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THE ECOLOGY OF THE GULGUTHYDRA (unpublished 3.0 Monster Hunters "Ecology" article)


It was recently brought to my attention (by an EN World poster named Exquisite Dead Guy) that it's been some time since I posted one of my unpublished "Ecology" articles. At his suggestion, I'm attending to that deficiency right now.

What follows is "The Ecology of the Gulguthydra," an unpublished article I had submitted to Dragon several years back, and which was bulk-rejected (along with 5 other Ecologies I had submitted) when the new editor decided he didn't like the "fiction-and-footnote" style of Ecology articles. It's a Monster Hunters Association story, and specifically takes place immediately after the "Ecology of the Purple Worm" (the last Monster Hunters "Ecology" article ever printed; you can find it in Dragon #282). "The Ecology of the Grick," which I've already posted in the Story Hour (see my signature for a link to that one), comes immediately after this one.

I hope you enjoy it!

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Buntleby and Willowquisp were commenting upon the excellent vintage of the evening's wine when Dreelix banged his gavel three times upon the surface of the table in front of him. "This meeting of the Monster Hunters Association is hereby opened," he intoned.

The Association members settled themselves down and gave their illustrious leader their undivided attention. Only after he was certain that such was the case did Dreelix continue.

"Tonight we have a fairly light agenda," he began. "Old Gumphrey has an appeal for some more alchemical equipment from the general funds, and then he and Zantoullios will update us on the status of the magical items being created from the pyrohydra we killed not long ago." Dreelix glanced over at the elderly alchemist, who was already dozing off in his chair. He opened his mouth to berate Old Gumphrey for his inattention, then relented and pressed on with the juicy bit of gossip he couldn't wait to get out. "But before we get to any of that, allow me to describe the look on that pompous windbag Quinquillian's face when Grindle and I showed up at his manor-house with the head of that purple worm we slew! It was PRICELESS! We dumped the whole bloody mess out of the portable hole and onto his front lawn! For probably the first time in his miserable life, the loud-mouthed idiot was speechless! SPEECHLESS! I thought he was going to die of apoplexy right there in front of us! That'll teach him to belittle the capabilities of our fine organiza--"

Dreelix's fond reminiscences were suddenly interrupted as the door to the meeting hall burst open. In dashed a slender young woman, tears streaming down the sides of her angelic face. "Please," she cried out to those assembled, "You must help me!"

"AAAAAGH!" screamed Dreelix as he dove under the head table and hid beneath the tablecloth. "Keep her away from me!"

"It's Azurielle!" said Buntleby, leaping to his feet.

"I know perfectly well who it is," grumbled Dreelix from beneath the table. Then, to the intruding nymph, he called out, "I don't know what you're on about this time, but we didn't do it! We haven't even been anywhere near your stupid grove, or messed with your stupid pet pseudodragon!"

"I know that," replied Azurielle, wiping the tears from her eyes. "I'm here to beg for your assistance; my grove is under attack!"

Dreelix peeked cautiously up over the top of the table, intrigued at the notion of the irritating forest nymph who had twice now thwarted his meticulous plans reduced to the role of a helpless supplicant, pleading for his aid. Now that was more like it!

"What's wrong?" asked Buntleby, coming to the nymph's side. "Who's attacking your grove?"

"A hideous, six-headed beast!" replied Azurielle. "It's rapidly eating its way through the forest, and threatens to devour all with its ravenous appetite!"[1]

"'Six-headed beast?' A hydra?" guessed Rhionda. Azurielle nodded in affirmation.[2]

"What about Moonsilver?" asked Buntleby. "Isn't he there to protect you?"

"No longer," cried Azurielle, and now the tears flowed once more. "He was slain even as he fought to--protect--" The nymph broke off into sobs, unable to finish, and buried her head against Buntleby's shoulder.

"Who's Moonsilver?" asked Zantoullios, confused.

"The unicorn that guards - well, guarded - Azurielle's forest," replied Buntleby softly, as he stroked the sobbing nymph's hair in comfort.

"Unicorn?" repeated Dreelix, eyebrows raised in surprise. He got to his feet and skirted around the head table, all fears of his former two-time nemesis immediately forgotten in the face of the prospect of getting his hands on a genuine unicorn horn. "A dead unicorn? Nearby? Really?"

"Have a little heart, Dreelix!" Buntleby scolded. "Moonsilver was a close friend of hers, and a valuable ally!" Azurielle gave another wracking sob, soaking the front of Buntleby's robes even further with her tears.

"You're absolutely right; forgive me," said Dreelix, moving over to stand beside Buntleby and the sobbing nymph. He put an awkward hand on Azurielle's shoulder and gave it a little pat. "This must be very difficult for you. Just let it all out, that's a good girl." Lady Ablasta scowled her best scowl at Dreelix's uncharacteristic compassion, especially toward someone she considered to be nothing more than a shameless little hussy. Then she noticed him slipping an empty potion vial from a pocket with his free hand and holding it up to Azurielle's cheek, out of Buntleby's field of vision. Leave it to their crafty leader to take advantage of free-flowing nymph's tears!

"What kind of hydra was it?" asked Rhionda. "Did it breath out fire? Or maybe frost?"

"It's the smelly kind,"[3] replied Azurielle, opening her eyes and lifting her head from Buntleby's shoulder to respond. Dreelix hurriedly slipped the vial back into his robe before he was noticed, mentally estimating how many potions of love could be distilled with the nymph's tears he had surreptitiously harvested.

"The smelly kind?" repeated Rhionda in consternation. She looked to Willowquisp the Zoophile, the Monster Hunters' resident expert on unusual creatures. He also had a puzzled expression on his face, and scratched his chin in thought.

"Yes, smelly!" the nymph confirmed. "The thing has a stench like you wouldn't believe! And it's covered in vile, dripping slime, like a slug!"[4] She shuddered in revulsion just at the thought of it.

"Most strange," said Willowquisp, frowning. "I've never heard of a hydra with such unusual characteristics. The four standard types of hydra are all carnivores, and to the best of my knowledge they don't exude slime or give off any offensive odors. But then, perhaps it's a hybrid, or a rare mutation!" He brightened visibly at the prospect. "I think we should definitely study the creature!"

"Study it all you want, but only after you've killed it!" replied Azurielle. "My grove is in immediate danger from the beast; the longer you delay, the more damage it will do!"

"By all means, let's go after the monster!" agreed Dreelix, thinking back over how valuable the pyrohydra's corpse had been, from a magical item creation standpoint. He wasn't about to pass up the opportunity for another quick cash cow! "Rest assured, Azurielle: The Monster Hunters are on the case! Quickly, all, to the carpet of flying!" Dreelix dashed eagerly out of the Monster Hunters' meeting hall, Zantoullios and Grindle fast on his heels. Lady Ablasta sniffed in irritation at the comely nymph and followed the others at a more dignified pace. That left Buntleby, Willowquisp, Rhionda, and Azurielle to bring up the rear. Willowquisp looked fretfully back at Old Gumphrey, snoring obliviously in his chair, head propped on one arm.

"Let him sleep," said Buntleby. "We'll catch up with him once we've killed the hydra." He closed the door quietly behind him as they left the hall.

The sudden silence startled Old Gumphrey awake as the background conversation hadn't - he had long ago learned to tune out Dreelix's bleatings. "Huh?" he asked, puzzled, looking around at the empty meeting hall with bleary eyes. Then, in sudden inspiration, he stood, cleared his throat, and announced to the room at large, "The next order of business: I propose Old Gumphrey finishes off the wine left in everyone's goblet. All in favor?" He raised his hand. "All opposed?" Looking around the room and seeing no opposition, he announced: "Motion carried!"

Then, cackling in glee at his own good fortune, he approached the nearest goblet and downed its contents before moving on to the next in turn.

1. Gulguthydras eat constantly during their waking hours. They prefer flesh above all else (being especially fond of human and halfling flesh, with horseflesh a close third), but will devour just about anything organic. A gulguthydra moving through a forest eats any trees and bushes it encounters (stripping the trees of leaves, bark, and most of their smaller limbs), leaving behind a wide swath of destruction in its wake.

2. As the name suggests, a gulguthydra is a cross between a true hydra (common, Lernaean, pyrohydra, or cryohydra) and a gulguthra (also known as an otyugh). Regardless of the type of hydra that spawns such a monstrosity, gulguthydras mirror only the "common" type of hydra, in that they have no breath weapons and cannot regenerate as Lernaean hydras do. They are always born with six hydralike heads, regardless of the number of heads possessed by their hydra parent.

From the otyugh parent, a gulguthydra inherits a pair of grasping tentacles that grow from its bloated body. These tentacles take the place of a tail, and grow along the creature's sides such that the two tentacles and the cluster of six heads are roughly equidistant along the circumference of the gulguthydra's body.

Gulguthydras breed true: The union of a gulguthydra and either an otyugh or any hydra is always a gulguthydra, as is the spawn of a pair of gulguthydras.

3. The stench of a gulguthydra is something that must be experienced to be believed. So vile is the creature's odor that anyone with 8 HD or less approaching within 80 feet of a gulguthydra must make a Fortitude save (DC 23) or become violently nauseous for 1d10 rounds. Nauseated beings cannot attack, cast (or even concentrate on previously cast) spells, or do anything else requiring any amount of attention; they are limited to taking a single move (or move-equivalent) action. Furthermore, if they are still within "nausea range" of the gulguthydra when the initial duration expires, they must make an additional Fortitude save or suffer the consequences all over again. This process can repeat itself indefinitely as long as the victim stays within range and continues to fail his Fortitude saves, but once a save is successful the victim is immune from gulguthydra stench effects for a full 24 hours.

4. Gulguthydras constantly secrete slime from the pores between their reptilian scales. This slime is excretory in nature, carrying wastes from the creature's body. As might be expected from a creature that spends nearly every waking hour eating, a gulguthydra produces a vast amount of bodily wastes; thus, it is generally coated in a foot-thick layer of greasy slime and excrement. In fact, Azurielle's slug analogy isn't too far off, for the gulguthydra's distended belly drags on the ground as it waddles along, leaving a slime trail behind it like a slug or snail. Were it not for this slime, which allows the creature to slide along the ground, it's unlikely that the ungainly gulguthydra could reach its normal Speed of 30 feet.
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"Watch out for that branch!" screamed Lady Ablasta as Dreelix piloted his flying carpet through the forest with his usual skill. Her normally well-coiffured hair already sported an abundance of leaves and twigs from several other close calls with low-hanging branches during the trip thus far. Silently, she vowed that if she survived this wild journey, she'd be sure to sit in the back in future. Or better yet, in the portable hole with the others, where it was safer!

"Why don't you fly above the treetops?" she groused.

"I only know the way to the grove from ground level!" responded Dreelix, swerving his carpet to the right to narrowly avoid yet another tree.

"Yipes," commented Zantoullios, as they crested a hill and the monster's path of destruction became visible. A meandering trail of overturned trees, their branches denuded of leaves and even most of their bark, marked the creature's recent wanderings. It rambled this way and that with no apparent rhyme or reason, but even Dreelix could tell that it was headed in the general direction of Azurielle's grove.

"We're getting close," he said, skimming the carpet along the winding path of devastation. That much was obvious; on the ground between the toppled trees the four Monster Hunters could detect a glistening trail of still-moist slime.[5]

"I'm taking us down," Dreelix announced. Unfortunately, his landings weren't much better than his intraforest piloting skills: The flying carpet touched ground before slowing down sufficiently, pitching the Monster Hunters forward with considerable speed. Lady Ablasta found herself sprawled face down in the slime with Zantoullios' lanky form piled on top of her. Dreelix didn't fare any better: All 300 pounds of Grindle the Coin-Counter barreled into him from behind and sent him sliding on his belly through the creature's slime-spoor like a kid on a water slide. He came to a stop some 30 feet from the others.

"Not one of your better landings," observed Zantoullios, getting to his feet and reaching a hand to help up the Conjurer Ablasta. She slapped his hand away in irritation and stood up without his assistance.

"True, true," admitted Dreelix, not at all happy with the situation but not wanting to dwell on it because it was, after all, his fault and he could see no immediate way to successfully deflect the blame onto anyone else. "But we can't let a little mud distract us from our goal, can we?" He brushed at his robes somewhat fastidiously, to little effect.

"I just wish it was only mud," mumbled Zantoullios to himself, wiping disconsolately at his robes.

Grindle, meanwhile, pulled his portable hole from a pocket. Spreading it out flat upon the ground, he reached in a pudgy hand and pulled out Azurielle, followed in turn by Willowquisp, Rhionda, and Buntleby. Looking at the disheveled state of the others, Buntleby observed, "Looks like the 'cheap seats' were definitely the way to go this time." Lady Ablasta just scowled at him and wiped her filth-covered face with her hand. She flung the residue to the ground in disgust.

"Well, anyway, I'd say it went thataway," said Buntleby cheerfully, pointing down the obvious path of destruction. "So, what's the plan, Dreelix?"

"Quite simple: We'll let Rhionda put her hydra-slaying skills to good use, while we wizards back her up with offensive spells, as necessary. I don't anticipate any problems."

"You seldom do," remarked Buntleby dryly. "That in itself is one of our biggest problems."

Willowquisp was investigating the slime trail. "Are you absolutely sure it was a hydra you saw?" he asked Azurielle. "This looks much more like the spoor of a giant slug."

"I don't know what you'd call it," replied the nymph, "but it had six reptilian heads on long, snakelike necks. I'd assume that would be a hydra." Willowquisp shrugged in reluctant agreement, trying to imagine how in the world a hydra could manage to mate with a giant slug.[6]

"Look over here," said Rhionda. She pointed out the imprint of a four-clawed foot[7] in the soft dirt alongside the slime trail. "I'd say that's a hydra print, all right. Big one, too."[8]

As if to accentuate the point, a loud crash came from over the next rise, followed by the crunch of multiple branches being chewed by multiple sets of teeth. "Let's go," said Rhionda with enthusiasm, pulling her longsword from her back and heading eagerly up the hill, toward the sound. The others followed suit.

Before long, though, Rhionda's brisk pace slackened down to a slow stumble, then came to a complete halt. "What's wrong?" asked Buntleby, before stepping into range and immediately receiving his answer. It was just about the worst smell he'd ever encountered - and that was saying something, what with his familiarity with stinking cloud spells, troglodyte bladders, flumph-spray, and Grindle's personal hygiene. He wrinkled his nose in disgust.

"I think I'm going to be sick," said Rhionda, just seconds before proving herself correct--all over Buntleby's boots.

"I told you: the smelly kind," reminded Azurielle.

"By the gods, you weren't kidding!" replied Dreelix, holding his nose. Lady Ablasta pulled her perfumed handkerchief from her sleeve and held it to her face, her normal scowl intensified tenfold by the vile stench. Zantoullios buried his nose in the crook of his elbow; Willowquisp, his face turning an alarming shade of green, followed suit. Grindle, meanwhile, sniffed the air to see what all the fuss was about and shrugged, unimpressed.

"This is going to change our strategies somewhat," observed Buntleby. "It looks like our fighter is out of action, and we can't very well be casting spells with one hand over our noses, can we?"

"No, I'll be fine," argued Rhionda from her hands and knees, her stomach heaving violently. "Just--give me a minute, Bunt."

"You know, you do kind of get used to it," observed Dreelix, taking his hand from his nose and breathing in a couple of tentative sniffs. The others followed suit - all but the Conjurer Ablasta, who refused to remove her perfumed handkerchief from her face.

"You'll have a hard time casting spells that way, you know," pointed out Buntleby.

"I'll be just fine," snapped Lady Ablasta. "Never you mind about me!"

"Come on, we're the bold and mighty Monster Hunters!" cried Dreelix, trying to booster up morale. "Are we going to allow a little unpleasantness get in the way of our plans?"


"Of course not."

"By no means."

"I suppose not."

"Well then, onward to victory!" cried Dreelix, marching over the top of the hill and forgetting in his exuberance that he usually preferred leading from the rear, not the front.

5. A gulguthydra's slime trail remains visible for 1d4 hours before drying up. Even after the moist mucus portion of the slime has dried, though, the bodily wastes leave behind a brownish dirtlike trail quite visible over most terrain. Tracking a gulguthydra is therefore generally not a problem (+15 circumstance bonus to Track skill checks) until the next hard rain.

6. Speaking of unlikely unions, no one's quite figured out how a hydra and an otyugh managed to mate in the first place - or why they'd even want to, for that matter! However they did it, the gulguthydra is the result, and they've managed to propagate their species ever since.

The mating process among gulguthydras is not what you'd expect, although upon reflection it would seem that mounting a mate who's covered in slippery, fecal slime might not be the easiest of tasks, especially for a creature dripping with the same substance himself. Gulguthydras have therefore taken a cue from octopus reproduction: The male secretes his spermatozoa into the cup of one tentacle and inserts it manually into the female's genital opening. It's not pretty, but it gets the job done.

A few weeks after mating, the female deposits 1d4 eggs in an out-of-the-way area and then abandons them, resisting the urge to later eat them being her only nod to motherhood. The eggs, perhaps foreshadowing the type of creature that will later emerge from them, smell rotten from the day they're first laid; the rancid stench keeps most predators at bay long enough for the creatures inside to hatch and have a fair chance at survival.

7. Although possessing sharp claws, a gulguthydra cannot bring them to bear as weapons because of its awkward build. Due to its bloated belly, a gulguthydra's short, stubby legs just barely reach the ground as it is; the creature uses its claws to pull its vast bulk along on its coating of glistening slime.

8. Perhaps because of their hybrid natures, gulguthydras grow to be much larger than any of the "true" hydras. This is counterintuitive, for otyughs are generally much smaller than hydras; however, the biggest otyughs (those with 15 HD) grow to Huge size and it is these larger beasts - often referred to as "neo-otyughs" and once believed to be a separate species - that spawn with hydras to produce gulguthydras.

The standard hydra is about 20 feet long and weighs 4,000 pounds, while a normal-sized gulguthydra can easily reach 30 feet and tips the scales at 6,000 pounds. Gulguthydras effortlessly reach targets up to 20 feet off the ground with their long necks.

Gulguthydras are better off than either of their parent races in more ways than just size. They are stronger (20 Str), tougher (24 Con), smarter (6 Int), and more forceful (15 Cha) than either standard six-headed hydras or otyughs.
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The Monster Hunters staggered over the top of the hill and were amazed at the sight before them. This creature was almost twice as big as the pyrohydra they had slain some weeks before; as they watched in stupefaction, it bit into the trunk of a tree with three sets of powerful jaws and uprooted it whole, while its other three heads immediately started to work on the foliage and branches, ripping them to shreds with razor-sharp teeth as long as swords and swallowing them down practically without chewing. The creature's twin tentacles swayed back and forth like misplaced tails, their tips covered in spiky growths reminiscent of the thornlike fronds of a giant man-eating plant.[9]

A squirrel, seeing its home being thus devoured, leapt out of the tree in blind panic for the safety of the ground below. Quick as a wink, one of the monster's tentacles snatched up the frightened squirrel in midair and popped it into a pair of gaping jaws like an after-dinner mint.[10] One gulp later and the squirrel was no more.

"Uh," was all Dreelix could say. He swallowed hard.

"Yeah, I know what you mean," agreed Zantoullios at his side, eyes goggling at the size of the beast.

"How in the world are we going to tackle something like that?" asked Buntleby.

"Its size is a bit of a problem," admitted Rhionda. "I don't think I'll be able to use my normal hydra tactics of chopping off each head in turn.[11] Maybe we'd be best off with you guys just lobbing spells at it from a distance, take it out that way."

"One fireball coming up," responded Dreelix, secretly pleased. Fireball was one of his favorite spells: Flashy, explosive, and leaving no doubt as to the power of arcane magic and those who could properly wield it.

"No!" cried Azurielle. "I'm not having you burn down my grove to save it from being eaten by the hydra! Find another way!"

"No fireballs?" pouted Dreelix.

"Willowquisp, any idea at all what kind of hydra that is?" asked Rhionda. "Any guesses as to its weaknesses?"

"I'm afraid not," replied the elderly sage. "If I had to guess, I'd say it's probably part otyugh: Note the two grasping tentacles, the basic roundness of the body, and the creature's overall stench. Plus, I believe the coloring's about the same as an otyugh underneath all of that dripping slime, a brownish gray. If this thing is a hybrid, it's possible that it can speak; I believe otyughs are capable of limited speech."

"Yeah, but so what?" asked Zantoullios. "What are we going to say to it? 'Hate to be a bother, old boy, but would you mind terribly seeking your dinner elsewhere? I'm afraid this grove has already been spoken for.' Let's just kill the stupid thing!"

"Okay, here's what we'll do," said Rhionda. "Grindle, you pilot the carpet of flying to a position directly above the monster, and I'll jump onto its back, right behind the cluster of necks. Then I'll see what I can do about severing some of those heads. The rest of you make good with hold monster spells, web spells, whatever you can do to keep it immobilized. I don't want to be plucked off by one of those tail-tentacle things. And throw as many magic missiles and whatnot at it that you can target directly at the hydra without hitting me as well. No fireballs, Dreelix; I'm not kidding!"

"Why does Grindle get to pilot the carpet?" he whined petulantly. "It's my carpet!"

"Well, we don't want to waste someone with your obviously superior spell-slinging skills on simple carpet-piloting, now, do we?" asked the young fighter sweetly, conveniently neglecting to mention that she trusted Grindle's piloting skills far more than those of their illustrious President. Rhionda's little speech had its desired effect, though: Dreelix puffed out his chest in self-importance and passed Grindle his magical carpet without further argument.

"What about us?" asked Azurielle, indicating Willowquisp and herself.

"You two would do best to stay out of the way," suggested Rhionda. "Keep your distance from the beast; it may shift around a bit once we start attacking, so keep your eyes open. In fact, why don't you two get on the carpet with Grindle and me? That may be the safest place for you." The elderly sage and the nymph stepped obligingly onto Dreelix's unrolled carpet and sat down.

"Okay then, everyone know what they're doing?" Rhionda asked. The others replied in the affirmative. "Remember, don't use up all of your hold monster spells at once this time; despite its six heads, there should only be one brain in that thing!"[12] Rhionda stepped onto the carpet of flying beside massive Grindle, and with a word they were off, soaring steadily up above the oblivious multiheaded monster below.[13]

9. A gulguthydra's tentacles are its primary means of attack, striking at +14 to hit and dealing 1d6+5 points of damage with each successful strike. In addition, when a tentacle strikes a victim the gulguthydra initiates an Improved Grab. This initiates a grapple as a free action but does not provoke an attack of opportunity against the gulguthydra. A gulguthydra grapples only with its tentacles, not its whole body, so it continues to threaten adjacent squares and can still attack other opponents, with a Reach of 15 feet.

A gulguthydra's grapple bonus is 14 (base attack bonus) + 5 (Strength bonus) + 8 (special size modifier) - 20 (for grappling only with its tentacle), for a total grappling bonus of +7, which is added to the creature's 1d20 grapple roll each round. Until the victim can escape the gulguthydra's grappling hold, she takes an automatic 1d6+5 points of damage each round. Gulguthydras also often bite their grappled victims, striking with a +4 circumstance bonus.

The gripping portion of a gulguthydra's tentacles do not exude slime and waste materials as the rest of the creature's body does; it's important that these areas remain dry, to prevent the beast's victims from easily slipping out of its grasp once held.

10. While a gulguthydra contents itself with plants when other food is unavailable, it greatly prefers the taste of flesh. The merest flash of exposed skin, fur, or even leather armor attracts the creature to the availability of a better-tasting meal. Gulguthydras also learn quickly that metal armor usually contains juicy morsels, so armor-clad victims are frequently targeted as well. Gulguthydras are anything but fussy eaters and have been known to devour any carrion they come across.

11. Even though the gulguthydra is a hydra hybrid (try saying that five times fast!), the standard hydra combat rules do not apply: You cannot kill a gulguthydra by cutting off each of its heads in turn; those rules are reserved for true hydras, as you generally cannot target specific parts of a monster's anatomy.

12. Like the true hydras, a gulguthydra has a single brain located in its back at the base of its necks. Despite Dreelix's prior beliefs on the subject, a gulguthydra (or any other multiheaded creature) is affected by a single casting of a hold monster, slow, or similar spell.

13. With six sets of eyes and ears, a gulguthydra gains a +6 bonus to its Listen rolls and +7 to its Spot rolls. However, while eating, its attention is rarely focused on anything but the meal at hand. Occasionally, a gulguthydra stops feeding with one head and takes a leisurely look around before returning its full attention to its food, but most of the time it avoids possible distractions from its meal.
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Grindle flew the carpet higher and higher until he was certain that they were out of reach of the monster's snapping heads and grasping tentacles, then maneuvered it directly above the massive beast. He noted that the creature was completely immobile; apparently the first of the hold monster spells had been successfully cast. "Okay," said Rhionda, drawn sword in hand. "Keep it at this level, Grindle; keep the noncombatants out of harm's way. And I'll see you guys later." With that she stepped casually off the carpet of flying and plummeted toward the beast below.

With the aid of her boots of levitation, she slowed her descent at the last moment and landed directly behind the cluster of thick necks. She swung her longsword in a swift arc at the nearest appendage, noting that each neck was thicker around than her entire body. "Should have brought an axe," she muttered to herself. "This is more like chopping down a tree." Still, the sword bit deep into the hydra's neck, releasing a sluggish flow of thick, brownish blood.[14] It quickly combined with the never-ending flood of dripping slime that constantly oozed down the monster's body, and was soon lost to view; the fighter could no longer tell she had even wounded the beast.

Rhionda nearly lost her footing on the back of the repulsive creature; her feet kept slipping in its nearly foot-thick coating of disgusting slime, her movements digging furrows in the vile muck. Rhionda's gorge nearly rose again at the overwhelming stench of the beast and she did her best to ignore not only the odor but also the cloud of buzzing flies that swarmed all over the vicinity.[15] Instead, she concentrated on swinging her longsword into the monster's necks and keeping her footing in the slippery slime as she did so. She was pleased to note that glowing shafts of magical energy - magic missiles, no doubt - continued to strike at the creature's flank as she did so.

Suddenly, the monster gave a violent shudder and returned to life: the first hold monster spell had finally run its course! The unexpected movement sent Rhionda slipping onto her bottom and struggling to regain her footing on the slippery beast. The creature hissed in pain through six angry throats and turned its heads toward the young fighter perched on its back. Rhionda managed to stand and swung her sword up to ward off the nearest of the attacking heads; as she did so, she was taken by surprise when a grasping tentacle grabbed her from behind.[16]

"Hold monster! Hold monster!" she cried frantically to the wizards.

"We're trying!" called back Buntleby. "It's shrugging off the effects!"[17]

Up on the carpet of flying, Willowquisp observed the proceedings with growing concern. The creature had Rhionda's arms pinned at her sides; even with her sword in hand, she was unable to do much with it. The tentacle raised, lifting the struggling young woman into the reach of the creature's sharp-toothed heads. "It's going to eat her!" he cried out in horror. Down below, on the hillside, he could see Buntleby and the others frantically casting spells at the beast, with little effect. Apparently failing at a hold monster spell, Lady Ablasta tried a web spell, binding the creature's tentacle to the ground, but both ground and tentacle were covered in slippery slime and the effect wasn't all that might have been hoped for.[18] Despite the urgency of the situation, Willowquisp couldn't help but notice that Lady Ablasta had solved the stench problem by stuffing her scented handkerchief deep up each nostril until it hung on its own, leaving both of her hands free for spellcasting.

"Grindle, quickly: Dive!" commanded Willowquisp, returning his attention to the problem at hand. Grindle obeyed without question, and Dreelix's carpet of flying began a rapid descent toward the beast.

"We won't be able to pull her free!" yelled Azurielle, unsure of what the aging sage hoped to accomplish by such a suicidal run.

"We won't have to!" yelled back Willowquisp, pulling the portable hole out of Grindle's soiled pocket. As they sped past, he unfolded it to its full length and hurled it, spinning like a discus, between the tentacle pinning Rhionda and the open-mouthed hydra head even now descending to bite the struggling morsel it held trapped. The open portable hole flipped over the tip of the tentacle and Rhionda vanished into its extradimensional interior, along with about ten feet of slime-dripping tentacle. The hydra's teeth snapped together where Rhionda should have been but suddenly wasn't; Grindle and the others skimmed away on the carpet of flying, getting back out of range of the creature's other snapping heads.

"Hey, Rhionda's out of harm's way!" noted Zantoullios as he cast the last of his magic missile spells at the beast. Its half-tentacle writhed fruitlessly, trying to shake off the portable hole that trapped the other half of its length in a pocket dimension.

"You mean--?" asked Dreelix hopefully.

"FIREBALL!" screamed the gangly wizard, launching a salvo at the enraged beast's heads.

"FIREBALL!" echoed Dreelix gleefully, sending another one screaming at the hydra's flank. They exploded into puffs of beautiful, glorious flame, nearly engulfing the beast in fire. Up on the carpet of flying, Azurielle screamed in frustration at the sight of the flames, fearing their spread to the forest that was her home. "It's probably for the best," consoled Willowquisp, laying a comforting hand on the nymph's shoulder. "Better to slay the beast quickly, than let it do further damage to your forest."

"And what about the fire?" she demanded. "Won't that do as much damage, or more?"

"Only if we let it," soothed Willowquisp. "We can always use the portable hole to dump water on any flames that get out of hand." Somewhat mollified, Azurielle let the matter drop, and looked back to see how the Monster Hunters were faring.

Fortunately, for once, they were doing rather well. Unable to figure out where the tip of its one tentacle and its helpless victim had gone, the creature turned its attention to the four wizards hurling spells down at it from the hilltop above. It rushed the Monster Hunters - at least as fast as a creature dragging an oversized belly uphill along on a coating of slime beneath it can be said to "rush" - jaws snapping in anticipation of a quick meal. This, of course, placed its tentacles behind the bulk of its bloated body, and the four wizards felt confident enough of Rhionda's safety to let loose a barrage of fireballs that scorched the creature's entire front surface, baking the muck covering its skin into hard bricks that fell from the hydra's body in clumps. Immediately thereafter, the creature's six necks slumped to the ground as well. The flailing tentacles fell to the ground, unmoving, beside the slain hydra's body.

14. The gulguthydra's unusual blood coloration comes from the fact that it not only brings oxygen to the creature's cells, but also serves a waste-extraction role, ferrying bodily wastes to the outer surface of the beast's body where they are excreted along with the ever-present slime. This unique (and rather disgusting) blood makeup makes the gulguthydra resistant to the attentions of stirges and other blood-feasting creatures; after one taste, they're unlikely to return for seconds.

15. Given the composition of the gulguthydra's fecal slime, it should come as no surprise that the creature enjoys an immense popularity with flies and other dung-eating insects. While the name "gulguthra" means "dung eater," it refers only to the otyugh parent; gulguthydras do not have a taste for such fare.

16. Each of a gulguthydra's six heads strikes at +12 in melee combat, dealing 2d8+2 points of bite damage with a successful hit. Given a choice, a gulguthydra strikes victims with its tentacles first, preferring to bite prey already held in place, but it's crafty enough to use all of its attacks wisely when facing multiple foes.

17. With the Iron Will feat and its 15 Hit Dice, a gulguthydra has a +10 modifier to all Will saves.

18. DMs might consider granting gulguthydras a +10 circumstance bonus to Escape Artist checks as a result of their coating of slippery fecal slime.
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As one, the Monster Hunter wizards cheered out loud. "Hunt successful!" announced Dreelix, raising his arms in victory and pirouetting as if solely responsible for the creature's death. With a bit of effort, Rhionda wriggled out of the portable hole capping one tentacle and pulled it off the appendage, revealing its full length again. Seeing the beast was already dead, she gave it a final kick of frustration before joining the others. The movement loosened a small avalanche of dripping slime that quickly engulfed her boot. She pulled it free with a wet, sucking sound.

Grindle brought the carpet of flying to a gentle landing at the top of the hill. Azurielle stood up, scowling, her arms crossed in anger. "What about the fires?" she asked. "Are you going to let that thing burn out of control?" The multiple fireball barrage, besides setting fire to the monster's carcass, had started a dozen small fires among the grass and toppled trees in the vicinity. Zantoullios made himself useful stomping out the smaller of them with his sandals, until he caught the hem of his own robe on fire and had to have Grindle put it out by rolling on top of him and smothering the flames with his massive body.

"Actually, that might not be such a bad idea," remarked Buntleby. The nymph turned and glowered at him, not having expected him, of all people, to turn against her. "You know how bad that thing smells now?" Buntleby asked. "Just imagine the stench when it starts to decay!"[19]

Azurielle blanched at the thought, and instantly approved the notion of burning the slain monster, even going as far as applying a flame blade spell of her own to the vast carcass to help the process along. Only when the creature was blazing like a giant bonfire was she satisfied.

"Didn't we want to harvest any of its body parts?" asked Grindle, seeing the conflagration.

"Not if they all smell like that, we don't!" answered Dreelix, wrinkling his nose in disgust. "Now then, to our reward! Azurielle, I believe we have carried out our part of the bargain and disposed of the monster threatening your grove; kindly direct me to the slain unicorn's horn at all speed!"

Azurielle's face darkened in anger. "You mean you only helped me out of personal gain?" she demanded. "I should have known! Well, the alicorn you seek is in the belly of the burning beast yonder, Dreelix! Help yourself, if you wish!"

"WHAT?" thundered Dreelix. "You mean--?"

"What did you expect? You saw how that thing eats! It slew noble Moonsilver and gobbled him up, bones and all, with several of its heads."[20]

Dreelix ground his teeth in frustration. "And I don't suppose the stupid thing stores any treasure in its lair, does it? No, of course not," he complained, answering his own rhetorical question, "That would be expecting too much, wouldn't it?[21] Just once--JUST ONCE!--I'd like to see us end up with a rich Hunt! Is that so much to ask for?"

"Maybe next time," shrugged Buntleby. "As for now, I'd like nothing better than to get cleaned up. I think that probably goes for the rest of us, too."

"You should have those cuts looked at," suggested Azurielle to Rhionda, noting where the monster's spiked tentacle had scratched the fighter's skin. "You wouldn't want those to get infected."[22]

"Yeah, I will; thanks," said Rhionda.

"Come on; there's nothing for us here," bemoaned Dreelix. "We might as well get back, before anything else can go wrong, although I can't for the life of me imagine--"

Dreelix was cut off by the sound of a massive explosion. The monster's body erupted like a lit powder-keg, sending Azurielle and the Monster Hunters crashing to the ground. They were immediately thereafter pelted with bits of stinking flesh and gobbets of fecal slime falling from the sky.

"What in the Nine Hells was that?" demanded Dreelix.

"I imagine we finally ignited the creature's internal gasses," suggested Willowquisp. "When a creature eats as much as that one does, there's no doubt quite a gas buildup in its system; that may in part account for the creature's smell."[23]

"Great, just great," muttered Dreelix.

The eight figures got shakily to their feet and stared in amazement at each other. They weren't a pretty sight, dripping as they were with layers of the oozing slime; it covered their clothing, matted their hair, and stunk just as bad as it had on the gulguthydra. As one, they started frantically wiping the gunk out of their eyes, flinging it to the ground, and doing their best to spit the horrific taste out of their mouths. All but Lady Ablasta, that is: She just stood there, immobile, with her arms held away from her body and her eyes goggling, the expression on her muck-covered face one of absolute disbelief. This didn't happen, she thought, her brain unable to hold a steady thought for long. It didn't just--I'm not covered in--This never--Surely I'm not--My hair is NOT--

Suddenly, Willowquisp started laughing. "Well, don't we all just look lovely today?" he asked, smiling at the absurdity of their situation.

Buntleby couldn't help it; the laughter was infectious. He sniggered at the sight of the eight of them coated head to toe in brown, dripping, vile slime. Zantoullios and Rhionda soon joined in the mirth, and Grindle's prodigious belly bobbled up and down as he shook with silent laughter. Of the Monster Hunters, only Lady Ablasta and Dreelix failed to find any humor in the situation: Dreelix found the situation a personal affront to his dignity, while Ablasta's mind wouldn't yet admit that anything had happened. I'm not--It didn't--Surely I--It never--

Azurielle looked at the helpless state of the five Monster Hunters as they giggled and guffawed, chuckled and chortled, snickered and sniggered. "You know, I really have to wonder about you humans sometimes," she observed.

"For once, we're in complete agreement," replied Dreelix sourly.

19. A gulguthydra's stench effects continue on for 1d4+1 days after the creature's death, the lack of renewed slime production more than compensated for by the carcass' putrefaction.

20. There is no such thing as "indigestible material" to a gulguthydra; eventually, everything it eats - including hard substances like bone and metal - is broken down by its powerful stomach acids. There's plenty of room in a gulguthydra's bloated stomach cavity for material that takes a while to digest.

21. Unlike standard hydras and otyughs alike, gulguthydras have no concept of treasure. Since they often have no lairs of their own, there isn't even a likely chance of there being dropped weapons or items from the gulguthydra's previous victims; the creatures prefer keeping on the move in search of food.

22. Filth fever (described on page 74 of the Dungeon Master's Guide) is a valid concern for anyone battling a gulguthydra. DMs might wish to roll to see if any PC taking damage from a gulguthydra suffers from the effects of the disease.

23. A gulguthydra's internal gasses also account for its ability to swim at the surface of a body of water and inability to dive underwater. While they're great at floating, they're too buoyant to submerge (although they can plunge their heads underwater and snap up nearby fish).
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And that's the end of this one. I should point out that it was written using the 3.0 rules, not 3.5, and thus a few things are a bit off (like my page references in the DMG in one of the footnotes), but I figured I'd post it as originally written and not bother updating it.

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I love the Monster Hunters! I remember them from the time when they were erasing memories and wagging their fingers at everyone... This must be the Stinky Hydra incident that made the Portable Hole smell so badly: I recall Rhionda being towed behind the Flying Carpet thanks to her Boots of Levitation.

It's good to see Azurielle again: I also remember when she blinded the Monster Hunters (with collateral damage) for 'harvesting' her tears and hair for components for their item creation. :]


Actually, the "stinky hydra" incident was from "The Ecology of the Hydra" in Dragon #272. Grindle still hadn't cleaned it out when they went after the purple worm. (Apparently it's been fully cleaned since then.) Incidentally, the Monster Hunters Association series, in order, is as follows:

#227: Ecology of the Osquip - Buntleby joins the Monster Hunters
#240: Ecology of the Nymph - Azurielle takes revenge on the MHA after Dreelix harvests her tears
Annual #2: Ecology of the Shambling Mound - A shambler hunt goes wrong
#246: Ecology of the Flumph - Buntleby captures a flumph, but the flumph's got friends
#258: Ecology of the Flail Snail - A gnome petitions the MHA to defeat the flail snail in his town's mine
#261: Ecology of the Dark Naga - The Monster Hunters attack a sarcastic naga in its lair
#262: Ecology of the Jermlaine - Buntleby, Willowquisp, and Ozzie infiltrate a jermlaine den
#269: Ecology of the Pseudodragon - A trio of Monster Hunters attempt to grab Azurielle's pet pseudodragon for magical experiments
#270: Ecology of the Gorbel - The Monster Hunters are deputized to take care of a gorbel infestation in a cornfield
#272: Ecology of the Hydra - Rhionda joins the MHA and proves her worth by defeating a pyrohydra
#282: Ecology of the Purple Worm - Dreelix has the MHA confront a purple worm on a dare
(Unpublished): Ecology of the Gulguthydra - The MHA comes to Azurielle's aid to defeat a monster eating its way through her grove
(Unpublished): Ecology of the Grick - Several Monster Hunters remove a grick from a secret flumph shrine
(Unpublished): Ecology of the Death Kiss - Buntleby and Rhionda reminisce about how they first met, when they were young adventurers together
(Unfinished): Ecology of the Umpleby - Willowquisp lectures on umplebies at a mage fair
(Unfinished): Ecology of the Aranea - Azurielle is kidnapped by araneas, and it's the Monster Hunters to the rescue
(Unstarted): Ecology of the Tall Mouther - Two members of Buntleby and Rhionda's former adventuring band petition the Monster Hunters for help

And then there's always the "Rogues Gallery: The Monster Hunters Association" article in Dragon #282, in which I wrote up 3.0 stats for the nine Monster Hunters.

Anyway, I'm glad you enjoyed this latest tale!


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