Thursday, February 7, 2019

I Was Working In The Lab Late One Knight

The aim: go through a bunch of monster lists, picking no more than 5 monsters from each list but being free to pick none, and keep doing so until I have a list of 100 monsters. Make that the "monster manual" for any future dndish game I run unless I'm yet again doing something stupid like doing a Care Bear cloudcrawl or some inane shit.

Stipulations: I have to redo every monster I choose at least a little bit in its final form; also, I'm going to do a bunch of monsters of my own that fit my very limited aesthetic, to fill in the gaps of everything I jettison; finally, I'm going to do a simple stat block for everything and put it up as some free artless pdf because I don't actually respect this project enough to put drawings in it. It's just to get me writing again a little.

[Editor's note - this draft picks up from about four failed attempts ago to do this very thing]

I'm starting today with 81's Basic rulebook. Also this is not a book of monsters so much as non-unique enemies. I don't think the class stand-ins like acolyte and veteran should count but I am going to start off with


Berserkers have several gimmicks: immune to morale checks in battle, +2 to all humans and demihumans in battle, and even without weapon they seem to do 1d8 as they break and tear and chew. They can also get so worked up they attack each other. All of these things are good. They are oodles more interesting than an Orc and more effective. Anything I can do with an Orc I can do with a berserker. They do something that just pulling a pregen stat block for an existing class can't give me. They are metal. They get in.


All gargoyles are just Gargoyle and they are an art monster. Many things can be a vessel for Gargoyle. Four attacks is...a lot. They look great and they have the unique gimmick (on this list) of flight. By far the physically toughest on this list.


Ghouls are living humans who have run out of life. They're not something that dies and comes back, they live beyond when they should die. Ghouls get three attacks per round to kill you and if they don't they have three chances to paralyze you. Fear makes flesh taste bitter, it seems, and everything in a ghoul's half life is bitter.


Anything can be a goblin and goblins are the worst version of anything. This is known. They are dark dwelling shits who are less than people and they're coming to get us and they won't stop. These are the ultimate attrition enemy of D&D, they make it in.


Skeletons are the perfect enemy for a lot of reasons not the least of which being how 50% of later monster lists are just Skeletons With Extra Gimmicks. That said, the skeleton gimmicks here (always fight until destroyed, can be turned but not affected by two of your most utilitarian level 1 spells) are great but it's a rare example of another rule set absolutely nailing something: typed damage is less of a thing in BX but I'd add in some piercing and slashing resistance, bludgeoning sensitivity. If nothing else this restores the skeleton archer to its place of honor and encourages the practice of just kicking them down the stairs like Kerwin Mathews.


Doppelgangers, Shriekers, Shadows, Living Statue, Green Slime, Lycanthropes, and all the giant insects and ferrets and shit, those are all more interesting as spell effects or one-time encounters, not something people should expect to encounter.

I feel the same way about dire wolves and dragons, actually. If they show up in a campaign I run it's going to be The Time that I use those things, so I don't need some values close to hand. Also, to the point of dragons, it really seems like no one could decide what dragon type was the most Dragon so they just threw in a few. They work by their own rules to such an extent that they seem like they come from a different, more miniatures wargame-heavy game. For both those reasons I'd rather just set them aside for now. If I need to come back and whip up a dragon I can. Using either of these much right now is asking a lot after a decade of Game of Thrones memes. TV show internet culture is also reason enough to be bored of zombies I think.

Thouls, wights, and medusas are all favorites but just don't make the cut, partly because well -


The tendency to just make sure that whatever the hell esoteric word salad you made up to fuck over an unsuspecting player gets put into the book gets worse as time goes on, then maybe gets better, then way worse. These trends are true of individual editions and of D&D over time as a whole. This leads, as mentioned above, to lots of different things that are just skeletons, but also to unpredictable horsehockey like statues being filled with lava, vomit that summons other monsters while you're blinded like Left 4 Dead, and the armor eating bug.

Speaking of bugs this is a very bug and critter heavy monster list.

With a foot in both worlds is the carrion crawler, to whose existence we can attribute probably every unhelpful "Ecology Of" article. Running into one of these in a dungeon must be shocking, running into them every 3rd dungeon demands the question, if these things exist to be in dungeons how the fuck did that happen, and how do they find dungeons and what do they do when between dungeons, and so you have to explain that. In the interest of generalizing your cool monster for ease of use by everyone you now have what amounts to a big gooey centipede which is not a good thing to have when your list already includes Big Centipede. Gelatinous cube is cut from this kind of cloth, let's take something that rewrites the rules of this dungeon I've set up to surprise my friends with and turn it into just another Ninja Warrior obstacle to be planned ahead for. Carrion crawlers are like TSA checks now, for the people who actually give a fuck to use them.

With the increasing focus on "adventures" over dungeons as time goes by, all the way up to the championing of the megadungeon and negadungeon ideas, the concept of putting all this work into these monsters who exist FOR dungeons because the game is largely going to be ABOUT DUNGEONS and in particular a very limited KIND of's quaint. Not bad, but not useful to me.

My draft picks so far all have a kind of intelligence but are all propelled by a force beyond them. In some cases this is a prepossession while in others it's a sky-sized and driving will. They have a Want and they have a Why. They aren't just pests and they aren't biome-specific.



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