Friday, March 19, 2010

D Monsters That Aren't Dragons or Devils or Demons

Did Dragons, Demons, and Devils' The rest of D is cake after that. Pretty much the rest of the alphabet is going to be cake after that...


Lost world? Bluh. Alchemists. I figure dinosaurs are the alchemist's experimental animal of choice. (I tend to go for the crazy alchemist whenever the monster doesn't have any particular mythopoeic resonance but is cool anyway.) So: Up in the tower and summoning beasts from lost time periods into his pentagram and then making like the ankylosaurus have eyeballs where those bumps in its shell are supposed to be or a bipedal triceratops with a 10-foot chain where its neck's supposed to be that it swings around like a morningstar.

Displacer Beast

Speaking of crazy alchemists.... I myself personally feel like the Displacer Beast should not be taken for granted. Like it should not just be like "Oh, a displacer beast is behind that, like, tree over there." For me, this is doable because most of my players are relatively new and have no idea why a puma with tentacles would be 3 feet away from where it appears to be. Or why it's a puma with tentacles,. I can totally have this in the alchemist's basement in the cage next to the velociraptarantula and everyone will be all "Whoa, what's that?" But put it on the Random Wilderness Encounter Chart and it's just some cheap cut-and-paste thing.


Here's my problem with all genie-kind: they're top-heavy. Whether this is because I'm a professional painter or because I'm just insane is not for me to decide.


Oh my god there are too many dogs in my game already.


Fuck dolphins. A dolphin can be a ranger's animal companion according to the 3.5 PHB. Which is like saying "Your campaign can be lame if you want."


These are great, but they are kind of like snacks and PC death, in that they're really largely a logistical challenge for the DM--like you go "Oh, since so-and-so's not here she said I could just run her character like an NPC" and then--dopplegangering happens.

s, et. al

Did 'em.


A centaur that makes sense in a dungeon. Also a thing that's going to probably be the coolest mininature on anybody's tabletop.


Just as the cockatrice suffers because the medusa and basilisk do the same thing but with more style, the dryad will forever be known as the allegedly seductive female monster who appears after the (much better-looking) Succubus, and before the unillustrated (but better-named) Nymph. Anyone who would choose the Dryad with that competition is clearly playing Ren-Faire-Hippie-D&D rather than Metal D&D and I do not approve.

The forest can be creepy though, and so the dryad isn't totally hopeless--rarely mentioned in the category of "screw-your-players Save-or-Die monsters" the dryad will use-her-charm-and-take-you-away-to-the woods forever-power if: seriously threatened (ok, fine) or on any male of 16 or greater charisma. Can you blame people for using Charisma as a dump stat?

Dwarf and Dueregar

Dark dwarves never quite worked as well for me as vilians as dark elves. Elves think they're better than everyone else and dark elves are elves that think they are better than everybody despite obviously being evil. Dwarves seem basically like just methaphors for hardworking viking types and just having them be your enemy out of natural self-interest seems both more straightforward and more complex than bothering to go make them a whole race that's always bad.

Also, Dwarves are easy to sculpt at 28mm scale, so the minis usually look good.


A demilich is a skull that sits in a pile of dust in a corner and plots your doom. As totally immobile villains go I think the demilich has it all over Sauron. It's hard to to figure out what the big eye's problem is, whereas one look says what the demilich's problem is with you--you're alive, he's not, and he resents it.

It's funny how certain objects convey a message -- my washer and dryer, for example. They can't speak, of course, but whenever I pass them they remind me that I'm doing fairly well. "No more laundromat for you," they hum. My stove, a downer, tells me every day that I can't cook, and before I can defend myself my scale jumps in, shouting from the bathroom, "Well, he must be doing something. My numbers are off the charts." The skeleton has a much more limited vocabulary and says only one thing: "You are going to die."
— David Sedaris


  1. I think the doppleganger illustration is the strangest one in the Monster Manual. It's a skinny alien with either a glowing brain, or a beautiful golden Ronald McDonald afro. I can't tell.

  2. Oh man de ja vu. Except this time all the entries have something in 'em.

  3. Anyone who would choose the Dryad with that competiton is clearly playing Ren-Faire-Hippie-D&D rather than Metal D&D and I do not approve.

    Sorry ...

  4. Zak, these monster reviews are delightful. The downside of having such a great blog name is the risk it will overshadow the content. The upside is having content that's so much fun it overshadows the name anyway. Keep up the good work.

  5. As a (currently former) field service Technician the Dryads link to her tree has always seemed especially retarded. It doesn't so much make me see her as a wanton seductress of the haunted wood, as a that gal I hit on while doing an install at a mall, I lost her number, things felt weird, and every time I had to work at that mall I always made sure I avoided walking by her store at all costs.. So its less like a succubus, and more like a white trash tree-hooker who tries to talk you into going out again every time you come round her tree...

  6. You had me at Velociraptarantula...

  7. My skeleton just says 'Clean your apartment.'

  8. I've always liked the idea of the immobile undead master villain. Like, sure. He's got a cult, he's telepathic, all kinds of danger. But! He's clearly a kind of undead that SUCKS. I mean, vampires? So you are a night owl & have to kill people-- big deal, adventurers do most of their stuff underground, & kill ALL THE TIME. Even a lich-- once your sex drive is gone, you might not miss it. Just a sentient pile of bones though, that might suck.

  9. I think Dark Dwarves work if you use regular Dwarves as the 'magic smiths' of the world. In Norse myth Dwarves made a sword out of 7 impossible things to kill the Fenris wolf, as well as various other powerful metalwork. So Dark Dwarves are like that, but the stuff they make is unsettling to use or think too much about. Vorpal Swords, which twist in your hands and always try for a killing blow on their own, are probably a Dark Dwarf thing. Urumis could similarly be a Dark Dwarf staple weapon.
    Alternately, Dark Dwarves are these guys:

  10. Hi Zak,

    A bit late to the party on this one. Fashionably late, I like to think. :)

    I agree about Dark Dwarves. Not that Dwarves can't be scary but I think you need to decide if you want your Dwarves as grumpy, but essentially good, like in Tolkien, or as scary sorcerers with their own dark agenda. I prefer the former for a more traditional high fantasy feel but the latter if you want creepy and weird. They can't really be both, that doesn't work. Of course the Tolkien-esque Dwarves can still do greedy Viking nasty though.

    For me the same goes for Dryads, Elves, Fairies etc. You can either go for the Last Homely House dwelling Tolkien-like Elven world of songs, bards and smith-craft. Or an altogether more creepy Celtic Faerie world where the fey folk steal babies and pull people into trees. I think both can be fun but they don't mix too well especially the latter style and Player Character Elves. Also, if you have the scary Celtic Elves you don't really need the Drow, and they are very iconic old-skool D&D baddies, so it's a pity to lose them.

    Alchemists making Dinosaurs is a nice idea but I'm not sold on the bringing them through time bit. To me, given that all this other weird stuff is generally supposed to have existed from the beginning of time, in your average D&D world anyway, what happened to the dinosaurs? And if the answer is nothing, how come all the normal animals exists? It's a bit much of trying to have a real world time-line and a fantastical time-line together for me.

    My favourite Dinosaur explanation either comes from Glorantha - or was something I extrapolated from there, I forget. Wherever it came from, the explanation has Dinosaurs as degenerate Dragonnewts, or degenerate 'some other suitable lizard-like creature with a metamorphic life cycle', if you prefer. The idea is that our dino-delinquents have fallen from their people's true way; angered the great Lizard shaman; or whatever; and so turned, or were turned, into a degenerate form of themselves that reflects their dissident personalities. i.e. If the creature is excessively grumpy and bad tempered, it turns into something like a Triceratops. If it is passive but excessively greedy it becomes a sauropod-like creature. If it's proud and aloof, a Pterosaurs might be the result. If aggressive and nasty a T-Rex. etc. You can make up your own for excessively fecund, flatulent or I-dread-to-think-what.

    The nice thing about this approach is you don't need to worry about a basis for a proper ecology. You can just throw in a unique dinosaur whenever you like. Also because they are unique there's no reason they can't be made a bit more weird. A two headed T-Rex with a spikey tail or a Sauropod that breathes poison gas, no problem. They could even be intelligent and talk if you wanted.

  11. If dwarves are honest, hard working viking types, then dark dwarves are clearly what happens when all of that falls apart - their cities fallen and their tools lost, they nonetheless gather to create. And so, deep in the darkness beneath the world, they make what little they can: stone axes, swords of bone, and plots woven from the lost threads of their lives.