Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Piasa Bird

I have always been fascinated with the Piasa bird. I have been to the bluff (what left of it) many times, read a number of stories about it and remember finding it in a school history book from 1921. It is nice to know that some really cool myths and stories don't have to come from faraway lands with strange sounding names, sometimes it can come from your own back yard.

So for my 100th Blog post, I wanted to do something special, a monster from my childhood.

 The Piasa Bird

The Piasa (Bird of Piasa, Piasa Bird) resembles a mythical chimera in many respects. It has the head of a black bear with a man's face, large disproportionate teeth, and the horns of an elk. Its head and neck are covered with a whiskery mane, like the beard of a man. The body resembles a lion's or a bear's save that it is scaly like that of a large fish, and it has a bear's legs ending with an eagle's claws. Its tail is at least fifty feet long, wound three times around the body, and tipped with a spearhead thrust backward through its hind legs. Large bat-like wings extend over its shoulders. Overall its body is black with red horns. It stands over seven feet tall and is twenty feet long.

The Piasa makes its home in caves in the bluffs along the Mississippi river. Its favorite or most active spot comes from the areas North of St. Louis in what is now called Alton.

The Piasa is the only one of its kind, or rather it is the only one that has ever been seen. It is unknown that if this is the same monster that attacked Chief Ouatoga's tribe or an offspring. The Piasa seems to go through periods of activity and inactivity that can last for years. Again it is unknown if it is the same creature or some offspring of the original.

The Piasa lives on fresh meat. Its preferred food is man, in particular children and young adults. When humans can not be found the Piasa will eat any large game animal.

The Piasa attacks its opponents by swooping down on top of them. Its first attack is usually a high-pitched scream that causes fear. Anyone with a fifteen foot radius of the Piasa under must fear check. The Piasa will then rip into its victims with a claw/claw/bite routine using its horns and tail as needed. The Piasa can attack multiple opponents per turn. Due to its size, any bite attack doing more than 50% of a target's Life Points are considered to have swallowed the victim whole. When the Piasa does this it will break off its attack and fly to its lair to digest. The victim does not immediately die; the Piasa prefers fresh meat in its own lair. The victim can attack while inside the Piasa, but will fight at a penalty of -1 to hit. The victim also takes 1 Life Points of damage per turn.

The Piasa Bird lives solely on freshly-killed meat. It produces nothing that is otherwise useful to human-kind. Due to its rarity a captured live Piasa could command a king's ransom from some of the less-respected zoos in the world. Most scientists consider the Piasa a myth, or at best, an extinct creature from eons past. Scholars of a more arcane bent agree that the Piasa bird was once the terror of the Mississippi and Missouri valleys, but even most them believe it is now extinct.

Name: Piasa Bird
Motivation: Eat       
Creature Type: flying monster
Attributes: Str 16, Dex 8, Con 9, Int 1, Per 6, Will 3
Ability Scores: Muscle 38, Combat 20, Brains 9
Life Points: 125
Drama Points: 3
Special Abilities: Additional Actions +2 (3 total), Armour Value 8, Attractiveness –5, Cause Fear, Flight, Increased Life Points

Claw x2

Story of the Piasa Bird
The following story appeared recently (1836) in the Alton Telegraph by John Russel. It is claimed that this is story told to Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet by the Indian tribes of the valley.

When Marquette and Joliet came down the Mississippi river in 1673 they encountered a bluff on the east side of the river with the painting of a giant monster. When they asked the Indians what this monster was, they retold for them the story that had been handed down to them for generations. Marquette named the monster "Piasa," pronounced Pie-a-saw, which means "the Destroyer."

The Legend of the Piasa bird that was related to Marquette and Joliet went something like this. Many years ago a great bird roamed the land. Every morning the people would wake in fear to the shrill screams of the great Bird. The bird awoke hungry and would carry off dozens of boys and girls to its cave to be eaten. Chief Ouatoga [OO-wa-toe-ga] was getting old. He wanted to destroy this terrible killer before he died. He called his braves to a meeting and told them he was going to ask the Great Spirit what to do.

He went up on the highest bluff. He spoke with the Great Spirit. The Great Spirit told the Chief, "Dip your arrows deep into the poison of a copperhead snake and shoot them into the body of the Bird. They will cause its death." He returned to the camp and told his people what the Great Spirit had told him. He gathered up a small army of the strongest braves and set out to hunt the Bird. Chief Ouatoga told his braves that the plan was for someone to stand on the cliff to lure the Bird down. When the great monster swoops down they were to shoot it with their poison arrows.

The braves all begged their chief to be the one to sacrifice themselves. But the chief told them no, he would be the one, since he was older. While the braves practiced with their bows, Chief Ouatoga spoke with the Great Spirit. "Think not of my life," he said, "but the lives of the children."

The next morning the chief stood tall waiting for the great bird to come. Its screams could be heard as flew down the river looking for victims. The bird saw the old chief and swooped down on him with a terrible scream.

Just as the monster was ready to attack the braves shot their arrows and all 100 met their mark. The monster fell into the Mississippi river and died. The braves carried the broken and bruised body of their chief back to the tribe. The medicine man healed him and he awoke the next day surrounded by his grateful people. In remembrance of the act the returned to the site and painted a life-size picture of the monster. Every time an Indian went down the river after that, he fired an arrow at the bluff. In alternate versions of the story the youngest brave stands on the cliff instead of the chief. When he is healed the next day he becomes the new chief.

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