Whether we’re talking the world’s oldest role-playing game or Pathfinder, the amount of ink spent on sphinx mating habits is singularly bizarre. (Given the subject matter, maybe I shouldn’t have used the term “spent” there. Spilled? Oh wait, that’s worse. Dribbled? Dripped? Splattered? Yikes. Distributed. That’ll do.) I think it’s telling that with nearly every other monster type, I crave more information—I want mating habits, cultural mores, adoption rituals, a map of the menstrual hut even. With sphinxes, my response is: T. M. I.
In part, I think my resistance is because this information is clearly the kind that’s appealing to monster nerds, writers, and GMs, but will go over like a lead zeppelin with most players. And in part, it’s because almost every member of the sphinx species is so unsympathetic (by turns lofty, haughty, wheedling, or outright rape-y), it can be hard to relate to them (see below). What was a one-note monster (riddles!) is now a two-note one: riddles and sex (or frustrating lack thereof).
That said, hieracosphinxes are the most clearly monstrous sphinxes, born of rape and driven by lust to assault in turn. Parties with gynosphinx allies are more likely to run into them, but they can be also found serving domineering masters or jealously guarding their own territory.
Collectors are sent to claim a griffon for the baron’s mews. Only when the beast lets out a horrific shriek do they realize their quarry is actually a hieracosphinx.
The roof of the Chapterhouse of the Sphinx caves in, struck to flinders by the body of the battered gynosphinx that was the cavalier order’s mascot and muse. The knights demand the head of the hieracosphinx they believe to be responsible, but with war brewing they may need outside aid to achieve vengeance, no matter how much it galls their honor.
The sphinx race is at a tipping point—flocks of hieracosphinxes have become so prevalent and bloodthirsty they have driven the last few andro- and criosphinxes into hiding. But prophecy tells that an androsphinx needs to be at the Moonstone Dias to read from the Scroll of Days at each lunar eclipse, or the Owl Goddess will die.
—Pathfinder Bestiary 3 253
I may be wallowing in outdated stereotypes—RPG geeks are a lot less nerdy than we used to be—but I’m having trouble picturing the average group of gamers ginning up a lot of sympathy for a gynosphinx, particularly the dice-wielding dudes:
“So we’re supposed to take this sphinx—who wouldn’t even talk to us unless we solved her riddle—500 leagues out of our way in our new airship—even though she can fly—so she can mate with an androsphinx—who doesn’t even like sex—just because she’s too stuck up to date the local criosphinxes, who are totally nice and spoil her and offer to help raise the kids?”
“So you’re three days into your journey—wait, what?
“Pass. Look, we’re not about violence against women—if a hieracosphinx shows up wanting to start something, we’ll come running to the rescue. But Shorty can either stop putting the nice criosphinxes around her on the Just Friends list, or she can fly herself. Side quest refused.”
For more on sphinxes, check out Jonathan H. Keith’s contribution to Mythical Monsters Revisited. He also did a nice job on the harpy.
Also, if you missed yesterday’s music because I posted pretty late in the day, scroll back! Your ears will thank you.