Due to the rule of cool, every RPG genre has room for an appearance of dinosaurs. This was established way back in the early 80s with the widely known D&D module Isle of Dread. There has been a number of dinos and other prehistoric animals in every Monster Manual since the beginning. However, an outdated The Lost World view of dinosaurs might be quaint and certainly wouldn’t fit into any RPG genre that’s set in a Sci-fi or modern settings. So, why not modernize prehistoric encounters and surprise players who may be expecting the stereotypical stock dinosaurs?
Let’s face it, if you announce to your players that a Pegomastax stands before them, they are going to wonder what that is. It doesn’t even sound like a dinosaur name. That the dinosaur is an herbivore and a bit fuzzy is beside the point. That it’s not huge, is also irrelevant. The truth is, with it’s bizarre looks, vampire fangs (on an herbivore!) the Pegomastax is rather pee-in-your-pants frightening to behold. Just because it’s an herbivore, doesn’t mean a whole herd of Pegomastaxes couldn’t do some damage to a party or at least make them run.
TherizinosaurusThis one at least has “saurus” in the name. Unlike Pegomastax, Therizinosaurus is huge. It’s another herbivore, but one that has claws over three feet long which are wickedly curved. These very claws gave the dinosaur it’s name of “Scythe Lizard”. Looking like Wolverine from X-Men and traveling in herds would have made this dinosaur a very dangerous one to encounter. It’s speculated that these scythes were for stripping and slicing through large trees. As far as I know most people are not as thick and sturdy as a giant tree…
Bipedal CrocodylomorphCurrent cladistic classification shows that birds (non-extinct dinosaurs) and crocodiles are related. In fact, crocs are more closely related to birds than they are to lizards or turtles. It was just a quirk of evolution that that sent them on their separate ways. However, in prehistoric times, the crocodile family experimented with being a little more dinosaurian rather than the splayed legged, stomach dragging reptiles they are today. Thus, I present to you, the horrible prospect of fast moving, land living bipedal crocodiles. These monsters lived almost everywhere in addition to their relatives which had their legs under them like mammals, rather than splayed out like a lizard.
HeliocoprionMaybe your characters aren’t on land, but you are getting tired of the same old sea monsters. Giant squid, sea serpents, Cthulhu… yawn. How about a shark? Lots of properties have stuck random sharks into things. (Disclaimer: jumping them is an entirely different thing and should be considered carefully before putting one in any RPG lest it mark the beginning of the end of your group.) People find regular everyday sharks horrifying. What could be better than a prehistoric shark with an utterly bizarre set of wheel teeth? Why does it have them? So many questions… Even scientists are puzzled on where those teeth even go.
PantydracoOkay, I’m putting this one in just because it’s my current favorite dinosaur name of all time. It’s actually a saurpodomorph, meaning that giants like brachiosaurus and apatosaurus would eventually evolve from them. Yet, unlike those giants, it was bipedal, omnivorous and about the size of a modern adult human. It may have traveled in herds like the huge plant eating dinosaurs it preceded, but it had sharp teeth for smaller meat prey. The “Panty” part of the name comes from the Welsh quarry it was found in and the name actually means Pant-y-ffynnon dragon. Yet, there it is Pantydraco in all it’s glory, so you might as well use it to scare your players.
Any of these prehistoric beasties will enliven your RPG. In fact, I liked compiling this article so much and the natural world is so much more bizarre than any of our imaginations that I may do another with other strange and wonderful creatures for RPGs.
For a review of the classic module Isle of Dread, this youtube video retro review does a nice overview and makes many suggestions for many edition rulesets.