"Beasts of Battle" motif
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Basic Information

In the poetry and mythology of the anglo-saxons, germans and norse peoples, there is a recurring shared theme of three species of animal being mentioned just before, or in conjunction with, a fight scene. If the tale mentions a wolf, a raven and an eagle in quick succession, that's your cue that an important battle is about to happen.

There are a number of variations on the theme. Sometimes only two of the three animals will be mentioned. Rarely a vulture is substituted for the eagle1. Sometimes the hero or other warrior in the tale actively feeds or interacts with these animals, and other times they merely show up to scavenge.2 Instead of appearing directly, sometimes they'll merely show up in the description of the warriors, such as poetically calling a group of vikings "slaughter-wolves". The Norse versions of the motif tend to focus on the glory and victory in battle, but the Old English poems instead use the motif to emphasize the doom and terror of battle.

Sources

Game and Story Use

  • If the PCs are in an overland journey, and your players well-read and genre-savvy enough to note it, you could throw in brief mention of these three animals during the trip to foreshadow the big battle you have planned in an upcoming scene.
    • J.R.R. Tolkien did it in The Hobbit.
  • The Raven, Wolf and Eagle are natural choices for themes, heraldry, lycanthropic forms, familiars, pets, etc, for any warrior- or death- associated character from any of the germanic cultures.
    • All three animals are commonly associated with the god W┼Źden / Odin, so he's a natural choice for the patron deity of such a character.
  • Battle-magic or protective magic might require a sacrifice to or of these three animals.
    • Area effect spells might take their form, with the shape of wolves or eagles appearing in a fireball in much the same way that horse-shapes appear in the raging waters in Lord of the Rings.
  • Using the motif is a fun way to emphasize the dramatic tension and importance of the final showdown with the big bad evil guy.
    • Another way to emphasize this that is equally appropriate to these sorts of mythic tales is for the hero to issue a beot.
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