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The Sphinx (plural: sphinges, but it's rarely used) is a mythical monster from Egypt, Greece and the Asiatic regions of Earth, taking the form of a large cat (lion, specifically) with the head (and tits, if female) of a human, and sometimes with eagle wings. It has also appeared in a number of fantasy settings. Because the most famous form of the sphinx is the Greek one, almost always depicted with big tits to go with her human face, she is often held up as one of the real-world monstergirls, though, like centaurs, female sphinxes do elicit complaints of "too furry!" since, y'know, cat genitals. Like with minotaurs, some artists get around this by simply making a catgirl with wings, give her an Egyptian motif, and calling it a day.
The Egyptian sphinx, from little we know, is always portrayed as a lion (to symbolize strength) with the head of a human (symbolizing intelligence); with these combined aspects, the sphinx as a whole was often used to symbolize power. Rather like the Lamassu and Shedu of Sumeria, it is a protector spirit. There are several kinds of sphinx from Egypt; the human-headed ones, falcon-headed ones (hieracosphinxes) and ram-headed ones (criosphinxes).
The Greek sphinx is the most famous version. This is the version that sometimes incorporates eagle wings, and is always female. Set itself up on a rock leading to Thebes and demanded that people guess the answer to her riddle or be eaten. If they got it wrong, she ate them anyway. Finally, Oedipus answered it correctly, whereupon she got pissed and killed herself. Because of how popular Greek myths are, everybody's heard the riddle - "what goes on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon and three legs in the evening?" For those of you who've been living under a stump, the answer is "man", since he crawls on all fours as a baby (morning), walks upright as an adult (noon) and uses a walking stick as a third leg as an old geezer (evening).
The Asiatic sphinx, like the Egyptian sphinx, is a protector spirit, but may have wings like the Greek sphinx.
Riddles on the Tabletop
The Sphinx in general is one of those monsters that can be hard for the DM to use correctly. The idea of a game of riddles is a cool one on paper, but unless the DM is good at creating riddles, it can often turn into a game of "guess-what-the-DM-is-thinking". A good DM should make sure to leave hints earlier in the adventure, or to at least make the sphinx susceptible to bribery.
D&D and Pathfinder
Okay, to begin with, one has to remember that sphinxes appeared in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, when Monster Manuals liked to try and be "realistic", but tended to fail hilariously - witness the absurdity of medusa/maedar mating outcomes. D&D basically throws together the Greek and Egyptian sphinxes, ending up with four separate kinds:
- Gynosphinxes are your standard Greek sphinx with some Egyptian thrown in. Winged lionesses with human heads and tits. Highly intelligent, love riddles, natural spellcasters. Drawn to guarding sacred spots. Don't usually eat people, but won't hesitate to do so if hungry, bored or insulted, especially if a person is a moron.
- Androsphinxes are the male, more good-natured equivalents to gynosphinxes. Even smarter and more magically powerful. Don't like company much, and pretty prudish.
- Criosphinxes are fairly dimwitted ram-headed winged lions. Some minor druidic abilities, but mostly just beasts.
- Hieracosphinxes are savage, rapacious, totally evil eagle-headed winged lions.
So, here's the weirdness: only gynosphinxes are female, and all others are male. Gynosphinxes are only born to androsphinx fathers - but androsphinxes don't like sex. So you have a species where the females desperately try to get laid from the one set of menfolk that can give them daughters, whilst the criosphinxes have to bribe the gynosphinxes for procreation, and the heiracosphinxes have to outright rape their way to fatherhood. Seriously, the fuck? Was this cooked up by bitter nerds with a furry streak or some shit?
Whilst the above is the classic setup for sphinxes, there are some other, more obscure branches of the D&D sphinx family tree.
In Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, there are also Dracosphinxes and Astrosphinxes. The former are Chaotic Evil sphinxes who have the head and forelimbs of a Red Dragon; coming in both male and female form, the dracosphinx is an arrogant, greedy monster who seek to prove themselves the strongest and cleverest creatures around, which in their worldview defines who has the right to live. They can spew fire and have the spellcasting prowess of an illusionist. The latter are insane wingless sphinx-kin who are found scattered throughout Wildspace; resembling bipedal, scale-covered cats with clawed human-like hands and heads resembling a goat's skull, these mad creatures pose insane "riddles" to anyone they met and then kill them when they can't answer, which means they are often found inhabiting ruined worlds they have emptied of life. Mindlessly homicidal and capable of both breathing sleeping gas and shooting lightning bolts out of their eyes, they are extremely dangerous creatures.
3rd edition has the Loquasphinx, a sphinx-kin race associated with Truename Magic, which is about the only thing (apart from a more sensible attitude towards sex) that separates them from andro- and gynosphinxes, which they otherwise perfectly resemble. The Loquasphinx was introduced in 3.5's Tome of Magic sourcebook. 3e's Sandstorm also introduced four new "beast-headed" sphinx varieties, which are implicitly outside of the fucked up four-way sexual cycle of the "core sphinxes".
- The Canisphinx is a Neutral Evil jackal-headed sphinx that completely lacks magic, roaming the deserts and arid plains in search of prey to hunt and kill. They explicitly exist in both male and female forms, and sometimes hunt in mated pairs.
- The Crocosphinx is a savage and aggressive Chaotic Evil sphinx breed that has the body of a lion, the wings of an eagle, and the head & tail of a crocodile. It's possible they come in both genders, but they are known to regularly interbreed with normal crocodiles. They spend most of their time lurking in bodies of water and waiting to ambush prey, and are basically just a nastier crocodile with claw & rake attacks in terms of combat and culture.
- The Saurosphinx is a dinosaur (or at least lizard) headed sphinx that is not especially intelligent, but also not inherently evil. Typically True Neutral, they love to engage in conversation and are widely considered the most civilized of sphinxes, even traveling long distances to listen to sages and scholars. Amongst the weakest sphinxes, with no magical abilities whatsoever, they are sometimes preyed upon by the nastier sphinx breeds.
- The Threskisphinx is the only Good aligned sphinx in the Sandstorm book (Neutral Good, to be precise). Like the hieracosphinx, they have a basically griffon-like appearance, with the body of a lion and the head & wings of an ibis. Favoring lakeside and riverside dens, they are widely considered the sages of the sphinx races, and have a particular aptitude for crafting magical items.
5e thankfully jettisoned the more fucked up aspects of sphinx type and breeding by dropping the prudishness of the andros and the existence of the crios and hiracos; however, there was evidently a miscommunication between the artist and the writers, as we wound up with a Mufasa-looking Androsphinx and a Gynosphinx with a clearly lion-like head, despite the text describing them both as having humanoid heads. In this edition, sphinxes are fucking hardcore when encountered in their lairs, though fortunately these abilities can be used only once each before requiring a short rest: they can force you to reroll your initiative as long as you're there; take a DC 15 save or age or de-age 1D20 YEARS, creating an interesting case of "Adventurer babies wat do?" (healed by Greater Restoration, which the Androsphinx has); send you up to a decade back or forward in time (Wish to return); or shift itself and up to seven creatures it can see to another plane, then return as a bonus action. So in other words, if you piss a Sphinx off it can just drop your ass into the fucking Abyss. Have fun swimming in The Gaping Maw, chucklefuck! Say hi to Demogorgon for me!
In Basic Dungeons & Dragons, sphinxes were actually given PC stats in the splatbook "Creature Catalog 2: Top Ballista". Insanely powerful, their race-class went from level -10 to 3, and gave them a huge array of bonuses. These included a magical roar that was basically a breath weapon, magic resistance, saving throws as if it were a Fighter of double its actual level, and spellcasting abilities as either a Cleric (gynosphinx) or Magic-User (androsphinx) - this was early version lore, before the two switched their associated spell-sets around in AD&D.
|Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition Races|
|Basic Set:||Dwarf - Elf - Hobbit - Human|
|Creature Catalog 1:|| Brownie - Centaur - Dryad - Faun - Hsiao |
Leprechaun - Pixie - Pooka - Redcap - Sidhe
Sprite - Treant - Wood Imp - Wooddrake
|Creature Catalog 2:|| Faenare - Gnome - Gremlin - Harpy |
Nagpa - Pegataur - Sphinx - Tabi
|Creature Catalog 3:||Kna - Kopru - Merrow - Nixie - Triton|
|Dragon Magazine:|| Cayma - Gatorman - Lupin - N'djatwa |
Phanaton - Rakasta - Shazak - Wallara
|Hollow World:|| Beastman - Brute-Man - Hutaakan |
Krugel Orc - Kubbit - Malpheggi Lizard Man
|Known World:|| Bugbear - Goblin - Gnoll |
Hobgoblin - Kobold - Ogre - Troll
Pathfinder basically keeps the same setup as early D&D, but makes the species of sphinx depend on the relationship between parents (love causes andro/gyno mixed gender fraternal twins, lust causes crio, rape causes hieraco) rather than father's species.
Pathfinder has the Crinosphinx, a malevolent necromancer sphinx with the head of a jackal.
"An Androsphinx bears the head of a humanoid male on its lion's body." Sure it does, 5e.
"A gynosphinx bears the head of a humanoid female. Many have the regal counterances of worldly queens, but some are marked with wild, leonine features." Looks like she's more than just "marked" with those features, 5e.
A more traditional depiction of a D&D/Pathfinder sphinx.
Amongst the many planes of Magic: The Gathering, sphinxes are quite abundant. Depicted as human-faced, winged lions, they range drastically in power; some reach the stature and power of dragons. Know for their cunning and vast intellect, many speak only in riddles; most are aligned with Blue Mana, but White Mana and/or Black Mana sphinxes are also known to exist. They are able to instantly detect when somebody is lying to them, and can even discern between truth and honest. Sphinxes have hollow bones that can function as organ pipes, so “every phrase is a motif and a speech can be a symphony”. Most Sphinxes within the Multiverse were likely influenced by Azor, an ancient Sphinx planeswalker who once traveled between the worlds to bring order.
Planes on which sphinxes have an active presence consist of Alara, Amonkhet, Mirrodin, Ravnica, Theros and Zendikar. They also dwelled on Dominaria during that plane's ice age, and an alternate version of the artifical plane called simply Serra's Realm was populated by sphinxes instead of angels.
Amonkhetian sphinxes were immune to the mind control of Nicol Bolas, but were unable to shake off the curse he cast upon them that rendered them incapable of warning the denizens of that plane of the draconic planeswalker's malign plans.
Sphinxes are not known to have actually existed as a living creature in Warhammer, and instead the Tomb Kings (an Egyptian-expy race of living skeletons) of Nehekhara (not-Egypt) created living statues of them. They come in two varieties, the Necrosphinx and the Khemrian Warsphinx. The former possesses wings and giant blade weapons resembling a second pair of wings, and bears the face of a man of some importance in history (the older ones have human faces, those created after the death and debirth (unbirth? antibirth?) of the Nehekharans have skeletal ones, and its very possible for the same Tomb King to thus have a Necrosphinx depicting his face before and after death). The latter resembles a skeletal Sphinx and has a Howdah (a carriage mounted to the back of a large animal) in which either an important person within the Tomb Kingdom rides or else a team of highly trained warriors bearing spears.
Sphinx as Monstergirls
In the Monster Girl Encyclopedia, sphinxes are dusky-skinned, blond-furred, brown-haired catgirls (goddamit, KC! Way to make the case for your critics who call your girls cosplayers!) who live in the desert region. They ask riddles of men; those who win get pounced upon and fucked, those who fail are charmed by her magic to try and compelled them to fuck her anyway.
In other works they tend to be depicted closer to the 'original' form (feline lower body, human torso and wings). They still like riddles and to pounce upon those that answer correctly to mate with them.