Wandering Monsters: Riddle of the Sphinx

This is admittedly not a bad start for sphinx flavor and lore. Mind you it still needs some adjustments, but it is much better than many of the previous Wandering Monsters columns. First, the good.

Despite kind of treading on the angel's concept, I do not mind the divine origin: they look different, are more grounded in the natural world, and not every god has to have angels on tap. I really like the description of various tests, from withstanding an androsphinx's roar, to escaping a gynosphinx's imagination zone, to fighting against a grossly unfair friend-to-foe ratio. This not only makes it easy to use them, but allows you to use them in some really inventive and memorable ways.

And now the bad, or at least the parts that I disagree with.

Being created by divine power is fine. I have nothing wrong with gods making things, especially since they are, ya know, gods. What I am less keen on is making them transformed priests and monarchs. Having to sit in one place for who knows how long just to test people would quickly become tiresome to someone with a human's (or human-like) mind, and I cannot think of many faithful that would be doing divine backflips over the prospect of being told that, in exchange for a life of devotion and service, to stay in one spot, repeat the same test over and over for anyone that happens to drop by, and kill them if they fail.

Given a lack of mortal needs, and to a point capabilities, I see no reason to assume that they think like humans, or even mortals in general. Why would they shirk their duties? They apparently were not created with the need to eat or sleep, so why would you give them the ability become bored? I liken this to Eberron angels and demons, who are eternally locked in a never ending symbolic war against each other. They do not get bored of the fight because they are not capable of becoming bored, or even realizing the futility of it all; it is an intrinsic part of their nature.

This is a reason why I am largely against "free-range" sphinxes (or glorified hippogriffs), but I guess if I had to include them I would have them serve dead or forgotten gods. I mean they do not need to eat or sleep, so what else are they going to do with their eternity?

Another issue are the types of sphinxes. Yes, 2nd and 3rd Edition had a variety of sphinxes with random heads, capabilities, and alignments, but I am going to do something unprecedented and suggest a break from tradition: instead of establishing a quartet of sphinxes, each with a specific appearance and suite of capabilities just so you can introduce more down the road in the Next Desert Supplement, why not get rid of sphinx presets entirely and...wait for it...give us a toolbox of sphinx parts, powers, and tests?

There are a lot of gods. They have their own portfolios, and many have an animal associated with them: Ares has his boars, Horus has falcons, and so on. So while some might go with the standard male-lion package, a female god of war might want a female-lion, or even female-wolf, to test someone's valor. What about a god that creates a kind of skeletal, bat-winged sphinx that tests fear? I get that yeah, you can homebrew your own sphinxes and change the flavor, but I think it would be a lot better if they made things more inclusive and easier from the start, instead of doing what anyone can do and swap faces and spell-like abilities.

Speaking of spell-like abilities, given the lists that some of them had in 3rd Edition I am surprised that they each seem to only have one defining trait. 4th Edition proved that you can have quality over quantity (both in terms of spells and monsters), so hopefully they do something unique and interesting instead of just referring you to the spell chapter in the Player's Handbook.

What I am also hoping is that if an androsphinx decides to test your valor by having you withstand its roar, or you have to escape from a gynosphinxes maze-effect that it boils down to more than just making a saving throw and calling it good. Really the other, more complex tests are the best part of the article, so rather than directing us to a dimensional pocket spell, or citing hard rules and restrictions for building extraplanar testing grounds, it would be nice if all we got were some examples and advice on making a fun, memorable encounter.

Like, if the sphinx wants to test your endurance by forcing you to climb a cliff in a storm, maybe even while fighting off flying monsters, it should not need to have control weather, summon monster y, and, I dunno, greater conjure cliffs; it can just do all of those things because that is what you need it to do. So that is where I stand. Make them somewhat alien in their thoughts and mannerisms, give them unique capabilities that not just any mid- to high-level wizard can do in a couple six seconds, and give us the tools to customize them on a god-by-god, test-by-test basis.

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