This article was first broadcast in Episode Two Hundred and Nine on 4th May 2022.
Note: This article was adapted from an episode script, and so there may be parts that don’t flow well when read, because they were initially designed for broadcast.
Flumphs being common knowledge around D&D tables is a relatively new phenomenon thanks mostly to 5th edition’s wild magic sorcerer. One of the entries on the wild magic eruption table, as Mikey and Branwen can tell you, is that a number of confused flumphs randomly appear for a minute or so.
However, despite their popularity skyrocketing in 5th edition, flumphs have actually been around since 1st edition. They didn’t make it into the mainstream, early publications, but then TSR put out the “Fiend Folio” in 1980. The Folio was famous for having some more esoteric creatures in it where most other references had stuck to more stereotypical or traditional fantasy creatures. The flumph, as a wholly original creation of the TSR devs at the time, fit the bill.
Unfortunately the flumph’s prominence waned very quickly over the years. While it was present in 2nd edition, it didn’t get official recognition until 1995 when the “Monstrous Compendium Annual volume two” was released. There was a more extensive “ecology of a flumph” lore article published in Dragon Magazine later that year, but after that things weren’t looking up for the creatures.
In 3rd edition and 3.5 the flumph wasn’t given space in any of the official books, despite 3.5 putting out a whopping 4 Monster Manuals. The only official appearance it made was in Dungeon magazine 118 as a main feature in a lighthearted adventure called “Box of Flumph”, although the appendix to that adventure did include a fairly extensive outline of flumph information.
By 4th edition the flumph was relegated to a gimmick. It only appeared in an April Fool’s adventure that featured it as a random encounter along with a bunch of other monsters that had originally featured in the Fiend Folio of old.
As mentioned, 5th edition saved the flumph from obscurity or outright removal from D&D by including it in the Wild Magic table in the Player’s handbook. If you put something in the PHB you have to back it up with more info, so for the first time ever the flumph appeared in the first published monster manual for an edition of D&D.
Physically flumphs haven’t changed through the editions. Their bodies are basically serving trays; about 2 feet in diameter and only a few inches across at the thickest point. Their two eyestalks stick up four to five inches on either side of a hole in the top of the disk. Many people mistakenly label this as a mouth, but that’s just wrong. They either speak telepathically or by sign language, and that’s not how they eat. It’s used to suck in air that the flumph then expels through any one of a number of openings on the edges of its body. That’s how they get around, and the sound they make when it happens is how they got their name. They actually eat using the tentacles that dangle 6 to 8 inches below them.
The tentacles have spikes on the end of them, and the spikes are coated in acid. They hit their prey with the spikes and then wait for the acid to dissolve the creature so they can suck the nutrients up with the tentacles.
Flumphs only really hunt small lizards and rodents. Other than that they are generally held to be the most helpful and nicest inhabitants of the Underdark.
The flumphs of 5th edition are innately psionic creatures and they are very conscious of the moods of other beings around them. While they do hunt their food physically, they also get a certain amount of nourishment from latent psionic energy. In the underdark this is really easy to find since you have a whole plethora of psionic creatures hanging around. Many…okay none of them are really friendly, but the flumphs detection range is pretty far, so they’re able to keep their distance. Though they will preferably seek out creatures that seem more good-aligned.
While they can hunt and roam individually, flumphs usually live in communities with other flumphs, called a cloister, usually led by an abbot. Apparently those labels were given by the people who found them and the flumphs themselves don’t use them.
Cloisters can form easily because flumphs bud and reproduce 1 – 8 new flumphs every couple of years, and the flumphs get to be adults within a month. Once formed, cloisters can be very helpful to adventurers.
First, flumph’s ability to detect moods is reflected in their skin; they’re basically living mood rings. By default their skin is kind of a greenish-yellow, but the hue can change depending on the mood of creatures it senses nearby. That reaction is involuntary, so if the flumph turns red, that’s a good indication that something angry and dangerous is nearby. Also, they’re helpful because the flumphs hear any telepathic communication that occurs when they’re feeding, so they pick up a lot of information from the groups around them, particularly if they’re creatures like aboleths or mindflayers where their *primary* method of communication is telepathy. They also have a very philosophical and sharing society, so they freely exchange information to anyone who seems friendly and they genuinely like to help other beings.
A common oddity in flumph cloisters is they will adopt mindwitnesses. Mindwitnesses are the result of a beholder that’s been subjected to cerromorphosis, where the mindflayers implant one of their tadpoles. The resulting mindwitness very much needs direction and guidance, and if the mindflayers lose track of it, the flumphs will take it in and try to reeducate it to be less murdery and evil. Oddly enough, it usually works.
A flumph is totally incapacitated if it’s flipped upside down. The air jets it uses to move are only on the bottom and sides of its frame, so an upside-down flumph is flightless. Also the tentacles are like jellyfish tentacles; they hurt if they hit, but that’s because of the acid, not strength; they don’t have very many muscles. A flumph might be able to flip itself over with them, but it’s not a sure thing at all.
Flumphs do prefer to flee when threatened but despite being able to fly they can only move 30 feet at a time so a good sprint will catch them. And then of course you have the spray. If a creature is hit, the smell can last…1D4 HOURS!? Seriously!?
The cloister thing was also much less common. “Regular” flumphs were more nomadic, white skinned by default instead of pale greenish-yellow, and didn’t have quite as much intelligence. Eventually the lore explained that the intelligent, cloistering flumphs were so-called “true” flumphs, and the nomadic ones were the result of an unfortunate albinism mutation in budding. The albinism breeds true and that resulted in a lot more of the pale, less intelligent flumphs wandering around.
Part of the reason for the redesign of flumphs in 5th edition was actually explicitly for the purposes of inserting them into a campaign. As mentioned, the 5e flumphs act as sort of “hostile creature barometers” and spies against psionic creatures. Since most of the things in the Underdark fit both those categories, having a flumph connect with an adventuring party that’s down in the depths is an easy way to help them avoid truly dangerous encounters and solve the issue of them finding out information they need if they don’t have people with esoteric languages, good stealth, or keen perception.
The other thing they’re really good for is comic relief. Apart from the wild magic surge result that can cause chaos on a battlefield, there are many aspects of the creatures that are objectively amusing. The helplessness when flipped can be played off similarly to a helpless turtle asking for help, and several stories have made use of the flumph’s dietary habits to show them chasing down someone’s familiar by mistake. Also, of course, if any of your players are of a less sophisticated disposition or happen to be males under the age of 12, it’s likely they’ll have a few things to say about the fact that the flumphs move around using puffs of air expelled from their body.
Flumphs really aren’t designed to be creatures characters need to fight at all, and that’s usually been the case through the history of D&D. Excepting of course the one time they came up with Flumphy, the Huge Fiendish Dire Flumph of Legend.