In preparation for a pulpy tropical jungle adventure I am building for my players, as well as, contributing to Worldbuilderblog’s RPG Carnival Event, I am creating a series of low-level primate beasts for the characters to interact with or wild shape into. Many thanks to James Introcaso for hosting the Carnival Event for December.
For reference, the D&D 5E Monster Manual provides for 3 general primates: Ape (MM 317), Baboon (MM 328), and Giant Ape (MM 323), two of which a Druid can shift into. Also, the small notes found on the beast profiles below are NPCs from a “lost” party. This previous party has lost contact with the mission patrons, which is disturbing news. The PCs have been hired to locate and assist the original party, or continue the mission outright if tragedy occurred.
When designing these beasts, I wanted to have a few common traits that most primates have in nature. Primates have pack traits, language abilities, alerting signals, and of course, climbing abilities.
For skills and attacks, I wanted to specifically divide Monkeys from Apes. Monkeys are generally more dexterous than strong, and wise enough to enhance their senses. Monkeys bite, not intending to rend flesh and kill, but rather to furiously puncture and disorient in hopes of scaring off threats from their territory.
Apes are bigger, stronger, and have larger brains than monkeys. Their attacks leverage their strength to punch, smash, and throw. Apes are just as happy to kill threats as they are to scare them off. They also have limited abilities to create and use situational tools. These beast do not conform 100% to their real-world analogs, but pretty close.
Note: Each image can be clicked for larger version. Thanks
Howler Monkey (Monkey)
Anatomy: This monkey can run about 3 feet in height and 20 pounds. Their long prehensile tail is used for picking fruit and nuts from trees and for stabilizing their movement through tall canopies. They grasp branches with at least two hands or one hand and their tail, usually at at all times.
Ecology: Howlers are almost exclusively in heavily deciduous rainforests, eating fruit, nuts, and leaves. They rarely leave the safety of high tree canopies except from danger or water shortages.
Behavior: Most howlers are found in smaller groups (10-15). There is very little in-fighting in Howler societies. Males will make calls and alerts daily at dusk and dawn, much like a rooster in chicken societies. These may be the loudest animals in the wild.
Anatomy: This smaller monkey can run about 2 feet in height and 20 pounds. They do have a very long tails, although not prehensile.
Ecology: Macaques tend to live in lowland rainforests, shrublands, river and coastal forests. They live in both lowland trees and on the ground. They eat plants and insects.
Behavior: Macaques live in a matriarchal order, with many more females than males. Males leave groups when they reach puberty. The groupings of these monkeys tend to be quite large. Both the group and individual elder members covet items such as food, shelters, or trinkets. It has been observed that Macaque can use simple tools.
Anatomy: This large monkey can run about 3 feet in height and muscular 70 pounds in males with fantastic coloration, while females smaller and less showy. They do not have a prehensile tails. Mandrills have very large canine teeth for killing small prey, as well as defense.
Ecology: Mandrills live exclusively in forest-river systems, in and around rainforests and wetlands. They live mainly on the ground, but will occasionally live in trees. They eat plants, insects, small reptiles, large rats, and turtles.
Behavior: Mandrills live in large groups called matriarchal hordes, averaging in the hundreds. Their groups are so large, they can be the size of a small town. Males leave at adulthood, and only return during mating.
Baboon (Monkey) (Revised)
DM Tip: This is a revised version to that published in the Monster Manual to give it more detailed traits and to differentiate it from other monkeys.
Anatomy: This smaller monkey can run about 3 feet in height and 50 muscular pounds. They do not have a prehensile tail. Baboons have a dog-like muzzle and very sharp and strong canine teeth.
Ecology: Baboons tend to live in arid grasslands, woodlands, and low elevation mountain areas. They live in both trees and on the ground. They eat plants, insects, fish, birds, other monkeys, and small deer.
Behavior: These monkeys are ground-dwelling inhabiting open woodlands and hills. They live in troops of 100-200 animals. Baboons, especially males, are very aggressive to outsiders of their troops.
Anatomy: This ape averages about 4 feet in height and 150 pounds. Its very powerful arms which are longer than its legs. It also has the largest brain, leading it as the smartest of all apes and monkeys. Chimps have no tails.
Ecology: Chimps live in tropical forests, swamp forests, and open woodlands. They build elaborate arboreal nests to live and sleep in. They eat mainly fruit, plants, and honey, but will also eat insects and even other primates.
Behavior: Chimpanzees live in large community groups of 25-50, made up of both many males and females. Chimps make and use tools. They are ground nest builders.
Anatomy: This smaller ape averages 2 feet in height and 15 pounds. They have no tails. Despite their smaller stature, Gibbons are extraordinarily fast propelling themselves from branch-to-branch and tree-to-tree using locomotion (brachiation). They can achieve over 30 mph moving through trees. Gibbons also have sharp teeth for defense.
Ecology: Gibbons primarily live in jungle forests and rainforests. They are almost exclusively arboreal, preferring tall canopy trees to live. They eat mostly fruit and plants, but also insects and bird eggs.
Behavior: Gibbons do not make nests, unlike other apes. They tend to remain in smaller units. They are very territorial, and will alarm to all creatures their displeasure if trespassed upon.
DM Tip: In the Monster Manual, there is a generic Ape listed. I am assuming it is referring to a Gorilla generally. This version is more detailed.
Anatomy: Gorillas are about 6 feet tall and can weigh over 500 pounds. They have large powerful canine teeth and extraordinary arm strength.
Ecology: Gorilla’s natural habitats include topical and subtropical forests, although they can be found in dense river forests, swamp forests, and marsh forests. A few can even be found in mountain forests. They eat fruit, plants, and insects.
Behavior: Gorillas construct ground nests, unlike Chimpanzees and Orangutans. Much like Chimps, they can make and use tools. Troops of Gorillas are relatively small and tend to have a single “Silverback” leader. Silverbacks make all decisions for the troops.
Anatomy: Orangutans generally reach 5 feet tall and weigh 250 pounds. They have a redish-brown hair versus the dark black hair of Chimps or Gorillas. They have very long and strong arms.
Ecology: These apes are exclusively found in tropical rainforests, but are found occasionally in swamp forests and grassland forests. They eat plants and fruit, but also honey, eggs, and insects.
Behavior: Orangutans are exclusively arboreal. They have above average intelligence of the apes, probably second to only the Chimps. They can construct and use tools, and build nests in trees. These are usually solitary apes, but will habitate with others.