A couple of weeks ago I wrote about re-skinning, an essential tool for DMs of any game. In some ways this is something of an art form and it may be difficult to grasp exactly how much can be done by re-skinning. Today I am going to give some examples of the ways re-skinning can be done. Specifically I am going to be re-skinning creatures in ways that require little to no mechanical changes so that I need not include any here. You won’t need them to use my example. I also want to mention that my examples are going to come straight from 5E D&D and Pathfinder, though the concept should lend itself to whatever game you may be playing.
The first creature I want to tackle is the chimera. This is one of the classic mythological creatures that gets included in fantasy settings. I have mentioned this before, I am sure, but an awesome example of how to make this creature usable in a unique environment comes from a Pathfinder adventure path. In it the players must face a chimera in arctic climes. To make this work the dragon head is made white and the other two heads are replaced with that of a walrus and a polar bear.
So how many different chimeras could you make. More than you have time to count, so lets go simple. The Pathfinder stat block conveniently includes a table of head colors and breath weapon types. 5th Edition does not, but this is easily remedied. Take the fire breath and replace the type with that appropriate to the color. For example you can use acid for a black head.
Now you could stop there but why do that? Different color dragons prefer different environments. It is likely that different chimera are similar. It is how animals work. So lets start from the dragon head and lets skip red since it is standard and skip white since the writers at Pathfinder have taken care of that for us. So, what’s left? Black, green, and blue are the remaining chromatic dragon types. We could get into the metallic dragons and other types of dragons, but lets leave that for another time.
First we need to associate each type with a terrain or environment. Luckily there are decades of consistency for the classic types.
Blue – desert
Black – swamp
Green – forest
Now let us begin to consider the other heads of the chimera. What do they add to the chimera as a creature? We need not look to the meaning or mythology of why, specifically, a goat and lion are the chosen creatures. Instead, what is the roll of these in the stat block of the chimera. In both Pathfinder and 5E D&D, the heads are the deliverers of certain attacks. The goat provides a horn or gore attack and the lion provides a bite attack. So, we should find creatures that have some feature that provides for that, that way we have no stats to change.
Something else to keep in mind is that the majority of the body matches the lion head, providing the sharp claws for that attack. As such let’s start with that head. The lion. The portion of the creature providing strong bite and claw attacks. Some carnivorous predator with a powerful jaw and terrible claws. There are so many we can use around the world. You could make a whole line of chimeras by simply using different large cats. We’re going to keep things simple though and I am going to go with some iconic creatures.
Blue – There are a few predators we could use, but I want something that says Egypt, since it is so iconic with the though of a desert. So, we’re going to go with the jackal.
Black – This becomes a little difficult, but let’s think outside the box and get away from mammals. I’m going to use the crocodile. Perfect for the bite attack, though too squat to make many claw attacks realistically. This isn’t the real world though, and with dragon blood a more upright reptilian form is easy to imagine.
Green – I wanted to go with bear at first with this one, but since we have a polar bear for the white dragon I changed my mind. What other creatures are notoriously forest dwellers? The wolf, of course!
Ok, now we are getting somewhere. We have the creatures’ forms coming together. In fact, we have all we need to start picturing these chimeras: dragon head/color, predatory body, carnivorous head full of sharp teeth. Now what we need is the third head. The main feature we need to concentrate on is the set of horns the goat has. This provides the final attack of the chimera.
Blue – One such creature of the desert is the desert big horn sheep, but that is far too similar. Let’s find something else. Instead let’s use an antelope of some kind. A quick google search gets us the pronghorn with short, but pointed, horns fully capable of goring something when placed on a chimera.
Black – Swamps are exceptionally wet places. There are limited animals that live there, well large animals anyways. So lets go with something that may spend time in the swamp and lives on its edge. Wild boars wallow in mud often and they have huge tusks, so that sounds like a terrific candidate.
Green – This is the easiest of the three to get a unique and iconic forest creature that happens to be able to gore. For the green dragon we are going to use the an elk.
There it is we now have three, brand new chimeras. Each of them has a unique dragon color and breath weapon. Each of them has unique heads that fit its environment. Each of them requires a very simple change of damage type on breath weapon. That is it. The only other thing we have done here is change the description, and realistically that is all we did for the damage too. Using a similar technique on all kinds of other creatures can help you expand you bestiaries exponentially.
Hearing the sound of a boar is not uncommon on the path around the mire. While dangerous, you are quite capable and boar could provide a good deal of food. With this much noise, perhaps it is distracted and you can sneak up on it. Pushing through the trees you hear a splash and see a pair of black, scaled heads in the swamp’s water. You barely catch the horns one of the heads sports before it is too late. A huge, winged creature erupts from the dirty water and lunges towards you. Three heads look down at you. One sports the open maw of a giant crocodile, another is the fearsome form of a black dragon, and the third must have brought you here, the huge head of boar mad with territorial rage. You run the acrid smells of acid following you as the creature spits at its would-be meal.