The Jaculus
2021-04-02

The Jaculus

It was carpeted with dragons. Because they were asleep, he stretched out his spearshaft towards a particular gold ring, and pulled it towards himself. At once, one of the little dragons woke up and stirred the others close to him, until the jaculus was awake.

The Jaculus then swoops over the rige and wipes out a ship and its crew by spewing venom onto them.

I found the Jaculus in this book from Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough, a fine piece of writing, zigzagging North, West, East, and South, via the Icelandic sagas. I was surprised to find a bestiary in the East section of the book, where the two stars are the elephant and the Jaculus.

I am reading about Viking-age Scandinavians in order to put more flavour to the campaign I am currently leading. I guess I picked the book as Amazon recommended it to me. The physical book is almost a mook, a bit more compact than the Knock next to it on my shelf.

The Saga of Yngvar, cited top here, introduces our snake, but it seems the beast originates in Lucan's Pharsalia and made its way into the imagination of the saga spreaders and transitioned from javelin snake to venom spewing flying snake.

Here is Lucan's mention (Civil War 9.822-5 translation Braund 1992) of the Jaculus:

Look — from afar a savage serpent, called by Africa
the jaculus, twists round the trunk of a barren oak and hurls itself
and pierces through the head of Paulus and his temples and escapes.
Poison played no part this time; death came with the wound and took him.

Jaculi, Fiend Folio, 1981

(there is an interesting piece of work, in French, about the reptiles in the Pharsalia. The Jaculus is classified there under "boa", the Dragon is something else, but still a reptile)

I had never heard of that monster and wanted to make up stats for it. But, come on, it's been with us since around 65 AD. I looked it up and found that the Fiend Folio listed it in 1981. Thanks to our British friends for bringing the monster to the table.

Here are the 5th edition stats. They list the source for the Jaculi as the Tomb of Annihilation module. The 5th edition Jaculi springs and bites while the Fiend Jaculi springs and slashes (razor-edged bone).

The 5th edition also says: "The shed skin of the jaculi is coveted for use in crafting boots of striding and springing and cloaks of invisibility.". That's inspirational.

In the Saga of Ingvar, the Jaculus is a flying snake, while the original is a javelin snake. I prefer the Lucan version. Regarding Dungeons and Dragons, I prefer the 1981 Fiend Folio version to the 2017 Tomb of Annihilation one.

I want a Lucanian head piercing javelin snake. Maybe 10 feet of pure muscle with an armoured spear head.

Here is my Wolves of God / SWN / WWN interpretation of a Jaculus. It's presented in the text format I use to print for pasting on top of B6 index cards.

------------------------------------------------------------.-------------------
 Jaculus, javelin snake, 5ft_1.5m long                      | Mov 30ft_9m_6sq_t
----------------.--------------.----------------------------.-------------------
                | STR  16 (+1) | Stab-1                     |              HD 1
    Physical 14 | CON  11 (+0) | Shoot-2                    |              hp 4
                | DEX  14 (+1) |                            |   Ini +1
     Evasion 14 | INT   4 (-1) | Sneak-2                    |     natural AC 17
                | WIS   8 (+0) | Notice-2                   |
      Mental 15 | CHA   4 (-1) | Hunt-2                     |   Att +1
        Luck 15 |              |                            |         Morale  7
----------------.--------------.----------------------------.-------------------
     Spring Attack  DEX  +4  dmg 1d8+1  shock 1 AC 13  range 40ft_10.5m_8sq_F
     Stab Attack    DEX  +3  dmg 1d6+1  shock 1 AC 13  reach 5ft_1.5m_1sq
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 hides (Sneak) and then projects itself at its prey (Spring Attack)
 will then stab once and if the victim is not felled, will flee and hide again
 if after the spring attack it's under more than one attack if will flee
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I detail the Modus Operandi as hiding until a spring attack, hopefully felling the target. If after the spring attack it is confronted with more than one adversary, it will flee immediately, else it will try its luck and perform a "Stab Attack".

I like to go 5th edition and give attribute scores to my creatures, I then compute all the saves, while SWN says to give a single 16 - HD Save score. My table, my complications.

There are nice tables in Wolves of God to add special powers to creatures. I am tempted to use them for the instances of the snake I might throw at my adventurers.

I am thankful to the Saga transcriber and its Lucanian inspiration, they gave me a potentially fine monster. And now I'd like to explore flying snakes.