It’s been a while since I did an ‘underrated monsters’ post, but the winter weather in my area has me thinking about all kinds of weird mythological beasties that roam the tundra. Today, I thought it would be fun to spotlight some creatures that will make your players’ blood run cold–literally!
The ijiraq is a shape-shifter from Inuit lore. These guys are creepy as heck: they can take any form they choose (though they’ll have red eyes no matter what), and they are known to kidnap children and abandon them to freeze in the snow. So, not very nice! They’re also said to live between two worlds, not quite in our plane of existence, not quite out of it. For this reason they’re sometimes called shadow people.
I love a good shape-shifter; there’s nothing quite as creepy to me as a villain that can disguise itself effortlessly. If you choose to ignore the “always has red eyes” thing, or find some narrative way to obfuscate it, then you’ve got a recipe for a terrifying monster that can easily get the drop on your party.
I can’t talk about evil shape-shifters in snowy environs without bringing up my all-time favorite horror film, The Thing. How fun would it be to run a game with that film’s plot? Trap your players with a handful of NPCs in some isolated, wintery base; set an ijiraq or other shape-shifter loose; and watch the carnage unwind as NPCs are slowly killed and replaced while the players desperately try to determine who they can trust. Sounds like a blast to me!
Okay, I know, this one’s obvious. Everyone knows about the Sasquatch’s chilly cousin, the Yeti. But that doesn’t make it any less threatening a creature! Yetis are generally thought of as being much more violent than their large-footed cousins, so throwing a few big, angry snow-apes at your players is sure to make for a memorable encounter.
There’s also some interesting lore to the Yeti that often gets overlooked. At one point, the Yeti may have even been worshipped as a god of the hunt. Imagine, then, if the Yeti was not a species of ape-like monsters but instead a single ancient, powerful creature who was in full command of the wintery mountaintop it called home? Imagine if this impossibly old being was a peerless hunter, and your players–having stumbled into the Yeti’s territory–were its newest prey?
Alternately, I’m always a fan of cults. Suppose your party runs afoul of a dangerous cult that worships the Yeti as a god. Cultists could be excellent trackers and combatants, with a clear edge over your players in snowy terrain. Casters could even focus their magic on ice- and snow-based spells, giving them another way to turn the environment against the party!
The icicle snake isn’t a being from mythology, it’s just a monster in Pathfinder 2E that I’m quite fond of. I used an icicle snake in my last session and it was hugely effective. What is an icicle snake, you ask? It’s exactly what it sounds like: an icicle that is secretly a snake.
The beauty of the icicle snake is that it can blend seamlessly into any frozen environment with a single action. This makes it a terrifying pest for players to try to deal with; thanks to PF2E‘s three-action economy, an icicle snake can move, bite, and hide all in a single turn. If you put your players in, say, a frozen cavern, that gives you plenty of opportunities to maximize the snake’s effectiveness. As players walk along, an icicle hanging down by their shoulder can suddenly bite them, slither away, and disappear again into the frost. My players got delightfully paranoid about the single snake I set against them; just imagine throwing multiples of these sneaky bastards into the mix!
The Yuki-Onna is a snow spirit in Japanese folklore. What’s interesting about the Yuki-Onna is that she’s not consistently portrayed as either good or bad. One story tells of a beautiful woman who fell in love with and married a man. When the man encouraged her to take a warm bath on a cold night, the woman melted away from the water’s heat. On the other hand, a more widespread version of the myth involves travelers meeting a woman in the snow; the woman will ask the traveler to hug her child. If the traveler hugs the kid, the child gets heavier and heavier until the hugger is dragged down into the snow and freezes to death. If, on the other hand, the traveler refuses to hug the child, the Yuki-Onna shoves them down into the snow to freeze anyway. There’s just no winning with these things!
Well, that’s not entirely true. There’s a story about a warrior who held a blade in his mouth while hugging the child; it was positioned such that if he was dragged down, the blade would cut the kid. Apparently, the Yuki-Onna didn’t want to risk the child’s safety, so the warrior was spared the whole “increasingly heavy kid” thing and instead, the spirit thanked him for giving the child a hug and even gave the warrior some treasure. Nice! One version of the legend also states that if you can hug the child long enough without succumbing to the cold, the Yuki-Onna will reward you by making you super-strong–not a bad deal.
I like the idea of the Yuki-Onna not so much as a monster, but an interesting NPC encounter. Either version of the myth (friendly or deadly) could work for this. Just have your players stumble across a strange woman in the snow, perhaps with a child in tow. Maybe she journeys with the group for a while and aids them, only to melt away that night by the campfire. Maybe she has a dangerous task for the players to complete, with the promise of riches if they succeed. Or heck, maybe she traps the players in a blizzard and won’t let them go until they’ve cracked some puzzle of hers, a la the “hug my kid” story. There are a lot of options!
I hate snow, personally, but there’s no denying that there are some cool fictional creatures related to winter weather. Hopefully one of these sparked an idea or two for your next tundra-themed adventure!