Saturday, 1 May 2010

Lava Children and their ilk

On page 61 of the 1st edition of the Fiend Folio, there appeared an entry describing creatures called Lava Children.

It was one of the many critters in that book illustrated by Russ Nicholson, an artist whose work I really like for the most part, but I cannot find it in me to feel the love for this particular illustration. It's been described most often as "Alfred E. Neuman in a bondage harness".

The description of the creatures is pretty lack-lustre; they're pretty much just another humanoid monster with a bit of a gimmick — in this case they're "immune" to metal. Whack one of these guys with a sword and it just passes right through without even disturbing that stupidly vacant grin, and of course they can just reach straight through your wonderful plus one-gazillion Plate-mail of Awesomeness and rip out your spleen.

Meh, boring.

Later on, in one of TSR's modules (Slave Lords, I think) and then in the Monster Manual II (p.82), there appeared a critter called a Magman. It was a bit more conceptually interesting than the Lava Child, being a non-aggressive but mischievous creature that would most likely run away from a fight and would probably only cause major problems for a party of PCs if they were acting like pricks.

Which, let's face it, most PCs do, most of the time.

This is another illustration that I find pretty underwhelming, along with most of the pictures in the MMII. The illustration of that book was reasonably competent I guess, but I can't think of any images that really rang my bells. A couple of the grues maybe. Overall, the illustrations were boring.

The Monster Manual 3e reintroduced the Magman, but called them Magmin — I'm not sure, but I think that's supposed to be the collective noun for them. Again, they made them mischeivous rather than malicious, which can introduce some interesting moral quandaries for Good-aligned PCs who are being dangerously inconvenienced by their fire-play. They also made them a tad more interesting from the DM's point of view by leveraging their fire-elemental nature to make them more interesting combat opponents.

The 3e Magman, being as hot as the lava in which it plays, is actually damaging to get close to, and if you whack it with your sword or axe or whatever, there's a good chance that it will actually melt away.

That's the sort of thing I like when I'm being a bastardly GM, because of the howls of outrage from players when they realise they just ruined one of their precious posessions, and better still because they did it to themselves by attempting to brutalize creatures who were really just playing with them.

I like the 3e illustration of a Magman a lot better than the MMII version, though in my opinion it looks less like a playful elemental creature and more like a deformed dirty old man leching around a hot-tub.

I don't know exactly where I found this illustration (Maybe a Dragon or Dungeon mag?) but to me it evokes a much greater sense of playfulness than the MM3e illustration. It also feels a lot more innocent than the MM3e dirty old man.

It inspires me to rewrite the Lava Child more in the Magman mould.

I'd play up the sense of friendly, playful innocence, and make them actually child-like in character. Unlike the Magman, which is actively mischeivous and enjoys setting things on fire, these things would do so purely from ignorance and playfulness. They would be literally unable to conceive of how they or their molten environment could possibly be harmful, so they might playfully splash PCs with lava or throw magma-balls at them — but only to make them laugh. If actually told that their actions were hurtful, they'd assume it was some kind of pretending-game; they might go along with it as long as it amused them, but without any real sense of the situation. I'd run them pretty much like very young children at play.

I see this creature as being only semi-solid, and so rather than making it actually immune to metal (like the Lava Child) I'd give it a high rate of regeneration to reflect the way in which its molten-rock body could reform itself. Perhaps the regeneration would reduce over time if it leaves the lava, and eventually actually turn into progressive damage unless it gets back to its magma home.

I'd keep the 3e Magmin's possibility of melting any metal stuck into them, and its damage-causing heat aura. They'd ignite any flammable material they touch, of course. Grabbing a spear shaft would burn it through in an instant, and cotton clothing would go up in flames if they just brush against it. Thrown oil would ignite before it could even touch them, and if they handled a ceramic flask of lamp-oil it would probably explode — no doubt causing them to collapse in a giggling fit at the pretty lights.

The creatures could come out of the magma in which they live, but normal solid rock would feel icy cold to them; they'd be uncomfortable, and if they stayed out too long they'd risk the equivalent of frostbite and could potentially even freeze to death. They might treat solid rock as we'd treat snow, and might dash out to play in it for a while, maybe scooping up handfuls of rock for "snowball" fights before heading back for the comfort of their lava stream.

Their nature would make them terribly vulnerable to cold-based attacks; a bucket of water — even boiling water — would hurt them badly, as if a bucket of boiling oil had been thrown on a human being.

My aim here is to create a hazard rather than a monster, a creature which might potentially do great harm, but which would do so not just from ignorance, but from a desire to please. I think it might make an entertaining moral problem for a more-or-less Good party who have to get past them without going all mad-slasher-in-a-kindergarten on them.