January 30, 2012

Reboot Lab

In an October Legends and Lore column that in retrospect veritably drips with hints, Monte Cook contemplates the legacy of the D&D property through its four editions worth of monsters. Should nostalgia for iterations past require updates of old beasties, or are certain creatures too lame to preserve?

Here one might take a page from the world of comics. The reboot that makes a previously lame character cool and creepy has already gone from an innovative move pioneered by the likes of Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman to a decadent cliché attempted by just about everyone.

As we’ve yet to run this idea into the ground in gaming, it might be fun to reconfigure the silly monsters of yore into dread beings no party wants to meet in a dark dungeon corridor.

To dip into the 4E continuity while it’s still current... when the mind flayer empire of Nihilath dominated the world, its rulers made a terrible example out of rebels. Their champions were borne to experimental laboratories, where illithid wizards created horrible new forms of life. They removed prisoner’s brain tissue, using it as the basis for vat-grown guardian organisms. The resulting creatures can still be found, aeons later, floating through the Underdark. Appallingly, they retain fragments of their original identities. Their eternal torment manifests as a psychic aura that assaults the minds of any hapless explorers who come upon them. The vat survivors never truly die, but if defeated in combat fall over onto their jelly-like backs. During their torpor it is possible to gain flashes of insight into their ancient lives, which sometimes prove useful while exploring the ruins of Nihilath. Or sometimes drive the experiencer to madness. Folios of monstrous lore refer to these entities as soulscreamers, or by their name in the gnomish tongue—flumph.