Wednesday, April 7, 2010

"L" Monsters Are Pretty Good

So the alphabetical monster thing was pretty easy for a while there--I. J, and K are lightweights. But "L" is a hardworking letter. It starts a lot of monsters and most of them are decent...


The D&D Lamia is a bit of a wash--further research is needed...

Sources are conflicted about what exactly a lamia looks like, so they're no help, and for the most part it just seems like a succubus-lite. Many versions have a snake tail, which is cool, but 30 other women in the Manual have a snake tail, so whatever.

The original Greek is extremely good, though--Lamia was a queen who ate children and had the ability to pull her own eyes out and make prophecies. That's where I'd go with it.


The lammassu and the shedu in Syrian mythology are just male and female names for the same creature. The shedu and lammasu are in turn less interesting versions of the manticore and the sphinx.


I sometimes think I'm a little too down on the ordinary animals in this here alphabetical review-- especially the aquatic ones. I'm all over the lamprey though.

A stone chamber, water four feet deep, a low-ceiling, a few visual aids from google illustrating the "sphincter-like mouths ringed with cruel teeth". Oh DMing is fun.

Mandy: "This is like a slug and leech and an eel with a butthole for a mouth and sharp teeth--it's way worse than a flail snail".


"The larvae are the most selfishly evil of all souls who sink to lower planes after death" Mandy finds the hyperbolic supernatural version of larva extremely funny.

But she's wrong. Larvae are loathsome ("You're eating maggots Michael").

Gygax's interpretation of them as a form of currency is interesting. You can talk all day about night hags or liches "wanting your soul" but interpreting your soul as a certain weight worth of yellow worms gives it genuine poetry.

This also makes the neutral evil larvae more interesting than the manes and the lemure--their chaotic and lawful evil counterparts, respectively--and suggests, again, that maybe the alignment-symmetry thing is a bit crap.


For the same reasons I like the lamprey, I think the leech is just too easy.


If and when the girls ever get outside I think I will mention that snow leopards are relatively common in the mountains outside Nornrik and also mention that their monochrome coat is much easier to dye than the pelt of an ordinary leopard.

I may not mention that hit dice, abilities, and mutation-rate among these beasts vary wildly.


"Leprechauns normally dwell only in fair, green lands with lush hills and dales they can frolic through."

I really like the idea of a sandbox campaign with all the seasoned players frowning over a hex map and going "What's over here?" DM says: "Hills". The party's wizard goes "Are there dales?" DM nods "A few". "FUCK."

Then the party has to decide whether the probable gold in that direction is worth all the sideburned annoyance or whether they'd rather take their chances in Bloodtroll Haven.

Almost any "serious" role player could not possibly plump for the more interesting option in that case. Solve a fucking riddle on a dale and get some gold--any real medieval person would go for that over having to fight a troll any day. But then, why on earth would anyone play with a serious role player? My guy's personality is generally whatever personality is going to get him into The Temple of the Demon Troll fastest.

(Speaking of trolls, you may now feel free to spam this blog with comments defending committed amateur-actor RPGers. You will post something all offended, I will post another thing which will clarify my position and make it seem reasonable, and then you will either ignore it or agree with it and then you will feel the comfort that comes with knowing some guy who lives in L.A somewhere agrees with you about some part of something you do once every other weekend, or the bitter sting of knowing he doesn't. I'm sure it will be so worth it.)

Mandy feels there is genuine life in the concept of an evil leprechaun based on older pre-Frosted Lucky Charms folklore. "They deceive you, that's the thing about leprechauns--and they're ugly" Mandy says.

I often think how things like harpies and succubi were invented by bitter straight men--it occurs to me that the runty, evil, hairy, deceptive, stingy, Rumplestilskiny leprechaun was probably invented by some aggrieved wife somewhere.

I do like the idea of people's babies being stolen by things that are smaller than babies.


The absurdity of the leucrotta probably stems from the disparity between how grotesque the description (as just a line of syllables on the page) sounds against how toothless it is when actually constructed in the mind's eye. Badger head, lion tail, deer body, talks like a person. It's like you rolled on the random esoteric creature generator and got duds on every roll. The fact that it can talk and imitate people despite being a shambolic freak is interesting but there's about a hundred better monsters you could give that ability to.


We are born into structures of law and tradition which were invented by men who were dead long before we were born. All our lives, we struggle against their vast, ubiquitous and posthumous powers.


Now that I've done "jaguar", "leopard" and "lion" I can honestly say that thinking about these animals mechanically or ecologically gets you nowhere--yes, tigers have more hit dice than lions but that isn't what the players are going to remember.

I think that a lion is most interesting to me in D&D as a symbolic animal rather than something that's going to pop up on the random encounter table (especially considering that table is already full of wolves and snow leopards ) I think a living lion statue made on onyx or jade or a strange goblin-made clockwork lion somehow takes advantage of the distinctiveness of lions as compared shapewise to the other big cats.


The lavish array of gorgeous visual aids for "lizard" available to anyone with both google and a color printer make them the kind of thing I want to go the extra mile to use. Just having a party see one seems kind of dull. I think of them more as kind of something that gets grown or enchanted or carries some bizarre and unspeakable secret.

A few specific notes: The fire lizard risks diluting the eventual appearance of a dragon but I think that if it can be made clear that it's just some sort of flame-wreathed gecko it makes an interesting alternative to just a regular old fire elemental. Mandy points out that Gygax doesn't describe the minotaur lizard's appearance at all.

Lizard Man

Lizard men should have all kinds of lizardthings, lizard rune and lizard tongue, lizard language and lizard art, lizard weapons and lizard gods and be endless sources of lizard mystery. The lizard men as presented in the manual are fairly primitive with only a small percentage of them even having their shit together enough to build huts. I prefer them to be much more sophisticated--it occurs to me that I said the same thing about the jackalwere. I guess I prefer everybody to be more sophisticated. Thugs don't scare me. Except Ogres.


The lack of diapers makes them better than the Kuo-toa, and I suppose they could be pretty interesting if you ever decided to put in the effort necessary to make an underwater adventure interesting. I suppose I could rig them up as some sort of scaly underclass in Nephilidia.

Lurker Above

A mind more loyal to the Old Ways than me might find elaborate reasons why the 100% Pure Old School Lame represented by the lurker above is somehow better than the 100% Pure New School Lame represented by its later edition counterpart--the darkmantle. I however will just say this: don't be lame.


The werebear is wereboring as is pretty much anybody that turns into something that's pretty much like what they were before only more badass. Or maybe simply it's my prejudice against what I presume to be their lack of sophistication.

Wereboar--wereboar sounds funny but boar men are pretty cool. Grunting squealing axe wielding with tusks and warhammers. Better than pig-orcs.

Wererat--the wererat draws obvious compar
ison with the Skaven from Games Workshop. Skaven have the interesting addiction to eating warpstone, but the wererats as depicted in the black-eyed eerily human and eerily comfortable looking picture in the Monster Manual gives them the edge in creepiness for me.

Weretiger--the lady or the tiger? This one, along with the Monster Manual 2's Foxwoman both seem to have a lot of possibilities. A guy who is also a rat or a wolf seems like a guy who just has more ways of doing the things he was going to do anyway, a woman who is also a fox or also a tiger is a whole plot seed. This may be because tigers and foxes both seem extremely intelligent.

Werewolf--the big question is whether the werewolf is a horror movie werewolf where there is one of them and it's a mystery or it's more of a viking warrior werewolf thing with hunched devouring packs ravaging the land. I think you can't really do both. Either the werewolf is some monstrous and alien horror ( a bug in the sytem) or it's a feature--a characteristic species that defines the landscape the way an anaconda defines the Amazon jungle

Seawolf--can't decide. I might try to make seawolves cool, but I got enough wolves going on in my game anyway.

Lynx, giant

Mandy wants to know why none of these big cats have bite attacks listed. She also notes that lynx kittens are super adorable. I want to know why only the giant and not the ordinary lynx made it in.

Hidden in a cave dispensing arcane wisdom for travellers who dare to brave the icy bleakscape? Maybe.

Lava Children

Eventually, someone at D&D decided that having players fight children was in some way distasteful. Too bad. Lava children are wonderful--churning, tumbling, volcanically flowing and bubbling out of molten pools and looking at you with big red burning ember eyes, grabbing your sword and melting it. Excellent, excellent.


Barking Alien said...

The Leucrotta is another great mythical creature reduced to B or even C tier in D&D because of the nature and design of the game. Too many other creatures and too many powerful PCs mean the Leucrotta is just a silly chimera. Granted its appearance is odd but I've read a number of slightly altered descriptions that sound more visually menacing.

In my Ars Magica games PCs would rather swim in a pool of broken glass than fight a Leucrotta. That are sneaky, creepy, fast and viscous.

Jeff Rients said...

I used Lava Children once in my 3.5 campaign, near the end. I gave each 20 levels in monk and made them Superdeformed Volcano Buddhas.

Matt said...

There are times when typos are better than the real thing. Viscous leucrottas are one of those times.

TheCramp said...

Is that Lich text your prose, or a quote? Bataille, Franklin? Either way, superb.
I have a Lich plot hook I use who is at the end cycle of a ancient mage king, ascended to god/power, slane, and now a lich. He is senile, and has lost his ambition hatred and intellect. All he wants to do is play chess, and does so poorly.

Red said...

Your lich comment is an an example par excellant for why I read this blog. You can make a whole campaign from that quote.

It reminded me of this quote:
"Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living."

Chris said...

Badger head, lion tail, deer body, talks like a person.

I can't remember who it was who recently talked about the leucrotta being functionally creepy. It's the creature that scratches at the door in the night and begs you to open it in the sobbing voice of your dead loved ones...

Lurker above

I prefer Darkmantles to these guys, simply for the swirling, tentacular face-humping squidlyness of them. And their puny AC and pathetic move if they miss you...

Lynx, giant

Any lynx unable to cover 7 acres with its burning, toxic excrement in one round is missing a certain je ne c'est quoi IMO . Pliny claims that was the calling card of the "bonasus", but we all know Pliny was full of it.

Lynxes: sharp sight, own language, faecal tsunami if threatened ...or bored.

D Wintheiser said...

I always thought the Darkmantle was the New School Lame version of the Piercer, which if anything was even lamer. (If the Piercer misses with its attack, it attempts to crawl back to the ceiling, climbing at 1" per melee round, until it is in place to drop again.)

The Lurker Above, meanwhile, was what Gygax came up with after his adventuring groups figured out that pounding on the floor and not getting a reflex reaction from it meant that there was no Trapper there, and thus the room was safe to enter.

To make up for the utter anality of the above comments, I'll say that the blog is way fun to read, the Escapist series is growing on me, and I hope you're planning to head out to GenCon.

Sam said...

I love me some lizard folk. Give them a decent hide bonus (like a chameleon) and some spider-climb, and let your players experience D&D "Aliens" style.

Barking Alien said...

@Matt- LOL. How right you are. My bad.

RE: The Lurker Above-

Not long after my first ever encounter with a Lurker Above, the DM sent a Trapper against us. Not knowing what it was, we called it a "Lurker Below". The name stuck and is interchangeable with the name Trapper in our campaigns to this day.

Delta said...

"I always thought the Darkmantle was the New School Lame version of the Piercer, which if anything was even lamer."

Second that. Compare size, hit dice, etc.

nextautumn said...

Love the lich text, but - the Lurker Above is awesome.

PatrickW said...

In 4th edition Fantasy Hero, there was an error giving lizard men "Weapon Familiarity: Small Arms" instead of "Weapon Familiarity: Common Melle Weapons". This meant that lizard men were not good at sword use, but had access to pistols and submachineguns. I liked this version better and decided that lizard men were the remains of an ancient civilization that had retained their gunsmithing skills as rote tribal knowledge.

widderslainte said...

Love the lich drawing. You should write and illustrate a monster manual.

Johnny said...

Because they are obviously not cool enough on their own, the were-dragon tickles me.

AGCIAS said...

Good one, PartrickW. I too have a soft spot in my head for lizardmen. Ran one once and the DM pretty much gave me carte blanc to set up their history and mythos. They were the degenerate remains of an advanced race with a full-blown culture and intricate intertwined prophecies and I was trying to uplift them when graduation intervened.

Zak, the Monster Manual is a good idea. Your sketches are, if anything, evocative. BTW, fought a leucrotta with a 1st to 3rd level group (2nd Ed., online) recently and it was truly a tense and eerie experience. Just goes to show, its the DM and the party that makes it fun.

Rick Marshall said...

The great thing about lions is that as badass as the great cats are, your saving grace when you run up against them is that the hunt solo. Lions hunt in prides, so they have both strategy and tactics.

You can draw on a scary piece of lion psychology—there are certain kinds of tough-to-beat prey they won't take on normally, but during times of famine they get more daring and ruthless. It's like their alignment shifts with their hunger. The sequence from the series Planet Earth when the starving pride of lions decide to take on an elephant at a watering hole at night is disturbing. Likewise, although the movie itself is flawed, The Ghost and the Darkness has plenty of creepy grist for the gaming mill, including that horrible boneyard.

Under the right conditions, you could set up a scenario in which a pride of very intelligent lions decides to take out the party, not in a foolish daylight charge, but in the smartest, sneakiest, most patient ways possible.

Anonymous said...

This series is just the best extended meditation on things we take for granted that I have seen in a long, long while. Thank you so much for this, Zak, Truly. And please keep going.

Anonymous said...

Excellent and creepy picture of the leucrotta here:

I think to successfully use one of these guys you can't go for a straight-up fight. They'd be boring. You have to go the horror movie route, because it's the mimicry that makes them interesting. These things as smart as a human, and as big as a horse. Throw them against your players early, when they're a tough fight.

The players hire on to guard a bunch of settlers on their way to a frontier settlement (which happens to be where the next adventure is). Someone goes off to hunt up some food and never returns. His daughter hears him out in the night, calling for help, and begs the PCs to go look for him. They don't find anything. When they get back they find out that the daughter is missing. And then her mother starts hearing her little girl call for her.

The Giant Lynx is apparently like the Giant Eagle, except even smarter than most humans. The eagles came by way of Tolkien - I wonder where the idea of intelligent talking lynxes came from?

BigFella said...

Long, long ago I ran a campaign with hyper-intelligent lizard men. Had some fun with that. Oughta bring the bastards out of retirement...

Travis said...

That's a pretty pretty impressive Lich, fella. Seeing the helm in full panoply lends the Lich a regality found only beyond the world of men.

Id like to see you tackle a Balrog. Plenty of room for interpretation from Jackson's daft Volcano-man thru the simple majesty of Bakshi's version to a jet black human figure winged with fumes, my take.

Anonymous said...

"leucrocouta" (of which Leucrotta is a shortening) means something like "wolf of the twilight" - that time when the sun has dropped below the horizon but the sky is still lit, so it's not quite dark but very shadowy, and your eyes play tricks on you. These are creatures of shadow and trickery, using stealth and mimicry to lure the party into splitting up, or into traps which force such a split (collapsing walls, etc), until they can manage to get one or two people alone, then they pounce. Multiple leucrottas will team up, only one at a time betraying its presence by moving or speaking, creating the illusion of a single creature that can either teleport or is very fast.