Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Oshageros


As proteans go, the oshageros is pretty simple.  No meditating on the beauty of ceaseless change or the nature of the Maelstrom, no trying to get mortals to broaden their perspectives, no games of transmutation or mental manipulation.  OSHAGEROS SMASH.

Of course, it’s not that simple—with Int 21, an oshageros would still wipe the floor intellectually with nearly every mortal wizard, and could out-consider (with Wis 18) even most mortal priests.  It’s just that all that piercing intellect leads them* to rather Gordian† solutions: too much order must be torn down.

That crystalline wall of Law separating Order from Chaos?  Oshageroses are gnawing at the foundations of that.  That presumptuous tower of justice on some Heavenly plane?  They’ll pop in and out in a smash-and-grab judge abduction.  That newly minted inevitable prototype?  Oshageros saboteurs will see it never reaches the production line.  And when the forces of Law strike at the heart of Chaos, oshageroses will stand ready (slither ready? side-wind ready?) with dispel law, chaos hammer, draining tentacles and warpwave bursts to turn aside the blow.

Adventurers attempt to replace the keystone of a magical arch.  To accomplish this feat, a rift must be opened, then the threads of reality anchored to the arch as a ritual is performed…all while fending off assaults from oshageroses drawn to the magnet pull of invasive law.

In theory, one shouldn't be able to walk along the Crystal Horizon separating the Universe That Is from the Void—it’s supposed to be a theoretical construct, and a sphere to boot.  But in the impossible way of the Planes, the Crystal Horizon manifests as a mountain range of otherworldly quartz and granite.  Half-celestial halfling ridge runners man watchtowers here, lighting beacon fires and racing along knife-edge precipices to warn of oshageros assaults from the misty Void.

The School of Thoughts sprawls along Avedon Square and the Aspirateum in the Sixth Sacred Ward.  Anyone who assumes the academy’s moniker is a wry joke would be mistaken—the school literally collects, catalogs, dissects, and displays important concepts from across the multiverse.  An oshageros named Uragolo, Invar, and/or Shezyx (depending on the day) joins in the School of Thoughts’s regular philosophical debates.  It is understood among the planar students that physical might is a valid means of supporting one’s metaphysical arguments, but mortals on the receiving end of the protean’s tentacle lash are often caught by surprise.

Pathfinder Bestiary 6 212

*If any monster was going to use the singular “they” pronoun, you know it would be a protean. 

†As in the Knot.

In addition to the crocodilian jaws, artist Rayph Beisner gives the oshageros a tail…club?…that is also suggestive of a rattlesnake’s rattle.  Whatever it is, I love it.

Enjoy another radio show, with new Remember Sports and Calexico! Also, 15 years of the Postal Service! Stream/download it now until Monday, 02/26/18, at midnight.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Orang-Pendak


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

An Indonesian cryptid in our world, the orang-pendak has made its way into the Pathfinder game as a kind of jungle sasquatch, although much smaller (the name means “short person”) and more orangutan-like (no surprise there).  They are shy and nomadic, though their migrations have a pattern if one makes the effort to study them; they befriend apes easily, especially orangutans and gibbons, and train them to fight for them; and they are surprisingly strong for creatures of their size.

At first this doesn’t seem like a lot to build adventures out of.  But orang-pendaks are actually situated in an interesting design space.  As relatives of the sasquatch, they’re a good alternative when you want a “wild man of the woods” race more keyed to tropical mountain jungles.  As CR 1/2 creatures, they’re good encounters for 1st–3rd-level PCs that don’t automatically lead to violence, but are level-appropriate if a fight breaks out.  Vanarans might regard them as distant forebears, honored cousins, or embarrassing primitives.  They hunt with spears, clubs, and bolas—and let’s face it, every time I see an ape-man proficient in bolas, you know I’m thinking Planet of the (very short) Apes.  Although these ape-men won’t be riding horses, thanks to the adorable Own Two Feet (Ex) ability—ability? quality? drawback?—which has them so unnerved at riding other animals and vehicles that they take massive penalties—a great detail.

Most importantly, they’re a potential PC race!  And plenty of players out there will be willing to sacrifice some Intelligence and skill ranks for a four-foot orangutan-like druid or ranger (or shaman or hunter…or maybe even barbarian or monk!) who’s surprisingly strong (I keep forgetting to mention the orang-pendak’s Tear Apart (Ex) ability), petrified of horses, and has a platoon of monkey friends.  Heck, I want to play one right now, and I hate simians.

Indonesian myth and legend has been really kind to Pathfinder players in recent years, and the orang-pendak is no exception.  Treat the relatively blank slate they provide as an opportunity and see what they can add to your game.

Adventurers begin their career as villagers sent forth to look for a tribe of orang-pendaks.  The ape-men’s migrations typically carry them near the village, whose economy has become reliant on the herbs and medicines they bring to trade—but this year, the tribe is late.  Should the adventurers find the orang-pendaks, they discover the tribe is tardy because they’ve been taking longer and longer routes to avoid the Canyon of Lost Hope.  Evil wayangs have established a secret redoubt in the canyon, and they’ve been capturing orang-pendaks and gripplis to ship back to the Plane of Shadow as slaves.

Adventures are called in to solve a locked-room mystery, where a flamboyant local sorcerer has been found murdered, his body locked within a cage.  Investigation reveals that a business rival gave the sorcerer an “orangutan”—actually, an orang-pendak accomplice—as a potential familiar.  At night, the orang-pendak (a rogue by training) unlocked his cage, murdered the sorcerer, put his body on display, and then shimmied up the chimney, using his outstanding strength to pry open the chimney cap and then force it back into place.

Adventurers wake in the morning to discover their camp surrounded by trees filled with hooting gibbons.  Hunted nearly to extinction, a tribe of orang-pendaks has allied with several treants; now the ape-men and their forest travel together for mutual protection.  At least one of the young orang-pendaks wishes to join the party for a time.  If they consent and the youth comes to harm, the orang-pendaks and their moveable forest may come hunting for them.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 186

Hey, I’m from Baltimore; you know I had to go Poe.

For my Blogger readers (or in case my Tumblr folk missed it), the other day I posted an appreciation of Dragon Magazine #165 here.  And while we’re at it, Dragon #187’s “Ecology of the Dakon” could be used to flesh out certain aspects of orang-pendak society (though by and large dakons seem more hierarchic, aggressive, and fixated on gold than orang-pendaks would be).

As I said on air, this episode might be the platonic ideal of my radio show: something old, something new, something folksy, something grunge.  It was a night for dancing as we celebrated Mardi Gras, the Elephant 6 Recording Company, and 20 years of Neutral Milk Hotel’s indie rock monument to Anne Frank, In the Aeroplane Over the SeaStream/download it here until tonight (Monday, 02/19/18) at midnight.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Ophiotaurus


Bestiary deep cuts don’t get much deeper than the ophiotaurus.  It’s only found in a single reference from Ovid—and not from Metamorphoses, either, but Fasti.  That’s the mythological equivalent of saying your favorite ’90s alternative song is Sloan’s “Stove/Smother” cover.  Like, I can tell how you got there, but man, you were looking.

Aside from being a Gargantuan, mythic half-bull, half-snake-monster, the ophiotaurus is most significant for what it offers—a massive power boost in the form of either its ascension spell like ability and its Questing Beast (Su) ability—if PCs kill an ophiotaurus they have access to certain divinatory powers, and if they’re willing to accept a geas on top of that, they also get a massive moral bonus (+6 to Str and Con) per vengeful outrage. 

In other words, facing (and possibly slaying) an ophiotaurus is an excellent step along the way to facing a mythic Big Bad—perhaps even the penultimate step.  Every hero needs his Campbellian journey, and the Ophiotaurus checks off the Road of Trials and/or Apotheosis boxes pretty nicely.  An ophiotaurus’s death, though, should be more than a plot coupon—it should carry an air of what it is: a necessary sacrifice.

Adventures attempt to seal a portal to the realm of Baphomet, the demonic patron of evil minotaurs.  If they fail to light the temple braziers and burn the proper offerings, the snaking tile labyrinth beneath their feet reveals itself to be the pebbled hide of an awakening ophiotaurus.

At the behest of a sovereign dragon, adventurers race to the ends of the earth to place a magical yoke upon the shoulders of an ophiotaurus—an animal they did not even believe existed mere days ago.  Unfortunately, their demodand rivals have sent a lackey to beat them to the punch.  And “punch” is the operative word, for the vile servant is one of the Hundred-Handed Ones, a hekatonkheires.

Adventurers slay an ophiotaurus and eat its entrails, as the old legends instruct.  But in doing so, they have inadvertently performed a religious act, for the sacrifice of a bull, even a mythic one, belongs to Tiernos, the Lightning Lord.  Now the long-slumbering Allfather wakes, and the adventurers must contend with his assumption that they are his new high priests…and vassals.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 185

Somewhere out there someone is screaming, “The Ophiotaurus was also in the Percy Jackson series!!!” 

Fair enough.  I have not read the Percy Jackson books.  Usually mixing mythic tales and modernity is not my jam—I’ve had some grim experiences in the past.  But surely it can’t be any worse than the Nicholas Flamel books, right? Let’s see what Wikipedia has to say…

Percy Jackson saves [the Ophiotaurus] in the middle of the night, when he was warned by his favorite pegasus, Blackjack. He first thinks it is a female and names it "Bessie". The Ophiotaurus thinks that Percy is his protector. Later, the creature is brought to Olympus via a magic water bubble and is put under the care of Percy's father, Poseidon.

…Nope.

*gently closes laptop, stares into space for a minute, gets up to walk away*

Nope.  I’m out.  Not going to happen.  Nooooope.

Someone burn the room after I leave.  It’s the only way to be sure.

Once again it’s Monday night, and once again I am encouraging you, with barely an hour to spare, to click a link I should have posted last Wednesday.  Sigh.  Sorry about that.  But click anyway—it’s my first radio show of the Spring 2018 semester, and we’ve got new Hop Along, Camp Cope, and Baltimore’s own Wye Oak and Letitia VanSant, plus 20 years of Pearl Jam’s Yield.  Stream/download it now through midnight tonight (Monday, 02/12/18, U.S. Eastern)!

Monday, January 15, 2018

Oolioddroo


(Illustration by Jorges Fares comes from GeekDad and is © Paizo Publishing.)

What, a moth psychopomp wasn’t mothy enough for you?  Then how about a moth demon, the oolioddroo?

From browsing Tumblr, I know a lot of Daily Bestiary fans are also fans of possession and body horror—so merry belated Christmas, kids, because this monster is for you. 

The oolioddroo’s party piece is using her thought-siphoning tongue—you know, the one that can slurp up memories, skills, spells, or Wisdom—to implant her eggs into the brain of a sleeping or helpless victim.  Eggs that then hatch as larva (still in that brain).  Which the moth demon can track across any distance in the same Plane (safely nestled in that brain).  And through which the demon can detect thoughts, modify memory, and cast suggestion (because brain). Worst of all, the oolioddroo can sacrifice the larva (and the victim’s brain—have I mentioned the brain?) in a kind of feeblemind bomb—a tactic that causes even the Bestiary 6 to break tone and refer to it as a “scorched earth” tactic.

That’s right: This is a monster so awful it makes even the rulebook itself stop and say, “Daaaaamn.”

An oolioddroo poses as a roving fortuneteller.  Her magical abilities give her plenty of fodder for predictions, and she leaves a trail of infected or feebleminded victims in her wake.  Normally such a humble disguise would be beneath the moth demon, but this particular band of rovers has long been welcome at a local magefair the oolioddroo intends to infiltrate.

Adventurers are asked to check on the niece of a patron.  The young woman was married off to a stern landholder in a distant county, and in the intervening months her letters have grown strange and evasive.  Should the adventurers take the case, they find the woman in decent spirits but acting oddly—as do many inhabitants of the local village and the surrounding district.  Further investigation reveals the truth: Much of the town is under the control of an oolioddroo.  But when the adventurers go to confront the demon, they find themselves ambushed by the village’s uninfected in habitants.  The entire town has willingly devoted itself to the moth demon, and the infected villagers were merely a lure to draw the adventurers into its clutches.

Among a certain truly decadent and thrill-seeking set, oolioddroo eggs are a delicacy akin to caviar.  The challenge is to consume and pass the eggs without falling under the moth demon’s sway.  And since such eggs can only be harvested from the brains of an oolioddroo’s victims, this delicacy necessarily involves appallingly risky chirurgery or a hefty body count.

The Worldwound 50–51 & Bestiary 6 86–87

That second adventure seed has a very Hellboy feel to it, if you ask me.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Omnipath


(Illustration by Yigit Koroglu comes from the PaizoBlog and is © Paizo Publishing.)

The last year or so has been pretty good to aboleths—their schemes are the focus of the Ruins of Azlant Adventure Path, they got a full-fledged ecology in the same, and psychic monsters and psychic magic in general have been on the upswing since the release of Occult Adventures and the Occult Bestiary. 

One of OB’s contributions was the omnipath, the information-sharing/communications network (with a dash of spying and possession) of the aboleth race.  It was also one of our first indications that the race (known as othagu or alghollthus, depending on what source you’re reading) included more phenotypes than the tentacled fish form of the aboleths and the veiled masters.  Omnipaths resemble eels, but with a horrific set of multiple jaws nested inside each other, like something from the Alien franchise.  They have equally horrifying powers: an eidetic memory, the magic of a 15th-level psychic, a touch that can turn skin transparent and vulnerable, psychic tail rays (because why not), and a telepathic mesh that allows an omnipath to share sensations and possess victims with alarming facility.  They are, in short, bad news.

If you’re an aboleth fan, omnipaths make an excellent high-level contribution to the family tree.  If you’re not, they could still be useful in your campaign, either as one-off aquatic/subterranean monsters or as part of some other cabal.  Iku-tursos and siyokoys are both good options to pair omnipaths with in Pathfinder.  And in D&D (particularly 2e AD&D Spelljammer) the neogi race may have bred omnipaths to combat the threat of illithids, or developed them in some sick collaboration with the mind flayers.

The mysterious and seemingly utopian kingdom of Ildevania is protected by the Queen’s Mantle—a phrase meant as a metonym for her power and authority, but that also nods to the very real mesh of telepathic energy she shares with her trusted agents, the Footmen.  Adventurers discover that many of the Footmen are actually omnipaths and their thralls.  Is the country’s utopian peace worth the dark bargain the queen has made?

Adventurers manage to subdue the saboteur Renoir and shut the Cypher Gate, sealing in the dread energies he meant to unleash.  His capture also reveals the very real threat of the aboleth nation lurking far below the canals of Vinchenza, City of Spices and Spies.  Incensed that Renoir shattered the Calling Crystal that allowed Vinchenza’s fleet captains to speak over long distances, the Doge’s Council wants adventurers who can do the same to the aboleths—by gutting their omnipath network like so many eels.

A spiritualist unlocks a dark secret from an adventurer’s past: She was an omnipath in her past life.  Moreover, that omnipath’s mother is still alive…and seeks to make contact with her lost daughter, in whatever reincarnated form she now takes.  The adventurer must wrestle with what to do with this information, investigate what new insights or powers her heritage might unlock…and face the possibility that this is all a complicated aboleth plot.

Occult Bestiary 38–39 & Bestiary 6 204–205

I linked to the more recent (Bestiary 6) stats for the omnipath above.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Olethros


(Illustration by David Alvarez comes from CGR and is © Paizo Publishing.)

Wikipedia claims, “Olethros translates roughly in ancient Greek to ‘destruction,’ but often with a positive connotation, as in the destruction required for and preceding renewal.”  Which makes sense for the Greek personification of havoc (and a daughter of Eris in the bargain)…but it works even better for this Pathfinder monster, a powerful psychopomp associated with souls whose fates hang in the balance.

Olethroses are powerful agents of death, helping to preserve the proper course of fate (at least as they, the psychopomp ushers, and their goddess deem it).  This of course means they may come into conflict with adventurers, as PCs are notorious for wishing to bend fate to their own desires.  On the other hand, olethroses are rivals or enemies of a number of other fate-oriented outsiders and entities, including norns, lipika aeons, and sahkils, which may cause them to ally them with PCs. (Bestiary 6 actually goes into great detail about this, as well as their relations with their psychopomp kin).  Powerful olethroses can even become mothers (a rarity among psychopomps—and most outsiders, for that matter) when old fates fork and new fates reveal themselves, immaculately conceiving new olethroses to study the branching phenomena of destiny.

An olethros has been guiding the fate of a single family for generations, subtly ensuring that every birth, marriage, death, and important event falls in its course.  But when adventurers save the family from a fiery holocaust (courtesy of norn’s quiet influence), they upend a century of planning and earn the enmity of the powerful psychopomp.

The pit fiend Idvidicar the Sculptor has been pierced by no less than six arrows from an olethros's silkbow.  He refuses to remove the shafts, wearing them as badges to signify that no one but he is the author of his fate—or the fates of those under his control.  The olethros who shot Invidicar wants to retrieve the shafts, believing their long exposure to the pit fiend’s foul essence may have granted the arrows unique properties,

An olethros conceived a child, presumably according to some looming twist of fate.  Whatever the event was, though, it has failed to come to pass so far…leaving the gravid olethros in a state of horrible pregnant limbo, in terrible pain that is as much spiritual as it is physical.  As the months have stretched into years, the olethros has become desperate to end her condition…and if that means going rogue and forging a new fate for her child to study, so be it.  Adventurers might find themselves caught in the olethros’s schemes, or even be hired by other psychopomps to bring in the rogue mother.  There is also the question of whether her child will be born an olethros after so long, or if some far darker creature will erupt from her womb instead…

Pathfinder Bestiary 6 220–211

One last post out the door before 2018.  Happy New Year everybody, and have a great 2018!

Monday, December 25, 2017

Occult Dragon


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

Astral, dream, etheric, nightmare…occult?

At first glance, the occult dragon seems like a bad entry from a late-’80s anniversary issue of Dragon Magazine, following the usual recipe of “Add adjective and stir until dragon.” 

But upon closer examination, it actually fits.  Just as the other esoteric dragons have a transitive plane or dream dimension to call their own, occult dragons hail from the Akashic Record, a demiplane tucked away in the Astral that includes “a visual library of perfect psychic records of every moment in the history of the multiverse” (per Occult Adventures).

As such, it’s no surprise that these are essentially draconic librarians, researchers, and diviners—when your home demiplane is a library, that’s all to be expected.  They also make excellent appraisers and psychometrists, able to read the value and the history of an object (and use it, if it’s a magic item) with consummate skill.  For this reason, they are collectors and hoarders to a degree even other dragons find shocking (which is saying something), particularly when it comes to psychically charged objects.  Finally, they are also perhaps more urban (and urbane) than any other true dragons besides golds, happily moving in disguise through humanoid cities.

Interestingly, occult dragons aren't particularly strong.  Perhaps this is because they only hail from a demiplane…or perhaps it says something about the relative power of truth versus dreams…

Finally, even if esoteric dragons and the Akashic Record aren’t your thing, an occult dragon makes a good one-off encounter.  There are plenty of magical libraries or universities that might have a guardian that is, for all intents and purposes, an occult dragon, no matter how you re-skin it for your players.

Bruised and bleeding from more than a dozen sets of claw marks, a young occult dragon crashes its way into an adventuring party’s sanctum.  It gasps out that it has “the answer” for them, then passes out from its wounds.  What “the answer” is will remain a mystery unless the adventurers can heal the dragon…and defeat the pack of hounds of Tindalos that arrive hot on the dragon’s heels.

One of the more notable spy networks on Avilar is comprised primarily of occult dragons.  They spend much of their time in human or half-elf form, often selling their services as detectives and object readers (a convenient cover for their abilities that helps them forge connections to those in power).  They seem to be interested in knowledge for its own sake, but surely no one builds such a powerful network without an agenda of some kind…

Adventurers make their way to a library that appears to be perched on the edge of Infinity.  The library caretakers are a collection of clockwork beings, gnomes, and oddly civilized gnolls.  If they make trouble or wander into the Restricted Wing, they are met by the library’s real masters: a nest of occult dragons.  The dragons at this library specialize in knowledge relating to something called the Aeon War, which occurred long ago but, paradoxically, is about to occur for the first time (again?)… 

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 96–97

Merry Christmas and happy holidays, everyone!

There are only about 60 minutes of Christmas left, but that’s still plenty of time to stream/download last Tuesday’s Christmas radio show!  Two hours of holiday tunes, from old favorites to ska covers and everything in between.  Enjoy y’all, and since I think I’m taking tomorrow off, I’ll have more tunes for you in the New Year!