Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Moa & Uintatherium


In our world, moas didn't do so well against humans—Polynesian settlers wiped them out in less than 100 years (roughly around the time of the Black Death in Europe).  But in a fantasy world they might have better luck.

Meanwhile, uintatheriums are ancient herbivores, roughly looking like a cross between a rhino and a hippo.  And while they didn't escape the Eocene Epoch (other large herbivores more closely related to our ungulates displaced them), they might roam the grasslands and marshes of your fantasy world.

Adventurers are aboard a ship whose cargo hold is full of moas.  (An intrepid baronet hopes to start a colony on his island.)  Midway through the journey a gremlin releases the birds from their pens, and the agitated moas lash out at any sailor who comes near.

Uintatherium skulls are prized by orcs, hobgoblins, and ogres as percussion instruments and ornaments for their battle standards.  Adventurers who wish a favor from a humanoid clan chief would do well to bring the warlord a uintatherium, alive or dead.

What adventurers first take to be a mirage turns out to be a moa nesting ground.  While they are observing the flightless birds, a gnoll hunting party (see the Monster Codex) attacks the nest and may stumble upon the adventurers as well.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 171

If you ever want to see a terrifying bird, check out the cassowary at the National Zoo.  It has a flashy crest.  It has barbed wing-claws.  It has a kick that can (admittedly more in theory than in practice) kill a man.  It is terrifying.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Mngwa


Inspired by tales from Tanzania, the mngwa is a magical beast indeed—a jungle cat that only exists between sunset and sunrise.  Of course, the reason that the mngwa exists actually puts it more in fey or undead territory, as it is “an incarnation of malevolent jungle spirits, driven by anger toward the focus of their hate,” according to Bestiary 5.  Typically taking the shape of a large, jet-black lion, the mngwa is nearly impossible to kill.  Its only real weaknesses are its vulnerability to natural sunlight and the daylight spell.  Hunters might also take advantage of the fact that it always appears in the place where it first manifested.  But since it comes back each night fully healed—and even if slain will return to life within five nights—the only safe bet for dispatching a mngwa is to right the wrong that caused it to manifest in the first place.

Fed up with mngwa attacks near his sapphire mines, the colonial governor of Azbian begins rounding up and executing the witch doctors he suspects of summoning the creatures.  But since it is the witch doctors who are responsible for appeasing Azbian’s omnipresent and fractious jackfruit, baobab tree, and water spirits, the governor is only breeding more of the beasts with each passing week.

A sacred grotto has two guardians—a guardian naga who minds it by day and a mngwa who prowls relentlessly around the rocky spring by night.  The mngwa mourns the wanton felling of a particularly ancient tree that once stood near the grotto.  It longs to slake its thirst with the blood of the traveling woodcutter who did the deed, but the man’s village is too far for the mngwa to reach in a single night.  However, it is more than happy to attack any other humanoids in the area until it can take proper vengeance.  The naga, meanwhile, is interested in a cache of wooden puzzle boxes it found near the spring, possibly carved by a supremely talented but long-deceased dryad.

Lions are the most common shape for mngwas to take, but tigers, jaguars, and leopards are also known.  Some tribes on the far edges of the world report mngwas in the form of bears, great wolves, leucrottas, or even bunyips.  While mngwas are mainly reported in jungle regions, the sun priests of pyramid-dotted Toth are particularly careful not to offend any local nature spirits, as their mngwas are particularly gruesome (Advanced) specimens: part lion, part hippopotamus, part jackal, part cobra, all murder.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 173

I can't remember if I own the Southlands Bestiary or not—I definitely Kickstarted the main Southlands book, but all my Kobold Press stuff is languishing in the “You should really read this sometime” pile.  But I believe (via some Googling) it has another version of the mngwa.

Eagle-eyed readers will note we last visited Toth in 2013.

It’s (a)live!

The PDF version of Pathfinder Adventure Path 118: #Siege of Stone—written by Thurston Hillman and featuring an article by yours truly—went live Wednesday night.  If you like PDFs, please pick it up here.  If you like actual books, the print version ships soon, so you can order it right now or just look for it at your local game store.  And once again, thank you all for your support!

(Illustration by Remko Troost comes from the Paizo website and is © Paizo Publishing.)

I was very late to my radio show last week because I was the guest on a comedy podcast—more details on that in a week or two—but I still made it into the studio to play exam-worthy jams for the UMD listening audience.  Stream/download it here until midnight tonight (Monday, 05/22/17, U.S. Eastern) at midnight.  FYI fellow DJ Adam covers for the first chunk; my stuff kicks in at the 37-minute mark.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Mnemor Devil


(Illustration by Audrey Hotte (I think; it’s a little unclear) comes from the Paizo Blog and is © Paizo Publishing.)

With distended jaws the reveal lolling, probing tongues, mnemor devils siphon up the memories of mortals. Some of these mortals are desperate to forget the past, and make deals to have their memories erased or altered…deals they later come to regret, as the new memories plant new doubts, suspicions, and fears.  Others are simply the victims of a devil so slippery that even the memory of him vanishes when he steps out of the room.

At first I was thinking that mnemor devils (also known as memory devils) would be hard to play at the gaming table—players know what they know.  (Think how many times you’ve struggled to RP a failed Perception check when you just know something bad is about to go down.)  But memory is a tricky thing, especially in a long campaign, and it’s easy to forget what happens session to session.  A GM who’s thrown a mnemor devil against his players a time or two could really mess with their heads next time they try to remember if they found a particular NPC trustworthy, or who really betrayed them at court that one time…

GMs will want to play mnemor devils, because at CR 5 they are easy to deploy at low-to mid-levels, with greater teleport making them consummate escape artists and recurring villains.  But PCs themselves may seek out a mnemor devil if they have memories they need wiped (perhaps to pass detect/discern spells or escape a Lovecraftian taint) or if they seek knowledge found only in the banks of a mnemor devil’s eidetic memory.

A young adventurer realizes mid-conversation that he is speaking with an infernal spirit dressed in the robes of a confessor.  As the devil teleports away, the adventurer can’t shake the feeling he’s met the confessor before.  In fact, the devil has appeared to him on and off again since childhood; this is simply the first time he has come back to awareness (in game terms, passed his Will save) before the devil could tidy up his mental manipulation.

A door in a wizard’s tower leads an otherworldly chamber.  There the adventurers find a psychic surgery staffed by a mnemor devil.  The wizard and he have a strictly business relationship, so the devil is unconcerned by the adventurers’ presence.  He even offers to remove a troubled memory from the party member who has most recently sinned…for a small price.

Both a library and a prison, the Memoriam was designed by inevitables to store important memories from across the multiverse.  With their typical cold, calculating logic, the inevitables deemed mnemor devils to be the ideal staff at such a facility—and thanks to a recent failed infernal plot, the inevitables had plenty of the memory devils locked in their prisons to choose from.  The paroled devils do indeed make excellent librarians, but their hellish system of cataloguing means that a patron researching a specific memory is utterly at their mercy.

Occult Bestiary 21

When we covered the mezlan the other day I suggested their stats might make good DS9 Founders (an idea badmadwolf seemed to like).  But Bucephalus pointed out the even more obvious movie monster I’d completely overlooked: Terminator 2’s T-1000 (right down to forming weapons with its body).  Duh, seriously, where was my head?

Monday, May 15, 2017

Mire Nettle

(Illustration by Will O’Brien comes from the artist’s DeviantArt page and is © Paizo Publishing.)

Like many small carnivorous plants, mire nettles are a certainly a hazard, but only truly pose a danger to the young and infirm.  Still, when attacking in groups (called thickets or groves) or when the boggy terrain favors them, they can be quite deadly.

What sets mire nettles apart from similar plant creatures is their utility. Bestiary 6 lays out a couple of uses for their nettles and toxin, including blowgun darts and coming of age rituals. Since they don't lull their prey to sleep or strangle it outright, mire nettles are also easier to manage and harvest…in theory at least.  (Their pain-wracked victims might argue otherwise…)

Gripplis hate mire nettles, going to almost any lengths to root them out.  Adventurers seeking to curry favor with a grippli tribe can earn potions and tokens of safe passage for a successful mire nettle eradication.  Some gripplis with the toxic skin racial trait (see the Advanced Race Guide) use mire nettle thorns for blowgun darts, and even engage in elaborate scarification rituals.

The local abbey, which also serves as a boarding school, is run by a strict headmaster.  In the head abbot’s absence, the school prior has instituted stricter rules and more arcane punishments.  He has even subjected some boys to the painful thorn spray of a mire nettle he keeps in a secluded grotto.  Adventurers may become involved when two boys abused in this manner run away from their dormitory and are snatched up by ogrekin.

A hell hound is famous for haunting the Bog of Bonny May.  The bog’s other dangers include a band of sprites made mad by gorse wine, two shrieking skeletons, and a thicket of mire nettles with absurdly large purple blossoms whose pollen causes profound anxiety in dwarves and goblins.

Pathfinder Bestiary 6 188


No stats for the mire nettle are online yet, so no link.  Also, apologies if the formatting for this post is different—Firefox and Blogger aren't coöperating tonight, so I'm using Safari instead.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Mezlan


If we were going to give the latest Pathfinder Bestiary a proper Hollywood sequel title, we could do worse than Bestiary 6: The Rehabilitation of the Ooze.  Every Bestiary engages in certain projects, and one of B6’s is trying to figure out what to do with the Ooze subtype now that we already have five monster hardcovers under our belts. 

The creation of blights is one answer—we’ve got our first blight coming soon, actually—and highly intelligent, high-CR threats like the mezlan is another.  Blurring the line between ooze and construct (with a dash of undead thrown in), a mezlan is an ooze created from the consciousness of a willing volunteer.  Nearly impossible to kill and often retaining their class levels, mezlans were the elite spies and shock troops of a long dead civilization.  Now they are among the last remnants of that civilization—some still carrying out old missions, others trying to find purpose in a world that has moved on. 

For players and PCs of a philosophical bent, mezlans raise questions about the nature of consciousness and humanity.  And because the techniques needed to create them have been lost, mezlans are a reminder that some secrets will always remain in the past…and probably should stay that way.

Told to seek a scion of the river god Proteus, adventurers instead encounter a mezlan posing as a shapeshifting ichthyocentaur.  If the adventurers have acquired the right symbols its fallen empire, the mezlan treats them as elite agents and begins reciting a millennia-old message.  But it will allow no one entrance into the temple it guards—even if the message instructs the adventurers to proceed inside.

The rivalry between the Golden Imperium of Nal, the first and greatest human empire, and the elven league of the Vith T’shir was a long and bitter one.  No less than three mezlans were created to kill the five elven royal families (for a sum that quite literally beggared a Golden colony and cost Nal its embassy on the Elemental Plane of Earth).  One was destroyed; the other is presumed to have followed the Vith Pana when they sailed to the Morninglands.  The third is still missing, and some elf scholars hope to interrogate it so they can learn secrets about the Vith T’shir they themselves have forgotten.

A mezlan operates an orbiting android manufactory—nevermind that no orders have come through in more than a century.  The mezlan sees her fluid form and dim memories of her natural life as proof that she is superior to the machinefolk she creates and tinkers with.  The presence of organic living creatures or proof of android souls (such as an android capable of casting divine spells) call that superiority into question and may drive her to violence.

Pathfinder Adventure Path #66 90–91 & Pathfinder Bestiary 6 186–187

(Note that at time of writing, the link to the mezlan’s OGC stats is cranky, but I’ll link above anyway.)

Not long ago I finally finished watching my first ever Star Trek series, Deep Space Nine.  Mezlans would serve pretty well for the Dominion’s Founders.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Mephistopheles


(Illustration by Wayne Reynolds comes from the Paizo Blog and is © Paizo Publishing.)

Here we are, only three monsters into Bestiary 6, and we’ve already made it to the book’s bathed-in-hellfire swimsuit cover model: Hell’s #2, Mephistopheles.

(You’ll notice that Wayne Reynolds does not bury the lede in his covers, especially for the even-numbered Bestiaries.  B2 has the Jabberwock, B4 Cthulhu, B6 Mephistopheles.  I can only assume B8 will have, like, MechaZeus or a Stay Puft Marshmallow Man made of nuclear missiles.)

I won't go into too much detail on Mephistopheles.  Paizo’s @wesschneider already wrote the book on Hell and the book on Mephistopheles for good measure.  (Judging by his list of publishing credits, Wes has an affinity for charismatic but deadly schemers—presumably because he owns a mirror.)  Instead, I’ll point out an interesting difference in Pathfinder’s Mephistopheles vs. the standard D&D interpretation. 

In both cases, Mephistopheles is the consummate devil’s devil—brilliant red, horned, winged, always with a contract and quill in hand and an offer too good to refuse.  More than any other archdevil aside from Asmodeus, he is about contracts and compacts, and all that can go awry after you’ve signed on the dotted line.  But in the standard D&D cosmology, Mephistopheles is always scheming to take Asmodeus’s throne—he’s said so to the Lord of the Ninth’s face.  Why Asmodeus keeps him around is an open question—presumably, he’s too useful to do away with (his treacherous plots likely draw other traitors to Asmodeus’s attention, and he keeps Baalzebul in check) and dislodging him would cause too much trouble.  In other words, he is Starscream to Asmodeus’s Megatron (albeit a much more effective one).

Pathfinder’s Mephistopheles, on the other hand, was literally created by Asmodeus out of the stuff of the eighth layer of Hell.  As such, he’s seemingly utterly loyal to Asmodeus, and is more of Hell than even his lord.  To go back to Transformers, think of him as a vastly more charismatic Soundwave, who was so Decepticon his face even became the Decepticon symbol.  (Oh, Transformers.  Is there any metaphor you can't provide?)

Most of this won’t matter to the average party—dealing with the schemes of one archdevil is enough.  (Hell, stopping the plan of only one of Mephistopheles’s servants was worth a whole Adventure Path.)  But if you’ve got a truly plane-hopping, cosmologically cosmopolitan Pathfinder campaign, the old D&D trick of pitting the servants of Mephistopheles and Asmodeus against each other is not going to work.  It’s inevitable that the Lord of the Eighth will turn on his master one day—the literal personification of Hell can do no less; it’s built in to his nature—but that won’t happen until the plane itself has turned against Asmodeus.  If Mephistopheles is playing the long game, it’s measured in eons.  The political games that PCs can play in the upper levels of Hell simply won't work this deep in the Pit.

Of course, that’s if you’re playing in canon.  Out of canon—which is our particular end of the swimming pool—go nuts!

Those who believe travel enriches the soul have never been part of the tea and opium trade, which brutalizes colonial souls and bodies while enriching shareholders.  Adventurers fighting drug dealers, slavers, and mercenaries must eventually take the fight to the Admiralty of Iron, a council of cruel dragon-riding sea captains who control the vile trade.  The final battle takes place on the deck of the largest ship ever built, in the center of a pentagram formed by five other ships.  There the Admiralty of Iron’s infernal patron, Mephistopheles, appears and fights for 30 seconds (five seconds for each ship) per an agreement the Iron Captains struck long ago.

Typically, an independent judiciary is a defense against tyranny.  But in the nation of Concord, the judiciary has claimed sweeping powers.  Not only are they judge, jury and executioner, they are also the notaries, lawyers, bailiffs, tax collectors, and (of course) the inquisition.  The reason for this stunning usurpation of power is an infestation of contract and apostate devils, who have spent decades warping Concord’s laws to their own ends, while funneling monetary and magical rewards to the corrupt courts.  Adventurers attempting to fight this entrenched power structure will have an uphill battle throughout their careers.  Once they bring down the Inquisition Concordia, they may even be forced to defend themselves in the very courts of Hell (with words or with blades)…possibly against Mephistopheles himself.

The current Mephistopheles is a facsimile.  The real Mephistopheles died eons ago in a coup attempt; Asmodeus created the current Mephistopheles out of the stuff of Hell rather than trust another seneschal.  Only now rumors are spreading from the deepest reaches of the Everwaste.  The whispers say that the original Mephistopheles has been resurrected and is coming for his throne.  Soon all Hell—and perhaps even the entire multiverse—will have to pick a side.

Pathfinder Bestiary 6 28–29

No stats for Mephistopheles are online yet, so no link.

I have a special fondness for Mephistopheles.  I don't think he’s as interesting as, say, Mammon.  But in high school I spent part of a summer in Staufen, the sleepy German town where Faust blew himself up in an alchemical experiment in 1540.  (Or where Mephistopheles came to claim his soul in a fiery conflagration.  You decide.)

I never got into the ’90s ska band Mephiskapheles, but God did I love their name.  (I also love Streetlight Manifesto’s “Down, Down, Down to Mephisto’s Cafe,” full stop.)

We are not talking about Marvel’s Mephisto or “One More Day.”  EVER.

If you’re a fan of alphabetical order and looking for the memitim, it’s back here.

It’s radio show time!  This past Tuesday I continued to dig up (and totally dig) Stornoway's corpse.  I also played lots of new music from Diet Cig, Cold War Kids, BNQT, Waxahatchee, (Sandy) Alex G, and more. Stream/download now through Monday, 05/15/17, at midnight.

(Also note that this show was recorded before the recent PWR BTTM allegations became public.)

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Megaprimatus


The megaprimatus has a long history in African folklore as psych jk it’s King Kong.

Gargantuan?  Check.  Pretty much gorilla-esque?  Check.  Able to open a can of whoop-ass with its opposable thumbs on any dinosaur in the vicinity?  Check.

At only CR 8 despite its Gargantuan size, the megaprimatus will never be able to go up against any of Pathfinder’s kaiju.  (Heck, even yesterday’s mapinguari, despite only being Huge, would probably beat the megaprimatus in a tussle, due to its more accurate claws and its overall magical nature.)  But if you’re looking to recreate the dinosaur vs. ape vs. explorers hate triangle of the original 1933 King Kong film (or the 2005 Peter Jackson remake), megaprimatus is perfect.  (After all, T. rex is only CR 9.  And by the way, the megaprimatus actually owes its name to that 2005 remake—King Kong’s species name in the movie is Megaprimatus kong.)

Another reason I like megaprimatus hanging out around CR 8 is that, as an old-school D&D fan, I of course received a copy X1 The Isle of Dread in my Expert Rules blue box set.  The Isle of Dread and particularly its village of Tanaroa owe a lot to King Kong’s Skull Island, and I like that the megaprimatus remains roughly in the Pathfinder’s version of the Expert range.

After a year of struggles and triumphs, the settlers of the jungle island of Jade Heaven are ready to celebrate their first new year.  Out come the colorful costumes, the dragon puppets, the stilt walkers, and the foo dog parade floats—with some dinosaur floats mixed in, to celebrate the strange fauna of the settlers’ new home.  But the noise attracts a curious megaprimatus…who, mistaking the parade floats for actual dinosaurs, immediately attacks.

On the little-explored continent of Elund, megaprimatuses are not born—they're made.  If the silverback male in a gorilla troop dies of unnatural causes, the females give off stress pheromones that cause the next silverback to grow to monstrous size.  When a wave of poaching strikes the White Mountain Range, a plague of megaprimatuses is loosed upon the region.

To honor the queen’s 50th birthday, an expedition is sent to bring her exotic tribute.  And exotic the tribute is indeed: The expedition captures a male megaprimatus—a particularly apt gift, as the queen’s beloved uncle who raised her was known as “The Gorilla” in his army days.  But expeditions can take months…and while the expedition’s musketeers and rangers were away, the queen fell ill and the same uncle used draconian measures to quell a bread riot.  Now, to the expedition’s dismay, no one is in any mood to celebrate the presence of yet another great ape.  And then in the dark of the night, rebels cut the beast loose…

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 31

Got some nice comments on my “Mammon” entry.  (Thanks in particular to Bucephalus, and dr-archeville pointed out a nice Simpsons Easter egg.) 

One of my long-term readers, AlgaeNymph, was a little worried about the disclaimer I threw in setting up my Biblical adventure seed. 

Just to be clear, that wasn’t a generic CYA disclaimer.  In my historical adventure seeds, I’m happy to riff on how our real religions and religious themes might operate in a magical Earth (which you all seem to like—more readers have commented on the phrase “Jesuit blue dragon” than anything else I’ve ever written).  I’m also happy to abuse a few sacred cows when necessary.  (In my historical fantasy adventure seeds, the antebellum and Civil War South will always be portrayed as evil, for obvious reasons, and no, I’m not even a little bit sorry.)

But my third Mammon adventure seed didn’t just invoke a particular religion.  It referenced an event from the Bible itself, that supposedly took place in Christianity’s holiest week—in Judaism’s most holy site, BTW—and it potentially changes Jesus’s motives for doing so.  That’s some double black diamond messing-about, and out of respect for my readers of faith it felt proper to flag that I was aware of that fact.  

Looking for the megapon ant?  It’s back here.