This article was originally posted to the pre-magazine Freelance Traveller website, and reprinted in the March 2014 issue.
The Harpooner is an arboreal omnivorous predator living in temperate forests. There appear to be two subspecies, with minor color and pelt density differences, but interbreeding is possible and the offspring fertile, and some xenobiologists theorize that they are actually the same animals who migrate through the dense forests along subtle climate demarcations and that the animals merely adapt temporarily for the climate change.
The Harpooner averages 25kg and has 3 pairs of limbs. The two rear pairs are used for locomotion by running along the underside of tree branches as well as by brachiating when speed is needed to escape predation. The rear limbs have short, thick claws on long heavy toes which are ideal for gripping into the tree limbs but are not used for defense or attack. The forward set of limbs is longer and used in clutching prey and in defense if the animal is attacked. The oversized hands have 4 fingers (10cm long) equipped with 9-12cm long claws that are razor sharp. The fingers are webbed but the claws extend beyond the webbing.
The head and shoulders of the Harpooner are plated with a thin articulated layer of cuticle plates that protect the animal from the poisoned spurs of its primary prey, the Devil Squirrel. The rest of the animal is covered with a thick pelt of dense fur, giving it a shaggy appearance. The fur is brown with gray mottles and the cuticle plates are black. The animal has a flattened face (some describe it as simian) with very wide jaws armed with sharp carnivore teeth to the front, and heavy crushing molars to the rear. The heavy jaw and powerful muscles aid the omnivore in devouring its prey, bones, shells, and all.
The Harpooner is so named for the barbed, bone dart that is anchored to the inside of its mouth (under the tongue) by a thick elastic length of cartilage. The dart is envenomed with a strong neurotoxin that causes almost paralysis in animals 3kg or less. Anything much larger than that is attacked with the forelimbs and jaws, but the primary prey of choice is rarely larger than 5kg. The dart is propelled by a strong puff of air produced by a specialized air bladder in the neck. The Harpooner “coughs” and the muscles contract around the bladder to “fire” the dart up to 3 meters, then the elastic band the dart is attached to rapidly retrieves the dart, plugging the bladder again when the dart returns to its socket. The socket contains the gland secreting the venom the dart is coated with.
When the Harpooner hunts its primary prey (the Devil Squirrel), it creeps along the branches above a mob of the squirrels. The squirrels cannot fly up at the Harpooner, so this way it can avoid being attacked by an angry mob. The Harpooner then hangs down very slowly by its hind legs over the mob until it is in reach of the squirrels below. When a squirrel is in range the Harpooner “fires” its dart, impaling a squirrel which is almost instantly paralyzed. The elastic band the dart is attached to recoils, and the Harpooner uses its front claws and webbed hands to catch the squirrel and prevent it from falling away while it pulls it off the dart. This attack is so fast that if the Harpooner captures a squirrel out of sight of the rest of the squirrel mob the others may not realize a hunter is above them, and the Harpooner can catch several prey this way. If it is seen by the mob, then the Harpooner can run away before it is attacked, brachiating through the branches while holding what prey it has captured in its basket-like fore claws to eat later.
Harpooners are solitary except during the mating season when males make loud hooting sounds in search of females. The females are attracted to these hoots and come to the males – if she is impressed by his display of size and sound then they mate, after which they both go their separate ways. The young will be raised by the female who will bear 1 pup each year.
If another male shows up at the same time as a female, the two males will perform a ritualized display involving hooting sounds of increasing volume, brandishing claws and teeth, while brachiating up and down the tree. Sometimes actual combat happens, but deaths are rare. Generally the winner may inflict a few cuts on the loser with its fore claws and the loser escapes before serious injury is suffered.
Harpooners are rarely dangerous to humans, though their venom is highly toxic and known to cause a violent allergic reaction. Travellers who explore the forests of Gehenna are cautioned to carry antivenom and anti-allergen medications with them in case of the rare attack by a startled Harpooner.
Classic Traveller Statistics
|TEMPERATE FOREST Terrain||Standard world, dense atmosphere, 40%-80% hydrographics|
|(climbing/running) Hunter||1||25kg||12/7||mesh-1||claws+1, teeth+1||A6||F5||S1 (running) or S2 (brachiating)|