I’m going to go out on a bit of a limb here. For CR 17 demons, mariliths don’t seem to get the respect they deserve. They’re constantly described as the Abyss’s generals, queens, and genius tacticians, but they always show up in published adventures as (to quote the Bestiary once again) “governesses, advisors, and even lovers.” In other words, always the penultimate baddy and serious threat, never the final boss.
Some of this may be adventure setting (marilith generals are out general-ing across the Planes, whereas marilith viziers are more likely to be where the PCs are), some of it may be unfamiliarity (as mariliths don’t resemble Biblical or Tolkien-esque archetypes, instead owing more to Kali for inspiration), some of it may be simple numbers (a CR17 marilith doesn’t seem as final as a CR 20+ balor or great wyrm)…but it’s hard not to also not as least flirt with unconscious sexism as an explanation. (I don’t want to push this point too hard—3.5’s Fiendish Codex I: Hordes of the Abyss does label them as Archetypical Overlords, for instance—but I’m not wrong either.)
So let’s think about this again. The Abyss’s generals. Demons don’t take orders. That’s what being a demon is. So the creature terrifying enough to not only impose its will upon them—not just a handful of demons, but a whole army’s worth, and not just in a single encounter, but over the course of an entire military campaign, according to a strategy—must be a terrifying creature indeed.
Enter the marilith. Six arms all wielding magic weapons, constant unholy aura, at-will greater teleport and telekinesis, blade barrier, and more (we haven’t even gotten to the feats). Now give her some class levels, beef up her weapon choices and feat selections, and put her in a setting where her telekinesis and blade barrier will do the most damage (fiendish armory or chemical factory anyone?), and you have a “final” boss that players won’t forget ever…with “final” in quotes because the first time they try, she’s going to get away, and then she’ll come back with her army in tow…
Xxavarshill is no ordinary marilith. She sneak attacks from hiding, surrounds her quarry in a blade barrier to prevent escape or aid, and then dispatches her victim in a flurry of sword strokes. Reports of her exploits hint at training as a rogue, assassin, ninja, or master spy (and possibly more than one of these). But all this is to be expected from a creature created to slay would-be demigods of good just before their ascension—preferably in front of as many witnesses as possible.
An paladin order’s strike against Kushpal, the Sin Cyst Fortress, has backfired. Now Kushpal’s marilith general has opened a way between the worlds practically at the front door of the order’s high chapterhouse and sacred library, with demons pouring through. But the artifact holding open the way comes with a price: the bloodstone circlet (which occupies two hands) must be wielded by the general, not one of her adjutants, and is powered by her unholy aura and that day’s summoning ability. If a small team could strike her while her defenses are thus reduced, they might take out her, the portal, and a large percentage of the invading horde in one stroke.
Only one tactician ever breached the walls of the primal dwarf holdfast Arvadüm, now held by duergar as they attempt to resurrect the Shattered Titan, an adamantine golem of surpassing might. That genius tactician also did something else no other demonic leader has successfully done—she retired. Prying from her the secret of the Breaking of Arvadüm means finding her in her secluded mountain retreat, a planar realm carved from the homeland of the azatas and guarded by apostate drow, a winterwight, and the wailing ghosts of dryads locked in their dead, frozen trees.
—Pathfinder Bestiary 63
Yesterday’s post went up so late I didn’t have time to inflict my musical choices upon you all. Now I shall!
Despite being on staycation, I made an entire radio show just for you! And I filled it with new Dungeonesse, Professor Elemental, and a Jonathan Coulton Christmas song! That's how much I love you.
(Music starts at the 3:45 mark. If the feed skips, let load in your browser, Save As an mp3, enjoy in iTunes. Link good till Friday, 12/7, at midnight.)