Monday, October 22, 2012
The Unfairly Maligned Flumph
The poor Flumph has long been considered one of the worst designed and least useful monsters in the D&D universe, but I believe that reputation is unfairly deserved.
It's true that there are a lot of lame monsters in the Fiend Folio, but I think that the Flumph has a lot of untapped potential that many of the others do not.
Take the Adherer, for example: It's a humanoid thing that looks like a mummy, but's really just a sticky dude that will tangle up your weapons if you take a swing at it. It's immune to most 1st level spells, but takes a wopping 3-18 points of damage per magic missile, and is very vulnerable to fire, like a mummy.
Essentially, the adherer is a novelty monster. "It's a mummy, oh wait, no it's not." Once the players figure out the gimmick, it becomes a boring and easily defeated creature that doesn't really do anything else. Even worse, the fact that the creature is a novelty creature in an official monster book means that even players who haven't met one before can study the book and learn how to defeat it, thus ruining the gimmick.
Part of the problem is fact that it is only semi-intellegence (2-4 INT). This means that it's not really capable of communication... it may look human but it's really incredibly stupid. It won't be able to fight intelligently, and it can't really be communicated with in any meaningful way, making it useless as an NPC species. This creature is just there to be a nuisance and not a meaningful part of the adventure.
The Nilbog, the epitome of the novelty creature, is even worse. It's basically a goblin that heals when you attack it, and takes damage when you heal it. I get that the game designers were trying to make something that subverts the player's expectations. But it begs the question of why getting hit with an axe makes it heal.
It's an illogical game mechanic, but unlike, say conjuring a lightning bolt, it is a game mechanic that strains the credibility of the gameworld's verisimilitude.
But as bad as that it, it gets MUCH worse.
The Nilbog has a vague sort of temporal field effect: "The adventurers have no control over their own actions and will generally pursue courses of action contrary to their normal intent." As an example, the text states that the adventurers may feel an overwhelming compulsion to load all of their treasure into an empty chest in the Nilbog lair and leave empty-handed. No saving throws are allowed, and a WISH spell can only offer temporary protection.
This vaguely-defined, heavy-handed approach to player coercion is a recipe for disaster. Something that important deserves to be explained in great detail, but the Nilbog barely scratches the surface of what this power can do. There are no parameters or limitations given for this power.
Not giving the players a save of any kind save is incredibly harsh, and you know something is way off-kilter when the rules suggest using a Wish to mitigate the effects of a low-level mook monster. Most DM's I know don't exactly hand out Wish spells like candy.
Used as-is, this effect will result in some extremely pissed off players. Which is probably why I have never seen this rule used in play when Nilbogs are actually used.
In comparison, the Flumph is actually pretty good. Heck, I actually think it has the potential to be one of the better monsters in the Fiend Folio.
I'll be honest... for a lot of years I overlooked the flumph based on the drawing alone. It's ugly, and it's weird, and it's sitting right next to Russ Nicholson's bad-ass Flind illustration. It's easy to pass on the flumph in favor of something flashier. But if you actually give the thing a chance, it can be surprisingly useful.
It's basic appearance and combat abilities would make for an interesting low level gonzo monster, but it is the creature's human intelligence and Lawful Good alignment that make the creature particularly interesting. This in not just a weird fantasy creature to kill for it's loot, it's a potential NPC.
And I loves me some NPCs.
And unlike a lot of the other critters in the Fiend Folio, the flumph doesn't have any rules that are messy or difficult to deal with. In fact, the only real flaw in the rules is the part about the flumph being able to communicate only in the lawful alignment tongues.
Because nobody uses alignment tongues.
But if we ignore that bit of silliness and just say that it speaks the common tongue, we've got a surprisingly useful creature to interact with. It can offer advice or information, provide adventure hooks, act as an ally, a henchman, or a familiar, or whatever.
And that, my friends, is the stuff adventures are made from.
Pathfinder recently redesigned the flumph to be a race of benevolent otherworldly beings drawn to the prime material plane to warn mankind about Lovecraftian cosmic horrors. This is a terrific idea, and it works well with their unusual form, and their role as an NPC monster.
What's really impressive is that this upgrade doesn't really change anything important about the creature, it's still pretty much the same old flumph. It's just that it now has a mission and a reason for interacting with the PCs. This is a small role-playing tweak but it gives a great potential for an important role in the campaign.
But even the original flumph is quite usable out of the box. Much more so than a lot of the other crappy Fiend Folio monsters like the Gambado (Italian skullfaced jack-in-the-box), Khargra (a living dirt-rocket), Sheet Ghoul & Sheet Phantom (haunted bedcovers... ooooh!), Sussurus (a weird plant gorilla that puts undead to sleep), and what is arguably the lamest D&D creature of all time, the Tirapheg.