Monday, May 28, 2012

Mythic Monday: The Tarrasque

Wow - it’s been a while since I've posted a monster for Mythic Monday - my well of inspiration has taken me to other places these many months.  This past weekend, churches everywhere celebrated the feast of Pentecost, and my readings last week referenced dragon floats used in religious celebrations and feasts in Spain and southern France.  In following the lead back to its source, I was brought to the legendary Tarasque (or Tarrasque, in D&D).

Take a moment if you like, go hit Wikipedia and read up on the Tarasque.  Otherwise I'll paraphrase briefly:  Born of a middle eastern fire monster and the biblical Leviathan, the Tarasque was a 6-legged dragon that terrorized 1st century southern France before it was subdued by St Martha, a holy woman that pacified the creature while approaching it bare foot, in a white dress, and wielding a flask of holy water and a cross.  Then the villagers chopped it up (and renamed their place Tarascon).  Prior to its subdual, the beast was nigh invulnerable due to its armored shell.

The version of the dragon that shows up in Corpus Christi celebrations and the religious festivals is called a Tarasca, and a quick google search will show a handful of nifty Tarasca floats and wood carvings - here's a collage so you can see what I mean.  I like how they all have the signature turtle shell back and those big freaky mouths.  Some of the old woodcuts display the Tarasque with legs sticking out of its mouth, mid-meal.  We don't have too many festivals here in the States where people roll around man-eating turtle-backed dragons.  :sigh:

Images of various Tarascas
There are some bits of the story that are intriguing.  What is it about the theme of innocent maidens assuaging the most terrible of beasts?  I've read psychological theories of predatory monsters, how they call to mind primordial fears of being hunted by animals, or Freudian taboos of cannibalism, but I don't recall coming across an explanation of the 'beauty taming the savage beast' motif.  I just know if a gamer wrote the story, an unarmed cleric facing down such a monster with a vial of holy water wouldn't even count as an appetizer.  Bye bye village.

The tarrasque is a fascinating monster to put in a campaign; it lies dormant for years at a time, wakes up, depopulates an area, then stumbles off to find a good sleeping spot until it's time for the next eating binge.  How cool would it be to put a depopulated area into your low level sandbox… "Oh yeah, there used to be people here, but then the Tarrasque came through a few years ago, and folk are slow to move back… who knows if it's going to wake up near here again sometime soon?"  Sages would try to chart and predict that kind of thing on the calendar; kingdoms would plan evacuations around the imminent waking of the sleeping Tarrasque.  Plus, the Tarrasque is one of those awesome creatures to put on your monster kill 'bucket list'.  "Some day, I'm going to slay that stupid Tarrasque.  It ate my village."

Check it out, though, there's one amazing power of the legendary Tarrasque that didn't get copied over into D&D lore.  I try to keep the blog somewhat on topic and clean, but this is too funny to ignore:

And when he is pursued he casts out of his belly behind, his ordure, the space of an acre of land on them that follow him, and it is bright as glass, and what it toucheth it burneth as fire.
--The Golden Legend

When the Tarrasque "has a movement", so to speak, it burns down acres at a time.  And it uses this as a defense mechanism.  Unholy flaming shit.  You can't make this stuff up.

To my fellow Americans, enjoy your Memorial Day holiday, be sure to thank a veteran for their service, and I'll see you guys again shortly with more ideas on the Harrow Home Manor.

I almost forgot - the Tarrasque shows up in Monster Manual 2 for AD&D... I know many of those monsters are reprints of modules, does someone know if there is an earlier source for the Tarrasque in AD&D?  Thanks for any insight!


  1. Great read....the mythical Tarrasque remains one of my favorites monsters! Not sure if it appeared anywhere before MM2 though (in fact I'd forgotten that's where it first appeared...)

  2. The tarrasque is a central figure in my D&D campaign. I stole a concept from about a community built around a tarrasque that has been magically pinned to the ground. The leaders of the community regularly harvest blood and tissue from the tarrasque to make magical potions. It's makes for a great ethically murky element: are you in favor of releasing the tarrasque from its torture (and thus possibility endangering hundreds, if not thousands of people) or are you in favor of tormenting the creature? Plus there has already been one attempt by a mysterious subterranean race to free the tarrasque.

  3. Flaming excrement is a surprisingly common defense mechanism for fantastic creatures. The various creatures with names like "bonnacon", for instance, have that characteristic.

    Unrelated: I note with wry amusement that the two campaigns that I would be most interested in hearing about are the two lowest vote-getters in your poll at the moment (and likely at all), while the two that least interest me are getting by far the most votes.

    1. Also, Tarascon has statues of a monstrous creature of basically the same description dating back to the 3rd century BCE.

  4. How cool would it be to put a depopulated area into your low level sandbox… "Oh yeah, there used to be people here, but then the Tarrasque came through a few years ago, and folk are slow to move back… who knows if it's going to wake up near here again sometime soon?"

    So how many 6 mile hexes do you think I should set aside for tarrasque devastation? Great idea.

    1. I'm thinking another idea would be to have a massive wall like the Ice Wall in A Game of Thrones... the Tarrasque sleeps somewhere on the other side. Centuries ago the wall was raised to keep it away from the settled farmlands.

      It's a take-off on "Monster Island" or even Kong Island where the villagers have isolated themselves from the big monsters.