I had to memorize Die Lorelei in 8th grade—a task I hated at the time—so having surmounted that poetical obstacle I’m rather attached to Heinrich Heine’s image of the Lorelei as a bewitching maiden. I’ve even referenced the Lorelei a few times in adventure seeds here on this blog.
Then Bestiary 4 comes out, and with it the stony, anemone-like lorelei. Suffice it to say, this is not Die schönste Jungfrau of my imaginings, and I have real trouble imagining her combing mit goldenem Kamme through her rocky tentacles.
That said, my personal preferences don't always line up with what's best for the game. Example: I always loved D&D’s doglike kobolds, especially as portrayed by Ken Rolston in GAZ7: The Northern Reaches, but 3.0/Pathfinder’s draconic kobolds offer up far more story and role-playing avenues. When it comes to loreleis, we already have several beguiling fishy maidens of one sort or another; we don’t need another one. Going back to the lorelei’s etymology to create this horrific but charming rock creature is the right move.
One other thing to call out about the Pathfinder lorelei is its power over the undead. That’s an interesting hook to add to a creature that’s already so good at causing the kind of destruction that easily fosters undeath. And now that we have so many aquatic undead to choose from in the game, you can stitch together pretty memorable combos with a lorelei and duppies, floodslain (see Belkzen, Hold of the Orc Hordes), or even an immature sea bonze.
The path up to a waterfall is lined with corpses crudely nailed to the rock walls so they stand like sentinels. This is the collection of a lorelei. She uses speak with dead to plunder the corpses’ secrets, and then ventriloquism and whispering wind to make the dead “talk” to other passersby. Her aims in doing so, while varied, are always antagonistic, whether she is spreading rumors about a scandal in the nearby village, convincing hikers their trailmates are plotting against them, or simply shrieking to scare victims into falling down the sheer cliff face.
Not all loreleis have the upper tentacle in dealing with the undead. The graveknight Malcus Ebonheart responded to a lorelei’s attempt to charm him by nailing her with ensorcelled spikes to the prow of his ship. The magical spikes keep the lorelei alive despite her water dependency; the other thing that keeps her alive is her prompt use of water and fog magic at the graveknight’s command.
Loreleis produce by budding—and sometimes it goes wrong. Rather than grow from a separate piece of flesh, the lorelei Mantua’s daughter was born from the side of Mantua’s head and remains there still as little more than a stunted growth. Shandra seeks a way to kill her mother without losing her mother’s healthy body, and she will eagerly murmur this to anyone who will listen while Mantua is asleep.
—Pathfinder Adventure Path #60 86–87 & Pathfinder Bestiary 4 184
More on the lorelei can be found in Pathfinder Adventure Path #60: From Hell’s Heart.
Heehee. I said “fishy maidens.”
A number of folks wrote in to remind me that AD&D had a living wall—originally from the Ravenloft setting, I believe, though it made it into the Monstrous Manual. It’s actually a supremely nasty monster filled with trapped souls whose abilities it can use to attack.
Given that the MM is one of the few 2e books I own (and probably the only hardcover), maybe I should have remembered it…but I stand by my original assessment that Pathfinder’s living wall way more resembles the Magic: The Gathering card than it does Ravenloft’s necromantic horror.
Looking for the locust swarm? We covered it back here.