How appropriate is it that on the first night of Hanukkah we get a monster from Jewish folklore? (Chag sameach, by the way.) The dybbuk is a malevolent deceased soul that possesses a living host to achieve its ends. The Bestiary 3 version serves up exactly that: a malicious undead puppeteer that’s quite powerful (CR 15) to boot (and with some blood-red hands for good measure).
Unlike ghosts, dybbuks tend to wander widely, and worse yet, they only get meaner over time, reveling in the heartache and suffering they cause. And a series of special and spell-like abilities make them consummate puppeteers, able to manipulate minds, bodies, and objects with equal facility. All undead are tormented by their conditions, but dybbuks seem especially eager to spread the torment around—ideally among the societies of the living.
Whether your campaign takes place on Golarion, a homebrew setting, or an alternate Earth a lot like our own—in any reality, laying one of these monsters to rest is a mitzvah.
Every theater has its ghosts—and its pariahs. After a series of accidents befalls the Golden Curtain, a local club-footed puppeteer is blamed—for surely only he has the skill with ropes and special effects to have done the deed. (“And surely he is envious of those whose craft takes them upon the stage, not below it.”) Innocent but determined not to be arrested (the city’s jails are notorious deathtraps), the puppeteer constructs ever more elaborate snares and traps to foil pursuers. Meanwhile the accidents continue, courtesy of the dybbuk spirit of a watchmen who failed to prevent the arson that destroyed the Silver Curtain a decade ago. Worse yet, he has possessed the proprietor of the wax museum next door, giving him an army of animated statues with which to confuse and assault investigators.
A druid committed suicide after an illicit affair caused him to miss the signs of blight descending upon his ward. He returned as a dybbuk to punish those whose carelessness and pollution brought the blight, but over time the undead druid grew to care more about toying with mortals than cleaning his spiritual slate. In particular, he torments the family of the woman he once loved so dearly—and who he blames for his downfall. The dybbuk can be redeemed if he is lured back to the ancient wood where he first took the Green Oath. But any adventurers trying to do so will have to overcome not only the reluctant dybbuk, but the manitou guardian dedicated to keeping such fell influences out of the forest.
When Georg Schulmann donates his fortune to put a new wing on the synagogue, gossips say he must have been possessed by an ibbur, a benevolent spirit. A young scribe isn’t so sure. He contacts adventurers after noticing that the blueprints for the new wing reference designs and sigils no rabbi would approve—including a pentagram, swirling spirals, and references to something called a “shoggoth.” He begs the adventurers to find out the truth about whether Schulmann is possessed—and by what—once and for all.
—Pathfinder Bestiary 3 108
Speaking of ibburs, you might be able to construct a homebrew ibbur by making a dybbuk neutral good and swapping its harmful abilities with positive ones. Even then it will still have the potential to be an intimidating ally…
So apparently the dybbuk’s name comes via Yiddish from the Hebrew word for “adhere”…which makes the dybbuk the Jewish adherer! Whoa. I just blew my own mind right there.
Seriously, though, I won’t pretend to be an expert on Jewish folklore (even if I did go to high school right next to Pikesville)—the farthest I go back is Bruno Schulz’s amazing short story collection The Street of Crocodiles. If any of you know of any good dybbuk tales, please let us know in the comments/reblogs!
3.5 fans will recall that the dybbuk label also got put on a kind of jellyfish-like loumara, a new race of demon presented in Fiendish Codex I: Hordes of the Abyss. Slapping the name of one monster on another is a pet peeve of mine, but loumara were a pretty cool idea in general.
And with that dear readers, another milestone. Today we are done with the Bestiary 3.
(Or mostly done, at any rate. At time of writing, I still need to go back and finish up the entries for the upasunda, yithian, and akvan, the drafts for which are scattered on two computers. That’s what Christmas break is for!) That’s (almost) every monster since the ecorche back in January of 2012. Once again, thanks for sticking with me on this bizarre journey.