For me, the syrinx is the standout new creature in the Inner Sea Bestiary. If you’ve got a copy, just check out that illustration; if you don’t, picture a robed, barn owl-faced humanoid clutching a staff, wings half-unfurled. That alone sells it—that image is just right. The syrinx (created by Wes Schneider, I believe) is a puzzle piece that fits a hole you hadn’t even noticed yet. You see it and think, Of course! Why has it taken us this long to get an owl-man in fantasy role-playing?
The abilities come off as right, too: The syrinx is wise. It can fly. It can see in the dark. It can speak with birds. I am on board.
What comes next is the nice surprise: It’s evil.
We tend to love owls for all kinds of reasons—symbol of Athena, “wise as an owl,” Winnie the Pooh’s friend, Tootsie Pop commercials—so we think of them as good…but we’re not the rodents an owl hunts. We also tend to like owl species with expressive, almost human-like expressions—great horned and screech owls, for instance—and we forget how cold, affectless, and alien the faces are on their cousins the barn owls. Syrinx are that owlish other side: silent…poker-faced…emotionless…coldly logical…always watching…always on the hunt…waiting to strike.
As RPGers, we spend a lot of time looking down for danger: in dungeons, crevasses, caves, the Darklands/Underdark. We never fight a dragon out in the open if we can help it; better to corner it in its lair if possible. Even the iconic fiendish planes are holes: the Abyss, the Pit, Hell.
But the slave-taking syrinx make us look upward to the mountaintops, instead. They join a select group of villains—cloud giants, yeti, Al-Qadim and 3.5’s yak folk, the denizens of Leng—that make us fear the high places, the darkened canopies, the mountain fortresses, the glacial peaks…
Adventurers accompany their monk friend back to his monastery, only to discover a “most honored guest” is already there. Brother Claw, a syrinx adept, asks for their aid in finding a girl lost in the mountains. Should they find her, the monks seem oddly upset and try to hide her presence from Brother Claw. But he finds out anyway and chastises the chief abbot for his insubordination, while the girl is borne away struggling by strix …
A sphinx holds the key to unlocking a rune-embossed gate. A sage who used to correspond regularly with her reports that she was invited by strange owl-men to take up a lectureship in their mountain city. In actuality, she is a prisoner kept in a cold, dank cell beneath the Great Library. Of course, to find this out, adventurers will have to face air elementals, strix, and tengu temple guardians first.
The innumerable city-states and petty principalities of Cambrill boast countless lords, barons, princelings, and magistrates. They can claim only one religion, however: the Holy Church on High. And while there is a feather-cloaked priest in every parish, the bishops, prelates, and inquisitors are syrinx to a man. And should a princeling too often thwart the will of his bishop, his body will be found mounted on the cathedral steeple, eyes plucked out by birds.
—Inner Sea Bestiary 51
Good news! This week’s show has a lot of Neutral Milk Hotel in it (because this). Bad news: It’s also got terrible audio because of a series of technical issues. But if you don’t mind some tape hiss—which makes no sense, because we don't use tape!—here’s the link to download.
(Music starts about two and a half minutes into the file. If the feed skips, Save As a mp3 and enjoy in iTunes. Link good till Friday, 10/18, at midnight.)