A Dungeons and Dragons Monster Review by Jonathan Wojcik
Before we talk about the Burbur, it's important to understand one of its favorite snacks, the infamous green slime. Dating back to the very earliest editions of the game, green slime is a colonial, algae-like sessile organism that instantly dissolves metal and consumes organic matter at an exponential rate, quickly converting even the most heavily armored adventurer into a proportional puddle of deadly sludge. An unforgettably grotesque and notoriously frustrating hazard, to say nothing of its cousin the olive slime, which goes the extra mile and converts its victims into shambling, zombie-like slime creatures.
As enduring and unique a threat as slime has always been, it only makes sense that it was given at least one specialized natural enemy; a cute, innocent looking little slug-weevil introduced in Dragon #101. Feeding exclusively on subterranean biofilms, the gentle little critter could suction up three times its mass in deadly cave-crud, including not only green and olive slimes but an assortment of deadly toxic mosses and molds.
A novel concept, with a nice design and an interesting niche role in a fantastical ecosystem, but perhaps a little too niche for its own good. I can't imagine toxic mold was ever all that popular a threat, and small pockets of slime could just as easily be set on fire, relegating the Burbur to little more than a curiosity.
I, of all people, can appreciate elements of pure world-building flavor, but I can also understand that these things have to be weighed against printing costs in an industry that struggles harder than ever, so I'm not surprised that the Burbur's 1996 reprint would also be its last. Its new artwork was damn cool, but there was little to no expansion on its concept or mechanics, which is a shame, because I think it's easy to see just how deeply, deeply insidious a Burbur could become with only minimal tweaking.
Think about it: the Burbur is virtually the only creature that likes green slime. The only creature that could ever want more of it.
One little drop of green slime is all it takes to kill damn near anything, consuming and spreading like a flame until nothing else is left.
The Burbur's official description makes a point of mentioning that predators avoid them, because green slime can still survive for a while in their stomachs.
...So what happens, then, if a Burbur spits?
If it only realized the kind of power it held, one tiny, quiet, innocent little Burbur could conceivably bring down almost any living creature, of any size, and generate one of the game's deadliest hazards in the process. If a whole population figured out how to regurgitate at will, almost nothing would be safe. The hose-nosed devils could hide just about anywhere, perhaps even learn to strike victims in their sleep, dribbling a little slime onto their exposed skin and leavig no trace once the burbur swarm has finished slurping up the remains.
It's the kind of thing that could bring down an entire ecosystem...an entire civilization. Nobody would expect that such innocent little creatures are systematically converting the populace into slime and devouring them, especially if the Burburs used to be harmless, before a little magical experimentation, infernal corruption or good old evolution kicked them up a notch on the nightmare scale.
An argument could be made, though, that this has already happened, if hardly to such a devastating extent. The Digester, a pack-hunting predator introduced in third edition, bears such uncanny anatomical similarities to our little slime-eaters that it could practically pass for a "grown up" version of the 1996 Burbur, and I wouldn't be surprised if its conceptual development started somewhere along those lines. Instead of consuming slime, however, the Digester sprays its own corrosive enzymes from its upper cranial orifice and sucks up the gooey remains of prey with its pipe-like mouth. It's a giant, walking seahorse that eats like a fly.
Predictably, the Digester was one of my new favorites the moment I cracked open my first Third Edition Monster Manual, but still regarded by many others as one of the book's stupidest additions, apparently for looking too much like some sort of weird "chicken." I'm sorry, is this the same gaming community that embraces giant gas-filled balls of eyes and brain-sucking octopus wizards?
I digress. Everything I've said about weaponizing the Burbur could just as easily add an unexpected twist to the Digester. Not as unexpected as flesh-melting doom delivered by a six inch kiwi-maggot, but a pack of Digesters able to squirt streams of green or olive slime could still unleash some serious mayhem. NOW who's just a weird chicken!?