Saturday, 21 January 2017

Myconids, Vegepygmy and others...

Pretty much every kind of living thing has '-man' put after it in some way in gaming. You know the kind of thing, an anthropomorphic tree, cat, hippo, rock... You name it, its probably been done in D&D or some other game. Even ducks.

It can be done well, and there's nothing inherently wrong with this. Lets be honest, when running tabletop RPG's we've all included one or more of these at some point. But what are they for? Are your players really so bored of hacking and slashing their way through orcs, kobolds, hobgoblins, goblins, and bugbears that you need to start putting frogs heads on humanoids for a bit of variety? I can't help but think that monster manuals in every version of D&D have got ever bigger largely for DM's to give more and more variant things for adventurers to beat up. But the games themselves are so much more fun when your games antagonists are more than just another set of stats with a different head.

And of all of the anthropomorphic weird shit, the ones that most annoy me in this regard are the mushroom men. Myconids, vegepygmies, it doesn't matter what you call them, the only thing that makes them different to other humanoids is that they look funny and, maybe, the DM will use some freaky spore power. Why would you bother? In that context they're almost interchangeable with orcs with funky gas grenades. I think in part this is because few people ever look at fungi for inspiration - Because fungi are, in reality, way freakier than Myconids have ever been...

So here are my top 5 picks for new fungal folk, and combinations to liven up your games....

(1) Explosions and Light!

Have you ever heard of hat-thrower fungus? No? Well watch this video I've embedded. Yes, really, watch it. I'll wait.


Pilobolus is an amazing little fungus, growing on poo and making high-pressure jelly packets underneath a spore cap, which then explode. They point up at the light, blow up, and fire a packet of spores into the distance. Yeah, I know, musrhoom men with exploding heads, I'm right up there with you. Its awesome and you can immediately imagine kamikaze-head exploding myconids. But we're also talking about mushroom men with light-sensitive exploding heads. You know where I'm going with this...



A front rank of mushroom men with jelly heads that the glow-in the dark vegepygmies behind can focus light on to/through to make their heads explode? Well, yes, now that you mention it, thats precisely the encounter I used in my game on Monday...

(2) Lasso Fungus

The PCs have been trapsing through the dense underground fungi forest for hours, braving the cold, damp conditions until each mushroom looks pretty much like every other. The mage turns and looks back, then forward, and slowly a worried look crosses his face... "Guys", he calls out, "Where's the hobbit?". The party looks around, calls out, and then, finally, thinks to look up... How did the halfling get up THERE? And what are those tendrils?



Yes, there are species of fungi that, quite literally, lasso animals as prey. Typically its nematodes (little round worms) being caught and digested, but in a fantasy world why wouldn't they be going for larger prey? The myconid as an ambush predator...

(3) Parasitic Myconids

This has sort of been done previously in D&D with the gas spore/blast spore. But, again, real life is ever so much weirder...



So for example the adventurers are sent to investigate whats happening in a village that hasn't been heard from for weeks. When they arrive, they find the locals are all there, and accounted for, but they're all acting really strangely - can the PC's work out why in time to save them before the myconids they're gestating burst out and become a whole army? If this is how your mushroom men reproduce you've got a distinct incentive thats different to simply raiding or killing - it becomes a unique humanoid race with a real difference, and a disturbing edge. 

(4) Eco-Myconids

Of course there's no reason to suppose all the mushroom men have to be antagonists - there are several kinds of fungi with really amazing abilities to degrade, store or otherwise alter dangerous compounds in the environment, and there are scientists who have for a long time been looking to exploit that, a process called mycoremediation.

If this is your version of fungus-people, they're likely among the creatures who turn up after whatever world-changing cataclysm the PCs have averted (or caused!). They might work with druids, elves of fey folk to repair the harm done to your game world by whatever big-bad has wrought damage most recently. Or maybe they turn up on the spoil heaps of mines and clean up the mess - and the problems for a town really start when something happens to them. An adventure hook might be to accompany mushroom people who have absorbed all of the pollution or harm from a site (an old mine, a place of great evil, whatever fits for your campaign) and take them to somewhere to release this again, or to store it away.

(5) Myconids are Eloi!

Humans think they're so smart, but among the many things invented by animals countless aeons before we came along was farming. Specifically, fungus farming...



In this scenario the myconids are a kind of slave race - they're kept by giant ants - fed, housed, looked after... And preyed upon. The relationship might be akin to that of the Morlocks and Eloi in H. G. Wells classic The Time Machine. One might envisage the fungus people as timid, shy, naive, and vulnerable - would it be right for the PC's to kill off those who both enslave and protect them? Then what do the PC's do with the fungus people?


I hope this has given you some food for thought! If you're happy with your vegipygmys and myconids the way they are, thats fine, but I'm all for using whats actually there in nature as inspiration for gaming. Feel free to say how you handle them...

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