My Favorite Monsters is a showcase of some of the beautiful artwork Turbine has provided so that we have interesting things to kill.
Dark, yes. Purple? Not so much. Dumb? Read on.
My Gamer Girl: I feel like these giant Purple Worms are unfinished.
Me: No, I don’t think so, I think they are doing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing.
My Gamer Girl: Then they’re dumb.
On further investigation, I learn that they are “dumb” because they don’t move, have so many hit points, and never yield any loot. So the worms themselves are not really dumb, but fighting them is, they are so easy to avoid she fails to understand why people don’t avoid them 100% of the time.
And I suspect, for the most part, we do. There are two Purple Worms that drop loot, but not really, the one in Wheloon (Dark Maw) is really undead, and the one in The Belly of the Beast (Sineater) is more plot device than opponent, invulnerable early in the quest and a pushover later. Those two really do drop loot, but they aren’t really Purple Worms.
Purple Worm, from the cover of the First Edition AD&D Monster Manual
It is different in tabletop D&D which is, as far as I know, where Purple Worms originated. They are derived from a fictional source, but then nearly everything that Gygax et.al. put into D&D was derived from something else: fiction, mythology, or folklore/history.
In this case, the AD&D creators drew from science fiction, specifically, the book Dune by Frank Herbert and its many sequels. One may note that the Dune series of books reached peak popularity – almost ubiquitous at the time, it was huge – in the late 60’s and early 70’s when D&D was forming; this does not seem coincidental. Purple Worms are Sandworms, scaled down and reworked to appear in dungeons rather than planet-spanning deserts.
A little too large to fit in a dungeon
As a dungeon master I loved them. As a player I hated them. And in both cases, it was for the same reason: your character can be swallowed whole. No saving throw, no chance to avoid or deflect or whine your way out of it. One bad die roll and WHAM! Worm food.
The reason I loved it as a DM was not cruelty, I did not particularly like killing the characters in my campaigns. No, it was the drama. You see, there were also rules included for cutting someone out of the worm. Basically, there was a percentage chance each round (e.g. the Worm rolled a natural 20) that the swallowed person would be consumed irrevocably. But that left a few rounds during which heroic efforts might slay the worm and free the consumed.
Oh, how critical where every one of those dice rolls. Oh, the drama! So much fun!
But I digress. None of that has transferred to the DDO version of Purple Worms. As far as I know, the only one that is capable of swallowing anyone is Sineater and he is, as mentioned above, more plot device than anything else. Fun, and a nice tip-of-the-hat to the worm’s tabletop origins, but there is only one of him.
The rest of the Purple Worms are, in fact, kinda dumb. They are missing one more element from table top: not just the swallowing whole thing, but in tabletop they can move around and appear anywhere. Anywhere! Not just in the light-less corners of the Underdark but nearly anywhere. In a dungeon. In a castle basement. In a graveyard. Anywhere.
I spent a few minutes addressing this with the DDO Purple Worm. As you can see, they are much more interesting (and much less dumb) when they appear by surprise, where you least expect them:
Now you can see why Purple Worms are one of my favorite monsters.
DM Protip: If you want to use Purple Worms in your campaign, move them around a bit, throw in a little surprise, stir the pot. Let them be the awesomely dramatic masters of surprise appearance that they are designed to be.
Don’t let them be dumb.
🙂 😀 🙂