Monday, August 7, 2017

Heraldic Beasts

As regular readers of this blog may know, I don't love Monster Manuals, and rather enjoy designing my own monsters - usually via a quick re-skinning of something simple (A bear, giant rat or 1st level fighter being the most common).  This doesn't mean I'm uninterested in monsters for tabletop games, or the general concept of monsters as a sociological phenomenon.  I've been slowly reading through "Monsters & Treasure - the earliest edition of D&D's monster manual, thinking about the foes provided and how I'd personally make use of them.

One that's struck me about Monsters & Treasure is the somewhat clumsy feeling of its adaptions from mythological sources.  It pulls in various words for creatures from European and Classical myth, but often ignores many of the interesting elements of the underlying story.  The Monsters & Treasure Hydra seems the best example of this, transforming a sneaky, oddly botanical, regenerating, many headed snake thing into a super dinosaur.  Additionally, Monsters & Treasure (and the Monster Manuals that follow from what I can tell) miss a rich vein of mythical beast lore by almost entirely (the Dragon, the Wyvern and a few others are retained) ignoring the legacy of Heraldic Beasts.

Heraldic Beasts are the fantastical creatures used on shields and as devices for (primarily) European nobility, and there are lots of them.  Below is a list of several I found interesting and worthy of inclusion as strange monsters in your tabletop game.  I'm not sure why exactly, though many of them have rather mundane names (Tyger, Lion or Wildman), their descriptions are as bizarre as anything else in the monster manual  Heraldic Beasts seem like they would make an especially valid or even a key addition to a setting that seeks to remain quasi-historical (such as Lamentations of the Flame Princess's default setting) or to provide a knightly, even Arthurian element.

The 'Queen's Beasts' of England

Heraldic Beasts

Amphista:  There any plenty of other names/pronunciations for this two headed serpent of the desert.  Sometimes shown with the chest and wings of a bird the Amphista always has its heads on either end of its snake body. Traditionally these mythical serpents spawned from the blood dripping from Medusa's severed neck, live in the Libyan desert (where they were one of the scavengers plaguing at least one Roman army) and eat ants.  In Medieval times they became something more like a griffin, harpy or even a porcine lizard thing.  The important element of the creature is that it has two heads, one on each end - a metaphor for a certain kind of unnatural indecisiveness or duplicity.

Amphista: AC 4*, HD 3, ATK 2 (bite/bite), DAM 1D6+poison (save or die), MV As Chain, SV F3, ML 10

*The Amphista's blood is burning mutilating poison, dealing melee damage to the creature results in a save vs. poison to avoid being splashed by the creatures blood -suffering horrible scarring (Roll a D6 and lose [1-2 -1Dex, 3-4 -1Chr, 5 -1Str, 6, -1Con])

Tyger: The "tiger" as commonly understood exists in heraldry, but it is known as a "bengal tiger" to keep it being confused with the Tyger, a wolf - bodied, lion tailed monster with a fierce beaked jaw. In classic Dungeons and Dragon terms the Tyger is an 'Owwlbear', though the beast bears a resemblance to Warhammer 40K's 'Kroot Hound' as well.

The Tyger's personality and behavior (unless one wishes to take them entirely from the William Blake Poem of the same name) is an excessively vengeful creature, faster then a horse and symbolic of revenge and violence.   I suppose this makes the Tyger (like most of my owlbears) cunning and highly territorial, though perhaps acting on clear motivations.

Tyger: AC 5, HD 4-8 (+4)*, ATK 3 (claw/claw/beak), DAM 1D6/1D6/2D6**,  MV As Unarmored, SV F 5 - 9, ML 12
* The Vengeful Tyger does not die quietly and will make a last attack (using all attacks) against its slayer (or another target in melee if its slayer is not) after being redeuced to 0 HP but before expiring.
** If the both the Tyger's claws strike the same target it automatically hits with its beak doing double damage with the attack.

Lion: Much like the Heraldic Tyger, the Heraldic Lion is different then the common tawny beast.  A lion, or more properly a 'crowned lion' is the noblest of beasts, and while a pard, panther, tyger or tiger might adorn the arms of any knight or noble the lion is the creature of kings, and the heraldic lion a king itself.  Huge, shaggy and with a great furred tail each Crowned Lion is a unique beast, the embodiment of the concept of kingship in a specific land.  The Crowned Lion's appearance and abilities vary depending on the size and condition of the sovereignty the lion embodies. The Lion of a defunct petty kingdom might be the size of a normal lion, covered in sores, angry, stupid and mean while that of a great empire will be the size of elephant, rippling muscle and crowned in diamonds, rubies and the halo of a god. 

Sometimes a crowned lion has a weapon

Whatever its size, the Crowned Lion is royalty and will demand to be treated as such.  It will be murderously offended by slights, such as a non-royal wearing lion based heraldry or a failure to use its proper name once given.  None of this is simply the ego and pettiness of a cruel beast, a Crowned Lion holds the concept and meaning of kingship in the crown it wears (which of course varies in quality depending on the power of the kingdom).  Both true kings (especially those who fail to embody the virtues of noble kingship) and would be usurpers or conquerors should make an effort to hunt and the Crowned Lion and take its crown as the imperious beast will make efforts to impede poor kingship, conquest or usurpation - adding its own considerable force and intellect to resistance - even raising an army of villains and hedge-knights.

Crowned Lion: AC 3* HD 4 -12, ATK claw/claw/bite or leap** or roar***) DAM 1D6/1D6/2D8 or 6D6 or Special, MV As Unarmored, SV Cl 4 - 12, ML 10
* As a mythical and magically empowered symbol of sovereignty, crowned lions are immune to weapons wielded by individuals lacking royal ancestry.  The ancestry need not be for a large or even existent kingdom, but it must be real.  Spells and barehanded attacks still damage lions.
** A lion can leap up to it's HDx10' and pounce at the end of the leap, raking with its rear claws, biting and pinning its target to the ground.  On a successful leap the Crowned Lion's single target will take damage and must save vs. Possession/Paralysis or be stunned for 1D6/2 rounds.
*** The roar of a Crowned Lion is magical and deafening, causing fear (save vs. Spells or flee for 1D6/2 rounds) in those lacking noble (Save at +4) or kingly (immune) blood.

Do not mock the Pard.

Pard: The long body of a spotted panther with the face of a man, the Pard is an unnatural beast, bloodthirsty and cunning but still possesses high virtues. The Pard is an intelligent and noble beast, though perilous and it thinks, speaks and reasons like a man while maintaining the natural aloofness and patrician intensity of its feline form. Pards may hunt and devour man, and they relish the blood of fresh kills, lapping it up with their human tongue, but they are not deceitful of cruel - simply destructive man eaters. It is perhaps this inherent savage nobility that allows the Pard to seduce lions, and from this unnatural union produce Leopards and perhaps the sinister Lampago.  Pards follow wars, slinking behind armies as they plunder and reeve.  While they themselves will only prey on warriors they do not care if their prey is virtuous or villainous and accost heroes and blackguards with equal ferocity.   As a knightly monster the Pard will always challenge its prey to individual combat and except for its utter refusal to accept surrender (Pards always devour those they defeat - often in a single unnatural bite) it follows the code of chivalry with honor and fervor.  This may be from some innate nobility within the Pard, or perhaps it provides the beast protection, for any who choose to break the code of honor when fighting the Pard (refusing to honor its request for an individual duel, using low trickery such as missile weapons, sorcery or the aid of allies) is incapable of harming the beast.  Pards are dangerous fighters, though they have only a human mouth with which to bite they can leap astonishing distances and will twist their bodies in combat to rake with their enormous rear claws.

Pard: AC 2* HD 5, ATK claw/claw/rake** or leap***) DAM 1D6/1D6/2D6 or 3D6, MV As Unarmored, SV F5, ML 12
*The Pard is immune to chivalrous attacks, including all missiles, non-direct damage magic, or attacks from multiple opponents.
** If the Pard strikes with both claw attacks (it will always attack a single target each round) it may also make a disemboweling rake attack with its rear claws. 
*** The Pard can leap any distance within its sight to attack, and this magical leap strikes at +2 to hit.

Lampago:  If the Crowned Lion is the manifestation of kingship and a land's sovereign identity, the Lampago, a lion (of normal size) is they symbol of treachery, usurpation, villainy and false knighthood.  Like its kin the leopard, these base beasts serve the devil and seek to pervert and corrupt kingdoms, nobility and the laws of chivalry. The Lampago will promise and cajole, trick and connive.  Its relishes the collapse of the feudal order and will encourage anyone it can to betray their betters.  The bite of the Lampago and its claws are poisonous, but it's most powerful weapon is the sweet smoke that wafts from it's nostrils and which it can breath outward at its enemies.  The honey scented smoke of the Lampago encourages men to forget their loyalties and turn on their rightful masters, upending the great chain of being.

Lampago: AC 3 HD 7, ATK* (claw/claw or breath) DAM 1D6/1D6 or special**, MV As Unarmored, SV F 7, ML8

*Any creature in melee with the Lampago must make a Save v. Poison or feel fear and doubt about their allegiances, decisions and values as the smoke from the Lampago's nostrils envelopes the combat.  A failure will reduce the the attack of those effected by -4 to hit as they hesitate and balk, and grant a 2 point penalty to AC as doubt saps the ability to dodge. Hirelings and NPCs who fail the save must make an immediate loyalty check.  Those that fail the second check will join the Lampago in fighting their masters or allies.  Those that succeed will merely flee.   
** The Lampago may breath out and cover all within 30' with its gaseous breath. All in the cloud must make a Save v. Poison or feel fear and doubt about their allegiances, decisions and values.  A failure will reduce the the attack of those effected by -4 to hit as they hesitate and balk, and grant a 2 point penalty to AC as doubt saps the ability to dodge. Those that fail the second check will join the Lampago in fighting their masters or allies.  Those that succeed will merely flee.

Woodwose: Brute wildmen of the forest, fey simpletons loyal only to the whims of their wild hearts, Woodwose range from simply hair covered large men who inhabit the verge and tamed parklands, to the moss covered, green bearded giants of the deep wilderness - part vegetable abominations who are outside the proper hierarchy of the world.  Tamed and well managed Woodwose can be an asset to husbandry, but the wild Woodwose are always a threat - ignorant of the laws of chivalry, uncomprehending of the duty the commons to the nobility and without the light of God. Tamed Woodwose can be taught to live as rough foresters, their fey strength and endurance making them excellent huntsman, lumberjacks and charcoal burners - raising their families in small villages of log cabins roofed in moss, and even eventually learning to use fire, listening to the words of Clerical instruction, and finally losing almost all vestiges of their fey heritage to become men with the normal amount of hair and a fitting place in creation. The wild Woodwose are different, they guard the primordial wilderness fiercely, dropping from concealed hides in the branches or boiling up from caves dug beneath the roots of forest giants.  Efforts to bring them to civilization almost always fail, at least until the wilderness itself is colonized and controlled - though legendary saints and similar men of great power and holiness are claimed to have converted some Wild Woodwose.

Tamed Woodwose: AC 7 HD 2, ATK (by weapon*) DAM by weapon +4, MV As Unarmored, SV F 2, ML 10**
*Woodwose will wield large clubs (1D6) or Felling Axes (D6) depending on their level of civilization
** If exposed to fire Woodwose must make an immediate morale check to avoid flight.
Wild Woodwose: AC 5* HD 4, ATK (fist/fist or by giant weapon*) DAM 1D8/1D8 or by weapon +4 MV As Unarmored, SV F 4, ML 10**
* Wild Woodwose take an addition +1 damage per die from fire attacks.
** Wild Woodwose wield dead trees (1D12) or throw huge rocks (1D8)
*** If exposed to fire Woodwose must make an immediate morale check to avoid flight.

One of several varieties of Yale
Yale: A savage and destructive beast something akin to a goat or buffalo, but huge, the size of a hippopotamus and fierce for no explicable reason.  The Yale destroys and rampages until it grows weary and then falls asleep for days, weeks, or even year - to awaken again and run amok once more. Its spotted hide (usually purple or a bruised grey blue) is largely impervious to injury, the Yale heals at unnatural speed and while sleeping turns to a great block of nearly indestructible stone.  When the Yale rampages it is best to simply flee before it until it slumbers, and then dig a great pit burying so it will continue its stone sleep. Heroes and brave knights often seek out Yales to fight however, for the sake of great deed, some going as far as foolishly unburying the monsters. 

Besides its strength, meanness and nearly impenetrable skin, the Yale's chief advantage in combat is that its huge scythe-horns may twist and sweep through the air independently.  The Yale may use its horns offensively or defensively and when on the defense becomes even harder to strike without danger to oneself.

Yale: AC 0 HD 12*, ATK (horn/horn)** DAM 2D6/2D6, MV As Plate***, SV F 12, ML 12
* Yales regenerate 4 HP per Round
** The Yale may elect to use each of its horns offensively or defensively.  For each defensive horn the Yale gives up an attack, but those attacking the Yale suffer -2 to hit, and the individual making the first successful blow (and second if both horns are used defensively) must save vs. Paralysis or suffer 1D6 HP damage as they impale themselves.  Offensively the Yale makes a normal attack, but on a natural 19 or 20 will impale its enemy on the horn, rendering them helpless and inflicting an additional 4 points of damage per round until they are pulled off by an ally (with an opposed STR check against the Yale's 18 Strength).
*** The Yale will constantly charge about in combat, and can knock aside any target it successfully strikes to get to the back ranks of any enemy group.  Because of this constant movement those who wish to attack a Yale for two rounds in a row must make a Save vs. Paralysis to avoid being buffeted about, losing their action.


  1. Where is the Bonnacon? Well, it does not appears in Heraldry but is one of the best medieval monsters... :P

    1. The Martlet I wanted to add, but I didn't to it - these are just the ones I felt like doing.

  2. Is this the creature from which Yale University takes its name?

    I think your idea here of heraldic beasts is (as usual) an excellent one. I've been watching the latest season of Game of Thrones and thinking a lot about a campaign world where the only monstrous beasts are the ones found in the heraldry of the various noble houses, similar to the way sports teams' mascots are taken from real world creatures.

    1. Yeah, Yale is named after the Yale. However, my Yale is sort of my own creation - the heraldic one is often more like a spotted gazelle then the water buffalo. Notable in most descriptions because of rotating horns, and in some for impenetrable skin.

  3. I always liked that heraldic beasts, creatures from medieval bestiaries, medieval maps, and some of the old Greek legendary creatures seem to convey the whole thought of "here be dragons" by describing (often mundane) creatures from far away lands as exotic and unusual.

  4. Great post! Interesting to see that the heraldic Tyger in that picture has a face identical to that of the dragon on the Welsh flag...

  5. I've got a couple of things on my family crest that are either whippets, or weasels. hard to tell....