One of the 4E Dungeon adventures had an encounter like that, with a pool that would randomly change the elemental affinities of monsters. I forget whether the monsters were "mephits" or generic elementals. The Den of Dreus, a sequel to HS1 - The Slaying Stone.
After a long hiatus, it's time that we began moving our way towards the last of the Dragon articles dealing with monsters. Hailing from Dragon #423, it's the Ecology of the Gargoyle!
Ah, the Gargoyle; one of the most famous of all the "gotcha!" monsters in D&D history (up there with the Mimic), it has made such a lasting impression that it's actually unable to really perform its role anymore - as soon as you mention "statues" in D&D, everybody thinks either "golem" or "gargoyle". In fact, there's a sidebar in the article reminding readers of the real-world origins of the gargoyle, and warning DMs to not make every single gargouille or grotesque an actual gargoyle-monster if you hope to employ the monsters for themselves.
I first encountered a gargoyle in the pages of Fighting Fantasy, so I have a soft spot for the creature. I always used to think of them as some kind of sapient, self-aware golem-kin - and in fact, checking my Monstrous Manuals shows that at least towards AD&D's end, they actually ARE a kind of living construct in old-school D&D lore! But in 4e, they evolved into an Elemental, which is a rather understandable evolution given they were Monstrous Humanoids with the Earth subtype in 3rd edition.
Gargoyles of the World Axis:
The precise origins of Gargoyles in the World Axis are a mystery. Common myths include them being a wizardly creation that went out of hand or a divine curse on disfavored clerics, who angered their gods to the point that the gods transformed the stones of their temples into stony-skinned demons to punish their transgressions. Contemporary elementalists claim to know the truth; that gargoyles are and always have been a breed of elemental being, although even they are unsure of their precise genesis. Some have wondered if Orcus mightn't have created them before succumbing to Abyssal corruption, given the similarities between gargoyles and nabassu.
Regardless, gargoyles are found throughout the Elemental Chaos; though powerful by mortal standards, gargoyles are a dull-witted, primitive species, and regarded as little more than dim-witted beasts by the ruling entities of their plane. "Wild" gargoyles live a fundamentally animalistic lifestyle, lurking or nomadically wandering, preying on anything that seems a reasonably weak prey and avoiding danger. Naturally savage but also territorial, elementals - and many spellcasters on other planes - have learned to harness that mentality to employ them as hunters, messengers and sentries. The efreeti and the dao in particular make heavy use of gargoyles as slaves.
Here's where things really weird. A gargoyle is as much an animate statue as it is a living creature; its blood and other vital fluids have the consistency of wet sand. They actually don't need organic food, instead siphoning mineral nutrients from their environments through their skin; they hunt for the pleasure they get in tormenting and terrorizing weaker creatures. When slain, they collapse into broken rubble and spilled gravel - a gargoyle that dies without its brittle form being smashed in the process is just a statue.
Gargoyles can "calcify" themselves when needed, becoming true stone - a later segment in the article emphasises this; they don't simply look like they're made of rock, they are made of rock. This is a defensive state, rendering them tougher, naturally camouflaged, and even preserving their life - gargoyles naturally live for about fifty years, but enter a kind of temporal stasis when they are in their stone forms. This allows them to live for centuries by undergoing regular torpor.
Perhaps this ability to go into stasis is why gargoyles are remarkably patient. But even then, they cleave to extremes, switching explosively from attentive and guarded to tumultuous and destructive. A gargoyle might crouch in stone form for ten years, ignoring hundreds of travelers who pass beneath its perch, and then spring upon one particular victim who seems no different from any other. Another gargoyle might refuse to let any creatures pass without accosting them.
Gargoyles do reproduce, but the sexes are almost impossible to distinguish. Couples come together only to mate, with the pregnant female spending over a year in her stone form whilst the male guards her. When she emerges, she holds a clutch of rock-like, mismatched eggs; such is their limited parental instinct that, after the birth, the female leaves the male with the eggs and moves on - the male will promptly scatter the eggs in a new location and then leave them to their fate. Gargoyles have no familial bonds, and younglings who meet during their five-year childhood tend to kill each other in battles for dominance.
Gargoyles are not social creatures. The article characterizes them as obstinate, sadistic, and brooding, selfish in their pursuits and hateful of rivals. Gargoyles gather in groups - known various as packs, flights or wings - mostly out of a craving for a certain amount of permanence or due to the charisma, strength and bullying of a more powerful entity. Even then, gargoyle packs are full of internecine conflict, with constant squabbling that can lead to crippling injuries or death for the weaker members of the flock.
Place in the Mortal World:
The territoriality of gargoyles is easily frustrated in the Elemental Chaos, where they rank among the plane's weaker denizens. So they have naturally gravitated towards invading the far more vulnerable mortal realms, making a bloody nuisance of themselves in the process.
Gargoyles will be found anywhere that grants them open space to fly and high vantages from which they can dive on prey. They're as comfortable perched high up on a ledge in the Underdark or inside of a vault as they are atop a mountain or a rocky bluff. Despite rumors otherwise, gargoyles are rarely seen in cities; only the bravest and most vicious are willing to risk exposure by actually hiding in plain sight.
Despite this, the gargoyle's legend has become ubiquitous, leading to a common superstition that their presence, undesirable as it may be, can ward off worse problems. The wealthy - from kings and nobles to priests and mages - have been known to employ gargoyle-shaped statuary to "guard" their holdings, and temples may erect gargoyle-like statues to ward off intruders or remind their followers of the fiends that oppose their beliefs. Add in that evil faiths or strong-willed, amoral or stupid mages and nobles - especially those who worship demons or the primordials - have been known to "retain" real gargoyles in their dwellings, and the statues command immediate paranoid attention and suspicion.
Ironically, even the gargoyles themselves aren't immune to this! For every gargoyle willing to hide in plain sight amongst grotesquery, there's another that will avoid such a perch precisely because even they can't be certain whether they're looking at statues or potential competitors!
Gargoyles are, like all elementals, fundamentally malleable at their very core. Variants arise naturally in the Elemental Chaos, including gargoyles that resemble other mineral forms (obsidian, ironstone, crystals, ice), the aquatic kapoacinths, and the unusually large, ugly and intelligent margoyles. Furthermore, humanoids and extraplanar magical beings often shape and twist gargoyles to their own desires. The cult of the Elder Elemental Eye have learned ways to enslave gargoyles and turn them into fanatical, suicidally loyal slaves. In Eberron, House Vadalis has managed to mostly domesticate gargoyles and use them as messengers and bounty hunters.
A sidebar elaborates that gargoyles are great fits for all kinds of monster themes, and these could be used to make very unique spins on the basic concept, such as a Feywild version. To quote the article:
How would a storybook gargoyle act? Limned in faerie lights, guarding sacred forest groves, or cavorting with will-o’-wisps in swampy ruins, a “feygoyle” could be great fun. It might prefer a game of riddles over combat, or offer intruders a suspicious invitation to tea.
Uses of a Gargoyle:
The final segment of the article examines possible ways that gargoyles are used, both as servants and by exploiting their magical biology to create magical items, which gargoyles tend to get rather peeved about. This culminates in a pair of gargoyle-centric adventure hooks, a Summon Gargoyle ritual, and the Cloak of the Gargoyle, a classic magic item reinvented for 4th edition.
I've actually abbreviated this article a lot, because I've been told I tend to... get overly enthusiastic with the details. I'd love to know how I did.
All in all, this a very solid article. Although it acknowledges the new elemental-centric aspect of gargoyle lore, it has very strong roots in gargoyle lore dating back to AD&D - the Cloak of the Gargoyle, the Kapoacinth and the Margoyle all appeared in that edition. It's a nice, solid article, with some pretty good tips for DMs who might want to get some use out of this rather overexposed creature - although I must admit I find the part about gargoyles themselves being confused by "gargoyle-like statues" and often deciding to give them a wide berth in case they're real is hilarious, and so I'm biased.
Our next entry will be the first of a two-part bestiary article, covering the Catastrophic Dragon. This was a new family of fallen Elemental Dragons released in the Monster Manual 3. The problem is... that means LOTS of statblocks; even with only two dragons per article, that's still about... what was it, 5 or 6 statblocks for the individual age categories?
So, I'm kind of uncertain about how to proceed here. Any input, my readers? Maybe focus on the lore, because there's a good chunk of lore in these articles, and maybe keep the crunchy discussion to a minimum?
I really liked your writeup here - I think it flows a bit better when it's cut down in length. You definitely made me want to look up the article on my own at some point.
I'm definitely more interested in the flavor than the mechanics, though I do appreciate a brief summary. I despair of ever getting to play 4e again, and if I do I'll have plenty of time to look up stats.
Disney gargoyles are a bit more fey. "Stone by day, warriors by night." They appear to be very lawful; oaths are important to them, and they have large and communal social groups. Eggs are cared for as a clan, and children are usually unaware of their exact parentage. They don't even have names, unless humans apply them for convenience. This is probably excused by the fact that they're extremely mutable; no two gargoyles look the same. You can usually tell which ones are female, and at a guess I'd say they have mammalian features. Don't ask me how the gargoyle hounds work, though; that way lies madness.
(I say "no two look the same". It's patently obvious who Angela's parents are, though.)
The social instincts of these gargoyles leads to some interesting consequences. If they say you're a friend, they're going to die for you. If they say you're an enemy, they'll keep coming for you for the next hundred years. What's that? Demona, so-called for her hatred of humans, got eternal youth? Well, given enough time, total global genocide seems eminently reasonable...
It's a very different myth to the nastier, crueler D&D gargoyle. But it fits pretty well, if you're OK with enemies that have some depth beyond "attacks on sight and fights to the death". A gargoyle clan or band that has a beef with their neighbours will be remorseless in their drive for vengeance. Another clan might guard their allies in good faith for centuries. It puts some depth and variety into them.
Alright, let's start the first and only ever 2-part Bestiary article with Bestiary: Catastrophic Dragons (Part 1)!
Catastrophic Dragons first appeared in the original Monster Manual for 4th edition; the Dragon entry on page 74 describes the five families of dragons in the World Axis cosmology, devoting a paragraph to each. Alongside the expected Chromatic, Metallic and Planar dragons, two new dragon families debuted; the Scourge Dragons (linnorms), and the primordial Catastrophic Dragons.
Scourge Dragons, sadly, would never amount to anything more than a token mention in both of the 4e Draconomicons. Catastrophic Dragons, however, fared better, receiving their first debut in the Monster Manual 3 with the Blizzard, Earthquake and Volcanic Dragon.
These pair of bestiary articles evidently exist to make up for the lack of a "Draconomicon 3" in the 4e library, expanding on Catastrophic Dragon lore well beyond the limits of that presented by their (actually quite sizable) MM3 entry.
Origin of the Species
The Catastrophic Dragons were created when Io the Dragon God was split asunder by Erek-Hus; for whatever reasons, the ancestors of these races chose not to submit to Io's progeny, Bahamut and Tiamat, but instead entered the Elemental Chaos, where they were found and enticed to - or enslaved by - a particular Primordial. The specifics of the story vary depending on the species, but this is the general pattern that these stories followed.
However it came to pass, each species of Catastrophic Dragon was fundamentally remade by its Primordial patron, a process that transmuted them from living flesh into creatures of elemental matter and primordial energy - which didn't exactly do much for their sanity, hence the rather crazed mentalities of each distinct species. As the Primordials were slain or bound, the catastrophic dragons were turned loose to go their own way.
They've been plaguing the multiverse ever since.
This topic is examined quite exhaustively in the article itself, but I'll try to summarize matters.
Due to their reforging at the hands of the Primordials - which, incidentally, may explain their greater power than that of the Elemental Dragons from the Chromatic Draconomicon - all catastrophic dragons are less living creatures and more elementals that adhere to a draconic shape out of an echo of what they were like. This makes their forms highly flexible - dragons of storm might have multiple heads, or a tail whose end rejoins their body, for example - and also neatly explains the dichotomy between the more "natural looking" catastrophic dragon artwork from the MM3 and the more clearly elemental dragons portrayed in these articles. Like elementals, they are governed more by passion than rationality.
Despite maturing in a fashion similar to normal dragons, catastrophic dragons do not breed living creatures - that topic will be covered in the next article. They have no internal organs, nor gender; they are simple dragon-shaped masses of elemental matter animated by pure chaos, the same as any other elemental. This may explain why they are unable to wield the traditional draconic breath weapon - although the ancients of some species do have some kind of elemental projectile attack. Instead, each possesses an elemental aura of destructive energies, which at least impedes and often slays those who get too close.
They don't even eat like true dragons, instead somehow absorbing nourishment from their surroundings (though consuming magical items is a common trait). The act of imbuing chaos into the world around them does seem to be somehow connected to their feeding process, which explains their rampages. It may also explain their tendency to go into long periods of torpor, a process called "quiescence". Catastrophic breeds with a seasonal weather connection, such as blizzard or wildfire dragons, tend to be most active during that season and quiescent at other times, but other breeds are much less discriminatory.
Also known as deathslide and smothering dragons, avalanche dragons are creatures of elemental earth and air that inhabit mountainous regions, where they terrorize orcs, dwarves and goliaths. They originate from a grief-maddened band of dragons who blamed death itself for the loss of their beloved Io, and who were coaxed into following a Primordial named Athuam the Falling Sky when he spun a lie that aiding him in killing Nerull, the God of Death and the Dead, would result in the resurrection of all who had ever been slain. Drinking Athuam's muddy blood, they became draconic embodiments of the fury of crumbling mountains, and traveled with him to attack Pluton in the Astral Sea - a battle that they lost.
Avalanche dragons are notorious grudgebearers; they never forget a slight, against themselves or their lineage, and hold a particular hatred for the undead, followers of the Raven Queen, Orcus or Nerull, and anyone who has dealings with the Shadowfell or uses shadow magic. At the same time, they have a great appreciation for beauty, and tend to spend most of their time resting high in their mountain perches. They are quite willing to forge alliances, at least when they're calm, and some well-meaning souls have even forged alliances with avalanche dragons in order to battle powerful necromancers, vampires and liches, which they are quite willing to do... unfortunately, when an avalanche dragon flies into its inevitable rage, foe and friend alike are viable targets in its eyes.
Mechanically, Avalanche Dragons are Skirmishers with a a damaging aura called Rain of Stone, the Landslide trait (being Slowed only affects their Fly speed), and the core attacks of Claw, Avalanche Trample, and Blinding Dust.
Capricious and destructive, typhoon dragons are amongst the most erratic and savage of their breed. They descend from dragons that were so overwhelmed with rage by Io's death that they abandoned the Dawn War and began to rampage - until ultimately destruction became its own motivation. These mad dragons gravitated to the chaotic, unforgiving sea... which meant they took it as a personal attack on their freedom when Melora began exerting her control over the oceans of the world.
To stop her, they turned to several Primordials, but the only one whose name is remembered is Solkara the Crushing Wave. These primordials submerged the dragons in the deepest depths of the sea, using their magic to preserve the dragons' souls and life even as the pressure crushed them and their waterlogged flesh sloughed from their bones. When the remains were hurled into the fearsome storms that scoured the elemental skies, the typhoon dragons were born; creatures of water, wind, thunder and lightning, which have plagued the world ever since.
Ironically, typhoon dragons have no particular aversion to the worshipers of the gods. They're quite willing to cooperate with any creature that shares their environment. But... even by elemental standards, typhoon dragons are temperamental. They are highly intelligent, but struggle to rein in their emotional impulses - especially their intense, unpredictable curiosity. A wise dragonslayer knows to make a typhoon dragon constantly shift its attention in battle, rather than letting it focus on a single target.
The two most defining traits of a typhoon dragon are its wantonly destructive nature - a combination of a short-fused, murderous temper and a belief that destruction is beautiful for is own sake - and its curiosity. They are notorious collectors of all manner of eccentricities, from sahuagin art to religious writings, locks of hair, animal carapaces and broken bits of sunken ships.
I really enjoyed this article; I like the catastrophic dragons, and they have a lot of flavor to them. I'm honestly a little worried I'm underselling just how much flavor is crammed into this article in my attempts to make things briefer, as I was instructed. Even on its own, this article is solid for any DM who wants to use a dragon of a different color in their game; paired with its sequel, and you have a real masterpiece.