Man, it’s amazing what the right adventure can do. I never gave vargouilles a second thought when I first came across them in the 3.0 Monster Manual (though they’d apparently been flapping around the world’s oldest role-playing game since the 1e Monster Manual II.)
But then came Russell Brown’s “Mellorn Hospitality” in Dungeon #107. In that adventure, the elves of that town are so used to fighting off vargouilles that they actually wear alchemically treated scarves to protect themselves from the creatures’ kisses. That one detail (and how badass Andrew How and Arnold Tsang made the elves look) brought vargouilles instantly alive for me.
And what a monster! A flapping head with a paralyzing shriek, poison bite, and the coup de grâce: a kiss attack that turns the vargouille’s victims into vargouilles themselves. Sunlight or a mid-level light spell will pause the transformation…but you’d better find a remove disease stat.
These attacks plus their unique appearance make vargouilles flexible monsters that can fit into almost any campaign play style or genre. In a straight-up generic European-based fantasy campaign, they serve as scary low-level monsters from another plane. But if your campaign has more of an Irish feel, you could serve them up as minor banshees based on their shrieks. In a Mediterranean campaign, they might be the spawn of the beheaded Medusa. They fit perfectly into an Asian-influenced setting right along with the body-abandoning penanggalen and manananggal. Gothic horror? They’re a vampire’s minions. Aliens-style bug hunt? A vargouille-kissed militiaman’s metamorphosis is arrested by dawn…but by nightfall he is back among friends and family when the transformation hits. Steampunk or New Weird fantasy? They nest under bridges and near crematoriums, lapping up the entropic energies of the sparkrail power stations. You get the idea. And since they’re from another plane, following a vargouille back to its lair might take you to another realm entirely…
Adventurers come across a dark folk smuggling party. The dark stalker leading the gang wastes no time with parley. Instead he hurls a wriggling bag of somethings at the interfering adventurers and then flees. The bag bursts as it lands, and out spills a cluster of enraged vargouilles who attack the first creatures they see.
A hag is determined to claim her changeling daughter, currently sweeping the floors of her foster parents’ inn. On a blustery winter night the hag strikes, unleashing vargouilles harvested from the local cemetery to strike at the inn. With the roads impassible and dawn far away, it’s a race against time as adventurers try to stop the vargouilles before the entire household and its guests are consumed. In the course of the investigation, several of the guests turn out to be more than they appear as well…
Gloomtown is a large Shadow Plane settlement that borders the Realm of Despair. Populated by fetchlings, night gnomes, and oracles and div callers of many races, it is a trading town where no deal ever goes as smoothly as it should, and where the down and out are left behind to drown their sorrows. Most never live long enough for said drowning to take place—vargouilles are common in Gloomtown, nesting in carnivorous trees by day and hunting by night. They make short work of the unwary, and the Plane of Shadow offers little light to arrest the transformation of those they kiss.
—Pathfinder Bestiary 272
That issue of Dungeon I mentioned is worth tracking down, by the way—it has a Shackled City Adventure Path installment, stats for the eponymous Evard (spoiler alert: black tentacles are involved), and a Freeport bonus adventure in the Polyhedron side of the mag. Even that issue’s “Downer” is worth mentioning for a bit of Underdark surgery and a glimpse at one of the coolest bars this side of the Mos Eisley Cantina.
A great discussion about psychopomps is going on in yesterday’s comments (and is reminding me I need to get the delayed shinigami entry up). See what folks are saying here.
Meanwhile, my pipes are frozen. Again. This winter is a thing.