Worldbuilding: A Prevalence of Frogs

Does your world have enough amphibians?

Some of the hoppers I can ID in the local vicinity include the green treefrog (Hyla cinerea), the southern toad (Bufo terrestris), and the squirrel treefrog (Hyla squirella). Based on the number of distinct frog calls at night, there’s probably a few more I haven’t seen.

(Yes, I realize they’ve apparently changed up scientific names recently. The ones up there are the ones I learned and that are in my ID guide.)

Frogs and toads do many things. Splash. Hide out in cracks, crevices, and flowerpots to startle you at the most awkward moment. Make enough noise calling at night to make you stuff the covers in your ears. Stop you dead in your tracks, blinking, as the ground seems to move – only it’s a scattering of toads tiny enough to perch on your pinkie nail, all hopping away.

But first and foremost, frogs eat bugs.

I use that term specifically. First, frogs could care less if it’s a true insect, spider, millipede, or what have you; if it doesn’t move fast enough, it’s dinner. Second – that quality of eating bugs is what makes them a major ecosystem component, transferring energy up the trophic levels to more warm-blooded vertebrates, including ultimately us. To give just one example, marshy areas grow grasses and plants, which feed bugs, which feed frogs, which feed everything from herons, raccoons, foxes, and gamefish, not to mention stray cats and Frenchmen. It’s not energetically advantageous for a warm-blooded critter the size of a raccoon to be snapping at flies, and they don’t have the stomach (literally) to eat marshgrass. Frogs? They can hunt hoppers all day, and get enough food to get by.

Real worlds have trophic levels. Areas with enough moisture and nutrients tend to produce a lot of biomass; areas missing one or the other, much less. And areas lacking in both – say, Antarctica, or the Australian Outback – tend to be very, very hard places to make a living. Note that Emperor penguins only pull it off by getting their food from a different ecosystem; the ocean.

If your world is pulpy enough, and the monster ticks enough “sleeping dragon!” boxes in the psyche, maybe nobody will care if you put your turtle-snake-magical beastie in a deserted cave with no food coming in. But if your heroes are suddenly battling griffins in the middle of a burning desert, they’re going to expect some kind of oasis within flying distance. And where there’s water, there’s generally frogs. Sometimes from eggs carried on waterfowl feet; sometimes from adults that managed to escape being some bird’s carryout meal.

If there’s water that doesn’t support frogs, your characters may want to think twice about drinking it. And run tests for toxins, if they can.

Every world needs to be built from the ground up. Make sure when your characters yell “Frog!” something jumps.


12 thoughts on “Worldbuilding: A Prevalence of Frogs

  1. This is a very good point and one of the problems that I have with dungeons and dragons as a system.
    All the monsters and the wacky power levels mean that the system doesn’t seem like ecosystem could sustain itself.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Gygax addressed that, but unfortunately the people who went behind his back to buy up all the stock and force him out of the company weren’t worthy heirs. And Hasbro is worse. Anyway, from the 1e DMG, page 87-88:

      Ecology: So many of the monsters are large predators that it is difficult to justify their existence in proximity to one another. Of course in dungeon settings it is possible to have some in stasis or magically kept alive without hunger, but what of the wilderness? Then too, how do the human and humanoid populations support themselves? The bottom of the food chain is vegetation, cultivated grain with respect to people and their ilk. Large populations in relatively small land areas must be supported by lavish vegetation. Herd animals prospering upon this growth will support a fair number of predators. Consider also the tales of many of the most fantastic and fearsome beasts: what do dragons eat? Humans, of course; maidens in particular! Dragons slay a lot, but they do not seem to eat all that much. Ogres and giants enjoy livestock and people too, but at least the more intelligent sort raise their own cattle so as to guarantee a full kettle.

      When you develop your world, leave plenty of area for cultivation, even more for wildlife. Indicate the general sorts of creatures inhabiting an area, using logic with regard to natural balance. This is not to say that you must be textbook perfect, it is merely a cautionary word to remind you not to put in too many large carnivores without any visible means of support. Some participants in your campaign might question the ecology- particularly if it does not favor their favorite player characters. You must be prepared to justify it. Here are some suggestions.

      Certain vegetation grows very rapidly in the world – roots or tubers, a grass-like plant, or grain. One or more of such crops support many rabbits or herd animals or wild pigs or people or whatever you like! The vegetation springs up due to a nutrient in the soil (possibly some element unknown in the mundane world) and possibly due to the radiation of the sun as well (see the slight tinge of color which is noticeably different when compared to Sol? . . . ). A species or two of herbivores which grow rapidly, breed prolifically, and need but scant nutriment is also suggested. With these artifices and a bit of care in placing monsters around in the wilderness, you will probably satisfy all but the most exacting of players – and that one probably should not be playing fantasy games anyway!

      Dungeons likewise must be balanced and justified, or else wildly improbable and caused by some supernatural entity which keeps the whole thing running-or at least has set it up to run until another stops it. In any event, do not allow either the demands of “realism” or impossible makebelieve to spoil your milieu. Climate and ecology are simply reminders to use a bit of care!


      Liked by 3 people

      1. “A species or two of herbivores which grow rapidly, breed prolifically, and need but scant nutriment is also suggested”
        Is it weird that my first thought was tribbles?

        Liked by 4 people

      1. That might have been useful to know the last time I was working on a particular deep prehistory Lovecraft based project.


      2. Oooh, you haven’t got that tidbit yet? I find it HILARIOUS–
        k, the Arctic is named for Arktos, bear. Green for Ursa Major=> the big dipper=> north star.

        So it’s like literally “Bear Land.”

        The anti-arctic is…. “No bears.”

        It gives me giggles. 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  2. When it comes to long-term survival in the animal kingdom, at least for large animals, I guess the crocodilians take the prize. At least some species can “hibernate” for months, maybe years, without eating…

    Also, as ubiquitous and varied frogs/toads can be, there’s another animal that keeps cropping up in the history of evolution…

    Liked by 1 person

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