Showing posts tagged humanoid

Plague Giant


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

I’m on record as being very picky when it comes to certain kind of [noun] monsters. I want my [noun] giants to be from some kind of recognizable landscape or elemental force. (I grudgingly accept rune giants because they are dope.) I want my [noun] golems to be from things you carve or mine—no web or stained glass golems, please. I’m basically done with [noun] dragons altogether, preferring more unique branches of the family tree.

Yet all that goes out the window when I hear the word “plague.” Plague golems? Sure. Plague dragons? BAD. ASS. Plague armadillos, plague puddings, plague leprechauns? Why the heck not—let’s make galarchauns a thing! (Somewhere I have an Irish reader who is wincing. Tá brón orm!)

So I like plague giants as they’re presented in Bestiary 6.  I mean, who doesn’t love the special ability Hurl Corpse (Su)? (And imagine the cinematics of a giant lair just having stacks of corpses piled around for ammo, or a giant pushing a massive corpse cart the size of a cottage through a blasted landscape.) And they cause a disease that withers limbs. And what kind of monsters do they summon? Vultures maybe? Rats? Nope—tick swarms!澳门英皇娱乐 I don’t even know why I like that; I JUST DO.

Obviously, plague giants are the result of some curse or divine intervention or some other dire event…and what that event was might be something your PCs can discover in the course of the game, or it might be a mystery they never learn, as they’re too busy dodging rotted corpse missiles.

Adventurers are providing aid to a plague-stricken town when an unnatural mist rolls through town. Out of the fog comes a pair of plague giants pushing a massive cart, offering to collect the town’s dead. The offer is a sincere one, and removing the corpses will help stem the tide of infection. But then the plague giants make their way to the hospital, and begin collecting still-living victims with no regard to their prognosis.

After their service preventing diabolists from disturbing the Storm Moot—and enduring much anti-human prejudice and violence in the process—a band of adventurers are allowed the rare honor of sitting in on giant summit. The meeting is thrown into turmoil when a delegation of plague giants arrives. While not precisely banned from the Moot, the cursed giants have never attempts to attend before.  Most present wish to bar them entry, but they insist, particularly as they come bearing the corpse of the exiled fire giant jarl Vulsk with them.

One reason plagues aren’t more prevalent澳门英皇娱乐 is that the plague powers are a fractious, jealous bunch—a mix of demigods, daemons, demons, and divs jockeying for worshippers and warring over ownership of specific strains of infection. One sign a plague power is in ascendance is when it has the puissance to transform nearby giant tribes into plague giants, sending them out as earthly avatars to further the power’s ends.

Bestiary 6 134



(Illustration by Dave Allsop comes from the Paizo Blog澳门英皇娱乐 and is © Paizo Publishing.)

As this blog has unfolded, one of the themes we’ve hit on many, many times before is that the larger and more powerful giants become, the more they move into the realm of folklore and myth.  You can envision a world where ogres, hill giants, and even certain conceptions of stone and fire giants could be natural outgrowth of evolutionary and environmental forces (for a given value of “natural”).  But once you get past frost giants, natural shoves out of the way in favor of supernatural.

澳门英皇娱乐The paradigm for this is the cloud giant race, which comes to us not from Norse myths, but children’s fairy tales—and boy does it show.  Between their magical powers, their cloud castles*, and the Manichean, good/evil alignment split of cloud giant societies, it’s clear we’re dealing with creatures out of story and legend. (*Cloud castles seem to be more a D&D thing than a Pathfinder thing if you’re reading the manuals closely, but I like them so let’s just go with it.)

Now, if you ever shivered in fear when your parents read “Jack and the Beanstalk” to you at bedtime…imagine the stories cloud giants tell their kids.  What could terrify a monster child who regularly helps his mother grind human bones into bread?  The answer is the papinijuwari.

As you might guess from the name, the papinijuwari is a monster from Australia’s indigenous people, specifically the Tiwi of Bathurst and Melville Islands.  It’s a cyclops but worse, searching with its single lambent eye for the young and the weak to devour.  They’re such figures of terror that shooting stars are thought to be papinijuwaris flying overhead (a pretty stark departure from the wishing stars we Americans grow up with!).  All in all, it’s a hell of a monster.

What I love about Pathfinder’s papinijuwari is that the designers have translated the monster into game stats without sanding down any of the horror.  They feed on disease. They wear skulls, because of course they do. And they fly through the air by clutching a burning torch, a detail from folklore I’m so glad the Bestiary 5 designers retained.  (Edit: Originally I missed their normal fly speed, and thought they only had a fly speed through their Shooting Star (Su) ability.  I still might rule they can only fly while holding a torch, just as a nice flavor detail and to give PCs a way to trap them if desired—looking at the comments, had the same idea.)  But never mind the physics—take a look at that image from Dave Allsop.  Now imagine that thing hurtling down from overhead, landing with a thud in a three-point stance straight out of Iron Man, torch held aloft, hunger gleaming in its eye as it sniffs the air for its prey.  Now that’s澳门英皇娱乐 a monster.

In fact, it might be my favorite monster in Bestiary 5, and that’s a book that includes the liminal sprite.  Best of all, I never even noticed it—not once—until I sat down to write this entry.  Which is a great reminder that, even in a book I think I know, there are always surprises waiting—and the reason I blog is to find them and share the excitement with you all.

澳门英皇娱乐Now to spoil that valedictory ending with a postscript: I think the best way to deploy papinijuwaris is to drop mention of them in your very first session.  Make them sound like an old wives’ tale; make them sound positively ridiculous—nothing like the grim and gritty horrors your players are actually going to face.  Drop another mention at 4th level or so, and then say nothing for ages…  And then, when they least expect it, rain evil giants down upon them with a vengeance.

Adventurers use an ancient ritual澳门英皇娱乐 to call a meteor shower down upon the necropolis of a lich.  The aerial bombardment destroys the hated undead’s tower and reduces his city-state to rubble.  But the devastation also draws the attention of a tribe of papinijuwaris eager to feast on the lich’s diseased subjects…and perhaps make a home for themselves in this new untapped hunting ground.

In addition to its usual reprehensible cargo, a slave ship arrives in port with a strange cyclops chained in the hold and a crew sick with blister fever.  The slavers quickly grease the palms they need to slip free of quarantine, and soon plague and a papinijuwari run rampant through the city.

An adventuring party is brought together by loss. They are all survivor of cloud giant depredations—some lost family to raiders, others were raised in villages overseen (quite literally) by lords in cloud castles overhead, and still others had their homes just scooped away by giant dredges.  No matter where their travels take them, they all know that they are gaining in power and resources until the day they can challenge the giants on their own misty turf.  And just as they are gearing up for their first assault on their oppressors, the king—the high king!—of the cloud giants approaches them澳门英皇娱乐.  “I need your help,” he tells the shocked adventurers, “for my oracles have read the signs.  The enemies of both our races, the papinijuwaris, are coming.”

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 188

If you’re looking for ways to break out of Pathfinder’s and especially D&D’s default Eurocentric atmosphere, I think there’s an amazing campaign just waiting to be constructed out of fragments of Le Guin’s Earthsea novels, Australian and other Pacific myths, and your own imagination.  Start with the papinijuwari and go nuts.



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

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

At first this doesn’t seem like a lot to build adventures out of.  But orang-pendaks are actually situated in an interesting design space. As relatives of the sasquatch, they’re a good alternative when you want a “wild man of the woods” race more keyed to tropical mountain jungles.  As CR ½ creatures, they’re good encounters for 1st–3rd-level PCs that don’t automatically lead to violence, but are level-appropriate if a fight breaks out. Vanarans might regard them as distant forebears, honored cousins, or embarrassing primitives.  They hunt with spears, clubs, and bolas—and let’s face it, every time I see an ape-man proficient in bolas, you know I’m thinking Planet of the (very short) Apes澳门英皇娱乐.  Although these ape-men won’t be riding horses, thanks to the adorable Own Two Feet (Ex) ability—ability? quality? drawback?—which has them so unnerved at riding other animals and vehicles that they take massive penalties—a great detail.

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

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

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

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

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

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 186

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

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



(Illustration by Kim Sokol comes from the Paizo Blog and is © Paizo Publishing.)

澳门英皇娱乐After all this time, I think we finally have it: a worthy subterranean human race.  

澳门英皇娱乐Drow have elves. Dwarves have duergar.  Gnomes have svirfneblin.  Orcs have…well, orcs.  Halflings have no one cares (or dark creepers if you’re being kind).  You get the idea.  

But subterranean humans have tended to be confined to lost cities or are so corrupted/devolved by life underground that they are no longer recognizable human.  In the first category we have “basic”/Known World D&D’s Cynidiceans, Greyhawk’s Lerara (once again I’m pointing you to the excellent Dragon #241), and Forgotten Realms’ Deep Imaskarri.  In the latter, we have morlocks, dark folk, and even (in certain canons) skulks or derros. Those are great races, but none are what you’d call human anymore (and only dark folk really build civilizations of their own, rather than squatting in caverns or occupying ruins).  澳门英皇娱乐Unless I’ve majorly overlooked something, we’ve never had a human race that was both recognizably human and spread out throughout the Darklands/Underdark/Deepearth.

And then here come the munavris.  Are they human with a dash of something extra?  Sure, they’re telepathic albinos.  Do they have a distinctive culture?  Yeah, the telepathy and the need for genetic diversity have led to open minds and even opener relationships; they also worship the empyreal lords and fight in jade armor.  Can they go toe-to-toe with the drow and duergar realms?  They don’t have to, because they sail purple-sailed ivory ships across subterranean seas, battling urdefhans and retreating to jade islands that ward off aboleths. And to top it all off, they’ve got a neat object reading ability that lets them use almost any device—including weapons, armor, or spell-trigger items for a short period of time.  That alone makes them instantly iconic.  (And you can even play them as a PC race!)

All in all, I think the munavri are a real coup.  And they belong on the underground seas of your game world.

Based out of the sunken city of Mushroot澳门英皇娱乐, adventurers find a magical torc made of a metal they don’t recognize.  Assuming they can smuggle it past the duergar tax agents, their dark dancer fixer agrees to set them up with someone who can help.  He arranges a meeting with a strange, pale humanoid. The woman, who calls herself a munavri, barely needs to touch the item to recover the command word, and offers hints as to its origin. But she will not reveal more until the adventurers allow her to accompany them on their journey.

Most airships don’t do well on seas—and they have no business being underground!  But when a waterspout seizes the Falcon’s Promise and plucks it out of the sky, that’s where a party of adventurers find themselves: floating on a vast ebony lake in an unthinkably large cavern.  An encounter with a water orm goes badly when a jittery crewmember looses a harpoon at it.  They are only saved by the arrival of munavri corsairs, who warn them that far worse threats await them if they cannot get their ship aloft or under sail soon. (And how they will get back to the open sky is another question entirely…)

The Spear of Prophecy is a jagged shard of jade the size of a mountain erupting from the Stillwind Plains.  A monastery sits about halfway up, carved into the Spear itself. Pilgrims who go to treat with the light-shy, prophecy-spinning monks, oracles, occultists who dwell there have no idea that the monastery leads all the way down to a sunken sea miles beneath, patrolled by the monks’ far more piratical kinfolk.

Occult Bestiary 34 & Pathfinder Bestiary 6 197

澳门英皇娱乐Personally, I’m not enough of a sci-fi or old-school psionics fan to really geek out over telepathy. If I were running a campaign I’d probably skip that and just concentrate on the advanced object reading—that’s an awesome enough mental power for any race.

On another personal note, I’m really conflicted by the munavri art. It’s excellently done and all the details are right—that jade armor even actually looks wearable!—but the overall sense is off.  I totally get how it happened…the art order was probably for an agile, good-aligned, albino human psychic race in jade armor…and the artist delivered.  But the pose is that of a fey trickster—every time I see it, I get the sense that if we filled in the white background, we’d see this munavri lounging on a toadstool chatting with Alice and the Caterpillar. For a sense of munavris as badass, aboleth- and urdefhan-fighting sailors of subterranean seas, Darklands Revisited澳门英皇娱乐’s art is sketchier in detail but more on point in terms of tone.

Mountain Giant

It always stuns me when mountain giants are a late addition to a monster series.  It’s always been this way in fantasy role-playing—in 1e AD&D, they didn’t show up until the Fiend Folio; in Mentzer D&D, not till the Master Rules; in 2e AD&D, not till the Monstrous Manual; and I don’t think they even existed in 3.0/3.5.  And I know why this is: As we’ve talked about before, it’s a problem with the GFR (Gygax Fossil Record)—if Gary Gygax didn’t put a particular monster in the 1e Monster Manual澳门英皇娱乐, later editions and RPGs tend to forget about it, no matter how glaringly obvious (SEA. SERPENTS.) the monster’s inclusion should be.

澳门英皇娱乐It’s weird with mountain giants, though, because they are practically our default giant.  There’s a case to be made that they are the generic jötunn or jotuns of Norse myth.  Stone, fire, and frost giants all have physiognomies and abilities that set them apart…but sometimes you just want a big damn giant, without flaming hair or icicle beards or a clay face or a cloud castle.  When you want your PCs to wait out a blizzard in a cave that turns out to be a boot, a mountain giant should be that boot’s rather grumpy owner.

That said…well, Pathfinder’s mountain giant isn’t quite like D&D/AD&D’s mountain giants. First off, they’re more magical.  Misleaddimension door…and deeper darkness and invisibility (at will(!?!?!)…that’s a new kind of mountain giant.  And then there are those abilities: Impale (Ex) and Devour (Su), which let them spear victims like salmon and then devour them for fast healing. The end result is not the ordinary jotun of A/D&D, but a terrifying manifestation of the hunger of the wilderness, of the starvation and cannibalism that occurs in an avalanche-blocked mountain pass.  They are all “Fee-fi-fo-fum” without any pretty wife or helpful singing harp.  Bestiary 6 makes it clear that these are giants that even other giants warn their children about, cannibals who can appear out of nowhere to snatch up the unwary and drag them away to be dismembered.  Almost five stories tall, 3,000 pounds, and resembling the king’s headsman if he dabbled in leather tanning and murder, Pathfinder’s mountain giant is the stuff of nightmares no matter what your size.

Caught between warring drow and aboleth nations in a region that thwarts extraplanar and teleportation magic, adventurers struggle to make their way back to the surface.  Their exodus is thwarted when, during a battle the adventurers had hoped to use to cover their escape, several pairs of mountain giants appear out of nowhere (courtesy of invisibility, dimension door, and deeper darkness) and begin laying waste to drow and aboleth victims alike.  

Adventurers infiltrate a frost giant steading澳门英皇娱乐…only to find several frost giant women sobbing, the men muttering darkly, and the children all chained to their parents’ beds like animals.  It is the night before the frost giant New Year, when Father Skewer takes one child away to slice open his or her intestines and devour raw.  Assume the frost giants don’t pound the adventurers into pudding for startling them, they will offer whatever they have to end the threat of Father Skewer—in truth, a crafty mountain giant skald—and restore peace to their New Year’s Eve for the first time in two generations.

Adventurers stumble upon a fort belonging to a mountain giant thane, but they are saved from discovery by his wife, a comparatively beautiful and gentle soul.  Having just lost her only child to crib death, she says, she cannot bear to see such small creatures be gutted and butchered by her brutal husband.  In truth, the giant’s wife is a worse cannibal than he is—it was she who devoured their child in his sleep.  She plans to consume the adventurers at her leisure and simply doesn’t want to share.

Pathfinder Bestiary 6 133

澳门英皇娱乐You’ll notice I don’t mention 4e and 5e D&D, because…wait, there was a 4e and a 5e?  But seriously, that’s just beyond my area of expertise.

澳门英皇娱乐Another reason mountain giants were outliers in D&D/AD&D is that in general the giants tended to go from mighty (hill/stone) to magical (frost/fire) to mythic (cloud/storm).  A/D&D’s mountain giants, being so tall and powerful but comparatively nonmagical, buck that trend, while Pathfinder’s continue it.

The first mountain giant I ever encountered was in the classic AC10 Bestiary of Dragons and Giants, where PCs aid a tall, supremely brash warrior who is actually a mountain giant tween masquerading as a human adventurer to have some fun.  I played it—actually I think I ran it—and it was cute!

It’s odd that Bestiary 6 has mongrel giants in “M” and mountain giants in “G”…I’m guessing the usual difficulties of trying to arrange where the two-page spreads fall are to blame.  (That’s probably also why the mosslord is out of order in the Table of Contents.)

The term “Gygax Fossil Record” should totally be a thing now.

Ye gods, could you guys imagine me as a YouTuber?  “That’s all for today, guys.  What monsters do YOU think were left out of the Gygax Fossil Record? Send me a TWEET with HASHTAG GygaxFossilRecord.  And don’t forget to LIKE, COMMENT, AND SUBSCRIBE!”  Thank God I’m too heinous for video.

I’ve got some amazing and lovely emails from a lot of you lately.  If I haven’t replied or mentioned here, I promise, promise, promise you it’s because of sheer busy-ness, and not because I’m a total D.  (I mean, I am a total D, but not for those reasons.)

Moon Giant

澳门英皇娱乐 It’s a miracle my interest in D&D survived my first play session—in one of those classic situations that can only happen in fourth or fifth grade, my DM refused to give me any guidance on equipping my character, leaving me to face, if I recall correctly, Cerberus and Zeus armed only with a club.  I was not pleased to be handed a d4 and told I had picked the worst weapon in the game.

But said awful DM was in my Cub Scout troop, and on one of our first campouts he brought Dragonlance Adventures澳门英皇娱乐.  I still remember sitting in his tent skimming page after page until I came to the chart about tracking the phases of the moon for your magic-user. That kind of detail was totally my jam—so much so that I almost forgave him the club incident.  Almost.

So needless to say, I dig Bestiary 5’s moon giant.  (In fact, if anything I wish its waxing and waning lunar auras were dependent on the phases of the moon, because I’m weird like that.)  I like the idea of notions like a bad moon rising having consequences in how an encounter plays out.  I like the little touches of theming that went into the stats (control water tucked in among the spell-like abilities for divination and communication was a nice touch).  And who doesn’t love an ability like Impact Crater, which is both evocative in itself and has an actual effect on the terrain? All in all, a nice marriage of flavor and abilities for an unusual giant type.

While attempting to decipher the glyphs of an ancient stone calendar, adventurers inadvertently wake the magic in the rocks.  This opens a secret door to a cavern complex they can explore…but it also summons three moon giant cults to conclave.  When the adventurers return to the surface, the moon giants demand that they participate in the giantmoot—they put out the call, after all.  If the adventurers are perceived to be shirking their duties, the giants attack.

The moon giants of Imar originated on the moon.  They are the descendants of explorers who became trapped on Imar, their gate magic inexplicably failing them on the return trip.  For the most part they have accepted their lot, but recently a lunar dragon’s tales of some vague calamity befalling the moon giants’ ancestral capital has had the tribes clamoring for some method—any method—to return home.  This has led to otherwise peaceable moon giant clans suddenly consorting with shantaks, witchwyrds, and worse.

Moon giants on worlds with more than one moon tend to physically favor one particular satellite—for instance, an individual giants’ skin may be more of a bluish or reddish cast to reflect the terrain of the particular moon he was born under.  These giants still feel the pull of all the moons, however.  Often this makes them more gifted in oracular powers than ordinary moon giants, but also far more likely to fall sway to the influence of a bad moon and other dire astrological combinations.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 122

I now own Dragonlance Adventures.  (I bought it earlier this year.)  I should write a “Books of Magic” installment about it sometime.

Also, I think my Cub Scout DM did let me have a dire wolf puppy, so he wasn’t all bad.

Mongrel Giant

After a long time out of fashion, templates seem to be poking their way back into the d20 design space. (Why they fell out of fashion: The hangover from 3.0’s template-palooza was a looong one, especially because so many Paizo staffers cut their teeth working on Dungeon, where half-dragon submissions were a veritable plague.  Also two editions of Green Ronin’s Advanced Bestiary, which the Pathfinder team treated like an honorary core rulebook, meant that most every template one could want had already been covered.)

If they are back in vogue, it’s because of templates like the mongrel giant: templates that open up opportunities for surprising/interesting play.  Templates that make as world feel more real. Templates that make you go, “Of course that should be a thing.”  And in a world where giants can comingle, it makes sense that there would be mongrel giants, so this template definitely fills a void.

Why mongrel giants exist is up to your worldbuilding. Straight interbreeding is one explanation. But, if you treat the original description in Pathfinder Adventure Path #93: Forge of the Giant God澳门英皇娱乐 as canon, such giant unions are sterile, which begs other explanations. Perhaps all giants spring from a progenitor species, whose traits sometimes manifest far down the genetic tree. Or, as we’ve discussed in this space before, giants may have some mystical connection to their environs. A giant tribe that lives at the border of two terrain types, or that suffers from climate change, or that is forced to migrate a long distance might all see their offspring born as mongrels, or even spontaneously manifest mongrel traits themselves…

One final note: The template in Bestiary 6 gives traits for all 24 types of mongrel giants (that’s every hardcover Bestiary giant race except for the hapless hill giants).  The original template in PAP #93 only covered six giant races, but went the old-school route of giving you a bunch of traits to choose from/roll for.  If you live to randomize your monsters, or if you want to really detail out the individual members of a mongrel giant steading, that may be the template you want to use.

The Cromark stone giant has always been polygamous, but the current thane has pursued the practice with a jealous vengeance, claiming nearly every female not directly related to him.  Frustrated Cromark males have been forced to turn to the nearby Nightclaw cave giant clan for comfort (though this comfort has usually taken the form of coercion, prostitution, and worse).  A generation in, at least a dozen mongrel Nightclaws have come of age. Meanwhile, the thane of the Cromark clan has begun sending raiding parties deep into human lands to keep his young warriors too occupied to challenge his power.

Orphaned as a child澳门英皇娱乐, the simpleminded hill giant Crusher has been collectively raised by the kindhearted folk of Whistledown, becoming a kind of town mascot.  But Crusher has just entered his teens, and with maturity has come a growth spurt and the blue-tinted skin of a frost giant.  Now, as autumn approaches, Crusher has become prone to violent moods and bloody threats, and townsfolk aren’t sure what to do.

Driven from their lands by logging and poachers, a wood giant clan has been forced to make a long sojourn toward a new homeland, a great forest which they know only from rumors.  Their tribe has been marked by the journey, with their young bearing the weathered tan skin of desert giants.  A solar eclipse marked the tribe even more dramatically: every mother who conceived in the next year bore twins, each with the heavy frames, gray skin, and magical nature of an eclipse giant.

Pathfinder Adventure Path #93 90–91 & Pathfinder Bestiary 6澳门英皇娱乐 192–193



(Illustration by Nemanja Stankovic comes from the artist’s ArtStation page and is © Paizo Publishing.)

Hoo boy.  Now this is an interesting monster.  

With no head and a single eye, nose, and mouth placed in the center of its chest, the kabandha is clearly a monster out of myth and fable.  (Which it is—Indian myth, to be precise.)  And I think for a lot of gaming tables, that’s where it will remain (if it’s even used at all).  The kabandha’s outlandish appearance, so monstrous and childish at the same time, limits its easy application in most game worlds.  Like Bestiary 4’s one-eyed, one-armed, one-legged fachen, this is a monster that most easily fits into your campaign’s Mount Olympus, the land of Faerie, or the kind of fable-packed island chains you find in works like the Odyssey, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Gulliver’s Travels, and the Earthsea novels.  Even according to Bestiary 5, you’re most likely to find a kabandha serving the will of a god or guarding a mysterious ley line. (They even lay eggs(!) made of stone—yet another fairy-tale touch.)

But why not put them in your campaign, especially if it’s one where the gods regular intrude?  The B5 authors specifically list the kabandha as a cyclops, thus giving it a family tree and a place in the world.  The easy answer is to sequester it along with the rakshasas and the nagas in your world’s take on fantasy India…but why not in your world’s Ireland, Jotunheim, or a homebrew location all your own?  Somewhere out there is a campaign where kabandhas are as common as minotaurs, and I want to see what that looks like.

That said, while we’re on the subject of fantasy India, the original Kabandha was laboring under a curse, and in death he was returned to his original celestial form.  What happens if your PCs kill a kabandha, only to have it return (especially if proper funeral rites are observed) as a manasaputra, angel, samsaran, or some other wise and blessed creature?

An adventuring party’s bard has been given a seemingly simple task: Deliver a cask of nutmeg to Lord Malar and convince him to open up a trade route, so that the spice caravans may travel freely through his lands.  This is a tougher assignment than it seems.  First, Lord Malar is extremely partial to cinnamon; second, he challenges any minstrel he meets to a song contest of deafening proportions; finally, he is a creature the likes of which the adventuring party has never seen—a kabandha of great age and influence—and he regards his stewardship over his lands (and the ley line they contain) as a divine charge.

Some off-duty musketeers are hired as guards for a private auction.  Among the rare books and glittering heirlooms are two seemingly ordinary stone spheres. The spheres are kabandha eggs, and the musketeers’ security measures (and hopefully, their sense of morality) will be tested when four kabandha parents come looking for their offspring.

Traveling in the Spirit World, adventurers encounter a kabandha who bars their way.  They are stunned when killing the cyclops does not silence it.  Instead it asks them to perform the proper funeral rites to honor its passing.  If they do so, the pyre hatches a rishi manu, who promises to return to their side for a future combat of their choosing.  If they ignore their responsibilities, the kabandha follows them throughout the Spirit World as a vengeful penanggalen of great power.

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I think I’ve mentioned this before, but one of the weirder nuggets in the “basic” D&D anthology accessory AC10 Bestiary of Dragons and Giants was the claim that stone giants, too, laid eggs.

One day we will get a proper India-inspired setting for Pathfinder.  (Looking at BoardGameGeek’s list of such things, the closest we’ve come so far in 3.5 seems to be Mindshadows, from Green Ronin’s Mythic Vistas line.  I gave in to curiosity and literally just ordered a copy since they were cheap, but Lord knows when I’ll have time to even skim it.)  

Until then, as always I highly encourage you to keep an eye out for the excellent Allen Varney D&D Hollow World module Nightstorm (and you want the physical copy because those old Hollow World hex maps are a joy).  I believe a few kits for 2e AD&D PCs (that’s archetypes for you Pathfinder fans) also occasionally tiptoed into Indian territory; they were sprinkled throughout the pages of the Complete Handbook series and Dragon Magazine.  Dragon Magazine #189澳门英皇娱乐 is especially worth seeking out for Michael J. Varhola’s “Rhino’s Armor, Tiger’s Claws,” which looks at Indian weapons.

Finally, I’ve gotten lots of fantastic reader responses to some of our recent posts.  There are too many to list here, but be sure to read what other folks are saying.


Normally I try to keep personal stuff confined to the bottom of the post, but with the gray that’s hard to do. That’s because when I was a kid, images of grays were everywhere.  

I think I was too young to notice when Whitley Strieber’s Communion came out in 1987, but by the time Transformation dropped a year later I’d gone from a kid who only read nonfiction books about dinosaurs and sharks to a kid who was hardcore into mythology and beginning my love of fantasy novels.  That meant trips to Waldenbooks and B. Dalton, where HOLY CRAP you could not miss the endcap displays full of copy after copy of Transformation—every single cover of which featured half a Visitor’s face peering straight at you with one haunting silver foil eye.  You didn’t even have to go into the store to encounter them.  The aliens stared at you through the entryway glass, dozens of eyes in geometric columns and rows all tracking your motion with the same flat expression as you walked by.  Thanks to multiple editions (the half-face one I mention above may actually have been a reissue; I can’t recall exactly), this went on for years.

It was creepy as f—.

Adding to the creepiness was the uncertain nature of Strieber’s tale, which even as an elementary-schooler I picked up on.  Communion purported to be a true story but was packaged like a novel; Transformation澳门英皇娱乐 was sold as fiction—very glossy, high-end fiction—but Strieber, in a rift with his publisher, loudly proclaimed it was true.  Later in life, in college and grad school, I positively reveled in books that toed the line between biography and fiction, but as a kid this Schrödinger’s fact (see what I did there?) disturbed me to no end.

I bring all this up because I have trouble putting this baggage away when I tackle Pathfinder’s grays. Grays, to me, are 100% sci-fi. Not Spelljammer science fantasy, not Edgar Rice Burroughs/James Sutter laser sword & sorcery, not Victorian steampunk, not Miéville/VanderMeer weird fantasy, not an Expedition to the Barrier Peaks-style Easter Egg, not nor even mythological aliens (like Bestiary 5’s anunnaki, Stargate’s gods, or whoever the Nazca lines were for).  Grays are Roswell, X-Files, Alien Autopsy, Weekly World News paranormal sci-fi.

But then again…that kind of sci-fi is more fantasy than far-future anyway.  Weekly World News also had Bat Boy, vampires, yetis and sasquatches.  So my notion of what can go into my sword & sorcery campaign ought to be elastic enough to fit grays in as well.

Really, it’s all in how you deploy grays.  If you like alien chocolate in your fantasy peanut butter, they’re ready to go as-is, spaceships and all.  Or grays could be from another dimension, in the vein of hounds of Tindalos and the denizens of Leng.  Their connection to sleep also makes them ideal for the Dimension of Dreams, the Ethereal Plane, the Plane of Mirrors, or similarly intrusive dimensional/planar layers. Or they might be fallen fey or transcended undead, mysterious beings who have become divorced from or transcended their former states.

In other words, there’s a lot to probe here.  (Really? Did I really have to go there?) But grays are on the cover of Bestiary 5 for a reason—because they have a way of invading your mind and your game whether you’re ready or not.

Adventurers go to check on a sleeping comrade澳门英皇娱乐, only to spot her being spirited away through a glowing door by little gray humanoids. If they follow, they find themselves in the sterile confines of an alien ship.  They must scour the twisting corridors to find their friend and escape. Fortunately, a slave caste of androids stationed on the ship may be able to help them in their flight.  The reason for the abduction remains mysterious, however…for now.

Adventurers spend the night in a lamasery澳门英皇娱乐, eager to consult with the monastery’s elders after many days of hard travel.  Soon, though—thanks to a mishap involving a one-way mirror—they discover they are not alone.  The entire lamasery is actually a carefully disguised testing facility where grays silently probe the psychic strength of this world’s humanoids.

Long considered a sign of an addled mind or too much drink, gray sightings have become so rampant they can no longer be ignored. Adventurers investigating the creatures on orders from the crown soon make a startling discovery—grays are not alien invaders, but rather explorers returning home.  The grays, on the other hand, are dismayed to find humans covering a world they deem as theirs like a pox.  They begin haunting or flat-out abducting key nobles in an effort to destabilize human civilization.  They also use their technology to rouse their closest evolutionary relatives—the savage orcs—and spur them into forming ravening hordes to overrun the leaderless nations.

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“No, no, that felt super off-the-books.”



(Illustration by Rogier van de Beek comes from the artist’s DeviantArt page澳门英皇娱乐 and is © Paizo Publishing.)

In myth, the Fir Bolg are an early Irish race (descended from an even earlier Irish race that wandered off toward Greece and back…or maybe “Fir Bolg” is just another name for Gaul’s Belgae people), who were in turn conquered and displaced by the Tuatha Dé Danann, who would become the gods of Ireland.  That sounds complicated, but only because it’s totally complicated.  But it gets easier, because in fantasy role-playing firbolgs have been transformed into goodly giantfolk, often contrasted with the imposing fomorians.  (…Which is ironic, because in the myths the Fir Bolg never encountered the Fomors and suddenly now you see why they teach Greek myths in school and never touch the Irish stuff Jesus I am so lost right now.)

Pathfinder’s firbolgs are small for giants—only eight feet tall—though what they lack in stature they make up for in Huge-sized weapons.  But honestly most of the time they’ll probably avoid drawing steel, as in general firbolgs act more like fey, keeping to themselves and employing reduce person and alter self in order to pass unnoticed among humans.

As such, the firbolg is awesome when you need an NPC with something secret about him, a mysterious village that is More Than It Seems, or a giant that won’t immediately try to bowl the PCs’ heads off.  And if you want to evoke the Fir Bolg of myth, firbolgs make excellent remnants of a previous age, possessing knowledge or natural wisdom humans have forgotten. Taller, stronger, magically talented, and simultaneously skilled at war and peace, firbolgs represent a raw, bygone golden age that makes the present one look shabby in comparison.

The duke has announced a bounty on ogres, so adventurers of all stripes gather in the taproom of the Boar & Basilisk to hear the details.  A stranger catches everyone’s eye—a man with a ginger beard standing a full eight feet high. The stranger is a firbolg who has had a geas laid upon him: He must fight every ogre or troll he encounters or he will grow sick and weary.  He has been traveling with evil adventurers and would like to leave their company, but the blackguards are skilled with poisoned blades and threaten anyone who engages him too long in conversation.

A fighter is attempting to reconstruct the lost fighting style required to employ the gáe bolga (a kind of barbed chain spear launched with a kick, excellent for disemboweling foes). He discovers hints that the lore survives in an isolated farming village.  The villagers are actually firbolgs who gently try to discourage the fighter from pursuing this bloody art.  One tipoff to their true identities might be the absurdly large bastard sword hidden under the floorboards of the guestroom the fighter and his friends are given to sleep in.

Adventurers crossing a bridge meet a proud warrior crossing the other way.  Rather than give way—whether out of a desire for a bit of sport, or in righteous anger, depending on how polite the adventurers were—the warrior challenges their best warrior to a duel with quarterstaves.  As the duel begins, the stranger casts reduce person on the warrior, while he himself grows to eight feet in height and swaps his staff for a tree trunk.

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澳门英皇娱乐Does anyone remember the d20 game inspired by Irish myths?  Came out early 2000s?  When Wizards of the Coast was shutting down its retail stores I bought one of those books at a fire-sale price, but it’s in some box now.  I vaguely remember flying longboats were a thing in the setting, but that’s about it.