Y'know, the recent controversy...JUST KIDDINGall the monsters starting with G....
Wikipedia: Gars are of considerable significance to Native American peoples of the southeastern United States where the gar figures prominently in ceremonial life and music.
You know what? They can have 'em.
Like the caryatid column, the haunted painting, the gargoyle introduces the concept of art-as-monster. A gargoyle isn't just a thing that looks like a demon--a gargoyle is a monster inspired by carvings on churches which were themselves meant to look like demons.
In D&D, it's often suggested that gargoyles actually hang out with creatures from the lower planes--which, on the surface, seems like Bjorn Again actually hanging out with ABBA.
The solution is to suggest that the human artisan's mind has been possessed by some sort of demon, which then forces him/her to carve an idol in the shape of the demon that's whispering in his ear and thus to create a body that the demon can inhabit on earth out of stone.
Oddly enough, this is more or less the theory that medieval writers and artists had about what was actually going on when they made stuff.
When Dante wrote the The Divine Comedy he wasn't thinking "Hey I'm making up a bunch of stuff about Heaven and Hell so I guess I'm risking blasphemy, but whatever, the Church is pretty laid back about these things, especially these days," he was thinking "I guess I want to write about the details of Heaven and Hell because God is telling me through the medium of my imagination what all is in there," only he was thinking it in Italian and in terza rima.
I think the whole idea of gods and demons telling humans to make things so that then these supernatural forces can use those things as instruments with which to make the world more like the one which they'd prefer is a pretty decent one.
Some people--some DMs--go to a lot of effort to create game worlds that simulate real-world-style political intrigues and have those worlds operate according to whatever emergent situation comes from running things that way--other people do it with the weather and create detailed and rational rules for how weather or trade would affect the game world. My simulatory urges tend toward making up rules for gods--assuming the god of x can only do z or y and the god of q can only do b or c unless d, then what would happen? The campaign you're in now is what would happen.
Anyway, point is, gargoyles are cool.
Another Zak said it first:
"Okay, so a gas spore is a creature that has evolved a reproductive system that relies on fooling hapless adventurers into hacking it open because they think it is one of the most intelligent, rare, and deadly monsters. I see how that could happen."
Sure, the gas spore seems like the most re...I mean, the most developmentally disabled--thing ever and obviously one of those monsters Gygax thought up just to fuck with his own personal players that day.
But open your heart: think of it this way--maybe Beholders actually magically manufacture and cultivate gas spores and send them bobbing around their lairs on purpose as decoys and traps.
Alchemically bioengineering a hollow, living, self-replicating simulacra of yourself that's full of poison gas is a pretty decent trap--and way more disturbing than just some dumb illusion. Haha Mr. Bond, that was not the true Blofeld at all!
I'd like to think the gas spore represents the Beholder's sense of humor. These are the kinds of things you can do when you're a fucking sphere.
I just...I just can't do it. It's just too stupid. I've spent all my professional life trying to destroy minimalism--I'm not going to send it after my players.
And I know Otherworld makes awesome gelationous cube miniatures, but, really, you can buy resin at any hardware store and make one yourself in a half hour. It's this close to making a miniature of a rock out of a pebble on a base and selling it. Where there's a true gap in the market is in the fucking flail snail department. If Otherworld gives me a Flail Snail, I will give them Belladonna's home phone number.
You lost me at "indistinguishable from ghouls". Who themselves lost me at "indistinguishable from zombies". Who themselves lost me sometime around 2004. I'm sure I'll be ok with the walking dead again after the pop-horror-obsession pendulum finishes swinging back to vampires like it always inevitably does, but until then, don't bother me with zombies.
We fear the dead because we fear dying, but also because we fear that our memories of the dead may prevent us from properly living. (This is why cultures have rituals designed to decisively separate us from the dead.) The memory is the fear. A ghost is little else.
You can just say "when you go into the crypt there's a skeleton" and you've pretty much got all the villainy you need to get out of the skeleton--with a ghost, anything less is going to seem like you missed the point of ghosts. And Gauntlet and Ghostbusters made missing the point of ghosts way more fun than you ever will, so you're probably better off figuring out a reason this hooded fuck's trying to magic jar you.
So a ghost isn't a monster, it's a whole plot seed. Other than just writing a ghost plot from scratch, you could let the ghost run itself by writing up a table of factors that would make a victim come back as a ghost (victim killed while sleeping +10%, enemy killed unhallowed ground + 15% etc.) and make it known to the party's cleric, so that the party has to take precautions to make sure they kill things "properly".
This sounds to me suspiciously like something some game's already done. Anybody know if/who?
Ok, one thing I do like about a zombie is my players know what it is. If I say "you see a ghoul molesting Madame Prathentaler on the cricket grounds", I might as well be saying--"As you slide back the trap door, you gaze upon a fiend!".
What a ghoul is depends entirely on what game you're playing. Even D&D has other ghouls--the Newhon Ghoul from Deities and Demigods is totally different. Appropriately, the original Arabian Ghul was a shape-shifter.
If a thing is D&D-specific, then I want it to be visually distinctive in some way--like the lich--to evoke specific ideas--and the D&D ghoul isn't and doesn't. In veteran players it evokes a fear of paralysis, but there's a million other way to do that.
And it's a shame, because ghoul (like spectre) is a pretty good word, and deserves to be something special. My initial thought is that a ghoul has a big gross tongue, but that's about as far as I've gotten with it. I've been a little busy lately.
One of the things that struck me when watching the execrable Matthew Broderick Godzilla was that they'd gotten the scale all wrong, and it mattered a lot. The original Godzilla was big and so had to wade through buildings and power plants and all the works of men. He couldn't move without ruining something. That meant something.
The American version was skinny enough to not only dash between buildings but actually hide. They advertised the movies with these idiotic "size does matter" billboards, but they totally missed the point. Size doesn't matter--scale does. The huge monster isn't interesting because it's huge, it's interesting because of the weird relationship it forces it into with its environment.
I'm not saying giants should be as big as the original Godzilla, merely that the main point of them is the get us to think about scale.
So: Giants are interesting because of the scale disparity, and their massive imposition on the physical world. Putting them in scaled-up magic cloud castles pretty much negates all that. No stomping, no wading through cities, just being up in the clouds and exotic because they're big and...that's it, just big. I can imagine them working in a sort of Little Nemo palace-but it's just not ominous enough. Somebody else can run that one--I'll play in it though.
Unlike the "frost" in "frost giant", "fire" is not an environment. Or, if it is, the PCs have bigger things to worry about than the giant--namely, that they're in an active volcano, or Hell. When there is a giant, the giant should be the main event. Otherwise you are just wasting a giant.
Frost giants are extraordinarily metal, and being metal is always good.
Interestingly, slaying frost giants is also metal--even more metal than being a frost giant. And therein lies a great insight into the nature of metal.
Though it says they live in caves and the picture has him wearing this Fred Flintstone pelt thing, I figure the hill giant is the truly vanilla Mickey-Mouse-as-Brave-Little-Tailor scaled-up-peasant-house fee-fi-fo-fum giant.
Something to practice on before moving up to the major leagues. Unlike dragons, I don't see giants as getting diluted by appearing a few times in a campaign--they're a whole race, after all. Even Oscar Wildes's The Lonely Giant had more than one giant in it.
I find the prevailing fashion sense among cave-dwelling species appalling and therefore shun them.
I much prefer the idea that they call lightning down from the sky than they shoot it at you--I figure: they're around, so lightning just happens. I also think the levitating is a dumb out-of-scale afterthought. Despite being probably the closest thing to a god in the Monster Manual, they're surprisingly short-21 feet. So are the other giants and the titan, if you're used to Godzilla movies.
These things aren't built on a modern architectural scale, they're more Rancor or King Kong-ish. They can Harryhausen on over to you and have a conversation, rather than a Magatron-talking-to-Unicron godlike-monologue-altering-weather-patterns-type situation.
In general, I am ok with old-school D&D art, but, man, If I was a gnoll I'd sue early D&D for character defamation. The old gnoll pictures are laughable. It was only when they started making them really look like hyenas that I realized they were actually not dumb but perfect. They giggle and hunch and chew upon you.
Excellent evil humanoid. They'd stalk Bugbears in packs and eat them for breakfast.
Why isn't there a blog called Bugbears for Breakfast?
Do I have to? Our Thai food just got here and Mandy's got that episode of Top Gear where they go to the North Pole on.
Look at that, I didn't even realize this was in here. A giant goat--look at that... "5'+ foot tall at shoulder". Ok, that's a big goat.
Goats can be alright--Thor's goats were named Toothgnasher and Toothgrinder. If you were a Viking you could meet some kid at school and his name would be like Toothgrinder and you'd be like "What's up with that kid named Toothgrinder?" and people would be all "Oh, you know, his parents are real religious."
It's a wonderful word--Goblin.
A Goblin Wind. A Goblin Planet. An Empire of Goblins.
The band that supplies the music for many of Dario Argento's horror movies--which are always more about panic than they are about fear or gore--is called "Goblin". They are perfect for the movies and perfect for the name--shrill, piercing, relentless, weird.
Noisms makes some excellent points about goblins here.
What is it, exactly about goblins? Evil glee. Mischief beyond mere mischief. Like the worst children. Children without the redeeming vulnerability and sentimentality of children. The Lord-of-the-Flies butterfly-stomping callow consciencelessness of children taken to its extreme.
The Monster Manual goblin doesn't just look hapless, he looks too old.
The golems are really three completely different monsters, at least in terms of the feel of them:
The original golem. I think the clay golem is a monster waiting for an illustrator. I've never seen a good clay golem picture( they always seem too oafish or too spry), but I can imagine the basic outlines--it would need to have tremendously dead eyes, a long, humorless, sagging mouth, silently moaning the same moan forever, a huge but unthinking head, hunching limbs barely differentiated from the body, and yet it would still have to seem implacable and murderous. It's hollowness would need to be countered by its inevitability--the way a slow crawling slug seems to not to need to move fast or to think--since it will get you in the end anyway.
Until that picture gets made, and made convinicingly, I won't be able to use a clay golem.
A thought: perhaps I'll be forced to. I am trying to picture Mandy saying "I wanna make a golem". I can see it. Justine would definitely do it if it occurred to her. Hmmmm...
The Frankenstein's monster. I personally would go for a post-Clive Barker/Tim Burton version gorily stitched together from mismatched parts. And probably have some animal golems, too. Cheap but effective. And it's fun to make the hopeless, plodding, dragging noises.
Iron and Stone Golems
The living statues. Obviously an excellent all-around monster for pretty much everybody but I like them in particular because I can dig up photos of old sculptures I like and go "and it looks, like, THIS...."
The only problem for the DM is casually throwing in enough descriptions of non-living statues (and non puzzle-statues, and non-trap statues, and non-important-NPC-just-medusafied statues) that the party doesn't just go around avoiding statues (or fucking with them) on general principle. Ever had that problem?
What do you do with this thing? A metal bull with poison breath named after the creature that D&D calls "a medusa".
First, change the name. Second, I think, is look up the (possibly apocryphal) Bull of Heliogabulus. This is a torture device shaped like hollow bull, into which the victim is placed. The bull is then heated, and bad things occur.
Perhaps the victim is still in there, and the posion breath is made from the dying breath of the torture victim, or the victims are all long dead and their spirits inhabit the bull. Perhaps it doesn't have to be a bull. I mean, minotaurs are better and kind of hog the slot. Maybe it's a metal...horse? Boar?
In the original Manual, some large Gray Oozes were psionic. But were these exceptional individuals wise oozes? No. Animal intelligence. There's something interestingly nightmarish about an unintelligent thing launching psionic attacks on you--forcing you to think ooze thoughts and grasp only what oozes grasp.
More bad goo. I think the implied vivid green of the green slime was an underappreciated psychoaesthetic landmark in the Erol Otus pulp-fantasy aesthetic of early D&D. This wasn't just some brown Medieval Europe, this wasn't just a gray, green, blue, bronze mythical Medieval Europe, this was a version of Medieval Europe where sometimes things were radioactive green. Often, actually, if Otus had anything to say about it.
I wonder how long you could live eating and drinking only at establishments that are listed in the Monster Manual--stagger home from the Griffon to unwrap your takeout from the Gold Dragon, then wake up before work with a cup of coffee at the Brown Bear and a sandwich from the Bachlutherium. There's probably a blog about it. ANYWAY...
I like griffons, but griffons as a riding animal seems unredeemably cheesey. It is both eagle and lion and I, Diomedraxx the Impressive, have conquered it and now bend it to my will! Whatever. I much prefer the griffon the way Lewis Carrol did it--as a fussy but oddly-affecting creature that asks a fake turtle to sing a song about soup.
Groaning Spirit or Banshee
This is basically a ghost with some built-in story (female and elvish and Irish) and with a special power--the save-or-die killing moan. I'd rig it like this: kill someone the wrong way and they come back as a ghost--kill a woman (or Irish woman, or Elvish woman, or some specific kind of woman) in the wrong way and they'll come back as a banshee, and let the players know that's even worse.
Once outside the Monster Manual, there are some interesting "G" monsters...
A mouthed plasm. In all ways admirable. I think of them as a pretty good lonely-wilderness encounter. You hear some people up ahead--oh no, it's just a blob alone in the woods talking to itself.
Creeping over rotting fungi, layers of dead leaves, all the while speaking in half-sentences.
Cricket-legged fey. More evocatively Midsummer-Nights-Dreamish than their blander cousins. They're the only fairie folk in D&D who consistently look like they might actually be trying to do something. The rest just seem like they hang around talking to bees all day waiting for you to show up so they can annoy you.
Tentacles, good. Brain, good. Beak? Mmmm... I can't decide whether it's worth trying to like the grell on pure gonzo principle considering how many other tentacle-monsters and brain-monsters there are that're worth digging up. Or building.
Completely redesigned it. Now it's just a giant moth with a rorshach-like pattern that causes despair when you look at it. A harbinger of other, more concrete things.
My players have no fucking clue what a Githyanki is. A describability problem. All I can do is show them that picture from the cover of the Fiend Folio and hope it seems to them at age 20-whatever as alien as it did to me when I was something teen.
I've never used them but have some ideas: I feel like the thing of the Githyani is: look at the cover to Iron Maiden's Power Slave and imagine a whole society that was like that. Play Nile really loud. They'll need weird rituals and societal rules. Like some ancient race that was here before men, marooned here. A little Lovecraft, a little Stargate, a little Predator. Could be a pip.
The Githzerai? Irrelevant. It's all about that merciless thing on the full-color cover. The rest is the real fluff.
2-foot treefrog people. I like the grippli as some sort of innocent slave-race for Slaads or otherwise hapless bystanders in the evil-frog hierarchy. I am also a litle afraid that one day one of my players will realize that it is--according to guidelines I myself have laid out--a playable race.
A rock with legs. I figure the original one just sits there and asks riddles, but the new, Kirbyfied version over on the left there actually looks like it could put up a decent--and-interesting--fight.