Friday, July 8, 2011

Open Friday: Favorite Unloved D&D Monsters

The other day Tim Hutchings of PlaGMaDA sent me a scan of a weird little picture from issue 16 (March 1984) of the Australian fanzine The Devil's Advocate, which depicted the tirapheg from the Fiend Folio. Here it is:
Now, I'm not a fan of the tirapheg (or indeed most monsters from the FF), but this illustration suggests that someone was. I suspect the same is true of many other generally unloved monsters. So, today's question is this: are there any D&D monsters you really like that you know most other gamers do not? Me, I've always loved the modrons from the Monster Manual II, but I get the impression that, even among old schoolers, they're reviled as uninspired and silly. What are some of your favorites?

55 comments:

  1. I _love_ the modrons. I don't understand why people think they're stupid. They're a perfect blank slate for creative ideas.

    Gnomes. They got no love in AD&D. They're just faded carbon-copies of dwarves. I like the Dragon Warriors interpretation of gnomes:

    "Gnomes are creatures of the countryside. Their bodies are like the gnarled boles of old trees, their eyes glimmer like dewdrops, they have tangled roots for fingers and their mouths resemble a dank hole in a bank of earth..."

    Goblins. Since they are good miners they ought to have trade and wealth, right? Surely they're not just rat-eating crossbow fodder.

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  2. Modrons have always struck me as insanely popular from 2nd Edition on, actually.

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  3. Drow. I played 1e throughout the 80's and 90's and didn't check out the online gaming scene until about 2005. I tired of R. A. Salvatore relatively early on. My players and I were fairly isolated from the rest of gaming culture, and I was unaware of the invasion of scimitar wielding Drow Rangers, that apparently plagued DM's, worldwide. So, I never had a reason to hate Drow, or join in on the Dark Elf bashing.

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  4. The FF is an interesting tome. As kids, we absolutely cherished it over the MM. Lately, I've left a pile of the old core books lying around and several kids from age 4 to 11 have unerringly preferred to draw pictures using it as a reference or try to steal it for private reading. This after flipping through the other books including a ton of old modules and the MM.

    The Brits were on to something re: early childhood development, if nothing else. Also, I fear we adults have had most of our sense of fun ripped out of us by an adherer.

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  5. James, I'm with you on the Drow--we lived in the sticks and made do with the three hardcovers, plus FF and MMII, Greyhawk box, and the two survival guides plus a handful of the classic modules. Never went through any of the tie in novel or over-use of setting epidemics. What times those were!

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  6. I vaguely remember Hadrons being hated (maybe only because of the art) way back in the day. Personally, I kind of like 'em - so postal service and Joseph Hellery.

    To answer your question, I'm sure I could have a field day combing through those three early books (you really don't like FF? It was universally reviled once where I come from, but I think it's retro-retro-cool now)... Randomly flipping open MM1, I submit the Type II Hezrou demon. An unimaginative, generic type with ridiculous accompanying artwork - I love it. Dude's gettin' down!

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  7. I like the Ubue; mixed gender, and all. Like the FF monsters, folks consider the B3 - Palace of the Silver Princess - monsters to be too goofy for D&D, but just right for GW. Fortunately, as a crazy-ass GW-gamer, I usually know how to make them work.

    The Flumph is considered the most useless of all monsters, but the last time I used them, they jumped on the PC's shields, and would not leave. They proved quite useful in battle.

    When I use him, I find the the Cat Lord tends to draw the same mixed feeling, like with Edward from Twilight. Some of the female players tend to think he is really cute, while everyone else find this "aloof pretty-boy" (a cat-boy at that) to be an annoying character type.

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  8. What I liked most about MMII was the expansion of the Demons, Devils, Demodandys and whatnots (though I also liked the modrons). Demonic creatures featured heavily in my post GDQ campaign when the players were of high enough level to take them on.

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  9. The Flail Snail has always been a personal favorite that was ridiculed by the "serious" players I knew back in the day, although I think it's grown among players in later years.

    Also, I enjoy the "Giant" version of otherwise standard animals...giant crayfish, giant beavers, giant ant...they may seem boring compared to more fantastical animals, but more than one PC has gone to a watery grave in the belly of a giant pike having failed to have a weapon handy when swimming across the river.

    And who ever admits to being defeated by a giant beaver?

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  10. Comment on the post picture: The, um... bottom of the scabbard... man, that just doesn't look right.

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  11. Norkers and Meazels. I ran a campaign called The Empire of the Overmind back in 1982. I borrow the title from a TSR-80/Atari text adventure game. In the 2nd adventure of the campaign the heroes assaulted a Norker Temple. They did not fare well. I remember the Fighter died and I believe the Ftr/Th did as well. Only time I ever saw/heard of a Norker in play. Norkers are great!

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  12. The phallic scabbard makes for a terrible picture. Maybe I've been blinded by three decades of overproduced artwork but so much of the "old school" art looks childish and amateurish to my eyes. The picture at the top of this post is a perfect example. I had a classmate in the 5th grade by the name of Hector who could draw circles around the artist responsible for the obscene scabbard... :)

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  13. "And who ever admits to being defeated by a giant beaver?"

    Yeah, those are kind of my Kryptonite. And while we're on the subject, just about everything about that warrior lass in the illo is phall-tasic.

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  15. I must say, I am rather fond of the flumph, but perhaps I'm just being contrary.

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  16. That stupid bipedal hippo in a safari suit and pith helmet with the ray gun from AD&D 2nd edition... Awesome. I think the guy that cooked that up got shot. Can't remember the name though.

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  17. I liked Modrons. They reminded me of Tik-Tok (Oz) and a variety of other characters from children's fantasy such as "The Phantom Tollbooth." That very appeal might well poison them for others who take their fantasy with much less whimsy. To them, I suggest Michael Shea's Nifft the Lean, as-yet-unreviewed here, whose combination of spectacle with rougish fantasy goes down like a smooth cocktail of equal parts Vance, Howard, and Barker.

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  18. I can't remember if it was in the FF or somewhere else, but I've always been inordinately find of the...I think they called it the "Shadow Demon" or something like that. Anyway it was the winged, horned, demon-shadow-thing that looked exactly like the one that hung out with Venger on the cartoon series.

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  19. Hogscape: The giff of Spelljammer fame?

    James, have you heard of the novel Flatland by Edwin A. Abbott? Might as well be the inspiration for the modrons.

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  20. I've never seen a PC run so fast then when its a fighter who just encountered a Rust Monster. I love those little beasties.

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  21. Is that tirapheg flipping the bird (4 of them, actually) at the amazon warrior? That's making me re-evaluate the tirapheg.

    The FF is full of primordial/debased sub-races like grimlocks, qullans, norkers, flinds. Those are staples in my game.

    The xill, however, is the best, least-used monster in all of 1E.

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  22. Why hasn't anyone said stirges yet? I thought that would be an obvious one! ;-)

    Acutally, to be serious, my vote would be for rot grubs! But I'm not sure they were that unloved!

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  23. For me this one is easy: Lava Children. I think the monster is fantastic on so many levels. Mechanically they're both unique and sound: they "ignore" metal! Nothing else I can think of in the game has that going for it, and the potential this provides for encounter design is amazing. In application they "play" great and are tough (which is a biggie, because many monsters look good on paper but don't pan out as well in the actual game), and they have a cool Polynesian vibe to them which makes them great for island adventures.

    I think that many people are put off by the illustration, or by the name 'lava children' itself. Perhaps their smiling faces don't elicit menace or fear. I feel just the opposite: the idiot grins of the lava children make them even more threatening for me.

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  24. Fire newts. They are really freakin cool. They aren't hated in general but simply mostly ignored.

    I've also never really had much against adherers, flumphs, flailsnails and nilbogs either.

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  25. I love the flumph. In my campaign they existed to mend tears in reality. Planar travelers spoke of the 'stitchers of worlds' in hushed, reverent tones.

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  26. I don't think there's any monster in the 1st edition manuals that can't be made cool with a little tinkering. I run Planescape a lot, which is a particularly good setting for all the weird and wacky ones. The only monsters that are beyond redemption are some of the ones from the later editions that are just endless copy-pastes of the same boring unoriginal brutes with names like "Bloodstalker" and "Deathfang".

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  27. Carbuncles! I once built an entire adventure around the idea that some monster civilization had treated them the way Egyptians treat cats. They're jeweled armadillos that make people fight!

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  28. Going on the assumption that the FF is generally unloved: Crypt thing!

    And, yes, it took me a couple of confused minutes to work out what was up with that scabbard and the apparently naked creature in the picture!

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  29. I love flumphs. Also, though I know they're not from FF, I also kinda liked the Giant Space Hamsters from Spelljammer as well.

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  30. The flail snail for me. One of my favs.

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  31. I'm not a big monster fan, but I'll give another vote for Flumpfs. Granted, Paizo has made them cool now (first in a Dragon adventure, then in Misfit Monsters Redeemed), so maybe I'm just a mindless sheep following the herd.

    Also not from the FF, I like the concept of "Origami Golems", ridiculed in some online takedown of D&D monsters. Imagine a horde of them, unseen, committing small but critical acts of sabotage. Imagine an abandoned temple, quiet as a tomb, until the sound of *rustling* ...

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  32. Regarding the scabbard, check this Renaissance drawing of Apollo. It was defaced long ago to remove Apollo's genitals. But that only drew the eye to his large, prominent quiver.

    http://blog.artic.edu/blog/2011/07/05/last-chance-for-renaissance-porn/

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  33. This is Tim from PlaGMaDA. The guy from this blog: http://robopithecusantecessor.blogspot.com pointed out to me that it isn't actually a tirapheg. Heads, legs, arms are different though the unsettling symmetry reads in a similar way.

    I am deeply sorry for my mistake, please forgive me.

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  34. In no particular order:

    Doppleganger
    Xill
    Ethereal Filcher
    Any man-insect hybrid, like Dromites.

    Now...the important stuff...tell me you just changed your banner and it hasn't been that way for months? Has it? No?

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  35. Dark creepers and dark stalkers. I ran D2-3 substituting the kuo-toans and drow with creepers and stalkers respectively.

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  36. Norkers, Mites, Synads, and Bullywugs come to mind from the FF, though I also enjoy Gorbels and Modrons. I've never met a monster that I thought was too silly. Theres a way to make all of them disturbing.

    The players in my current campaign are scared to death of Mites.

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  37. I don't know if any of the monsters I like have ever been disliked in general. I do love the Fiend Folio monsters and made good use of the Sons of Kyuss. The Volt and the Grell are also favorites of mine.

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  38. Oh, the Nilbog! It's a goblin that receives damage from healing and healing from damage. It takes players forever to figure out why the goblin they're attacking isn't dying quickly like usual. It's kind of silly and unfair but it was good for deflating players who made too many assumptions and got lazy.

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  39. Yes, also liking the new banner: Great choice.

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  40. I'm not sure whether they're unloved or not, but I've always liked Nilbogs, Thouls, and Bullywugs.

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  41. A lot of the old Fiend Folio monsters would have gone over better with different illustrations. The first sketch I ever saw of the tirapheg was very different from the Fiend Folio drawing. It was a misshapen, twitching horror, bloated and obese: the sort of monstrosity that any adventurer might dread.

    Some of Don Turnbull's development decisions also baffled me. In White Dwarf magazine's Fiend Factory column, berbalangs congregated in large groups. Parties pursuing these creatures' strange astral forms might discover their cavern lair only to encounter dozens of the vicious things. The Fiend Folio made them solitary, worthy foes for only the weakest of adventurers.

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  42. The Fiend Folio and Steve Jackson's Sorcery! series introduced me to the British take on fantasy. Such great artwork!
    The creature that freaked me out was the Forlarren.
    I imagined a manic Mr. Tumnus inviting me for poisoned tea and bludgeoning me with a shaleighleigh, alternately blubbering and giggling the whole while. Like something out of demented Alice in Wonderland story.
    I had an overactive imagination.

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  43. I think, and I've ranted about it elsewhere, that both the owlbear and gelatinous cube catch a little more ridicule than may be warranted.

    Especially the g cube. Sure, it's ridiculous out in a big gymnasium sized room, but if you're facing it in a 10X10 hallway, you are now faced with a moving wall of slime that wants to envelop and dissolve you. Again, I invoke the shoggoth from "At the Mountains of Madness", which is pretty much what this thing simulates...

    The owlbear, well, I think people get caught up in combining Smokey the Bear and Woodsey Owl in their heads. They're cute and they want to prevent forest fires. Nope. To me they're the wilderness encounter equivalent of a grenade down the trousers... Lethal and messy. Everything's worse with bears, especially owls.

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  44. Slaadi, caratydid columns, adherers are good obscure monsters from the Field Folio.

    Githyanki and githerzai and illithids are strong enough to carry a whole campaign world.

    Invisible stalkers, xorn, intellect devourers, and gibbering mouthers are all pretty worthwhile.

    The sad thing is that I don't think any of my D&D campaigns ever used any of these monsters to a fraction of their potential.

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  45. @ Scott (re: Dark Creepers and Dark Stalkers) -

    Damn. One of the coolest ideas ever.

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  46. Delta: Is that what that is? I thought it was a strap-on.

    I am a huge fan of Daemons. They seem to get short shrift in most games, but I try to work them into most of my games if I can. The "flyover country" between demons and devils.

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  47. The morkoth! And all the faerie, which tend to get ignored by many since most are borderline good beings, which good-aligned PCs would get in trouble for killing.

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  48. I don't have any idea what most other gamers think of them, but I've had a certain fondness for pixies ever since this happened...

    A character wanted to rappel down a cliff, so he first lowered all his heavy gear -- everything except his armor's padded undersuit, his boots, his gloves and his belt -- by the rope. Which was a smart thing to do except that, while he was rappelling down, I rolled to see if a random encounter would occur, one did, I rolled that it was pixies, I looked up pixies in the Monster Manual and found that they "are highly mischievous, and they will be prone to bother, harass, or fool creatures." So they stole all his stuff. And, when he got down the rope, he ran into the woods after them screaming "FUCKING PIXIES!!!"

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  49. I love Modrons- we use them in our Neverwinter Nights online games even.

    I only played the 1st Edition of AD&D, so the drow were 100% wicked. We loved using them, but I am a little bugged by the PoMo nice drow running all over the "Forgotten Realms"

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  50. James, have you heard of the novel Flatland by Edwin A. Abbott? Might as well be the inspiration for the modrons.

    You know, I don't believe I've ever read it. Guess I have a new book to add to the pile ...

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  51. Two things:

    1) In my wanderings today I found this:

    http://www.collecting-citadel-miniatures.com/wiki/images/b/b0/Unreleased_-_Tirapheg.jpg

    2) I second the Flatland recommend if you dig Modrons.

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