Wer reitet so spät durch Nacht und Wind?
Es ist der Vater mit seinem Kind…
King of the faeries, king of the alder trees, or the origin of the Harlequin figure—the erlking of myth may be all these things and more. And then there’s the dark child-killer of Goethe’s poem and Franz Schubert’s classic Opus 1…which if you've ever seen a night episode of Tiny Toons, you already know all about.
Paizo’s erlking is a more straight-up defender of the woodlands, an angelic fey being with leafed wings instead of feathers who is a blur (or rather, a blur) on the battlefield. On his own he is formidable, with cold iron and ironwood weapons, bleed damage, and humanoids as his favored enemies. He is also a tactician who can move the very earth, animate plants and summon nature’s allies to his cause, and lead the centaurs, satyrs, and treants that flock to his banner (not to mention any hamadryad consorts he might have, along with their courts).
But never fear…the potential for that dark child-killer is still there. Tucked away in his spell list are black tentacles and finger of death…not your standard repertoire for a defender of nature. And his deflection vs. evil/protection from evil could just as easily be against good. So if you want a “king of the forest” per the Bestiary 4, you have it. If you want “the aggressive, dangerous, and vengeful aspect of the wilds,” you have it. And if you want Goethe…that finger of death fires 1/day…
Having done a hamadryad a great service, adventurers receive a boon from an erlking that they may travel through his lands unimpeded. This magical shortcut has proved invaluable before. But now as they use the faerie king’s roads in a race against their enemy, the erlking himself appears to accuse them of trespassing. A powerful, bloated Advanced hyakume has stolen the erlking’s memory of the boon, and to proceed the adventurers must fight the fey or retrieve the stolen recollection.
An erlking has a mighty artifact: a cauldron that will raise the dead. If adventurers attempt to steal it, they must not only defeat the tunche the erlking has set to guard it, but also prevent the hasted erlking from climbing inside it. Should the fey king slay himself inside the cauldron, he will destroy it irrevocably.
When colossi fight, the land loses. Adventurers hurry to find the last components to awaken a stone colossus before a rampaging flesh colossus and a necromancer’s army destroy the nation. But just as the adventurers complete the ritual, an army of fey and woodland folk attack, led by an erlking determined to cripple both sides before his beloved forest is destroyed.
—Pathfinder Bestiary 4 94
Before the Bestiary 4 came out, I used references to the mythological erlkings at least twice before. Also note the connection to the Mabinogion in the second adventure seed. (Erlkings are kings of alder trees –> Alders are associated with Bran –> Bran once owned just such a cauldron that Efnysien would go on to destroy –> Adventure seed –> Profit!) (And to Metroplex in the third…transformation cogs, anyone?)
One final thing I love about these erlkings: their use and mastery of ironwood weapons and armor. I grew up on the metal-loathing druids of “basic” D&D, especially the druidic knights of Robrenn from Dragon Magazine #177, and Paizo’s erlkings harken back to that magical issue.
Need Christmas music for tomorrow? Nudge, nudge.
Finally, I have to thank you all for the early Christmas gift: 2,000 Tumblr followers! For a text-only blog, that’s huge. Not only that, it's double where we were as recently as July. 1,000 followers in only 6 months? You guys are great. Again, thank you—and keep sharing!