Which, among the various editions of D&D e Pathfinder, made the Purple Worm better? We find out in this new chapter of the column “Who did it better”!

New, year, new appointment with the address book Who did it better?, in which we analyze in a way semi-serious in which we judge the performance of some historical D&D monsters in the different editions of the game. We have already talked about the Trolland Buletteand DriadeGoblin,Beardog and Wyvern.
This time, however, we will talk about another great classic: the Purple Worm.

But why did we choose this monster?
Well, a few months ago I went to see Dune, , by Denis Villeneuve. The film was visually breathtaking and made the atmosphere of theArrakis that I would like. Obviously a central element of the world of Dune, è Shai-Hulud, the worm of the sands. This inspired me to pick up the column again Who did it better and talk about one of the iconic creatures of the D20 System bestiary: the Purple Worm.
As always, the address book is semi-serious e totally based on my personal taste, so if you prefer a representation of the Purple Worm that I don't like it's totally legitimate.

An image of the Allghoi Khorhoi
An image of the Allghoi Khorhoi

Origin of the Purple Worm

The influences for the Purple Worm are pretty obvious. Shai-Hulud of Dune is the most direct appeal, but not the only one. Massiveness, danger and size are all salient features of the Arrakis sandworms and which are easily found in the purple creature of the bestiary of D&D.
A substantial percentage of the purple worm's identity derives from cryptozoology: lo Allghoi Khorhoi, the Mongolian deadly worm. It is a monster of Mongolian folklore that is said to haunt the Gobi desert. A worm more than a meter large and terribly poisonous.
The poisonous character is in fact one of the salient characteristics of the Purple Worm.
Another appeal, although more obscure and partial, is offered by the were-worms mentioned there The Hobbit: large worms of the deserts to the east, legendary figures who are probably nothing more than the faded memory of the Dragons.

To all this we can add a speech already made in the case of other monsters: what is creeping, serpentine and sinuous easily inspires the imagination and whoever wants to create a monster must do nothing but multiply a worm or a snake a hundredfold in size.
It is no coincidence that such traits are common in the depictions of many "dragon" figures: from Quetzalcoatl of Mesoamerican culture ai wyrm Scandinavians, come on Drakon greeks ai Naga Indians, not to mention long Chinese.
However, although the Purple Worm has obvious sources of inspiration, we can still define it as a rather original creature and flour from the sack of the TSR.

The worms of the Dune sands, imagined by Peter Konig
The worms of the Dune sands, imagined by Peter Konig

Purple worm: instructions for use

I admit: unlike most of the monsters described in this column I have little experience with the Purple Worm.
In fact, the campaigns I play in tend not to get to that level often where you face one of these creatures (I'm one who respects the challenge rating!). The last skirmishes with the Purple Worms date back to when I was in high school and, playing 3.5, you usually started at medium-high levels in order to immediately try the Prestige Classes.
Those were dark times.
Consequently, my reflections must be taken with pliers because they will be more theoretical than practical, and what little practice there is is clouded by the veil of nostalgia.

A monster with its own niche

The Purple Worm covers a very specific niche in the D20 System bestiary: that of large and imposing monster to be brutally killed.
It is a creature whose size matters. It is impervious to death, capable of separating the party (someone caught in the coils, someone swallowed) and which, thanks to the poison factor, risks taking advantage as the fight continues.
It is a monster solitary, and therefore to work well it must be used against a party of several lower levels, otherwise theaction economy he would leave no escape for the poor creature.

I'm not here to tell you how to master, but I think we all agree that the single monster is either much stronger than the party or you can even spare it.
Encounters with the Purple Worm should be encounters where surviving is already a victory. Getting to safety (by flight or by reaching places where the monster can't dig) doesn't just go a long way Dune, , but it serves to communicate the idea of ​​having faced something terrible. The Purple Worm could emerge, poison someone and go underground, sending the party into paranoia about where it will attack next turn. And while dealing with the poison, the party thief will try to hide by separating from the party, and will be the first victim.

Swallowing is important

One of the coolest things about the Purple Worm is that swallows. The enemies. 
I personally love that brief moment when a party member is separated and must (often without being equipped to do so) break through the guts of the creature. If the adventure and level allow a monster to swallow adventurers, rest assured I'll put it there.

In short, the Purple Worm must have that aura of danger and invincibility.
Don't be afraid for once to step out of the Challenge Rating rules by a couple of levels. However, always put a couple of loopholes to avoid the TPK. Maybe the monster retreats after eating an NPC accompanying the party or a mount, or there is a safe area to reach that ends the encounter.
And don't be afraid to have the monster retreat. In fact, maybe even before reaching half HP, it could go back to plunging into the ground. Adventurers will oscillate between the false confidence of having him repel to the paranoia that he may return for revenge.

The Purple Worm in the first edition of D&D
The Purple Worm in the first edition of D&D

D&D first edition: an earthworm that loves to swallow people

In the first edition the Purple Worm starts small: 15 meters in length.
The author of the image portrays it very much as a real one earthworm. Its body is that of an annelid with a frontal orifice bristling with teeth. 
The skill of the author in this case was to depict the important parts (tail with sting and head) but not to depict the whole figure. With this very simple trick the reader can imagine for himself how and how long the rest of the body is.

Reading the monster's description, one of the unique mechanics is that if the hit roll (or its edition equivalent) is higher than AC or a natural 20, the creature swallows the target: in short, the more ass with the dice, the worse the adventurers fare! The sting on the tail is also a very OSR thing: do you want to try to attack the monster from behind in the tunnel? Get this poisoned sting!

The scene is set in a cave and we also have a couple of adventurers who are trying to deal with it.
One thing that always surprises me about these old illustrations is how adventurers have a very "Wagnerian" look: bare thighs, boots, chain mail and imposing helmets. Much more influenced by Frazetta's pulp illustrations than by historical research.
(If you are interested in a retrospective on how the look of the adventurers has evolved over the course of the editions, write to us!)

Vote: 4/ 10. Old School.
The Purple Worm in AD&D
The Purple Worm in AD&D

AD&D: shrunk, but with many more teeth

Tony Diterlizzi delights us with another splendid creature. In the second edition of D&D Purple Worms are usually long 6 meters, but if a master is feeling particularly big, he can bring you a 45m worm and he would be respecting the lore of the game.
Personally, it makes me strange that the Purple Worm has shortened from one edition to the next. Maybe it is I who do not know how to read the measures of the imperial system well. For this reason I voted on the petition to bring out the next edition of D&D in the metric system: do it too!

This Purple Worm has a beautiful complexion, and folds in on itself in a soft, yet very dynamic way. The play of curves is harmonious and pleasing to the eye. The long black sting points to the mouth creating an almost ring-like structure.
The creature's mouthparts are now outermost: we have gone from one toothed orifice to one crown of teeth which push the creature towards the innermost mouth. In many ways it is somewhat reminiscent of Sarlacc's Star Wars. On top of the head are a pair of red eyes. More to give a touch of color than for some use, since the creature is mainly underground and perceives mainly through vibrations.
As a design, it has taken a small step forward from having blown up an earthworm and put a stinger at the end.

Vote: 7/ 10.
The Purple Worm in the third edition of D&D
The Purple Worm in the third edition of D&D

D&D 3.0 and 3.5: A revolutionized purple (-green) worm!

Here we witness a change of gear.
First, the creature's anatomy changed. In fact, the monster's body is no longer cylindrical, but a segmented rhomboid with two side flanges. The subdivision into rings remains, but they now look like hard chitinous plates.
In this edition two elements are introduced that will persist in subsequent editions: the purple-green palette and the fact that we won't see the Purple Worm's sting for a long time. I don't even know whether to call it Purple Worm anymore, since a large part of the creature (the ventral plates) is green. Perhaps from now on we should call it Purple-Green Worm.

I'm sorry that the creature's pointed tail is no longer pictured, but in return the head was revolutionary.
Instead of a round mouth for a cylindrical body, we now have a creature with a well-defined top and bottom, and a mouth that opens up. four lobes: two similar lateral ones, a jaw up and a strong-willed jaw with a spike at the bottom. Inside, we see a glimpse of the numerous teeth that will grind the poor adventurer. On the side of the head a beautiful detail: a series of holes probably used to expel the earth swallowed while digging with the mouth. A detail perhaps from little, but which reveals that behind this design there was some reasoning.


I quite like the scene and the pose of the creature. The body twisted on its axis not only shows the flexibility of the creature when it uses a +40 grapple on your Cleric, but also tells how the creature ejected out and then turned back towards the poor adventurer. 
You can almost imagine the adventurer's gaze in front of the gargantuan worm that has just emerged.
By the way, doesn't it seem strange to you that in the third edition you can't have a shield with a normal shape that doesn't pull an eye out every time you try to parry something?

Vote: 8/ 10. The gold standard  on which to measure the other Purple Worms.
The Purple Worm in D&D 4e
The Purple Worm in D&D 4e

D & D4e: Few teeth, but a dynamic pose

This Purple Worm is depicted in a dynamic act while assaulting a group of adventurers with a decidedly lacking appearance of magical items.
The Worm is depicted frontally, focusing primarily on the creature's mouth.
It is worth noting that this poor creature has very few teeth; few and scattered on the palate instead of arranged in rows as in sharks (which they would like to imitate).
For the rest, the anatomy is the same as that of 3.5, only shown in the frontal position.
The creature not only lost its tail in the depiction, but in the stat block as well! The Purple Worm of 4th Edition attacks (at will) but only with its jaws!

Vote: 7/ 10. The only novelty is the pose.
The Purple Worm in Pathfinder
The Purple Worm in Pathfinder

Pathfinder First Edition: The lateral jaws serve to avoid accusations of plagiarism

Very well. Here we have something to work on.
This Purple Worm takes root from its ancestor of 3.5, with a few twists: the first is that the creature now has a red belly instead of green. For me it's a marked improvement over the purple-green palette.
The second change is the addition of a couple of lateral mandibles. A totally unnecessary addition from a design point of view (it doesn't make the creature more dangerous or more formidable), but it probably served Paizo to say to the Wizard: “See? we have not copied it completely ”.
Kind of like when Homer added a colored stripe to the model of the nuclear power plant.

Vote: 7/ 10. The color palette is beautiful, but not very innovative.
The Purple Worm in D&D 5e
The Purple Worm in D&D 5e

D&D 5e: Spikes make the difference

I have to say that I quite like this Purple Worm. 
In creature design there is a simple rule: do you want to make something more badass? Add some bone spikes. As effective as it is simple.
The thing I like most about this giant worm is its mouth - many teeth and quite large in size. One can easily imagine the creature opening its mouth wide and chewing on enough earth to dig a hole.
The yellow belly reflects the color of the osteoderms and teeth, and the chromatic balance is pleasant.
Overall we are faced with a redesing done right.

Vote: 9/ 10. Innovate while remaining familiar.
The Purple Worm in the second edition of Pathfinder
The Purple Worm in the second edition of Pathfinder

Pathfinder Second Edition: Trilobate mouth, but grungy teeth

In designing your own Bestiario for the second edition of Pathfinder, Paizo has chosen to operate systematically. Many monsters are brought together into families via the trait system, and where there was no family they created one out of nothing.
The Purple Worm had been a solitary figure in the bestiary for forty years. There were other underground monsters, yes, but none were like him. Now the Purple Worm belongs to the Cave Worm family: a colorful (literally) group of underground burrowing worms. In addition to the Purple Worm now there are also the Blue and the Crimson ones. All three of these worms have a similar appearance and are distinguished by color (and level).

This monster has also changed a lot in design: the upper body is segmented with a central crest (and without the two side ones), and the underside has remained reddish but soft.
The most significant change is in the mouth: the jaw is divided into two parts and this becomes a common element for all types of Cave Worms. There is a reference to the classic depiction of the Dune Sand Worms, which for many years have been depicted with a trefoil mouth.
The teeth seem a little weak to me: thin, scattered around and aligned a little with the fucking dog. The result is that, rather than having a threatening and intimidating mouth, the grungy teeth it makes it seem unreliable and fearful.

Side note: we are finally witnessing a great return: the poisonous sting! After almost twenty years of absence, the bestiary designers have finally remembered this important anatomical note of the creature !!!

Vote: 6/10. Nice reinvention, but the teeth make it look like the redneck version of the Purple Worm.
The Devourer of Mass Effect
The Devourer of Mass Effect 2

Honorable Mentions

Shai Hulud

Well, it all started with this adorable creature, so special mention was mandatory. It is a simple concept, but of great impact. Probably one of the most effective things about the creature design is the size. Take a simple creature and magnify it to the point that it is almost impossible to picture it and see it in its entirety: success is guaranteed.

The Eaters of Mass Effect

Who hasn't infamoused them as they unexpectedly peeked out from under the Mako in Mass Effect 1?
Who hasn't enjoyed it like a hedgehog when he managed to knock one down by walking in Mass Effect 2? (Maybe with a nice shot from M90 Cain?)
Who has not rejoiced to see the Mother of All Eaters wreak havoc on a Reaper in Mass Effect 3?
The guys at Bioware took the classic giant worm trope and added acid spit and two scythe-legs. A simple and extremely effective job.

The Tremors

I don't know if they are called exactly that in the lore of the film. But you all know what I mean. A classic movie from the 90s with four sequels, one worse than the other.
While not as colossal as Shai Hulud or the Eaters, these underground worms are ferocious and swift predators. The film explores well the idea of ​​a danger that comes from underground: we can't see or hear them until it's too late.
As already mentioned with the Bulette, I love beasts that attack from unexpected directions and this film is a great inspiration to create interesting scenes with these kinds of threats.

A dungeon inside a Purple Worm, created and designed by The MAD Cartographer
A dungeon inside a Purple Worm, created and designed by The MAD Cartographer

Ideas for Adventures with the Purple Worm

  • The initiation rite. A young noble was dethroned. He is convinced that this misfortune is the first step towards an even greater destiny. According to some prophecies, he will have to prove his power by riding a Purple Worm. The characters are hired by the faithful butler who, unable to make the prince desist from his mad intentions, at least wants to guarantee the safety of the young man during the rite.
    In this adventure the Purple Worm is a terrain rather than an enemy: you have to climb and reach the top, prevent the prince from falling below and keep the numerous parasites that infest him at bay (excellent opportunity to put some insects into play giants).
  • The theory to prove. Pilzabar the magician had a great intuition: what if the Purple Worm was nothing more than the larval stage of a larger and more beautiful Purple Insect? Totally ignoring the difference between caterpillars and earthworms, the party is tasked with making the impossible possible: catching a healthy Purple Worm, and creating the ideal environment to keep it until it sheds. If played at medium-high levels, this adventure should involve the creation of a special demiplane and the party must organize itself to bring us a gargantuan creature without killing it. Whether in the right environmental conditions the Purple Worm can moult into a beautiful Purple Moth or not is at your discretion.
  • All you can eat. A caravan embarks on an underground expedition and hires the PCs as guards. Or maybe they have to go underground and a caravan lines up for the extra protection that high-level characters offer. Unfortunately, a Purple Worm uses "swallow & run" tactics to catch one member of the caravan at a time. How many will make it to their destination, and how can the Party defend itself against a creature that can emerge from any point? (Remember that many divinations are hampered by a sufficient thickness of material!)