Beasts Wild and Strange [Cavaliers of Mars]

Oleph, by Jeff Holt

Cavaliers of Mars is influenced by the kinds of older fantasy and historical fiction of various eras that I’m so fond of — you’ll find some Jack Vance rubbing shoulders with some Arturo Perez-Reverte, just for starters. From Vance and Clark Ashton-Smith, particularly, comes the haunted landscape of a dying world that’s more wistful than apocalyptic.

And when you’re doing a game about an exotic and haunted world, there are some obvious questions. Perhaps foremost: what creatures haunt the world alongside the heroes?

At the same time, we wanted to answer that question in ways beyond providing things to fight. So you’ll find that the beasts are designed for more than just fighting. You can tame them, run from them, maybe occasionally learn from them. In the book, you’ll see mechanics for this; there’s more to a creature than just some physical stats and a health tracker.

These creatures are a sample of Martian weirdness, but also a taste of the ways players might approach that weirdness. After all, monsters have identities too; and the way a player might choose to interact with those fellow travelers is a great source of narrative conflict.

Let’s meet some examples, courtesy of frequent Vampire author Audrey Whitman.



Meeting an Oleph is always a curious experience; to get anywhere at all a formal introduction is necessary, and a gift is preferred. One must offer the heads an opportunity to discuss your request in their sibilant, riddling tongue; and to respect their decision once made (an angry oleph can’t be made to do anything but trample your cargo).

–Excerpts from The Apprentice’s Diary, in the month of the Witch’s Cradle

Leathery and hump-backed, the Oleph is a prickly but potentially loyal beast of burden. They range from 3-5 meters at the shoulder, with twin heads on long stalked necks. These heads speak to one another, after a fashion, in cryptic riddles, and seem to appreciate humor about the end of all things. Olephs can be found in the southern martian deserts, but they claim to be from elsewhere; a home to which they cannot return, and to which a lonely oleph may sing to when the moon is blue. Native to some warmer climate, they prefer to avoid the cold wastes north of Chiaro, but they can sometimes be persuaded with promises of unusual herbs or bright dyes with which to paint their skin.

Ability: Tremble

The footfall of an oleph is not a gentle sound. A precise strike can shake a cavalier’s bones and knock him from his feet; un-ideally placed for subsequent strikes.

Ability: Sing a Song of Sixpence

An oleph’s voice is a precise tool, soft and beguiling or vast and terrible. Where a sweet song calms and distracts, a twin roar can deafen and stun.

Wyeth Deer

I crouched near the edge of the vulture’s nest, still as a cat. It’s mistress was long gone, but my scrambling along the cliff-face had startled the prize I wished to extract. Long past the time my calves had seized, I was rewarded by the chirping song of a family of wyeth deer, creeping out between the interlocked branches of the nest.

–Excerpt from the autobiography of Bathsheba Prince, noted Archeologist and Grave Robber

The Wyeth Deer is not precisely from Wyeth, but its deep green mossy body suggests the lush forests they protect. A family of deer is voracious and will breed prodigiously if their chosen burrow is dense with insects and parasites. Small packs tend to form symbiotic relationships with larger predators; by using their articulated hoof-like digits to climb delicately through the dense underbrush of a nest they can easily avoid disturbing its occupants. And, since deer flesh is highly toxic (though hallucinogenic to white martians), they are well protected from those predators whose nests they inhabit.

Ability: Spore

The breath of a wyeth deer contains a tiny filament of its poison; a gas that dizzys and blinds even strong men.

Ability: Disappear

It is very hard to find a wyeth deer who does not wish to be seen.

Caute (or Ghost Cat)

Cover your mouth in a sandstorm, my love-

I hear a caute on the wind,

A caute carrying its kin;

Come creeping from the valleys with the sand at her back,

A sigh in her throat, and a hungry host.

Cover your mouth in a sandstorm, my love-

Leave her sage and hyssop,

Leave her honey and wine,

She’ll creep down to the valleys with the sand at her feet,

A smile in her throat and a quiet ghost.

— A Children’s Book of Robber Verses

Cautes, they say, are haunted; every tiny alley welp and roaming desert beast is a messenger to the hungry ghosts of the desert storm. Superstition, clearly. And yet, uniquely of Mars’s many peoples and beasts (and more besides), the caute can travel safely through the whipping sandstorms. In the midst of those biting winds, it steps neatly through the gusts, triple lidded blue eyes sensing every creeping thing that shivers and waits for the storm to end. In daylight, only the blue of those eyes can distinguish the red and silver pelt of a caute from the sand on which it lies.

Ability: Secret

The caute has heard your name on the wind, and it knows a paralyzing fear to whisper in your ear.

Ability: Ghost Mistress

A caute doesn’t summon ghosts (perhaps out of professional courtesy), but knows the ways of their eyes and their voices.


“When the world was young, and the world was new

the Eora travelled two by two

With fairy mites and sharp-eyed kites and bells of sweet sea blue

Kiss a lizard, kiss a lizard, kiss a lizard- you!”


Noisy children and their beasties swarmed past me while I tried to drown my sorrows at a wildhoney tea counter. All night spying on a dusty Illium diplomat, only to discover that she was doing nothing more sinister than enjoying the many embraces of Vance. No one was going to spare coin for the names of last night’s lovers. I looked down over my long glass cup at the feathery scaly face of the eora I’d been feeding sparrow scraps to. Well, at least I’d made a friend.

–Excerpt from The Apprentice’s Diary, in the month of the Crucible and the Maiden

There’s no more loyal friend than a tamed Eora. Most feathered lizards are bipedal, and no more than knee-high to a red martian (though it’s said the pale martians breed eoras big enough to ride). But they’ve got jaws like a jackal, and a mind clever enough to use them. Eoras are sneaky and willful as pups, but pack animals at heart, and deeply devoted guardians.

Ability: Trap

Once upon a time, Eoras were tamed to herd the vast flocks of the first martians. And they remember in their hearts how to protect their sheep.

Ability: Snatch

The eora has a terribly strong bite; one that can rend flesh and shatter bone. And if he can’t get between an attacker and his mistress, he’ll simply have to take the arm that would strike her.

Machine Spiders

“Who resembles the steppes locust, which satisfies its every desire? They are the martians who, after being struck down by our enemy’s arrows, take those arrows up and pierce our heart again with them.

Who resembles the machine spider, which satisfies the needs of The People? They are the martians who, when showered with our enemy’s arrows, remain untouched because they are dressed in holy bone.

Children, burn away your fickleness, and turn your passion always towards The People. Be the martians who, under a torrent of arrows, shatter them and force them into the hearts of our enemies.”

— Sister Dorotheus of Metanoia, Letters for the Third Egg Year

The machine spiders are hand-sized creatures which infest the ruins of First Martian cities, collectively weaving enormous webs out of stinging silken cords. Whatever their original purpose, they are now cultivated by the Pale Martians to weave the water-tight fabrics they build their homes and clothes from. With some careful training and a talented herder, they can even be used to weave the seamless containers which Chiaro relies on to ship chunks of glacier water south. While they meticulously demolish any material (biological or not) that gets caught in their webs, it isn’t clear that they eat what they catch, so much as break it down into usable parts. When one ‘dies’, its nest mates immediately descend on it to dismantle its corpse, and build a new spider to replace it. Only the very lucky have ever managed to preserve an automaton body from this fate, and none have quite discovered the mechanism by which they spin.

Automatons are not naturally combative, and seem only dimly aware of anything outside their meditative weaving; but if provoked or pursued, they will retreat deeper into their nest.

Ability: Net

No one knows the lay of a web better than its weaver; and no seeker could move so quickly through it.

Ability: Deconstruct

What lands in the web of the weaver is a gift to the weaver and the web; and quickly quickly with their gentlest teeth they will cease its motion before grinding it fully at their leisure.

7 thoughts on “Beasts Wild and Strange [Cavaliers of Mars]”

  1. Ability: Spore

    The breath of a wyeth deer contains a tiny filament of its poison; a gas that dizzys and blinds even strong men.

    should read something like : ” a gas that blinds and makes dizzy even the strongest of men”

  2. Is there anyway you’d be able to forward a character creation example or rules to my email? I’m willing to sign a non disclosure agreement or jump through a thousand flaming hoops.

    I deeply respect the material and the mechanics presented in the quick start rules and I’m currently starting a chronicle in the setting. If there is anyway at all though that you could even give solid guidelines on character creation it would mean infinite gratitude. I will even make the Princess Invincible’s real name Rose Bailey when I run my chronicle to forever immortalize you in our stories! Thank you for your time regardless your answer Rose. Looking forward to OPP’s first creator original RPG.

    -Keep keeping the RP in RPG.

    • I will gladly take “like a horse, but Awesome.” 🙂

      The oleph was one of those things that emerged from a few different places. Audrey was keen on the idea of a beast of burden that talked to itself, and when she mentioned the idea to me, I was reminded of the drunken mermelants in Cugel’s Saga. An oleph ended up being prominent in the first Cavaliers session ever run, and since then it’s been an important detail for us.


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