Thursday, February 18, 2021

A Brief Taxonomy of Fantastic Beings

My long-fermenting bestiary post is delaying itself by sheer length, so I am splitting it up into the taxonomy, and the creature list itself. Prior posts in this series:

I have mixed feelings about Gygaxian naturalism. On the one hand, I find it stifling and artificial, without grace or freedom - I am STILL salty, years later, that a 5e DM didn't allow me to use "Speak with Animals" with a Cloaker because, despite clearly being an animal, it is described as an aberration. 

On the is fucking great. I have forgotten more about the classifications of dinosaurs than many folk will ever know in their entire lives

Thankfully for my purposes, Gygax was a terrible naturalist and his nonsense can be tossed aside in service of something better.

The Taxonomy

As with any good system of taxonomy, it's best to treat this as an in-universe artifact. Something that wizards get in arguments over during faculty luncheons. Fists can and will be thrown.


On the Laws of Material Necessity

  • Lex Famis - That a being possesses the need for nourishment so as to live.
  • Lex Excrementi - That a being is subject to processes of balance, that what goes in shall go out.
  • Lex Sexum - That a being possesses the drive to generate more of its kind.
  • Lex Mortis - That a being shall, in time, cease and die.

Some scholars expand this to seven or even ten laws, but four will suffice for our purposes. 

Or, in short: It eats, shits, fucks, and dies.


On Cogitatium

Cogitatium is damnably difficult to define, and great amounts of ink and blood have been spilled over figuring out precisely what it entails. Wizards rarely agree on topics, and on this one they agree least of all, for wrapped up in the question of "what is cogitatium?" is the greater question of "who is a person?"

Classically, cogitatium is considered to be "the possession of a rational mind." Modern scholars have mostly abandoned this reductive definition, on the grounds that using humans as a baseline for rational behavior is some dumb bullshit, and that whoever came up with that definition had never actually interacted with another human being in all their life.

In the modern age, two schools of thought have emerged.

The first is a nuanced approach, the mind along a great spectrum where cogitatium and the mes animalis are intertwined and inseparable, stretching up and down a scale of complexity, and whose component traits likewise exist along their own gradients.

The second school of thought is that cogitatium is the ability to perform immensely stupid behavior and brag about it later.

(Lexi on Discord had an even better one: "cognition is when you can have a choice between multiple options and choose the worst, typically out of spite, guilt, or love". Deus ex Parabola had "the ability to choose suboptimal behavior", which is also great.)


On the Varieties of Life and Beings of the World

Categorization is a great way to start nerd fights. The divisions of life are forever debated in the halls of wizarding universities. This is one of the more common schemas in use. (Come up with your own! I would very much like to see them.)

  • Bacteria - Simplest of all material life, invisible without the aid of instruments. Often manifest in the form of diseases. 
  • Plantae et Fungi - Vegetative life. 
  • Animalia - Material beings subject to the Laws. Members tend to have a secondary classification added on (Vermes, Limus, Arthropoda, Crustacea, Mollusca, Pisces, Amphibia, Reptilia, Dinosauria, Aves, Mammalia, Etcetera, Alienae) and may have a tertiary label applied as well, which include:
    • Domesticia - Domesticated animals.
    • Fera - Wild (that is, dangerous) animals.
    • Sophi - Animals possessing traits of cogitatium, but have yet to come into its fullness.
    • Paradoxa - Animals that fit into no other category or violate one of the Laws. This is a very vague label and tends to be applied according to foppery and whim.
  • Gentes Mundi - Material beings subject to the Laws and possessing cogitatium. 
  • Gentes Alienae - Material beings that, though they possess cogitatium and are subject to the Laws, are radically different in how they fulfill and express these qualities, respective to the animalia and gentes mundi known and studied in the world.
  • Sagani - Material beings that possess cogitatium, but are freed from one or more of the Laws of Material Necessity. While they may often display language, material culture, craft and likewise (setting them apart from animalia) their cogitatium displays a tendency towards less wild swings of volition.
  • Animae - Spiritual beings freed from the Laws entirely. They might take a material form as a temporary projection, but they are not bound to this incarnation. While animae may be communicative, they do not possess cogitatium and will act according to their predetermined nature.
    • Split into possessive spirits (tenerae), manifesting spirits (incarnatiae), and numinous spirits (numinae).
  • Automatae - Material beings that are animated by an outside force, but possess no life of their own and never have.  
There are five additional categories that might be applied in addition to the above.
  • Lusus Naturae - A category for beings and clades of beings that are related to another, but drastically different in physiology or behavior from what is held as the default clade.
  • Sine Mors - Material beings that have died, but have since been animated by an outside force (typically an anima).
  • Monstrum - A contested definition. Typically held as a being whose existence is a direct and persistent threat to humans without additional outside impetus.
  • Contentia - Beings whose taxonomy is subject of heated debate among scholars. This will usually be along the lines of sagani vs animae. Entries labeled contentia will include the most commonly-used definition. 

So, for example, the Lowland Armored Redshell would be a member of Animalia crustacea domesticia, and the blind olmfolk of the Duruland Caves would be Gentes Mundi (Animalia amphibia), Lusus naturae


The next post in this series will be the full list of beings, as I cannot find an excuse to delay any longer.

My eyes were clearly larger than my stomach.


  1. Latin is wizarding language already why is it so rarely used?

    1. For that very reason I suppose - its the obvious choice so people avoid it. Or perhaps because it implies a particular historical element that some feel is tonally inappropriate?