Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Monsters from Central Asian Mythology 11: Zilant, The Dragon of Kazan

This is the flag of the city of Kazan, in the Republic of Tartarstan.

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That crowned snake with the red wings and the chicken legs is Zilant, the famous Dragon of Kazan. According to legend, the hill on which Kazan now stands was originally infested with giant, poisonous serpents, the king of which was a monstrous dragon-serpent. The Khan of the Tatars was able to get rid of the snakes by covering the hill with straw, waiting for the snakes to slither into it, and then setting fire to it, burning them alive; but Zilant escaped into the Qaban Lakes, and then...

...well, then it depends which version of the legend you prefer. Some say it preyed on the people, and they worshipped it out of fear. Others say it became the ruler of a magical underwater kingdom beneath the surface of the lakes. Or that it had a change of heart and became the benevolent protector of the people, the White Serpent, defender of Kazan and adviser to heroes. Or that a great hero killed it with a poisoned spear. For gaming purposes it doesn't really matter. The first part of the legend provides quite enough to work with.

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Statue of Zilant, in Kazan, Russia.

In ATWC, the more magical roles of the Kazan Dragon are already covered by spirits, which can choose to look like snakes or dragons if they feel like it; so dragons proper can play a more physical role. They resemble snakes rather than lizards; huge, coiling beasts, a hundred feet long or more, big enough to swallow a grown man whole. Some have wings, or multiple heads, or claws. They are kings among the serpents; all normal snakes will serve and obey them, and the longer that such snakes spend in their service, the larger and more poisonous they will grow. Eventually the land around a dragon's lair will become an uninhabitable nightmare of venomous, slithering death. 

The dragons mostly dwell in remote parts of the wilderness, beneath the trees of the deep taiga or by the sides of near-bottomless lakes out on the steppe. Their appetites are formidable, and anything sheep-sized or larger that comes near their territory is likely to be devoured, humans very much included. They are intelligent, and able to talk the languages of both snakes and men, but they are seldom interested in anything that humans have to say. People give them a very wide berth; and those that must travel close to a Zilant lair bring ample livestock with them, offering the luckless beasts up as sacrifices in order to distract the dragon while they make their escape. 

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For the most part, such dragons are simple obstacles to be evaded. (If you have to fight them, fight dirty. Even an army won't bring down a hundred-foot serpent backed up by several thousand giant poisonous snakes.) Being immortal, however, they often acquire a surprising range of knowledge; they may not be very interested in talking to humans, but they do talk to snakes, and their scaly heads store all the secrets that generations of serpents have whispered to them over the centuries. It's enormously difficult for them to see humans as anything other than food, but a fast-talking serpent man might be able to persuade a Zilant to treat it as an honourary snake, and brass men are so obviously inedible that they should be safe unless they do something to rouse the dragon's ire. Talking to a Zilant is never going to be anything other than a terrifying experience, but for the seeker of truly esoteric knowledge, sometimes there may be no other way...

Ivashko too walked and walked, and met the three-headed dragon; The Three Kingdoms - Myths and Legends of Russia by Aleksandr Afana’ev, 2009:

  • Zilant: AC 18 (iron-hard hide), 20 HD, AB +10, bite (4d6 damage + poison), FORT 3, REF 10, WILL 8, morale 10. Anyone bitten by a Zilant must pass a FORT save or die from poison 1d6 hours later. They may command normal and giant serpents at will; such snakes serve them with perfect loyalty, and will fight fearlessly (morale 12) upon their behalf if ordered to do so. (Serpent folk given an order by a Zilant may resist by passing a WILL save.) If the Zilant has extra heads, it gains that many additional attacks each round.

  • Zilant Serpents: AC 13 (thick scales), 2 HD, AB +2, bite (1d6 damage + poison), FORT 12, REF 12, WILL 15, morale 7 (12 while obeying a Zilant's commands). This is what ordinary snakes will turn into after serving a Zilant for a few years. They possess near-human intelligence, but cannot speak (except to the Zilant and to each other). Anyone bitten by a Zilant serpent must pass a FORT save or take an additional 2d6 damage after 1d6 minutes.
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