Monday 31 October 2022

Animal Name Monsters

I've always been interested in animal names in different languages. I've also long been fascinated by the strange parallel universes which are created when calqueing foreign words for everyday things into English (imagine a world in which potatoes are literally 'apples from the ground'/pommes de terre, or tortoises are really 'shield-toads'/schildkrote). 

These can be great inspiration for new monsters - 'shield-toad' to an English speaker instantly calls to mind something very different to a tortoise, and has D&D written all over it. 

The Japanese language is sadly increasingly characterised by loanwords from English (most of which are horribly ugly and difficult to pronounce in comparison to the original words they've replaced) but it is still replete with very D&D-able parallel-universe animal names. For instance:

Sparrow-wasp (suzumebachi/hornet) - A small bird with a vicious, hooked sting in place of its tail and an attitude to match; a flock can rapidly stab a victim to death, after which they feast with gusto on the eyes and other soft parts.

Treat a flock of 12 as single monster with HD 3, AC 5, #ATT 1, DMG 3d4*, Move 120, ML 6 (*Does 2d4 damage after losing 50% of its hp, and 1d4 damage after losing 75%). More than one flock may be encountered (No. App. 1d6). 

Seven-faced bird (shichimencho/turkey) - A giant, flightless avian predator with seven heads, each as ravenous and rivalrous as the next, on the end of long muscular necks.

HD 7, AC 6, #ATT 7, DMG 1d6/1d6/1d6/1d6/1d6/1d6/1d6*, Move 150, ML 7, No. Appearing 1d6 (*If one head scores a hit, the next head has a 1 in 3 chance of directing its bite attack against the previous one instead of the target, doing half damage)

Scythe-cutter (kamakiri/praying mantis) - A filthy ape-like beast with scythe-like claws for hands; unable to groom itself, it pollutes the air around it with a miasma of stench. 

HD 4+1, AC 5, #ATT 2, DMG 1d10/1d10, Move 120, ML 8, No. Appearing 1d6 (*Anyone coming within 10' must save versus poison or be incapacitated for 1d3 rounds due to retching; scythe-cutters never surprise opponents)

Needle-mouse (harinezumi/hedgehog) - A magical construct, resembling a tiny rodent with sparkling eyes, dextrous hands and a nimble tail, its hairs are needles filled with deadly poison. An assassin par excellence, it is able to sneak its way into its victim's dwelling through the tiniest cracks and crevasses, where it secretes itself in a handy boot or bedsheet and waits for warm flesh to press down upon it... 

HD 1hp, AC 3, #ATT 1, DMG 1d1*, Move 120, ML 12, No. Appearing 1 (*Hits automatically if it surprises an opponent; opponent dies instantly with no saving throw permitted) 

Hole bear (anaguma/badger) - An ursine ambusher, the colour of loam and with amberish eyes, which lurks in a concealed burrow, waiting for a prey animal to pass by. When one does, the bear lurches from its hole with lightning speed and drags its victim down into the dark...

HD 6+6, AC 3, #ATT 3, DMG 1d8/1d6/1d6, Move 150, ML 8, No. Appearing 1 (*When in its hole, the bear always surprises opponents unless they are forewarned or led by a local expert; it does no damage in the first round but if any of its attacks hit, it pulls its target into its burrow)

Each language will, however, have many such examples, and English surely does, too. Give it a whirl!


  1. I love these sort of things! I’ve done some stupid translations over the year over at the blog: (same as yours above) (places) (spell names run through Google Translate a couple of times)

  2. I love this. It also reminds me of my ex-wife's description of how Chinese makes words out of other words, resulting in things like Electric Brain Box (Computer) and Flying Fried Egg Eyes Superman (the Japanese hero Ultraman in China).

    1. Yes, some languages just port in loanwords (like English or Japanese) and some transliterate them (like Chinese or Navajo).

  3. In Hungarian a turtle is a "shield-frog", a bat is a "skin-mouse", a guinea pig is a "sea-pig", a capybara is a "water-pig", a mole-cricket is a "horse-louse" (!!!)

  4. Great idea. Enjoyed this one.

  5. Some examples from Hebrew:

    Rabbi Moses' Cow ("Parat Moshéh Rabenu" / Ladybug)

    King Solomon's Camel ("Gamal Shlomo" / Praying Mantis)

    Ant-bear ("Dov Nemalim" / Anteater)

    Sea Dog ("Kelev Yam" / Seal)

    Horse of the Nile ("Sus Yé-or" / Hippo)

    Night-amber ("Gakhlilit" / Firefly)

    Sack(-ker) or Sack-Owner ("Saknay" / Pelican)

    1. I like 'horse of the nile' - I think I'd heard of that one somewhere.

    2. Hippo is also horse of the Nile in German (Nilpferd). I once wrote a German nonsense poem about one, a kinda Edward Lear meets Rudyard Kipling meets... Gothe?

      Im Urmal war der Walfisch wahr
      Nilpferd dazwischen erreichbar
      Er platscht und klatscht so weit bis gar
      sein Beine werden versenkbar.

      Doesn't really translate to English, but means something online the lines of "in olden times, it was possible for a hippo to become a whale: it splished and splashed so much that its legs became retractable"

      Also reminds me that the German for "whale" is also a compound word: Walfisch = whale-fish. Makes you wonder why they didn't just call it a whale and stop at that, it's sort of the same/the reverse of the acronym "GNU" (which stands for "GNU's Not Linux").

  6. My favourites are the Chinese for owl (maotouying = cat-head hawk) and gecko (bihu = wall-tiger).

    I seem to remember that raccoons are araiguma (wash-bear) in Japanese - and some time after I lived in Japan, I read an interview with Captain Beefheart, in which he referred to his local raccoons as "wash-bears".

    1. Yes, raccoons are wash-bears or washer-bears. I like 'wall tiger' a lot.

  7. This is great!

    Hole bear brings to mind the idea of a bear with a portable hole in its chest, who hoards food (including disabled creatures) in there to feed itself during the winter.

    1. Nice - that's probably better than mine.

  8. Was inspired by this post to do something similar for French animal names:

  9. I remember, early on in our campaign, regaling you with some of the wonderful foreign names of harvestmen. The German "schneckenkanker" is a favourite - my book translates is as "snail harvestman" which conjures up wonderful images, although I think "snail crab" is a more accurate translation. (Lots of languages also have the harvestman as some sort of shepherd, and I rather like the idea of a snail shepherd).

    Other names include "goat spider" and "garlic spider" (I'm picturing a spider in a stripey jumper with a string of garlic around its neck)

    1. The garlic spider also talks as though he's just come off the set of 'Allo 'Allo.

  10. In parts of England, cooked snails are sometimes called wallfish. Which, in light of this post, makes me think of wallsharks - which you don't want to run into in a dark hallway beneath the ruins of an old monastery.