Category Archives: Monster Musings

More Naturalist Nightmares

Our local NPR station has a fun feature called “The 90 Second Naturalist“.

This is a short done by Thane Maynard, director of the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens and each day he shares some fascinating info about the natural world. It’s a ritual in our family to listen to it right before the kids go to bed. Two recent episodes set my gamer’s brain to twitching.

The first was about cone snails, two species of which, “have turned insulin into an underwater weapon.” Cone snails are predators who hunt fish for prey. These snails release a cloud of “weaponized” insulin which the fish suck up through their gills causing their energy to plummet and effectively paralyzing them. Unable to swim away they become an easy meal for the slow moving killers.

Let’s think about that a little more deeply; These species have turned a chemical we all need to survive into a weapon. It doesn’t knock the victim out, it doesn’t render them senseless, and it doesn’t dull their nerves. It saps the energy out of them so they can’t flee from the killer they can see moving inexorably closer to them. Slowly. To devour them. At a snail’s pace.

I do not share such thoughts with my children before bedtime.

The second story that caught my attention was about black widow spiders. It turns out that the black widow’s venom has evolved rapidly and is much stronger than necessary for eating insects. The black widow is capable of killing larger prey, such as small mammals and reptiles. Scientists think that this powerful venom is natures way of expanding the spiders’ menu.

If this news isn’t unsettling enough the episode goes on to say, “scientists have discovered that the spiders are even crafting stronger webs to handle ever-bigger prey.”

We have this image of Mother Nature as some kind, benevolent caretaker of the Earth when in reality she’s a cackling mad scientist, constantly developing new horrors to unleash into the world.

The 90 Second Naturalist airs every weekday on WVXU/WMUB and can be heard on the web at this link.





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Bugs Are Cool

Behold, the Cyphonia clavata, otherwise known as the ant-mimicking treehopper.

Which, incidentally, is awfully fun to say.

Photo by Nicolas Gompel, linked from

Photo by Nicolas Gompel, linked from


What you are seeing is an insect that has evolved to look like an ant walking backwards. The treehopper’s eyes can be seen on the left of the picture, so to a predator it looks like the advancing treehopper is a retreating ant.

Being a gamer and prone to grisly ideas, when I first saw the image I thought the treehopper would kill an ant and wear its corpse as a shell, much like the disguised Mi-Go in H.P. Lovecraft’s The Whisperer in Darkness, but the reality is even more cool. The treehopper has evolved so that the same mechanisms that grow its wings create this amazing piece of camouflage, allowing it to grow the helmet-like ant mask as part of its natural body.

Science fiction and fantasy games are full of insect-based life forms, such as the Thri-kreen of Dungeons & Dragons or the Vrusk of Star Frontiers. Imagine the discomfort your players will have when they encounter a friendly race of insect people who grow shells that make them look vaguely human. Beings who believe that wearing this grotesque parody of our species is a tribute to us, a sign of friendship.

Then as soon as the characters become comfortable with this bizarre practice, have them encounter one of these creatures whose carapace vaguely resembles someone they know. Someone they haven’t seen for a while.



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Urban Legend or Monster Manual

I’ve been a fan of since the 90’s.

Run by Barbara and David Mikkelson, Snopes has been a bulwark of reason against the flood of urban legends that clog our in-boxes (and now Facebook walls). Snopes earned my eternal love back when I was an Email administrator, helping me debunk countless hoaxes, and I still refer to them regularly.

Recently a post came over their RSS feed that makes me wonder if a gamer decided to have some fun, because a viper whose bite will freeze your blood definitely needs to be in the Monster Manual.

“This is the deadly snow snake. It has bitten 3 people in the state of Ohio and one in Pennsylvania. It’s been spotted in other states. It comes out in the cold weather and at this time there is no cure for it’s bite. One bite and your blood starts to freeze. Scientist are trying to find a cure. Your body temperature start to fall once bitten. Please stay clear if you have see it. Please forward this and try to save as many people as we can from this deadly snow snake.”

You can read the entire entry here.

If you are running a conspiracy game you should definitely check out Snopes. They have collected a hoard of crazy ideas that would be right at home in a role playing game of high weirdness.

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Posted by on March 5, 2014 in Cool Stuff, Monster Musings, Weirdness


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Monster Musings – Whales, Gas Spores, and Beholders

Recently posted a short story and video about an exploding whale.

No, not the famous Oregon exploding whale.

No, not the exploding whale of Taiwan.

This was a whale in the Faroe Islands that exploded due to a build up of gasses within its corpse, with the resulting explosion caught on film.  While not as dramatic as the Oregon whale, who was blown up with a ton of high explosives, the Faroe Island footage is much more goopey.  Warning, the link leads to a sceen that would make David Cronenberg proud.

Click Here For Whale Guts

Believe it or not, this got me to thinking about gaming.  Specifically, the creature known as the gas spore.

The gas spore first appeared in the Monster Manual for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition.  The creature is a fungus that looks just like a beholder.  The idea is that an unwary party encountering what appears to be a powerful monster will launch into a surprise attack, hoping to kill the beholder before it can destroy them.  But upon striking the gas spore, it explodes and covers the party with a choking cloud of fungus that will infect the characters and kill them within 24 hours, unless they can cure the infection.  New gas spores grow within the victims’ corpses and drift off into the dungeon, waiting for more hapless adventurers.

In other words, the gas spore is one of those creatures that lives in a Gygaxian world for the sole purpose of letting a DM screw with the players.  This is something I’m okay with.  Fantasy worlds and faerie tales are filled with creatures whose existence makes no logical sense.  I don’t understand why some gamers have a problem accepting the gas spore but have no problems with the beholder.  Still, humans are pattern-seeking primates and I am no exception, so I came up with a new relationship between these two creatures.

Beholders are powerful beings, but not immortal.  When a beholder dies due to age or sickness, its corpse undergoes a transformation.  It continues to float mindlessly through the dark underground places, rotting inside and building up pressure until it is ready to burst.  When an adventurer or monster strikes the corpse, it explodes and infects the attacker.

The mature gas spore is a beholder’s corpse.  The new gas spores born from the bodies of fallen adventurers are the larval forms of new beholders.  This forms a grotesque circle of life and death where dying characters become the birth place for all new horrors.


Posted by on November 27, 2013 in Monster Musings, World Design


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