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    Default What folklore inspired creatures have really changed from their original versions?

    I was looking into vampire lore and how it's evolved over the years and I was really surprised at how different Bram Stoker's Dracula was to what one might call the "classic" vampire and in what ways he was different. For one thing, he could apparently be trapped in his coffin by leaving a wild rose stalk on it... which I can't believe I've never heard of considering how big an impact the paranormal romance genre had on vampires' portrayal.

    This got me thinking, what other big changes to folklore inspired monsters do you know of, especially in rpgs? I'm wondering if there are any opportunities for a cool spin on some creatures that are actually just taking it back to its roots - because that takes a lot less effort and creativity . Like the portrayal of kobolds in dnd made liberal use of creative license - which I have no problem with, I'm just interested in how the stories have changed since the OG versions.

    For my own contribution - the leprechaun as it is known today is waaay out of step with the original Irish folklore.
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    The name comes from lúchorpán which is just an Irish word meaning something like "small bodied one". If I'm remembering right, the first use of the word is from the Adventures of Fergus mac Léti - a legendary king. He was out riding in his chariot, took a break on the beach and fell asleep, as you do. He woke to find three water sprites had disarmed him and were trying to drag him into the sea (presumably to be drowned and eaten). They were referred to as lúchorpáin (the i makes it plural) and English versions of the story usually say "dwarves" - not leprechauns. That's right, the first leprechauns ever mentioned were murderous sea dwarves. Mac Léti captured them and demanded a wish in return for releasing them. So he got the power to breathe underwater though this power didn't work in the Bay of Dundrum, because fairy logic.

    W. B. Yeats wrote about the leprechaun and described him as the son of an "evil spirit and degenerate fairy" being neither good nor evil. He was described as being really wealthy because he dug up the treasure crocks people from ages past had buried in war time and never returned for. I have no idea where the "pot of gold at the end of the rainbow" stuff comes from. The leprechaun also gets conflated with other creatures a LOT, like the fairy shoemaker (Irish version of the helpful elves from the Grimm fairy tale) , the clurichaun which is a sprite that's really fond of other people's wine (similar name to leprechaun in English but not in Irish since clurichaun comes from the Irish for "red clover head" probably a reference to the flushed face of the drunken fey) and the far darrig which is better known as the red cap.

    Honestly, the more interesting creature to come out of the Adventures of Fergus mac Léti was Muirdris, a sea monster that inflated and contracted like the smiths' bellows and whose appearance was such a lovecraftian horror that she left the king's face permanently contorted in terror - oh, and she was found in the Bay of Dundrum because of course the dude went swimming in the ONE PLACE his magic amphibiousness didn't work.
    Last edited by GaelofDarkness; 2018-10-10 at 12:13 PM.
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    Default Re: What folklore inspired creatures have really changed from their original versions

    One common thread is the presentation of different supernatural beings as occupying distinct species, whereas in their source material they're often more like different political factions or tribes. Take for instance Norse mythology's jotunn, clearly at least part of the for giants and trolls: in the sagas, they're not just big, elemental human-shaped dudes, but divine beings not unlike the Aesir, who they frequently intermarry and mix with. Likewise, the depictions of elves and dwarves draw inspiration from the different factions of alfr, who are themselves in the same general class of godlike beings that Aesir, Jotunn and Vanir occupy.

    The presence of a second faction of rival divinities is a pretty common mythological trope when it comes to gods and their rivals, presumably because so many myth cycles have shared Indo-Iranian roots. Because that second faction is often cast as monstrous of demonic, they often appears in modern fantasy and D&D in particular as distinctly non-divine entities. I guess you could say D&D tends to simplify out a lot of the ambiguity and tribalism that exists in mythology, preferring clearly-defined categories, and interpreting the gods as categorically different than the majority of supernatural beings.

    I'm rambling a little bit, but I guess what I'm saying is that gods are a great example.
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    Default Re: What folklore inspired creatures have really changed from their original versions

    Most of them, I'd say. Did you know that folklore zombies weren't people infected by a virus? Unbelievable, but true! And Kobolds weren't smallish reptile people. Amazons didn't fly or use lasso as a weapon! Druids didn't turn into bears! The banshee were quite different, too - just ghosts who predicted death, not actually monsters.
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    Default Re: What folklore inspired creatures have really changed from their original versions

    Quote Originally Posted by gkathellar View Post
    One common thread is the presentation of different supernatural beings as occupying distinct species, whereas in their source material they're often more like different political factions or tribes. Take for instance Norse mythology's jotunn, clearly at least part of the for giants and trolls: in the sagas, they're not just big, elemental human-shaped dudes, but divine beings not unlike the Aesir, who they frequently intermarry and mix with. Likewise, the depictions of elves and dwarves draw inspiration from the different factions of alfr, who are themselves in the same general class of godlike beings that Aesir, Jotunn and Vanir occupy.

    The presence of a second faction of rival divinities is a pretty common mythological trope when it comes to gods and their rivals, presumably because so many myth cycles have shared Indo-Iranian roots. Because that second faction is often cast as monstrous of demonic, they often appears in modern fantasy and D&D in particular as distinctly non-divine entities. I guess you could say D&D tends to simplify out a lot of the ambiguity and tribalism that exists in mythology, preferring clearly-defined categories, and interpreting the gods as categorically different than the majority of supernatural beings.

    I'm rambling a little bit, but I guess what I'm saying is that gods are a great example.
    Makes sense.

    The way dnd portrays fomorians was quite strange the first time I encountered them. The original fomorians were to the Tuatha Dé Danann as the Jotunn were to the Aesir I guess. In dnd they're more or less based on the fomorian high king Balor of the Evil Eye - though I suppose they already used balor to refer to another creature. The evil eye stuff they added in 5th edition is actually a lot closer to the folklore in that way. They were usually somewhat monstrous but it's Irish mythology so virtually everyone shape-shifts and some fomorians like Elatha were described as being beautiful, or at least taking on beautiful forms. And some of the high kings of the Tuatha Dé Danann were half-fomorian, like Bres and Lugh of the Long Arm. In fact, Bres was known by the title "The Beautiful".

    Quote Originally Posted by Bastian Weaver View Post
    Most of them, I'd say. Did you know that folklore zombies weren't people infected by a virus? Unbelievable, but true! And Kobolds weren't smallish reptile people. Amazons didn't fly or use lasso as a weapon! Druids didn't turn into bears! The banshee were quite different, too - just ghosts who predicted death, not actually monsters.
    Well, I think most people know about the zombies and kobolds... though there are a lot of people who associate the amazons and pegasus for some reason... I suppose they both show up in the myth of Bellerophon *shrug*. The druids couldn't shape-shift into bears but in legends there were druids who could shape-shift into pretty much everything else - there are no bears in Ireland so I guess that makes sense. And though you're right banshees weren't monsters, banshees weren't really ghosts either. The name just means fairy woman - and there's some distinction between the dead and the fey in Irish mythology if not in other celtic traditions.
    Last edited by GaelofDarkness; 2018-10-10 at 01:19 PM.
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    Default Re: What folklore inspired creatures have really changed from their original versions

    Good point, the word "ghost" really doesn't fit them.
    Then there's the whole story with Medusa the Gorgon, who was a) unique with her flesh-to-stone gaze and b) used to be a stunningly beautiful woman before she was cursed and transformed into a monster.
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    Default Re: What folklore inspired creatures have really changed from their original versions

    Quote Originally Posted by Bastian Weaver View Post
    Good point, the word "ghost" really doesn't fit them.
    Then there's the whole story with Medusa the Gorgon, who was a) unique with her flesh-to-stone gaze and b) used to be a stunningly beautiful woman before she was cursed and transformed into a monster.
    Medusa being originally beautiful is itself a (relatively) recent change - in the original stories, Medusa was always monstrous (as were her sisters, Stheno and Euryale). Pindar and his contemporaries were the ones that came up with the idea that Medusa's appearance was more a case of being so beautiful as to be frightening, and the story of her being a beautiful maiden who was raped by Poseidon and cursed by Athena doesn't show up until Ovid.

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    Default Re: What folklore inspired creatures have really changed from their original versions

    Quote Originally Posted by jmberry View Post
    Medusa being originally beautiful is itself a (relatively) recent change - in the original stories, Medusa was always monstrous (as were her sisters, Stheno and Euryale). Pindar and his contemporaries were the ones that came up with the idea that Medusa's appearance was more a case of being so beautiful as to be frightening, and the story of her being a beautiful maiden who was raped by Poseidon and cursed by Athena doesn't show up until Ovid.
    I sincerely love that a two thousand year old part of the story can be a recent addition
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    Default Re: What folklore inspired creatures have really changed from their original versions

    Quote Originally Posted by Bastian Weaver View Post
    Most of them, I'd say. Did you know that folklore zombies weren't people infected by a virus? Unbelievable, but true! And Kobolds weren't smallish reptile people. Amazons didn't fly or use lasso as a weapon! Druids didn't turn into bears! The banshee were quite different, too - just ghosts who predicted death, not actually monsters.
    What, no. The Bean Sidhe is not a ghost. It just means faerie woman.
    And if you gaze long into an abyss, sometimes the abyss blushes and looks away.

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    Default Re: What folklore inspired creatures have really changed from their original versions

    The barghest! It has been in D&D practically from the beginning, presented as fiendish goblin with ties to Gehenna and a canine form. Their signature ability is devouring others to increase their power.

    Barghests of lore, however, are an iteration of the black dog myth. They are ominous, omens of death, and the stories around them tend to emphasize their predatory, dangerous nature. Like a lot of mythical creatures there are some stories of alternate forms or shapeshifting, but the black dog form is a common thread. Other interesting commonalties include a terrifying howl, invisibility, and the sound of chains.

    I'm not really sure where the goblin link came from, or why the typical black dog themes are underplayed or absent. I think a more traditional barghest could make for a very cool monster.

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    Default Re: What folklore inspired creatures have really changed from their original versions

    Ooooh, that sounds like fun! Misty moors, a starless night and a fork in the road visible only by lantern-light. Perfect set up for a black dog style monster.
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    Default Re: What folklore inspired creatures have really changed from their original versions

    Tolkein's use of "hobgoblin" to mean "a larger goblin" instead of a smaller more annoying one was based on a mistake in understanding the stories, IIRC
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    Default Re: What folklore inspired creatures have really changed from their original versions

    What I wanna know is why do D&D dopplegangers in their native form look so similar to the Roswell "gray aliens"?
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    Default Re: What folklore inspired creatures have really changed from their original versions

    Quote Originally Posted by Eldan View Post
    What, no. The Bean Sidhe is not a ghost. It just means faerie woman.
    In full 'woman of the fairy mounds', unless I'm very much mistaken. A Bean Sidhe would watch over a family and, as I remember, let out a wail when one of them was about to die.

    Quote Originally Posted by Beneath View Post
    Tolkein's use of "hobgoblin" to mean "a larger goblin" instead of a smaller more annoying one was based on a mistake in understanding the stories, IIRC
    Yep, I believe it could also mean 'friendlier goblin'. Also that it was a shortened form of Robert Goblin, as in 'have you met that Rob Goblin down the way, keeps trying to say he owns my farm and demands half of the crop'.

    Also trolls, like sidhe and goblins, varied quite a but in their folklore depictions to the point where they just seemed to be a term for 'supernatural creature' (possibly not otherwise specified). Oh, and from region to region of course, but also from tale to tale within a region.
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    So here I am, trapped in my laboratory, trying to create a Mechabeast that's powerful enough to take down the howling horde outside my door, but also won't join them once it realizes what I've done...twentieth time's the charm, right?
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    How about a Jovian Uplift stuck in a Case morph? it makes so little sense.

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    Default Re: What folklore inspired creatures have really changed from their original versions

    Fun fact: Dracula is already a modern transformation of the vampire, heavily influenced by the version of Polidori, a supernatural retelling of the life of Byron. It was written in the same place where Frankenstein was invented, near Geneva in Switzerland.

    But this romantic Vampire, over sexualized, had nothing to do with the balkanic monster, a kind of devouring living dead, closer to the modern zombi.

    As many have said, most creatures are heavily changed across time and literary tropes are often the main culprit: for example the classical image of ghost, with chains came from a letter written by Pliny the Younger.

    And the examples are almost endless : rpg and videogames are only the latest link in this huge chain.

    Even literary monster can experiment it: see for example how the cinema influenced Frankenstein !

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    Default Re: What folklore inspired creatures have really changed from their original versions

    Talking much more recently, look at the differences between the Marvel and DC comics universes, and their respective cinematic universes.

    Most creatures from myth and folklore exist in a state of flux, as people are prone to embellish tales and then others partake in collaborative storytelling by picking the parts that best resonate with them. (I wish I could find some good folklore sources as to what sorts of elements are more or less likely to catch on in various cultural mythologies.) The only thingies that haven't changed are either the ones too uninspiring for other people to carry the idea on their own, or ones too new to have meaningfully evolved since their inception.

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    Quote Originally Posted by GaelofDarkness View Post
    What folklore inspired creatures have really changed from their original versions?
    The Nixie has many derivations.
    Which makes sense since it is old enough to first be named in Sanskrit...

    They are found in various forms in Germanic, Celtic, Latin, Greek, Finno-ugric, and Slavic mythology.
    Sometimes male, sometimes female. Sometimes a dwarfish creature, sometimes a snake or dragon, sometimes a naked reveller. Usually related to water and drowning, but has been conflated enough with other mythological creatures that they may be related to the Roman Lares, Santa's Elves, Bridge Trolls, and the idea of Dragon's Gold. Sometimes they are Undergrounders, sometimes Guardian Spirits, sometimes agents of fate. Usually they require appeasement, whether by good manners, sacrifices, or outright bribes.
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    Default Re: What folklore inspired creatures have really changed from their original versions

    What I find interesting is how much Tolkien's depiction of dwarves has taken over from mythological accounts. I'm not too familiar with what the norse dwarves actually looked like (is that ever actually described), but the dwarves I'm familiar with from alpine myths are:

    Tiny, from about two hands tall to maybe waist-high on a human.
    Mostly old and wrinkled, almost always described as wizened, thin.
    Mean and vengeful. Almost always antagonists. A classic is the dwarf who is trapped (a beard caught in a crack is a common one that shows up in several legends) and, when the hero/heroine tries to save him, he curses them for seeing him and is rarely grateful. They also curse people for seeing them in general, for taking their property (makes more sense, though sometimes, it's just "picked up an interesting looking rock"), for walking over their lands, for not being respectful enough and a lot of other things.
    And based on that, they are masters of magic and stealth. They go invisible, they weave illusions, they live in hidden earth holes, they occasionally have magical treasures, and they are especially fond of creative curses.

    And somehow, we got from that to the generic fantasy dwarf, who's a proud warrior living in a magnificent mountain fortress.
    And if you gaze long into an abyss, sometimes the abyss blushes and looks away.

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    Default Re: What folklore inspired creatures have really changed from their original versions

    I’m not sure what alpine creatures you are refering to Eldan. There is a lot of different small peoples across the world and across the alps. Even dwarf is a somewhat problematic term as it is a specific name as much as a generic one.

    The Nordic dwarves were often human-sized and some scholars think they are small only because of christian influences: as the monks were writing the old stories they were trying to scorn the old magical creatures by diminishing them.

    Also later, in XIX-XX century, with the print then the mass medias, the very diverses and peculiar occurences of small Folks tend to take similar shapes. A lot of classical tales were locally adapted to fit the new sensibilities.

    For example, fahys mean sheep in old french but evolved in fée, sounding like fairy. So by the XIX century a lot of places who were named after the sheep gain some tales about fairies and magic that were made to justify a misunderstood name.

    You have a lot of grotte aux fées or côte aux fées that were simple pastures...

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    Default Re: What folklore inspired creatures have really changed from their original versions

    Japanese kappa.

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    These days they're cute, friendly water critters, with a fondness for cucumbers and sumo wrestling.

    In previous times, they were evil aquatic carnivores who dragged people underwater to drown and then both/or eat and steal their koshirikidama, a magical ball said to contain the soul. This ball is located in the dantian (not sure of the Japanese term), which is the seat of a person's chi and is approximately 2-4 inches behind the navel - the entry route favoured by the kappa to obtain this ball is via the anus.

    Spoiler: Edo era ukiyo-e (woodblock print) of a kappa with a freshly retrieved koshirikidama
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    Last edited by Brother Oni; 2018-10-11 at 07:13 AM.

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    There's many different versions of demons/devils, lots of cultures have stories about evil supernatural beings. The origin of the word demon is the Greek daimon, which was just a spirit, not malevolent at all. D&D adopted Christianity's version of evil beings living in a dimension of torment which could harm humanity in various ways, deriving the many different variants from art and legends around the world.

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    Default Re: What folklore inspired creatures have really changed from their original versions

    Consider Tiamat.

    Even leaving out the whole "she died and that was the end of her story" part of her mythology... she was primarily a sea goddess and symbol of the chaos of primal creation. As a goddess of the salt sea water, she merged with the fresh water god Apsu to cause creation (how much is unclear), including the creation of gods. Basically, she's a creation goddess to at least some extent.

    While she is the mother of dragons, she is also the mother of the entire pantheon of gods too, as well as possibly having given birth to other monsters (like scorpion men and merfolk). Furthermore, she is sometimes referred to as a woman and sometimes referred to more as a sea serpent/dragon, but I don't know of any pre-D&D sources that would suggest she had multiple heads (much less heads that are color-coded to match the color-coded D&D dragons).

    And, of course, she died. Marduk formed the heavens and earth out of her body. If Tiamat was still alive, there would be no planet Earth. Her tail made up the Milky Way, so the entire galaxy could not exist if Tiamat was still alive.

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    Default Re: What folklore inspired creatures have really changed from their original versions

    Quote Originally Posted by Eldan View Post
    What I find interesting is how much Tolkien's depiction of dwarves has taken over from mythological accounts. I'm not too familiar with what the norse dwarves actually looked like (is that ever actually described)
    Norse dwarves are known to be competent smiths (so at least that's survived into generic fantasy) but it's unsure if they're even small. They seem to operate on the same sort of 'scale' as the human-sized gods (and the giants, which doesn't appear to be large ...) if I remember correctly.

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    Tengu. IIRC tengu seem to oscillate between bird monsters with humanoid features, and mostly human creatures with some birdlike features. IIRC they started out more feathery and birdlike, became almost entirely human, and then went back to being more birdlike. And the very very earliest most ancient form was some kind of thing closer to a black dog or a hellhound

    EDIT:
    Also ghouls were originally demons and draugr originally had shapeshifting powers

    EDIT:
    And Mi-Go was originally another word for "yeti"

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    Default Re: What folklore inspired creatures have really changed from their original versions

    Rakshasa are another one. The whole tiger-headed thing? Pretty much a D&D neologism in its entire. The rakshasa appear in various Hindu stories, notably the Ramayana, where they're the principal antagonists, and their king Ravana is just a big dude with a whole bunch of heads (and infinite cosmic power, but that's a given). The genteel evil sorcerer thing is similarly without basis - in folklore, the rakshasa are a mixed bunch, if generally malevolent. They get more bestial and demonic in later stories (whereas in earlier ones they're sometimes said to be stand-ins for South Indian and Sri Lankan peoples and so get a more ambivalent portrayal), but never became anthropomorphic tigers.

    Quote Originally Posted by Blymurkla View Post
    Norse dwarves are known to be competent smiths (so at least that's survived into generic fantasy) but it's unsure if they're even small. They seem to operate on the same sort of 'scale' as the human-sized gods (and the giants, which doesn't appear to be large ...) if I remember correctly.
    It varies by period. Certainly shortness wasn't their defining characteristic in the mythology, and while no one is quite sure where the root word dvergr comes from, the likely candidates do not mean "of small stature." That said, generally, Norse dwarves are venal, crude, vulgar, pathetic, and frequently bullied by other, more powerful supernatural beings. In later folkloric accounts, particularly post-Christian ones, that appears to have translated to descriptions of being short and ugly, which ... is what it is.

    As to the smithing, that's definitely there. Dwarves are seen as many scholars as the same creatures as dark elves (svartalfr), mostly because the Prose Edda describes them both as natives of Svartalfaheim. Alfr in general are described as very skilled (compared with the wise Vanir and the powerful Aesir and Jotunn), so it makes sense to have them as the ultimate blacksmiths.
    Last edited by gkathellar; 2018-10-11 at 03:17 PM.
    Quote Originally Posted by KKL
    D&D is its own momentum and does its own fantasy. It emulates itself in an incestuous mess.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Brother Oni View Post
    Japanese kappa.

    Spoiler: Cute Kappa
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    These days they're cute, friendly water critters, with a fondness for cucumbers and sumo wrestling.

    In previous times, they were evil aquatic carnivores who dragged people underwater to drown and then both/or eat and steal their koshirikidama, a magical ball said to contain the soul. This ball is located in the dantian (not sure of the Japanese term), which is the seat of a person's chi and is approximately 2-4 inches behind the navel - the entry route favoured by the kappa to obtain this ball is via the anus.

    Spoiler: Edo era ukiyo-e (woodblock print) of a kappa with a freshly retrieved koshirikidama
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    The sumo creatures is based pretty closely on them having a very early connection to wrestling though - specifically, they had a real knack for breaking bones in particularly painful ways. They also had a real knack for fixing broken bones, though I don't know of much in the way of stories of them doing that for anyone other than themselves.
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    Default Re: What folklore inspired creatures have really changed from their original versions

    Quote Originally Posted by Knaight View Post
    The sumo creatures is based pretty closely on them having a very early connection to wrestling though - specifically, they had a real knack for breaking bones in particularly painful ways. They also had a real knack for fixing broken bones, though I don't know of much in the way of stories of them doing that for anyone other than themselves.
    In most of the stories, kappa were sticklers for proper etiquette, so treat them with the respect and politeness due (and maybe an offering of cucumbers), you could potentially get on their good side.

    There's two stories I remember regarding broken bones/re-attaching severed limbs:

    A samurai was trying to find a way across a small river when he chanced upon a kappa, which tried to kill him. The samurai severed the kappa's arm, at which point the kappa begged for its life, offering medicine in return for mercy. The samurai relented and the kappa asked the samurai to drop it into river with its arm. The samurai did so and the kappa recovered an urn and put some salve over its arm and reattached the arm. The kappa then gave the samurai the rest of the urn of medicine and the two parted ways.

    The second story was a entourage of samurai travelling on a road next to a river where they encountered a kappa. Knowing that the kappa were polite, they all bowed to it and the kappa returned the bow on reflex. This emptied the bowl of water on top of the kappa's head (none of the stories say the kappa were particularly bright), at which point the kappa lost all its strength and collapsed to the ground. Like the first story, the kappa offered their medicine in return for the samurai putting it back into the river.

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    Default Re: What folklore inspired creatures have really changed from their original versions

    Quote Originally Posted by GaelofDarkness View Post
    ...
    The druids couldn't shape-shift into bears but in legends there were druids who could shape-shift into pretty much everything else - there are no bears in Ireland so I guess that makes sense.
    ...
    I'm quite sure druids were part of non-Irish Celtic groups on the island of Britain (I have no idea of there were bears in Britain or not). I was under the impression that there were some in Gaul, but the citation given for that fact on Wikipedia was flagged with "not in citation" when i checked.

    For my contribution: Genies. In Arabic folklore jinni didn't have any special wish giving powers, but if one owed you favors, they could do a lot with their tremendous magical power.

    And the "three wishes" thing was a later addition. When they were in a favor-granting mood in traditional tales (e.g. Ali ad-Din), there isn't a number placed on the favors they will or must perform.
    Last edited by AceOfFools; 2018-10-11 at 11:15 PM.

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    Default Re: What folklore inspired creatures have really changed from their original versions

    No, there are no bears in the British Isles (barring zoos and the like). Otherwise living here would be unbearable.

    On the subject of druids, I once had to convince my ex that our Celtic Priests from way back were called druids, she seemed to think it was a France only thing.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zelphas View Post
    So here I am, trapped in my laboratory, trying to create a Mechabeast that's powerful enough to take down the howling horde outside my door, but also won't join them once it realizes what I've done...twentieth time's the charm, right?
    Quote Originally Posted by Lord Raziere View Post
    How about a Jovian Uplift stuck in a Case morph? it makes so little sense.

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    Default Re: What folklore inspired creatures have really changed from their original versions

    And here I thought it was a Britain only thing

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    Default Re: What folklore inspired creatures have really changed from their original versions

    Ogres. In some of the fairy-tales I remember, they're intelligent and often magical - a far cry from D&D's moronic brutes. They did still eat people, though.

    Goblins. A synonym for 'fairies'.

    In D&D, dragons. Most (European) dragons of legend were exceptionally dangerous beasts tearing up the countryside, not intelligent spellcasting treasure-hoarding masterminds. (Well, Fafnir hoarded treasure, but I don't think he could talk.)
    Imagine if all real-world conversations were like internet D&D conversations...
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    That said, trolling is entirely counterproductive (yes, even when it's hilarious).

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