Not everything exists in the Empire closed-world campaign, but some magical creatures are quite real. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, only to cover the more common legendary beasts and look at how they exist. or don't exist. in the Empire world.
While this section talks about using parts of these legendary beasts in costume, or their parts in magic, it shouldn't be taken to be an endorsement of that practice in the real world.
The most common use of legendary beasts is on the heraldry of Dawn. Many of these creatures have a generally accepted interpretation, but these are by no means the only things that they are used to symbolise. The way the beast is presented, its accoutrements, colour and attitude can all change the meaning the beast has for the Noble house that bears it on its shield. Legendary beasts are rarely used in the livery of the Marches
Legendary Beasts and magic
A magician may evoke the spirit or qualities of a legendary beast when performing magic. The most common way to do this is to reference the quality of a legendary beast that matches the spell being cast - for example, referencing the regenerative power of a hydra when casting the restore limb spell, or touching the forehead of the target and calling on the defiant spirit of the unicorn is a good way to cast the empower spell.
In ritual magic, more intricate designs might be used - for example, wrapping the target in a shroud embroidered with images of firebirds, and calling on the power of those creatures to purify sickness and poison may be a flavoursome way to perform a powerful healing ritual. Burning gryphon feathers during a ritual designed to grant a group of allies additional strength on the battlefield, or having them drink from a cup carved from a yale horn during a ritual that grants endurance or fortitude are both good ways to bring out the flavour of the setting. There is no requirement for these items to be ribboned, and rituals that include them may gain the benefit of hearth magic.
The gryphon is a beast that combines the aspect of an eagle and a lion. They are about the size of an adult ox with the forequarters of a great bird of prey and the hindquarters of a predatory cat. Despite their size, they are not built to be ridden; there are tales of slightly built heroes and children riding on the back of gryphons but they are almost certainly fanciful. It is doubtful a gryphon could get off the ground with a rider, and even less doubtful that they would tolerate one for any period of time.
An adult gryphon is a match for an armoured knight. Their sharp talons tear through light armour to deliver crippling injuries. They favour hilly and mountainous areas that overlook fertile plains. A pride of gryphon will hunt across a large area, and they have been known to be a nuisance to animal herders in their territory. They mostly avoid humans but they are noted for their ferocity when threatened. They are particularly defensive of their young (which are born live, rather than in eggs) and there are stories of a pride tracking someone who has injured one of their cubs across hundreds of miles. They are capable of coordinated tactics, and work together to bring down larger prey; legends from Wintermark speak of the now-extinct gryphons of the mountains to the west of Skarsind hunting and bringing down adult mammoths.
These majestic beasts are very rare within the Empire; there are a few prides on the lower slopes of Urizen and the mountains of southern Kahraman but otherwise they have been hunted and driven out of areas claimed by Imperial citizens. Much larger specimens are believed to be found in the Realm of Summer, immense creatures that are powerful enough to be ridden by the eternals of that realm; the gryphons of Summer are said to be intelligent, and capable of conversing. Their relationship, if any, to the beast found in the mortal realm is not known.
The gryphon is used extensively in the heraldry of Dawn. It is an enduring symbol of victory, prowess, pride and potency, and is strongly identified with the runes of Summer. Some Suaq hunters paint gryphons on their leather to draw on their powerful senses and hunting abilities. The army of Gryphon's Pride marches under a gryphon banner, for example.
There is also some small trade in gryphon parts; magicians use feathers in rituals designed to grant strength, courage or pride and artisans are known to work talons, hide, bones and feathers into the construction of some enchanted items.
Gryphons in Play
Gryphons provably exist. They are dangerous opponents, and their ability to fly makes them difficult to fight. It is worth reiterating that they don't serve as steeds; a gryphon would throw someone who tried to ride it onto the ground then tear them apart. They are rare in the Empire, but it is perfectly acceptable to roleplay that fur, feathers or talons are pieces from a gryphon, or to use pieces of them in ritual magic
A unicorn is a horse with a single spiral horn on the forehead, usually with a goat's beard and cloven hooves. They are often white, although not exclusively so. They represent strength, ferocity and nobility of spirit. They are characterised as gentle in peace and implacable warriors in battle. According to stories, unicorns have the ability to variously sense "evil", malignant spirits, cowardice and in some cases unvirtuous souls and attack them without mercy. They also appear in tales as protectors of the innocent, defending lone children from the depredations of monsters or bandits, or aiding those who have been wronged to gain justice from their persecutors. All of these things are just stories, however.
Unicorns do not exist in the mortal realm. Highborn cataphracts sometimes equipped their war horses with armour designed to evoke the image of the unicorn, with specially reinforced headpieces as part of their barding, but the horns were largely ceremonial. This unicorn barding was popular with the limited Dawnish cavalry, and some pieces are still preserved in both nations as relics of a bygone age.
These beautiful beasts are used in the heraldry of Dawn as symbols of pride and courage. They are quintessentially noble creatures, proud and regal on the one hand, ferocious and brave on the other. A black unicorn is sometimes used to suggest great passion, while blue and violet unicorns have been used in a few places to represent houses that have a higher-than-normal proportion of war witches among their number.
As with many legendary beasts, unicorns are said to exist in the realm of Summer. Some eternals possess rods and wands that they claim are made from the horns of unicorns. Their spirits are evoked in magic used to empower allies with warlike strength, and their thundering charge is sometimes referenced when casting battlefield magic that drives back an opponent.
Unicorns in Play
Unicorns are not real. It is perfectly fine to have pieces that you claim come from a unicorn, but unless they are a gift from an eternal such artefacts are not actually from this legendary beast - a unicorn horn is likely to be a carved mammoth tusk, for example. People who claim to have seen unicorns are often pitied, but it must be said that there are plenty of tales of people who swear they've seen the beasts in the wilderness. Claiming to have seen or ridden a unicorn is analogous to claiming to have been abducted by aliens in the real world.
Winged Beasts (Pegasus)
Winged beasts are common in heraldry and myth. They appear often on Dawnish banners or as supporters to their shields.
A horse with wings - usually called a pegasus - is an enduring image. Sometimes depicted as a hippalectryon (a creature with the forequarters of a horse and the hindquarters of a rooster) or a hippogryph (a creature like a gryphon but with the body and tail of a horse rather than a lion), it is a symbol of speed, grace and pride. Sometimes armoured knights are shown mounted on these creatures, often swooping down on their enemies with devastating effect. The winged horse, like the unicorn, is also referenced in early cavalry. Leather barding was often crafted to suggest wings, drawing attention to the incredible speeds a mounted rider could achieve..They are used in heraldry and art, often representing pride, loyalty, grace or ambition.
A hound and wolf with wings, sometimes called cynogriffon, is a symbol of loyalty and ambition. A lion with wings, is a symbol of courage and pride.
Winged Beasts in Play
Sadly these creatures are entirely fictional. Humans still dream of riding flying mounts into the sky, of aerial cavalry that can strike with pinpoint accuracy into the heart of enemy forces ... but dreams are all they are.
The term chimera is used to describe any number of creatures that combine the parts of three or more animals. The traditional chimera appears as a lion with two heads - the second being that of a goat, stag or a dragon - with a tail that ends in a serpent's head, often possessing metallic scales on the forequarters. They are often shown as having wings. When presented in heraldry, there are many other versions of this beast incorporating different animals, lacking wings, having more than four legs and so on.
In stories they are ferocious monsters, usually encountered singly, and usually representing some terrible challenge that has claimed the lives of many other heroes. They sometimes appear in Varushkan folk-tales as extremely destructive forces that must be tamed by cleverness - Varushkan chimera are usually wingless but often capable of speech, but presented as monumentally stupid and easily duped. In the stories, the chimera is usually tricked a symbolic three times before it is ultimately defeated and either killed by some natural force (drowning, being caught in a landslide or burnt alive in a forest fire of its own creation) or tamed and made to serve the wise heroine in the completion of further tasks.
Outside of heraldry and stories, there are reports of chimera living in the mountains east of The Barrens, but the majority are believed to live in the peaks around Varushka. They are said to be more common in Otkodov where they are said to prey on the barbarian orcs that inhabit that desolate land. There seems to be a lot of diversity in the forms taken by actual chimera, but they always have at least two heads. There are no verifiable reports of actual chimera possessing functioning wings, although there are persistent stories of some chimera in both Karsk and Skarsind being able to glide for short distances.
The chimera is a legendary symbol of a ferocious, dangerous opponent that is supremely adaptable to battle, whether tearing into an opponent with its talons, poisoning them with its serpentine tail, terrorizing them with its roar or knocking them prone with an overwhelming charge. In some legends the chimera can even breathe fire or spit poison, adding a ranged component to its deadly arsenal. In the heraldry of Dawn it is used by houses that are especially proud of their battlefield prowess. As with the unicorn, the chimera is sometimes evoked by those casting spells designed to empower their allies with martial prowess, but their terrifying roar might be referenced in magic that drives back and opponent, paralyses them with terror, drives the strength from their body, or roots them to the spot.
Chimera in Play
While chimera are real, they are very rare indeed, and make prodigious enemies. An encounter with a chimera in your background is acceptable, but a background in which you single-handedly defeat one is likely to be rejected; these creatures are capable of eating entire villages and are likely to require the efforts of a band of heroic characters to defeat. Pieces of chimera are very rare indeed.
The firebird, also known as the phoenix, is a massive bird of prey that burns with the light of the sun. Some version depict them as being close to great hawks, while others have more of the appearance of a bird-of-paradise. They are strongly associated with fire, and according to legends their feathers continue to burn even when removed from the beast, providing enough light to illuminate a room, lead a hero through a dark night, or keep predatory monsters at bay. Depending on the story the firebird may be able to burn enemies with its gaze or the slash of its talons.
The phoenix is a variant of the firebird; the phoenix is said to be very long lived, and when it dies it is consumed in a conflagration of irresistible flame. This creature is sometimes seen as a symbol of reincarnation; some priests of the Way consider this to be blasphemous and claim that the phoenix actually represents the idea of resurrection. The bird is reborn not as a new bird, but as a younger incarnation of the same creature. When these legendary beasts appear in stories they are usually presented as being very wise, and possessed of the power of speech; as such they are sometimes connected to the Realm of Day.
The typical role of a firebird is as the object of a difficult quest. It is also a powerful metaphor for ambition - while the hero aspires to capture a firebird, they must take care not to be consumed by its magical flames. The phoenix is often sought in a story in the role of a magical sage whose many lifetimes grant it particular knowledge. It is often used in the heraldry of Dawn to suggest ambition, or wisdom.
Both the firebird and the phoenix are often shown in stories to possess incredible healing abilities, and in some cases have the ability to restore a dying person to full health (although such healing never comes without price). Their presence and song is often used in stories to heal and otherwise untreatable poison or disease, and consequently they are sometimes evoked when casting spells that purify or that treat poison or weakness.
Firebirds in Play
There do not seem to be any real firebirds in the Empire. There are stories of firebirds existing in foreign lands, but these are not verified.
The yale is usually depicted as a goat- or antelope-like creature with massive curling horns and a body spotted like that of a leopard, often with a lion-like tail and occasionally with clawed feet instead of hooves. While sometimes dismissed as being comical, they are used in heraldry to present both the idea of a house whose strength is underestimated, and a house that is proud of its ability to defend its territory and its people. Their goat-like characteristics are greatly exaggerated, and so the yale comes to symbolise great tenacity, stubbornness or a refusal to give in despite the odds.
Some images depict the yale as having a more feline appearance. like a large horned leopard.
While the yale is often believed to be entirely fictional within the Empire, it actually exists in foreign parts. The spotted antelope-like creature does indeed have clawed feet, and is known to live in hot, scrubby grassland. They are omnivorous creatures hunted by certain foreigners and prized for their horns and spotted hides.
Yale in Play
Yale are not found in the Empire, but parts of them are imported by traders. It is fine to claim that horn and spotted furs are parts of a yale.
A centaur is the body of a horse with the torso, arms and head of a human replacing the head. They are symbols that combine the strength and dignity of the horse with the skill and intelligence of a person. Some versions present a more slender creature with a body closer to that of a deer, often with the pointed-ears and spiral birthmarks of a Changeling.
A centaur bedecked in plate with a shield and lance is a powerful symbol of nobility, and is popular in the heraldry of a Dawnish houses with some history of having had cavalry in their distant past. Some priests object to this union of human and animal characteristics as being inappropriate, but their complaints are rarely taken very seriously.
Centaurs in Play
Sadly these creatures are fictional. While creatures that seem to combine human and animal characteristics certainly exist, the centaur does not.
The winged serpent or amphiptere is a great scaled snake with bat- or bird-like wings. They are sometimes shown covered in feathers, at other times they may possess a scorpion-like stinger. They never have arms or legs. They are used in Dawnish heraldry as symbols for cleverness and mystical insight.
The winged serpent does not exist in the mortal world, but is said to be the natural form of the eternals of the realm of Night. As a consequence, it is sometimes used on the heraldry of houses that have a higher-than-usual population of Naga. Outside the Empire, a species of flying serpent called a jaculi is known to exist in tropical jungles. No longer than a person's arm, with brightly coloured scales and feathered wings, they are said to glide between trees and to possess a painful, but rarely deadly, sting.
Winged Serpents in Play
These creatures are eternals and so might be encountered in the same way that other eternals are. Jaculi are rare in the Empire, but it is not impossible for a character to have encountered them or to have some relic of them from a trip to foreign parts.
A hydra is any serpentine or draconic monster with multiple heads. In stories they are solitary beasts that dwell in swampy environments. They sometimes have serpentine bodies, sometimes their bodies are more lizard-like. While most hydras have multiple heads and snake-like bodies sprouting from their neck-area, some have a ring of serpent-like heads around a central saurian head. The amphisbaena, which possesses a head at either end of a serpentine body, is also technically a form of hydra .
In stories hydras possess incredible regenerative abilities and often have a deadly poisonous bite. This combination of life and death means they are often considered to be associated with the Realm of Spring. In some stories, their breath itself is poisonous. They usually appear in stories as unspeakable threats that must be faced with fortitude and courage, and in many of the stories the hero eventually dies of wounds sustained during the battle. In at least one story, the hydra regrows each severed head moments after it is cut from the body, making the creature impossible to kill without attacking the well-defended and armoured body.
In heraldry a hydra usually represents a house that considers itself tenacious and resilient. "Individually you may be able to take us," they seem to say, "but together we are too powerful to defeat" The hydra is sometimes associated with the idea of revenge, and consequently houses that use it on their heraldry may have an undeservedly bad reputation.
Hydra in Play
Massive multi-headed, regenerating creatures like the Lernaean Hydra are believed to exist in the Realm of Summer. This is not to say that the creature is fictional however; a three-headed saurian creature with a poisonous bite and remarkable regenerative powers is known to live in the swamps north of Feverwater to the north-east of Urizen. These creatures are incredibly rare however, and having encountered one or possessing a piece of one is a notable event. The eastern barbarians are believed to view the beasts with superstitious dread, and it is believed that some of their poisons are brewed with the venom of these horrors.
Sphinxes and Manticores
A sphinx is a composite creature usually presented with the body of a lion, the wings of an eagle and the head of a human man or woman (or very rarely another creature, most commonly a goat). They are usually associated with wisdom or vigilance, and are often shown watching over tombs and mausoleums. Several great stone sphinxes are found in Necropolis in Highguard. They are shown as serene and distant creatures, capable of great ferocity in defence of the things they hold dear.
Manticores by contrast are predatory horrors, lacking wings but often with a scorpion-like tail that inflicts a deadly venom. Their bodies are usually lean and often diseased, and they may have more of the look of a hyena or jackal rather than a lion. They are believed to be despoilers of the dead, drawn to carrion which they poison with their noxious bodily fluids after they have eaten their fill. They are associated with bloodlust, savagery and the worst excesses of hatred. They are said to jealously hoard knowledge and wealth, and to break open tombs to get at the treasures hidden within. They are very rarely used in heraldry due to multiple negative associations; a Noble House that did so would be announcing that they are untrustworthy, brutal and savage. While some Draughir might appreciate the fear that using this creature might evoke, they would likely find themselves unwelcome among their peers.
These creatures might be related; despite their wildly differing characteristics, they are both believed to be intelligent, capable of speech, and fascinated by riddles and mysteries. The sphinx in particular is a popular image in Urizen associated with the realm of Day and Night depending on whether it is depicted as a pale-coloured female or a dark-coloured male. According to some fanciful reports they are even capable of working ritual magic, and there are some exotic tales of a sphinx or manticore that assumes human form for one purpose or another.
A magician might evoke the spirit of the sphinx when performing divination magic, while they might call on the dire qualities of the manticore when working curses or spells that weaken their opponents.
Sphinxes and Manticores in play
These creatures are real, but are not found in the Empire. They are native to dry, arid regions and while there are stories of a few being found in the deserts of Xira, these are not confirmed. You are very unlikely indeed to have ever encountered a sphinx or a manticore whether in natural form or transformed into a human (assuming such a thing is even possible).
A mandowla is a sturdy bear-like body with savage talons rather than claws and a head that resembles that of a giant owl with wide eyes and a savage beak. Also known as a nightripper they are often found in small family groups, and like the grizzly bears they resemble they are omnivores - although with a marked preference for raw meat over vegetables or carrion. They are not intelligent, although they have a predator's cunning and are quite capable of attacking humans if they are disturbed or angered. They are most active at twilight, but have both excellent night vision and keen daylight sight. They are most common around Upwold, Skarsind, Hercynia, Liathaven, Miaren, and Miekarova, although there are also populations in Redoubt where they were introduced by enthusiastic Urizen naturalists.
These creatures are more dangerous than bears simply because they are so ready to attack and kill humans. They do not go out of their way to hunt humans, but if a family moves into an area containing a village, it will need to be dealt with. Mandowla give birth to live young, and even as cubs they are intractable, stubborn, and unpredictable. The mandowla are tough creatures, and shrug off powerful blows that would cripple a human. In turn they are capable of striking very powerful blows that can bowl over a knight in armour, or shatter a shield or spear into flinders, closing in for the kill once their prey is prone and vulnerable.
In heraldry they represent strength. Their bones and talons may be used in magic or crafted items designed to overcome obstacles with physical prowess rather than guile or cunning.
Mandowla in play
It is perfectly acceptable to have pieces of mandowla, or to have killed one in your background. They are a challenge for a single character to defeat, but a small group especially one armed with long pole weapons should be able to bring one to bear and defeat it.
Dragons, Wyverns and Wyrms
Dragons are great bat-winged reptiles with long tails, thick scales as tough as plate armour, and the ability to breathe fire (or in some stories a variety of other devastating elemental forces such as lightning, fire or freezing wind). They are intelligent and deadly opponents, who hoard treasure and oppress humans with tyrannical demands for the sacrifice of their children and youths. Only the bravest, purest knight can hope to defeat a dragon, and even then only in stories.
Wyverns are savage dragon-like creatures that lack fore-arms. They are vicious predators, cunning rather than intelligent, and possess a venomous bite or scorpion-stinger tail rather than the magical ability to breathe fire. Wyrms are massive serpentine creatures, often with stunted limbs, that often exude deadly poison that blackens and blasts the very earth itself where they lair. They are often defeated in stories by cleverness rather than direct force of arms.
In heraldry, dragons are majestic creatures that epitomize strength, power and puissance. Wyverns are symbols of warlike nature, ferocity and stubbornness. Wyrms are rarely used in heraldry, and when they are they represent cleverness and influence; Noble Houses that use the wyrm on their heraldry are often viewed with some suspicion by their peers.
Dragons may be evoked in a variety of spells, from referencing their hidden hoards while casting the night pouch incantation, to calling on their devastating breath and strength when working a ritual of destruction. They are also a common decoration on shields, armour and weapons.
Dragons, Wyverns and Wyrms in Play
Unfortunately, dragons appear to be extinct in the mortal realm if they ever existed there. Occasionally great reptilian bones are uncovered, especially in the mountains or buried in swamps, but there is no evidence that these are from dragons rather than simply being the remains of a great drake. They are believed to exist in the Realm of Summer where they are the most terrible and deadly of the legendary beasts that make that Realm their home. If one were to enter the mortal realm, it would likely prove a match for a small army.
Wyverns are real, and some scholars theorize that they are a particularly vicious breed of drake.
The rakshasa is a spectacularly rare mutation amongst the jungle drakes of Jarm, infused with the power of the Winter Realm. Knowledge about these strange creatures is hard to come by as the Jarmish guard the secrets of hunting and raising rakshasa closely, but it is believed that they are created when a drake's egg is exposed to large amounts of natural Winter magic. While a wild rakshasa is a very dangerous creature that may manifest Winter-related abilities – or even, if some of the wilder tales are to be believed, actually become possessed by a Winter spirit – the Jarmish do rear some rakshasa from retrieved eggs to be docile and placid.
Rakshasa are valued as crucibles of Winter magic. It naturally gathers and coagulates within them. A rakshasa exudes Winter-infused blood from ducts round the eyes which, if collected, can be distilled into both mana of the Winter Realm and into a potent drug. This drug has a powerful effect on the human mind – it is said to cool sorrow, quench grief and aid in soothing, deep sleep even in the face of horrific malisons. The traumatised, grieving and cursed are all said to seek solace from the tears of the rakshasa.
Raising a tame rakshasa from a Winter-touched egg is said to take over a decade of careful attendance, magical processes and training. The art is unknown outside of Jarm, whose rulers have no interest in sharing such knowledge. It is rumoured that the Thrice-Cursed Court, Wise Rangara and Sorin all have an interest in these creatures.
Rakshasa in Play
Rakshasa were largely unknown to the Empire prior to the gifting of a domesticated drake to Empress Lisabetta from the Principalities of Jarm in 380 YE. To date, this is the only known rakshasa to arrive in the Empire.