every book has monsters in it, if you read metaphors literally

Here’s my latest theory: in order to make memorable D&D encounters, all you have to do is keep your eyes open for odd metaphors in fiction, and think “What would this be like if it were literally true?”

They Fight with Ropes Around their Necks

“I suppose the fellows will show fight.”
“Not a doubt of it, from the specimen we have had of them. They know that they have no mercy to expect at our hands, and that they fight with ropes round their necks.”
The Pirate of the Mediterranean: A Tale of the Sea (William Henry Giles Kingston)

Actual meaning: The fellows will be hanged if captured.
D&D meaning: The pirates of this sloop actually fight with nooses around their necks, with the strangle rope dangling behind them. This is to prevent them from running away: if they turn to flee, you can grab the noose and strangle them. As a side benefit, it freaks people out. As a side penalty, they’re extremely vulnerable to flanking attacks.

War Lions

Ask all mankind about both me and them,
When I attack on the day of battle.
I have left their lions overthrown in war,
Among those plains upon the burning ground.
-The Arabian Nights

Actual meaning: I’m not much of an interpreter of Arabian poetry, but I suppose the guy speaking has defeated some enemy warriors?
D&D meaning: WAR LIONS. What a great idea. One of my campaign world’s empires now uses trained, armored war lions. They’re too dangerous to ride: they’re a terror weapon. It takes a brave front line to stand against a charge of fifty armored lions.

The Pig Wife

“Local folklore? How does it go?”
“You wouldn’t be interested.”
“I just said I was.”
“Then you shouldn’t be. It’s old pig-wife talk.”
-Greg Keyes: The Briar King

Actual meaning: It’s gossip spread by the wives of pig farmers.
D&D Meaning: The Pig Wife is a woman who lives in the fey woods. She will apologize that her husband is not there to greet visitors, but he has unfortunately “escaped from his sty.” If visitors stay for dinner, she will serve them pork chops. Anyone who eats a pork chop will be attacked within 24 hours by an enraged wereboar wearing a wedding ring.

4 Responses to “every book has monsters in it, if you read metaphors literally”

  1. Pierce says:

    For the pig wife, anyone who eats the pork chop, especially men, must make a save or start to be turned into a pig, ready for the next meal. If the Pig Wife is defeated, or rather her magic skillet of pig-frying is destroyed, all the pigs in her control revert back to their human forms.

  2. paul paul says:

    I like that – and I like the fact that there is explicit mention of the fact that the effect ends when she is defeated.

    If, say, the medusa had similar rules, that her statues turned to life when she was defeated, many new-school people (like me) would be less horrified by her brutal save-or-die gaze attack.

    To be fair, in my Lawful Evil session, I included a cursed gem that turned you into a white rat (no save, no cure), and no one seemed to mind.

  3. jason says:

    I wrote something on the pig wife myth as well. Except they were widows who had their husbands murdered by demonic pacts and part of the deal was that they were turned in pig faced women.


  4. I am absolutely going to steal the noose wearing pirates. I can just see my players now, seeing the ropes around their enemies’ necks and thinking it odd – then, when the pirates refuse to yield, realizing they are facing fanatics who expect to die. That right there is going to freak some of them out. :)

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