A Baazrag By Any Other Name

In Dark Sun, there are two creatures with the name baazrag. This is their story.

The mystery creature in Brom’s “the Passage” which has been associated with the baazrag.

In September 1991, the Dragon 173 article “A Letter from the Wanderer” by Troy Denning has this to say regarding the intelligent races:

This species may have been classified as either an old or a new race, as long it was intelligent. I have met (and fled from) undead of the human, elven, dwarven, halfling, gith, half-giant, giant, mul, and baazrag races, among others.

In October 1991, Troy Denning’s novel Verdant Passage makes mention of them in the very first Chapter:

The hulking baazrag paused in its difficult task of hauling up the bricks. Creasing its sloping brow, it fixed its eyes on the men, then cocked its high-crested head in confusion. As the beast’s glance dropped to the empty space beneath the king’s feet, its cavernous nostrils flared in alarm and its muzzle fell open, reveling four sharp, yellow canines. The baazrag stepped back and raised its arms in a defensive display.

Baxa’s take on the baazrag from the 2e “Freedom” adventure.

We can see from these entries that Troy Denning’s baazrag is humanoid and intelligent. Many have associated the baazrag with the haired creature found on the cover of the 2e Dark Sun Campaign Setting boxed set and rule book, though it is more likely that Brom’s “The Passage” (which was the name of this cover work) was completed early enough that the monsters had yet to be assigned any identity. Moreover, based on the look and the fin on the creature’s back, it is likely that it may have been the inspiration for the anakore whose appearance Brom and Baxa later refined. This creature not being assigned as a baazrag is also strengthened by the Baxa image in 1991’s “Freedom” adventure that shows (presumably) two Denning baazrags which deviate from the Brom painting.

Dragon 185 however gives us a new baazrag in an article by Tim Brown titled “Mastered, Yet Untamed” with the creature becoming a dog-sized creature with four legs. This didn’t go unnoticed though, as Skip Williams answers a letter on the subject in Dragon 190’s Sage Advice:

Gabriel Eggers’ take on the baazrag/boneclaw for the Dark Sun online community.

Issue #185 of DRAGON Magazine included a Monstrous Compendium sheet for a DARK SUN setting creature called the baazrag. The sheet describes a shy, weak creature that can be kept as a pet or to catch vermin. In contrast, the novel The Verdant Passage presents the baazrag as a gladiatorial beast that is 400 pounds of fur and muscle. Can you set things straight?

My researches into this question yielded two possible answers. One, the baazrag (pronounced BAAZ-rag) is indeed a pintsized, timid creature, while the baazrag (pronounced baas-RAG) is a much rarer, ferocious giant, An inexplicable linguistic quirk gave both creatures similar names, (Hey! Don’t look at me like that, that’s what someone in the know told me!) Two, a normal baazrag is small and generally inoffensive, but some institution or individual who breeds and trains domesticated baazrags managed to, at least once, produce a 400-pound mutant specimen with the nasty disposition that’s particularly well suited for ripping gladiators to shreds.

The Denning baazrag found in the 3e Athas.org Terrors of Athas supplement.

I find this a poor explanation and believe it was a simple mixup during development, the name was seen and reused in Dragon 185 not realizing that Denning had established a concept already. Whatever the reason, the baazrag continued to be the four-legged kind in the 2e Dark Sun Monstrous Compendium II with the name boneclaw attributed to larger versions of the creature. In the days of the community-driven 3e Dark Sun, the baazrag name becomes assigned back to the Denning version in the Athas.org “Terrors of Athas” supplement and the four-legged version has only the name of boneclaw (lesser and greater). Here is the baazrag description from the supplement:

Baazrag have been described as “600 pounds of fur and muscle.” Generally they only stand to their full height of nine feet when they are angered. Their skin is a mottled red and gray, and a mop of dark hair runs from their foreheads all the way down to the backs of their thighs, but their faces and chests are scaled and hairless. Their arms are disproportionately large for their bodies, and their hands doubly so. With three fingers and a thumb on each hand, the baazrag has hands as large as a half-giant, even though they stand less than half their height. Because of the baazrag’s powerful leg muscles, they are often used to pull carts within the cities. A baazrag‘s hump is used for water storage and diminishes in size as the creature dehydrates.

In the 4e Creature Catalog we see the baazrag continue to be the four-legged variety and the boneclaw moniker being dropped, though despite that, Michal Vondracek titled one of his 2009 works “Baazrag” which uses the creature from Brom’s “The Passage” as a guide (and I daresay is even better than the Brom version). So great is his baazrag image that one is compelled to wish that the baazrag name, or any creature for that matter, could be applied to so amazing a foe.

Whatever the cause of the confusion regarding the baazrag name, there has been mixed use of the name identifying either a humanoid race or a four-legged critter. With TSR/WotC acknowledging the latter in published works after Troy Denning’s 1991 writings, it’s unlikely that the Denning baazrag will make an appearance… at least in name.

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