On Sunday at 2:30PM on the Fan Track Channel, the Science Track presented “Virtual: The Science of D&D Monsters,” led by paleontologist and professional Dungeon Master Trevor Valle. He asked panelists Lali DeRosier (science teacher), Torrey Stenmark (organic chemist and costumer), and Stephen Granade (physicist and director of the science track) to roll for initiative to identify the science behind the D&D monsters wreaking havoc on Dragon Con.
- First up, outside the Hilton, is a Rust Monster—a shelled creature with antennae that, upon touch, corroded several tables into collapsing as it ran and hid. DeRosier declares it chemosynthetic, Granade says its advanced oxidation of metal suggests it was increasing electron movement, and Stenmark goes with acid chemistry and chlorine gas production.
- Over at the Marriot, on the catwalk, the panelists run into a man who transforms into a Displacer Beast—a six-legged panther-like creature with fancy tentacles that creates illusions. Granade goes with optical meta-materials bending light for the mystery behind the beasts’ projections. DeRosier suggests a prey-predator connection that sharpens prey visual acuity when in fight or flight mode. Stenmark thinks it’s actually a creature from another world called Avatar and suggests, in Navi, to the beast that it return home right before it fades away.
- Moving to the Marriot Atrium, the panelists approach the steak restaurant host, who sprouts face tentacles as armor appears on his oily, tall, regal body and he becomes a Mind Flayer. DeRosier, feeling her mind being probed, suggests the Mind Flayer is similar to a cuttlefish, making people react using its tentacles to produce a biological response that feels psionic. Stenmark looks into its mind and realizes many Mind Flayers are surrounding them using a hive mind and thinks pheromones are at play to coordinate their movements. Granade sees one Mind Flayer levitating and decides it has hollow bones and is somehow adjusting how it interacts with the Higgs Field to give itself less mass.
- The panelists leave the busy Atrium for the Hyatt, where they stop near the crossroads and find a floating, tentacled jellyfish-like creature with eye stalks talking psychically with them. A Flumph! Granade thinks its tentacles give it undulation for floating and “tool” usage. DeRosier sees it changing colors and realizes it’s feeding on a bunch of frat boys’ energy, which suggests to her that the Flumph can harvest brainwaves as food. Stenmark thinks its floating via small puffs of air using gas-powered propulsion made through digestion or acid-base reactions. As the Flumph leads the group, a flicked cigarette lights it on fire and scuttles it.
- In the Hyatt main lobby, they see a shimmer crawling over barricades and railings toward them until a transparent gelatinous, 10×10 cube appears. The Jelly “swallows” a bystander and starts to dissolve the victim! Stenmark gives a small talk on proteins, suggesting the Jelly is made of D-amino acids. Granade compares its lack of pigmentation and liquid content to sea creatures and runs through several challenges it would have in the Atlanta heat, especially given its size. DeRosier takes this further by looking at its surface area to volume ratio, saying that its size actually makes it less potent and dangerous as it’s probably oxygen starved.
- The panelists head outside and start to cross to the convention center but first see a late-arriving attendee loading a tote that erupts with teeth, eyes, and a sticky tongue, revealing a Mimic, which can shapeshift into anything. Granade reminds us that biological mimicry happens in nature all the time, and a Mimic has likely evolved to be an “ambush predator” that hibernates until prey stumbles upon it. DeRosier goes into the anatomy of a jellyfish, which has either needle-like stingers called nematocysts on its tentacles or bumps that burst and make the tentacles powerfully sticky. Stenmark blames the attendee for not better tracking his luggage before going back into protein bonding, which is making it hard for the attendee to escape his murderous tote. This makes DeRosier consider a genetic link between a Mimic and the Jelly.
As a DM, Valle was superb, and the panelists were all great sports with excellent imaginations and science knowledge. Please note that no actual Dragon Con attendee was harmed during the making of this panel and that this writer is not a science expert.