Thursday, September 23, 2010

Old School Monsters: Giant Slug

"The sucking sound increased to an indescribable slithering, gurgling hiss. Even Conan's iron nerves were shaken by the strain of waiting for the unknown source of the sound to appear.

At last, around the corner poured a huge, slimy leprous gray mass. From its front end rose a pair of hornlike projections, at least ten feet long, with a shorter pair below. The long horns bent this way and that, and Conan saw that they bore eyes on their ends.


Momentarily paralysed with astonishment, Conan stared at the vast mass of rubbery flesh bearing down upon him. The slug emitted a sound like that of a man spitting, but magnified many times over.

Galvanized into action at last, the Cimmerian leaped sideways. As he did so, a jet of liquid flashed through the air, right where he had stood. A tiny droplet struck his shoulder and burned like a coal of fire."

(from "Hall of the Dead", by Howard & deCamp, 1966)


Most of us old grognards understand that original Dungeons & Dragons was designed as a swords and sorcery literature emulator. Modern versions of D&D have lost touch with this fundamental fact, and as Chevski has pointed out, have become self-referential. As I venture into the fantastic fiction referenced in Appendix N of the 1979 AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide, I can't help but grin at passages such as the one above, revealing the roots of so many of the game elements that appear in D&D.

Take the Giant Slug (picture above from Otherworld Miniatures). Like the giant slug in the above Conan tale, the D&D version of the giant slug is gray, with a white underbelly, and spits acid with great accuracy. No one should shy away from using giant slugs in their old school D&D games, knowing that this is a bona fide old school monster.

13 comments:

Talysman said...

And in defense of the giant slug's relative, the giant snail, apparently these were ridiculously common in the marginalia of medieval manuscripts (and no one's sure why.)

They would have loved the flail snail.

jonhendry2 said...

Here's an aspect of land mollusks that could be applied to giant versions in order to provide a surprise for players...

Sean Robson said...

Hall of the Dead was a great story. I just re-read it this past summer; it's chock full of D&Dishness.

Scott said...

It's insane how much material from early D&D can be directly traced to some passage in the inspirational literature. Just about everything that, as a kid, I assumed Gygax created has turned out to be an adaptation from this or that pulp. I concluded a while back that Gygax's greatest talent as a game designer was that he was a fantastic syncretist.

Taranaich said...

The giant slug in "The Hall of the Dead" is a de Camp creation. In the original untitled synopsis, Howard doesn't say much about the nature of the thing that haunts the ruins:

Conan, meanwhile, had entered the city, clambering over the walls, the gates being locked, and had encountered the monstrous being which haunted the city. This he slew by casting great blocks of stone upon it from an elevation, and then descending and hacking it to pieces with his sword.

Other authors have interpreted the Monstrous Being as a giant lizard (Marvel comics) or giant toad (Dark Horse). It's a shame Howard never decided to go with the story, I think it could've been a good little "buddy" tale akin to the later Fafhrd & the Grey Mouser yarns.

Roger the GS said...

Hey, a "Monster Scholarship" feature would be very cool indeed, tracing MM creatures to their fictional source material. Next up: the stirge?

Narmer said...

The thought of giant slugs just creeps me out.

Kiltedyaksman said...

Doesn't creep me out, I enjoy Giant Slugs with some fava beans and a nice chianti.

Scott said...

Possible Stirge origin, the classical Striges:

http://tinyurl.com/2endlto

:)

Narmer said...

@jonhendry2 - Love darts? Oh, man. That's nightmare material if you don't like slugs.

@kiltedyaksman - I prefer salt with my slugs.

jonhendry2 said...

" Love darts? Oh, man. That's nightmare material if you don't like slugs."

Yeah, I was impressed when I saw pictures showing how big the darts are, and when I read that occasionally a love dart will pass entirely through the unlucky recipient.

It wouldn't be that strange for love darts to evolve into defensive or offensive weapons, perhaps in the process of evolving to giant size. Arguably more likely than the evolution of acidic spit. (As far as I can tell slugs and snails eat by mechanical scraping.)

And when that giant slug extrudes a bulbous appendage and hits a character with it, the player may be pretty surprised when the character finds himself stuck with a 5' calcium spear.

Roger the GS said...

Striges is step 1. Step 2 is Day of the Minotaur by Thomas Burnett Swann, who describes "striges" pretty much as they appear in D&D. Step 3 is a typo that still sounds cool ;)

Scallop Skulled Skald said...

I'd read this many years ago, and was a bit bummed not to find it in the newly-released Conan trade paperbacks. It's nice to see it in print again.

Now, imagine this as a set-piece encounter. A GM would have to consider a sanity loss mechanic.