Tuesday, May 12, 2015


Maenads are what happens at 3:00 a.m. when the party turns ugly.  Maenads are what happens when the god of revelry and wine packs up to go but the god of madness sticks around.  The maenads of myth may have started out as Dionysus’s followers, but by the time they tore Orpheus apart they were stark-raving mad and murderous.  Maenads are what happens when you get blackout drunk and wake up covered in someone else’s blood—and with that someone’s flesh filling your stomach.  (Eat your heart out, The Secret History.)

Pathfinder’s maenads are interesting because they are not simply caught up in the throes of ecstatic abandon—they are engineering mass madness with abilities that undermine the mind while bolstering the body.  This makes them outright perpetrators of violence rather than accessories or victims.  And as creatures that can live for thousands of years, they are more akin to fey or outsiders than most monstrous humanoids—nearly supernatural spirits of rage given very physical form, whose long-term goals bend always toward the taboo and debauched.

Satyrs and fauns have nothing to fear from maenads…though the wild women tend to bring out the worst in these libidinous fey.  When a satyr betrothed to a fey princess is seen in the company of maenads, adventurers are sent to reclaim the boy before he commits a crime that will bar him from the Cherry Petal Throne.

Like his divine father Osis, a falcon-headed half-celestial was betrayed and torn apart.  Also like his forebear, he might be reborn if his disparate pieces are reunited.  Most of those pieces are in the clutches of a revel of maenads, who enjoy feeding upon the youth’s constantly regenerating flesh.

Male maenads, while rare, are not unknown.  The berserker lodge known as the Grave Wolves holds terrible rites that include devouring human flesh.  Those who survive the experience (cannibalism is a notorious vector for filth fever) and who do not turn to ghouls are rewarded with power by their lodge’s mysterious patron—turning them into male maenads who forgo metal weapons in favor of attacking with their poisoned nails and teeth.

Pathfinder Bestiary 4 191

Looking for the lurker above?  It’s here with the other stages of the lurking ray life cycle.

If you want your maenads to wield thyrsi (singular: thyrsus) like the maenads of legend, stats for the sibat (Ultimate Equipment) or the elven branched spear (Melee Tactics Toolbox) should do the trick.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention D&D 3.5’s maenads from the Expanded Psionics Handbook, which I thought were a very neat concept.  You know normally I’m not a fan of taking an established monster’s name and putting it on a different monster.  But there’s a counterargument to be made—that using an established monster’s name can offer a hook for anchoring a new monsters identity or features.  Take the water wraith, for instance.  It’s no wraith; it’s a giant color-changing lizard.  But the name “wraith” suggests the stealth of its movements and how unnerving its color-changing ability is.  The wraith name works.  Similarly, 3.5’s maenads—crystal-dusted humanoids able to channel emotion into a focused outburst of physical strength and a scream of rage—bore little relation to the maenads of myth, but the maenad name gave them a certain emotional heft and weight.  In advertising terms, they were borrowing brand equity—and it worked.

So yeah, 3.5’s maenads from the EPH were cool.  They also made cameo appearances in the Player’s Guide to Eberron, as survivors of an Atlantis-style disaster, and in the Dark Sun-reviving Dragon #319, as temperamental refuges from a crystal demiplane.

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