(This page is about the dog-headed humanoids, not about the range of hills in Northern Greece, also known as the Cynocephalae, that were the site of several battles in antiquity. The etymology is the same - consider the name of the hills to translate as something like "The Dog's Heads" ).

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Basic Information

A cynocephalus is a humanoid with the head of a hound. They're not a werewolf, they're just a dog-headed person.

They are attested to in mythology from all over the world. Chinese Mythology, Greek Mythology, Egyptian Mythology, and Indian Mythology all had groups of dog-headed men. The folklore of Middle Ages Europeans said that cynocephalic beings lived somewhere further East than the Byzantine Empire. Saint Augustine pondered in The City Of God about whether or not the cynocephalus counted as human, had souls, and could trace their lineage back to Adam and Eve. Saint Christopher is sometimes depicted with the head of a dog. Explorers like Ibn Battuta, Marco Polo, and Sir John Mandeville all claimed to interact with cynocephalic humanoids in their travels. Hui Shen, a Buddhist missionary from China, wrote that there was an entire kingdom of dog-headed people to the East of Fusang.

Honestly, it's a little surprising that a concept that appears in so many bodies of myth and philosophy and quasi-history should have almost zero name recognition in modern pop culture and gaming.

For the most part, Cynocephalics are depicted as being civilized and human-like, with social groups, intelligence, and a barking language of their own.
In a few cases, however, they are cast as more feral or barbarous, possibly even engaging in cannibalism… such depictions tread pretty heavily on some ugly "fear of the other" motifs, and may just be a thin cover for racism.

Several gods of Egyptian mythology could be described as cynocephalics, such as Anubis, Duamutef, and Wepwawet. Set might also be considered such, depending on whether or not you think the Set animal is some sort of canine.


Game and Story Use

  • Could be useful alternative to the usual suspects (goblin, elf, orc, dwarf, etc) when you need an interesting and unique fantasy race due to race inflation or just wanting to subvert player expectations.
  • Or, a double-inversion: A village has been raided, and the few survivors tell the PCs that they were attacked by dog-headed men. As you're playing some sort of fantasy game, the players take this at face value and assume it's a new creature type they haven't seen before. Eventually the PCs catch up with them, and learn then that its actually just mundane bandits wearing wolf-fur cloaks and masks.
  • Players catching a glimpse of a cynocephaly near a murder may erroneously assume it was a lycanthrope. So this could be a good red herring that leads to a reveal of a very interesting new species. That is, assuming the PCs don't kill it at that first meeting.
  • You may need to decide on the man-to-dog ratio. How much of a chimera are they? Are they just a form of near-human with jutting jaws and pointed ears? Or do they go so far as to come in different dog breeds, have dog-like behavior, and have a finely-honed sense of smell?
  • Anubis, Set, Mormo, Hecate, or other gods with canine aspects might have servants with the heads of dogs (or jackals for Anubis and Set Animals for Set).
  • In the Cthulhu mythos, ghouls are depicted as having a distinctly dog-like cast to their appearance and being eaters of human flesh…
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