Friday, 26 October 2012

On the Physiology of... the Otyugh - Part One.

Initial thoughts...

As I mentioned in my very first blog post, there are some things in D&D that are odd. At least, they are to me. Now, I know that Gary Gygax (All Hail To His Name) was a Tolkien fan, but there are other elements he put into the game via the Monster Manual that are an enjoyable mixing of ideas, metaphors, influences and downright leftfield thinking. When I first started playing D&D, it seemed more like a Heironymous Bosch painting rather than a Tolkien Saxo-Celtic thing. So, on the one hand you have people and sort-of people with armour and weapons from the medieval period. On the other you have various strange things that are recognisable but at the same time a weird mutation or mixing of various creatures. The fact that the game had these elements and then preferred to have them oppose each other underground - in a dungeon of all places – is to my mind wonderfully odd. Actually, the concept of a dungeon as a setting is also odd – but that’s something for a different discussion at some later point...

I didn’t have access to the Monster Manual when I was a new player nor for quite some time after that. I just had to try and absorb the creatures that the game and my Dungeon Master sent my way. I could deal with Orcs and Goblins. I originally thought Kobolds were called ‘Cobalts’ and so imagined them to be small blue humanoid things. Luckily, I didn’t visualise them as Smurfs. But I remember the first encounter with a Carrion Crawler and wondering ‘Who the hell would think up something like that?’ in way that was part-revulsion, part-inspiration. When I actually read the Monster Manual for 1st ed’ AD&D, I found that the Carrion Crawler was relatively ‘sensible’ as a creature design compared to some of the other things in the book. Running parallel to that was my completist fussy outlook on illustration (an affliction I still have) – certain pictures didn’t really match the written description that well. I’ve always thought that this was a bit of shame, because sometimes the text would suggest something interestingly bizarre in terms of how it might look, where it lived, how it lived, etc – but then the artwork would sell that short or miss the point a bit. This isn’t to say that the illustrators and the illustrations failed, far from it. I love all of the pictures. I just think that some opportunities have been missed. Similarly, the text and the illustration may match up okay, but they would suggest certain interesting bits of pondering (i.e. the Lurker Above).

With that in mind, I recently re-read the Monster Manual and remembered that ‘the picture not matching the text that well’ applied to some interesting creatures. I started scribbling/doodling/drawing. I may at some point actually get around to realising these scribbles into some sort of nice finished piece, but perhaps that would suit another blog of completed piccies.

Anyway, the first subject for this head scratching meets pencil scratching will be the Otyugh. This is how it looks in the Monster Manual:

Various depictions of the Otyugh in subsequent versions of D&D repeat the general outline of this drawing.

Here’s a general gist of what the Monster Manual says about the Otyugh: weird - scavenger of dung, offal, and carrion – lives underground and is averse to light – lives and thrives in piles of dung and rubbish – has a sensory organ stalk with two eyes – has two tentacles with sharp ridges – has a sucker-like mouth with many teeth - it’s biggish (Size M to L) and fairly tough (AC 3).

Taking that into account, questions arose when comparing the words to the picture. Questions such as:

Er... the text doesn’t mention legs.

If it has legs, how does it reach down and eat its food? Are dungeons piled high with its chosen foodstuff (a horrible thought), so it just wades in?

The drawing doesn’t show the sucker-like mouth.

Okay, yes, this might be pedantry. Okay, it is pedantry. In my defence, if I separate out the text and ignore the drawing, a different sort of Otyugh takes shape...

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