Monday, September 18, 2017

Naiad


Having checked off the nymph, dryad, oread (well, sort of; don’t get me started), nereid, oceanid, and even the cave-dwelling lampad (talk about a deep cut, amirite?), the Bestiaries were way overdue to serve up Greek mythology’s naiad.  But with nixies, nereids, and rusalkas all operating in a similar design space/ecological niche, there just hasn’t been the urgency…until now.

The good news is, it was worth the wait.  Not only do we get a decent low-CR fey creature—I like the inspiration tokens that recall Pathfinder’s Fey Revisited book, and the water bond is true to mythology while being more flexible than the dryad’s tree bond—but we also get naiads as a player character race as well!  That’s right, you can now play a full-on fey straight from your favorite myth.  (And we’re not talking just Greek myths—you find near-human river spirits in folktales across the world.)  If you want a wise, sorcerous master of water, play an undine, but if you want to play a mysterious, charming fey with a mystic connection to the rivers and streams around her, the naiad is ya girl.

The naiad also lets us do something we haven't been able to do as much on this blog lately: talk about the thematic potential of a monster.  (That's a problem once you get to the higher-number Bestiaries—you get more original monsters, which is great, but they lack the years of shared folklore and fictional heft that more established creatures have accreted.)  And naiads suggest at least two themes worth very worth exploring:

The first is transformation and journeys.  In myth, naiads are constantly getting transformed into other things: rivers, plants, animals, and so forth.  Now that’s not something you have to literally have happen in your adventures (aside from the odd baleful polymorph).  But I think on a metaphorical level it ties nicely to the naiad’s ability to shift her water bond.  You can easily imagine a naiad PC shifting her bond as she adventures…from the local creek to a nearby stream to the wide river…and then to waters she has only dreamed of…fast rapids, raging waterfalls, even great inland seas. At the same time, she’s also changing as a character, growing in terms of power and responsibility.  Your naiad PC probably won’t be turned into a laurel tree like Daphne, but she may be unrecognizable by the time she completes her final quest.  Water is always flowing, always moving, traveling across the world, taking new shapes and touching new shores as it goes along…why not your naiad PC, too?

The second theme is why so many of those mythical naiads wind up getting transformed into something else: assault/rape, lack of consent, and the aftermath thereof.  In these tales, naiads are always being chased by Zeus/Apollo/Pan or any number of minor gods or satyrs…and when they quite sensibly run and call for help, they tend to wind up transformed into something else.  Which is, when you think about it, a pretty goddamn high cost for not giving in to assault.  Take Daphne: She asked her father to save her from Apollo, and his best answer was to turn her into a laurel tree for the rest of eternity.  Gosh, thanks Dad!  Syrinx, fleeing from Pan, got it even worse: Her sisters turned her into a reed…and Pan, not sure which reed was her, cut them all down and then made the first panpipes so he could still hear her mournful voice every time he blew on them.  And most books still tell this story like Pan is a rascal who just went too far this one time.  Is that isn't male supremacy BS, I don't know what is.

But at your gaming table…in your myths…maybe the story doesn't have to end that way.  Maybe the PCs can step in and stop the assault.  Or maybe they can get justice for the transformed naiad.  Or, if you’re playing a naiad PC, maybe an assault is what launched her adventuring career...because she’s determined such an act won't be the end of her story, but rather its beginning.  No one can cut her down if she’s the one wielding the blade.

This is tough material to tackle sensitively, and not appropriate for every gaming table.  But if your group is a group that can handle hard questions and big themes, naiads offer a window into stories that don’t usually get told in an ordinary dungeon crawl.

Adventurers are warned that a certain fey lord is bound to betray them.  They will be put to sleep for 100 years, pixy-led into another realm, offered fruit that will trap them in Faerie, given seven-league boots that will rip them in half the first time they're used—any number of these awful fates and more.  Prepared for this, the adventurers are stunned to find the lord to be an amiable host, who immediately and publicly names them his guests, offers them safe passage, and aids them in their quest.  It is only on their return to his lodge that his trap is sprung.  The fey lord’s daughter is a naiad whom the demon-possessed satyr Blackhoof has named as his betrothed—whether she consents or not.  Blackhoof is coming to take his intended away with him this very night…and the adventurers, having partaken in the oaths of hospitality, are honor-bound to defend her with their lives while the fey lord watches.

A naiad gives a ranger her token, fortifying his will and steadying his hand so that every arrow he fletches flies a little straighter.  Unfortunately, at the next river he comes to he is immediately set upon by boggards.  The boggards are the thralls of the naiad’s jealous sister, who recognizes her sibling’s token and is determined to slay anyone who bears it out of spite.

The new dam at Carter Bridge is weeks behind schedule.  The delay is the fault of a naiad who has been working to charm, distract, and if necessary harm the workers there, fearing what the dam will do to her beloved stream.  But the snows were heavy this year, and if the dam is not built, the snowmelt may destroy whole villages during the spring floods.  Adventurers may use force or diplomacy to bring the naiad to their side.  If the dam is built, though, the change from wild stream to man-made lake causes the naiad to morph from female to male.  How the naiad reacts to this gender transformation could be the germ of many adventures to come…

Pathfinder Bestiary 6 200

Do you find a race of comely, all-female nymphs to be a somewhat sexist notion?  Guyads are a thing in Pathfinder, so I’m sure gaiads are too.

If you’re looking for more Pathfinder monster content, the new blog monstersdownthepath has a similar passion for our favorite beasts.  Dive in and see some fresh takes on your favorite beasts!

Looking for the myrmidon?  Look way back here.

Audio News #1: Last June I was on the Pathfinder comedy podcast Laughfinder (find out more here and here).  It was absurdly fun, and I’m delighted that my out-of-game rivalry with fellow (and much more professional) DJ Aaron Henkin has since become a running joke on the series.  (Laughfinder has also since been nominated for the City Paper’s Best of Baltimore awards!)

The guys were kind enough to ask me back to reprise my role as the shapechanging urban ranger Renn Tallshoe in their special end-of-season epilogue.

This is a bit of a weird episode, as it’s inspired by Aaron Henkin’s award-winning Out of the Blocks series.  So we trade the laughs and Dick Jokes™ for wry chuckles and a more thoughtful look at Red Point and its citizens.  Nevertheless it’s a lot of fun and features a number of Baltimore comedians, including special guests Erik Woodworth, Todd Fleming, and Bunny Themelis.  Enjoy!

Audio News #2: Ohmanohmanohmanohman.  It’s Tuesday’s radio show!  Youguysyouguysyouguys, I’m really excited about this one.  New SPORTS, new Phoebe Bridgers, Sufjan Stevens “Illinois” turns gold, and more!  This episode is a keeper, so stream/download here.  (Sadly, because I’m posting this on Blogger pretty late, the link is only good till midnight tonight (Monday, 09/18/17).  That’s less than an hour away, so grab it now!)

PS: Seriously, oh my God, the SPORTS happens at minute 2.  Trust me.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Mutant


(Illustration by James Krause comes from GeekDad and is © Paizo Publishing.)

We’ve covered mutants in this space before—the Inner Sea Bestiary’s Mana Wastes mutants, of course—but Bestiary 5’s mutants are their own breed and deserve their own entry.  Besides, by and large Mana Wastes mutants all fit mostly the same mold (or template, as it were): the same ability bonuses, a shared list of benefits, a few acid- and disease-focused special abilities, and a small menu of deformities…which makes sense for mutants all forged in the same brutal crucible.

On the other hand, Bestiary 5’s mutant template throws open the ability bonus/penalty doors and unlocks a pretty full spectrum of 20 beneficial mutations and 12 harmful deformities for the GM to choose from.  This allows you to customize your mutants at the colony level (maybe all the mutants in this sewer have gills…) or by individual (…but the one about to sneak attack you also has an extra arm and a terrible stench).  (Oh, and wouldn’t you know it, 20 and 12 just happen to be numbers you have icosahedral dice for—perfect for those of you who love rolling on random mutation tables like it’s 1978.)

Once you’ve statted up your mutants, it’s time to turn to the eternal questions: 1) How did they get that way; 2) is however they got that way another wrinkle/challenge you can use to enrich your players’ experience (swamp muties gonna swamp, but is that swampiness reflective of their environment or perhaps because of a radioactive MacGuffin?); and 3) what do they want right this minute?  Fantasy RPGs being what they are, usually what these fantasy mutants want right this minute is not to found an integrated private school in Westchester, NY, to learn to hone their powers in a world that hates and fears them (RIP Len Wein, BTW), but rather they’d prefer to club the PCs’ brains in and roast them on a spit.  After all, swamp muties gonna swamp.

Adventurers are cornered by mutants in a radioactive wasteland.  They are quickly overwhelmed and nearly pummeled to paste by a three-armed ettin.  At the last minute, they are saved by the appearance of an undead creature with glowing eyes and sore-covered, flaking orange skin.  This is one of the irradiated dead (see Pathfinder Adventure Path #87: The Choking Tower), and its very presence inspires terror in the mutants.  If the adventures defeat the ravening undead—particular if they use divine magic, which the mutants have failed to master—the twisted humanoids are willing to parley with the adventurers.

The Bone Star is not a star at all, but a miles-long satellite roughly resembling a human femur.  Normally a teleportation gate connects the two ends of the Bone Star, allowing the telepathic sages on each extremity to pursue their research, trade ideas, and share shipments of food and supplies from the worlds beyond.  But when the gate goes down and a solar cyclone delays the resupply ships, adventures must venture into the mysterious and disused central shaft.  Here the biosphere chambers were long ago overrun by sentient molds, malfunctioning robots, and mutant descendants of the original scientists who failed in their stewardship of the satellite.

Mutations are a plague in most subterranean realms.  Some even breed true—the drow underclass of Civ Po’Dan are extremely quick but bird-boned, while their counterparts in Chevar Yith tend toward armored scales and mad fits of rage.  Meanwhile, one in five troglodytes is born mindless; their sacrifice to the roper philosopher-beasts is a tradition on its way to becoming a sacrament.  The mutations are actually a side effect of the ceremonies that imbue drow nobles with their magical legacies.  If anyone knew this, it would change the politics of the Underrealms forever.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 180–181

Last time I was posting late because of the eclipse; this time I was busy with the usual hospital stuff and helping my mom celebrate my dad’s 70th birthday.  But I’m thrilled as always to be back hanging out in your Tumblr feed!

Bummed to see James L. Sutter move on from Paizo but psyched for him as well.  I don’t have enough hours in my day today to give him a proper sendoff (hell, I still owe Wes a proper sendoff and his departure was in May) but suffice it to say I’m a big fan of James, I’ve enjoyed every one of his books I’ve read and our interactions out in Seattle (he was my tour guide through the Paizo offices), I think he’s making a smart move, and I wish him all the best.

Oh snap!  Only a few hours left to stream/download my first show of the fall semester!  (The link expires at midnight.  Sorry about the tardiness, guys.)  While it lasts, enjoy Labor Day tunes for you rebellious proles and some wistful tunes for you sophomore sad sacks.  If you miss it, don’t worry—there’s a new one happening tomorrow (Tuesday night, 09/12/17) at 10 PM U.S. Eastern.  Tune in!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Muse


(Illustration by Alexandru Sabo comes from the Paizo Blog and is © Paizo Publishing.)

In myth, the Muses were goddesses of the arts, inspiration, and knowledge.  So it makes sense that in Pathfinder muses would be outsiders who…

But wait.  They’re not outsiders. 

They're fey.

From a design perspective, this makes sense: We already have azatas (particularly lillends) to do our inspiring from on high.  And besides, the Bestiary 5 authors probably just needed some more heft in the fey section. 

But for us at TDB, unexpected things in stat blocks are always germs for stories…and stories soon lead to adventure ideas: 

Maybe the Muses really are goddesses, and scholars just borrowed their name for these inspirational fey.  But perhaps some of these lower-case muses take advantage of the label to prey upon unwary artists in a fashion similar to the leanan sidhe…

In most myths, the Muses were the daughters of Zeus and a Titaness.  Maybe all fey are the scions of titans, children of an old order grudgingly allowed to persist in the new world of the gods…

If muses aren't gods, how many of them are there?  How easy are they to make?  Does the birth of a new muse give birth to a new art…or vice versa?  And what about scientific muses?  Urania is the muse of astronomy...could there be a muse of siege warfare?  Engineering?  Firearms?  Planar travel?…

Finally, muses in Bestiary 5 are presented as chaotic good.  But what if they’re not so good…or they’re just good at failing into bad company?…

A dispute of honor has Clan Tigart and Clan Oberin at war.  Key to the whole mess is the satyr satirist Cloven Shane, whose scathing verses have added fuel to the conflict whenever it might otherwise have cooled.  If Cloven Shane could be captured, imprisoned, or otherwise removed from play, the two clans could soon be reconciled.  But Cloven Shane is a powerful bard and summoner in his own right, determined to see his wit rewarded with a glorious battle.  He is also protected by a muse who is thoroughly infatuated with his savage wit.

A new muse has been born—Sanguila, Muse of Blood Sport—and with her a new art form: bloodraging.  Her followers soon fill both the gladiatorial pits and the wild places of the world.  The other muses wish to curb their sister’s violent followers, but since they are forbidden from interfering with one another directly, they need mortal agents to fetch Sanguila to them.

The Lay of Lyrisiana was long thought lost forever.  And while casual scholars of music mourned the lost, more serious students knew that Lyrisiana’s disappearance was by design.  Not only did it make a violent case for elven racial supremacy, but also the structure of the piece owed inspiration to complex rhyming couplets found only in that dread play, The Amber King.  When a choral master starts hearing The Lay of Lyrisiana from bards who should not know the piece, she discovers the foul work has been resurrected and is spreading fast.  Soon it becomes apparent that a muse is responsible.  No matter what her motives, for the good of human- and elvenkind the fey must be silenced…one way or another.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 179

This post is late because I was watching the eclipse!  I also got a new state in the process (South Carolina—only six to go!) but the ride back was brutal and took half a day longer than it should have.

(South Carolina fans, don’t fret; I’ll be back soon.  My college friend Carrie (yeah, that one—go read her stuff!) and I just missed each other, so I’m going to pay another visit ASAP.)

Friday, August 18, 2017

Munavri


(Illustration by Kim Sokol comes from the Paizo Blog and is © Paizo Publishing.)

After all this time, I think we finally have it: a worthy subterranean human race. 

Drow have elves.  Dwarves have duergar.  Gnomes have svirfneblin.  Orcs have…well, orcs.  Halflings have no one cares (or dark creepers if you’re being kind).  You get the idea. 

But subterranean humans have tended to be confined to lost cities or are so corrupted/devolved by life underground that they are no longer recognizable human.  In the first category we have “basic”/Known World D&D’s Cynidiceans, Greyhawk’s Lerara (once again I’m pointing you to the excellent Dragon #241), and Forgotten Realms’ Deep Imaskarri.  In the latter, we have morlocks, dark folk, and even (in certain canons) skulks or derros.  Those are great races, but none are what you’d call human anymore (and only dark folk really build civilizations of their own, rather than squatting in caverns or occupying ruins).  Unless I’ve majorly overlooked something, we’ve never had a human race that was both recognizably human and spread out throughout the Darklands/Underdark/Deepearth.

And then here come the munavris.  Are they human with a dash of something extra?  Sure, they’re telepathic albinos.  Do they have a distinctive culture?  Yeah, the telepathy and the need for genetic diversity have led to open minds and even opener relationships; they also worship the empyreal lords and fight in jade armor.  Can they go toe-to-toe with the drow and duergar realms?  They don’t have to, because they sail purple-sailed ivory ships across subterranean seas, battling urdefhans and retreating to jade islands that ward off aboleths. And to top it all off, they’ve got a neat object reading ability that lets them use almost any device—including weapons, armor, or spell-trigger items for a short period of time.  That alone makes them instantly iconic.  (And you can even play them as a PC race!)

All in all, I think the munavri are a real coup.  And they belong on the underground seas of your game world.

Based out of the sunken city of Mushroot, adventurers find a magical torc made of a metal they don’t recognize.  Assuming they can smuggle it past the duergar tax agents, their dark dancer fixer agrees to set them up with someone who can help.  He arranges a meeting with a strange, pale humanoid.  The woman, who calls herself a munavri, barely needs to touch the item to recover the command word, and offers hints as to its origin. But she will not reveal more until the adventurers allow her to accompany them on their journey.

Most airships don’t do well on seas—and they have no business being underground!  But when a waterspout seizes the Falcon’s Promise and plucks it out of the sky, that’s where a party of adventurers find themselves: floating on a vast ebony lake in an unthinkably large cavern.  An encounter with a water orm goes badly when a jittery crewmember looses a harpoon at it.  They are only saved by the arrival of munavri corsairs, who warn them that far worse threats await them if they cannot get their ship aloft or under sail soon.  (And how they will get back to the open sky is another question entirely…)

The Spear of Prophecy is a jagged shard of jade the size of a mountain erupting from the Stillwind Plains.  A monastery sits about halfway up, carved into the Spear itself.  Pilgrims who go to treat with the light-shy, prophecy-spinning monks, oracles, occultists who dwell there have no idea that the monastery leads all the way down to a sunken sea miles beneath, patrolled by the monks’ far more piratical kinfolk.

Occult Bestiary 34 & Pathfinder Bestiary 6 197

Personally, I’m not enough of a sci-fi or old-school psionics fan to really geek out over telepathy.  If I were running a campaign I’d probably skip that and just concentrate on the advanced object reading—that’s an awesome enough mental power for any race.

On another personal note, I’m really conflicted by the munavri art. It’s excellently done and all the details are right—that jade armor even actually looks wearable!—but the overall sense is off.  I totally get how it happened…the art order was probably for an agile, good-aligned, albino human psychic race in jade armor…and the artist delivered.  But the pose is that of a fey trickster—every time I see it, I get the sense that if we filled in the white background, we’d see this munavri lounging on a toadstool chatting with Alice and the Caterpillar. For a sense of munavris as badass, aboleth- and urdefhan-fighting sailors of subterranean seas, Darklands Revisited’s art is sketchier in detail but more on point in terms of tone.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Mummy Lord


Say what you will about Brendan Fraser—Lord knows everyone else has—but the Mummy franchise completely reshuffled how we think of mummies on the power scale.  When I was a kid, they were the joke of the monster world: a fourth-stringer, a Halloween costume made out of toilet paper.  Now we expect our mummies to not just deliver the mummy rot, but also whip up a sandstorm, explode into a swarm of beetles, summon elementals out of stone, and generally wreak havoc.  Which is hella RPG fodder right there.

So when you want recreate that cinematic feel at the table, adding class levels to the base mummy isn’t good enough.  Nor is defaulting to the lich template—there’s just not enough flavor in the lich’s special ability list.  Besides, when your PCs finally kill the mummy, you want them grabbing all the treasure they can and running for the exit as the mummy’s pyramid falls apart around them, not setting up an archaeological dig to hunt for a phylactery for the next three play sessions.  Liches are symbols of eternity, but they can slow play down.  Mummies are also symbols of eternity, but once you crack open their tomb, they hit with the fury of a sudden sandstorm.

That’s why we have the mummy lord template.  He’s everything you want in a caster, able to command undead and spit superheated sand, and if you don’t kill him right he’ll return for the sequel.  Sounds like the perfect post-1999 mummy to me.

Assuming you weren’t reading this blog in 2013, here’s the original “Mummy” entry.  And since I’m pretty sure you know how to deploy the mummy lord in a desert setting, here are some seeds that try to get beyond the usual Pyramids & Pharaohs shtick.

Elves have spirits rather than souls—when they die, they return to the earth, only sometimes to be born again.  When a matriarch of a destroyed elven kingdom perishes while her fugitive nation is crossing the desert, rather than surrender her spirit to the unfriendly terrain, her indomitable will causes her to rise as a mummy lord.  The result is a part-elf, part-sand creature.  No longer tethered to the forests of her birth, she begins to build a new kingdom of terror right there in the desert.

A cardinal believed he could not die if his heart was removed.  In a sense, he was right, because the ritual he used turned him into a mummy lord.  Years later, adventurers investigating the illegal trade in saints’ preserved body parts comes across the canopic jar in which the cardinal’s liver is stored (it was stolen without the prelate’s knowledge and placed on the black market).  While they are tracking down the mysterious jar’s provenance, the cardinal (who now secretly rules a principality with an iron fist) assumes they are the original thieves and sets about having them killed.

Private school isn’t easy.  Especially a private school founded on the site of a mass grave.  Led by their debate teacher, who has quietly taught them thaumaturgy on the side, along with a helpful dose of fencing lessons from one of the phys. ed. staff, a ragtag group of students has managed to thwart an invasion of shambling corpses, escaped a book that tried to trap them in a demiplane, and driven off an immature color out of space.  Now corpses begin piling up, each one drained of blood.  The students suspect a vampire, but it is actually their dean, a mummy lord wrapped in layers of illusion, who is the culprit—courtesy of a blood-drinking kukri.

Pathfinder Adventure Path #84 84–85 & Pathfinder Bestiary 5 176–177

Having medical-professional parents, my mummy costumes at least featured real bandages.  #whitecoatprivilege

BTW, I actually like Brendan Fraser a lot.  I think he needs to strangle his agent, though.  Also I love Universal Studios’ Revenge of the Mummy ride, even if mechanical and operator errors did force us to go through it three times in a row once.  (Or was it four?  It was a lot.)

Speaking of which, what are we feeling about the Tom Cruise Mummy reboot?  It looked like a standard B.B.N. (???) F. film to me, so I skipped it.  (Speaking of which, I’ve taking to calling these crappy 2000s franchise movies film bleu, in a nod to the great film noir genre, because among other similarities they are color-graded to filth.  And because they tend to blow.  Who’s with me?)

Hey, here’s last night's radio show.  We played melancholic songs about the end of summer and defiant songs with Charlottesville in mind, including the new benefit song from Wilco.  Stream/download now through Monday, 08/21/17, at midnight.  (PS: No show next week; we’re down for station maintenance.)

Monday, August 14, 2017

Muhuru


The muhuru is cryptid from Kenya, joining the mokele-mbembe as yet another Lost World-type magical beast/super dinosaur you can put in your game.  Wikipedia’s description points to a stegosaurus with an ankylosaurus’s club tail, but Pathfinder went further back in the fossil record, giving us more of a dimetrodon-type beast (still with the club tail!) with a magical sail that can store up sunlight and blind opponents.

Whether your muhuru looks like a dimetrodon, a stegosaurus, a parasaurolophus, a spinosaurus, or even something wholly original is up to you.  Similarly, you might treat the muhuru as a magical dinosaur, an offshoot of the drake family, a never-before-seen species, a magical creation, or any other ecological niche.  For such a big animal, it is stealthy, able to avoid detection in most cases, and blinding, knocking prone, or staggering the few hunters savvy enough to track it.  While muhurus are probably not true nature spirits, despite how rumor labels them, they are certainly representatives of all in nature that is secret and defies easy discovery.

A new Butterfly Queen is to be crowned.  Part of her ceremonial raiment is a set of costume wings made from the blinding fin of a muhuru.  Successfully delivering the sail of a full-grown muhuru will earn the party entrance into a machine valley forbidden to outsiders.

An army needs to pass through the Hissing Jungle, and that means negotiating with a powerful kapre.  If negotiations are successful (ideally helped along by the gift of some particularly fine cigars), the plant creature allows the army to pass, providing that they use no axes during the trip.  Should this stricture not be obeyed, or if negotiations fail outright, the kapre looses a pack of muhurus on the scouting party.

Sir Teveral of the Thorn and Shield has organized an expedition to hunt the fabled muhuru in Xogana.  He invites along a group of adventurers recently returned from this vast continent.  (If they are reluctant, he induces them with the promise to use his influence to get back a piece of treasure that was confiscated from them by the colonial government.)  Actually, though, the entire expedition is nothing more than a complicated scheme to get Sir Teveral’s wizard sister away from the many-layered magical defenses of her tower.  He thinks her diary implicates him in a murder, and he intends to ensure that she is not an obstacle to his plans—even if it means feeding her to a magical dinosaur.

Pathfinder Bestiary 6 196

Lots of great responses to my mountain giant post, including a couple people pointing out that the mountain giant did indeed appear in D&D 3.0, courtesy of Monster Manual II.  Thanks for the reminder—clearly my Google skills were not up to par that day!  You can see most of the comments and follow the conversation here.

One of these days I need to really jot down some notes on MM II, because man, it is a mess and I have thoughts.

Looking for the muckdweller?  It’s back here.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Mountain Giant


It always stuns me when mountain giants are a late addition to a monster series.  It’s always been this way in fantasy role-playing—in 1e AD&D, they didn’t show up until the Fiend Folio; in Mentzer D&D, not till the Master Rules; in 2e AD&D, not till the Monstrous Manual; and I don’t think they even existed in 3.0/3.5.  And I know why this is: As we’ve talked about before, it’s a problem with the GFR (Gygax Fossil Record)—if Gary Gygax didn’t put a particular monster in the 1e Monster Manual, later editions and RPGs tend to forget about it, no matter how glaringly obvious (SEA. SERPENTS.) the monster’s inclusion should be.

It’s weird with mountain giants, though, because they are practically our default giant.  There’s a case to be made that they are the generic jötunn or jotuns of Norse myth.  Stone, fire, and frost giants all have physiognomies and abilities that set them apart…but sometimes you just want a big damn giant, without flaming hair or icicle beards or a clay face or a cloud castle.  When you want your PCs to wait out a blizzard in a cave that turns out to be a boot, a mountain giant should be that boot’s rather grumpy owner.

That said…well, Pathfinder’s mountain giant isn’t quite like D&D/AD&D’s mountain giants.  First off, they’re more magical.  Misleaddimension door…and deeper darkness and invisibility (at will(!?!?!)…that’s a new kind of mountain giant.  And then there are those abilities: Impale (Ex) and Devour (Su), which let them spear victims like salmon and then devour them for fast healing.  The end result is not the ordinary jotun of A/D&D, but a terrifying manifestation of the hunger of the wilderness, of the starvation and cannibalism that occurs in an avalanche-blocked mountain pass.  They are all “Fee-fi-fo-fum” without any pretty wife or helpful singing harp.  Bestiary 6 makes it clear that these are giants that even other giants warn their children about, cannibals who can appear out of nowhere to snatch up the unwary and drag them away to be dismembered.  Almost five stories tall, 3,000 pounds, and resembling the king’s headsman if he dabbled in leather tanning and murder, Pathfinder’s mountain giant is the stuff of nightmares no matter what your size.

Caught between warring drow and aboleth nations in a region that thwarts extraplanar and teleportation magic, adventurers struggle to make their way back to the surface.  Their exodus is thwarted when, during a battle the adventurers had hoped to use to cover their escape, several pairs of mountain giants appear out of nowhere (courtesy of invisibility, dimension door, and deeper darkness) and begin laying waste to drow and aboleth victims alike. 

Adventurers infiltrate a frost giant steading…only to find several frost giant women sobbing, the men muttering darkly, and the children all chained to their parents’ beds like animals.  It is the night before the frost giant New Year, when Father Skewer takes one child away to slice open his or her intestines and devour raw.  Assume the frost giants don’t pound the adventurers into pudding for startling them, they will offer whatever they have to end the threat of Father Skewer—in truth, a crafty mountain giant skald—and restore peace to their New Year’s Eve for the first time in two generations.

Adventurers stumble upon a fort belonging to a mountain giant thane, but they are saved from discovery by his wife, a comparatively beautiful and gentle soul.  Having just lost her only child to crib death, she says, she cannot bear to see such small creatures be gutted and butchered by her brutal husband.  In truth, the giant’s wife is a worse cannibal than he is—it was she who devoured their child in his sleep.  She plans to consume the adventurers at her leisure and simply doesn’t want to share.

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You’ll notice I don’t mention 4e and 5e D&D, because…wait, there was a 4e and a 5e?  But seriously, that’s just beyond my area of expertise.

Another reason mountain giants were outliers in D&D/AD&D is that in general the giants tended to go from mighty (hill/stone) to magical (frost/fire) to mythic (cloud/storm).  A/D&D’s mountain giants, being so tall and powerful but comparatively nonmagical, buck that trend, while Pathfinder’s continue it.

The first mountain giant I ever encountered was in the classic AC10 Bestiary of Dragons and Giants, where PCs aid a tall, supremely brash warrior who is actually a mountain giant tween masquerading as a human adventurer to have some fun.  I played it—actually I think I ran it—and it was cute!

It’s odd that Bestiary 6 has mongrel giants in “M” and mountain giants in “G”…I’m guessing the usual difficulties of trying to arrange where the two-page spreads fall are to blame.  (That’s probably also why the mosslord is out of order in the Table of Contents.)

The term “Gygax Fossil Record” should totally be a thing now.

Ye gods, could you guys imagine me as a YouTuber?  “That’s all for today, guys.  What monsters do YOU think were left out of the Gygax Fossil Record?  Send me a TWEET with HASHTAG GygaxFossilRecord.  And don’t forget to LIKE, COMMENT, AND SUBSCRIBE!”  Thank God I’m too heinous for video.

I’ve got some amazing and lovely emails from a lot of you lately.  If I haven’t replied or mentioned here, I promise, promise, promise you it’s because of sheer busy-ness, and not because I’m a total D.  (I mean, I am a total D, but not for those reasons.)