Ecology of the Carrion Crab

June 2013

Co-written by Nicole Massey and Bryan Fazekas. The monster is Nicole's creation and the fiction is Bryan's.

This article was originally published in & Magazine Issue 1 in May 2012.


"I have never heard of orcs eating their own dead," David interjected.

Hal pounded his fist on the table in fury. The man was well into his cups, it being just after lunch time, and he brooked no disagreement with his tale. "ORCS EAT THEIR DEAD!!! I damned well was there and saw it with my own two eyes!"

At age 12 David was not dissuaded by fury, so he continued to prod. "That is NOT what you said, Hal. You said you came back and the bones were picked clean."

Hal was probably somewhere between 50 and 80, but years of hard drinking made it hard to tell. He had been a fixture in the tavern for five years, telling stories of his adventuring days in exchange for drinks. The tavern owner tolerated him because he was mostly entertaining and he brought some business her way. She wasn't pleased that David was prodding the old man yet again, but tolerated the boy's presence because of his grandparents. Well, maybe not grandparents, but they treated the boy same as they did their actual grandson Jake.

Pounding the table again in even greater fury Hal howled, "Don't tell me what I said! I know what I said!"

Several of the listeners finished their drinks and got up to leave. Focused on the boy the old man didn't even realize he was losing his audience, and more importantly, more ale. Not that he needed more. Another ale and he'd spew instead of wandering off to sleep, before coming back after dark for another round of ales-for-tales.

David grinned impudently in the face of ire. "David!" a voice commanded. "Leave off pestering people!"

The grin vanished at the sound of his tutor's voice. Bisonbit was no fun, and besides, Hal was full of horse dung all the way up to his eyeballs! Grudgingly he got up and turned away, reflexively evading the awkward swipe the old man made at him. Finally realizing his audience was gone, Hal drained the little bit of ale left in his mug and settled his head on his arms, snoring before his head touched his arm.

David's mood swings were legendary for their quickness, but rarely was he downbeat. His native intelligence and lack of anything resembling good sense combined to make him upbeat. "Let's go ask Trajan, he knows everything!"

"We have only half an hour before lessons begin. Make it quick!" Barely five years older than David, Bisonbit was a stodgy jerk.

"He's no fun!" David thought, "but he wants to know too!"

They found Trajan in his garden, weeding, Jake in the next row over helping with the work.

"Trajan! Do orcs eat their dead?"

The old man straightened up stiffly. He was probably a lot older than Hal, but even advanced age hadn't wounded him too badly. His eyes were clear and he displayed evidence of having been a powerful man in his youth. Two years earlier robbers had discovered the old man could still swing a sword, to their short-lived chagrin.

"Is Hal still claiming that?" he grinned. Trajan rarely said anything bad about anyone, but Hal's foolish tales brought him closer to it than anyone else could.

"What eats bodies?"

Dusting his hands off he walked to a nearby bench and sat. "Lot of things eat dead bodies. That's what Hal said, one time when he told the tale while sober "

"Hal has been sober?" Bisonbit interjected with ill grace. The young cleric/tutor was usually polite but he didn't like the old one-armed braggart and quietly questioned how he had lost his right forearm, especially since that tale varied depending on audience and ale.

"No picking on Hal. Do you want to hear my tale?" The silence affirmed the desire, so Trajan continued. "Could have been several beasties, but likely it was carrion crabs. They are more-or-less not dangerous, but some times they kill fools and eat well ..."

? ? ?

Trajan and Etjar chased the orcs through the tunnels, each catching one orc and then another, hacking them down from behind. Figuring the remainder of the band would flee until their legs fell off, they stopped the chase and turned back. Big men who covered distance quickly, they hadn't gone far when they heard someone moving up quickly, panting hard. Weapons ready they waited as a woman ran around the corner in the tunnel under the old ruined town. Catching sight of them she stopped, fighting staff at the ready.

"What did you two fools think you were doing?" she snarled at them. Fixing Etjar with her baleful eye she spat, "THAT fool I'd expect it, but you mostly have more sense than that!" She didn't even look at Trajan.

"Just as well, if she lights into me now I'm going to paddle her behind!" the young soldier thought.

Etjar's deep voice resonated. "There was more of them than us. We had surprise but if they turned on us again we'd be in trouble. Better to put fear in them and drive them off before they think. Tonight they'll be telling tales of the two dozen humans who died while the orcs fought and drove them off." He ended his reasoning with a small grin. Etjar knew how orcs, like any bully, were terrible braggarts who would make their fleeing from a small band of humans into something heroic. By the third cup ale the orc would probably believe their own tale.

Marissa stared up at the man. Grudgingly she broke the stare and backed off. "Maybe you're right. What's done is done. Tessac is dead and Lesang is badly wounded, cut along the ribs. I bound the wound before chasing off after you pair of ninnies."

"Dead?" Ejtar asked, puzzled.

"Yah. He had an artery cut, and bled out before I could help him. I was helping Lesang, didn't realize Tessac was badly hurt.

The woman backed off on her ire, although Marissa rarely backed off anything completely. "At least she shut up," thought Trajan acidly.

Trajan led the way, his sense of direction unerring in leading them back through the maze of tunnels. Before they got to the scene of the battle they found Lesang, crawling, leaving a trail of blood. He was making incoherent sounds as he scrambled frantically along. Ten feet behind him were three large land crabs, their shells 2' in diameter. The things patiently paced the crawling man.

"What are those?" asked Marissa. A native of Sathea, she had been a city girl before leaving the city under unnamed circumstances and taking up with the pair of soldiers.

"Carrion crabs," Trajan commented. "Big ones. They eat carrion. Never heard of them going after anything live."

"Looks like these are. Wonder if they're good eating?"

"You're thinking of your stomach at a time like this?" The woman spat incredulously.

Etjar snarked, "If I don't think of my stomach, no one else will." With that he stepped towards the crabs who scuttled together in a defensive formation, but didn't run off. Suddenly he lunged forward, bringing his long sword down on the nearest crab's shell. The shell was hard, it cracked but didn't shear through as he expected. Still, the force of the blow made a double crack as the crab's shell hit the floor. The other two backed off further as the damaged one squirmed its 10 legs frantically. It was done for, it just hadn't quit yet.

With no hesitation Trajan did the same, smashing a shell with his heavy hand-and-a-half bastard sword. The heavier sword cleaved the shell, and without missing a beat he caught the third crab as it scuttled back. "Easy enough to kill."

"Shoot!" Turning back both men saw the young wizard crouched by Lesang. "He tore his wounds open, enough to bleed out." Both men swore. They hadn't traveled with Tessac and Lesang long but both men had been good companions, pretty good in a fight although not as seasoned as the two soldiers.

Sheathing their weapons they picked up their companion's body. "Let get him out of here and give him a decent burial. Least we can do."

Moving slowly down the tunnel they came to a large room, the one where a band of a dozen orcs had tried to ambush them, failing miserably. Well, not that miserably; the human party lost 40% of its force. Looking into the room they saw two surprises.

Tessac and three dead orcs were being torn apart and eaten by groups of crabs, while another group circled and threatened a strange creature. It looked like an animated mushroom, roughly 4' tall. The cone at the top was sharply tapered so it appeared tall and thin, enough though it was shorter even than Marissa.

"What is THAT?" Marissa ask, gesturing at the walking mushroom.

"NO idea," Trajan replied. Etjar shook his head, agreeing silently with his partner.

"I'm not letting them eat Tessac." Trajan stepped forward waving his arms, hoping to scare off the ones eating Tessac. He wasn't concerned about the orcs. In response the crabs hissed at him, and the ones worrying the orcs turned to face him. The ones menacing the animated mushroom were not distracted from their target.

Quickly realizing he wasn't going to scare them off, Trajan lunged and hacked one with his sword. It nearly scuttled out of the way, but not quite. Instead of hitting it squarely the enchanted blade caught the edge of the shell, deftly removing the 5 legs on that side. The crab hissed in agony.

Unexpectedly the other crabs all sprang at him, two slamming into his chest and abdomen. They were heavier than they looked and knocked him back several feet although he didn't quite fall. His chain mail armor kept them from tearing his flesh. The crabs quickly surrounded the soldier and sharp claws worried at his legs and thighs. Two hung off his cloak, snipping at his armor.

Their weight hampered him so he spun in a circle, waving his sword low but not at any particular target. The crabs on the stone floor backed off and one on his cloak lost its grip and flew off. He smashed the last one in what passed for its face with the pommel of his sword.

As it fell he looked for his companions, just in time to see three crabs drop off the ceiling onto Etjar's head and shoulders. His helm saved him from a crushed skull but he was still knocked to the floor. More crabs scuttled toward him, claws clicking in anticipation.

Marissa, back at the entrance of the room with Lesang's body, uttered words that were heard but could not be remembered. Three bolts of red energy flashed from the fingers of her right hand, lancing into three of the crabs menacing Etjar. The first was cooked by the energy, the bolt glanced off the shell of the second inflicting a good burn, and the third squealed in agony as the magical energy burned a hole through its shell.

She took a deep breath and did it again, the red bolts killing two and badly wounding a third. "Six down, dozens to go!" she thought.

In the respite the wizard's magic gave him, Etjar struggled to his feet. He lashed out, shattering the shell of another crab as the others backed away from him. He saw Trajan kill several more, then turned as Marissa screamed. A crab leaped at her, striking her squarely in the stomach. She fell hard against the wall and slid down to the floor, the crab tearing at her.

Behind him Trajan emitted a scream of rage and charged across the distance to Marissa, his blade partitioning a crab with each swing. Reaching her side he lashed out with his foot, booting the crab tearing at her arms as she protected her face and belly. The crab hit the wall with a crunch and dropped messily to the floor. Pulling her to her feet he quickly assessed her wounds as non-critical and turned to the remaining crabs, which all stopped just out of sword range. "They're not THAT stupid," he thought.

Etjar heard a noise behind him the mushroom thing took advantage of the distraction and ran past the crabs menacing it, taking a few pinches but escaping. Three quarters of the crabs started after him/her/it, while the remaining survivors backed up to Tessac and the orcs' bodies. Etjar scrambled over by his companions.

Trajan held Marissa upright, blood dripping from her arms. "Get Lesang," he told Etjar. We'll come back later and bury what we can of Tessac." The trio backed away from the crabs, which immediately began feasting again.

? ? ?

Trajan looked at his audience, spellbound by his story.

"What did you do?" asked Jake, sorry that the tale was ending.

"We went back the next day. Tessac and the orcs were there, well their bones anyway. The crabs picked them totally clean. Along with everything else edible they carried." He sighed. "We buried Tessac's bones with Lesang, and left that ruin as too dangerous."

His somber mood cleared and he laughed. "We got enough cash from the orcs' weapons and armor to feed us for another month while we planned an expedition to another ruin, the warren below an old wizard's tower."


Carrion Crab

Frequency:Common
No. Appearing:10d6
Armor Class:5
Move:6"
Hit Dice:1/2 (1d4 hp)
% In Lair:Nil
Treasure Type:Nil
No. Of Attacks:1
Damage/Attack:1d3
Special Attacks:leap, group attack
Special Defenses:Climbing, immune to poison
Magic Resistance:Standard
Intelligence:Animal
Alignment:Neutral
Size:S (2' diameter)
Climate/Terrain:any non-Arctic
Organization:pack
Activity Cycle:nocturnal
Diet:carrion, lichens, fungus
Experience:11 xp + 21/hp
plus an additional 2 xp each for every 5 crabs in the encounter.

Carrion crabs are one of nature's mechanisms for cleaning up corpses of all sorts. These 10 legged horrors, weighing up to 30 lbs, strongly resemble normal crabs but are land animals. Their shell is about 2' in diameter and the color varies from a light grey to a dark grey, although in areas where the natural stone is other colors the crabs will have shell coloration that blends closer to the natural stone.

They eat anything organic, including things poisonous to most natural creatures. Such fare has no effect upon them, and they appear completely immune to all poisons. Surprisingly, they are good to eat and considered delicacies by many sentient races, although the liver is highly poisonous creatures eating the liver must save vs. poison or die in 1d4 turns.

The crabs travel through dungeons and dark places, eating anything edible, especially carrion. Unless starving they normally will not attack living creatures, although they will ferociously defend themselves or a meal. Intelligent fungus consider the carrion crab a true bane as the crabs' reticence against attacking living beings doesn't extend to fungus. One way to determine if carrion crabs are around is that bones will be picked clean but there will be no teeth marks, nor damage to the bones.

Although they do not move quickly, carrion crabs may spring up to 20' to attack or flee, gaining +2 to hit and inflicting double damage. In addition, because of their small size up to 20 can attack a single man-sized creature at once. They gain strength in numbers, effectively gaining 1 HD of attack strength for every 5 crabs, e.g., 1-5 crabs attack normally, 6-10 attack as 1HD monsters, 11-15 attack as 2HD monsters, and 16-20 attack as 3HD monsters. In groups of six or more one quarter of the crabs will attack normally, 1/2 will gain +2 for attacking from the sides, and the remaining 1/4 gain +4 to hit for attacking from behind.

DM Note: In small numbers the carrion crabs are pests and not overly dangerous, but in large numbers they can kill higher level characters.

The crabs can climb most surfaces, including walking along ceilings if the surface isn't totally smooth. They will climb to escape attackers, and often rest on high walls and ceilings to avoid predators. Those attacking a group of crabs should look up first the crabs on the ceiling will drop onto the attackers. This is treated as a leaping attack and if the attacker is surprised the crabs hit automatically during the surprise phase (for double damage) and in the first round.


Copyright 2013 Nicole Massey & Bryan Fazekas