Creating Fantasy Humanoids Out of Extreme Cryptids
On a lark, I was listening to the GM Intrusions Podcast #13 where the host and guest @DarcyLRoss get lost talking about creatures that have extreme adaptations, like snails that survive inside super hot thermal vents. I’m going to refer to these creatures as extreme cryptids.
My brain is firing all the time and after the podcast, it got caught on the idea of building fantasy humanoids out of some of the more interesting specimens.
Intentionally Not Using the Word “Race”
In the gaming community, the term “race” is used to denote elves, dwarves, gnomes, dragonborn, etc. While this is an accurate word to use it can also be a bit loaded, especially when you consider building in tension and hatred between races, e.g. dwarves vs orcs.
So I’m going to use the term “humanoid”. “Species” is too bland and suggests animals, “culture” suggests something regional and not biological, etc. Suggestions for a better term are welcome.
Inspired by the Scaly-foot gastropod
The Scaly-foot gastropod is a snail that lives in the extreme heat of thermal vents and excretes iron scales to protect itself from the heat.
I love this quote from Wikipedia: The United States military is currently funding research on the armor of the snail in hopes of developing insights into new military armor designs.
Some of the highlights that catch my imagination:
- The body produces its own armor
- Lives in extreme heat
- Has a shell that it lives in
So let us write this up!
Deep in the sweltering jungles of the world near one of the largest active volcanoes, you may encounter the Crysomallons during the height of summer.
The Crysomallons venture forth only during the height of summer, covered head to toe with thick furs to stave off the cold. You see, once outside the volcano they can only survive what they consider to be extreme cold for a matter of ten-day or less.
Beneath the furs, the Crysomallons resemble five-foot tall humanoid slugs from the waist up, including antenna that sport small eyes atop them. From the waist down their slug heritage is evidenced in a single “foot” that is usually as long as the Crysomallon is tall. To insulate themselves from the volcano their bodies shed iron deposits which function as armor in the heat but which quickly cools outside the extreme heat. (This is part of the reason they don’t venture out for long treks.)
The shells that housed their ancestors are no longer large enough to house all but a few of their people. Most use the shell, which they call “the holy holding” for items that each individual finds to be precious.
Inspired by Zombie Ant Fungus
Technically the fungus is Ophiocordyceps Unilateralis but is commonly referred to as Zombie Ant Fungus. I don’t mind telling you that I find the existence of this to be creepy, creepy, creepy.
So this Brazilian fungus—I’m never going to Brazil—attaches itself to an ant so tightly that the ant cannot remove it. Then it uses pressure to drill into the ant and take over its body.
Here is a gallery of images at Wired.
The Riders of the Dead, the Ophio
It is said by the sages that fungi are more closely related to animals than plants and the Ophio leaves little doubt of that truth.
No one knows where they originated. They have no nations, save the ones they create that can sometimes grow to the size of villages in the caves and valleys. They like the damp, the dark, and moist environments.
These kingdoms are filled with the fungus that is collectively a single entity. The entity can control multiple creatures in its domain, from moles to peasants who wander too closely.
Identifying a Rider of the Dead is an easy feat. Each controlled creature has a stick and ball-shaped fungus that protrudes from its back, usually at the base of the neck. All Riders are sentient but their method of communication varies based on the creature they ride. A dog can only bark but a Rider may speak through a person’s voice, that sounds cold, hollow, and distant.
That’s All For Now
I’m following the WTF Evolution Tumblr for more ideas.
You are welcome to use this text for your own stuff, using the license below. Make sure that you let me know what you’re using it for on Twitter at @amazingrando.
Update: Added another one, The Walleri
This work by Randy Oest is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.