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Posts Tagged ‘monsters’

Boardgame Full Of Monsters

February 11th, 2014 No comments

The main reason that I haven’t been blogging much lately is that most of my free time had been taken up by a boardgame design contest. The Champaign-Urbana Design Organization is sponsoring a competition called CUDO Plays, which encourages locals to collaborate in designing, playtesting and manufacturing their own games.

I’ve always had a lot of boardgame ideas percolating in my head, but have had a lot of trouble turning them into something playable. When the contest was announced last fall, I thought it might be the chance to finally complete such a project.

At the kick-off event, I found myself talking to a couple other random gamers (who shall be known as Bryan and Paul, as those are their names) and the three of us decided to form a team.

Bryan already had a semi-fleshed out concept for a game called Monsterville, which would’ve placed the players in charge of districts of a city besieged by monsters. For a brief time we turned the concept upside down and had the monsters running the town, defending it from humans. Eventually, we threw out both ideas in favor of something loosely inspired by one of my favorite films, The Cabin in the Woods.

Intermediate prototype design.

Cabin Full of Monsters casts the players as vaguely evil forces, each of which recruits a team of creatures to stalk and dispatch the unfortunate human visitors to a certain woodland cabin. The bodies of the deceased are then placed in one of four graveyards depending on the successful monster’s preferred method of mayhem: Terrifying, Surprising, Gory or Creative.

The game is meant to be semi-cooperative. The players must work together to keep any of the graveyards from being emptied (each turn, one or more bodies are removed for reasons that remain ill-defined). Should that happen, all players lose. On the other hand, all players can win if the supply of potential victims is exhausted, leaving only a “sole survivor.”

In addition, each player has an individual goal (for example, at least 12 points’ worth of victims in each graveyard), many of which overlap. After eight rounds, players check to see whether they’ve completed their victory condition.

Bryan and I share a love of monster movies, and we took the opportunity to fill the cabin with homages and in-jokes. Naturally, there are Cabin in the Woods references (Redneck Zombies, Unicorn, Merman). There are gamer memes (Gazebo, The Darkness). There are cryptids (Chupacabra, Skunk Ape). And there are swipes from movies including The Crawling Eye, Lifeforce, Death Bed and Flash Gordon (“No, not the Bore Worms!”).

The game required a crapton of art, and a local teacher named Carmen came to the rescue, recruiting her students to depict many of the monsters. The results were often wonderful, sometimes bizarre and always charming. (The Skunk Ape, a Down South cousin of Bigfoot, wound up as a literal half-skunk, half-ape.)

A lineup full of monsters.

Components include 192 cards; 160 tokens to represent victims, monsters and “blood” (the game’s currency); a large gameboard detailing the cabin and graveyard; and eight smaller boards for the individual players. Oh, and a cloth bag from which to randomly draw the victims. I asked a coworker of mine for help making a bag, and this is what her clever daughter crafted. (No matter what else happens with this game, I am keeping the bag!)


To make the tokens, we utilized the University of Illinois’ community “fab lab” and its handy laser cutter. One of the best things about this whole experience was learning about the resources available to folks who want to exercise their creativity, and I’m looking forward to making my own tchtochkes in the future.

It took a full four months from our first meeting to the final product, which we turned in to the competition committee last weekend. This coming Sunday we’ll get to see all of the finished designs and find out who won. For me, the real prize is seeing a complicated game to completion, and perhaps the opportunity to make my own copy to play with friends.

Categories: Games Tags:

All The World’s Monsters

April 25th, 2013 No comments

A couple of months ago, I read Playing at the World, a history of early wargaming and its evolution into Dungeons & Dragons. It’s a massive brick of a book–700+ pages in an ant-sized font–and almost too definitive. Still, if you want to truly understand from where this hobby sprung, you need to seek it out.

I came away from it with a much greater appreciation for D&D co-creator E. Gary Gygax, who–if not the sole progenitor of the role-playing game–was clearly the chief architect of the classic dungeon crawl. But what impressed me most about this account of Gygax was his work in classifying and codifying the monsters of our shared mythology.

Allow me to backtrack a bit. I’d been doing some research into creatures of legend in an effort to create a bestiary for the Dungeon World RPG. My first step was to consult my treasured copy of Mythical Monsters. Published in 1973 by Scholastic Books, I bought this cartoon guidebook in grade school and have kept it to this day.*

It drew heavily on Jorge Luis Borges’ 1957 work Book of Imaginary Beings, so I sought out that volume as well. From it, I learned two important things:

  • Many mythological creatures took no definitive form. Accounts of their appearance and attributes varied wildly depending on who was telling the tale.**
  • Pliny the Elder would believe pretty much anything. You could walk up to him and claim that a hippopotamus breathed poisonous gas and foraged for pearls at the ocean’s bottom, and he’d write it up for his Natural History, no questions asked.

“No! Really! You say that one look into its eyes would kill you stone dead? Yet you’re still alive and telling me this? Why, I believe every word of it!”

Returning now to E. Gary Gygax, it’s well-known that he drew on many sources in developing his extensive list of dungeon denizens: Tolkien, Conan the Barbarian, Ray Harryhausen films, comic books and dime store toys. But as Playing at the World describes, Gygax went one step further than Borges: he pinned down these mutable myths. He distinguished the cockatrice from the basilisk, the gorgon from the medusa, the goblin from the kobold. Much of what we think we know about the catoplebas, the peryton and the manticore came by way of the Monster Manual.

As a fan of all things dark and dangerous, I tip my flagon of ale to you, Gary, for your role in preserving and cataloging our heritage of horrors.

*Unfortunately, in scanning the artwork for this article, I broke the binding of my beloved 40-year-old paperback. You may now feel sorry for me.

**Reading the wild descriptions of beings widely agreed upon as purely fanciful, I was struck by how similar they were to those found in the core beliefs of accepted, mainstream religion. Which of these is the myth?

  • “(It) was larger than a mountain. Its eyes shot forth flames and its mouth was so enormous that nine thousand men would fit inside..the beast had three gullets; all vomited forth inextinguishable fire.”
  • “(I) saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns…the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion…”

Trick question. They both are.

Categories: Games Tags: ,

A Spotter’s Guide To “The Cabin In The Woods” Monsters, Part 3

October 22nd, 2012 No comments

For the third and final part of my examination of the monsters from the cult horror-comedy The Cabin in the Woods, I’ll run down the miscellaneous menagerie, including some that may exist solely in behind-the-scenes footage.


Japanese Stringy-Haired Ghost

aka Kiko, who is now living in a happy frog.


Horned Gorilla

No, his name isn’t “Buenos Aires.” This is a screengrab of one of the failed international scenarios. So, is the horned gorilla a traditional Argentinian horror?


Giant Spider

Yeah, I’ve got a better picture of the giant spider than this, but I hate spiders so you’ll have to make do.



Poor Amy Acker. Always getting killed.



A scorpion-like, buzzsaw-armed robot. It’s also among the initial batch of monsters at the elevators.


The Suffocators

Name taken from an interview with director Drew Goddard. One appears on the monitors. Photo from the Cabin wiki.


Creepy Girl

You never see her face. She walks slowly down the hall, singing “Hush Little Baby.”



I haven’t spotted him in the film. Photo from the Visual Companion.


Little Guy with a Hatchet

Another mystery, another Visual Companion photo.


The Ancient Ones

What it’s all about. Arguably, they’re us.


And the Rest

Some unidentified humanoids seen in the rampage. Perhaps one of them is the Reaver (from Joss Whedon’s TV series Firefly) that’s alleged to appear?

This cow-skull-headed giant is on the DVD’s behind-the-scenes featurette.

Not pictured: several creatures from the videogame Left 4 Dead appear in the holding cells. They’re holdovers from the abandoned plans to create Cabin-themed downloadable content for the popular horror game.

The special effects artists of The Cabin in the Woods created holding cells in different sizes in order to make insects and costumed actors appear giant. Here are a bunch of creatures that they used to fill out the prison, many of which defy easy categorization. However, you will note knock-offs of The Blob and The Fifty-Foot Woman. Also the Ku Klux Klan.


And that’s all for now, unless someone finds a photo of Kevin! Hope that you found useful this guide to the forthcoming apocalypse!

(Part One!) (Part Two!)

A Spotter’s Guide To “The Cabin In The Woods” Monsters, Part 2

October 15th, 2012 No comments

Part Two of my guide to the monster menagerie from The Cabin in the Woods (Part One was published last week) covers the right column of the whiteboard. Let’s take a look at it again.


The Scarecrow Folk

A flock of these break into the control room and attack Truman before being blown up by an errant grenade. Photos from the Cabin Visual Companion.



So far, no one seems to have spotted this one.



The dragonbat is very prominent, breaking into the security booth and later smashing through a wall.



The Nosferatu-style vamps are mostly off-screen. Photo from the Visual Companion.


Dismemberment Goblins

You can barely catch a few glimpses of the goblins, which is too bad because they’re charmingly goofy. During the elevator massacre, they rip a soldier in half and fling the body at the camera. Later on you can see them driving a golf cart. According to the novelization, they use it to run down pedestrians. Photos from the DVD and Visual Companion.


Sugarplum Fairy

She’s the lamprey-faced ballerina Marty sees in the holding cells. Later she performs a bloody dance of death on the big monitor. Photo from the Visual Companion.



“I’m never gonna see a merman.” Photos from the Visual Companion.


The Reanimated

Not positive about these. The Cabin wiki thinks that they’re the ceiling-crawling humanoids with the upside-down heads.



Guess this lab worker wasn’t a virgin.


The Huron

Snagged this photo from the Cabin wiki. I don’t know where they found it. I haven’t seen the Huron in the film myself.



I love that no one is certain whether its a sasquatch or a yeti. Or possibly a wendigo. Photo from the Visual Companion.



Four Dolls emerge from the elevators. They’re also on one of the monitors, carrying a can of gasoline and setting people on fire.


The Doctors

Seen here about to operate.


Zombie Redneck Torture Family

So much for their “100% clearance rate.”


Jack O’Lantern

A skinny, pumpkin-headed, fire-breathing humanoid in an old-timey suit.



Presumably this guy, seen here in a behind-the-scenes shot from the DVD.



You don’t get a very good look at them, but these two little girls–presumably a riff on The Shining–are briefly glimpsed both in the cells and on the monitors.


Come back next Monday for Part Three, in which I’ll cover the deep roster of The Cabin in the Woods, including quite a few monsters you never saw.

(Part One here.)

A Spotter’s Guide To “The Cabin In The Woods” Monsters, Part 1

October 8th, 2012 No comments

The Cabin in the Woods–a sly meta-commentary on the entire horror film genre–is one of my favorite films of the year to date. The DVD recently came out, allowing me the opportunity to indulge in a bit of filmic archaeology: an attempt to unearth as many of its many, many monsters as I can. The infamous betting board listed quite a few, but numerous others were glimpsed during the film and still more showed up only in behind-the-scenes footage.

My sources for this series of articles include the DVD, the Visual Companion (highly recommended) and The Cabin in the Woods wiki. The “system purge” sequence of the film is so fast and furious that it was difficult to get clear screencaps; in some cases I’ve had to resort to book scans and various websites.

(Okay, heads up. Total spoilers ahead. If that bothers you, do not read the rest of this post, much less the forthcoming parts two and three.)

To begin, I’m going to run down the whiteboard list in order.



Prominently featured in the movie, the werewolf moved fast enough that it was hard to capture him in focus. Here he is from the Visual Companion.


Alien Beast

The facehugger-esque creature leaps out of an elevator onto one of the soldiers. The production photos from the Visual Companion give a better view.



Seen on one of the monitors vomiting on a victim. Marty shoots one in the head. Photo from the Visual Companion.



Dana and Marty see one in the holding cells. During the purge, it whooshes down a hallway.



You don’t have to look very hard to find lots of zombies participating in the rampage. Photo from the Visual Companion.



I’m presuming that’s the creature below, seen in a screengrab from the DVD’s behind-the-scenes feature. Part of this scene shows up on one of the monitors, but all you see is its foot.



Clowns are scary. And this one is  impervious to bullets.



During the elevator attack, one of these flies overhead and rips out a soldier’s soul. Photo from the Visual Companion.


Sexy Witches

As far as I know, these never appeared on-screen. Unless you find the above witch sexy.



Any number of miscellaneous horrors might fit under this heading. See the forthcoming Part Three.


Hell Lord

aka Fornicus, Lord of Bondage and Pain. He’s a piss-take on Pinhead from the Hellraiser films, complete with puzzle ball.


Angry Molesting Tree

Another specific film reference, this one a callback to the tree-rape scene from The Evil Dead. It pulls one of the soldiers into an elevator. The torrent of blood that ensues is also reminiscent of the Evil Dead films.


Giant Snake

Note that he’s a combination cobra/rattlesnake!



Also an Evil Dead reference. I haven’t positively identified any, but deadites are close enough in appearance to zombies that it’s hard to be sure.



Ah, the legendary Kevin. Director Drew Goddard swears that he’s in the film. However, since he’s supposed to be a blandly-normal person (who can exsanguinate a victim in a second) he might be hiding among the office workers.



I’m not sure that he appears on-screen, but here’s a shot from the behind-the-scenes featurette.


The Bride

Not sure about this one. The Cabin wiki thinks it’s the gauze-covered, skinless creature below. That doesn’t explain the sledgehammer it’s wielding. You can see it hammering on the sides of its cell. Later it’s visible on one of the monitors.

“The Bride” could also be a Kill Bill reference, suggesting that something in the cabin’s basement might summon Uma Thurman.


That’s the left column of the whiteboard. Come back next Monday for Part Two, when I tackle the right column!

(Part Three here.)

Shock Treatment

September 15th, 2011 No comments

Once again it’s that time of year when WILL-AM’s regular radio hosts go on vacation and I have the opportunity to take over the microphone for an hour. Tomorrow (Friday, September 16) at 11:05 am Central Time, I’ll be interviewing Jason Zinoman, author of the film history Shock Value.

The book recounts how horror movies, once epitomized by Gothic castles and Vincent Price, gave way to zombies, stalkers and cannibals in a disorienting mix of the fantastic and the mundane. The late ’60s and early ’70s gave us George Romero, John Carpenter, Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper, who collectively took fright features out of the realm of kids’ stuff.

If you’re not in WILL-AM’s Central Illinois coverage area, you can listen online. If you miss the live broadcast, it’ll be in our archive. And we’ll be taking listener questions; call in during the show at 800-222-9455.

Reading the book (which I recommend) I was struck most by one thing: the revolution Zinoman describes began in 1968 with the dual releases of Rosemary’s Baby and Night of the Living Dead. What he terms “modern horror” is now 43 years old…

Categories: General Tags: ,


March 29th, 2011 No comments

During the year that I lived in West Hollywood, I found myself in horrific company. My roommate Guy and his circle of friends were all monster mask mavens, their homes decorated with row upon row of bodiless heads. Our downstairs neighbors were David and Laura Lady, a couple that seemed not only made for each other but constructed in the same laboratory. David was (and is) a talented mask sculptor, and Laura was (and is) a whiz at hairwork and costuming.

I moved back to Indiana in ’87, and the Ladys returned to their ancestral Ohio a few years later. They set up haunted housekeeping in a converted hotel that served double-duty as a walk-through Halloween attraction. I visited Horror Hotel once in the ’90s, but didn’t see the Ladys again…until this past Saturday. I dropped in on the Horrorhound Weekend convention, where Dave and Laura were among the honored guests of “Mask-Fest.”

I’ve always enjoyed monster movies, but–Godzilla excepted–I’m not an out-and-out fanatic. While I’m fairly well-versed in the history of horror, I’ve missed quite a few of the classics. And the genre’s recent trend of “torture porn” repulses me.

So, while I can generally get by at an event like Horrorhound Weekend, it’s not quite my cup of arsenic. I was uncomfortable with the amount of misogynistic imagery and bare boobage on display, moreso as there were small children in attendance. And then there was the DVD dealer with copies of Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will sitting amidst the slasher films.

Awwwww, cute.

Which is not to say that I didn’t enjoy myself. There were plenty of old-school monsters loping amidst the Jasons and Jigsaws, as well as some very impressive costumes. The eight-foot-tall Frankenstein was himself dwarfed by a 10-foot Grim Reaper with light-up eyes and articulated skeletal fingers.

This ambulatory pumpkin patch took a well-deserved second place at Saturday night's costume contest.

There was an entire room devoted to TV horror hosts. Most of them seemed to be hobbyists taking advantage of the Internet and a large supply of “Clown White” makeup to reinvent themselves as wanna-be Svengoolies or Zacherleys, but at least a couple were making a serious run at it.

I had a surprisingly lengthy conversation with this robot.

A couple of Ghostbusters discuss what to do about Indianapolis' famed horror host Sammy Terry.

There were dozens of quasi-celebrities lining the walls, signing autographs for 20-to-30 bucks a pop. They ran the gamut from the relatively famous–Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator), Kristanna Loken (Terminator 3), Ken Foree (Dawn of the Dead) and Sid Haig (The Devil’s Rejects)–to the guy who wore the mutant mask in The Funhouse. I had a nice chat with Jeffrey Combs, with whom I had worked on a crappy, crappy* film called The Phantom Empire. (And, by “with whom I had worked,” I mean that he starred in it and I drove a shit-filled motor home as a production assistant.) I think he was amused when I showed up with a Phantom Empire DVD for him to sign.

Amongst the third Killer Klown from the left and a gaggle of cast members from Halloween III: Season of the Witch sat an honest-to-Cthulhu film legend: actress Barbara Steele. Her spike-scarred face from Black Sunday was one of the indelible images of ’60s horror.

It troubled me to see only a trickle of people paying their respects to Ms. Steele while at the next booth over Sid Haig (best known as “Captain Spaulding”** in House of 1,000 Corpses) always had about a dozen queued up. I have nothing against Haig, who has certainly paid his dues. He’s been in the industry long enough (including a star turn as the villain in the ’70s kids’ show Jason of Star Command) to have multiple generations of fans. But, come on…it’s Barbara frickin’ Steele. Attention must be paid.

Dave Lady, attired in seizure-inducing strobing goggles and gloves, gamely emceed the costume contest despite the distraction of a travelling geek show–complete with portable stripper pole–that simply refused to relinquish the stage. I was fond of the guy dressed as Robot Monster‘s Ro-Man of the Planet Ro-Man, but the contest was won by a duo who came as the bedroom scene from The Exorcist.

Unfortunately, you're not getting the full effect of Dave's light show here, as my camera flash washed out the coruscating colors.

It was great to hang out with my friends again, and I hope to do it again next year!

Please enjoy a final few random images from Horrorhound Weekend.


**All weekend I had the Groucho Marx song “Hooray for Captain Spaulding” in my head.

To Dungeons Deep And Caverns Old

April 24th, 2010 No comments

It should be a surprise to no one that I was one of the founding members of the Hobart High School Dungeons & Dragons Club*. Each Saturday morning, about twenty of us took over the basement of the Hobart Public Library for a half day of imaginary violence.

Here, courtesy the HHS yearbook, is the sole photo I have of me In flagrante dungeon…

Note that I was both wearing a Star Wars T-shirt and using an Empire Strikes Back school folder as a Dungeon Master’s screen. Yeah, I was stylin’.

What’s truly scary is that I’ve just realized that all these years later I can still immediately identify the D&D adventure being played by the two virgins in the background: the infamous “Queen of the Demonweb Pits.”

All this is my way of pointing out that I am indeed an old-schooler when it comes to dungeoneering. And now, nearly three decades later, I’m running a twice-monthly exercise in Old Tyme D&D I’m calling “The Tower of Mad Mungus.”

In my last update, I noted that some of the less likely members of the D&D bestiary were blamed on experimentation by a mad wizard. I decided that it was high time someone met him.

So it is that our party of adventurers have found themselves in the chambers far below Mungus’ tilted tower. Having defeated a fierce owlbear, they pressed on into a series of caverns.

Their first challenge was a cave overgrown with mushrooms. Large mushrooms. Mushrooms that smelled like warm, freshly-baked bread. When disturbed, they blasted a cloud of spores into the surrounding area. Unfortunately–or perhaps fortunately–the heroes never learned what effect those spores may have had, as they managed to safely bypass them**.

In a maze of twisty little passages, all alike, they found that certain sections of the floor glittered with bluish crystal. Those peering into this “mirror crystal” found that they could see portions of the tunnels otherwise out of sight…and that a monster was looking back at them! In a manner understood by no one including myself, the clawed insect/lizard was able to fire its poisoned spines at them from its lair elsewhere in the caves.

Hunting the sniper, they were beset by a bunch of young kruthiks and their pissed-off parents.

And now, a word from the Dungeon Master:

“Despite my stated intention to provide an old-school D&D experience, kruthiks are from a much later period in the game’s evolution. I included them for two reasons:

1) The game itself seems uncertain what they are. The 4th edition Monster Manual keeps referring to them as “reptilian,” even though they both look and behave much more like insects. They have a “hive lord,” for Pelor’s sake. So they seemed to fit the theme of creatures produced by madness.

2) I have an awful lot of kruthik miniatures.”

Having hacked their way through the skittering, spiky menace, the party next found themselves in a large grotto divided by an underground river and dotted with stalagmites and stalactites. Rob, my fellow old-schooler, heard the magic word “stalactites” and immediately began searching the ceiling for piercers.

“As I’ve previously noted, the piercer is one of the silliest 1st edition monsters. A mollusk which closely resembles a stalactite, the piercer lurks on cave ceilings, waiting to drop on its prey. If it misses, it has no recourse other than to crawl sloooooooowly away and try again…much, much later.

In other words, it’s a monster which is precisely as dangerous as a piece of loose stone.

When 3rd edition D&D came along, it was replaced by the darkmantle, a squiddy thing that flaps down from above and tries to wrap itself around its victim’s head.”

No piercers presented themselves, but sure enough a flock of darkmantles dropped down. Many heads were engulfed. Our intrepid wizard was forced to fire rays of frost at his own noggin in hope of knocking loose a tenacious, tentacled terror.

And that’s when the piercers began to fall.

The first one missed, but Rob’s warlord was speared right in the sternum and lay gasping at the brink of death. Oddly, I believe Rob was actually happy about being laid low by a piercer.

It was looking bad for a few moments, but the good guys eventually won the day. Then, something completely unexpected happened…

Another piercer plummeted to the floor. And excused itself.

The creature explained that it had once been a knight polymorphed into its current form by Mad Mungus himself. Sir Pearce† spent the next fifty years waiting in the cave for a party of dungeoneers that could help him to break this terrible curse.

Rob has kindly provided his iPad sketch of Sir Pearce.

And that’s where we left things. Five defiant adventurers and one stouthearted, conical mollusk against the forces of evil! To be continued…

*aka The Grand Order of High Schoolers Who Were in No Way Likely to Get Laid.

**Or did they?***

***Yes, they did.

I’m so sorry.

Categories: Games Tags: ,

Chess Grandmonsters

April 23rd, 2010 No comments

Wizards of the Coast recently announced that it was allowing its license to create Star Wars role-playing games and miniatures to lapse. However, before the product line became one with the Force, WOTC gave one last gift to old-school fanboys. The final miniatures set, “Masters of the Force,” includes all eight of the “chess monsters” seen in the original film.

The scene was a throwaway bit in which R2-D2 and Chewbacca passed the time by playing a holographic board game. Chewie’s poor sportsmanship–and the threat that he might pull someone’s arm from the socket–elicited C-3PO’s timeless advice, “Let the Wookiee win.” Special effects artists Phil Tippett and Jon Berg created the charmingly crude stop-motion monsters that squeaked and hissed at each other across the chess table.

I love the odd looks of these whatsits.  They suggest the crazy biological diversity of a galaxy far, far away in a way that subsequent Star Wars productions never have.

These days, they naturally have been forced into codified confinement. The space chess game was given a name (dejarik) and each of the creatures a detailed background. In other words, all the fun has been surgically removed.

As for the miniatures themselves,  I placed an order and received seven of them earlier this week. (The eighth is still to come via a separate order.) Here they are!

Best of all, they’re just the right size to stage my own space chess match! Wookiees, of course, will not be invited.

Categories: Star Wars Tags: , ,

Monster Manual Class Photo

August 4th, 2009 No comments

Class photo day was the one day that the Roper forgot to comb his tentacles.

Top row: Otyugh, Purple Worm, Gelatinous Cube

Middle row: Hook Horror, Ochre Jelly, Bulette, Rust Monster, Owlbear, Carrion Crawler

Bottom row: Intellect Devourer, Shambling Mound, Kuo-Toa, Beholder, Mind Flayer, Roper, Xorn