Monday, June 28, 2010

Magical Skulls In Dungeons And Dragons

I must admit being annoyed the first time I saw this photo, of a grinning Gary Gygax holding a skull. Being unschooled in the weird and fantastic literature from which D&D was derived, I presumed this picture was both shameless Gygaxian D&D boosterism and evidence that Gary did not understand his own creation. D&D, after all, is not about the macabre, strange or weird. D&D is no horror role-playing game, and is certainly not about skulls. It is about bold adventurers, slaying dragons, rescuing damsels, and generally acting in heroic fashion.


As I continue my own Appendix N project, reading the fantasy literature referenced in the the original 1979 Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Master, I am struck by the number of stories that involve magical skulls.

Here are three examples, from books I am currently reading, or have just finished.

The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle, features a talking skull that reveals a secret passage to the protagonists, and who thirsts for a taste of wine, which he exchanges for the information, even though he can't actually taste anything.

The Magic Goes Away, by Larry Niven, features the animated skull of a Sorcerer. The Sorcerer cast a spell upon himself so that he could not die. Thus, even though his body has been destroyed, his spirit still resides within his skull.

Web of the Spider, by Andrew Offutt, features a magical skull, and when you peer through the bejeweled eyes of the skull, you can see the future.

I have not yet read even one twentieth of the Appendix N literature, yet at least three books have featured a magical skull. Is it any wonder, then, that The Tomb of Horrors should feature a skull, as the last intact remains of a former Wizard?

What is odd, is that there is no Skull artifact featured in the AD&D DMG.


BigFella said...

There's also a Fafrd & Grey Mouser story that features a jeweled skull. Good story.

Aaron E. Steele said...

Thieves' House, by Fritz Leiber. Features the skull of the Master Thief Ohmphal, and possesses great Ruby Eyes.

Another good example of fantasy literature that includes a magical skull, thanks for reminding me of that story!

David The Archmage said...

I love magical skulls!

In the Quest for the Silver Sword Dungeons and Dragons adventure (one of the first I played) there is a magical skull with a candle in it.

Aaron E. Steele said...

I think I owned that adventure at one point. Must have a look and see if it survived. Thanks for the reminder!

ze bulette said...

Yes, you'd think a magic skull would have been in that old tome of wisdom. Bat made one up last year that you might find of interest.

Timothy S. Brannan said...

I guess it because I grew up in the occult laden 70's that skulls, regardless of origin, were always things of power.

Growing up I had a Halloween decoration that I kept up for years of a skeleton with lightning coming out of his skull. Since that time (1974-75) I have always had lightning coming out of a skull somewhere in a dungeon. Players of mine learned that you can kill a skeleton, but sometimes they explode!
That and Crystal Skulls were very common in my games.

nephite blood spartan heart said...

A big part of why I liked "The Magic Goes Away" was Esteban Maroto's art-the skull pics had the right amount of eerie.

Trey said...

Skulls are passe. Except in blog titles. Wait! and banner art for blog titles..uh..

Yeah, Magic skulls are cool. ;)

James said...

Re: Magic Skulls and Artifacts. True enough, but it's a perfect excuse to throw in The Head of Vecna!

Anonymous said...

The proportions suggest that that's a child's skull.

FYI, the online store of Philadelphia's Mutter Museum offers a papercraft Christmas wreath made up of paper skulls.

John Harper Brinegar said...

And let's not forget the classic Judge's Guild module "Of Skulls and Scrapfaggot Green".

Jay said...

Let's not forget magic skulls turned into characters ala Chronicles of Prydain and Skeletor from He-Man!

/okay, that might be reaching.

David The Archmage said...

Two things:

1. Over the next week I'll be posting a new magical skull on my blog.