A Tale of Two Crawlers


You never know when you’ll have the dickens of a time in the game publishing business. Indeed it can be the best of times and the worst of times. And with the punishment of this opening paragraph out of the way I can get on with my explanation, having banished any great expectations on your part.

(For those of you groaning right now, you’re welcome.)

It’s been a blast jumping back into the world of writing for the world’s original fantasy roleplaying game, though I’ve had to re-familiarize myself with the terms of the Open Game License. And for those scratching their heads, seventeen years ago Wizards of the Coast opened up the ability to publish products using the rules of their signature roleplaying game with a special license. It’s awesome, but like any legal agreement there are a few provisos, a couple of quid pro quos.

Quid Pro Quo

Aren’t there always?

The two key terms to understand are Open Game Content and Product Identity. Open Game Content is relatively straightforward: It’s any content for the game that is designated as such and is free for anyone to “use, distribute, copy, edit, format, modify, translate, and otherwise create derivative material.” It’s the stuff released out into the wild so it can be caught and exploited like by others so many Pokémon.

Product Identity is the opposite of Open Game Content. It’s all the stuff a publisher wants to keep in-house. The usual idea is to protect a specific brand. For example, if I was publishing the Pastry World RPG Worldbook, I might protect the writeup and game stats for Poppinstuff the Invincible Doughboy™ using the Product Identity clause, even if I make the Doughboy player character race available for anyone to use as Open Game Content.

Having done this all before, I was aware Wizards of the Coast has certain iconic material walled off so that small publishers like me don’t get our Cheeto-stained hands on it. So no using beholders, mind flayers, umber hulks, or stuff with proper names. But I got hung up on a nasty critter that goes back to the origins of D&D: the Carrion Crawler.

Carrion Crawler

So cute … how could I not use this little guy?

{Spoiler Alert Warning for A Delve in the Cave. Players read no farther!}

I needed a nasty surprise lurking in the dungeon-under-a-hill described in A Delve in the Cave, and the monstrous bug was perfect. I searched for the monster online and found it on a website called 5E System Reference Document, one of several sites that have created digitally accessible versions of OGL-friendly content online. (These sites make it a LOT easier than it was back in 2001, by the way.) It had all the game stats of the carrion crawler and reassuring legal text at the bottom: “DnD5e.info is owned and coded by Dave McAlister. The text on this page is Open Game Content, and is licensed for public use under the terms of the Open Game License v1.0a.” Boom. A carrion crawler now lurked in my dungeon, though careful adventurers might find clues on the way so they wouldn’t be as surprised as in our second playtest.

Carrion Encounter

“Didsth thou soil thy breaches good sir?”

We wanted the Early Access version in print at the Origins Game Fair this coming weekend, so we zoomed ahead and pulled something together that I’m quite proud of, meaning that with expanded content and more time for playtesting and development the final product will be even better. I am going to be running the event with a huge print-out tactical map with miniatures, so I began making references card for my use at the table—much quicker than whipping out my Monster Manual for every encounter. But there was one problem: I went to an online SRD site for 5th Edition rules and couldn’t find an entry for the carrion crawler.


Ever get that sinking feeling?

Weird. I went to another, and also got an “item not found.” A sinking feeling hit my gut. Then I found DnD5e.info and found the carrion crawler there along with legal text that assured me it was totally open and cool and legal, y’all.

I went straight to the source, the official 5E System Reference Document hosted on Wizards of the Coast’s own website. The other shoe fell. “The following items are designated Product Identity … beholder, gauth, carrion crawler, tanar’ri, baatezu, displacer beast.” CARRION CRAWLER! Well … shit.

I had sent the files of the Early Access version to my digital printer already. My original plan had me leaving for Ohio this morning. And while it’s not the final version, only so many copies would get out, and I could pass the buck to the website with the bogus info, it didn’t sit right with me to leave a known screwup and copyright violation in the manuscript.

I delayed my travel plans a day. I told my printer to put a hold on pre-press until I sent them updated files. Then I rolled up my sleeves and got to work. If the Open Game License got me into this mess, the Open Game License would get me out. I vaguely remembered some earlier Googling had revealed something weird. I checked and found a creature that was obviously designed to fill the same niche as the carrion crawler without breaking the rules: the Slime Crawler.

A quick read revealed the Slime Crawler was an Open Content beastie from The Tome of Horrors Complete from Frog God Games.

The Tome of Horrors Complete

Big Ol’ Book!

A three-staged creature, it begins life as a nasty slug before growing into something huge and comparable to Mr. Product Identity. Interestingly a slime crawler is really just fantasy’s most terrifying caterpillar, as it pupates and morphs into the stuff of nightmares—a Carrion Moth. “Close enough!” I shouted and then quickly realized that the game stats were for Pathfinder, aka D&D 3.75, aka NOT 5th Edition.

Well … shit.

Already committed, I put on my Game Designer cap and re-jiggered both the larval and mature versions of the Slime Crawler into 5E—keeping the essential bits and making some modifications. The OGL allows me to “modify and otherwise create derivative material” so when I wrote the description to match the 5E format I remembered that many moths have flightless females, and I decided that egg-laying females would stay in the mature form and would hang around her offspring to make sure they had plenty of rotting bodies to consume. I kept the larvae’s habit of leaving a slippery goo trail behind but also let them use slime the way an octopi use ink, spraying it around them to trip up enemies as they make a getaway. I made the adult slime crawlers a bit weaker than their carrion cousins because that selfishly fit the needs of my adventure. Then I rewrote that section of the adventure to match a momma slime crawler and some of her young.

I quickly proofed my work and muttered a phrase from the Necronomicon as I uploaded the revised files to my printer. There will be no OGL violations on my watch, thankyouverymuch!


Maybe we’ve identified the source of my problems.

Now all I gotta do is laundry, pack my clothes, go to my office, pack up product and supplies, get all my demo game material together, coordinate with my friends and partners at the show, gas up the car, buy road snacks, and get a good night’s sleep. And it’s only four o’clock as of this writing.

Well … shit.

Enjoy the Jamie-ized 5E version of the Slime Crawler, at least the pre-playtesting version. Click here or on the thumbnail below!

Download Link

Download, Print, & Enjoy

Just like the adventure it is considered Early Access and may get some revisions, like allowing per-round saving throws versus its poison, or changing the way the larval slime works. And it would be cool to write up the Carrion Moth as well …

If you’re going to Origins, walk down to the end of the 900 aisle and look for me or a lovely young lady named Ashley, and quite possibly a big game map set out covered with miniatures—including one that is definitely not a carrion crawler! Grab a copy of A Delve in the Cave (Early Access Edition). If you’re not going to be at the show, please consider pledging on Delve on IndieGoGo so I can justify the extra hair that fell out this morning.

Have fun storming the dungeon … game on!

Game on

Roll high!

Jamie Chambers
Tuesday, June 13, 2017

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2 Responses to A Tale of Two Crawlers

  1. Dave McAlister June 27, 2017 at 12:21 pm #

    Please accept my profuse apologies for this. I’m not sure how it happened but as soon as I get to my computer (I’m on my phone at the moment) I’ll remove it. I thought I’d caught all the non-SRD elements but this one obviously slipped through.

    If you are aware of any other issues please let me know and I’ll get them resolved. Thanks, and again, my apologies.

    • Jamie July 13, 2017 at 11:56 am #

      No need to apologize! You created a great online resource, and mistakes happen. Just glad that I caught it, and that it’ll help make your site even more useful as well.

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