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Flying in Style
Wandering Monsters
By James Wyatt

S ay you want to get from Point A to Point B in style. How are you going to do it? Horses? So mundane. Phantom steed? Teleport? Sure, if you’ve got access to those spells or the money to pay for them. But if you want to impress the bystanders, what you really want is a flying mount. Let’s talk this week about the things that adventurers, villains, and the occasional elite cavalry use to fly in style.

Large Beast
Alignment: Unaligned
Level: Low
Environment: Hills and mountains

Griffons are fierce flying predators that combine the physical qualities of lions and eagles. In the wild, they lair in rocky cliffs and canyons and hunt the surrounding area for prey. Their favorite food is horseflesh, including the meat of pegasi, hippogriffs, and even unicorns. They are strong and wild, so hard to train, but once broken they serve as powerful mounts suitable for knights and elite soldiers (including the cavalry of major cities such as Waterdeep and Greyhawk). They attack with their taloned front claws and sharp beaks, swooping or diving down on their prey from a height. Like warhorses, they are capable of fighting while mounted.

Large Beast
Alignment: Unaligned
Level: Low
Environment: Hills and grassland

Hippogriffs are flying predators similar to griffons, but they are less fierce, less likely to attack humanoids, and easier to train. If a griffon is like a warhorse, easily ridden in combat, a hippogriff is like a riding horse, more suited to travel or mounted archers. They are favored mounts for wealthy nobles and some elves.

In the wild, hippogriffs lair in rolling hills and open plains, where they can hunt herd animals or graze on tall grasses. Like griffons, they attack with their taloned front claws and sharp beaks, swooping or diving down on their prey from a height.

Both griffons and hippogriffs are beasts, more or less natural animals with an Intelligence score of 2. We tried to differentiate them in a couple of ways: environment, temperament, and also their particular use as mounts. I think those are useful distinctions in making the two beasts both make sense in the world.

Now for something a little different.

Large Celestial
Alignment: Chaotic good
Level: Low
Environment: Any wilderness

In a strange parallel to the rakshasa, a pegasus is a fusion of a celestial spirit with mortal flesh—in this case, the material form of a winged horse. It can fly extremely fast, even while carrying a heavy load.

Pegasi are extremely rare, often appearing only as a gift from a good-aligned deity. In these cases, a pegasus bonds with a single rider for life, accepting no other rider. In general, pegasi serve as mounts only for good characters, making every effort to throw a non-good rider. (They instinctively know the heart of those who try to ride them.) In very rare instances, a herd of pegasi appears to aid a group of good-aligned humanoids against a major threat, serving as mounts for humanoid cavalry on a short-term basis.

That first bit is a little weird. A couple of elements of our discussion led us in that direction. First, pegasi are intelligent—earlier editions put their Intelligence in the 8 to 10 range, and 8 feels about right to us. Second is their good alignment. And third is the connection to the gods that’s found in classic myth, where he was sired by Poseidon and given to Bellerophon as a mount by Athena. They serve only good characters. Taken together, this points toward a more exalted origin than some kind of magical beast, so we made them celestials—what 3E might have called a native outsider. (Remind me to talk about creature type sometime soon.)

If great champions of good ride pegasi into battle, what about evil champions?

Huge Beast
Alignment: Unaligned
Level: Medium
Environment: Forests or mountains

A wyvern is a Huge (35-foot long) dragonlike reptile with membranous wings, two legs, and a long tail tipped with a venomous stinger. Though it is a savage predator and an ill-tempered brute, it is favored as a mount by evil warlords and necromancers who seek to inspire terror in their enemies (but can’t handle a true dragon). Controlling a wyvern requires a strong will and brutal discipline.

A wyvern’s stinger holds one of the most deadly venoms in the D&D worlds. The wyvern attacks by swooping down to its prey and stinging with its tail. It’s a clumsy flier and has difficulty attacking while on the wing. Its long, limber tail can easily strike enemies in front of the wyvern or at its flanks.

Bargain-basement dragons, maybe, but also one of the most poisonous creatures in the world. This was something we emphasized in our discussions: lots of creatures have poison, but we felt that the wyvern—a more fantastical beast than, say, a giant scorpion—is largely defined by that poisonous stinger and should really stand out because of it.

And then there’s the Hummer stretch-limousine of flying mounts.

Gargantuan Beast
Alignment: Unaligned
Level: Medium
Environment: Mountains

A roc is a bird of prey that looks almost too big to be real, with a 60-foot to 80-foot wingspan and a length (beak to tail) of 25 to 30 feet. It resembles an eagle, but it has a distinctive crest on the back of its head.

A roc’s habits are also similar to those of an eagle. It perches on high vantage points in its mountainous home, or it soars high in the air looking for prey. It eats large creatures such as ankhegs, remorhaz, elephants, and small whales, ranging widely in its hunting. Females build nests on rocky outcroppings near mountain peaks, virtually inaccessible except by flight.

Rocs are sometimes tamed by cloud or storm giants, and they are really suitable as mounts only for such enormous creatures.

What Do You Think?

There are a couple of tweaks to existing lore in here. What do you think?

 How well do the griffons described here match with your sense of the iconic D&D creature?  
1—That might be an eagle-lion, but it’s not a griffon.
2—I wouldn’t get on its back.
3—Yeah, it’s griffon enough.
4—Definitely a griffon, but not quite there.
5—Perfect griffon.

 And how well do the hippogriffs described here match with your sense of the iconic D&D creature?  
1—That might be an eagle-horse, but it’s not a hippogriff.
2—I wouldn’t get on its back.
3—Yeah, it’s hippogriff enough.
4—Definitely a hippogriff, but not quite there.
5—Perfect hippogriff.

 The pegasus?  
1—Put it on a window decal, not in my Monster Manual.
2—I wouldn’t get on its back.
3—I recognize it as a pegasus, I guess.
4—It’s close, but it’s not sitting right.
5 -- Perfect pegasus.

 Do you buy pegasi as celestials?  
1—No way: They should be dumb beasts like the rest of the creatures in the article.
2—Nope: They’re intelligent animals, but with no divine connection.
3—Sure, I can live with that.
4—Definitely! That’s a great tweak.

 And the wyvern?  
1—That’s not a wyvern.
2—I wouldn’t get on its back.
3—Yeah, it’s wyvern enough.
4—Definitely a wyvern, but not quite there.
5—Perfect wyvern.

 And finally, the roc?  
1—Really? Just a big bird?
2—If I were a giant, I wouldn’t get on its back.
3—Yeah, it’s roc enough.
4—Definitely a roc, but not quite there.
5—Roc on!

As always, please leave specific thoughts in the comments.

Previous Poll Results

Now, how do these dragons fit with your sense of the iconic D&D creatures?
4—Definitely dragons—I’m getting nervous. 573 41.0%
3—Yeah, I can respect those dragons. 379 27.1%
5—I’m running in terror from these awesome dragons. 263 18.8%
2—I’m not afraid enough. 133 9.5%
1—I scoff at these dragons. 51 3.6%
Total 1399 100.0%

Different editions of the game have treated metallic dragons’ breath weapons differently. What do you think we should do?
4—Flexible: As described above, every metallic dragon has two breath weapons -- one just damage, but the other one might be a simple control effect or a combined damage/control effect like the gold dragon's weakening/poison gas. 863 58.5%
3—Damage damage damage: Like in 4th Edition, every metallic dragon should have a breath weapon that deals damage and inflicts a control effect. 239 16.2%
2—Systematized: Every metallic dragon should have one damaging breath weapon and one control effect, like in 3rd Edition. 187 12.7%
1—Old school: Go with what's in the first Monster Manual. Some have two damaging breath weapons, others have one damaging and one control effect. 185 12.6%
Total 1474 100.0%

What should the breath of a shadow dragon do?
2—Some other kind of weakening or enervating effect, perhaps combined with damage. 860 58.6%
1—Energy drain just like a wraith's touch, brutal as it may be. 561 38.2%
4—Something else entirely -- see my answer in the comments. 28 1.9%
3—Plain old damage. 18 1.2%
Total 1467 100.0%

Do you think it’s appropriate to treat dragon turtles just like other dragons?
1—Heck, yeah! I can't wait to see a big, bad ancient dragon turtle. 823 53.8%
3—No, they should be simpler and less powerful. 386 25.2%
2—I just don't care. 322 21.0%
Total 1531 100.0%
James Wyatt
James Wyatt is the Creative Manager for Dungeons & Dragons R&D at Wizards of the Coast. He was one of the lead designers for 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons and the primary author of the 4th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide. He also contributed to the Eberron Campaign Setting, and is the author of several Dungeons & Dragons novels set in the world of Eberron.
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