Article Header Image
Hydra
Dragon's-Eye View
By Jon Schindehette
Illustrations: Richard Peter Han, Jim Nelson, Jim Pavelec, Todd Lockwood

A s I'm writing this article, I'm taking a few minutes and bouncing over to read the comments on the celestials/angels/deva article that went live during this writing. There are some really great responses! I've already taken the idea of deva anatomy and weapons tying back to their deity over to James Wyatt, and we've started talking about some of the possibilities in that concept. I know that you'll keep coming up with some great ideas, and I'll keep checking them out.

Today, though, I want to talk about that multiheaded monstrosity called the hydra. As of this writing, James hadn't yet tackled the hydra in his Wandering Monsters articles, and I was intrigued by the checkmark on the concepting list for this creature. It got me wondering why R&D might want to take a look at this infamous critter.

So I spun around in my chair and asked.

After chatting with the guys for a few minutes, I picked up some interesting ideas to discuss here. First, though, let me ask you this: Are you a fan of the hydra? For my part, I used to hate the hydra. So many heads, so many attacks, and—depending upon the edition—regeneration!?! I've come to enjoy the hydra now, though. For DMs, they offer a great "Oh &*#@!" factor when opening doors or dropping into pits. For players, they offer a great tactical challenge. Isn't it fun how our ideas and ideals change as we age?

Anyway. Let's dig in.

The Hydra


I really enjoy the hydra from Greek mythology. They were multiheaded beasts (usually nine heads) that had poisonous breath and blood. In fact, they were such toxic beasts that even their tracks were deadly! This makes jokes about stinky feet pale by comparison. And if that wasn't enough, if you cut off one head—two would grow back. But wait, it gets worse: The center head was immortal! Can you imagine coming up against that little beastie? Even the heroic Heracles couldn't best the hydra on his own, and he needed help from his nephew Iolaus, plus a nifty golden sword given to him by Athena. Now that's an epic fight with an epic beast.

When we start to look at the hydra in D&D, we see that the creature design has changed slightly, but it's still a pretty epic critter. Through the ages, there have been several changing visions of what the hydra looked like, though, and today you get to chime in with some of your ideas on the future vision of the hydra.

Legs

The concept of legs on a hydra takes us into an interesting conversation. In original Greek mythology, the hydra was described as a "chthonic water beast." Through time, folks have played with those seemingly opposed concepts. Chthonic loosely means "in, under or beneath the earth," and water beast implies that it comes from the water. Because of that, you can find hydras depicted in many different ways. The two most common are with four legs (resembling a dragon), or no legs (resembling a great wyrm). I don't think either vision is decidedly wrong. I tend to think of the hydra with legs. That might be due to the influence of the AD&D Monstrous Manual on my impressionable mind in high school. No matter the reason, that is my preference. How about you? How do you envision the great hydra? Legs or no legs?

Body

As with the legs, the body of the hydra has been depicted in many ways. The two most common are a more draconic body and a serpent style body. Again, I'm influenced by my high school experiences, but that doesn't need to constrain us. You might say that legs go with a draconic type body, and no legs go with a serpentine type body, but I'm not going to assume such simple statements. Perhaps you want to get more specific or be really distinct with your vision. Perhaps you believe that a hydra has legs, but has a long and thin body that has an almost serpentine feel to it. Maybe you have a completely different sense of what they look like—something very divergent from any example I've provided here. If you do, share it with me. If the words fail you, upload an image and share that with me.

Heads

Often the heads of the hydra are treated in a very draconic manner. Is the hydra just an offshoot of the dragon family? Are they distant relatives, or do they just happen to stem from an "all you reptiles look the same" mentality? I lump the hydra into the reptile school mentality. It matches mythology and D&D lore. So should the head look more reptilian than draconic? Are there a lot of physical differences between reptiles and dragons (at least in the world of myth and mythology)? Is there something in the head that clearly distinguishes a hydra from a dragon? These are the types of questions that keep me up at night.

Skin

Here is the one place I feel that we can help differentiate the hydra from its visual cousin the dragon. Rather than scales and plates, we could give the hydra skin that is more similar to a lizard—perhaps like a skink in its texture. This would work well with the legends and lore, right?

What do you think? What guiding principles should we hold on to when we kick off the visual development for this critter? Is there a specific D&D interpretation that you preferred, or is there something out there in the world that really struck gold for you? Maybe you just want to grab pencil and paper and scribble down some ideas and share them with me. Whichever way you want to voice your opinion—now is your chance.


D&D A-Series Art Contest

Have you entered the D&D A-Series Art Contest? There's still time! Whether you fancy yourself a professional artist or amateur doodler, we want to hear from you. Contest ends on February 10th, so hurry up and get sketching.

Previous Poll Results

Advanced D&D

Advanced D&D: Marketing
1—It fails 132 7.1%
2 233 12.5%
3—No opinion 312 16.7%
4 525 28.1%
5—It succeeds 664 35.6%
Total 1866 100.0%

Advanced D&D: Shelf Presence
1—It fails 89 4.9%
2 223 12.2%
3—No opinion 354 19.3%
4 535 29.2%
5—It succeeds 633 34.5%
Total 1834 100.0%

Advanced D&D: Narrative
1—It fails 47 2.6%
2 64 3.5%
3—No opinion 201 11.0%
4 493 26.9%
5—It succeeds 1027 56.1%
Total 1832 100.0%

Advanced D&D: Perceived Value
1—It fails 122 6.7%
2 290 16.0%
3—No opinion 551 30.4%
4 408 22.5%
5—It succeeds 439 24.3%
Total 1810 100.0%

Advanced D&D: Essence
1—It fails 42 2.2%
2 70 3.7%
3—No opinion 200 10.4%
4 460 24.0%
5—It succeeds 1145 59.7%
Total 1917 100.0%




2nd Edition

2nd Edition: Marketing
1—It fails 81 4.6%
2 194 11.0%
3—No opinion 335 19.1%
4 682 38.8%
5—It succeeds 466 26.5%
Total 1758 100.0%

2nd Edition: Shelf Presence
1—It fails 61 3.5%
2 192 11.0%
3—No opinion 434 24.9%
4 603 34.6%
5—It succeeds 452 25.9%
Total 1742 100.0%

2nd Edition: Narrative
1—It fails 125 7.2%
2 297 17.0%
3—No opinion 403 23.1%
4 558 32.0%
5—It succeeds 361 20.7%
Total 1744 100.0%

2nd Edition: Perceived Value
1—It fails 68 3.9%
2 181 10.4%
3—No opinion 582 33.6%
4 576 33.2%
5—It succeeds 327 18.9%
Total 1734 100.0%

2nd Edition: Essence
1—It fails 146 8.1%
2 289 16.0%
3—No opinion 411 22.8%
4 532 29.5%
5—It succeeds 426 23.6%
Total 1804 100.0%




3rd Edition

3rd Edition: Marketing
1—It fails 223 12.3%
2 252 14.0%
3—No opinion 346 19.2%
4 455 25.2%
5—It succeeds 530 29.3%
Total 1806 100.0%

3rd Edition: Shelf Presence
1—It fails 152 8.5%
2 172 9.6%
3—No opinion 261 14.5%
4 492 27.4%
5—It succeeds 719 40.0%
Total 1796 100.0%

3rd Edition: Narrative
1—It fails 594 33.2%
2 409 22.9%
3—No opinion 327 18.3%
4 226 12.6%
5—It succeeds 231 12.9%
Total 1787 100.0%

3rd Edition: Perceived Value
1—It fails 161 9.0%
2 150 8.4%
3—No opinion 406 22.8%
4 542 30.4%
5—It succeeds 524 29.4%
Total 1783 100.0%

3rd Edition: Essence
1—It fails 326 17.7%
2 302 16.4%
3—No opinion 398 21.7%
4 411 22.4%
5—It succeeds 401 21.8%
Total 1838 100.0%




4th Edition

4th Edition: Marketing
1—It fails 216 11.9%
2 196 10.8%
3—No opinion 331 18.3%
4 607 33.6%
5—It succeeds 459 25.4%
Total 1809 100.0%

4th Edition: Shelf Presence
1—It fails 184 10.3%
2 193 10.8%
3—No opinion 356 19.9%
4 583 32.6%
5—It succeeds 474 26.5%
Total 1790 100.0%

4th Edition: Narrative
1—It fails 245 13.7%
2 244 13.7%
3—No opinion 360 20.1%
4 567 31.7%
5—It succeeds 371 20.8%
Total 1787 100.0%

4th Edition: Perceived Value
1—It fails 242 13.6%
2 239 13.4%
3—No opinion 526 29.5%
4 490 27.5%
5—It succeeds 286 16.0%
Total 1783 100.0%

4th Edition: Essence
1—It fails 341 18.4%
2 270 14.6%
3—No opinion 371 20.0%
4 527 28.4%
5—It succeeds 346 18.7%
Total 1855 100.0%

Jon Schindehette
Jon Schindehette joined Wizards of the Coast in 1997 as the website art director. In the intervening years he has worked as the marketing art director, novels art director, and creative manager. In January of 2009 he moved into the role of senior creative director for D&D. Jon is a long time D&D player (started in 1978), and currently plays in a Tuesday night game and DMs a random pick-up game for younger players. He can be found on Twitter (@ArtOrder) and at theartorder.com.
Comments
 >
There are no comments yet for this article (or rating). Be the first!
 >