The Stonelands and the Goblin Marches - Part Four: The Great Beasts
Unfortunately, there are other horrible, dangerous monsters inhabiting the regions known as the Stonelands and the Goblin Marches besides the goblinoids. Because so many of the gentler animals have been hunted to near extinction by the goblins and their ilk, those beasts that remain in these areas are primarily those too terrible for the goblinoids to challenge. Travelers who hear a rustle in the rocks or find tracks half-filled in swampy mud don't have the luxury of supposing the unseen creature is a mere marsh hare. It's vicious. And all too likely, it knows they're there.
These dangerous beasts are the subjects of an interesting legend which seems to predate even the goblin kingdom of a thousand years ago. I first dismissed the tale as a mere fancy, the sort of nurse's tale that parents and family servants tell their children at bedtime, with a neat moral at the end for the young to memorize. But I.ve since met the beast. So I.m repeating the tale here, for those of you deficient in nurses, who might not have heard it.
Apparently, in the days when even ancient Netheril was young, a number of mages, wizened elders, and priests set out to try to reason with a blue dragon of incredible might that had been plaguing their communities. The dragon rebuffed their attempts at parley, and many men and women were slain by its retributive attack. A god (which god is unknown today; it may even be a deity who no longer exists) decided to "help" the humans, and created creatures known as behir, amalgamated from the dead remains of their fallen comrades and the old scales of the dragon.
It is true these behir, then great in number, slew the blue dragon in a desperate, pitched battle. But of course, as often happens in legends and in life, the monsters then turned on the very humans and other fair creatures they were made to save. These found the behir as great a foe as the dragon had once been.
One evil was replaced by another. The bard who originally told me this tale said that the moral was one cannot trust the help of the gods in overcoming evil, but I am not so sure of the accuracy of his interpretation. That is just the sort of man he was.
In any event, behir are undoubtedly real. Further, they are sworn enemies of dragons, although they do not aggressively hunt them. They simply do not abide drakes within their territory, and likewise never enter the realm of a dragon.
A behir's territory usually covers a 10-mile radius and centers around its lair. The lair is almost always one of the caves found within the Goblin Marches. I find it significant that behir are more common in the Marches than in the Stonelands, while dragons are more likely to be found in the Stonelands than in the Goblin Marches.
Although full-grown behir are said to have a dozen legs, in fact, they may have many more than twelve. I have discovered that as the creature ages, the number of its legs continues to increase. Theoretically, a behir never ceases to grow in length - or in number of legs.
Behir eat almost anything, although they enjoy the warm blood of mammals best of all. As with most creatures in this blighted region, the preferred lifestyle and ecosystem of behir is threatened by the constant depletion of available prey by the local ravenous. and ravening.goblinoids. More and more, orcs and goblins are finding themselves the next-most-succulent meal for behir.
I've also discovered it is fairly common knowledge that a behir's horns, talons, and heart are valuable to alchemists and mages for making scroll ink. It is not so widely known, however, that the scales of a behir are also useful for their magical properties. I modestly report that I have discovered the scales can be used to make an armor which provides limited protection from electricity.
Never mind how I happened upon the knowledge. It is not, unfortunately, wildly useful, but more a curiosity -a footnote, if you will. Behir scales are not so easy to come by. And there is the matter of curing them. The scales must be soaked in a solution of blue dragon's blood first, before they are hinged together, to achieve their unusual ability.
The spells which can be recorded on scrolls in behir ink are lightning bolt, neutralize poison, and protection from poison.
There is perhaps nowhere else in the Realms that these terrible beasts are more common than the Marches region. They ravage the countryside, and bring fear to all who dwell here, with the possible exception of dragons. Chimerae can be found mostly in the Goblin Marches, dwelling in the shallow caves that honeycomb the area. Sometimes a chimera commandeers an abandoned goblin lair.oftentimes, it was the very beast that drove out the previous occupants.
Chimerae are obviously the creations of some ancient sorcerer as their different parts (goat, dragon and lion) do not seem naturally combined at all. they do not even appear to coexist peacefully. I would guess that the stress of their own self-loathing drives most chimerae insane early in life, making them even more dangerous and destructive to others.
Occasionally two chimerae mate, but thankfully offspring are rare - another sign of their magical rather than natural origins. Interestingly enough, however, chimerae seem to be immune to most diseases and aging. They live to terrorize the world until they are slain.
That rare offspring of two chimerae infrequently will be an entirely new beast, different from both its parents. Something goes wrong in the development of the unborn creature, or some twist of magic gets the upper hand. I don't presume to explain, I merely record my observations. You can recognize a chimeraspawn by the twin dragon heads which flank the central lion's head (instead of the more usual triad of goat, lion, and dragon).
The "new" dragon head breathes a lightning bolt in battle, while the other dragon head spouts flame as usual. The entire body of this beast, except for the lion head, is covered in serpentine scales. It is a hideous sight.
These chimera-spawn are usually short lived, however, for they disregard their own safety while attacking and destroying the countryside and its inhabitants. The only one of these beasts that I have ever seen myself was already dead - in its frantic attempts to slay a group of minotaurs underground, it collapsed the cave that it was in as well, crushing itself under the fallen rocks (I have no idea what became of the minotaurs). I have never heard of these creatures existing anywhere other than here.
Grinnsira the red dragon has made pacts with at least two chimerae, promising them treasure and food in return for service.
As mentioned previously, the Zhentarim have managed to charm and control a number of doppelgangers in order to infiltrate the border raiders and other goblinoid tribes. Other individual members of this race exist in the area independent of the Black Robes, however.
Free doppelgangers dwell in subterranean caves under the Goblin Marches, and there assume their natural form. Usually, they work together, and make plans for infiltration and impersonation, for that is how they survive.
A successful doppelganger finds a humanoid community to infiltrate, and either lives off the resources of that community or uses its position to steal food and treasure. They are not choosy about what humanoids they impersonate, but they usually avoid goblins. Goblin life is generally harsh and unpleasant. Who would deliberately plot to share it?
The best position for a doppelganger to obtain, from its own point of view, is that of an old or infirm human. Such a person is taken care of by the rest of the community and is not expected to work or contribute to the common good.
Doppelgangers are lazy and refuse to fend for themselves if they don't have to. They do not farm, manufacture, mine, or produce any goods of any kind. Any items, treasure, or tools that they may have are invariably stolen. The most a doppelganger does on its own is use its shapeshifting ability to put itself in a position where it can attack and kill others, in order to take their possessions.
Doppelgangers hire themselves out for various infiltration or assassination missions, and so allow themselves to be approached in their lairs by those who know where to look. They do not willingly enter into permanent service to anyone.
Although they sometimes work together, and are helpful toward one another, there is no doppelganger society, as it were. These beings leech off the societies of others, and make use of others. accomplishments and successes. Orcs, hobgoblins and even gnolls are not surprised to find one of their tribe is a doppelganger, and perhaps has been for years. They are not surprised by the discovery, but they are not tolerant, either. Such an individual is immediately killed.
There are a few dragons which call the Goblin Marches their home. Drakes are found in greater numbers in the Stonelands. Red dragons are the most prevalent type, much to the dismay of all who live in the region.
Only one red dragon, a venerable female by the name of Grinnsira, has attained great age or power that I know of, but that does not keep the younger dragons from terrorizing both the native goblinoid tribes and the rare traveler. Of course, firedrakes can be found throughout the Stonelands as well, and they are often mistaken for red dragons.
The only race that can do more than stoically endure dragon raids are giants. Unfortunately, a united, vigorous giant society is sadly lacking in the region. What few giants inhabit the Marches and the Stonelands are scattered, without any organization.
Nonetheless, red dragons usually avoid attacking giants, preferring prey that cannot fight back. Red dragons enjoy human flesh more than goblinoid, and try to get it when they can. For this reason, dragon attacks are not unknown to the populace, from the wildest wastes even up to - and within - the Cormyrean city of Tilverton.
Red dragons almost never enter Anauroch. In fact, they avoid speaking of the desert or its inhabitants altogether if they can. Perhaps they know of a power there that we do not. I have heard only the vaguest hints and whispers in that vein. There is said to be a place holy to dragons deep within the Great Desert; venerable Grinnsira claims to have been there. Other dragons in the Stonelands may make pilgrimages as well, but when they do, they do not speak of them. Make of this what you will.
I have made it a practice to at least attempt establishing friendly communications with dragons when I encounter them, but I must say that the red dragons in this area make such attempts difficult. They are aggressive, voracious, and downright rude.
In my experience, copper, silver, and amethyst dragons can all also be found in the Stonelands, and less frequently in the Marches to the west. What copper dragons I have met are simply those traveling out of Anauroch for their own inscrutable reasons. The silver dragons seem to have made their homes here for specific defensive purposes.
The only silver dragon I spoke to at any length chose to lair in the Stonelands to directly oppose Grinnsira the red dragon and her attempts at organizing the goblinoids into an army. This silver dragon, whose name was Fi Lendicol, was aided by a human ranger known as Dreik Lorne and a dwarf warrior by the name of Thurn, son of Doulm.
Fi Lendicol often takes the form of a human wizard, and the threesome can be encountered working on various missions. They travel throughout the Stonelands planning how to stop the border raiders and their dragon mistress. Other silver dragons may be found in the area, but I do not know any of them personally.
Supposedly, more silver dragons live in the clouds above the Stonelands. There also dwell mist dragons, as well as giants and other beings such as ki-rin. There are many local legends regarding this magical area in the clouds. Some tales offer explanations for the huge stones scattered below it on the blasted earth.
In fact, of the myriad such tales, many conflict in specific details. I've tried to distill the gist of their meaning, to separate true fact from what are obviously some fanciful bard's epic exaggerations and pretty images to make a more palatable - and longer - story.
Most legends agree that there was once a powerful magical kingdom above the Stonelands, kept secret from those races who dwelt below it on the ground. This kingdom, which supposedly existed 1500 years ago or more, boasted a society comprised of dragons, giants, sylphs, pegasi, asperii, giant eagles, and even some winged, elflike beings whose name is no longer remembered (and who are now apparently extinct). These races coexisted in peaceful harmony among the clouds, avoiding the decadent human realms of the time, especially Asram.
These beings came down to the surface of the Realms only to gather or trade for food and other necessities, and quickly fled back upward to their cloudy haven. The giants, ever industrious, even brought huge stones up with them. They built magnificent fortresses and cities in the sky, hidden by the clouds.
It wasn't until the Cloudlands were discovered by the mages of Asram and Anauria that disaster struck. The sky-dwelling races had been right to avoid their earthbound neighbors. The great and powerful wizards of these nations intended to conquer the Cloudlands, for they knew that such a kingdom would be a safe haven from the encroaching desert that was soon to destroy their earthbound realms.
In the war that ensued, the Cloudlands were destroyed. The fortresses and cities so carefully crafted by giant artisans fell to the earth. You see their forlorn remains scattered over the plain now called the Stonelands, a mute relic of war.
Most of the enchanted places in the clouds that once supported solid surfaces are gone. Supposedly the great spells that were unleashed in this earth/sky war linger on in the form of powerful storms that frequently lacerate the area.
While I do not know how much truth is contained in these stories, mist dragons and other sky-dwelling creatures are occasionally seen in or above the Stonelands, gathering food on the surface in the form of wild plants or herd animals, and quickly ascending back into the sky.
If the tales of the Cloudlands and its demise are true, perhaps these creatures are relics living among the ruins. Castles on the surface are rarely so completely smashed that nothing remains, and so might it be in the air above. Some of the enchanted places in the sky might have escaped the ravages of war, remaining to this day.
Sightings of cloud giants, and even storm giants, are more common even than tales of mist dragons. These beings are encountered in the Stonelands as they gather food, or more rarely, as they trade or interact with the other giants in the region (for instance, the stone or hill giant races). Cloud giants hunt native game such as wild sheep, elk and other animals, though their preferred prey is getting harder and harder to find. The goblinoids have hunted most such animals to extinction. If for no other reason, these giants are no friends to the evil races that dwell on and under the surface. Sometimes the giants go so far as to attack goblinoids when a chance encounter arises. In the event that they cannot find game, sky giants hunt more dangerous (and less savory) prey such as dinosaurs, behir, giant spiders, etc. They do not eat either goblinoids or humans under any circumstances.
Cloud giants, though still very rare, are more commonly encountered than their storm brethren. The two seem to coexist peacefully and are often working in concert when seen together.which indicates that the cloud giants are of the good variety. I have heard one tale of a few evil cloud giants attacking a merchant caravan. It might be sour grapes, or mistaken identities.
Storm giants are three to four times as likely to be found on or near the ground during one of those infamous storms of the Stonelands. Usually just one of their number is seen at a time, but occasionally they travel in small groups. If there is a group of storm giants, it is a good bet they are accompanied by at least twice as many cloud giants. The same proportions apply to merchants' daughters and Purple Dragons in the streets of Suzail, but likely for vastly different reasons.
Cloud and storm giants are usually seen in the company of giant eagles, and even rocs (which the storm giants ride as mounts). A campfire tale reports that giants have been seen in the company of a silver dragon as well.
I know for certain that some of these giants lair in the high peaks of the Storm Horns to the south, but if one believes the stories about the Cloudlands, some of them are sure to dwell there. Of giants. lairs. wherever they are.and the society that sky giant races have formed among themselves, I know nothing. They seem to be noble beings, inclined to arrogance and haughtiness. Very rarely do they even pay attention to the events and people of the ground, unless some incident directly concerns them.
Far more common than their lofty brethren are the baser, cruder hill giants. Hill giants can unfortunately be found throughout the Stonelands and the Goblin Marches, particularly in the High Moors. Additionally, and with increasing regularity, hill giants are keeping company with goblin and orc tribes. Typically their positions in these are as leaders or as mercenary help, in much the same role that ogres play in other tribes.
These giants are evil and cruel. They exploit those weaker and smaller than they are.when they are not slowly killing and then eating them, that is. Though they sometimes work with other races.the goblinoids already mentioned, ogres or trolls.hill giants generally tire of the effort cooperation takes. When it gets too tedious to bear, they turn on their allies, making them into slaves or dinner.
The only thing saving these allies from gradual annihilation is a hill giant's total lack of subtlety. The smaller races, dull and stupid as they may be, are nevertheless aware enough to see such betrayal coming. They hide, they attack first - many times, they simply slink away, and start another lair.
Hill giants live in small tribes, led by the largest male in the group. They lair in caves, though they rarely go deep underground. Primarily nocturnal, these giants hunt the bigger creatures in the area for food, raiding humans or goblinoids when they can. They eat any living creature, and seem to have no real preference for one foodstuff over another.
Leaving aside their lack of intelligence, hill giants are fearsome foes. It does not take brains to wield a quarter-ton club convincingly. Even dragons usually avoid attacking one of their tribes.
Most goblin, orc and hobgoblin tribes have developed techniques to fight the monstrosities, including huge traps, clever ruses and careful ambushes. One goblin tribe whose lair is close to the High Moors has placed their main entrance at the end of a narrow chasm. Too tight in places for giants to pass through, the chasm is their first line of defense. If a hill giant were ever so foolish as to pursue tribe members into the gorge, he would most likely get wedged between the narrow walls part-way in. Then the goblins could attack from above and below, trusting the canyon walls to at least partially immobilize their foe.
Although they normally live in the mountains, some stone giants have taken up residence in the Stonelands. For the most part, these beings avoid both hill giants and border raiders.
Their presence in the area is due to a sacred feeling they hold for the megaliths scattered over the landscape. I do not know any specifics about their beliefs regarding these stones, but I have heard that stone giants do not permanently dwell in the Stonelands. Those encountered are pilgrims of a sort.
Many so-called experts on giants refute these claims. They believe stone giants are too unsophisticated in their thinking to have developed so complex a religious dogma as to require a pilgrimage of any sort. Nevertheless, the giants are here. The experts are not.
While in the region, stone giants hunt what little game that they can find, and gather edible plants. They travel in clans, and make their (temporary) lairs in whatever sheltered area they can - caves, crevasses, etc. Some stone giant clans have been seen traveling with giant goats to keep them supplied in milk and cheese, which they love.
A wizard by the name of Thergeis once told me of an encounter he and some men-at-arms had with some stone giants. He claims that one among their opponents' number cast spells of surprising power. I had heard of certain giants having meager wizard capabilities, but Thergeis claims the one he faced was extraordinarily powerful. He swears the stone giant wizard had a number of magical items as well - all giant-sized, indicating they were constructed by a giant, for his own use.
Thergeis has always been an accurate source before. If his tale is true, perhaps there is more than meets the eye in these new pilgrims of the Stonelands. The wizard also insisted that the skin of a stone giant is a useful ingredient for a potion that makes one resistant to petrification attacks, like those of a medusa's glare. I have not tried it - I prefer to stay away from medusae, when I can.
Ettins and Trolls
Ettins are sometimes found in the company of hill giants, or even orcs. I have never heard of two or more ettins living together year-round as other giants do, though they do dwell together for short periods at their time of mating. Of all giants, they are the least frequently seen.
I have heard of one orc tribe near the Storm Horns whose witch doctor has managed to bewitch an ettin. It now serves as the orcs' slave. Its strength allows it to construct walls and such in a very short time, and in battle, the orcs actually fit it with a harness so that two of their archers can ride on it, chest and back.
Ettins are, if possible, even stupider and more bestial than hill giants. Beside the uniqueness of having two heads, these giants are best known for their horrible stench and filthy countenance. Because they and their lairs are so disgusting, ettins often carry parasites and diseases. Although they do not have a value system, as such, ettins seem to regard filth as a good thing, and fear cleanliness, purity, and bright light.
Their fear of washing extends to water in general. They absolutely refuse to enter a pool, lake or river that runs deeper than mid-thigh on their own bodies. The possession of two heads is not a troublesome thing to an ettin, for even with both, they do not own enough intelligence or self-awareness to question their dual existence. The right head is generally dominant when cognizant abilities are required. I have read in some mage's public notes that a left-side-dominated ettin was found. As I recall it was actually more intelligent than an average member of the species - but not by much.
Occasionally, an ettin uses any treasure that it has accidentally found as a bribe, or as trade, to goblins or orcs in return for aid. These smaller beings build traps around the ettin's lair, help defend the ettin from foes, hunt or gather food, dig tunnels, or accomplish any other sorts of tasks the two-headed giant asks of them.
Surprisingly enough, ettins wishing such help always pay for it - they do not collect slaves. Perhaps this is because the ettin does not want the responsibility of watching his slaves to make sure they do not escape, or perhaps it is because the creature just has never imagined the possibility. Orcs and goblins usually are happy to do the work, for often, an ettin offers them payment far beyond what the job is worth. The goblinoids rarely stay long, working only a few months, at most.
Trolls are rare near the surface. Sometimes a gnoll tribe has a troll bodyguard to protect its chieftain, and occasionally trolls can be found assisting hill giants or goblinoid tribes. More frequently, they appear as aggressors, coming up from the Underdark to raid goblin and orc lairs that extend too far into their dark realm. For this reason, most deep lair egresses are either well hidden or quickly blocked off.
Some orc shamans have discovered a minor spell that creates a strange odor. This odor repels trolls much of the time. I subsequently learned this spell (seemingly a worthwhile investment when I first encountered it), and I can attest that it works - some of the time.
Trolls in this area usually regard orcs, goblins, and their kin either as weaklings to steal from and exploit, or as food. They respect gnolls, and fear giants.
These creatures are both hunter and prey in the Goblin Marches. They come in many varieties. Large spiders build web-nests in the tall grass which grows irregularly across the region. In its web a spider can catch small animals and birds. The web threads are so strong that even goblinoids and humans may potentially be ensnared long enough for the spiders, which dwell in groups of two to 20, to swarm over them.
The orcs call these spiders terruk-ukl, and make it a practice to keep both spiders and their webs cleared from the area surrounding their communities. Once a month, six to ten warriors make a perimeter check, slaying any spiders they find, while burning or chopping their webs as well. In this way, they do not have to worry about patrols, young at play, etc. falling accidentally into spider snares. It is exceptionally good housekeeping, and a technique to which the lower goblinkin have not yet caught on.
At least one orc tribe has discovered the root of a particular plant, called the hundir, is poisonous to giant spiders. They often feed hundir root to small animals and then throw them into terruk-ukl webs. When the spiders drain the animal of its blood, they ingest hundir poison as well, and die.
Another type of spider found throughout the Marches and the Stonelands is the giant flying spider. This creature makes its home in underground caves but sometimes comes up to the surface - particularly at night - to hunt. It spins no webs, but flies on insectoid wings and swoops down upon its prey. Its preferred victims include small animals, goblins, kobolds, and even other spiders.
Generally, flying spiders do not attack humans unless they appear to be easy targets. Perhaps that advice is too vague. I can hear Elminster admonishing even as my pen leaves the scroll. All right, if it is details you want, then details you get.
To a flying spider, an easy target is one that is alone, unarmored, and does not keep a significant amount of fire nearby. These spiders are afraid of flame and dislike bright light. A campfire is sufficient to deter them. They are not intelligent enough to recognize a spell caster or realize the inherent dangers such a target holds for them.
Phase spiders are somewhat more intelligent than giant flying spiders. They, too, prefer easy targets, like the flying spider, but flamboyant spell effects, such as lightning bolts, fireballs, even walls of fire or ice, etc., usually frighten them off. Phase spiders spin webs in underground caverns and among the trees of the Farsea Marshes. I have heard that explorers have encountered them in the Stonelands, where they use the huge standing stones as anchors for the webs they build.
With their ability to go back and forth from the Ethereal plane to our own, these monsters can attack their prey, phase out, leaving a bewildered foe with no target to hit, then phase back in and resume the attack, again with surprise. They are there, then they are not, then they are back. Using such tactics, phase spiders are successful preying on even such large and vicious targets as ogres, trolls, and giants.
Due to their abilities and their unnervingly human faces, these spiders are feared and avoided by all of the humanoid population in the region. In fact, hobgoblins revere phase spiders as minor godlings, servants of the divine sent to exact retribution against those that offended them.
Sometimes, a hobgoblin tribe (especially one with a powerful or influential shaman) sets up camp near, but not within sight of, the web of a phase spider. These hobgoblins attempt to capture victims for their "godlings." There are some hobgoblins near the southern edge of the Desertsmouth Mountains that travel northward to capture dwarves as their favored sacrifices. Other hobgoblins settle for travelers or other goblinoids.
It is rumored that the heart of a phase spider is actually a ruby of incredible size and worth, but the treasure must be removed from the creature on the Ethereal plane or it will shatter into worthless shards.
Hieracosphinxes are vicious, winged predators that dwell along the northern edge of the Storm Horn Mountains. Their hunting forays often take them deep into the Goblin Marches, for they prefer to feed on goblins, kobolds, and even orcs. They also fly into the desert of Anauroch. There they hunt androsphinxes, which they hate more than anything, and search for gynosphinxes with which to mate.
Hieracosphinxes are cruel, evil, and intelligent. They usually operate alone in this region, forming groups only to hunt down a hated androsphinx. I have heard that sometimes powerful humans of evil disposition can convince a hieracosphinx to serve as a mount and a companion, but I do not know of the validity of this rumor.
Hidden away amidst the caves of the Goblin Marches and the crude obelisks of the Stonelands are terrifying medusae (and their extremely rare male counterparts, whom I will discuss soon). These horrible beings have no enemies in the area, as all creatures fear their petrifying gaze.
A typical medusa spends most of its time in its lair, which is often a remote cave, an abandoned goblin lair, or even a simple wooden cottage in a remote ravine. Like snakes, they do not eat often. This small appetite is helpful, for their gaze often turns potential meals to stone. It seems contradictory that a creature could have an ability which actively hinders its survival, but such is the case for many a magically created monster. Because of this curse, a medusa often seeks out a maedar.
Maedar are a personal discovery of mine. They are incredibly rare - so rare, in fact, that very, very few individuals even know of their existence. Few medusae ever find maedar to mate with, but when they do, they mate for life.
A maedar provides food for himself and his mate by smashing her monument-ized victims with his great strength. He has a natural ability to turn the petrified shards back to flesh.
The ties between the two creatures are not purely practical, though. There is a true emotional bond, found only rarely among such evil monsters. A maedar is protective of his mate to the point of obsession. He will hunt her killers until they are dead. nothing deters him except his own demise.
If a maedar and a medusa have offspring, nearly all the unfortunate hatchlings are normal human children - strangely enough - who die when they see their mother. A rare few male babies are maedar. These live, immune to their mother's gaze, as well as to the venom of her snaky locks.
When a maedar and a medusa mate, 99% of the resulting eggs hatch as normal human children. The other 1% of their eggs hatch as maedar, with all of the noted immunities.
Maedar may be encountered outside the company of a medusa, if they have not yet found a mate. It seems the frequency of medusae draws maedar to the Stonelands and the Marches, for they wish to bond as much as medusae do. Bachelor maedar sometimes live among orc or goblin tribes as welcome guests.
In exchange for shelter and food, a maedar can offer his hosts his abilities to move through stone. Using this ability, a maedar can find ore deposits, hidden chambers, or new underground water sources. Maedar are also useful allies in combat, being intelligent tacticians, very strong, and fearless.
But I have not finished with medusae. Without a maedar.and most medusae live their whole lives without a soulmate - a medusa is forced to procreate by seducing humanoid males. She hides her terrifying visage - for a time. (Apparently, for her fabled gaze to work, the victim must see most of the medusa's face while meeting her stare.) Once a man completes his task, most medusae reward him with petrification. It seems a harsh treatment for a lover.
These offspring, like those of medusa and maedar, hatch snakelike, from eggs. But they look human enough as babies, chubby, pink-skinned girls with a cap of green, stubby hair-tendrils. They always mature into medusae.
A medusa's lair houses no more than three individuals. Those without maedar mates seek other medusae to live with, for companionship and mutual gain. Although it is true that a medusa can turn herself to stone if she sees her own reflected image, she is immune to the gaze of others of her kind. "Spinster" medusae must either hunt wearing masks or (more frequently) use bows at ranges great enough that their intended prey does not first fall victim to their gaze. They can wield other weapons as well, and I have met some armed with daggers and even short swords. The bows they favor are short bows - they do not like large, bulky weapons, nor are they particularly strong. The spinster medusae that I have encountered or heard about do not like to be reminded of their petrifying abilities, and so do not keep their victims in their lairs. In fact, it would seem that these sad, lonely creatures despise their power. Unfortunately, they direct their anger and hatred outward, vilifying most other beings. If not hungry, a medusa is likely to petrify any living creature she comes upon.
A medusa's value to alchemists and mages wishing to create magical items is great. Her eyes and blood are both used in making ink for spell scrolls. The venom produced by hair/serpents is renowned by assassins and their ilk for its deadliness.
Medusa eyes are used to make ink for protection from petrification scrolls, while their blood is used to create potions of human and mammal control.
I have heard that some medusae use their own venom to coat their weapons. I also have heard that certain, older medusae have learned to brew a potion which can change stone back to flesh. They use this remedy to restore targets they accidentally petrify. Medusae often trade or sell these potions to others of their kind. Apparently they are popular nostrums, a fact for which many an adventurer has been grateful.
If a fighter falls foul of the monster's gaze, he or she is petrified. But all is not lost. When (that is, if) his companions manage to slay the medusa, most adventuring teams now search the creature's lair for the likely vials of this convenient potion. Finding it, they can restore their stony friend to flesh, not too much the worse for wear.
Although I do not know the exact time limit - nor would I wish to take part in further tests to find out. I do know that a person can survive petrification if she is restored back to flesh soon afterward. Oh, the rewards of personal experience! The gaze of a medusa petrified me. I remained in that state, alive but unconscious, for almost five minutes before my allies were able to transform me back to flesh with an appropriate spell.
There is a snakelike creature known as a boalisk that seems, like maedar, to be immune to a medusa's gaze. Often kept as pets and guardians by medusae, these 25-foot-long snakes not only possess deadly constriction abilities, but also demonstrate a dangerous gaze themselves. A boalisk's stare causes a rotting disease in those it attacks.
I have recently heard the Zhentarim are trying to gain the aid of both medusae and maedar (they apparently know of the males' existence). Rumor has it the wizards of the Zhentarim have uncovered an ancient spell that protects a potential victim from a medusa's gaze. Armed with this spell, the Black Network has made offers of aid, treasure, and power in return for medusae aid as special destructive agents. The Network wishes to send the monsters south to assassinate key individuals and in general sow fear and disorder in the Cormyrean ranks.
I do not know if they have been successful in their recruitment, but they must know that neither medusae nor maedar will long serve human masters. A medusa's contempt for other life is too strong, and a maedar's protectiveness for his mate will draw him to her side - away from any duties entrusted to him.
Few creatures are a more constant danger to goblins and other races in the Stonelands and southern Goblin Marches than perytons. These evil, magical creatures prefer to hunt humans; when they cannot be found, other humanoids are the next best target.
Perytons swoop down upon their prey and attack ruthlessly - usually surprising their targets. Their hides are immune to any blows save those by magical weapons, so few orcs or goblins can even wound them.
Sages claim the monsters need human hearts to insure their own fertility. They point to this gruesome requirement, coupled with the fact that perytons have both the scent and the shadow of man, as proof that the creatures were once human. These scholars suppose the ancestors of the peryton race were cursed or magically altered eons ago. I find myself in complete agreement with their reasoning. And I add these further observations, gleaned from years of harrowing encounters.
Perytons are intelligent, crafty, and patient. They are wont to make detailed plans which they follow through to the letter - even if long waits are involved. A goblin will get bored, a hill giant confused. Not so a peryton. Like a cat at a mouse hole, a peryton may look relaxed, but all the time it is watching for its prey to break. Any error can be a fatal error.
Perytons can eat anything, although usually the flesh of those whose hearts they tear out suits them just fine. They do not need to waste time hunting for dinner if they are successful in their first pursuit. On one of my trips back to civilization - or at least what passes for civilization in Tilverton's high frontier streets - I came upon a disturbing rumor about perytons. I have not been able to establish its truth, but I find it significant enough to repeat it.
It is said that somewhere in the Stonelands, a lowland nest of perytons keeps a mixed group of orcs, humans, elves and ogres captive. These are not simply slaves to be worked to death, or food stockpiled for a macabre feast. The monsters care for their captives as a human drover might tend a herd of beef cattle. Some humanoids are slaughtered for their hearts, and as food for the nest. But enough members of each species are kept alive, and bred, so that they can reproduce and replenish the "herd."
Although there are no traditional centaurs in this area, their rarer cousins, wemics, do roam the plains of the Goblin Marches. These leonine centaurs are enemies of most goblin, orc and hobgoblin tribes, although they have established uneasy truces with a few of their foes.
Each of the numerous prides of wemics is lead by a chieftain, who is always male. Like most of the cultures in the area, wemic society is strongly male-dominated. The reasons for this commonality are not clear. My guess, based on my years of study, and on my own experience leading an adventuring group, is that the male leaning toward warfare may be a determining factor. The Marches are a region of constant strife.
In any event, wemic society is primitive in comparison to human civilization, although these beings are by no means unintelligent. They do make weapons and tools from stone and wood, and they create clay pottery as well. Any metallic items a wemic carries have probably been salvaged from the battlefield, usually off slain orcs.
Surrounded by the constant danger of living in the open spaces of the Goblin Marches, a wemic tribe is focused on defense. They are well-skilled in ambushing would-be attackers. Females and even children are taught to fight hand to hand (or should I say tooth and hoof?), although they usually do not wield weapons in battle. Many wemic females do learn to use such tools when they help in hunting.
Wemics are primarily meat-eaters. They stew roots, wild berries, and certain grasses with their kills. Although they usually try for smaller game, a band of wemic hunters may target such powerful beasts as dinosaurs or behir if easier prey is lacking.
Wemic prides are nomadic, and they travel the length and breadth of the Marches. Younger males may offer to guide travelers in exchange for a weapon, shield, or other metal item. They also accept money, knowing that other races value it.
In times of great danger, wemic prides unite into a single nation. A king is chosen from among the chiefs, and he then has complete control over all members of the nation. Such a gathering has not happened in generations, and would probably only occur in response to a major threat. say, the formation of a goblinoid army.
- A Few Notes About Me
- Part One: Regional Details
- Part Two: The Vanishing Wildlife
- Part Three: The Goblin Threat
- Part Four: The Great Beasts
- Part Five: Rumors and Events