Griffon Ecology

Griffon

From a popular lecture by forest warden Defaeben Knazzer, of the Royal Zoological Gardens of Restov.

One of the best known of all fantastic creatures, the griffon is seen both as a feared monster and a much-desired flying mount. The griffon is accurately described by sages as a ferocious avian carnivore, and it is probably the most successful large flying predator, being more common
and voracious than any sort of dragon. It is the true king of the air.

The origins of the griffon are unclear. Some scholars have speculated that it was the result of magical experimentation by an ancient civilization. Yet the legends of griffons seem to be older than the earliest records, older than this theory would explain. Like the centaurs, griffons are
probably the result of natural magical forces granting an adaptable creature the traits of different mundane animals. In the griffon, these forces produced a powerful being indeed.

Anatomy

In appearance, griffons resemble great lionlike cats with the taloned forelimbs, wings, and heads of great eagles, but with prominent tufted ears. Their body fur colors range from golden bronze to dark brown, the colors darkening with age. Males have touches of red on their breast feathers; females have duller coloration than males.

The size of an adult griffon is on the order of the largest of lions and tigers, being of similar proportions though with an especially heavy chest and with the shoulders to accommodate wings and
flight muscles. While standing on all fours, the overall length from beak to rump measures 7-10’’. An adult male may weigh up to 1,100 lbs., with females averaging one-third less.

Artists and heralds have incorrectly pictured griffons as having thin, sticklike forelimbs. In fact, a griffon’s forelegs are as heavy as a lion’s and are capable of striking like clubs with sufficient force to break a victim’s neck. The raptor’s talons, which are up to 6"” long, can not only slash but can clench in a bone-crushing grip. Like lions, griffons can bowl over large animals with one sweep of a foreleg.

With pinions fully stretched, the griffon’’s wingspan is often eight or nine yards across, a magnificent and awe-inspiring sight. Though without tail feathers and looking entirely lionlike, the griffon’s tail helps it steer and stay balanced in flight. The moderately pointed wings are well suited for soaring and for diving onto prey. A griffon’s feathers are gold in color, often with patterns of black washing across them.

The eyes of the griffon have been said to resemble living flames, usually being ruby red, burning yellow, or icy blue. Griffons have the same keen vision that giant eagles have, being able to see a horse from two miles away in the air. It is said that if a griffon could read, it could see normal print clearly from 100’’. Its sense of smell is only average for a predatory animal,
still much better than that of humans but inferior to that of dogs. It might be possible for a griffon to track quarry by scent alone, and one would certainly be able to detect most enemies approaching from upwind, but not as readily as could many of its prey. A griffon’s sense of hearing, on the other hand, is very sharp. It can hear hoofbeats on packed earth from at least a mile altitude, and a trainer’s call will reach it from the same distance.

Flying

Eagles can roll completely over in midair and griffons can do likewise, but not without
some difficulty. Due to their great size, it would take longer to correct an error or regain height, making aerobatics dangerous. Midair loops and somersaults may be possible under good conditions but probably not with a rider. Nevertheless, the griffon is a nimble and powerful flyer, though less so than the Pegasus, which is both faster and more agile in flight. The
griffon is built to catch moderately quick prey and carry it back to a high nest.

Griffons can fly in almost any weather, having an elemental feel for the sky and its conditions. They can sense changes in the weather and can detect downdrafts and thermals. Griffon riders need at least as much training to learn how griffons fly as their griffons need to learn how to carry their riders. Griffons can be intractable at times and simply may not want to fly, much less convey a rider, though usually not without good reason; they are quite sure of themselves in the air.

Hunting

Very few carnivores are as superbly capable of hunting as is the griffon. With its combination of speed and agility, as well as its natural armament, the griffon is a tenacious predator. Although a griffon can strike large prey out of the air, it favors hunting ground-dwelling animals,
especially herd animals and most especially horses, which it craves. The variety of potential prey is very large, as griffons are opportunistic hunters; they feed on almost anything from the size of a rabbit to a buffalo —including, at times, humans. Unlike lions, griffons are not scavengers and will usually ignore food that isn’’t fresh. A griffon can locate prey in near
total darkness, but it normally hunts during the day as it is easier to fly on sunheated
thermals and many herd animals are up and about during this time. Open
plains, savannahs, and rolling grasslands are its preferred hunting grounds.

If it is injured, a griffon can function as a land predator as well as an aerial one, though it will be slow and is then most likely to become a man-eater. When acting as a land hunter, it will behave much as a big cat, though it shows some flexibility in adjusting its hunting techniques. It may stalk and pounce like a leopard, or stalk and charge like a tiger; if there are two or
more griffons, a group charge, as per the lion, might be used. If the griffon’s wings are partially functioning, it is then able todrop onto its prey from a tree or cliff.

Although griffons can and do hunt a large variety of prey, equine flesh is their obsession. Griffons wing their ways at once toward any horses they see, selecting the group that offers the best feeding with the least danger. Young griffons pay no heed to warriors who may be riding or
leading horses, attacking with no regard for swords or arrows. An older griffon, however, devotes a few moments to consider such an attack in advance. An unprotected wild horse is an immediate target, but a column of cavalry may be given up as too much trouble unless the griffon is extremely hungry, stupid, arrogant, or has never fought warriors before.

Griffons are not often clever, but experienced ones have learned a few tricks. Adventurers tell tales of griffons that bide their time until after dark when a large mounted party is bedded down, then approach on the ground from upwind to spook the horses into bolting from the camp. The griffons then follow the horses for a safe distance before making the kill to minimize the hazards from the party. If horses are tied down, a quick kill from the air and an immediate escape will ensure something worth eating after the party is gone. The less-intelligent lion is well known for similar tactics.

Family Matters

The griffon’s range is extremely wide, from the tropics to the subarctic, and from coastal areas to high mountains. Because of the wide variety of prey it can hunt, and its ability to fly long distances for food or water; the griffon is the dominant predator in most areas unsuitable for
other large hunters.

A griffon’’s preferred nesting place is in the most remote and inaccessible part of its territory. High places commanding a wide view of the surrounding countryside are typical, including cliffs, mountaintops, mountainous caves, and large ruins. Even some great trees can support the weight
of a griffon’s nest. These nests are normally far apart, but if prey is plentiful griffons can be gregarious and live among a small cluster of nests within earshot of each other.

As with eagles, griffons are monogamous and mate for life. They are devoted parents and will defend mate and young unto death. The young are fed first from any family kill. It is the male that hunts while the female guards the nest, again much as with eagles. Typically, two agate colored eggs are laid at a time, incubation can last up to 2 years. The hatchlings are ravenous
and eat at least their weight in food a day for the first three months of life. At four
months, the fledglings are the sizes of large dogs and can climb and move about on the ground. The parents now begin to teach their young hunting methods without using wings. At six months, the young begin flight training and aerial hunting, which lasts at least six more months. The
nest is moved if necessary until the young can fend for themselves. Leaving the parents after two years, the young travel great distances before establishing their own home ranges.

On occasion, two or more griffons (usually males, typically brothers) team up and hunt together. This may last for a short time, a lifetime, or until one finds a mate. Less cautious than mated pairs, these bachelor groups are more likely to be seen than others and are the basis on which
most people form their impressions of griffons. Intensely loyal to each other, these griffons will back each other up in almost any situation.

Griffons rarely fight among themselves in the way many other predators do. The males are very protective of females, even if they are not mates. It is this instinctive sense of loyalty and discipline that makes a griffon a much more dependable battle mount than a horse or most other flying steeds. Griffons are naturally combative and fear almost nothing, yet neither will they fight for no apparent reason.

Treasure

Suspicious and bold, griffons may investigate anything that interests them despite possible danger. Attracted to shiny objects to decorate their nests, some griffons collect assorted treasures solely for their looks and will fight strenuously to protect what is theirs, but may trade precious items for something more interesting.

The treasure types to be found in a griffon’s nest are those that have survived examination and rough handling. Potions are likely to be broken because the griffons like to toss colorful things about and try to catch them in their beaks, or drop them to hear how they sound upon hitting
the rocks. Furs, clothes, and leather goods are apt to be employed in tugging matches or claw sharpening. Scrolls similarly suffer unless well protected. Only durable metal objects will last.

An exceedingly rare species of griffon is known to have a peculiar sense that allows it to detect gold up to 10’’ away. Since gold is of little value to griffons except as nest decorations, they do not often exercise. this ability. Even so, this species can tell a fake piece of gold at a glance. A narrow strip of dark fur over the middle of the chest seems to grant this ability. It is possible to use this fur to enchant an item to locate gold. The difficulty in this is that the
fur must come from a live griffon, and few if any are willing to part with their fur. If fur is removed from a live donor (which is necessary in order for this power to be transferred), the griffon’s gold-detecting ability fades for a year while the fur grows back on its chest.

Being both possessive and curious, even a trained griffon will not take kindly to being completely left out of the division of the adventure’s spoils, especially if the griffon’s sense for gold helped to locate the treasure. On the other hand, a nestless griffon is likely to quickly tire of its valuable “toys” and will soon discard them.

Training

Griffons can be trained to be companions and mounts with striking loyalty, though not without unique problems. Horses are tamed and trained with ease by comparison; domesticated horses find the company of other horses or herbivores often makes them feel secure. Griffons are more solitary and dislike crowds. They do poorly in captivity, needing open spaces to exercise. Most would eventually refuse to eat if caged, making it difficult to hold them against their will.

Gaining a griffon is difficult at best. Griffon eggs and fledglings command a high price— 2000 and 5,000 gold pieces each respectively on the open market. Raising the young is often more trouble
than most adventurers expect. Fledglings must be captured before their first feathers grow in at three months of age in order to bond with an owner. If taken later, the griffon will not readily accept its new “family” and has a 10% per month chance of deserting (if mistreated, 20% per month; confinement is considered mistreatment).

Training the young must include hunting in order to make the fullest use of the griffon’s abilities and to maintain a balanced mind. Here, the outdoor skills of the trainer become the common ground between rider and griffon. Although flying is instinctive, the fledgling must be coaxed into flight. During the training, a trainer may teach the griffon special skills to be used on an adventure, such as dropping bombs or grabbing ground-based objects from the air.

Unlike the griffon, any adventurer will find learning how to fly competently very difficult. The time required is usually about 11-16 weeks. Use of speak with animals spells or the like will lessen the time by another 2-5 weeks. Those with less than normal agility and dexterity cannot fly with any competency, but they may be tied on and carried about as baggage. Characters with low endurance will not be able to fly without becoming helplessly ill from motion sickness. Griffons bob up and down a great deal in their flight, unlike pegasi, making riding one rather like being a jockey in a steeplechase. A large part of riding one lies not merely in being strapped down but in hanging on, resisting the wind and moving with the animal to make it easier on both parties.

On occasion, adventurers may earn the gratitude of a griffon by releasing it from a trap or saving it from some illness or injury. If made to feel a part of the “family,” such a griffon is more likely stay with a group indefinitely. Since only adult griffons are likely to be encountered in this way, there will be no need for flight or hunting training. The griffon will be most likely to bond to an adventurer to whom loyalty is an important virtue.

One cannot subject griffons to the indignities commonly placed upon horses, like corralling, hobbles, and branding. Bit and bridle would, at best, interfere with their own defenses and would probably be intolerable. Vocal commands and body movements are sufficient for nearly all situations, and a hackamore helps for special ones. The best battle-trained horses are trained to obey complex vocal commands; griffons are both more intelligent and naturally battle-ready creatures, and they can obey even more complex orders.

A horse saddle will not fit on a griffon. Any saddle made for a griffon must take into account its wings and should not hamper flight. Side saddles are out of the question. If made out of horse leather, a saddle may even be eaten. The saddle may be positioned in front of or behind the
wings; it may be less tiring to the griffon for the weight to be behind the wings but will restrict the rider’s vision and ability to fight. Barding is rarely used, as it always lowers flight speed and maneuverability. Simple and light head, neck, and chest armor should create no problems as long as it weighs much less than a rider.

A rider should be able to do anything that can generally be done ‘in a high wind while bobbing up and down strapped between the flapping wings of a large predator that will probably object if the
rider sits up and creates drag. If properly buckled in, the rider will have at least one
free hand much of the time and be able to fight or grasp objects. Flight clothing should take into consideration wind chill, weather, weight load, etc.

As mounts, griffons should not be counted on to travel overland even though they can handle rough terrain easily. If you are going to ride—fly. Griffons may be more argumentative and uncooperative
than horses, but they don’t spook at rabbits, birds, or shadows. On the other hand, horses are not often known to hungrily chase rabbits, deer, or other horses, and they don’t eat riders who’ve been abusive to them. Griffons are fearless if aggressive and loyal if moody. Griffon males usually
make better mounts, being not only larger and stronger than females but also calmer and more patient.

Unfortunately, there are other problems involved in owning a griffon mount. For example, after long contact with griffons, a rider may walk upwind of someone’s horse; what will the horse do upon smelling its worst enemy? After an adventure, heroes may want to relax in town for a while —and so might their loyal griffons, whether or not the townspeople agree. Naturally, the disappearance of any horses will be blamed on the griffons. And if a character is eating steak, his griffon will not easily tolerate left-over iron rations.

Abilities

Just how strong griffons are is a matter of measurement. Griffons can fly carrying loads as great as their own body weight, though not for long periods. With their taloned forelimbs, griffons can grasp objects and hold them, probably damaging anything fragile. If so trained, they have a
40% chance to bend bars or lift gates. With the same basic strength as a lion, a griffon will be far stronger than any normal humanoid. On the ground, a griffon should be able to do the same sort of feats that a huge lion or tiger can manage.

A griffon’’s appetite is remarkable. Even if not flying, a griffon will eat more than a similarly sized lion, typically on the order of at least 25-30 lbs. of fresh meat a day. If flying, it will eat half again to twice as much when possible, depending on whether or not a load is being carried. When hungry, a griffon becomes very irritable and aggressive. Although a person to whom the griffon is loyal is in no danger of being eaten, anything else is considered fair game.

Without proper food, the griffon will be a poor flier and very uncooperative. When food is available, griffons sometimes consume tremendous amounts and may be too gorged to fly well, but won’’t require another feeding for some time. Riders should make sure that their griffons don’’t
overindulge themselves between adventures and become lethargic.

Friends and Foes

Being choosy, griffons will not serve as mounts or companions for humanoids prone to mistreat animals. These are such beings as the griffon would consider dirty, disgusting, and incapable of returning trust, such as orcs, gnolls, and kobolds. A griffon will also not hunt other griffons.

A griffon has very few natural enemies, and none count it as regular prey. Only humanoid species present a significant threat. Some creatures will nevertheless always be enemies with griffons. Hippogriffs and pegasi are no match in a fight and will normally be chased if rarely caught. Manticores are slower if more difficult prey. Harpies will always be attacked at the first opportunity. The hypnotic song of the harpy does not affect the griffon as it does a human, but if such a song is heard, it will enrage the griffon and bring it winging in to attack. Perytons
are another natural adversary; although invulnerable to most nonmagical attacks, they are subject to predation by the innately powerful griffons. Thus griffons help clear the skies of certain hazards that threaten humanity.

Having as few natural allies as they have enemies, griffons are compatible with giant eagles, for example, and are generally on good terms with them. Those races and classes more attuned to nature, such as elves and druids, are best apt to understand and be compatible with griffons.

Centaurs, on the other hand, and other quasi-equine species (even if they don’’t taste like horses) will be in perpetual strife with griffons.

Sacred to Iomedae, griffons are said to draw this gods chariot home from his winter retreat. Several other deities have held griffons sacred and may have had something to do with their creation, but whatever their origins, the griffon is such a successful predator that it needs no
guiding force to sustain it. There are even reports of sentient griffons which may represent a separate species largely indistinguishable from the familiar one and which may wish to remain unrecognized.

Miscellaneous

Griffons have a language that sounds like a collection of squawks and growls to other creatures. It is composed mostly of words relating to flying, hunting, weather, and the visual appearance of things. It isnot suited to abstract concepts.

Like tigers, griffons can swim, but if their feathers are wet they must dry off before flying. By nature compulsively neat and tidy, enjoying baths and frequently preening for hours, griffons are not likely to accept filthy would-be riders or accommodations.

The lifespan of a griffon is very long, some serving several generations of a family. Actual lifespan is dependent on many factors but may extend as long as several centuries. One hundred and fifty years is considered average in the wild.

A griffon is a magnificent creature to be treasured by all humanity. Dangerous it is, but marvelous, too. As long as it wings through the skies, we can look up at it and know the meaning of courage.

Griffon Ecology

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