The climate of the Empire ranges beneath the frigid cold of northern Wintermark and Varushka, through pleasant temperate areas such as the Marches and Dawn down to the warm grasslands of the Brass Coast. Summers are warm and dry, autumn and spring are wet and blustery, and winter is cold and often snowy.
Almost any mundane animal that might be expected to prosper in such environments can be found in the Empire, with the only major exception being that of the horse.
The ox is the foundation of a lot of wealth, They have been used as domestic beasts of burden for thousands of years. These relatively placid animals are used to draw ploughs and pull wagons, and are kept for their flesh and leather. They are excellent beasts of burden and what they lack in speed and gracefulness they more than make up for in dogged determination. A person on foot can catch an ox-drawn cart even if it has a fair head start (as many fugitives have learnt to their chagrin), but they cannot be matched for sheer ability to move heavy loads over great distances. Working oxen require shoes, usually made by blacksmiths, which are very different to horse-shoes and require a lot more effort to get onto their cloven hooves.
Oxen in play
These are the same beasts of burden used in our world for around six thousand years. Everyone from a Navarr Striding to a Freeborn trader uses wagons drawn by oxen. They are used in agriculture across the Empire, especially in Dawn and the Marches Nobody uses oxen for cavalry because they are entirely unsuited to it.
The horse is extinct in the Empire. While there are occasional stories that some have survived outside the Empire, their population was always small and nobody has seen a living example in four hundred years. They have become powerful symbols of the Empire, representing loyalty, strength, speed and fighting spirit. The Imperial Orcs especially use horse symbols, but they are visible on many Imperial buildings and important items.
Horses in Play
In the Empire world, the horse was never a widespread creature as it is in our world. Most people from outside the Empire consider the creatures entirely fanciful. It is fine to use horse images, as the horse is a potent symbol of the Empire, and to possess things that came from or were used with horses, provided they have been well preserved.
There are mammoths in Wintermark and there are known to be herds in Kalsea and a few herds as far south as Narkyst. They are also believed to live in Otkodov where they are extensively hunted by the barbarian orcs. They live in small herds, and are herbivorous. Attempts to domesticate them have proved largely fruitless; they are stubborn, willful creatures that pine and die when kept in captivity. They have been hunted since long before the foundation of the Empire by the Suaq people. A smaller cousin of the mammoth is known to exist in warmer climates outside the borders of the Empire called the elephant.
Mammoths in Play
These creatures are exactly what they seem to be: Mammoths. It is absolutely fine to have hunted them or to have items made out of their body parts. At this time, there are no domesticated mammoths or war mammoths used by Imperial citizens.
Some animals in the Empire grow to unusual size, reminiscent in some cases of prehistoric versions. There are dangerous cave bears, great cats with sword-like fangs, primaevil boars, prodigious crocodiles and immense walruses and massive wolves in the wild places of the Empire. Very large versions of less carnivorous creatures also exist - there are immense elk in parts of Varushka and Wintermark, huge cranes pick their way through the reedbeds of the Gancio, and great pale penguins haunt the southernmost reaches of Tsirku.
These creatures are uncommon; where they edge too close to civilisation they quickly become a problem that is addressed by armoured warriors. They are slowly being pushed into extinction, and encounters with them are rare, but they are a know threat of the wilderness. Other dire creatures are known to exist, and in larger numbers, in various places outside the Empire.
Dire Beasts in Play
These beasts are rare, but hardly unknown. A Test of Mettle can easily involve hunting one of these beasts, and a couple of Marchers with long spears might heroically defeat a dire boar in the woods of Upwold. It is fine to roleplay that your armour is made out of dire beast leather, or that the ivory for your wand came from a dire-lion's tusks.
Tigers are native to the foothills of Urizen, and there are some prides of lions on the pampas of the Brass Coast. The forests of Dawn, Navarr and Varushka alike are haunted by large, dangerous cats similar to overgrown mountain-lions or wildcats. These creatures tend to stay away from humans except in rare cases where one develops a taste for human flesh.
Big Cats in Play
Big cats are more common than dire beasts. A lone character in light armour may receive a serious mauling from one of these creatures, and a fully-grown lion or tiger is more than a match for a single armoured knight. It is fine to roleplay that you have hunted them, and in some cases they may even be domesticated (although they do not travel well).
Drakes are large reptilian creatures that come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They are usually predatory, and while the majority are person-sized or smaller there are a few uncommon breeds that are larger than a person. They are unknown in Wintermark and Varushka and are most common in Dawn and the Brass Coast. They often possess savage jaws and tearing claws, and several breeds have horns or frilled collars that protect their necks. They are sometimes mistaken for dragons although they do not breathe fire and are unintelligent.
Drakes in Play
A large drake would represent a dangerous challenge for a single character, or even a small group, and is more than capable of terrorizing a farming village. A Dawnish test of mettle may have required the defeat of one of these creatures. Smaller drakes are more likely to be pack hunters. It is fine for your character to have fought or killed a drake, and the claws, teeth and hides of drakes are used in crafting or as trophies. While drakes are large, they are not behemoths. They evoke images of dinosaurs, there are no titanic tyrannosaurs or brontosaurs in the Empire - although such creatures may exist elsewhere.
Immense squid live in the deep oceans of the world. They are unknown in the Bay of Catazar, but there are verifiable reports of these creatures attacking ships or being seen locked in life-or-death struggles with great whales. They may not be restricted to warm water; there are reports of narwhal being caught with hand-sized sucker wounds. According to some paranoid sailors, the creatures possess an ageless cunning; there are stories of them seeming to shadow oceangoing vessels, or appearing to watch ships for a time before submerging, as well as picking lone sailors off decks and disappearing beneath the waves with them.
While a hungry kraken can apparently be driven off with concerted effort, any vessel that suffers their attentions is likely to be badly damaged. There were no reports of anyone ever actually having killed one of these creatures until the summer of 380 YE, when stories began to spread that the Freeborn corsairs of the Krakenfire Armada engaged and slew a kraken marauding trade routes with the Sarcophan Delves. Exactly how the corsairs achieved this feat has been the subject of much speculation.
Kraken in Play
While it's fine to roleplay having seen a kraken, or even been involved in fighting one off, you are unlikely to have any real body parts from these creatures. While there are rumours of their sinister intelligence, any background that confirms this trait either way is likely to be rejected.
A particular delicacy is the dodo. This flightless bird is common along the coast of the Bay of Catazar and the animal has been domesticated by Brass Coast farmers. The flesh of the dodo is considered an especially tasty delicacy, and often forms the centrepiece of feasts in Dawn and Sarvos.
The dodo thrives in warm environments. They are flightless, and characterised in stories as slow witted, lazy and promiscuous.
Dodo Birds in Play
You can easily roleplay that chicken and similar white meat is dodo meat. It's also appropriate to use quorn or similar vegetarian or vegan ingredients to simulate dodo meat - it can be prepared and served in a dazzling array of ways.
The iridescent butterfly, a gorgeous insect with rainbow coloured wings that is uniquely active both during the day and at night. By day, the iridescent butterfly appears pale and drab – wings are usually white, ivory or light pastel shades. By night however, the true beauty of the iridescent butterfly is revealed – the wings become bright and luminous, shifting colour in seemingly random patterns, creating gorgeous displays in summer and early autumn as they dance among the twilight groves where their caterpillars feed. The butterfly does not prosper in the climate of the Empire and requires careful attention. It breeds most successfully in the Principalities of Jarm, where it is said that these creatures swarm in such profusion that they can transform night to day. The silk is spun from the cocoons of their caterpillars is used to manufacture Rainbow Silk, a strong thread that is valuable both for embroidered decorations and for making beautiful cloth. The thread is tough and hard to snap or sever, requiring steady application of pressure to cut making it highly prized.
Iridescent gloaming is produced from the remnants of the cocoons which are ground down to produce a thick waxy substance. Iridescent gloaming has an almost magical quality that allows it to take on different colours in the hands of a skilled artisan and is noted for its use in creating exquisite embroidery, or as a colour wash for leather. Its peculiar magical properties make it a common component in items that use magic or produce magical effects.
Beyond the Empire
While giraffes, elephants and the like are not indigenous to the Empire, they exist somewhere in the world. Almost any animal that could exist in the real world probably exists somewhere in the Empire world.