Saturday, April 24, 2010

T Monsters Are Funny

All the monsters--T.

The monsters that begin with T are a little funny. Some are downright silly.

Thought Eater

Mandy: This is just Psyduck from Pokemon except before Pokemon. The joke about psyduck was that he was stupid and bumbling.
Zak: But aren't psychic monsters always smart?
Mandy: Let's look up psyduck in the Wikipedia.
Zak: No! I don't wanna look up Psyduck in the Wikipedia.
(Mandy looks up Psyduck in wikipedia.)
Zak: Do you think that the Psyduck was based on the Thought Eater?
Mandy: I think the Psyduck is better than the Thought Eater, but yeah, based on it.
Zak: Why?
Mandy: It has a whole back story like the Psyduck has a headache and it pretends to be stupid in order to lure people into a false sense of security--it has more character. This thing is just a dumb predator that's like (duck voice) I'm gonna eat your brains!
Zak: So if you were running a game would you include a Thought Eater and just give it Psyduck's back story?
Mandy: Maybe, I'd probably do some other adjustments.
Zak: Like what?
Mandy: I'm not gonna tell you 'cause then you'll do it like when I mentioned the Shrieker as a kind of spell and you were all like 'oh now that I think of it there's all kinds of ways to use Shriekers as spells.'
Zak: No, sugar, I'm gonna leave that one for you to do.
Mandy: What the Shrieker as spell or the Psyduck?
Zak: The Psyduck.
Mandy: I'd rather have the Shrieker spells.
Zak: You wanna run the game on Friday?
Mandy: Sigh.

Tick, giant

Of course, what I want to say--what anyone would want to say--is that giant ticks suck but over the course of this alphabetical exploration I started to wonder if maybe my attitude toward stupid monsters is a little too harsh. All I know is that if I ever do use a giant tick I am going to hear Kimberly Kane say "This thing fucking sucks!"


Mandy would like me to note for the record that the smilodon is the only big cat that gets a bite attack.

I would like to note that I think white tigers are a perfectly acceptable addition to a vikingy landscape via Siberian tigers and Micheal Moorecock's Tigers of Pan Tang. I'd have it as a sort of exotic import that somehow managed to thrive.

Actually, starting this alphabetical monster run down has made the wastes between Vornhiem and Nornrik a considerably more interesting place. In addition to white tigers it has snow leopards and maybe even the occasional giant lynx--it used to just be all wolves. I think it's still mostly wolves though.


The titans in the manual are kind of meh. If I was gonna have a Titan I'd want it to be something really different from a giant--I'd want them to be like the titans in Greek myths or at least the crazier ones, very distinctive--one with like 900 eyebrows and bees for arms and each one different from each other one and like everybody knows that there are these titans around and they're all different just like everybody knows there are a certain number of them, like hockey teams.


Titanotheres, though more closely related to horses than rhinos, represent a rare example of a prehistoric animal being less cool than the modern one. While rhinos get horns, all the titanothere gets is shoehorns which is especially weird since shoes hadn't been invented yet.

Toad, giant

"The ice toads have their own weird language." I said most of what I have to say here under Frog but I just want to note ice toads are as smart as people.

I like to imagine a whole ice city built by ice toads with everything designed for those who hop and have no hands and it's full of devices that can be operated only by the proper use of webbed feet and sticky tongues.


Trapper--frequently called the Lurker Below--is, like the Lurker Above, really dumb. The question then becomes is there a way that they might be stupid in the sense of stupid awesome rather than just garden variety stupid?

There is a certain pleasing elegance in the idea of defeating a lurker above by rolling a lurker below out underneath it and letting them fight it out. I also find myself wondering why later editions--generally so fond of variant monsters--never produced a lurker sideways?


I cannot abide friendly treants. The idea of the woods as a helpful and smiling and comforting thing is as anathema to me as having one of the stones in the wall of a dungeon decide it wants to take care of the players.

The environment is hostile--why else would you be in it? There might be sprites or fairies or even goblins that are friendly but it should be obvious at all events that the natural world itself--and any emanations of it--are absolutely opposed to the PCs and that their movement across it is therefore always a movement behind enemy lines. A friendly tree or friendly bush or a friendly blade of grass or a friendly example of anything that defines the landscape and is everywhere in it suggests that part of nature might want the PCs around. In unique cases maybe but as a philosophical principal, never. A friendly tree implies that at least one of the trees in the landscape isn't a spooky twisty doomforest tree and that is entirely unacceptable.


Like mermen only allegedly tough. I'm not buying it.


Troglodytes are a cross between lizard men and cave men and so are like the thing about lizard men I like least. They do have interesting gimmicks though: they have chameleonlike skin and, when angry, they emit a secretion which weakens humanoids. I think the idea of distinct races of lizard men each of whom emit some distinctive sort of slime, though I see no reason why they can't just live in lizard houses rather than caves.


Giants have to be big, ogres have to be brutal and trolls have to be ugly. The troll doll is no exception. The Skáldskaparmál says:

They call me Troll;
Gnawer of the Moon,
Giant of the Gale-blasts,
Curse of the rain-hall,
Companion of the Sibyl,
Nightroaming hag,
Swallower of the loaf of heaven.
What is a Troll but that?

Wikipedia also says:
"A fairly frequent notion is that the trolls liked to appear as rolling balls of yarn."

Notions about what exactly a troll is vary wildly but to modern ears I'd say the outstanding connotation is ugliness or at least distorted features. I imagine the billy goats' troll as a green thing with a very big head and a very big bump on it's very big nose and a black hat.

Another thing about trolls is that, unlike giants, the connotation is almost always undesirable and, unlike ogres, it's not necessarily clear why. The word "troll"--though unspecific--is always insulting. You wouldn't call someone you didn't like a goblin or demon or ogre--that'd suggest they were too tough, or they were genuinely getting to you--but "troll" is just about right.

A troll is a supernatural equivalent (to modern ears) of a maggot or a slug--something undesirable but that reaps no power of intimidation or badassness from it's undesirability. The trolls in D&D regenerate, but even this power is given overtones of grotesquerie in the manual "the loathsome members of a troll have the ability to fight on even if severed from the body; a hand can claw or strangle, the head bite, etc."

Turtle, Sea, Giant and Turtle, Snapping, Giant

Certain turtles live a very long time, but all turtles--because of their slowness and wrinkles--seem old (with the possible exception of the odd cartoon turtle or baby red eared slider). This gives them unusual pathos for reptiles: you can feel bad for a turtle, and if you watch them you frequently do.

The other thing about turtles is that they have this piece of architecture on their back--so symmetrical and structural (and attached more incongruously than a crab shell to a crab). These two characteristics combine to suggest the common idea that the turtle is part of the earth or connected to it.

These to me are the really interesting giant turtles, the turtle that has the whole world on its back, or the turtle that has an inhabited island on its back or the turtle who's head and limbs stick out from some fantastic gem.


The tarrasque never seemed weird enough to me. It's supposed to be the most terrifying and earth-shattering monster, but it's presented as just a stack of (very high) stats. If there really was a tarrasque I would want it to be storied and tabooed and steeped in philosophical mystery, I would want it to have obscure effects on the colour of goat's horns and fishwive's dreams. Anything that wants to be taken seriously as a god or a demon has to be thought about as often and as seriously as a god or a demon.

The tarrasque of Christian legend is one of those mix-and-match medieval terrors (turtle shell, lion head, etc) native to the margins of illuminated manuscripts. St. Martha used her feminine wiles to tame it. This is all fine and good, but a great deal has been not so much lost as re-scripted in the translation--the tarrasque-as-medieval-Godzilla and the tarrasque-as-fable-fuel will take some work to hybridize or reconcile, but it might be worth it.

The thing about D&D is the obvious lateral thinking solutions (showing the medusa a mirror for example) are part of the monster description to begin with. To redesign the tarrasque as a puzzle monster would take considerable cleverness on the DMs part, the solution to the tarrasque would have to be unexpected yet at the same time couldn't just be some random obscure thing (say, if a bluebird kisses it on the cheek it dies). Of course, the tarrasque is somewhat of a puzzle monster already--common solutions include wishing it into the center of the sun or building walls of force around it and then filling it with water, but both those include a considerable quantity of brute force in addition to brains.

A good puzzle-tarrasque would, I'm thinking, be something along the lines of the tarrasque cannot be killed by anything that moves or anything that has seen the moon or something like that.


Why have a tri-kreen when you could just have a giant praying mantis? Because thri-kreen have hands and also because they have those cool three-bladed weapons that they throw. I never liked the S&M-gladiator look that they had in some pictures, but mantis men seem like a fine idea and mantis women absolutely nightmarish.

Troll, marine (scrag)

See this.


Roger G-S said...

> I also find myself wondering why later editions--generally so fond of variant monsters--never produced a lurker sideways?

Um ... stunjelly? (FF)

Anonymous said...

-I never liked the S&M gladiator look that they had in some pictures,-

Likely due to their presence as a major race in Dark Sun, where the S&M gladiator look is big and every environment wants to kill you.

Jayson said...

I have to say, the only thri-kreen picture I ever liked was Holloway's in MM2. As a punk kid that drawing spoke to me; I knew exactly what kind of thing it was.

The way it's just leaning on its gear like it's pausing for a moment...

Norman J. Harman Jr. said...

When I saw "shriekers as spells" I thought of shriekers that cast a specific spell rather than shrieking when disturbed. Just the thing for a fungal forest fed from the wizard's tower effluent.

thekelvingreen said...

Ticks indeed suck, but I am not sure if you were making a clever pun, and I just spoiled it.

I think the unpleasantness of the troll comes partly from it being gangly, scrawny and hunched, rather than bulky and brawny like the ogre. The troll also lives in the dark and damp under bridges, and it tries to trick and coax its victims, sort of like those faux beggars who pretend to be homeless but actually aren't. There's a pathetic, weaselish, dishonesty to the troll which sets it aside from the ogre and the demons and makes it more unpleasant; it's a social unpleasantness, almost, a sort of allergic class (social, not D&D) reaction, I think.

mordicai said...

I totally "awww"-ed at that Thought Eater argument.

Frankly, I like having titans be BETTER than gods. That is the Kirby fan in me; to me the titans are Galactus/the Celestials & the gods are Darkseid/the Eternals.

Trappers, mimics, all those things are dumb unless you go whole hog & make like, a dungeon made by an illusionist or a dungeon populated with dopplegangers who are like "what we shapeshift into treasure chests when we hear people sneaking into our rooms, sometimes." Or they work if you just want to give your players some Melting Room Acid Trip-- use the rules to reflect their altered perception.

I always think of trolls as giant mutant goblins. They are part of that same club, the club of creatures that live on the fringes of Otherworld, part fae/demon/spirit/whatever & part real.

My favorite giant turtle is Morla from the NeverEnding Story. Easy to pick up & put in as Mister Plot Exposition.

Adam Dickstein said...

First, Mandy continues to be awesome.

Second, I really like and appreciate your write-up on Trolls. I am a huge Troll fan, in that they are one of my favorite monsters of all time. Not the D&D Troll mind you but the grotesque, faerie people of Scandinavian, Finnish and related Northern Germanic folklore. I would also add the similar though distinctly, uniquely flavored Trolls of the Orkney and Shetland isles of England. Trolls are so different from orcs, ogres, goblins and whatevers because, in my mind, that are more unpredictable, magical and nasty.

Thirdly, The Tarrasque...Ah the Tarrasque. The one I use in my main D&D milieu is just as you described, a massive medieval kaiju wrecking cities or anything else in its path. I added something from an obscure myth about the creature I found in a book years ago.

Basically my Tarrasque awakens somewhere in the world (random location - worldwide), pops out of the ground or sea and walks in a straight line for 8 days destroying anything in its way. Wherever it stops after 8 days, it tunnels into the ground and goes back to sleep.

Its active times are also random and it might appear for 8 days and than not be seen again for 10 years. After its next appearance it comes back a year later. The next appearance is 50 years after that and so on...

Plus, it doesn't uproot again from the same place where it went into the earth last time. The location of its appearance is unrelated to its previous disappearance.

Jeff Rients said...

Troglodytes are listed as Common, which always creeped me out as kid because it sorta implied that these guys were lurking sleestak-like in every cave in the world.

Menace 3 Society said...

I thought Titans were relatively humanoid, while it was the Gigantes and the Terates that were horrible: hecatonchires and serpent-limbed freaks in the former, chimera and the Nemean lion in the later. The titan imagery I've seen in classical art suggests they were all pretty much humanoid.

Which is not to say that your vision is /wrong/, merely incorrect. If you see what I mean.

Unknown said...

LOL at the Thought Eater/Psyduck conversation :)

Chris said...

Greater Titans in D&DG/L&L: Titans with gravity and time control powers, and really cool art.

krillinfan said...

The thought eater/psyduck conversation makes me wonder if all Pokemon could be defined as d&d monsters or vice versa. Hmm...

John Matthew Stater said...

I'm using troglodytes as sub-lizard men - i.e. the lizard men had an ancient civilization, it fell, they now live in swamps, and the trogs underground are their de-evolved kin, living in vaulted caverns and worshiping ancient technology (neutron bombs?) they don't understand.

As for trolls - read the troll scene in Anderson's "Three Hearts & Three Lions" and you'll really want to inflict them on your players.

Timothy S. Brannan said...

It always makes me laugh (in a good way) when adults have serious conversations about Pokemon.

Makes me feel less immature when I have the same conversation with my kids.

Have to show them the Thought Eater pic now.

Unknown said...

Or a Turtle with a whole world in its back! *whistles* ;)

(Another Terry Pratchett reference)