(Illustration by Wayne Reynolds comes from the Paizo website and is © Paizo Publishing.)
Death has gotten pretty complicated in Pathfinder. You’ve got psychopomps who want to shepherd souls to their just reward, sahkils who want to terrorize them, night hags who want to bottle and sell them, daemons who want to destroy souls entirely, shinigamis and inevitables who will take you out if you try to defy death (except the shinigamis who take bribes or go rogue)…look, it’s a mess.
And now we have grim reapers and lesser deaths to deal with, which is where I give up and hurl my Bestiaries into the air. (And then duck, because five of those things are heavy and pointy.)
Except. Except. Hang on…I played 52-Book Pickup too soon. It turns out those books are going to be useful after all.
Every threat we mentioned in the first paragraph above is an outsider. They’re interested in souls. Grim reapers and the lesser deaths are undead. Their interest lies in death itself—the noun and the verb. It’s a subtle distinction, but a significant one (one that puts them closer to nightshades than shinigamis, cosmologically speaking). They are interested in the act of dying and the moment of death, not how the spirit is apportioned. In fact, grim reapers are pretty much death itself given form—kind of like the purple-robed lady Thanos is always trying to get with in the Marvel comics, only more scythe-y. To put it another way, while a shinigami is the farmhand busy harvesting his soul crop, the grim reaper finds satisfaction in simply cutting the grass. When what you want is a well-mowed lawn devoid of life, wheat and chaff are all one.
By and large, all the nuance above is the kind of thing that matters to certain GMs a lot, and not at all to everyone else. But on balance I think it’s good to know, because you never know what players will try to pull at the table. At the very least, when the PCs try to challenge one of Bestiary 5’s grim reapers to a game of checkers, you can confidently say he isn’t that kind of death and roll for initiative.
Other tidbits: 1) Both grim reapers and lesser deaths (originally called minor reapers) have gotten a CR boost and I presume some stat changes since they were introduced in Pathfinder Adventure Path #48: Shadows of Gallowspire. 2) There may be just one Grim Reaper…or there might be nine (which, if you’ve been craving Nazgûl in your Pathfinder game, should have jumped out at you like a neon shark). 3) Grim reapers sometimes ride dragons, yet one more sign (along with, for instance, their elemental subtypes) that dragons are something more than just monsters and are tied up in the fabric of the world somehow. 4) Lesser deaths are associated with the deck of many things. Who knows what other ephemera they might be bound into? And if you can capture lesser deaths, could you capture lesser lives? Births? Menarches? Fears? Angers? Joys?
Okay, on to the adventure seeds:
When St. Tomin’s Cathedral was erected upon Argyle Mound, the builders couldn’t eliminate the famous faerie gate there…but they could bar it. Four stained glass windows representing the four seasons mark the ambulatory behind the chancel. The figures that represent Winter, Spring, and Summer are trapped fey who block the way between the worlds. The figure representing Autumn is a bound lesser death who manifests if anyone tries to tamper with the other three windows.
Adventurers must speak with a wyrm of ancient power and might. Their timing, unfortunately, is abysmal. The ancient dragon has just begun five centuries of service to a grim reaper. Addressing the steed without insulting the deadly master will be difficult, especially when the wyrm has no desire to speak with them in the first place.
To save Death, you have to kill it. A cabal of daemons seeks to unseat Lady Death and tear down the ordered bureaucracy that guides souls to their proper rest. Their plot partially succeeds, temporarily rendering the Final Judge mortal (albeit still mythic and mighty). But the hint of a vacancy in the office allows the daemons’ co-conspirator, the god of murder, to call up a long dormant aspect of death, the Grim Reaper. Now adventurers must leap to the defense of the Obsidian Alcazar, leading psychopomps to battle and preventing the scythe-wielding Grim Reaper from stalking and gruesomely murdering Lady Death in her own palace.
—Pathfinder Adventure Path #48 86–87 & Pathfinder Bestiary 5 134–135
Speaking of magical beings and magical decks of cards, thanks to everyone who’s been engaging with my Campaign in a Bottle series. Want to get caught up? Click here.
Oh, and no radio show this week, so no link.