September 20, 2020

The Worst Ancient Greece Has to Offer: Fantasy Races

I’ve been playing a good deal of Magic: The Gathering recently. If you haven’t, the current set is themed after Ancient Greece. It’s filled with hydras, oracles, demigods- pretty much everything you need for an epic Hellenistic setting. And like Wizard’s of the Coast have done with their Ravnica setting, they’re releasing a D&D source book so you can live out your Greco-Roman fantasies in your next 5e campaign. But these campaign settings always create a little boom cycle where independent publishers and developers release compatible supplements to meet the demands of content starved Dungeon Masters.

I’ve been on a kick here recently making real world historical comparisons to D&D topics, so I’m going to roll with that again this week. I’m going to beat everyone to the punch and hook you up with some primo Ancient Greek monsters you can put in your next game. 

Fair warning though, since many of our lives have descended into such a bleak spot, I’m highlighting some real maladroits here. Whether it’s Theros or any other setting, I’m going to scrape the bottom of the barrel for some WTF fantasy races.

If you’re a DM, it’s simple, populate some unknown shores with these misfits and give your players a session they’ll never forget. However, you might want to make it one shot, because I can’t imagine these weirdos won’t wear out their welcome almost immediately.

If you’re a player looking for an interesting background, I’ve got you covered. You are a big-talking traveler, who describes the amazing sights they’ve seen in their adventures. Your stories are filled with the following abominations. Never make it clear that if your character is making these up, or has actually experienced something approximating the following.

Blemmyes

The Blemmyes are also known as “The Headless Men,” but I’d argue that’s a bit of a misnomer. They have a head; it’s just also their torso. In many written descriptions they’re extremely hairy sometimes having beards down to their knees. There’s not a whole lot else to go on here, which is a blessing because we’re not hemmed in by any other pre-established traits. They’re usually described as semi-feral, but I think it’s much funnier if they’re very kind and gentle. You know, almost gorilla-like in their temperament.

Monopods or Sciapodes

This is another gold medal monstrous race with another simple concept: they’ve got one giant leg and foot. That’s it. That’s the creature. 

First appearing in Aristophanes’ play The Birds, they move and jump surprisingly fast. Apparently, on hot days they love to lie on their backs and use their giant foot to shade themselves from the sun.

I don’t know why, but I’d make these guys mean. Imagine your party coming across a colony of monopods then, with little provocation, one of these things just up and boots one of the player characters. I’ll leave the mechanical elements of what stats these creatures would have to you, but their kick attack should send an unfortunate target flying twenty or so feet into the distance.

Astomi

Unfortunately, these aren’t as comical as the others on this list, but you could do quite a bit with them. These humanoids have no need to eat or drink and thus no mouths. The derive nourishment simply from smelling pleasant things like fruit and flowers.

I can just imagine these mysterious beings silently going about their lives perhaps tirelessly worshiping at an altar of an unnamed deity- offering up the finest perfumes, herb blends, or bouquets as tribute. The real kicker is their weakness- they die if they smell something too unpleasant.

I think an encounter where your players have to get past a group of Astomi guards could prove extremely interesting. You could feed the players a rumor about their sensitivity to smells then watch as the party humorously tries to assemble a stink bomb strong enough to incapacitate them.

Abarimon

I’m cheating a little bit with this entry. Pliny the Elder, a Roman, was the first to describe these things. But c’mon, who’s gonna know? 

Another simple but strange concept: this race has backwards legs. Yet again, this proves to be advantageous because they are said to be able to run extremely fast backwards. Aside from their backwards legs, their other unique feature is their affinity for the air in the native valleys. For whatever reason, they’re unable to breathe outside of their homelands and will die if removed.

The trick if you introduced these to your game would be to take advantage of their inability to leave their home valley. But one puzzle I could think of would be a series of musical doors that lock away a treasure hoard. As fate would have it, the tunes that unlock these gates have been lost to everyone except one specific tribe of Abarimon, who have absorbed them as local folk songs. Since no Abarimon can leave their home village, the players will have to do their best to memorize the correct tones to get to their reward.

I think there’s a reason these entries haven’t made it past the filter of history, but part of the appeal of any mythic setting is the unknown and unexpected. Granted Odysseus encountered seemingly more dire, serious foes like the cyclops, lotus-eaters, and witch-goddesses, but therein lies the problem- all the good monsters are famous! Greek heroes had to figure out how to deal with these creatures on the fly. While these creatures may be silly, they’ll certainly give your players pause as they try to figure them out.

9 thoughts on “The Worst Ancient Greece Has to Offer: Fantasy Races

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