Saturday, May 21, 2011

Gargoyles Remastered

The Original
Here is a creature that doesn't stand up to close scrutiny. The problem, I think, is that gargoyles are not based on any monster from mythology or literature but a piece of decorative architecture. This seems to be the reason that gargoyles are often depicted as creatures made of stone, or at least with stone-like skin; they're inspired by statues.

Why would gargoyles have stoney skin at all? Wouldn't it make more sense if they were just flesh-and-blood creatures that people, for whatever reason, often made into statues? This is certainly what medieval architects were thinking when they put gargoyles in cathedrals. Their inspiration was the demons of the bible. They only chose stone because it was a logical material from which to carve a statue.

Gargoyles, then, are a weird case of art imitating art, in which the D&D monster is made of stone because it is inspired by a type of statute, yet the statues that inspired the monster also exist in the typical D&D world...leading us to conclude that crazy people are building statues of a monster that naturally looks like statues. Maybe they want to help the gargoyles sneak in to their churches?

Doing a little research, I discovered that D&D gargoyles did not start out as stone. Volume 2 of the Original OD&D books, Monsters and Treasure, has the following to say regarding gargoyles: "As depicted in medieval architecture, the Gargoyle is a reptilian beast with horns, talons, fangs, bat-like wings, and often bipedal." That seems pretty straightforward. Gargoyles are reptilian creatures that look like the familiar statues from medieval architecture. It's probably fair to assume, if your world contains gargoyle statues, that they were patterned after these winged, lizard-monsters.

When we jump ahead to 1st Edition AD&D we find a similar description: "These monsters are ferocious predators of a magical nature. They are typically found amidst ruins or dwelling in underground caverns." Ok, that leaves a bit more room for interpretation. In fact, it doesn't really give a physical description at all. I guess Gygax is relying on the reader's knowledge of what a gargoyle statue looks like to help him imagine the beast. This may be where the "stoney skin" problem takes root, but I note nothing in the gargoyle's stats to imply it's anything other than flesh and scales.

Next, I reference my 2nd Edition Monstrous Manual. Let's see..."Originally, gargoyles were carved roof spouts, representing grotesque human and animal figures...Later, some unknown mage used a powerful enchantment to bring these horrid sculptures to life. The race of gargoyles has flourished, spreading throughout the world." Oh, 2nd Edition, I should have recognized your foul stench when I was brought on board. Not only is THIS the cause of the whole "gargoyles are monsters made of stone" silliness that bled over into 3E, but the book's explanation is the tired old "some crazy wizard did it" cliché. Blech!

The simplest solution would probably be to return to OD&D's approach and just say that gargoyles are winged bipedal reptiles. Come up with a reason why people decorate their churches with statues patterned after the beasts and move on. I don't find that very satisfying, though. Besides, for whatever reason, when the DM says “gargoyles,” most players are going to imagine monsters made out of rock. Rather than try to wage a hopeless battle to change this, it would be easier to accept that concept and try to invent a better explanation for it than a crazy wizard.

The following is designated Open Game Content via the Open Game License, with the exception of portions defined as Product Identity.

"You have coveted material things above the gifts of the divine, and so I give you over to the earth forever. You shall live as beasts and insects, keeping to the dark places of the world for all your days. As you have embraced the coldness of stone above the light and warmth of heaven, stone you shall be forevermore." - The Prophecta

Gargoyles were once divine creatures called the oenar; angelic warriors whose job was to guard sacred places against demons and devils. In their natural form, oenar were humanoid beings of translucent energy with wings made of silvery light. When they appeared on the material plane, the oenar took on physical bodies made of protective stone and hard-packed earth. The oenar often gave these physical forms a monstrous appearance, imitating their demonic adversaries in order to intimidate and confuse them.

Over time, the oenar became corrupted with greed. As they spent more and more of their time in physical form they began to covet jewels and precious metals. The devil Mammon took advantage of the oenar’s growing avarice. He bribed them with gems and gold while whispering of vast wealth hidden in the earth. The oenar became obsessed with finding treasure. One by one, they abandoned their posts as guardians of sacred ground and declared themselves the masters of the earth.

In response, the gods turned their favor away from the oenar and cursed them to a mortal existence. Defeated and permanently trapped in their stoney bodies, the oenar fled into the shadows, trying to hide from the gods they had betrayed. Their degenerate offspring became the creatures now known as gargoyles.

Gargoyles, while not immortal, can live for centuries. They are carnivores, preferring the meat of sentient creatures, but their magical nature allows them to go months without food. Strangely, perhaps due to their close ties to the element of earth, gargoyles never thirst and have no need to drink. They are covetous creatures who like to horde precious metals and uncut gems, which they usually hide somewhere high off the ground. A gargoyle collects treasure only to satisfy its greed; the creatures have no true use for money. A gargoyle will have double the usual chance of possessing each type of treasure, excluding magic items.

Many churches, especially large and ornate cathedrals, still build statues carved in the likeness of gargoyles. This practice dates back to ancient times, when early men made grotesque statues as an homage to the oenar. It is thought that the images of these lost guardians can still ward off demons and evil spirits, and there might be some truth to that belief.

Gargoyles sometimes take advantage of this tradition, hiding motionless amongst statues in order to ambush their victims, particularly in ruined or abandoned places where they are less likely to be noticed. A gargoyle can remain almost completely motionless for a very long time, only revealing its true nature when opportunity or great hunger forces it to move.

Like some types of demons and most undead, gargoyles have an aversion to holy water. While holy water does no damage, even a splash of it will cause a gargoyle to recoil in disgust, thus spoiling its ability to pose as a statue. Also, because of their rock-like skin, gargoyles are susceptible to spells that affect stone.

The oenar were not originally stone, but divine entities that took on an earthen form for protection. While the monsters have devolved quite a bit through the generations, their physical bodies remain somewhat mutable. Over a few years, a gargoyle will come to resemble its surroundings, changing in color and even appearance. It is thus possible to encounter a gargoyle in an unexpected form: a winged lion or other mundane animal, for example, if there are statues of that type in the gargoyle's chosen lair. This process is not something a gargoyle can affect intentionally; it is a product of the creature's curse.

Living testament to the gargoyles' adaptability, the kapoacinth are an aquatic offshoot of the gargoyle species. Their bodies are comprised of hard, pale gray or green coral and often covered in algae. Kapoacinth swim at the same speed that a gargoyle flies, using their wings to aid them. Since their wings have adapted to be more like fins, kapoacinth cannot fly. Some scholars believe that kapoacinth originated in the lost nation of Thenos and became aquatic after that country sank into the ocean.

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