(Illustration by Dave Allsop comes from the Paizo Blog and is © Paizo Publishing.)
As this blog has unfolded, one of the themes we’ve hit on many, many times before is that the larger and more powerful giants become, the more they move into the realm of folklore and myth. You can envision a world where ogres, hill giants, and even certain conceptions of stone and fire giants could be natural outgrowth of evolutionary and environmental forces (for a given value of “natural”). But once you get past frost giants, natural shoves out of the way in favor of supernatural.
The paradigm for this is the cloud giant race, which comes to us not from Norse myths, but children’s fairy tales—and boy does it show. Between their magical powers, their cloud castles*, and the Manichean, good/evil alignment split of cloud giant societies, it’s clear we’re dealing with creatures out of story and legend. (*Cloud castles seem to be more a D&D thing than a Pathfinder thing if you’re reading the manuals closely, but I like them so let’s just go with it.)
Now, if you ever shivered in fear when your parents read “Jack and the Beanstalk” to you at bedtime…imagine the stories cloud giants tell their kids. What could terrify a monster child who regularly helps his mother grind human bones into bread? The answer is the papinijuwari.
As you might guess from the name, the papinijuwari is a monster from Australia’s indigenous people, specifically the Tiwi of Bathurst and Melville Islands. It’s a cyclops but worse, searching with its single lambent eye for the young and the weak to devour. They’re such figures of terror that shooting stars are thought to be papinijuwaris flying overhead (a pretty stark departure from the wishing stars we Americans grow up with!). All in all, it's a hell of a monster.
What I love about Pathfinder’s papinijuwari is that the designers have translated the monster into game stats without sanding down any of the horror. They feed on disease. They wear skulls, because of course they do. And they fly through the air by clutching a burning torch, a detail from folklore I’m so glad the Bestiary 5 designers retained. (Interestingly, according to the rules this talent works only when the papinijuwari is 500 ft. above the ground, which raises questions about how they take off and land—can they only fly from mountaintop to mountaintop, or magical cloudbank to magical cloudbank…and do they just plummet to the ground …or are they allowed to land?) But never mind the physics—take a look at that image from Dave Allsop. Now imagine that thing hurtling down from overhead, landing with a thud in a three-point stance straight out of Iron Man, torch held aloft, hunger gleaming in its eye as it sniffs the air for its prey. Now that’s a monster.
In fact, it might be my favorite monster in Bestiary 5, and that’s a book that includes the liminal sprite. Best of all, I never even noticed it—not once—until I sat down to write this entry. Which is a great reminder that, even in a book I think I know, there are always surprises waiting—and the reason I blog is to find them and share the excitement with you all.
Now to spoil that valedictory ending with a postscript: I think the best way to deploy papinijuwaris is to drop mention of them in your very first session. Make them sound like an old wives’ tale; make them sound positively ridiculous—nothing like the grim and gritty horrors your players are actually going to face. Drop another mention at 4th level or so, and then say nothing for ages… And then, when they least expect it, rain evil giants down upon them with a vengeance.
Adventurers use an ancient ritual to call a meteor shower down upon the necropolis of a lich. The aerial bombardment destroys the hated undead’s tower and reduces his city-state to rubble. But the devastation also draws the attention of a tribe of papinijuwaris eager to feast on the lich’s diseased subjects…and perhaps make a home for themselves in this new untapped hunting ground.
In addition to its usual reprehensible cargo, a slave ship arrives in port with a strange cyclops chained in the hold and a crew sick with blister fever. The slavers quickly grease the palms they need to slip free of quarantine, and soon plague and a papinijuwari run rampant through the city.
An adventuring party is brought together by loss. They are all survivor of cloud giant depredations—some lost family to raiders, others were raised in villages overseen (quite literally) by lords in cloud castles overhead, and still others had their homes just scooped away by giant dredges. No matter where their travels take them, they all know that they are gaining in power and resources until the day they can challenge the giants on their own misty turf. And just as they are gearing up for their first assault on their oppressors, the king—the high king!—of the cloud giants approaches them. “I need your help,” he tells the shocked adventurers, “for my oracles have read the signs. The enemies of both our races, the papinijuwaris, are coming.”
—Pathfinder Bestiary 5 188
If you’re looking for ways to break out of Pathfinder’s and especially D&D’s default Eurocentric atmosphere, I think there’s an amazing campaign just waiting to be constructed out of fragments of Le Guin’s Earthsea novels, Australian and other Pacific myths, and your own imagination. Start with the papinijuwari and go nuts.