Sphinx

Sphinxes are a family of enigmatic creatures, close in relation, yet diverse in appearance, intellect and personality. All combine a lion's body, a falcon's wings, and a head of some other species. The most intelligent and powerful of the species sport humanoid heads—either male or female. The two types of humanoid-headed sphinxes are, in fact, separate races, not merely separate genders. These humanoid-headed races are often called androsphinxs and gynosphinxes, terms many sphinxes consider demeaning.

Lesser sphinxes have the heads of beasts and are invariably male; the most commonly encountered are the ram-headed criosphinxes and the savage, falcon-headed criosphinxes. Sphinxes deny any common ancestry with other leonine hybrids such as griffins and manticores, let alone celestial beings like lammasus, and find such lines of conversation distasteful.

History


Biology


While sphinxes as a race are not truly immortal, they are fantastically long-lived, save for the violent hieracosphinxes, who rarely survive their second decade. Unless slain by accident, violence, or misadventure, other sphinxes seem to pass on only when they have at last wearied of living and will themselves to die. The older a sphinx is, the less it needs consume. The oldest of sphinxes dine perhaps once per century, making them ideal guardians for monuments, temples, and tombs.

Sphinxes have peculiar breeding habits, contributing in no small part to their scarcity and the strange diversity of their species. Indeed, matters of mating occupy much of the thoughts of all of the sphinxes save the prudish androsphinxes. The female gynosphinxes have nothing but scorn for animal-headed sphinxes, craving only the attentions of the masculine androsphinxes. For their part, androsphinxes consider petty rutting a waste of time and energy, both of which are better spent on loftier pursuits than the fleeting pleasures of the flesh. Criosphinxes and hieracosphinxes alike lust after gynosphinxes. The former abase themselves and attempt to curry favor with lavish gifts. Hieracosphinxes scorn any such civilized gestures, and mate by force on the rare occasions they have a female at their mercy.

From these rare couplings, two to four sphinxes of any type may be born, regardless of the breed of the parents. Instead, the nature of the coupling itself influences the species of the resulting offspring. From those rare matings engendered by love or respect, androsphinxes and gynosphinxes are born. Those couplings motivated by carnal lust or selfish urges most often produce criosphinxes. Hieracosphinxes come from acts of hate and violence, and their disgusted mothers quickly abandon them to the mercy of the elements, lest the young turn against them. Of all the males, only the criosphinx willingly helps rear its own young, often as part of the bargain for mating in the first place. People of the desert sometimes honor the sphinx's form by crafting great stone sphinxes, often bearing the faces of their own rulers and nobles. Legend holds the first such monuments were modeled on the eldest and greatest of sphinxes, paragons of knowledge and wisdom far larger in size than any common sphinx. The oldest and largest of these sphinxes settled into the desert sands when at last they tired of immortality, and as they passed into their final sleep, their bodies became as sandstone.

These elder sphinxes may be androsphinxes or gynosphinxes, or very rarely criosphinxes. They have at minimum the advanced template, many additional Hit Dice, and a size of at least Huge (and more often Gargantuan or Colossal). They can use commune, contact other plane, and legend lore as spell-like abilities once each per day (CL equals the sphinx's CR), and frequently possess other powers and special attacks. Many such sphinxes can enter a state of stony suspended animation that resembles the freeze special ability, though they cannot easily rouse themselves from such slumber. Other sphinxes, even the bestial hieracosphinxes, defer to elder sphinxes in all matters, treating them almost as gods.

Ecology


Sphinxes originated in desert climes and prefer dry environments; they are generally found living in warm deserts, plains, and hills. Though carnivores, nonevil sphinxes never kill sentient creatures solely for food (like most people of the desert, however, they see little reason for waste; sphinxes may thus snack on a foe killed for legitimate and unrelated reasons). They tend to hunt large game animals, which they then fly back to their lairs so as not to have to share with scavengers. Sphinxes love raw meat and the thrill of the kill, even though it is sometimes at odds with their basically civilized instincts and natures.

Sphinxes are much larger than the lions they resemble, and with their wings look bigger still. They live for a very long time, and in fact it's believed by some that unless a sphinx is slain through accident, violence, or other means, the only way for a sphinx to die is for it to grow bored with life and actively will its own death. Even more interesting is the fact that the longer a sphinx lives, the less it needs to consume, with the oldest sphinxes eating perhaps no more than once per century-another trait that makes them uniquely well suited as guardians of hidden places.

Perhaps the strangest aspect of sphinx life is their mating habits. Deadly serious in their insistence that the various types are separate races rather than merely aspects of the same creature, sphinxes nevertheless require each other to mate-or rather, the three male variants all require gynosphinxes in order to procreate. Gynosphinxes, for their part, seek solely the companionship of androsphinxes, who despite their own desires often try to hold themselves above such worldly concerns as procreation. Those criosphinxes who manage to mate with a gynosphinx inevitably do so by offering some knowledge or puzzle the gynosphinx desires, or by agreeing to help raise the offspring (a duty even the high-minded androsphinx ignores). A hieracosphinx mates only on those rare occasions when he can capture and disable a gynosphinx long enough to force himself upon her.

From these unions, a gynosphinx gives birth to two to four sphinxes, whose types depend on the circumstances of their conception. Matings of love and respect produce androsphinxes and gynosphinxes, while lust or selfish urges produce criosphinxes. Hieracosphinxes come from acts of hate and violence, and gynosphinxes who carry these abominations quickly abandon them, lest the wrathful progeny attack their own mothers.

While many other creatures, from lammasus and shedus to griffons and manticores, have forms similar to those of sphinxes, the mere mention of such similarities-let alone the insinuation that sphinxes might be related to other beasts-is viewed by the sphinxes as insulting in the highest degree.

Sphinxes prefer warm desert climes and the hills nearby, both for the comforting warmth and the pleasant solitude. The more intelligent sphinxes have contrary social natures, alternately craving conversation and isolation as the mood strikes them. Indeed, a bored or irritated sphinx often takes leave in the midst of discussion, or perhaps slays and devours its petitioners out of sheer annoyance.

Sphinxes prefer to converse in their own tongue, but most speak the languages of humans and dragons as well. Addressing a sphinx in its own language with all due politeness and deference goes a long way to ensure peaceful conversation. All sphinxes save hieracosphinxes enjoy stimulating conversation, though for such long-lived creatures their memory for detail is sadly lacking. In some cultures, "a mind like a sphinx" serves as a sarcastic alternative to "scatter-brained."

Neighboring humanoids generally adopt a policy of avoiding local sphinxes, as the creatures grow increasingly irritable each time their solitude is invaded. Even so, once a sphinx's lair is known, it can expect a steady flow of visitors in search of the fabled wisdom of its race. Some sphinxes move to quieter abodes once the interruptions become too much to bear; others devour a few of the more irritating supplicants until the visits cease.

Society


In the wild, sphinxes lair in warm, dry caves or intact rooms in ruins. Unless there is something worth guarding, sphinxes prefer to stay close to the outside, especially along cliffs and near other wide open spaces that allow them room to fly. The older a sphinx gets, the more sedentary it becomes, until the oldest sphinxes barely move at all except when necessary. Many legends have arisen around this fact, and hint that some of the oldest statues of sphinxes may in fact be truly ancient specimens who calcified through magical means.

Sphinxes' lairs tend to be cluttered affairs. Often a gynosphinx or androsphinx lair will be full of books, papers, and the detritus of various academic pursuits, while a criosphinx's will be a hoard of anything even mildly valuable, and a hieracosphinx lair will be full of bones and grisly trophies.

Most sphinxes have a mixed relationship with visitors, including those of their own kind. While their fierce territoriality makes them solitary by nature, their need to fuel their obsessions-for wealth, information, and entertainment-makes them far less likely to pounce and kill out of hand, and instead visitors often find themselves milked for any useful knowledge or trinkets they may bring with them. Should a petitioner lack anything of interest, a disappointed sphinx may forget itself long enough to slaughter and devour him. If the visitor brings gifts or can share something interesting, however, the basic fairness of the sphinx often overcomes its territoriality, making the visitor relatively safe. Like the cats they resemble, all breeds of sphinxes can be quick to lose interest or take umbrage, and those who bore or rile a sphinx may have little warning before they reap the unfortunate consequences.

Sphinxes rarely coexist with other monsters and tribes of monstrous humanoids, the exceptions being those occasions when either the group is so interesting as to overcome the sphinx's natural inclinations, or the group is an inextricable part of whatever location or treasure the sphinx seeks to study or guard. Even in these cases, however, the other creatures quickly learn to give the sphinx its space, staying out of its territory unless absolutely necessary.

Except for the barbaric hieracosphinxes, when two sphinxes cross paths, the exchange is generally polite but tense, with both sides attempting to gain new and useful information while simultaneously engaging in games of intellectual one-upmanship. Brief alliances and collegial relationships may arise, especially when mating is involved, but the sphinxes' solitary natures inevitably lead them to drift apart before long. More commonly, if two sphinxes seek to work together, it's via magical correspondence, or messages carried between them by lesser creatures in exchange for scraps of the sphinxes' vast wealth of knowledge. Though the common portrayal of sphinxes as lovers of riddles and puzzles of all types applies primarily to gynosphinxes, all civilized sphinxes tend to be polymaths, versed in a variety of subjects but masters of none. This is a direct result of sphinxes' intense but fickle focus, which can lead them to dwell obsessively on a single problem or issue for days or centuries before promptly shifting their attention and ignoring the previous interest almost completely. It's this scholastic leapfrogging that makes sphinxes repositories of rare and valuable bits of trivia and lore, even given that their various fields of expertise are rarely related or organized in any sensible fashion.

Riddles

Though sphinxes have a reputation for loving riddles, in truth, only gynosphinxes truly enjoy them. Androsphinxes prefer lofty philosophical discussions, while criosphinxes prefer worldly topics or fawning praise. Hieracosphinxes rarely converse at all, and respond only to threats from creatures more powerful than they are.

"Which creature in the morning goes on four legs, at mid-day on two, and in the evening upon three, and the more legs it has, the weaker it be?" The answer is "Man-who goes on all fours as a baby, walks upright as an adult, and uses a cane as an old man."

Another, less common riddle attributed to a sphinx is, "There are two sisters: one gives birth to the other and she, in turn, gives birth to the first." In this case, the sphinx is alluding to day and night.

While both of these riddles are already well known, listed below are a few more classic riddles sphinxes might employ.

"Here there is no north, nor west nor east, and weather unfit for man or beast." (The North Pole.)

"Each morning I lie at your feet, all day I follow no matter how fast you run, yet I nearly perish in the midday sun." (Your shadow.)

"There are four brothers. The first runs and never wearies. The second eats and is never full. The third drinks and is always thirsty. The fourth sings a song that is never good." (Water, fire, earth, and wind.)

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License