My interpretation of whatever monster I feel like talking about, primarily from the 1st ed AD&D Monster Manual and Fiend Folio, but not limited to them, treated in a way that deals with the stuff I find interesting. That is: ecology and culture, if applicable. Stats can go hang.
There seems to be ample evidence that I am a fan of insects. This is a little ironic as I am, like most people, often creeped out by them in reality. But I admire them, in all their forms. They are so unlike us mammals but are so successful, so varied, so infinitely adaptable. What disappoints me in fantasy and science fiction is the way they are continually scaled up to be of enormous size. As if small means insignificant. As if lifting 200 times their own mass is not really very powerful unless it is the size of a Volkswagen. As if poison that is so powerful it can literally melt flesh is not powerful enough unless it is it wielded by something so large it could melt a house. If the genuine powers of insects were scaled up to match the huge bodies that fantasy and science fiction suggests they would be more powerful than a tank. And where does that leave the sword-wielding adventurer? Dead, along with the rest of human civilisation, that’s where. But the powers are not scaled up. They poison of ‘official’ giant insects it is so weak that it may as well be vinegar.
All the insects that I have ever presented in games are close to real size. A giant insect to me might be up to a foot long – and that is titanic-sized when compared to reality.
But enough background. The insect that I want to talk about is the Fire Turtle, a relative of the Fire Beetle. The Fire Beetle is described by the SRD as follows: These luminous nocturnal insects are prized by miners and adventurers. They have two glands, one above each eye, that produce a red glow. The glands’ luminosity persists for 1d6 days after removal from the beetle, illuminating a roughly circular area with a 10-foot radius. Giant fire beetles are about 2′ long.
They are not 2′ long. At best, they may be 6″ long, and that would be an exceptional specimen. Though the rest is pretty cool.
Fire Turtles are mentioned in the movie Detective Dee and the Phantom Flame. These beetles are nocturnal as well. However their chemical glands produce a substance that bursts into flame when exposed to sunlight. This means in the first instance that these beetles are extremely difficult to bring back to civilisation for study as their bodies self combust. They have to be kept in a darkened environment at all times.
Secondly, and more importantly, the extracted chemical can be protected and added to other liquids. When exposed to sunlight this compound then bursts into flame, perhaps even exploding if the concentration of Fire Turtle juice is high enough. This can be used for many purposes such as the construction of ‘Greek Fire’ weaponry, and Molotov cocktails (as long as the target is in direct sunlight).
Another important use of this cocktail is as an assassination weapon. The chemical can be added to drinking water or other liquids where it imparts a bitter taste. But tainted water is no big deal in an ancient and fantasy world. When consumed, the chemical works into the bodies chemistry and if the person then steps into full sunlight they with spontaneously self-combust. This is, of course, a painful and frightening way to die. It is, moreover, a disturbing and mysterious way to die for those that witness it. Without knowledge of the natural world such an assassination will be labelled the result of a magical attack, throwing the scent from the real attackers who have used purely natural methods.