Monster Monday #21: Nemean Lion
Updated: Mar 4
It is time for the next Monster Monday post in my ongoing series, and this week I am focusing on a creature inspired by the zodiac sign Leo - the Nemean Lion! I'm very aware that I've done a few creatures from Greek/Roman myth as of late and I have plans to draw from elsewhere with my next couple of posts. But I hope you find this creature as interesting as I do, as it has the potential to be a really cool encounter for a party to face and is quite unique. It was said to be a vicious beast - with golden fur that was impervious to attack, and claws sharper than any normal sword that had the ability to destroy strong armour.
The Nemean Lion or the Lion Of Nemea appears in Greek myth as one of the twelve labours of Heracles. It is so called because of it's habitat, the hills of Nemea. It is said to be the offspring of Orthus (a two-headed dog said to be the brother of Cerberus) and an enigmatic 'she' that is often said to refer to the Chimera or Chimaera, a creature composed of the body and head of a lion, a second head that resembles a goat, and a snake in place of a tail. It was also said to be brother to the dragon Ladon, who protected the golden apples in the Garden of the Hesperides. Heracles was sent to kill it and, upon discovering that it resisted the weapons of mortals, he strangled it to death with his bare hands and then used one of its own claws to skin the pelt. He used this pelt as a form of armour and its magical properties gave him a lot of protection. Heracles did in fact kill another special lion, the Lion Of Cithaeron (also known as the Thespian Lion or Ravine Lion), and some stories say that this is where he gained his infamous lion-skin armour instead.
This wearing of the lion skin has probably become the Nemean Lion's most famous legacy! It is referenced in Disney's Hercules film adaptation where the titular character is seen posing for a photograph wearing a lion skin (which is actually the skin of Scar, a character in The Lion King). The 2014 live-action adaptation of the myth Hercules also has him wearing the famous lion pelt. The anime Dr Stone also references this moment with Tsukaka skinning and wearing the pelt of a lion as his character certainly references the legendary Heracles, and the Percy Jackson books also see a battle against the Nemean Lion that magically skins itself when defeated!
So we have some lore around the Nemean Lion, and now it is time to look at some stat blocks!
So Wizards Of The Coast have a couple of great options, but I'll start with the simplest - the Lion (Basic Rules, page 142).
This CR 1 Beast does not really present us with much in terms of a magical or legendary quality - it is after all just a standard lion. But it is a fantastic starting point if you want to make your own stat block (especially if you are introducing this creature to a lower level party) as it has a lot of great lion features! Keen Smell, Running Leap and Pounce do a great job of giving a lion-like starting point. You could replace Pack Tactics with something that speaks to it's legendary nature too! My recommendations would probably be more HP, a higher AC and/or resistance to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage! Or you could keep pack tactics and have your magical lion be the leader of a pride of regular lions! It is entirely up to you!
So now onto a stat block from Wizards Of The Coast that I think fits a lot better - the Fleecemane Lion (Mythic Odysseys of Theros, page 223).
It stands to reason that a campaign setting inspired by Ancient Greece and Rome would include a creature based on the Nemean Lion and I love this CR 3 Monstrosity a lot! It takes some of those previously mentioned abilities from the Lion stat block but also adds Multiattack to make them a little fiercer, Spell Turning to make them more resistant to the party's casters, and some Legendary Actions, one of which is a magical Roar. The AC has increased from a Lion's 12 to a 15 which makes it a fair bit harder to hit for a lower level party. I think if you were increasing the CR for a higher tier of play then I would definitely consider resistance to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage, or some kind of regenerative properties, as well as a HP boost!
Do Kobold Press have anything fun to offer? Why yes they do! Check out the Mngwa (Tome Of Beasts, page 293)!
Now as a CR 4 Aberration, it feels like a bit of an odd choice I know, but something about this really struck a chord with me. Kobold Press always do an amazing job with their lore and the Mngwa is no exception, tying these animals to the Ethereal Plane in a really cool way! I've seen a few interpretations of the Nemean Lion wreathing it in flame or having it be made of gold, and so the smoky quality to this creature's pelt also highlights that it is not just an ordinary lion. What's more, its Ethereal Coat mean that it gets a distinct AC boost, and attack rolls against it have Disadvantage which lines up well with the Nemean Lion's impervious pelt! I do wish I'd found something for a higher tier of play, but I think this has some great potential to be made even stronger!
I've had a little browse around for something stronger that may be suitable for a higher tier of play and did stumble across this CR 16 Beast Nemean Lion stat block on D&DWiki that has some cool abilities - it is immune to Piercing and Slashing damage, resistant to Bludgeoning damage, and it's Impenetrable Skin means that attacks have Disadvantage. It also has Running Leap, Pounce, Multiattack and a special Thundering Roar and I'm barely scratching the surface! You can also check out Legendary Bestiary for some extra actions and abilities for the Lion stat block to make it a little more special!
Time for some plot hooks to help you get this terrifying feline into your game!
While travelling, the party stumble across the shredded remains of a few corpses. Signs indicate that the bodies have been mauled by a ferocious beast, most likely a lion, but this one seems to be far bigger and stronger than any that the party have faced before!
An important political figure that the party are trying to impress desperately needs them to slay a monstrous lion that lives in the nearby hills and is eating the livestock of their subjects. This could be part of a series of quests that this cowardly leader gives the party before making good on their end of the bargain - how long will the party allow themselves to be taken advantage of?
Legend has it that a Nemean Lion exists in the wilds of this kingdom. If slain, it's pelt can be turned into a magical armour that will protect the wearer far better than any normal hide armour.
The party stumble across a faction of hunters and rangers who protect civilisation from dangerous beasts. They have sent some of their best out to kill a vicious, magical lion. None have returned.
The party stumble across a lost lion cub that seems to have fallen into a thicket of brambles and thorns and become stuck. To their surprise when they pull it free, it has no scratches or injuries to speak of.
Another Monster Monday complete! I hope you enjoyed this post on the Nemean Lion. Have you ever heard of this creature before? Let me know!