Monday, May 16, 2016

Monstrous Mondays: The Piasa Bird

Welcome back to Monstrous Mondays!
Today I want to add a monster from stories of my childhood.  If you grew up in Central or Southern Illinois you heard stories of the Piasa Bird.   I featured this monster in one of my earliest posts here and thought I really need to bring it back.

The following text is considered Open for use under the OGL.

The Piasa Bird
AKA: The Piasa, "The Bird That Devours Men", "The Destroyer"
Frequency: Very Rare
No. Appearing: 1
Size: Large 18'
Armor Class: -2 [22]1
 Basic: 90' (30') Fly:  240' (80')
 Advanced: 9" Fly: 24"
 3e/5e: 25 ft  Fly: 60
Hit Dice: 11d8+6 (55 hp)
% in Lair: 50%
Treasure Type: None. The Piasa eats all meat an discards everything else.
Attacks: 4 (claw/claw/bite/tail swipe) + fear
Damage: 1d6+2/1d6+2/2d8/1d6
Special Attacks: Cause Fear once per day.
Special Defenses: none
Save As: Fighter 102
Magic Resistance: 0%
Morale: 93
Alignment: Chaotic evil
Level/XP: XXXX4

STR: 22 INT: 8 WIS: 8 DEX: 14 CON: 15  CHA: 4

1 Descending and [Ascending] Armor classes are given.
2 This is used for Basic games, and S&W. Also for monsters that I think need to save a little differently than others.
3 Morale is "Basic" Morale and based on a 1-12 scale. Multiply by 1.6667 for 1-20 scale.
4 Still working out an XP systems that works across all games.

According to the diary of Louis Joliet, the Piasa Bird "was as large as a calf with horns like a deer, red eyes, a beard like a tiger's, a face like a man, the body covered with green, red and black scales and a tail so long it passed around the body, over the head and between the legs."

Piasa Birds in the game are a larger and resemble a manticore or a dragon.
They do not keep treasure. They are only interested in killing for meat and sport.

Story of the Piasa Bird 
The following story appeared in the Alton Telegraph (1836) 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 monster 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.

The rare female Piasa Bird.   
Section 15: "The Piasa Bird". Copyright 2016 Timothy S. Brannan.

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Jonathan Linneman said...

This is outstanding! A great monster, and a great piece of American lore. My first #MonsterMonday post is up, although it now seems like I may have taken a sillier than ideal approach...!

Anonymous said...

Awesome. I grew up in Southern Illinois and remember this story. Thanks!

Timothy S. Brannan said...

+Linneman, might I add I really enjoy you monster as well! Thanks for joining in with such a fun monster.

+Doomsdave M. Yup. You can live south of Bloomington-Normal and not know the Piasa.

Mike Bridges said...

Ah yes the good ol Piasa Bird. Right in my back yard. I love the stats on this I'm gonna pass it around.

Tim Emrick said...

I'm from IN, not IL, but as a child I discovered the Piasa bird in a book titled, "The Beasts of Never." GURPS Fantasy Bestiary is the only place I've ever seen RPG treatments for many of the more obscure creatures in that book--including the Piasa, until now. Nice writeup!

Valkaun_Dain said...

This is one of my favorite childhood stories. John Russell renewed interest in this legend, but he probably added quite a bit to it, including, it would seem, the wings. Pere Marquette's original description doesn't mention wings. I'm not complaining, just hoping for the inclusion of yet another Piasa monster. Just when you think it's safe to wander around Illinois, there's another beast waiting to eat you.