Saturday, 16 May 2015

So You've Been Kidnapped By A Giant Bird

Why is the Helmaroc King the best Zelda monster?

objectively, I mean

There's something about giant birds. They're goofy as hell - I mean, goofy is exactly the right word for them. Birds shouldn't be giant. Birds don't need to be giant. There's nothing a bird does which it would do any better if it were giant. Talons are for gripping branches, carrying off prey, raking human eyes out. There aren't any branches that big. In the story of Sinbad the rocs eat giant snakes which in turn eat elephants. Food chains don't go that high. A roc's claws could carve furrows through a city but only by accident - a single person could probably dodge between them. When Sinbad is carried away by the roc it doesn't even notice he's there. He's clinging to a piece of meat. Where did those merchants get raw and bloody pieces of meat the size of snakes that eat elephants, anyway?

But birds are funny and terrifying in equal measure. They inhabit a weird twilight zone between reptiles and mammals. Warm-blooded and fuzzy, so we kind of feel like they're on our side, but also self-evidently insane. It takes only the most desultory observation of a seagull to see the reptile brain shining through. Birds are never dangerous to humans in the same way snakes and crocodiles are, so we don't have that instinctual aversion to them. But if they were big enough to kill us they would do it in a heartbeat. If we had evolved alongside, let us say, a species of predatory ostrich, we would probably feel very differently about every single avian. The words "predatory ostrich" would not sound even slightly ridiculous, for a start.

hello clouds you are my friends
The Helmaroc King is not as large as the Sinbad rocs. This makes him more convincing. His claws are just the right size to kidnap your little sister. He could probably tear her in half if he wanted to. You get the sense that humans are his natural prey. But he still has that big honking goofiness and he would have that even if the design didn't play it up. Has anyone ever done a giant bird that isn't ridiculous on some level? Scary, sure, but scary-outlandish, in that Steven King way where like some wind-up teeth are trying to share your body with a cursed hotel room and the numbers on the door all add up to 13. You can't quite believe that this is the thing that's going to kill you.

The other thing about giant birds is that they are amazing plot hooks. Say they aren't working for an evil sorcerer. What do they do? Fly around killing stuff of a certain size category, which happens to be exactly the size category that humans are interested in, and also are. Then - crucially - take the stuff somewhere, which is far enough away that you have to go on a bit of a quest to get there and probably climb a mountain or something. Feed their babies with the stuff, meaning there's babies there, which could be a bit of a moral dilemma I guess but honestly your players will never care. But it makes the bird more sympathetic. And there's probably treasure in the nest, or dudes they kidnapped who weren't quite dead. And maybe your players could get the babies young and train them. And what if the baby birds are surprisingly intelligent and they only become dumber as they grow up and killing the bird will also doom them to starvation? And there's also all the mystical, simurgh-esque quality of birds, like maybe the bird is actually thirty birds and also the king of birds and by climbing the mountain the players are really climbing themselves.

Anyway it's no wonder there are so many stories and legends about this exact scenario. Now here are some tables about giant birds for you to use.

clicken upon me to maken thy burd
  1. Magpie. Collects shiny shit. Thrones, brass domes, suits of armour with mans inside.
  2. Pelican. Has shark in its gullet. If threatened, can barf shark onto you.
  3. Parrot. Talks. Extremely loudly. Snatches of nonsense hearable from miles away.
  4. Heron. Piercing beak comes down through roof of castle to pluck king from bedchamber.
  5. Eagle. Specializes in dropping paladins from great height, cracking armour, picking out juicy bits.
  6. Osprey. Sea-based. Favours small whales, finds it hard to tell difference between them and ships.
  7. Woodpecker. Thinks peasants in farmhouses are grubs in bole of tree.
  8. Pigeon. Trash-devourer on industrial scale. Spreads disease throughout kingdom.
  9. Nightingale. Hypnotically beautiful song, mesmerizes prey.
  10. Goose. Mostly eats leaves off trees, but shits everywhere. People drown.
  11. Hummingbird. Terrifyingly fast. Must eat huge amount to survive. Thrumming subsonic drone causes gradual insanity.
  12. Albatross. On annual trans-oceanic migration. Lays only one egg at a time.
  1. In remote mountains, made from half a forest
  2. In abandoned city, made from bits of abandoned city
  3. In extinct volcano, made from petrified wood
  4. On distant island, made from wrecked ships
  5. In dank fungal forest, made from mushroom stalks
  6. In branches of giant tree, made from semi-giant twigs
  7. In vast landmarkless plain, is scraped hole in dirt
  8. In towering seaside cliff, is sheltered ledge of stone
  9. In frozen waste, is rough iglooid sphere of ice
  10. In side of ravine, is burrow in clay
  11. In cavernous lair of whole other monster, long-dead
  12. In human-created structure big enough to hold giant bird, e.g. castle, wizard tower
  1. Prince of whatever gender. Totally useless
  2. Younger sibling of most sentimental PC
  3. Older sibling of least sentimental PC
  4. Famous knight, recently won tournament
  5. Matriarch of powerful merchant family
  6. The actual king
  7. Research cleric who has claimed to be on verge of discovering plague cure, isn't
  8. Some guy whose only distinguishing feature is that he's terrified of birds
  9. Beloved local bard who got famous for song mocking PCs
  10. Tavern owner
  11. Leader of well-funded heretic cult
  12. Town crier & secret wizard
  1. Gilded figurehead of infamous pirate ship, long-disappeared
  2. Skull, crown of obscure regal ancestor
  3. Golden idol of bull, apparently mistaken for real thing
  4. Wooden treasure chest w/ cunning lock, smashed open by bird, acid boobytrap melted 2/3 of contents
  5. Skinned elephant carcass coated w/ sticky diamonds
  6. Magic sword used as building material, almost impossible to remove from nest wall
  7. Skeleton w/ Amulet of Not Being Eaten around neck, no protection against not eating
  8. Fistful of rings deemed unpalatable by baby birds, vomited back out
  9. Corpse of snow leopard, fresh-killed, skin 90% intact and worth a small fortune to right buyer
  10. Giant fish w/ smaller fish in belly, smaller fish in belly of that, etc. Smallest fish has magic ring
  11. Lamp w/ bored genie
  12. Corpse of randomly determined PC, extra copies of all that PC's treasure. Taking them will lead to time anomalies


  1. giant birds have a simplicity that dragons lack

    a dragon will kidnap your princess (of whatever gender) as part of some centuries-long master plan. then to get them back you have to navigate its trap-filled lair and answer riddles or some shit

    a giant bird will just kidnap your princess because its babies prefer live meat. you can knock that out in half an hour

    plus giant birds read as easier to kill than dragons. there's no implication of terrible arcane power. a giant bird could die in a stupid way, like sticking its head into a portcullis which you then close. a dragon demands an epic battle whereas a giant bird allows for the possibility of a hilarious anticlimax

    i think they are both useful but for different purposes

  2. The birds and plants are different up here. One day, while the lieutenant is urinating against a tree, the foliage shakes and an enormous bird runs out. It looks vaguely like an ostrich, but more compact and more colorful. It has a red neck, and a cobalt-blue head with a giant helmetlike bone sticking out of the top of its skull, like the nose of an artillery shell. It prances straight up to the lieutenant and kicks him a couple of times, knocking him flat on his ass, then bends his long neck down, shrieks in his face, and runs back into the jungle, using its head-bone as a kind of battering-ram to clear a path through the brush.

    Even if the men were not dying on their feet, they would be too startled to raise their weapons and take a shot at it. They laugh giddily. Goto Dengo laughs until he cries. The bird must have delivered a powerful kick, though, because the lieutenant lies there for a long time, clutching his stomach.

    Finally one of the sergeants regains his composure and walks over to help the poor man. As he draws closer, he suddenly turns around to face the rest of the group. His face has gone slack.

    Blood is fountaining out of a couple of deep stab wounds in the lieutenant’s belly, and his body is already going limp when the rest of the group gathers around him. They sit and watch until they are pretty sure he is dead, and then they march onwards. That evening, the sergeant shows Goto Dengo how to disassemble and clean the Nambu light machine gun.