Friday, February 20, 2009

My Favorite Monsters

Over at Monsters and Manuals, noisms posted a list of his 10 favorite D&D monsters last weekend. I'd meant to post my own list earlier in the week, but it somehow slipped my mind. So, without further ado, I present my favorite monsters (in no particular order):

  1. Giant Spider: I am quite arachnaphobic, so I tend to agree with Gygax's assessment of the alignment of these creatures (Chaotic Evil). There are few things I find more viscerally terrifying than the idea of a man-sized spider.
  2. Ghoul: I'm a big fan of the undead generally, but the ghoul stands out, because, at 2 Hit Dice, it's an appropriate low-level challenge. And, given its paralyzing touch, it is a challenge. Plus, that poor gnome in the Dungeon Masters Guide example of play was devoured by ghouls ("You see a sickly gray arm strike the gnome as he's working on the spike, the gnome utters a muffled cry, and then a shadowy form drags him out of sight.").
  3. Hell Hound: Not sure why but something about fire-breathing mastiffs really appeals to me.
  4. Hobgoblin: I've always consider hobgoblins "the thinking man's orcs." In my games at least, these guys are organized, disciplined, and clever. They're not a just a bunch of faceless minions and I love using them to show that even 1+1 Hit Dice monsters can hold their own against a band of seasoned adventurers.
  5. Lich: While I can count on one hand the number of times I've ever actually used a lich in my games, I still count these creatures among my favorites. Though they have their origin in Fox's "Kothar" stories, if I recall, I play them with a Clark Ashton Smith vibe -- spellcasters so fearful of death that they've willingly cursed themselves into fate far worse than it. My liches are not happy people.
  6. Mind Flayer: What's not to like about psionic Cthulhoid alien beings? I learned how to use the AD&D psionics rules primarily so I could use this monster "properly" and my players never forgave me for it. Heh-heh.
  7. Owlbear: There's something whimsically malevolent about this creature, as if it were some mad archmage's stab at black humor while experimenting with magical genetic engineering.
  8. Rakshasa: One of my favorite TV shows as a kid was The Night Stalker. I still have an autographed picture of Darren McGavin as Carl Kolchak that my aunt got for me. Even though the rakshasa in the show was nothing like the one in the Monster Manual, I still have an incredible soft spot for them. When I learned from Gary that he first heard of the creature because of The Night Stalker, I loved it even more.
  9. Wererat: By far the most interetsing lycanthropes in my opinion. That they're inspired by Fritz Leiber doesn't hurt their appeal either.
  10. Wight: More undead? Yep. The wight really hits a sweet spot with me. Their level drain is scary enough that players treat the creature with respect, but not so scary that I'd ever hesitate to throw a wight at them, even as a wandering monster. Plus, I find the Barrow Downs section of The Fellowship of the Ring very well done.
And there they are.


  1. Wow, those sound a lot like my favorites. Hobgoblins are my favorite humanoids and I've always thought wights were in ultimate in scary but realistic undead opponents.

    If I were making my own list, I'd probably swap ghouls for huecuva. I have no idea why, but I like them.


  2. I used owlbears for the very first time a few months ago, in my C&C game. When they can get surprise and attack from an ambush, they can be surprisingly deadly (they damned near wiped out a party of 7th-8th level characters).

    I've never used hobgoblins much... my orcs tend to be pretty smart and organized, and by comparison my goblins tend to be crafty and wily (I've never cared much for kobolds, so goblins fill my 'tricky little bastards' niche). My goblins have a bit of fae in them - their spellcasters are almost always illusionists.

    The rest of your list I'm pretty much in agreement with.

  3. I can't believe I forgot Rakshasa. They were always a favourite of mine too.

  4. I've encountered a few folks around the 'net who like to laugh at the idea of the owlbear. I don't get what's so funny about it, personally. It's still mostly a damn grizzly bear, with all the slashy, mouse-gutting parts of an owl made big enough to slice up a human. And on top of that it's got a head full of bad wiring that makes it constantly angry. Yeah, a real barrel of laffs.

    A couple suggestions for spicing up an owl bear:

    1: Make 'em so they move very silently, like owls in real life. (Now not only is it a half mad bear/owl monster, but it's a ninja!)

    2: Two words: Owl pellets. For owl bears, nasty, creepy, and probably where you find the treasure...

  5. BigFella, I must admit that I got a similar laughing reaction from my beloved girlfriend when she first spotted my owlbear miniature. I might have to use your ideas, there.

  6. That's about the same list I would make, although I don't think I'd include Giant Spiders. First, because I don't find spiders scary. Second, because I find the Giant fill-in-the-blank-with-animal category not so interesting. I actually prefer to use a swarm of real critters than one giant one.

    To be fair, however, Tolkien does give us not one, not two, but three very good bits with Giant Spiders.

    Anyway, I think I might replace Giant Spiders with Purple Worms, which might be considered merely Giant Worms. But aren't. Worms with teeth are scary.

  7. I like monsters that might have a lot of sub-species with different appearances, different behaviour, and maybe different powers. Goblins, lizardmen, ghouls and bugbears, for example.

    I like flumphs but I'm never sure how best to use them. The same goes for sylvan creatures such as pixies, nymphs and unicorns. They are iconic creatures, but you can't just throw them at the players as a combat challenge.

    Another favourite monster is the NPC party. You can do a lot with a recurring NPC party, and you can make them as quirky as you like.

    Also, my preference is that a high proporion of monsters in an adventure should be non-standard monsters - i.e. not in the Monster Manual. It keeps things interesting.

  8. One of the overlooked monsters is the Tiger Beetle. It's listed in Moldway Basic D&D set but not in AD&D. I used it in my game. I googled it for the picture. Those are real insects. They eat other insects. They actually look sleek and streamlined. In AD&D world they are about 3' long, 3HD creatures capable of flight, fast attackers, with no special abilities or magical defenses they present an excellent challenge as well as a great source for experience points for the first level party of characters.

  9. Good blog post. I posted on my top ten, which is a bit different than yours. It is interesting to see what the various GM's like when it comes to monsters.

  10. I love the rakshasa. In my current setting, a collective of about a dozen rakshasas serve as the rulers of an ancient, ruined desert empire that routinely raids nearby settlements, stealing away with children for use as slaves and food.

    I am also a fan of harpies, though I think that it has more to do with my prepubescent fascination with the naked breasts from the drawings in the blue box! ;)

    Of all the monsters in D&D, however, I think that my absolute favorite of all time is the ogre mage. I used a powerful ogre mage as my mastermind villain from an ongoing campaign several years ago (though admittedly with some changes ala These terrifying creatures plagued my nightmares for years when I bought my first Monster Manual.

  11. That's close to my own list, and I was pleasantly surprised to see hobgoblins on it. I used them as the "organized" humanoid enemy, too. Sort of "fascists in rubber suits." Gnolls were another favorite, probably because of the cannibalism connection via Yeenoghu, I always thought of them as good "horror monsters."

    But I have a special love for the undead, especially ghouls. Again, my predilection for a horror ambiance in my games, I suppose. Long ago we replaced level drain with CON drain, however; it just felt more natural to us.

  12. One of the overlooked monsters is the Tiger Beetle.

    I love giant beetles too.

  13. I'm with you on liches and wights, and hobgoblins, though I cheerfully include orcs, gnolls, ogres and more in my goblinoids ecology. I'm coming around, though, to your Dr. Moreau orcs. For whatever reason I never felt that werewolves or vampires fitted in D&D: they're monsters for single-monster stories, where their horror can shine through, IMHO.

    Since I always played fast and loose with monster stats as written (especially hit dice) to keep my players guessing, my main concern regarding monsters is "do they spark my imagination." For some reason I found the Leucrotta and Githyanki the most interesting monsters attached to D&D: the latter gave my fey niche a nicely dark air.

    I eventually came to love owlbears after I'd given them some of the properties of CoC Dimensional Shamblers: there was something about their out-of-placeness that just felt right (or wrong in the right way).

  14. Good list, though the shambling mound would and black pudding would edge out hell hounds and wights for me.