Saturday, March 6, 2010


Oh, the D's...

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:
Fat Succubus

The Fat Succubus is in all ways identical to the Common Succubus (q.v.) only fat. Some have underwear from the future.


Type I

Type II

Type III

Type IV
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."

Type V
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?

Type VI
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.


Blair said...

I love the Type I & II Demons, there's something archetypical/Clark Ashton Smith-esque about vulture and toad demons. I don't mind the Glabrezu as well.

Zak Sabbath said...

Oh but other people did it better--
the Warhammer Lord of Change is a better vulture, and Slaads are better toads.

again, i suppose it;s all about the pictures

Norman J. Harman Jr. said...

I dig Vrocks. But, never been big on Demons (D&D type anyway) and Devils. Once used a Pit Fiend and sorta mix of Erinye and Succubus. (cause I didn't know what an Erinye was when I rolled it randomly)

As DM I usually ditch devils as being too christian based and use demons more as gods / elder things that have spawn and cults but any mortal couldn't ever hope to survive a meeting with. In other words I don't have much use for anything beyond the "fictional construct".

Adam Dickstein said...

I was thinking 'D' would have to be amoung my favorite letters since, y'know, 'D' is for Dragon.

'D' is also for the less well known but still darn cool Dragon Turtle, Dragonne and Disenchanter.

The Dragonne holds a special place in my heart for two reasons.

First, in a thread on EN World about 'Which D&D Monsters Were From Folklore and Which Were from Gary's Head', Gary Gygax himself commented on the origins of the creature. I was able to have a nice but all too brief back and forth with him about the fact that a friend of mine thought they were based on an almost identical looking creature from the mythology of his native country of Burma. Statues of the creature, a lion-like dragon beast similar to the Chinese Foo Dog, adorned numerous temples and monestaries where my friend grew up. Gary said he may have seen pictures of these and definitely had that kind of creature in mind.

Second, the Dragonne was one of the few D&D Action Figures I was able to find and purchase when I was a kid. Long gone now, I remember thinking it was so cool I came up with a magic item that allowed the wielder to summon one or something.

Yeah. Three cheers for the Dragonne!

Tetsubo said...

I've never really liked the demons & devils all that much. I find the dragon turtles and dragonnes far more cool. Not to mention dinosuars, displacers beasts, dopplegangers, the dragons of course, drakes, dryads, dohwar and dwarves. 'D' is full of far more fun and interesting beasties.

Unknown said...

Yummy, you chose what is in my opinion the very best rendition of Orcus ever. Too bad Demogorgon has never had a similarly evocative picture - although I love the big bad's batshit insane design, most images of Demogorgon are either silly or just sad.

thekelvingreen said...

I quite like the Vrock, but yes, mainly because it's a bit like Warhammer's Lord of Change.

It really is about the pictures. Once you're at this level, statistics don't really matter, so it's all about description, visual or otherwise, and Warhammer wins out there.

thekelvingreen said...

Oh, and can I just ask if you did the Fat Succubus drawing specifically for this post? And if so, how long did it take to draw?

Chris said...

Poll--anyone out there ever been inspired by the Vrock, Hezrou, or Glabrezu?

Yes. As far as I'm concerned the Glabrezu is the face of Baphomet; it's what every blood-soaked idol in a smoky demon cult temple should aspire to be.

Adam Dickstein said...

Displacer Beasts! Great Gamma Rays! How could I forget the ultra awesome displacer beast? Oh that is another one where we had a tough time determining its origins.

There is a creature that visually resembles the Displacer Beast in Japanese mythology, although its appearance is not identical.

When Japanese science fiction author Haruka Takachiho created the short SF/Comedy novels for the 'Dirty Pair' in 1979, a displacer beast appeared on the cover. According to the stories, the creature was the Dirty Pair's sidekick, a genetically altered (or possibly alien in some versions) beast named Mughi.

The painting of Mughi on the cover was flat out a Displacer Beast. Or was it? The novel was out in 79-80 and D&D was already available, though possibly not in Japan. At the same time, the creature also resembled the alien Coeurl from A. E. van Voght's short story "Black Destroyer" (1939) and later the SF novel "Voyage of the Space Beagle" (1950) (a favorite of mine).

Damn but I do love Sci-Fi. What were we talking about...?

Oh and in the TMI category...I find the fat succubus illustration bother repulsive and strangely alluring... (~_^)

mordicai said...

There was a bit in the Fiendish Codex for 3e where they discuss Glabrazu being the tempters who tempt you with power, rather than, like the succubus, sex. I liked that. & the Vrock's magic evil dance? What! DnD Skeksis! Dancing!

Anonymous said...

All of the Legend of the Overfiend references I keep seeing/hearing in places... I need to finally watch it...

Keep up the great blogs, I'm getting quite inspired for my next trip into the madness of DMing.

Tom said...

And then there's the demonic Dragon-Dinosaur crossbreeds in (Return to) the Temple of Elemental Evil.
I used a mini of godzilla and another one of Devil Dinosaur (even if they weren't exactly to scale) in that fight and it was AWESOME.

OTOH 2 PCs died so I think that may have tainted the party's view of it.

Norman J. Harman Jr. said...

D Beast indeed Exhibit A, Exhibit B

Urrgh, exactly why are they called "the dirty pair"? In the immortal words of Jayne, I'll be in my bunk!

Jonathan said...

In your dismissal of the demon and devil development compared to Warhammer, am I to take it that you're unfamiliar with the Planescape campaign setting? If so, that entire D&D setting was underlined by the ongoing war between the two groups.

Also, glabrezus inspired the kender in my party to yell "Puppy!" and try to acquire one as a pet. She failed to grasp their underlying evil nature and intelligence.

The Vrocks, on the other hand, could be downright terrifying when the party saw them begin to dance.

Zak Sabbath said...


Planescape always seemed like sort of attempt to do a Neil Gaiman thing with D&D.

It still seemed less compelling than Warhammer or CoC since the alignment/plane + obscure point-of-view war idea at the bottom seemed fundamentally less evocative or meaningful than it should've been since.

Demons vs. devils always seemed like an artificial idea to me.

Anonymous said...

Great Orcus pic and the Fat Succubus is really amazing. Disturbing but also beautifully rendered, if that makes any sense.

Zak Sabbath said...

anybody know who did the orcus pic and where it's from?--I don't

Adam Dickstein said...

@Norman Harman- Not to hijack the thread or side step too much but the 'Dirty Pair' is the nickname given to the duo properly code named 'The Lovely Angels' due to their tendencey to turn simple affairs into excuses to cause massive property damage.

The term 'Dirty' does not refer to anything sexual but is actually reference to their being overly rough and dangerous, as in 'Dirty Harry'.

Yeah, I'm not just a gamer geek. I'm a comic book fanboy, otaku, gamer geek. How cool am I?

Unknown said...

Zak, the Orcus piece is from Dragon #42, page 6. No idea who's the artist, though.

Bard said...

I think the first edition demons and devils are cool as hell... I was a second edition player when I started, but there were first edition books going around, and psionic and demons were the main factors which drew us back to the first edition, and we were fascinated with these things, and of course second edition screw it up, Planescape were just bad. First edition, on the most primal level were better than second edition because you could actually kill demons, devils and gods take their loot, gather a lot of xp, and level up, and kill some more... One side of the coin is that it is ridiculous, but the other side of the coin is that it was awesome. Even though I never managed to make it to that level... :-)

Anonymous said...

I really like Mike Mignola's demons- aside from HB himself, the major demons always kinda give you the impression that you're not actually seeing the demon's true form- just the hodgepodge of vague animal forms and elemental effects that your brain can cobble together from the cosmic insanity being thrown at it. That's how demons and gods always are in my dreams, too.

Jomo Rising said...

Asmodeus has an interesting place in Jewish folklore and I used that in a game. It helped me build a game that actually used him. I do agree that he is better suited to other games than D&D.

Zak Sabbath said...

Agree with who?

SirAllen said...

Zak: You made the same mistake that I and every other user of the Monster Manual has made since the beginning of time. Everyone I have ever talked to calls him "Jubilex". So do I. Because that sounds like a big fruit punch green slime demon.

However, the spelling is actually "Juiblex". Which is ultimately disappointing, as it sounds like a minor league hockey player from Quebec.

Normally I would never point something like this out because it makes me seem like a spelling asshole nerd. But when someone recently pointed it out to me it blew my mind that an entire generation or two of players all misread the name of the damn guy.

Anonymous said...

Vrocks are great. For one thing, demonic vultures. For another, they hit you with spores. SPORES. That start GROWING OUT OF YOUR BODY. And you're all freaked out right, because holy crap, demonic spores are growing out of your body. So you'd better get some Cure Disease. But that doesn't even help. The spores "don't do anything." Sure, like any player is going to believe that.

Kevin said...

Ok last comment for the evening:

Gygax seriously did create monsters based on the toys he had available. He said so in an interview which I am not going to even bother googling but he talks about where the rust monster came from. It was in a bag of plastic toys he got from Hong Kong.

So the reason there are so damn many dinosaurs? Because he had so damn many plastic dinosaur toys, and when he needed a fight in a hurry, bam, out comes the dinosaur toys.

The implication of the rust monster story is that he actually statted them all out ahead of time, which fills me with horror. I imagine the poor guy cracking open a new bag of freakish plastic toys and spending ALL NIGHT laboring over a battered notebook with a stubby pencil. 'Well, it's 4 1/2 inches tall so let's see... 11HD? Nah, make it 10...'

Zak Sabbath said...

i know. but thanks

Big McStrongmuscle said...

I actually always liked Type I-IV demons as the sort of thing some mad sorcerer would conjure up to throw at his foes or bind into service.

Type I's used to particularly scare my players with that shrieking dance of doom thing 3.5 gave them. The spore thing they got was just weird, though. I don't think I ever used it.

Fives make damn good temple guardians or demon queens in general. Kind of a weird Babylonian or Hindu feel to them.

And sixes are obviously friggin' Balrogs. Only they are about twice as tall as described, have at least a dozen hit dice, look like the one in the Lord of the Rings movies, and have probably murdered the artist most cruelly for the disservice he did them in the 1e Monster Manual.

Unknown said...

Vrocks are perhaps my favorite demon! Yes, even more than Succubus. I find it neat that succubus are able to summon Vrocks, as to call some muscle when her fragile self is in peril. Like the Let's Play of Neverwinter Nights 2 says, it was weird of the game to throw a ton of succubus on the player when dealing with demons when Vrocks are the front-line soldiers for this kind of thing.

There's the dance of doom, that I manage to pull off with wizards making the Vrocks invisible so that the players only hear a lot of weird-ass shrieking and then BAM! Plethora of damage on your head. The spores, a neat touch. Not much damage, but a cool effect that creeps people out.

And the fact that they're effing vultures! I know, I know. Warhammer. But I'm still new to warhammer in general, and the setting kind of has to have all this iconic stuff. D&D is fine with Lolth as its iconic evil.

I make of vrocks extremely sadistic warriors who like to deliver AND receive grievous wounds.

Succubus I never use in a direct fight. If it comes to that she either escapes or surrenders. They're great for everything else.

The Hezrou are some kind of interesting dumb muscle, like the demonic version of an ogre. But nothing more...

Balors are... kind of iconic but meh at the same time. I'd rather throw a platoon of Vrocks than a single Balor at my players.

Mariliths I play as this serious military type that is obsessive with combat skill and a master of misdirection. The "distressed damsel half-way stuck in something" trap never gets old.

Robert said...

I’m generally not a fan of Gygaxes use-every-synonym and over-classify trends. Demons, devils, and daemons being a perfect example. I’m also generally not a big fan of AD&D alignment.

BUT...I’ve always liked the lawful/chaotic split between demons and devils. You can make a deal with a devil. He’s still going to do his best to screw you, but they aren’t totally unpredictable. Demons, on the other hand, cannot be trusted at all. Devils are hierarchial and recognizable. Demons should be a unruly mob of things generated by Raggi’s monster generator thing.

Alex J. said...

The Orcus picture is by Trampier.

Alex J. said...

D'oh. No it isn't. It seems to be by Todd Lockwood. Dragon #42, October 1980, pg. 6