Tuesday, November 29, 2011
The idea of monster ecology articles is now so well entrenched in the minds of long-time D&D players that it's almost unnecessary to discuss the actual contents of this seminal article. More to the point, "The Ecology of the Piercer" is, as I just noted, a very short article, written in the form of an address given by the wizard Pyrex to the Wizards Guild of Kabring, where he discusses the physiology and habits of the piercer. There are no game stats included with the article; instead it focuses on trying to make sense of one of the game's more bizarre creations. This the authors do by postulating that the piercer is a mollusk using a stalactite as protective covering/weapon in much the same way that a hermit crab does with seashells. It's a pretty simple idea but a clever one that goes a long way to lending plausibility to what would otherwise be just a goofy monster.
The response to "The Ecology of the Piercer" was very positive, so much so that nearly every issue of Dragon that followed it for many years included an "Ecology of ..." article in its pages. These articles were foundational to the Silver Age, being sophisticated (or decadent, depending on one's point of view) outgrowths of Gygaxian naturalism. I think it worth noting, too, that the origin of this series was in the UK, where RuneQuest rivaled and may have even exceeded Dungeons & Dragons in popularity. Among RQ's many virtues was its dedication to creating and presenting fantastically plausible monsters, with 1982's Trollpak probably being the epitome of the genre. I suspect that Trollpak had an influence on "The Ecology of the Piercer," as evidenced by the illustration that accompanied the article. It showed a dissected piercer that reminded me, even then, of the famous illustration of a troll's innards I've discussed previously.
I liked the early "The Ecology of ..." articles more than the later ones, mostly because they were short and focused more on explaining away goofiness in a reasonable manner than in providing the definitive portrait of a particular monster's nature. They were thus much more easily "plug and play" than what came later, which increasingly seemed to rely on very specific presentations of iconic monsters, often to the point where those portrayals became canonical at the expense of earlier alternatives. But then that was one of the characteristics of the Silver Age and, judging from the popularity of these articles, it fed a real hunger many gamers -- or at least Dragon readers -- had.