D&D 5E Wandering Monsters 6/11/13: Riddle of the Sphinx

GX.Sigma

Adventurer
This part troubled me:
...when it denies passage, the way to what they protect vanishes and that which they hide moves beyond mortal ken.

So... if the PCs can't solve one riddle, Blackrazor disappears forever and the adventure cannot be completed ever by anyone in the future?

And if they come from the gods, and apparently have the power to "move [things] beyond mortal ken," then how come a 7th level Fighter can beat the s--- out of them?

I am very much not a fan of these lore changes. It adds too many restrictions. With this lore, you can only use them in an adventure where a god wants to keep something protected but also would be okay with people taking it as long as they're good at riddles (which never comes up in my games, and contradicts the most iconic use of the Sphinx in D&D history).

And why get rid of the love triangle thing? Was there anything wrong with it?
 
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I agree with Klaus. Have the mythic sphinxes with their trials, and then have 'mortal sphinxes,' which are just normal creatures that occasionally style themselves after their divine forebears. Perhaps they are the offspring of when a mythic sphinx kills itself to be free from its duty.
 

I am very much not a fan of these lore changes. It adds too many restrictions. With this lore, you can only use them in an adventure where a god wants to keep something protected but also would be okay with people taking it as long as they're good at riddles (which never comes up in my games, and contradicts the most iconic use of the Sphinx in D&D history).

It's got a good mythic feel, in my opinion. I mean, you can use a dragon as cannon fodder, but they're normally supposed to have massive treasure hoards and to have devastated the landscape. You can have a ghost just be a random incorporeal foe to fight, but they're normally supposed to have a backstory and a creepy haunting.

This is just giving the sphinx a story with a bit more meat than "a flying lion with a human face swoops down at you."

And why get rid of the love triangle thing? Was there anything wrong with it?

Has that ever actually been used anywhere in an adventure or setting? It sounds kind of dumb to me, honestly.
 

MarkB

Legend
I like much of this article, but some parts are a bit too much "a god did it" for my liking. As others have mentioned, making satisfying the sphinx's challenge the only way of successfully bypassing it is very limiting, and having it come with an infallible "thou shall not pass" contingency is very powerful. I don't want to only ever use sphinxes when there's a god directly involved.

I'd prefer to think of them more as divine beings on a par with lower-ranking angels, whose duties on the celestial planes are to test the qualities of a deity's servants and ensure they're up to scratch - sort of like celestial drill sergeants.

Their normal duties don't bring them to the material world, but they can be summoned and either contracted or bound to become guardians for a set period of time, which may well be centuries in length. As guardians, they use their powers to secure a particular treasure, and test the worthiness of those who come to them.

A priest or good-aligned character might employ a sphinx in precisely the way the article describes, contracting for their services through offerings to their deity. An evil character might bind a sphinx to forcible service, and use it simply as a way of testing most intruders to desctruction, and at least delaying those who can pass its tests.

On the celestial planes, sphinxes do indeed have a culture of their own, building societies based around the virtues they venerate.
 

GX.Sigma

Adventurer
It's got a good mythic feel, in my opinion. I mean, you can use a dragon as cannon fodder, but they're normally supposed to have massive treasure hoards and to have devastated the landscape. You can have a ghost just be a random incorporeal foe to fight, but they're normally supposed to have a backstory and a creepy haunting.
Yeah, but "an evil monster with lots of treasure is causing problems" and "a creepy place where lots of people died" are very common situations in D&D campaigns. Conversely, "a god wants to keep this safe, but doesn't want to bother enough to actually keep it on another plane, but also doesn't mind if someone just comes along and takes it, as long as they're good at puzzle-solving" is pretty narrow (and doesn't work with the great, classic adventures where sphinxes are used).
 
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urLordy

First Post
I enjoyed this column. I never liked the idea of sphinxes as just another breeding race (and the love triangle, pfff, way too niche). So many entire races adds to the exceeding species clutter of the game setting.

I agree that the divine origin can be heavy-handed. I would suggest that:

In the dawn of time, when gods walked the lands, sphinxes were spun from sand to guard important locations. But then the gods receded, many artifacts were lost to the sands of time, or were stolen by thieves, or were retrieved by those worthy, leaving many sphinxes without purpose and forgotten. Now some sphinxes still guard the original secret or object for which they were born, their power intact. Other sphinxes have waned over the centuries in power and purpose, and suffer an identity crisis. Some maintain their purpose by discovering new items or locations or secrets to guard (wizards and viziers seek out such sphinxes to bargain with). Others stay where they are, guard nothing, and go mad. Others forsake their guarding heritage, wander off and seek intelligent prey to ambush, eating victims that fail the sphinx's tests.
 

TwoSix

"Diegetics", by L. Ron Gygax
Probably one of my favorite Wandering Monster columns. Mythic creatures should feel mythic. This does an excellent job of setting that up, especially with the "test in a pocket dimension" idea. Plus, the "Dawson's Sphinx" angle from the previous Monster Manuals was always one of my least favorite ideas contained within them, so I'm more than happy to see it go.
 

howandwhy99

Adventurer
Total rewrite and an awesome improvement on a ancient myth made serviceable for D&D. I could see a few suggestions made in the book. Perhaps another monster design option included portrays sphinxes as more earthly, living creatures with the 90210 culture.

Game mechanics for the tests would be interesting to read. Something to test the players of course. Even combat tests players strategic skill in battle, while not their physical ability.
 

The myth/background re-write is pretty good. I prefer my sphinxes as riddling guardians.

I've never seen the need for so many varieties, though. A generic "sphinx" (could have male or female features) suffices. The various andro- and gyno- (etc) categories feel like someone is trying to be a completist.
 

I'm A Banana

Potassium-Rich
It's a fine sphinx concept. Very mythic. Much akin to lammasu and shedu and the like. Also cribbing more generally from
celestial and guardian daemon and the like. And I'm happy to leave behind the weirdly gender-specific, slighlty rape-y old school sphinx stuff behind, honestly.

But I like "glorified hippogriffs," too. Heck, why can't I have glorified hippogriffs that occasionally are appointed to guard things for various powerful forces (deity or otherwise)? Is "guards things" a creature type, or is it actually a role that many different kinds of creatures can play (naga?).

I'm not sold on the need for it. It's cool, though.
 

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