Whenever I talk about non-Western European monsters that make great additions to any game setting, pretty much the first place I go is the penanggalen. Because penanggalens are awesome.
I mean, a vampiric floating head trailing viscera that leaves its body behind to hunt—what’s not to like? And let’s not forget a host of special abilities, including a wither attack, disease, and blood drain. They can walk around in the day without harm, parading themselves right under the PCs’ noses. And since it's a template creature you can advance it to whatever power level you like, rivaling even a lich.
Penanggalens are also mostly female. (Which might offer PCs a clue as to suspects…or might throw them off, if that particular penanggalen is male.) In myth they target pregnant women and young children, and even in the game female characters have more to fear, as they risk being turned into manananggal spawn.
But most important of all: penanggalens are made, not born. So within every evil blood-sucking flying head is a brain that made a choice…
A vintner and amateur alchemist is actually a rare male penanggalen. His many potions, tub, and vats conceal the cask of vinegar he soaks in, allowing him to hide in plain sight.
“Though shalt not suffer a lich to live.” The Sisterhood of the Risen Night is a loose network of penanggalen witches, oracles, and sorcerers pursuing three interrelated goals. Born in an oppressively male-dominated country, they work to spread the mysteries of their respective arts in defiance of the ruling wizard-priests. Second, they embrace the penanggalen ritual in order to gain both temporal power and possibly even immortality in their hybrid living/undead state. Achieving this second goal allows them to pursue their final and most serious task: ensuring no wizard-priest successfully achieves lichdom, and hunting down those that succeeded in previous generations. While they may use and even ally with more noble adventurers from time to time, these witches do not act out of kindness—the powers they follow are just as dark and even more unknowable than the wizard-priests’.
The deaths of women and children shock a dwarven settlement. These, combined with nightmarish howls in the dead of night, spark rumors of banshees, which in turn threatens to undermine relations with a nearby wood elf tribe. The clanpriests fear a vampire, and this puts the sunlight-fearing Gleador Clan under suspicion. Only when a manananggal is spotted flying through the guildhall galleries does anyone suspect a penanggalen. And wouldn’t you know it: Karra Coppernik has recently shuttered her family’s silver mine for reasons unknown…
—Pathfinder Bestiary 3 216–217
If you can, search out a copy of Dragon Magazine #222 for Paul F. Culotta’s “The Necrology of the Penanggalan,” for a great look at a female paladin struggling with one of these beasts. It’s a haunting installment I still recall 18 years(!) later.
(Man this blog has been paladin-centric lately. Sorry about that—just coincidence. Fortunately, reader Fortooate is happy to provide some balance with tips on some neutral/evil uses for pegasi…)
Attention readers who use Safari to view the Blogger version of this blog: I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again—Blogger, Safari, and MS Word hate each other. I apologize if you have a bad reading experience or are missing posts (like the kappa and kangaroo). I am not talented enough to fix whatever is wrong.
*forehead slam* *forehead slam* *forehead slam* I knew there was something I forgot to tell you yesterday about pegasi! Bruce Heard is using his blog to flesh out D&D’s Known World/Mystara, especially the Alphatian Empire. And recently he’s been looking at the Kingdom of Ar, also known as Floating Ar—a very pegasus-friendly place. He even whipped up some celestial pegasi you could easily use as champions/paragons in your game. Check it out! Now, where was I? Oh, right. *forehead slam*