You’d think that jellyfish wouldn’t show up in space as often as they do, considering their lack of a brain, but here they are. The barathu is a floating organism from a gaseous world that can mutate its body to suit the situation and merge with others of its kind into a larger super-organism.
A barathu is a CR 5 aberration, though their tendency to travel in groups usually brings up the CR of the encounter. They also come in a CR 2 early stage version and an even younger version that can be used as a player character. All barathus, regardless of age, have a fly speed of 30-ft. and limited telepathy to 30 feet, while all stages except the playable version have the amorphous defensive ability, which allows them to ignore double damage from critical hits. An adult barathu’s main ability is Adaptation (Ex), which allows them to gain a mutation as a swift action that lasts until it selects a new one. The list of adaptations lets you pick from bonus damage to melee attacks equal to twice its Str modifier, +4 to AC, DR 2/-, a 20-ft. run speed, a ranged attack with a 60-foot range and an attack bonus and damage based on its CR, resistance 5 to one energy type, or a 15-foot reach. The description also admits the possibility of other adaptations, though more complex ones would take longer to form. They also have the ability Combine (Ex), which allows multiple barathus to combine into a single being as a swift action. The combined creature has all the hit points of its combined constituents and gains the ability to hold another adaptation and an increase to its size category for every four barathus it’s made up of. Early stage barathus have weaker versions of their adult form’s abilities. Early Stage Adaptation (Ex) requires 1d4 rounds to recharge and choses from the options of bonus melee damage equal to its Str modifier, +1 to AC, a 15ft run speed, resistance 2 to one energy type, or a 10 foot reach. Along for the Ride (Ex) allows them to merge with other barathus as per the adult’s Combine, but doesn’t let them contribute their adaptations to the whole. Besides the basic flight and telepathy, the player version has the same Early Stage Adaptation as the early stage version and the Strange Anatomy defensive ability, which grants a +1 to Fortitude saves.
Barathus first showed up as CR 5 monsters under the name Brethedans, which makes conversion between systems easier as much as it raises questions about their civilization. Where dwarves, orcs, and elves all saw severe shifts in their culture as they transitioned into a spacefaring civilization, barathus have remained basically the same as they were in the medieval era. As strange as that may seem, it makes more sense when you look back on their adaptation ability. They can inherently grow and mutate whatever tools they need, so why would they need to develop technology? Sure, computers and laser guns are probably something they can’t easily grow, but if they never got around to simple metal working, when would they have had the chance to build anything that advanced? On top of that, evolving on a gaseous planet means they didn’t exactly have a lot of opportunity to even find the materials other races would consider vital to civilization. Together, this all comes together to create a race with unsurpassed expertise manipulating biology into things that could rival any invention of silicon and steel but absolutely zero experience with things like doorknobs, pencils, phones, clothes, and cars. So if you want your players to run into a reclusive genius who can babble on at them for hours about molecular biology but stops to gawk in confusion about the fact that hats aren’t actually a part of your head, a barathu is perfect.
As a civilization, barathus are fascinating, but let’s look at them as individuals too. The problem with that is that it can be very hard to define a barathu as an individual. A major part of their adaptability is merging with each other into a singular being, which their entry notes makes the concept of “self” rather nebulous to them. You could know a barathu for years and never realize it’s actually three or four smaller barathus merged together. Alternately, a barathu could merge with several others into a completely new entity much different from any of the ones that it’s made of and not split back apart for decades to come. Knowing a barathu is knowing that they could completely change as soon as it merges with another and that such an occurrence is very likely. This tints their actions with other races, as they may not entirely grasps that such fixed form beings have their own specific personalities that won’t shift and merge on a whim.
Overall, as interesting as all this is, the most important part of barathus is that they’re sentient. They can have different personalities, views, and opinions just like members of any other species. Their biological nature and civilization may change their outlooks, but for all their strangeness, barathus are still people. Here’s some plot hooks to use them in your games:
- A genetic flaw among some barathus alters their Combine ability, allowing them to take more adaptations from their conglomerate parts but preventing them from ever separating again. Viewed as handicapped at best and perverse murderers at worst, most are hunted down and murdered as aberrants. One has managed to escape such a fate, as its parent holds great sway in the government. Whether this is a blessing is debatable, as the price for its life is to be a guinea pig for experiments as scientists try to work out how to “fix” it. Its parent will not stand to have an error as an offspring and constantly orders new techniques and tests to be attempted, despite non-barathus lobbying for better treatment of such individuals.
- The creatures known as barathus are weapons of war discarded long ago in a forgotten conflict. After they developed sentience on the barren world their creators once warred over, they spent centuries of genetic selection and modification to neuter themselves and interact safely with other societies. Recently an ancient laboratory was uncovered, and within it, genetic strands for the original barathus. Some fear that if such samples were introduced to modern barathus they would integrate their ancient genes, becoming the fearsome living weapons they once were.
- A barathu scientist spends its time wandering worlds and examining other lifeforms to marvel at their structures. Its studies have taught it much and its knowledge of other biologies have given it unmatched knowledge it modifying its own form. This knowledge has drawn unwelcome attention, as a barathu conglomerate seeks to add it to their number and gain its knowledge, regardless of the scientists desires.