Dozens of ghostly figures swirl and cavort, floating through the air as they follow the steps of an ancient, rhythmic dance—seemingly keeping time with the ebb and flow of life itself. Amid this eerie crowd of dancing specters looms a dark cloaked figure wielding a scythe, an ominous wraith with the dreaded countenance of Death itself.
Danse Macabre CR 14
AC 22, touch 22, flat-footed 14 (+5 deflection, +7 Dex, +1 dodge, -1 size)
hp 168 (16d8+96)
Fort +10, Ref +14, Will +13
Defensive Abilities deathless, incorporeal; Immune cold, undead traits; Resist +4 channel resistance; SR 30
When a danse macabre senses living creatures, it begins its dance of death in hopes of entrapping them in its embrace. It attacks those who resist its dance of death with its incorporeal scythe and pursues escaping victims until it can no longer sense them. However, if some individuals succumb to its dance of death, it will not move so far away as to free other victims from its aura. The danse macabre does not use its incorporeal touch attacks against creatures that have succumbed to the memento mori effect of its dance of death. Creatures that pretend to join the dance of death can stave off its incorporeal touch attacks by making Bluff checks opposed by its Sense Motive every round, thus escaping the danse macabre’s notice. A danse macabre continues to fight until destroyed.
Str —, Dex 24, Con —, Int 8, Wis 16, Cha 20
Base Atk +12; CMB +20; CMD 30
Feats Ability Focus (dance of death), Alertness, Combat Reflexes, Dodge, Improved Initiative, Lightning Reflexes, Mobility, Toughness
Skills Fly +23, Perception +19, Sense Motive +19
Living creatures hit by a danse macabre’s incorporeal scythe attack must succeed on a DC 23 Fortitude save or take 1d4 points of Constitution drain. The save DC is Charisma-based. On each such successful attack, the danse macabre gains 5 temporary hit points.
A danse macabre is constantly surrounded by a 40-foot aura known as the dance of death, an endless gala of dancing spectral figures. Any living creature that enters the area of the dance of death must make a DC 25 Will save. On a failed Will save, the victim joins the ghostly dancers, takes 1d4 points of Constitution drain, and is affected as if by the spell irresistible dance. These effects persist for as long as the victim remains within the aura. As victims cannot willingly move from the square they dance in, the dance’s effects end only when the danse macabre moves to a point where the victim is no longer within its aura, is destroyed, or if the victim is physically removed from the area. The save DC is Charisma-based. This is a mind-affecting compulsion effect, and neither blindness nor deafness provide resistance. A victim who makes a successful save is immune to the dance of death of the same dance macabre for 24 hours.
The spectral images surrounding a dance macabre are entirely insubstantial and harmless. At the same time, a ghostly music can be faintly heard in the area, as if a violin-led orchestra kept time to this ghostly dancing. The dancers and music cannot be interacted with but visibly and audibly mark the boundaries of the danse macabre’s dance of death aura.
As a manifestation of Death incarnate, a danse macabre is not itself subject to permanent destruction. If reduced to 0 hit points, it disappears but rejuvenates at full hit points in 1d4 days. Only by destroying the creature and then using the spell hallow to consecrate the site it manifested upon prevents the phantom’s reappearance.
A danse macabre notices and locates living creatures within 60 feet, just as if it possessed the blindsight ability. It also senses the strength of life forces automatically, as per the spell deathwatch.
The danse macabre is perhaps the only fantasy creature to come with its own soundtrack. Easily the French composer Camille Saint-Saens’s most pervasive work, Danse Macabre is an orchestral telling of a folktale wherein Death appears at midnight on Halloween, summoning skeletons to dance to his fiddle playing.
This story was captured in the late 1800’s by the poet Henri Cazalis:
“Zig, zig, zig, Death in a cadence,
Striking with his heel a tomb,
Death at midnight plays a dance-tune,
Zig, zig, zig, on his violin.
The winter wind blows and the night is dark;
Moans are heard in the linden trees.
Through the gloom, white skeletons pass,
Running and leaping in their shrouds.
Zig, zig, zig, each one is frisking,
The bones of the dancers are heard to crack—
But hist! of a sudden they quit the round,
They push forward, they fly; the cock has crowed.”
Danse macabres embody the inevitability of death. They represent the ultimate equalizer of station, revealing in their dance of death the futility of all life. In the end all mortal beings must face the fateful piper and dance to its tune.
Incorporeal and ominous, danse macabres typically manifest as looming, black-cloaked skeletons, although they might appear in other sinister forms depending on personifications of death unique to the cultures near where they manifest, typically a fiery pillar, a pale child, or a man in a white mask. The crowd of dancing souls that surround these 10-foot-tall specters typically do little to dispel their ominous aura.
As undead creatures, danse macabres require nothing from their environments and contribute nothing in return. Their very presence typically suggests the murder of large numbers of creatures and, upon their horrifying manifestations, the deaths of others that happen too near.
A danse macabre is a solitary creature that seeks only to call others to join its eternal celebration of the inevitable. They only manifest in locations tainted by untimely deaths—the sites of countless violent executions, estates overrun by deadly plagues, or on battlefields where mass slaughters took place. The common thread is that at all of these locations hundreds, if not thousands, of victims met their fate, often in rapid succession. None claim to know what terrible death count or measurement of psychic trauma is required to spawn a danse macabre, and indeed, some of the most gore-soaked sites in Golarion have never led to one of these beings’ manifestations. An element of grim irony or communal revenge tends to inspire such hauntings, making it impossible to predict what catastrophe or massacre might cause one to appear.
Some scholars of the undead suggest that danse macabre harbor no hate for the living, merely a natural drive to bring them to their final state on an accelerated schedule. Witnesses of danse macabres, however, tend to disagree, and the manifestation of a danse macabre can quickly depopulate a location through both its depredations and the flight of any survivors. Fortunately, though, these morbid shades rarely move far from the site of their initial manifestation, leading to numerous tales of haunted halls where the dead endlessly dance in their eternal revel.