Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Purple Wyrm?

As others have already noted, D&D's purple worm began its existence as a rare species of dragon in Chainmail.
Finally, the Purple, or Mottled, Dragon is a rare, flightless worm with a venomous sting in its tail.
No other details are given for this Purple Dragon. Of course, Volume 2 of OD&D, which contains the illustration accompanying this post, provides the first write-up of this creature, under the name by which it became staple of the game.
These huge and hungry monsters lurk nearly everywhere just beneath the surface of the land. Some reach a length of 50 feet and a girth of nearly 10 feet diameter. There is a poisonous sting at its tail, but its mouth is its most fearsome weapon, for it is so large as to be able to swallow up to ogre-sized opponents in one gulp.
Other than its color, the main element that carried over from Chainmail is the worm's poisonous sting. Interestingly, the AD&D Monster Manual includes an aquatic variant of this creature, called the mottled worm, which recalls its first appearance in Chainmail.

I'm a big fan of re-imagining classic monsters in ways that aren't arbitrary but rather reflective of their complex histories/origins. The purple worm, which I've yet to have any reason to use in my Dwimmermount campaign so far, strikes me as a good candidate for such a re-imagining. While I've avoided detailing any more of the campaign setting than I need for my immediate purposes, I have to admit that I have been giving some thought to the role of dragons, if only because it seems a shame, in a game called Dungeons & Dragons, not to use these creatures at some point. So, the thought has crossed my mind that purple worms (purple wyrms?) are in fact related to dragons, if not actually a subspecies of them. That'd necessitate making them less worm-like and more reptilian in appearance, but that's still in line with OD&D's general description of them, while also being an homage to Chainmail.

I like that.

22 comments:

  1. I'm now thinking spellcasting Purple Worms. Maybe even super-intelligent ones with shape-changing abilities.

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  2. I have blogged before of my love of the purple worm...definitely in my Top Ten D&D critters of all time.

    I think your re-imagining is a cool one, but would you still have the "swallow whole" bite attack that has also been a staple since at least the OD&D days? I suppose, a more reptilian worm could have a jaw that un-hinges like a snake to grab adventurers and choke them down...
    ; )

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  3. Sounds fine to me as that's a "little known fact" regarding their origins in Chainmail (1e, 1971).

    Blame language for that worm/orm/wyrm/wurm confusion and pity help the PCs (even more so than usual!) if you make them smarter, etc., too. ;)

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  4. And you can never go wrong with the OW Purple Worm mini, of course: http://www.otherworld.me.uk/images/purplewormpaint.jpg.

    Allan.

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  5. I don't have access to my material here, eing on vacation, but I think I remember a creature related to purple wyrm in Empires of the Petal Throne.

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  6. Maybe they're the larval form of a dragon?

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  7. @Rob
    I've always been a big fan of the idea of wyrms being larval dragons. I think a complex lifecycle makes dragons more interesting.

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  8. And you can never go wrong with the OW Purple Worm mini, of course: http://www.otherworld.me.uk/images/purplewormpaint.jpg.

    Allan.


    THAT...IS...TOO...COOL!!!

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  9. If you’re thinking spell-casting purple wyrms, remember Lovecraft’s creatures from “The Festival”.

    “The nethermost caverns are not for the fathoming of eyes that see; for their marvels are strange and terrific. Cursed the ground where dead thoughts live new and oddly bodied, and evil the mind that is held by no head. Wisely did Ibn Schacabao say, that happy is the tomb where no wizard hath lain, and happy the town at night whose wizards are all ashes. For it is of old rumour that the soul of the devil-bought hastes not from his charnel clay, but fats and instructs the very worm that gnaws; till out of corruption horrid life springs, and the dull scavengers of earth wax crafty to vex it and swell monstrous to plague it. Great holes secretly are digged where earth's pores ought to suffice, and things have learnt to walk that ought to crawl.”

    Perhaps even in their death and decomposition dragons do not die, and their arcane powers feed the worms that eat their corpses. (Or perhaps the bodies of ancient sorcerors and heroes feed them.)

    My dreams are filled with nightmares.

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  10. The Purple Worm that WOTC sold for the D&D miniatures game actually looks much more like a reptile than an annelid worm.

    http://www.vesivus.com/eBay/dndminis/WQ_Purple_Worm.jpg

    Probably not as expensive to get hold of as the Otherworld one.

    Reaper made a decent one too http://www.reapermini.com/Miniatures/Legendary%20Encounters/latest/20018

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  11. I thought they were the full grown version of a dragon's intestinal parasite.

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  12. The two things I always found amusing about that picture was the teeth (most un-annelid-like) and the fact that the worm's burrow is so much bigger than the worm.

    [Then again in my campaign I accidentally went full circle when I wanted a colour for a wingless dragon whose "native" terrain was underground, and came up with purple as the only choice, if only to enhance the confusion between wyrm and worm for my players. I totally missed the comment in Chainmail. After all, I had a picture (which was worth considerably more than 1,000 words in OD&D).]

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  13. Paizo does an interesting variant where Purple Worms are entities that rode meteors that struck the world and burrowed their way down and continue to gnaw away at the interior of the world.

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  14. I was looking through issues of the comic Kamandi (DC, Kirby, early 70s) the other day and was struck by how the creature ("The Eater") on the cover of issue #18 (June 1974) looked a lot like a purple worm (other than being orange):
    http://www.coverbrowser.com/covers/kamandi

    The Acaeum lists the first print of the OD&D set as Jan 1974 ... kind of funny to imagine Kirby being inspired by an early perusal of D&D.

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  15. The idea I've been toying with forlinking Purple Worms to dragons is that the Purple Worm is what happens to a dragon with no treasure hoard to sleep on. Something in all that gold preserves the dragon's innate self, and if they don't have one, or the one they have is too small, it's a long but eventual decline into a mindless worm.

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  16. I love the picture of the purple worm on the cover of 'Lost Temple of Martek' (module I5).

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  17. I always thought the purple wyrm was itself a re-imagining of the sandworms from Dune.

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  18. I prefer to go in the other direction... Purple Worms are the "original", so to speak, and somewhat more wormy Dragons their evolutionary descendants. i.e., Purple Worms are to Dragons as Gorillas are to Humans (or somesuch).

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  19. Just to emphasize on the "larval dragons" hypothesis: Just looking at OD&D or 1E AD&D, remember that Purple Worms are larger than the largest Dragons (and Sea Serpents, 2 or 3 times bigger than that).

    @Reverance Pavane: "... the fact that the worm's burrow is so much bigger than the worm."

    The tail tapers down, right? But the rest is the right size.

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  20. @Kevin: "I always thought the purple wyrm was itself a re-imagining of the sandworms from Dune."

    I thought the same thing. Except the sandworms can be ridden and provide the masses with yummy, yummy spice.

    Purple Worms just kill you. :)

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  21. JoeGKushner:

    "Purple Worms are entities that rode meteors that struck the world and burrowed their way down and continue to gnaw away at the interior of the world."

    Now that is a cool idea! :)

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