Friday, July 1, 2016

The Peryton & The Other Monster Manual For Your Old School Campaigns

Advanced Dungeons and Dragon's First edition dipped its pen as a game far and wide, yesterday on G+ I mentioned one of my favorite old school creatures to use was the Peryton. That seemed to instantly get a response for my circle of friends there. Everyone seemed to have a story about these bastards and how they react with folk's PC's in various home campaigns. But where did these creatures come from and does the classic AD&D first edition version differ from the original source material?

The Peryton came from the classic of fantasy fiction The Book of Imaginary Beings ; "Book of Imaginary Beings was written by Jorge Luis Borges, published in 1957 under the original Spanish title Manual de zoologĂ­a fantástica, and expanded in 1967 and 1969 in Spain to the final El libro de los seres imaginarios. The English edition, created in collaboration with translator Norman Thomas di Giovanni, contains descriptions of 120 mythical beasts from folklore and literature" This isn't a game book but a book of the mythological & fantastic and its gloriously filled with all kinds of weird creatures. There isn't a single stat in here at all but rather all kinds of myths and legends surrounding the monsters & mythological beings listed. Examples include;"Hundred-Heads The hundred heads was said to be a gigantic fish with many heads, each one that of a different animal. Legend holds that the fish was the reincarnated spirit of a monk who had often called others "monkey-head" or something similar. The karma of these insults had made him return as a monster."  Or "The Lamed Wufniks There are precisely thirty-six Lamed Wufniks in existence. It is said that, without knowing it, they support the universe and affirm God. If one comes to realize their purpose, they immediately die and are replaced by another unsuspecting man."  There are many more examples scattered throughout the book. But another interesting parallel between Book of Imaginary Beings and the AD&D first edition Monster Manual is the way that Borges intended for readers to read the book;"Borges states that the book is to be read "as with all miscellanies... not... straight through... Rather we would like the reader to dip into the pages at random, just as one plays with the shifting patterns of a kaleidoscope"; and that "legends of men taking the shapes of animals" have been omitted" This dipping into the book is how I often as a child read through the Monster Manual carefully digesting bits and pieces of it.

And what about the Peryton? Well interestingly enough the AD&D version has some very interesting psychical characteristics that the Book of the Imagination version does not;"The peryton combines the body of a giant eagle (5 feet tall with a 25 foot wingspan) with the head of a powerful stag. Its skin is impervious to weapons that are not magically enchanted. Its body has dark green plumage and yellow talons. Its stag head is blue-black with pale orange eyes and glossy obsidian antlers. The peryton casts the shadow of a human rather than its own shadow most of the time, and smells like a human as well." The mythological version has some subtle differences;"The Peryton is said to have the head, neck, forelegs and antlers of a stag, combined with the plumage, wings and hindquarters of a large bird, although some interpretations portray the Peryton as a deer in all but coloration and bird's wings."

Peryton By Tsaag Valren

The mythology behind the original horror goes something like this;"According to Borges, Perytons lived in Atlantis until an earthquake destroyed the civilization and the creatures escaped by flight. A Peryton casts the shadow of a man until it kills one during its lifetime, at which time it starts to cast its own shadow. A Sibyl once prophesied that the Perytons would lead to the downfall of Rome." Of course all of this was Jorge Luis Borges own invention and adds a certain charm and dark turn of imagination to his creation of legendary mythology.
This makes these creatures far more accessible for weird historical games OSR games such as Lamentations of the Flame Princess and Dark Albion. The AD&D contemporary variety turns these monsters into far more less common mythological hazards;"Perytons are evil creatures who roost atop high cliffs in dense forest. They create nests of 4 or so individuals which are completely independent of any other nests, and nests are never located closer together than few miles of one another except under special circumstances, such as a particularly prominent hunting ground. Perytons need to eat human or humanoid hearts to survive, and females need them to reproduce, and they hunt such beings accordingly."
They're completely fleshed out according to Wiki and the OGL;"

Perytons have little desire other than to hunt and obtain the human hearts they need to survive. Every day, they try to make at least one kill. They attack by finding a human, tricking them with their human shadow, and then flying up extremely high and diving back down at lightning speed. They grab the victim in their talons, carry them high up into the air again, and then rip out the heart from there. If they have eaten recently, they may carry the human back to the nest and keep it as a slave until its heart is needed. They will take any treasure the victim might have, and hoard it much the same way as dragons. Perytons can only be harmed by magical weapons.
Perytons communicate in a series of roars and cries. They cannot speak, but understand Common.
Perytons are usually chaotic evil in alignment."

Tsaag Valren - Own work

Here are the ways I would use the Peryton for an upcoming OSR series of adventures:
  1. Keep the stats from your favorite old school or OSR edition of D&D for the Peryton. 
  2. I would use the Atlantis origin angle to give the creatures an 'old world feel' and as a bridge gap for sword and sorcery games such as Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea 
  3. Make encounters with these beasts very rare and something that players should be talking about for years to come. 
  4. Allow the Peryton to be a creature of chaos and legend. This is something that players should dread encountering. This monster is as intelligent as a human & magically understands human language that should be used.
  5. I've heard of various friends using the connection of the fall of city states and Perytons having the magical gifts of prophecy after murdering important politicians or taking the hearts of ruler's relatives. The closer the relation the more accurate the prophecy. 
  6. Everything about these monsters makes them hunters of men and that's how I've used them in the past. 
  7. Dark Albion is an ideal suited setting for these things they could easily be used on the wild edges of the map. 
  8. Make these things more weird and each example of the monster unique by adding in 1d4 mutations or even a pseudo human characteristic. I know a DM who used one of these things with perfectly formed woman's hands and nails. It weirded the players out and bothered them.
  9. The Peryton is a perfect avatar of the fall of royal houses & chaos, I've often used them as part of a curse on a royal bloodline & family. In several adventures I've had these bastards stalk & kill NPC and party members who were part of the same lines. Magical or demonic pacts allowed the spontaneous creation of these creatures who are driven to hunt down and take the hearts of these bloodlines. They're deaths means the continuation of these monsters of evil & chaos. 
  10. Peryton isn't a monster to be taken lightly, they're appearance within a campaign should come laden with symbolism. There have been several post apocalyptic games in which they've appeared to symbolize the final fall of the old order especially when the former president of the United States's heart was taken by one and a new leader had to be found.

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