The graeae is an awesome example of a monster hiding right in plain sight. The myth of Perseus is probably the most well-known myth in the Western world.* Pretty much everyone can name-check Medusa, her Gorgon sisters, the Pegasus that in some myths sprang from Medusa’s dripping blood, and the sea monster Cetus he petrified. And in one form or another those creatures have all made it into fantasy RPGs, even if only by name alone.
But Perseus’s first stop, the Graeae, have gone almost totally unused. The grey witches or grey ones, these swan-bodied hags shared a single eye and tooth. They also echo other famous mythological female trios, including the Fates, the Norns, and other triple goddesses. (Mythology, like history, does not precisely repeat itself, but it very often rhymes.)
Pathfinder’s graeae ditches the swan body and keeps her own eye, and is a magical and mythic creature in her own right. Her magical abilities are a mix of fortune-telling, minor curses/torments, and useful personal spells. Even her languages seem to straddle several worlds: that of man (Common), nature (Sylvan), the monstrous (Giant, Goblin), and something far darker and older (Aklo).
I seriously love non-hag creatures that can round out hag covens (like the witchfire), so it’s obvious I love these gals. Speaking of which, they can also form covens of their own, with an emphasis on (what else?) seeing via divination. It is for these divinatory spells and fate casting that most adventurers will seek out a graeae coven. But like the Weird Sisters in Macbeth, graeae covens may also have a talent for putting themselves in PCs’ paths…serving up an important encounter or side trek whether the PCs want to have such an encounter or not… And as relatively low-level mythic characters (CR 5/MR 2), graeaes might be PCs’ first exposure to the wider world of legendary monsters and creatures from Mythic Adventures.
The corpulent, silk-bedecked owners of a bathhouse on Manticore Street are actually graeae sisters in disguise. Their skill at fortune-telling is legendary, especially since they can ripple luck so patrons’ fortunes work out as promised. The graeae sisters left their mountain fastness in search of the comparative anonymity a city provides. A jiang-shi vampire searches for them ceaselessly, believing the coven can free him from his curse if they turn their eyes upon the burial prayer stitched to his brow.
A blood hag leads an unusual coven comprised of herself, her deceased witchfire sister, and a graeae. The graeae seems to be by far the least bloody-minded of the three, but that is only because her evil runs far deeper. She has ties to her island chain’s marsh giant tribes and the elder powers of evil they worship. Indeed, the island cyclopes refer to her as “our mother,” since she shares their monocular view of darker fates to come.
Adventurers are mid-quest when they find themselves drawn into the mists of the Ethereal Plane, where a graeae waits for them. She wants her sister’s eyeball back, and promises them aid if they help her, but to hinder their every step if they refuse. Helping her means putting their quest on hold and traveling to a distant port city to break into a thieves’ guildhall and retrieve the eye. Refusing means finding themselves drawn deeper into the Ethereal, facing fey, undead, and creatures of myth until the Jack of Daws (a fey creature tengu rogue/summoner) sends them home…but not before a final confrontation with the grey sister.
—Pathfinder Bestiary 4 134
*I’m sure that statement made a lot of folks spit out their herbal teas, but I stand by it. Only the cases of Oedipus v. Sphinx and Theseus v. Minotaur are real contenders. Heracles’s labo(u)rs and Odysseus’s travels/travails are too convoluted to win this contest, and as much as it pains me to say so, English, Norse, and Irish myths are barely in the running, with the possible exception of Beowulf. (More on him tomorrow.)