Here I am, trying to talk about all the monsters in alphabetical order. It was going so smoothly A was cake, B too, C got a little weird, but now D is just tanking the calm and symmetry of the project altogether.
The way this thing was supposed to work is I go through each monster one-by-one and say something useful about how I'd DM that monster in a game or, failing that, make jokes about it. Now, I like jokes as much as the next guy (and I probably like my jokes even more than the next guy) but if the only thing I did here was make fun of D&D monsters, well--there's whole other, way funnier, sites that do that already. So I feel like it's best to have at least the possibility of the specter of some vaguely useful or at least interesting DM-ish observations going on here.
Which brings me to the D's...
Ok, so, most of the Monster Manual's "D" section is devoted to the iconic terrors of the game--Demons, Devils, and Dragons--plus Dinosaurs, for which Gygax had the same tactically-detailed love which he otherwise reserved only for polearms.
The problem for me here is that the interesting thing about most of these monsters is what the Monster Manual (and its many successors) don't say about the various fierce entities involved.
What in fuck am I talking about? Ok:
Let's take the Demons and the Devils...
First off, what's the difference? In D&D terms, the Demons are Chaotic Evil and the Devils are Lawful Evil. I'm not real big on alignment so I don't really care. The arch-devils tend to look like horned people and the demon princes tend to look like monsters. The rest of the differences are just mechanics and salad dressing. Gary liked synonyms and used them to make more monsters--that's why a spectre and a ghost are two different things.
The idea of demons (and devils) in the primeval mind is interesting, and the idea that they have hierarchies is interesting, and the idea that their realm is a chaotic and primordial one where they war with each other despite these hierarchies is interesting, and the idea of demons having worshippers just like gods is interesting and the idea of them being summoned and told what to do against their will is interesting and the idea of like Cthuloid demons being something different altogether is interesting, and Carcosian ritual magic is interesting, and demons being tempters and metaphors for human weakness is interesting, and the idea of hell being a place you can actually walk around in is interesting and yet most of these things aren't dealt with in too terribly much detail in D&D--and when it is (mostly in later editions), most DMs don't read it and basically make up their own evil demon and devil stuff anyway.
As far as telling players what Those Who Dwell Below In Shadow are really about and making it stick in players' minds--later games totally kick D&D's ass (Warhammer and Call of Cthulhu being the most obvious examples).
In D&D, I would feel perfectly ok changing Yeenoghu so that his flail no longer causes "confusion" and change the part about him being in charge of both gnolls and ghouls. But in Warhammer, changing Nurgle so he wasn't the Lord of Disease would seem pointless. Nurgle is a more robust fictional construct than Yeenoghu, for whatever reason. D&D demons are for people who basically want to make up their own demon and say it's a fat goat-guy and call it Orcus. Which, being a DIY D&Der, I am ok with--there's something to be said against Brandifying the demons--but it makes the actual monsters-as-presented seem a little dry:
What any given D&D demon/devil/lower-planecreature entry mostly provides is a set of powerful but largely interchangeable stats (the demons rarely have powers unique to themselves), a cloud of spells they can cast (half of which are utility stuff like read languages so they don't end up looking stupid in front of the PCs), a table for what other demons or devils they can summon, a short physical description, and a picture somewhere along the spectrum from megalame (Type VI) to intriguingly creepy (Baalzebul).
In other words, mostly what really defines one D&D demon or devil as distinct fictional constructs is just the picture. So I'm going to do a lot of talking talk about the pictures...
One thing that strikes you reading the descriptions of the demon princes is that Gary definitely expected you to fight them sooner or later. There's a little bit of description and musings on the hirearchy of the abyss but mostly there's a list of things Demogorgon will do if you try to hit him. Considering the oft-remarked difficulty of getting to high levels in original D&D I feel like there was sort of a dare or cruel joke worked into the Monster Manual. You could go fight some orcs and bugbears and maybe kill a dinosaur but Demogorgon was still there howling into the ether and just waiting around in the 666th layer of the abyss for you to learn to play the game right.
Outside stats, the little we do get of Demogorgon is pretty tasty--the name dates back to the following note scribbled in the margin of an obscure medieval text by an unknown scholar in the fourth century "He is speaking of the Demogorgon, the supreme god', or 'He is speaking of a god, the supreme Demogorgon"--which sounds like something out of Legend of the Overfiend. Gary decided he was a reptilian guy with two blue-and-red mandril heads and tentacle arms and we're all real used to that, but, really, that is pretty fucked.
|Drawing by me|
The cult of Jubilex is extremely fun to try to imagine. "Who do you serve?" "Some goo." "Goo?" "Yeah, well, with eyes." "Goo with eyes?" "Goo that's 'striated in disgusting blackish greens, foul browns and yellows, and sickly translucent grays and ambers'" The usual idea with demons and devils is that they tempt you with something and appeal to your base desires. You kinda have to stretch to figure out what goo with eyes would tempt you with. The Cthulhu people really have nothing on the the Jubilex people when it comes to total fucking batshit. With their sacred black pudding jars and ochre-jelly-rubbing rituals... None of that's in the book of course.
Phonologically identical to "mayonnaise".
Here's 99% of what I feel I need to know about Orcus:
So: like Baphomet, only fat. A goat-and-human-sacrifice type Satan rather than a charming and tempting type Satan. Metal. All I have to add is he's 3 feet shorter than his nemesis, Demogorgon. A sixth shorter. In human terms that's like a foot, it must be embarrassing. No wonder he's always going on about his wand.
There isn't a lot to say about the Succubus that hasn't already been said, though I will give you a brand new monster:
The Fat Succubus is in all ways identical to the Common Succubus (q.v.) only fat. Some have underwear from the future.
Even worse. While Types one through three at least look like some sort of shrieking, petty horrors from the lower depths, Type IV looks like some guy you keep seeing every time you go to the bowling alley yet who you never see bowling.
My best guess for Types I-IV is someone at TSR got ahold of some H/O scale wildlife and a glue gun and threw some stuff together and said "What should we make this, a sickle-dog?" And somebody else said "It can be a demon." "But I thought those things were demons?" "Well this is just the type III demon then."
The Marilith is an absolutely peachy monster.
Even if the Marilith picture is kind of crappy and the Succubus is obviously traced you already know what a pretty girl is supposed to look like so you get the idea. I look at a Type II and I seriously have no idea what this thing is supposed to be. Or what I would do with it in a story or a dungeon that I wouldn't do with the guy right under it.
Poll--anyone out there ever been inspired by the Vrock, Hezrou, or Glabrezu?
This was the demon that was supposed to be like a Demon, horns, tail, whole nine yards. The Pit fiend has a better name and a better picture, but it's basically the same thing.
"His head is that of a hyena, his chest is canine in form, his hands are paw-like, and his feet are pawed. Yeenoghu is thin to the point of being skeletal, and his only body hair is a mangy crest of putrid yellow from his head to his mid-back. Yeenoghu’s skin is a dead gray in color, and it is smooth. His eyes are lambent amber and large."
And next to it there's a picture of a homophobic poodle crudely attempting to mock a passing Gay Pride parade.
Some later illustrators did eventually manage to do a better job with gnolls. There is something sinister about the way hyenas hunch and grin.
But still: he's a big gnoll, lord of the gnolls. He has a flail, but other than that--not much to go on.
You think--Well why not just do that with everybody? A big bugbear, lord of all bugbears, a big giraffe, lord of all giraffes, a big beaver...
Which is what people did. Could've worked out worse, I suppose.