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Basic Information

Beavers are large herbivorous rodents native the Northern Hemisphere. They have distinctive paddle-shaped tails, large buck teeth, front paws shaped a lot like hands, and back feet with webbed toes. They live in and near fresh water. They are known to fell trees with their teeth and make beaver dams that can block up the flow of a river. They use their large tails for balance or prop themselves up when gnawing down trees, to assist with swimming, and to slap on the water as a warning splash to alert other beavers to danger.

Medieval bestiaries tended to ascribe medicinal properties to beaver testicles, and alleged that the Beavers were smart enough to understand that they were frequently hunted for this. Supposedly if a beaver was being pursued, it would bite its own bits off and leave them to distract/dissuade the hunter. This is a little bit of a misunderstanding about what part of the beaver's glandular region creates the castoreum musk that was prized for its use in medicine and (believe it or not) perfume, but most medieval scribes / monks probably didn't have first-hand experience with beaver junk, so a little misunderstanding is to be expected, I guess. Confusingly, for medieval (or at least Romanist) purposes, the beaver was officially a fish and was thus on the menu during periods of mandatory fasting such as Lent and Advent.

In addition to the castoreum secretions, beavers have also been historically hunted for their meat and fur.



Game and Story Use

  • A beaver dam, or a similar structure built by a creature whose behavior you've modeled on beavers, may block up a river, causing a flood that ruins crops or causes other property damage.
    • This gets especially amusing if it's something like a giant/dire beaver, or an only-vaguely-beaver-like-if-you-squint-at-it critter such as glyptodont, anklyosaurus, or something like an otyugh from D&D.
      • I've done this in an Og RPG game, to great effect. The players grokked it immediately, had a good laugh over the ridiculousness of the image/notion, and then had a good puzzle over how to save their home from the constructive habits of a couple-thousand-kilos of armored herbivore while themselves armed with nothing better than a pointy stick. Fun times. Lots of dead cavemen.
    • The mythical Welsh water monster, the afnac, is sometimes depicted as a giant beaver.
  • The entrance to a beaver lodge is generally underwater, as a way to deter intruders. You might use that as a defensive measure on a fortification made by any creature that's good at swimming, or doesn't need to breathe.
  • Hyper-intelligent beavers, such as ones affected by genetic engineering, precursor uplifting, or were-beavers, I guess, may build something even more elaborate than a dam or lodge. Maybe it's a full on beaver castle with wooden palisades/ramparts, maybe even secret doors or spike-traps/pungi pits/log deadfalls/etc.
    • Professor Lewis, please call the School of Biology.
  • Transposing this medieval self-mutilation nonsense to another creature might also be interesting. A unicorn that removes its own horn, for example.
    • Probably works best if the PCs are heroes or druids, and want to protect the endangered critter in question. I mean, if the PCs are just ruthless treasure-hunters, then this triggered behavior is just making it easy on them and would probably undercut the plotline.
    • That is, unless the "treasured" body part is also dangerous in some way, and might be left behind as a distraction or trap to cover their escape. (Like how some lizards can shed their tail.) Think along the lines of a Beholder that breaks off it's own eyestalk as a sentry gun, or a cockatrice that leaves some toxic feathers on it's trail like cursed caltrops
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