A Shadow Betrayed
A cursed mix of wings, talons, and a vampiric stag's head, the Peryton is a monstrous entity. It is depraved relentless in its vicious pursuit to maim and devour the hearts of other creatures, holding a specific hatred for humans and elves. Even injured, these creatures will hunt down detected foes, until at least one of them is dead.
Their feathering from a distance could be considered beautiful, and with wings tucked, settled upon the ground, the Peryton might pass for a lesser woodland being. The moment one gets closer, though, you'll notice a good many things are off.
First, actually, would be the smell. In this case, a lack of one. Less sensitive noses would identify the creature as human, but those with a modicum of training or enhanced primal senses would pick no smell at all, coupled with an overwhelming sense of dread.
Standing over 7 feet tall, the Peryton's demonic stag face smiles with rows of razor-sharp teeth. The plumage of their chest might tell you their gender (males tend to be blue, while females are a pale white), but soon you won't care. Their antlers, jet black and harder than steel, are used to rend and impale, and their depraved form is resilient to all but magical weapons.
As their eyes of orange flame pierce through the fog, any light that passes over them lies about their true form.
For you see, the most peculiar element of a Peryton is their shadow. This winged, evil beast will hiss before you, but its shadow will present as human. Always. Human.
This oddity presents a plethora of curious theories, but few had evidence to match.
Some Loremasters believe the false shadow to be an echo of the last creature the Peryton killed. Given its penchant for violence against humans and elves, this was the prevailing theory for hundreds of years. It wasn't until the haphazard findings of one Grenaldi Mayweather, a gnomish priest under the cover of twilight, who one night happened upon a nest of the creatures in the Ghastshadow Mountains. She observed the flock tear into a pack of roaming Aarakocran, ambushed or set upon as they slept. Just as history told us, the Peryton ripped open the chests of their victims, consuming the still-warm hearts with grim satisfaction. Mayweather watched in dread curiosity, eager to solve the riddle of the shadow... But the humanoid echo remained. No winged shadows manifested.
Mayweather was lucky to escape with her life, but returned soon after for more observation, this time with an elite guard to watch her back; the knowledge was too important not to be careful...
Hearts and Minds
It would also be Mayweather that would witness the first instance of a Peryton being born. Though there are documented family units of a male and a female Peryton (though they'd be hard-pressed to care for their young, if not kill them), this instance within the nest involved two females.
Both left to hunt, smelling blood on the wind. They were gone for hours. When they returned, blood dripping from their claws, they delivered several chunks of flesh to the next to feast upon, and a still writhing human man! Mayweather watched as her lookout - a young brown-eyed ranger - was clutched by one of the pair and pulled toward the other, like it was presenting a gift. Firey smoke and twisting gray tendrils spilled from the one in waiting, before its teeth sank into the man's chest, ripping his beating heart from the cavity. His body went limp, and Peryton female scarfed down the heart, her eyes shifting translucence in the penumbra.
Then Mayweather heard a sound that sent chills down her spine.
Like an echo of a child's laugh. A giggle in the gloom, small and innocent. Then it grew, warping and dancing along the walls, raising in pitch and warble, until it is a chorus of cackling. The other eyes in the nest rise and join in, their necks convulsing and twisting backward with the sound, a malevolent inversion of mirth and satisfaction. The sound becomes a beast in and of itself, a roiling mass of whoops and hollers, striking chords and stark dissonance. Vibrations spill out the mouth of the cave, whispers at the ears of the hidden spies, and shouts upon the walls that surround them.
The guards around the gnome begin to clutch and claw at their ears, the cacophony bringing a few to tears. Mayweather instinctually covers the sob of her closest ranger, insisting that he get himself together.
The smell of dread hits Mayweather's nostrils as she dares to peer into the nest. All the Peryton stare straight ahead, their mouths gaping open - a frozen, terrifying smile. Until they all snap their eyes...to her.
They made it out with one casualty. Her second blue-eyed scout, snatched by a rogue talon before he could slip into the wooden door of a magnificent mansion.
Safe within the dimensional space, Mayweather vigorously wrote down her conclusions:
1. New Peryton are born by a female consuming the heart of a freshly killed humanoid.
2. Their shadows flicker into monstrous forms during the process of incubation.
3. When incubation begins, nearby Peryton gain heightened senses to protect the pregnant female, becoming even more violent. The more there are, the stronger the pack's senses.
Her fourth note she added weeks later, when her guards - while out hunting - were set upon by a pair of Peryton, seemingly tracking them for miles. When they finally confronted the creatures, they were surprised to see two young Peryton, newborns - one with brown eyes and the other with blue, both with shadows of human form. ...Felling the creatures was tough, but much worse for their psychology. Poor guys.
4. Newborn Peryton share the eyes of the creature whose heart they were born from. As they get older, and kill more for their own survival and pleasure, the blood tarnishes the eye color, shifting it to match the orange-red of the others.
Mayweather and others theorized that the first Peryton was a cursed human or elf, twisted by a god of chaos. The bards of old expanded upon this, marking its origin to infidelity, curses, and carrions feasting on cursed corpses.
Given Mayweather's most recent expeditions, however, the clearest line exists through pure vehemence. These aren't cursed humans - they were MADE by something. Sometime in the first age, when great magics could be wielded by mere mortals, a wizard general - whose name is lost to time - sought a tactical edge against the elven and human alliances. So he juxtaposed what he had on hand with fiendish blood. An intellect unmatched, the alchemist rivaled the gods for a moment - before his heart was ripped from his chest...
Mind the shadows. Watch the skies.
See you next time.
Went fought the drudgentree,
Found the sight bequeath to thee,
And discovered here, a chosen three,
Beneath the hallowed wood.
Curled in twain,
A thoughtful mane,
Sleeping, the book his thane,
I reached for the spine.
And there it was,
The subtle cost, very nearly a finger lost,
As the little drak nipped here and there,
Yipping as a small pup.
I rested my arm upon the book,
The drak curling into the nook,
Between the plates and mail,
I have inherited a new friend,
Do not fail.
-- Sir Horace Flagstone, of Leylocke
Not Your Average Dragon
Pseudodragons dwell in the quiet corners of the fantasy realm. Adventurers can stumble upon them in old libraries, nestled in the dark nooks behind dusty tomes. Others will happen upon them sleeping in the hollow woods of a dense forest, curled around their subtle hoard of acorns and berries.
With sharp teeth, shiny scales, and a vicious hooked stinger for a tail, these tiny dragons look almost menacing while asleep, but once those eyes open, they are immediately playful. If attacked, that stinger will be put to good use, rendering other beasts and aberrants catatonic for a few hours. Though sometimes mischievous, a pseudodragon is not a social creature; they tend to keep to themselves and whatever makeshift hoard they have been gathering. Magic users tend to seek pseudodragons as familiars, as their natural magical resistances and superior senses make them awesome companions. But a dragon is still a dragon, and these little guys are no exception. Mistreat or abuse your familiar, and they're out, severing whatever connection you thought you built. They will not tolerate ill treatment.
Though they cannot speak, pseudodragons understand both Common and Draconic, and may learn other languages as well. They communicate through limited telepathy, granting simple ideas like hunger, curiosity, or perhaps affection. They will also utilize common animal noises to indicate these simple responses; a purr for pleasure, a hiss for surprise or alarm, chirping to indicate desire, or a growl to communicate anger. These noises and its limited telepathic imagery akins them to many as fantasy cats - which is, if you think about it, a pretty accurate analog.
By The Numbers
Seems weird to analyze these little dudes and dudettes by their stats - they're quite killable by just about anyone.
Rocking a level 1 wizard's armor class and just as many hit points, they're not really meant for a frontline assault. They have the rare feature of Magic Resistance, though, so saving throws are in their favor, but with such a low hit point count, anything that deals half damage might still fell them (bummer); difficult to charm, though! Plus, their Sting attack can render an opponent poisoned if their Constitution is garbage. Nothing to sneeze about (no, seriously, don't sneeze, it'll kill them).
Out of combat, however, they're extremely useful. Their telepathy reaches up to 100 feet, so they're excellent scouts and their keen senses make them ideal familiars. Darkvision and blindsight don't hurt either.
As a legit Familiar, Pseudodragons can communicate their senses up to a mile away from their companion, and they can share that sweet sweet Magic Resistance while they're hanging out. The only downside to a Pseudodragon as a familiar is that if they can end that service whenever they like, and for whatever reason. Moral of the story: treat your Pseudodragon well, otherwise they might not have your back when you need it.
Pseudodragons In My Worlds
These little buddies are so intrinsically in tune with the magical world that I have taken the liberty to codify a few with magical persuasions of their own. Sure, you'll have the standard pseudodragon flapping around your nooks and crannies and old libraries, but if you dig deep enough and scour long enough, you'll undoubtedly run into one of these variants.
Illusory - Pseudodragons don't have a specific language, instead communicating telepathically simple ideas. Those that are steeped in illusion magic has found a way to interpret the innate basics of their school to help communicate better, manifesting in a sort of "thought bubble" above their heads communicating more intricate picturesque ideas. I just love the idea of a pseudodragon with an ellipsis over its head as it ponders, and then watching it blip back and forth between steak and its studies; the ultimate SQUIRREL moment. :)
Evocata - a little friend who spends a lot of time around battle mages and explosives can evolve into a combustion dragon. Highly emotional, passionate, and excitable, an Evocata will manifest its core magic in explosive bouts. Get too excited? Fireball. Or Fog Cloud. Or Plant Growth. Get too sad? Cast Darkness. Get protective of their master, their binky, or their new bestest friend that they've known for five minutes? Ray Of Frost. Or Finger Of Death. You know, TOTALLY NORMAL reactions.
The list continues, and I have a feeling the more I play with this concept, the more hilarious it will become. Does a Cleric use her Pseudodragon as her own personal lie detector because it's infused with Divination magic? Does a diplomat use his to win over a crowd because he steeps in Enchantment? The possibilities abound!
(and now my players know...good luck)
See you at the table.
I've been running campaigns long enough that I've stacked up NPCs like Pokemon cards, ready to unleash them onto unsuspecting players. Sometimes they work wonders, other times they suck wind through a straw. Let's take a look at a few and see what I could have done better.
Jedrek Remo - Blackweave Monk
Professional Game Master musician, music teacher, game designer, amateur bartender, and aspiring fiction author.
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