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Hellenic Half-Humans
Wandering Monsters
By James Wyatt

L ast week, I covered three monsters of Greek myth, but that's not the end of D&D's debt to classic legends. For some reason I don't care to speculate on, Greek myths are full of half-human creatures, so that's our topic this time.


Centaur

Large Fey
Alignment: Neutral good
Level: Low Environment: Forest and woodlands

A centaur is a Large (8 feet tall) fey creature that resembles a humanoid (much like a wild elf) with the body of a horse in place of its legs. Centaurs are woodland beings that shun the company of strangers but will sometimes trade with elves or other fey. They are generally mild-tempered and enjoy the study of philosophy and the arts. Some legendary heroes have even enjoyed the tutelage of a particularly wise centaur.

Centaurs are deadly archers and are even more fearsome in melee. They don't generally provoke fights and often retreat when attacked, loosing a few arrows on the hoof to discourage pursuit. They favor long swords, bows, and lances, and they do not attack with their hooves.

Community and the family are very important to centaurs, which carefully trace blood relationships within a tribe. They believe strongly that each centaur has a duty to preserve and protect the tribe as a whole and each other member as well, to the extent possible.

Centaur tribes typically lair in glades and pastures hidden deep within pristine forests. The natural world around a centaur tribe exists in a harmonious balance of mutual benefit. This reflects our notion that fey live in a sort of symbiotic relationship with the natural world around them, so that both take on the characteristics of the other.

Centaurs have high Strength scores. Their leaders are bards, rangers, or druids.

Satyr

Medium Fey
Alignment: Chaotic neutral
Level: Low
Environment: Forests and woodlands

Satyrs are raucous, hedonistic creatures that frolic in wild forests and sylvan woodlands. They love fine food, strong drink, passionate romance, and uninhibited dancing. The forests where they live are equally wild and untamed.

A satyr is more likely to carry a musical instrument or cask of wine than a weapon, though it can kick with its hooves or butt with its heavy horns if pressed into combat. When expecting trouble, it carries a bow and a dagger or spear. More often, satyrs insist that those who stumble upon their revels join in the drinking and dancing. After the newcomers start drinking in earnest, the satyrs' mischief begins. This mischief might include stealing items that catch the satyrs' fancy, leaving passed-out characters deep in the wilderness, or urging intoxicated characters into highly risky situations (such as barging in on a bathing nymph).

Typically one satyr in a group carries a set of magic pipes. When played in a certain way, these pipes can cause a charm effect, put listeners to sleep, or drive them off in fear. Satyrs are immune to all these effects.

If characters invited to satyr revels offend the fey, the satyrs have no qualms about driving the offenders away, using weapons if necessary. Satyrs can sometimes be lured or bribed with fine wine.

Satyrs can be very silent when they choose to be, and they blend in well in natural surroundings. They also have keen senses, making them difficult to surprise. Their ability scores are more or less average, with Dexterity and Charisma being their highest scores.

Harpy

Medium Monstrosity
Alignment: Chaotic evil
Level: Low
Environment: Coastal, ruins, and wastelands

A harpy is a Medium monstrosity with the head, arms, and trunk of a hag and the lower legs and feathered wings of a vulture. They gather in flocks in desolate areas, using their luring song to draw prey to them.

For all the creature's hideous appearance, the song of a harpy is entrancingly beautiful, ensorcelling the minds of those who hear it. A creature captivated by the song moves directly toward the harpy—even if that means steering a ship toward a rocky shore or walking off the deck into the churning waters. Harpies delight in torturing their captivated prey before killing and eating them.

In combat, harpies flap noisily just off the ground, raking with their taloned feet and striking enemies with a club or other weapon. They're cowardly creatures that avoid a fair fight when they can.

Harpies are all female. Every two years a harpy lays a fertile egg with no involvement by any other creature.

This is a topic that has sparked some controversy in past columns. Some of you have taken exception to the idea that there are no male nymphs, dryads, or succubi, and harpies and satyrs are bound to provoke the same reaction. I agree on the succubus—though the creature is a prime example of a medieval fear of female sexuality as something terribly dangerous, these demons are all about seduction, and seduction goes both ways.

When it comes to fey, though, I resist the idea of creating male nymphs or female satyrs. (The same goes for medusas, hags, and harpies.) That's largely rooted in the mythology—both the Greek myths they come from and accumulated D&D lore. Remember that this entire exercise isn't really about creating new versions of any of these monsters. It's about sorting through thirty-five years of D&D's history and finding the most iconic expression of the monsters. Sometimes that involves extrapolating on existing lore to make disparate elements cohere, and sometimes we are inventing material where none has existed before. That's why the question I always ask in the poll is not, "Do you like it?" but "How well does it match with your sense of the iconic D&D creature?"

All that said, I stated that I resist the idea, not that I'm categorically opposed to it. Make your voice heard in the poll below, leave your comments, and we'll see where things go.

Speaking of feedback, let's take a look back at one of my earliest columns and talk a little more about another Greek beast-man—the minotaur.

Minotaur

In my column on minotaurs back in September, I tried to navigate my way among existing D&D lore, Greek myth, player-character minotaurs, and the yikaria from Al-Qadim. I proposed that minotaurs are not a race, but the product of Baphomet's curse, transforming his cultists into the embodiment of the Beast Within. You told me (and Jon) that we were marginally successful. Let's talk about tweaking that story a bit.

First of all, although the curse origin story works for some of you, many of you think it's too limiting. I think there's an easy fix: Baphomet has bestowed this blessing or curse on numberless cultists through the ages, and minotaurs are now a race that breeds true, even as Baphomet creates new minotaurs from time to time.

The other point of contention was about the need for Medium-size, PC-playable minotaurs in the game. About two-thirds of you want some kind of Medium minotaur in the game, whether we point explicitly to the minotaurs of Krynn or make it part of the normal minotaur race. Again, in the spirit of being as inclusive as possible, I think we can find a happy balance. In fact, the history of the minotaurs of Krynn points us in a useful direction.

In the world of the Dragonlance saga, the minotaurs were created by a sort of curse—they were originally ogres, but they were transformed by the Graygem as it spread chaos throughout the world. Imagine these as the minotaurs described in my original article—large, shaggy, and savage. The ogres feared and hated them, resulting in bloodshed and the enslavement of the minotaurs.

The minotaurs were a race in their own right by then, and their numbers grew despite their slavery. Eventually, many of these minotaurs fled Taladas aboard a primitive fleet of ships. The ones left behind are still very much like the original minotaurs—Large, shaggy, and brutal.

Over the course of centuries, the minotaurs who left Taladas became more civilized, slightly smaller (7 feet tall), and perhaps a bit less shaggy. These are the playable minotaurs of Krynn, and they could very easily be the playable minotaurs of any other campaign. In other words, if you want Medium-sized minotaurs in your campaign, they can be the distant descendants of the first victims of the curse—whether that curse was laid by Baphomet or the Graygem.

What Do You Think?

And that's our take on the half-human creatures of Greek myth. What do you think this time around?

  How well does the centaur described here match with your sense of the iconic D&D creature?  
1—It's a horse-man, not a centaur.
2—Ugh. I need better than this.
3—I can see centaur from here.
4—Yeah, I recognize that as a centaur.
5—I would enjoy its tutelage.

  And how well does the satyr described here match with your sense of the iconic D&D creature?  
1—It's a goat-man, not a satyr.
2—Ugh. I need better than this.
3—I can see satyr from here.
4—Yeah, I recognize that as a satyr.
5—It makes me want to dance.

  And how well does the harpy described here match with your sense of the iconic D&D creature?  
1—It's a bird-woman, not a harpy.
2—Ugh. I need better than this.
3—I can see harpy from here, but I can't hear its song.
4—Yeah, I recognize that as a harpy.
5—Its siren song lures me in!

  Male harpies? Male nymphs and dryads? Female satyrs?  
No. Stick with the myths and D&D lore.
Yes. The game should reflect the changing times.

  Does my refinement to the minotaur make the race description better, worse, or the same?  
1—Worse now than it was before.
2—The same, and I didn't like it before.
3—The same, but I was happy with it before.
4—Better, but not quite there yet.
5—Better, and it's just about right.

As always, please leave specific thoughts in the comments.

Previous Poll Results

How well do the sphinxes described here match with your sense of the iconic D&D creature?
1—How you think this is a sphinx is a mystery to me. 35 4.0%
2—The high school drama was better than this. 53 6.0%
3—Reasonably sphinx-like. 254 29.0%
4—Yeah, I recognize them as sphinxes. 409 46.6%
5—The perfect enigma. 126 14.4%
Total 877 100.0%

And how well does the chimera described here match with your sense of the iconic D&D creature?
1—It's a goat. 12 1.3%
2—It's a kitten. 25 2.8%
3—It's a goat, a dragon, and a lion—what else? 225 25.0%
4—It's definitely a chimera. 485 53.9%
5—Perfect chimera. 153 17.0%
Total 900 100.0%

The hydra?
1—Just cut off all its heads and let it die. 21 2.3%
2—A many-headed monstrosity. 40 4.3%
3—That's just one of the hydras in D&D. 280 30.4%
4—It's definitely the right direction. 396 43.0%
5—Yes, that's what a hydra should be. 183 19.9%
Total 920 100.0%

Now, on hydra heads: How should we deal with them?
You have to cut off hydra heads, because its body is immune to damage so it's the only way to kill them. 185 18.7%
You want to cut off hydra heads to get a respite from its attacks for a round—but it's a short-term benefit with the longer-term cost of more attacks when the heads regrow. 350 35.4%
You don't want to cut off hydra heads, but you can't avoid it—you have to deal with escalating attacks until you finally do enough damage to kill it. 355 35.9%
You don't want to cut off hydra heads, but it's easy enough to avoid. It's a mistake you might make once, and never again. 100 10.1%
Total 990 100.0%

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.
Comments
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I think male medusas, satyrs, and minotaurs, yes. But no on harpies, nymphs and dryads. In 3rd edition Book of Vile Darkness you have a male medusa who serves Baalzebul. Maybe dryads come from special acorns that grow on an oak that's been pollinated by an oak that's bounded with a dryad. Think of it as wind-blown pollentation from a dryad bonded tree to an oak that isn't bounded with a dryad. The pollen could travel for miles or it could create a dryad community. Succubi have a male counter part already- the incubus so they're fine. A nymph has a contention with sex so maybe a new nymph is born after she's impregnanted by an elf or a human. The child would be either a handsome human or elven male or a nymph if female. Your idea for asexual reproduction for harpies sounds perfect.
  
Posted By: Butters7 (1/28/2014 6:46:33 AM)
Rating: 
0.51.01.52.02.53.03.54.04.55.0

 


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