We are back with the third entry into the Libris Monstrum. This time I chose the subject, but next week I will be posting a Twitter poll looking for your input again. This week’s monster is a creature I have always been fond of, mostly for the creep factor, but also for all the ways these creatures can exist.
Person Or Swarm?
The worm that walks is a crazy creature that is actually a lot of smaller creatures. Well, sort of. For those who have never heard about the worm the walks, its most common form in Dungeons & Dragons is that of a hooded figure. Perhaps it is a priest, a mage, or a cultist. Silhouetted the creature looks humanoid, can pass as humanoid without a look at its body, but if you do grab a look at it you realize it is nothing like that. No, this creature is one made of a writhing mass of worms that just happens to be human-shaped. Despite this form, it is somehow one, powerful creature that moves and acts like the person it pretends to be.
Before There Was Kyuss
Well before the advent of the famous demigod who would herald the Age of Worms, there was Lovecraft. To be fair, H.P. Lovecraft wrote about indescribable horrors and many of those descriptions are vague or wild enough that there are plenty of interpretations. Nevertheless, there are a few descriptions that are commonly interpreted as a worm that walks. For one of those accepted references, just read The Festival. Of course, this isn’t the instance of the worm that walks outside of fantasy RPGs, but we can talk about some examples in a little bit.
Kyuss And His Wormspawn
As a fair warning I do not know a great deal about the Greyhawk setting. Nor have I run Age of Worms or gotten to go crazy with that concept (awesome as it is), so if I am incorrect in any of my specifics, just leave a comment! Anyways, Kyuss used to be a simple priest but now he is a demigod bent on bringing about the end of the world. The Wormgod appears to be the original Worm that Walks within this context and has created a great deal of spawn for a variety of reasons. In the Age of Worms itself, this was not limited to the undead followers of Kyuss, but also minions that may have once been living lizardmen, dogs, dragons. Basically, you think it and a Kyuss worm could turn it into an undead monster aiding the undead entity in its quest.
But What Is It?
So we haven’t really discussed what the worm that walks is. First off, it doesn’t have to be a mass of worms, it could be a mass of any small creature. Vermin are common and things like bugs, spiders, or worms are most common. There are two major things that go with the worm that walks, no matter what. First is that it is a swarm that moves together well enough to act as if it is a single human. Secondly, the swarm has a hive mind. While not necessarily required, there are a few other common qualities. One of these is the idea that the worm that walks will always be back. Often this is the result of the idea that as long as one of the individuals of the swarm survives then the worm that walks, that greater being, also survives to return after it has recovered. Because the creature is a swarm, and people are people, fire is generally the answer, as in: kill it with fire!!
There are plenty of monsters that would qualify as the worm that walks, but lets talk about some interesting ones. The rat-king is one such creature, sort of. So the legend of the rat king is from before there were New York sewers. Dirty “modern” (for the time) cities have always had lots of rats right? What if there were so many their tails started growing together? That is the rat-king: a horrible mass of writhing, angry, tangled rats. The truth of the matter is rats are pretty clean animals. Sure they go in sewers and trash, but they won’t create a situation where there are so many of them together and certainly not long enough for a rat-king to develop. But in your world, why not. Hells, go one better and make it some magical accident and it is a smarter creature that will re-create itself from a single surviving rat.
Another great example is Oogie Boogie from The Nightmare Before Christmas. The villain of the movie, the afforementioned Oogie Bogie, is the worst of all the Halloween monsters. He wants to take over the town and is generally an asshole. When he is finally defeated it is when his body falls apart. The thread holding the burlap together into his body is pulled out and all of his insects and spiders and such escape. With that, Oogie Boogie is defeated. Of course there was also a snake in there and if it escaped, perhaps Oogie will be back.
Who would I be without pushing Doctor Who? In the introductory episode of the character River Song, there is a horrible creature that kills people within the library planet that the episode takes place on. That creature is called the vashta nerada and it is an unseeable swarm of shadow things. These live in the shadows and even get into the space suites of the characters. They are then devoured and only their bones and the suite are left. What makes these more than just a swarm is the odd ability to take over and animate the suites. With in-lit helmets, the skeletons that walk around are terrifying. Add the repetitive nature of causing the suits to transmit the last thing the victim said, “hey, who turned out the lights?” and these creatures become one of the creepiest on the show.
Using The Worm And More
As a GM, there are some pretty simple ways to use the worm that walks. You can take the undead cult of demigod worshiping monsters. You could also do a recurring unique villain. Those are simple methods of using them, and there are even more you can find in various horror and supernatural films. I have some ideas for you though. First is by creating a recurring mummy villain. Screw the lich, he is a little over done and everyone knows to look for the phylactery. Take a mummy instead. He can be the powerful undead priest equivalent for some long-dead god. Now, instead of a phylactery (or in addition if you are really mean) do the “from a single maggot” part of the trope. If one gets away the creature can eventually reconstitute itself. Perhaps even if it dies than the villain has a phylactery. You will drive your players nuts! You could also take the idea and apply it to a rogue group of druids who become so one with their vermin swarm forms that they too can regrow from surviving shapeshifted from a single worm.
Do you have any ideas for how to use the worm that walks trope? Any good stories or a movie to watch for ideas? Leave comment and let us know!