Monday, September 1, 2014

Suits for Decks of Many Things

 Lately, I have been thinking about how the Deck of Many Things would play into mythopoesis of the game world and not play and mechanics only.  You can see one result of my thoughts here.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Frightful Fridays! (Spooky Saturday!) Tattered Shroud

Hello, and welcome back to another slightly delayed Frightful Fridays! My friend Patrick asked for a spooky undead monster, and I hope I delivered something suitable for his purposes. The tattrered shroud is the result of a funeral shroud collecting the negative energy that animates the body it covers as an undead creature. The shroud then goes about creating more versions of that undead creature from nearby victims. It uses a surprising amount of cunning and stealth to accomplish this task. The next time a character reaches for a cloak at the inn, or pulls up the blanket that seems unnaturally chilly, it might be too late as the shroud engulfs the PC.
I hope you enjoy the tattered shroud, and I'll be back next week with a new monster (hopefully, on the day for which this feature is named). Thanks for reading!

The illustration for the shroud can be found here.

This moth-eaten, black shroud floats serenely, but an aura of menace emanates from the piece of cloth.
Tattered Shroud CR 4
XP 1,200
NE Medium undead
Init +6; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Perception +1

AC 17, touch 17, flat-footed 10 (+6 Dex, +1 dodge)
hp 42 (5d8+20)
Fort +5, Ref +7, Will +5
DR 5/slashing; Immune undead traits

Speed fly 40 ft. (perfect)
Melee slam +9 (1d6-3 plus 2d6 negative energy damage and grab)
Special Attacks create spawn
Spell-Like Abilities (CL 5th; concentration +9)

Str 4, Dex 23, Con, Int 5, Wis 13, Cha 18
Base Atk +3; CMB +9 (+13 grapple); CMD 17
Feats Agile Maneuvers, Dodge, Weapon Finesse
Skills Disguise +10 (+18 to appear as a cloak or similar object), Fly +14, Stealth +11; Racial Modifiers +8 Disguise to appear as a cloak or similar object)

Special Abilities
Create Spawn (Su) A humanoid creature killed by tattered shroud becomes a free-willed ghoul in 1d4 rounds.
Grab (Ex) If a tattered shroud maintains a grapple against its opponent, it deals no physical damage, but it deals 2d6 negative damage to that opponent. Attacks that hit a grappling shroud deal half their damage to the shroud and half to the grappled victim.

A funerary shroud for a humanoid sometimes absorbs the negative energy surrounding the undead creature's spawning and gains an unlife of its own. The most typical example of a tattered shroud derives from a victim of ghoul fever, whom his or her family and friends bury before the victim rises as a ghoul. The shroud assumes its new existence an hour or so after the undead creature it covered. A newly created shroud seems to absorb all light around itself, generating an eerie gloom.

Driven to create more ghouls, a tattered shroud flies to the nearest population center to begin its depredations. While the creature has a dim intelligence, it is clever enough to suppress its darkness spell-like ability to ensure it does not give itself away. It finds a suitable location to carry out its ruse as a cloak, bedspread, or blanket, so it can take a lone victim completely unaware. The shroud envelops its victim and will not let go until its victim dies. If the victim manages to break free, the shroud usually retargets that opponent.

Ghouls too impatient to wait for their disease to fill their ranks employ known tattered shrouds to speed up the process. More powerful tattered shrouds originate from the creation of strong undead creatures, such as ghasts, vampires, and even the odd lich that has undertaken a burial service before arising.


Saturday, August 23, 2014

Frightful Fridays! (Saturnine Saturdays?) Giant Bola Beetle

Hello, and welcome back to a late edition of Frightful Fridays! I didn't catch a bad case of con crud, so I can't use that as an excuse. Instead my day job decided it would be nice to welcome me back from GenCon with an already huge assignment that gathered requirements as the week went along. It didn't stop me from putting out a monster this week, though. Admittedly, I went the vermin route, so nothing super fancy in terms of spell-like abilities and whatnot, but check out those bolas!

I hope you enjoy the giant bola beetle, and I'll be back on Friday with a new monster. Thanks for reading!

Four massive chitinous orbs sprout from the top of this enormous, dark brown beetle's carapace.
Giant Bola Beetle CR 6
XP 2,400
N Large vermin
Init +6; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Perception +7

AC 19, touch 15, flat-footed 13 (+6 Dex, +4 natural, –1 size)
hp 67 (9d8+27)
Fort +9, Ref +9, Will +2
Resist acid 10

Speed 40 ft., burrow 20 ft., climb 30 ft.
Melee bite +9 (1d4+4)
Ranged 4 bolas +12 (1d6+4 nonlethal/19–20 plus trip or entangle)
Space 10 ft.; Reach 5 ft.
Special Attacks concussive bolas, entangling bolas

Str 18, Dex 22, Con 17, Int —, Wis 9, Cha 7
Base Atk +6; CMB +11; CMD 27 (35 vs. trip)
Feats Improved Critical (bola)[B], Weapon Focus (bola)[B]
Skills Acrobatics +14, Climb +12, Perception +7, Stealth +2 (+10 in forests and swamps); Racial Modifiers +8 Acrobatics, +8 Perception, +8 Stealth in forests and swamps

Environment warm forests and swamps
Organization solitary, pair, or sling (3–8)
Treasure none

Special Abilities
Concussive Bolas (Ex) A giant bola beetle can fire concussive bolas up to a maximum of 30 feet. In addition to hitting an opponent for bludgeoning damage, a concussive bola can make a trip attempt that does not allow a trip attempt in return. Finally, if the beetle succeeds at a critical hit with a concussive bola, the target must attempt a DC 17 Fortitude save to avoid becoming stunned for 1d4 rounds. Success reduces this effect to dazed for 1 round. The save DC is Constitution-based.
Entangling Bolas (Ex) Instead of firing a concussive bola, a giant bola beetle can shoot a detachable bola with a range increment of 30 feet (maximum range of 90 feet). This bola deals half damage on a successful strike and makes a trip attempt (with a +4 racial bonus). Additionally, an opponent struck by an entangling bola must succeed at a DC 17 Reflex save; failure causes the opponent to become entangled, while success reduces the opponent's movement to half. A flying creature struck by an entangling bola that fails the Reflex save can no longer fly and falls to the ground. An entangled creature can break free by succeeding at a DC 17 Strength check or by dealing 6 points of damage to the entangling strands with a slashing weapon. If the beetle uses an entangling bola, it loses one of its bola attacks for 1d6 rounds while it regrows a new bola. The DCs above are Constitution-based.

Scourge of tropical jungles and marshes, a giant bola beetle has evolved an unusual hunting style to accompany the bola-like growths held in place by strands similar to a spider's web. It typically uses its bolas to strike at prey within reach to knock them out, after which it feeds on the still living prey. As the bola near-instantaneously returns to the beetle, it has a fair chance of tripping its target. For an escaping victim, the beetle detaches a "thrown" bola for greater range, allowing the sticky strands to immobilize the victim so the beetle can advance on it. The beetle regrows its bolas at a prodigious rate, but it shows surprising reluctance to use an entangling bola, especially against prey within range of its normal striking distance.

With a successful DC 20 Heal check, a character can harvest an intact bola from a giant bola beetle. Each bola acts similarly to Large bolas (using the beetle's damage dice instead) and can entangle an opponent once before its stickiness wears off.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Frightful Fridays! Phantom Ray

Hello and welcome once again to a new Frightful Fridays! I'm at GenCon as this gets posted, but I got this monster done early for publication. The phantom ray evolved considerably from what I envisioned when I first saw the image. So, what was once a bog standard ghostly monster with a weird poison became a weapon against outsiders, but one that really does not want that role. Its divine purpose or engineering attracts it to outsiders, but phantom rays choose only to observe and record the creatures' activity.

So, that is the phantom ray. I hope you enjoy it, and I'll be back next week with a new monster (even if I get con crud and I deliriously post another amphibian). Thanks for reading!

This ghostly sting ray's long tail whips around. Visible waves of eldritch energy emanate from the creature's body.

Phantom Ray CR 5
XP 1,600
N Small outsider (extraplanar, incorporeal)
Init +8; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Perception +12
Aura feedback aura (60 ft., DC 16)

AC 18, touch 18, flat-footed 14 (+3 deflection, +4 Dex, +1 size)
hp 51 (6d10+18)
Fort +8, Ref +9, Will +4
Defensive Abilities incorporeal

Speed fly 50 ft. (perfect)
Melee sting +11 (1d6+6 plus poison)

Str, Dex 19, Con 16, Int 13, Wis 15, Cha 16
Base Atk +6; CMB +9; CMD 22
Feats Alertness, Flyby Attack, Improved Initiative
Skills Fly +18, Intimidate +11, Knowledge (history) +17, Knowledge (local) +17, Knowledge (planes) +14, Linguistics +4, Perception +12, Sense Motive +12, Stealth +15; Racial Modifiers +8 Knowledge (history), +8 Knowledge (local), +8 Knowledge (planes)
Languages Abyssal, Aklo, Celestial, Common, Infernal

Environment any
Organization solitary, pair, or wake (3–12)
Treasure none

Special Abilities
Feedback Aura (Su) At the beginning of a phantom ray's turn, every summoned creature and extraplanar outsider within the radius of its feedback aura must succeed at a DC 16 Fortitude save or take 2d6 points of damage. Additionally, any creature within the aura benefitting from ongoing spells or effects must succeed at a Fortitude save (DC 16 + highest applicable spell level) or take damage equal to the highest applicable spell level.
Heartstopper Poison (Ex) Stinginjury; save Fort DC 16, frequency 1/round for 6 rounds, effect 1d3 Con and paralysis for 1 round, cure 2 consecutive saves. A phantom ray's heartstopper poison bypasses poison immunity or resistance possessed by outsiders and summoned creatures. The save DC is Constitution-based.

A phantom ray claims to merely observe important events as they unfold on the Material Plane, and that may be the case now. However, the creature's array of abilities suggest that it was intended to be a weapon against extraplanar creatures of some sortperhaps all outsiders, in order to prevent the Material Plane from becoming a massive battlefield. Strangely, the ray is an extraplanar outsider itself, deriving from an ancient aberration now adapted to the Ethereal Plane. A phantom ray will only attack to defend itself, but many creatures, especially outsiders, regard its inherent feedback aura as a preemptive attack.

Depending on the momentousness of an imminent extraplanar incursion, anywhere from one to a dozen phantom rays show up to observe it from a safe distance. Knowledgeable creatures realize that the appearance of phantom rays heralds the arrival of powerful angels, devils, demons, or other planar denizens. If the rays have any awareness of what is coming, they do not share that knowledge.


Friday, August 8, 2014

Frightful Fridays! Grenouille de la Pesanteur

Hello, and welcome back to a new Frightful Frogdays! I was all done with frogs, but my friend Jason presented me with a new one, and I just couldn't resist continuing the theme. This little guy is a gliding frog in the real world, but I thought it would be fun to make it an aberration with weird control over gravity, and it attacks its opponents with gravity (typically by picking them up into the air and then dropping them to their doom). It looks like he's really happy about the prospect.


I hope you enjoy this week's "gravity frog." GenCon is next week, but I plan to set out a monster in advance for next Friday. I should be done with frogs and toads for the foreseeable future. Thanks for reading!

The air shimmers beneath the wide, yellow-and-black webbed feet belonging to this frog-like creature.
Grenouille de la Pesanteur CR 9
XP 6,400
CN Small aberration
Init +12; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Perception +10

AC 23, touch 19, flat-footed 15 (+8 Dex, +4 natural, +1 size)
hp 119 (14d8+56); fast healing 2
Fort +10, Ref +12, Will +12
Immune cold; Resist acid 10, fire 10

Speed 30 ft., fly 30 ft. (clumsy)
Melee bite +19 (1d6+1), tongue +15 (grab)
Space 5 ft.; Reach 5 ft. (15 ft. with tongue)
Special Attacks grab (Medium)
Spell-Like Abilities (CL 14th; concentration +16)
3/dayreverse gravity

Str 12, Dex 27, Con 19, Int 7, Wis 16, Cha 14
Base Atk +10; CMB +17 (+21 grapple); CMD 28 (can't be tripped)
Feats Acrobatic, Agile Maneuvers, Flyby Attack, Great Fortitude, Improved Initiative, Weapon Finesse, Weapon Focus (tongue)
Skills Acrobatics +20, Escape Artist +16, Fly +15, Perception +12, Stealth +17
Languages Aklo (can't speak)
SQ no breath, strong legs

Environment any terrestrial
Organization solitary, pair, or pod (3–16)
Treasure none

Special Abilities
Strong Legs (Ex) A grenouille de la pesanteur's powerful legs allow it to jump while it levitates, giving it an equivalent fly speed of 30 feet.

A grenouille de la pesanteur looks like nothing more than a floating frog. However, it is a strange extraterrestrial creature with control over gravity. It hunts by triggering reverse gravity on its potential meal, rising with the victim for a few seconds, and then letting the fall do the work of killing its prey. For particularly stubborn prey, a grenouille uses its tongue to grab them and carry them off before dropping them to their deaths. The grenouille prefers the flesh of intelligent humanoids, but it can subsist on any meat. In sparsely populated areas, the primary indication of a grenouille hunting ground is blood-spattered rocks.

A grenouille de la pesanteur has an extremely long lifespan, which allows the creature to travel the byways between planets and solar systems. For as yet unexplained reasons, a pod of grenouille will levitate beyond the atmosphere and drift in space, where the lack of air and extreme cold cause the creatures no harm, until it reaches another planet with suitable gravity (around typical Earth gravity).


Friday, August 1, 2014

Frightful Fridays! Infamous Leaping Ooze of County Cavas-Cowan

Hello, and welcome back to a brand new installment of Frightful Fridays! Continuing with an evident amphibian trend (apart from last week's delightful kitten), I wanted an ooze that used a little shock and awe in its attacks. So, enter an insane wizard who hates halflings and wants something other than the ponderously slow ooze. Graft some frog DNA into the ooze, and it suddenly makes amazing leaps and engulfs those little bastards.

Hopefully, you have a lunatic wizard in your campaign who would dare to tamper with nature and create this thing, which will then surprise your players when it charges at one of their characters and ends its charge in an incredible leap. In the meantime, I'll be back next week with a new monster. Thanks for reading!


This blocky slime holds several bones and an oddly preserved frog within its mass.
Infamous Leaping Ooze of County Cavas-Cowan CR 6
XP 2,400
N Large ooze
Init 1; Senses Perception +8

AC 8, touch 8, flat-footed 8 (1 Dex, 1 size)
hp 101 (7d8+70)
Fort +12, Ref +1, Will +2
Immune acid, electricity, fire, ooze traits

Speed 30 ft.
Melee slam +12 (2d6+12 plus 1d6 acid)
Space 10 ft.; Reach 10 ft.
Special Attacks engulf (DC 21, 1d6 acid), leaping charge

Str 26, Dex 9, Con 30, Int 1, Wis 11, Cha 4
Base Atk +5; CMB +14 (+16 bull rush); CMD 23 (25 vs. bull rush, can't be tripped)
Feats Awesome Blow, Improved Bull Rush, Power Attack, Skill Focus (Stealth)
Skills Acrobatics +3 (+19 Acrobatics when jumping), Perception +8, Stealth +2
SQ animal intelligence

Environment any hills or plains
Organization solitary
Treasure incidental

Special Abilities
Animal Intelligence (Ex) An infamous leaping ooze has a basic animal intelligence, and it treats Acrobatics, Perception, and Stealth as class skills. It retains its immunity to mind-affecting effects.
Leaping Charge (Ex) An infamous leaping ooze benefits from jumping at its foes in a charge. It gains a +8 bonus on its Acrobatics check to jump when charging.

Named for the location of its first sighting, the Infamous Leaping Ooze of County Cavas-Cowan (referred to as the "leaping ooze" or "infamous leaping ooze" by most people) attacked a community of halflings. It killed several solitary halflings over the course of two weeks with no trace other than a puddle of acidic slime. When it attacked a pair of halflings (one of which fled the scene), the community finally knew what threatened it. With a concerted effort, the halflings finally eradicated the ooze, but others have appeared in various locations since then.

The leaping ooze is infused with frog genetics, as provided by the specially treated frog that remains relatively preserved from the ooze's acid. This infusion allows the ooze a small measure of awareness and cunning and prodigious jumping ability. Perhaps designed by a crazed wizard unhappy with an ooze's typically cumbersome movement and then unleashed upon the unsuspecting halflings at first, the ooze has appeared in other locations, indicating either the spread of its arcane design or a weird case of parallel design.

A leaping ooze usually attempts to engulf one opponent on an initial charge. Afterwards, it uses Awesome Blow to turn back rescuers before it leaps away with its new meal.


Friday, July 25, 2014

Euryale and the Deck of Destiny

Wheel of Fortune
Pompeii Mosaic from Naples National Archaeological Museum
I've been thinking about Euryale for a couple of weeks, but it was only last night while incubating upon my bed that the pieces came together for me.  In the ancient world, the decrees of Fate where absolute.  Even the head of the pantheon was subject to Fate's decree. Thus Fortuna or Fate's rule over the destinies of gods and men was absolute.  That Gygax (and Kunz?)'s inspiration for the Deck of Many Things comes from the Tarot as well as the general idea of a magic deck of cards is obvious. What then do we find when we look at the symbolism of the cards?  Archetypal human figures, heavenly bodies, two elements, two states (I note, aligned neutrally and chaotically), four objects, one location, and two with mythological personages.  The latter two cards are the Fates and Euryale.  The only specific individual, the only proper name among the cards, is Euryale.

Frightful Fridays! Kitteye Tyrant

Hello, and welcome back to a new Frightful Fridays! I had a marvelous vacation the past week, and it was a little tough to get back into things, so that might explain today's entry, whose illustration comes courtesy of my friend Flash. Rather than go with the obvious spider-kitten mashup, I decided to do an odd little (so to speak) take on the {redacted}. The next time your characters go up against a solitary sorcerer with the strange kitten familiar who can only muster a single magic missile, that pushover fight will become terrifying when the familiar starts flinging prismatic spray (in handy ray form) and other rays.

I hope you enjoy this adorable, tiny, not-so-defenseless kitty, and I'll be back next week with a new monster. Thanks for reading!

Aw! It's a cute little kitten. Wait...does it have a vertical mouth? Does it have more than two eyes? Must have been a trick of the light...
Kitteye Tyrant CR 12
XP 19,200
CE Tiny aberration
Init +14; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Perception +22

AC 27, touch 27, flat-footed 17 (+5 deflection, +10 Dex, +2 size)
hp 161 (17d8+85)
Fort +10, Ref +15, Will +12
Defensive Abilities spell absorption; Resist acid 20, cold 20, electricity 20, fire 20, sonic 10; SR 23
Weaknesses vulnerability to dispel magic and dead magic

Speed 20 ft., climb 10 ft.
Melee 2 claws +10 (1d2-4)
Ranged eye ray +23 (variable, see special ability below)
Space 2.5 ft.; Reach 0 ft.
Special Attacks eyes of su-maru
Spell-Like Abilities (CL 17th; concentration +21) 
 At will—dimension door 
 3/day—quickened dimension door

Str 2, Dex 31, Con 20, Int 21, Wis 15, Cha 18
Base Atk +12; CMB +20; CMD 31 (35 vs. trip)
Feats Acrobatic[B], Combat Casting, Dimensional Agility, Improved Initiative, Point-Blank Shot, Quicken Spell-Like Ability (dimension door), Skill Focus (Knowledge [arcana]), Skill Focus (Spellcraft), Spell Penetration, Weapon Focus (ray)
Skills Acrobatics +18, Climb +14, Disguise +21 (+29 to appear as an ordinary kitten), Escape Artist +30, Fly +22, Knowledge (arcana) +31, Knowledge (dungeoneering) +22, Knowledge (planes) +22, Linguistics +19, Perception +22, Spellcraft +31, Stealth +28; Racial Modifiers +8 Disguise to appear as an ordinary kitten
Languages Abyssal, Aklo, Aquan, Auran, Celestial, Common, Draconic, Dwarven, Elven, Giant, Gnoll, Gnome, Goblin, Halfling, Ignan, Infernal, Orc, Sphinx, Sylvan, Terran, Undercommon; telepathy 120 ft.

Special Abilities
Eyes of Su-Maru (Su) A kitteye tyrant possesses six eyes, each of which fires a unique ray; the kitteye tyrant can fire all six rays during its turn. If it succeeds at a ranged touch attack, it affects the target per one of the listed spells. Its "normal" eyes affect targets with either baleful polymorph or dominate person, while the other four eyes fire rays with effects similar to contagious flame (one ray to start, and four rays shoot from the original target), greater contagion, prismatic spray (one ray chosen randomly that affects one creature), and suffocation. If a kitteye tyrant uses rays other than those from its "normal" pair of eyes, it must make another Disguise check (at a –20 penalty) to continue its ruse as a typical kitten. If a spell effect allows a saving throw, it has a DC of 22, regardless of spell level. The save DC is Charisma-based.
Spell Absorption (Su) Any spell targeting a kitteye tyrant or including the creature in its area of effect that fails to overcome the kitteye tyrant's spell resistance heals the tyrant a number of hit points equal to the spell level.
Vulnerability to Dispel Magic and Dead Magic (Su) A kitteye tyrant targeted by dispel magic, greater dispel magic, or mage's disjunction must succeed at a Will save per the spell level and caster's spellcasting ability bonus (these spells automatically bypass the kitteye tyrant's spell resistance). If it fails the saving throw, it takes damage equal to the spell level, and it cannot use its spell-like abilities or rays for a number of rounds equal to the spell level. A kitteye tyrant starting its turn in an antimagic field must make a Will save to avoid the same effects. Finally, in a dead magic zone, a kitteye tyrant takes 1d6 points of Constitution damage every round it spends in that zone.

Kitteye tyrants are long-ago escapees from another realm that have made this plane their home. Remorseless killers, kitteye tyrants enjoy watching the disastrous effects caused by their eye rays, while taking on the guise of an unassuming kitten. They typically dominate novice wizards and assume the superficial role of familiar. As long as they keep a low enough profile, blame for any destruction falls on the wizard puppets, necessitating a change in "owner" for the kitteye tyrants. While kitteye tyrants carry out their deceptions, they eschew the use of their innate fly ability, since that would be a dead giveaway. When kitteye tyrants let loose, though, they target obvious spellcasters, since those casters may have dispel magic or similar spells at their disposal. They are not especially brave combatants in the face of stiff competition, so they make copious use of quickened dimension door and Stealth to make their escapes. Those who manage to drive away kitteye tyrants face the possibility of eventual retribution. Confident in their superiority over all creatures, kitteye tyrants only fear the arrival of powerful denizens from its former home. If a kitteye tyrant has foreknowledge of such an event, it will seek out adventurers (perhaps those it has previously vexed) for protection, usually presenting the event as one of apocalyptic proportions.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Elements & Alignments brought to bear: The Rod of Law

Ephesians 2 
And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. (KJV)
or a queen?
A prince?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Classical Elements, Alignment, and World-Building

The Four Symbols for the Elements are shown below the Alchemical Figures above, from Johann Daniel Mylius’ Philosophia reformata (1622).
The classical systems of elements popular in the great civilizations are usually known to gamers in quaternity: fire, air, water, and earth.  These four are also popular in the contemporary imagination thanks to the Avatar cartoons.  Adopting conceptions of these has seemed a natural (haha!) move for cosmological mythopoesis.  If you are working on the big picture for a game setting, you can immediately start thinking of these in terms of alignment.  I like doing so using the axis of Chaotic to Lawful.  Keep in mind that I am not being absolutist here and saying that all comprised of these elements are Chaotic or Lawful, but that the preponderance of an element seems to tend in a particular direction.  Asking myself what would be the archetypal nature of each element in terms of alignment, I find myself with the table below:

Four ElementsAlignment

This is telling for me in two ways: first, the physical world is more aligned with Chaos than it is with Law.  Moreover, the element closest to humanity (humus-human or earth-men) is Law.  Hence, humans, (and for that matter, dwarves) are usually tied more closely to Law in RPG materials because they are tied to, and perhaps even primarily composed of, earth.  "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul" (Genesis 2:7).  If they are primarily of the element which stands in contrast to the rest of the elements alignment-wise, this is a source of conflict.  There is a problem, however, when it comes to these four elements being enough to comprise the cosmos.  Air-atmosphere is one thing, but what about those heavenly or spiritual substances that are not material or physical?  Those that are literally no-thing?  If the atmosphere and its winds are chaotic, are not the heavenly orderly?  Don't the heavenly bodies provide the regular movements by which we may measure the terrestrial bodies below?  Is not the King of Heaven a deity of Law, the Law-giver himself?

These considerations bring us to face-to-face with the fact that many, if not most, many versions of the classical elements total five rather than four.  Consider the refinement below, which will use the letter Q to stand for the fifth, derived from Aristotle's quintessence.  

Five-Element System
Q Lawful
FIRE Chaotic

This schema might seem like just a Western variant, or perhaps even too Christian, but comparison to Indian, Japanese, and Tibetan systems reveal that it is not uniquely Aristotlean or Judeo-Christian.  (NB. I find the sections on Buddhism and China most inadequate and even confused/confusing and advise you to look further afield rather than make too many assumptions based on that portion of the Wikipedia entry.)  The system of five elements is dealing with questions and problems of thought that the fourfold system was insufficient to deal with.  Air needed to be split up to account for the kinds of questions above and beliefs about the realm above the dome of the sky.  You may call Q as best fits with your mythopoesis, but note the terms used for it in the past: Void, Heaven, Space, Aether, Spirit.  As we have moved from ancient Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, we found a need to distinguish what was once a single word: wind/breath/spirit.  While the winds of the air blow where they will, the heavenly spirits proceed in the stately movement of their spheres -- precise and predictable. And note that, even in the world of Avatar, the story can't leave well enough (supposedly, four) alone.  The avatar (incarnate in a particular element-bender) can achieve an Avatar-state, and in addition to the standard four there is energy bending.
Image Source
A five-element cosmology still provides for plenty of conflict (three-fifths of the categories of all things are fundamentally against us?!) and for the idea that there is some connection between a transcendent Law and its reflection on earth.  For those who do not divide the elements into five but retained the four-element system, I would recognize the "split" within Air by saying that the element is Neutral.

Next time: Using this general conception of world building with gaming particulars.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Frightful Fridays! Adaptoad

Hello, and welcome back to Frightful Fridays! I'm sticking with the frog/toad theme this week, thanks to Sarah Counts who pointed me toward this picture. I almost went with a surprise blinding attack, but then I remembered the blindheim, and I didn't want to duplicate its schtick. Instead, I thought it would be fun for this toad to spit out its eyeballs as exploding balls of energy as far as its blindsight can reach. Ribboom!
This is another shortish entry, since I'm traveling soon and I will actually be in Key West for a friend's wedding when this posts. I wanted to keep the weekly momentum going with this feature, though. Anyway, I hope you like the adaptoad, and I'll see you next week with a new monster. Thanks for reading!

This real-live mutant can be found here.

This eyeless toad seems to find its way around in spite of its missing organs; the creature opens its mouth to reveal two glowing orbs.
Adaptoad CR 8
XP 4,800
N Small magical beast
Init +7; Senses blindsight 60 ft.; Perception +3

AC 21, touch 15, flat-footed 17 (+3 Dex, +1 dodge, +6 natural, +1 size)
hp 95 (10d10+40); fast healing 3
Fort +11, Ref +10, Will +8
Defensive Abilities evasion; Resist variable resistance

Speed 50 ft., swim 30 ft.
Melee bite +12 (1d8+1)
Special Attacks explosive eyeballs

Str 13, Dex 17, Con 18, Int 7, Wis 16, Cha 10
Base Atk +10; CMB +10; CMD 24
Feats Dodge, Improved Initiative, Iron Will, Skill Focus (Acrobatics), Wind Stance
Skills Acrobatics +22, Swim +9

Special Abilities
Explosive Eyeball (Su) An adaptoad begins combat with two marble-like eyeballs in its mouth. As a standard action it can spit one or both eyeballs out to a range of 60 feet. Each eyeball explodes in a 20-foot radius, dealing 5d6 damage of a chosen energy type—acid, cold, electricity, or fire—to all creatures caught in the explosion (DC 19 Reflex for half). If the frog spits both eyeballs simultaneously, it can choose to deal 5d6 sonic or force damage instead (the Reflex save DC is unchanged). An adaptoad requires 1d6 rounds to replace an eyeball. The save DCs are Constitution-based.
Variable Resistance (Su) For each eyeball currently in an adaptoad's mouth, it has energy resistance 10 against the type of energy damage the eyeball deals. If the adaptoad has two of the same type of eyeball, its energy resistance increases to 20.

Thanks to their amphibian genetics, toad familiars are likely to absorb the magic abilities of their wizard or witch masters. An adaptoad is an extreme example of such a creature, exchanging physical sight for the ability to grow eyeballs in its mouth that it can spit at opponents to deal elemental damage. Its eyeballs also grant a measure of protection against the energy represented by each eyeball. An adaptoad can sense the effectiveness of each explosion and switch to a different energy type if necessary. As it waits for eyeballs to regrow, it hops around in a haphazard fashion in an attempt to avoid retaliation.

If an adaptoad has any eyeballs remaining in its mouth when it dies, each eyeball can be used like a bead from a necklace of fireballs (5d6 points of fire damage), regardless of the energy type chosen by the adaptoad.


Saturday, July 12, 2014

Impressions of PaizoCon 2014

On Thursday, July 3rd, I ventured up the West Coast of the United States to attend my fourth PaizoCon in Seattle, Washington. My friend Theodric has invited me to share my experiences and thoughts about the events and announcements from the convention, which is dedicated to fans of Paizo Publishing, maker of Pathfinder, the current best-selling tabletop roleplaying game in the world, and the Pathfinder Campaign Setting supported by the game rules.

Being a freelance writer for Paizo and other third party publishers and the assistant editor-in-chief for Wayfinder magazine, I’d have a hard time convincing anyone that I’m not a huge fan of Paizo. Fortunately, I’m not ashamed to admit my fan status. That doesn’t mean that I think everything Paizo does is perfect, but in general I like the way they do things and hope to be a part of their creations, both as a writer and a customer, for a long time.

Theo is giving me the opportunity here to share my thoughts and experiences with you, especially for those who weren’t able to make it PaizoCon 2014. I thought it would be good to talk about the con in general and then give my own impressions of the announcements that were made during the PaizoCon Preview Banquet.

For me, PaizoCon 2014 was really more about people, this year. As I said, I’ve been to four of these conventions, and each one was a little different. For the first two I was more focused on learning how to navigate a convention, soaking up lessons about writing and getting published, and getting information about all the cool stuff that would be coming out in the following year. I was also still awestruck by the ability to hang out and talk with Paizo people and folks from other publishers. I didn’t know many people by face or even name, in some cases. It was all new to me.

Last year, I had already worked on a few paid writing projects, but the convention was in a new place (the Seattle Airport Marriott), and it had a bit of an unfamiliar feel. I was still learning who folks were, but events like the Meet & Eat—an amazing event coordinated by “Big Kyle” Elliott, Paizo’s Volunteer of the Year for 2013—and the games I ran to showcase products from Clockwork Gnome Publishing gave me the chance to interact with people in a new way.

PaizoCon 2014, however, felt different. I didn’t attend as many seminars, although I participated in the Wayfinder seminar as a panelist. I ran a couple of scenarios from Wayfinder #9 and #10, to show off the support the fanzine offers for the Pathfinder Beginner Box rules. I attended the preview banquet, of course—more on that later—but this con was really more about seeing people I’d met in 2013 and hanging out with people I was really getting to know for the first time. I replaced seminars and frantic note-scribbling with casual conversations over drinks in the hotel lounge or at AFK Elixirs & Eatery.

On Thursday evening, the Wayfinder staff held a small gathering at the Claim Jumper restaurant with our contributing writers, artists, and volunteer editors who attended the convention. I had a great meal, sitting between Tim Nightengale and Clinton Boomer and across from Neil Spicer. We are so lucky to have such talented and fun people contributing to the magazine. Boomer is every bit as…unpredictable…as his reputation would indicate, and it was a pleasure to talk to him. Neil Spicer is an utter gentleman and just enjoyable to be around.

Our evening continued with a brief stop at the AFK for the 2014 Meet & Eat gathering, but the place was incredibly busy and people were so scattered around the restaurant that it didn’t have the intimate feel of previous events. Still, it was fun hanging out with my Wayfinder friends. We called it an evening fairly early and headed back to the hotel to rest and get ready for registration in the morning. The next few days were a whirlwind of seminars, chats with Wes Schneider, Venus de Coy (aka Lady Ophelia), Dawn Fischer, Mark Moreland, Owen Stephens, James Jacobs, and Rob McCreary. I entered the preview banquet without any dinner companions, but managed to find a single seat next to Wayfinder contributors and volunteer editors Kalyna Conrad and Eric Hindley. Our “Paizo person” at the table was none other than James Sutter, Paizo’s Fiction Editor. Also at the table were Wolfgang and Shelly Baur, who are absolutely wonderful people, and my good friend Darran Caldemeyer, a talented artist who has contributed work to Wayfinder, and credits in products from Adventure-a-Week and other third party publishers.

But you probably want to know what Paizo had to tell us about the coming year for Pathfinder. Well, I listened carefully and posted announcements on my Facebook page even as the Paizo presenters were making them. Here’s what I learned…

Most everyone knows that the Advanced Class Guide is coming out in August. The book takes a look at some classes that are actually hybrids of classes that already exist. The warpriest is a fighter/cleric, the arcanist is a sorcerer/wizard, and the shaman is a witch/oracle. I think the best term that I’ve heard anyone use to describe these classes is that they really are “metal.” As Jason Bulmahn put it, "The bloodrager [the barbarian/sorcerer hybrid] deserves to be painted on the side of a van."

In the late October, Paizo will release the Monster Codex. Paizo hinted at this book last year, and I wasn’t really sure what to make of it then, but the images they showed, along with the descriptions they gave, brought things into clearer focus. This book takes a look at “20 of the game’s most iconic monsters, including the boggard, bugbear, drow, duergar, fire giant, frost giant, ghoul, gnoll, goblin, hobgoblin, kobold, lizardfolk, ogre, orc, ratfolk, sahuagin, serpentfolk, troglodyte, troll, and vampire.” It discusses ecology, society, abilities, and other aspects of the each creature’s role in the game, and then provides 8 or 10 pages of stat blocks for different types of NPC/monster characters you can use in your own games. The images of the king and queen of the fire giants were truly impressive.

Another book that Paizo mentioned during the 2013 preview banquet was the Strategy Guide. As with the Monster Codex, there was much speculation about what the Strategy Guide was going to be. In 2014, we learned that this book is designed to help the new player at your table. It is laid out in a fashion similar to the Beginner Box and was described as a “Guidebook to the Core Rulebook,” helping new players create their characters and get started with playing by the core rules without having to have someone sit next to them and look over their shoulder. I still recommend the “friendly advice” approach, but I’ll definitely be picking up one of these books for suggestions on how to provide that advice.

After reviewing the books we already knew were coming out, Jason Bulmahn revealed the next new rule book, Pathfinder Unchained. As Jason described it, this 256-page book is where the design team gets to say, "What would we do with the game if we could do whatever we want, backwards compatibility be damned." The product page tells you most of what Paizo revealed that night. The book will contained redesigned versions of different classes (monk, rogue, barbarian, and summoner) and rule subsets that offer a playground full of optional rules for magic items, monsters, classes, and other aspects of the rules. I think this will be an interesting book, hearkening back to the old Unearthed Arcana from the days of AD&D. Some are speculating that this book might be a way to gauge the community’s appetite for a new version of Pathfinder. While I won’t say that’s impossible, I think it’s unlikely for the time being. The amount of material Paizo is still producing with the current version, and the fact that the Strategy Guide is specifically designed to help new players learn this version, tells me that they think the game still has staying power. I firmly believe that there will be a new version of Pathfinder someday, but I don’t think it will be in the near future. Of course, I have no special insight into the company’s decision-making, and I’ve been wrong before.

After Jason finished his presentation, Mike Selinker, creator of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, gave us the news about the future of that product. As most everyone knows, now, the next base set is Skull & Shackles. Based on the popular, pirate-themed adventure path, the new set has lots of cool elements that make pirates fun to play. This release will introduce “ship cards,” which are a new element of the game called "support cards." Ship cards allow you to do new things in the game, but come with the drawback that they must be defended and maintained. A hole in your ship will cost you rounds of actions to repair it. And, of course, the set will also include guns…with all of their instability.

Mike also told us that Paizo will be continuing its partnership with Ultra-Pro to produce more accessories for the game, like play mats, plus character play mats and card sleeves. I got an opportunity to see the play mat and other products in the Paizo store at the convention, and they are very nice.

Mike’s last big announcement was that the third base set to be released will be based on the Wrath of the Righteous adventure path. This set, which is still in development…it hasn’t even entered playtesting…will introduce something called a “Mythic card.” I am more curious about this set than I am about Skull & Shackles. I purchased all of the expansions for the Rise of the Runelords set, but haven’t played all the way through it, yet. Perhaps I will finish it by the time they release the Wrath set.

Mike stepped aside to allow one of the other Pathfinder Adventure Card Game folks to tell us about the other new thing for the game: the Pathfinder Society Adventure Card Guild. The guild is an organized play system for the adventure card game. As described in Paizo’s news release, the guild involves a class deck, required for play. New scenarios will be released to game stores each week, specifically for the organized play at local venues, then authorized for purchase/home play about a month later. I think this is a new and interesting way to introduce the Pathfinder setting and its stories to players who may not be as interested in Pathfinder Society or the tabletop RPG, in general  (although rewards may be available that apply to your Pathfinder Society Organize Play characters). I also like the fact that this is not based on randomized card decks that would drive a frenzied secondary market for rare and powerful cards. The guild debuts at GenCon this year, and I hope it is fun and successful.

After the PACG presentation, Erik Mona resumed his place on the stage and gave us a glimpse at the next Pathfinder Adventure Path, Iron Gods. Beginning with Neil Spicer’s adventure, “Fires of Creation,” the adventure path takes player characters into Numeria, the Land of Fallen Stars, where a massive alien ship crashed long ago, leaving remnants of a technologically advanced civilization scattered across a rough and wild wasteland. This location in the Pathfinder setting has its fair share of both adherents and detractors. The cries of mixing fantasy peanut butter and sci-fi chocolate (or vice versa) are fairly common. I am not in the camp that has a huge problem with this. In my mind, while Numeria is certainly a nod to Thundarr the Barbarian and heavy metal-inspired settings, I also think that there is a bit of influence from sources like Borrough’s John Carter and Moorcock’s Michael Kane of Mars and anyone who has read Hugh Cook’s The Walrus and the Warwolf will find some wonderful similarities. I’m very much looking forward to see what happens when James Jacobs finally gets to indulge his craving for “Laser Guns!” in an adventure path. And for those of you who are still concerned about the sci-fi elements, Erik and James have both assured us that there are enough fantasy elements here to let you love it, too.

Erik went on to introduce the title of the next adventure path: Giantslayer. However, aside from the fact that it will be set in the Hold of Belkzen, stronghold of Golarion’s orcs, and it does, in fact, involve killing giants, we didn’t get much information about the story, itself. As a result, the announcement fell kind of flat with me. Initially, I thought the problem was that they didn’t share as much about this adventure path as they did for APs at previous banquets. On further consideration, I’ve concluded that they shared about the same amount of information, but the title and subject matter of stories like Skull & Shackles and Wrath of the Righteous were much clearer. They didn’t need much explanation for me to form ideas and get excited. For Giantslayer, I need to know more about the premise before I can say whether or not this adventure path will be another hit for Paizo.

The banquet announcements wrapped up with comments about additional products, like an expansion for the Munchkin Pathfinder set and a nice Sihedron Medallion accessory produced by Campaign Coins. They also talked briefly about Syrinscape’s officially licensed sound sets for the Rise of the Runelords adventure path. Syrinscape is an audio application that generates sound effects and music for use in roleplaying games. There are versions available for computers and tablets and there are dozens of soundsets available. I had already purchased the Rise of the Runelords set and used it in home games. If you haven’t tried it you should definitely check it out.

Erik Mona talked about a few other Pathfinder-licensed  products, as well. Things like Pathfinder Minimates will be coming out in October 2014, with a promotional set to be released at this year’s GencCon and available for purchase on the store after GenCon. These toys don’t really excite me, but if it’s a way for more people to identify with the brand, and doesn’t draw the company’s attention away from telling great stories, I think they’re a decent idea.

And lastly, Erik announced the new Pathfinder Battles miniatures set: The Lost Coast, which refers to the last of western Varisia, “stretching from the city of Magnimar to the Fogscar Mountains.” This set is filled with straight-up fantasy goodness. Minis will include the giant frilled lizard and a large green dragon, as well as familiar NPCs, like Justice Ironbriar and Lord Mayor Grobaras. We got a glimpse of a new ogre character, Malagus Creed, as well as a new troll figure which corrects a discrepancy in the size and description of trolls from the first Pathfinder Battles set. While I’m not buying the Pathfinder Battles Minis the way I used to, I have to say that I’m incredibly excited about the giant case incentive mini that Paizo will be offering…the shemhazian's MASSIVE! Erik described the shemhazian demon as the biggest figure they’ve ever had done, and given the fact that the Bestiary 2 describes these as gargantuan creatures, I’m looking forward to seeing how this beast turns out.

After the product announcements ended, Pathfinder Society Organized Play Coordinator Mike Brock took the stage to announce that the Pathfinder Society is recognizing Rob Silk and Dave Harrison as co-recipients of the 2014 Volunteer of the Year award. They received amazing praise for their work in Pathfinder Society and founding of PaizoCon UK.

By the time the presentations drew to a close and preparations for the annual trivia contest began, the excitement in the room was present, but subdued. The evening had been pleasant, as was the convention overall, but the people I was with were the real highlights. The announcements from Paizo were entertaining, and I look forward to getting my hands on the upcoming products the conversations and laughs I had with the folks at my table were what made the evening great. Similarly, the time I spent with the Paizo fan community and the people who make the company run were what really made the whole convention special. I’m looking forward to PaizoCon 2015—a 4-day event on Memorial Day weekend. Who knows? Maybe I’ll see some of you there. If you see me, please say hello and help me make more memories of another awesome convention.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Frightful Fridays! Riding Frog

Hello and welcome back to a new Frightful Fridays! I needed a bit of a change from last week's horror, and, as I was collecting all the inspiring illustrations friends have passed on to me over the years (leaving them randomly in my inbox was not the best way to organize them, go figure), I came across a request from Jason Mitchell for a riding frog. Figuring them to be fey creations, I went about designing a monster with a gore attack that does not require a rider, per se, but fares much better with a rider. Feeling that this entry was a bit scant, I added a level-appropriate rider in the nixie, Nigel, Defender of the Pond.
I hope you enjoy the riding frog (and Nigel), and I'll be back with a new monster next week. I might stick with the frog theme, as I got a delightful beastie in my inbox today. Thanks for reading!

This frog can be found here.

A shifting pattern of blue, purple, and green dances across this massive frog's skin; the light green horn looks like it could easily skewer an opponent.
Riding Frog CR 3
XP 800
N Medium magical beast
Init +3; Senses darkvision 60 ft., low-light vision; Perception +7

AC 16, touch 14, flat-footed 12 (+3 Dex, +1 dodge, +2 natural)
hp 30 (4d10+8)
Fort +6, Ref +7, Will +2
Defensive Abilities devotion; Resist acid 5
Weakness riderless despondence

Speed 50 ft.
Melee bite +7 (1d4+3), gore +7 (1d6+3)
Spell-Like Abilities (CL 4th; concentration +4)
3/day—daze (DC 10)

Str 16, Dex 17, Con 15, Int 2, Wis 13, Cha 10
Base Atk +4; CMB +7; CMD 21 (25 vs. trip)
Feats Dodge, Mobility, Spring Attack[B]
Skills Acrobatics +7 (+23 when jumping), Perception +7; Racial Modifiers +8 when jumping

Environment temperate forests
Organization solitary, pair, team (1 riding frog and rider), or squad (3–12 riding frogs and riders)
Treasure none

Special Abilities
Devotion (Su) A riding frog gains a +4 morale bonus on Will saves while carrying a rider.
Riderless Despondence (Su) A riding frog loses the use of Spring Attack and gains the shaken condition while it has no rider.

Bred by fey lords to not only accept a rider, but also be dependent on the rider, riding frogs make up the bulk of the mounts for a fey cavalry. A riding frog can carry a Tiny or Small rider without problem, and its horns usually combined with its rider's ranged attacks make them a formidable pair of adversaries. When a riding frog loses its rider, it becomes lethargic. Those who have studied these frogs are unsure whether the fey lords intentionally bred this behavior into the frogs as a means of keeping them docile without riders, or whether this was a peculiar side effect of the breeding process.

While a riding frog, as a magical beast, may not be taken as an animal companion, an appropriately sized cavalier can take one as a mount.


Sir Nigel, Defender of the Pond CR 4
XP 1,200
Nixie cavalier 4
N Small fey (aquatic)
Init +3; Senses low-light vision; Perception +10

AC 17, touch 14, flat-footed 14 (+3 armor, +3 Dex, +1 size)
hp 39 (4d10+2d6+10)
Fort +5, Ref +7, Will +6
DR 5/cold iron; SR 12

Speed 20 ft., swim 30 ft.
Melee lance +4 (1d6-2/×3) or shortsword +9 (1d4-2/19-20)
Ranged +1 light crossbow +10 (1d6+1/19-20)
Special Attacks cavalier's charge, challenge
Spell-Like Abilities (CL 6th; concentration +10)
3/day—charm person (DC 15)
1/day—water breathing

Str 7, Dex 16, Con 13, Int 12, Wis 14, Cha 18
Base Atk +5; CMB +2; CMD 15
Feats Escape Route, Mounted Archery, Mounted Combat, Weapon Finesse
Skills Bluff +9, Craft (bows) +3, Escape Artist +11, Handle Animal +13, Knowledge (nobility) +5, Perception +10, Perform (sing) +10, Ride +11, Sense Motive +6, Stealth +11, Swim +9
Languages Aquan, Sylvan
SQ amphibious, expert trainer, lion's call, order (order of the lion), tactician, wild empathy +12
Combat Gear blue whinnis (1 dose); Other Gear studded leather, +1 light crossbow, arrows (20), lance, shortsword, 4 gp

Special Abilities
Wild Empathy (Ex) This ability works like the druid ability of the same name. The nixie's total includes a +8 racial bonus on wild empathy checks.

Sir Nigel, a decorated veteran of the Pond Wars, during which he and his trusty riding frog, Kreeegan, turned back a dozen boggards attempting to take over their pond. As his fame grew, other nixies have taken up his cause to preserve the pond for their sovereign lord, and they have begun working with riding frogs of their own.