Sea Serpent

alt: Sjöodjur

habitat: Ocean, Lake

origin: Norse, Mesopotamian

Giant dragons of the deep water Sea serpents have long, snake-like bodies. Their heads resemble those of dragons, or lizards, though they sometimes appear cat-like. They range in sizes as small as the length of a wagon, to as large as an entire bay. Some tell stories of sea serpents who circled the world.

TRAITS Descendents of the primordial chaos / Deep water opportunists / Prized by hunters, explorers, and kings
CHALLENGE Run an encounters that takes place at sea.
  • You can take advantage of the range in size of sea serpents to tailor many types of encounters. A small one could be a quick random encounter. A large one could be an epic battle at sea. A massive one could be an environmental threat or mythic portent.
  • Sea Serpents are notoriously elusive. Make it hard to find them, and hard to hit in battle.
  • This is the perfect monster to complement a seafaring adventure. If you've ever wanted to try incorporating ships or naval combat here is your chance!
  • The trolls Ogdi and Blogdi did something really stupid. Their pet has escaped and its hiding in the lake. They'll reward anyone who can bring it home safely - though it may have grown up a bit since they lost it.
  • Three ships have disappeared after entering the Bokna fjord. People are growing anxious and the Jarl must act.
  • There is a world famous hunting competition every 7 years at a town between mountains in the deep north. This year, there are rumours that they will set as the prize a monster far more challenging than those of past competitions. Riches and glory await the world's best hunters.

Sea Serpent Lore

The clouds were breaking above the Ormen Lange as she sailed out past the mouth of the fjord. The deep greys and blacks were outlined with the brilliant white light of the sun, as if Thor himself had cracked them apart with his great hammer. The brisk, salt air burned Yrsa's nostrils and she smiled a wild smile. The hunt had begun.

The builders had spared no expense on the trap. It was an enormous steel cage, with a jaw-like door attached to one end. The cage was so big that they had built wooden extensions for the ship just to carry it. The cage was filled with piglets. From the end opposite the jaw ran a great chain the likes of which Yrsa had never seen. Each link was heavy enough that she could only lift a run of six by herself. This expedition had been a long time in the making, and it was only possible because of the financial sponsorship of King Oskar. The King had always had a fascination with the sea, and this particular prize would ensure his place in the sagas.

They made their way to the place the creature had last been spotted, following the sun and the shape of the nearby mountains. At her command, the men pushed the baited trap off the side of the ship. They stumbled as the ship lurched several feet out of the water having lost so much weight at once. For a time, nothing happened. The weather had grown clearer and the blue skies were open above them, though Yrsa could still see clouds jutting above the western horizon. Suddenly the chain snapped tight. The floor boards of her ship made an awful croaking sound as the ship suddenly listed.

The crew burst into a frenzy of activity, readying weapons. Six men ran to the chain's winch at Yrsa's command to take hold of its giant handle. Yrsa's eyes widened and time seemed to slow to a crawl. The croaking of the wood crescendoed into a terrible shriek and she watched helplessly as the winch was ripped out of the ship and into the water, taking four of her men with it. The water was frothing, writhing, swirling beneath them. The water darkened, turning purple, then black as it filled with blood and something else, some shadow. Just as she cried for the men to take up spears, the surface of the water erupted into the sky and the great serpent rose above them. It was as tall as their highest mast, it's gaping mouth filled with teeth the size of the spears in her crew's hands. Witnesses had told of it's impressive size, but no one had prepared them for this.

She held back tears, finding courage in the fact that she would soon be feasting in Valhalla. Time seemed to stop completely at the apex of the serpent's rise. The sun shone behind it's head, surrounding it with a halo of electric light. In a moment it came crashing down upon the ship, smashing it in two. Everywhere men screamed as they died from the impact or fell into the water. Yrsa leapt upon the serpent's back, screaming profanities.

It only took the length of a folk song for the ship to sink completely. Shortly after that the water was quiet again. Quiet and black with blood. No survivors from the Ormen Lange were ever found and no other hunting expeditions were sent. The giant sea serpent was never seen again. Later people would claim that the ship was swallowed by Jörmungandr himself.

Dragons of the deep sea

There are countless creatures that lurk in the boundless depths of our oceans. But none are so feared as the sea serpents. Ever since humankind has taken to seafaring, there have been stories of these monsters ‚Äď long, draconic serpents that lay in wait beneath the surface. They devour large shoals of fish in their massive jaws, rarely breaching the surface. Of course they will seize the opportunity for a feast when human flesh crosses their path. When the wooden steeds of man sail into their territory, they rise out of the dark waters to smash the ships and devour the helpless sailors after they tumble into the water.

Some of the older sea serpents are so large that they can block the entrance to the fjords. In those cases, they may simply lay in wait with their mouths open and swallow the ships whole, a tactic that reminds me of the Aspidochelone. There is a story of one such giant, the sea serpent of Gullmarn Fjord, who lay with its enormous head on the shore. It used a hypnotic stare to lure livestock and even people into is gaping maw.

The origins of sea serpents

The famous Great Lake Serpent of Sweden (Storsjödjuret) was supposedly created when two trolls were mixing some foul concotion on the shore of Lake Storsjö. Their ugly faces turned uglier still when they leaned over the brew and saw the mixture turning blacker than it should. All of a sudden, a monster with a black snake-like body leapt out of the cauldron and ran off into the lake. There it grew larger, and larger over the years, benefitting from an ideal environment under the water. People would catch glimpses of it whenever it breached the surface, making quick prayers to protect themselves. The monster was never captured and may live their still.

I love that origin story. It warns of unexpected consequences when dealing with old magicks, and it suggests a great variety of origins for the sea serpents. But I propose a deeper theory. I believe that most sea serpents may trace their lineage back to the beginning of everything. They are far older than the times of trolls on the shores of Sweden.

In the beginning their was Tiamat, the serpent of primordial creation. We may even consider her to be the first dragon. The great hero Marduk faced her in battle as a massive sea serpent, creating the heavens and the earth from her body when he killed her. Her essence, the essence of chaotic creation itself, infuses the world. I believe that the natural born sea serpents who inhabit today's lakes and oceans are all descendents of Tiamat.

Reflections of the first dragon glisten on the surface of the deep waters.

Written by Giles Ravensong.

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