Sunday 3 April 2016

The Kergeden, or Siberian Unicorn

You all saw the news report at the end of March, right? Elasmotherium sibiricum, previously thought to have died out in the middle of the Ionian Stage of the Pleistocene Epoch about 350,000 years ago, actually seems to have survived in what is now Kazakhstan until about 27,000 BC, which in evolutionary terms is pretty much yesterday. That means they lived alongside humans. People probably met them. People probably ate them. That's probably why there aren't any of them left today.

They looked like this. Probably.

Given how late populations of woolly mammoth and woolly rhinoceros survived in Siberia in the real world, I've just kinda assumed that they're still around in ATWC, being domesticated and ridden by nomadic clans in the depths of the Deep Taiga. After this, the Siberian Unicorn - or 'Kergeden', to use the Turkic word for 'unicorn' or 'rhino', which is presumably what the people of the area would call them if they were actually still alive - is totally getting added to the list. The only unicorns that exist in the setting are now 7' tall, 15' long, shaggy-coated monsters with a horn the length of a sword.

They are rare, of course. They are so rare that many people believe them to be mythical. But in a few remote areas of the steppe and taiga, the kergeden still live: huge, ill-tempered beasts, fearsomely strong, with great horns on their heads easily long and strong and sharp enough to impale a grown man right through. No ordinary man or woman can ride one, and they disdain domestication: but something in their fierce natures makes them warm to the bravest and hardiest of warriors, and to these and these only will they submit themselves as mounts. Folklore says that they can smell both courage and fear, and that if their rider should ever disgrace them by some act of cowardice, the kergeden will immediately toss them up into the air and attempt to catch them on their horn, goring them to death in order to wipe out the dishonour of allowing themselves to be ridden by such a dastard soul.

Or maybe they looked like this? No-one actually knows how big their horns were...

In game terms, kergeden are mounts for higher-level characters. It's not enough to be a generally courageous person: only when your bravery has been proven in the face of severe adversity, not just once but many times, will the kergeden allow you to use it as a mount. (You also have to be a highly skilled rider and animal handler, of course: but as I've mentioned before, I take for granted that all ATWC PCs will fit that description.) This doesn't mean screaming and charging all the time, no matter the odds, which all the steppe peoples recognise is the mark of a stupid warrior rather than a brave one - these are the people whose signature battle tactic was the false retreat, after all - but it does mean that whenever things got rough, your focus must always have been on achieving your objectives as best you could rather than on saving your own skin. Anyone whose record of courage under fire has been less than exemplary can expect to be gored to death instead. Because it is widely known that only the bravest of warriors may ride such a beast, actually doing so will grant you a +1 reaction bonus from anyone who cares about martial prestige: this includes just about all steppe peoples, and most inhabitants of the desert and taiga, as well.

The kergeden eats lots and lots and lots of grass. Trying to ride them into the desert is probably a bad idea unless you have a lot of fodder.

  • Kergeden: AC 14 (very thick, tough hide) or AC 20 (hide plus metal barding), 7 HD, AB +4, gore and trample (1d8+4 damage), FORT 6, REF 10, WILL 7, morale 9. Inflicts double damage when charging. Anyone charged by a kargeden must make a morale roll to hold their ground; if they do, even if its charge attack misses, then they must make a REF save or take 2d6 damage from being smashed and trampled underfoot.


  1. i was surprised by this news item and some versions of it - the artist of first piece died in 1930s - lots of his art makes good for gaming. Some dates for these remains in siberia have been for 10 000 years and that they were around with humans isnt new either - wooly rhino bone tools have been found also. Click bait science using unicorn popularity. People have eaten frozen wooly rhinos found. You may as well have wooly mammoths, and other Pleistocene critters. Some crazy russians believed mammoths were domesticated. Still having these beasts in a fantasy campaign is well worth it.

  2. undead Pleistocene animals as servants of evil magicians might be fun

    1. Yeah, there's really no reason *not* to keep all the cool megafauna in fantasy settings. I just feel they fit especially well in a Central Asian / Siberian setting because they actually survived so long out there in the real world...

      And I totally agree about the undead versions. As soon as you mention the animated corpses of extinct animals, everyone immediately starts thinking about T-Rex and triceratops and velociraptor skeletons. No-one ever thinks of putting their PCs up against a 20-ton zombie paraceratherium...

    2. Or a skeletal smilodon. Or a truly colossal mastodon, mummified and hollowed out for use as a troop carrier. Maybe with a couple of swivel guns on top.