The ouroboros, the snake eating its own tail, is a common ancient symbol, appearing in Egyptian, Greek, Norse, Gnostic, Vedic, and South American texts and carvings...which is interesting, because there aren’t actually a lot of stories about it (compared to say, dragons or giants or even sphinxes). Instead, the ouroboros’s value seems to be almost entirely as a symbol—for life and death, consumption and renewal, light and dark, the circle of samsara, and so forth.
Given what a well-established symbol the ouroboros is, the first question about it was always going to be: When would someone turn the ouroboros into a Pathfinder monster? And the second question was: How would someone turn the ouroboros into a Pathfinder monster? (A serpent constantly eating its own tail is great from a visual perspective, but it’s going to have trouble making a bite attack.)
But if it’s a snake made of thousands of snakes…on the Astral Plane…constantly devouring and regenerating itself…with blood that’s can raise the dead or baleful polymorph you into a swarm of snakes…and it’s CR 21 for good measure…now that’s a Pathfinder monster.
I also dig the video game-ness (or 4th Ed D&D-ness) of its Self-Consumption (Su) ability—that if you damage it down to half its hit points, it stops eating its own tail, which both makes it more vulnerable, but also unlocks some of its special abilities (and makes it pissed, presumably). I don’t need every monster to get special abilities for being bloodied, but it is a nice perk for certain significant baddies. It also works thematically. One of the exceptions to my “There are no stories about these things” gloss above is the Norse World Serpent, Jörmungandr, who could be considered a kind of ouroboros. One of the climactic acts of Ragnarök is Jörmungandr releasing his tail from his mouth and surfacing to fight the gods. There’s no reason fighting an ouroboros at your game table can’t be just as epic.
Adventurers discover a divine secret: the goddess of death and the goddess of birth are one and the same. In her gestalt form, the Splintered Queen dwells in a palace ringed not by a moat, but by an ouroboros that both symbolizes her twin portfolios and makes a singularly unforgiving guardian.
Planar travel through the nested Tiers of the Celestine Stairs is difficult. Even a successful casting of the gate spell opens the archmage’s mind to maddening influences from beyond the Tiers. (An unsuccessful casting may result in disintegration, polymorphing into a gibbering mouther, the calling of a shoggoth, or worse.) But a few rifts connect the Tiers, the most famous being the Ouroboros Gate—a living ouroboros whose ravenous coils can be traversed to reach the vast expanse of the Astral Tier.
With the awakening of the serpent god Sardsorius, the serpentfolk race, long thought extinct, has erupted from the bowels of the earth. Worse yet, their shamans are poised to succeed in a quest that has eluded them for millennia: piercing the veil hiding Refuge, the last lost retreat of the elves. Embattled on all sides, the elves risk everything to resurrect their mythic hero king, Kin-Yalyn—including tasking a rogue band of adventurers to acquire the ouroboros blood the ritual demands.
—Pathfinder Bestiary 6 206–207
Hey! Remember me?
I think I first read about the ouroboros in the Xanth books…which means I just admitted to reading the Xanth books. (Leave me alone, this was middle school.) The use of an ouroboros as a moat monster is a direct homage to one of these novels (The Source of Magic, I think). While we’re at it, any elves vs. serpentfolk scenario I write probably owes a debt to Ghostwalk.
Wouldn’t it have been nice if I’d posted this entry last April, when my article on resurrection was coming out in Pathfinder Adventurer Path? Yeeeeeah, that would have been smart.