Ah, I’m one of those players who wants a semblance of ecological verisimilitude in my games.

Annoying, I know.

Over the exty years or so that I’ve been designing, I’ve been (ever-so slowly) accumulating a broader understanding of biology, taxonomy, and ecology. I don’t actually know what those three words mean, and I’m currently looking up, bleary-eyed from nearly two hours of solid reading and organization, and I’d rather not look them up to clarify. Moving on!

In the interest of simulating a more “realistic” (or at least building a better model) environment for players to explore, I’ve been putting together an abbreviated taxonomy of living things. I want this for more than just building a realistic model of course, I want to do something similar for monsters!

I’ve mentioned before the taxonomy of monsters I was building, and honestly I can say that reading about real animals has given me ample fodder for creating fantasy critters. My abbreviated taxonomy notes have an additional purpose in helping me identify certain “cultural through-lines” that I want to design along in order to service more mythologies than the average game/setting.

What am I talking about?

Well, get this: Greek mythology has lots of hybrid critters and hypothetical critters. It was kind of a theme in the Mediterranean and Middle East, so I want to create a navigable catalog of some of the best-recognized animals for reference. I mean, Egyptian mythology has dog- and cat- and crocodile-headed gods. Okay, so what if you had a different part of the world where you didn’t have crocodiles? Would reptiles still be represented? Maybe you’d have snake- or lizard-headed gods.

Think kind of like, equal-opportunity for animal kingdom representation in mythology. There are… a LOT of different kinds of animals, more than I can reasonably keep track of in my head at once, and I just… want to build a data model to represent as many of them as I can.

Then, there are all the interesting traits that animals have. Some are inherited and are like “core features” of the animal — while others, like horns, tusks, and even “amphibious living” are the result of convergent evolution. Reptiles, arthropods, and mammals all developed totally different means of flight, which is a cool trait worth exploring in some other areas.

Also there are tons of terrifying microbial life forms that would make cool fodder for monsters and are (in my opinion) under-utilized. I don’t just mean as vermin and diseases, either. I want to create a catalog of animal traits and better understand how and why they developed them. A big one is venom: why do animals develop venom, and what kinds are there? Venomous compounds are actually really diverse in their effects from just the little research I’ve done thus far.

Dungeons & Dragons has a fine history of creating weird hybrid creatures, and honestly some of those have been more successful than others. I don’t know if anyone recalls the “bearhound” from the 3e Monster Manual… 3 was it? I do recall a terrifying like, ape-hornet thing. But the bear-hound has kind of fallen by the wayside.

There are also tons of odd magical effects which could be used to make individual animals potentially more interesting. Take the blink dog for example, it’s a pack-hunter that can perform short-range teleportation. That provide them with a huge advantage when it comes to ambushing and surrounding prey.

Getting back to hybrids, plenty of demihumans and monstrous humanoids are simply “humanoid with physical resemblance to animal X.” Formians are ant-people that look more like ants than people. A myrmidon race might be more human-like with some unsettling ant-features. There might be an even-more humanoid ant-people race that just has some shimmery scales around the face, multi-faceted eyes, some cute little antennae, and a hive mind or something. You know, “Petting Zoo People.”

You can get a LOT of range out of hybrid species.

I posted my updated “Fantastic Human” yesterday, and it’s intended as a step toward making humans more a part of the “monster world” indicated by works like the Monster Manual, and I want to put all the humans, primates, and human-like critters alongside one another so Dungeon Masters and players can make “educated decisions” about what to include in their campaigns.

D&D also has this history of including like, extinct animals alongside modern animals. So, dinosaurs for one. But also cavemen, and like, ape-men. These are staples of pulp fiction, and the way I see it there is a LOT of untapped potential in this area. For example, a zombie human loses most of the advantages of a human, but a zombie horse is almost better than a normal horse (it doesn’t get tired, so it can pull your wagon until one or both rot and fall apart).

What would a zombie jellyfish be like? How about a zombie dire tarigrade? Those things are resistant to practically everything, so if you made them super-beefy in the hit point area and maybe cast barkskin or stoneskin on them, you’d have an indestructible guardian.