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Hellenic Horrors
Wandering Monsters
By James Wyatt

S ince I pulled out Bellerophon and Pegasus last week, I figured it would be interesting to talk about other monsters drawn from Greek myth this time around.

First, the sphinx. When we sat down to work on these, we quickly realized that pretty much the sum total of D&D lore on the four kinds of sphinxes amounted to details of their mating behavior:

  • Androsphinxes "usually shun the company of gynosphinxes, for they resent the females' greater intelligence and neutral alignment."
  • Gynosphinxes "only help humans if they are paid—although they will sometimes accept payment in the form of . . . the location of an androsphinx."
  • Criosphinxes "[lust] after gynosphinxes, but the latter find them detestable."

Hieracosphinxes are the only sphinx left out of this high-school drama in the original Monster Manual.

It's probably not fair to say that's all the lore, but coming up with what follows took more imagination than I originally expected.

Sphinx

Large Monstrosity
Alignment

Androsphinx—chaotic good
Criosphinx—unaligned
Gynosphinx—neutral
Hieracosphinx—chaotic evil
Level: Medium
Environment: Desert and hills

The word "sphinx" is almost synonymous with mystery, and these creatures are enigmatic indeed. They are ancient creatures that seem to be not fully of the world, though they live in it. They are drawn to certain kinds of places that form boundaries between one thing and another, including places where the barriers between worlds are thin. Their favored sites include crossroads, ancient temples, sanctified tombs, frontiers, springs, fords, and passes. Some sages propose that sphinxes are drawn to such locations because they themselves share this in-between, liminal quality—they are neither humanoid nor beast, neither savage nor truly civilized, neither truly immortal nor fully mortal. Wilder theories propose that they are mortal spirits halfway along the path of transformation into a celestial or fiendish form, or celestial or fiendish spirits bound into animal forms.

All sphinxes have the bodies of lions and large, feathered wings, but their heads vary by kind. They prefer warm, dry terrain such as deserts and badlands.

Androsphinx. An androsphinx has a lion's body and thick mane, large feathered wings, and a human-like face with male features. Though outwardly gruff and bad-tempered, and savage in combat when angered, it has a noble heart.

The most powerful of the sphinxes, an androsphinx attacks with its two great paws in melee. It is not a particularly agile flier and prefers to fight on the ground, at least against flightless opponents. It also has the ability to use clerical spells or spell-like effects, focusing on healing and protection rather than offense. (Traditionally, they cast as 6th-level clerics.)

In addition, an androsphinx has a deafening roar that can be heard for several miles, which it can use as many as three times per day. The sphinx must be agitated and angry to utter the first, very angry and hurt to roar again, and utterly infuriated to cut loose with the third. The first roar induces fear at a very long range, affecting all creatures within 360 feet of the sphinx. The second paralyzes creatures with fright, affecting all creatures within 200 feet of the sphinx, and it also deafens creatures within 30 feet. The third roar saps the strength of those who hear it within 240 feet, and creatures within 30 feet and in front of the sphinx can be knocked prone, stunned, and/or buffeted with thunder damage. This roar is so powerful it can also crack stone within 30 feet of the sphinx.

Androsphinxes are solitary and reclusive, often keeping a lonely vigil over an ancient temple or holy site to ensure that it is not defiled or corrupted. They do not enjoy communicating with humans and hate riddles, though they often force intruders upon their territory to demonstrate their good intentions, subjecting them to a thorough interrogation. They have no patience with bribes or flattery, and they drive away or kill those they believe to be evil.

Androsphinxes have Strength and Constitution scores commensurate with their size and build. They are exceptionally intelligent and wise (both about 16).

Criosphinx. Criosphinxes have the body of a winged lion, like other sphinxes, but their heads resemble that of a ram, with a shaggy neck and chest. They are rapacious, craving treasure above all else, and they usually seek to extort passersby for safe passage in exchange for a hefty bribe. Not being particularly bright (Intelligence 9), their bargains typically amount to, "Give me treasure and you may pass." The criosphinxes drive away or kill those who refuse to part with their treasures.

Criosphinxes attack with their two paws or by butting with their ram's horns. They don't cast spells and employ only the simplest battle tactics. They are more comfortable fighting in the air than androsphinxes are; when two criosphinxes meet, they establish dominance by butting heads like rams—while flying. Against flightless opponents, they open combat with a diving charge and goring attack, then land to fight with their claws.

Criosphinxes are solitary and not particularly territorial. A criosphinx might choose a well-traveled crossroads, ford, or mountain pass and extort travelers along that path for a while, but eventually travel on that route slows to a trickle as word of the sphinx's predations spreads, and it moves to a new location.

Criosphinxes have Strength and Constitution scores commensurate with their size and build. Their other abilities are average.

Gynosphinx. Like other sphinxes, the gynosphinx has a lion's (or lioness's) body with great falcon wings, but its head resembles that of a human woman. In some depictions, it has a woman's chest as well. (Historical note: Near as I can tell, the breasts came in during the Renaissance or maybe Rome, but ancient Greek depictions lack them.) Gynosphinxes are the most intelligent sphinxes (Intelligence score of 18, with similar Wisdom and Charisma), and they delight in language—particularly riddles, secrets, poetry, and clever wordplay. They are excellent sources of knowledge, but they demand both treasure and some new tidbit of lore or writing to add to their stores in payment. Anyone foolish enough to break a bargain with a gynosphinx is quickly slaughtered and devoured, because gynosphinxes might be approachable but they are not good.

Gynosphinxes attack with their claws when forced into combat, but they prefer contests and bargains over brute force. They have extensive powers of divination and detection, which might be expressed as a few general traits or as a list of spell-like abilities (detect magic, read magic, read languages, see invisibility, locate object, dispel magic, clairaudience/clairvoyance, remove curse, and legend lore).

Gynosphinxes are solitary, but they tend to settle themselves at sacred sites or springs where travelers or pilgrims often visit, since they enjoy gleaning information from well-traveled people.

Gynosphinxes are the weakest sphinxes, but also the most intelligent.

Hieracosphinx. A hieracosphinx adds a hawk's head and wings to a lion body, resembling a griffon except that it retains the front paws of a lion. Hieracosphinxes are the only evil sphinxes and are the least intelligent of the family (Intelligence score of 6). Their only delight is in wreaking havoc and causing pain—particularly to other sphinxes. They hate androsphinxes above all.

Hieracosphinxes attack with their paws and beaks, and they often swoop down onto their prey from above or perform a flyby attack with their claws. They are far less powerful than other sphinxes and have no magical abilities, but they make up for it with vicious evil and tenacity.

Hieracosphinxes are normally solitary, but they occasionally flock together—usually to hunt down and kill an androsphinx. Only in numbers can they hope to defeat so powerful an adversary, and these sphinxes have no interest in playing fair.

After all that, here are a couple of briefer entries.

Chimera

Large Monstrosity
Alignment: Chaotic evil
Level: Medium
Environment: Grasslands, hills, or wastelands

As their appearance suggests, chimeras were originally the product of a horrific magical breeding experiment. They now breed true and are a serious threat in certain remote parts of the world. Additionally, though they are few in number, they have long lifespans.

A chimera combines features of a dragon, a goat, and a lion into one terrible, winged, three-headed combination. Fighting a chimera is like fighting three opponents in a single body, since each head takes a distinct action. Its lion head bites, its goat head butts or gores with its horns, and its dragon head can breathe fire as well as bite. (Chimeras do not have the same variety of breath weapons that dragons do.)

Chimeras are ill-tempered and malicious. They never serve another creature willingly, but a very powerful master can beat one into submission and keep it on a tight leash (or very strong chain). They are only marginally more intelligent than beasts, but definitely chaotic evil.

Hydra

Type: Beast
Level: Medium
Environment: Swamp and caverns

A hydra is a Huge (20-foot long) reptilian creature with four legs, a long tail, and between 5 and 12 heads on snaky necks. They are solitary creatures that lair in dark swamps and damp caverns.

A hydra attacks with all its heads, biting wildly at every creature in reach. When one of its heads is severed, two grow to take its place, unless fire is quickly applied to the stump.

Right now, we're still trying to get that last part right. There's a key mechanical question in the poll.

What Do You Think?

Let's take the sphinxes as a group—if you take issue with a specific sphinx, post it in the comments.

  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.
2—The high school drama was better than this.
3—Reasonably sphinx-like.
4—Yeah, I recognize them as sphinxes.
5—The perfect enigma.

  And how well does the chimera described here match with your sense of the iconic D&D creature?  
1—It's a goat.
2—It's a kitten.
3—It's a goat, a dragon, and a lion—what else?
4—It's definitely a chimera.
5—Perfect chimera.

  The hydra?  
1—Just cut off all its heads and let it die.
2—A many-headed monstrosity.
3—That's just one of the hydras in D&D.
4—It's definitely the right direction.
5—Yes, that's what a hydra should be.

  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.
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.
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.
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.

As always, please leave specific thoughts in the comments.

Previous Poll Results

How well do the griffons described here match with your sense of the iconic D&D creature?
1 -- That might be an eagle-lion, but it's not a griffon. 19 2.4%
2 -- I wouldn't get on its back. 19 2.4%
3 -- Yeah, it's griffon enough. 137 17.3%
4 -- Definitely a griffon, but not quite there. 197 24.8%
5 -- Perfect griffon. 422 53.1%
Total 794 100.0%

And how well do the hippogriffs described here match with your sense of the iconic D&D creature?
1 -- That might be an eagle-horse, but it's not a hippogriff. 29 3.7%
2 -- I wouldn't get on its back. 34 4.3%
3 -- Yeah, it's hippogriff enough. 185 23.6%
4 -- Definitely a hippogriff, but not quite there. 228 29.1%
5 -- Perfect hippogriff. 307 39.2%
Total 783 100.0%

The pegasus?
1 -- Put it on a window decal, not in my Monster Manual. 30 3.8%
2 -- I wouldn't get on its back. 31 3.9%
3 -- I recognize it as a pegasus, I guess. 130 16.5%
4 -- It's close, but it's not sitting right. 249 31.6%
5—Perfect pegasus. 348 44.2%
Total 788 100.0%

Do you buy pegasi as celestials?
1 -- No way: They should be dumb beasts like the rest of the creatures in the article. 22 2.7%
2 -- Nope: They're intelligent animals, but with no divine connection. 183 22.3%
3 -- Sure, I can live with that. 338 41.2%
4 -- Definitely! That's a great tweak. 277 33.8%
Total 820 100.0%

And the wyvern?
1 -- That's not a wyvern. 17 2.1%
2 -- I wouldn't get on its back. 35 4.4%
3 -- Yeah, it's wyvern enough. 119 14.9%
4 -- Definitely a wyvern, but not quite there. 248 31.0%
5 -- Perfect wyvern. 381 47.6%
Total 800 100.0%

And finally, the roc?
1 -- Really? Just a big bird? 91 11.3%
2 -- If I were a giant, I wouldn't get on its back. 18 2.2%
3 -- Yeah, it's roc enough. 149 18.4%
4 -- Definitely a roc, but not quite there. 189 23.4%
5 -- Roc on! 361 44.7%
Total 808 100.0%

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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