This great serpent has multicolored wings and eyes that glimmer with intense awareness.
Spells Known (CL 9th)
4th (4/day)—charm monster (DC 17), freedom of movement
Str 20, Dex 16, Con 20, Int 17, Wis 19, Cha 17
A couatl casts spells as a 9th-level sorcerer, and can cast spells from the cleric list as well as those normally available to a sorcerer. Cleric spells are considered arcane spells for a couatl, meaning that the creature does not need a divine focus to cast them.
Environment warm forests
Organization solitary, pair, or flight (3–6)
Couatls are servants of lawful and good deities, though some operate independently of any greater being. Respected and admired for their wisdom and beauty, they try to steer mortals onto the right path and use their powers to fight evil, particularly those known to shift between the planes. Some couatls are viewed as benevolent gods by isolated societies, and while most couatls cringe at the thought of pretending to be a god, they allow such misconceptions to continue since they allow the couatls to guide and coax these societies onto paths of peace and cooperation with their neighbors. A couatl is about 12 feet long, with a wingspan of about 15 feet. It weighs 1,800 pounds.
As native outsiders, couatls must eat. They prefer the same foods as true snakes, such as mammals and birds, though they have been known to eat evil humanoids.
As they would rather spend their time promoting their agenda than hunting, couatls appreciate offers of food, particularly small boars and large game fowl.
A couatl sometimes shows its favor to an adventurer or party that has done it a service by gifting the group with 1d4 of its brightly colored feathers. Such a freely given feather, if used as an additional material component, allows a spellcaster to cast planar ally to conjure that specific couatl without expending the typical payment of gold or other valuables—provided the the couatl approves of the service asked for by the spellcaster.
Couatls are among the most beautiful of creatures-great serpents covered in iridescent blue and green feathers, sporting vast, rainbow-colored wings and penetrating, intelligent eyes. Yet it is not the serpents’ beauty that makes them magnificent. Rather, the feathered serpents are most valued for their keen intellect, their close connection to the gods, and their fierce defense of all that is good and righteous.
Because of couatls’ rarity and their tendency to travel while invisible, only a fortunate few ever see a couatl in all its feathered glory. Fewer still are actually offered a chance to speak or interact with one of the great serpents, though those who do often speak of the experience as transformative. Creatures of great good who act either independently or as messengers of the gods, bringing knowledge and wisdom to those in need or struggling against extraplanar evil, couatls are a powerful but benevolent race whose true motivations are cloaked in mystery.
The Plumed Ones-one of the many names given to them by their friends and disciples-take the most interest in guiding young or developing civilizations, for these societies are still malleable enough that their roots may be molded into a firm and just foundation for the generations to come, while older civilizations are often too large, corrupt, or set in their ways for a single voice (even the voice of a divine servitor) to make an impact. It is not surprising, then, that most tales of couatls and their works come from such cultures-jungle dwellers building their first city, nomadic tribes, burgeoning agrarian kingdoms, and the like. These cultures invariably see couatls as benevolent bringers of knowledge and guidance, and build temples and shrines in their honor, or portray the feathered ones in colorful frescoes or towering statuary. Some even come to worship the couatls as gods themselves, developing their own mythologies around the flying serpents. Though most couatls are deeply embarrassed by such veneration-especially when acting on behalf of an actual god-their code of ethics is rarely so stiff-necked that they feel compelled to dismiss the myths, instead seeing their deification as simply another tool they can use to steer the worshipers onto the path of justice and light. Peace and cooperation are two of the greatest goods a couatl can promote, and for such committed and upstanding creatures, couatls can sometimes be surprisingly flexible on tactics when it comes to advancing the greater good.
Members of more technologically advanced-or bloated and culturally stagnant-cultures rarely encounter couatls, and those who do are less likely to meet them as free agents searching for good to do in the world, and more likely to meet them in their roles as messengers, heralds, and servants of various good-aligned deities. Despite their impeccable reputation for honor and justice among those who know such things, the extraplanar serpents’ strange appearance and sometimes stern moralizing-as well as the fact that they’re often bearers of bad tidings or divine warnings and admonishments-mean that older and more corrupt civilizations are more likely to see the serpents’ arrival as a mixed blessing.
Peaceful and soft-spoken, couatls rarely engage in violence against mortals, and then only in self-defense, seeking to disable and redeem their attackers rather than kill them outright. Some legends hold that this is due to couatls’ reverence for natural life, and that when dealing with evil outsiders and undead, their pacifism transforms into a methodical and determined pogrom of fearsome effectiveness.
Couatls are known to be extremely long-lived-the same couatl may visit a tribe or fledgling nation as it develops over hundreds or even thousands of years. They show no significant effects of aging, though occasionally stories tell of especially large or wise couatls who are older than others of their race. As a result, many people on the Material Plane (especially those who directly venerate the winged serpents) believe couatls to be immortal, created by a fertility goddess in the distant past or immaculately spawned from the energy and soulstuff that make up Heaven’s foundations.
The truth is more prosaic. As native outsiders, couatls have a deep connection to the good-aligned planes, yet remain fundamentally denizens of the Material Plane, where they do the majority of their work. Though exceptionally long-lived-to the point where no existing tome or bestiary can say precisely how long the oldest couatl has existed-they still die regularly from crusades against evildoers or in defense of their friends and favored wards. Moreover, couatls must eat, and like the snakes they resemble, they prefer small mammals and birds, though they aren’t averse to consuming the remains of a fallen foe if the mood strikes them. Though couatls possess a reverence for all living things, this means only that they strive to make their hunts, whether for unintelligent animals or even their enemies, as swift and painless for their targets as possible, with their poison introducing a pleasant lassitude even as it sucks victims toward paralysis and death. Couatls gladly accept tribute in the form of game animals such as wild pigs and birds-as these are gifts of the natural world-yet they don’t like to deprive others of food, and so tend to reject domestic livestock or anything offered during a time of famine, returning it with thanks and urging their supplicants to share these offerings with their entire community.
Couatls are sexless-a quality that more prurient humanoids sometimes hold up as evidence of their clear superiority over lesser mortals, though the snake people themselves care little about the mating habits of other creatures as long as they’re consensual. Couatls do not mate, and though they may create partnerships that last for hundreds of years, these are arrangements of love and friendship rather than lust. A couatl may be induced to reproduce by a variety of factors, the most common being a suspicion that its own death is approaching (and thus the need for a new couatl to take up its place and responsibilities) or the conviction that a given area or task is too great for it and its companions. Under these circumstances, a couatl spontaneously generates a shining, iridescent egg that disintegrates almost immediately upon touching the air, disgorging a perfectly formed new serpent a few feet long (treat as having the young simple template). This serpent is born with all the powers and intelligence of an adult couatl, as well as a portion of its parent’s memories (most notably those relating to its responsibilities). Some accounts tell of couatls who, upon birthing their children, choose that point to voluntarily discorporate, vanishing in bursts of golden light and passing their life energy on to the new generation. More often, however, the parent couatl simply throws itself into its dangerous task with the certainty that, should it fall, another will take up its burden. Though couatls can and do perform this birthing several times over the course of their lives-with the young free to pursue their own agendas once the burdens they were born to bear have been handled-it’s rare for one of the feathered serpents to procreate more than once in a given century.
While most couatls have roughly equivalent abilities, some older couatls learn and grow in power over the centuries, gaining new abilities such as the talent for casting magic as sorcerers or the secret of polymorphing at will (sometimes disguising themselves in order to better walk among those they protect or oppose). Older couatls are highly respected by their fellows, and their opinions are almost universally followed, though in most cases these couatls prefer to let others find their own path, and offer their wisdom only if the situation is extremely urgent or it is otherwise important that they do so. Elder couatls are rarely larger than their companions, yet have significantly more Hit Dice and spell-like abilities (including the ability to disguise themselves as other creatures using polymorph or alter self).
Couatls are both solitary and nomadic creatures, normally dwelling in hidden places of great natural beauty or spiritual importance, and gathering only to consider matters of extreme importance, such as the death of one of their number. Though they are at home on all planes of good alignment, especially those of a lawful or neutral disposition, their true home is the Material Plane, and most couatls serving the gods in person relish the opportunity to return to the wild chaos of the mortal realm.
As they normally dwell in isolation, couatls have no real organized society. Though they may sometimes band together in the face of particularly difficult challenges, they prefer to seek allies from among the mortal races they serve and protect-doing so spreads couatls’ influence wider and allows the outsiders to help lesser creatures (like humans) take charge of their own destinies, training them up to be bastions of goodness among their own kind.
Couatls appear to have been created with a driving (some would say obsessive) desire to see both law and good triumph, as well as to see knowledge disseminated throughout the universe. One indication of this compulsion is couatls’ perceived duty to educate and guide what they consider to be “primitive” or “undeveloped” cultures. In this effort, couatls seek to show other people the benefits of righteous behavior before other, less benevolent forces can affect matters. Strangely enough, this education tends to be solely of a moral sort-because of their reverence for nature, couatls see no reason to help societies “advance” economically or militarily, and indeed see a shift away from the natural rhythms of agriculture or hunting and gathering as a dangerous downhill slide into the corruption of an idle society.
An unfortunate side effect of couatls’ desire to lift up other races, however, is their patronizing, paternal attitude toward others, which often comes across as arrogant. That this hubris is usually couched in warm and friendly terms does not lessen its impact-some individuals approached by a couatl reject its offers of assistance out of hand, offended by the feathered one’s blatant condescension.
Best known as teachers, advisors, and guides, couatls approach potential beneficiaries carefully, observing from hiding for years or even decades before revealing themselves. Couatls are a proud race, and prefer to appear in their native form, as dramatically and impressively as possible, for in addition to their better qualities, most couatls are also quite vain. The appearance of a creature as magnificent as a couatl, framed by the rising sun or descending from a stormy sky, is enough to get almost anyone’s attention, providing the couatl with the time and consideration it needs to offer aid and friendship to its chosen people. Older couatls, however, are usually more socially adept and less obviously proud, and have been known to appear in the guise of the race that they are contacting, especially if they are concerned about frightening or driving off their would-be beneficiaries.
Couatls are exceptionally intelligent, and guide their people patiently, as slowly or quickly as they deem necessary. Most of the time, the secrets they pass on pertain to utilitarian pursuits such as agriculture, animal husbandry, astronomy, architecture, sailing, fishing, and hunting, though most couatls are well read and willing to share far more esoteric knowledge as long as they believe it’ll be put to positive use. Couatls also stress harmony and peace, making certain their gifts do not disrupt or damage the environment, or cause undue social upheaval.
Once a group has received a couatl’s wisdom and is well on its way toward prosperity and civilization, the couatl usually departs, often with a promise to return one day should its people need assistance. In these cases, a couatl will sometimes leave a few of its feathers behind, magical talismans that may recall the couatl if needed. These feathers are also sometimes shared with the couatl’s friends and allies in other worlds as well.
Though couatls often act as servitors for specific gods, they are strangely not particularly religious. Instead of worship-which, as many of them have seen firsthand, can be misdirected-they tend to view their patrons as valued (if distant) friends, and their service as a working relationship. Despite their rather rigid lawful alignment, couatls sometimes even serve chaotic good gods, though they may question the wisdom of their assigned duties-such things are, after all, the responsibility of a friend, and a couatl’s arrogance can easily extend to doubting the gods themselves.
As messengers, couatls may bring news, bits of wisdom, prophecies, or even warnings to evil rulers, sternly cautioning them against particularly destructive courses of action. In extreme cases, couatls may even be dispatched to aid the forces of good in combat, for the presence of a feathered one on the field of battle provides hope and encouragement to even the most dispirited soldier.
In most cases, couatls work best as creatures kept in the background, occasional patrons for the players or allies against particularly powerful foes. Good-aligned adventurers rarely find themselves in outright conflict with a couatl, though just because both the couatl and the PCs are essentially good doesn’t mean they necessarily see eye to eye. A couatl, for instance, might look down on chaotic PCs’ plans (or lack thereof), or it may see urban PCs’ agendas as unintentionally harmful and corrupting toward the innocents it protects. If PCs in a campaign are outright evil, cruel, or reckless, of course, the feathered servant may take a more active role against them, recruiting defenders or facing them itself.
In low-level games, couatls are best used as either quest objects- with the PCs seeking out rumors of the feathered serpents in an effort to utilize their esoteric knowledge and wisdom-or mentors, providing the PCs with support, advice, and healing while suggesting potential missions that can aid the couatl in its conflict with evil forces.
At higher levels, couatls can be treated more as the PCs’ equals-allies or companions sent by the gods to aid a party with particularly difficult or important endeavors. When not actively advising a culture, couatls normally dwell in great forests, on islands in the center of vast lakes, or in other beautiful and natural places of isolation, and this remains true even on other planes. High-level adventurers may encounter them during planar travel, where the feathered ones may provide advice and assistance or act as guardians and emissaries for the true masters of the plane.
It’s exceedingly rare to encounter more than a single couatl at a time, though couatls sometimes travel with companions of various races, sworn companions who aid them in their missions. The presence of more than one couatl in a given area is a sure sign that a catastrophe is looming, or that the forces of evil are particularly strong and dangerous there.
Couatls have no use for treasure, and in fact are quick to point out material wealth as one of the surest roads to corruption and damnation. At the same time, they’re not above utilizing magical items to further their cause, and will sometimes keep items of tribute with the intention of eventually returning them, redistributing such wealth as rewards to allies or stockpiling the treasures in anticipation of a coming crisis. Couatls’ best-known treasure, however, is one that they produce themselves. Ordinary shed couatl feathers are exceptionally beautiful and can be sold for up to 100 gp, but a freely gifted couatl feather can be easily be worth 10 times that or more. A gifted feather is imbued with magical energy that ties it to the couatl, and if used as an additional material component for the planar ally spell, this feather allows the spellcaster to conjure the specific couatl without providing the typical payment required by such spells. (Of course, this presumes that the couatl approves of the requested service, and finds the bearer worthy of its aid.) These feathers are given only to valuable or loyal allies, or to innocents who may need the couatl’s aid in the future. Each of these feathers can be used only once, and is destroyed in the process.
Couatl is a word in the Nahuatl language spoken by the Aztecs that simply means “serpent.” The great god Quetzalcoatl (feathered serpent) was known throughout ancient Mesoamerica, and was called Kukulcan by the Maya. Strongly associated with agriculture, wind, warfare, and the morning star Venus, Quetzalcoatl was also the patron of the Aztec priesthood, and thus of learning and knowledge. Some tales even claim that Quetzalcoatl created humans from the bones of previous races after a catastrophe destroyed the world. A popular story, now largely discounted by historians, claims that the Aztec emperor Moctezuma at first mistook conqueror Hernán Cortés for Quetzalcoatl, an error that supposedly led to the destruction of the Aztec Empire.
The Aztecs and other cultures that worshiped the Feathered Serpent viewed Quetzalcoatl as having several forms, and in addition to anthropomorphic avatars (such as that of Ehecatl the wind god), he was known for the dragonlike feathered serpent form that fantasy gaming drew from to create the Pathfinder couatl.