Friday, February 19, 2010

Gloom, Rising from the Underground: The Derro

The derro, as presented in AD&D, always seemed a little superfluous. Okay, the original Jim Holloway art from S4: The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth gives them a sort of Celtic twist (biker moustaches, spikey hair, and plaid pants), but essentially they're just evil dwarves--and that's the duergar's thing.

The derro are kind of bland, really. I'd expect more from a monster inspired by the delusions of a man likely suffering from paranoid schizophrenia.

"They recognize no other living thing as friend; to a dero all new things are enemy."
- Richard Shaver and Ray Plamer, "I Remember Lemuria!"
"Dero" (only one "r" here) are from the stories of Richard Sharpe Shaver, edited by Ray Palmer and published in the pulp magazine, Amazing Stories. Shaver was a welder who had begun to hear voices being projected into the welding equipment he used, which he believed came from an underground civilization. These voices, visions he received, and ultimately memories he began to recover from his past lives revealed to him a secret history. He learned of the Elder Race from another world, who had been forced underground by increasing solar radiation. Over time, the elder race degenerated into the "teros" or integrative energy robots, who were helpful to mankind, and the "deros" or detrimental energy robots, who were sadistic and tormented humanity. Robot, it should be noted, doesn't mean a mechanical being in Shaver's terminology. Both races were biological, presumably.

Shaver sent a letter to Amazing Stories detailing his discovery of the ancient source of all human languages, which allowed him to pick out the hiding meanings in English words. This interested Palmer. He claims to have applied Shaver's formula to samples of other languages with "interesting results." Palmer published the letter in the December 1943 issue, and got a big response from readers.

Palmer contacted Shaver for more, and Shaver responded with a 10,000 word manuscript entitled "A Warning to Future Man." Palmer edited Shaver's work and added more of an actual plot, producing the novella "I Remember Lemuria!" published in March 1945. The Shaver Mystery series had begun, and for the next two years, nearly every issue of Amazing Stories featured a Shaver story.

Shaver's deros kidnapped humans for sadistic torture, or for food. Using ancient ray machines, they surveilled surface dwellers and projected tormenting thoughts and voices into their minds. They could also cause all manner of misfortunes, from illness to natural disasters.

It seems to me that something more akin to Shaver's deros would be more interesting than simple evil dwarves. Maybe the two "r" derro could be encountered as a mysterious evil afflicting a village or town. Villagers might disappear, others would be driven to suicide or homicide by tormenting voices. Bizarre events--anything an enterprising gamemaster might wish to borrow from paranormal or ufo lore--would have everyone in town on edge. Eventually, of course, the PCs would venture into previously hidden caves to confront the menace (and take its stuff), but until then the adventure could proceed in something of a "horror" mode--or at least a "weird" one.

The derro are no strangers to madness, and its about time they shared it.


Scott said...

Shaver Dero were heavy movers and shakers in my old Thool setting. I think nearly everything he did is now in the public domain, so he made the very short list of inspirational reading for that campaign.

Trey said...

I'm not sure if his stuff is public domain, or not, but it doesn't seem that anyone is particularly concerned with rights issues with it. His Dero were an influence on the Reds in my in-planning World of the City.

Svengali Merlin said...

The Dero have long been one of the major behind-the-scene villains from my GURPS Spellgate campaign. The PCs have encountered them directly twice (once in an adventure cribbed from Dark Conspiracy, the other in an adventure of my own creation) and both times barely escaped with their lives.

Yup...good times.

Canageek said...

In 3.X D&D (or possible before) didn't the Derro get some sort of backstory about being tortured by Mind Flayers, and thus being resistant to poison and psionics and such. There was also something about them embracing their madness and possibly ties to some demon. I thought that worked pretty well, though not as well as these derro in a pulp setting.

Trey said...

Huh. I hadn't heard of that one. That's not bad.