Saturday, 3 February 2018

Sphinxes and Sepulchres

A thought: Sphinxes are Mammalian dragons.

Allow me to explain the thought process. Four-legged beast, of vast size. Human or human-like intelligence - hence riddles. Combines aspects of different real animals. A guardian of treasure hordes? Perhaps not as such, but the 'Giza -> Pyramids -> Pharaohs -> Tomb treasures' connection is at this point a difficult track not to go down.

What does this mean? Well, first of all, let us spin this into something larger. Perhaps through a recent  few posts at Coins and Scrolls.

Sphinxes come in many forms. The most well-known is a winged lion with a human head - the andro-or gyno-sphinx.

Others are known: ram-headed criosphinxes, falcon-headed hieracosphinxes. Some are merely rumours - jackal sphinxes, scarab-headed sphinxes (as Khepri).

What is the truth of this?


The human-headed sphinx is the most charming and persuasive of sphinx-kind. It is the most prone to entering into wider society, but does so as a dragon might: with a firm awareness of it's own strength and superior status.  It is also the most persuasive of sphinxes - at least to most humanoids. They glow, even in their human parts. They have largely given up the riddle game; it is considered either gauche or deeply dangerous to inquire about it.

Disposition: aristocratic, aloof, persuasive, charismatic.
Common hoards: coins, books of law, deeds and contracts, ledgers.
Breath/Bestowal: Clouds/Acquiescence

[In that the sphinx is not usually depicted as breathing fire, and in that I wanted to keep up the dragon angle, there is an 'and/or' selection - a physical effect, like fire, or something more abstract. The sphinx 'bestows an air of ____' and can direct this somehow,  for use to their advantage. Pick and choose your poison.]

The criosphinx is often given over to religious impulses. It has the time and nous to embark on theological journeys mankind never could. A meditating criosphinx is deeply impressive; the horns and the fleece carry a rather priest-like air. This can, of course, go very badly wrong depending on what they worship.
Disposition: thoughtful, thorough, very still, fervent, given to pontificating.
Common hoards: relics, religious texts, prophets, religious art, iconoclasts (to destroy the wrong kind of art..)
Breath/Bestowal: ball lightening/universal semi-mystical perspective (you may not as such see anything that you didn't see before, but you are aware of the music of the spheres or what have you and the movement of the earth).

[If you wish, goat-headed sphinxes could appear. These are the same as criosphinxes, but somewhat more sinister.]

A hieracosphinx is ultimately a physcial, warlike beast. The strength of it's own will and limbs satisfy it above other things. They can be persuaded into battle - but that have never been called great strategists.
Disposition: clipped speech, laconic, scornful, restless, sardonic
Common hoards: trophies, flags, weapons, sporting goods; gladiators and athletes to demonstrate the latter.
Breath/Bestowal: Whirlwinds/Vertigo

One may encounter a jackal-headed sphinx. They lack the charm of some of their compatriots; less focused, less serene. They are not, as such, scavengers or parasites - but they do recognise that humanity (and the short-lived races as a whole) throw away a lot of stuff, which they can make use of- and are fascinated by. Although they are still relatively discerning, rather than accumulating piles of potshards. If you will, they do not live up to their fullest sphinx potential. Inveterate takers of shortcuts and hirers of mercenaries. Not, that is, that they cannot fight. A jackal sphinx is still a sphinx.
Disposition: indulgent, chatty, crafty, gregarious, opportunistic, relatively generous - they'll get it all back in good time.
Common hoards: bones, reliquaries, funerary gear, 'unconsidered trifles', exiles, beggars, outlaws
Breath/Bestowal: Sandstorms/Awareness of mortality

The scarab-headed sphinx has a relation for being largely incomprehensible and entirely aware of this. Do not compare this to riddles; there is no perfect solution. Nor are they, as we might think of it, tricksters - who often seem to have a goal, generally at your expense. The scarab-headed sphinx does not seek to set traps for you - despising as they do such an artificial form of mystery - but will rarely explain anything in a useful manner. Instead of just mentioning something you don't quite understand, they might somehow enable a connection between people that don't understand one another, or possess bewildering devices you can access freely. They are, quite simply, fascinated by that which people cannot understand - often including themselves. You might think of them as anthropologists or connoisseurs of bafflement.

This has led to them being touted as the ultimate in exotic experiences - but pleasure seekers are disappointed. A scarab-headed sphinx is far more likely to serve a very ordinary meal according to entirely unfamiliar social rules than it is to serve up a dish made with spices and viands from far-off lands.  If you can bring them something that they struggle to entirely comprehend (with all their years of experience), they are likely to be thankful and not introduce you to alien folk who think that you have insulted them in some way very difficult to explain.
Disposition: scrupulously neutral, polite, inquisitive if directly engaged.
Common hoards: mediative images, multi-layered religious or philosophical allegories, strange tales of other lands (and recorders of the same), things out of place - either spatially, temporally or dimensionally.
Breath/Bestowal: Locusts/Hunger

An ox-headed sphinx (taurosphinx? bovosphinx?) is basically really quite pleasant and social. It may not be entirely convenient to have a sphinx in town, but you'll adjust. It will help you. You and your descendants will rely on its help. It likes plenty, prosperity, people raising families. Naturally, it hates adventurers. The more flexible will allow them some sort of deputy status with the local Watch or Guard or what-have-you. If you are down on your luck and after a home, that's fine. But your sword gets beaten into a plowshare or hang up above the mantle; you throw away the eldritch tomes. They may not be tyrants, but they have little time for the libertine. It is worth noting that they do not always choose human communities to make their homes in.
Disposition: friendly, like a schoolteacher; benevolent, well mannered (if they are coarse, it will be like a friendly innkeeper, not a sordid thug).
Common hoards: wealth - but productive or functional wealth - granaries, long standing tenant farmers, tools. You can imagine them keeping coins to invest or use after a fashion - whilst hating venture capitalists. Folk to operate all of the above; agriculturalists, industrialists or urban planners.
Breath/Bestowal: Milk and Honey/Herd instinct.


[or, The Sphinx-Spawned.]

Operating on this model, also linked above, we might ask what do the servants of sphinxes are like - whilst still working on the 'mammalian dragon' notion.

The kobold equivalent become servile, if semi-independant. I suggest that heightening the canine characteristics of kobolds is the way to go about this. From this, a hierarchy of dog-kobolds asserts itself; curs, hounds, and other such titles. Likewise, kobolds gain specialities (kobold retriever, seeing-eye kobold, Portuguese water kobold, St Bernards kobold). At one end of the implications of this, we see sphinxes breeding their own guard dogs - and the sphinx equivalent of Crufts and the Kennel Club.

A parallel to the Dragonborn is perhaps a humanoid with wider mammalian or avian features: a change of limbs, a different head, claws or talons. A resemblance to the Ancient Egyptian pantheon seems about correct - though put through a relatively martial wringer; as in something like Age of Mythology. Not being a deity herself, this hypothetical ibis-headed lady does in fact require armour, however tough the gifts of the sphinx may have made her.

As to the Servants or Sycophants of sphinxes, I can say little. They are as liable to be varied as sphinxes themselves.  They are perhaps less liable to be outright power-worshippers than the servants of dragons. If we wanted to continue the Pharaonic pastiche, it is not at all unsurprising that they might preserve their bodies for use after death, much as mummies, knowing that their spirits might linger or be called back to continue their duties. The Dragonborn equivalents above might become part of this, death transforming them from warriors to courtiers. Mummification might especially be prevalent among the jackal-headed sphinxes - some of who probably possess armies that could give the Tomb Kings a run for their money.

Image result for tomb kings
Behind them, off to the left somewhere, is a jackal-headed sphinx saying "Go to 'em, lads!" - or words to that effect.


[Or, The Dreadful Conclusion]

Partway through this, something occurred to me.

Dungeons and Dragons - or at any rate, a certain stereotype thereof - involves humanoid mammalian races going underground into sprawling dungeon complexes to fight with reptilian races and face off against an uber-reptile in the form of a dragon.

Lizardmen, goblins, kobolds, gorgons, wyverns, yuan-ti - all waiting for you in the labyrinth du jour. (Orcs, partaking of the natures of pig and lizard are anathema to both mammals and reptiles). The insidious elder race snakemen share in this especially.

Therefore, let the entire thing be inverted. Instead of fantasy Medieval Europe, full of humanoid races, the setting is in the tropics - which might be yet more Ancient Egypt, but let us not get tied to that concept more than we already have. This is inhabited by reptilian humanoids: the common lizard-folk, the snake men settling into the Elven elder-race nook, squat armoured crocodile people instead of Dwarves, sneaky chameleon-men instead of gnomes - and anything from this list if you want to get even stranger.

Adventurers from these kindreds - who are noble, virtuous, benign souls, or at least to the same extent as any player race in D&D - are assailed by creatures from the caves, that cannot stand the heat of the day and must lurk in the cold and damp. The most insidious even build lairs in the sewers and necropolises of the great cities. The brave and the foolhardy go down into the depths to drive out and confront these wretches, for money, glory or experience.

In the deepest and darkest of sepulchres, they may even encounter the dreadful sphinxes; cunning amalgams of beast and man, possessed of speech and silver tongues, of prodigious size and strength....

[This has become dreadfully silly. My apologies to anyone I've referenced!]