Writing about all the monsters in alphabetical order soothes my unquiet mind.
Somebody sent Mandy a copy of All Known Metal Bands. There are five bands called Manticore. That's how cool the word "manticore" is.
It almost doesn't even matter what the actual monster is like, if it's called a manticore you know that it's badass, and you know that telling everyone how you slew it with mighty and vorpal blows will transfer said badassness to you.
In truth, what it looks like is someone about eleven years old and male got ahold of a sphinx and decided it was boring so drew batwings and tail spikes on it. Being eleven myself, I wholly approve.
Footnote: The manticore picture in the D&D 4 Monster Manual is actually pretty good.
There are no known metal bands named "Masher". When you have a word that means "one who crushes violently" and still no metal band is willing to touch it, you know you've got yourself a sucky word. They couldn't even get anyone to illustrate it. And get this-it doesn't even mash. Its gimmick is actually poisonous spines. Poor masher.
There is a metal band called "Mastodon", and they're sometimes good. Also, the word "mastodon" means "tit-tooth". (I just sat down and I'm too lazy to get up and check to see if there's a band called "tit-tooth".) Mastodons alone are just too hairy for my taste, but severed mastodon heads are awesome.
Unlike the Greeks, we can actually look at the medusa. Then the question becomes which one to go with: elegant medusa, fierce medusa, snake tail medusa, human legged medusa, mutant medusa, I think I want to use them all.
"There are many types of men which are commonly encountered in the wilderness or in dungeons, always appearing in groups..."
"J'ai une âme solitaire." Apparently not when playing D&D.
That is perhaps the most bizarre fantasy in the whole game.
In the Manual, a female merman is, curiously. called a merwoman. Mermen are of course boring, mermaids aren't. Why is that? Perhaps because the idea of exerting martial force with only a tail for leverage doesn't quite click. A mermale might make a convincing wizard or something.
Mermaids themselves are ripe for evilization, the cannibalisic mermaid is all kinds of wrong and so, wedded to ideas painting them as distant untouchable magic creatures, a scheming one is even more frightening.
"The killer mimics do not speak, but the other breeds have their own language and can usually speak several other tongues such as common, orcish, etc. For consideration they will usually tell a party about what they have seen nearby."
There's an episode of Frasier where Fraiser is trying to go see a movie the idea is that it's a ridiculously pretentious boring obscure foreign film. I forget the name of it but the idea was it was narrated by a stool that had been sitting in the living room of a German family for generations and the stool tells all about what it's seen. Reading this bit about the mimic makes that seem like kind of actually a nice idea, especially if what the stool just saw was like a three headed succubus chewing up someone's soul and spitting it into a giant slug's mouth rather than--say--Wilhelm teaching little Werner how to re-sole a work boot.
Probably because of the terrible sub-comic book-y pictures accompanying the original mind flayer entry it took about forever for me to realize that mind flayers were supposed to be some sort of Cthulianized humanoids and not just dumb Star Trek aliens in robes. I think the brain-extracting thing didn't really help. I mean, I'm all for brain-extracting tentacles but it seems to me the mind flayer should be an absolutely static mound of weirdness in opulent clothes that just points to you and you go mad with the realization of your insignificance in the vast and inhospitable universe. All this rushing around and zapping people with wavy lines seems undignified.
What is it about minotaurs? I think it may have something to do with the fact that, unlike a lion-headed person or a tiger-headed person or a snake-headed person the bull suddenly seems more capable and dangerous as a humanoid. The snake has lost its coils, the cat has lost its claws, whereas the bull has gained believably muscled fists and still can stand credibly on its hind hooves.
Writing this around Passover reminds me that the minotaur also has something of the aspect of the freed slave. The bull's eyes and face seem not restrained by its new body but genuinely raised up, able to do to us all the things we did to it, all the things it diffidently dreamed of while pulling our carts and mulling around our slaughter pens. What looks like fatalistic boredom in the face of the bull seems like resigned and unpersuadeably righteous anger in the face of the minotaur.
The form of conflict suggested by the original entries in the Monster Manual for slimes, molds, oozes, etc is essentially medical. How do I identify this thing and which spell specifically will work against it? It's hard to see this being that fun more than once or twice. These creatures seem most interesting when used as a tool by some other, more sophisticated monster.
The morkoth makes no sense on several levels. It hypnotizes you into coming close and then it bites you but if you come within 6" the hypnotism wears off yet still there's a description of what happens if it tries to bite you if you're hypnotized. What the fuck? But, really, this is--as has been pointed out before--the least of it. It lives in a hypnotic underwater maze and looks like mutant parrot. It seems like this would be way better as a poem than a D&D adventure.
Seeing as how they are strong, agile, and not panicked by fire, the mule would appear to be the ideal dungeon accessory. Unfortunately, as soon as you bring one into a dungeon the mood police come and decapitate it.
The problem with mummies is we're more familiar with cartoon versions of them than with what they actually look like. Real mummies, particularly ones from outside Egypt--like the bog people or the Chachapoya mummies (pictured) are among the most fucked up looking real things ever. If I know for sure that this is what's in the player's mind when I sic some rotting remains on them then my job is half done already.
Unlike a lot of insects, a mantis doesn't seem disgusting. Its relatively upright posture makes it seem almost human or at least more human, but it nevertheless seems absolutely cruel.
The decapitation thing is in no way surprising. This is my go-to Awful Insect. The praying part is like a Shaolin monk whose absolute stillness is a threat directly proportional to the speed with which he will annihilate you if you disturb his meditation.
We maybe didn't need the Monster Manual 2 to give us the concept of a large animal only made very small but still it's a useful idea. I see them appearing in the center of an excited ring of toothless gamblers in a city on a pseudo-Mediterranean coast. Tiny wolf versus tiny rhino and kept in fascinating cages or terraria.
Fungi are disgusting. Mushroom people are ridiculous. Again--like the mummy--the challenge is freeing the creature from our cartoony associations or at least letting the creepy and the cartoony intermingle in an interesting way. Like in Alice in Wonderland (the real one I mean).
I think it's important that they be slow-moving yet somehow still credibly threatening. I think goblins using them as riding beasts and steering them by pressure on their big flat heads is a way to go. It might give them pathos.
image credits: The Conan cover's by Barry Windsor-Smith, the black and white medusa is me, I don't know who did the excellent medusa at the top, sorry, let me know an I'll add a credit.