I’m here to discuss serpentfolk in Pathfinder. But somewhere behind me, I hear the whispers…and even perhaps the sibilant muttering of forked tongues?...of my old-school-D&D-playing readers in my ear, saying: “Talk about the yuan-tiiiiiiiii…”
So: Serpentfolk have been a big part of Pathfinder since before it was even a game—in the early pages of the Pathfinder magazine Eando Kline discovered to his horror that the serpentfolk of Golarion were waking…and that his (and perhaps all?) ioun stone-topped wayfinders were designed in part to lead explorers to them and speed their reëmergence. The Bestiary 2 describes them as obsessed with magic, knowledge, and hatred of humanity, whom they blame for their fall—with stats both for more powerful advanced individuals and for inhumanly strong but degenerate examples of the species as well. Those details, along with certain espionage/subterfuge-friendly spell-like abilities, give you plenty to work with right there. And if you peruse the serpentfolk-starring Serpent’s Skull Adventure Path in Pathfinder Adventure Path #37–42 you should have more serpentfolk adventure ideas than you know what to do with.
Except. Except. The yuan-ti. They call. They call you.
Introduced in the 1e module Dwellers of the Forbidden City and the Monster Manual II, yuan-ti were D&D’s original snake-men. And they’ve slithered around ever since, their culture and many subraces slowly revealed over time, managing to attract the attention of great FRPG writers without becoming overexposed and tired. They’ve always felt a bit of a throwback to the Robert E. Howard pulp novels of old—with hints of their having arisen from the mingling of human and serpent bloodlines, and their weird Bizarro World naming conventions (purebloods looking the most human while still having clearly snakelike features, while the purely reptilian creatures are called abominations, and the truly blessed are known as anathemas...because that makes sense…?). Because they originally arose out of human stock (and still need humans for slaves, food, and perhaps mating), they always have a reason to interact with humanity (and that means potential adventures). And their various subraces and abilities make them excellent for evil infiltration campaigns, cultist scenarios, and straight-up bug hunts at a wide range of levels. (And don’t forget psionics! They’re psionic, too!)
What does this mean for you? Well, if you’re a Pathfinder player, it means there is a mountain of material ripe for the converting. I haven’t read a lot of the older 1e and 2e books/articles (including their “Ecology” article in Dragon Magazine), but that doesn’t matter, because 3.0/3.5 was incredibly generous when it came to yuan-ti. They appeared in an excellent Dragon article, “Venom and Coil: The Secret Life of the Yuan-Ti” by Robin Laws, got more subraces in Monsters of Faerûn, and popped up as templates in Savage Species. In Eberron, they even had good cousins: the feathered, couatl-blooded shulassakar. Most importantly, they had star turns in not just one, but two of the very best books 3rd Edition had to offer: Ghostwalk and Serpent Kingdoms.
I can’t do those two books justice here. But I also cannot say enough good things about them or how inspirational they’ll be in your Pathfinder or 3.5 campaign. Read my previous thoughts here and here, and feel free to email me [dailybestiary at gmail you know the rest] if you want me to rave about them some more. Trust me: Both those books are a steal, and once you’ve read them, you’ll never look at yuan-ti or serpentfolk the same way again.
Onto the adventure seeds:
No one has seen any ratfolk ragpickers in the streets for weeks. As the garbage starts to pile up (and as the local fences grow desperate to unload stolen goods), adventurers are finally sent to inquire. A ratfolk youth comes out of hiding and tells them to check the sewers. What they find are vishkanya cultists worshipping (and doing a brisk trade in rare poisons with) strange cowled serpentfolk.
In the spirit of draconic cooperation, a gold dragon sends adventurers with a small library of books and scrolls as a gift to the imperial dragon-ruled Kingdom of Heavenly Scales. The adventurers soon find that the imperial dragon nobles, if they ever existed, are now either captives or myths…that in the Kingdom snakes are regarded more highly than slaves or even commoners…and that the aristocrats (known as the Yuan Tien) are not human at all, but disguise self-wearing serpentfolk dedicated to debauchery, poison, and evil.
Stranded in the jungles of a new continent, adventurers find two breeds of serpentfolk. The green-snake-headed Mermitz are oracles and clerics with couatl blood in their veins. The adder-headed Xipotl are diviners and evokers who celebrate powers of fire, magic, and sacrifice. The two war endlessly by casting fortunes, making offerings or blood sacrifices to outsider proxies, and sending their boa-headed degenerate servants to fight each other above and below the ground.
—Pathfinder Bestiary 2 242
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