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My 10 Favorite D&D Monsters - Lemuria Press
Strange Adventures on Other Worlds

lemuriapress
Date: 2009-02-21 18:59
Subject: My 10 Favorite D&D Monsters
Security: Public
Location:Ballard, USA
Music:Gainsbourg, Gainsbourg, Gainsbourg
Tags:d&d
Following a meme I first noticed on Grognardia, I thought it might be fun to post my 10 favorite D&D monsters. In this regard I am heavily biased toward the "original" monsters from the first edition AD&D era of the game as spearheaded by Gary Gygax. It doesn't even occur to me to select a creature that is not in the original Monster Manual, Monster Manual 2, or Fiend Folio. Those monsters aren't part of the "core" of what I imagine D&D to be. They're like creatures from Dragon magazine, or something. Monsters from 3rd or 4th edition? Out of the question.

Here they are, in all their diabolical glory.

1. Gnoll: Since Tolkien just about every hodge-podge fantasy world has orcs, and their shifting depiction in D&D over the years has relegated them to a sort of ill-defined conceptual cliche for me for years. Like ghosts and goblins and golems, you've just got to have them in the game to cover the bare minimum of the expected creatures in a fantasy bestiary. But gnolls are something different. They come to the game by way of the fiction of Lord Dunsany, but I've never read the story that mentions them and I have no idea how faithful to his vision they are. To me the gnoll is different, a part of the tapestry of D&D that makes it something different than simply generic "let's throw all the cliches in a bag" fantasy. Add in that they worship demons (and have a particularly cool demon-god at that) and they've been graced with some really excellent miniatures over the years (particularly in WotC's Chainmail line), and they make the list as my favorite "standard" humanoid. I got to use them in my latest Pathfinder adventure, "Howl of the Carrion King," which ships next month.

2. Aboleth: I'm a sucker for the Lovecraft influence in D&D, and nowhere is that influence more obvious than in the form of the Aboleth. I much prefer the first edition Monster Manual 2 illustration style to the jagged fish look they acquired in third edition, but whatever their form you've got to love the extremely long-aged pre-human psychic fish with timelost knowledge man was not meant to known. Put them in the Underdark with the drow and the mind flayers and the troglodytes and you've got the perfect D&D campaign master villain.

3. Ghoul: D&D zombies are boring bastards completely unlike the brain-hungry zombies in most horror movies. For that we get the ghoul, who comes with intelligence and a long, scary tongue thrown in. Oh, and he can paralyze you by touch, which always ratchets up the tension in an encounter. I threw one of these guys into "The Whispering Cairn" in a submerged chamber of a dungeon. No one likes it when one of the heroes is paralyzed under water. Well, no one but the DM, that is.

4. Mind Flayer: Mauve betentacled terrors from the Underdark with a taste for human brains and a psionic blast that reduces party tanks to tears. A great "wow, we're getting into a new level of the game" moment when the mind flayer appears, and when the PCs finally beat him. Among the best "boss-level" creatures in D&D, and largely original to the game.

5. Death Knight: Undead paladin with ties to the demon lord Demogorgon who can unleash a 20d6 fireball and take the party's fighter in hand-to-hand combat? I'll take one, please. Keith Parkinson's paintings of Lord Soth from Dragonlance were just icing on the cake for this guy. The Fiend Folio gets a lot of grief (some most deservedly), but there are a LOT of really cool creatures in there, and this guy is one of the coolest.

6. Bullywug: Ribbit. Erik likes frog-people in his D&D. There's an inherently pathetic quality to bullywugs that greatly increases their value to me. Good low-level opponents, good ability to make interesting, memorable NPCs with a funny voice and a bit of hammy acting. Win, win, win.

7. Stone Giants: The least explored of the original giants. Sure, Viking-like frost giants are cool, and fire giants kick some serious ass, but they're sort of biolerplate guys. You almost need to have them. Like skeletons or dragons, it's easy to take them for granted. But stone giants, cave-dwelling bald contemplatives, present an interesting enigma that deepens the D&D world. First off, they're not evil, but are instead neutral--the only so-aligned giant in the original AD&D canon. Furthermore, they were relegated to "visiting diplomat" in the classic "Against the Giants" series of Gary Gygax modules that gave so much depth to the hill, frost, and fire giants. That lack of official detail created a great window for the DM to wonder and make up his own stories, which is half the fun of Dungeons & Dragons in the first place.

8. Marilith (Type V Demon): Snaky lady with six melee weapons, a host of interesting tactical options thanks to her raft of spell-like abilities, and a great set of naked boobs. I'm only human, so naturally the marilith makes it onto my list of favorite monsters.

9. Rust Monster: In a game that progressively turns the characters into superheroes, the PCs can usually find their way to avoid just about any fate the DM can throw at them. Kill a PC? Sooner or later raise dead or resurrection are going to be within their grasp, and death isn't so scary anymore. The only true way to strike fear into the hearts of players is to threaten their stuff. Usually doing so is the definitive "dick move" that's sure to piss everyone off, but when you throw a rust monster on the table everyone knows what is about to go down, and hardened name-level fighters start hiding behind their horses and shoving their favorite swords into extradimensional spaces. You can't use these guys too often, but you've got to use them every once in a while to remind people who's boss.

10. Quasit: The presence of impish little demons who sit on the shoulders of wizards inherently improves D&D. Use them as messengers, snitches, and "epic" opponents for low-level parties and you're guaranteed fun. The potential for sick comic relief abounds with quasits, which is enough to make them one of my favorite demons. And I loves me some demons, as Armies of the Abyss and Hordes of the Abyss (and for that matter even "The Guns of Azzagrat") attest.

.
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User: mouseferatu
Date: 2009-02-22 03:56 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
You know, I've always loved the aboleths in concept, but I feel like--unlike some of the other cool aberrant/Lovecraftian beasties, like mind flayers--they've never really been used to anything resembling their full potential. (At least not in any published material.) I'd love to see a series of adventures focused on them as the "big bad."
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Richard Green
User: richgreen01
Date: 2009-02-22 08:52 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
They were the "big bads" of Night Below but we got so bogged down in the middle book that we gave up before we got to the cool aboleth city in the last chapter!
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User: mouseferatu
Date: 2009-02-22 20:09 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Yeah, I thought a bit about mentioning Night Below. But the truth is, while it does use aboleth, I stand by my assertion that it doesn't use them to "anything resembling their full potential." :-)

And part of that, though not all, is entirely for the reasons you state: The second of the three parts is such an unending slog that by the time I got to reading the last part--forget about trying to play through it--I didn't care what was happening in part three.
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Richard Green
User: richgreen01
Date: 2009-02-22 20:57 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
It's such a shame, though! Book 1 was excellent and I think the third part looked really cool. Just far too many dull fights with trolls etc in Book 2.
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User: mouseferatu
Date: 2009-02-22 20:59 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Oh, absolutely the adventure had real potential. I think, as much as I'm a fan of boxed sets, that doing it in that format really hurt it. I think a shorter, smaller project--with a much tighter focus--would've served the concept much better.
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Mike Selinker
User: selinker
Date: 2009-02-22 05:40 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Naw, you're crazy. Here's the list:

1. The Red Dragon. There's nothing even remotely original here, but the red dragon is the iconic 100%-stop-you-in-your-tracks monster. It dominates the room. The red dragon kills you every way there is to kill you.

2. The Beholder. But if you want some other ways, here's the other King Kong of D&D. Wholly original in concept, the beholder doesn't walk and it doesn't fly. Instead it just hovers in place stopping every method you have to kill it, and maybe laying your entire party to waste in one round.

3. The Umber Hulk (1st and 2nd edition). Before it was turned into an ordinary bug thing, the umber hulk was the thing you least wanted to see come through the walls. Because after you saw it, you might just decide to kill your best friend.

4. The Purple Worm. Unless of course the thing that came through the walls could swallow you whole.

5. The Gelatinous Cube. But while you're watching the walls, the corridor might just decide to eat you.

6. The Drow. If you get the Gnoll, I'll take the Drow, the sexiest of the humanoid races. Jet black, silver-haired, matriarchal, and packing poison hand crossbows and acid bombs. And when they got out of line, they might get turned into a crazy spider centaur. Sweet.

7. The Mind Flayer (1st and 2nd edition). Here we'll agree, though this was another monster whose punch was taken away in 3rd edition. But when the mind flayer was just about the only thing that could kill you with a thought, it was something to be feared. And pre-Deities & Demigods, this was the way to get Lovecraft into your game.

8. The Rust Monster. And we'll agree on this. Scariest monster in all of D&D, for all the right reasons.

9. The Lich. I'm taking my wizard, ripping his skin off, and throwing him back at you tougher than before.

10. The Succubus. Wrong set of boobs, Erik. A monster that kills with a kiss = win.

Of course, I could be wrong.

Mike
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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
Montejon Wolf Smith: Dungeon Master
User: zonemind
Date: 2009-02-22 10:28 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Dungeon Master
It's easy enough to figure out. The drow make Rio carnival dancers look hirsute. Would you want to wax eight sets of armpits?
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User: mouseferatu
Date: 2009-02-23 07:50 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
6. The Drow.

Hrm...

The drow, to me, exist in a nebulous gray area that is simultaneously both "cool" and "very much not cool." (And I say this as one of the primary authors of the 3E Drow of the Underdark, so know that I have no inherent bias against them.)

The thing is, I think drow are the victims of their own success. It's not really their fault; the same thing happens to a lot of ideas in RPGs (or fiction, for that matter): They start off cool, in part because of the great mystery that surrounds them; and then, as people demand more, that mystery (by necessity) fades, and the race's coolness fades as a result. (Consider how much cooler Darth Vader was before he had his childhood "explained" to us.)

I'm not someone who automatically worships at the altar of Gygax. I think a lot of his original stuff is brilliant, but I think an equal amount of old D&D stuff has been improved on in subsequent editions. That said, I think his drow were definitely far superior to anything that came later, and I think that's because he knew enough to keep a lot of the mystery. Nobody knew what the drow were about when they first appeared. Even when they were established as Lolth-worshipers, the specifics were left to the imagination.

Then Salvatore's series came along. Now, don't get me wrong, I don't think he did anything wrong. I'm not blaming him, or calling his stuff bad, or anything. But the fact is, he was assigned to detail a culture that could only be harmed by detailing, no matter who did it. Nothing that anyone came up with was going to work for everyone, and any examination of their culture was, by definition, going to make them less of an unknown. And then, what he came up with for Forgotten Realms became the norm for the drow in almost all settings. Even the culture chapter in the 3E Drow of the Underdark is more influenced by Salvatore's FR material than I wanted to make it, simply because that's what people have come to expect and, in some cases, demand. (Though I tried to add or change a lot of stuff as well, for better or worse.)

The bottom line, though, is I think the drow have a conceptual nugget of cool, but that there's been so much written about them, they've lost almost all sense of the "alien" or the "other." They've become just another over-exposed bad guy race, and that makes the end result (IMO) uncool, or at least less cool than it once was.

(Boy, that was long-winded.)
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Nate Irving
User: nellisir
Date: 2009-02-22 06:05 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I like gnolls alot more since I put them in the north of my campaign world instead of the south and made them stark raving made howling killers with no redeeming features whatsoever, unless you really want to unleash a horde of bloodthirsty savages in someones direction.

Not really innovative, I know, but it worked for me.

And, grell. I love me some grell.
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TStewart: evilshemmy
User: wesfox
Date: 2009-02-22 06:06 (UTC)
Subject: I like the cut of your jib
Keyword:evilshemmy
Quasits > Imps

Edited at 2009-02-22 06:06 am (UTC)
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Richard Green
User: richgreen01
Date: 2009-02-22 08:26 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Great post!

Definitely with you on gnolls - they're just so cool. I've got them as a PC race in my Parsantium campaign and the player with the gnoll barbarian has given his character a Russian gangster accent which is very entertaining. I'm going to see if I can manage one too for other gnoll NPCs.

I also love the mind-flayer - would definitely be on my list.I like the aboleth although they're always cooler behind the scenes than they are in an actual encounter (in 2e or 3e at least). Bullywugs seem very silly to me - I'd have kuo-toa instead.

I agree with Mike Selinker on the beholder and think there should be a dragon in my Top 10 - blue, probably. I need to give this some proper thought and post my own list!
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Montejon Wolf Smith: Dungeon Master
User: zonemind
Date: 2009-02-22 10:14 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Dungeon Master
Gnolls… I have many stories about gnolls, and miraculously none of them involve the peculiarities of hyena genitalia.

I'd probably put kobolds very high on my own list. "Bree yark," as they say.
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Mike Selinker
User: selinker
Date: 2009-02-22 23:01 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I think if you know the term "Breeyark!", you probably think kobolds are cooler than those who don't. I slammed my fellow 3rd edition guys on the mind flayer and the umber hulk, so let me stand up for 3rd on the kobold, which got cooler when someone figured out it could be more reptile than dog.

Also, "Paizo Goblin" could easily make the list.
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Montejon Wolf Smith: Dungeon Master
User: zonemind
Date: 2009-02-23 05:32 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Dungeon Master
I have no issues with reptilian kobolds -- at least they're not just color-swapped goblins anymore. Similarly, I've never been comfortable allowing halflings and gnomes in the same game.

Anyway, when it comes to kobolds, all I care about is "tiny, annoying bastards".

My D&D monster list is probably something like this:

1. Human: We're the most evil race in Creation, why not just admit it?

2. Dragon: Learn to love the DM's tac nuke. I like 'em in black, but evil metallics have always been a kink of mine, silver by preference. They shapeshift.

3. Kobold: There's no bastard like a small bastard.

4. Gnoll: Because they love to laugh.

5. Grell: It's a flying brain squid. Eeeeeeeeeew. For me, mind flayers are a subset of the grell aesthetic, rather than vice-versa.

6. Lizardman: I dunno. I just like 'em.

7. Griffin: If you have an evil duke, and he's not riding one of these, you are a traitor to our people.

8. Mindless Undead: Hordes of zombies and skeletons, for when you just want to smash stuff, with no guilty aftertaste.

9. Succubus/Incubus: Yeah, marilith tits are nice enough, but what are you gonna do when you're done looking? My fiendish seductress needs her some hips. And, while I'm as straight as any line defined by two points, I've always had at least as many female players as male -- equal time for equal sexes.

10. Dragonne: My first D&D action figure, and still my favourite. Tiamat was cool, and the Warduke/Nightmare combo was awesome, but damn did that dragonne look regal.

Honourable mention for the cave fisher and the hooked horror. The former was something I actually really liked, the latter was the monster we all made fun of back in the day.
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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2009-02-22 14:12 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Let me talk about my experiences as a player with these guys--

Gnolls: in a "explore the New World" campaign our party convinced a tribe of gnolls that the aasimar prince in the group was a messiah/god. Not because we tricked them-- we really thought it, too. I was playing a Savage Species Astral Deva, sent to guide him. The gnolls worshiped a fiendish giant praying mantis, & when it attacked us, some of them fought it wih us, some fought against us. One of the gnolls crited & got the last hit-- he was a hero & we revisted him throughout the campaign.

Aboleth: I hadn't given them a second look, until I was playing in an improvised game with a friend-- we picked three random pages from the MM & he designed an adventure on the fly. It turned out to be really fun, & we ran into an aboleth-- which is when I found out that an aboleth will try to give you the Innsmouth look, &/OR will psychically dominate you to WANT the Innsmouth look! The latter happened to me, & I developed a hilarious tick, & convinced the town that we needed their help-- pitchfork posse. In otherwords, brought the aboleth PLENTY of new skum...

Mindflayers-- I like them so much I'm using them in my fabulist world of darkness campaign (more or less). I just bought a bunch of single minis (from Paizo no less!) of the Star Wars quarren, just to spice it up.

Rust Monster-- In an epic planescape campaign, we were exploring a cube of acheon swarming with these guys-- they ran away from us, mostly. Same with the annihilators (the albino, disintigrate-spell casting ones). Turns out the big "boss fight" was a Rust Dragon. He toasted my companion's ridiculously high-level stuff, but me? I was playing a psion! I'd gone out of my way the whole campaign to talk about how my psychic spear had the head of a single, sharpened emerald, & yadda yadda-- I was fine!
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mordicai caeli
User: mordicai
Date: 2009-02-22 14:13 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
That was me, stupid lj!
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varianor
User: varianor
Date: 2009-02-22 14:38 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Those are definitely cool monsters to use. (The DDM bullywug miniature is pretty good too!) I will admit to a personal favorite that's in MMII - the nimblewright. I'll have to think about my own personal favorites.

You raise a very interesting point about stone giants. Perhaps they are wiser and greater than we know, but eschew the outward appearance of things magical? It would be very cool to see an extended adventure based upon them. Especially if it also had quasits, mariliths, gnolls and bullywugs....
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lemuriapress
User: lemuriapress
Date: 2009-02-22 18:42 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Paizo's "Rise of the Runelords" Adventure Path has a lot of stuff on stone giants, including an adventure by Wolfgang Baur entitled "Fortress of the Stone Giants".
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sirurza
User: sirurza
Date: 2009-02-22 20:11 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Good list. I'll excuse the weird addition of Bullywugs though. No giant spiders... blasphemy I say!

Quasit and Imps fill the same roll, so to each their own. :)

It's a real shame that Death Knight have taken a backseat to Liches over the years. But I guess the qualifications of Death Knights are a bit more restrictive then Liches. I always wanted to see a Lich/Death Knight team up. :)
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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2009-02-22 20:37 (UTC)
Subject: Bullywugs
Bullywugs are critical and a top-10 must.

I'm not talking the dreadful, thick, 3E toad-style bullywugs either. I'm talking the thin, huge-eyed, frog-men of the cartoon series and Ad&d aesthetic.

Why did they mess with the perfect baddy?
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User: coraxery
Date: 2009-02-23 14:44 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
What, no Xvarts? =P

And don't forget the flinds when talking about gnolls, I always liked having a badass with the flind bar waiting to take apart the party after they waded through a group of gnolls. :)
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wizardru
User: wizardru
Date: 2009-02-23 15:11 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Ahem.

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User: coyote6
Date: 2009-03-06 05:17 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I don't have my 1e MM at hand, but I am confident that the Death Knight and Bullywug weren't in the original MM. The Death Knight was in the Fiend Folio (created by Charles Stross, IIRC, along with the githyanki & others), and I think bullywugs were in MM2.

If Wikipedia can be believed, bullywugs were in FF, too.

:)
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lemuriapress
User: lemuriapress
Date: 2009-03-06 23:36 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I never implied that they were...
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User: coyote6
Date: 2009-03-07 02:51 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Argh, I think I critically failed my reading comprehension roll. :)
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