(Illustration by Ben Wooten comes from the Paizo Blog and is © Paizo Publishing.)
Man, these guys. Born (I believe) from Kalervo Oikarinen's RPG Superstar 2015 monster entry, fear eaters definitely stand out from the rest of the Occult Bestiary pack, courtesy of some creepy art by Ben Wooten.
You know all those ’80s kids’ movies—especially the live action ones—that now you look back and go, “How did they ever think this was kid-appropriate?” (I’m looking at you, Return to Oz.) This one fits right in there. In fact, I’m gonna score this next sentence with daggers for creepy emphasis. Imagine that the caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland(†) straight-up tied her up(††) with sticky strands(†††) disgorged from his own mouth(††††) and then caused mushrooms to burst from her body(†††††) and feed on her fear(†you get the point).
Yes, you read that correctly. Forget fantasy role-playing—we’re in full-blown body horror territory here. X-Files monsters aren’t this gross and scary.*
But the real horror is this. Fear eaters don’t just devour the mushrooms for themselves. They sell them(†) as a delicacy (††) to fey rulers(†††). There’s a market out there for your PCs’ pain and suffering(††††). One assumes fear eaters’ customers are mostly Unseelie fey (the Court of Ether in the Golarion setting). But given the mercurial nature of the fey, one can easily imagine a faerie queen who has lauded adventurers in the past being unconcerned if they wind up as fertilizer once she no longer owes them any favors…
Drow already reject and loathe their surface kin. So any suggestion that they may also be related to the fey is typically met with scorn and drawn blades. Still, the Defanwe drow tell a different origin story from most drow, one of a broken vow, an outcast queen, and the shearing of gossamer wings. If the Defanwe taste for fear eater mushrooms is any indication, the tales may even be true. Certainly, every Defanwe settlement has a sizeable minority of fear eater merchants and farmers. And Defanwe drow do not callously murder their slaves as often as other drow, as there is far more profit in selling used-up livestock to the fey mushroom growers.
A fear eater found a giant’s discarded drawstring bag and was inspired to create her own trap. Cutting open and restitching the voluminous leather with her own fungal spewing, she has created a snare that will close up after adventurers pass through it, blocking their escape.
The first disaster was the Dragon Dawn—a convulsive racial rage that overtook the dragon species, driving them to war with each other and with humanity. With so many towns reduced to ash, roads in ruin, and ships lost at sea, the cities that remain have become isolated and fearful. Then there came the Chitterbloom, which saw house-sized mushrooms sprout where trees should have grown, and insects the size of ponies run amok. And finally, the Elfwind—not a wind at all, but a phosphorescent magical mist, part drug and part infection, that wafted from caster to caster sapping wit and will. Now in the city of Vale whole districts are given over to spiders and hungry plants, and residents fight to eradicate the Elfwind and bring order back to their fallen land. They are opposed by goblins, vegepygmys, ettercaps, and worse, all of whom delight in the new disorder. Fear eaters, in particular, have profited in the chaos. Having left their subterranean homes for the shady eaves under the house mushrooms, the fey have a world of new victims and new customers to cultivate.
—Occult Bestiary 27
*Actually, given the themes of bondage/involuntary female transformation, maybe the better X comparison is any issue of X-Men written by Chris Claremont. (Oh yeah. I went there.)
Seattle alt-weekly nerds may remember that I like using daggers.