Saturday, April 16, 2016

Deep Merfolk

(Illustration by Tomasz Chistowski comes from the Paizo Blog and is © Paizo Publishing.)

If there’s one thing that’s true of deep-dwelling sea creatures, it's that they take the familiar and turn it up to 11.  Starfish go from five arms to north of a dozen.  Eels become gulper eels.  Sharks become frilled, goblin, and ghost sharks. And that’s not even counting snaggletoothed horrors like anglerfish and dragonfish.

So deep merfolk are merfolk…but even more so.  Even more xenophobic.  Even more difficult to find.  Even more beautiful and exotic.  Even more deadly, if you cross them (and given how many undersea terrors a party of bumbling adventurers could bring down upon a merfolk tribe, simply entering their territory could be considered crossing them).

Also, deep-sea creatures tend, to our surface-dwelling eyes, to be exaggerated to a fault.  So too might deep merfolk—particularly as different tribes dwelling in isolation along different crevasses and continental shelves might have wildly different cultures.  You can play them as consummate illusionists, fearless hunters, resigned Dagon cultists, bioluminescent-painted ravers, petroglyph-carving mystics, and more—and all in a single campaign, if your adventurers travel widely enough.  The oceans are vast, leaving room for a panoply of deep merfolk tribes and individuals as diverse as anything humans have to offer…perhaps even more so.

An illusionist is working on a prestige effect—a specialized arcane discovery similar to a bardic masterpiece.  To complete it, he needs to study with a particular master of illusion he’s found named in a single water-stained scroll.  It turns out the illusionist is one of the deep merfolk.  Getting to the master will be its own adventurer, as a kraken has stationed minions up and down the canyon where the deep merfolk mage resides.

Adventurers have been treated well by a deep merfolk tribe on previous visits.  This time, though, their reception is strained.   The merfolk are Dagon-worshippers, and his priests have demanded a price—the head of the party’s paladin or a night of coupling with Dagon’s servants in the spawning grounds—that the merfolk feel obligated to pay.

Adventurers are planning to heist a magical font from the Malachite Magister.  Breaking open the vault means navigating a series of traps, including some on hostile demiplanes.  A source informs them that to traverse the third door they need to be able to survive a watery chamber with the crushing pressure of the bottom of the ocean.  A deep merfolk rogue would be the perfect accomplice for the job, assuming one could be hired.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 172


  1. What bothers me, though, is that the habitat they live in is so distant and hard to reach, I wouldn't have any idea how to integrate them in the setting without it feeling forced. Either you send your players into an equivalent to outer space just to meet them, or you have them meet an individual way outside his normal territory, which frankly takes most of the charm of this creature.

  2. The difference is, you have to try to put things in space. All you have to do to get something to the deepest part of the sea is toss it overboard and wait.

    1. Plus, the sea is always in flux - tides shift, continents drift, hurricanes blow entire towns into the ocean . . .

  3. Deep, deep sea campaigns were on my party's list for a long time. We'd flirted with the idea of a sea adventure, and I'd even run a truly fantastic dungeon crawl through an ancient, half-submerged temple that had been converted into a staging point by Sahuagin.

    When I finally got around to running a seafloor adventure, it was the result of the party's ship being smashed to tinder by an angry god's tempest behemoth. They sank right into the arms of a merfolk community, and the merfolk - being an isolated tribe and having had little contact with air-breathing people in recent millennia - made it a point to preserve these odd creatures and bring them to their wizened seer masters.

    Guess who the wizened seer masters were? These guys. Even better was the look on the players' faces when I described the dire anglerfish the merfolk kept around as pets.