Let’s get this out of the way: “Sea bonze” is not (thank Iomedae) leetspeak for “sea bones.” It’s a Japanese monster also known as the Umibōzu. (A more talented chronicler than I will have to teach you how to pronounce both words.) The Pathfinder interpretation is a Gargantuan, leathery beast—black and featureless aside from “hate-filled eyes” and a smooth head, just as in the legends. (Make sure to steal some of the descriptive text—“undead goliath,” “mammoth ship-wreckers,” “colossal watery form”—when you describe it to your players.)
Anything that big (Gargantuan, CR 15) in an aquatic environment is scary. (Admittedly, high-level parties can handle almost anything you throw at them, but having your ship smashed to PCs still holds some fears, especially for an unprepared or already damaged party.) And for GMs who hate juggling a lot of spells, sea bonze are refreshingly simple for such a powerful creature, especially an undead one: a single paralyzing, negative-level-bestowing gaze and a ton of feats that for the most part are already figured into the stat block. If the sea bonze comes up in your random encounter table, you can run it right out of the book and start throwing around 4d10+15 damage slams without breaking a sweat.
That said, PCs might not have to fight a sea bonze at all. The entry leaves the door wide open for charming or persuading a sea bonze not to attack: “[M]ore than one lucky crew member has talked her entire ship's way out of total annihilation. Sea bonzes have an unusual respect for those with wit and guile, and will sometimes consider sparing those they deem worthy of their esteem.” Folklore offers some suggestions as well—while a bottomless barrel might not be strong enough to vanquish one of these yōkai, a magical one might…
Halflings on the continent of Carrem are an oppressed people, most turning to nomadism, barge work, and doing odd jobs to enable them to flee at a moment’s notice. When the halfling homeland on Jorel was recently reclaimed after 500 hundred years of wight domination, the diminutive folk sent ships in droves to settle there. But slavers set upon the refugee fleet during a storm, sinking nearly all hands on both sides. The result of all that death is a sea bonze that guards the Jorel Sea and attacks passing ships indiscriminately. Vanquishing it will save the halfling homeland and lay hundreds of Small Folk souls to rest.
Lokili Silverthroat is a satirist and bard of no small reputation, who has often boasted of being the only man to talk his way past the Fognight Sea Bonze. After he insulted the wrong jarl, he was given a choice: repeat the feat or be fed to the jarl’s trollhound. Adventurers might be hired by Lokili as bodyguards or by the lord to make sure the bard holds up his end of the deal. What they won’t know is that Lokili is also wanted by tritons for unpaid debts and that the Fognight Sea Bonze itself informed him never to try its patience again.
Sea bonzes do not terrify the fishermen of Yu Mai, who long ago learned the proper ritual prayers and blessings for warding off the undead spirits. Adventurers who ask around will learn that outsiders performing the same prayers sadly receive no protection, but that for the right price (or services rendered) the monks at the Shrine of the Marlin can provide magically enchanted bottomless barrels that thwart the undead behemoths. Creative thinkers can achieve the same effect with a bag of holding or a portable hole, but the item will be destroyed in the attempt.
—Pathfinder Bestiary 3 239
Nothing says “Welcome back from vacation!” like the fuckyeahdnd bump. Hi, new readers!
This weekend I went dungeoneering for real! It would be wrong to say I spent the entire time with katerinasfire brainstorming monster encounters for each every chamber of Luray Caverns. (We also looked for minotaurs in the hedge maze and had milkshakes.) We’re still waiting for the GM to total up the XP we earned, but I’m pretty sure it was a lot.