The Fearsome Flail Snail

Jibblet, the Kobold adventurer… was on a quest... and not just any ole’ quest either. This was a quest for shinies. Jibblet had seen the greedy humans and their banks, filled to the brim with shinies. He’d taken a peak at the narcissistic dragons with their hoards of shinies. He even suspected that the indifferent gods sat upon thrones of shinies. And this was all quite unacceptable, because Jibblet himself did not have any shinies and he clearly deserved the shinies more than these thieves. And thus, a quest was born.

As any good adventurer would do, Jibblet found himself the nearest bleak mountain range and entered the dank caverns beneath them. He found shiny things aplenty down in the dark, but none of them quite right. Why were those absurd mushroom people glowing in the dark? Did that floating eyeball really think it appropriate to fire dazzling magic at him? Jibblet was becoming frustrated when he saw the large glint in the darkness ahead of him. The light from his torch gradually unveiled the largest shiny he had ever seen.

It was magnificent! A perfect start to his collection! Now, to grab it… wait, was the shiny moving away from him? He skittered to the other side of the shiny to discover that there was in fact a gigantic snail living inside his prize. Well, that was intolerable. “Give shiny shell... now!” he bellowed in his most intimidating voice. The titanic snail had no eyes, but seemed to regard him nonetheless. It considered Jibblet’s demand, and settled upon the most diplomatic option it could think of. Jibblet hadn’t noticed the antennae on the snail’s head, nor the spiked balls that tipped each of them. He did notice when they swung down and smashed him into a fine paste on the cavern floor. Its shell successfully defended, the Flail Snail went on its way.

Hello monster enthusiasts, this is Nicholas with Into the Dungeon and welcome to another reading from the Tome of Dungeoneering. There are many treasures to be looted from the dark places of the world, but the Flail Snail’s shiny shell isn’t one of them! So keep those grubby hands to yourself… yes, I’m looking at you, you rotten adventurers. The Flail Snail is one of those horrible monstrosities that’s less monstrosity and more adorably goofy. But don’t let that fool you: these brawlers will put up a valiant defense of their home against any would-be thieves. So, Dungeon Masters, have you been desperately wanting to throw a gigantic mollusk with a shiny shell at your adventurers? Probably not, but after today you will!

The Flail Snail first appeared in the hallowed pages of Fiend Folio, back in 1981, and is credited as being a creation of Simon Tilbrook. This is vital information because we now know who to blame for this episode. Thanks Simon! Our monstrous snail friend would appear in other sources over the years, such as in Dragon Magazine #258, and Mage vs. Machine, in 1999. The Flail Snail is neither mage nor machine, but they at least get to feature in the article “The Ecology of the Flail Snail”. I won’t spoil the snail’s other appearances, as we’ll be primarily concerned with Volo’s Guide to Monsters, published in 2016, where the Flail Snail returns with a vengeance.

As the name might suggest, the Flail Snail is a massive mollusk with spiked balls on its five antennae, beautifully adorned with a shining bluish shell. It doesn’t have eyes, but utilizes other abilities like tremorsense to figure out what’s lurking about. Sizes will vary of course, but the typical Flail Snail you encounter will stand over 8 feet tall and carry on its back a shell weighing roughly 250 pounds. Even though the flail antennae give the snail its name, that 250 pound shell is what will draw your attention. The Flail Snail’s pretty shell is specifically a “Scintillating Shell”, possessing powerful anti-magic properties. For those not in the know, scintillating is the fancy way of saying “shiny”.

The Scintillating Shell allows the snail to blast attackers with a dazzling light, making it harder to hit the snail and potentially outright stunning enemies. The anti-magic properties of the shell make it particularly difficult for spellcasters to face, as it can cause magic to simply fail or even reflect magic back at the caster. Your local barbarian smashing his skull against the Flail Snail is going to have much better luck than any wizards, although said barbarian will have to deal with being smashed by flail antennae. For all their shininess, our snail friend isn’t a huge fan of bright light, and so usually spends its time underground. Although you could potentially find one above ground at night.

The snail spends its days wandering around, at a painfully slow speed, devouring everything on the ground before it. It converts the ground it travels along into crystals, minerals, and a kind of glass. Some folks follow Flail Snails around, collecting all of these fine materials to sell. More endeavouring individuals may hunt the snail itself, as that 250 pound shell goes for about, wait for it, 5,000 gold pieces on the market. For those less interested in financial gain, equipment such as shields can be made from the shell, giving them its anti-magic properties. Sounds pretty useful right? So, what’s the catch? Well, dear listeners. In its normal incarnation, the Flail Snail… is an adorable, nonaggressive critter that you should treat with compassion and respect. It doesn’t want to fight you, it won’t chase you, and killing it is a horrible experience for anyone with a soul. As you harm it, the antennae die off, and once all five have expired… the snail retracts into its shell and begins a heartbreaking wail until it dies after a few minutes. Thanks for that, Simon.

Yes, I know, we’re here to fight monsters, but the Flail Snail is far more civilized than you murderhobos. So, unless your adventurers are heartless savages (yes, yes, I understand that’s most of them), we are going to have to craft some scenarios to get the best out of a Flail Snail encounter. A great option, and one that certainly appeals to those adventuring parties that try to adopt every creature they encounter, is to have your players be the Flail Snail’s protectors. Greedy poachers, primitive warbands, roaming undead, something or other, are hunting Flail Snails for their shiny shells and the locals want you to stop them! Your adventurers get to fight alongside a Flail Snail and have opportunities to be devious, such as maybe trying to bounce their spells off of it. That fireball won’t bother the Flail Snail either, since its mucus-covered skin makes it immune to fire, but it’ll bother everything else in the area! If you have a main villain in your campaign, it’s possible their minions are hunting Flail Snails to fund their dastardly plans. And voila, your players get to save the wonderful snail while engaging with your plotline.

Yes, yes, I hear your objection already: “But Nicholas, my players are animals who crave only murder and bloodshed!” Well fear not-- we have a solution for that. One of the great joys of tabletop roleplaying games is being able to customize lore, monsters, and rules as you see fit. This is called homebrewing… stop rolling your eyes at me, veteran players, the new people need to know! With homebrewing, you can fix inconvenient things like “the monster has feelings”. Your party approaches the locals of an Underdark town, who are in a terrible panic. “Adventurers, please help us! The Shining Horde is attacking!” The “what” now? Oh right, in your universe Flail Snails are rapidly reproducing vermin who aggressively expand their territory and viciously assault anything they can smash their flails into. The Shining Horde of Flail Snails know no mercy and won’t stand for your players’ continued existence. Now your adventurers can fight Flail Snails and still sleep at night… glittering shells haunting their dreams forevermore.

Speaking of dreams, there are numerous ways you can modify the Flail Snail itself to match whatever scenario you’re going for. In a similar way to dragons, you can adjust the age of your snails to make them stronger, weaker, cuter, etc. In the scenario where your players are saving the snails, why not have some speedy little baby Flail Snails wandering around? Or in the scenario where the Flail Snail is a villain, you can introduce different types of snails. Spooky ghost, rotting zombie, magically corrupted, mutated by weird Underdark radiation, you can flavor your villainous Flail Snails in a variety of ways that differentiates them and throws your players off balance. The spooky ghost Flail Snail could move extremely quickly and be immune to normal physical damage, making up for a few of the weaknesses a typical Flail Snail has. The rotting zombie Flail Snail could be an extremely… amusing choice, since presumably its zombie-self moves slower than a normal Flail Snail. Probably not that threatening, but certainly funny. Our magically corrupted or radiation mutated snails can do whatever you like!

A favorite modification of mine is unleashing a battlemage Flail Snail. A particularly nasty surprise for murderhobos looking to make a quick buck off the poor Flail Snail, the battlemage is a grizzled veteran of countless poaching attempts by careless wizards. It has learned how to use the power of its hunters against them. Yeah, that’s right, give that Flail Snail some spell slots and have the shiny shell power its magic. Did that Flail Snail just cast misty step? Why is the Flail Snail casting fireball at us? Well, that’s what you get for messing with the big mollusk.

With a little planning ahead, you can easily get this goofy creature into your game in a way that’ll entertain yourself and your players. If you find yourself as enthralled with the Flail Snail as I am, and wish to throw one on your table, I can’t recommend enough the Icons of the Realms miniature series by Wizkids. There is a gorgeous Flail Snail in the Fangs & Talons set, one of which is puttering its way around my desk as we speak. If you’re gonna party wipe your players with a Flail Snail, the least you could do is have the pretty miniature for them to gawk at. On that note, until next time everyone, remember… glinting treasure in the darkness might not be exactly what it appears to be.

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