vb Wyrde over on the MeWe OSR group asked about who had used or encountered these critters in their games and I realized I had never done a Random Monster Assessment on them.
These creatures appear in Cook Expert. This makes sense as they would be a handful for Basic level PCs and they are more suited to wilderness encounters (they do appear on the random monsters for dungeon levels 8+). They are on the flyer table for Mountain and Desert terrain, which also makes sense given their origin in persian mythology.
Manticore (from Cook)
Move: 120' (40'), Fly 180' (60')
Att: 2 claws/1bite or spikes
Dmg: 1d4/1d4/2d8 or special
No. App: 1d2 (1d4)
So stat-wise, the manticore is pretty tough, but not unstoppable. Its AC is so-so for a 6 hit die creature. It has poor morale, too. What makes this fella formidable is a combination of factors. This makes a little work for the DM to keep them all in mind, but the result can be a pretty memorable encounter.
- It can fly. I know that's hardly unique, but it does add a wrinkle to facing one (or more) of them.
- It has ranged and melee attacks. In both cases it is potentially striking multiple times per round.
- The melee attacks (claws/bite) are not automatic kills, but if all three hit a single target, you're looking at up to 16 points of damage per round. A perfectly respectable number.
- The spike attack is nasty. Granted the manticore only has four of them before his tail is empty, but each round that it uses it can mean up to 36 points of damage dealt out. And this is a ranged attack.
- "The manticore's favorite food is man." (X35) These things seek out people and eat them. They are not just dangerous, they actively hunt humans. Their chaotic alignment also points to them not feeling too terrible about it either.
- "They will frequently track parties with humans, ambushing with spike attacks when the party stops to rest." It's interesting to note that it specifically says "with humans." One reading of that could be distinguishing them from demihumans. So a party with a mix of races could see the humans specifically targeted.
- As a 6+ HD monster, it is capable of flying off carrying a man. Or, say, flying up 100' or so and dropping him on some rocks.
Treasure Type D is pretty respectable, so I could see PC parties being foolish and greedy enough to seek out a manticore lair for the loot. Perhaps in a desert, where the creature(s) have made a den in an old pyramid tomb full of the gold of a lost king?
If I was a player facing such an encounter, I would work hard to find a way to ground it (perhaps a Web spell?) then close to melee so it couldn't shoot me with those 6 x 1d6 spikes.