“Here begins the book of the nature of beasts.”
I figure a good place to start off is going back and looking at the subject’s roots. And what better roots for a blog about fantastic beasts (and where to find them) than the Bestiary?
If you’re hurting for creative takes on “classic” creatures both real and imagined, or something so long forgotten that it’s new again, I highly suggest browsing through this book. (using the cross-reference option)
Where else will you learn that Dragons specifically hate elephants, about snakes with heads on both ends, or come across wonders such as this?
That, dear reader, is a Barnacle Goose, “a bird that initially grows from trees.”
It gets better.
To quote Sir John Mandeville [14th century CE] (Travels, chapter 29): “I told them of as great a marvel to them, that is amongst us, and that was of the Bernakes. For I told them that in our country were trees that bear a fruit that become birds flying, and those that fell in the water live, and they that fall on the earth die anon, and they be right good to man’s meat. And hereof had they as great marvel, that some of them trowed it were an impossible thing to be.”
Meat trees. Literal meat trees. If Gnolls garden, this is probably what they grow.
Picture the lake surrounded by these during spring. Better yet, picture a wetland forest of these, during a drought that dries up all the water for miles. The birds fall and all but a few die, leaving miles of rotting meat sending foul stench across the already withered landscape, and attracting all sorts of desperate predators who might slake their thirst with blood.
Even normal animals can become extraordinary in the Bestiary’s pages. See the elephant mentioned above:
My favorite part is the dude in the red hat who just looks so bored with all of this. Like he’s thinking “I’m riding atop a tower of war strapped to some sort of giant tusked aardvark. Yup, I’m done here.”
Even their mating ritual sounds like some odd sort of epic campaign.
“Male elephants are reluctant to mate, so when the female wants children, she and the male travel to the East, near Paradise, where the mandrake grows. The female elephant eats some mandrake, and then gives some to the male; they mate and the female immediately conceives. The female remains pregnant for two years, and can only give birth once. When it is time to give birth, the female wades into a pool up to her belly and gives birth there. If she gave birth on land, the elephant’s enemy the dragon would devour the baby. To make sure the dragon cannot attack, the male elephant stands guard and tramples the dragon if it approaches the pool.”
Today I learned elephants routinely trample dragons.