Friday, November 23, 2012

Frightful Fridays! Spiderbear

Welcome to this Black Friday edition of Frightful Fridays! This week's image is courtesy of Patrick Curtin, and it continues the creepy vermin trend. However, this time the monster is one of those crazy amalgamations--specifically a combination of bear and spider. I can imagine some utterly insane wizard looking upon the owlbear and shouting to no one in particular, "I can do better!" I decided to use the trapdoor spider as the "better half" of this crossbreed, because, in my mind, there's nothing more frightening than this thing launching itself out of a concealed pit at its prey. (I also deviated a little from the image, since I felt the thing should have four spider legs in addition to the four bear legs.)

I hope you enjoy this week's Frightful Friday! As always, I am open for any suggestions for future installments.

This disturbing combination of large, brown bear and spider has eight legs, alternating pairs of bear and spider. Its head is mostly spider-like, including mandibles and multiple eyes, but it also features a bear’s ears, eyes and nose.
Spiderbear      CR 5
XP 1,600
N Large magical beast
Init +6; Senses darkvision 60 ft., low-light vision, scent; Perception +9

AC 17, touch 11, flat-footed 15 (+2 Dex, +6 natural, –1 size)
hp 57 (6d10+24)
Fort +9, Ref +7, Will +4

Speed 40 ft., burrow 20 ft., climb 20 ft.
Melee bite +11 (1d8+5 plus poison) and 2 claws +10 (1d6+5)
Space 10 ft.; Reach 10 ft.
Special Attacks poison, traps

Str 20, Dex 15, Con 19, Int 3, Wis 14, Cha 12
Base Atk +6; CMB +12 (+16 grapple); CMD 24 (36 vs. trip)
Feats Improved Initiative, Skill Focus (Perception), Weapon Focus (bite)
Skills Climb +17, Perception +9, Stealth +13 (+21 when in trap door); Racial Modifiers +8 Stealth (+16 when in trap door)

Environment temperate forests
Organization solitary, pair, or crater (3–8)
Treasure incidental

Special Abilities
Poison (Ex) bite—injury; save Fort DC 17; frequency 1/round for 4 rounds; effect 1d2 Str; cure 1 save. The save DC is Constitution-based.
Traps A spiderbear leaves its empty trap doors for potential prey to fall into. While a spiderbear has no capacity to specifically craft traps, the empty trap doors make natural pit traps, and the creature coats the interior with its poison to further debilitate victims. The creature instinctively knows where its trap doors lie and will not accidentally fall into them itself. Spiderbear Pit: CR 3; Type mechanical; Perception DC 25; Disable Device DC 20; Trigger location; Reset repair; Effect 20-ft.-deep pit (2d6 falling damage plus poison [spiderbear]), DC 20 Reflex avoids.

Many adventurers do not realize they have entered a spiderbear den until one of their party falls into one of its many trap doors or the creature ambushes them from one. The creature stands 8 feet tall and weighs up to 2,000 pounds.

Sages speculate that the spiderbear’s genesis derived from an insane desire by an ancient wizard to outdo the owlbear's creation. The most common species of spiderbear combines features of the grizzly bear and a giant trapdoor spider. Like the owlbear, a spiderbear breeds true, and it has established itself in remote forests where it hunts and kills other prey—including owlbears. Owing to the creature’s trapdoor spider origins, a spiderbear is a much more patient hunter, and it waits to ambush prey falling into one of its abandoned trap doors or drawing close to its hiding place.

Rumors persist that larger, more deadly versions of the spiderbear exist, such as a combination dire bear/giant tarantula.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

What Last Month's Halloween Reading Did

I posted very briefly about last month's Halloween reading: Anno Dracula and 'Salem's Lot.  They reminded me of an important lesson I learned, at least back when I read Bram Stoker's original novel, if not earlier.  As Van Helsing realized, he was dealing with a manipulative genius, who for most of the novel proved himself a mastermind always one step (at least!) ahead of his opponents.  In Kim Newman's novel, it is easy to believe that this is how he rises to become Royal Consort and de facto ruler of the British empire (I could say more, but I'll avoid spoilers).  The vampire in Stephen King's modern classic is of the same stamp as Dracula -- a fact which the Van Helsing analogue among the latter-day vampire hunter characters explicitly acknowledges.

Vampires in fiction and gaming should follow this line if they want to evoke the same kind of responses.  The vampire should be more than a feral undead predator of the living.  The ghoul is more on this level, and Nosferatu starts to tilt in that direction.  For myself, I intend to work harder the next time I use a vampire to portray the villain as a creature at least as intelligent as it is evil -- a planner, a manipulator, a strategist of the highest order.  A GM should be thinking about how the vampire could reasonably anticipate players and keep them reactive.  There should be enough cat-and-mouse where the players understand that they are the mice and they are in real peril -- even if they prevail, some cruel suffering on their part would seem unavoidable.

I'd love to hear any stories or tips of effective use of the vampire.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Pre-Thanksgiving Post 2012

The Turkey Golem just dropped this off for me at home as I hang out with the family and get ready for the holidays:

While I didn't have time to dig in and give MP ramblers a proper post, I couldn't pass up drawing attention to the OSR love given by Creative Director James Jacob in the frontispiece.  He mentions Lamentations of the Flame Princess which he picked up at GenCon and Dungeon Crawl Classic RPG which Rob McCreary is running in an in-office campaign.  In the past, love has been offered by Erik Mona to Swords & Wizardry.  I enjoy this kind of thing not just because of its inherent positivity, nor simply because it is an occasion where I see fellow RPGeeks sharing my own tastes, but because it illustrates that there is no impermeable old school/new school barrier on the side of designers any more than there is on the side of fans -- while recognizing that the fan/designer distinction generally is only one with occasion-specific meaning.  I hope everyone had a great Mythopoeic Monday and that my fellow Americans are looking forward to a fantastic Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Elizabeth Kobold-Ross


D.  This can't be happening!  Is today April 1?  No, their site's been hacked.  That's it.

A. @#$%^&*!  This is Fourth Edition's fault, isn't it?  DAMMIT!

B.  I'll buy two subscriptions this time -- no, three!  I'll give them to family and friends!  Just give me another year...

D. This is because I didn't renew my subscription fast enough.  I meant to, but we were between issues, and I was going to do it soon!  I'm a terrible person.  I should have written more reviews and highlighted KQ on the blog more often.  Now there's nothing I can do.  I want to crawl into a chaotic cave and never come out.

A.  Okay, I'm nowhere near acceptance.  I'm very sad that this excellent magazine is folding.  But I want to add my voice of thanks to Miranda Horner, Christina Stiles, Chris Bodan, Cathy Rundell, Crystal Frasier, Wade Rockett, Pierce Watters, Jeff Grubb, and everyone who ever contributed to the production and support of what had become my favorite magazine.   But above all to Wolfgang and his wife Shelly.  I hope the next stage for you two brings better things.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Frightful Fridays! Cymothoa

Welcome to this week's Frightful Fridays! Thanks to a suggestion by Flash_CXXI, I've gone back to a creature from nature for inspiration. The Cymothoa Exigua (also known as the tongue-eating louse) is a parasite that replaces its fish victim's tongue with itself, apparently leaving the fish unharmed. Leaving victims unharmed is no fun, though, so I created the simply named cymothoa, an aberration that uses similar parasites to replace its victims' tongues for its own malign purposes.

With that, I wish American readers a Happy Thanksgiving! I've got my next monster lined up for Black Friday, and a few more beyond, but if you have any suggestions, please pass them my way. I'll be happy to make them part of the Frightful Friday! lineup.

Image provided by this aritcle.

This pale, six-legged, insectoid creature stands as tall as a dog. Pink, fleshy tongues seem to writhe within its mouth, and beneath spikes covering the creature's body.
Cymothoa           CR 6
XP 2,400
NE Small aberration
Init +8; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Perception +13

AC 20, touch 16, flat-footed 15 (+4 Dex, +1 dodge, +4 natural, +1 size)
hp 67 (9d8+27)
Fort +6, Ref +7, Will +7

Speed 40 ft., burrow 20 ft., swim 30 ft.
Melee bite +11 (1d4–1 plus infest and poison)
Ranged 2 spikes +11 (1d6 plus infest and poison)
Special Attacks infest, poison, self-destructing false tongue, stolen spells

Str 8, Dex 19, Con 17, Int 13, Wis 12, Cha 18
Base Atk +6; CMB +9; CMD 19 (27 vs. trip)
Feats Agile Maneuvers, Dodge, Improved Initiative, Skill Focus (Stealth), Weapon Finesse
Skills Acrobatics +12 (+16 when jumping), Knowledge (arcana) +13, Perception +13, Spellcraft +17, Stealth +23, Swim +14; Racial Modifiers Acrobatics (+4 when jumping), +4 Spellcraft

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

Special Abilities
Infest (Ex) If a cymothoa hits with its bite or a spike, it implants its victim with a false tongue that travels to the victim's mouth in 1 round. The implanted tongue attempts to dissolve its victim's tongue (painlessly if the victim is still poisoned), requiring its victim to succeed at a DC 17 Fortitude save to keep his tongue. The round after it dissolves its target's tongue it adheres itself to its victim's mouth. A DC 15 Heal check reveals the false tongue. A character succeeding at a DC 20 Heal check can remove the tongue with no damage; otherwise, the false tongue self-destructs. A character who loses his tongue (and does not have an adhered false tongue) incurs a -4 penalty to all Charisma-based checks and a 20% spell failure chance when casting spells with a verbal component.
Poison (Ex) Bite (or spike)—injury; save Fort DC 17; frequency 1/round for 6 rounds; effect 1d2 Dex; cure 2 consecutive saves. The save DC is Constitution-based.
Self-Destructing False Tongue (Ex and Su) A cymothoa exerts telepathic control over its false tongues, and it can direct one to self-destruct. If the tongue is in a victim, it deals 2d6 acid damage the first round and 1d6 additional acid damage the following round if the acid is not washed out.
Stolen Spells (Su) If a cymothoa successfully infests an arcane spellcaster with a false tongue, it can cast any spells the victim casts while he carries the false tongue. The spell must have a verbal component and cannot have an expensive material component, and the cymothoa must succeed at a Spellcraft check (DC equal to 10 plus twice the level of the spell cast) to gain the spell. It can only cast each spell it absorbs once, even if its victim casts the same spell multiple times.

A cymothoa looks like a large, spiky, white louse. It stands two-feet tall and weighs 50 pounds. Numerous fleshy protuberances resembling tongues crawl inside its maw and along its body, typically underneath protective spikes.

A cymothoa is a cowardly creature that attacks its victims in two phases. During its first attack, it attempts to infest arcane spellcasters with false tongues. It will attack other creatures and infest them as well, but only if the other targets present a threat. It then flees and waits until it can collect arcane spells from its victims' false tongues and then launches a second attack using its victims' spells against them. It will also detonate all false tongues it had implanted previously. As a cymothoa feeds on creatures it kills, it grows more false tongues it can use for future attacks.

Rarely, a powerful creature will employ a cymothoa to implant a false tongue that it can then use to hear anything the victim utters. Any measures preventing telepathic communication prevent the false tongue from relaying this information to the cymothoa, but the false tongue does not register as magical scrying. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Sunday's Book Haul

This Sunday was one of Half-Price Book's coveted 50% off coupon days.  I visited three stores in the area and found two books I'd been looking for and one book from the AD&D's 2e era that I decided was worth having.  I hope that the third book in Stephen Hunt's steampunk series is better than the second one, since I enjoyed the first one a lot.  Wendy Doniger's The Hindus is magisterial if you are looking for a comprehensive historical work on Hinduisms.  What riches did the Ramblers reel in?  Make me jealous!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Another Mythopoeic Art Cornucopia!

Just in time for the season of Thanksgiving, I think it’s time for another fantasy art appreciation post.  In addition to enjoying the art in the products that you purchase, the internet has made it possible be to exposed to and enjoy more fantasy art than ever before -- good news for both artists and consumers of all kinds. And so, here are some artists I’ve been enjoying, featured on the sites below.

Paizo has become one of the great patrons of fantasy art, and has been often featured on this blog due to their generous fan policy.  Art director Sarah Robinson has started her own blog.  While it has not been updated in some time, maybe with a little encouragement she will give it more attention.

Check out the work of multiple awards-nominated Lucas Graciano. (Well, yes, he has  done some beautiful work for Paizo as well, like the cover of Artifacts & Legends  to the right. Another recent contributor has been Michal Ivan. From RPG to comic covers, one of my favorites right now is Erik Jones.  If you haven’t seen his gorgeous PF comic covers, check them out on his site.  

Just so you know I’m also digging people who are not doing work for Paizo, let me recommend Mike Nash, Graeme McCormack, and Sean Andrew Murphy.  Also, Lamentations of the Flame Princess  introduced me to the wonderful Cynthia Sheppard.  I've also been enjoying the work of Kim KincaidAnd thanks to Patrick Curtin for reminding me of Aaron Miller at a timely juncture.

Some illustrators band together, like a party of adventures.  Check out Shadowcore for one such illustrious fellowship and Muddy Colors for another. There's also a new online magazine for digital artists: The Round Tablet.

Finally, we do well to remember that art occurs in many mediums.  Daren Horley does a lot of work for films.  Sometimes, the art is wondrous even when the film as a whole is not, so look for inspiration in unexpected locations.  What eye candy have you been feeding your mythopoeic imaginations?  What artists do you think are not to be missed?  Let me know and maybe, just maybe, I'll get this Mythopoeic Monday feature back on track.

By the way, a big thanks to all my friends who are pitching in to keep the blog active, especially Mike Welham, Paizo's 2012 RPG SuperStar and his Friday Frights!  However, there are other friends active behind the scenes and I expect you will be seeing more new contributors in the days to come.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Frightful Fridays! First Fright

Welcome to the first official Frightful Fridays! offering. This week I present the tammuz, a demonic creature that doesn't quite resemble its namesakethe Sumerian god, Tammuz. Based on the myths surrounding Tammuz, though, it makes sense that this creature would spring up out of the Abyss from the sheer despair Tammuz experienced while imprisoned on the plane.

I hope you enjoy this week's Frightful Friday! I will see you next week.

This skull-faced scorpion clacks its claws and waves its stinger menacingly, while a palpable sense of despondency emanates from it.
Tammuz          CR 12
XP 19,200
CE Large outsider (chaotic, evil, extraplanar)
Init +10; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Perception +22
Aura despair

AC 27, touch 15, flat-footed 21 (+6 Dex, +12 natural, –1 size)
hp 168 (16d10+80)
Fort +15, Ref +11, Will +13
DR 15/good; Resist acid 10, cold 10, fire 10; SR 23

Speed 40 ft., fly 60 ft. (good)
Melee 2 claws +24 (2d8+9), sting +24 (2d6+9/19–20 plus poison)
Space 10 ft.; Reach 10 ft.
Special Attacks poison
Spell-Like Abilities (CL 14th; concentration +17)
At will—eyebite (DC 19)
3/day—waves of exhaustion (DC 20)
1/day—power word stun (DC 21)
1/6 months—plane shift (DC 20)

Str 28, Dex 23, Con 20, Int 19, Wis 16, Cha 17
Base Atk +16; CMB +26; CMD 42 (54 vs. trip)
Feats Bleeding Critical, Cleave, Critical Focus, Critical Mastery(B), Exhausting Critical, Improved Critical (sting), Improved Initiative, Power Attack, Tiring Critical
Skills Bluff +22, Fly +27, Intimidate +22, Knowledge (arcana) +23, Knowledge (planes) +23, Knowledge (religion) +23, Perception +22, Sense Motive +22, Spellcraft +23, Stealth +21
Languages Abyssal, Aklo, Celestial, Common, Infernal

Environment any (the Abyss)
Organization solitary or court (2–8)
Treasure standard
Special Abilities
Aura of Despair (Su) A tammuz radiates despair in a 30-foot radius; any creature within that radius must succeed on a DC 21 Will save to resist its effects. Any creature who fails takes a -4 penalty on saves for 24 hours or until it successfully hits the tammuz generating the aura. A creature that has resisted or broken the effect cannot be affected again by the same tammuz’s aura for 24 hours.
Poison (Ex) Sting—injury; save Fort DC 23; frequency 1/round for 10 rounds; effect 2d4 Con and 1d4 Wis; cure 2 consecutive saves. The save DC is Constitution-based.

When the Sumerian demi-god Tammuz’s wife Inanna returned from the underworld that had been her prison, she required Tammuz to take her place. Tammuz hid from her, but demons eventually found him and dragged him to the underworld where he remained until Inanna granted him a reprieve of sorts, allowing his sister Geshtinana to trade places with him every six months. During Tammuz’s initial imprisonment in the Abyss, he despaired, and the strange stuff of that plane reacted by creating evil creatures embodying his hopelessness. The creatures took the name of their erstwhile creator and travel to the Material Plane to inflict their particular brand of evil on unsuspecting mortals. A tammuz (plural tammuz) is 10 feet in length, including its 3-foot long tail that ends in a wicked stinger, and it weighs 600 pounds.

A tammuz is an extremely foul-tempered creature that delights in fatiguing or otherwise hampering its prey. After it has rendered its victim helpless, it repeatedly stings the unfortunate creature and laughs gratingly at the creature’s cries of pain and despair. It feeds on a dying creature’s feelings of hopelessness; the longer the creature expresses its agony, the longer a tammuz will allow it to live. Assuming no one has hunted down the creature by the point of its six-month plane shift cycle, it goes quiet as it stalks a victim that it eventually attempts to plane shift to the Abyss. Sometimes, a tammuz presents itself as a disturbing sage of sorts, and it offers obscure knowledge in exchange for allowing the demonic creature to plane shift the beneficiaries to a plane of its choosing. In most cases where it makes this bargain, its sends its victims to the Abyss, but capriciousness might dictate that it send its victims to another more appropriate plane (sending primarily chaotic characters to Hell, for example).

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Dave Gross, King of Paths

The end of last week brought me my Paizo subscriptions box, and among the contents was the newest volume of the Pathfinder Tales: Dave Gross' Queen of Thorns.  Even with a lot to do, I gobbled it up over the weekend.

This, the third offering from Gross in the PF Tales line crowns him as the undisputed king of the line, and should secure a wider reading for the Jeggare/Virholt novels. (Be sure to start with the "Pawns of Hell" serial fiction that introduced the characters in The Council of Thieves Adventure Path.)  What is it that fuels my bold claims?  Perhaps Gross has some competition when it comes to energetic plots and world evocation, but when it comes to character development that is satisfying and sophisticated, there is no beating the arc of development that he has traversed so far with Varian Jeggare and Radovan Virholt.  It is hard to beat in any contemporary fantasy of which I am aware -- in a class with James Enge in Blood of Ambrose, Zelazny in the first Amber series, and Howard Andrew Jones in The Desert of Souls.  (A couple of Vance's characters in the Lyonnesse series get close and perhaps Vlad Taltos in Steve Brust's novels will rise to this level -- I've only made it through the first set of the Taltos series, so I'm undecided in that case.)

If you have been holding off from Pathfinder Tales, dive in and read these three together first.  If you have been looking for a fantasy series that will take you on a varied ride with compelling characters and amazing changes of scenery, look no further -- Gross will take you from Golarion's analogue of silverscreen Transylvania to its fantasy Orient (major martial arts films homages) to its Faerie in this last volume.  Just try and beat that.

I keep trying to think of something to be more critical of, but I'm afraid Gross has pulled an A+ on the Mythopoeic Obscura grading scale.  Disputers are directed to the paladin below.