The scales on this twelve-foot-long water snake’s back appear to be nothing more than smooth river stones, a few of which glint with traces of gold.
Goldpebble CR 5 (XP 1,600)
Str 21, Dex 16, Con 17, Int 9, Wis 12, Cha 14
Base Atk +6; CMB +12 (+16 grapple); CMD 25 (can’t be tripped)
Feats Improved Initiative, Skill Focus (Stealth), Stealthy
Skills Escape Artist +5, Perception +6, Stealth +9, Swim +18
Languages Common (can’t speak)
Chilling Currents (Su)
As a free action after it successfully grapples a submerged creature, a goldpebble can cause the temperature of all water within a 90-foot-sphere spread, centered on itself, to drop several degrees for 1 minute. For the duration of this effect, any creature attempting to hold its breath in the affected water has the DC of its Constitution check to do so increased by 2.
As an unintentional side effect of the alchemical meddling that brought the creature about, a goldpebble’s fangs inflict a dangerous venom that turns its victim’s blood to water. Any creature with blood or a similar fluid that is hit by a goldpebble’s bite attack risks being affected by this poison.
Pebblefang: Bite—injury; save Fort DC 16; onset 1d4 hours; frequency 1/day for 8 days; effect 1d3 Con damage, and when the creature fails a save, all bleed damage it takes in the following 24 hours is doubled; cure 2 consecutive saves. The save DC is Constitution-based.
Environment temperate or cold rivers
Organization solitary or nest (3–5)
Treasure incidental (10d10 gp)
The goldpebble is a stony-scaled water snake that came into existence thanks to a greedy alchemist of a forgotten time. This ambitious experimenter attempted to create a fecund creature whose body would turn to gold after it died, ensuring an endless supply of wealth with little effort. She found a water snake that bred in shallow pools and produced dozens of offspring, and its biology responded well to her initial tests. The original snake’s scales contained trace amounts of minerals and served as a clever camouflage in the wild, and the alchemist combined magical techniques with selective breeding to coax the species’ scales into naturally producing nuggets of gold.
At first, the experiment seemed to be going well; early generations demonstrated traces of gold in their scales, and as they sloughed away their skin with age, the cast-off scales contained enough gold to justify the alchemist’s efforts. However, the snakes grew in size with each generation, and soon the breeding pools the alchemist had created could not contain them. Worse, the amount of gold each snake produced didn’t increase, but rather seemed to decrease until only glittering flakes remained.
Frustrated, the alchemist redoubled her efforts and saturated the breeding pools with transmutative alchemical reagents, mercilessly culling any snakes that failed to produce new growth. While this did little to increase the mineral content of the creatures’ scales, it did invest them with a supernatural venom that causes victims’ blood to slowly turn to water. When the overzealous alchemist next came to harvest her treasured pets, the goldpebbles struck, killing her and escaping into a nearby stream; they can now be found all across the world.
A fully grown goldpebble is about 12 feet long and weighs 250 pounds.
Goldpebbles are solitary creatures, except for when they gather during the twice-annual breeding frenzy for which the alchemist selected the original species as a test subject. They often lurk in rivers and streams, mimicking the smooth river stones along the bed and waiting for some unlucky wanderer to notice the shimmering traces of gold in their skin. Once the target is near, the creature ambushes the unsuspecting victim, sinking its narrow teeth into the target’s skin and attempting to drag its target below the water. In addition, most goldpebbles have the unusual and instinctive ability to cause the water around them to grow extremely cold, making it harder for a surprised victim to hold its breath. Weaker prey will often succumb to this attack, drowning and settling to the river floor to serve as dinner for the goldpebble. However, even if the victim of the goldpebble’s bite manages to escape, it’s not yet out of danger. Hours after the attack, the victim’s blood begins to transmute into frigid water.
Symptoms of this transformation vary, though they often resemble anemia or frostbite, as vital nutrients and oxygen have trouble reaching their destination and the victim’s body temperature plummets from the inside outward. If condition is left untreated, the frigid water bleed into the victim’s lungs, causing it to drown.
During the breeding season, goldpebbles are even more dangerous than usual. Gathering in shallow pools and lakes, they turn the water into a glimmering froth, laying and fertilizing eggs in the cold mud of the riverbed before returning to their usual streams. When the eggs hatch, hundreds of tiny snakes slither in every direction in search of territory. With little control over their ability to cool surrounding waters, the young goldpebbles sometimes unintentionally flash-freeze their nursery pool in this initial burst of activity. The tiny offspring that survive find their way into streams, wells, and even irrigation systems, sometimes striking at innocent passersby. Despite the juvenile snakes’ diminutive size, the result for their victims is always the same: they end up gasping for breath on dry land, their skin turning chill and blue while their horrified loved ones look on.
Habitat and Society
Even though they are solitary ambush hunters, goldpebbles don’t exist in an ecological vacuum. Several different creatures have adapted to the presence of goldpebbles, and the snakes have also learned to take advantage of the creatures that share their habitats.
In the mineral-rich waters of caves or the runoff from mining operations, a goldpebble sometimes deliberately nests upstream of a basidirond, a plant creature that causes powerful hallucinations that can enhance the goldpebble’s glimmering scales in the eyes of its potential prey. Once the goldpebble has made its kill, the victim’s blood flows into the basidirond’s roots. of course, if this blood is mingled with the goldpebble’s transmutative venom, it can lead to an unfortunate end for the basidirond.
Another creature that benefits from proximity to the goldpebble is the giant dragonfly. These carnivorous insects take advantage of the water snake’s ambush tactics, seeking out lurking goldpebbles and laying their eggs in the nearby shallows. When the giant dragonfly nymphs hatch, they swarm around the goldpebble, instinctively attempting to eat it but unable to break through its stony skin. When the goldpebble brings down a victim, though, the nymphs are often able to devour most of the kill before the goldpebble’s transmutative poison can do its work. Goldpebbles in this situation have to be more aggressive in their hunting, since the nymphs consume a majority of their kills, and these goldpebbles tend to develop more brilliantly colored scales that better attract victims.
One of the side effects of its rapid breeding cycle is the goldpebble’s ability to adapt to its environment. The alchemist’s original manipulations of the goldpebble’s mineral-laced scales have changed slowly over time in some subpopulations of the snake, meaning that some goldpebbles have scales that, instead of being struck through with streaks of gold, glitter like gems or other precious stones. There are clans of dwarves who attempt to capitalize on this adaptiveness despite the creature’s dangerous poison. They harvest young goldpebbles and then pour them into crevices in deep caves, in locations where they suspect veins of precious gems exist but are too difficult or dangerous to mine effectively. When the surviving snakes are fully grown, they return to the more spacious caves of the mine as gempebbles, ready to be harvested—and just as likely as their gold-streaked cousins to attack their dwarven stewards.
Pathfinder Adventure Path #128: Songbird, Scion, Saboteur © 2018, Paizo Inc.; Authors: Crystal Frasier and Richard Pett, with Tim Akers, Logan Bonner, Brian Duckwitz, Amanda Hamon Kunz, Troy Lavallee, Patchen Mortimer, and Linda Zayas-Palmer.