Friday, May 7, 2010

W Monsters

All the monsters--W. W monsters are all trying to be badass. Some succeed.

Wasp, giant

I have the same problem with the giant wasp as I do with the giant owl,--making it bigger doesn't exaggerate what's scary about it--a giant fly is grosser when it's big, a giant spider can catch you in its web or its jaws when it's big, a giant mantis can decapitate you if its big.

A wasp? You're afraid that a wasp will sting you. Making it big doesn't automatically make it more poisonous.

Water Weird

A water weird is obviously way better than a water elemental--but why? Well there's the name for one, there's the picture for two--the idea of the weird simply being an existing body of water like in a well or a pool that starts taking a shape is way spookier than a big wave with eyes.

Is there anything else to it? The water weird seems to be a bit more about trickery or deception whereas the water elemental seems to be just about brute force. We already knew that waves were out to get us.

Weasel, giant

The thing that puts a giant weasel head and shoulders above all other stupid monsters (including the giant beaver) is that there is no word in the English language that's funnier.

Nothing is funnier than a weasel. As I think Dave Barry pointed out you can replace any word in any weasel with the word weasel and it's instantly funny. Watch: I'm sorry but your one eyed daughter with down syndrome has cancer of the giant weasel. If you're going to be stupid go full on. "They will attack until destroyed."

We filmed an episode of "Axe" today. We had our first on-air fatality. (Guess who! Find out in a month and a half.) To my intense pleasure, she immediately rolled up a new character with a pet weasel.


"The latter will occasionally attack humans (killer whales will always do so), and all forms of whales are very dangerous if molested."


The best thing ever said about whales outside Moby Dick was "We took swords with us, swimming one handed, to fight off whales."--from Grendel by John Gardner--which is a really great book and anyone who's into D&D, existentialism and modernist literature should read it. So I guess I'm saying me and Mandy should read it and maybe nobody else.


Another one of these: if you're a veteran player it means "level drain" if you're not it means a colour spelled wrong.

If we're constructing a game from the ground-up would there be a point to the wight? I think the niche untaken would be as a kind of "civilized" undead that has a little bit more of the common addict about it than the vampire. The vampire's connotations of blasphemousness and aristocracy preclude it seeming like a total junkie in a medieval context and the zombie's mindlessness makes it lack the pathos of a living thing reduced to something less than it was. That is, the wight appears in cities like an ordinary homeless person only slightly pale--then it grabs you and kisses you and you get dumber.

Will -O-(The) Wisp

This monster (monster doesn't seem exactly the right word) derives from a spontaneous light phenomenon noticed in swamps worldwide that science is as-yet still unable to explain.

One Irish theory holds that someone named Jack made a deal with the devil to pay his bar tab, then tricked Satan into climbing a tree, then carved a cross into the tree so Satan couldn't get down. This upset Satan so he cursed Jack to wander the earth with only one light to guide him which Jack then stuck into a gourd. While I have never used a Will-O -isp in a game I will say that Jack sounds like a seriously awesome PC. Any god that wouldn't let him into heaven probably isn't worth worshipping. There's probably a Pogues song about him.

Wind Walker

More invisible creatures from the elemental plane of boring.

This is the name they give the invisible stalker at the New Age get-in-touch-with-your-inner-fuck-camping-retreat.


Wolves? Definitely.

So then: Regular Wolves? Dire wolves? Worgs? Winter Wolves? Or all four? Seeing as how my whole campaign is in and endless winter we'll need wolves. I feel like I really only wanna use one. Regular wolves are a necessity, I suppose, since every fifth npc has the word "wulf" in their last name somewhere. Plus there's already werewolves--I'm gonna resist the marvel comics-esque urge to create endless variations on something just because it's cool.


Speaking of which...

The wolverine as listed actually has more hit dice than a wolf. Anyway the wolverine seems like a good utility monster if, say, the PCs are asleep in the middle of the wilderness and you need something to sneak up and eat all of their food. Any similarity between what I just typed and the situation prevailing circa episode 14 of I Hit It With My Axe is strictly coincidental.


Wraith is a much better word than "wight" and aside from that it's much more of an immaterial undead like a ghost.

I already talked about how "spectre" was way creepier than "ghost", more disturbing and subtle. Wraith, I think, is likewise better and--luckily for the wraith--for a slightly different reason.

A wraith sounds definitely evil while spectre just seems terrifying and unnatural. Anything called a "wraith" is definitely out to get you. Also, while "specter" summons a psychological horror a "wraith" is something with a spooky cloak. This is important because it would be beneath a spectre's dignity to go galavanting around slumming with skeletons and death knights and other corporeals in an undead army, whereas the wraith fits right in.


See Dragon


  1. Heh, your notes on the Giant Weasel made me laugh. Back in the day I used to play Quake Deathmatch under the name Weazel. On the occasion that I killed someone my victim would often cry: "oh no! I got fragged by weeeeeeeeeaaaazel!".

    Ahem. Anyway.

    I have a weird fixation on Will-O'-wisps. Maybe because they are such blank slates, I have an urge to make them some kind of mystery/puzzle monster, where the players never quite find out what they are or what they're about. They're built into the archetypal "do not stray from the path... oh you strayed from the path" story. Just like Red Riding Hood and the wolf...

    I like wolves. That's pretty much all. I like to run werewolves as fairly sympathetic characters and/or curse victims. I go easy on the viral lycanthropy. Werewolves are about black magic. Did you know that in the oldest Transylvanian legends werewolves and vampires are basically trhe same thing?

    I quite like wights: in my mind they are a solidified wraith, or one that still has a physical corpse. Maybe Wights decay into wraiths. Unfortunately, in my mind wights also only exist in barrow graves and no-where else. If you go digging in burial mounds you get
    a) treasure and
    b) wights.
    Etymologically wight just means "sapient humanoid". So not that interesting, unless you pick up on that it doesn't necessarily mean human.

    Notable W monsters missing from the Monster Manual: uh just the Wendigo I guess. I've never been sure what to do with that. In Algonquin myth it seems to be both a nature spirit and a sort of undead cannibal, ghoul style but with more creepiness. In any case it's a symbol of cannibalism in times of winter famine. Some kind of spirit that possesses people could work, but so far no-one has designed a Wendigo that satisfies me; usually they make them into some kind of lame sasquatch subspecies.

  2. In one of the splat books there is a bit about kobold mythology-- kobolds who, in this writer's mind, ride giant weasels & wear chitin armor. They have a valhalla/reincarnation mash-up; if the kobold dies "on the job," he becomes a kobold in his next life again; if he dies being lazy, he becomes a weasel, & if he dies a traitor he becomes a giant cockroach. I thought it was kind of cute.

    Also, the weasels of Darkheather in "Mouse Guard" are fully awesome, but they aren't giant-- unless you are a mouse.

    I also was really bored by Grendel? It was too overtly preachy for me. Like Sophie's World, with monsters.

    Wil-o-Wisps are my favorite. Sprinkle liberally with wicked/capricious sprites & just go to town.

    I like dire wolves because I like paleolithic creatures. I like worgs because I like the name. I figure; dire wolves are the "Mothers of Wolves" maybe? & worgs, well. I basically just describe them as goblins who have been lobotomized & surgically altered to be quadrupeds, so other goblins can ride them.

  3. my guess is kk bites the dust. with her bloodthirsty berserker attitude she seems most weasel to die. i just don't see her with a pet. hm...

    whales + molestation =

  4. The scariest thing about a giant wasp from my players' perspective is embodied by the "spider eater": that it will paralyze you and lay its eggs inside you, so that eventually you are eaten alive by its larvae.

    A cool way to do an Alien type of thing in a D&D setting.

  5. Grendel was an awesome book. There are more of us that are into D&D, Existentialism and Modernist Literature than you might think.

  6. John Gardener's _Grendel_ cannot be recommended strongly enough. I've read that several times and love it more each time. More heartwarming than Cormac McCarthy's The road; more cynical that Eric Wagener's The Book of the Dun Cow; more ass-kicking than Camus' The Plague; more fantastic than Par Langerkvist's The Dwarf, but yes, related to them all and belonging on the same shelf (after Poul Anderson's The broken sword but before KV's Cat's Cradle, I think).

    Also, I love this series. Could you be persuaded to edit this together into a book, with some of your drawings? I don't have deep pockets but I'll send you some miniatures or something.

  7. I just wanted to say how sorry I am that this series is almost over. This is so good! Such a combination of wit and wisdom in every entry. Making me think about how & why I play these games.

    And yes, "D&D, existentialism and modernist literature" is a bigger tent than you might think.

  8. @mordicai

    What course of action was 'Grendel' preaching? "Use interesting sentences?"

  9. I love the concept of putting "giant weasel" into random sentences. I may start doing this. I love the concept of kobolds riding giant weasels; I WILL start doing this (the kobold elite guard). As to wights, I hate running into them; I hate running them, but I feel duty bound to do so. I hate getting my giant weasel drained, and don't like doing it to my players but the game-feel of the wight is so ... wright. Maybe in a giant weasel off the cave the players haven't found yet.

  10. I'm with Dan. I hear wight and I immediately add 'barrow' in front of it. I see them as those servants who get murdered and buried with ancient kings. All pissed off from being both dead and stuck in the office for hundreds of years. Though I do hate level-draining monsters. They just feel like a big Fuck You to the players. Though I understand in 3.x and beyond its only a temporary thing...

  11. Perhaps didactic is a better word for it.

  12. "A water weird is obviously way better than a water elemental--but why? Well there's the name for one"

    I don't like the word 'weird' in a monster name. Is this good weird or bad weird or just odd weird? When I see a monster name, I like to have a feel for what I'm going to get out of it. I can't wrap my mind around the name "Water Weird". I'm probably far too literal minded. I need it to be called "Snake Made of Water That Drowns You"

  13. I heard recently that wasps impregnate other insects like the creatures in the Alien movies, so that could make giant wasps a bit more threatening.

    Also, Grendel was a good book. I'm thinking people who get overly outraged by etymology are the only fantasy fans who might dislike it.

  14. The Wolverine is a pretty tough monster what with the +4 to hit and skunk odor attack. I used a common skunk from the MM2 as a pet for an ogre once and it almost led to a TPK.

  15. "The scariest thing about a giant wasp from my players' perspective is embodied by the "spider eater": that it will paralyze you and lay its eggs inside you, so that eventually you are eaten alive by its larvae."

    *Temporarily* paralyzed. You are then mind-controlled into protecting the developing larvae.

  16. I think that only one of the undead should have a level drain attack. It's touch (or kiss, I like that idea) should be cold, terrifying, emasculating as it consumes your very memories. You can even add some emotional depth to the creature by saying that the wight (or whichever) consumes its victims memories because it is the only way for it to feel anything anymore, being limited to a wispy, half-ethereal form suffering through centuries of undead oblivion.

    My undead touch effect chart:
    Ghoul: cause disease
    Ghast: paralysis
    Mummy: bestow curse (random or DM option)
    Wight: lose experience (not usually a whole level)
    Phantom: cause fear
    Ghost: age
    Wraith: reduce saving throws (temporary)
    Spectre: drain charisma and wisdom (temporarily)
    Vampire: (temporarily) lose Strength and/or Constitution; bite attack only

    Other undead, of course, don't have touch attacks.

  17. For me, wights are hard to draw a bead on visually because Tramp's sinewy zombie illustration from the MM conflicts with Tolkien's implications that they're wispy skeletal things.

  18. I always had a problem with the Giant Weasel because IRL it's a Wolverine.

    On the other hand, plain old weasels have a place in my games. King Rat is obviously the biggest of the rats (while a rat king is a great thing for night-prowling witches to leave in the PCs' baggage), and The Lord of Tigers is obviously the fiercest tiger, but the Weasel King is the sneakiest, most underhanded con-man among the weasels. He's kinda small and cute, and looks a bit like an underfed mink.

  19. "Weaseling out of things is important to learn. It's what separates us from the animals ... except the weasel."

    Also, Grendel is a great book.

    Also also, allow me to second the motion to publish this here list-o-alphabetical monsters. i, too, have shallow pockets, but would happily scrounge up some dough for Zak's words and pictures in printed, non-electronic form.

  20. The coolest undead monster I've ever seen with the word wight attached to them are the ones from the Myth: The Fallen Lords series of Real Time Strategy games by Bungie. The official description of them is a "stitched-up corpse, given new life by dark magic as a breeding ground for virulent disease and foul decay." They're basically huge fat undead creatures made practically buoyant by all manner of nasty, virulent pathogens, barely contained by their huge fleshy bodies. Their only attack is to stab themselves in the gut and release the toxins in a massive, devastating explosion, and the same thing happened if you managed to kill them.

    Wights were always trouble in that game; you had to make sure your army was safely away before sending out archers to blow them up from afar. And the fact that they could hide underwater meant that they could just creep up from behind while you were distracted and take out half of your army.

    Also seconding how awesome weasels are in Mouse Guard: As each creature has a Nature skill of what they can naturally do, a Weasel's nature is beating you up, stealing all your stuff, and taunting you for it when all's said and done. They have the coolest looking weapons in the game too.

  21. "A wasp? You're afraid that a wasp will sting you. Making it big doesn't automatically make it more poisonous."

    Hm...I'm not sure you thought about that long enough. Then again, I also don't remember the exact size of a D&D giant wasp.

    A human-sized wasp wouldn't just give me a mild scare that it might annoy me with its buzzing around me, while I'm eating my strawberry ice-cream, and eventually sting me in a finger when I attempted to shoo it away.

    Wasps eat meat!

    A wasp of that size could consider you a perfect soft prey.
    Not only is the increased amount of poison it would inject life-threatening (imagine a liter of a poisonous liquid -> force-injected), the size of its stinger could eventually stab you to death.

    A few pictures and a video link.
    Wasp-head, up close:


    A wasp cutting a bee into snack-size:
    youtube (dot) com / watch?v=NQ3EVrKPGrI

    I don't see what's not frightening about giant wasps. XD

  22. It's not just veteran players. My first or second game I scared the blacksmith by interrogating him to see if the thing running around was a wight. Then again I'm one of those people who has read the monster manual a lot, so I'm exactly the best sample to go by.