Monday, February 23, 2009

My Top 10 D&D Monsters

A number of bloggers have been having fun with these, and I'm pretty worn out after a bit of a rough day, so something light and fun seems to be appropriate to end the evening with.

10 - Tarantella from Moldvay's Basic
A horrible pun, but a fun monster. If it bites you and you fail your save vs. poison, you start a spastic dance that could wear you out and leave you helpless. Even worse, anyone who watches you dance must save vs. spells or start dancing too! Came about as close as we got to a TPK last Thursday thanks to one of these.

9 - Drow from Fiend Folio
Effete sadomasochistic hedonists. What's not to like? Got the next best thing to a TPK with these on my old college group. Luckily for them, the poison the drow use only puts you to sleep. Unluckily for them, Lolth needed some sacrificial victims to try out a new version of her drider test.

Oh, and drow have nothing whatsoever to do with comments on race relations in modern America, veiled or otherwise. The drow are jet black because Elric of Melnibone was an albino. (And no, I can't quote chapter and verse on that from anything Gary ever wrote, but it seems pretty obvious to me.)

8 - Aboleth from Monster Manual II

Some of my players are going to be shocked the aboleth rate so far back. They are my favorite big scary monsters: alien, inscrutable, and possessing some very nasty attacks. Plus, they live so deep down and underwater that they're nearly as hard to find and reach as they are to understand.

7- Kuo-toa from Fiend Folio

I loved the anthropological detail these guys were described with. They've got a wonderful mix of Cthulhic and Mayan influences that just fires my imagination. When I was told that the name of their goddess, Blibdoolpoolp, was an onomatopoeia for the sound of a drop of water falling into a pool in an echoing cave, that just made them all the cooler.

The classic module Shrine of the Kuo-toa is a wonderfully open-ended adventure. If the PCs play their cards right, and learn the rituals of the kuo-toans, they might make it through the entire shrine without ever having to draw their weapons in anger. Very cool stuff in my book.

6 - Lamia from Monster Manual

I once got a vision of one of these with a tiger's body wearing heavy anklets around its paws and it fired my imagination. I created male versions and had them living in tribes where an alpha male lorded it over beta males who tended to the kittens and the camp while the females hunted and competed for the alpha's attentions.

5 - Graz'zt from Monster Manual II

A favorite villain of mine. Suave, sophisticated, utterly ruthless but always with an eye over his shoulder because if he ever stumbles Orcus and Demogorgon will be all over him like ducks on a junebug.

4 - Gnolls from Moldvay's Basic

I think it was in Moldvay's Basic that the gnolls were first described as hyena men. Hyenas have very unusual social dynamics, and certain unpredictable savagery that really clicks with my imagination. I had fun crafting a culture for them based on these ideas.

3 - Tiamat from Monster Manual

My love affair with Tiamat started with the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon. That led me to the mythological Tiamat. In high school, I chunked the lawful evil version, made her chaotic and somewhat capricious. Happy to use the PCs towards her own ends, she's treacherous and sly, and always looking for the double-cross. She has a lot of respect for powerful or sly opponents, and a love-hate relationship with Baphomet.

2 - Succubus from Monster Manual

Yeah, well, ok, looking beyond the fact that I was an early teen when I got that book and the art is, um, well... Yeah...

Ahem, anyway, succubi make wonderful hidden villains. Everything points to the baron being a the source of all evil, and the PCs tool up to take him down, hardly paying any attention to the sweet, freckle-faced slavegirl at his feet. Until, of course, it's too late, and she's gating in Demogorgon who wants to have a word with these uppity mortals who seem intent on ruining his plans...

1 - Trolls but only kinda sort inspired by the D&D version

Well, duh! I mean, look at the name of this blog, and it should be obvious. ;)

Seriously, I've loved trolls since before I knew there was such a thing as RPGs. I'm rather fond of the cow-tailed versions from northern Europe especially. My trolls are creatures of fey, keepers of chthonic wisdom and guardians of not just bridges, but any place of transition, where worlds meet and realities cross. But I mostly still use the stats from monster lists. I just change how the trolls react to the PCs, and what the PCs can hope to gain from meeting a troll. That sort of change is easy and potent, and can transform any monster into something special and unique to your campaign.

The four elemental genie races deserve special mention here as well. I love playing with them and their rivalries, and the djinn and efreet usually make some sort of appearance in my games. Traveling to the cities of the elemental planes makes a nice change of pace from dungeons and wilderness areas, and gives the players new cultures to explore in a setting where combat is extremely dangerous but for the most advanced parties.


Anonymous said...

Tarantella is not really a pun.

It was actually believed at the time (16th-17th century Italy) that the bite of a particular spider triggered the need to dance and the dance (tarantella) is named for the spider (tarantula).

Aside: The tarantula (Lycosa tarnatula, a wolf spider) is not related to the spiders more commonly called Tarantulas (family Theraphosidae).


trollsmyth said...

Ah, very cool! I had no idea. Thanks for sharing. :)

Natalie said...

I like it. Very "secret elder evils." I'll be paranoid as all get out about all of them from now on, but I like it.

I'll add to the drow thing that some of the later depictions of the drow wandered away from "obvious reverse Melnibonians" into "recognizably human skin tone color." And they do raise questions about why the only women-run society in standard D&D is psychotically evil. But yeah, for the most part, people who get worked up about the Drow are reading too much into it.

trollsmyth said...


Glad to see your train made it! Thank you for the kind words. :) I'm not sure just yet how much you need to worry. The purist in me wants to shun AD&D monsters for a more "pure" B/E experience. But the kid in me thinks that's just silly, and that there's no such thing as too many monsters. So we'll see. I can say the gnolls, trolls, and efreet all have an excellent chance of making an appearance some Thursday night. (Hopefully not all at once.)

On the drow, the jet black color seems to have been an ongoing frustration for artists, which is why so many showed up with blue skin (NSFW) way back when.

I'm afraid I really have to lay the blame for the more "human skin tone" at the feet of my favorite D&D artist, Keith Parkinson. I can kinda guess what he was thinking here, drawing on the punkish Tina Turner "Thunderdome" vibe. And once you go there, well, there's no avoiding it, is there?

And I'm afraid I always assumed the only women-run society in D&D was psychotically evil because D&D was invented by nerds and the first rule of nerddom is "never trust a beautiful woman". ;p

trollsmyth said...

Ugh. Forgot to embed the link to Parkinson's drow pic.

James Maliszewski said...

Gnolls as hyena-men predate Moldvay by a large margin. They were certainly depicted as such in 1977's Monster Manual.

trollsmyth said...


*bops his head* Duh! I knew that! I keep forgetting that because I encountered the MM after Moldvay doesn't mean that's the order they were published in. :p

Was the MM the first time they were identified as hyena men?

- Brian

Anonymous said...

I'm right there with you on the trolls. Ever since I read a book of Swedish Fairy Tales with illustrations by John Bauer when I was a kid, his depictions have been idea of a troll. I remember being pretty disappointed when I finally got the D&D Expert set and saw the official D&D troll.

James Maliszewski said...

Was the MM the first time they were identified as hyena men?

Probably not. I know that Holmes Basic identifies them as such, but it's contemporaneous with the MM. I don't recall any earlier mentions, but it's possible I'm missing a reference somewhere.