Animals. In many games, the most basic foe. (Heck, in World of Warcraft it doesn’t matter what level you get to, there are mutated demon boars of EXACTLY YOUR LEVEL to kill!) But the real world is often more hardcore than your average fantasy realm. Take this new fun Cracked article on The Six Deadliest Creatures (That Can Fit In Your Shoe).
There’s the golden dart frog, which is so poisonous that Wikipedia claims chickens and dogs have died from contact with a paper towel on which one had walked. Now that’s an unfortunate trap for the party ranger; poisonous tracks!
Or the scorpion which is called, with no exaggeration, the Deathstalker. Lame overblown D&D 4e name? No, it’s a couple inches long and you’re quite likely to die of it. Imagine the giant variety!
And why has poison become so lame in D&D? It’s just a DC check for some stat damage. The Brazilian Wandering Spider’s venom not only causes pain and spasms, but gives you a huge rock-hard boner like a critical Viagra overdose while you go out (no, really!). Tell THAT to your next poisoned PC and they won’t be so blase about it any more.
Or, for more inspiration, 6 Endangered Species That Aren’t Endangered Enough. Here’s a ready-made scenario, the Slavemaker Ant! It fakes death to be carried into another ant nest, where it kills the queen, coats itself in her parts, and then the locals raise the eggs it raises! You could probably do the same thing with halflings.
How about the 5 Most Horrifying Bugs in the World? Like bot fly larvae, which are basically rot grubs that don’t have to depend on the lame trick of “lie here and hope they listen at this door.” Or a shrieking attack ant; that’ll scare the bejeezus out of a hapless adventurer.
Perhaps the 6 Biggest Assholes in the Animal Kingdom is more your style. The cuckoo does a trick kinda like the slavemakers above in that it makes you raise its young. Smart animals that say “hey, I don’t want to raise a cuckoo egg?” They get their ass beaten by the cuckoo mafia. No, really. Angelina Jolie was getting off easy in Changeling.
As most D&D players curl up in a fetal ball at any mention of sex in any form, I’m glossing over the sexual predators of the bunch (Bat-bug, I’m looking at you) but this quote is too fun to pass up. “Some marine biologists believe adult dolphins kill babies for the same reasons lions do, to bang dolphin moms, except that there are reports of female dolphins also killing dolphin babies, which either destroys the theory or makes it much, much sexier.”
Not done yet? How about the 6 Cutest Animals That Can Still Destroy You? One of the things D&D seems to omit is how Godawful strong animals are. That’s why people get ripped into bitty-bits by chinpanzees all the time. And monkeys on Costa Rica rob people of their food. Anyway, using the D&D Strength measure of “you can dead lift 15x your Strength score?” Chimps, by a conservative estimate, would have a STR of 40. A gorilla? 120. Eek.
Of course, D&D animals lack any attribute of real animal behavior. They tend not to attack people, which is the only reason that even the damn cows haven’t stomped us out (get it?). It’s why animal-attack horror movies exist and are scary; even a domestic dog/feral cats/irate sheep (heh) can put a whupping on a human if they decide to go at them for some reason. I hate that morale got pulled from D&D… I’d like animals (and all monsters) to have a representative aggression and morale rating. Aggression is “how likely they are to attack you for being around” and morale is “how likely they are to stick with it.”
So given the freaky deakyness that the animal kingdom has to offer, I think it sucks (yes, that’s a scientific opinion) that rangers can’t use their abilities on magical beasts, aberrations, etc. I feel like many of these creatures are misclassified regularly. In our recent Pathfinder game, we ran across ‘reefclaws’ – just big crawfish on steroids. Oh, but they were *aberrations*. Bah. I say if it’s got an Int of 1-2 and no supernatural powers, it’s clearly in bounds. “Oh sorry it’s an owlbear” my ass. A ranger should be an invaluable resource with most naturally dwelling creatures – all the lore you hear about normal animals (play dead with a bear, don’t move with a T-Rex, etc.) should be their bread and butter schtick.
What bugs you about animals in D&D?