To preface, I have been the Dungeon Master for my friends’ Dungeons & Dragons campaign this semester, which involves creating worlds and adventures, then playing them out with characters and dice within the rules of the system. While reviewing viral structure in class, I was struck by the polyhedral nature of the viral capsid, noticing that it was evocative of a D20, the most prolific die in the game and the most evocative of D&D as a concept. Using a bit of copper wire and a D20, I fashioned this small bacteriophage figure with literally $2 and 10 minutes of my time.
Of course, even I would consider this barely worth a C, so I also decided to take a bit of viral inspiration and fashion a Dungeons & Dragons encounter designed after a viral outbreak.
The problem I ran into was it being difficult to design a monster for D&D that you can’t hit with a sword, so I created a few variants on the bacteriophage design:
The first I dubbed a “crawler”, a bacteriophage without a tail, roughly the size of a small dog. These would hunt down nearby creatures (symbolizing cells) and attack with a small mouth on their underside. They would then inject “viral DNA” which, after a “lag phase”, would assemble itself into a new crawler using the host’s biomass, slowly making them sicker and more invalid. It would then burst out of the host’s chest in a spray of viscera, killing them instantly. This represented a lytic viral attack. Another variant, the “acolyte”, would have the viral DNA incorporated into their own biomass, evolving them into a sort of bacteriophage/humanoid hybrid, with their tail hidden under robes and manifesting tail fibers like a viral centaur. This was intended to be representative of a lysogenic cycle, though in this case the host is empowered by the incorporation of viral DNA.
Over the course of a 6 hour session, the heroes successfully quarantined the city, isolated healthy survivors, and detained Vilithrax, the mad priest who initiated ground zero of the infection in a crowded church. Time will tell if some phages escape the city and wreak mayhem in the rest of the world.