Thursday, July 27, 2017

Eberron Changelings for Pathfinder

In the Eberron setting, changelings are a shapeshifting race descended from doppelgangers. They were converted to D&D Fifth Edition in one of the very first columns in the current "Unearthed Arcana" series, which prompted me to try converting them to Pathfinder. Because Pathfinder already has a "changeling" race (descended from hags), I have renamed them half-doppelgangers here.

I have translated the race's traits given in the Eberron Campaign Setting book (for v.3.5) using the Race Builder rules in the Pathfinder RPG Advanced Race Guide. Traits marked with an asterisk (*) are not standard traits from Chapter 4, but have been priced compared to similar abilities.

Type: Humanoid (shapechanger): 0 RP
Size: Medium: 0 RP
Base Speed: Normal: 0 RP
Ability Score Modifiers: Human Heritage (+2 to one ability score): 0 RP
Languages: Standard: 0 RP
Racial Traits:
Defense Racial Traits:
Doppelganger Heritage* (+2 bonus to saving throws vs. charm and sleep): 1 RP
Feat and Skill Racial Traits:
Skill Bonus (+2 Bluff): 2 RP
Skill Bonus (+2 Intimidate): 2 RP
Skill Bonus (+2 Sense Motive): 2 RP
Skill Training (Bluff, Linguistics): 1 RP
Magical Racial Traits:
Change Self* (Medium humanoid; as disguise self, but change is physical rather than illusion): 3 RP
Total: 11 RP

My wife Erika has helped me create a sample 1st-level half-doppelganger stat block much like those presented in the Bestiary and Monster Codex.

SUE D'NYM (CR 1/2)
XP 200
Female half-doppelganger rogue (spy) 1 [Advanced Player's Guide 135]
CN Medium humanoid (shapechanger)
Init +6; Senses Perception +5
AC 15, touch 12, flat-footed 13 (+3 armor, +2 Dex)
hp 9 (1d8+1)
Fort +1, Ref +4, Will +1; +2 vs. charm and sleep
Speed 30 ft.
Melee dagger -1 (1d4-1/19-20) or sap -1 (1d6-1 nonlethal)
Ranged dagger +2 (1d4-1/19-20)
Special Attacks sneak attack +1d6
Str 8, Dex 14, Con 13, Int 10, Wis 12, Cha 17
Base Atk +0; CMB -1CMD 11
Feats Improved Initiative
Skills Bluff +10, Disguise +7 (+17 with change shape), Intimidate +9, Linguistics +4, Perception +5, Performance (comedy) +7, Sense Motive +7, Sleight of Hand +6, Stealth +6; Racial Modifiers +2 Bluff, +2 Intimidate, +2 Sense Motive
Languages Common
SQ change shape (Medium humanoid; as disguise self, but change is physical rather than illusion)
Gear studded leather, dagger (4), sap, backpack, bedroll, belt pouch, disguise kit, flint and steel, entertainer's outfit, explorer's outfit, 44 gp, 9 sp

TBT: A Beginner's Guide to LARP

Back in 2001, when I was still actively involved in the Greater Boston and New England LARP communities, I wrote "A Beginner's Guide to LARP." This was my attempt to explain live-action role-playing to people unfamiliar with that style of play. This document desperately needs to be revised and updated, but that will have to wait until someday when I get back into LARP again. Meanwhile, for those who are curious about this artifact, I've made it available again (with minimal editing, just to fix or remove broken links) at my gaming website, Thastygliax's Vault.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Building the Bestiary #15: For the Birds

Penguins from the Friends theme (left) and Minifigures Series 16 (Penguin Boy, center [with head replaced]; and the Wildlife Photographer's penguin, right).
This week's column looks at birds and bird-like creatures, from small mundane avians to large winged monsters.

Small Birds

The LEGO group has produced a number of small single-piece birds (some of which were touched upon in Tiny Creatures). The picture below includes a falcon, a parrot, two styles of owls, a chicken, a seagull, and crows. Most of these birds have anti-studs in the base, making them easy to mount on bases to use as miniatures. A few need additional work: the falcon/parrot requires a brick to give space for its tail, and the crow has a small pin, sized to insert into a hair or headgear part, instead of an anti-stud. (I've used a helmet and a ladybug as perches for the two crows shown here.)

Many LEGO sets also include small birds built with bricks, such as the ones shown below:

(A cockatrice can be made by replacing the chicken or rooster's tail with a vine or other serpent-like piece.)

Additional birds of this size can be designed easily with just a few small plates, tiles, and SNOT bricks, such as my turkey and penguin below.


One of the main challenges of larger bird models is the wings. These can be built to be either stationary or poseable; the latter will require hinged parts of some kind. The white bird shown here uses some of the simplest possible wings: single tapered plates attached to hinged plates.  (Note that the tail and feet are attached to the same bar by two different clip plates.)

With a few changes, this basic model can become different species of birds, such as this giant vulture.

Larger birds will require more elaborate wings. Some simple wing models are shown below. Above a certain size, you will probably want to add a second hinge, to get the classic upside-down-W shape associated with birds in flight.

Winged People

In a fantasy game, there will be many races that look more or less humanoid but have wings. The Legends of Chima theme has made building these races much easier by including clip-on wings that can be attached to breastplates. Since then, some Nexo Knights and Superheroes sets have used the same wings, but replaced the bulky breastplate with a small, clear piece that is mostly covered by the minifigure's head and clip-on wings.

Members of the Raven, Phoenix, and Eagle Tribes (Legends of Chima)
Raven Tribe characters without wings make excellent tengu, kenku, or dire corbies. Winged Eagle Tribe characters make good aarakocra (particularly the D&D Fifth Edition version, which have separate wings and arms).

The collectible Minifigures theme has also provided a few bird-winged characters, such as the Flying Warrior (with Chima-style wings; Series 15) and Chicken Suit Guy and Penguin Boy (whose wings are their costumes' arms; Series 9 and 16).

Some sets (like 76076 Captain America Jet Pursuit) include fixed wings that are a single piece that fit over the neck post. They look great for a creature in flight, but the wingspread could make the model awkward to move around on the game map. In a pinch, a patterned cloak can serve as folded wings, as shown in the harpy on the right in the next photo.

Harpies with fixed wings (from 7307 Flying Mummy Attack) and folded wings (cloak).
If you don't have any of these prefab wing parts, or want wings of a larger size or different style, you can attach brick-built wings to a minifigure. It's possible to build a replacement torso that includes clips to attach the wings. The angel below is based on a winged god model that I designed several years ago, before feathered wings of any kind were available. It uses a 1x2 brick (to attach the legs), topped by two 2x2 L-plates (for arms), four 1x1 plates with clips (two to attach the wings, two to serve as hands) and two 1x1 plates (to fill out the shoulders), and a jumper plate (to attach the head). Change the colors of these bricks to suggest armor or other clothing. This build makes the character about two plates taller than a normal minifigure, but it's certainly less awkward looking than the weirdly top-heavy Axl character from Nexo Knights. And that extra height is well-suited to Large winged characters, such as solars.

Larger Birds 

Larger prefabricated LEGO creatures exist for birds such as Fawkes the phoenix (Harry Potter), ostriches (Prince of Persia), and great eagles (Lord of the Rings/Hobbit). A Pathfinder phoenix is much larger (Gargantuan), but Fawkes can be used for other Medium or Large birds. The ostrich can also serve as an axe beak (Bestiary 3), but you may wish to replace the (conveniently removable) head with a brick-built one with a more fearsome-looking beak. The great eagles are just about the perfect size for d20 or Pathfinder giant eagles.

Similarly, some figures are available for hybrid avian monsters such as Buckbeak the hippogriff (Harry Potter) and pegasi (Elves). Buckbeak's wings are perfect for attaching to other winged creatures, and are bigger than most minifigure wings. (See Four-Legged Friends about building your own pegasus.)

The following two models show examples of larger birds built with bricks. Both have stationary wings, but poseable legs and tail. They have been mounted on bases with clear risers in order to show them in flight; this height also makes the wingspan less of a problem when moving the mini around a battle map that holds smaller, land-based creatures.

The first bird, a monochrome eagle, is a fairly simple model that focuses on the outline of the wings and tail. It uses two SNOT bricks (a 1x2 brick and a 1x2 plate, both with two studs on one side) to attach the wings and tail. A hinge is used at the hips to attach the legs, and allows the bird to be posed in either a horizontal or climbing position.

The blue and gray bird below uses large wing/feather pieces (from Legends of Chima) to form the wings; two pieces are used per side to give the wings more bulk in proportion to the rest of the body. A pair of these wing pieces can also be substituted for the shorter style of clip-on wings on a minifigure, if you want bigger wings and don't mind them being fixed in position.

With either model, replace the bird's head with a minifigure or animal head to create a hybrid monster such as a siren, simurgh, or peryton. (Chima characters, with their helmet-like headpieces over standard minifigure heads, are excellent choices here.)

The following LEGO sets (mostly from the Legends of Chima theme) give examples of much larger bird models suitable for Gargantuan or Colossal birds:
  • 31004 Fierce Flyer: The main bald eagle model (shown below) is pretty much perfect as-is for a Gargantuan roc miniature. To make it serve as a mount, replace one or more of the sloped bricks on the back with plates with exposed studs, so that minifigures can be attached.
  • 70000 Razcal's Glider makes a nice Huge raven or vulture.
  • 70003 Eris' Eagle Interceptor is easily Colossal in size. This model is a bird-shaped aircraft, so the cockpit should be replaced with solid bricks to convert it into a creature.
  • 70124 Eagle Legend Beast can be used as a Huge or Gargantuan bird. The wings are more fanciful than realistic, but the head and claws are very nicely detailed, and the model is designed for a rider.
  • 70221 Flinx's Ultimate Phoenix is a very nicely designed model featuring many large flame pieces, but is a bit oversized for a Gargantuan Pathfinder phoenix.

Set 31004 Fierce Flyer

Appendix: Past "Building the Bestiary" Columns

#1: Humanoids
#2: Underwater Races
#3: Giants
#4: Undead
#5: Tiny Creatures
#6: Four-Legged Friends
#7: Oozes
#8: Spell Effects
#9: Elementals
#10: Devils
#11: Aquatic Animals
#12: Vermin
#13: Non-OGL Monsters
#14: Plants

Time of the Tarrasque #11: Where's the Cactus?

Our heroes include:
  • Edel Naergon, high elf bard (magician) 3.
  • Fatou, human wizard (evoker) 2/cleric of Yaziel 1; and Nochaesh, owl familiar.
  • Jubair, human rogue 3.
  • Jumari Boneface, half-orc inquisitor 3 [deity not yet known to most of the PCs].
  • Lucretia Scavola, half-elf monk (zen archer) 3.
  • ZhaZha, half-orc cavalier (order of the dragon) 3; and Zafira, camel mount.
Last time, our heroes had tracked a halfling and a tiny animate cactus to the eastern edge of Spine Hollow, where one of the low spots through the surrounding ring of hills was clogged with cacti and other desert plants. Edel had cast dancing lights to point out their quarry to the others, and the party pursued into the difficult terrain of the cactus patch.

Jumari cast expeditious retreat on herself in order to follow the tracks without being slowed down even further. The party gained on the halfling, and the others could finally see her in the moonlight: a tiny figure in desert robes. When they drew within a bowshot of her, Edel called out for her to stop, claiming the party didn't want to hurt her.

In reply, she stopped long enough to cast stinking cloud on the group, which nauseated all of them except Jumari. The inquisitor warded herself with shield of faith and rushed forward as quickly as the clinging vegetation would let her. The others slowly stumbled out of the cloud, and stumbled in the direction of the halfling as they tried to recover from the spell's effects.

The party closes in on the halfling (white hood), after
weathering her stinking cloud (pencil circle) and
vomit swarm (gray disk) spells.
The small woman vomited out a swarm of spiders, which soon reached Edel, who took damage but continued onward. Fatou was the first to recover from nausea; she cast burning hands on the swarm before it passed over her and into the stinking cloud.

Meanwhile, Jumari had closed with the halfling, who attempted to cast pox pustules on her, but the half-orc resisted the spell. Unable to strike the nimble halfling with her weapons, Jumari switched to her bleeding touch power, with which she easily hit her target.

Fatou and Jubair reached the halfling, hemming her in. Lucretia received from the cloud's effects, and began shooting at their foe, but her first several shots missed. The monk finally hit while the small spellcaster was trying to hit Jumari with vampiric touch; her arrow did more injury than the halfling's spell healed.

Edel trips the surrounded halfling.
Jubair and Edel were the last to overcome their nausea. The rogue struck the enemy a solid blow, and the bard used his whip to trip her. Badly hurt and prone, the halfling surrendered, and ZhaZha (who had finally reached the fight) took away her staff and sat on her to keep her under control.

Jumari used detect evil to confirm her suspicions about the halfling woman, but nobody could see the tiny black cactus anywhere. The inquisitor demanded to know where it was, and was told it was trying to get away, out of the hollow. Jumari and Fatou used the enhanced speed to track the cactus eastward, leaving the others to search and interrogate their prisoner.

Fatou sent her owl Nochaesh ahead to scout, and the owl spotted the fleeing plant. The thing hid in a clump of brush, but Jumari was able to locate its aura, and demanded that it emerge. The tiny creature pleaded not be killed, and asked if they had killed its mistress. The half-orc intimidated it into obeying her, and Fatou told it that its fate would match its master's. Once it showed itself, Fatou recognized it as a rare sentient plant called a petrifern, who some spellcasters could use as familiars.

Meanwhile, ZhaZha searched the woman and removed all the gear hidden about her person, and Edel used detect magic on her and her gear. The prisoner had mage armor active (which is why she had been so hard to hit), and the bard identified a wand of cure light wounds and cloak of resistance +1 among her possessions. The woman had a spell component pouch but no holy symbol, and a pearl in the pouch radiated strong magic unfamiliar to Edel, as did her bracers.

Edel showed the halfling the map, asking what it meant. The woman, Tarifa, cursed softly in her own language, about the idiots who wrote down her name. She explained that the cactus beside her name represented Spine Hollow, and that "Ilgash" was an orc who commanded a secret Ghost Fist Clan hideout there. Tarifa was paid to keep tabs on the hollow, and report to the clan. She claimed to not be a death cultist herself, just in their employ as a spy. Edel suggested she consider not working for them anymore, and the woman swore there was no way she was going back--the Ghost Fists would kill her faster than her present captors would.

In response to further questions, Tarifa explained that the cactus was her familiar, Nafi. Jubair, who by now was somewhat obsessed with acquiring a companion (or two), asked how to get one. Tarifa said, "If you talk to the darkness for long enough, it talks back and teaches you things." This did not exactly help her case with the rest of the party, but Jubair persisted. She pleaded that if they let her and Nafi live, she could see if the rogue could learn how. Jubair tried to convince the others to let her live so that he could get a cactus familiar, but then wondered out loud that maybe if he killed her, he would become its master.

Jumari and Fatou returned just in time to hear Tarifa's desperate shriek of, "It doesn't work that way!" Edel filled them in what the party had learned so far, and then the questions continued.

Tarifa claimed that Ilgash was a leader among the Ghost Fists, and a spellcaster though Tarifa had not seen her use much magic. The hideout usually held at least a half-dozen orcs, sometimes up to twice that many. Tarifa was trying to leave the hollow in order to report on the PCs' arrival. When asked what she had learned of them, she started by stating that an elf working with half-orcs was unusual. Before she could say much more, Jubair interrupted to suggest that she had seen a "handsome human." She latched onto this: "Yes, a handsome human--who likes to touch cactus for no good reason." (This amused the others, and failed to either shame or anger the rogue.)

The halfling confirmed that the Ghost Fists worshiped a death god, who she believed was Asmolon (whose name she would only whisper). The clan's leaders aren't orcs, but an elf and a human. The elf, Ragalash, was much darker-skinned than Edel (a pale-skinned high elf); he was very creepy, as he animated dead things. The human, Yazdanyar, was war leader because he was tougher and scarier than any of the clan's orcs; the spy didn't know if he was a spellcaster. These two live out in the desert with the rest of the clan, not in Ilgash's cave. Tarifa didn't know how large the tribe was. She tried to beg for her release if she told them how to find Ilgash.

Fatou had been inspecting the items taken from the spy, and determined that the bracelets were bracers of armor +1, but she could not divine what the pearl did. She quizzed Tarifa about it, and was told that it helped one regain a spell that had been cast. Fatou asked if the prisoner had a spellbook. She did not--she was a witch, not a wizard.

Jumari proposed that they take her to the druids of the hollow, and tell them that Tarifa was a spy. The others agreed, and the half-orc used an orison to brand the halfling's forehead with the word "spy." The party attracted a great deal of attention as they escorted their prisoners to the center of Spine Hollow. The druid Tailless came to them, and asked for an explanation. Edel started to summarize, but before long, the woman interrupted him: "We need to see Razima. Come with me."

Tailless led them to the rocky shelves where the leaders lived, and asked them to wait while she went inside a building built into the rock face. She soon returned with a petite human woman who, unlike most of the locals, wore only a long tunic instead of full desert robes. She also had sand-colored skin (notably lighter than most Asasorans), long hair that glowed white in the moonlight, and blue spiral tattoos over much of her body. This was Razima, leader of the Circle who ruled Spine Hollow. At Tailless's prompt, Edel reported on what they had learned from Tarifa. As he continued, Razima grew visibly angry, and as she did so, her hair started to move as if blown by wind. This reaction made many of the PCs nervous, and Tarifa positively wilted under her glare. (Edel and Jumari guessed that the druid must be a sylph--someone with mixed human and extraplanar heritage tied to the element of air.) Razima thanked the heroes for their actions, and declared that the Circle would need to question Tarifa further. The druid had not been aware that the Ghost Fists operated so close to her settlement; their territory is up near the Stairs. (As many of the party knew, this is the name of the easiest route up the Shalash Escarpment, a hundred or so miles to the north.)

ZhaZha asked Tarifa how long it would take to get to Ilgash's cave. She was told it took about two days to walk there from Spine Hollow. The wavy lines on the map indicated that a spring could be found there. (That should make the location easy to identify, but not necessarily easy to find.)

Razima sent someone for a cage to hold the petrifern, and then had it and Tarifa escorted to one of the nearby buildings. It was nearing dawn, and the visitors needed sleep after their busy night, so they returned to their campsite. After a good long rest, they plan to check in with the Circle to see what more they had learned--and if they could get some assistance in going after Ilgash.

The witch Tarifa and her petrifern familiar.

Appendix: Previous Sessions

Fight for the Future: Defend net neutrality!


(By the way, there will be no weekly blog post next week, because I will be on vacation and traveling. Instead, I will be posting TWO regular content posts later today: An update on on my "Time of the Tarrasque" campaign and the next installment of "Building the Bestiary.")

Thursday, July 6, 2017

TBT: Misuhiro Yoko, a character for BESM

The following Big Eyes Small Mouth character was based on a minor background character from Revolutionary Girl Utena. She was originally posted to a RPG-related LiveJournal group (that I have since lost the name of) back in 2004.


Possible Utena Character: Misuhiro Yoko

This character was inspired by the shadow-puppet girls in Revolutionary Girl Utena, with the UFO/alien theme being played up in the latest episodes I've seen (I'm up to #29). I don't know how well she would fit into an Utena game, but if I end up playing in the game a friend of mine plans to run, this is the character I'll propose first.

Note: Because I don't own the BESM Utena book, Yoko was built with BESM 2E Revised, using Teen Romance costs for skills.

Misuhiro Yoko, Ohtomi Academy student, Grade 8 (25 CP)

Stats: Body 4, Mind 7, Soul 4 (15 CP)
Derived Values: ACV 5, DCV 3, HP 40, EP 55, SV 8

Attributes: Appearance 1 (1 CP), Art of Distraction 2 (2 CP), Highly Skilled 1 (1 CP), Own a Big Mecha 2 (Flying Saucer, 25 MP) (5 CP), Personal Gear 1 (1 CP), Shape Change 2 (Change gender only) (3 CP).

Defects: Nemesis (Kiryuu Nanami) (1 BP), Skeleton in the Closet (Alien posing as human) (1 BP), Special Requirement (Lay an egg once a month) (1 BP).

Skills: Biological Sciences 1 (Botany) (2 SP), Disguise 1 (Make-up) (2 SP), Linguistics 2 (Alien [native], English, Japanese) (4 SP), Mechanics 1 (Aeronautics) (3 SP), Melee Attack 1 (Sword) (5 SP), Melee Defend 1 (Sword) (5 SP), Performing Arts 1 (Comedy; Dance) (5 SP), Physical Sciences 1 (Astronomy) (2 SP), Piloting 1 (Spacecraft) (2 SP).

OBM: Flying Saucer (25 MP): HP 60.
Attributes: A.I. 1 (Basic Remote Control: Egg) (1 MP), Extra Capacity 1 (1 MP), Flight 4 (16 MP), Heavy Armor 1 (4 MP), Space Flight 1 (2 MP), Summonable 1 (4 MP), Toughness 1 (4 MP).
Defects: Awkward Size 1 (1 MBP), No Arms (2 MBP), Poor Maneuverability 2 (2 MBP), Restricted Ground Movement (None) (2 MBP), Summoning Object (Egg) (1 MBP).

Personal Gear: fencing sword and protective gear; alien "egg" amulet (summons and controls OBM).

Yoko is a human-like alien who came to Earth about a year ago. She has no training at navigation, and her old, hand-me-down saucer is notoriously clumsy, so she soon crash-landed. She decided that enrolling in the school would be the perfect cover while she repaired her spaceship. She has managed to be assigned to a mostly abandoned building, with space to summon and work on her saucer; she has fixed the crash damage, but has not solved the ship's shaky handling, so dares not leave the relative safety of her new home.

Yoko is an excellent student, who has joined the theater and fancing clubs. She is fairly well-liked, in spike of Nanami-san tormenting her for being "weird"--but Nanami has yet to guess just how weird she really is! As an adolescent member of her alien race, Yoko lays a boldly patterned egg once a month; she can usually hide this process (and the resulting day or two of reduced energy) under the cover of "the monthly miracle." In Episode #27: "Nanami's Egg," Yoko may be responsible for the egg Nanami found; she hoped it would mess with her rival's gullible mind. The eggs are not fertile unless Yoko mates with one of her own kind, and she is not aware of any others currently living on Earth. Her saucer's remote is modeled after one of her eggs, but is far less delicate.

Yoko has one other alien power that she rarely uses, and never where she could be seen: Her species is able to switch gender at will (except when laying eggs). Her male form looks like a nearly identical twin, and she will claim to be her brother "Ryo" if seen in that form. (However, no "Misuhiro Ryo" is enrolled at Ohtori Academy, so "he" must vanish quickly if questioned.) She usually carries a boy's uniform in her duffel if she foresees any need to use this ability.


I never did get an opportunity to play Yoko in BESM. However, she did form the starting point for a NPC I created for the long-running Buffy/Angel series that I joined soon after that original post. In that game, she was an international student from Japan, who was shy and awkward but a genius with math and science. Her secret was that she was a half-Byblos demon (a knowledge-seeking race from the Angel RPG) who had been stranded in this dimension and was trying to reestablish contact with her people. At one point, she managed to rope the superscientist player character into helping her traipse all over campus (and beyond), taking readings with some weird sensory apparatus of her own design, but I don't recall her story ever getting much further than that.

Since that game, I've read Neil Gaiman's surreal short story "How to Talk to Girls at Parties" (and more recently, the Dark Horse comic adaptation). If I ever use Yoko in another game, I expect that story to exert some influence on her, too.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Adventures in Arcadayn Revisited

Ruqayyah meets the dragon Thastygliax
In a past blog, I wrote about Adventures in Arcadayn, a homebrew fantasy GURPS campaign that I ran from 1998-2002. Arcadayn was the longest campaign that I had run at that time: three full years of playing 1-2 times a month with the same 3-4 people.

I used to have summaries of all 55 sessions of that campaign online, but that was a couple of site migrations ago. I've been wanting to correct that omission for some time, but no longer had the files in electronic form, only as a binder full of print-outs. I recently found a little over half of those summaries preserved in the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, which saved me enough work that transcribing the rest no longer seemed quite so Herculean a task. I completed that project at the end of June, so the complete history of The Maidens Who Serve the Gods can now be found on my Arcadayn site.

As I read these journals again for the first time in a decade or so, I was pleasantly surprised again and again by how much good stuff I came up with for this campaign! I just wish that more of the GM notes that I had never posted online had survived, so that I could share them now.