On the Ecology of the Zorbo

"They don't like us, but they like us to eat. " - Ralfish Dortkud, Nezumi Spy

Nomenclature: Zorba, Zorbo, Sorbers, Dirt bear,

Description: Small bear like creatures with fangs and claws and black beady eyes.

Things that are known:
  • It hungers for the flesh of humans and humanoids
  • It has the ability to absorb the traits of objects and items around it, as well as draining magic items of their energy
  • It looks very much like a koala bear.


Rumors and other whispers in the dark:
  • Its dying curse is to leave adventurers with the shameful Mark of Zorbo, a Z on their forehead, which to those in the know is occasion for ridicule and mirth.
  • They are said to give birth to 1 to 2 live young every 3 years. 
  • Zorbo are created by pickling koalas in mysterious alchemical concoctions for seven days while performing a ritual known as "chanting the seven mately groans'.
  • Killing a Zorbo with a melee weapon traps your weapon in the corpse 4 out of 6 times.
  • Zorbo were originally designed to go in steel cages, fired from siege engines. They would take on the aspect of steel, and when the cage burst on impact, they rampaged. They were the winners of a contest, where a wizard submitted his life form. Unlike golems, they were cheap to breed. Because they had a meat form, they were relatively easy to feed and house. And when they became burrs digging through infantry ranks, that put a smile on the commander's face.
  • Zorbo are children of the Gum-Tree God, tending the gardens of creamtime.
  • Some Zorbos absorb brains, and they are called Zorbies.
  • Zorbos are universally double jointed. 
  • Zorbo claws make excellent mace heads, maintaining their absorbing power even after death. 
  • Zorbo were created by religious xorn. They prayed for something they could hunt through the earth, after seeing what joy their underdark neighbors took in the practice. The original zorbo were holy creatures, reserved for hunting through the earth on xorn holy days. The trick was to catch and kill the zorbo when it was formed of the most delicious material--adamant, always put in its path...
  • Zorbo are shapechangers who manifest entropy and chaos, their shape of a koala bear is simply a mask of skin streched across their void flesh. 
  • The hunger for humanoid flesh, comes from their millennial long origin as the pets of demons; favored most by the succubi, they all long for the delicacies of their past.
  • Zorbo are unable to climb backwards, like squirrels they must face forward to ascend.
  • Groups of Zorbos are known as Blots. There is much disagreement among the sages on the plural of Zorbo, many different kinds have appeared in academic texts on the subject. 
  • Once, a stage magician offended the God of Magic. The god cursed him, that all his illusions were factual. Knives went through things. His touch transmuted. The climax of the curse saw his pet bear actually turned to steel, and it ripped him apart in front of a duly impressed crowd. If a wizard sees a Zorbo, that is a sign that the wizard has offended the god of magic, and must atone very soon or else all magical effects become more real than they should, climaxing in the wizard's death.
  • It is incorrect to say that Zorbo absorb traits, they are reflected with a slight delay. 
  • A herd of earth elementals was carefully gathered for a religious ritual, but kept in close proximity with the mutagens and toxins that were also to be part of the ritual, they contracted a disease. Delirious, they escaped, and somehow were able to breed with all the local wildlife. The zorbo is but one unfortunate consequence.
  • Zorbo are actually plants that masquerade as animals. They wait to be eaten, and once they are, they absorb the animal, finally free to walk as living creatures do.
  • Sanglee the Lesser conquered a region and prohibited weapons. Revolt after revolt showed that the people were still getting their hands on refined steel to make armor and blades. Sanglee approached his grandfather, a completely insane wizard, and asked for something that would let him take weapons from the people without tipping them off to his presence. The zorbo was the result, his grandfather's last (and most eccentric) work. The screams of rust monsters and furry beasts echoed long into each night.
    • All did not end well for Sanglee. The zorbo did in fact wipe out all the metal it could get its furry claws on. So, the locals developed unarmed and simple weapon fighting, giving them a serious edge when they faced Sanglee's metal-wielding troops with their war-zorbos.
  • Zorbos live in extended family groups called greeks. They like playing chess. 
  • When zorbos kill a creature, they drag the corpse to a special chamber underground, where a giant cocoon sits. The shove the corpse into the cocoon and spin more silk to seal it closed. Eventually these wake and become a giant meat golem.
  • Zorbos are a weapon -- mutant dropbears bred to bankrupt a magic-glutted kingdom by foreign enemies. 
  • High fashion was supplied with color-shifting furs, and Zellman knew he had to up his game. He would produce furs that could change their textures! He never did figure out how to do that, but he did create the zorbo in his painstaking decades-long experiments. They were so cute they became a status pet among the nobility, who had special bare stone rooms for playing with their absorbing pets. When the empire fell, the zorbo escaped into the ruins, and still haunt them now.
  • A Zorbo is actually just an animal skin that covers a seething, buzzing colony of chaos beetles.
  • Dwarves created the zorbo. They trained them to follow certain cracks and fissures, absorb the best of what was there, and return. Their small size and the purity of their recon made them the mascots of the Helliriak Clan. When the clan fell, the mascots became status pets and delicacies for the goblins that followed.
  • Zorbo population is steady, because their waste is often coated in diamond dust and occasionally contains rare jewels.
  • Zorbo skin and flesh is in high demand, because it is used in the construction of bags of holding. 
  • The Adamant Idol was the toughest construct the world had ever seen. It was worshiped as a god, and it conquered nation after nation. As the faithful prayed to their defending god, that night a pod of zorbo arrived. The faithless bitterly laughed, that their god chose to mock them before watching their destruction, but the confused faithful bundled the creatures up and took them along. During the battle the next day, the zorbo took on the toughness of the Adamant Idol and destroyed it with its own grade of weaponry now in their claws and jaws. The survivors tell the tale once a year. Priests have a pet zorbo in each temple, living in a specially carved nest that looks like a suit of armor, symbolic of their god's protection.
  • The nose of a Zorbo is often considered a delicacy, especially in the court of the Crimson King. 
  • A Zorbo once slain, turns into an inert, solid, lump of obsidian. 
  • Back when beholders had an eye that could see meat, even through barriers, the fey used zorbo to sneak up on them and bite off that eye stalk. Eventually it stopped manifesting.
  • Zorbo reached this planet on the hull of spelljammers, who find them to be irritating parasites. No one knows where they originated, but they delight in absorbing (and holing) spelljammer hulls. It gives them magic resistance.


The ecology series is a crowdsourced series of articles, and contributors can be found on google+ under the hashtag #crowdecology. They are limited posts, but following me on G+ will allow you to see them. All artwork is credited where the artist could be found. Classic ecology articles from Dragon magazine are used both for reference and inspiration; the whole impetus of the idea was to create 'classic' ecology articles that are actually useful. Let's Read the Monster Manual by Noisms is also a source of inspiration.  If you're curious how to make effective use of these articles, read On the Use of Ecology. 

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