Perytons were twisted and depraved magical creatures that appeared to be a cross between a giant eagle and a demonic-looking, fang-toothed stag. They were known and feared for tearing the beating hearts from their victims' chests.
A peryton's feathered and winged body was about 7 feet (2 meters) long and 5 feet (1.5 meters) tall and was similar to that of a giant eagle with dark green or gray-green feathers. Its head, however, was covered in blue-black or purple hair and was roughly the shape of a deer's. Its maw was full of jagged fangs, and its talons were as sharp as razors. On the top of its head was a set of extremely sharp and strong antlers, which were as hard as steel and jet black in color. A male had light blue chest feathers, while a female's were pale brown. A peryton's eyes glowed or glittered and were an orange-red color.
Perytons reportedly smelled like humans, although others said the smell was indescribable and immediately triggered a sense of dread.
Perhaps the strangest feature of a peryton was its shadow. The shadow did not usually resemble the shape of the beast; instead, it was said to appear as the outline of whatever creature whose heart the peryton last ate, usually an adult human. Other reports suggested that the peryton's shadow was always that of a human, and a legend told that they had once been humans themselves, hence the human shadow. There was some controversy as to when and what shadow would be cast by a peryton. Some argued that the only time a peryton cast its own shadow was immediately after killing a victim but before consuming it. Others said that a peryton's shadow reverted to its own only after eating a heart and for a brief period afterwards. Some attributed this phenomenon specifically to the female. In any case, the matter of the peryton's shadow was a longstanding mystery by the 14th century.
Personality and Behavior
Unlike the eagles they resembled, perytons did not glide at high altitudes. They preferred darting close to the ground. There were conflicting tales about their maneuverability on the wing. Some claimed that they were poor fliers, while others reported that they were so maneuverable as to be able to turn at a right angle at full speed over a distance of only two hundred yards.
Perytons were as intelligent as humans. They were said to have foul tempers, but could be intelligent, patient, and cunning. Perytons would make detailed plans for a hunt, then carry them out meticulously. They would wait any length of time to achieve their aims, and though they might appear relaxed, they were ready for their prey.
They could understand at least Common and sometimes other languages, but they could not speak, at least not in words recognizable to most. Some believed that they had a language of their own, which was described as a series of pained or enraged screeches and roars, even human-like screams. By the 14th century, none had bothered, nor taken the risk, to decipher it.
They were perpetually unhappy creatures and despised their own existence, yet they were driven by a desire to kill others and someday ascend to a higher form of existence by the eating of a "perfect heart". The perytons believed that the perfect heart must always be eaten fresh, which was why they tried to tear it from living prey with their sharp talons. So strong was this desire that more intelligent perytons even kept and bred other creatures to harvest their hearts. Human hearts were the preferred variety. Strangely, perytons did not believe that an elf could have a perfect heart; they would never eat the heart of an elf, but they might still kill an elf for other reasons—or for no reason at all. Despite this, some believed that a peryton would in fact eat an elf heart, or keep them as food.
Perytons attacked by slashing with their horns, snapping with their ferocious jaws, or clawing with their deadly talons. They were adept at attacking with all three at once. They were especially dangerous when making swooping attacks.
Ruthless, they tended to focus on attacking weakest foes first, making surprise flyby attacks from behind cover, and then darting off again. If drawn into melee combat, they hopped about on the ground, using their wings to stay about 5 feet (1.5 meters) off the ground. Stronger perytons would sometimes carry smaller prey and drop them from great heights. Whichever target was chosen, a peryton rarely changed to a new one until either the target or peryton were killed.
Whenever an opponent was helpless or unconscious—whether from crippling, paralysis, etc.—a peryton would attempt to rip the heart from the victim with its claws. It would immediately consume the organ.
Perytons sometimes hunted in groups, but their chaotic natures made it difficult for them to cooperate. They often fought over prey, since they feared that someone else might have the chance to eat the perfect heart.
They usually nested in small groups of between two to eight perytons or family groups of up to four. Nests were usually made several miles from their nearest neighbor. They were very careful about where they made their nests, choosing locales where they could avoid other winged creatures; even if they weren't a threat to them, the perytons didn't want the competition or interference. They sought an easy, clear path to their hunting grounds.
Peryton females laid eggs with shells as hard as metal. It was said that acid was required to melt through the shells. Some scholars believed that the reason perytons consumed hearts was because of the high iron content of that organ, which was thought to be used in both the perytons' antlers and eggs and perhaps their skin and feathers. In any case, a female peryton was not fertile unless she had eaten a fresh heart. This heart had to come from a humanoid—human for preference, but dwarf, elf, ogre, and orc hearts would do, though some thought it specifically had to be human. She would only remain fertile for an extremely short time—between three and eighteen hours, during which time her shadow matched her form. She would then lay between one and four eggs at a time. A mated pair of perytons shared the duties of guarding their nest and sitting on the eggs.
A peryton egg had an incubation period of up to a month. A hatchling had to be fed for the first month of life, then grew to maturity in only three months. The parent perytons often carried live prey to their nests, and watched as the infants killed and consumed them themselves. The young stayed with their parents for as long as a year, after which they left to establish their own nests.
Perytons were omnivorous and, apart from their need to eat hearts to reproduce, they could sustain themselves on vegetation. A typical meal might be rabbit, deer, or horse, but they much preferred humanoid flesh, particularly that of a human, for the sake of eating their hearts. If they were successful in tearing out and devouring a victim's heart, the flesh of the corpse served as a meal.
Perytons preferred living in temperate climates, in forests, mountains, and hills, but they could survive in colder environments as well. Large populations were known to exist in the Spine of the World; the Neth Stand forest; the Nether Mountains; the Giant's Run Mountains, where they roosted in old giant-sized palaces; the Starspire Mountains, the Walls of Halruaa; the Lonely Moor, a part of the High Moor; in the Goblin Marches and the Stonelands; the northern Thunder Peaks; and the west Galena Mountains, from which they ranged across Thar.
In the Stonelands and southern Goblin Marches, perytons were an incessant threat to goblins, orcs, and the other tribes that dwelled there. Very few goblinkin and orcs possessed magical weapons that could pierce their tough hides, giving them little defense against peryton attacks. From there, they often swooped upon caravans passing through Tilver's Gap; sometimes, a single large caravan would be harassed several times by perytons of different nests. Travelling east of Arabel got to be so hazardous in the 1360s DR that groups in Cormyr pushed for an mounted aerial division of the Purple Dragons to combat them. The careful perytons themselves nested over Tilver's Gap to avoid competition with griffons elsewhere in the Storm Horns and to avoid the defenses at Castle Crag.
Clearly magical beasts, perytons were widely viewed as having had a magical or otherwise unnatural creation. No-one knew for sure how they'd come to be, but there many theories had been put forward. Many scholars pointed to the facts that a peryton had the scent and shadow of a human and required a human heart to reproduce, and concluded that they had once been human, perhaps cursed or magically transformed millennia before. Perytons were generally said to be the creation of one of the evil deities, but which one is forgotten. It was known that the Beast Lord of the ruins of Dekanter propagated perytons, but whether he first created them or only bred them was not clear.
An alternative and perhaps more sinister tale was put to paper by Brother Delf of Verdusk, apparently relating an ancient legend. He told that perytons had once been the Khala of Imaskar, a human race of evil Bane-worshipers. As punishment for their crimes, they were cursed by five gods of law. Lathander, god of the dawn, said "You have been swift as an eagle in your flight from justice, so I curse you each of you with the body of the eagle." Mystra, goddess of magic, said "Fierce as a wolf have you been in your persecution of the innocent, so I curse you with the teeth of the wolf." Torm, god of duty, said "Foolish as a stag in rut have you been as you shunned what is true and good, so I curse you all to bear the head and horns of the stag." Ilmater, god of suffering, said "You have tormented and torn heart and soul from your victims, so I curse you with unnatural appetites, so that you may only live and prosper after devouring the hearts of your prey." Finally, Mielikki, goddess of the forest, said "While you acted as beasts, your heart contained evil which only humans can know. I curse you to always cast the shadow of the humans you once were, to always remind you of your terrible deeds and of the souls that you have lost." Thus, they became the perytons. This tale was unsupported by fact, but it did explain all their unusual human traits. However, some, like Talyssa Strongbow, considered it ironic that their curses, particularly that of Ilmater—who aimed to shield folk from suffering—only drove the peryton to further murder and savagery. This cast doubt on the tale, or on the wisdom of the gods.
Sometime around 1372 DR, King Obould Many-Arrows made an arrangement with the perytons living in the Spine of the World to defend his eastern border. In exchange, he granted them prisoners for heart-harvesting. This allowed him to focus his attentions on the Silver Marches.
Sometime following the Spellplague, while exploring the Savage Frontier for his new tome Volo's Guide to Monsters the famed Volothamp Geddarm was attacked by a peryton on a crag overlooking Phandalin and lost his left eyebrow in the process.
A disturbing rumor circulating in Tilverton in the mid–14th century told that a lowland nest of perytons in the Stonelands kept captive humans, elves, orcs, and ogres. As the story went, they tended to and even cared for them, as a farmer would their cattle, because they slaughtered these poor folk for their hearts and for food for the whole nest. Some they kept alive for breeding, to replenish their stock.
The peryton originated in Jorge Luis Borges's Book of Imaginary Beings. They combined the features of stag and eagle, and originated in Atlantis. In this original depiction, they cast the shadow of a man until they killed one, after which they cast their own shadow.
The peryton first appeared in D&D with the original Monster Manual (1st edition) in 1977.
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