Monday, December 31, 2012

Raiders of the Dead Sea Scrolls!

Dr. Jones & the Case of the Fishian Tablets

Before the Christmas holidays, I got in town just in time to see the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit in Fort Worth.  Last year, Google announced their sponsorship of the project to digitize the scrolls.  Consequently, the most important site for study of the scrolls now is the Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library.  Instead of succumbing to the easy out of making directly for the Wikipedia article, I invite you to check out some of the links below to learn more.

Naturally, the trip excited not so much any temptation I entertained as a young man to devote myself to textual criticism (God bless those so committed, who preserved me from such an occupation that would have strained my eyes and likely driven me insane), but the ol’ mythopoeic mind.  These old scrolls, fragile and some incredibly difficult to read, are worth an incredible amount of money even in fragmentary condition.  So, take away #1: scrolls are treasure.  Sound familiar, gamers?  Spell-casting classes certainly value scrolls for their ability to replicate spell-casting and as supplements to the power of such classed characters.

DSS scholarship is, among other things, one of the most massive efforts in human history to reconstruct the texts that were represented in the scrolls.  Technology has gone a long way to extend naked human powers in recovering texts that would have otherwise been unrecoverable.  What would things be like in another world, one in which these were magical texts and the reader had the ability to cast Read Magic?  I like the idea of ancient scrolls that were in such a condition that only by casting Read Magic could the spells on them be accessed.  I like to imagine illegible characters on a darkened parchment clearly shining with arcane power and lacunae caused by insects or environment being filled-in by ghostly runes.  Take away #2: Read Magic could be cool in-game.

Biblical texts, compendiums and commentaries on biblical texts, and other texts which governed the DSS community make up the majority of the scrolls.  But a stand-out among them is the Copper Scroll.* That’s right, not a scroll of parchment (animal hide) or papyrus (the ANE forerunner of paper)—or other likely candidates as needed according to milieu such as rice paper, stone, or clay—but of copper.  And unlike the other texts, the Copper Scroll is essentially a verbal treasure map for multiple locations.  Take away #3: Get creative with the materials of special scrolls.  And take-away #4: Yes, sometimes scrolls can be treasure maps or media to provide other sorts of clues or information that PCs need.  (In addition to the image above, check out this portion of the scroll before cleaning.)

As always, I advocate learning more about our own world to inform our construction of other worlds.  A cache of texts could make an entire treasure horde.  And if Doctor Who and Avatar the Last Airbender are heeded, a library can make a great adventure setting.  I once GMed an adventure in which an ancient culture put all of their secrets in symbolic knot-work (inspired by Incan Quipu) that were preserved on frames in their treasure vault, protected by a dungeon complex.  What creative uses have you made or seen of texts as treasure?

Happy last Mythopoeic Monday of 2012, and to all Ramblers and readers, a very Happy New Year!

*And yes, Jim Barfield sounds kind of crazy to me.  Have fun!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Frightful Fridays! Mashup Spectacular

Happy (and Frightful) Holidays to you! As promised, I've got two mashups to present this week, the xenomorphosaurus rex (as named by Theodric himself) and the squiger. They exist on opposite ends of the challenge rating spectrum, but don't be fooled by the squiger--it can be pretty ferocious in its own right.At any rate, I hope you enjoy both of them.

I'm travelling next week, so the last Frightful Fridays! of 2012 might be delayed by a day. Thanks as always for reading!

Original found here

What at first appears to be a typical tyrannosaurus soon takes on a horrifying aspect with spiky protrusions all along its body, and a maw that opens up to reveal a smaller, toothy mouth within.
Xenomorphosaurus Rex CR 18
XP 153,600
NE Gargantuan aberration
Init +10; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Perception +41

AC 32, touch 12, flat-footed 26 (+6 Dex, +20 natural, –4 size)
hp 350 (28d8+224); regeneration 20 (fire)
Fort +17, Ref +17, Will +20
Defensive Abilities improved evasion; Immune acid, cold, poison; Resist electricity 20, sonic 20

Speed 50 ft.
Melee bite +31 (6d6+28/19–20 plus 4d8 acid and grab), tail slap +26 (4d6+7 plus trip)
Space 20 ft.; Reach 20 ft.
Special Attacks acid blood, lingering acid, powerful bite, swallow whole (4d6 bludgeoning plus 4d8 acid damage, AC 20, 35 hp)

Str 38, Dex 23, Con 26, Int 11, Wis 18, Cha 9
Base Atk +21; CMB +39 (+43 grapple); CMD 55
Feats Bleeding Critical, Critical Focus, Critical Mastery(B), Diehard, Endurance, Improved Bull Rush, Improved Critical (bite), Improved Initiative, Lightning Reflexes, Lunge, Power Attack, Run, Skill Focus (Intimidate), Skill Focus (Perception), Stunning Critical
Skills Climb +45, Intimidate +44, Perception +41, Stealth +25; Racial Modifiers +8 Intimidate

Environment any land
Organization solitary, pair, or troop (3–8)
Treasure standard

Special Abilities
Acid Blood (Ex) If a slashing weapon deals damage to a xenomorphosaurus rex, the creature sprays acid from the wound towards its attacker up to a range of 60 feet. The acid deals 2d8 damage, which a successful DC 38 Reflex save negates. The save DC is Strength-based.
Lingering Acid (Ex) If a xenomorphosaurus rex deals acid damage (through acid blood, its bite attack, or to a swallowed victim who has escaped), the acid remains on its victim for one more round, dealing 1d8 damage at the beginning of the xenomorphosaurus rex’s next turn, unless the acid is completely washed off.
Powerful Bite (Ex) A xenomorphosaurus rex’s adds twice its Strength modifier to its bite damage.

A xenomorphosaurus rex is terror incarnate—the most terrible of dinosaurs mixed with xenomorph DNA. Fortunately, very few of the creatures exist, but when more than one gathers, devastation on a large scale follows. A xenomorphosaurus rex is slightly smaller than its tyrannosaur forebear, weighing 13,000 pounds and measuring 35 feet long.

Remarkably stealthy for its size and possessing great cunning, a xenomorphosaurus rex draws intelligent prey into its lair with an obvious display of treasure. It then plays a sadistic game of cat and mouse with any adventurers who investigate the lair. It attempts to quietly pick off a straggler at the outset, and then escalates its attacks to cause its victims to panic, as if the creature savors the taste of terrified prey. Fortunately, the xenomorphosaurus rex is the only known hybrid creature of its kind, and a certain elephantine race has taken interest in its appearance, virtually guaranteeing its eventual extinction.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Squiger CR 2
XP 600
N Small magical beast
Init +7; Senses darkvision 60 ft., low-light vision; Perception +10

AC 14, touch 14, flat-footed 11 (+3 Dex, +1 size)
hp 19 (3d10+3)
Fort +4, Ref +6, Will +3

Speed 40 ft., climb 20 ft.
Melee bite +5 (1d4+1), 2 claws +5 (1d3+1)
Special Attacks grab (Medium), pounce, rake (2 claws +5, 1d3+1)

Str 12, Dex 17, Con 13, Int 3, Wis 14, Cha 10
Base Atk +3; CMB +5 (+9 grapple); CMD 16 (20 vs. trip)
Feats Agile Maneuvers, Improved Initiative
Skills Climb +13, Perception +10, Stealth +11; Racial Modifiers +4 Perception

Environment temperate or warm forests
Organization solitary, pair, or scurry
Treasure incidental

A squiger seems at first to be another weird wizard-created crossbreed, but it is in fact a naturally occurring creature, insofar as a magic-rich world can be natural. A squiger is bigger than its squirrel counterpart—about as large as a housecat. Its oversized head features a tiger’s long incisors and, it has sharp, retractable claws.

A squiger has a squirrel’s curiosity and inclination to get into places it should not, but it backs that up with a ferocity that would deter most commoners who might try to shoo the creature away. A squiger is a terrific climber that lairs in the bole of a large tree where it stores nuts, dead birds and rodents, and shiny items such as coins and gems.

Rumors persist of a dire squiger, which is the size of a normal tiger and has saber-like teeth. None have actually been sighted, however.

A spellcaster can choose a squiger as a familiar. The spellcaster must have a neutral component to her alignment along at least one axis, must be at least caster level 7th, and must have the Improved Familiar feat.

Looking for Lilith

Folks may remember my interest in Lilith.  (See here, here, and here.)  I love George MacDonald's novel named after her.  I remember seeing a Lilith collection at Lucky Dog Books (back when they were Paperbacks Plus) a couple of years back, and when I went back for it, it was gone.  Wondering what I missed, I went looking for the book online, and found Elaine Cunningham's Lilith Unbound.  I thought that must have been the book, but when I saw it was published in 2011, I figured that it is unlikely that this was only a year ago and that it must have been at least two.  So, anybody have any ideas what I was looking at?  Or want to recommend anything else in the Lilith category?

It's so nice to have moments to relax and even blog a little note.  I hope everyone else is soon in this place.  If it were not for the holidays, I'm not sure how those of us in academia would keep going.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Frightful Fridays! Goliath Etherfish

It's Friday, so that means another Frightful creature for your enjoyment! Thanks again to Flash, I'm back to nature--this time he provided a picture of the goliath tigerfish, which eats smaller crocodiles and attacks the rare human. I figured I'd turn things up just a little by creating a larger version that attacks from the Ethereal Plane. Hopefully, characters will be truly horrified when a 15-foot-long fish with foot-long teeth materializes from out of nowhere and attacks.

I hope you enjoy this installment of Frightful Fridays! Next week I hope to provide you with an early Christmas gift in the form of a mash-up double feature. Thanks for reading!

This improbably large, mottled grey fish appears out of thin air to attack. It opens its maw, revealing numerous teeth each the length of a short sword.
Goliath Etherfish             CR 8
XP 4,800
CE Huge magical beast (extraplanar)
Init +7; Senses darkvision 60 ft., low-light vision; Perception +9

AC 20, touch 12, flat-footed 16 (+3 Dex, +1 dodge, +8 natural, –2 size)
hp 104 (11d10+44)
Fort +11, Ref +10, Will +4

Speed 10 ft., swim 40 ft.
Melee bite +16 (3d8+6/19–20 plus bleed and grab), tail slap +10 (2d6+3)
Space 15 ft.; Reach 15 ft.
Special Attacks bleed (1d6), ethereal jaunt, regurgitate, swallow whole (2d6+3 bludgeoning damage, AC 14, 10 hp)

Str 22, Dex 17, Con 18, Int 8, Wis 13, Cha 11
Base Atk +11; CMB +19 (+23 grapple); CMD 33
Feats Dodge, Improved Critical (bite), Improved Initiative, Mobility, Skill Focus (Stealth), Weapon Focus (bite)
Skills Perception +9, Stealth +4, Swim +20
SQ ethereal swim

Environment warm seas or Ethereal Plane
Organization solitary, pair, or flotilla (3–12)
Treasure incidental

Special Abilities
Ethereal Jaunt (Su) A goliath etherfish can shift from the Etherial Plane to the Material Plane as a free action, and it can shift back as a move action (or part of a move action). Creatures the etherfish has swallowed whole travel with it. Otherwise, this ability functions like ethereal jaunt (CL 16th).
Ethereal Swim (Ex) A goliath etherfish can move its swim speed in any direction on the Ethereal Plane.
Regurgitate (Ex) When a goliath etherfish swallows 4 Medium creatures (or the equivalent in a mix of Large, Medium and Small creatures), it regurgitates the contents of its stomach into the Ethereal Plane. This does no damage to disgorged victims, but a character may resist this by forcing the etherfish to succeed at a grapple check to dislodge the character.

A goliath etherfish would make for a frightening predator in the seas of the Material Plane, but the fact it can attack its prey from the Ethereal Plane makes it even more terrifying. The creature prefers its sustenance comes from the Material Plane, so it launches occasional attacks in populated areas to fill its stomach with as many victims as possible. If it finds a bounty of prey, it fills itself up, disgorges victims on the Ethereal Plane, and then returns to grab more. A goliath etherfish is 15 feet long and weighs roughly 1 ton.

No scholar has been able to ascertain the goliath etherfish’s origins. Most scholars speculate the progenitors were a group of terrestrial fish that got swept up in an ancient interplanar portal. The etherfish not only adapted to their new environment, but they also kept their ties to the Material Plane—ties they exploit to hunt for prey.  The creature’s remarkable Dexterity, especially considering its size, owes to its adaptation to the currents of the Ethereal Plane.

Desperate planar travelers who are knowledgeable about goliath etherfish attempt to present themselves as tempting meals for an etherfish. They allow the creature to return to the Ethereal Plane and either wait for the creature to regurgitate them or cut themselves free. This method of travel is inexpensive but fraught with danger.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Frightful Fridays! Scorned One

Welcome once again to Frightful Fridays! This time, the feature is on its (f)rightful night. This week's image inspired me to create an undead creature created from the fallout of an affair (either the former lover, or the new lover to whom the person having the affair will not commit). A "scorned one" manifests when it takes its own life or is murdered as a result of the affair, and it seeks revenge on its former lover. Once it achieves this goal, it sows discord in its former community and strings along another victim or two, before departing for other towns where it can continue killing without drawing suspicion to itself.

My intention was to create a monster that could be the center of a smaller arc in a campaign. A trusted NPC announces to the characters that he is smitten with a young lady and cannot get her out of his mind. The relationship proceeds as the characters adventure, but, each time they meet with the NPC, something seems "off." Eventually, the characters discover victims of the scorned one and must rush to save the NPC. Likewise, a scorned one could be a one-off foe using its emotional manipulation aura to assist a more powerful creature.

If you end up using a scorned one (or any of the other Friday Frights), let me know in the comments section. See you next week!

This beautiful woman suddenly transforms into a hideous creature whose face is all teeth. Meanwhile, the erstwhile suitor with her seems oblivious to her transformation.
Scorned One CR 7
XP 3,200
NE Medium undead (shapechanger)
Init +9; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Perception +16
Aura emotional manipulation aura
AC 20, touch 16, flat-footed 14 (+5 Dex, +1 dodge, +4 natural)
hp 85 (10d8+40)
Fort +7, Ref +8, Will +10
Immune undead traits
Speed 30 ft.
Melee bite +12 (1d6–1/19–20 plus attach and 1d2 Wisdom drain), 2 claws +12 (1d4–1 plus poison)
Special Attacks enthrallment, 1d2 Wis drain, poison
Spell-Like Abilities (CL 10th; concentration +14)
   At will—detect thoughts (DC 16)
   3/day—charm person (DC 17, includes a +2 racial bonus)
Str 8, Dex 21, Con —, Int 16, Wis 17, Cha 19
Base Atk +7; CMB +12; CMD 22
Feats Agile Maneuvers, Dodge, Improved Initiative, Persuasive, Weapon Finesse
Skills Diplomacy +21, Disguise +17 (+27 while using change shape ability), Intimidate +17, Perception +16, Perform (dance) +17, Sense Motive +14, Sleight of Hand +12, Stealth +15; Racial Modifiers +10 Disguise while using change shape ability
Languages Common, Elven
SQ change shape (alter self), courtly demeanor
Environment any urban
Organization solitary (alone or with enthralled suitor)
Treasure standard
Special Abilities
Courtly Demeanor (Ex) A scorned one treats Diplomacy and one Perform skill as class skills.
Emotional Manipulation Aura (Su) A scorned one emits an aura that changes the emotional state of creatures within 60 feet. A scorned one chooses one of the following effects (which it can change after 1 minute): calm (per calm emotions), despair (per crushing despair) or fear (affected creature gains the shaken condition). Anyone within the aura's radius must make a DC 19 Will save to avoid having their emotions manipulated; a character who succeeds at the save is immune to the scorned one's aura for 24 hours. The save DC is Charisma-based.
Enthrallment (Su) A character under the influence of a scorned one's charm person sees it in its changed form rather than its true form, even if the scorned one reveals its form to others. If a scorned one chooses, it can exempt a charmed character from its emotional manipulation aura.
Poison (Ex) Claws—injury; save Fort DC 15; frequency 1/round for 6 rounds; effect 1d4 Str; cure 1 save. The save DC is based solely on a scored one's Hit Dice.
Wisdom Drain (Su) When a scorned one succeeds at a bite attack, it drains 1d2 Wisdom from its victim. For each point it drains, it heals 5 hit points.

Rarely when the victim of an affair decides to take his or her own life as a result of the affair, overwhelming feelings of betrayal and abandonment reanimate the corpse and create a scorned one. The resulting creature's new appearance no longer resembles that of the former humanoid; instead, it has an immense maw taking up most of its face, dripping talons in place of its fingernails and telltale signs of the suicide method it used. However, a scorned one can change its shape to look like a normal humanoid—an ability it uses to gain revenge on its former partner and to inflict the same pain and suffering on others.

The first order of business for a scorned one is to destroy the person who betrayed it. It slowly works itself into its victim's life, using detect thoughts to create an appearance its victim finds attractive. A scorned one prefers to hold off using its charm person ability with the expectation that its target will follow the same behavior that ultimately led to its creation. The creature allows its target to court it, but, showing a surprising patience for its revenge, it remains coy for a while to heighten its victim's desire. A scorned one  eventually "relents" and agrees to consummate the relationship, at which point it reveals its true form and attempts to slay its victim.

After a scorned one kills its first victim, it wanders through its former community and delights in manipulating the emotions of those around it. A character's only encounter with a scorned one might be the sudden recollection of a painful or frightening memory. The creature enjoys observing the reactions to the emotional misery it inflicts; after a minute it usually converts its aura to a calming one, so it can remain above suspicion while further confusing the victims of its manipulation. After tiring of this activity, a scorned one seeks out another victim to lure into the facade of a relationship and ultimately kill.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Frightful Fridays! Naturgeist

My apologies for the delay in this week's Frightful Friday! I ended up running a short-notice "courier mission," and I was not able to submit this last night.

This week's Frightful Friday! (or, perhaps, Surprising Saturday!) continues with the fantastical beast theme, but this time the creature is not a product of some mad wizard. Instead, the naturgeist ("spirit of Nature") is created by angry druids or even a vengeful nature deity. This creature may look a little odd, but, when earthquakes and tornadoes strike, buildings and weapons crumble in the naturegeist's presence, and numerous, powerful natural allies stride into battle, the characters won't be too concerned with its goofy appearance.

I hope you enjoy this week's Frightful "Friday!" If you've got any suggestions, I'd love to hear them. Have a great weekend!

This creature looks like a bizarre amalgamation of animals and insects. The deer head’s eyes flash with a mixture of sorrow and rage. When it opens its mouth, it lets out a bellow unnervingly combining the cries of all its component creatures.

Naturgeist CR 15
XP 51,200
N Large magical beast
Init +11; Senses darkvision 60 ft., low-light vision; Perception +27
Aura unmaking aura

AC 28, touch 16, flat-footed 21 (+7 Dex, +12 natural, –1 size)
hp 218 (19d10+114); fast healing 10
Fort +17, Ref +18, Will +13
DR 15/non-metal weapons; Immune poison; Resist cold 20, electricity 20, fire 20
Weaknesses animal mind-affecting vulnerability

Speed 40 ft., fly 50 ft. (good), swim 40 ft.
Melee bite +27 (3d8+8/19–20 plus trip), 2 claws +26 (3d6+8), gore +26 (3d6+8)
Space 10 ft.; Reach 10 ft.
Special Attacks bypass metal armor, nature's entreaty
Spell-Like Abilities (CL 19th; concentration +24)
   At will—wall of thorns
   3/day—earthquake, whirlwind (DC 23)
   Save DCs are Wisdom-based.

Str 26, Dex 25, Con 22, Int 16, Wis 21, Cha 17
Base Atk +19; CMB +28 (+30 bull rush); CMD 45 (47 vs. bull rush, 49 vs. trip)
Feats Awesome Blow, Greater Penetrating Strike, Improved Bull Rush, Improved Critical (bite), Improved Initiative, Intimidating Prowess, Iron Will, Penetrating Strike, Power Attack, Weapon Focus (bite)
Skills Fly +17, Handle Animal +18, Intimidate +29, Knowledge (nature) +21, Perception +27, Sense Motive +23, Stealth +11, Swim +28
Languages Common, Druidic, Sylvan (can't speak)
SQ apex beast

Environment any
Organization solitary
Treasure none

Special Abilities
Apex Beast (Ex) A naturgeist treats Handle Animal, Intimidate and Sense Motive as class skills.
Bypass Metal Armor (Su) A naturgeist ignores armor bonuses provided by metal armor.
Animal Mind-Affecting Vulnerability (Su)  A spellcaster who uses any mind-affecting spell with a target of one animal (or more), such as charm animal or hold animal, imposes a -8 penalty to a naturgeist’s Will save.
Nature’s Entreaty (Su) Once per 5 rounds, a naturgeist may summon an ally as a free action, per summon nature’s ally VIII. Any summoned creatures remain for 10 minutes or until the naturgeist dismisses them or is slain. The creature typically summons rocs for terrestrial encounters, dire sharks for aquatic encounters or elementals appropriate to the location.
Unmaking Aura (Su) Within 60 feet of a naturgeist, all manufactured items erode, rust or otherwise fall apart. Metal items, manufactured stonework and constructs within the aura take 1d6 points of damage that bypasses hardness per round. Non-magical items do not receive a saving throw, but magical items may succeed at a DC 22 Fortitude save each round to avoid the damage. The save DC is Charisma-based.

When humanoids despoil the wilderness, hunt animals to near extinction or otherwise grievously harm the natural world, a naturgeist forms from surviving, native creatures to exact wrath on the perpetrators. A naturgeist is a four-legged creature, but each leg comes from a different animal or insect; its head and torso are a patchwork of animals and insects as well. The creature measures about 8 feet in length, stands 6-feet tall and weighs roughly 2,000 pounds.

A naturgeist uses its aura of unmaking and its spell-like abilities to lay waste to the civilized area nearest to the devastation it vindicates. It usually focuses its attack on the most heavily armored characters, especially if the armor is crafted from metal. Druids and rangers have greater capability to stop the creature's attacks peaceably, but such characters might be reticent to do so if they realize what a naturgeist represents. If a druid or ranger can convince the creature that the community will redress the wrongs, it will cease its attack, return to a secluded area and revert to its constituent creatures.

While a naturgeist typically forms spontaneously, a cabal of five or more druids or rangers led by a druid of at least 15th level can perform a ritual that removes all spellcasting abilities from the participants for a week to call a naturgeist.