Saturday, March 31, 2018
Despite their mythological pedigree, harpies are not a common occurence in games I've played or run. Which is odd, because their fit the bill for so many things I find compelling in an old-school monster encounter:
1) They're stats allow for use in low level games, but their abilities make them interesting even for more powerful characters.
2) Their magical abilities are scary, but not insta-TPK.
3) The fact they can fly adds a fun tactical twist to encounters.
4) They are intelligent enough (INT 7, according to the Rules Cyclopedia) that communication and varying response are possible.
So, let's take a look at these feathered fiends.
Harpy (from Moldvay)
Move: 60' (20')
Fly: 150' (50')
Att: 2 claws/1 weapon + special
Damage: 1d4/1d4/1d6 + special
# App.: 1d6 (1d8)
Save: F3 (+2)
First off, it may (or may not) be worth pointing out that Gygax & co. sort of mashed together two mythological critters into the D&D harpy. Harpies were bird women that stole and killed. Sirens were bird women that sang and charmed victims. Easy enough to confuse or conflate, but I just thought I'd mention that the harpies of myth were not typically portrayed as hypnotic singers.
Anyway, the harpy is said to be part giant eagle, part hideous woman. As there is no "Eagle, Giant" in BX, let's go with the giant hawk. It's pretty close HD-wise to the harpy and is described as the size of a large dog or small pony. So that sounds like it could be the creature's lower half. A giant hawk can carry away small targets like halflings, so right there you can have some fun. Imagine a charmed hobbit letting himself literally get carried away!
Harpies have lousy morale, so they are likely to flee at any fierce resistance. Harpies aren't smart, but the aren't mindless animals either. The description says a successful save lets a character resist the song for the rest of the encounter. Meaning if the ladybirds show back up later that day, it's time to roll again! They could harry a party striving to lure at least one PC away with their song. Perhaps enticing him to walk off a cliff! Then the PCs would have to find a way to reach the body while the harpies simply fly down and feast. Treasure type C is no great shakes, but lends me to think the harpies might carry shiny trinkets back to their eyrie even if they may leave the picked-over bones behind.
How to fight them? Well, as mentioned, they aren't particularly tough. Their morale is poor, so chasing them off is a possibility. Judicious use of a Silence 15' Radius spell could potentially render the harpies mute for the encounter, depending on how much room they have to fly around and where the cleric centers the spell.