Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Monster Monday: Haietlik, The Lightning-Tongued Sea Serpent

Today's Monster Monday is the haietlik, a sea serpent from the mythology and folklore of Nuu-chah-nulth (Nootka) peoples of the Pacific Northwest.  According to legend, these lightning serpents had knife-sharp heads and could spit lightning from their tongues.  They were allies of the thunderbirds (the mythological creature, not the 1960s supermarionation show), who used them to hunt whales.

Before I get to the monster, here's some insight into how I research creatures like this before statting them up.  I first encountered the haietlik on Wikipedia.  Now, I'm not one of those people who thinks Wikipedia is a den of crowd-sourced lies devoid of any merit, but I do think it is important to take information found on Wikipedia with a grain of salt, especially if the article is very short and relies entirely on a single source which is just a link to a defunct webpage.  I liked the information that Wikipedia gave though: a sea serpent that hunts whales with its sharp head and lightning breath.  I just needed this depiction of the monster to be confirmed by other sources.

My first step is to check my ever-growing library of books on mythology, folklore, and legendary creatures.  Sadly, I do not yet have a book on the myths of Pacific Northwest Native Americans, and most general books on mythology tend to gloss over or largely ignore Native American myths.  Fortunately, there is an entry on the haietlik in Giants, Monsters & Dragons: An Encyclopedia of Folklore, Legend, and Myth, by Carol Rose, one of my go-to reference works for mythological creatures.  The entry (fairly good-sized for such an obscure monster) added that the haietlik hunted in coastal waters, that many pictograms of the beast could be found on rocks in the area, and that the skin of a haietlik brought good luck to whale-hunters.  Unfortunately, it said nothing of the creature's lightning breath or knife-sharp head.  None of my other books mentioned the haietlik, so I took to the internet again.  Googling around for more information of stub Wikipedia articles about mythological creatures rarely bears fruit.  Often, you will only find third-party wikis that regurgitate the same information from Wikipedia, cryptozoology wikis which have their own issues with reliability, and blogs of people talking about the esoteric monsters they've put in their own campaign settings (like this blog, I guess).  I was hoping to luck out and find a website that records Native American myths (like this awesome bilingual about inuit myth) but I had no such luck here.

Stuck, I went back to the defunct link from Wikipedia and took it through the Internet Wayback Machine.  Awesomely, the haietlik appears on the squadron badge of the RCAF's 442 Transport & Rescue Squadron.  Their website, as it appeared in 2007, describes the haietlik as the whale-hunting, knife-nosed, lightning-shooting sea serpent that I initially saw on Wikipedia.  I now have two sources to work from, which is less than I would like, but all I'm going to be able to get right now.  And at least I have the knowledge that my interpretation of this mythical beast is at least in accordance with that of the Royal Canadian Air Force.
Squadron Badge of the RCAF 442 Transport & Rescue Squadron
The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2016 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Monster Monday: Dust Mummy, Accursed Cloud of Decay

With one final roar, Abdul thrust the ancient spear into the attacking guardian's chest, bursting through the intricately detailed blue faience surface.  He gave it a twist, and the wings of the spear ripped at the crumbling clay.  The falcon-headed ushabti collapsed, now nothing more than a pile of ancient ceramics.  Hassan was over by the passageway, roasting the bodies of the two mummified cheetahs with vindictive glee, divine flame jetting from his outstretched silver holy symbol.  With the tomb's protectors defeated, Abdul and Hassan took out their blessed chisels and went to work on the walls, obliterating every instance of the priest-king's name and every image of his face, just as they had done in the previous rooms.

Hassan found the secret door.  He had always been better at that than Abdul.  "What do you think, brother - will this be the real burial chamber, or another false one?" Abdul asked as he chipped away at the plaster covering the door's seams.

Hassan continued to focus on the door, clutching his holy symbol with white knuckles.  There was a series of mechanical clicks from behind the door, and Hassan instantly relaxed.  "The traps are disarmed," he said in the calm, pleased tone of a butler presenting a particularly fine roasted peacock.

"The door was-?" Abdul dropped his crowbar and scurried back.  "Mound of Mu'at, man!  Why didn't you tell me?"

"I would have stopped you before you triggered them."  Hassan spread his hands wide.

"Alright, you open the door."

When the stone door fell to the dusty ground with a great crack, they stood face to face with a gilded sarcophagus.

"Entombed standing upright.  Typical Yuttub-worshiper."  Hassan spat at the mention of the hated god.

Abdul hefted his sledgehammer and swung it at the sneering golden face.  "This is for what you did to our people!  And this is for what you did to our homeland!  And this is for the thousand years of suffering that followed!"  With his last swing, the ruined face cracked, the sealant on the sarcophagus lid failed, and the whole stone edifice fell to join the door, narrowly missing Abdul's toes.

The desiccated corpse within was bound in strips of ancient bandage inscribed with arcane sigils, and what flesh was visible was covered in gold leaf.  The gaudy tyrant stood for only a split second before collapsing into a pile of sparkling dust and shards of bone.  Hassan let a rare shout of jubilation escape his lips, and the brothers exchanged triumphant smiles.  But the grave dust rose in a swirling cloud between them, scraps of spell-cloth whipping around as if caught in a dust devil.  Occasionally the dust would congeal into the vague shape of a hand or a leg.  A cruel face formed in the dust and uttered in a soul-rasping voice, "REMEMBER... MY... NAME."

Hassan recovered his composure before Abdul did.  Winged holy symbol raised before him, he invoked the name of the Goddess and three beams of brilliance ripped through the priest-king's temporary face.  With a scream, the mummy cloud spread out to fill the whole room with itself.  The dust blasted at their skin, causing it to crack and blister.  Abdul pulled his own holy symbol from the folds of his robes and held it aloft.  The flash of divine light sent visible waves through the dust cloud.  Hassan followed suit with an even more powerful burst, filling the room with crackling energy.

The cloud reformed into a vaguely humanoid shape for an instant, pressed its immaterial hands against Hassan's face, and disappeared into his mouth.  Hassan's eyes widened.  He fell to his knees, skin tightening against his bones.  With a belated cry, Abdul rushed to press his holy symbol to his brother's forehead, channeling a burst of healing magic through it, but it was not strong enough.  Hassan gasped, then with a sickening cracking sound he disintegrated.  The dead priest-king swirled up from between Hassan's dry bones, its face re-forming, one partial hand stretching out towards Abdul's throat.  "REMEMBER... MY... NAME!"

Abdul snatched up his brother's holy symbol, divine fire already blazing from between its silver wings, and thrust it into the discorporate face.  "NO ONE WILL!"

~ ~ ~

Today's Monster Monday is the dust mummy, a sentient undead cloud of dust formed from a disintegrated mummy, held together by rage at the living and a desire to be remembered after death.  Far more insidious than your typical mummy, these swirling collections of dust can easily spread their curse to all that they touch, and can even infest the lungs of their hapless victims, rotting them from within.

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2016 Jonah Bomgaars.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

PC Race - Changelings: Half-Fey Heroes

Those born of a fiendish bloodline are tieflings, and those born of a celestial bloodline are aasimar, but what is the product of a union between mortal and fey?  Changelings are mortals with fey ancestry, and much like tieflings and aasimar, they are at once a part of the mortal world and apart from it.

There is already a race called changelings in Pathfinder, but those are the offspring of mortals and hags.  In mythology, changelings are fey (or sometimes troll) children who are secretly exchanged with human babies by their supernatural mothers.  Changeling is therefore the natural choice for the name of a race of half-fey, in the style of tieflings and aasimar.  I'm honestly not sure why Paizo made the half-hag changelings, let alone called them 'changelings', when there is still no half-fey race.  I suggest renaming the half-hag changeling race to 'hag-spawn'.

Presented below is the half-fey changeling race, modeled on the lines of tieflings and aasimar.  I have also included ten alternate racial traits to further customize your changeling character, including one for small-sized changelings and one for talking to animals.  After all, 'fey' and 'mortal' are broad categories - the offspring of a halfling and a leprechaun is going to be different from the offspring of a nymph and an elf, or a dwarf and a dryad.

Changelings (8 RP)
The offspring of fey creatures with the mortal races, changelings are wild, exotic, and full of mystery.  In mortal cultures, they are often looked on with derision for their bastard ancestry and all the implications thereof - many a married couple has been broken up by the arrival of a changeling baby.  So too are they often derided in the fey lands for having mortal, 'imperfect' blood.  Changelings are separated from both worlds, either because of the strange traits and powers they have, or because of the ones they don't. 
   Physical Description: Changelings often exhibit some alien trait that marks them as different from the population they were born into, be it horns, a tail, strangely-colored hair or eyes, glowing skin, wings, or what have you.  Many changelings, however, are almost indistinguishable from the general population, though their strange otherworldliness comes through in other ways. 
   Society: Changelings have no society of their own, and are often outcasts in mortal and fey societies.  Some changelings are run out of their home or abandoned in the woods as a child, some form their own social groups from other outcasts.  While some primitive societies may treat changelings as a curse, others may see them as a blessing and treat them and their family with great respect. 
   Although the fey see changelings as imperfect and corrupted by mortal blood, they also recognize them on some level as kindred spirits and do not wish for them to come to harm.  Instead of abandoning a changeling child, the fey mother will often secretly switch it out with a newborn human so that it might at least be raised well.  In rare cases, regretful fey mothers may seek to steal the changeling back from the human world. 
   Relations: Although often rejected by mortal and fey society, changelings can usually find common ground and sympathy from half-elves, tieflings, aasimar, and other such 'half-breeds.' 
   Alignment and Religion: Changelings often find themselves drawn to religions that reflect their fey, nature-loving heritage, though some actively seek to reject that legacy and avoid any such connotations.  The majority of changelings trend toward chaotic alignments due to their fickle and spritely personalities. 
   Adventurers: As outcasts so often do, many changelings find themselves drawn to a life of adventure.  Changelings make excellent sorcerers and druids due to their innate connection with the arcane and natural world, and many changelings channel their otherworldly charisma into fine bardic performances.  Particularly successful changeling adventurers may find acceptance in the societies that rejected them at birth, even amongst the fey court, but some may choose to make their own path through their adventures and spurn the advances of those who treated them so indifferently before. 

The following material given in gold text and its accompanying table is available as Open Game Content under the OGL.  Open Game Content is ©2016 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Monster Monday: Jackalope, the Horned Rabbit of the West

Unlucky Jackalope - Spica, Kansas
Today's Monster Monday is the jackalope - that classic mythological critter of the American West - a jackrabbit with the antlers of a pronghorn antelope.  I felt I would be remiss not to offer the jackalope as an option for wizard familiars in my wild west Guns of the Western Kings setting.

Jackalopes are a classic example of rogue taxidermy, a term used to describe the piecing together of animal parts from different animals to create a fictional, chimerical creature.  I had always assumed - somewhat romantically - that the jackalope arose out of tall tales told around campfires out on the trail, and that the taxidermied jackalopes had grown out of these tales.  As it turns out, the jackalope was invented in 1932 by a boy named Douglas Herrick of (coincidentally) Douglas, Wyoming, who was learning taxidermy by mail-order.  He sold his piece of rogue taxidermy to a local hotelier, who displayed it as a tourist attraction.  Stories of jackalopes took off from there.  While it may not be a piece of true mythology, the jackalope certainly has an important place in constructed folklore, similar to the wild haggis in Scotland or drop bears in Australia.

Although jackalopes are a modern invention, they follow in a long line of similar feats of rogue taxidermy and actual belief in what was called the lepus cornutus, or horned rabbit.  In 1933, one year after the creation of the first known jackalope, American virologist Richard Shope discovered Shope papilloma virus (or Kappapapillomavirus 2) which causes keratinous, hornlike growths on rabbits in the wild.  This may be the origin of early mythological expressions of of the lepus cornutus, like the Arabian al-mi'raj, a rabbit with a unicorn horn.  Almiraj has existed as a monster in Dungeons & Dragons since the original Fiend Folio published in 1981, and was added to Pathfinder in Bestiary 4.  As medieval bestiaries gave way to naturalist studies in the Early Modern period, the lepus cornutus made the transition as well, probably buoyed by sightings of rabbits with Shope papilloma virus.

lepus cornutus (center) in Animalia Qvadrvpedia et Reptilia (Terra),
painted in the late 16th century
The horned rabbit continued to appear in scientific works into the early 19th century, probably last given credence in the 1817 Nouveau dictionnaire d'histoire naturelle, which considers the creature to be possibly real but very rare.  This may have also encouraged another example of rogue taxidermy, the wolpertinger, a horned and winged rabbit, often with other animal bits added for good measure.  The wolpertinger serves a similar role in Alpine Bavaria as the Jackalope in the American West - as a local curiosity displayed in hotels and pubs and a focal point for tall tales told to tourists.  The wolpertinger entered Pathfinder in Adventure Path #61: Shards of Sin, along with a similar flying Swedish rabbit called a skvader.

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2016 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Monster Monday: Magmachelon, the Lava Turtle

"There's something!  Right there, in the lava lake!  Did you see it?"  Teleon Ostremachus pointed at where he had seen a mound of rock and glowing orange crystals briefly break the surface of the bubbling lava pool.  The other members of the expedition glanced around blankly, trying to see where he was pointing.  

"Right there!" he said again, conjuring a glowing pink hand over the molten rock, one finger pointing straight down at the place where the mystery object had breached.  

"There's nothing there," said Felten, the expedition's official artist.  

"Of course there's nothing there now, but there was!"

"So what are we-" he broke off as the crystaline mound broke the surface again, twenty yards to the left."

"Get it!  Getitgetitgetit!"

Gerias, the designated trapper, wove a quick spell, and the thing in the lava was pulled up as if by invisible threads until it hovered five feet or so above the lava's surface.  Globs of molten rock ran in slow-motion rivulets down the squirming creature's body, dripping off like thick molasses.  When most of the thing's body was free of lava, Gerias encased it in a transparent sphere of force and drew it over to hover in the middle of their makeshift camp.  The few straggling drops of lava made a little pool at the bottom of the sphere.

It was Teleon's second research expedition to the Elemental Plane of Fire.  His study of the fauna here in the previously ill-documented Black Rock Chaos would make him rich and famous if all went well.  So far, he had made contact with a small tribe of azers, observed a subspecies of salamander native to the Chaos, and run afoul of a swarming elemental force he dubbed 'flame sprites'.  This creature, though, was entirely unlike anything he had yet read of.  Its body was a semi-flattened ovoid with an equatorial ridge, tapering slightly toward the anterior.  It seemed covered with a thick, rocky carapace from which protruded glowing orange crystals.  Three sets of stiff paddle-like flippers made futile circling motions, searching for purchase, as the beast hung suspended in mid-air.  Three chitinous plates at the front served as jaws for a triangular mouth lined with thick, spiky teeth.  

Teleon was furiously taking notes in his field journal.  "Are you getting all this, Felten?"

The expedition's artist was in a panic.  "Umm..."  The edges of his sheets of parchment were blackened and curling inwards.  "I think I wasn't holding my sketching pages when you cast that protection spell on us."

"Oh figs!"  Teleon ripped three pages out of the back of his field journal and thrust them at the artist.  "Get drawing!"

"Um, Teleon?"  This time it was Gerias, looking worriedly at the sphere of force.  The beast was spewing a stream of lava out of its mouth, rapidly filling the force sphere.  The molten rock hardened into a black shell on the interior surface of the sphere, obscuring their view of the creature.  

Teleon sighed.  "Release it, then recapture it.  We can't lose this thing!"

Gerias dismissed the capture spells and the semisphere of lava collapsed onto the shelf of pitted black rock.  Another jet of lava spewed forth from the creature's mouth, coating Gerias in molten rock.  The trapper screamed and fell to the ground, pawing at the patches of sizzling lava clinging to his flesh as the expedition's cleric ran over to aid him.  The lava creature glowed brighter, steam venting from its bony plates, then burrowed into the black rock, disappearing from sight.

Teleon swore quietly to himself.  

Today's Monster Monday is magmachelon, a turtle-like creature that swims through magma and solid rock and shoots jets of lava out of its mouth.

I made this creature years ago in the game Spore (pictured above), because that game's creature creator was far more entertaining that the actual gameplay.  The idea of this lava turtle creature stuck in my head, and now here it is statted up for Pathfinder!

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2016 Jonah Bomgaars.