The Ecology Of The Chuul (unpublished 3.0 version)


When Jesse Decker took over as editor of Dragon from Dave Gross, I had five unpublished "Ecology" articles on their collective editorial desk. Sadly, Jesse decided to move away from the "fiction and footnote" format for "Ecology" articles, so the articles were rejected and returned to me. I've held on to them, hoping against hope that each subsequent Dragon editor might change his mind and return the "Ecology" article formats back to the way they were, with no luck thus far.

In Dragon #330, Mike Mearls had his "Ecology of the Chuul" published. While he did a good job with it (given the constraints of the current "Ecology" format), I realized that there went any hope of my own version of that article ever seeing print, "The Ecology of the Chuul" being one of the five that had been returned to me by Jesse years ago.

So, I figured -- why not post it here, in the Story Hour forum? Being of the old "fiction and footnote" format, it's definitely a story, although it differs from most Story Hour entries in that it's not the retelling of a game session, merely a bit of fiction designed to lead to the specific footnotes containing information I wished to pass on about the chuul. I should also point out that this was written under the 3.0 rules, and I'm leaving it as originally written, so there are some things that are no longer true, like the chuul being unable to speak. (Although actually, I prefer it not being able to speak. I just don't see what boils down to a giant crustacean - even an intelligent one - being able to speak Common, or any other standard language; I seriously doubt that the creature's physiognomy would support the necessary vocal apparatus.)

In any case, what follows is my own version of "The Ecology of the Chuul," originally submitted to Dragon on 5 Feb 01. This article uses characters from an ongoing series of "Ecology" articles from previous issues of Dragon dating back to the AD&D 2nd Edition days. Specifically, we have Shandrilla, a female human rogue; Javorik the Bold, Illusionist Extraordinaire, her male gnomish illusionist companion; Federico, a male gnomish fighter and Javorik's cousin; and Ardorrak, Thorvin, and Haaj, three male dwarven fighters that they met in a recent adventure. For those interested, here are their previous appearances:

Dragon #219, "Ecology of the Black Pudding" - Shandrilla and Javorik go spelunking for the first time in the Underdark and end up being stalked by a hungry black pudding.

Dragon Annual #4, "Ecology of the Gray Ooze" - Javorik and Federico trick Shandrilla into retrieving a treasure chest they found but could neither open nor lift, and the three get attacked by a gray ooze in the process.

Dragon #267, "Ecology of the Carrion Crawler" - Reentering the Underdark to finally retrieve the contents of that chest, Shandrilla, Javorik, and Federico encounter three dwarven adventurers battling a carrion crawler.

Dragon #275, "Ecology of the Darkmantle" - The six return to the Underdark to examine the glowing eyes of a stone statue, where Shandrilla ends up fighting for her life against a darkmantle well out of the reach of her friends.

Okay, enough backstory; here's my own unpublished take on "The Ecology of the Chuul." As always with Shandrilla/Javorik storylines, I alternate between the points of view of the adventurers (in normal print) and the monster in question (in italics). I hope you enjoy it!

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Had there been any light in the cavern, the hatching of the eggs would have been a marvel to behold. Naturally, there was not; this was, after all, a cavern deep in the bowels of the Underdark, a world without sun, or moon, or stars. Furthermore, the eggs were not just lying upon the ground for any to see; they were in an underwater pool, washed by the silent ebb and flow of the cool, dark waters that dripped down from unseen stalactites far overhead, and was fed by a rapidly-flowing stream that wound through the subterranean caverns like a drunken snake.

Had there been any light in the cavern, any luminescence to pierce the dark, wet gloom, the eggs would look like nothing so much as a cluster of plump, red berries, ripe and ready for the picking. But these were no berries of the surface world; these were each the size of a man's clenched fist, and grew not from tree or bush but rather hung from the underside of a heavily armored, fan-shaped tail.
[1] The tail, in turn, belonged to a creature of nightmare, a thousand pounds of carapaced horror, the mutant queen of all lobsters. She stood as motionless and silent as a statue, her chitinous body half in the pool of water and half out, gazing ahead at nothing in particular.[2]

Had there been any light in the cavern, even the faintest of underwater illumination, one might conceivably see the first of these berries burst open like a piece of overripe fruit, spilling forth its contents into the cool, clear water. One might see the creature thus born: A clawless lobster, an oversized crayfish, a monster shrimp; not quite any of these, but close.[3] The creature escaped the shell of its berry-colored prison but dared venture no further into the strange new world. Rather, it clung upside-down to its mother's tail, chewing idly upon its egg-case.

Nearby, another egg popped open, spewing forth another of these not-quite-lobsters. Had there been any light in the cavern, one might see these two siblings eagerly crawl toward each other, skittering awkwardly over the unhatched eggs that stood between them. One might see their initial, clumsy attempts at contact: The blind groping toward each other; the brush of a newly-formed leg against the other's transparent, new carapace;
[4] the final resting of an armored head against the other's as their limbs stretched out in a tentative embrace. And one might see the complicated mouthparts of one creature rip deep into the other's still-soft flesh, ripping and tearing and biting as the other thrashed and flailed and floundered. One might see the spectacle repeat itself, many times over, as hatchling after hatchling burst forth from their berry-like eggs, only to enter into a cannibalistic frenzy with their newborn siblings. One might see a few hatchlings escape from this inverted death arena, this upside-down battleground, taking to the unknown dark waters rather than face their ravenous kin. Perhaps one might even see the fate of several of these bold risk-takers, as they were devoured by their mother after swimming too close to her mouth.[5]

But alas, there was no light in the subterranean cavern, no glimmer of illumination to shine upon the secret doings in the eternal blackness of the Underdark. Thus, these events transpired unwitnessed save for the participants themselves. Perhaps, in the long run, it was just as well.

1. Chuul reproduction parallels that of the lobster in many ways. During autumn, chuul males are ready to chase down females and mate. Female chuuls are not willing participants to the mating process and try to escape. A male chuul that has caught a female tries flipping her onto her back. If she resists, he may first fling her to the ground in an attempt to subdue her. (This rough treatment occasionally causes fatal injuries in the female; if she dies, the male then devours her and seeks another mate elsewhere.)

Once the female is on her back, the male climbs on top of her and deposits his spermatophores onto the underside of her carapace, then departs. The sticky spermatophores remain adhered to the female's underside until she produces a clutch of 1d20+20 eggs several months later. These bright red eggs are fertilized by the males's spermatophores, which also help adhere the eggs to the underside of the female's armored tail, where they remain until hatching some 10 months later.

2. A chuul's compound, insectoid eyes are made up of thousands of individual units called ommatidia. Built primarily for detecting motion, they grant the chuul a 240° field of vision and a +13 bonus to all Spot checks. Those chuuls living in an underground habitat also develop darkvision to a range of 60 feet.

3. Newborn chuuls have six limbs, but their first pair lack the claws that are characteristic of the adult form. They also lack the paralytic tentacles that ring the mouthparts, but otherwise look like smaller versions of adult chuuls.

4. When newly-hatched, a chuul's carapace is still relatively soft and colorless. Only after its first molt does the creature's carapace take on the characteristic mottled black and orange coloration. Males tend to have more black in their shells, and females more orange, but all chuuls are born neuter; like caterpillars, their organs of gender don't develop until later in life. (With caterpillars, this is when they metamorphosize into butterflies or moths; with chuuls, this occurs during their first molt, approximately a week after hatching.)

5. Despite the number of chuul eggs that are laid at a time, usually only 1-6 of the newborns escape the inherent cannibalism of the species and grow to be adults.
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"What're you guys up to?" asked Shandrilla. Her two gnomish companions, Javorik the Bold, Illusionist Extraordinaire, and his cousin Federico were standing on two stools in the back of the dwarven bar, hunched over a table. Seated around them were their three new dwarven drinking buddies, Ardorrak, Thorvin, and Haaj. All five seemed absorbed in the parchment spread out on the tabletop.

"Got us a treasure map, we did," exclaimed Haaj, winking at Shandrilla and tapping the side of his nose knowingly as she approached the table and peered over Javorik's shoulder.

Shandrilla gave it a quick look-over. It was pretty standard: A bunch of carved-out rooms and long hallways, interspersed with what could only be natural cave formations. "Underground, I see," she commented. "How much did you pay for this?"

"It were a steal at only fifty," responded Haaj.

"Silver?" Shandrilla asked. "Or gold?"

"Gold," replied the dwarf. Shandrilla only harrumphed under her breath. "But it'll be worth every coin, let me tell you!" Haaj insisted.

"Where'd you get it?"

"Feller I know."

"Feller have a name?" pressed Shandrilla.

"Mebbe he do, and mebbe he don't, but I don't see how that figgers into it."

"Well, I just so happen to know that a couple of guys affiliated with a certain thieves guild in this town make a pretty good living selling bogus treasure maps to gullible adventuring types, is all."

"Well, there you have it then," said Haaj, crossing his arms over his chest and snorting, as if that settled the matter.

"Have what?"

"We're not gullible," explained Haaj in a voice that expressed his disbelief that he actually had to spell it out for the silly human girl. Shandrilla just rolled her eyes heavenward and shook her head.

"Oh, hi, Shanny," said Javorik, just now noticing his human companion's presence. "We're planning a little excursion."

"So I see," remarked Shandrilla. "When do we leave?"

"You want to come?" he asked, surprised.


"It's, uh, underground."

"Yeah, so I noticed."

"You sure?"

"Sure I'm sure."

"Bound to be danger," added Federico. "You sure you want in? How's your arm?" Shandrilla had wrenched her arm out of its socket during their last venture into the Underdark.

"My arm's fine; I'm aware of the danger; I want in," replied Shandrilla. "Besides, I could certainly use the money."

"What?" sputtered Javorik. "What about your take of the loot we found in that chest, right before we fought those carrion crawlers?"

"What about it?"

"Where'd it go? Don't tell you've gone through it already!"

"Never you mind, gnome; it's none of your business! Now then, if you're planning on exploring underground, you'll want someone with my expertise. Last I recall, none of you lot were too adept at jiggering open locks or scaling walls - or statues, for that matter. So, am I in?"

"'Course ye're in, Shanny," remarked Ardorrak, looking up from the map and grinning. "Goes without sayin'."

"Great. Then when do we start?"
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The chuul wriggled and thrashed about, eager to be free of its confining outer layer. It had spent most of its first six weeks of life eating and avoiding being eaten itself; to that end, it had swum far upstream, away from its cannibalistic mother and siblings, and made a den for itself in a wide cavern with a pool that jutted out from the rest of the subterranean stream. Now it had grown too large for its skin. Its outer layer had hardened in the weeks after its birth; no longer soft and flexible, it now served as an armor plating to keep the chuul safe from harm. However, while thick plates of hardened chitin made for an admirable defense, it quickly became confining as the creature's body continued to grow and its outer skin did not. Thus, the chuul began the process of molting for the first of what would be many times in its life.[6]

A rip in the exoskeleton began at the base of the chuul's head and gradually tore its way down to the creature's tail. Wriggling its body furiously, the chuul backed its way out of its old skin, pulling each leg free in turn. Its two front limbs were the last to exit, as they required special attention: During the last six weeks of growth, they had begun to form sharp pincer-claws. With each subsequent molt, these claws would continue to grow until the chuul reached its adult size.[7]

There were other changes in the chuul's appearance. Its new skin was no longer transparent, but was mottled black and orange; the predominance of black on its new armor identified it as male. Also, in a semicircular ring around the front of its mouth were the beginnings of eight slender tentacles; these prototentacles would also grow with each molt until the chuul was a full adult. At the moment, the prototentacles were mere stubs; nonetheless, they wiggled around in the current of the water as if eager to test themselves out.

The chuul, free at last from its confining skin, didn't let it get too far in the current of the pool. Crawling back over to the castoff carapace on its four rear legs, the chuul snatched it up in its newly-formed grasping appendages and brought it to its mouth. Biting off small pieces at a time, it feasted on its old skin with gusto.

6. Chuuls go through the process of ecdysis, or molting, eight times in their first year, five times in their second year, and three times in their third year. After that, males tend to molt twice an year and females only once. (Males usually grow to be larger than females.) Each time a chuul sheds its outer skin, it exposes the softer layer of skin underneath. This new skin expands to a larger size before hardening over the course of several weeks. A newly-molted chuul immediately loses 6 points of natural armor bonus due to its softer carapace; its AC is restored by one point every week thereafter until reaching its normal limit. Thus an adult chuul with AC 22 (-1 size, +3 Dex, +10 natural) molts and drops to AC 16 (-1 size, +3 Dex, +4 natural), remaining that way for a full week before moving up to AC 17.

7. By the time the chuul is an adult, these pincers, or chelipeds, are impressive indeed, often reaching over two-thirds of the creature's body length. A Large chuul has a Reach of 10 feet and can easily grasp a Medium-sized creature in each pincer.

8. A chuul's hardened carapace is formed as the result of calcium absorbed through the water of their aquatic environment. Chuuls habitually consume their newly-shed shells, as this replenishes the calcium in their bodies and helps make their new carapaces stronger.
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Shandrilla stopped at the cave entrance to light a torch. Her companions waited patiently as she did so, realizing her inability to see in the dark like they could.

"You sure about this, Shanny?" asked Javorik again. "You don't have to come in with us if you don't want to. I know how you are about being underground."

"Well, then it's about time I got over it, isn't it?" asked Shandrilla tartly. "I've been down in these blasted cavern networks, what, four times now? We've run into slimy puddings and monster worms, and even that weird tentacle-thing the last time, but nothing's managed to kill me yet. And the earth hasn't come crashing down to bury us alive, either. Like it or not, if we're going to make a living uncovering forgotten relics and lost treasures we're going to be spending a lot of our time underground, aren't we? So I guess I'd better just get used to it. Besides," she added with a grin, "How can I possibly get into any trouble when I've got Javorik the Bold, Illusionist Extraordinaire, Slayer of Rats, Tamer of Lizards to watch over me?"

"That's 'Slayer of Lizards, Tamer of Rats,'" corrected Javorik.

"Oh, well, my deepest apologies, gnome."

"Apologies accepted, human."

"We about ready here?" asked Ardorrak, eager to be about their business. At his side, Thorvin unrolled the parchment map and studied it in the last of their sunlight for awhile.

"Ready when you are," replied Shandrilla, switching the torch to her left hand and gripping her short sword in a white-knuckled grip with her right. "Ready as I'll ever be," she added under her breath.

Taking a deep breath, she followed her companions into the dark cavern. The shadows swallowed her up almost instantly.
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The chuul stood motionless in the cool water, almost totally submerged. Only the upper part of its armored head appeared above the water's surface, just enough that its beady eyes could observe the approaching troglodyte. The trog was armed with a crude stone axe and a pair of javelins and wore a confident expression that showed he was no stranger to combat. Scanning across the cave for potential enemies and spotting none, he approached the water. He looked right at the chuul without recognizing the creature for what it was; with no antennae or eyestalks protruding from its smooth, rounded head, it looked like a simple water-worn stone. With a final scan and a sniff of the stale cavern air, the troglodyte bent to his hands and knees and lowered his thirsty muzzle into the cool clean water.

It was the last action of his life. The chuul rose up in a burst of churning water, darted forward, and caught the unwary troglodyte in its left pincer, catching the reptile across his back and clamping down tight.
[9] The chuul lifted its prey up above the water's surface, dangling him helplessly upside-down. The troglodyte thrashed around, but couldn't extricate himself from the chuul's viselike grip. The chuul squeezed even tighter, cutting deep into the trog's scaly hide, even as it moved backward into deeper water and submerged its helpless prey.[10] The troglodyte's thrashings slowed, then finally stopped altogether.

The chuul brought the morsel to its mouth, running its tiny prototentacles over the reptile's body, tasting its blood-covered skin eight times over. Then it began its feast, ripping chunks of flesh free with its complicated mouthparts and passing them into its mouth, where they were swallowed whole.

At this stage of its life, the chuul was little bigger than the troglodyte it had just slain. It couldn't wait to taste the prey it could catch as a full adult!

9. A chuul's initial attacks are always with its pincers, each of which strikes at +12 melee and causes 2d6+5 points of damage. In addition, once a chuul has a victim in its claw it initiates an Improved Grab, starting a grapple as a free action without provoking an attack of opportunity. Then, each round the chuul has a victim in its claws, it can squeeze, causing automatic claw damage plus an additional 1d6 of bludgeoning damage from the crushing force.

10. When fighting in or near water, chuuls often grab landbound prey and then head into deep water. They realize when their prey cannot breathe underwater, and understand that the water provides them additional protection from other landbound foes, especially if the victim they attacked was one of many. Chuuls are poor swimmers (Swim 20 ft.), preferring to walk along the bottom rather than attempt to glide through the water. They often use their wide, lobsterlike tails to scoot them backward quickly when submerged.

11. Like lobsters, chuuls have many pairs of grasping and tearing appendages by their mouths. The first of these, the mandibles, crush the food, which is then passed down to the mouth by two pairs of maxillae and three pairs of maxillipedes. The maxillae and maxillipedes also shred the food into strips for easier digestion.

The chuuls' food enters the mouth, travels through the esophagus, and is then chewed again with a set of strong toothlike structures inside the first of the chuul's two stomachs. Digestive enzymes break down the food even more, and it is then filtered into the chuul's second stomach for further processing.

The second and third sets of maxillipedes also hold gills, allowing the chuul to breath underwater. Gills are also present at the base of all four of the chuul's legs, on its pincer-arms, and along the sides of its body, underneath a protruding "lip" of the carapace.
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"I don't get it," said Thorvin, scratching his head. "Accordin' to the stupid map, there should be a chamber right about here."

"You sure you're readin' it right?" questioned Ardorrak. "Here, lemme see the fool thing."

Thorvin passed the parchment over to his companion. Ardorrak puzzled over it for awhile. "Lessee, this is where we came in...There's the fork in the passageway...What's this? Hey, there wasn't no big round chamber on the right, was there?" The others shook their heads. "And where's that side tunnel we just passed? It don't seem to be on here." Shandrilla pursed her lips and tried her best not to look smug.

"How much you say you paid fer this?" asked Ardorrak.

"Fifty gold," replied Haaj sullenly.

"Well here, then," snarled Ardorrak, shoving the map into Haaj's hands. "You went and bought yerself the most expensive piece of terlet paper I ever seen."

"Oh, it's not terlet paper, believe you me," remarked Haaj with a scowl. "It's food."

"Huh?" asked Shandrilla, confused.

"Least it will be, once I shove it down that blasted sunnuva goblin's throat what sold it to me!"

"Okay, so we're without a reliable map," said Javorik, trying to lighten the mood. "So what? We're down here anyway; there are six of us; we're all ready for action. What say we see what there is to see? Maybe we'll stumble across something good. Besides, what's the worst that could happen?"

Shandrilla opted to keep silent, but she mentally ticked off the possibilities: Well, we could get lost, we could run into another kind of weird pudding, we could get buried alive in an earthquake, we could run across a drow raiding party....
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The chuul crawled out of the castoff husk of its latest molting and stood for the first time in its full adult form. Eight feet long from rounded head to fan-shaped tail, its two long pincer-arms extended out even farther beyond its head. And its tentacles had at long last reached their full size and function.

The chuul reached for its old shell out of long habit, ready to reabsorb it, bite by bite, when it heard a noise from further down the corridor.
[12] Dropping its just-shed husk, it spun around to face this new possible threat.

Sure enough, the sound was repeated: Voices! The chuul knew what that meant: Voices meant language, and language meant intelligence, and intelligent beings always seemed to have the best-tasting flesh! Eager for its favorite food, the chuul scampered toward the cavern entrance.

The first one to enter the chuul's chamber was a human clad in leather armor, carrying both sword and torch; directly behind came a dwarf, all metal armor, scruffy beard, and heavy hammer. The chuul struck before they could even register its presence. As quick as that, the chuul had a struggling humanoid in each of its pincers.[14]

The human was not much of a threat; the chuul's sharp pincer-blades cut through the simple leather armor and deep into the juicy flesh beneath, drawing both blood and delicious shrieks of pain. The dwarf posed a bit more of a problem; the chuul's pincers kept the dwarf from escaping but were having difficulty piercing the thick metal plates of overlapping armor. The blasted dwarf's armor seemed as tough as the chuul's own! Worse yet, while the human's weapon had dropped to the ground, the dwarf maintained his grip on his warhammer and used it to good advantage against the chuul, slamming the weapon over and over against the chuul's forelimb. Each blow sent pain coursing up the chuul's limb, and cracks began forming on its still-soft outer layer where the hammer struck.

The chuul pulled the dwarf in close and captured him in a tentacled embrace. The dwarf got in a final blow with his weapon, shattering at the wrist the pincer that gripped him, even as he lost all chance at further motion.
[15] Paralyzed, he didn't see the severed pincer-claw fall to the stone ground, nor the stream of bluish blood that oozed from the creature's wound. He felt it when the monster dropped him to the hard stone to dispatch his human companion, though; he felt it when the creature's tentacles deftly pulled the helmet from his head; he definitely felt it when the piercing mandibles punctured his throat and he drowned, screams unvoiced, in his own blood.

The wounded chuul dragged its victims through the shallow water and into the back of its lair, away from the corridor and any other passersby. It retrieved its old husk, as well, then hunkered down for a well-earned feast. Later, it would worry about rearranging its new trophies along the walls of its cave.

12. The chuul's entire body is covered with tens of thousands of tiny sensory hairs, through which the creature can smell, taste, feel, and hear. The majority of these fine hairs are clustered around the chuul's eyes and mouth, but the rest are spread evenly throughout the rest of the body. A chuul's sense of hearing is better than that of most people, granting the creature a +13 to Listen checks.

13. The chuul's all-time favorite food seems to be lizardfolk, but naturally only those chuul who live out in the swamps and jungles get to dine upon such fare. Chuuls who live on the surface lack the Underdark dwellers' 60-foot darkvision, but are otherwise indistinguishable from their subterranean cousins.

14. Chuuls can move with remarkable speed when they wish to. They have both the Improved Initiative feat and a +3 Dexterity modifier, granting them a total +7 Initiative bonus.

15. An adult chuul's eight tentacles are each two feet long and exude a paralytic secretion. The chuul can transfer a victim from a set of pincers to its tentacles as a partial action; the tentacles deal no damage but continue to grapple at the same level of strength as the pincers. In addition, a victim held in a chuul's tentacles takes an automatic 1d8+2 points of damage from the creature's mandibles, and must make a Fortitude save (DC 19) or become paralyzed for 6 rounds. Repeated contact with a chuul's tentacles does not extend the length of the paralyzation, and once the immobility wears off the victim remains immune to that chuul's paralytic secretions for the rest of the encounter. Unfortunately, chuuls can usually dispatch a paralyzed victim long before it has to worry about him regaining mobility.

Chuuls are immune to the effects of their own paralytic secretions and those of other members of their race. They are similarly immune to all poisons.

16. Chuuls keep treasure in their lairs; it's attractive to look at, shows the strength of the chuul (in theory, the more treasure accumulated, the greater the chuul's ability to overpower intelligent prey), and often attracts more humanoids to the chuul's lair! A chuul strips its victims of all trophies (armor, weapons, coins, and so on); those victims without treasure can at least usually contribute their own skulls, which are picked clean of all flesh and proudly put on display.
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Ardorrak wiped his warhammer on the pelt of the dire rat whose skull he had just caved in. "Pah, this is a waste of our time!" he said with disgust. "There's no enemies worthy of our efforts, and no treasure in these dusty old caves! We've been down here fer hours now, with nothin' to show fer it!" Shandrilla kicked idly at a pile of old bones on the floor, probably the remains of the rat's previous meals, halfheartedly hoping to spot a coin or two amid the rubble. She'd be happy with a couple of silvers at this point, or even coppers - it'd be more than they'd managed to find so far.

"Well, there was that side tunnel we didn't check out," suggested Javorik, rubbing his white beard. "We could give that a shot if you want. Or we can press on the way we're heading."

"Shhh!" said Federico suddenly, raising his hand. The others looked his way and kept silent. The little gnomish fighter cocked his head at an angle as if straining to hear something.

"What is it?" whispered Haaj.

"Think it's water," replied Federico. "This way." He led them around a corner and down a long passageway. The sounds of flowing water got increasingly louder as they progressed. Sure enough: There was a stream just ahead.
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The chuul puttered around in its lair, idly rearranging the items of its treasure hoard. Its full-grown tentacles came in handy for such use; they were much more flexible and manipulative than its oversized pincers, even its little one.[17] As it repositioned its treasures, it paused to run its tentacles slowly, almost lovingly, over each of the skulls lined up in a row along the walls of its lair. It recalled the fierce battles with each of these victims, and, if it thought back, could even remember the particular taste of each as well. The troglodyte's flesh had been somewhat rancid and foul, but edible; its skull was nonetheless impressive, what with the sharp teeth and all. The little kobolds had been less of a threat and unfortunately less of a meal, but their flesh was more delectable than the trog's and what they lacked in quality they more than made up for in quantity. The goblin skulls were a source of many fond reminiscences for the chuul, for many of the little pests had attacked it all at once with their spears: It had been a glorious battle, and its victory over them was as sweet as the goblins' flesh was stringy. Their spears were piled in a corner, most of them snapped in half by the chuul's powerful pincers.

Over there in the other corner were piled the skulls of simple animals: Rats and lizards, fish and snakes; none had put up much of a fight, and none had had anything but their skulls to contribute to the chuul's hoard. But there, sitting on a flat rock in a place of honor, were the skulls of the dwarf and the human. These were without doubt the chuul's favorites, if only because of their rarity. It hadn't come across such creatures ever since that initial encounter, but it certainly looked forward to another opportunity to dine upon such fine fare, especially the human, whose flesh was the most succulent it had ever tasted. And of all of the chuul's victims, these two had provided the finest treasures: The torch that remained lit to this day; the glinting silver weapons; the dwarf's finely-crafted armor, only slightly scratched where the chuul had gripped it with its claw; the leather bag with the shining gemstones buried within...Oh yes, the chuul welcomed an opportunity to meet up with such as these again.

The creature was shaken from its reverie by the sound of voices. Voices, approaching! Perhaps the chuul would get its wish after all!

17. Chuuls retain the ability to regenerate lost appendages over time. However, the new limb never grows to full size, nor is it as strong as the original. A chuul with a regrown pincer-arm deals only 2d4+5 points of damage with that claw.
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"Look, there's a light up ahead," said Federico.

"It's flickering: Torchlight," identified Ardorrak in a low voice. "No telling what's up ahead, but if it's carrying a torch, it's intelligent!" The dwarf smiled a wicked smile; intelligent foes meant worthy combat, and had a better chance of carrying valuables to be plundered.

"Weapons out and ready," ordered Thorvin to the others, grasping his short sword and shield eagerly.

"Out and ready," echoed Haaj, gripping his battleaxe.

The six continued down the passageway, toward the flickering light. The stone corridor opened into a vast cavern, with a pool of water just ahead and a fast-moving stream just beyond, the source of the noise Federico had picked out. Over to the right, beyond the pool, was a side-cavern, from which spilled the torchlight.

"We'll rush in on three," said Ardorrak in a low voice. "One...two..."

"Wait!" whispered Shandrilla, putting a restraining hand on the dwarven fighter's shoulder. "Are you going to just barge in there and attack indiscriminately?"

"That's the idea, yeah."

"But what if it isn't an enemy? Or what if it is, but we're outnumbered?"

"Then we finally get a fight worthy of us," grinned the dwarf. "Okay, on three--"

"Why don't I go check it out first?" suggested Shandrilla in a whisper, handing her torch to Javorik. "I can sneak up there and at least see what it is we're up against. Or if we're even up against anyone; there's no guarantee that whoever lit the torch is still around."

"Makes sense to me," put in Javorik.

"We'll know in a minute anyway," argued Ardorrak. "On three, then--"

"Wait, wait," hissed the human thief. "At least let me--"

"By the Gods below! THREE!" yelled Ardorrak at the top of his lungs. Whooping with battle-lust, the three dwarves rushed headlong into the shallow pool, splashing their way toward the illumination in the side cavern. A mere fraction of a second later they were joined by Federico, not willing to be shown up by a bunch of dwarves.

"So much for subtlety," remarked Shandrilla dryly.

"It's their culture," pointed out Javorik. "Come on, let's give them a hand."

But by the time they joined the others it was apparent that no assistance was necessary. The three dwarves looked around in disappointment, failing to find an enemy to destroy. Shandrilla almost laughed aloud at the looks of utter dejection on their bearded faces.

Then the chuul rose silently up out of the pool behind her and leapt to the attack.[18]

Javorik screamed out a warning. Shandrilla instinctively dropped flat, submerging under knee-deep water. As a result, the chuul landed almost on top of her, straddling her prone form with its four armored legs while its left pincer-claw snipped the air where she'd just been standing. Failing to get its first victim, the creature faced the dwarves and gnomes in its treasure cavern, pincers wide open and poised to strike.

Javorik struck first. He blurted out the words to a magic missile spell, sending darts of energy flashing into the beast's carapace, then dropped back as the dwarves pushed forward, eager for combat. "Garbug!" yelled Thorvin in surprise as he swung his sword at an armored claw.[19]

Meanwhile, Shandrilla crawled to her knees at the side of the great beast, sputtering out a mouthful of half-swallowed water. She saw the dwarves swinging their weapons wildly, shouting in jubilation as they battled the armored monstrosity. As she watched in horror, though, the beast struck forward with blinding speed, catching both Thorvin and Haaj in its serrated pincers. Ardorrak swung his warhammer into the side of the beast's head, with little effect.

The monster lifted the two armored dwarves with seemingly no effort, then used its left pincer to swing Thorvin into Ardorrak's side, spilling the dwarven leader into the water and knocking Thorvin unconscious. Both dwarves dropped their weapons. Federico waded up to take Ardorrak's place, but the water was nearly waist-deep to the little gnome and he made slow progress.

In the meantime, Haaj was slamming his battleaxe against the chuul's hardened exoskeleton in an effort to free himself from the beast's right pincer-claw and Javorik cast the last of his magic missile spells. Shandrilla waded out of the water and stepped, dripping, over to the illusionist's side. "Look, tentacles!" she said, pointing at the writhing appendages dangling from around the creature's mouth.

As they watched in horror, the monster brought Haaj up to its mouth and grabbed him with its grasping tentacles. Haaj cried out a dwarven curse and froze in position, his battleaxe swung back for a mighty blow that never came. This freed up the creature's right claw, which it snapped at Federico. Fortunately, the little gnome's size worked to his advantage and he ducked under the snapping pincers with ease.

"Quick, load me up!" commanded Shandrilla, whipping off her backpack and unfastening the top. Javorik looked around at the monster's treasure hoard, choosing the heaviest items he could find: Pieces of dwarven platemail, a hefty hammer; each went into Shandrilla's pack. Javorik considered a skull or two but doubted their weight would matter much for the room they would take up; then, with a grin, he swatted two skulls out of the way and picked up the flat rock on which they had been prominently displayed. "This oughtta do it, Shanny," he said, squeezing it in.

Shandrilla shrugged the heavy pack back onto her shoulders, slid her short sword back into its sheath at her side, and waded into the pool, heading directly for the lobster-monster. Well, it worked against that carrion crawler, she thought, why not again?

"Hey, monster, OVER HERE!" she cried, waving her arms in the air to attract its attention.

By this time, the chuul had captured Federico in the claw freed up by Haaj. Ardorrak, after some fumbling about in the shallow water, had regained his warhammer and was wading to the attack. Facing a battle-hungry dwarf with its tentacles and both pincers full, the chuul dropped the unconscious Thorvin from its left claw.[20] Shandrilla waded up behind Ardorrak, but the beast lunged at the dwarf before she could reach them. Ardorrak was snatched up in a flash.

"No, ME!" cried Shandrilla, waving frantically. "Come and get ME, you stupid monster! Look! No metal armor! Easy pickings!"

The chuul seemed unimpressed.[21]

Javorik waded out into the water and pulled the unconscious Thorvin up onto the stone, lest he drown. This took some effort on his part, for the waterlogged dwarf weighed nearly triple the diminutive illusionist's weight even without the metal armor, but with much determination and a Tenser's floating disk spell he eventually managed the task. Even as he struggled, though, he was glad for the dwarf's armor, for without it he knew Thorvin would likely have been cut in two by the creature's jagged pincers.

Shandrilla, meanwhile, gave up on waiting for the stupid lobster-beast and took matters - quite literally - into her own hands. She jumped at the tentacles holding Haaj, grabbing one in each hand so that when she became paralyzed the weight of her heavy pack would pin the monster's head to the ground. Realizing that she was pulling this stunt in an underground pool, she took in a deep breath in case she ended up underwater at the end of her little ploy.

She needn't have bothered. Even as her movements ceased, the chuul lifted its head and waded backwards to deeper water. It didn't seem the least bit inconvenienced by the extra weight.[22]

Javorik, meanwhile, had finally gotten Thorvin to safety and was wracking his brain for a useful spell from his inventory. He had a fireball ready, but didn't dare use it with his friends in the way. There was his old standby, mirror image; lacking any better ideas, he cast it. Arcane words spilled from his lips and suddenly there were four Javoriks wading out toward the chuul, each pulling a dagger from his belt.

18. Many are surprised at the chuul's jumping abilities. This is an understandable reaction, given the chuul's heavily-armored carapace and lobsterlike build; jumping isn't something one would normally expect from a creature built like a clawed tank. Nonetheless, a chuul's four powerful hind legs can send the creature springing forth over great distances. The chuul was not built for running, though; most of its leaps are from a standing position.

19. Garbugs (from earlier editions of the game) are closely related to chuuls and the two species are easily confused at first glance. Garbugs basically look like winged lobsters. The males are about 6 feet long and have black carapaces, while the females are purple and reach about 9 feet. Both sexes have six paralytic tentacles clustered around their mouths and exhibit cannibalistic tendencies.

Both chuuls and garbugs are believed to have been brought from the illithid homeworld (along with carrion crawlers and many species of amorph) as the mind flayers traveled from world to world. In fact, chuuls are often found as thralls in the service of mind flayers, or, less frequently, beholders.

20. While fighting, a chuul tries to keep at least one claw free for battle, even if it means dropping a potential meal. Chuuls are vicious in battle, preferring to prolong a fight even if they already have victims to spare, as long as they're winning. Of course, if the battle starts to turn against it, a chuul has no qualms about grabbing up what victims it has and fleeing, usually by swimming backwards with its powerful tail into deep water.

21. Confident in battle (sometimes overly so), chuuls don't always go after the easiest victims. While the chuul is usually sure that it can overcome everyone in a party of adventurers, often in the back of its mind it's picking and choosing individuals based on which potential victim has the most impressive treasure with which the chuul can add to its hoard. Thus, fighters in shiny metal armor or wielding impressive weapons are often attacked first, even if doing so isn't strictly logical. Of course, chuuls are no fools - they have the standard Intelligence rating of a normal human, after all - and if one party member dishes out all of the damage, the chuul's likely to try to take her out first.

22. Chuuls have a Strength rating of 20; as Large creatures, they can lift up to 800 pounds without difficulty.
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The chuul was having a bit of difficulty with its enemies. Despite being held tightly in the beast's pincers, the dwarven and gnomish fighters were still using their weapons to full advantage. The little gnome's sword had managed to chip fragments of the chuul's armor off at the wrist; this being the creature's weakened right wrist, it was justifiably concerned. On the other hand, the dwarf's hammer seemed just as deadly, and he was the stronger of the two humanoids; the chuul's hardened carapace was cracked and bleeding in more than one place. The female dangled motionless by the chuul's tentacles in front of the paralyzed dwarf, whose armored body was difficult to chew and also prevented the chuul's mouthparts from reaching the human. And worse yet, the chuul couldn't extricate her on its own, for her paralyzed fingers had an excellent grip on its front tentacles. And now four unarmored and undoubtedly easily-chewed gnomes approached the chuul, but it had no appendages free to grab them.

All in all, it was a very frustrating situation, but there was an easy solution. The chuul backed up into deeper water and lowered its pincers, submerging two of its enemies. It also dipped its head below the water level, hoping to drown the other dwarf and the human as well.

Suddenly a sharp pain ran up its right forearm: the gnomish fighter had managed to hack through one of the weakened pincers, freeing himself. Bluish blood stained the waters and the chuul screamed in silent pain.
[23] The little gnome backed off toward shallower waters, fearful of drowning in his plate mail.

There was another pain as a blade cut into the monster's right mandible: The dwarf entwined in the chuul's tentacles had shaken off the paralytic secretions and finally completed the axe-swing he had started before. This was the final straw; the chuul decided to cut its losses. It swiped at the female with its damaged claw, hoping to pierce her with the serrated edge of the one pincer remaining on its damaged limb, but it got caught instead between her backpack and back. Shaking its wounded limb free, the chuul tore the woman from its tentacles even as the backpack was ripped from her back. The pack rapidly sank to the bottom of the pool; the woman, still paralyzed, was pulled by the currents, blood spilling from the gash in her back inflicted by the chuul's jagged claw.

As the monster backed rapidly toward the stream, it clamped down hard on the dwarf still held in its left pincer, hoping at least to save this one last morsel for itself, especially since he wore shiny armor that would add nicely to the chuul's treasure hoard.

23. Lacking vocal chords, chuuls make no vocalizations. They have no language of their own, but can learn to understand a language spoken by others.
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Federico, standing neck-deep in water, looked above the escaping chuul and saw a cluster of large stalactites hanging down. "Look!" he cried to his cousin. Javorik saw the opportunity thus afforded, raised one hand above the water, and spoke the words to his fireball spell, his mirror images repeating the action in unison. Four tiny spheres raced to the cavern ceiling to converge upon the stalactites and explode in a shower of flame. Large chunks of the ceiling rained down upon the chuul, cracking and piercing its hardened carapace.

It died immediately.

Federico gave Javorik a big grin and a hearty slap upon the back. There was a commotion behind them; it was Thorvin, waking to consciousness by the noise of the fiery explosion. He grinned wickedly at seeing the chuul's demise, but then a flicker of concern crossed his face. "Where're the others?" he asked.

As if on cue, Haaj waded up out of the water, supporting a grievously wounded Ardorrak. Blood flowed freely down the sides of Ardorrak's armor, mute testimony to the fact that metal armor could only hold out against the pressure of a chuul's pincers for so long. Ardorrak winced in obvious pain and stumbled to his knees once out of the water. Thorvin laid a hand on his shoulder, an unspoken showing of support for his companion's heroism in battle.

That left only one unaccounted for. "Where's Shanny?" asked Javorik suddenly. He looked around in sudden panic; she was nowhere to be seen. The illusionist bolted back toward the dead chuul, ducking under the water with his multiple duplicates still mirroring his every move. Federico quickly shrugged out of his heavy armor and followed suit. Frantically they searched the pool for their friend, hoping to find her safe, dreading to find her drowned, but desperate to find her regardless. Haaj and Thorvin settled Ardorrak down comfortably on the hard stone and joined the search; together, they combed the pool, recovering only their dropped weapons and Shandrilla's torn backpack.

After an interminable time, Javorik stumbled back out of the water, dripping and exhausted, his mirror images long since expired, followed by his cousin and the two dwarven fighters. The little illusionist looked back at the underground pool, with its dead chuul and its flowing stream, and screamed out "SHANNY!" in a pain-torn voice.

The name reverberated throughout the cavern, but there was no response.

Shandrilla was gone.
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...And that's it, as originally written.

I just want to point out a couple of things here, lest my motives be misconstrued. While I greatly prefer the "fiction and footnote" format of the "Ecology" articles to their current format, I'm well aware that not everyone shares my opinion. Although I find the current "Ecology" format to be a bit of dry reading, even I admit that the current format has several advantages over the previous one. It's easier to find specific information about the creature in question when you don't have to read through a bunch of fiction to find it, and I really like the introduction of the "DC Knowledge Check" charts in the recent "Ecology" articles, which allow you to determine what a given character might know about the specific creature. Likewise, my posting of my version of the "Ecology of the Chuul" is in no way an attempt to take away from Mike Mearls' recently-published version; I think he did a great job in the new format, and his "origin" of the chuul - while ignoring what to me seems an obvious close ancestry with the garbug (again, something he probably wasn't allowed to touch on, given that the garbug's existence in the current D&D world is questionable since the 3.0/3.5 "reboot") - fits in nicely with the information in the new Lords of Madness book from Wizards of the Coast.

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Inventor of Super-Toast
That's pretty cool. I haven't read the others of the series, but that's good prose and good ecological info for your version of the chuul. It's a nice alternative from the sorcery-gone-amok chuul of the 3.5 ecology article and Lords of Madness, which I like as well.

Demiurge out.


First Post
Thanks for posting this. I like your take on the chuul's origin (brought by mindflayers from their homeworld, along with carrion crawlers) better than the "mad scientist" origin in the 3.5 ecology (though that one was interesting as well). I like ecology articles, in either format. They add more depth to monsters, which is sorely needed for new creatures in the Monster Manual since monsters now a days are usually published with nothing but the barebones stats.


Actually, the idea that carrion crawlers and several other "standard" D&D creatures originated on the mind flayer homeworld was a concept introduced in "The Sunset World," a mind flayer article that appeared in Dragon #150. (If I remember correctly, it was written by Stephen Inniss.) I thought that was a brilliant idea, and since it says in the chuul description in the Monster Manual that chuuls often work for mind flayers, I thought it only made sense to add them to the list. (That, plus there's the obvious "tentacles on the face" connection hinting at a possible ancestry, or at least parallel development on the same world.)



First Post
I much prefer the 'fiction & footnotes' type of Ecology article because that's how they appeared in the old (1E & 2E) issues of Dragon and that's what got me hooked to it. I concur with you that the new version makes it easier to get crucial tidbits in a hurry but it sure does make for a dry reading. Bleh!

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