Thursday, March 4, 2010

"C" is William S. Burroughs Favorite Part of the Monster Manual

Monsters that start with "A" suck. Monsters that start with "B" taste good. What is it about monsters that start with "C"? Maybe nothing. Only one way to find out. Plus, really, I do this all the time anyway--look through all the monsters and decide what I want to use. Starting again with the original monster manual...

Camel, Wild

Please write in comments if you have ever had to use the Monster Manual stats listed here for a camel. I'm not saying you haven't, I just want to hear the story.

Carrion Crawler

I was never big on the carrion crawler, but then I saw this thing from Reaper, marketed under the name "Charnel Grub":
And I love it. I guess it's the same reason I like sickly-yellow ooze better than black pudding--I just prefer things to be disgusting.


Jesus, if Pliny the Elder wrote about his leaking faucet, Gary would've gone and statted it up.

If you came to my house and forced me to use a catoblepas (that sounds so filthy) then I'd make it a unique and elusive creature that looked like a bantha. But you didn't so I didn't and I'm happy.

Cattle, Wild

Gygaxian naturalism in action. Trampling causes d4 per trampling cow, so that makes the herds of livestock that presumably dot any properly simulatory medieval D&D landscape another probably-under-utilized animal weapon. A little math and googling reveals that that means the average British Columbia dairy farm has enough cattle to kill the Tarrasque in one round.


By rights I should like centaurs since I like pretty much any Greek monster, but where the fuck do you put them? They're goofy in dungeons, awkward in creepy forests, out-of-place in frozen wastes. Centaurs imply big open grassy plains. Big open grassy plains imply me yawning.

Giant Centipede

The giant centipede is only a foot long. Somehow that's so much creepier than it being ten feet long.

Also: this is where I start realizing the hidden thread of "c" monsters--they are the monsters most likely to appear in a William Burroughs novel. Camels? Tentacled grubs? Men with the lower bodies of horses? See? And the rest of "C" is just illness, hallucination and local color.
"He tells me about an incident where a man was half eaten by a crocodile and they found parts of his body in the crocodile's stomach"
"He had headed north instead, into a land of sandstone formation, carved by wind and sand - a camel, a tortoise, Cambodian temples - and everywhere caves pocked into the red rock like bubbles in boiling oatmeal."

Cerebral Parasite

Oh, look at that--"evil is quite literally a virus parasite occupying a certain brain area"
-Place of Dead Roads

Anyway, these are invisible, undetectable things that go into your brain if you use psionics, eat your psionics points and won't leave unless you use cure disease. I can't figure out any possible way these could be fun. Ok, maybe shapechange into one and fuck with a mind flayer, but, really, haven't you got better things to do with your time?


The chimera is the only thing in the monster manual with goat parts*, which--while it was considerate of Gary to leave the Warhammer people something to work with--it's weird considering goats are way eviler than lions and the chimera's one of like 20 monsters in the manual that are mostly a pair of wings with a lion in the middle--the sphinx, lamassu, gryphon, manticore, etc.

In the Sphinx's case, the resemblance is probably because the Chimera is supposed to be the Sphinx's mother. Seeing as how "Chimerae speak a very limited form of red dragon language" (presumably that's the form of the red dragon language where you're constantly getting interrupted by a goat and a lion) and the Sphinx is all-wise and all-knowing and does riddles and stuff, I'm figuring this was one of those oldest-sister-leaves-town-and-gets-all-cosmopolitan-in-order-to-distance-self-from-hick-parents-type situations. "Cover yours--BAAA!--ROAR!--up, girl! Who'll buy the she-goat if they can get the milk for free?" And then, when you consider that Chimera's mother was Echidna... have to figure the intergenerational confusion in that family was probably pretty thick.

"Chimera" is also a synonym for "delusion". I once read in art school a whole book by a feminist poststructuralist who made much of the fact that the Chimera was female--the implication being that in our patriarchal system fantastic delusions are considered inherently female.

Also Chimera is the name of a crappy band I saw open for Slayer once.

Although I'm very fond of the Chimera I'll admit it's a little confusing to imagine how it works in combat. I mean if you were it, wouldn't you just go dragon head/dragon head/dragon head and let you goat head just hang out? The normally fairly tactically-minded 3.5 monster manual offers no help on the subject saying only "the Chimera prefers to surprise prey" which is good because it's pretty hard to imagine it doing anything else. "What's that?""Oh, you know, a fire-breathing goatliondragon that talks" "Oh, that again".

Anyway, Chimera are the closest thing in D&D to true medieval monk, bad-ergot-trip prophetic-hallucination, so I'm all for it.

Mandy's stated preference is for the wingless version that has a lioness head and body with a snake-head tail and with the goat-head sticking out of the center of the spine.


Alexzander Neckam said the Cockatrice is born of an egg laid by a cock and incubated by a snake or toad, though modern scholars claim it was born from a translation error in 1397.

According to the Monster Manual, it turns flesh to stone and "the petrification aura of this monster extends into both the astral and ethereal planes and can thus affect creatures in these planes as well."

According to Wikipedia:

"Attempts to identify it with any particular biological species have proved generally futile."

, Wikipedia.

Personally I think the Cockatrice is ok, but if you're going to go around petrifying PCs you'll probably start out with a basilisk or a medusa first since they're way cooler. So what you do is save the Basilisk for a bathetic effect very late in the campaign--like "Yeah you had a hundred and sixty hit points and +5 pants but you failed your saving throw and got killed by a magic chicken."


The thing is they keep telling you how good and smart the Couatl is but seriously it's a snake with wings. The black-eyed predator in the original Monster Manual doesn't really scream "kind-hearted genius with mastery of five psionic disciplines". I find it very hard to picture the Couatl doing anything nice--the 3.5 manual takes this cognitive dissonance to a surreal level with "If more than one Couatl is involved, they discuss their strategy before a battle." "I sssay old chap lets usssss fall upon that miscreant and harm him with blows!"

I don't know how faithful to pre-Columbian belief the Couatl is but 3.5's "It uses its detect thoughts ability on any creature that arouses it's suspicions" makes me really wonder about Mesoamerican child-rearing practices. "Always be good or a giant snake will read your mind fly out of the sky and kill you with poison" seems like a more effective means of social control than the possibility of getting coal in your stocking.

Crab, giant and Crayfish, giant

Both of these monsters have whole entries underneath them in the MM but all I see when I read them is "when we first invented this game, monster miniatures didn't exist so whenever anything in my daughter's terrarium died I statted it up, put it on the tabletop, and made some Chainmail knights fight it."

Interesting tidbit: The giant crab is apparently more surprising than than the giant crayfish--the crab surprises on a 1-4 and the crayfish on a 1-3. Which is weird because the giant crab was in that Sinbad movie so you'd think people'd be used to it.


I've always thought the eastern idea of the sacred crocodile was interesting, monsterwise--though Gary's having none of it:

"All crocodiles are stupid and voracious eaters."


The Fiend Folio has a surprising number of interesting "c" monsters...


The Carbuncle is one of those monsters that people love to make fun of. Mandy says "it sounds like something your great aunt would get on her foot." I actually like the Carbuncle but I'm not going to explain why here 'cause Mandy is helping me write this entry and I plan on using it very soon against her.

Caryatid column

Excellent monster. A column carved to look like a person and it's alive and it tries to kill you. Mandy wants me to write here: "one of these killed my awesomely-statted dwarf."

Anyway my point is it's a classic monster and it's weird that this was left for the Fiend Folio when there was apparently enough room in the Monster Manual for the Catoblepas and the Giant Beaver.


ifal is a hilarious sock puppet with a friend named Olly and is, apparently, also a formidable foe.


A year ago I would've told you that crabmen were bullshit but that was before I started reading about what noisms was doing with them in his Yoon-suin setting which gives me terrible nightmares about opium parlours with yaks. So Crabmen are just fine with me.

Crypt thing

Crypt thing is a cool name and the picture is cool but the thing is, its attack is to teleport you to some random part of the dungeon. It's a neat trick and a cool monster but teleporting just doesn't seem very undead thing to do. According to the very first website I found with stats for it there's another version that just turns you invisible and paralyses you simultaneously. Which fits a little better but which also seems like one of the evilest things you could do to your players. Especially if they actually have a Fiend Folio and so they end up going all over creation looking for their "teleported away" friend. I might try it on my group if I ever decide being pummeled to death by angry porn stars would be a classy way to go.


The cyclops actually appears in Deities and Demigods but if you can't stat up a giant with one eye that owns some sheep you probably shouldn't be DMing.

At first I thought the cyclops ruined my William S. Burroughs thing but I googled this up:
Malcolm McNeill and William S. Burroughs began working together in London in 1970... Their first collaboration was a comic strip titled The Unspeakable Mr. Hart which appeared in the English magazine Cyclops.

So anyway, the big question is: When a giant and when a cyclops?

If you want it to have a crazy house with giant beer kegs and stuff than that's really more of a giant thing. Cyclops is more for the "oh my god everything on this side of the island is weird" vibe. Also, Cyclops' only hang out in warm weather because if they didn't then they'd be all vikingy and then they'd have beards and one eye with a beard is a really bad look. Also, the cyclops evokes pity in a way the giant does not. Do with this information what you will.


*Yeah, yeah,there's the satyr and Orcus's butt--thank you, Comic Book Guy.


christian said...

I used a catoblepas in play once and it was amazing. The party was trying to pass through its territory. It noticed the party and began growing agitated. At that same moment, the party was ambushed by some brigands or something. The party's thief began throwing rocks at the catoblepas. The beast became enraged and began randomly blasting PCs and brigands alike with its killer death ray vision. Everyone was yelling at the thief to stop throwing rocks, but the angry protests only encouraged him.

I love mayhem and ugly monsters with laser eyes.

Zak Sabbath said...

My interpretation was that it didn't so much have rays as it was just so awful that you looked on it and died. I guess yours was more sci-fi and mine was more crackpot naturalist.

At any rate, you gotta love the "thief-who pokes things with sticks" guys. They keep life interesting.

P_Armstrong said...

I once ran an encounter with a crypt thing in a forgotten tomb - kind of a Conan the Barbarian thing. When it teleported one of the characters, the players freaked out. They refused to go back.

Yesmar said...

There are no horses in my campaign world, but there are camels, both wild and domesticated. So yeah, we like camel stats.

A GM said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

About the Chimera and the goat head - if I remember correctly, in the original myths, this head possessed the ability to transform into Syrin's head, which in turn had the most charming voice that hypnotized pretty much anyone who could hear it. Imagine their surprise when it turned back into a goat, and THEN they noticed the lion and the dragon...

Unknown said...

"Yeah you had a hundred and sixty hit points and +5 pants but you failed your saving throw and got killed by a magic chicken."


Grim said...

Crypt Thing is not an undead creature. That's kinda what's cool about them to me. They scare the crap out of Clerics.

Jeff Rients said...

I always wanted to put the Crypt Thing in Highland drag and have it guard the tombs of some Scottish clansmen. Maybe give it a claymore it never uses and some haunted bagpipes.

Zak Sabbath said...

...and they call me a pervert

Erin Palette said...

Um... I have to question your math here. 1-in-4 is 25%, and 1-in-3 is 33%... so isn't the 1-in-3 Crayfish actually MORE surprising?

JDJarvis said...

Evil DM mind at work:

A crypt thing that teleports you away and curse you. If you can't get back to it in a certain amount of time you explode into a horrifying display of blood and shattered bones.
Get back to it and win a treasure or a clue unless you piss it off and then it teleports you away again.

Zak Sabbath said...

it's not "1-in-4" it's "surprises on 1 thru 4 on a 6-sided die"

Tom Fitzgerald said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom Fitzgerald said...

Great post. I think the Catoblepas and the Cockatrice fit into the Ergotism/Revelations/Hieronymous Bosch psychedelic Dung Age milieux you alluded to, being representations of how a chicken or a water buffalo (or warthog) appear to the individual who is experiencing terrible hallucinations. This also fits in with the killing-you-with-a-look schtick.

I'm enjoying this series.

Post edited for clarity

Erin Palette said...


Well carry on then, don't mind me, I'm just off to crawl under this rock and die...

G said...

Thanks. This series is hilarious. Sifl and Olly for the win.

Tom said...

Tom One here. For once it seems Tom Two has beaten me to the quip.

Anyway I do have a tale I remember about Camels. The party was wandering from the previous dungeon (Actually Castle Alderweg in the Sea Princes) to the next dungeon (Actually Ghost Tower of Inverness, which caused me the secret DM giggles behind the screen that make players nervous.) through the Really Big dungeon that connects all the other dungeons (AKA the World).

So they decide (actually decide is probably the wrong word. Are told in no uncertain terms is probably more accurate) that they will disembark from their ship and journey overland via the Bright Desert and the Cairn Hills to Leukish, rather than riding all the way there via the river and lake.

So shortly after being kicked off their boat the party has made camp. Q (names withheld to protect the gullible) notices a herd of animals off in the moon-lit distance. Since he’s a forest dwelling half-elf cleric who’s never been to the desert before I describe the critters to him, rather than simply telling him “They’re Camels.” Now I don’t know if this was a bit of R-P on the player’s part or if he just didn’t recognize the description as camels. “They’re furry, brown, four legged, and they have long necks and two large humps on their back. And they seems quite ripe, you can smell them even at the distance of about 100 yards.” I thought was pretty straightforward; nevertheless, Q decides to get confirmation by waking the party Ranger, who happens to come from a different desert-like region. The ranger is called G for purposes of our story here.

So G wakes up, rolls out of bed and takes a look at the herd of Camels I rolled as a wandering encounter for the night. I tell him privately that they’re Camels; they probably return to the small oasis the party camped at for the night, but they won’t come any closer because of the party’s campfire. G’s player says OK and turns back to the table, telling Q:

“Oh those things. I wouldn’t worry, they usually avoid groups of adults, though they get a child who wanders too far now and then. It’s really the fire breathing that’s a problem when something panics them and they stampede. As long as they seem calm and stay away and no more come we should be fine. Wake me if anything happens, I’m going back to bed.

Q’s response: “I stay up the whole night. I watch those things like a hawk. If any more show up or they start to stampede I wake up G. And I make sure my stuff’s packed and in arms reach if I have to grab it when we get out of here in a hurry.”

The joke was a bit less funny (at least for the party) when I pointed out that since the Cleric hadn’t rested that night he didn’t get his spells back, which included, of course, his Create Water spells…

And that’s my story on the importance of the stats of the Wild Camel.

buzzandhum said...

Hey there, Zak; I've recently found this blog and love it, and let me say: don't let the fighting, the angst and the inward-looking idiots change your style!

I'm referring to your opening superscript, of course; let me just say I love reading this blog because it doesn't get bitchy or rebuke-y or in-fight-ey... (heh) it's a blog about gaming that is genuinely interesting and fun to read.

Keep that focus, don't join the geek wars. Really. Please?

Anonymous said...

Funny. Mr. Hart is one of my absolute favorite Burroughs characters. I love the bit where he saunters into a jungle bar with his fishing rod and hooks it on somebody's face as he gestures with it. Ha!

I too just referenced Burroughs in a D&D post to the internets. Played an AD&D magic user based on WSB in a game last Saturday. When looking through the equipment lists, I couldn't help but dedicate a large portion of my starting gold on a coterie of soft-cheeked linkboys. To hold my torch, ahurm hurm.

Here's a link to the post. Knowing Burroughs's voice you probably have a better sense than most at what I was going for.

We're currently playing In Search of the Unknown. Can't wait to play again!

Anonymous said...

"Cifal is a hilarious sock puppet with a friend named Olly and is, apparently, also a formidable foe."

That is cresent fresh.

(at about 7:30)

Zak Sabbath said...

thanks for the kind wars, but
I don't know shit about your "geek wars"--I will, however, always defend the people who inspire and support this blog when personal attacks are made against them.

Gray Vulf said...

I've used camel stats more times than I can remember but I also did a lot (and I do mean a lot) of Al-Qadim. In fact one player kept getting camels dropped on him. At first just because the dice are the dice and then ... well, by other players. At least they pretended it was accidental but I have my doubts.

Adam Dickstein said...

Personally love the Catoblepas, Centaur and Chimera since I prefer monsters that have some history and folklore behind them to the ones where Gary came up with stats for his kid's plastic Kaiju toys. At least for my own medieval fantasy purposes (i.e. Ars Magica).

The grassy plains may seem boring, but hundreds of Centaur Warriors cresting a hill and than pounding toward you should be enough to stave off a yawn.

The Crypt Thing's teleport...I reasoned it this way...When fighting a Crypt Thing you are more than likely in a crypt, yes? Ok, so every once in a while a section of the stone floor, wall or whathaveyou slides away suddenly, causing you to fall through (or pushed through by a Crypt Thing). A second panel opens (anywhere in the dungeon) and drops you off. It adds a creepy whimsy to fall through a hole in the floor and come out in a room you were already in two levels ABOVE the crypt (just as an example). There are so many possibilities with this beastie.

thekelvingreen said...

I love the idea of the toff-nosed Couatl, although now I keep seeing them with monocles.

baudot said...

If Gygax had faithfully translated EVERYTHING Pliny had ever scribbled, we'd have never gotten over our giggling fits at the Bonnacon as ten year old gamers: A monster that runs away while spraying burning poo three furlongs behind it.

AGCIAS said...

If I can cite an instance of "domesticated" camels.... I started one campaign with a fighter and M-U being captured by slavers and taken across a desert. They escaped. In the middle of a desert. With no water. Wearing only loinclothes. Luckily, the next day they heard the clangor of battle and found a small caravan being attacked by bandits. Grabbing loose weapons they killed the last few bandits but the bandits' horses ran away. All other people and animals were dead but for two camels. One decided that he liked the M-U a WHOLE LOT. Wouldn't get more than a step away, slobbered on him when he wasn't butting him or knocking him over by rubbing against him. The other ran from the fighter. And ran. And when the fighter got close enough to let it sniff his hand and make comforting noises, tried to bite him and ran some more. The fighter put up with this for far, far longer than I believed possible before giving up. But they had food and water (from the dead merchants) and weapons (from the guards and bandits) and light armor (ibid.) and cloths that weren't too badly blood-soaked, so they headed off in what they fondly hoped was the right direction (it was). Then the second camel followed them, running/biting when the fighter tried to catch it. And coming into camp to nuzzle the fighter awake when he tried to sleep. When they got to a town they sold both camels by the simple expedience of "We'll sell you this camel and that camel over there cheap." Then the guy who bought the camels whistled to the second one and it trotted over to him and slobbered on him.

Sometimes my players hate me. But camels are fun.

Anonymous said...


Erin Palette said...

In an attempt to redeem myself from earlier embarrassment, I think that maybe I can make centaurs cool for you:

Half-zebra, half-Maasai centaurs who hunt and kill lions with spears and hide shields across African plains.

huth said...

I was hoping for "Centipede, Benwegian"

Anonymous said...

Yeah, the "stampeding herd of cattle/mob of villagers/pack of wild dogs" trick has been used a few times, most notable (at least off the top of my head), in Knights of the Dinner Table. Never run across it in a real game though.

Octarinewolf said...

The Catarid Column isn't in the MM because it was first written up for the Fiend Factory White Dwarf column.

So it got into the Fiend Folio. I can't remember who wrote it up, possibly Charles Stross [because I can remember he did some of the FF creatures for White Dwarf.]

DreamSeeker said...

That's all i have to say about camels.

Grey said...

Centaurs - could fit if used "historically" as kind of a random climate event i.e. some edge of the game world is steppe/plains where the centaurs live and they raid into the border region of the game world occasionally en masse so 1000s of them invading down a valley burning villages and taking captives.

Not so much for the players to fight as to make the world feel like it has a life of its own and/or make them run into the haunted forest.