Having just finished Dark Sun’s Second Edition Boxed Set, I’ll now be digging into the first Monstrous Compendium for Dark Sun, Terrors of the Desert.
Often small creatures are kept or allowed to live in Athasian households in exchange for some form of comfort or service the creature provides. These pets are considered neither cute nor cuddly as no such creature may be found anywhere on Athas.
These brightly-colored beetles are highly prized for the pleasant humming sounds they produce. Better trading houses have at least one.
The hurrum have a brightly-colored, opalescent, chitinous shell that varies from cobalt-blue to copper-green. Convex and oval in shape, the shell protects four pair of small, vestigial wings. With a smallish head, stubby antennae, and four very short legs, the beetle appears comical.
Hurrum beat their wings rapidly back and forth, gently striking the underside of their carapace which creates the vibration and noise for which these creatures are best known. The sound is also used as a simple form of communication between hurrum
Few creatures in the insect kingdom attract prey (or earn a living) the way the hurrum beetle does. The beetle produces a pleasing humming sound by continuously fluttering its vestigial wings. The wings beat in rapid succession between the soft body of the beetle and its hard, chitinous shell. The rising and falling rhythm have a soothing, almost hypnotic effect.
The beetles’ staple diet is small, flying insects which are drawn to the vibration produced by the beetles’ wings. The vibration also makes prey docile and easy to overcome.
This flightless beetle produces soothing humming noises (although few would call it music) which change in pitch and frequency throughout the day. Frequently, the bright, opalescent shell of the hurrum beetle changes color with the speed of its humming. The humming is a by-product of the creature’s attempt to cool itself by rapidly beating its small, vestigial wings. A real pleasure is letting the beetle crawl across one’s bare skin where the slight vibration of the shell and the humming are coupled with a very slight breeze. Halflings find hurrum extremely pleasing (though when hungry, halflings find them delicious).
Multi-colored, spiny-backed lizards, critics are frequently reluctant house guests in Athas. They are innately psionic and tune themselves to their feeders.
Some say critics are the prettiest lizards on Athas. Often mottled in brightly-colored hues, they change color each year when they molt. Critics average 12 to 17 in length and weigh from 2 ½ to 5 pounds.
Critics use rudimentary body language to communicate with others of their species. Communication via magical or other means is possible; however, the creature often reacts/answers in a paranoid or anxious manner.
The bite of the critic is inconsequential since it can only inflict a single point of damage. The value of the creature comes from its psionic abilities. Critics sense trouble. When they abruptly scurry for cover, so do most owners.
Critics are feral even when born in captivity and cannot truly be domesticated. Very stealthily, the lizard-like creature preys on insects and small rodents. Critics attune themselves to a single location and will tolerate a small group of people if fed on a regular basis. Attuning means the lizard will look after the area and alert all nearby if any danger is perceived. Critics have a nasty independent streak and will not send warning signals if they have been abused or mistreated.
Critics are considered to be good luck in a household or storage area. They are lazy and prefer to be fed rather than hunt on their own. Generally, young critics are captured and
brought to a residence. They must be allowed to adjust to their new surroundings at their own pace. Within a week, the feeder/owner will know if the creature has decided to adopt the location or has run away. The critic will remain in a constant state of alarm if caged or chained.
This small gastropod has developed a symbiotic relationship with humanoid creatures in the desert. A harmless, tasteless slug, it stores water and is sometimes consumed raw on long desert trips.
Varied in color, renk have a 2-3 inch elongated, tapered body. A sucker mouth can be found below a short pair of antennae used to detect vibration.
These harmless slugs have no true attack. Renk live on certain benevolent creatures or individuals, gaining nourishment from licking the salt, sweat, and dead skin from the
Renk mate in stagnant water or rotting grain. They produce a dozen or so offspring that mature in 3-4 weeks. They are otherwise solitary creatures. Renk have small, abdominal suction pods that they use for locomotion and to attach to food sources. They prefer to stay shielded from direct sunlight.
Renk are often taken on long trips. Consumed alive, renk contain more water than seems possible. Renk store moisture in an extra stomach that ruptures when they are eaten raw.
An average renk holds a ½ cup of water; therefore, an active man would need to eat 32 raw renks a day to replace fluids needed for one day in the desert. Concern should be taken when purchasing renk. Occasionally a leech or other harmful creature will be added to a group of renk and sold to an unsuspecting buyer.
Ock’n appear as small, spiral-shelled snails. When they move, they leave a slime trail composed of an amber-like liquid that has many household uses.
Nautiloid in shape, this small snail seldom reaches 1 in length. Ockn shells are almost always light in hue but vary in color and striping. All ock’n sensory organs are located on the forward protruding head. The head holds a very small pair of light sensors affixed to independent eye stalks. A slit mouth is also located on the head.
Ock’n communicate to other gastropods via a complex system of eye stalk movements. The eye stalks are always in a slow, constant motion as the creature conveys only the most simple of concepts.
Ock’n live in loose colonies, always in odd-numbered groups. Should an even number be confined in a small area, one will die or be killed by the others. Only the ock’n knows why this phenomenon occurs. The ock’n breathes via osmosis through exposed skin.
Unpalatable as food, ock’n shells make interesting jewelry. The gastropod spends each day in search of food and moisture, leaving behind a valuable slime trail. The glossy,
ochre-colored slime is composed of an amber-like resin. When the resin dries, it becomes hard as stone but has only a quarter of normal stone’s weight. The snail’s highly-prized slime/resin is used in numerous ways. Coating weapons, waterproofing materials, and sealing perishables or the dead are just a few of its uses. Ock’n snails only produce a single fluid dram (1/8 fluid ounce) of this material each day.
Many animals are used on Athas for food, clothing, or weapons. Some have been partially domesticated or are stupid enough to allow themselves to be captured and herded.
The kip is a shy, six-legged, armored creature that digs and eats the roots of plants and trees. Their supple, armor-like covering makes excellent durable leather goods.
The leathered kip grows from 2′-4′ in length. Kips are covered with a horny armor that is segmented into nine separate plates. They have elongated, pointed snouts and very small, beady eyes located on each side of their snouts. The eyes are protected by a glass-like covering that protects them while digging. The sharp, strong foreclaws enable the creature to dig. Their short, stubby, hind legs only allow them to amble around slowly.
Kips communicate via a series of low grunts. Although not a true language, dwarven kip-herders have learned to mimic the sounds in order to better control the herd.
Kip herds provide a staple of meat and leather goods in most dwarven communities. Roasted, an adult kip will feed two very hungry dwarves; made into a stew, the meat and broth will easily feed six. Kips and dwarves seem to be complementary in pace and temperament. Dwarven communities keep the kip herd in a slow, constant motion since kip tend to destroy roots of growing plants. Their elongated, pointy snouts and a keen
sense of smell aid them in their search for food. Kips will eat anything that doesn’t put up a fight, including garbage.
Dwarves with animal handling proficiency can safely milk the pheromones from an adult, but the chemical will lose all potency within 48 hours. Only a small amount of pheromonal fluid can be milked from each animal. A turn spent milking a kip will
produce enough fluid to create a small (one cubic foot) pheromone cloud.
Z’tal are small, upright lizards that hop in shepherded leaps across Athas. They are very stupid and are known to stampede when panicked.
Z’tal jump wherever they go on powerful hind legs that end in sharp talons. Their small head is rounded in the back with a sharp, hard point on the end. Their long, thick tail is used for balance when they hop. The vestigial forearms and claws are seldom used. Varying in shades of tans and browns, z’tal are covered by sharp, feather-like scales.
Z’tal constantly make a series of chirps, squeaks, and squawks. These noises are intended predominantly to keep the herd within a single area. When threatened, z’tal scream and
Z’tals are well suited for life in the desert. They require little water and can sustain themselves through foraging. Z’tal travel in groups called leaps and are acknowledged as perhaps the most stupid and timid of creatures on Athas. They sometimes accidentally die by running off cliffs or into the Sea of Silt if chased.
About once a month the female digs a small hole and lays a clutch of 1-3 eggs. The eggs are immediately forgotten and left to fend for themselves. The eggs are not edible by any known creature because z’tal’s scales develop almost immediately after conception.
The rear talons of z’tal are used to dig out small insects and seedlings, which the z’tal crushes with its beak. Docile creatures except when frightened, one screaming z’tal will soon stampede the entire leap of lizards.
Z’tal meat is dense and coarse, though the hindquarters (drumsticks) and tail of an adult z’tal make excellent eating (once the scales have been carefully removed). Roasted, the
three pieces will feed six hungry individuals or one half-giant.
Z’tal meat makes an excellent base for soup; a single z’tal cooked this way will easily feed a dozen hungry, man-sized creatures. The sharp, flexible feather-scales are frequently used as small knives and razors. The scales dull after a week of regular use and cannot be resharpened.
These furred mammals live in burrow communities in the desert. Although they represent a possible prime source of food or clothing, most people think they are too dangerous to bother.
Standing about 1 foot tall on their hind legs, jankx have a small, pointy head and internal cheek pouches that allow them to carry food or water when they run. Jankx have long, sleek bodies and four short, muscular legs. Golden in color, their pelts are highly prized for trade.
Jankx communicate in a series of ultrasonic squeaks and barks that are inaudible to humanoid ears.
Jankx live in a complex community of underground passageways. Their burrows contain different living, storage, and sleeping areas. Food storage and deep water supplies are always closely guarded. Traditional family units’ tunnels always interconnect with other jankx families. Jankx sleep through the day and emerge at dusk for a night of foraging.
Their small paws are very well evolved for digging and handling small items.
Those who consider themselves jankx herders are more trappers than anything. Jankx are usually snared when they are on their nightly forays. A herder hovel is always built
either above ground or on solid stone to prevent jankx from burrowing underneath the hovel and killing the herder. Jankx meat is considered gamey but palatable. Due to the difficult position of the poison sacs, caution should be taken in preparing jankx meat. A general rule is one jankx for elves and humans, more for others. Caution must always be exercised when cooking jankx meat. When cooked, the burning flesh emits an odor
that sends any nearby jankx into a rage. If cooked too close to a jankx community, a horde of jankx will invariably find the source of the odor and attack the diners.
Next: Creatures of the Verdant Belts (1/4)
Thumbnail art by Jeff Carlisle