Sunday, September 28, 2008

I never understood ear seekers until now

It's a minor thing, really. But I think it reveals a great deal about my gaps in D&D lore.

Ever since I read the entry for ear seekers in the 1st edition Monster Manual, I had never understood how they were employed in the game of Dungeons & Dragons. Gygax described them as small insects that live in wood and need warm places to lay eggs. That's all.

Well, how does that work? How do they "attack?" Do they wait around in the rafters and then drop on the heads of unwary adventurers? Do they crawl into the ears of sleeping adventurers camped out in the woods?

I never understood why ear seekers were in the D&D rules at all. The presence of dragons in the Monster Manual needed no explanation. Orcs and halflings might require some knowledge of the writings of Tolkien. Perhaps the existence of otyughs needed explanation as a component of self-contained dungeon ecology. But ear seekers? What the heck?

It wasn't until I read something recently that I finally understood. (I think it was in Castle Zagyg: The Upper Works or maybe in the Hackmaster rulebook. Or maybe it was someone's recent blog? I'm not sure.) Ear seekers are meant to be the bane of people who listen at doors. It's as simple as that.

For the last 30 years I had no clue. This says a lot about me. For starters, I feel I never got my fair share of dungeon crawling experience and I've always been itching to do much more than the scant amount I got to play in my youth. I also think it says much about the fact that the old school style of playing D&D might become a forgotten art.


James Maliszewski said...

If you haven't done a lot of dungeon crawling, much of D&D won't make any sense. Ear seekers are just the beginning.

Scott said...

Yep, ear seekers are one of the classic punishment monsters, along with the rust monster and the disenchanter. They exist as in-game manifestations of the GM's out-of-game desire to change the characters' form of play. As opposed to, say, talking to the players out-of-game and bringing up his concerns.

In the case of the ear seeker, I'm fairly sure the 1e DMG said so pretty much explicitly. Don't have that book handy, or I'd look it up and check.

M.gunnerQuist said...

If you haven't done a lot of dungeon crawling, much of D&D won't make any sense. Ear seekers are just the beginning.

Admittedly, I never got to do much dungeon crawling other than published modules. It's disappointing that everyone around me wants to play adventure paths. They view "Gygaxian" dungeon crawls as pointless. But I suspect that they never tried it. There are young gamers I know who started out with 2e or later and have no idea how to play in the old school sandbox style. To them, something like an ear seeker would be arbitrary or perhaps unfair. I can't seem to get any of these kids interested in playing D&D as a game.

Chgowiz said...

What behaviour were ear seekers supposed to punish? I can see them as that random "ouch" kinda monster, to have some fun and inject even more "danger" into dungeon activities, but I can't understand punishment in that regards vs using a rust monster to perhaps humble those walking tin cans.

Donjon Master said...

I can think of several reasons ear seekers were introduced:

1. to dissuade PCs from being too cautious (taking too long), which can make for tedious game play (wandering monsters serve a similar function vis-a-vis parties that "waste" time);

2. to add to the sense that nothing is safe or routine; and

3. to add to the trope of monsters disguised as or hidden in mundane things/places (lurkers above, mimics, etc.).