Save for the tattered wings and taloned feet, this creature resembles a feral woman with a wild look about her.
Speed 20 ft., fly 80 ft. (average)
Str 12, Dex 15, Con 10, Int 7, Wis 12, Cha 17
A harpy’s song has the power to infect the minds of those that hear it, calling them to the harpy’s side. When a harpy sings, all creatures aside from other harpies within a 300-foot spread must succeed on a DC 16 Will saving throw or become captivated. A creature that successfully saves is not subject to the same harpy’s song for 24 hours. A victim under the effects of the captivating song moves toward the harpy using the most direct means available. If the path leads them into a dangerous area such as through fire or off a cliff, that creature receives a second saving throw to end the effect before moving into peril. Captivated creatures can take no actions other than to defend themselves. A victim within 5 feet of the harpy simply stands and offers no resistance to the harpy’s attacks. This effect continues for as long as the harpy sings and for 1 round thereafter. This is a sonic mind-affecting charm effect. The save DC is Charisma-based.
Environment temperate marshes
Organization solitary, pair, or flight (3–12)
Treasure standard (leather armor, morningstar, and other treasure)
Often viewed as vicious and corrupted creatures, harpies know how creatures think and act. This understanding gives them an advantage when it comes to finding their favorite meals. While creatures of the wild easily fall victim to their captivating songs, these vile bird-women prefer their meals spiced with complex sentient thoughts. Easy prey makes for a boring meal.
While ultimately savage and without remorse for their actions, a number of harpies live close to humanoid societies and enjoy parlaying with creatures that they see as potential meals.
Harpies tend to wear baubles and trinkets stolen from their victims, as they like to indulge in the shiny ornaments of mankind. Up close, these creatures reek with the stench of consumed victims, and they rarely let creatures not yet captivated too near, lest they smell the gore and decay upon their feathers. For this reason, many harpies wear perfumes and scented oils.
Harpies appear wildly different in different lands. Some seem like an amalgam of vultures and women, while others bear the regal markings of hawks or falcons in their feathers. Rare clutches of harpies in isolated and tropical parts of the world even have colorful feathers akin to parrots.
Harpies are cunning and vile creatures, an amalgam of feral human woman and bird. They have wings and claws, and often have feathers and down across their bodies, but are otherwise humanoid. The plumage of harpies differs by environment and tends to match local bird-life-typical phenotypes include birds of prey and scavenger birds such as vultures, but variety abounds. A harpie’s face is similar enough to a human’s at a passing glance, but close inspection shows a carnivore’s teeth and the dead eyes of a remorseless predator. Harpies wear their evil and cruelty on their sleeves, taking delight in the pain and suffering of others and generally making no effort to hide their enjoyment. Even a harpy with reason to be friendly will flaunt her wickedness and make it clear that she’s keeping score for later. Conversely, a harpy attempting to seem caring and virtuous is an unnerving sight.
In their natural state, harpies care nothing for hygiene-between the odors of the gory remains of their victims and of their soiled, guano-covered aeries, harpies can usually be smelled before they are seen, at least in close environments. The rare harpies who live in urban environments can be exceptions to this rule, and knowing both their species’ reputation and natural tendencies, are often obsessively fastidious about their appearances. Harpies are so paired with stench and offal in the public imagination, however, that tales of urban harpies are often dismissed out of hand, to the benefit of those villains capable of recruiting and maintaining urban harpy servants.
Harpies have an innate talent for understanding the minds of others, and in addition to their captivation abilities make excellent torturers and spies. While they are sometimes used for these purposes by more powerful evil creatures, most harpies are on their own, living in small tribes and family groups and preying on the outskirts of civilization. They will eat almost any creature, but prefer to prey on sentient ones, so they generally haunt trade routes and other such sources of fresh victims. In parts of the world where they are common, harpies are well recognized for the threat they present to people and property. Children are taught never to stray too far from home or linger anywhere with a smell of refuse or rot, and filth-haunting harpies are used as fodder for terrifying bedtime stories that can make going to the latrine after dark a nightmare. (Other parental fairy tales include tales of filthy children being mistaken for harpy young and carried off to join the tribe-thus explaining the need for said children to bathe regularly.)
Harpies can live almost anywhere, though they don’t do well in extremely cold environments. They especially like marshlands and mountainous regions where they can lure powerful prey into bogs or over cliffs. Harpies prefer sentient creatures for their nourishment. Some naturalists believe that harpies’ captivating song relies at some level on an advanced sense of empathy-an ability to sense and share the feelings of others, thus playing to their mood and desires. If this is true, then at some point in their evolution the harpies’ empathic abilities became twisted, with the irony being that today harpies enjoy the complex “taste” of a sentient creature’s fear and pain more than the bland panick of an unintelligent animal. A harpie’s favorite meal is human or elf, but hungry harpies welcome almost all humanoids. While goblin meat doesn’t taste particularly good to a harpy, the manic fear of harpies that goblins possess is irresistible to most of the feathered predators, and a harpy will almost always go out of her way to eat a goblin, first taking the time to terrorize it and enjoy its mad scramblings.
Harpies are generally on the lithe end of the humanoid spectrum-even with hollow bones and large wings to keep them aloft, harpies must remain light, and are rarely larger than an average human woman. Harpies can tuck their wings fairly snugly at need, and in bad light or elaborate costumes may even pass as human women-at least until their prey is lured close enough to smell their stench and note their feral faces and clawed limbs. Harpies have life spans similar to those of humans, usually dying of old age around 60 if given the chance. This chance, however, is rare, as angered harpies are often just as savage toward each other as they are toward other races.
Harpies tend to bear children about once every 2 years over the course of their twenties. Since there are no male harpies, they use humanoid males to reproduce. These men are only barely luckier than other victims, since after frantic and frequently sadistic copulation they are almost always immediately devoured. Harpies tend to look for physical power and aggression in such genetic donors, and warriors tend to be chosen over farmers, artisans, and magic users. An urban harpy will occasionally mate with an impressive human male even if she will not be in a position to kill him afterward, but only if he’s so impressive that the advantage of bearing his progeny is greater than the shame of not having devoured her mate. To court such a prize, the harpy can be charming, but never sweet. Men who accede to such dalliances are usually either extreme thrill-seekers, masochistic deviants, or so confident in their own abilities that they see bedding a harpy and walking away as another conquest to add to their list of achievements. Because of their need to mate with humanoids, no harpies stay entirely away from civilized lands, and the presence of harpies in the deep wilderness is sometimes a sign of a hidden aboriginal tribe or isolated village.
Harpy babies are born with the ability to chew and at least partially digest meat, though they are often not strong enough to rip it off a carcass, in which case their mothers rip victims into bite-sized chunks before giving the tidbits to their hungry young, even going so far as to regurgitate partially digested morsels for newborns. Harpy mothers have a duty to care for their young until the offspring can fend for themselves, but if the mother is killed, the entire tribe shares those duties.
Harpies live in small family and tribal groups, from a single pair to a dozen individuals, and multiple groups may join together into loud, squabbling rookeries. Harpies are highly social creatures, at least among their own kind-a harpy on her own is either an outcast or on a specific mission that takes her away from her family.
Harpies worship Pazuzu, the demon lord of winged creatures, and harpy haunts usually have an elaborate shrine to Pazuzu upon which matings are conducted and severed tongues and eyes of victims are laid in sacrifice. The shrine is usually made up of several smaller pieces for easy transport if the harpies have to move quickly. As Pazuzu is also King of the Wind Demons, harpies worship not only through sacrificial killings but also by going aloft during violent windstorms, flying recklessly in an ecstatic dance.
Harpies like to play with their victims. Torture is the norm, though harpies don’t take chances-if there is any risk that their prey might break their mental hold and pose a threat, they’ll cut their play short rather than risk vengeance. Particularly cruel harpies who aren’t very hungry may play with victims over weeks or even months, keeping them alive by feeding them the leavings of other victims. Harpies aren’t very trustworthy, and other evil creatures allying with them need to have contingency plans and fail-safes to keep from falling victim to the harpies once their current engagement ends, as harpies love irony. When more powerful creatures dominate them, harpies may deign to work with other creatures, but the reverse can also be true: harpies sometimes form lasting alliances with creatures that aren’t very intelligent and don’t taste very good, and occasionally coexist with creatures like ettins or ogres in this way, provided the latter maintain their utility.
Harpies that live near a human settlement sometimes try to moderate their predations, keeping attacks at a level that won’t result in the settlement banding together to drive them off. Harpies are adept at this calculation and can haunt a village for years, taking just enough victims that they don’t become a priority for the local authorities. Harpies preying on trade routes use a similar calculus to avoid bringing armed expeditions to their aeries. Harpies are fierce but practical and avoid confrontations with more powerful forces; overwhelmingly punitive expeditions often drive harpies to migrate elsewhere rather than fight to the death.
While harpies usually live in tight family or tribal groups, their greater communities can’t be reasonably called “harmonious.” Harpies do not cooperate well as equals, and usually have a clearly established pecking order, enforced by intimidation and petty violence. The highest ranks of a harpy flock are filled by a combination of the strongest and most cunning harpies, since both of those traits help them keep the rest of their flock in line. Magic users, typically sorcerers or clerics of Pazuzu, often ascend to high positions, though they sometimes opt to support a more physically powerful harpy and set themselves up as the power behind the throne. Harpy social structures can be chaotic, and higher-level harpies are often brought down by a coalition of their social inferiors, who then immediately fall upon each other in an attempt to come out on top. For this reason, adventurers may find it useful to attempt to parley with a harpy if they can do so safely. Offering one harpy or family unit a chance at betrayal and advancement can distract and neutralize an entire multi-family flock.
As harpies are single-gendered and generally devour those humanoid males used for mating, their species does not recognize anything close to marriage. Outside of filial attachment, the closest thing harpies have to romance is the concept of pair-bonding, by which two harpies with respect for each other’s abilities will cleave together for mutual defense, shared parenting duties, and non-reproductive physical pleasure. Though not common, these pairs are often the heart of family groups, and represent one of the few bonds in harpy society not easily thrown aside in the name of temper and ambition.
Harpies make great villains for low-level adventures, since in addition to being evil and remorseless, they tend to live near humanoid habitations and do the sorts of things that cause people to send out adventurers (e.g., kidnapping and eating villagers or teamsters). Harpies are clever about assessing foes, however, and are unlikely to attack the adventurers directly if they perceive them to be a physical threat. They may attempt to pick off the adventurers one by one, or attract stronger monsters to try to finish off the adventurers before they pose true danger. Adventurers who wish direct combat with harpies are advised to disguise their strength and pose as easy kills, or stealthily track the harpies to their lairs. When defending their homes, harpies take considerably greater risks than when simply raiding, especially if they have young to protect.
Harpies prefer to lair in caves and ruins on cliffs and mountainsides where they are hard to reach without flying, yet their desire to come and go unseen makes them equally likely to select deep ravines or spots below the tree line. A harpie’s lair generally consists of a large central chamber or ledge where she keeps a shrine to Pazuzu, along with shiny treasures. Harpies spend most of their time in these larger chambers, with smaller chambers being used for storage, privacy, or confinement of prisoners. If the entrance is large enough to fly through, it may be riddled with pressure plates, trip-wires, and other ground-based traps to catch intruders while leaving harpies free to fly in and out. Their dwelling places are notoriously filthy, with all the bones, shed feathers, and droppings of any dense bird rookery, but at a hideous humanoid scale.
For higher-level campaigns, harpies make good front-line villains, working at the behest of a more subtle and far-reaching threat. In this scenario, harpies have been either unwittingly set up as a screen, attracting all of the heat while worse actions take place elsewhere, or hired for a specific task. If the harpies know their role, they may turn on their employers in exchange for their lives or even for treasure, though their price would be steep, since hunting from under the umbrella of a more powerful evil is an attractive position for any flock. If the harpies aren’t aware they’ve been set up, just telling them the truth might make them take vengeance on the villain, though the revelation won’t make them any less dangerous for the party. (On the other hand, it might also prompt them to forge an explicit alliance with the villain, if the villain is willing to make a sufficient offer to gain their support.) Harpies also act as excellent combat support for more powerful monsters and villains, as their captivating song can quickly interrupt a party’s plan of attack and stymie the invaders while their master prepares a killing blow.
Yet harpies don’t always need to be adversaries. Under many circumstances, harpies can be useful NPCs. Such a harpy might be a free agent, working in concert with the PCs against a common enemy or feeding them information for a price, or might be compelled by some more powerful friend or foe of the PCs. Though never nice, even at the best of times, harpies are intelligent creatures, and more than capable of allying with good PCs if there’s something in it for them. (Of course, in her heart, a harpy likely still wants to kill her allies, and will happily turn on the PCs if the opportunity presents itself and she thinks she can get away with it. But the same could be said for any number of purely human rogues and lowlifes.) Under extreme circumstances, an entire rookery in fear of being annihilated by an overwhelming force might reluctantly agree to guard a location, trade route, or city, preying solely on monsters and travelers who don’t have the proper clearance.
GMs should note that harpies pose more of a danger for low-level parties than their CR suggests, since if everyone succumbs to their captivating song, the party won’t be able to defend themselves, and may be slaughtered like livestock. This risk can be mitigated by including only a few harpies among other types of threats, or giving the party some sort of advanced warning or magical protection against the threat. Alternatively, having some of the harpies forgo the use of their captivation powers in favor of regular attacks or magic items can prevent a terrible end to a new campaign.
Harpies love shiny things, and tend to wear much of their best treasure on their persons. Their lairs are full of items that they’ve taken from their victims but that aren’t appropriate for wearing-coins, goods, and heavier art objects. Especially pretty objects and mirrors are the pride of harpies, while more valuable but uglier items are shoved into corners. For all but the most attractive treasures, harpies enjoy the taking more than the having, and the most successful harpy tribes are likely to have piles of coinage, armor, weapons, and other items piled away in a storeroom. For this reason, harpies may be willing to trade mundane and ugly treasure for visually attractive pieces. Harpies sometimes modify their treasures to make them more wearable; it isn’t uncommon for a harpy to be adorned with strings of coins pierced through the middle and hung as necklaces, anklets, or bracelets. Harpies who are thus adorned can be heard a ways off, and so they strip off the noisiest items when they need stealth more than vanity. Harpies enjoy singing, and it is one of the few forms of artistic expression they commonly engage in (and the only one they’re any good at). Instruments that can be easily used to accompany them are generally well cared for and preserved, so a typical harpy lair will have at least a couple of lutes, harps, or mandolins propped up in the less filthy corners.
In Greek mythology, harpies were born of Thaumas, a minor sea god, and Electra, a sea nymph. There were only two or three of them, and they were sometimes portrayed as agents of the gods in meting out punishment. The most well-known instance of this was their torment of Phineas, whom Zeus had put on an island with a great feast. Whenever Phineas tried to eat the food, the harpies would fly in and steal or befoul it. Jason and the Argonauts eventually drove the harpies away and rescued Phineas. Harpies were also known for carrying people off to Tartarus, torturing them as they went. The word harpy comes from the Latin harpeia, meaning “snatcher.” Harpies were originally portrayed as beautiful women with the wings or bodies of birds. Later they were portrayed as ugly, to avoid confusion with the sirens, who were originally said to be ugly but are now portrayed as beautiful-it’s this same confusion that inspired harpies’ captivating song ability in fantasy gaming.
Goblins have an extreme and entirely justified fear of harpies. They are sensitive to signs of harpy presence, and can smell harpies from a long way off. Rangers sometimes use this fact to their advantage-when traveling in goblin-infested areas, they apply specially treated harpy musk to their armor, or use it to guard their camps and caches. Any goblins who get close enough to smell the musk assume there’s a harpy in the area and quickly flee. The musk is a combination of old sweat, aged filth, and unique pheromones exuded by a harpy, and a typical harpy has enough of these on her person to create 1 vial of harpy musk per month (provided she doesn’t bathe). Typically, the crafter scrapes the congealed sweat and muck from a dead harpy and boils it down with water; doing so requires a successful DC 15 survival check. A character who has never seen the process done must succeed at a DC 25 Survival check to fumble through it.
Price 100 gp; Weight –
This vial contains a single application of harpy musk. When the greasy liquid is rubbed onto any surface (including armor or clothing), it smells strongly enough like a harpy that goblins can smell it from up to 60 feet away; goblins who smell it must succeed at a DC 15 Will save or flee for 1 round and avoid the area thereafter, believing the odor is evidence of a real harpy. If a goblin knows the scent is a ruse, it receives a +5 bonus on this save. The DC of the Will save decreases by 1 each day, with a given dose of musk losing its effectiveness entirely after just over 2 weeks. This is a scent-based, mind-affecting fear effect. Once a goblin has successfully saved against harpy musk, it can no longer be affected by that particular dose.