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Cats and Dogs
Wandering Monsters
By James Wyatt

A fter talking about lycanthropes, it would seem to make some sense to discuss not just people who can turn into animals but also animals. Specifically, I want to talk about some of the fantastic canine and feline monsters of the D&D game.

So cats and dogs. Here's a funny thing: There are a lot more iconic dog monsters in D&D than there are cat monsters. I discussed this with Matt Sernett, and we came up with a couple of possible explanations. For one, much of D&D lore is drawn from the myths of northern Europe, where dogs (wolves) are a much more present and dangerous threat than cats. Second, tigers are pretty scary on their own, even if they don't breathe fire or have a malign intelligence. Third, well, maybe it's just possible that much of D&D lore was created by dog people. On the other hand, there are a lot more cat-hybrid monsters than there are dog-hybrids: the chimera, sphinxes, the griffon, the manticore, the lammasu, the lamia, the wemic, and so on. Maybe D&D lore and legend both just think cats are smarter than dogs.

At any rate, that leaves us with the displacer beast, then a bunch of cat monsters I have to call second-tier: the hellcat (bezekira), the sea lion (or sea cat), and the dragonne. (I'm not including dire animals here.) Let's look at the displacer beast.

Displacer Beast

Large Monstrosity
Alignment: Lawful evil
Level: Low
Environment: Forest, grasslands, or hills

A displacer beast is a Large (8-foot to 12-foot long) great cat, about the size of a Bengal tiger, but with six legs (an extra pair behind the front legs) and a pair of long tentacles emerging from its shoulders behind the first pair of legs. It behaves in many ways like an animal, but it is driven by a malicious glimmer of intelligence that makes it far more fearsome than a common beast.

The displacer beast's most distinctive ability, of course, is its displacement. Because of the way light bends around it, it's hard to be sure of its exact location. Looking at a displacer beast is like looking through a prism or the thick glass of a large fish tank: You see a complete image and find that the creature is actually 3 feet off to one side of where you thought it was. Because of this trait, it's difficult to land a telling blow on a displacer beast with melee or ranged attacks. Its displacement is an activated ability that it uses when hunting or agitated. Pinning the displacer beast in place, such as by paralyzing, restraining, or stunning it, negates the effect.

For its own part, a displacer beast prefers to attack with its tentacles, which have hard, rough ridges lining the pads at the end. The creature can use its tentacles to strike opponents up to 10 feet away, so it prefers to use this attack to keep enemies at a safe distance rather than attacking with its claws or bite.

Displacer beasts hunt in small prides of 2 to 5 creatures. They function together as a highly coordinated group to stalk and bring down their prey—which consists of virtually any living creature in their territory. Displacer beasts and blink dogs despise (and eat) each other.

There's our one iconic cat monster. For dogs, we have many more solid examples: blink dogs, hell hounds, winter wolves, and worgs. There's a second tier here, too: the moon dog, the shadow mastiff, the yeth hound, and the two-headed death dog.

Blink Dog

Medium Fey
Alignment: Lawful good
Level: Low
Environment: Grasslands or hills

A blink dog is a Medium fey creature that appears as a very large dog (about 3 feet high at the shoulder and 4 feet or so long). Its fur is yellowish brown and its tail has a tufted tip reminiscent of a lion's. It is known, of course, for its teleportation ability.

An innate, instinctual ability, the blink dog's teleport is primarily a hunting strategy and secondarily an escape mechanism. A pack of blink dogs chases its intended prey, closing the last 500 feet or so by teleporting near the victim. Then the pack surrounds its prey, with individuals randomly disappearing and reappearing in a different spot, attacking immediately when they reappear. If the hunt turns against them, though, the blink dogs teleport away, again covering roughly 500 feet with each jump, running between blinks.

Blink dogs are fey creatures, closely linked to nature but infused with magic. Like other fey, they tend to subtly alter the environment around them—lands hunted by blink dogs tend to dance with gusting winds and shimmering, miragelike effects in the air. It can sometimes be difficult to judge distance in such lands as well, making a trip across the grasslands seem much longer or shorter than it actually is.

Hell Hound

Medium Fiend
Alignment: Lawful evil
Level: Low
Environment: Any wilderness and lower planes

A hell hound is a Medium fiend that appears as an enormous dog, rusty red to red-brown in color, with glowing red eyes and sooty black teeth. Tiny tongues of fire lick out from its mouth and nostrils when it's agitated, and it can breathe a cone of fire in combat.

It is believed that hell hounds originated on one of the fiendish planes, probably either Acheron or the Nine Hells, but they are found on many different planes now, including the Material Plane and the elemental planes. They make excellent guard dogs, having keen hearing and exceptional sight. They are particularly favored as pets by fire giants.

A large and powerful breed of hell hound is bred in Nessus, the lowest of the Nine Hells. This Nessian war hound is the size of a draft horse and fights alongside devils in the Blood War as well as guards the palaces of various infernal dukes.

Winter Wolf

Large Monstrosity
Alignment: Neutral evil
Level: Low
Environment: Arctic

A winter wolf is a Large monstrosity, about the size of a horse and found in cold environments. They are quite intelligent, and they associate with other arctic-dwellers, especially frost giants, by choice rather than because they are domesticated pets. They act as scouts, sentries, and trackers for their allies in exchange for food and shiny gems or jewelry to decorate their dens.

A winter wolf is best known for its frosty breath, similar to a cone of cold, but cold is in its nature and also infuses its bite attack. Cold attacks are little bother to a winter wolf, but the creature is vulnerable to fire.

Although they are infused with icy magic, winter wolves are creatures of the natural world.

Worg

Large Monstrosity
Alignment: Neutral evil
Level: Low
Environment: Grassland, forest, or wastelands

A worg is a Large monstrosity, about the size of a small horse, closely related to wolves. Unlike natural beasts, worgs have an evil intelligence and their own language, and some can utter a few snarled words in Common or Goblin. They often ally with goblins, who use them as mounts.

Like wolves, worgs hunt in packs. While normal wolves wear down their prey by nipping at its heels or using hit-and-run tactics, worgs take that behavior to an extreme because they enjoy causing suffering to their prey.

What Do You Think?

How do you like our shapechangers?

  How well does the displacer beast described here match your sense of the iconic D&D creatures?  
1—It’s 3 feet to one side of where it should be.
2—It’s like looking through thick glass at a real displacer beast.
3—I’m starting to get the picture.
4—Yeah, I recognize it as a displacer beast.
5—A solid hit!

  How well does the blink dog described here match your sense of the iconic D&D creature?  
1—I think the real blink dog blinked away.
2—That thing’s hard to pin down.
3—I’m starting to get the picture.
4—Yeah, I recognize it as a blink dog.
5—Help! Blink dogs are everywhere!

  How well does the hell hound described here match your sense of the iconic D&D creature?  
1—This description should die in a fire.
2—I don’t recognize that as a hell hound.
3—It’s a hound from hell, but not quite a hell hound.
4—Yeah, I recognize it as a hell hound.
5—I can smell the brimstone from here.

  How well does the winter wolf described here match your sense of the iconic D&D creature?  
1—This description should be buried in ice.
2—I don’t recognize that as a winter wolf.
3—It’s a wolf associated with winter, but not quite a winter wolf.
4—Yeah, I recognize it as a winter wolf.
5—Is it cold in here?

  How well does the worg described here match your sense of the iconic D&D creature?  
1—No self-respecting goblin would go near that thing.
2—I don’t recognize that as a worg.
3—It’s a smart dire wolf, but that doesn’t make it a worg.
4—Yeah, I recognize it as a worg.
5—Those are goblin worgs! They will outrun you!

  Which second-tier dog or cat would you promote to the top-tier?  
Death dog
Dragonne
Moon dog
Sea lion
Shadow mastiff
Yeth hound
Hellcat (bezekira)

As always, please leave specific thoughts in the comments.

Previous Poll Results

How well do the lycanthropes described here match with your sense of the iconic D&D creatures?
1—Not at all. 34 2.8%
2—Eh, I like a few things. 97 8.0%
3—They're vaguely beastlike. 127 10.4%
4—Yeah, I recognize them as D&D lycanthropes. 601 49.4%
5—I think I've been infected! 357 29.4%
Total 1216 100.0%

How well does the doppelganger described here match with your sense of the iconic D&D creature?
1—Its disguise doesn't fool me. 58 4.6%
2—I can see through it pretty easily. 63 5.0%
3—I think it might be a doppelganger. 236 18.8%
4—I'm pretty sure that's a doppelganger. 526 41.9%
5—Help! It's a doppelganger! 372 29.6%
Total 1255 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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