“The bullywugs are a batracian race of bipedal monsters which inhabit wet places – rainy forests, marshes, damp caves or virtually any other place which is shady or dark and has water nearby, for bullywugs need to dampen their skins from time to time. ” – The Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Fiend Folio
When I talked about the origins of the kobold last week, I had no idea I was stepping into the middle of a war. Apparently, entrenched factions have been going at it for months on Twitter, arguing about which beast, the humble kobold or the goofy bullywug, is superior. Now, the fight is obviously ridiculous. But I don’t want to be seen as choosing a side, so, for my own neutrality, I have to give equal time to the bullywug. So, I’m doing one more monster this week and then I’m moving back to real, useful words like hoary or waif or xanthous or something.
If you don’t know the D&D version of the story, the bullywug is a tribal, humanoid frog-person that lives in swamps and damp caves and serves as an alternative to goblins and orcs for marshy, tropical adventuring environments. It’s basically just another in a long line of tribal humanoids for adventurers to kill and loot. But, if you’ve been keeping up with the Word of the Week, you know this is the part where I tell you the more interesting story of the bullywug’s mythological or historical origins.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t have one. At least not one I could find. And I really tried. I couldn’t even turn up a cool quote on a message board. Nothing.
The bullywug seems to be one of those creatures that was dreamed up by some wacko game designer who thought “what this game needs is a clumsy, slow, hopping creature that dies if it doesn’t moisturize its skin.” My theory is that the game designer in question did a kickass Kermit the Frog impression (similar to my own, ask me to do “Kermit the Shaman” if you see me at a Convention) and wanted an excuse to do it in game. And who was this game designer? Well, according to the Fiend Folio’s credit page, the bullywug was a joint effort by the Godfather of Gaming himself, E. Gary Gygax, and his son Luke Gygax. Now, it is the only creature in the Fiend Folio to bear Luke’s name (in my mind, that supports the Kermit hypothesis), but you might also recognize Luke as the original Melf. That’s right, the dude who invented the Acid Arrow. See, Bigby and Melf and all those other named characters who have spells and magical items named after themselves were actually characters played by real people in the formative days of D&D. And, if you ask me, it’s kind of cool that the original game bears so many nods to the people to who created, played, and loved it.
But that does leave us with nothing to talk about. The word just doesn’t have an origin. It’s gibberish. So I guess we’re done for this week. Thanks for reading the Word of the Week.
Well, okay, I suppose we could talk about OTHER swamp dwelling monsters that probably didn’t inspire the bullywug at all, but do have goofy names.
For example, let’s talk about the grundylow (also spelled grindylow because who knows?). The grindylow was your basic, long-fingered water monster. A green-skinned aquatic beast, the grindylow lurked in bogs and ponds and waited for children to fall into the water (or just get too close). Then it would reach out, grab the child, and drag him to a drowning death. This was probably just a way for English parents to keep their kids from playing in the water because nothing says good parenting like telling your children that horrible killer demons lurk inside of virtually every natural phenomenan waiting to kill them dead. Now, you might be surprised to know that the grindylow found its way into the Harry Potter stories if you have absolutely no sense of pattern recognition. Every goddamned mythical beast and boogiemonster ever invented found its way into either Harry Potter, Dungeons and Dragons, or both. I mean, seriously. An eighth book where Harry Potter fights three beholders and illithid named Harry Potter and the Killer Dungeon Master was probably only narrowly averted by Wizards of the Coasts’ lawyers.
Speaking of Harry Potter and grindylows, let’s briefly mention Ginny. Not Ginny Weasly, but Ginny Greenteeth, which is an alternate spelling of Jenny Greenteeth. Who is Jennie Greenteeth? She’s a central and eastern European river demon. Same basic story: she lurks in ponds and marshes and drowns bad little children who are too dumb to listen to their parents about not playing in the water.
But if you want a real crazypants river monster, you have to jump over to the good ole eastern hemisphere and visit the Land of the Rising Sun. See, in Japan, they also have a river demon called the kappa. And the kappa is CRAZY! The name, kappa, is derived from the words from the words for “river” and “son,” but that’s the only sane thing you can say about the kappa. Visually, kappa generally have tough carapaces, a sharp, beak-like mouth, and green, scaly skin. They also have a little bowl on their head that is filled with water. If the kappa’s head bowl ever spills, they lose all their powers or maybe even die. Some legends say that they become paralyzed if their head bowl spills, but if you refill it, they will become your loyal servant for life.
Kappa are mischeivous creatures who get up to all sorts of pranks like farting, looking up women’s dresses, stealing horses, drinking blood, drowning people, raping and impregnating women, and pulling people’s souls out through their anuses. THAT is quite a range of extracurricular activities, huh? It is also said that kappa are obsessed with etiquette and politeness and can be tricked into bowing to you, whereupon their cranial water dish spills and they become powerless. Because when you try to imagine what the one weakness of a farting, raping river demon who will literally pull your soul out throught your a$&, you think “scrupulously polite.” Right?
But the kappa is more turtle than frog, sort of. Actually, some scholars have suggested it was inspired by the Japanese giant salamander. And the grindylow are just monsters. Can we have something that is more legitimately froggy?
Let’s talk about the Beelzebufo ampinga, the devil frog. Yes, the name is literally a portmanteu of Beelzebub (the Lord of the Flies, one of the names for the devil or one of his chief lieutenants) and bufo, which is Latin for frog. The frog lived some 70 million years ago. It got to be nearly twenty inches long, which is huge for a frog and could eat things nearly as big as it was, including infant dinosaurs. Yes, there was a thing called a devil frog that ate baby dinosaurs. For REAL! Interestingly, the occurance of Beelzebufo fossils in Madagascar, India, and South America (where they still have ancestors in the horned toads) has created some questions about when the southern supercontinent of Gondwana (which connected all three of those landmasses) actually broke up.
So, you’ve got grindylows; river demons named Jenny; farting, soul-stealing ninja turtle monsters; and a giant toad that ate dinosaurs. Surely you can find some inspiration for your game somewhere in there. But maybe you’re saying that even the devil frog doesn’t cut it. After all, it’s just a big frog. Maybe you want an actual demonic frog. Well, if you want devils and demons, the best place to go hunting for a frog demon is the Bible. Specifically, the Book of Revelations. Now, I’ve mentioned this before. Basically, it lays out what is going to happen when the world ends. And in Revelations 16:12-21, you’ve got your demon frogs. Three demons that look like frogs come into the world and unite the world’s current rulers against the Heavens for the war to really really end all wars. And that right there just goes to show who’s really the best monster, the kobold or the bullywug…