Lion mane and body! Bat wings! Quill-throwing tail! Humanoid face! Iron jaws! Who doesn’t love the manticore?
But! How to make it interesting? Or even iiiiinteresting?
For me, the hooks are in the Intelligence and the alignment. At Int 7 and Wis 12, the manticore can certainly speak Common and hold its own tactically with at least the average commoner or low-level NPC warrior. So is the manticore attacking your characters a hungry beast? Eager for tribute (especially iron to gnaw on, to help it build up its jaws and spikes)? Working for a lamia or some dark lord? A mount for a cavalier or antipaladin? Or even just lonely and looking for some conversation and theater (with or without the “dinner” prefix)?
And what’s to say a manticore couldn’t be a citizen in a cosmopolitan or high-magic campaign? As lawful evil monsters, they’re as likely as an archon, axiomite, or blue dragon to show up on a lawful neutral plane, and the local inevitable enforcers might not take too kindly to them being slain.
Nine times out of 10, of course, manticores are going to be just brutes. But time number 10 will be interesting for your players…
A manticore fires its spikes at adventurers but does not attack—and in fact calls out a greeting. Having devoured a number of knights (their shields and pennants line the walls of its lair), the creature has become fascinated with heraldry. It wants the party to seek out a herald to immortalize it an escutcheon. Finding one willing to cater to a manticore will be tricky, and the magical beast will likely demand they leave a party member behind as collateral.
The plateau of Gorm is the entrance to a lost world that is somewhat more mythic in scope. The first challenge is surmounting the escarpment, which is patrolled by hungry dire (advanced) manticores. While they don’t ask riddles as a sphinx might, they do ask pointed, seemingly nonsensical questions even as they attack, as if entranced or guided by an intelligence outside their own.
Merrisart and Grimmane are a lamia and manticore couple that have ruled Sharptooth Pass for seven years. Together they have fathered half a dozen spike-tailed daughters. Merrisart has begun to tire of the filthy beast, however—in his jealousy the manticore has devoured one too many of her charmed lovers—and she is now looking for a way to dispatch Grimmane without alerting their children to her complicity.
—Pathfinder Bestiary 199
What do I know about manticores? Goddamn near everything.
Dragon Magazine #153 features Spike Y. Jones’s “The Ecology of the Manticore” with some great Thomas Baxa art and (I think) one of the first appearances of his one-armed bard, Brendan Farwanderer. (The same issue also features the introduction of the fabulous “The Voyage of the Princess Ark” series, which by now you’re probably sick of me mentioning.) Look for it!
We also featured a manticore way back here. (Apparently all my manticores have “Mane” in their name. Whoops.)
And did anyone else notice that yet again we have a creature that can and does breed with sphinxes?
One would assume this is involuntary on the sphinx’s part…(which means I might as well rename this blog Sphinxes in Refrigerators)…but then again she has twice the hit points and is CR 8.
Which means we’re either talking multiple manticores for one sphinx, upon which I would prefer not to dwell, or…and let me be clear, I’m not engaging in any sphinx-shaming here…apparently the gynos get down.
You go, lion-riddle-girl!
Since we’re already doing shout-outs, the final word on manticores comes from Ninja Sex Party, whose eponymous ninja was my college symphony conductor. Flawless Cartwheel Achieved!
(As a bonus, here is the “Not cool, Manticore” live version.)