Harpy Species in Jewels of Lockhinge | World Anvil

Harpy

  Harpies are typically described as having the wings and talons of a bird, with the head and arms of a humanoid female. While this description is well-known throughout the kingdom, it is not an entirely accurate one, but there are few scholars with the experience (and willingness) to do the creatures proper justice.   Unlike many of the species who had once been called "monstrous" by the majority populations, harpies have not been assimilated into civilization-at-large in any appreciable way. The vast majority of beings outside of their own camps still consider harpies to be violent, irredeemable, and frightening beasts.   While it is true that harpies are almost universally still found to be living in aggressive and isolated clans that continue to prey on other sentient creatures, their story is more complex than the invariably evil portrait that has been painted for them. It would be more accurate to call them a stubborn people who are ferociously loyal to both their matriarchal clans and the territories that they covet, as well as reocgnize that there is an important component to harpy society that remains unacknowledged: the Moonwake.

Basic Information

Anatomy

Being that harpies possess both wings and arms on their upper bodies, they are six-limbed creatures, and renditions of them in literature almost universally fail at correctly conveying how these limbs are arranged. Many illustrations show their wings somehow sprouting from their back, with the tops of their shoulders being where their arms attach. In reality, harpies have two sets of shoulder girdles, and these are arranged on top of one another in an superior/inferior arrangement instead of an anterior/posterior one. The first--or "top"--set of shoulders actually lead to the wings, with the flexor muscles wrapping around the front of the chest. The shoulders leading to the second set of limbs are tucked below the first set, with its flexor muscles lying deep to those of the wings. The wings themselves appear entirely like those of a bird, save for two clawed digits half-hidden in the feathers that help a harpy to grip onto difficult surfaces (including challenging prey).   The wings and lower limbs of a harpy are clearly avian, being covered in feathers and possessing powerful, scaled talons. These talons are pamprodactyl--meaning that the toes are capable of rotating to grasp at different angles--making them highly dexterous. These flexible joints are strong but susceptible to injury, resulting in harpy talons being much better suited to clutching relatively still objects (such as a drowned victim) than fighting with or lifting struggling prey.   The torso that these limbs attach to is neither entirely avian nor human, instead being some combination thereof. Depending on the clan, there are differing amounts of feathers or bare skin between individuals, but the identifying features that would mark a creature as being mammalian are always absent.   Calling the head and arms of a harpy "human" would be wildly incorrect, despite the passing resemblance that these features bear when compared to the avian parts. The eyes are wide, the features angular, and the limbs slim (though bound in wiry muscle), seemingly just as "elven" or "goblinoid" as they might be "human."   Along with the mistake of calling harpies "half human," they are also mistakenly believed to all be female. It is true that the vast majority of harpies are female, with almost all harpies that are encountered in matriarchal flocks being female, but there are in fact "male" harpies. Between their low numbers and transient nature, they are rarely encountered, and even when they are spotted out in the world, their slim build and fine features have lead to some confusion, furthering the belief that all harpies are female. A skilled eye can spot the differences between the two types of harpy, but these clues are typically too subtle for most observers to notice.

Biological Traits

Other features of note include a very wide variety in the amount of feathers, hair, and bare skin that harpies can possess. In addition to individuals appearing different from one another, each clan tends to have a distinctive "look" that they become known for. These tendencies are powerfully genetic, with traits being inherited much more strongly from the female of a pair than from the male. This works out so that as the nomadic males move from clan to clan, they leave behind children that generally match the clan that they are being born into.   In addition to being a way for harpies to distinguish between clanmates and strangers at a distance, these morphologies do in part reflect some adaptation to the location and lifestyle that the clan leads. For instance, a clan that roosts in foothills and frequently hunts in the mountains may be smaller, paler, and have more feather coverage, while their neighbors who spend time in the wetlands are longer of limb and have sleeker, more waterproofed feathers.   Another interesting feature to note is how surprisingly strong and dexterous the harpy's avian talons are. With how they are able to rotate their digits to grasp at different angles, many harpies use their feet as often as they use their hands, with a few "feet-first" individuals having them as their dominant limbs. However, this feet-first behavior is usually discouraged at a young age, (much like left-handed humans are,) with mothers training their children to be omnidextrous.

Growth Rate & Stages

The lifespans of harpies are roughly similar to species such as humans, though they are more capable of functioning independently once they hatch, and reach adulthood much more quickly. A newly-hatched harpy remains helpless for the first week of life, though its sharp teeth allow it to immediately eat solid food such as shredded meat, and they begin toddling and mimicking others shortly thereafter. Adolescence begins somewhere around seven or eight years of age, and harpies usually begin taking on their adult roles when they are between ten and twelve years old. After that, growth slows down to match those of many other species, and--if they manage to survive that long--a harpy could live for as much as a century. Age is well-respected in harpy society, and an old matriarch retains rule of her clan for as long as she lives, with the rest of the members supporting her until she finally falls.

Ecology and Habitats

Harpies can be found in a vast array of different biomes and habitats; generally wherever civilization isn't, you can probably find harpies there. As long as it's possible to scratch out an existence and hold their territory against outside threats, harpies will find a way to survive, and their tenacious attitudes and abilities of flight allow them to thrive in areas that many other creatures fail to. More often than not, the greatest threat to a harpy clan, even in the most unforgiving of environments, is the presence of other harpies.

Dietary Needs and Habits

Harpies are primarily carnivores, with little tolerance for other food sources. Most meatless foods amount to little more than "junk food" for a harpy, with large quanities of it--or even small quantities of some heavy vegetable matter--making them ill. Fresh meat from animal and humanoid sources make up the bulk of the harpy diet, with some fish and invertebrate, and occasionally supplemented with carrion, eggs, and other protein-rich foodstuffs such as legumes and nuts.

Behaviour

To the members of its own flock, a harpy is incredibly loyal and attached, willing to defend even those individuals who they tend to squabble with. Harpies are primarily concerned with the survival and wellbeing of the clan, but in those flocks that are large and comfortable enough to allow room for it, affection, culture, and leisure certainly take place.   Being a predatory species, harpies spend much of their time hunting for food and eliminating threats that appear in their territory. They employ their talent for mimicry and innate enchantment to lure various creatures into traps--whether those traps be environmental or simple abushes set up with others of their flock. Sentient creatures are often valuable prey items--both in terms of the amount of food they represent and the useful items they often carry with them--and they are susceptible to the harpy's song, so harpies tend to see other intelligent beings as food before they try to see them as anything else.   Moonwake harpies are just as predatory as their clanbound brethren, but they lack the aggression and territorial nature, so tend to opt for whatever prey offers the least resistence. While a group of four particularly bold harpies of the Moonwake may try and prey open a hapless traveler, they are generally much more likely to lure lesser animals into their traps, or raid unattended stashes of supplies.   When not engaged in survival-based activities, harpies have been observed playing games, crafting simple handiworks, and creating music. Though every clan and individual has its own preferences, two activities seem more prevalent than others: mimicry and song. From a young age, harpies engage in mimicry of their parents and other creatures in its environment, honing what will be a skill vital to their survival later in life. Going hand-in-hand with this is the harpy's penchant for singing, though the harpy-song that most are familiar with is not the same singing they engage in for their own enjoyment. The haunting, beautiful song that enchants the minds of their prey is merely a hunting tactic; when harpies truly sing, the sound usually ends up harsh and chilling to other creatures.

Additional Information

Social Structure

Harpy society revolves around the sanctity of matriarchal clans, powered by a deeply territorial nature. Birthright, territory, and loyalty are all enforced with the ferocity that the species is known for, with there being little room given for notions such as compromise. This makes harpy clans extremely close-knit, as any threat to this cohesion is swiftly and ruthlessly dealt with. Dissenters are rooted out, territories defended to the death, and sisters supported to the end. One one hand, this leads harpies to view most of the world as a threat to their clan, and--on the other hand--makes them much more selfless and loyal beings than they are typically given credit for.   Every clan is lead by a matriarch--though, occasionally, a small number of closely-bonded sisters decide to lead together. In either case, this makes for a very unified rule, until the matriarch(s) pass away, leaving their daughters to work out amongst themselves who should take their place.   The majority of harpy children are those capable of bearing offspring themselves ("females"), with rare, precious individuals being born with the ability to sire the next generation ("males"). While all harpies are born with the desire to stay within a closely-bonded flock, those who are capable of siring offspring are prepared from childhood to leave their birthflock and eventually take up a nomadic lifestyle known as the Moonwake. Whatever their personal feelings on the matter, a natural wanderlust kicks in during adolescence, and with the encouragement from the rest of their birthflock, "male" harpies leave their birthflock upon reaching adulthood.   Each clan has its own persona and habits, but all are ferociously independant, and the competition between them often becomes brutal. Harpies may have a reputation for being exclusive and aggressive toward most creatures outside of their flock, but nothing in the world turns a harpy vicious like a rival harpy can.   Harpies of the Moonwake are of course exempt from this. The only way that a clan can increase its numbers is through hoping that roaming Moonwake harpies will wander into their territory, and so they are welcomed in with eager hospitality. When those of the Moonwake are visiting a clan, that is easily the most peaceful time in harpy society--not only halting their own violence in favor of spending as much time with the Moonwake as possible, but opposing clans cease their own harrassment when they realize that Moonwake individuals are visiting. While they would love nothing more than to strike a rival clan while it is vulnerable and interrupt this very important stage of their rivals' lifecycle, they would risk offending or even harming the Moonwake individuals. So, while their rivals are busy with the Moonwake, other clans will content themselves with more subversive tactics instead, and grabbing resources while there is less competition, while hopefully gearing up for a visit from the Moonwake themeselves.   Moonwake harpies spend most of their lives in transit, with short periods of downtime spent within the comfort of various flocks they visit. These harpies often travel alone, as they are far more vulnerable without the ferocity of a flock to protect them from the dangers of the world, and stealth is often the best way to survive. Understandibly, this leads to them doing most of their traveling at night, which is part of the reason behind their "Moonwake" title. Not all Moonwake harpies spend their lives alone, however. If a few Moonwake harpies discover each other while on their travels, or leave their birthflock together, they often decide to band together into a miniature flock of their own. These Moonwake flocks typically number between two to four individuals, as any more would make it much more difficult to hide during travel. While Moonwake harpies do find themselves compelled by a wanderlust that the flockbound harpies do not, they still possess the drive to be included in the heart of a flock, so these small, nomadic groups often become just as loyal to each other as the larger flocks are.

Domestication

Several ill-fated attempts to "tame" a harpy, usually from infancy, have been recorded. In almost every case, the captors underestimate a harpy's cleverness, possessiveness, and potential lethality. Even when a young harpy's loyalty is successfully fixated on their captor, a female harpy's viciously-territorial nature or a male's wanderlust ultimately dooms the experiment.

Facial characteristics

Harpy facial features are humanoid, with relatively large eyes that are typically either black or some shade of silver or gold, and a wide mouth full of needlelike teeth. Bone structure is usually sharp and fine, often with a small or flat nose and a somewhat sloping profile. The harpy neck tends to be on the longer side, and their ears are often pointed but much smaller than most humanoid species and lowset on the skull. As for the covering on their head and eyebrows, harpies can possess hair, feathers, some combination thereof, or be entirely devoid of either.

Average Intelligence

Harpies are not considered extremely intelligent by most standards, but they are at least far more clever than they have been given credit for. They are indeed sentient creatures and not merely beasts or aberrations, they do have a culture amongst themselves, and are perfectly capable of communication, but in manners that are much different to most of those in "civilized" societies.   Their language is more the vocal equivalent of pictograms than the more typical words and grammar understood by most cultures, and mimicry is an important component to their communication. As such, learning to become fluent is as difficult for them as it is for others to think in the way that a harpy communicator does, and much of it amounts more to advanced mimicry than true fluency. This communication barrier undoubtedly contributes to the harpy's continued exclusion from society (in addition, of course, to their own territorial obsession.)

Perception and Sensory Capabilities

Harpies have excellent vision in both light and darkness, but this skill doesn't compare to their sense of hearing. Very few sounds escape a harpy's notice, and once heard, a harpy never forgets a voice or song. Names are rather unimportant in harpy society, being mostly a means to differentiate one subject from another in conversation, as they know each another by the sound of their voice instead. This auditory excellence is what allows them to be such masters of mimicry, and along with an innate ability to weave magic into their own voice, this is how they craft such deadly songs.

Civilization and Culture

Naming Traditions

As a harpy's unique voice is considered its identifier, very little attachment is given to names. Names are only used when discussing or referring to an individual that cannot be easily pointed at, or when trying to get the attention of one harpy in a group. These names tend to be simple identifiers, and can shift with time or when a better identifier is needed. Examples: Sky Blue, Biggest, Crooked Teeth, White Spot, Small Son, etc.

Gender Ideals

Gender and identity concepts are fluid amongst harpies, outside of the distinction made between the egg-bearers and the harpies of the Moonwake. Biologically, certain urges occur in each type, (territorialism in females and wanderlust in males,) but there are exceptions to every rule, and these are the only gender norms that ruffle feathers in harpy society.

Relationship Ideals

In harpy society, there is a difference recognized between the biologically-significant pairings of egg-bearer and Moonwake partner, and those relationships that are based on affection or emotional closeness. It is accepted that Moonwake partners are temporary and shared between other members of the flock, and it is considered a deep breach of etiquette to form a more exclusive or possessive bond with them. It is expected that Moonwake harpies pair with any member of the flock that seeks it, (as long as they mind their manners and don't offend the Moonwake harpy in any way,) all flockmembers mind how much time they are spending with the Moonwake harpy, and it is understood that their visitor leaves the flock again at the end of a month-long visit.   As for the relationships that form between flockmates, these can be of any variety, and these are accepted by the rest of the flock as long as they don't cause lasting problems to its dynamics. Prolonged bickering between partners, overt jealousy, and attempts to break up deeply bonded partners are all reasons that a matriarch or group of flockmates may intervene, and the solution that is most commonly encouraged is that problematic relationships be opened up in an attempt to ease whatever tension is occurring.

Average Technological Level

Depending on local resources that can be gathered or scavenged, the size of the flock, and the clan's ideals, the technological level varies amongst harpykind. Most clans tend to craft and gather only what they need, reuse weapons and supplies scavenged from their prey, and reserve only a small amount of energy for more elaborate art and culture within the flock. There are outliers of course--some flocks live much more sparse and feral lives on one end of the spectrum, and some clans such as the Bower Bog clan hold innovation and creativity as core tenants to their culture on the other end of the spectrum.

Major Language Groups and Dialects

The harpy language is complex, but is given a poor reputation because of how differently it functions when compared to most other humanoid languages. The words are more like the spoken version of pictographs, with the majority of grammar and nuance being conveyed through body language and context.   When harpies learn other languages, it is via a combination of mimicry and intuition, as they can speak many words and phrases but grammar often escapes them. Harpies do have the capacity to become truly fluent in other languages, but it is very rare that they bother with all the effort needed to achieve it.   An example of communicating in Common with an average harpy would be: asking how many children she has, and the harpy detecting the tone associated with a question and recognizing the concept of "children." With harpies, the most common meaning behind a statement is often the correct one, so she automatically assumes that you must be asking where the children are, and she so turns to point them out. As she has likely mimicked words and phrases to the point of sounding much more fluent in the language than she actually is, this reply would doubly confuse the question-asker.

Common Etiquette Rules

  • etiquette within and between flocks, how outsiders are treated, culturally-promoted values
  • sister flocks
  • Culture and Cultural Heritage

  • Harpy pride in their culture, and the strongly varying cultural identities between flocks, along with how Moonwake harpies contend with interfacing with flocks outside their birthflock, which had previously been villified.
  • Sister flocks finding own identity over several generations
  • Common Customs, Traditions and Rituals

  • Trophy collecting, self decoration and expression, harpy singing, rituals uniting and celebrating family.
  • Traditions among and involving Moonwake harpies
  • Common Taboos

  • Refusing to join the Moonwake
  • Defecting to or befriending harpies outside the birthflock (though sister flocks can be an exception within first few generations)
  • History

    It is well-accepted that harpies can likely trace their origins back to another plane, but there is disagreement on which plane this is. Even looking at the various origin mythologies told in harpy society, there are aspects that could be taken as hints toward a few different options. There is talk of the first harpies breaking through a "shell" into this world, as if hatching from an egg. Some versions of the myth are told as if this is the original birth of the harpies, while others describe it as breaking from one world and into another. Looking at other details told in these stories, combined with various traits and abilities demonstrated by the harpies, the most likely candidates for their original plane are either the Feywild or the Shadowfell.

    Common Myths and Legends

  • Harpies view of the world order.
  • Warnings against going against mainstream harpy culture.
  • The entirety of lore behind the Moonwake.
  • Interspecies Relations and Assumptions

  • Predatory, superiority, and how Moonwake harpies and loners differ from the norm.
  • Lifespan
    50 - 80 years
    Average Physique
    Average height between 4' and 5'5", slim and muscular frame, with individual clans having strong tendencies toward different builds.
    Related Ethnicities