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Some animals in Pathfinder bestiaries are prefixed with "dire".

Does this come from the wolf species Canis dirus, an early edition monster/template or something else?

Where does this come from and what significance does it have to these enemies?

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4 Answers

up vote 36 down vote accepted

Monte Cook introduced the "dire" animals in D&D 3e, according to this blog post:

When we were developing 3E, we recognized that we needed animals that could serve as appropriate foes and allies for mid- and high-level characters to help druid and ranger abilities continue to be valuable. It was my idea to create "dire" versions of various animals, based on the dire wolf/wolf dichotomy. (I know, it only makes sense in a D&D sort of way.)

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Just to add linguistic background to this excellent answer, dire is derived from Latin dirus meaning frightening or terrible. –  Robert Kaucher Apr 12 '13 at 22:43
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This is one of those things that Wizards of the Coast invented with the 3rd edition, though you're right that it's rooted in the real dire wolf.

In editions prior to 3e, there was the dire wolf, which was simply the larger, prehistoric version of a regular wolf. WotC decided, for some reason, that having more "dire" versions of animals was useful – perhaps for encounter variety, perhaps for the Summon spells – and extended this scheme to other animals. Rather that being simply larger, megafauna versions of their smaller cousins, the art direction put bone spurs and other "badass" indicators on them, setting the theme for the later proliferation of dire animals.

"Dire" means simply "serious" or "grave" – the dire wolf was larger and significantly more threatening than a modern wolf – but in regular English it's not a very productive adjectival prefix and it's dying out as a stand-alone word, appearing mostly in fixed phrases rather than being used creatively on its own merits. With the WotC expansion of dire animals, it took on the connotations of bigger, badder, spikier, and (arguably) vaguely unnatural versions of the standard animal and has become a productive prefix for creating new meaningful names when combined with almost any word, at least within the domain of D&D.

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I don't have any of my old monster manuals handy, but as an old school TTRPGer I'm pretty sure that dire versions of animals existed way before DnD 3e. Direwolves, bears, and other assorted common animals have had a place in the tomes of RPG's for a very long time, and have spread to other media as well. Best example being the Direwolves of the Starks in the Song of Ice and Fire saga (or Game of Thrones tv show for those that prefer it). I do not know how the term came to use, but would guess that it has something to do with how we associate the word dire in modern society. IE someone in desperate trouble may be said to be in dire straights. Hence anything with the prefix dire, would be assumed to be more problematic a foe than it's standard non-dire counterpart.

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Well, "dire wolves" is the common name for an extinct species of wolf. The term shows up in Google Ngram all the way back to the 1850s. But bears, etc.? I've been looking for a citation, but haven't found one older than thirteen years ago. –  AceCalhoon Apr 13 '13 at 16:27
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@KnytFyre could be remembering an encounter with something a DM he played with just made up themselves. It's a simple enough extrapolation, to go from wolf/dire wolf to bear/dire bear, that it's not unreasonable to suspect Monte Cook may not have been the first person ever to have that idea. –  Matthew Najmon Apr 14 '13 at 6:52
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I know this is bit of a late, but here's something to look at.

Prior to the last Ice Age (in the Real World) there were several species of animals that existed that were indeed much larger than their modern cousins. Termed "Megafauna", these creatures mostly died off by the last Ice Age, and most of the survivors are all but extinct. I think the only animals that can be described as "Megafauna" that still lives today is the African/Indian elephant, the Great White Shark, and the Giant Squid.

The direwolf, a larger species than the modern wolf, wasn't necessarily a "Megafauna" though it was the largest of its breed. There are several examples of modern 'larger' cousins that no longer exist, such as the Aurochs (a large, hairy cow), the Great Auk (a really big pinguin), the Do-Do (um... whatever it was), the Giant Terapin (a really big turtle), and the Giant Deer (surprisingly, Austrailian). We've all read history lessons and seen pictures of creatures such as the Mammoth, Sabertooth Tigers, and the Piklu(sp?). If you really want to throw in a Monsterary that's rather impressive and actual, pick up some information about the Megafauna and have your crew get chased by a pack of Ocelots (a bigger version of a bobcat) or tussel with Great Boars (big pig, big tusks, big attitude problem). There are some 117 species of Megafauna on record, so chances are, you can find whatever your hearts' desire for something mean, nasty, and realistic!

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Hey man - good info but not an answer to the question. Here on Stack Exchange we don't do the usual "discussion forum" format - answers should be answers. –  mxyzplk Jun 27 '13 at 21:02
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You also don't need to apologise for lateness. Questions are always alive here, partly because they're not discussions. –  SevenSidedDie Jun 27 '13 at 22:58
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