The torch casts a small circle of flickering light in the darkness, and you move slowly through the cavern, cursing your human eyes. Sometimes even with the torch you feel like you cannot see what is ahead, and you find the wall with a hand and use the rocky walls to orient. As you feel your way through a tunnel, you notice the rock has changed, suddenly smoother and warmer. You bring your torch closer to examine and realize in horror that it is not rock, but scales. You hear a low growl behind you, and turn in time to stare into a pair of bright orange eyes.
Bad news, adventurer. You have wandered into the lair of the Grootslang.
The grootslang is basically a South African dragon, a cross between a snake and an elephant, with some stories simply describing an elephant-sized snake and others depicting a creature with an elephant-like head, legs, and a long, snake-like tail. It is universally described as gigantic, ranging from 40 to 60 feet in length, occasionally venturing out of its cave home to eat elephants. It is said that the grootslang was the first creature created by the gods, who immediately realized that a giant and cunning elephant snake was a bad idea, but were unable to keep the monster from escaping into the world.
Aside from its size, greed is the grootslang’s defining characteristic. Not unlike European dragons, the grootslang hoards gems, preferring diamonds above all. Brave adventurers struck out to find the grootslang’s lair and plunder its wealth, only to meet a brutal end. When English businessman Peter Grayson disappeared in the South African desert in 1917, it was said that he and his party had fallen victim to the grootslang. These stories may have persisted as a way to try and keep colonizers from native lands, often telling of blundering Europeans leading their entire expedition to their grisly deaths.
The grootslang is said to be intelligent and cunning, more dangerous than a typical animal but also open to bribery from its potential prey. If you offer up enough gems to pique the grootslang’s interest, your chances of surviving the encounter increase pretty dramatically. Remember, the grootslang likes diamonds best.
If you’re short on gems or just want to try your luck in a physical fight, you’ll probably do about as well against the grootslang as you would against any other dragon. The grootslang is said to constrict its prey to death, wrapping its massive body around elephants and squeezing. If this creature can crush elephants, you may want to think carefully about your chances of survival.