If you’re going to add firearms to the game, adding pistol-toting undead gunslingers is not a bad next step. Death is often referred to as the Pale Rider, and the image of an undead or otherworldly implacable gunman is one that pops up in Western fantasy/horror from time to time.
The pale stranger is interesting enough because of his weapons. But there’s also the question of why he kills—to avenge a wrong? Revenge on those who betrayed him? Hate for all living things? Or just because the life of a gunman has a call more powerful even than death? Whatever the reason, the process corrupts— once he returns as a pale stranger, even the lawful good sheriff doesn’t stop with the bad guys. Now a thoroughly neutral evil creature, he keeps shooting long after his quarry is no more…
Also, how long have firearms been in your campaign? Pale strangers might be rare, or there might only be one in the world: the first man ever killed by a gun.
One final note: Think cinematic when you use the undead’s stranger’s shot ability. Whether it’s a sniper’s shot from ambush, or a showdown from across the town square, it should be terrifying.
Obviously, cowboys and badlands are the first place my mind goes to when thinking about the pale stranger…but let’s see if we can’t set up other archetypes as well, shall we?
Once a man of noble character, a pale rider rides across the land with his former elf sidekick, now a bone-arrow-firing baykok. They used to be lycanthrope hunters—the pale stranger’s calling card is still his silver bullets—but now they hunt any gunslinger, ranger, bounty hunter, oath-breaker, or boaster who catches their eye (any character above sixth level).
Regiford DuMotley was a musketeer in the Pontiff’s Guards before his death. Now he hunts any members of the halbardier order that slew him, as well as any servants of the corrupt pontiff, in whose service DuMotley tainted his soul.
An adventuring party comes across a wrecked voidship marooned on an asteroid and strips it for salvage. In the hold, they find a beautiful pistol with a handle of dragon’s ivory. But the simple act of touching the pistol unleashes its curse. Somewhere, orbiting a far distant planet, a pale stranger corsair awakens from torpor at the feel of his weapon tugging at his black soul.
—Pathfinder Bestiary 3 214
Speaking of cinematic, one of my GMs once did a cutscene—he literally said that, “Cutscene: A dark tower…” etc.—to show us the villain plotting against us. It was an interesting technique for a tabletop RPG session, though not one that appealed to me in that instance. But as a way of introducing the pale stranger…? I dunno, that might be pretty cool.
Readers be calling me out! Demiurge brings some paleontology to bear on the spinosaurus:
In the real world, spinosauruses were big, but frail. They were skinny and lightweight for their size, and probably ate mostly fish. I was hoping that Paizo would make a more accurate spinosaur, but no, they had to go with the JPIII monstrosity. Ah well
And speaking of bears, regarding the owlbear filbypott notes:
Funny how we accept griffins, hippogriffs, sphinxes, manticores, and even chimeras without a second thought, but owlbears are a running joke. Tradition is a funny thing.
He’s right…and his list illuminates something else: The problem may be the name itself. Owl. Bear. It’s not even trying! “Hippogriff” may simply mean “horse-griffon,” but we don’t hear it that way. I think if the original Monster Manual had called the owlbear a “strigiursa,” it wouldn’t be a joke…but maybe it also might not have gotten so popular? Ridicule and fondness sometimes go together: thus our love for the owlbear. Also, pugs.
Anyway, thanks for keeping me in check, you two. Also, everyone be extra nice to gash26. He(?) has to deal with a nightmare the rest of us can only imagine: space owlbears.
I don’t know why I keep going to the RPG subreddit. It’s an odd place. I weighed in on some paladin stuff (spoiler alert: I like them; if you have a “paladin” that’s not lawful good, that’s fine, but call it something else; no, the alignment system is not stupid; and no, paladins aren’t really more interesting as templar-like antiheroes). I also weighed in on the subject of role-playing intelligent monsters.
But here’s something I’m really excited about. Unfortunately, it’s too long, and when I ran up against the word count limits I effed up by making it four separate posts, rather than making Parts 2–4 comments on the Part 1 thread. So now Reddit hates me, but I’m still super-proud of it, because I worked super-hard on it. Presented for your approval: The 18 Most Rewarding 3e D&D Books for Pathfinder GMs.