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Creepy Crawlies
Wandering Monsters
By James Wyatt

A fter talking about cats and dogs, it seemed like a logical next step to talk about what I think of as bug monsters. Again, I'm not talking about giant insects and arachnids, but monsters that take their inspiration and physical characteristics from the multi-legged (or no-legged) creeping things of the world.


Ankheg

Large Beast
Alignment: Unaligned
Level: Low
Environment: Farmland or woodland

Ankhegs are burrowing monsters with a taste for fresh meat. They're usually encountered in inhabited forests or choice agricultural land, making them a serious threat to farmers and woodcutters. They have a hard chitinous shell (harder on the back than on the belly), many legs along its wormlike body, and fierce mandibles with which it tears flesh and crushes grasped prey. Its mouth also secretes digestive acids that deal additional damage to bitten targets.

Ankhegs burrow through soft earth, listening to vibrations from the ground above to discern when prey is near. They then erupt onto the surface to seize the prey. They prefer larger beasts such as cattle or horses, but they don't hesitate to eat humans if no other prey is available. As dumb beasts, they have little incentive to fight a losing battle, so they often retreat from combat to nurse their wounds and look for easier prey. When pressed, an ankheg can squirt a spray of its digestive juices, which are highly acidic.

Ankhegs have vermin minds (Intelligence score of 1, unaligned) and very low Charisma scores. They are as strong as their Large size would suggest.


Carrion Crawler

Large Beast
Alignment: Unaligned
Level: Low
Environment: Any underground

A carrion crawler is a Large (9-foot long) subterranean scavenger that looks like a cross between a giant green cutworm and a cephalopod, with eight slimy tentacles arranged in a ring around its mouth. Though they subsist primarily by scavenging carrion and other refuse, they eat fresh meat when they can get it—and also lay their eggs in corpses so the newly hatched larvae have a ready supply of food.

A carrion crawler's bite is weak, so it attacks with its tentacles. The sticky slime that coats its tentacles paralyzes creatures it touches. Then it drags the paralyzed prey away to eat slowly.

Carrion crawlers move quickly and can climb perfectly, even upside down on dungeon ceilings. They have vermin minds (Intelligence score of 1, unaligned).

Carrion crawlers can't be tamed or bargained with, but smart subterranean monsters sometimes leave corpses out at the edges of their territory to attract crawlers, providing an extra layer of security to their lairs.


Purple Worm

Gargantuan Beast
Alignment: Unaligned
Level: High
Environment: Caverns

Trivia tidbit about the purple worm: The first D&D-related description of the purple worm appeared in the original (1975) Chainmail rules. Here's what it said:

Other kinds of Dragons can be introduced into games, if a little imagination is used. White Dragons live in cold climates and breathe frost. Black Dragons are tropical and split caustic acid. The Blue variety discharges a bolt of electricity. Green Dragons waft poisonous vapors—chlorine—at their opponents. Finally, the Purple, or Mottled, Dragon is a rare, flightless worm with a venomous sting in its tail.

So the creature started off as a kind of dragon! But by the time the original D&D rules came out, they were separated from dragons and, as far as I know, the connection was never made again. And mottled worms were an aquatic variety of purple worm.

Anyway, purple worms burrow deep beneath the ground in a constant search for food. Massive scavengers, they eat any organic material they can find in the depths of the Underdark, swallowing their prey whole. They can sense the vibrations of a creature's movement through up to 60 feet of stone, and they move quickly toward anything they detect, erupting from floors, walls, or ceilings to consume their prey.

A purple worm's most common attack is its bite, which deals high damage and allows the worm a chance to swallow its prey. If prey avoids its maw and dares to fight back, the worm emerges fully from its burrow and lashes out with its stinger-tipped tail to deliver deadly poison.

A burrowing purple worm normally leaves a usable tunnel through the rock behind it. If it chooses, it can cause the tunnel behind it to collapse with lashes of its tail, such as on the rare occasions when it flees a superior foe.

Purple worms are solitary creatures, scavenging through large Underdark territories and rarely meeting others of their kind.

A purple worm has high Strength and Constitution scores, as its size suggests. Its Intelligence score is 1, and its other ability scores are below average.


Rust Monster

Medium Beast
Alignment: Unaligned
Level: Low
Environment: Any underground

Rust monsters are Medium (about 5 feet long and 3 feet high), insectlike beasts that feed on metal, favoring ferrous metals. The touch of its long antennae instantly causes such metals to rust, allowing the monster to feed on the rusted flakes. Normally quite placid, a rust monster grows excited when it smells metal and then rushes to find it. It has only animal intelligence (Intelligence score of 2) and means no malice, so it can be distracted easily by any metal left in its path—such as a handful of iron spikes—even if a larger supply of metal (such as a suit of armor) is just beyond.

Of course, adventurers fear rust monsters greatly because of the risk posed to armor, weapons, and even magic items in a confrontation with one of the beasts. A rust monster's attacks rust armor away, instantly diminishing its effectiveness (lowering the target's AC). A weapon striking the creature is also in danger of rusting away.

Rust monsters dwell underground, especially in mines where metal is plentiful—though miners hunt them with extreme prejudice. They sometimes exist in symbiosis with creatures such as carrion crawlers, consuming the metal scraps left behind from the crawlers' more succulent meal.


Stirge

Tiny Beast
Alignment: Unaligned
Level: Low
Environment: Forest or caverns

A stirge is a Tiny (2-foot wingspan) creature that resembles a bizarre cross between a bat and a mosquito. Though it appears gaunt and shriveled when flying in to feed, a stirge that survives to feast flies away bloated to digest its meal of blood. It has batlike wings (only two wings, until 3E's art) and a long proboscis it inserts into its prey to draw out the blood.

A stirge uses its four hooked legs to secure itself to a creature while feeding. An individual stirge is not a terrible threat, but the creatures usually mass in swarms numbering between six and two dozen. They tend to lurk in dungeons and caves near other creatures, but they're dumb beasts and don't cooperate with other monsters. They can't be domesticated or tamed, since nothing can suppress their instinct to feed.

What Do You Think?

Two burrowers, two dungeon scavengers, and a blood-sucking mosquito-bat. How did we do?

  How well does the ankheg described here match your sense of the iconic D&D creatures?  
1—I’m disgusted, and not in a good way.
2—It may be a burrowing bug-monster, but it’s not an ankheg.
3—Could be sort of like an ankheg.
4—Yeah, I recognize it as an ankheg.
5—Gah! An ankheg!

  How well does the carrion crawler described here match your sense of the iconic D&D creature?  
1—I’m disgusted, and not in a good way.
2—It may be a paralyzing bug-monster, but it’s not a carrion crawler.
3—Could be sort of like a carrion crawler.
4—Yeah, I recognize it as a carrion crawler.
5—Gah! A carrion crawler!

  How well does the purple worm described here match your sense of the iconic D&D creature?  
1—I’m disgusted, and not in a good way.
2—It may be a giant tunneling worm, but it’s not a purple worm.
3—Could be sort of like a purple worm.
4—Yeah, I recognize it as a purple worm.
5—Gah! A purple worm!

  How well does the rust monster described here match your sense of the iconic D&D creature?  
1—I’m disgusted, and not in a good way.
2—It may be a buglike critter that rusts things, but it’s not a rust monster.
3—Could be sort of like a rust monster.
4—Yeah, I recognize it as a rust monster.
5—Gah! A rust monster!

  How well does the stirge described here match your sense of the iconic D&D creature?  
1—I’m disgusted, and not in a good way.
2—It may be a blood-sucking mosquito-bat, but it’s not a stirge.
3—Could be sort of stirge-like.
4—Yeah, I recognize it as a stirge.
5—Gah! A stirge!

As always, please leave specific thoughts in the comments.

Previous Poll Results

How well does the displacer beast described here match your sense of the iconic D&D creatures?
1—It's 3 feet to one side of where it should be. 27 2.9%
2—It's like looking through thick glass at a real displacer beast. 41 4.4%
3—I'm starting to get the picture. 93 10.0%
4—Yeah, I recognize it as a displacer beast. 436 47.1%
5—A solid hit! 329 35.5%
Total 926 100.0%

How well does the blink dog described here match your sense of the iconic D&D creature?
1—I think the real blink dog blinked away. 22 2.5%
2—That thing's hard to pin down. 49 5.5%
3—I'm starting to get the picture. 125 14.0%
4—Yeah, I recognize it as a blink dog. 374 41.9%
5—Help! Blink dogs are everywhere! 323 36.2%
Total 893 100.0%

How well does the hell hound described here match your sense of the iconic D&D creature?
1—This description should die in a fire. 17 2.0%
2—I don't recognize that as a hell hound. 16 1.9%
3—It's a hound from hell, but not quite a hell hound. 105 12.2%
4—Yeah, I recognize it as a hell hound. 420 48.6%
5—I can smell the brimstone from here. 306 35.4%
Total 864 100.0%

How well does the winter wolf described here match your sense of the iconic D&D creature?
1—This description should be buried in ice. 16 1.9%
2—I don't recognize that as a winter wolf. 16 1.9%
3—It's a wolf associated with winter, but not quite a winter wolf. 114 13.5%
4—Yeah, I recognize it as a winter wolf. 430 50.9%
5—Is it cold in here? 269 31.8%
Total 845 100.0%

How well does the worg described here match your sense of the iconic D&D creature?
1—No self-respecting goblin would go near that thing. 15 1.8%
2—I don't recognize that as a worg. 32 3.8%
3—It's a smart dire wolf, but that doesn't make it a worg. 119 14.2%
4—Yeah, I recognize it as a worg. 355 42.4%
5—Those are goblin worgs! They will outrun you! 316 37.8%
Total 837 100.0%

Which second-tier dog or cat would you promote to the top-tier?
Death dog 61 6.6%
Dragonne 151 16.4%
Moon dog 61 6.6%
Sea lion 38 4.1%
Shadow mastiff 360 39.1%
Yeth hound 66 7.2%
Hellcat (bezekira) 183 19.9%
Total 920 100.0%

James Wyatt
James Wyatt is the Creative Manager for Dungeons & Dragons R&D at Wizards of the Coast. He was one of the lead designers for 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons and the primary author of the 4th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide. He also contributed to the Eberron Campaign Setting, and is the author of several Dungeons & Dragons novels set in the world of Eberron.
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