Monday, November 7, 2011

Mythic Monday: China Mieville's Slake Moth


At one point over at Cyclopeatron's place, I came across a link to an interesting China Mieville interview where he talked about a fascination with AD&D's bestiaries:

I use AD&D-type fascination with teratology in a lot of my books, and I have the original Monster Manual, and the Monster Manual 2, and the Fiend Folio. I still collect role-playing game bestiaries, because I find that kind of fascination with the creation of the monstrous tremendously inspiring, basically.

Typically the Mythic Monday columns focus on some aspect of myth or folklore, and how to adapt it for your D&D game; this week's column is interesting because it involves an item from D&D that apparently showed up in a literary work; let's bring something back.

One of Mieville's most fascinating creatures is the Slake Moth from Perdido Street Station; a horrifying predator, it unfolds hypnotic wings that transfix a victim in place, allowing the larger-than-man-sized moth to slip forward and feed on the victim's thoughts, draining the psyche through a long slobbering tongue until the victim is a mindless vegetable.  The Slake Moths in Perdido Street Station are terrifying, but the way the criminals of Bas-Lag attempt to exploit them is even more horrible; feeding on dreams and psyches, the milk of the moths can be used to create a powerful street drug.  The criminal underworld brought the moths in to breed them and generate the dream-drug.  The horror begins when the moths escape and terrorize the city by night.

The Gloomwing

I couldn't help but notice a more than passing semblance with the Gloomwing from 1983's Monster Manual 2; the Gloomwing is an aggressive predator moth that also uses hypnotic wings (the gloomwing's wings cause Confusion); meanwhile the moth slips forward, weakening the victim with pheromones and then using the corpse to gestate the moth's larvae (which eventually become the Tenebrous Worm, also in MM2).  You have to wonder how much the Slake Moth's mind draining was inspired by the Mind Flayer and this iconic image from the back of D1:

It's pretty cool to think an obscure monster (the Gloomwing) from an old bestiary inspired one of the modern day's rising authors in the realm of Weird Fiction; keep your eyes open, we may see even more monsters from AD&D find their way back into the realms of popular fiction.

Of course, we D&D players can borrow some of these ideas back.  Taking a page from Perdido Street Station, the Gloomwing can be used as bizarre urban predators that drop out of the night sky to carry off victims from the city's darkened streets.  The real terror is waiting back in the moth's lair, where any would-be exterminators would have to deal with the Tenebrous Worm back in the nest.

Incidentally, a Dragon Magazine (#352) had an article featuring the city of Bas-Lag and various monsters from Mieville's world, including the Slake Moth; the 3.x version bumped the hit dice to 13, and had abilities to represent the psychic draining (mind rot), the hypnotic wings, and the way the moths induced nightmares while flying high above the city (essentially "fattening the meals" before feeding).  One could easily beef up the Gloomwing by strengthening the hypnotic effect of the wings, bump up the HD a little, and give it the ability to drain psyche like a mind-flayer and you'd have your own slake moth.