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Scaly Tauntaun

A Star Wars Creature Feature


A little-known offshoot of their furry, smelly cousins on the planet Hoth, scaly tauntauns inhabit the ice cave complexes beneath the frozen surface. These lizardlike creatures have only a vague relation to the more famous tauntauns ridden by Rebel scouts when they were stationed on Hoth during the Empire's reign.

Scaly tauntauns have the same anatomical configuration and generally remain the same size as their cold-weather kin, but their horns are much smaller, usually only 30 centimeters long, and stay flat against the head. Females rarely have horns at all. In any case, the horns seem vestigial; scaly tauntauns don't appear to use them for any purpose.

Their bodies have none of the shaggy, matted fur of a "normal" tauntaun, instead covered in smooth, scaly skin. This lack of hair removes most of the powerful stench that people associate with tauntauns. Instead of thick hair, scaly tauntauns have a sparse, bristly layer of hair that doesn't even begin to cover their pale skin. Underneath, they have a thick layer of insulating fat. Although they are sometimes mistaken for reptiles because of their scaly skin, scaly tauntauns are still mammals.

A normal tauntaun
on the surface of Hoth.

Underground Development

It seems unlikely that a hairless breed of tauntauns would develop anywhere on Hoth. Even in the unfrozen caves that burrow into potions of the planet's crust, temperatures still routinely hover around freezing. The secret to the species' development and continuation are the hot springs and geothermal vents that heat the tunnels below the icy atmosphere of the planet.

Caves on Hoth run to at least a depth of four kilometers beneath the surface, and probably deeper. Most are either made of or coated with a layer of ice. However, at frequent intervals, kilometer-long sections of caves are steamy and sulfurous because of nearby hot springs, and sometimes several hot springs surface in succession, warming even larger sections of tunnel.

Scaly tauntauns spend most of their time in these "oases," simmering in the heat in small herds of five to ten. Social creatures, they remain in family herds for most of their lives. Each herd is ruled by a primary male who controls the herd. A herd usually has three to five females, one or two nondominant males, and two or three young (under one year old) among them. The entire herd protects the young against predators, although scaly tauntauns prefer to run rather than fight.

Though omnivorous, scaly tauntauns feed mainly on the lichens that grow in the warm, wet areas around the hot springs. Insects and small vermin that congregate around the lichens also make up a small part of their diet.

Herds migrate from oasis to oasis in search of lichens, darting through the ice caves toward the next warm spot. Scaly tauntauns follow the faint trace of sulfur from tunnel to tunnel; they also can follow similarly weak traces of heat through kilometers of passageways. Their fat layer is generally enough to keep them warm even if a trip takes a few days. Still, xenobiologists have found frozen scaly tauntaun corpses huddled together -- apparently, herds that lost their way.

Enemies

More often, xenobiologists find remains from predators that ambushed a herd traveling through the ice caves. Unsurprisingly, wampas are the largest natural predator of scaly tauntauns. At night or during blizzards, wampas remain in their caves or venture deeper underground for prey. The warm areas where scaly tauntauns gather are actually the best defense against wampas, who find the bubbling pools uncomfortably hot. However, if it's unusually hungry, a wampa will brave the heat for a meal.

Preferably, wampas hunt prey that isn't so unpleasantly located. They wait in ambush in colder regions between heated tunnels and attack when the tauntauns run from one to another. Sometimes, the wampas show cunning and rush into a heated area to startle the tauntauns out into colder areas, where the predators either trap their prey in a dead-end cave or drive them into a confederate's attack.

Scaly tauntauns are skittish enough that they prefer to abandon a hot spring rather than fight with interlopers for it. However, if cornered or during mating season, they can be surprisingly aggressive, lashing out with claws and biting attackers in unexpected coordination. In these instances, one scaly tauntaun out of a herd usually sacrifices its life to allow other herd members time to escape.

The only other major enemies tauntauns have are the various sentient beings that occasionally find their way to Hoth.

Interaction with Sentients

The surface of Hoth is so inhospitable that anyone who wants to spend time there usually winds up digging into the caves for survival after nightfall. Hoth's remoteness means that only someone coming to study or hide bothers making the trip. Both kinds of travelers wind up exploiting scaly tauntauns when they reach a sufficient depth. The tauntauns are excellent food sources in an otherwise barren land, and they can be trained like their surface cousins as riding and pack animals. Though the Rebels didn't burrow deeply enough into Hoth to encounter or use scaly tauntauns, criminal organizations have happily done so and exploit the creatures in all sorts of creative ways.

Scientists also target these tauntauns for several reasons. Their adaptability to wildly varying environmental conditions is an ongoing subject of study by visiting academics. Their obvious relation to but significant differences from common surface tauntauns and rarer mountain tauntauns in more remote parts of Hoth is also a subject of inquiry.

Finally, scientists study scaly tauntauns as highly efficient energy processors. Scaly tauntauns lose very little heat in comparison to most mammals, conserving it to keep themselves and fellow herd members alive in the ice caves between warm oases. Many scientists believe that if they can discover the genetic root of this conservation ability, they can alter other creatures to survive in low-temperature environments for extended periods of time on normal rations of food. This kind of study could even have benefit in starship building, requiring less mechanical insulation with increased biological energy storage.

Scaly Tauntaun: Large subterranean herd animal 3; Init +2 (Dex); Defense 18 (-1 size, +2 Dex, +7 natural), touch 11, flat-footed 16; Spd 20 m; VP/WP 11/16; Atk +4 melee (1d4+6, claw) or +4 melee (1d6+6, bite) or +2 ranged; SQ Species traits; SV Fort +6, Ref +2, Will +0; Face/Reach 2 m by 4 m/2 m; FP 0; DSP 0; Rep +0; Str 18, Dex 14, Con 16, Int 2, Wis 8, Cha 6. Challenge Code B.

Skills: Listen +8, Move Silently +6, Spot +2, Survival +6.

Species Traits

Darkvision: Scaly tauntauns can see in the dark to a range of 20 meters. Darkvision functions like normal sight except that it is only in black and white. Scaly tauntauns can function with no light at all.

Skills: Scaly tauntauns receive a +4 species bonus to Listen and Move Silently checks.

For GMs Only

The underground ice caves of Hoth are practically virgin territory in an otherwise well-trod setting. It's not too much of a leap to consider that Echo Station partially used some ice caves before being more fully excavated for the Rebellion's use. The caves might extend into the crust of Hoth, providing an entrance to the interior of the planet far from the killing cold of the surface. While heroes are down there, consider some of the following dangers or problems that might require some quick thinking (or acting) on their part:

Wampas are an obvious danger. They lair in cold caves, usually closer to the surface than scaly tauntauns. However, they're only too happy to roam further down when surface game gets sparse. Once they're down there, they don't really care what they eat -- tauntauns, heroes, whatever. They normally try to ambush the scaly tauntauns but will chase them for short distances. If this occurs, remember: The tauntauns don't have be faster than a wampa, just faster than the heroes.

Scalding hot water can burble quietly in pools or erupt suddenly from the ice above, beneath, or to the side of a hapless group of heroes. When one crops up suddenly, a hero must succeed at a Reflex save (DC 18) to avoid taking 1d6 points of vitality damage from the burn. If the burst comes from below, a hero also might need to make a Reflex save (DC 20) or fall into the hole melted by the hot water, taking standard falling damage. Gamemasters also might want to review the environmental hazards of both heat and cold (see Heat and Cold in Chapter 12 of the Star Wars Roleplaying Game revised core rulebook), since both can apply in a short amount of time.

Pirates or other criminals might be hiding out in the caves. They might have trained scaly tauntauns as riding or pack animals, just as Rebel forces used tauntauns on the surface during the Rebellion. They also might use the tauntauns as natural alarm systems -- the creatures start roaring and running away if anything that isn't a pirate approaches.

So how does the Illusion skill work, anyway? And what, exactly, can a ship's sensors pick up? Designer JD Wiker gets to the bottom of things in the latest installment of "Jedi Counseling"!





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