Okay, we are not going to talk about sphinx sex. Got it? No sphinx sex. Too much has been written about sphinx sex already. Seriously, the Bestiary entries (and (A)D&D’s Monster Manuals before them) read like fanfic. Which is all well and good—there are places for that—but sphinx mating habits should take up a paragraph, not pages and pages. (Except maybe in this rulebook.)
(For the record, my thoughts on sphinx sex live here, and that is my last word on the subject. Weitere Diskussion über Sphinx Paarungsverhalten ist hier verboten.)
What I find interesting about gynosphinxes is that they’re ludicrous. Not their bodies—in a world of owlbears, who are we to criticize?—but their minds. Here we have creatures whose central obsession is posing and solving riddles and puzzles in the wilderness. (Not that this is atypical in mythology—intelligent trolls and fey are famous for it—but they are usually tricked or cajoled into riddle games, not defined by it the way sphinxes are.) Surely the intellectually voracious cat-women would be happier closer to civilization…but they can’t because they’re too territorial. And then there’s that whole (sigh…if we must) sex obsession thing (on the part of gynosphinxes)—only the objects of their lust, androsphinxes, feel demeaned by such earthly and earthy desires, actively working to sublimate their own passions and minimize such encounters.
I don’t know about you all, but to me this sounds familiar.
Sure, there are lots of other ways to play sphinxes. As stern sentinels, perhaps. As amateur archeologists and astronomers. As tradition-obsessed riddlers. As territorial, unpredictable hunters who toy via riddles the way a cat toys with a mouse. They’re all valid. (I’d especially like to see people play more with the sphinxes’ skill with magical symbols, for instance.) But for my money, sphinxes are The Big Bang Theory-esque obsessives whose very intellects and tics distance them from the world around them. They are thus caught halfway between civilization and wilderness, scholar and predator, this age and the last. They pose riddles, games, logic exercises, and other trivia questions because their natures drive them to…and because they don’t know any other way to interact. Not one of them would ever admit it, but the one riddle a sphinx cannot solve is herself.
The hypergraphic sphinx Slash scribbles obsessively on the cliff sides of the Kerr Desert. He poses no riddles to travelers—that would distract from his nervous claw carvings—and his writing yields little of interest to most observers. Unfortunately, he also laces his work with magical symbols. Should a party of adventurers inadvertently set off one of the symbols, Slash will immediately attack them in a rage for “ruining” his work.
Mellora Tawnywing is a sphinx known to head a pride of maftets. She finds their religious awe of the ruined hippodrome they guard tiresome, but she treasures the cat-women’s company and treats their enemies as her own. Occasionally she shows leniency toward anyone who can beat her in a game—she prefers ancient styles of chess or quoits—but the glee with which she eviscerates those the maftets deem heretics has earned her a well-deserved dark reputation.
The arrival of a mother-daughter pair of sphinxes to the gnome flying city of Dokkerstad was originally cause for celebration—the scrolls and books they carried with them in their satchels of holding were the beginnings of the flying city’s library. However, both have recently descended into territorial fits. The daughter now refuses to let anyone enter the library she helped found, and the mother has claimed a block of engine compartments that, if left untended by the maintenance gnomes, could seize up any day now…dropping the entire city out of the sky.
—Pathfinder Bestiary 257
Part of “basic” D&D’s Creature Crucible series, PC2 Top Ballista actually presented sphinxes as PCs (this being D&D, race and class were the same thing). Dokkerstad above owes its inspiration to that book’s bizarre aerial city of Serraine.
Props to Jonathan H. Keith for his take on sphinxes in Mythological Monsters Revisited. Also, I have to point out that Bento Box Studios’ illustration of the sphinx in the Bestiary is textbook harpy syndrome.
Meanwhile regarding specters, syringesin left a comment that he had never given thought to undead librarians. Having worked in libraries from seventh grade through grad school, I can assure you I’ve never given thought to live ones.