Monday, July 5, 2010

Medieval Bestiary - Part Three

European folklore holds a candle to none in the breadth and depth of its imagination. Europeans populated not only their own countries with all manner of strange beasts and monsters, but extended their imaginations over the entire globe. While a good many of these creatures have been given game statistics, several have not. Some of these creatures are, to be sure, simple variations on existing monsters – ogres, giants, fairies, spirits, etc. Others are just not threatening or interesting enough to demand statistics. Those monsters of the folklore of France, Germany and the Low Countries, and those of medieval bestiaries and heraldry, that I thought both unique and challenging are presented below.

Part One, Part Two

This post is declared Open Game Content.

This odd beast of medieval heraldry had the body of an antelope, the head of a wild cat with the antlers of a deer, the forelegs of an eagle and the hind legs and tail of either a lion or ox. The caleygreyhound is a predator with amazing speed; in effect, it is always under the effects of the haste spell. A similar creature is the enfield, with the head of a fox, chest of a greyhound, body of a lion, hindquarters and tail of a wolf and forelegs of an eagle.

Caleygreyhound: HD 3; AC 1 [18]; Atk 2 bite (1d4) and 4 claws (1d3); Move 18; Save 14; CL/XP 5/240; Special: Haste.

The carcolh is one of the folkloric beasts that makes you half-wonder if our medieval ancestors did play fantasy roleplaying games, because it is simply made for them! The carcolh is a giant serpent with a mollusk shell on its back. It is covered in sticky slime. Around its gaping mouth, the creature has dozens of long tentacles – some as long as a mile. The beast dwells in a cave and unfurls its tentacles, extending them well into the countryside. When something approaches too close to a tentacle, it is grabbed and squeezed and pulled back to the creature’s waiting mouth. In game terms, these tentacles might be found anywhere in a dungeon, and in fact 90% of random carcolh encounters are actually with a tentacle. The tentacles surprise creatures on a roll of 1-4 on 1d6. If a tentacle successfully attacks, it wraps around its victim quickly, squeezing for 1d4 points of damage each round and dragging it back 10 feet per round to the creature’s mouth. The tentacles have an Armor Class of 6 [13] and can be severed by inflicting 8 points of damage on them. The bite of the carcolh is +5 to hit a grappled creature, and if the bite attack beats the victim’s Armor Class by more than 4 points, the creature is swallowed whole.

Carcolh: HD 9; AC 4 [15]; Atk 1 or more tentacles (1d4 + grappled) or 1 bite (2d6); Move 9; Save 6; CL/XP 11/1700; Special: Tentacles, swallow whole.

This odd creature began as an unkind joke of Geoffrey Chaucer. The creature is said to resemble an emaciated cow with a human face. Its diet consists entirely of obedient and faithful wives, and the scarcity of such women, according to Chaucer, explains why it is so thin. The word may be a play on the French chichifache (“thin face”). In game terms, the creature can be turned into a fairly disturbing creature. Imagine an emaciated grey cow with a human face (a good start, in terms of being disturbing). Now imagine that this creature is an undead spirit, roaming the countryside looking for lawful females that it might devour their souls. In essence, it becomes a wraith wrapped in a new form.

Chichevache: HD 4; AC 3 [16]; Atk 1 touch (1d6 + level drain); Move 12; Save 13; CL/XP 5/240; Special: Drain 1 level with hit.

The dipsa is a tiny serpent or worm, covered in a mucus membrane and so poisonous that its victims die before they are aware that they were bitten. The dipsa is a perfect creature to have lurking in swamps or dank dungeons, often buried in the soft mud or living in a puddle of water. It gets a single attack that forces its victim to save or die. The creature is so small that it can be killed with a single hit.

Dipsa: HD 1 hp; AC 9 [10]; Atk 1 bite (poison); Move 3; Save 18; CL/XP B/10; Special: Deadly poison.

Dragons feature prominently in French folklore. Gargouille was a river dragon that spouted water. It was tamed by Saint Romain and then slaughtered and burned. Gargouille’s head and neck, however, would not burn, and were instead affixed to the cathedral, thus beginning the use of carved gargoyles as water spouts. The Tarasque was a legendary dragon from Provence. It was a dragon with six short legs, like those of a bear, an ox-like body covered by a turtle’s shell, a lion’s head and a tail that ended in a scorpion’s sting. The Tarasque was the offspring of the Biblical Leviathan and the Onachus, a scaly, bison-like beast from Galatia that burned everything it touched. The beast was impervious to the armies thrown against it, but was finally charmed by Saint Martha and led back to a city where it was killed by the people, offering them no resistance. The city was then renamed Tarascon. La Fertre’-Bernard, France, was terrorized by a dragon called Peluda, or “Shaggy Beast”. Peluda is unique enough to deserve its own entry below.

Note: Some fantasy games include rules for subduing dragons. Using these legends as a guide, a Referee might allow lawful or good clerics in his campaign the ability to charm dragons as though attempting to turn undead. If successful, treat the dragon as though it has been subdued.

The drude is a strange spirit from German folklore. It appears as a hag, and is in fact the evil portion of a virginal or holy woman’s soul. Sometimes, these women voluntarily undergo the Drudenfluch, or drude‘s curse to split their soul in two, and other times it is forced upon them by a demon or witch. The drude is very heavy and is as powerful as an ogre. It has a foot print that looks like a pentacle, and this symbol, called the Drudenfuss, can ward them away as a protection from evil spell. Drudes are capable of assuming gaseous form and seeping into a house through the tiniest cracks. Once inside, they attempt to suffocate their victim by sitting on its chest; in essence, this is handled as a fist attack. If successful, the victim must succeed at a saving throw or be grappled and suffer 1d3 points of constitution damage each round. When the victim is reduced to 0 consitution, the drude possesses them, bringing them back to full health and gaining complete control over them until forced out, which can be done by a cleric’s turn undead attack or with other spells.

Drude: HD 4; AC 5 [14]; Atk 1 fist (1d6); Move 12; Save 13; CL/XP 7/600; Special: Grapple, possession, only harmed by silver or magic weapons.

Forest Cattle
Pliny the Elder placed these cattle in Ethiopia. Forest cattle are twice the size of normal cattle and bright red in color. They are capable of turning their horns in any direction, thus allowing them to make two separate horn attacks each round. Bulls inflict 1d6 points of damage with each horn, while cows inflict only 1d4 points of damage. The forest cattle may be related to the yale of English folklore.

Forest Cattle: HD 6; AC 5 [14]; Atk 2 gores (1d6); Move 18; Save 11; CL/XP 6/400; Special: Can gore two different creatures in the same round.

Ged was the original word used for the pike. It is derived from the Old Norse gaddr, or “spike”. For our purposes, the ged is a giant pike that lurks in lakes and rivers. Ged are quite sneaky, and surprise on a roll of 1-3 on 1d6.

Ged: HD 4; AC 5 [14]; Atk 1 bite (3d6); Move 0 (Swim 24); Save 13; CL/XP 4/120; Special: Surprise.


  1. Cool. These are some obscure ones, here, though I think I may have seen a picture of the enfield before--or at least something that matches its description.

  2. Beautiful work. I especially like the Chichevache and the Drude. It is interesting to me that the mediaeval mind had a proclivity to produce monsters that are allegorical in nature and deeply embedded in the values of the time. Contemporary translations have rendered them comparitively bland by focussing on their combat capabilities at the expense of all this deliciously evocative backstory.

  3. In the past, I would look up info on these folkloric creatures and just try to stat them out and make them an interesting encounter in-game. This time, I decided to present some of the original folklore as well, to show where I was coming from and maybe give people even better ideas for how to use or present the monster.

  4. what is the name of that snake
    that puts its tail in its mouth
    and rolls like a wheel ?

  5. That would be the amphisbaena,which first showed up in the Monster Manual (I think).


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