Dragon's-Eye View: Hydra

Dragon's-Eye View
Hydra

By Jon Schindehette

That many-headed and sometimes hard-to-kill creature known as the hydra is under examination this week! See what Jon has to say about the hydra, and give us some ideas on what you think about this pernicious creature.
 
Talk about this column here.

Creatures at Gen Con 2012
Default hydras definitely have legs. This is basically a fantasy universal. Legless hydras can be a variant, but hydras definitely are four-legged creatures.

One angle regarding their heads that wasn't touched on is that I think it's important for hydras to not look as smart as dragons. Hydras have animal intelligence and neither speak nor understand languages, nor do they have strong individual personalities in the same way that dragons do. I think that they should look dumber than dragons do, and less noble.
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I like Hydra as 7 headed bulky body four legged reptile-like behemoth.





I think a scaled hydra might be too reminscent of Tiamat, making it too draconic, IMO. Having smooth, rubbery skin seems like a good separation to prevent too much association. Granted, if you view hydras as related to dragons (I don't), then I would agree giving it draconic-like scales.

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Lizard or snake like heads over dragonic with a little bit of a face like the Disney one.
Dinosaur like body.
Leathery skin texture.

Also I'd prefer a tiny bit of a single neck that splinters off into multple necks and heads. None of that "many necks from the shoulders" nonsense.

My full preference: a carnivorous many-headed Apatosaurus with lizard legs and  thin tail.

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In original Greek mythology, the hydra was described as a "chthonic water beast." Through time, folks have played with those seemingly opposed concepts. Chthonic loosely means "in, under or beneath the earth," and water beast implies that it comes from the water.





The “chthonic water beast” refers to the personification of “fresh water”. The idea is (according to a widespread Mideast concept), the Cosmic Ocean is the encircling salt water, while the Abyss is the central fresh water. The flat-earth Land Disk floats on top of the Abyss. That is why fresh water - not salt water - bubbles up from deep in the earth. It is also why the Abyss is sometimes understood as infinitely deep, the earth itself is like a cosmic floating island on top of this fresh water.

So, the Hydra personifies the subterranean fresh waters of the infinitely deep Abyss.



Interestingly, in Babylonian belief, Tiamat personifies the encircling salt water of the Cosmic Ocean, while her mate Abzu personifies the central fresh water of the Abyss.

Across many cultures, these water bodies are conceived as cosmic-sized serpents.



The Hydra is a water serpent








DRAGON: The Hydra isnt a Dragon, but is an ancestor of the Dragon. The Hydra is a primitive, violent, near-mindless brute, that kills things because they make noise.



DRAGON = SNAKE + EAGLE + LION + HORNS

HYDRA = SNAKE + FISH





NO LEGS: This is a water serpent. Even tho it is a SNAKE, as a personification of fresh water, it seems appropriate to blend FISH features with it.

(Prefer no legs, according to the Classical mythology. But if a majority vote for legs, I could live with fish-like FINS, that could possibly serve as legs, if it twisted across a rocky surface.)

BODY: Snake. But a monstrous snake. Its probably ok to take aquatic-theme fishy liberties with it.

HEAD: The Hydra doesnt look like a Dragon, but you can tell they are kinda related.

ALIGNMENT: Chaotic
HYDRA = SNAKE + SNAKE + SNAKE + SNAKE + SNAKE + SNAKE + SNAKE + SNAKE + SNAKE + FISH


Hmm. A nine-headed hydra with a medusa heads...just how many snakes can you fit on a single monster...?

Or a beholder head atop each neck? Maybe that is getting a little too silly?

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... as usual, broken images.

I more imagine them as a giant snake bouquet, rather than a multi-headed land Dragon.
 
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I found the previous survey results very interesting:

The AD&D 1st Edition covers (which had the most discussion on the forums, as to their artistic and narrative values) were the only ones to get the highest number of votes in the "5 - It Succeeds" category; the only exception being the "Perceived Value" question, which had the highest number of votes in the "3 - No Opinion" category.


All other covers had the highest numberof votes in the "4" category (between "No Opinion" and "It Succeeds").

Interestingly, the 3rd Edition "Marketing" and "Shelf Presence" questions were the only other questions that had the highest number of votes in the "5 - It Succeeds" category. 3rd Edition was also the only edition to have the highest number of votes in a category higher than "3 - No Opinion" for the "Perceived Value" question.

As to the actual article content:

 I would rather have hydras be more amphibian/reptilian than draconic.

Legs: I don't have a preference one way or the other. Although, if they go without legs, I would like to see flippers like a walrus or seal; so that the hydra can navigate on land as well as in the water.

Body: I want them to have a more bulky body, at least where the heads are attached, than a typical sea serpent.

Heads: Again, no personal preference; I could accept serpentine (snake-like) heads or heads that are more draconic (as long as they do not include the types of details that differentiate the different types of dragons from each other).

Skin: No scales please. Thick amphibious skin; almost rubbery. Skin similar to a salamander; since they share the regenerative property.
I like Hydra as 7 headed bulky body four legged reptile-like behemoth.








That is probably my all time favorite picture of a hydra.  I would be ok with making them more snake-like or aquatic, but they should still have four legs.

HYDRA = SNAKE + SNAKE + SNAKE + SNAKE + SNAKE + SNAKE + SNAKE + SNAKE + SNAKE + FISH





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Legs I go either way on.  I've seen enough things called hydras both with legs and without that I think both are appropriate.

Hydras are not dragons, and they are not draconic.  They're reptilian, but not draconic.  Things dragons have that hydras shouldn't have:  horns, thick scales.  Hydra heads are snakelike, and their skin is as smooth as scales can get.  The thick, plate-like scales of a dragon are the opposite of the way hydras should be.  Their hide should be durable, but not tough.  But they do have to have scales - the leathery or amphibian suggestions don't fit with them being reptilian.  There's a wide range of different scale types in the reptile world, and hydras are on the smooth end of it, but they're still on the range.

Body depends a lot on whether they have legs or not.  If they don't have legs, then their body is snakelike.  If they do have legs, then their body is lizardlike, and they have a tail.



This brings up the interesting question of two legs or four.  The Warcraft hydras worked fairly well as two-legged beasties, actually.  Their animations made sense, and overall it fit.  It also puts the emphasis on the heads, rather than the body, as the dominant feature overall.  The heads are central, rather than having to be at one end of a quadruped.  Animated:



Only two legs also renders them firmly in the "not a dragon" camp.
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In my mind a aquatic based hydra would pretty much be a multi headed plesisaur.
 
I don't have strong feelings on either side of this issue. I lean a little towards bulky bodies and legs, but that is because I think those tend to look better in practice. The original Greek hydra was more snake like, but that depiction doesn't work as well when you try to turn it into a pseudo-realistic form. The bulky body and legs gives the heads and necks more space to operate in.

Hmm. A nine-headed hydra with a medusa heads...just how many snakes can you fit on a single monster...?

Perhaps a fractal hydra?

I think a good direction to go would be to combine stylistic features of giant octopuses with those of snakes. There you get chthonic water beast..

Take a body with maybe flipper/fin like legs and a tail with maybe a fin-ridge along it, then add 8 tentacle like necks with snake heads and a central larger head for the main/immortal one.

There could be a Lightless Depths Hydra high level variant that resembles horrible deep water fishes instead of snakes (preferrably with glowing lights/lanterns of some kind)

Take a body with maybe flipper/fin like legs and a tail with maybe a fin-ridge along it, then add 8 tentacle like necks with snake heads and a central larger head for the main/immortal one.



I still think plesiosaur but with multiple head


 
Regardless of potential origins of a water beast, they can't be aquatic-only.  They need to be able to get around, and fight, on land.
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In the composite picture in the article, the legless hydras on the far right just look dorky, like a many-headed slug or Hutt.  If you are going to go legless, you have to keep the body lean, otherwise it just looks like a land-blob.

My personal preference is legs, though whether 2 or 4 doesn't matter so much.  And I agree with all ya'll that they have serpentine qualities, not draconic qualities.  The heads could be "reptilian" without evoking a dragon - kind of a cross between monitor lizards and poisonous snakes like the asp or viper would look cool to me.  Scales could be snake or lizard like, more the plate-style than the overlapping fish-style.  They are not that intelligent, but certianly vicious and cunning in a predatory animal way.

What I don't want is "many-headed dragon".  I want something reptilian, mean, and challenging, without stepping into dragon territory.
I think the solution is obvious.


But first - my bias.  When I hear Hydra, I (like the artist) think "Draconic creature with lots of necks and heads" - because my first exposure to a hydra was the AD&D1st MM.    And these are not aquatic.  They are found in marshes, etc.  Not underwater.   And I just wrote the lack of any real similarity to Hercules' Hydra as "just another unfortunate case where the D&D monster didn't quite line up with its mythological origin".



But I also like the idea of a truely aquatic Hydra.  But the body type shown in the 1st MM and in some of the posts in this thread doesn't work for a fully aquatic creature.


So - what is the solution?  Obviously two different types of Hydra.  One has a bulky,draconic body and is found on land - although by preference among marshy, swampy areas.  The other is found in large bodies of (fresh) water and has a snakier body more appropriate for an aquatic environment.  It likely doesn't even have legs, although it can still move about on land.


It isn't an 'either/ or' dilemma.  THe answer is "both"


Carl          
The most important part about hydras in my mind is that they have extremely long necks.

A fight with a hydra should be a fight versus the heads and the necks, not against the body. I picture that the heads of the hydra will attack up from a water surface, slither through cracks and cave openings and attack the players. In a typical fight against a hydra the main body should be completely out of sight, or very much so. Attacking the body should most of the time not even be an option (give it mechanics that make it all about the head and nothing about the body, hitting the body should not do any good in most cases (dont even give the body a HP.. as long as it has a head it lives)).

Preferably the necks should be so long that its not even clear that the players are fighting a single monster (so that the necks can attack from several different cracks and cave openings).

I really don't like the more agile versions of hydras that look like they are going to run around and do claw attacks...

It does not matter to me really if they have legs or not, or if they are aquatic or not (there could be many types as CarlT said), but the body should preferably be a stationary or slow moving thing.
I can even picture a massive clumsy body that almost roots itself into place and the hydra uses its extreme necks to kill and eat stuff like a giant snake anemone.

Does anyone else remember when these art columns used to have original art in them?  It was nice...

FWIW, I'm used to hydras as four legged, no-winged reptiles with a big ol' mess of heads, but I'm pretty easy about it.
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I have always thought of the Hydra are a sort of amphibian with skin that looked like that of a Frog. With that being said I always pictured the Hydra having a body and legs best suited for the water but was never constrained to just Lakes, Rivers, and Seas. I like the idea of trating its body as a sort of anchor it keeps it safe in caves and cracks while sending out its long necks and heads to kill prey. How does that fit with all of you out there what are your opinions?
as long as if when you cut a head off it grows 2 out of the neck if you dont burn it im good i dont care if it has legs or flippers i can home rule that.
The picture by Todd Lockwood for 3rd Ed is perfect.

Lots of predatos live and hunt in the water but they have got legs, for example cocodriles.

---

I thought hydra was the symbol of vice couldn´t be easily corrected, when it is tried a new vice appears (like when somebody want stop smoking but he starts to eat more, or when a crime lord is arrested and two more appear to fight fo the zone).

---

If illithids catch alive a hydra...they could eat lots of hydra brains..couldn´t they?

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What if beheaded hydra heads don´t die but they fight like (living construct) monster with anaconda stats?  Or they could look for a dead corpse to fuse it like a zombie-like monster. You behead the infected body and both are alive and the head can infect more corpses.


Hydregion, fan-art of pokemon creature.

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If PCs face a hydra with only a head, but they destroy the brain, without behead it.. it would be dead, wouldn´t it?

I have imagined other version of hydra. Only a head it the true, but when its suffer damage by magic or other powers energy is used to summon a new head (only a living contructs, like spell to summon monster). Or maybe hydra can create new head like a psycometabolism equivalent of astral construct (or summon monster), but it would rather no use it if it necesary (because is painful and exshausting if they isn´t rage feeling). 

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Book 13 Anaclet 23 Confucius said: "The Superior Man is in harmony but does not follow the crowd. The inferior man follows the crowd, but is not in harmony"

 

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The picture by Todd Lockwood for 3rd Ed is perfect.

Lots of predatos live and hunt in the water but they have got legs, for example cocodriles.

---

I thought hydra was the symbol of vice couldn´t be easily corrected, when it is tried a new vice appears (like when somebody want stop smoking but he starts to eat more, or when a crime lord is arrested and two more appear to fight fo the zone).

---

If illithids catch alive a hydra...they could eat lots of hydra brains..couldn´t they?

---

What if beheaded hydra heads don´t die but they fight like (living construct) monster with anaconda stats?  Or they could look for a dead corpse to fuse it like a zombie-like monster. You behead the infected body and both are alive and the head can infect more corpses.


Hydregion, fan-art of pokemon creature.

---

If PCs face a hydra with only a head, but they destroy the brain, without behead it.. it would be dead, wouldn´t it?

I have imagined other version of hydra. Only a head it the true, but when its suffer damage by magic or other powers energy is used to summon a new head (only a living contructs, like spell to summon monster). Or maybe hydra can create new head like a psycometabolism equivalent of astral construct (or summon monster), but it would rather no use it if it necesary (because is painful and exshausting if they isn´t rage feeling). 




targeted attacks ie the brain arent part of the game rules as you have many factors like movement in combat ect. destroying a head by any means spawns 2 that is how i would rule on it. and once a head is cut off it is dead
Does anyone else remember when these art columns used to have original art in them?  It was nice...

FWIW, I'm used to hydras as four legged, no-winged reptiles with a big ol' mess of heads, but I'm pretty easy about it.



I miss the columns like the Owlbear one where they actually asked our preference rather than "does [this] look like a [monster] to you.


But my theory is that we didn't pick the Owlbear we were supposed to (they didn't expect the quadruped to be so popular) so they stopped asking us.


Carl
if i had a job where every 2 seconds i asked someones opinion about my work i would get fired for not having any confience. its ok once and a while to ask but not every decision. this is a playtest not a let the player create the game from the ground up. i wish wotc handled things alot better in 4 editions the owlbear was a 4 legged creature that at times could rear up like a bear to attack then keep it that way. this isnt recreating the wheel, then need to focus more on creating a good system and less on this stuff. if i have a problem with how they make an owlbear i can homebrew a proper version. if they screw up the fighter to the point it needs 17 revisions that is something i wont be able to fix as easily.
..., then need to focus more on creating a good system and less on this stuff....



This response makes no sense.  Dragon's Eye View is about the look of D&D.  These people are not designing the game mechanics, just how it looks.  They should be working in tandem with the design team, thus the designers don't have to worry about these items and can focus on creating a good system.
destroying a head by any means spawns 2 that is how i would rule on it.


Even with a flaming sword, a fireball spell, or at the hands of a fire elemental?

There are a great many problems that can be circumvented by players and DMs having a mature discussion about what the game is going to be like before they ever sit down together to play.

 

The answer really does lie in more options, not in confining and segregating certain options.

 

You really shouldn't speak for others.  You can't hear what someone else is saying when you try to put your words in their mouth.

 

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What if hydra is placed like guardian (of a threasure), and linked to a magic menhir? If there isn´t anybody near the hydra is hibernating, no food is necesary, the monster doesn´t grow old (because the magic from menhir). Sometimes menhir summons a snakes and serpents to be absorbed by the body of the hydra.

When there is a intruder the magic menhir is activated and the hydra wakes up. It has got a special power and it is it can absorb the magic energy (magic weapons are necesary becouse the damage resistance) and use that "stolen" energy to create new heads (really it is summoning giant snakes, or naga´s souls, linked to body).

And the magic menhir could a spell of animate object to use the beheaded heads like snaky constructs. 

---

 

Hydra-naga from "Serpent kingdoms"

(I wish a alternative template to add arms to nagas and other monsters).

"Say me what you're showing off for, and I'll say you what you lack!" (Spanish saying)

 

Book 13 Anaclet 23 Confucius said: "The Superior Man is in harmony but does not follow the crowd. The inferior man follows the crowd, but is not in harmony"

 

"In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of." - Confucius 

destroying a head by any means spawns 2 that is how i would rule on it.


Even with a flaming sword, a fireball spell, or at the hands of a fire elemental?

Just eviscerate it.

What's it going to do, grow two more large intestines?

destroying a head by any means spawns 2 that is how i would rule on it.


Even with a flaming sword, a fireball spell, or at the hands of a fire elemental?

Just eviscerate it.

What's it going to do, grow two more large intestines?


Well no.  But what you're saying is basically "just SoD the thing" because HPs don't work in such a way that you can "just evicerate" a full-health enemy.

There are a great many problems that can be circumvented by players and DMs having a mature discussion about what the game is going to be like before they ever sit down together to play.

 

The answer really does lie in more options, not in confining and segregating certain options.

 

You really shouldn't speak for others.  You can't hear what someone else is saying when you try to put your words in their mouth.

 

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D20 Modern Toon PC Race.

Mecha Pilot's Skill Challenge Emporium.

 

#BoobsNotBlood

destroying a head by any means spawns 2 that is how i would rule on it.


Even with a flaming sword, a fireball spell, or at the hands of a fire elemental?

Just eviscerate it.

What's it going to do, grow two more large intestines?


Well no.  But what you're saying is basically "just SoD the thing" because HPs don't work in such a way that you can "just evicerate" a full-health enemy.

The very gimmick of head*2 depends on limb-specific attacks, which D&D never has really worked out.

destroying a head by any means spawns 2 that is how i would rule on it.


Even with a flaming sword, a fireball spell, or at the hands of a fire elemental?

Just eviscerate it.

What's it going to do, grow two more large intestines?


Well no.  But what you're saying is basically "just SoD the thing" because HPs don't work in such a way that you can "just evicerate" a full-health enemy.

The very gimmick of head*2 depends on limb-specific attacks, which D&D never has really worked out.




that is incorrect called shots was an option in combat in 2nd edition

you could say that scoring a crt is cutting off a head. so its like YAY lots of damage I crit OH snap another head. because typically speaking a crit is from striking a vital area ans a head/neck is pretty vital. 
you could say that scoring a crt is cutting off a head. so its like YAY lots of damage I crit OH snap another head. because typically speaking a crit is from striking a vital area ans a head/neck is pretty vital. 


On a hydra, particularly the lernaen variety, it could easily be argued that the head/neck is not vital.  Especially given that the mental capacity of the hydra isn't tied to the number of heads that it possesses (i.e. it doesn't get dumber as it loses heads).

There are a great many problems that can be circumvented by players and DMs having a mature discussion about what the game is going to be like before they ever sit down together to play.

 

The answer really does lie in more options, not in confining and segregating certain options.

 

You really shouldn't speak for others.  You can't hear what someone else is saying when you try to put your words in their mouth.

 

Fencing & Swashbuckling as Armor.

D20 Modern Toon PC Race.

Mecha Pilot's Skill Challenge Emporium.

 

#BoobsNotBlood



that is incorrect called shots was an option in combat in 2nd edition


Which opens up a vector for DM jerkassery.

"does 17 hit it?"
"yes it does."
"ten damage."
"you chop off one of its heads, and then two more heads pop out of the head hole."
"dammit.  I'll just attack its gut next time"
"sure, but that's -4"
"What the hell, Ted?  You made me take a -4 to chop that chimera's goat-head off, but now it's a -4 to not cut off a hydra head?"

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