Mercy Me, The Fantasy Ecology

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When scientists cracked the DNA code, and started re-mapping the Tree of Life, they found some pretty interesting things – animals one would not think were related, it turned out, actually were. It’s amazing the way different animal families manage to fill ecological niches. Heck, just looking at a Chihuahua and Great Dane will tell you that life is pretty mutable.

This led me to thinking about how one could create weird, fantasy ecologies. Imagine categorizing animals into broad ecological niches – large predators, small predators, small scavengers, large grazers, for example – and then randomly picking from the various families of the animal kingdom to fill those niches. The next step would be hardest, of course – imagining how the selected animal family might fit into that niche. Of course, if you draw a feline for the large predator category, you can just stick in a tiger. But what about a large equine predator? What might that look like?

Okay – one note for what follows … it ain’t science. It’s an affront to science. The idea here is to stimulate one’s imagination and come up with a twisted ecology that will entertain and delight the people who play in your games. The below tables are designed to start with something you know, and then turn it into something you don’t. Insectivores will become herbivores and herbivores will become carnivores, etc. Have fun, use your imagination and if you have a few bucks in your pocket, commission and artist to bring your creation to life.

ECOLOGICAL NICHES
First, determine the sizes of the animals in you fantastic ecology. This is dependent on the availability of food in the environment, which itself is usually dependent on the availability of water. For marine environments, it should probably be based on the availability of sunlight (SUNNY-MEDIUM-DARK).

Tiny creatures will rarely serve as anything but a prop when running an adventure; unless they swarm or are poisonous they won’t threaten adventurers, and grand hunts are not organized to kill them. Hence, don’t worry about creating too many.

For each animal size, determine its general strategy for feeding itself by rolling 1d6 on the following table.

Carnivores eat meat, and will usually hunt for it or scavenge the kills of smaller creatures

Omnivores eat meat and plants, and might pose a danger to adventurers

Herbivores eat plants, and are usually only dangerous in large, stampeding herds; they do, on the other hand, serve as prey for adventurers

This will give you a variety of interesting animals that might be encountered (randomly, of course) in a region by adventurers. The point here is not to build an actual viable ecosystem, but rather to build a dangerous backdrop for exploration and adventure. Naturally, you’ll want to fill out a random encounter table with more fantastic monsters as well.

To determine what fills the niche, roll on the tables below. These tables are designed to produce something weird, so keep that in mind.

ANIMAL FAMILIES (LAND) – Roll D%

01-02. Aardvarks
03-04. Anapsida – turtles
05-06. Ants
07-08. Anura – frogs and toads
09-10. Apoidea – bees and wasps
11-12. Arachnids – spiders and scorpions
13-14. Bats
15-17. Birds – I could be more specific, but I like the possibilities of throwing them all into one category
18-20. Bovines – including cattle, goats, sheep, musk oxen and antelopes
21-22. Caelifera – grasshoppers, locusts, crickets and katydids
23-24. Camels – including llamas
25-27. Canines – wolves, dogs and foxes
28-29. Caudata – salamanders and newts
30-31. Coleoptera – beetles and weevils
32-33. Crocodilians – crocodiles and alligators
34-35. Dinosaurs – you should have no problem fitting them into any ecological niche
36-37. Diptera – flies, mosquitoes, gnats, and midges
38-39. Equines – including horses, asses, and zebras
40-42. Felines –cats, including the related sabre-toothed paleofelines
43-44. Hippopotamuses
45-46. Hyenas
47-48. Insectivores – including moles, shrews, hedgehogs, and moonrats
49-50. Lepidoptera – butterflies and moths
51-53. Lizards
54-55. Mantises
56-57. Marsupials – kangaroos, wombats, opossums
58-59. Mongooses and linsangs
60. Monsters – mythological beasts
61-62. Mustelids – weasels, badgers, otters, wolverines and the related skunks
63-64. Odonata – dragonflies and damselflies (dragons and damsels – funny)
65-66. Pangolins
67-68. Pecora – deer, giraffes, okapis, pronghorns
69-70. Pilosa – including sloths, extinct ground sloths and anteaters
71-72. Pinnipeds – seals and walruses
73-74. Primates – including lemurs, monkeys, apes and humans
75-76. Proboscids – elephants, mammoths and mastodons
77-78. Raccoons
79-80. Rhinoceroses
81-83. Rodents – rats, squirrels, guinea pigs, hamsters, porcupines and capybara!
84. Snails
85-86. Snakes
87-88. Swine – including peccaries
89-90. Synapsida – mammal-like reptiles from the primordial world
91-92. Tachyglossids – including echidnas and platypuses
93-94. Tapirs
95-96. Ursines – bears, including the extinct bear-dogs
97-98. Viverrids – civets
99-100. Worms

ANIMAL FAMILIES (SEA) – Roll D30

1-2. Cephalods – including octopuses, squids and cuttlefish
3-4. Cetaceans
5-6. Crustaceans – lobsters and crabs
7-8. Dinosaurs
9-10. Eels
11-12. Jellyfish
13-14. Lampreys
15-16. Manatees and sea cows
17-18. Monsters – fantastic creatures
19-20. Osteichthys – bony fish – i.e. fish with bone skeletons rather than cartilage
21-22. Placodermi – armored fish
23-24. Sharks and rays – including ghostsharks
25-26. Shrimp
27-28. Turtles
29-30. Roll on land table and adapt to marine environment

To help you along, you can consult the following table listing existing animals in each niche, modeling your make-believe animal on the survival techniques of a real animal.

EXAMPLE: WEIRD SAVANNAH

My weird savannah is dominated by tall, broad herbivores descended from crocodiles. They have short snouts and thick tongues that pull in grasses. Mostly slow and ponderous, they retain their crocodilian patience and ability to generate a short burst of speed. The grazing tortoises are about the size of water buffalo, with shells that are spiked, providing a means of defense. The savannah is also grazed on by wombat-like creatures that resemble long-legged, antelopes. The swiftest herbivores on the savannah are medium-sized descendants of rhinos; they look like springboks with rough, rhino-like skin and small horns on their foreheads. Seeds on the savannah are collected by sparrow-sized dragonflies and a rodent that resembles a cane rat.

The only true carnivore on the savannah is a burrowing, carnivorous hedgehog that preys on the rodents and dragonflies. Packs of these creatures prey on such creatures as the long-fingered and ring-tailed raccoons that live in colonies in large trees and the small anteaters that scurry among the tall grasses. The savannah also has a wolf-sized feline that feeds on smaller animals and the long, purple fruit that grows on the savannah trees, and a panther-sized arachnid that hunts at night in small prides.

4 thoughts on “Mercy Me, The Fantasy Ecology

  1. This is cool. I've been tossing around the idea of populating an island on an alien world or pocket dimension (I haven't decided which yet) and this seems like the right middle ground between familiar and alien. Regarding the size categories, are those the same as the size categories in the SRD? I haven't settled on a game mechanic yet so I might have to do some conversion if I go with something like BRP or TMNT.

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