Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Hating on Lizards

Fast Paraguayan Fun Fact: All over Asuncion, there are these little yellow lizards that are all about getting into your home and scaring the beJesus out of you in the middle of the night by showing up on walls and counters and such. Some are tiny...barely over an inch...though I've seen some as long as eight or nine inches (these you bat with brooms). They're a damn plague is what they are; not as bad as the cucarachas, but...ANYway, the funny thing is, they're not native to the country, or even to the continent. Some years ago, a person brought a box of lizards to Paraguay from China, and the lizards escaped into the wild and they've been here ever since. Kind of like the damn chickens in Kauai. Now why anyone would want to bring a box of lizards from China (or anywhere else) is still a mystery...

You might think this is some kind of segue into a discussion on dynamic dungeon ecosystems or something, but you'd be wrong. My brain is not working hard enough this morning to generate that kind of power. No, I just hate these damn lizards. I've never liked creepy-crawly things, I've never been a fan of the outdoors or camping, and it's a constant irritation that I'm the dude that has to deal with this shit when my wife or kids are freaked out 'cause I'm the "man of the house." Seeing as how I'm about the least "manly" man I know, you'd think I'd get a pass or...well, whatever.

[actually, now that I think of it, I do know at least a couple of guys who are "less manly" than myself (they will remain nameless), but I really had to think about it. I'm pretty much a cream puff...though I do like hiking the occasional mountain]

No need for a loincloth. Really.
Lizard men, on the other hand, is something I can definitely dig least as an RPG monster.

Lizard men...I prefer that term to the gender neutral "lizard folk" because to me folk implies some sort of family/culture (which I don't like my monsters to possess) and I think the archaic use of "man" as a gender neutral term harkens back to Old School pulp of which the monster was most certainly born. Besides, can you really tell the gender of a lizard person? Shouldn't we just call 'em "lizardoids" or something?...

*ahem* Lizard men (as I was starting to write) first appear in Supplement I (Greyhawk). They are not present in Monsters & Magic (book 2 of the LBBs), which isn't all that surprising when you consider that the entirety of the original monster list falls into one of these categories:

  • carryovers from Chainmail (and its Tolkien influence)
  • derivations of creatures from Chain mail (horses, for example)
  • human antagonists fit for wargaming (pirates, bandits, etc.)
  • creatures from Saturday matinee horror flicks (vampires, giant insects, The Blob, etc.)
  • creatures from (mostly Greek) myth...though these may in fact be based on film, too (of the Ray Harryhausen Sinbad variety)

It isn't till Greyhawk that we start to see creatures derived from more literary sources, especially pulp fantasy and science fiction. Though maybe these, too, are found in horror and SciFi cinema...I'm not a huge lover of the B-movie genre, so I don't have the "chops" to really give a proper analysis.

Actually, in reading a few articles on-line about where these critters came from (many derived from Gygax's least their abilities, if not their names and images)...I see I'm waaay off base in my assumptions. Many times, Gygax was just "stretching things" to make them fit the needs of his campaign. Many images of iconic monsters (like kobolds and pig-faced orcs) simply come from the artist's rendering (and we've been using those images, incorporating them into the stats and background color ever since).

Well, at least that's better than simply making monsters to fill a niche created by a class ability.

As you might have guessed, I'm thinking about monsters today (well, and lizards...though they only come out at night). A lot of fantasy heartbreakers get dinged (in part) for their zealous adherence to the same old-same old equipment list found in the PHB (and elsewhere). For me, I'm considerably more concerned with the list of NPC antagonists (i.e. "monsters") that I want to include, and making sure they're distinct from "what has gone before," as well as being part of an internally consistent cosmology.

It's not just about re-skinning ghouls as "plague zombies," or orcs as "subhumans;" it's about creating the right flavor of adventure with the right creatures. Gygax made his gnolls "hyena-headed" because he needed something "more evil" and "disliked hyenas intensely." This just feels terribly appropriate to me...I feel the same way about lizard men. While all the entries for lizard man read about the same (from Greyhawk to Mentzer), the best summary of the creature can be found in Holmes's (two sentence!) description:
"These aquatic monsters will capture men in order to take them to the tribal lair for a feast, with the man as the main course! They are at least semi-intelligent and use weapons such as spears and clubs."
Really, that's all you need to know. They eat people, but they have the rudimentary intelligence to form a tribal structure and manufacture crude weapons. In other words, they are (presumably) aware of sentient beings (being sentient themselves) but choose to eat them! How evil is that? Kill 'em all!

Of course, the fact that they are much bigger and stronger (HD 2+1) than humans with a hide like mail (AC 5), means that they're a scourge that ain't going away anytime soon. Sure, a posse of mounted knights could drive them away on the open battlefield, but it's a fool's errand to take a horse and armor into the swamp with the aim of "stamping 'em out." And if lizard "folk" multiply like lizards (birthing half a dozen at a time), how long till your pseudo-medieval countryside is crawling with them, the same way Paraguay is crawling with these little scaly bastards?

Just a thought. I like lizard men in games, because I hate lizards in real life. Those folks with pet iguanas and such? I just don't get it. I've had roommates in the past with two foot (plus) long lizard pets, and while they're "fine" in the cage, taking 'em out and letting 'em run around was just...well, let's just say I used to drink even more than I do now (*ahem*). Anyhoo...

I didn't put lizard men in Five Ancient Kingdoms (though it would've been easy enough to do so) because they don't "fit the fiction" of the game (pulp fantasy versus mythic Arabia). But they're definitely going into the new heartbreaker, if I can make them fit the cosmology. And they're going to be the kind of creature one will feel no compunction about killing, sans hand-wringing.

'Cause I really, really don't like lizards.

[as an aside, if you want to add lizard folk to your Five Ancient Kingdom game, the stat-line would look like this:

HD: 2+1, Armor: Light, Hit/Kill: 8/12, Move: 6/12, Mettle: 4, Save: H2, Hoard: D

The monster works well with the "sword & sorcery" alternate setting described on page 48 of Volume 3, Dragon Master Secrets]


  1. I'm thinking Lizard Volk would be a good term for them. Don't mind the varieties on earth, but snakes - no thanks.

    1. @ Rod:

      We all have our animals we detest.
      ; )

  2. My exwife surprised me with a lizard as a pet for a present once (people that give animals as surprise gifts are jerks), for a while it was cool until it became territorial as it matured, it would bite me and hold on and me not wanting to kill the stupid thing I would have to run it under cold water in the sink till it let go... Nothing says warm and fuzzyy like a teritorial cold blooded insectiivore that you have to coax off your hand 2 or 3 times a wee with cold water...

    1. I guess you were given a Tokay Gecko. Beautiful lizard, but NOT for beginners. She should have given you a Bearded Dragon or a Leopard Gecko, both of which rarely bite and are quite easy to tame (you can definitely tame a Tokay, but it's difficult).

  3. I love lizards! I live in Israel, which is a very warm country, so reptiles abound. Especially cute and useful are House Geckos, who eat all sorts of bothersome bugs; they also chirp to each other and congregate on walls next to lamps (to which the bugs are attracted). There are also Painted Dragons who like to bask on rocks and are very cute.

  4. @ Omer:

    You ain't selling me on a trip to Israel, man!
    ; )

    I don't know why I dislike reptilian pets (or reptiles in general) so much. It may just be that I'm not much of an animal man...but I generally have zero problem with the "standard domestics" of cats and dogs (and they seem to love me, too). But I just can't cuddle up with a bearded dragon (which is what my past roommate had) or a boa constrictor (which another friend possessed). Hell, I'm not even a fan of ferrets, rats, hamsters, etc.

    But perhaps I'm just being intolerant.