There’s an art to using prehistoric animals as templates for beasties in a campaign. Unless you’re actually running a “Lost World” style adventure, you run the risk of diluting the theme of your own campaign. I’m all in favor of dino campaigns, but sometimes that’s not what you want. All you really want is a cool looking animal that makes your campaign exotic and unique without using a xorn or some other ultra-fantastic critter.
I bring it up because Jeff of gameblog fame pulls this off perfectly in his recent Doom of the Jaredites campaign. In an epic move, he casts chalicothere as the Jaredites’ cureloms, which he re-envisions as a kind of pack-ape—and everything about that is pretty freakin’ awesome. His entire campaign concept is downright inspired, I might add.
I’ve also looked to prehistoric animals to populate the wilderness of my campaign. My challenge is that Kimatarthi is a world that is only slowly coming to realize that it is a high-fantasy world. So while there are some built-in fantastic elements—like the edge of the world that drops off into mist—I want these to be modest enough that they could be dismissed as mundane—in other words, the Perfectly Normal Beast phenomenon. I want variety beyond wolves, lions, honey badgers, etc., but I don’t want wyverns, either. So the kinds of imaginary beasts I’m leaning towards are stirges, slives (from Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera), large spiders, an occasional roc – fictional, but non-magical beasties.
Prehistoric animals fit this bill, too… as long as they don’t look too prehistoric. Lots of prehistoric animals have a look that just screams “Lost World,” but that's not what I want. No saber-toothed cats for me—they’re too iconic. Instead, I like these guys.
|Pakicetus: ancient whale, wandering monster (ArthurWeasley)|
The pakicetus (which will have a different name) fits the bill. It has a unique look without being too Lost World. Even though these were probably amphibious in real life, I’ll make them into very clever pack hunters. The pic is just a cool way to add flavor. For additional coolness, this thing’s decedents evolved into whales! How awesome is that?
|Patriofelis: rock-climbing dire otter (DiBgd)|
I also like patriofelis because it looks like some kind of rock-climbing dire otter. This works well with all of the rocky regions that define Kimatarthi. It’s catlike, but definitely not a cat. Again, it’s the look and the flavor that appear to me.