Cetus

(Illustration by Wayne England comes from the Paizo Blog and is © Paizo Publishing.)

Sea dragons are blustery but basically good-hearted commodores, forever wandering across the vast domains they protect.  Krakens are slave takers and empire builders, grasping for more power above and especially below the waves.  Sea serpents are practically natural disasters, violent irruptions (it’s a word) that shatter a captain’s calm, control, and keel.

But when you want the classic sea-monster-that-holds-a-city-hostage, that’s when you turn to the cetus.  

This is the monster that Perseus fought, and I admire Bestiary 5 for being willing to go to the mat to make this monster live up to its mythological rep (even if there are no mythic ranks in its stat block).  It’s Colossal in size.  It regenerates damage.  It can control water, winds, and weather, allowing it to box opponents into their own harbors and foil aerial attacks. Speaking of aerial attacks, it can leap 1,200(!) feet in the air to lunge at flying opponents…and even if the cetus’s victims are not unlucky enough to get fast-swallowed whole, the cetus’s dispelling bite is bound to ruin many of their enchantments (including possibly the ones keeping them aloft).  Heck, the cetus is even just plain bad luck—literally just being in its vicinity can be enough to screw up your dice rolls for the next minute (an eternity in combat).

In other words, this is a beast truly out of legend.  Normally I don’t like monsters that seem specifically designed to foil PC (and player) actions and drain their spell reserves (I’m looking at you, golems). But for the hostage-taking, sacrifice-devouring, city-extorting cetus, it feels right.  The designers even throw the players a bone straight from the Perseus myth—the cetus is vulnerable to petrification.  So the next time your adventurers are at the flea market, keep an eye out for pickled medusa head…you know, just in case.

Petrified does not mean dead.  Adventurers race to stop a locathah terrorist from resurrecting a legendary cetus, currently lying like a stony statue at the bottom of the Devilfish Deeps.

What’s more terrifying than a cetus?  Any being powerful enough to use a cetus as a mount. A greater dullahan antipaladin rides a cetus into the mouth of Hellbone Harbor, bringing dark tidings from below. The cetus also bears a howdah containing all the souls of the dullahan’s many, many victims.

The Afterlife is a river—one that flows every onward toward Oblivion.  Even what mortals conceive of as the Four Blessed Heavens or the Thirteen Precincts of Hell are merely ports of call along the river’s course.  But one rule of the Afterlife is ironclad: No vessel may travel upstream.  Individuals may sometimes escape the River of Death through powerful magic, fell bargains, or even dogged, determined fording upriver (usually resulting in undeath by the time the pass back into the mortal world).  But any attempt to build and sail a ship upstream is met with a fiendish cetus determined to crush the blasphemous vessel and all aboard.

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Speaking as someone whose eldritch knight nearly single-handedly took out an ulgurstasa courtesy of fireballing while flying, I can tell you the cetus’s Impossible Leap (Su) ability is terrifying.

One fact I didn’t tackle above is that the cetus is technically a dragon.  I’m a huge fan of one-off dragons, and I like the idea of one of these crashing an otherwise stately gathering of metallic, chromatics, and imperials…

Have I mentioned yet how much I enjoyed the Pathfinder setting sourcebook Distant Shores?  In that book the mythic hero-gods of Aelyosos have a thalassic behemoth problem, but in your campaign maybe a cetus would do the trick instead.

Also, I’m repeating myself from my last entry, but the cetus is an excellent monster for a Scarred Lands campaign.

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More dragons from my thread on FR, as usual check my thread out here if you wanna buy any of em!

In other news, my wrist has FINALLY healed! Took me four months but I can finally draw with my right hand without any pain whatsoever. Remember kids, always stretch and take breaks when drawing.

anonymous asked:

Am I the only one that hates "the nose thing"? I just feels weird and not like training a dragon would be as easy as just touching it's nose. Although, maybe I just feel that way because of how much I loved that scene in HTTYD and it always felt like in the show they were just trying to copy it .-.

I will answer this question in two ways. First, I’ll start with some minor critical observations of the hand-to-nose touching phenomenon of training dragons. Second, I’ll talk about how it’s actually very cool, and how it’s not quite as simple as “training” a dragon by “reaching out and touching it.”

Some Minor Qualms

The word “hate” is a bit strong and I wouldn’t use it here. “Prefer” or “disprefer” is something I’m fine talking about. XD I will admit that touching the hand to the nose of any dragon within the shows, and it becoming immediately docile, is not something that is very realistic, and thus not something I have overtly celebrated about the stories. I would have preferred something else.

I don’t think the show writers are simply trying to “copy” the Forbidden Friendship scene during which Hiccup reaches out his hand and tries to touch Toothless. There’s no intent to “steal” ideas or reinvent the wheel or keep doing the same thing over and over. The writers of the television show (canon show officially produced by DreamWorks, mind) are seeking to build a common element between humans and dragons bonding: that of touch.

Hiccup and Toothless touch hand to snout, and it’s the moment they finally bond in the movie. It comes beautifully after slowly building their relationship over a long period of time and events. After all these moments where Toothless has shied away, not letting Hiccup touch him (growling if Hiccup tried), now is the moment they finally demonstrate trust in one another. It’s significant, groundbreaking, and not at all trivial.

Later, in the same movie, Hiccup leads Hookfang out of his pen in the Kill Ring and attempts to lay his hand on the dragon’s snout. Before he can, Hookfang startles and attacks. Only when Snotlout actually presses his hands on Hookfang’s snout do we see the Monstrous Nightmare calmed and willing to work with humans.

It’s these elements that the television show brings, synthesizes, and uses to build a universe. This touch-the-dragon’s-snout thing is widespread, shown in everything from Riders of Berk to the video game Wild Skies. They take an element they see present in the movies, and try to use it as a constant and explaining force for how humans can bond with dragons.

So there’s good reason to write these hand-to-nose scenes. It’s not irreverent, it’s not rude, it’s not stupid, and it’s not necessarily lazy. The reason I am not a fan of it is because it doesn’t seem realistic. As you express, “it feels weird” and “training a dragon would[n’t] be as easy as just touching its nose.” I agree with you completely that the way the dragons appear to be trained seems unfeasible and awkwardly oversimplified. I’m fine with the gesture of touching hand to snout. What’s more of a problem is timing. It should take a lot more than five minutes to tame a dragon - just reach out a hand, touch a completely wild dragon’s snot, and oh look! we’re good to go forever! It feels trivial, way too easy, and unreaslistic. It seems like the majority of dragons would take months or years to get to trust, not minutes, and that the trust would build and develop very slowly over time. Yet in episodes like “Imperfect Harmony,” we see Hiccup riding a Thunderdrum he only just met!

This honestly all branches from a more general “dispreference” I have about the DreamWorks Dragons universe: the dragons aren’t wild enough for my tastes. They’re too much like our pets we keep in our houses, backyards, or stables. I would prefer to see wild, scary, firebreathing beasts rather than docile, tail-wagging puppy dogs. Sure, dogs playing fetch are cute. But a dragon isn’t a dog, and I’m VERY tired of seeing every single creature being turned into a dog (or other common pets like cats and horses) just to garner audience appeal. The hand-to-nose training thing is just one facet of the dragons being a little bit too unrealistically docile for being wild, carnivorous animals that seem to have a long history of being hunted by humans. It seems a little weird for them to warm up to humans as readily as they do in the television show - can you really see any other wild animal willingly letting you ride on its back five minutes after meeting you?

Touching is a Gesture of Trust Already Gained

But that’s enough criticism on my end. It might not be what I prefer, but there’s actually some cool things about it. I want to end this analysis by talking about what’s really cool about the hand-to-nose gesture, simple though it may be. We can choose to look at it as something that signifies really awesome things.

First, the hand-to-nose gesture does is establish explanatory force of how to train dragons. That is sort of interesting. We gain some understanding of the “mechanics” of what it is to gain a dragon’s trust. It’s not some weird willy-nilly thing, but it’s an action that you can do that will help gain a dragon’s trust. Just like running up to a horse isn’t a good idea and will startle it basically every time, so also can reaching out and gently touching a dragon’s nose calm the creature and make it more attuned to you.

But there’s something even more interesting and deep than that.

It’s not touching a dragon on the nose that makes it trained. The dragon is trained the moment it chooses to trust you to, and then subsequently lets you touch its nose.

Here’s the thing: training a dragon isn’t like programming a robot. You enter the code and it (ideally) does exactly what you want it to do. You’re the one in control of the robot you make. But a dragon is a living, breathing creature with its own thoughts and emotions. 

It means that the word “training” is a bit of a… poor term to use. A better description would be “gaining the trust of” the dragon. 

This means that two things need to happen: you need to trust the dragon, and the dragon needs to trust you. 

What happens when you touch the nose of a dragon isn’t that you push the automatic “on” button to make a dragon trust you. When a dragon chooses to let you touch its snout, the dragon has already trusted you. It wouldn’t let you touch it otherwise. What the hand-to-nose touch is, then, is a form of communication, a symbol for trust which has been gained. It’s a conscious decision between a human and a dragon to reach out and do something brave - touch one another.

How long it can take to gain a dragon’s trust varies. In the case of Toothless, it took a very long time. Toothless wasn’t trained when he and Hiccup touched. The trust was slow in being gained. But once Toothless gained trust in Hiccup, they communicated it by that hand-to-nose gesture. It was a physical symbol of something which had grown and clicked.

When Hiccup tries to train new dragons, what he’s doing is depicting body language saying, “I trust you.” You can do this sort of thing with lots of animals. You can make yourself look threatening or friendly to many animals based on your body language. Hiccup has learned that the body language which is less threatening and most friendly to dragons is the following: turning his head down, looking away, closing his eyes, and slowly reaching out his palm. This is basically Hiccup communicating saying, “I am willing to trust you.” But to train a dragon, both sides have to agree. The dragon has to reciprocate in turn, respond to Hiccup’s gesture, and touch its nose back. Hiccup can’t just reach out a hand and touch the dragon. The dragon has to choose to touch Hiccup once it sees Hiccup’s nonthreatening body language.

Sometimes it takes dragons a while in the show to gain trust. There are many dragons that intentionally choose not to touch Hiccup’s hand to the snout. Just like Toothless growls when Hiccup reaches out his hand at first in the first movie, dragons reject Hiccup’s communication of trust multiple times in the show. Consider the Whispering Death in “What Flies Beneath,” for instance. It flies away from Hiccup’s hand. It sees Hiccup is not a threat, but it intentionally chooses not to demonstrate it has trust in Hiccup. Therefore, the Whispering Death is not “trained.” Similarly, Scauldy demonstrates clear distrust in the humans before finally responding to Ruffnut. Then, in a number of episodes, the dragons never get to the point of trust that they are “trained.”

All in all the word “trained” is misleading. It’s not about doing a magic action, holding out your hand, and abra cadabra the dragon is trained and will be your happy pet forever. In both the television shows and the movies, the touch is regarded as something sacred. It’s two-way communication involved both a human and a dragon willingly communicating that they want to be peaceful and trusting to each other. Just like a dog wags it tail and you can know it’s not going to do you harm since it’s just showing happy body language, so also does a dragon demonstrate it will do no harm by its action of showing trusting body language.