The horse is a rare and mysterious creature to most inhabitants of Ilmarin. In the north it is only found within the lands of Peredur, in guarded breeding and training valleys kept under strict secrecy. However the horse is not native to Peredur but to Anaturu, and in various breeds is found within its central grasslands, hills and valleys. More than most land animals they react poorly to travelling by boat when traded, being inclined to sea sickness that can be deadly, which means their numbers outside Anaturu even before the Cataclysm were negligible. Certainly Old Agryos never really bothered with them, nor their colonies in the Lost Lands or Valmar.
As a mount, horses are only truly tameable by humans. No-one is quite sure why this should be, and some elves of Anarost have in the past tried to defy convention by capturing herds of their own. Though some of those reared by the elves tolerated being ridden by them for short periods, they never truly acted in the unison achieved by a human rider and their mount and eventually the scheme was abandoned.
Because of all this the horse in an important animal in Anaturu, though even there its numbers are not excessive. They are at their most common by far in the Haaran grasslands, where the Haauru nomad tribes have tamed most herds and live alongside them, but most of the human settlements in Anaturu have tamed them as well in smaller numbers.
Gryphons are a now extinct species that once lived in Virmor. A merging of eagle and lion, they nested high in the mountains and hunted within the valleys, living in mated pairs or small family groups. As quite large animals, they were the top predators of any valley they chose to hunt in, having little to fear but each other or the occasional orc hunter until the Agryans came.
The Cataclysm may have finished off the gryphon species, but the Agryans started their decline. Seen as pests and therefore exterminated, the gryphons retreated with the orcs into the mountains and became wary of humanoids. A few attempts were made to tame some, but neither eagles nor lions will deign to take orders in the normal course of things, and gryphons were no exception. The efforts were halted, and the Agryans settled for killing those that strayed too far from the mountains. More yet were killed in clashes with the beleaguered orcs, who could not afford to have such voracious hunters nearby when their own survival was so precarious. Only scattered pockets remained by the time of the Cataclysm, so it is possible that even if Virmor had not been destroyed they may have gone extinct anyway.
Basilisks are large lizards native to the deserts and jungles of Anaturu. They are vividly coloured in golds and greens, the largest growing to about six feet long discounting the tail. They are carnivores, but are not fussy about whether the prey they eat is alive or dead – the largest take most of their food from smaller basilisks, or even very young dragons.
Basilisks are both poisonous and venomous. Their bite transfers a venom capable of killing animals – or people – up to three times larger than the animal itself, with the largest ones even posing a threat to juvenile dragons. Basilisks are also capable of spitting the venom over short-range distances when startled or warning away threats. Their flesh is also poisonous, enough so that they have no natural predators.
Much has been written of the basilisk's supposedly deadly gaze, but this has no basis in fact. Whilst it is true that basilisk eyes are unusually large for a reptile and often a disconcerting pale blue in colour, they have no powers of petrification. It is possible that the shock of seeing them has temporarily stunned some travellers, who then came under attack from the basilisk's venom thereby leading to the stories.
Dire beasts refers to breeds of already existing animals that exhibit unusually large size. They are most common in Ilmarin, especially in the north, the Dwenwyre and the mountains. A list of the most common types is below.
Dire cats is something of a catch-all term that describes several species of big cat, among them the sabre-tooth varieties. They are spread across Ilmarin and Anaturu, and a smaller white-furred variety was found in the south of Vimor before the Cataclysm which is now presumed to be extinct.
A species found in the mountains of Ilmarin, cave lions are, contrary to most lions, solitary animals that hunt alone. They are more robust in build than normal lions, with boxy heads and thick shoulders and forelimbs, and can reach nearly nine feet from nose to rump. They hunt primary by stealth and ambush, helped by a coat that in summer is a dull, spotted brown and in winter becomes a dappled grey. Despite their size contact with dwarven legionnaires and ogres have left most cave lions wary of intelligent races, though hunger during the winter or from injury can drive some to desperate measures.
Sabre-tooths are a variety of large cat species so named for their large protruding upper canines. They tend to be large, robust and aggressive animals, very few of which ever truly learn to fear bipedal species.
Sabre-tooth lions are the most common species, and as with their namesake they are pride-based animals which when hunting can make them extremely dangerous to lone travellers. However for the most part they focus on larger prey, and a pride will only attack humanoid species in extreme need. There are several sub species in the wide plains of Anaturu, all quite large in size and with dappled, spotted coats that suggests a relation to the northern cave lion.
Sabre-tooth tigers are, despite their name, in no way related to the tigers of the northern Anaturu jungle. They are rather named for their colouring, reddish brown with dark brown or black stripes, and their size – at twelve feet from head to rump far bigger than most other sabre-tooth species, only exceeded in size by dire tigers. Unlike their smaller cousins they hunt only in mated pairs, with cubs being driven from their territory once they reach maturity.
They are found in northern Ilmarin and the southern mountains of Anaturu. A smaller, white-furred sub species was once found in Virmor, but that is presumed to be extinct. As a species they seem to have no fear of humanoid races, but in Ilmarin at least tend to prefer auroches, mammoth and woolly bison as prey. Ogres take a particular delight in hunting sabre-tooth tigers, partly for their distinctive fur but also partly for the simple sport of it. This is usually done with wolf packs, though sometimes valueless slaves will be used to bait out a solitary cat for an ogre to fight alone as a test of strength and courage.
Dire tigers are not so much a species as they are a rare mutation. Bigger even than normal tigers – between twelve to fifteen feet in length – they are also more heavily built, with thicker hides and longer teeth. As with normal tigers they are solitary animals, with the same colouration, and hunt through stealth where possible. However because of their size they are voracious hunters and require large territories.
Dire tigers are aggressive and though they do not specifically prey on humans, they will sometimes prey on those alone or in small groups out of ease of hunting. However the greatest threat they pose to those humans living near their territories is often indirect. Because the establishing of such territories involves driving out their smaller relatives, these will often go on to pose a threat due to having lost their hunting grounds. Because of this, amongst the hidden cities the sport of tiger hunting is taken very seriously as a way of preventing this from happening.
Dire ravens are native to Ilmarin and are most common there, though there are rumours of some which may reside in of Anaturu. Within Ilmarin they inhabit mountainous or hilly areas, and in the forests of the Dwemwyre. These provide them both with suitable nesting sites and a ready supply of food, as unlike their namesake dire ravens are more hunters than scavengers, though they will take the opportunity of a free meal if it is presented to them.
With a wingspan of twenty feet as an adult, and talons easily large enough to carry away prey as large as deer and wild boar, dire ravens tend to be the apex predators of any area they inhabit within Ilmarin. They live in flocks, often blood relatives rules by a dominant pair, however it is not purely their numbers or size that keep them at the top of the food chain. Dire ravens are fearfully smart, at least as much as normal corvidae, and are capable of both forming plans and using tools when needed. It is debatable whether this intelligence rivals that of any humanoid species, but some have speculated that the dire raven's cawing might be construed as a primitive language.
As an animal sacred to Thaurea, the dire raven is held in very high regard by the trolls of the Dwenwyre, who will leave kills next to nesting sites as offerings. However to most other races they are a menace, opportunistic hunters who are clever enough to recognise armour and weapons – or their lack.
Dire spiders can range in from the size of a large cat to as big as a horse. They are seldom found alone, instead swarming in colonies numbering anywhere from half a dozen to hundreds depending on the territory and food available. There are many subspecies, differentiated by colour and upper limit of size, but most have at least mild poison and will use webs to catch prey. Their thick, chitinous exterior is extremely resistant to blows, and many have the ability to use their webs as flying snares, tangling opponents so they can be poisoned into unconsciousness.
Because of their preference for live meat, dire spider venom is seldom fatal, but instead induces drowsiness, paralysis or confusion. Prey can survive up to a week whilst webbed, the upper limit depending on the poison used and their own reserves, though they are seldom left to hang for long. Consumption happens with the aid of a special, acidic venom that dissolves both meat and bones into a slurry, which the spiders then feed upon.
Although dire spiders are not tameable, some have made use of them. A small type that resides in the northern jungles of Anaturu is harvested by the peoples of the hidden cities for its poison, and in Ilmarin the trolls of the Dwenwyre will encourage small colonies to set themselves up in surface caves as a type of guard animal.
Dire wolves are found in Ilmarin, more commonly in the northern steppes and forests but with a thinner population in the Eastern Reach, Shield Mountains, Sword Mountains, Iron Hills and the Great Rift. They are easily told apart from normal wolves by their size - five feet high at the shoulder in the largest ones – their robust build and their canines, which protrude noticeably compared to other wolves. Otherwise they resemble their smaller cousins, being pack hunters in large family units, and preying mostly upon large herd animals such as reindeer and buffalo.
Unlike other wolves, dire wolves have no innate fear of humanoids and will attack even large groups in times of need. They are widely considered to be untameable unless by one species – the ogres of northwestern Ilmarin breed packs of dire wolves to hunt with, and these packs are to all appearances as loyal to their ogre Packmaster as they would be to an alpha pair. How the ogres manage this is a closely guarded secret, though they themselves claim to have been blessed by the Great Wolf, a totemistic spirit that is seen as the embodiment of the northern wilds, hunger and hunting.
The phoenix, or firebird, is a creature rare enough that it is semi-mythical. Most sightings describe a bird about the size of an eagle, trailing long plumage and composed at least partly of golden-red fire. Because of this most speculate that it is a type of fire elemental, akin to salamanders or hearth sprites.
The phoenix is most often seen in the deserts of Anaturu, though there have been occasional sightings as far north as Valmar. Where it flies it is said that the summers become warmer and longer, and the winters shrink like ice in sunlight. It is unknown if the phoenix has a pattern of migration, if it is truly a singular creature or merely solitary and rare, or even what it eats. Accounts vary between it being carnivorous, omnivorous or feeding solely on fruits and seeds; a few of the more fanciful stories say it feeds on fire itself, rare incenses or gems.
It has been rumoured, though not proven, that the phoenix nests within one of the volcanic mountain ranges in Anaturu, and there every thousand years returns to die and be reborn in fire. It is possible that this is mere allegory, as the event has never itself been witnessed. Not has the phoenix ever been seen up close, as it flies too high for any to reach it or see it properly.
Forces of the Undead
The unliving creatures that blight the dark places of the world.