Celtic Myth Bestiary
By Ken & Jo Walton Copyright © 1996
The following is material cut from GURPS Celtic Myth, due to space considerations. Readers are also referred to Celtic Myth, p. 7, "Celts and the Natural World."
Prydain and Eriu are filled with wildlife, much of it small and harmless. But there are wolves in the forests (why else would the Irish need their enormous wolfhounds?) and wild boars can be bad tempered when crossed. There are some creatures, however, which feature again and again in Celtic mythology. These are the creatures which characters are likely to turn into, or be turned into by Druids or druid wands. As a variant on this it is possible to have a character who is actually an animal with intelligence but animal nature who has been turned into a human.
ST: 3-4 Move/Dodge: 14/7 Size: <1 hex DX: 11 PD/DR: 0/0 Weight: 5-12 lbs. IQ: 5 Damage: 1d-4 cut Origin: R HT: 14/5 Reach: C Habitat: F,M,P
Ravens are large black birds with a somewhat sinister reputation. Since they eat carrion, they are often found hanging around battlefields. One of the aspects of the triple death goddess, the Morrigan, often appears in the form of a raven. If PCs see a raven, they should never be sure if it is just a raven, or if it is the Morrigan. If it is the Morrigan, the chances are, something awful is about to happen. Some also say that ravens are spies, sent out by enemies.
ST: 7-14 Move/Dodge: 9/7 Size: 2 DX: 15 PD/DR: 0/0 Weight: 90-120 lbs. IQ: 4 Damage: 1d imp# Origin: R HT:13/6-8 Reach: C Habitats: Forest
There are three species of deer in Prydain and Eriu; the Red Deer, the Roe Deer and the Reindeer, although the Reindeer lives only in Alba. The male of the species bears antlers (shed yearly), which are used to fight other males. The deer's primary defence is flight.
Deer will occasionally fight by kicking or trampling (1d crushing damage), or by butting with the antlers (1d impaling damage). Attack is most likely in the mating season, or if the deer is brought to bay during a hunt. Their meat is highly prized.
RED DEER are a reddish brown in colour, and stand four feet high at the shoulder. They are often found in open moorland and mountains. For most of the year the males and females live in separate groups, but in the mating season (July-October) the males will gather large harems of females about them, and defend them against other males with their antlers.
ROE DEER are smaller, standing only three feet high at the shoulder. They live in woodlands, where their pale brown colour helps them hide easily in the undergrowth. They live in small family groups and their mating season is July to mid-August. REINDEER are found only in Alba. They stand four feet high at the shoulder, and are unusual in that both males and females have antlers. They travel in large herds of 100 or more and their mating season is October.
People in Celtic stories are often turned into deer. Finn's wife in Celtic mythology is turned into a deer while pregnant, and later gives birth to a human child (Oisin, Finn's son) while living in deer form in the forest. Gwydion and Gilfaethwy spend a year as a stag and a hind and have a faun, which when it is turned into a child is known as Hyddwn "good deer."
A common theme in Celtic stories is the white, red-eared stag (see Otherworldly creatures, below) which leads hunters into the Otherworld. They are often sent for this purpose by Sidhe requiring help from human adventurers.
ST: 12Move/Dodge: 12/6 Size: 2 DX: 11PD/DR: 1/1 Weight: 150lb IQ: 5 Damage: 1d-1 cut Origin: R HT: 15/12 Reach: C Habitats: Domesticated
Irish Wolfhounds are enormous, standing between four and five feet high at the shoulder. (Probably one reason there are no wolves in Ireland now!) Despite their great size, however, they are usually very good natured dogs. A wolfhound might rush at a character and flatten him, but it would be likely that the dog only wanted to be friendly and lick his face.
The Celts are very fond of their wolfhounds. Many warriors have one or two, which they use for hunting, and which spend the rest of the time lolling around at their master's feet in the dun. There are many tales of people being turned into wolfhounds. Finn's two wolfhounds, Bran and Sceolan, were actually his cousins, who had been born to Finn's aunt. She had been turned into a wolfhound by a jealous female druid who desired her husband.
ST: 4-6 Move/Dodge: 7/7 Size: <1 DX: 14 PD/DR: 0/0 Weight: 20-40 lbs. IQ: 4 Damage: 1d-3 cr Origin: R HT: 14/4-6 Reach: C Habitats: FW
The main species of swan in Prydain and Eriu is the mute swan, which remains there all the year round. While it is a shy bird, it will, if it feels threatened, attack with beak and wings, and a blow from a swan's wing has been known to break a man's arm. A swan in a mythological setting would be more likely to attack than in real life, for all sorts of magical reasons – swans may guard a druid's island home, or be people under a spell.
The most famous swans in Celtic mythology are the Children of Lir. They were two boys and a girl, who were turned into swans by their stepmother; they were forced by a gesa to spend three hundred years on Loch Darravagh in Eriu, three hundred years on the Straight of Moyle, between Eriu and Alba, and three hundred years on the Atlantic by the islands of Erris and Innishglory in Alba. At the end of nine hundred years, they flew back to Eriu in swan-form, where they met Saint Patrick, who converted them to Christianity. When he baptised them with holy water, they turned into very old people and died.
There are two other species of swan in Prydain and Eriu, the whooper swan and the Bewick's swan, which only visit the islands in the winter.
Use stats for large boar in the GURPS Basic Set, p.B144, sidebar.
Boar hunting is one of the sports of Celtic warriors, and boar forms a staple part of the diet at banquets in the king's hall. Boars are also found a great deal in Celtic stories, often being extremely destructive – The boar of Formael killed fifty hounds and fifty warriors.
ST: 2 Move/Dodge: 10/10 Size: <1 DX: 12 PD/DR: 0/0 Weight: 8-20 lbs. IQ: 2 Damage: - Origin: R HT: 15/8 Reach: - Habitats: FW/SW
Salmon are a common fish in the rivers of Prydain and Eriu, where they spawn in the summer. Winter is spent at sea, thousands of miles away. They are known particularly for their amazing leaping ability – an adult fish can leap up a waterfall 11ft. high. (This is why Cuchulain's amazing jumping ability is known as a Salmon Leap.) Salmon are not at all dangerous, but are very good to eat.
There are several stories of Salmon in Celtic mythology, the most well-known being the story of the Salmon of Knowledge. This was a salmon called Fintan who ate the Nuts of Knowledge before swimming into a pool in the River Boyne. There he was caught by Finegas and given to Finn to cook. Finn burnt his thumb on the salmon as he was turning the spit and licked it, thus gaining great wisdom.
Any shapechanger wishing to travel by water is likely to turn into a salmon.
BEARS AND WOLVES
Though neither is mentioned much in Celtic mythology, both of them were alive and well in Prydain and Eriu at this time. For bears, use the stats for a Brown bear on p.B141, sidebar. For wolves, use the stats on p.B144, sidebar.
CREATURES OF THE OTHERWORLD
There are many otherworldly animals in Celtic mythology. They are often distinguished by supernatural strength and speed, and are often (but not always) white with red ears.
In order to create an otherworldly creature take the stats above and increase all attributes by one and a half times. For instance, an Otherworldly Wild Boar would have the following stats:
ST: 30-36 Move/Dodge: 12/12 Size: 3 DX: 21 PD/DR: 2/3 Weight: 600+ lbs. IQ: 9 Damage: 2d-2 HT: 22/30-38 Reach: C
Not a beast to tangle with!
All creatures in the Otherworld are likely to be of this nature, and these will sometimes cross over to this world, where it will take a great hero to subdue them.
Often a sidhe lord or a druid will create one-off creatures to guard treasures, etc. At other times, there will be one-off creatures living in a particular location. This does not mean that these creatures are part of a species, any more than a tree in flower on one side and burning on the other is part of a species of such trees. Below are some examples of one-off Celtic creatures. GMs looking for information could probably use most of the animals in the Fantasy Bestiary, but should take care to describe the creatures in terms a Celt would understand – this will serve to enhance the atmosphere, and also disguise the creature from players who know the Fantasy Bestiary too well.
One-off creatures which can be found in Celtic mythology include the following:
It is also mentioned that Celtchair fought a poisonous dog. It is said that one drop of its blood on his skin would be enough to kill him.