Saturday, April 30, 2022

Elden Ring's Land Squirts for Old School Roleplaying Games

(I actually started writing this post like a month ago but then I got busy n distracted, so I'm finishing it now and posting it!!! Oh, and I have a personal website now, so check that out!) 

So everyone has been talking about that Elden Ring game huh? It looks fantastic, amazing vibes, great open world, lots of opportunities for adventure, the whole nine yards, but uh, I actually can't play it. Woops! My computer wouldn't be able to run the dang thing, so I've been watching playthroughs of it to get a peek into that lovely little lands between that From Software gave to us. And while most people are talking about the bosses, how there's like a hundred of them, and I will admit Elden Ring's bosses do look fantastic, there is something else that has caught my attention...


Yeah, maybe they're not the most important enemy encounter in the game, but I really love them. The land squirts are found along the shores of the starting area of the game, Limgrave, as well as in a few other watery areas. They gather in clusters and are basically immobile, their only real defense mechanism being releasing a cloud of poisonous liquid from ports on one side of their body. If they are themselves poisoned then they explode into a cloud of poisonous liquid that can poison the other squirts near them, triggering a chain reaction that can kill them all. And that's basically it; these aren't a very story important enemy, they aren't very active, they're basically just a hazard to deal with when traveling through swamps and coastal regions.

But what is so special about the land squirts is that this is the first time I have ever seen anything in any form of media that referenced the sea squirt, one of the most fascinatingly weird animals, and a group of animals that I love. 

Sea squirts, or more accurately ascidians, are a type of tunicate that live in relatively shallow seawater. Tunicates are super fascinating animals, both for their sessile, filter feeding lifestyle, and because they are actually chordates! Yeah, the lumpy, eyeless, boneless, multicolored creatures you see before you are closer relatives to you and me than an octopus or a beetle, despite the latter two sharing more superficially similar structures with us! Tunicates are the only invertebrate chordates, meaning that despite the presence of a notochord (the structure that forms the spine in vertebrates), they lack a bony spine or any bony skeleton at all. In fact, when they are adults, sea squirts and other tunicates even lack the very notochord that defines the phylum Chordata! They have a distinct nervous notochord in their larval form (seen below), but when they metamorphose into the adult stage of their lives they digest the notochord, leaving them without a central nervous system. Isn't that just so cool?? The closest boneless relatives of humans, frogs, lizards, birds, sharks, and fish DIGESTS its own nervous system to transition to adulthood. I just think that is sick as hell.

A larval sea squirt in all its flagellate glory!

Tunicates do this because they actually don't need a central nervous system as an adult. That's because sea squirts and other tunicates live lives where an energy-hungry brain would actually be somewhere between worthless and an actual detriment. To be precise, there are three types of life patterns that different species of sea squirts employ. On the one hand are the completely sessile solitary sea squirts that take root on the seafloor and filter out nutrients from the water; there is also a more socially organized form of sea squirt, where they are still sessile but form larger sea floor conglomerations, several squirts all rooting in more or less the same spot. And then, going in a completely different direction, are the much more mobile colonial sea squirts, considerably smaller than their sessile cousins, who form larger organism-esque colonies that can float and swim around the ocean, each individual squirt contributing to the whole. They're still filter feeders though, just ones that can move around. While I find colonial tunicates super cool and fascinating, the land squirts in Elden Ring are very obviously from the second type of sessile squirt, forming small communities rooted in close proximity to one another. Maybe a colonial tunicate monster would be a good opportunity for a post in the future?

A super cool free floating colonial tunicate... not relevant to today's post, but very cool nonetheless!

Additionally, sea squirts in real life are actually not uncommonly used as food! And I don't just mean by animals, though of course the sessile sea squirt is a perfect prey item for many predators who don't really want to bother chasing something around the ocean (and, as an aside, the presence of tunicates on land has fascinating implications for what eats them). But it is also human food in many parts of the world! In Korea and Japan, for instance, a species of sea squirt known as sea pineapple (Halocynthia roretzi) is actually cultivated in captivity and served raw, sashimi-style, or as part of bibimbap! Sea figs or grooved sea squirts (Microcosmus sabatieri) are eaten in France, Italy, and Greece, served raw with lemon or as part of salads! In Chile, the piure (Pyura chilensis) is served as an ingredient in seafood soups! There's more examples of sea squirt based cuisine around the world, but I just wanted to share these as inspiration for potentially more creative applications of squirt based creatures in your elf games!

A bunch of wild sea pineapples all rooted in place!

Before I get into the actual game stats, there is one question that has to be asked regarding the very existence of the land squirt. In real life, sea squirts are filter feeders, they subsist on the floating particulates of the ocean, with orifices open for water currents to just flow through, almost like a sponge. Elden Ring's land squirts are, rather obviously, on land, where last I checked there weren't any ocean currents carrying nutrient particles (maybe small grains of dust or floating seeds caught on the wind?), but they still have the distinctive openings characteristic of real sea squirts. I don't really know how they eat! They still live in wet environments, swamps and on shallow coastlines, so perhaps they have openings that are lower to the ground to pick up food from the water? The openings on the top are where they release poison in-game, so maybe those are waste openings? The poison is also a bit out of nowhere since, rather obviously, real life sea squirts don't spit poison out of their orifices, but I don't care!!! I like the weird lumpy poison shooting swamp dwelling giant invertebrate chordates!!!

The "land squirt ashes" that let you summon spectral squirts in Elden Ring

Land Squirt
Number Encountered: 2d6+1
Hit Dice: 3
Attacks: poisonous liquid (see below)
Armor: as leather
Morale: N/A (they can't flee!)
Cluster: Land squirts gather together in closely packed clusters.
Poisonous Liquid: Land squirts can spew a toxic liquid from their anterior openings. Those in the spray's range and on the front of the land squirt must save or take 1d8 damage.
Sessile: Land squirts are completely immobile, rooted in place by a fleshy stalk. They are reliant on water to survive.
Toxic Overload: Despite being poisonous themselves, if they are poisoned they explode and release all of their toxins in a wide radius. Those within the radius take 2d6 damage. If there are any other land squirts within range, they are also poisoned and thus also explode.

I thought about trying to model their poison ability off of the Dark Souls/Elden Ring poison mechanic, but I think that may have to wait for another day. Also, because I think larval sea squirts are so cool and weird, here's a stat block for a larval land squirt despite those not appearing in game.

Larval Land Squirt
Number Encountered: 3d6+1
Hit Dice: 1-1
Attacks: bite (1d4)
Armor: none
Morale: 6
Self Digest: Larval land squirts can begin to digest their stiff notochord and other inner organs, typically three days after they hatch. Touching a larval land squirt while it is self digesting deals 1d6 damage due to the creature's acid.
Slippery: Larval land squirts are incredibly difficult to grab, and they will always slip out of attempts to grapple them.

Perhaps I exaggerated the metamorphosis process... well it's whatever, hyperbolic monstrous presentations of real life animals is what fantasy games are all about!

Also, since I think land squirts would fit super well in a Gamma World or GW esque game, here are stats for them for use with 1e and 2e Gamma World. I can very easily see myself putting them in the Great Black Swamp of my Gamma Ohio or on the shores of Lake Erie!

Land Squirt for GW 1e
No. Appearing: 2d6+1
Armor Class: 8
Movement: N/A
Hit Dice: 6
These swamp and coastal creatures are the gargantuan mutated descendants of sea squirts, filter feeding sessile invertebrates. They are reliant on water to survive, but the openings once used for filtering water now spew noxious poison. The poisonous liquid of a land squirt is a contact poison with a poison strength of 9. If a land squirt is poisoned, they will explode and release a large cloud of poison, and they can be poisoned by the poison of another land squirt. Land squirts cluster together in large sessile groups.

Land Squirt for GW 2e
Number: 2d6+1
Morale: N/A
Hit Dice: 6d6
Armor: 8
Speed: Does not move
MS: 1d4          IN: 1d4
DX: 1d4          CH: 1d4
CN: 1d12+9    PS: 1d12+6
Attacks: Poison spray
Mutations: Poison Susceptibility, Water Dependency
Description: See GW 1e description above.