In Memoriam: E. Gary Gygax (starring Rust Monsters)
It’s hard to believe that it has been a year now. While I release Microlite74 Version 2.0 today in honor of Gary, I’ve decided that’s not enough. The best way I can think of to honor Gary is with an example of game play from back in the 1970s: a group of players first encounter with an iconic Gygaxian monster: The Rust Monster.
One thing you have to know to understand this story is that there were no descriptions or pictures of a rust monster in the OD&D books. Just a brief description of what a rust monster did. A weird-looking plastic toy may have inspired this creature, but those of us who didn’t play in Gary’s campaign did not know this.
A party of low level adventurers had just descended the stairs to the second level of my Pyramid dungeon (what would be known as a smallish megadungeon today). They listened at the door, hearing nothing. So they send a brave, but really not too bright, henchman into check it out. He’d been popping in quiet rooms and coming back out with a quick description of what he saw — filtered through his not so bright gray matter, of course. He steps into the room and comes back out.
I had a problem. This room held a couple of rust monsters. I needed to describe them but I had no idea what a rust monster looked like. Only that its touch turned metal to rust, which it then ate. Thinking quickly, I decided that rust monsters looked like very large tribbles with lots of tiny short legs (and that they produced an oil that turned metal to rust and that their hair was covered with it and their mouths were on their underside where they could easy feed on the rust on the floor).
He told the party that there were a couple of cute, furry balls with lots of tiny, little legs playing with a suit of rusty armor and purring like kitty-kats. The party had no idea what these things were, but decided they probably were not too dangerous. As there was a door at the other end of the room and no where else to go but back up, they decided to go on in. The rust monsters, busy feeding, ignored them.
The party’s paladin — in his expensive new plate armor — decided that they might make good pets. He walked over. The closer he got, the more they purred. Happy that they seemed to like him, he tried to pet one of them. His armor started to rust away before his eyes as he did so. Not really thinking too well he pulled his sword and hit the cute furry thing only to have his sword blade rust away. He decided to retreat. When the monsters followed, the whole party decided that they had urgent business on the first level and left the room as fast as possible.
Thereafter, rust monsters were cute furry multi-legged tribble-like creatures in my campaigns, even after we saw an official picture of the rust monster in the 1E Monster Manual. They still are cute furry multi-legged tribble-like creatures to this day. One of the players in this session told the story to Gary at convention years later and said Gary thought cute, furry rust monsters were a hoot. So thank you, Gary, for bringing us rust monsters — however they are described — and a wonderful game where we can all run away from them at top speed.
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