Sunday, June 2, 2013

Manticores Are Jerks

Now that Type IV D&D is soon to be an ex-game, it is my solemn duty as a game blogger to explain how, actually, all the 4e books are secretly madly frothing fonts of ludolomantic wisdom.

Speaking of fonts, everything below in Courier is from the 4e Monster Manual:


A manticore flings iron spikes from its tail.

You could probably write an essay all about how the 4e monster manual entry starts with what a manticore hits you with while every other edition's manual probably starts with, like, what a manticore is, but someone probably already wrote that essay and it pissed people off. There's a picture, you get the idea. 

What's actually interesting is the spikes are iron.

So: iron spike tail manticore. I want Patrick on that. Is manticorism actually just a digestive disfunction of ordinary men, where you take things in through your human mouth but the further the food gets from your face, the more chemically alienated it becomes--human then lion, then bat, then not even the animal kingdom anymore? Is sphinxism the female version?

Damn this is just the first line. I love the 4e Monster Manual.


Irritable and mean, it attacks without provocation and does not negotiate with prey.

Wait, what prey? What does it eat? Again: you could write an essay.

Anyway the 4e Monster Manual is right, we can assume it mostly eats PCs and innocent travellers PCs come upon while on the road to some other place.

Note also despite being a fuck, the manticore does not necessarily attack immediately, however. Which I guess means it's possible for you to be hanging out with a manticore and then be like "Y'know, I was watching Archer last night and..." and the manticore's like "EVERYONE'S FUCKING SICK OF YOUR STORIES, ZAK, I'M HITTING YOU WITH IRON SPIKES."

Which I have always thought was way better anyway. The human head with the beard is disturbing as fuck and it's psychologically useless unless you get to talk to it first.

Who negotiates with prey? Sphinxes. But sphinxes can read and manticores can't. And since sphinxes want nothing to do with manticores and TV hasn't been invented, the manticore probably fights people out of frustration and lack of anything better to do.

However: Connie established that manticores like poetry. We could assume that the manticore's problem is it just has really high standards for the level of discourse.

Level 10 Elite Skirmisher

First of all, I think they mean "elitist". Second: It's a skirmisher. Meaning it skirmishes. Meaning it doesn't necessarily fight to win. It just fights to harass the enemy.

Human facade but transparently monstrous, attacks without motive, never gets laid, irritable, bearded,  digestion problem, just fighting you to annoy you, toxic, elitist, always male. Also, I bet, pretty eager to tell you about his FATE hack.

Large Natural Magical Beast (Mount)

This sounds like a civilization 4000 years in the future trying to reconstruct R Kelly lyrics from stone fragments. Trust me, girl, this'll get you 1,000 experience points #RealTalk.

Manticore Tactics

A manticore prefers to begin a fight from the air.

So it's irritable but prefers to begin a fight from the air?

The typical manticore fight would then appear to start when the manticore being all "fine, I'm leaving!" but then he spins around in midair and attacks with spikes because he's lying and actually wants to eat you.

The thing where there's a monster that eats people but it also talks, that's a weird metaphor in the ancient imagination about power-relationships.

Like think about it-- that doesn't actually happen much: you talk to animals that could eat you (except maybe like some dogs).

But it happens all the time in stories. This was something people worried about. Talking to the wolf, talking to the dragon...

It flies overhead and bombards enemies with Spike Volleys before landing to finish them off with Manticore's Fury attacks.

Well who wouldn't?

If faced with a dangerous foe on the ground, a manticore usually takes to the air again and harries its foe with repeated spike volleys as quickly as they recharge.

I am wondering about recharging. (Yeah I know, Type IV fans, this is just an abstraction for how long it takes for it to get into position to attack again.) But I like literal "re-charging"--like is it just growing new metal spines all the time and then it uses them once in a while? If it goes too long without fighting anyone (like if the local archlich keeps one in a cage and feeds it dead things or like in The Last Unicorn) does it just grow into a tangled right-angle barbed-wire clubby mass? If you cut off a manticore tail can you swing it around and hit people with it? 

If so, why would you ever not do that? That's obviously hella fun.

Manticore Lore
A character knows the following information with a successful Nature check.
DC 15: Manticores are wicked predators that delight in devouring intelligent creatures...

Why intelligent creatures? Do they eat brains like zombies? That's stupid. Probably they're just bitter, on account of being constantly rejected by sphinxes who all went to college and know riddles and other dumb smart crap.

...especially dwarves and humans.

...and not elves or halflings? This makes no sense unless we assume it's just a question of biomass. Still it's good to know in a world-building sense: your more blue-collar monster typically prefers the hearty races to fey, and prefers mammalflesh to dragonborn. I can buy that--it may be why humans and dwarves seem so much more pissed off about nature in general.

They fling iron spikes from their tails with deadly precision.

Wait, I just now noticed: 4e manticore spines aren't poison? WTF? Pliny died face down in a pile of Pompeiiam pumice for nothing?

Is there some Type IV-specific reason for that I don't know about?

DC 20: Manticores have three rows of teeth, which constantly grow throughout their lives.

Naturally: manteeth, lion teeth and bat teeth.

They often leave old teeth and iron spikes in the bodies of their mauled victims as sure signs of manticore attack.



Although dimwitted, manticores understand Common and can speak a few Common words and phrases. They are exceedingly impatient and tend to attack those who attempt to parley with them.

...these words and phrases are "Would you want to be seen reading that on the bus home?", "Role-playing not roll-playing", and "Kickstarter"

Encounter Groups
Manticores hunt in small prides of two to three individuals or sometimes singly. They are brutish, violent creatures that can be brought under control only by masters too strong to be eaten. Goblins or other intelligent creatures often entice manticores to help them for a time with gifts of food or treasure. However, manticores are greedy and disloyal and rarely stay bribed for long.

This is so flat-out boring it needs to be completely scrapped. The manticore-as-talking-pitbull-that-flies needs to not ever be in another adventure again.

It has the face of a man. It has bat wings. It's a crazy beardo with a totally metal name. It deserves better. 

I like the once I was a man angle. Like turning into a manticore because you did something bad like eat somebody is way better than turning into a sasquatch.

This is a cursed creature that wishes it was you. Its sin was gluttony ("man-eater"--from early Middle Persian مارتیا martya "man" (as in human) and خوار xwar- "to eat*) but now its sin is envy.

What if all the human-based classic monsters are punishments?

Greed--Ettin (You want more than everybody else? Fine.)

Ok, I like that.

Thanks 4e!
*well that's what wikipedia says


  1. Given that elves are typically depicted as thin, weedy guys while dwarves look like they've been eating lumberjacks, maybe dwarves (and to a lesser extent, but moreso than elves or halflings, humans) provide more iron-rich red meat both to fuel the manticore's more mundane metabolic processes AND facilitate spine growth?

    1. P.s. maybe the poison is an iron overdose. What happens when someone overdoses on iron?

      Iron in large quantities is corrosive to the gastrointestinal tract, causes nausea and vomiting, and may cause bloody vomiting and gastric or duodenal perforation. Shock may result from volume loss and fluid shifts, as well as from iron-induced peripheral vasodilatation. In addition, free iron is toxic to cells (cytotoxic), and coma, convulsion, adult respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), cardiogenic shock, CNS depression, metabolic acidosis, coagulopathy, and liver failure may develop from excessive, acute systemic absorption. Stricture may be a late complication. Overloads of iron can also damage the pancreas, leading in some cases to diabetes or to hemochromatosis a genetic disorder susceptible to iron overload.

    2. Tetanus and iron poisoning, I like it. Maybe it hunts like a komodo dragon - flings a couple of spikes and then just lazily follows you. You'll end up convulsing and it'll just mock you.

    3. Superb. I took an iron spike to the knee. Now the manticores are circling. I can hear them in the night. They're dimwitted but very, very patient.

  2. "[...] Also, I bet, pretty eager to tell you about his FATE hack." XD

    You're brilliant, Zak. Evil and brilliant.

  3. 4th ed rehab? will company adopt 4th ed clone and be next pathfinder? i like scorpion tale variant visually but pliny version from sense of history. Who rides manticores?

  4. Gotta love how it clearly states one cannot negotiate with it... And then later it says that some races can negotiate with it so it'll fight on their side for a while. That just screams of "PCs are meant to just fight it, no other option is available, forget about role-playing!!! DM, we're telling you that it cannot be dealt with otherwise, it'll just work with NPCs to complete a pre-calculated encounter."

    1. It seems honestly just like lazy writing.

  5. I love how the first 4e monster manual's text reads like the blurbs of a Pokedex describing a Pokemon: Inane, nonsensical, cluttered with data.


    Their nose rings are made of polished bronze, valued by wizards, just like their bull horns that deal piercing damage.

    Lvl 15 Solo Brute

  6. My new prison is SHAAAAAAAAAAAAAME!

  7. Love the seven deadly sins thing. That's clever Zak. I may use that, can you think of a reason not to extend it to non-human-based monsters? Couldn't a mindflayer be a cursed human (I don't know...pride maybe)? Or is that just stretching it too far?

    1. Easy, but then you get more than 7 monsters.

      And I've always wanted an answer for why monsters are anthropocentric anyway

    2. Ilithid larvae are placed into humanoid hosts, according to wikipedia, which explains their humanoid appearance. So that Ilithid you kill might have been the body of a friend.

  8. Aren't dragons traditionally people who were extra-greedy and miserish?

    Mind-flayers could be people who put the pursuit of knowledge over human relations.

    1. i personally prefer that both of them represent forces far beyond human scope, time, and conception. But to each his own, her own, whatever.

  9. Silk purse . . . sow's ear . . .

    I honestly haven't read more than a handful of pages in all of the 4e books combined, and nothing from the monster books, so it was interesting to see first-hand how utterly crappy that description is.

  10. I think probably the Manticore absolutely has to eat Iron because the spikes in it won't stop growing si if it doesnt, it starves. It's kind of like the sea slug that eats poisonous things and uses their poison itself.

    It also has to shoot its tail spikes at *something* becasue, as written above, they wont stop growing ever. But the Iron it has to eat is edged weapons.

    And also it HAS to negotiate every time, because of the curse put on it. If it doesnt make an honest attempt to negotiate then things get worse for it, like it get more manticore parts or whatever.

    Maybe it can NEVER open hostilities, always has to have second blood, never first, a cassus bellum monster? But it can never explain this proprrly and really needs to eat your sword right now.

    But they are right, it is stupid, and doesnt understand much of the common tounge, also it is desperate hungry, angry and afraid and has nothing to offer people except maybe not shooting iron spikes at people from the air, so its negotiations always go wrong. Like the North Korea of monsters.

    So its trapped in this cycle of weapon-eating addiction where if it eats a load of weapons in one go it stops starving to death, but then its iron parts overgrow and it just has to shoot them at somebody, and who has weapons and is wandering around out there in the junkie wasteland it has to live in becasue no-one wants it near? Adventurers

  11. I like the 4e descriptions of monsters for being purely on their tactics, since I know enough on their looks, habits, diet, and the like from books other than 4e manuals. And when I don't, at least I have an opportunity to describe an arbalester fighting with PC's as a human-sized Evangelion with a crossbow, not something like that.

    But still, if 4e was my first RPG? Man, this would suck.

  12. I just want to point out that I have it on _very good authority_ that Jeff Rients (by 2043) "fucking ate a guy."

    He already _has_ a beard, you know.

  13. 2e's Monstrous Compendium does indeed describe what a manticore is in it's first sentence: "The manticore is a true monster, with a leonine torso and legs, batlike wings, a man's head, a tail tipped with iron spikes, and an appetite for human flesh". Mind you, that book describes what EVERYTHING is in the first sentence, even the most obvious: "Horses are large quadrupeds often used for transportation, or as pack and draft animals, by human and demihuman races."

  14. I feel I could run a campaign based solely on poorly translated and re-translated R. Kelly lyrics. Ensuring the future of humanity will know what, in ancient times, was hot and fresh out the kitchen.

  15. What if manticore females are so rare, that most male manticores have never seen one. So they shoot their spikes at every living thing, hoping that it's a female. It has to get rid of the spikes, otherwise it'll get some sort of manticore version of toxic shock syndrome. This is why manticore's are so angry all the time.
    I imagine the lairs of lonely and bored manticores are covered (floor, walls, ceiling) with spikes.