Monsterous Monday: The Carrion Crawler – Not Just For Caves Anymore!

The carrion crawler has to be one of my all-time favorite monsters. What’s not to love about a giant, armor-plated maggot that paralyzes everyone? That said, I’m not as big a fan of the 5th edition incarnation of this classic monster. I prefer older versions of the monster that had eight attacks with paralyzing tentacles and a bite that only did 1-2 points of damage. The threat wasn’t that a carrion crawler was going to take someone down with a bite, the threat was that he was going to paralyze everybody and then start munching on one poor bastard while everyone else lay there frozen.

This is still my favorite illustration of the carrion crawler
This is still my favorite illustration of the carrion crawler

That’s how things worked in my games, anyway. Carrion crawlers would lash out mindlessly with one goal: make everything near me stop moving. Once that was accomplished, the crawler would drag off one of his recently immobile victims and begin to devour them. Instead of a TPK, I’d select one fallen character at random for the crawler to begin munching on. Then as everyone slowly came to they still had to deal with this monster over in the corner eating their buddy.

Man, we sure had some good times playing Dungeons and Dragons back in the day.

I liked this creature so much, I brought it out of the caverns and into the surface world. In my alternate ecology for the carrion crawler I changed climate/terrain to “temperate.” I made them burrowing creatures, who would dig shallow holes to lay in, but they would also make use of any ready-made crevasse or cave to lair in. The danger was rarely that you would run into one of these creatures in his lair though – the best way to run into a carrion crawler was to hang around a bunch of corpses for a while. I treat them like fruit flies: you don’t see any of the little pests anywhere in your house, but if you leave an unpeeled banana on the table for a few hours you have an infestation somehow.

This created a fun situation in my games, and made my player’s think more about the corpses they leave behind than adventurers usually do. If they were camping in the wilderness and got ambushed by goblins they wouldn’t just kill the goblins and leave them where they lay (like most adventurers) and go back to sleep – they would have a serious discussion about whether they should burn these bodies or pack up camp and move before “the crawlers” showed up. If they invaded some lair and slaughtered a pack of some creature or another and then went back to town for a couple of days you could bet there would be some crawlers in that cave when they got back if nobody did anything with the corpses. In the aftermath of a large battle, dozens of crawlers would show up to feast on the fallen.

Carrion crawlers became a ubiquitous threat, but they were always an unintended consequence of other actions. A carrion crawler could be a serious threat if you were caught off-guard by one, but also easily avoided by the wary. If you come upon one in the woods munching on the corpse of a deer or something you could easily give it a wide berth and go on about your day. If one ambled into a town then a well-organized band of peasants with pitchforks could deal with him without too much trouble.

Maybe carrion crawlers aren’t your thing, but I strongly encourage you to find a way to make a few monstrous creatures part of the normal ecology of your world. Doing so will help make it feel a little more fantastic and a little less mundane. When your players start discussing the creature as a matter-of-fact concern – like my players deciding what to do before the crawlers showed up – then you know you’ve succeeded in making this beast a part of the reality of daily life in your world. And it feels great.

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