A cunning, vicious beast, the shadow claw strikes fear into the hearts of travelers everywhere. Originally an attempt by a cabal of wizards to engineer the perfect guard animal, the shadow claw now stands as an example of the consequences of hubris.
A typical shadow claw stands 7 ft. tall at the shoulders and weighs 300 pounds, all of it solid muscle. Its entire body is covered in thick, black fur that fades to a deep gray on its underbelly. It has a long, muscular tail that both aids in balance and can be used as a bludgeon in combat.
The shadow claw’s powerful legs allow it to run at high speeds, and each leg is equipped with terribly sharp claws. This combination of sharp claws and brawny legs allow the shadow claw to easily tear the flesh off its prey. The shadow claw’s mouth is filled with razor-sharp teeth and equipped with powerfully muscled jaws, allowing it to bite or rip the head clean off of even large animals.
Shadow claws are not entirely natural creatures, but rather magically enhanced dire wolverines. According to information gathered from various sources, the first shadow claws were created centuries ago by a cabal of wizards whose name has been lost to history. They sought to create the perfect guard animal to keep their sanctums and secrets safe, and they believed they could magically enhance an existing beast to suit their needs.
The wizards saw the dire wolverine as the perfect animal for this project, most likely due to its ferocity. They captured a couple of dire wolverines and brought them back to their magical labs, where they enhanced the beasts’ strength and resilience. They also gave the wolverines other magical enhancements, including an invisibility effect that made the beasts virtually impossible to see when they stood still or moved slowly and a less powerful blurring effect that made them harder to strike in combat.
Unfortunately, the magical safeguards the wizards imbued into the dire wolverines to make them trainable proved insufficient to quell the inherent bloodlust of the creatures. After a short time, the test subjects escaped the wizards’ lab. Once out in the wild, the shadow claws bred with natural dire wolverines. Because the wizards engineered the shadow claw to breed true in the hopes of providing themselves with an easily renewable resource, the offspring of these unions exhibited the same magical enhancements as the shadow claw, allowing the beast to spread around the world in short order.
Habitat and Behavior
Shadow claws travel in packs of 3 to 12 individuals, one of whom serves as the pack leader. They can survive in a wide variety of environments, from deserts to tundra. They seem to favor forests and mountains, however, likely because there is varied enough terrain in these environments for them to launch the ferocious ambush attacks for which they’re infamous. The only restriction on where a pack of shadow claws chooses to live seems to be food supply; if a pack of shadow claws do not find enough food to sustain the pack upon moving into an area, they will relocate.
These beasts are also drawn to magical power sites, whether they’re natural or man-made. As a result, many such sites across the world have shadow claws patrolling their grounds, assuming there’s enough food in the vicinity to sustain them. The owners of many inhabited sites take measures to drive away or eliminate any shadow claws drawn to the area, since their uncontrollable viciousness outweighs any benefits they might provide as security animals.
Despite being a magically enhanced species, shadow claws settle quite naturally into the role of apex predator in any place they choose to settle. On their own, they attack and eat absolutely any living creature that they come across, even animals as large as elephants. When an entire pack of shadow claws hunts together, it can bring down even larger creatures.
Shadow claws are highly cunning beasts that adapt their hunting tactics to suit their prey. Against weaker creatures, they favor brutal, direct assaults that kill their prey in one strike. When fighting larger opponents, or prey traveling in groups too large to attack directly, shadow claws resort to ambush tactics, using the terrain to their advantage in setting up a surprise attack with the intent of encircling and slaughtering the target. Despite their ferocity, shadow claws do not fight to the death, and if the pack takes too many losses, its remaining members retreat.
Shadow claws have no fear of man, and they attack an armed squad of soldiers as readily as they’ll attack any other animal. Indeed, they’re unusually adept at sizing up civilized opposition based on factors like the weapons they’re carrying—shadow claw packs have been known to employ ambush tactics against groups of two or three heavily armed and armored men, while engaging in all-out assaults against groups of 20 lightly equipped travelers. Whether this trait was deliberately engineered into the first generation of shadow claws or simply an unintended side effect of the magical engineering performed on them is unknown, but either way, it makes shadow claws dangerous opponents for even well-prepared adventurers.
Watch for Part 2 of this monster entry, which will contain statistics and more!