As much as I love Pathfinder and D&D, being a fan can lock your imagination into certain patterns. You hear the word “demon,” and immediately your brain spits out “chaotic evil outsider native to the Abyss” like a cash register dishing out change. That’s why I find it essential—particularly after a childhood spent reading way too many shared-world franchise novels—to read as widely as possible to break out of those patterns. “Demon” can mean the Lovecraftian horrors of Anthony Horowitz’s Gatekeepers series, the annoying imps inside the Discworld’s personal organizers, or even (as “daemons”) children’s souls incarnated as animal familiars in The Golden Compass.
So I dig the painajai demon because—while it definitely is a chaotic evil outsider native to the Abyss—it is also a dream-haunting nightmare that seems outside the norm for Pathfinder/D&D demons. A spider-eyed, frothing horror that stalks the Dimension of Dreams, it spreads fear and confusion via psychic magic and conjured horrors, while controlling the landscape via mirage arcana and hungry pit. Once it has a bead on its prey, it hurls its chain spear into its victims and then drags them in close to continue their torments. Combining some of the the worst elements of night hags, kytons, and bolas spiders, it’s a relatively fresh take on the demon category I really like.
You can certainly use painajais as written—psychic-magically gifted foils to Desna’s uinuja azata servants. But your campaign could easily find other roles for them as well. Maybe in your home setting painajai demons are the main threat to sleepers, rather than night hags. What does the world look like when a bad nightmare might lead to the Abyss? Or imagine a world where fiends are rare, like the Forgotten Realms in 2e AD&D. What would it look like if painajai demons were the only demons known? Players who have gotten complacent rolling dice against dretches and babaus will be in for a shock when the word “demon” automatically means a CR 14 horror waiting to ambush your dream self.
Adventurers awaken in an inn to discover every single surface covered in spider silk—and every guest but them is similarly cocooned. The message is an unsubtle reminder that they owe a favor to the aranea queen, Leilani. Traveling to her mist-shrouded kingdom, they are given a task that will release them from her web of obligation. An avatar of the aranea trickster god Nasari has been captured by painajais, and party must travel into the Dreamskein to set him free.
“A stately pleasure dome” is how Armapan Singh envisioned his Taj Berin. What he did not envision was that it would attract the attention of a pair of fiendish lovers. An avatarna rakshasa and her painajai demon consort have occupied the palace and turned it into den of pleasures and addictions from this world and the world of dreams. In addition to cleaning out the Taj, Singh himself must be recovered as well—preferably alive and with his soul intact—for his moderating influence is all that keeps the government’s Circle of Adepts from surrendering to their wizard-supremacist impulses.
The solution to cracking the Vault of Marbled Midnight is not a literal key but a musical one: a note no human voice can sing. Cameron of the Knife has recruited a fleshsculpter who specializes in demonic grafts to craft a sort of vocal sac implant he believes will do the trick. But not just any demonflesh will do—they need the throaty resonance of a painajai. That means hunting down the hunters of the Dimension of Dreams and successfully bringing the grisly trophy home while it is still viable.
—Occult Bestiary 19
Happy New Year’s Eve!
Apologies to my Blogger readers: I posted yesterday’s entry before remembering to search for an ouroboros image, and now I’m too scared of Blogger’s buggy interface to try editing the posted file. You can see the image here, though.
If you’re looking for the outlaw troop, we’ll be covering that when we loop back around to the goblin troop. If you’re looking for the ovinnik, we covered it back here.