"What noise does a monkey make when it explodes?"
Baboons are large primates, recognizable for their long vaguely dog-like muzzles, and their large calloused buttocks. The largest baboons can grow to be 4 feet tall (120 cm) long, and weigh 90lbs (40kg). Baboons are very strong, very fast, and excellent climbers. Their canine teeth can grow to 2.5 inches in length.
Baboons live in savannah, woodland and hills. They are omnivores, mostly eating plants but sometimes hunting fish, birds, and small antelope. Baboons live in troops ranging from 5 to 250 adults. There are a few documented cases in South Africa of huge baboon troops banding together to raid farm livestock like goats or sheep.
Baboons in Ancient Egypt
The ancient Egyptians prized baboons very highly, for their intelligence, their fierceness, and their sexual potency. Baboons are a common symbol and design motif in Egyptian artwork. Baboon feces was used as an aphrodisiac or fertility drug. Baboons were associated with a number of Egyptian gods, including Babi, Bebon, Hapy, Khonsu, Thoth, and even Re. They were considered sacred animals, and larger temples often had as many as a dozen baboons kept on the grounds.
Baboons were kept as pets, as well. Baboons were frequently mummified when they died, and wealthy or powerful Egyptians were often buried alongside their pet baboons. Baboons are clever, and somewhat trainable, and artwork and writing depicts them picking fruit (or doing other farm work) for their masters, or playing with Egyptian children.
The most surprising use for trained baboons was as police animals. Heiroglyphs and artwork has survived the ages depicting Egyptian authorities using baboons on leashes to apprehend criminals, in much the way modern police would use a dog. One shocking bit of classical Egyptian artwork depicts authorities unleashing a baboon on a thief in a marketplace, and the criminal begging them to call the animal off as it bites his leg.
In the modern world, no baboons are native to Egypt. It's unclear if they've lost habitat over thousands of years, or if the Egyptians imported baboons from elsewhere in Africa.
Game and Story Use
- Baboons are strong, organized, and quick, and travel in large troops. If given some motivation to attack or compete with humans, they could make for memorable challenges.
- Police baboons are sure to take your players by surprise. In a historical, time-travel, or alternate history game, even a minor infraction in Egypt could end with frenzied baboons chasing you.
- In early Dungeons & Dragons books, Hobgoblins have some similarities to baboons, especially blue-nosed baboons. You could play that up by:
- giving your Hobgoblins an Egyptian flair, or making them knowledgeable scribes
- by establishing a human kingdom in your setting that employs hobgoblin police,
- or by having primitive hobgoblins band together in typically non-threatening nomadic foraging bands, that only sometimes grow large enough (or hungry enough) to raid farms
- A Ranger, Druid, Wizard, etc could have a well-trained baboon familiar or animal companion.
- Runequest included (sapient) Baboons as a playable race, notable for their talented shamen.