- "Stalker in the woods": we'll begin with a simple encounter- a Native Barghest looking for a kill, and perhaps teaching it's young Whelps a thing or two about humanoids. the basic idea is to have the Barghest as predator, gauging its prey strength (tracking skill, life sense), and then springing an ambush when needed. if the group do see it, they might think it's a wolf, perhaps with some young wolves (if they notice them).
the Barghest is a consummate hunter. it can shoot arrows, use alchemical devices to weaken them. it would only close for the kill when it benefits it. dimension leap, silent invisibility would get it real close, while the mixed blessing and dark colors powers would make it's pups (and itself), much harder to defeat...
some emphasis for this simple encounter: treating the target as prey, the constant "demonstrations" to the pups. the close family feeling they might get from this pursuer. not fighting till near death- the barghest would quickly bail out (dimension leap) if either it or the off springs are in danger... think ranger, with powers, and kids to feed.
other interesting additions: perhaps the barghest brings an ally or two? (a wolf rider, or a worg, or some creature who enjoy cooperation with the barghest). a paladin or a cleric might be deeply disturbed by any Dark Influence powers (the paladin suddenly detect himself as evil? or the rouge he always suspected? protection from evil might suddenly not work, and more...). the natural geography could of course add to the possibilities of ambush and more. a nearby village or wolf/worg territory might be implicated by the barghest actions.
- "village guardian": as the party makes attacks against some Goblin stronghold, one of them summons the Barghest. on the next attack the group sees a new shaman who's powers greatly affect battle. or alternatively, they send the barghest (perhaps with a little squad of the village best warriors) to hunt down the offenders.
emphasis here- this isn't the barghest acting on it's own, but as a part of a protection deal. cunning and ruthless as it might be (not necessarily though), it now acts with the groups interests at heart. the barghest would mostly use it's group powers, and superior fighting skills. the fact that its an outsider, but it's honor bound should be made apparent.
as flavor, the chieftains might insist it wear the tribe's colors/ shield/ other ceremonial or functional stuff. it might give the barghest unexpected advantages, but may also hinder it's "style".
- " strategic tool": the barghest is a magnificent strategic tool- it weakens it's enemies and improves it's allies simultaneously, it can infiltrate and spy on most places, it can almost never be tracked, and if it has a fresh supplies of animals and such, it can be powered up for a long time! the barghest is a fine ally to an unscrupulous person. the barghest adheres to the deals made with it, and can be quite a versatile asset. hey, it's mere existence strikes terror in those he fights against! who wants to die by those hands!
this little paragraph just came to show the possible uses of a Barghest to any force, especially a military like force. use it well, but don't forget it follows a strict deal!
- "can you make me a better offer?" the barghest here is usually more powerful than the regular Native ones (growth state 5 or 6). it made a deal with some warring band, and is supplying them with significant advantage! the party are sent to either kill it, or make another deal with it.
the barghest might be interested, but the deal needs to be significantly better, and it must not hurt the current deal. loopholes and "legal" interpertations might ensue. this might be a very difficult mission for "goody" adventurers, but might fit right up the alley with the "moral less mercenary" type.
emphasis- doing this secretly and not getting caught. getting a good deal that won't endanger the party from the barghest. the self serving, yet rule bound nature of the barghest. a lot, a lot of roleplay opportunity here.
- "the lesser of two evils. but which is the lesser?": the party finds itself in a real jam, and suddenly appears the barghest (who might have been impersonating as non threatening, and might also have orchestrated this entire mess) to offer help... it can help the party find the secret exit, before the place collapse, tell them who the betrayer is, before it strikes and more. all it ask in return, is a little bargain, a little compensation for it's troubles.
it's imperative that the characters have a real choice here, and that you're not forcing them to take a deal. they can take the other option, and have a small chance of success. if they do take a deal, there should be enough time to argue and barter about it briefly, so that terms might be changed a bit, and not just shoved down their throat.
emphasis- the nature of the debt is not fully clear, it seems something simple, but that may be deceiving. the situation should offer it's own pressures to the deal. the Barghest should be portrayed as merely offering a deal, almost... generous. don';t make it to sleek looking, fast talking used car salesman. more like a bureaucrat who came to give you your tax refund because "well, it is yours, you think i care?"
- "ongoing business relations": this might follow in the footsteps of the two previous ideas- after dealing with the barghest once, and having been treated fairly, an opportunity presents itself again (the barghest tries to make it look accidental almost, perhaps using its connections and other debts to do so). the characters may have the opportunity to deal with it, and again the deal is fair (you could even let the player think it's a resource, almost like a cohort/ follower/ NPC they trade with on regular basis).
but then, some dealings later, the barghest makes another fairly odd request, still appearing non-threatening. but this time, as the party tries to fulfill it's part of the deal, they find that they cannot agree to the consequences of their actions. suddenly it all becomes complicated- either they comply with the deal, or they have a hungry barghest, with the power of a debt stone one their heels...
emphasis- deal with the characters fairly until the critical moment (the best liers tell the truth all the time, until it matters). make the barghest demand they fulfill their end (if it's still possible), and make the re precautions known, at least vaguely, before they refuse.
this can work wonders if there's a paladin, monk, cleric or druid around. nobody likes the interest rate that a Barghest sets.
- "Platinum card of the Assassins guild": in this encounter a barghest is also hired/ called in order to act in an assassination. the party may learn of the fact fairly late, and suddenly they are looking for an evil outsider other than just an assassin.
the barghest is outfitted with the best gear, mundane and magical to succeed at it's job, so identifying it may not busy easy. it might make matters difficult if there are a few of the fiends...
a particular complication may be if the coronation/event is for one of the characters, and it is the target! (works well with all the "lost heir of..." type of characters. so you wanted to a be a noble, eh?)
- "making life difficult. don't rise, stay!": this is just an added factor to any campaign- if the characters rely on raise dead and other staff, just give the main opposing group/ factor/ temple access to some Barghests, as both support troops (barghest excel at that), and as "finishers". a heavily wounded character would really get frightened when it sees one pop just next to it, using it's enervating strike. and well it should- once you go barghest, you never come back!
- "a little game of chess, where the pieces never get to the top of the board:" a barghest and vampire happen to inhabit the same town/ city/ region. they both despise each other, and wish the other dead, but... for some reason they don't go at each other's throats (sort to speak)- maybe there is a debt stone between them, maybe they fear a conflict, knowing the other's powerful enough. maybe they don't want the risk of having their cover blown by the other?
so, they set up a contest- another way to see who is more powerful a sort of a "gentleman's agreement": over the course of weeks/ months/ years, they select various "targets", challenging ones, and see who can feed on them first. no direct confrontation between the two is allowed, but using minions, powers, debts, and more is...
the party arrives to explore some a strange murder (or murders?) and find all kind of references to past occurrences. when they investigate, they keep finding semi contradicting evidence (due to the two different feeding styles, tactics, and feeding methods). and at times it seems that the perpetrator (whatever aspect of it) have actually tried to defend the victims, or delay their deaths?
all of the above is to confuse the characters. then each of the "gamers" may choose another target, and the party is in the middle, not sure of which enemy to protect, or one of the gamers might try and use the party to eliminate the other prematurely (and vice versa), or maybe the characters become... "an interesting game?"
emphasis- give each side their own resources, their own style, their own methods, but both must be manipulating geniuses. also, fearing persecution, they will both take quite extensive measures hiding who they are, and their involvement, they might play on local beliefs, or frame another if needed. and when the party comes close to revealing who they are, the two might join forces, in a temporary alliance to get rid of a common threat. the party should however know of the "bad blood" (pun intended) between the two, and use it to even the score.
- "my name is.... and i'm a PrC barghest": someone the group really values- a cohort, an old character a player left out, a funny scholar, or anyone else they care for, have somehow stumbled upon the secrets of turning into a barghest. it then went onto it's own little expedition and research, and have actually went on with the process, never fully understanding what it entails (despite dealing with the spirit). after going through the first tests, it suddenly realize ,and is frightened to its very core!
it calls the characters for help, but there is none- it must go through the entire process! it joins the party as a cohort, but may lose itself any feed. he plans to get through the other side, but have told the party of the slim chances... it is going to be a long ride now, and the party is trying to help him through.
make sure the cohort actually goes through the process. if it's not a goblin, then have him find a new way. don't forget the animal companion.
emphasis- there should be a real threat of his mind being consumed, or his link lost. the party doesn't necessarily knows if this happens though. it should prove a difficult cohort (needing to feed all the time), but perhaps a valuable one (powers, self and group). the battle of wills, and the fight against the "addiction" should be the main focus, as well as how it is different from others.
you could let it break through, or have it succumb. both have their own dramatic affects. consider well what deals he might make with the group (the deals might be a nice way for the team to monitor it's progress, as well as make sure it doesn't betray them).
this is especially interesting with a very moral character (paladin for example)- how do they console this creatures obvious evil, and the man before it? helping this one person live would mean the sacrifice of many lives? what should be the course? (many answers, discuss them if you wish). and as an added complication- what if one of the characters did this?
- "my name is... and i love being a barghest!" on the other side of the equation, the BBEG or one of his lieutenants, volunteer for the ritual. this is best done after the party met it a few times, they clashed sword and spell, and have a pretty good idea of what to face. so, he gets an upgrade! unlike the former guy, who is horrified of the transformation, this guy loves it, revels in it, and might go up levels fast in it!
the idea is to give the party a new surprise, and another glimpse into the reality of the barghest. barghest can gain powers quite fast, and their physical aspects transform dramatically with it. it can go through a few stages each time they meet, and become a fearsome monstrosity for them to face.
- "knowing where to look" a wizard/ cleric/ warlock/ dragon/ devil/ villain discovered the place where several (or only one), powerful Bargehsts were imprisoned (growth state 7 and above). he forged a deal with them, promising to free them, and let them feed if they will serve it until it'll reach it's goal.
this is their basic "dark powerful servant minions" routine, with it's own flavor. the party may find a way to break the Barghests debt stones, kill them in battle or by "over feeding" them, or other solutions.
-"finding the debt stones" some great and terrifying creature is acting on a deal he made with a long dead Barghest. for some reason the stone survived, and is now used by someone else! it could either be a barghest, a goblin shaman who knows the secrets, or something else entirely unexpected.
whomever is using the stone got great control over the creature, far more than the stones usually confer. perhaps there are some secrets, and some uses to the stones still unknown?
a barghest (or two) might assist the characters to find the perpetrator, disturbed by this unknown new power, and the possibility that it can be used back against them. the barghest may even callign their own favors to aid the party in unexpected ways.
another version of the event would be a debt stone linked to a certain blood line. years after it was forgotten, someone (all of the above options, or perhaps an old, grizzled yet powerful barghest), is calling in on the debt. either the royals do something they don't want (frame someone, open a previously restricted area, start a war, and more), or the barghest can hunt down any of the party... (could be even more complicated if a kid suddenly goes missing)