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A corollary of the highest importance may be deduced from the foregoing remarks, namely, that the structure of every organic being is related, in the most essential yet often hidden manner, to that of all other organic beings, with which it comes into competition for food or residence, or from which it has to escape, or on which it preys. This is obvious in the structure of the teeth and talons of the tiger; and in that of the legs and claws of the parasite which clings to the hair on the tiger's body.

— Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species

Basic Information

A claw, or talon, is a curved, pointed appendages made of keratin, found at the end of the toe or finger in most mammals, reptiles, and birds; similar structures, informally sharing the same name, can be found on some invertebrates.

Claws take different shapes and forms, depending on the animal: for example, the cassowary, while having a claw on each toe, has a particularly longer and deadlier toe on its inner toe, while the lion has an equally distributed set of claws. This variation usually corresponds to the lifestyle of the animal, and the use of claws, which is different to each animal. Carnivorous animals use their claws to ensnare prey, while others might use them for digging, climbing surfaces such as trees, grooming, and self-defense. In many cases (as, for example in canids) claws are vestigial and have highly limited functions and to add to the complexity, some species (such as felidae) are able to retract their claws at will. As this suggests, diet is no great guide to claw development (and vice versa).

The claws of animals have also provided many benefits to humans throughout history. They were occasionally used as jewelry, often finding themselves on a pendant or brooch in hunter-gatherer societies, mixed into traditional medicines, or grafted onto Stone Age weaponry, such as spears and daggers. Where claws have an economic value, this, of course, makes them a form of treasure.

See Also



Game and Story Use

  • As mentioned above, claws have many different uses.
    • Your character may be stuck in a tropical setting full of dangerous enemies, and all you have are a few sticks and the claws off an animal corpse you found earlier to make an improvised spear or mace.
    • Perhaps your party must go on a Fetch Quest to obtain the claw of a legendary beast to make a medicine for the dying, quest-giving NPC.
    • In the event that your character killed an especially powerful and remarkable creature, they might keep their claw as a keepsake, or wear it as a pendant.
    • A suitably ativistic religion might use the claws of some totemic animal as a ritual weapon.
    • A shaman with an animal totem spirit ally might use the claws of an animal from the same species as part of a ritual object - perhaps even making a fetish out of them.
  • As a (relatively) hard to counterfeit item with a (relatively) constrained supply, the claws or teeth of a specific animal may also prove useful as a primitive form of money1.
  • Claws generally make any creature more fearsome or dangerous.
    • Just make sure their behavior matches up; you're not going to find giant, serrated claws on a tree-dweller.
      • Unless it is (for example) a sloth - a key example of a set of extremely disturbing claws on a thoroughly innocuous animal.
      • Actually, this is good for subversion throughout - players may assume that the thing with enormous claws is a dangerous predator, whilst in fact it turns out to use them for burrowing or cracking open nuts. The anteater is another good example - massive claws, no teeth and a mouth about the size of a garden hose. The claws are mainly for cracking open anthills.
  • In a futuristic setting, where anything is possible with a bit of genetic engineering, your fighter might opt for some claws, rather than nails.
  • Likewise, biothaumaturgy can achieve the same effect in a setting where magic predominates.
  • Note, however, that the need to keep the hand prehensile limits the developement of claws - and makes it almost impossible to have retractable ones of any length. The installer might prefer to rig the claws at or around the knuckle rather than at the end of the finger - this would likely reduce finess considerably in return for greater resilience.
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