Ecology of the Grick
Category: World Building and Concept Design
Coiled beneath the stones and brush, it waits. It hears voices approaching – high-pitched, playful voices. Voices it recognizes as younglings from the community down the river. It opens its beak, pointed tongue running along the edge of its sharp lips. It knows it is in a bad position to strike, but cannot risk moving now, as the voices are close now, and would hear the stones above it shifting. It feels excitement welling – it hasn’t eaten in a week, since eating the meat off the bones of a deer, and fresh man-meat is always preferable to deer. The voices are only a few feet away now, voices filled with joy and glee, unaware of what lies beneath the stones they play atop…
Gricks are large, serpentine monsters that prey on animals and humanoids that are weaker than they. Most grow so large that they become the dominant predator in their small range, easily attacking, killing, and consuming the smaller animals around. Though they mostly live underground, a few live and prey in areas of dense foliage or other areas that provide adequate cover for their preferred hunting method, which is hiding in wait until the perfect moment to strike.
“There’s slime everywhere,” came Dane’s squeaky voice. Sal entered the small cave – barely more than a depression in the hillside. It was dark inside, but he wasn’t scared. He’d been in darker places. He worked his way down the slight descent, kicking some loose pebbles ahead of him. The ceiling was very low, so low he had to crouch.
After about ten feet, it opened up into a larger space, and Sal ran into Dane. His friend was crouched over a pile of animal bones on the ground, which had a slick, slightly gooey look to them. He looked around – the cave was not very large. Just a pile of rocks within arms’ reach to his left, and a depression to his right with a bunch of leaves – almost like a nest.
What kind of animal do you think this was?” Dane asked, dragging a stick through the clutter of bones, scattering them slightly. The light from the opening showed Sal that some of the goo was now on Dane’s stick. “Think it was a deer?” Dane asked.
“I don’t know,” Sal responded, then turned to his left. He thought he had heard the stones shift, just a low clicking sound, like a rock bounding off another. He peered at the pile of stone, looking concernedly at the dark spaces between the larger rocks. Was something moving there?
“I don’t know,” he repeated. “Let’s just get out of here.” He turned to climb back up the path. He heard Dane shift behind him. Then he heard rocks begin to fall…
It’s not hard to figure out why people think that gricks are some sort of snake or worm. Their serpentine bodies, seen from either afar, very much resemble a thick, coiled constrictor or large worm. However, as it turns out, and you will see, they are actually much more related to mollusks – in particular, cephalopods – than either reptiles or anything we understand as a “worm.”
The general (visible) shape of a grick is known for three distinct features – the tentacles, the beak, and the “tail.” Let’s start at the top.
A grick has four tentacles, spaced evenly around its beak. The tentacles have sharp, serrated hooks at the tip, and are covered on the underside by two rows of sucker. While in a state of rest, the four tentacles fold together neatly, completely hiding the beak within. In this position, the grick looks like one, long form, thus giving way to people believing they are worms.
In the center of the tentacles is a sharp, powerful beak. Similar to a squid, the beak is hooked and downward-pointing, and can make gaping wounds in flesh.
Though the beak and tentacles area are often pointed forward, and are used in the grick’s consumption of food, the creature does not have a head – there is no skull and there are no eyes. Instead, we have the “tail.” However, what most people refer to as a tail, is actually nothing more than an over-developed fifth tentacle, which houses the grick’s digestive and reproductive system.
This tail is much thicker than the other four tentacles, and instead of being covered on the bottom side by suckers, instead is covered by a fine, almost invisible lair of cilia. These cilia both aid the grick in movement (allowing it to climb walls and ceilings), and are also the primary sensory organs for the creature. The grick uses these cilia to smell the air around it, informing it of prey or predators in the immediate area. They also sense temperature, allowing the grick to move safely through its environment. The cilia have tiny pores on them that secrete a benign slime to aid in the grick’s movement along the ground.
The base of the tail has two important features. The first is a clump of very small, serrated blades, which the grick may use as a weapon (though it is typically much too slow to be very effective). The second is a small slit, running parallel with the length of its body, which houses the grick’s waste excretion parts, as well as its reproductive organs. Grick males and females have distinctive reproductive differences, but to the outside observer, it is impossible to tell them apart.
Overall, gricks tend toward earth tones in colorization – browns, grays, and greens being the most common. This helps them blend in to their favored hiding spots for ambush. The underside of all five tentacles tends to be a paler shade of whatever color the grick’s body is. The beak is typically brighter, sometimes orange or red, or at least a reddish-brown.
At birth, from the egg, gricklings are very small. Coiled within the egg and for the first several days of the grick’s life, it is only three to five inches long. At early stages, all five of the tentacles are an equal size and length, though the fifth “tail” outgrows the other four very quickly. Within a year, the grick is two feet long, and within three years, is fully grown at five to seven feet long.
Behavior and Social Interactions
It heard the obvious sounds of animals and man-creatures retreating. It knew it was time to strike, or it would miss its opportunity. It shifted its massive bulk, uncoiling, flexing its powerful muscles. Stones rolled off the top of it, clattering to the hard ground, and it lifted its front end, spreading its tentacles wide, revealing its sharp beak.
One of the man-things was very close, stupidly frozen in fear. It lifted itself up to be level with the head of the child, feeling the warm temperature, sensing the stinky, fearful sweat that it craved. It opened its mouth, stretching wide, and surged forward – not swiftly, but fast enough. The child was just starting to scream when it felt its sharp tentacles sink into tender flesh…
Gricks are solitary creatures for most of their life. After birth, the brood will be fed by the mother grick a diet of worms, bugs, small rodents and birds. These animals will already be dead, as the grick is too small at first to kill its own prey. Out of the four to six gricklings born usually only two at most will survive. These two will eventually feed on the rest of the gricklings that did not make it.
At around six months, gricks will leave their mother and find their own territory. Usually, for the first year or so on their own, they are no more than a few miles from the mother grick. In fact, they will often scavenge the mother’s prey if they are having a hard time finding their own. However, by the time they are full-grown, they are often the apex predator in their region, and have to find larger hunting grounds away from other gricks.
Most of a grick’s life is spent coiled beneath branches or rocks, awaiting prey. They are ambush predators most of the time, but will willingly scavenge for food if hunting is not going well. For example, some gricks have been known to set up their lairs close to quicker predators, but those which do not consume flesh. For instance, it would not be uncommon at all for a grick to set up a site beneath a siphoning of stirges, knowing the stirges will simply drain the blood from their victims, but will leave the flesh intact for the grick to consume.
To capture their prey, gricks will rise up like a cobra, distinctly “S”-shaped, and lurch forward. They will first strike with their tentacles, using the sharp ends to flay and pierce the skin. If close enough, it will attempt to wrap the tentacles around the prey and draw it within range of its powerful beak.
Gricks are not particularly fast though, so this is usually just how it attacks if it must be seen. They much prefer to hide beneath rocks, or on ceilings, and grab, stab, slice, and bite their potential prey from concealment.
The grick’s tail blade may be used as a weapon in certain circumstances, but it is slow and sluggish, and mostly used only as a last resort.
Sal led the five town guardsmen and his father back to the cave. The guardsmen went in first, brandishing torches and swords. His dad put his hand on Sal’s shoulder and squeezed. After a few minutes, Rane, the leader of the guards, came back up, casting his eyes downward. He took a deep breath then looked up at Sal’s dad, and gave a slight nod. Sal felt his lip trembling, and his father held him as he sobbed.
Their procession back into town was solem – five guardsmen on horses, Sal riding with his father, and a seventh horse laden with a covered shape. There had been no sign of the monster. It must have moved on.
In very rare instances, gricks will have more than the four front-facing tentacles. Some adventurers have reported up to ten tentacles, though this is likely an exaggeration. The highest number of tentacles documented by scientists and specialists is six.
Less rare, but much more terrifying, are the monstrous grick alphas, which can easily grow to fifteen feet long. These monsters are almost always the apex predator in their area, destroying any competition with ease. Many a campaigner has has met his match fending off a grick alpha’s five-foot long tentacles.
Gricks make great low-level encounters, and can fit into just about any type of wilderness or dungeon setting. Because they will often form symbiotic relationships with other, speedier (and/or more intelligent) creatures, they are suitable to be used for several types of encounters. Here are a few examples:
- A grick lays low in a small hillside cave, beneath a copse of trees where a half dozen stirges live. The grick eats the remains after the stirges drain the blood of victims.
- A small tribe of grimlocks, knowing the existence of a local grick, have set up several traps to lure adventurers away from their lair and to the grick.
- An ogre mage keeps a grick in a pit inside his lair – he feeds disobedient minions, as well as prisoners, to the grick to show who’s boss.
Make use of the gricks’ ability to hang off walls and ceilings. There is little more terrifying to a group of already-frightened adventurers, deep in a dark cave, than something attacking them unseen from above.
This post is also posted to the “Ecology Project!” on the DnDBehindTheScreen subreddit.