Saturday, 12 January 2019

The Silence Around a Predator

While waiting for a guy to come and install a new electricity meter today (supposed to come at 12, arrived at 1.50...) I spent some time idly staring into the garden. I was happy to see the local sparrowhawk female there, scoping out the bird feeders where sparrows, dunnocks, starlings and other little birds tend to congregate. She quite frequently appears in our garden with dead pigeons she's caught - I've seen her arrive with a bird as bid as a wood pigeon, which must be considerably heavier than she is. A sparrow would presumably not be much of a meal.

There were no little birds around, though, of course. Normally my neighbourhood, if you stop to listen for it, is a riot of background bird noise, and there are constant comings and goings of feathered life - from wrens all the way up to herring gulls. When the sparrowhawk is around, they scarper. God knows where. Eerie silence descends. (You really notice the constant noise birds make when it isn't there any more.) The exception is crows and magpies - they'll try to chase off the intruder, and are apparently the only ones with the balls to pull this off.

It got me wondering: what kind of effect would a griffon, dragon, manticore, etc. have on the animal life around it? How far would the radius of silence around such a creature be? What would the local fauna do if they saw a griffon, no matter how apparently-blissfully high in the sky it might be? Would a herd of deer squirrel themselves away in a wooded hideout like birds reacting to a sparrowhawk, or would they do what gazelles do on the Serengeti and start prancing?

To operationalise this phenomenon, a random encounter with a predator when the PCs are not surprised should probably be preceded by clear activity on the part of other animals in the area - perhaps in quite a big area in the case of a big (flying) predator. When the PCs are surprised, it indicates that the predator has successfully camouflaged or hidden itself - or simply that they've badly blundered.


  1. Good thoughts, and its good DMing practice to think of how your creatures will affect their environment, and how the PCs might gain that information obliquely.

    Related: Many animals will call out warning cries when they see a predator in addition to later falling silent. Birds can listen to other species warning cries, even if the warning cry is low threat. E.g. A sparrow might make a "low threat" cry for a type of bird that does not often eat sparrows. But other birds will listen and react, so the primary prey species of that bird might react with alarm to a "low threat" sparrow cry. It goes beyond birds as well.

    Maybe a manticore is "low threat" to a sparrow, but high threat to a bear. Paying attention to the behavior of various creatures could give the party clues. In my head rangers don't actually have any magical abilities, they just pay attention to stuff like this and don't explain it, so it looks like preternatural awareness to the uninformed.

  2. Good stuff to think about.

  3. The whole "it's quiet . . . too quiet" is a cliche but it springs from an actual information source about a threat. Mentioning the lack of sounds, or just mentioning the sounds and then stopping, is a good descriptive signal.

  4. has a few more specific types if you want to go into greater details