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November 2023

Bottlenose Dolphins – HARP



Welcome to third in my series of Underwater Races for HARP. The first article covered Selkies, a shape changing creature from Celtic myth; the second article covered Aquatic Elves, an unusual variety of elves found in many game systems. This third article is a little different, being based on a real world creature rather than a clearly mythical creature. Although I have taken care to base as much of the information in this article as possible on real world dolphins, I have not hesitated to change or exaggerate certain information to fit a more fantastical setting. This is most evident when discussing the Spell casting and language abilities of dolphins, but be aware that other information may have been altered as well, after all this is an article for a game, not a scientific essay. At the end of the article there are references to some informative websites for those wishing to learn more about real world dolphins.
As for playing a Dolphin as a Player Character, it really only makes sense if the majority of a campaign is going to take place underwater. However, this article does also give GM’s the option of creating some very interesting NPC’s for a group of adventurers which might find themselves on an excursion under the sea. Getting a ride out to sea to attack that Kraken that has been threatening your coastal village from a Spell Using Dolphin Ranger could be an adventure all on its own.

Racial characteristics

Race St Co Ag Qu SD Re In Pr Endurance Power Points Stamina Will Magic
Bottlenose Dolphin
+2 0 +2 +2 0 +2 +2 +1 +45 +15 +10 +15 +5
Bottlenose Dolphin
+2 +2 +1 +1 0 +2 +2 +1 +50 +10 +10 +15 +5

Base Height and Weight

Race Base Height Base Weight Weight Modifier
Bottlenose Dolphin –
Coastal, Male
8′ 7″ 550 20
Bottlenose Dolphin –
Coastal, Female
8′ 4″ 425 20
Bottlenose Dolphin –
Offshore, Male
11′ 9″ 900 50
Bottlenose Dolphin –
Offshore, Female
12′ 6″ 1100 50

Starting Ages

Race Adulthood Lifespan Increment
Bottlenose Dolphin, Male 11 40 5
Bottlenose Dolphin, Female 9 45 5

Bottlenose Dolphins are the most common type of Dolphin encountered. They can be found in seas and oceans worldwide, particularly in warmer climes but occasionally in cooler locations as well.


Dolphins are generally friendly characters with a well developed sense of curiosity. They are often helpful towards others, even those not of their own species. They may aid an ill or injured individual, either by guarding them and offering encouragement, or by physically supporting them at the surface so they can breathe. They have been known form a protective circle around swimmers when predators such as large sharks are in the area.
Dolphins also enjoy playful activities; frequently riding the bow wake or the stern wake of ship and performing acrobatic maneuvers, jumping as high as 16 ft. out of the water and landing on their backs or sides, in a behavior called a breach.
Both young and old dolphins chase one another, carry objects around, toss seaweed to one another, and use objects to invite each other to interact.
Bottlenose dolphins often cooperate when hunting and catching fish. In open waters, a dolphin pod sometimes encircles a large school of fish and herds them into a tight ball for easy feeding, sometimes using their tail flukes to stun the fish. Then the dolphins take turns charging through the school to feed. Occasionally dolphins will herd fish to shallow water and trap them against a shore or sandbar where they are easy prey. Sometimes they will cooperate with humans or other friendly humanoids as well. One routine they may develop is to have several dolphins drive a school of fish towards fishermen on shore, once the fish are near enough to the fishermen, one dolphin will roll over which signals the fisherman to throw out their nets. The dolphins will then feed on the confused fish that escape the nets.
Dolphins will often associate with Aquatic Elves, acting as mounts for the Elves if they are facing a common foe. Dolphins also have good relationships with the Merfolk who live in many of the same environs as dolphins.
It is important to note that despite their usually friendly and playful disposition, Bottlenose Dolphins are predators and are quite capable of aggressive behavior when it is required.


A Bottlenose dolphin has a sleek, streamlined body which, together with its flippers, flukes and dorsal fin, adapts this mammal for life in an aquatic environment. Bottlenose dolphins are light to dark gray on top, fading into a white or cream color underneath. This makes them more difficult to see both from above and below.
There are two types of Bottlenose Dolphins, the smaller Coastal ecotype that lives in warmer coastal areas and the larger Offshore ecotype that frequents areas further offshore and/or in colder waters.
The Coastal ecotype is adapted for warm, shallow waters. Its smaller body and larger flippers give it increased maneuverability and heat dissipation. These dolphins frequent harbors, bays, lagoons, and estuaries.
The Offshore ecotype is adapted for cooler, deeper waters. Certain characteristics of their blood make this form better suited for deep diving. They have a higher percentage of body fat which provides better insulation in colder waters. Its larger body also helps to conserve heat and defend itself against predators.
Male bottlenose dolphins are usually slightly larger than female bottlenose dolphins. As juveniles, however, females grow at a faster rate until about 10 years of age.
Dolphins have acute vision both in and out of the water and have a highly developed sense of hearing, which they use in combination with sounds as a form of sonar called Echolocation. While their sight and hearing may be well developed, their sense of smell is quite limited.
Bottlenose dolphins routinely swim at speeds of about 3-7 mph. They can reach maximum speeds of 18 to 22 mph for very short durations.
Bottlenose dolphins breathe through their blowhole, usually surfacing quite frequently, often several times a minute. They can however easily go for 5 to 8 minutes without surfacing, which allows them to dive deeper into the waters. Most bottlenose dolphins regularly dive to depths of 10 to 150 ft. They are capable of much deeper dives, up to almost 1800 ft without the use of spells.
Dolphins spend about 8 hours of each day sleeping, however deep sleep only occurs in one brain hemisphere at a time. They go into a semi-conscious state, swimming slowly along the surface with very little movement.


Average Lifespan is approximately 20 years; Maximum lifespan is 40 – 50 years (with 1-2% of the population attaining maximum age). Maximum lifespan for males is 40-45 years; maximum lifespan for females is slightly greater (5-10 years) than that of males.


Primarily temperate and tropical waters, the Coastal ecotype typically inhabits near shore waters including harbors, bays, lagoons, gulfs, estuaries, with occasional forays into large rivers; the Offshore ecotype typically inhabits areas out in the open ocean, extending to the continental shelf as well as select atolls and ocean islands.
Adults eat about 4-5% of their body weight per day. Dolphins are active predators and eat a wide variety of fishes, squids, and crustaceans such as shrimps.
A female dolphin can potentially bear a calf every two years, but calving intervals generally average three years. Gestation period is about 12 months.
Certain large shark species are predators of bottlenose dolphins, such as tiger sharks, dusky sharks, and bull sharks. Killer whales may also occasionally prey on bottlenose dolphins, but this is rare.


Bottlenose dolphins live in fluid social groups called pods. The size of a pod roughly varies from 2 – 15 individuals. Several pods may join temporarily to form larger groups of up to several hundred dolphins called super pods, herds or aggregations.
Large adult males often roam the periphery of a pod and may afford some protection against predators. Other individuals may also scout out the area in the vicinity of the pod, investigating novel objects and unfamiliar territories and reporting back to the pod.
Group composition and structure often is based on age and sex. Adult males tend to group together in pairs or in threes. Females with calves associate with one another. Individuals may leave one group and join another.
Dolphin language consists of various types of sounds, including clicks, burst-pulse emissions, squeaks and whistles. They also use body language including leaping out of the water, snapping jaws, slapping tails on the surface of the water and butting heads with one another. Dolphins do not have a written form of language, but are capable of learning to read other languages.
Dolphins use a variation of the Aquatic Culture, with the following modifications: The ranks for Racial Language Written can be distributed to the other Language skills, or put into a third spoken language. Note, although Dolphins can learn to understand languages such as Elvish, they may not be able to speak them due to physical limitations.
The ranks in Weapons can be applied to their Martial Arts Striking skill (see Hammerhead in Special Abilities). (NOTE: A future Guild Companion article may present an alternate Culture more suitable to Dolphins and similar creatures).
The Aquatic Culture can be found in our June 2006 issue.

Special Abilities:

  • Aquatic – The creature is a fully aquatic life form and dwells in water for the majority of its existence. For every 5 ranks the creature has in swimming it adds +2 to its BMR while in water.
  • Hammerhead – A Dolphin’s usually method of attack is to ram an opponent in a vulnerable area with their hard and pointed head. This ability allows the Dolphin to make a Martial Arts Striking Attack, the attack is resolved on the Crush Critical Table rather than the Martial Arts Strikes Critical table and the attack is a Medium Attack rather than a Small Attack. Skill in this ability is developed as Martial Arts Striking. Dolphins will commonly use the Charging (HARP pg 91) Combat Action with this attack.
  • Echolocation (Sonar) – Dolphins emit ultrasonic sounds and listen for the echoes, forming an “echoic image” of their targets. They are capable of detecting a 7.5 cm (3.0 in) target at distance of 110 meters (360.0 ft) in cloudy water and can distinguish between two fish from a distance of 4.6 to 5.5 meters (15.0 to 18.0 ft). Consider the range for most purposes to be 1 km (.62 miles).


Although it is possible to find Dolphins of any profession, they are most suited for the Ranger and Rogue professions. Dolphin Fighters are also quite common, although a GM may wish to substitute the Professional Ability of Shield Training for Martial Arts Training because Dolphins do not use shields or weapons or anything other than very simple tools. Because of this, it is very rare to encounter a Dolphin Thief.
A Dolphin Monk could make for a very interesting character, again some adjustments may need to be made. Because of the Dolphin’s body shape, a GM may wish to adjust the Multiple Attack abilities of Monks to suit Dolphins better. However, with development of a suitable Martial Arts Style, it may be not be unreasonable for a Dolphin to be able to attack multiple opponents. Also, because Dolphins already treat their Martial Arts attacks as Medium Attacks because of the Hammerhead Special Ability, GM’s may wish to allow Dolphin Monks to have Large Attacks.
As for the Spell Using professions, this will depend on the individual GM’s campaign style. In a world that contains Aquatic Elves, Mermaids, Selkies, Sharkmen and other underwater creatures that cast spells, it doesn’t seem out of place that intelligent sea creatures such as Dolphins would also develop spell casting abilities and be able belong to the Spell Using professions. I am planning on writing a future Guild Companion article on this topic, which will include some new spells that are particularly suited to Dolphins and similar creatures, adapting existing spells for underwater use and a discussion of how spell casting styles might differ between underwater creatures and land based creatures.


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