Ever held a loaded gun? A real sword? That switchblade your locker buddy snuck into school? Do you remember how it felt to hold it? The sense that not only had you taken up an implement of violence…but that you were holding something outside yourself…an object of power…something almost alive?
A raktavarna is that living weapon—a demoted rakshasa bound in blade form. Which is pretty cool in and of itself (a step above the usual evil intelligent weapon story), and is an opportunity to introduce PCs to the dark world of these shapechanging fiends. So a raktavarna could just be the creepy memory-stealing snake-monster they suddenly find themselves holding, or it could be the thing that spurs them to take a xebec across the sea to fight these insidious alien evils.
One final note: Shame defines a raktavarna—their form is karmic punishment for failure in a previous life, and they are desperate for a cosmic do-over. I’m guessing their desperation for a master puts them in the darshaka caste (see Bestiary 3), which means they must prove themselves as good servants before returning to the ranks of their paradeshi kin. Thus, while some may try to seek out ever-stronger masters in a manner typical to intelligent weapons, most will be devoted aides. This makes a raktavarna familiar far more loyal than the usual lawful evil outsider such as an imp…and makes its facility with comprehend languages, commune, and Master’s Eyes (Su) all the more dangerous for the useful intelligence which it can supply its master.
Unowned, a desperate raktavarna identifies a party of adventurers as the most powerful potential masters in the area. It tries a number of ways to get noticed by the party, including appearing as a jeweled dagger in their path, charming a servant to pack it with their things, or cajoling a local cutpurse through suggestion into making a move for their obviously fat purses.
The Running of the Mage Maze is an annual event where spellcasters navigate passages, solve puzzles, and duel monsters—and each other, though the practice is frowned upon. Parviz Sing has managed to smuggle in his raktavarna familiar in the form of a blade. The rakshasa’s senses free Sing to study more combat-oriented charms, and its memory-modifying poison bite helps hide the evidence of his cheating from his competitors.
The feud between the walrus-headed Shamatar and the lynx-headed Ebony Night occupied most of last century, becoming practically legend among rakshasakind (and even among a few in-the-know mortals). Then came Ebony Night’s fall into indolence and subsequent submission to a mortal sorceress. Her later demise found her reincarnated as a raktavarna. Shamatar, an avid fan of divinations, has learned of his rival’s rebirth and seeks to claim her as his personal blade. The fact that some feeble adventurers now unwittingly carry her is no obstacle, he is sure.
—Pathfinder Bestiary 3 229
Bonus hint for making your party think you are the best GM ever: Have your party defeat a rakshasa. Two or three campaigns down the road, when they’re playing different characters, have them encounter that same rakshasa as a raktavarna—demoted because of their original PCs’ success. It won’t mean anything in-game, but it’ll bring smiles all around the table, and new members will want to hear the story…
Also, I just opened my email and holy crap did I get some amazing comments on the rakshasa. I can’t do them justice today—my brother’s in town from Portland, OR, so I’ve got hosting duties—but consider my mind blown. More soon, I promise! In the meantime, you all can read them here.
I know most of you come here for the monsters, the Pathfinder, and the D&D. But for you indie radio fans, Saturday was one of my best shows in months. New Iron & Wine, old Velocity Girl, live Decemberists, and clean Macklemore, just to name a few highlights.
If you’ve never listened, this is the one to click; if you listen regularly, this is one to download and save. Thanks!
(The feed skips on some computers. If this happens to you, load it in Firefox or Chrome, Save As an mp3, and enjoy in iTunes. Link good till Friday, 5/10, at midnight.)