Yesterday I talked about a creature I intended as the campaign villain from his first appearance. Today’s monster, not so much.
A stymphalidies is a large, carnivorous bird with beaks and feathers as sharp as metal. They’re based on the almost-identically-spelled stymphalides of Greek myth, who were the subject of the sixth labor of Hercules and maybe also met the Argonauts depending on whose translation you read. The Pathfinder version of the creature retains the ability to hurl its feathers and can also blind its enemies by reflecting torchlight at them like a middle-schooler with a wristwatch. They’re kind of like a flying bulette with lower offense and higher defense and ranged capability.
I hit my players with one during The Eight Arms and the Memento Mori, which was supposed to be our monster-hunting campaign. The campaign villain could control monsters through magic and song, and his mount of choice was a stymphalidies. I described it to the players as a shiny gold chocobo, and they not only understood both how it looked but also why it was a good choice for a character in an ocean-based campaign. The bird accompanied the villain everywhere, even waiting outside cafes during lunchtime. I intended it to serve as a deterrent in case the party tried to attack the villain before the campaign could come to a satisfying conclusion. Instead they befriended the villain and tried to seek a middle ground, talking him down from revolution while working to set him up with his own country.
When the plans to develop a sovereign state fell through, the villain decided to commit to war, commanding legions of sea monsters to devastate every coastal city he could. The party decided he had to be taken out, and they snuck into his house and killed him in his sleep. Not only was this incredibly unsatisfying for me as a DM, it ended the campaign on a down note in the middle of our scheduled session time, so I did the only thing that made sense and had the stymphalidies wake up and attack.
What followed was the most unexpected final boss I’ve ever run, and as you’ll recall from earlier in this month, I once designed a final boss during the fight that came immediately before it. The stymphalidies proved startlingly effective, blinding the party and tearing it apart with more attacks per round than was fair. Its mobility didn’t matter since the party’s main source of damage was an actual cannon, but its defensive skills worked wonders. There was a brief moment when I felt the players legitimately wondered whether they would win without casualties, and that’s half of what I want out of a final fight anyway. The other half is a fulfilling end to a story arc, and we lacked that, but if I had known where we were going I probably could have made it work too. Technically, any creature can be a climax if you sell it appropriately. I mean, your average player wouldn’t expect a chimera to be a final boss battle, but there you go.
I have a slow, ongoing project to get miniatures made of the final bosses from all of my campaigns. Somewhere alone the line, somebody is going to see this one and ask “What’s up with this bird? Was it like a chocobo wizard or something?” And I’ll say “Nope, dumb as a hammer. Funny story…”