Monday, March 1, 2010

"A" Monsters Suck

I was looking through the AD&D Monster Manual and was struck forcefully with the following insight: monsters that start with "A" suck.

Aerial servant

Invisible? Boring.
Air elemental? Boring.
Summoned by clerics? Boring.
Here's the only good part: "If the aerial servant is frustrated from completion ["frustrated from completion"?] of its assigned mission it becomes insane, returns to the cleric which sent it forth, and attacks as a double strength invisible stalker."
Let's not mention how invisible stalkers are also boring.


This is one of those rare Gygax-invented monsters that gets absolutely no love from anyone. Nobody likes them, nobody hates them, nobody thinks they're funny, they're just one more giant bug. Being a big M John Harrison fan I have a soft spot for insects in medieval settings and still just can't bring myself to write "d4 ankhegs here" on a map. I think it's the name. Sounds like a verification word.

Ant, Giant

Within the insect-and-arthropod community, I'm pretty sure "ant" is synonymous with "square". As in, there's a bunch of wasps, spiders, flies, and cockroaches hanging out and they're like "Come onnnn, man, roooadtrip!"
"Awww, I don't know, Jimmy."
"Ok, man, look: you can crawl up into the van and come with us and have a blast seeing the world, or you can put on your tie, and go to work, and do whatever the Queen says, like some fucking ant."
"Awww, Jimmy..."

Ape, Gorilla, and Carnivorous

My theory is: there are Ape People and there are Monkey People. Monkey people like monkeys because they are funny. Also, they are creepy, clever, and decadent. The perverted elf princess in the silk-swathed tower made of jasmine and murder has a pet monkey--for sure.

Ape People are different: ape people tend to be fans of what I call "hairy" entertainment: Conan movies, Jack Kirby Comics, Zardoz, Planet of the Apes (naturally), these:

For these people, King Kong actually had a shot against Godzilla, and the giant ape is the finest monster of which one could ever hope to dream.

I confess to being more of a pretentious, scheming Monkey Person than a fun-loving, good-hearted Ape Guy, so the idea of asking a wizard to take time out of his or her busy schedule just to deal with some fucking gorilla just seems basically disrespectful. Though I will say that this thing is awesome:

Axe Beak

Does anyone care about the axe beak? Ok, didn't think so...

Ok, so, see? The A's are hopeless. If you go beyond the Monster Manual, the only other "A" monster that ever got any traction is the Aboleth.


These were supposed to be sort of creepy Lovecraftian menaces from the deep. But if you never read Lovecraft when you first got ahold of the Monster Manual 2 because you were a little kid at the time then this is just like a really fucked up whale that hates you.

If it wasn't a classic, like a dragon or a hydra, then you pretty much had only the illustration to go by to figure out what the fuck is the idea with a monster.

Strangely enough, I am right back in this position with my players now. This is how meeting an aboleth would go with my group:

Me: "...and it!"
KK: "What the fuck is that?"
Me: "It's an aboleth, an ancient and inscrutable race that lives deep beneath the sea, older than man, older than the tides, older than the gods, older than...."
Mandy: "So it's like a Lovecraft thing?"
Frankie: "What's a Lovecraft thing?"
Daniel: "He was like this science fiction writer who wrote about, like, big monsters that looked like that."
KK: "So it's like a space fish that's old?"
Connie: "Can I pickpocket it?"


  1. Ah, now see I like Kirby comics and the first Conan movie, and those MUSCLE guys were great when I was nine.

    But monkeys are great! Monkeys are funny, and clever. Hanuman and Son Wukong are awesome epic heroes. I'm always sad when the little monkey eats the poisoned dates in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Also, Godzilla Always Wins.

    So now I'm all confused.

  2. Very funny and very insightful...

  3. So the other day the party returned to their favorite tavern after a long absence only to discover that a nasty, slightly more powerful rival adventuring party had taken up residence and was bullying everybody around. I didn't want to do the rival thing without some new twist so I decided one of them had been polymorphed into a giant bug. So they walk in and there's 4 dudes and this ankheg sitting around this table, playing cards and getting drunk and belligerant. That was my first use ever of the ankheg but it went over like gangbusters.

  4. a really fucked up whale that hates you, with pockets!
    that's really great

  5. If axe beak had a different name...and a makeover....maybe some ecology shoehorned in there....he might be a winner!

  6. I use giant, angry, flightless, carnivorous birds as mounts in my Doom & Tea Parties game. But they're not the axe beak. ;p

  7. There are Ascomoids in my players' future... :)

    Ant, Giant -- watch THEM! and they get cooler

    Ape, Gorilla, and Carnivorous --Six-Gun Gorilla and Kriegaffe say "Gorillas are *AWESOME*" :)

  8. Reading this made me consult the 4E materials on the subject, and you are completely correct. There are simply no good "A" monsters. The 4E MM online source materials try to cheat, though, by listing things under "A" that have adjectives as the first word. Azure Jelly is a little cool, but it starts with an adjective. Astral this, Arctic that, Ancient the other. It's a conspiracy, I tells ya!

  9. Oh, and DC Comics just loves apes. And gorillas. And chimps.

  10. argh, I'm itching to tell you what I did with the axe beak, but I gave it to Rob Kuntz for the upcoming Dungeon Trappings #1, so I can't.

  11. Apes are also cooler by virtue of being real-life demihumans.

  12. Ape People? Monkey People? Why can't we all just get along and agree to be Simian People? Or perhaps Primate People?

    And i like Godzilla as much as the next guy (probably more), but NOBODY beats Kong. Except, of course, those damn biplanes (or "Beauty" if you believe Mr. Denham).

  13. Since my catalyst for gaming was my love of comic books and movies, I too can't help but love Primate People (King Kong, Gorilla Grodd, Detective Chimp, Planet of the Apes, etc.). At the same time I don't think I ever used them as an opponent in my old school days. Probably not until Junior High or High School.

    Likewise, I've rarely used the Aboleth, regardless of how much Lovecraftian horrors from the deep appeal to me.

    I must say though, the Ankheg saw considerable use as I was a big Harryhausen fan. In addition, I read some book, the title of which I've long forgotten, that had described a Ankheg-like creature from South American folklore. I remember the picture in the book looked strikingly like the one in the Monster Manual and even the spelling of the name was similar. Anyway, I used it fairly often whenever big, B-Movie bugs were needed. Giant Ants are, after all, just ants.

  14. You know, I've always been a fan of the achaierai, but then I'm probably just weird that way.

    F is also pretty weak, too, and is redeemed only by the appearance of the Flail Snail. I mean, seriously, neutral good fireflies? Lame-o.

  15. Axe Beaks are roughly based upon Terror Birds, aka Phorusrhacids, and they really existed 62 million years ago. I think that's incredibly cool.

    In my campaign world of Pellatarrum, elves ride them into battle.

  16. My vote for lamest 'A' monster is the Al-mi'raj. Psychotic unicorn bunnies.

  17. I always liked the Alhoon. And the Aarokockra and Aranea. But those are expansion pack monsters, so point taken.

    I also really liked the Thoul from OD&D. In a blatant attempt at thread-jacking did that ever see a 3.X/AD&D update anywhere if anyone knows?

    Not that it would be hard, but I'm lazy.

  18. Giant flightless carnivorous birds were once much bigger and scarier than our simian ancestors and evolved independently a number of different times into that lovely carnosaur killing-mouth-on-running-legs body plan. I like them.

    Apes too. Very pulp fantasy/Lost world/Tropical fantasy and with the added bonus of dung throwing.

    Apes are just like humans who have passed the neotenous friendly and playful stage (that we as a species are stuck in lifelong) and gotten truly cantankerous. H.G. Wells wrote a story about a bloke who experiments on himself to achieve this metamorphosis (though I amn not sure what it's called).

    Different Tom again (other Tom always gets in first)

  19. no mention of that dreaded monster known only as "the gazebo"? ;)

  20. You've just not had the monsters of the A section presented to you right Zak. ;)

    The Afanc (hate-filled, ship-eating whirlpool fish), Ankheg (insectile terror of the pseudo-Egyptian desert born from the shed blood of Set), Annis (armour-skinned 'roid-rage Hag), Aurumvorox (multi-limbed golden wolverines that weigh a ton; pure bestiary-fodder) and Azer (evil Dwarves who are on fire all the f**king time!) say *ahem!*

  21. I <3 the Aboleth for two reasons:

    One, it can hit you & turn you into a fishman slave.

    Two, it can psychically make you want to be a fishman.

  22. Are robot gorillas under Robot Gorillas or Gorrilas, Robotic?

  23. HackMaster Pack Apes are AWESOME.

    Pack as in beast of burden, not pack as in gang.

  24. I am going to join the KK fan club after hearing things like "I hit it with my axe" and "space fish that's old". Seriously, I can't wait to see the show.

  25. Abol-what?

    Sorry, don't recognize it. Not in my version of D&D.


    Although you actually made me pull the old book off the top gaming shelf to check.


    "A" only has 5 entries in the old hardcover book. Ariel Servant, Anhkheg, Ant - Giant, Ape, and Axebeak.

    And to be honest, "A" isn't the only letter that sucks. "F" contains only Flightless Bird, Frog - Giant, and Fungi - Violet.

    And "J" ain't much better.


  26. When I use an Aboleth I make them like Grendel's mother ala the new Beowulf movie.

    You only ever see an illusion, you don't ever see the Aboleth, if you think you do..thats probably also an illusion. Combined with the fact if it touches you, you HAVE to move under the sea until someone brings you soap or whiskey.

    Creepiest if you never see it.

  27. Hey! ANKEHEG! Ankhegs RULE!

    Admittedly I've never used one but they are sitting there, bold as brass, on the plains encounter table. And I am sick and tired of rolling "no encounter" for days on end as my players travel to the next adventure site. Okay, ONE brown bear, which didn't want to have anything to do with the party until one fighter decided to attack it alone and nearly got killed. Yes, I see an ankheg in their near future.

  28. *snerk*... that last bit with the Aboleth is priceless.

  29. The Annis, from MM2. Based on the British legend of Black Annis. Iron-clawed giant witch that steals children, eats them, and wears their skins on her belt. This right here is D&D gold.

    Also, the Al-mir'aj from Fiend Folio. I hated everything about this monster right up until I looked it up on wikipedia. Apparently it's from Islamic folklore. It's a hyperaggressive, constantly hungry, two-foot long rabbit that casually kills oxen with a couple stabs from its unicorn horn then devours them whole.'raj

    Frankly, I dunno why the little details like this never makes it into the Monster Manuals.

  30. 3.5 seems to be at least a little better for A's. Allips are pretty cool. Of course, they cause wisdom drain(permanent wisdom damage, in other words), which is pretty much "fuck you" for low-level characters. And a character that's dropped to 0 wisdom is unconscious - pretty deadly in a dungeon or wilderness, if the party doesn't have an easy route to a safe haven. Angels are pretty cool, too. And azer; dwarves are cool by themselves and firedwarves? Even more cool.

  31. Hey, as a monk azer player I resent the title of this article.

  32. I like Ankhegs as a "terrain" monster. Single Ankheg vs a newbie party set in some farmland with drainage ditches around the edge of the fields and a dilapidated barn so lots of decoy runs and hitting it in the butt then diving into a ditch kind of thing - can't win except by using the terrain.