens the pair’s monopoly, they turn to murder to keep their balance sheets in the black.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 189

The history of nutmeg is actually super interesting.  Nutmeg is also one of the reasons that, while Pepsi always does better in blind taste tests, Coke is more popular in reality—the nutmeg in a Coke Classic sets off more flavor sensors and yields a more complex, richer experience over the course of the entire can.  (At least according to some New Yorker article I read years ago.)

I keep waiting for my day job to hand my some kind of nutmeg-related project, but so far I’ve only played around with turmeric and bay leaves.

Looking for the penguin?  We covered that way back here.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019


(Illustration by Roberto Pitturru comes from the PathfinderWiki and is © Paizo Publishing.)

The serpentine proteans are chaos incarnate—so much so that they can change their shape, their vital organs shift around constantly, they can just regrow new sensory organs, they are in constant flight, they are always under the effects of a freedom of movement spell, and many of them cause warpwaves that ripple through and twist reality itself.  But at least they’re bound by some basic laws of corporeal existenoh God there’s an incorporeal version isn’t there?

So, welcome to the pelagastr!  And it gets worse, because these creatures, while not being part of material existence, delight in it—the Material Plane in particular—dipping their limbs into reality to smack adventurers around or magic jar-ing themselves into humanoids to wear their skins for a while, just for kicks.  They are natural spies and investigators, and unlike other proteans seem to originate directly from the Maelstrom itself, rather than promotion/evolution through the protean caste structure.  So even for creatures of chaos, pelagastrs are…chaotic.

If you’re looking for more on pelagastrs, definitely check out Pathfinder Adventure Path #99: Dance of the Damned, which has room for far more lore (as well as teasing a possible pelagastr master) than the Bestiary 6 write-up.  But in the meantime, here are some adventure hooks to get you started:

Efreet loathe pelagastrs for the disorder the cause—and the plans they ruin with their incessant spying and possession.  Five maliks known as the Fist organize a pelagastr hunt every year.  The prize, a unique statue carved of ruby, is worth a fortune in and of itself, or it may be exchanged for a favor from one of the five fearsome lords.

The Anchored Isles are a chain (literally, thanks to adamantine fetters of extreme size and age) of floating earthbergs hovering where the Planes of Earth and Chaos intersect the Plane of Air. Here the artists and aesthetes from the Circum Sensoria allow pelagastrs to ride their bodies, unlocking the doors of perception for both parties.  But when a clique of pelagastrs begins a new fad of riding mortals into the experience of death, adventures must step in to separate the sense-mad participants.

The Snallygaster & The Pelagastr isn’t a sign you’d see above most public houses—but then again, Cardumond, with its cosmopolitan society and no less than three magic colleges, is no ordinary city.  And things are about to get even more unusual for the tavern.   Earlier this week, a pelagastr (a recent escapee from the university’s Hall of Conjuring) chanced upon the pub. Delighted by the sign outside, the pelagastr has decided that, now that he’s arrived, all that’s lacking is a snallygaster or two…and he his currently herding two giant specimens toward the tavern at this very moment.

Pathfinder Adventure Path #99 88–89 & Pathfinder Bestiary 6 214

My notes for the first draft of this post references a Snail Mail video where Lindsey name-checks my radio station—the link to which has long since vanished.  Oh, and it references me not doing my show the night before…because of snow.

Also the saved file dates from January 30. 

I…yeah, I should really post more often, huh?