Sunday, March 21, 2010

F Monsters Are Creepy Sword-And-Planet Monsters

Oh, what a week...ANYWAY--let's talk about all the monsters that start with the letter "F"...

On the surface, the Fs are kinda hopeless. In addition to the Monster Manual's flightless bird, frog--giant and fungi--violet, the Monster Manual 2 piles on the giant firefly and giant fly, then the Fiend Folio brings in the flumph and the flind and some okay-I-guess variants like the firedrake, firenewt, firesnake, and firetoad. But then there's the flailsnail, which not only completely redeems the F's, but clears the way to a finer and truer appreciation of them.

To get us into the proper mood, let's start there:

Flail Snail

Ok so a flail snail is silly but, really have you ever looked at a snail? A snail is fucked.

In a line drawing on a Hallmark card a snail is just a wiggle and a spiral, but in reality a snail is a gross fucking monster from hell. Imagine that slick, slightly pocked, stretching moist slugskin forming the spheres and spikes of a morning-star-shaped faceless-vegetable-like unface and then wanting to touch you with it.

If you still don't get it, watch that scene in Microcosmos where the two banana slugs mate on a rope of their own slime while an aria plays in the backround--a thing like that pounding on you with its own eyeless faces would drive you insane.

See? Ok. Through the lens of the Flail Snail, we can now address the rest of the F's in the proper mindset. Though short on mythic resonance, the F's are long on creepy and weird. The F's demand a little sci-fi or pulp alchemy to properly appreciate...

Flightless Bird

Among the many things Job complains about in the book of the Bible dedicated to him is "I have become a brother to wild dogs and a friend to ostriches." Now I feel that we all instinctively know that when our friends are ostriches things have indeed been going very poorly. However, I read somewhere--and I can't for the life of me remember where--that the point of this quote is dependent upon knowing that ostriches were an ancient symbol of desolation because they made wild cries in the desert night like jackals or something. However, I just spent 20 minutes asking Mandy to look for it and came up with nothing so I think it's just enough to say here that it takes more effort than I'm willing to put in to make a bird, flightless interesting.

Luckily for me, and for my F = Sword + Planet thesis, there's Joust.

Frog, Giant

Frogs always seem not quite as cold as reptiles but somehow smug--like they know what they're doing but they also know it's never gonna come back around on them.

Pretty much the only frog that ever worried about anything was Kermit. Otherwise they're just like "Yeah I ate that fly, yeah I just stuck my tongue out forty feet, what are you gonna do about it? Yeah I'm crawling over the edge of your coffee cup, yeah I'm a symbol of death in several ancient cultures, what are you gonna do about it?" While reptiles look like they never know what you're thinking and they couldn't care--amphibians look like they think just like you except they never feel guilty about anything.

Frogs really balance on that goofy/creepy axis. There's a whole Hellboy story about terrible frogs where the frogs are never ever funny even for a second. In Japanese ghost stories, they manage to be both creepy and funny simultaneously--like happy demons, they're very pleased with themselves for how much they are freaking you out.

In the Golden Bow, Frazier tells about a village in France or Germany where they have a harvest ritual involving putting a frog on trial and then executing it, which I guess proves that no matter how well any animal does creepy/funny, humans will always find a way to do it better.

Also note the Giant frog is, I believe, the first of several entries where Gygax gives detailed notes on what exactly happens when you get stuck inside a monster's stomach.

Fungi, Violet

At first glance--and this includes glancing at the black-and-white picture in the Monster Manual--this looks like a pretty boring monster. Also, considering it can only move 1" per round it looks pretty boring on second glance, too. However, I am taking a third glance and thinking if you look through old fifties pulp magazine covers or episodes of Star Trek you might be able to convince yourself that this tendrilled purple saprotroph is, if not your next archvillan then at least a decent mood-setter for when the PCs need to feel that Cronenbergian bio-horror that the ear seeker just doesn't bring.

Then again, why not make it an archvillain? There you go: scheming, super-intelligent purple fungus. All its minions have a wad of lobed indigo goo growing out of the base of their skull. I want it dead already.

Firedrake, Firenewt, Firesnake, and Firetoad

Ok so these things all sound like they came out of a random-D&D-monster-generator-program, but I still think they're all more fun than your garden-variety fire elemental. I should probably write a table for that.

Giant Firefly

Ok, ignore how it's suppose to be called a "firefriend" and just think about this: half giant firefly/half girl--particularly in the role of victim. Some sort of slave used for an inscrutable purpose or abused prisoner. A Rakshasa or something living in an eternal darkenss that can only be relieved by the grudging light of the firefly women. That's got possibilities, right?

Giant fly

Flies are disturbing, more disturbing than frogs. Evil frogs vs evil flies? Evil demon frogs vs evil demon flies? Damn I just wrote a whole campaign. Hapless PCs become pawns in the grotesque yet subtle machinations of the Slaad/Chasme war. Dibs.


Stefan Poag said...

Try to tell me that this picture does not make you want to take a second look at 'Flightless birds.'
I saw that and decided that ostriches were going into my game --- even in the price list under 'riding animals.'

Tetsubo said...

You forgot the Flumph! How could you forget the FLUMPH!?!

The Flumph is the most awesome D&D monster in the history of the game.

James said...

Joust! Now that's a blast, from the past. Has anyone ever used the idea in a game?

Rick Marshall said...

Yes, Zak, we must have the Flumph. Also, I'm shocked you didn't write about the froghemoth, given your predilections.

Pukako said...

Flightless birds aren't just ostriches - living in NZ, we have more ground dwelling aves than you can shake a large stick at, but they're all small and harmless.

Anyway, look up phorusrhacids, or terror birds. Extinct now, but jousting on one of them would make life rather interesting.

Zak Sabbath said...


It's hard to believe, I know, but I'm not stupid.

Unknown said...

so...I have spent most of my day reading this blog and playing a TBS. I very much enjoy it. Thanks for taking the time to write it.

Al said...

My other car is a Flail Snail.

Chris Chalfant said...

+10 xp Flail Snail
+10 xp Job reference
+30 xp Joust reference
+20 xp Hellboy reference
+50 xp Golden Bow reference
120 xp

Rick Marshall said...

Also, extra bonus points for the Uzumaki reference. Of the many disturbing things in Uzumaki, the snail-people win my personal prize for most disturbing, especially the whole creepy quasi-cannibalism storyline. I should have known you, too, would be a fan. Your blog makes so many of us so happy.

Tom Fitzgerald said...

Snails can be hosts to the most unpleasant mind controlling parasites. Very nasty

Anonymous said...

Frogs have always creeped me out since reading Stephen King's Rainy Season.

Anonymous said...

I remember the quote as "brother to dragons and companion to owls" but most of my quotes are from the KJV, and therefore suspect. But sure enough, Strong's gives the former as "tanniyn" which generally is "dragon" and the latter as "ya'anah" which is either an unclean bird, an ostrich or an owl. I, too, recall the bit about desolation somewhere, although my recollection is owl-y and thus Lilith-y.

Either way, it's an evocative quote.