This week’s Macabre Manse started out with Joshua Gullion’s pumpkin golem on Statblock Sunday, a terrifying, gourd-headed monstrosity—paying tribute to Joshua, it is the centerpiece of this week’s blog posts. Continuing with the pumpkin theme, Magic Item Monday introduces the jack-o’-lantern, a dangerous magical guardian to haunt and harass your players!
Breaking from pumpkins, the children’s game of Hangman is reimagined as the deadly hangman trap on Trap Tuesday. Then, Steve Helt introduces phobomancy, or fear-based magic on Weird Wednesday, replete with the scared to death haunt. On Thursday, we begin to tie this all together with the story of Hensley’s Mansion. This details an odd, frugal mage’s attempts to cheaply make golems which led to his house phasing out of existence, only to return with a blood moon every Hallow’s Eve.
It is wrapped up on tomorrow’s Sidequest Saturday, with the Golem Patch. Can the adventurers solve the mystery of Hensley’s Mansion before a horde of pumpkin golems is unleashed on the world, funneling in from the plane of terror?
We know that Joshua loved Halloween, and we hope that he would have appreciated this week and month of Halloween based stories as Adventureaweek brings you four different interpretations of the classic haunted house with Macabre Manses.
DESCRIPTION This pumpkin has a frightening visage carved into the front of it and a light from inside casts flickering shadows across the walls.
When lit a jack-o-lantern projects shadows on the floor, walls and ceilings within 30 ft., all taking on the shape of the carving on the pumpkin. There are as many as 2d4+1 of these shadows projected. The projected shadows require a DC 18 Perception check to spot. Each of these shadows can make a melee touch attack vs. a single target with a +4 bonus, dealing 1 Strength damage on a successful hit (no save), and causing the target to be frightened for 1d4 rounds, or shaken for 1 round if a successful DC 15 Will Save is made. The shadow disappears after the attack, successful or not. The shadows can be destroyed by exposure to sunlight or the equivalent; when they have all attacked or been destroyed, the jack-o-lantern‘s light winks out.
The pumpkin itself can be physically destroyed (AC 5, 2 hp) but if it is physically destroyed, the light immediately goes out and a single shadow streams out of the pumpkin, attacking the jack-o-lantern’s destroyer. There is a 5% chance that shadow is a greater shadow.
Once lit, the pumpkins are active for 8 hours, and then they no longer function. They do not function in daylight.
HISTORY DC 15 Bad things happen to those that disturb a jack-o-lantern. DC 20Jack-o-lanterns are often found near and around occult ceremonies. DC 25Jack-o-lanterns are deployed to guard their own.
CONSTRUCTION Requirements one pumpkin (5 lbs. or more), create undead, cause fear; Cost 3,000 gp
The Macabre Manse’s grounds have been liberally sprinkled with jack-o-lanterns—the mere sight of these keeps most at bay.
To celebrate the life of our dear friend Joshua Gullion, this week’s blog entries are based on one of his favorite creatures from the many he designed.
A twisted mass of vines and pumpkin gourds formed into a mockery of a humanoid form, this golem moves with unnerving grace and agility.
Pumpkin Golem CR 8 XP 4,800
N Large construct (plant) Init +3; Senses darkvision 60 ft, low-light vision, Perception +0 Aura frightful presence (60 ft., DC 21); fear aura (30 ft., DC 17)
DEFENSE AC 19, touch 14, flat-footed 15 (+4 mage armor, +4 Dex, +1 natural) hp 76 (8d10+30) Fort +2; Ref +5; Will +5 DR 5/adamantine; Immune construct traits, magic, mind-affecting effects, paralysis, plant traits, poison, polymorph, sleep effects, and stunning Special Defenses permanent mage armor
OFFENSE Speed 30 ft. Melee slam +12 (2d6+4) or scythe +12 (2d4+3/x4)trip
When acting as a guardian, the pumpkin golem keeps to the ground, looking like nothing more than a small pumpkin patch. It rises and uses its frightful presence and fear aura while attacking with its scythe. Once a target is prone, it uses its slam attack to pulverize the victim.
STATISTICS Str 16, Dex 19, Con —, Int —, Wis 14, Cha 1 Base Atk +8; CMB +12; CMD +25 (30 vs. trip) Skills Perception +18, Stealth +10
ECOLOGY Environment any Organization solitary or gang (24) Treasure none
A pumpkin golem is crafted from pumpkin gourds and the vines upon which they grow, assembled into a roughly humanoid body with articulated limbs. A favored golem amongst the arcane community lower on the financial scale for the ease of securing the raw material at an easy cost, the pumpkin golem is typically crafted within the patch that its raw components grew. A pumpkin golem stands 7-1/2 feet tall and weighs on average between 300 to 400 pounds.
The pieces of a pumpkin golem are assembled from vines harvested fresh from a pumpkin patch, with their gourds still attached. The gourds are woven throughout the vines, with one each for the torso and head of the golem. The components are dusted with a mix of rare powders and herbs worth at least 500 gp. CL 12th; Price 9,000 gp
SPECIAL ABILITIES Immunity to Magic (Ex) A pumpkin golem is immune to any spell or spell-like ability that allows spell resistance, with the exception of spells and spell-like abilities that have the Fire descriptor, which affect it normally. In addition, certain spells and effects function differently against the creature as noted below.
– Warp wood or wood shape slows a pumpkin golem (as the slow spell) for 1d6 rounds. (no save)
– A plant growth spell heals the pumpkin golem for 1d6 points per caster level. Frightful Presence (Ex) The very presence of a pumpkin golem is unsettling to foes. Activating this ability is a free action, usually done as part of an attack or charge. Opponents within 30 ft. who witness the action must make a DC 14 Will save or be shaken for 5d6 rounds; creatures with 4 Hit Dice or fewer are panicked instead. This ability does not work on those with more Hit Dice (8) than the pumpkin golem. An opponent that succeeds on the saving throw is immune to that same golem’s frightful presence for 24 hours. Frightful presence is a mind-affecting fear effect. Fear Aura (Sp) A pumpkin golem may activate its fear aura three times per day. This aura manifests itself visually as an arcane flame erupting from within the golem’s “head”, shining a sickly, flickering light from its eyes and mouth. The flame is a prestidigitation effect and causes no damage; in all other regards this acts as a fear (DC 17) spell.
Pumpkin golems were the favored guardians of Mad Mage Hensley. Those intrepid enough to wander near to the mage’s mansion would often be found screaming in fear, reporting that a walking mass of vines with the flaming head of a pumpkin was the last thing they saw. Rumor has it that the disappearance of Hensley’s Mansion, together with its mysterious reappearances on harvest moons was the result of Hensley trying to create an army of these golems for some unknown nefarious purpose.
This module is 23 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with a total of 19 pages of content, so let’s check this out!
Now this being an adventure review, the following review contains SPOILERS. Potential players may wish to jump to the conclusion.
All right, still here?
After a short introduction to the area in which it is set in the default campaign setting of AdventureaWeek.com – essentially, the PCs will be people of the Klavekian kingdom, largest of the human realms and sent to the icy frontier of the kingdom to help the settlement Rybalka, which lies right at the border of Vikmordere-territory: Feared savages that could be considered a wild blending of Viking and Native American cultures. That out of the way, the module kicks off without much ado – the PCs are traveling en route to Rybalka for fame and fortune and on their way, they’ll need to pass the notorious “Crow’s Rest Island”.
When passing the island on their ship of Vikmordere-build (which comes fully mapped in gorgeous detailed full color with maps (on deck, below deck, in a snow-storm and in full-blown snow-storm – awesome), they are forced ashore by the weather and see a weird white crow. In the island’s woods, they encounter a party of kobolds and it is also here, the PCs can start to piece together what has happened here. When kobolds were washed ashore on this island, their shaman summoned an ice demon to get rid of the local Vikmordere population. The wild men, confronted with the demonic entity faced annihilation and in order to save them, an adopted Vikmordere attempted a ritual that was interrupted by the kobolds. This ritual gone haywire has trapped the spirits of the Vikmordere on the island. The lavishly illustrated village of the Vikmordere contains the remnants of the kobolds and there, amid ghostly visions, the PCs can secure the missing item for the ritual and help the spirits of the dead find peace.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches. Layout adheres to AaW’s latest 2-column standard with its more streamlined boxes and easier to read fonts and the artworks in full color range from awesome (vista of the village) to not-so-awesome (cover). As I’ve come to expect from AaW, the cartography is simply stellar and especially the weather and its effect on the ship is AWESOME. A great idea and something I’d love to see used in other modules as well. If you register at Adventureaweek.com, you can also download for free all artworks (including a handouts through a spyglass), profiles of the AaW-iconics, high-res jpegs of all the maps, png-tokens for NPCs and adversaries and herolab-files. While usually I would complain about a lack of a backgroundless version of the pdf, this module is free, so it gets a pass on this one. The pdf is extensively fitted with nested bookmarks.
There are sometimes modules that as written are not too exciting, but spark the imagination via iconic locales, nice presentation etc. and this is one of them: The location presented in the module is cool, creepy and offers quite some potential for expansion by the DM – and expanded it should be, for the simple encounters fall flat of the awesomeness of the backdrop. Indeed, I wished this was not a free prequel module, but rather a full-blown haunting-investigation. Think about it: Traps in the wood, a deserted village, the sense of being watched, mysterious crows, weather worsening and keeping the PCs stranded on the place and then, the strange hauntings begin – every DM worth his salt can construct a complex investigation from this yarn instead of handing out the solution to what happened on a silver platter to the PCs. Were this a commercial module, that would exactly be what I’d complain about. It’s FREE, though, and every module that excites me enough to even contemplate expanding it like I just described is worth downloading and in fact, does a great job. Were I only to rate the module as it can be seen in the pdf, I’d probably go for 4 or 3 stars, depending on a hypothetical price. But since this pdf is free, comes with good production values and sparks one’s imagination, I’ll instead settle on a solid verdict of 5 stars – come on, it’s free and you know you at least want to scavenge the maps. 😉
Every week you get an amazing adventure filled with incredible illustrations and jaw-dropping cartography, as well as access to an entire website filled with everything one could ever want or need. Ever wonder who works here and how they do this week in and week out? Well now you’ll finally be getting some answers. Each week we’ll be interviewing a member of the Adventureaweek.com crew to see how every week they pull off what others have called “impossible”.
Joshua Gullion is a member of the Adventureaweek crew as well as an avid RPG reviewer as Ktfish7 on numerous sites including Paizo, NERD TREK, and DriveThruRPG.
Hello Joshua, how are you this fine evening?
Hello Jonathan, I’m doing good. How about yourself?
Excellent, although my ogre miniature was a bit out of control on Google Hangouts today… enough about me…
Well, I’m your atypical gamer, I got hooked on funny shaped dice as a kid and never really shook the habit, lol. I believe my technical title around the AdventureaWeek.com camp is “That crazy insomniac who builds the PDFs”…but don’t quote me on that…
What creative project are you working on right now?
Hmmm….right now…currently, in between PDF builds and the occasional review I am working on….I have two adventures both in a raw stage at this point that silently scream at me from time to time demanding my attention. I also sparked a thought for a third adventure to add to the mix last night, but that is still very much a raw idea, with the introduction of a new golem creation amongst other things.
The Adventureaweek Campaign Setting is growing! Tell us what part of the world you’re working on and what treats are in store for our members. We’ve been hearing rumors about Were-Jaguars… 😉 Droooool…
NaeraCull combines many influences of Aztec inspired fantasy with the classic feel of the jungles and rain forests of old. Dark dangerous truly ALIVE places…the type of lands where even the plants will eat you. Where the drums of various tribes will haunt the winds while things moving just outside of sight will hunt you until you can run no further. Populated with a people who never walked away from the older Gods, and the worship of the spirits of the land, the indigenous people of NaeraCull share a special relationship with both animal and fey in many areas of their jungle.
Living just outside of the treeline, for the most part, are a completely opposite people. The Wandering Nation settled here in an accordance with an agreement between their leaders, and those of the indigenous tribesmen. Creating a perfect buffer between the secrets of the jungle and the outside world, the Wandering Nation were granted a home in return for functioning as the first line of defense for the jungle itself, and the way of life that still exists under the dark of the canopy.
There’s so much more to be said, but it is early yet, and I don’t want to give away too much…lol I will however answer in regards to the were-jaguar. Deeply rooted into NaeraCull mythology and belief is that Jaqua, Mother of the Hunt, blesses her faithful with the glory and power of a true predator. Lycanthropy is not seen as a disease to the tribes of NaeraCull, but rather a gift of faith. Not all who contract the disease survive its incubation, but those who do are revered as blessed, and typically rise to the status of legend amongst their people. Oddly, within these lands, few who undergo and survive the change lose their mental attachments to those they know, nor does their intellect diminish. In short, unless the change goes bad, rarely does a were-jaguar turn on their tribesmen.
The were-jaguar play heavily in the first adventure for the lands of NaeraCull, planned to be finished soon and released soon after…with plans to make the race available as a PC option as well.
What would you tell folks who are sitting on the fence, wondering if they should subscribe to Adventureaweek.com or not?
One of the coolest features of the subscription service is in fact the value in my opinion. Subscribing for a year gets you a solid 52 adventures, for under a hundred. With a site packed with lots of crazy extras – a soundboard for effects, map tiles, NPCs, spells, Hero Lab files, player maps, VTT maps…etc.
Folks, the bottom line is, we started this idea with an insane notion. Releasing an adventure every week defies all logic, and yet we do it. With high quality maps, fresh innovative ideas, and solid writing. Our reviews tend to speak very highly of us, and we are only getting started. As a company we are looking six months down the road, 12 months down the road, 5 years…we’re not going anywhere. We like what we do, and coming to work when you work with a group of amazing fellow passionate gamers is one of the best feelings you can ask for. I appreciate each and every one of the guys I have come to know as my fellow RPG Bootcampers. You all RAWK! I appreciate each and every person who has ever taken the time to even look at one of our PDFs, whether you subscribed to it, bought it, got it as a freebie or freaking stole it…I appreciate you all. By taking the time to look at what we are doing, you gave us the chance to convince you to come back for the next PDF, and the next. Without you all believing enough in the worth of the product, we wouldn’t be on this roller coaster ride, and I wouldn’t have met a great deal of the folks I have gotten to know. So to all of you, those who make it possible for us to do what we do…Thank You!!!!
Today it is my pleasure not only to review the second part of AdventureaWeek.com‘s Rise ofthe DrowTrilogy, but also introduce you to what might very well be the best underdark module released so far for PFRPG. Without further ado:
This module is 84 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving a total of 80 pages of content, so let’s check this out!
The trade city of Embla is perhaps the most ingenious dwarven city I’ve ever seen – built into vast so-called Gonjolas, crystals suspended from vast chains and connected by suspension bridges – I expected much, but not something so iconic – awesome! The pdf kicks off with a rather detailed description of the city and its locations and even organizations. A drow spy is also mentioned and described in detail.
This being an adventure review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players may want to skip to the conclusion.
Still here? All right!
After having been contacted by dwarves, the PCs have ventured into the mysterious underdark, unearthing a potentially vast threat to the surface of which the folk of Rybalka may or may not be aware at this point. Thus, their journey to thwart the gambit of house Gullion has led them to the wondrous dwarven city of Embla and speak with Maylorin and the merchant circle, hopefully managing to save at least some of their allies from a deadly cadre of drow assassins. Once the assassins have been defeated, your dwarven ally may lead the adventurers towards the city of Holoth – perhaps the PCs have even gotten a glance of the scrying attempt of the soul-consuming Vidrefacte. Here, the adventure splits into 3 paths – either the PCs try to warn Rybalka and return to the surface, sneak to the backdoor of Holoth or gather the remaining warriors of the dwarven city and opt for a frontal assault. And the consequences of each action may be dire:
If they return to the surface, Embla will be squashed with all the consequences that entails in Part III adventure. If the PCs opt for a frontal assault, they will have to deal with a rather deadly slugfest to break through the drow’s lines of defense and finally, if the PCs opt for the back door, they will have to traverse the domain of an albino dragon, deal with underdark dangers and survive extensive climbing sections (including a table of DCs and modifications) and survive falling stalactites. Potentially, they can find the resting place of a famous explorer and glean a hint from his journal (with a rather lavish entry) that may lead them to a gem of legend. Beyond that, a cave with a purple worm and her young awaits as well as fiendish advanced chokers, mold, fungi and slime. Speaking of Fungi: The Fungus Forest they encounter makes for a truly unique climax for this adventure, one I haven’t seen before in any way:
Carefully tended by the impressive fungiant Huolethia Sieni, this garden comes to fruition only once each season and for 15 minutes – unfortunately, a tribe of particularly vicious fiendish chokers, the Ottaakiinni, has been harassing both him and his mushroom golems. The fungiant wants the PCs to help him harvest as many caps and edible spores from his cultivated farm as possible – and thus, the game is on: The fungus forest has 4 different levels, all detailed via schematic drawings of colored circles and each less dense in undergrowth than the one before. Different mushrooms have different sizes and point values assigned. Better yet, after the PCs have harvested, he’ll turn the mushrooms to usable equipment/boons for the PCs, depending on which caps/spores they collected. DCs for diplomacy with the fungiant and golems as well as the sizes and point values of all the mushrooms are included in their own easy to navigate tables. Better yet, there actually is a separate version of the mushroom mini-game, making it also a rather neat idea to run at a con. Have I mentioned the three new spells, player-friendly maps of Embla, Underdark and the Back Road?
Editing and formatting are top-notch this time around, I didn’t notice any glitches. Layout adheres to an elegant 2-column standard with the boxes we know from the revised AaW.com-layout, but with a spidery border. Neat! The pdf is lavishly bookmarked and the illustration of the Fungiant is awesome – as is the cartography: Todd Gamble has created some of his neatest pieces here and especially the map of Embla is a joy to behold. The pdf comes with an extra version of the mini-game as a pdf and a printer-friendly version. Herolab-files for the module will probably created soon as well, but have not yet been published as I write these lines.
It is rare for me to show any sense of wonder anymore, any sense of excitement and many designers forget that the underdark is more than a bunch of caverns filled with nasties – it’s supposed to be an alien world of wonder, that is claustrophobic and disturbing. The pdf recommends the old Dungeoneer’s Survival Guide and indeed, this module breathes the spirit of this stellar classic, delivering an old-schoolish sense of wonder and danger that goes beyond what one finds in almost all Underdark adventures nowadays without being repetitive of the classic concepts. The city of Embla is fascinating and I honestly wouldn’t have minded a whole sourcebook à la Paizo’s city-gazetteers devoted to it. And then there’s the climax that is not a classic boss-fight or a been-there, done-that encounter, but rather an imaginative, innovative, cool mini-game that will test the PC’s abilities to their limit should you chose so. This module has it all: Atmosphere. Imaginative, unique and iconic locations. Plot hooks. The option to jump off the rails and do something dramatically different, diverging from the presumed path. And the stellar, cool, innovative conclusion. This is how underdark-adventures should look nowadays. An awesome module, worth every cent of the price of admission and mops the floor with its direct predecessor. My final verdict? 5 stars + Endzeitgeist seal of approval. Nothing to complain -at all! Apart from one thing: Why is the Fungiant not on the cover? The artwork is SO AWESOME and much more compelling that the module’s cover!
As always, thank you for reading my ramblings, see you in part III!