Monday, February 27, 2017

Monster Monday: Anomalocaris, Top Predator of the Cambrian Seas

Today's Monster Monday is anomalocaris, an odd-looking predator that moved through prehistoric waters with a row of oar-like fins, grasping prey in its barbed claws and drawing it in toward its circular mouth of serrated plates.  You can think of it as a 'dire shrimp'.

via Wikimedia
Life-restoration of anomalocaris
Anomalocaris is the world's first apex predator, dwarfing most other creatures of the Cambrian seas (541–485.4 million years ago).  Of course, it didn't take much to be the biggest back then - anomalocaris was about a meter long - so I've also included a giant anomalocaris the size of a rowboat that should prove to be more of a challenge for low-level adventurers.

It is certain that anomalocaris fed on soft-bodied animals like worms and pikaia (a free-swimming creature thought to be the ancestor of all vertebrates), but there is some debate as to whether it also ate hard-shelled creatures like trilobites.  Giant fossilized turds containing broken bits of trilobite exoskeleton seem to indicate that anomalocaris (or some predator almost as large) was eating trilobites, but some paleontologists have questioned whether anomalocaris' mouth parts were strong enough to crush such shells.  It may have subsisted on worms that it sucked out of the sea floor.  In any case, the anomalocarises statted up below are assumed to have strong mouth parts capable of gnawing on stalwart adventurers.

anomalocaris painting by Ratianidze, via Wikimedia
Anomalocaris, looking decidedly Lovecraftian
The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2016 Jonah Bomgaars.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Monster Monday: Qiongqi, the Flying Tiger

The journey to the Mouth of the East had been grueling.  Dry wind beat against their face wraps, stinging cracked lips and nearly blinding the camels.  It blew night and day, growing stronger the closer they got to the Mouth, a narrow pass between two towering mountains.  By the end, they couldn't even pitch their tents for shelter - one man who tried was blown away, clinging to a scrap of oil cloth, never seen again.  As soon as they made it through the Mouth, the silence was deafening.  It took an hour for Anachi's ears to adjust and for feeling to return to her wind-beaten face and hands.  She pulled down her face wrap and let the sun wash over her, relishing the steady desert heat that she knew from experience she would soon be cursing.

Then the stench of the camels hit her.  She wrinkled her nose and drew the wrap back over her face.  "Jashan, I am going aloft.  You have command of the caravan until I return."

"Yes, my lady."  Jashan patted the talwar at his hip and brought his camel to the head of the line.

Anachi reined hers to a stop and slid off.  She unrolled a carpet that had been wrapped in canvas and draped across her camel's back.  After some consideration, she also drew forth a small chest of purple heartwood, bound in silver.  This she fastened to the carpet with four delicate chains running through brass rings punched through the rear third of the carpet.  Finally, she placed a rectangular mask over her eyes, plates of rock crystal fitted into the narrow eye-slits.  She sat cross-legged in the center of the carpet and bade it rise into the air.

The dry desert stretched out below her, bound by the Copper Teeth mountains to the north and the mighty Ranbalahs far to the south.  She flew ahead of her caravan, looking for signs of the seasonal stream that would be their first water stop.  Out of nowhere, a blast of wind nearly threw her off her carpet.  She tightly clung to the front tassels as it rolled madly in the air, struggling to right itself and rapidly losing altitude.  Once her stomach returned to its proper place, Anachi began to tug at the carpet with experienced hands, coaxing it into a level flight path just as a shadow passed over her.  In a flurry of feathers, fur, and claws, the huge beast brought her and her carpet down hard against a red sand dune.

A mighty tiger's head was peering down at her, white and orange, with intricate swirls of deep purple between its black stripes.  Long yellow tendrils trailed away from its blue nose and its thick brows.  Harsh sunlight shone through a pair of tremendous white wings with pinion feathers longer than Anachi's arm.  "None may pass through my desert without paying tribute," the tiger growled.  "This carpet will do nicely, I think, and the chest.  And four of your camels."

"Camels?  What camels?" she bluffed.  A stupid bluff, but she had not yet recovered from the tumble and the fall.

"Is that not your caravan back towards the Mouth?"

"Ah, of course.  But," she changed the subject, "you do not want this carpet."

"It is magic," the beast boomed.  "And pretty."

Both were true, although the Tazhenti designs in orange and blue were faded from the carpet's overuse.  "Without the carpet, I will not be able to find water for my caravan.  We will all die."  This was only a partial lie; Anachi knew the locations of the desert wells, oases, and streams, though the ever-shifting sands made navigating to them difficult without seeing them from the air.

"I could just kill you all and take everything for myself."  The beast lowered its face, its hot breath seeping through Anachi's face wrap.

Anachi lifted her flight mask and met the beast's eyes.  "Hardly likely.  If you eat a whole caravan, no one else will pass through here until a brigade of Gaori soldiers comes to kill you.  And anyways, this is a flying carpet.  You can already fly."

"It is still pretty.  I will lay on it."

"Unlikely.  You wouldn't fit."

The tiger lifted its plate-sized paw off the carpet and began taking mental measurements.

"In any case, it's clear that the carpet is worth more to me than it is to you, so let's take a different tack, shall we?  I'll give you six camels, plus a basket full of-"

"What is in the chest?  Something magic.  I'll take that."  He nudged past her and sniffed at the box still chained to the rear of the carpet.  "And the six camels."

Anachi put a firm hand down on the lid.  "This is a royal gift from the Shaltana of Bayman to the Court of the Blue Emperor!  It is worth more than goods of seven caravans seven times the length of mine!"

The beast sat back on its haunches and folded its wings.  "I will have it."


"I will have it or I will kill the lot of you and have it anyways, and damn the Gaori soldiers."


"And you can keep your smelly camels."

Anachi looked at the creature's teeth and claws, then at the silver-bound chest, then back at the creature.  Silently, she drew a key from a thong around her neck, undid the chains, and unlocked the chest.  From within, she produced a hunk of white jade the size of an ostrich egg, polished smooth and snaked all over with gilded sigils, glittering in the sunlight.  Reluctantly she held it out to the beast.  It sniffed the stone smugly, then clutched it to its furry breast with one massive paw and leapt up into the air.  It beat its wings once, twice, thrice, and was gone.

Jashan leapt off the back of his camel and slid expertly down the side of the sand dune to come to a stop at Anachi's side, gleaming talwar clasped in one hand.  "My lady.  Are you hurt?"

Anachi could no longer mask her broad smile.  "Jashan, I have bought our safe passage.  I gave my teleportation stone to the qiongqi!"

Jashan looked at his mistress as if he were examining her for signs of heat stroke.

"You still have yours, right?" she asked, ignoring his unspoken questions.

The tall black-skinned man shrugged off his pack and pulled out a gilded stone identical to the one Anachi had just traded away.  "My lady, I'm afraid I don't follow..."

"When we get to Char Gao, we can hire a band of adventurers and teleport right into the monster's treasure hoard.  We're rich, Jashan!  Well, richer."


Today's Monster Monday is the qiongqi (pronounced chyong-chi), a flying magical tiger that loves to ambush caravans and hoard treasure.  It comes to us from the Shan Hai Jing - The Classic of Mountains and Seas - a Chinese text from the 4th century BC that is full of accounts of fabulous beasts and peoples.

Composite from two photographs
The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2016 Jonah Bomgaars.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Monster Monday: Terrestrisuchus & Saltoposuchus, Little Running Crocs

Today's Monster Monday is a two-fer: the greyhound-like prehistoric crocodilians terrestrisuchus and saltoposuchus.

by Nobu Tamura, via Wikimedia
Terrestrisuchus gracilis
Both of these prehistoric crocodylomorphs were built for speed, galloping across the landscape and snapping up prey on the run.  They may have even been able to rise up on their hind legs.  Their lifestyle must have born little resemblance to that of the crocodilians we are familiar with today (though modern crocs can certainly put on astounding bursts of speed).  The smaller terrestrisuchus gracilis was about three feet long including its tail, which made up about half its total length.  Saltoposuchus connectens was similarly built but larger, reaching almost five feet in length.  Both creatures inhabited Late Triassic Europe, which had a hot and dry climate, meaning these speedy crocs probably dashed across sand dunes and arid plains.  Their physiological similarities, combined with the fact that they existed at roughly the same time and in roughly the same place, have led to the suggestion that terrestrisuchus was simply a juvenile saltoposuchus, which is certainly plausible.

by Nobu Tamura, via Wikimedia
Saltoposuchus connectens
Why stat up both of these running reptiles?  Terrestrisuchus is just the right size and challenge rating to be a familiar, while saltoposuchus is large and powerful enough to serve as a threat for low-level adventurers.  Think of it as the difference between a rat familiar and a dire rate: one of them could hang out with a wizard or possibly attack in a swarm, the other can fight a beginning adventuring party alone or in a small pack.

But mostly, of course, I statted them both up because I love prehistoric life and I want as much of it as possible available for GMs to use in their campaigns.

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2016 Jonah Bomgaars.