Why We Should Care About the Flumph (aka, Owlbears – WTF?)

It’s about time someone gave flumphs some 4th edition love. And that someone is going to be us. Sort of. Today we have a guest post by the venerable Alphastream, Ashes of Athas living campaign admin, and a renowned flumph apologist. Also, stay tuned for next Tuesday’s article where we will be making super easy flumph miniatures with another guest author!

Behold. The humble flumph.

Life isn’t always fair. Sometimes, for no real reason at all, a monster is forgotten. Or, worse yet, one monster is made fun of while another, of similar… um… bizarreness, gets to be on the cover of several monster books. This is the sad unfair story of the poor good flumph. Also, of the evil Owlbear, which no one should like.

The flumph’s story begins in a wondrous tome called Fiend Folio. This AD&D book is filled with creative monsters. And ok, it has some really wacky ones. You have the Flail Snail, with several heads that look like… a flail. The bunny-with-a-unicorn-horn called the Al-mi’raj. The crabman. The sheet phantom. Take a look at the book and you will find many more. In amongst these creatures (and really cool stuff like the githyanki and githzerai) is the flumph.

The flumph looks like a pure white disk with two long thin eyestalks coming out the top and the mouth in between. It has several soft-looking tentacles along the underside and some spikes on the underside. It meanders about by sucking in air into its mouth and expelling it downwards. I’m sure it’s tiring work to fly like that.

While some like to poke fun at the flumph, it can poke right back with those vicious spikes. But it won’t if it can help it. You see, it is Lawful Good. It is, in fact, the only Lawful Good creature in that entire book. The nicest. The kindest. The most willing to help an adventurer out, if only the PC were kind to the flumph. If, as is wont to happen, the adventurer is mean, the flumph will squirt a stream of foul-smelling liquid at him or her. That stream can reach 20’ and causes anything reasonably smart to flee immediately. Perhaps this defense mechanism is supposed to educate others, because the horrendous smell is bad enough that friends will shun the adventurer for 1-4 hours and won’t approach within 100’ during that time.

Unfortunately for the flumph, adventurers aren’t always (or even usually) “reasonably smart.” When squirted with foul liquid, they come back for more. That’s when the flumph rises up and drops onto them, using those sharp spikes to teach the “hero” a much needed lesson. The spikes make a small wound, but fill it with acid that tends to burn for several rounds. Proving the creature’s marvel, no sage or alchemist has been able to develop an antidote.

Mother nature may have been the first to deal a cruel hand to the flumph, for it has a big weakness (other than, of course, its kind heart). The flumph has a very soft underside, and if flipped over is completely helpless.

But that aside, this is a peaceful, intelligent, lawful-good creature that just wants to float about. It has cool spikes, can fly, has acid, and can squirt poison. It should be celebrated. It should be in every edition of the game. And that’s the saddest thing. After the Fiend Folio it saw hundreds of monsters updated for second edition AD&D and hundreds if not thousands more placed in three ring Monstrous Compendium binders before finally seeing mention in Monstrous Compendium Annual Volume II. And then, worst of all, it had to watch as an entire third edition came and went with no official flumph.

Meanwhile, let’s check in with the Owlbear. This thing was one of the first monsters in the game, showing up in the Greyhawk supplement for the White Box of Original Dungeons & Dragons. This is a creature that is half owl and half bear. Seriously. It delivers a “hug” and also attacks with its large beak (yeah, a beak on a bear) or teeth (wait, teeth and beak?) or hugely long claws. Bodies are furry but give way to feathers around the head. Its origin comes from some toy Gary Gygax picked up. Surely gamers would look upon this ridiculous mess of a monster and give it no further attention. What’s that? Cover of the AD&D Monster Manual? Yep, and it looks pretty dumb. The entry expands that this dumb thing is the result of genetic tinkering by insane wizards. The owlbear proceeds to appear in just about every possible place, from boxed sets to monster updates (Volume One every time, of course… it even is in several versions as different types), Dragon magazine articles (the Winged Owlbear variant? The Greater Owlbear? The Ancient Owlbear? The Ankholian Owlbear????), you name it. This silly thing even appears, I’m ashamed to admit, in a Dark Sun adventure. Owlbears are on trading cards, in Chainmail minis, in several plastic minis (including a DM reward repaint). It appears in third edition, and in fourth edition it is in the first picture within the first Monster Manual. Of course, it then gets to be on the cover of Monster Vault. The owlbear has appeared in MMORPGs.

What does the flumph get? It gets ridicule. Order of the Stick makes fun of it in comic #55, where the poor creatures are forced to live in a dungeon designed solely for creatures that will never be updated to third edition – a Noah’s Ark of shame. It becomes a running (ok, floating) joke as the Order of the Stick adventurers periodically fall on the flumphs (the irony) whenever they fall a long distance. The last appearance, sad as always, is a similar fate in comic #526. In fourth edition, Logan Bonner and Chris Sims wrote an April Dungeon adventure entitled Fool’s Grove where they (and it pains me to say it because they are otherwise good persons) made fun of the flumph. At least they provided statistics. Sadly, because it was a joke, the adventure wasn’t compiled and the flumph does not appear in the online Compendium. Sigh.

There are very few heroes. One of them is Tim Hitchcock, author of Box of Flumph in Dungeon 118. There, for once, the flumph is laid bare as a caring good creature in need of heroes that will help it. Finding a home for them is suggested as a campaign arc, stats are provided (including one that has sorcerer levels!), and the author says “whether or not we choose to admit it, there’s a little flumph in all of us.” Truer words have not been spoken.

Flumph in 4th Edition

DDI: See the April Fool’s version in Fool’s Grove Delve, though it should be Lawful Good!

And, here are some homebrew ones:

You can download a .zip of the .monster files to import into the Monster Builder here


This entry was posted in Adventure Seeds, Musings and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Why We Should Care About the Flumph (aka, Owlbears – WTF?)

  1. Thorynn says:

    I suppose we all wait in vain for the flumph minis. C’mon WotC! They could be artillery in your upcoming miniatures game!!!

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