Rhinoceros
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Basic Information

Rhinos are large herbivores that can weigh more than a ton. They have a thick hide, and one or two horns on their nose. They have relatively small brains for their size. They are native to parts of Africa and Asia.

Rhinos have a thick (1 to 2 inches) skin made of collagen that provides them significant protection. Their horns are made of keratin, the same substance that makes our hair and fingernails. Their main predator is humans, as Rhino horns are worth their weight in gold on the black market. The horns are ground up and used as traditional medicine, especially in Vietnam. Several rhino species are critically endangered as a result of illegal poaching. Man is basically the only predator of adult rhinos. Young rhinos are also endangered by Hyenas, Lions, Tigers and Wild Dogs.

There are several subspecies of Rhino, the main differences being size, number of horns (1 or 2), and the extent to which the skin is smooth or covered with warts or folds. Size for an adult rhino can range between 1.3m to 2m (4.25ft to 6.5ft) in height, between 2.4m to 4.6m (8 to 15ft) in length, and between 700kg to 3,200kg (1,500 lbs to 7,100 lbs) in mass. The horn can grow 8cm (3 inches) each year, and reach a length of 1.5m (5 ft) in the extreme. Those numbers include all the various subspecies, so any given population is likely to skew towards one end or the other of those ranges rather than being spread out all over the map. The largest breed is the one-horned warty Indian Rhinoceros. They are among the largest megafauna still alive on earth.

Behavior

Rhinos can be unusually aggressive for an herbivore species. They are solitary and shy creatures, but can be very territorial. They scatter their bodily wastes around to mark their territory. The collective noun is “a crash of rhinos”, but actual large groups of rhinos are quite rare.

They will charge if they feel threatened. They can run at speeds of nearly 55 kph (35 mph). Their eyesight is poor and their behavior aggressive, so sometimes they will charge straight into a tree or other obstacle. They are more nimble than that suggests, being capable of fairly tight turns when running. Their eyesight is bad, but their hearing and sense of smell are very good.

Rhinos love to wallow in mud or water to keep themselves cool and protected from the sun. They get very distracted while drinking and tune-out the rest of their surroundings. Poachers tend to attack rhinos at the water for precisely that reason.

Rhinos sleep very deeply, being oblivious for 8 to 9 hours each day, mostly during the hottest hours of the day.

In captivity, rhinos rub their horns on things to alleviate stress, which can wear the horns down or off entirely.

Rhinos in Europe

They only occur naturally in Africa and Asia, but that doesn't mean you can't work them into a game set in Europe.

In 1515, Albrecht Dürer released a woodcut image of a rhino that was brought to the Lisbon court of Manuel I of Portugal. Dürer never actually saw the animal with his own eyes, though, and so he depicted it as much more armored that they actually are, as if they had a shell or some natural equivalent to barding. The actual rhino drowned in 1516 en route to being given as a gift to Pope Leo X and no others existed on the continent, so for the next few centuries most of Europe pictured the rhino completely wrong.

A live rhino (named Abada) was kept by the Kings of Portugal and later Spain from 1577 to 1588.

A rhino (named Clara) was sent around Europe in a tour from 1741 to 1758. She was the “pet” of the captain of a ship (the Knappenhof), and he built a special carriage to transport her across the continent. She died in England.

Another rhino was kept in the Palace of Versailles from 1770 to 1793.

Rhinos in Mythology

In Malay Mythology there is a subtype of rhino called the Badak Api, which hates (but is immune to) fire. If you start a fire in the forest, a Badak Api may appear to stamp it out. (Stomping on fire is not a behavior known to existing rhino species, so it’s unclear what if anything inspired this myth.)

Prehistoric Rhinos

Rhinos evolved from species that were once shaped more like a horse or a tapir. Some extinct species were much larger, and/or lived in the water like a hippo. During the last Ice Age there was at least one Wooly Rhinoceros species. The largest rhino-like creature was the Indricotherium, which weighed 20 tons.

Sources

Bibliography

Game and Story Use

  • Was the 1515 woodcut comically over-armored, or was it an accurate rendering of a dire rhino?
  • Rhinos may suggest behavior for other creatures in your game or setting.
    • There could be a creature that has poor eyesight, and gets aggressive because of it. Picture a Dragon that breathes fire on everything, because it can't see well enough to feel safe.
    • A dangerous creature that gets distracted at the water may allow you to place a higher-level creature encounter in your player's path. They come across the beast while it's focused on drinking or bathing, so the difficulty of the stealth roll to creep away without a fight is very low.
      • Of course, players being players, they may assume that any monster you put in front of them is meant for them to fight. So be prepared for what you'll do if they decide to antagonize the creature that's way above their level.
      • You could have a huge, fierce, heavily armored monster that can only be hurt by a called shot to the eye. It moves so fast, that's a nearly impossible shot in a fight… but a sniper might be able to take it out when it's having a drink. Maybe that's the tactic you want your players to figure out?
      • This tends to make me think of dragons again, as there's that whole trope of Smaug's scales. Attacking a dragon while it's drinking may have the added benefit of cooling his breath weapon for the first round or two. You'll need to know if the PCs can shelter under the water for protection, or if the fire will turn it all to steam and boil them.
    • I could totally see a Unicorn (or other defender of nature, like a Motile Plant with fire-resistant bark) rush to the scene of a forest fire and stomp out the flames like the Badak Api was said to do.
    • Think about the creatures with unusual senses in your game. Do those senses suggest any specific behaviors that your rulebook may have left out?
  • A traveling menagerie (or single animal exhibit) touring a part of the world where those animals are unknown has great story potential.
    • It gives the GM an excuse to unleash a monster from another biome in the heart of a city.
    • It's a believable "retirement job" for a former adventurer who has an unusual mount or animal companion, such as the petmaster.
  • Rhino poachers seem like solid villain material.
    • You might want to "dial it up to 11" by giving them a nefarious occult reason for hunting rhinos, such as a terrible summoning spell. Something like: "It takes 13 horns to summon the 13-headed avatar of the god of death."
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