Friday, January 13, 2017

In The Paw Prints Of The Coeurl - A Different Twist On A Classic Monster For Your Old School Campaigns

Today we're going to be talking about The Coeurl, and its ilk, if you don't like combining science fiction & science fantasy with sword & sorcery this might not be your cup of tea. For the rest of us its time to dive into the deep end of

Tonight I cracked open my Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea Referee's Guide & just started thumbing through it to get the essence of the game back into my reptile brain. Its something I do every time I'm starting a new gaming cycle. I just let the Lovecraftian, Howardian, Smithian vibes flow through me for awhile but not tonight instead I happened upon AS&SH's version of the Displacer Beast, the so called Tentacular Horror. Which is sort of a really twisted version of John Carpenter's Thing From Another World & something straight out Lovecraft's wet dream. You really have to read this thing to appreciate the sheer weirdness & ick factor of it. As you can see this monster resembles more of an other worldly alien  infection then a dungeon dwelling monster of traditional D&D or does it? For that we've got to dig deep into the origins of this beast's ancestry.

The classic Displacer Beast from  Advanced Dungeons & Dragons doesn't appear on Hyperborea at all but that being said there are several parallels between the two species of old school style monsters. The tentacles with their thorny edges and dangerous protrusions appear on both species & the lack of even classic animal intelligence is another factor. Here's our classic Advanced Dungeons & Dragons first edition Monster Manual Displacer Beast entry.

These two monsters are similar but vastly different yet share the common link of the enmity & hatred of the Blink Dog. Phase Tigers from Labyrinth Lord have similar abilities, temperament, and a role to play as they also appear in Adventurer, Conqueror, King.
We all know the real reasons because following monsters are considered "Product Identity" by Wizards of the Coast and are therefore not part of the SRD:

  • beholder
  • gauth
  • carrion crawler
  • displacer beast
  • githyanki
  • githzerai
  • kuo-toa
  • mind flayer
  • slaad
  • umber hulk
  • yuan-ti
But that's alright, because for years now various D20 writers & designers have been making other versions of these creatures with completely different names, backstories, and origins. But if we go back into the fictional history & backstory of the tentacular beasts we see mention of the blink dog again. These are the natural enemies of both the displacer beast & tentacular beast. Why? Well if we suppose that these two appear across a wide variety of prime material plane locations then it points to a common origin source. That origin point is the Coeurl which was created by  A. E. van Vogt (1912–2000) and featured in his first published short story Black Destroyer (1939), later incorporated in the novel The Voyage of the Space Beagle (1950).

Wiki has a very good break down of the Coeurl race;"The species' appearance is comparable to a large cat, except in that its forelegs are twice as long as its hind legs, and it possesses tentacles attached to its shoulders that terminate in suction cups. Its skin coloration is not mentioned but is depicted as black in the cover art for its original magazine appearance.[1] It sustains itself by feeding upon a substance it calls the Id of other beings.

The species appears indifferent to environment and can survive in different atmospheres. It can manipulate EM radiation (referred to as "electric vibrations" in the story) at will and seems to communicate via that method."
Black Destroyer describes the species as near immortal which has caused the extinction of every living thing on its planet. Coeurl ( the character's name and species as well) is wandering  around its hunting grounds which used to be its home world. The alien is looking for ID which essentially is the  organically bound phosphorus similar to that in its victim's bones but later on it was changed to from phosphorus to potassium.
Just before it completely starves to death, the Space Beagle touches down. This is the site of the former Coeurl empire now in ruins.
According to wiki;"When Black Destroyer was incorporated into The Voyage of the Space Beagle, several changes were made in Coeurl's anatomy and physiology—for example, Coeurl's tentacles originally ended in tentacled fingers, but were changed in the novel to suction cups, and the dietary chemical was changed from phosphorus to potassium. In the novel, it is theorized that the members of Coeurl's race were pets or servants of the original inhabitants of the planet."
These changes will become important later on in this blog post because of the monster's alien empire.

I said empire because the story describes this location as being one world among many in the form of an ancient  minor stellar empire that is speculated about by the Space Beagle crew. In fact the original novel of the 'Voyage of the Space Beagle' is supposedly the inspiration for Star Trek along with several other science fiction television series & films. There's another very interesting aspect of the 'Voyage of the Space Beagle' almost every single alien  encountered in the novel is already ancient by the time the crew encounters them. These are entities that have been around for millions of years. Its got a very Prometheus vibe running through it.

"The book was republished in 1952 under the title Mission: Interplanetary.

A huge globular spaceship, manned by a chemically castrated all-male crew of nearly a thousand, who are on an extended scientific mission to explore intergalactic space, encounters several, mostly hostile, aliens and alien civilizations. On board the spaceship during its journey, both political and scientific revolutions take place." This isn't the good star ship Enterprise because the power struggles aboard result in some interesting chess moves aboard the Beagle but I digress. I think that the Coeurl have been been around for a very long time and preying on mankind from the shadows for eons. There's a very good break down of the Coeurl's abilities here.

I assert that Coeurl's had an empire millions of years before mankind had even made it into space. But  had encounters with &  use to hunt humans in the form of Hyperboreans. The various alien Coeurl like species encountered were their former servants & tools. How can I assert this? Well another monster in AD&D 1st edition points to it, the blink dog is the perfect answer to the Coeurl problem. " In The Geeks' Guide to World Domination, Garth Sundem describes the blink dog as "one of fantasy's signature creatures"." with good reason. All across the planes where the Hyperboreans & mankind spread the blink dog his ever present guardians were there.

These guys are an artificial species genetically bred to sense the Coeurl & all of their creations. They will do exactly what they were bred to do which is seek out the Coeurl, hunt them, & exterminate them with extreme prejudice. This is exactly how their portrayed in AS&SH. But what about the various the Coeurl's depictions? With a naught immortal species that has spread across the stars millions of years ago this isn't a problem. Your looking at various subspecies of the monster.

Here's the classic EERIE #139 LAST ISSUE of the  Warren Magazine Science Fiction with artwork by  Kelly Freas & Luis Bermejo  depicting The Voyage Of The Space Beagle by Van Vogt

This brings up a very interesting question, if
the Coeurl was something's pet then the owners might have indeed been very scary!?! Once again if we used Voyage of the Space Beagle as the basis for a hypothesis then the Anabis, a galaxy-spanning consciousness encountered in the last section of the book might offer us a clue. Once again according to Wiki ;" In the last section, Anabis, a galaxy-spanning consciousness, is encountered. Once again, it is both malevolent, starving and aggressive, and under all circumstances must be prevented from following the ship back to any other galaxy. Anabis, which is essentially a galaxy-size will-o'-the-wisp, feeds off the death of living organisms, and has destroyed all intelligent life in its galaxy. It transforms all planets it can find into jungle planets through terraforming, since it is these kind of worlds that produce most life. The crew of the Space Beagle lures the intelligence to chase the ship into deep space, causing it to starve to death."  There has been fan speculation among both myself & friends that this entity might have been one of the inspirations for the classic Galactus by Jack Kirby. There are many similarities between the two. But this god level of power, intelligence, and technology is probably going to be the only style of being that could handle the Coeurl & its ilk.  I also don't think that the Coeurl's cat like appearance is a mistake but it brings to mind the question what sort of 'mice' do these monsters hunt?

 Surely there are no old school stats for the Coeurl? Well actually there are! In the OSRIC retroclone system there is a complete write up for them after the publishers asked the Van Vogt estate permission to use the aliens. But be warned I've used the Coeurl with its full abilities from Black Destoryer with a group of jaded & very experienced AD&D players. It wiped the floor with them. The monster isn't to be taken lightly at all.

One never knows where one might encounter these dangerous predators or their ilk. Keep em rolling folks.

All artwork, concepts,etc. related to
the Coeurl are the trademark & copyright of their various holders. Black Destroyer & Voyage of the Space Beagle copyright & trade mark  belong to the various publishers and the Van Vogt estate. The opinions & speculation are my own and in no way reflect the various rpg system copyright & trade mark holders. This blog post is intended for entertainment & educational purposes, the fan speculation here in is copyrighted to me the writer.
Please note that the origin of the displacer beast was first talked about all of the way back in 2011 by A paladin in Citadel

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