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What IS That Thing?
Wandering Monsters
By James Wyatt

L ast week, we talked about Underdark-dwelling humanoids. Let's lead off this week with another one and then talk about more cold-blooded humanoids we haven't covered yet.


Medium Humanoid
Alignment: Neutral evil
Level: Medium
Environment: Underground waters

It was a little hard for me to believe how much description the kuo-toa got when they first appeared in D&D (in module D2, Shrine of the Kuo-Toa). In a world where a typical Monster Manual page had three or four monster entries on it, kuo-toas got two and a half pages of the module devoted to describing them and their society. Here's a distillation of that material, which was actually pretty hard to sort through.

Kuo-toas are an ancient race of aquatic humanoids that dwells underground and harbors a deep hatred of surface dwellers and sunlight. They have paunchy humanoid bodies covered in fine scales, webbed hands and feet, and fishlike heads.

The ancient kuo-toas once inhabited the shores and islands of the upper world, but as other humanoid races grew to dominance, the evil, human-sacrificing kuo-toas were slowly driven to remote regions and nearly exterminated. Some kuo-toas sought refuge in sea caverns and secret subterranean waters, and while their fellows were being slaughtered, these few prospered and adapted to their lightless habitat. They hate discipline, but the priests of the Sea Mother Blibdoolpoolp impose order on the race. The combination of living deep underground, centuries of inbreeding, and this tension between chaotic leanings and imposed order makes kuo-toas prone to violent insanity.

Kuo-toas have keen eyesight, including darkvision, and some ability to detect vibrations from movement nearby. It is extremely difficult for even invisible creatures to avoid their notice without remaining totally motionless. Kuo-toas can be blinded by a sudden burst of bright light. Kuo-toas are immune to poison and paralysis, and they resist lightning damage.

These creatures are amphibious, breathing air or water with equal ease. Their slimy, slippery skin makes them very difficult to hold on to, and even sticky restraints such as spiderwebs can't hold them for long. They fight with claws and bite, daggers, spears, and nets. Those armed with shields coat their shields before battle with an extremely sticky substance that can hold a weapon fast, requiring a difficult Strength check to wrench it free.

Whips. Kuo-toa whips are fanatical assassins devoted to the Sea Mother. They incite their fellows in a war party to stand firm and fight without quarter for the glory of their ruler and their deity.

Clerics. Clerics among the kuo-toas revere Blibdoolpoolp and tend special religious areas that are shared by multiple small communities of these creatures. Most clerics wield claw-tipped poles called pincer staffs, equivalent to a mancatcher, which they use to restrain opponents. Nearby kuo-toa warriors attack restrained enemies in preference to all others. Two or more clerics (or nobles) can join hands and cooperate to create a bolt of lightning every few rounds, targeting a single creature.

Monitors. Monitors are members of the priestly class of kuo-toa society, set apart as celibate monks. They possess normal monk class abilities, and their role is to control the community members who become violent or go insane.

Nobles. The nobles of kuo-toa society are cleric/assassins. Large settlements are ruled by priest-kings, priest-dukes, or priest-princes with eight attending "eyes," all cleric/assassins.


Medium Humanoid
Alignment: Lawful evil
Level: Low
Environment: Ocean

Speaking of long monster entries, the sahuagin actually boasts the longest single-monster entry in the original Monster Manual, at just over a full page (unless you count the introductory material on dragons, also just over a page, leading in to the individual dragon entries). Another interesting (to me, at least) bit of trivia about these guys: As originally described in Blackmoor (1975), the sahuagin looked nothing like what it does now:

With a huge leech-like mouth, large reptilian eyes, and huge ear-like growths on the side of their heads they have an almost alien appearance. On the upper body are two arm-like extensions that act as forward fins and end in two pincer-like protrusions (opposed to each other) which are used to grasp tools and weapons. The main body is reptilian in nature, covered with thick hide and has a rudimentary tail which is used much like an alligator's tail for steering and propulsion. The two rear legs are located about 2/3 of the way down the body and are long and frog like, ending in a six-toed webbed foot which provides great stability when standing on soft sea bottoms and great propulsion when swimming.

Fortunately (in my opinion), this description was accompanied by an illustration that bore it no resemblance, which became the standard depiction of this monster to the present day.

Sahuagins are predatory marine humanoids superbly adapted to undersea hunting. Also known as sea devils, these beings dwell in coastal waters, raiding shore communities on moonless nights to slaughter the inhabitants and livestock for food, while also seeking to collect metal equipment they cannot easily make underwater. They are sleek, fishlike humanoids with large hands and feet (webbed and tipped with large claws), long tails, and distinctive fanned crests, almost like wings, running down their backs.

These creatures are savage fighters, asking for and giving no quarter. They attack coastal settlements en masse, with the leaders in the second rank, but they retreat quickly if they meet spirited resistance. They are more confident underwater, making good use of the three-dimensional aspect of underwater fighting, which is particularly surprising and disorienting to surface dwellers unaccustomed to such environments. When attacking a ship, about three-quarters of the group swarm up all sides of the ship and tries to overwhelm the crew with superior numbers, throwing some opponents into the sea where waiting sahuagins can dispatch them.

Sahuagins use weapons such as tridents and serrated spears, and they bite with their sharklike jaws as well. Their claws are also perfectly serviceable weapons, and when underwater they can attack with all four claws. Many sahuagins also wield hooked nets as weapons, and they use crossbows and javelins for ranged attacks. When injured, sahuagins sometimes fly into a rage.

Sea devils are adapted to the lightless depths of the night sea. They have darkvision, and while underwater, they can detect the movement of any creature within 30 feet. Bright light is blinding to them. They breathe water, but they can function on land for several hours. They are vulnerable to fire. Sahuagins have above-average Strength and Intelligence scores.

The sahuagin are cruel and brutal, with the strongest always bullying the weaker. Any injured, disabled, or infirm specimen is slain and eaten by these cannibalistic monsters. Rare sahuagins are four-armed mutants who are among the strongest of their kind.

Sahuagin clerics of their shark god Sekolah are always female. They command the sharks that are constant companions to the sea devils.

Sahuagin lairs are actual villages or towns, and they are constructed of stone. The buildings are domed and shielded from view by seaweed and similar marine plants growing on and around them. Their leaders are barons, princes, and a near-mythic king, who is said to hold court in a vast undersea city deep beneath the waves.


Medium Humanoid
Alignment: Chaotic evil
Level: Low
Environment: Swamp or jungle

Bullywugs are froglike amphibian humanoids that range from 4 feet to 7 feet tall. They're covered in a tough hide, which they augment with armor and shields that they scavenge from other races. They're thoroughly chaotic and evil, warring with neighboring bands as often as they fight other races. They fight over territory, rather than greed and lust for power, and thus they have little reason to fight among themselves within a single band.

Their coloration can shift through various shades of gray, green, or brown, allowing bullywugs to blend in to natural surroundings, where they gain bonuses to hide. Like the frogs they resemble, they can also make tremendous leaps, and they use this ability to make devastating charge attacks with spears or similar impaling weapons. If they don't have access to weapons, they attack with claws and bite. Their greatest strength is their numbers—they try to surround enemies and overwhelm them.

What Do You Think?

There we go—a trio of slimy people that lurk in dark, wet places. How did we do this week?

  How does the kuo-toa I’ve described here fit with your sense of the iconic D&D creature?  
1—Cast it out from the Sea Mother’s sight!
2—Send the “eyes” after it!
3—I can see where it’s going, but it’s not there yet.
4—Yeah, I recognize that as a kuo-toa.
5—Praise Blibdoolpoolp for this awesome kuo-toa!

  How well does the sahuagin I’ve described here match your sense of the iconic D&D creature?  
1—Let Sekolah devour this abomination!
2—That’s no sahuagin.
3—I can see where it’s going, but it’s not there yet.
4—Yeah, I recognize that as a sahuagin.
5—Perfect in all its four-armed majesty!

  How well does the bullywug I’ve described here match your sense of the iconic D&D creature?  
1—Who cares?
2—A frog-person does not a bullywug make.
3—I can see where it’s going, but it’s not there yet.
4—Yeah, I recognize that as a bullywug.
5—It’s capable of tremendous leaps!

As always, please leave specific thoughts in the comments.

Previous Poll Results

First of all, how well does this description of the drow match with the drow that appear in R. A. Salvatore's novels?
Great, and that's as it should be. 379 34.6%
They're a good match, and should be better. 150 13.7%
They're a good match, but that doesn't make them D&D drow. 161 14.7%
They don't match, and they should. 20 1.8%
They don't match, but they shouldn't. 35 3.2%
I haven't read Salvatore's novels. 350 32.0%
Total 1095 100.0%

Along similar lines, how well does this description of the drow match with the drow in the classic G-D-Q series of adventures?
Great, and that's as it should be. 236 23.3%
They're a good match, and should be better. 177 17.4%
They're a good match, but that doesn't make them D&D drow. 73 7.2%
They don't match, and they should. 42 4.1%
They don't match, but they shouldn't. 14 1.4%
I haven't read or played those adventures. 473 46.6%
Total 1015 100.0%

So now, overall, how do the drow I’ve described here fit with your sense of the iconic D&D drow?
1—They are an abomination to the Spider Queen! 39 3.7%
2—They have turned from the true path of Lolth. 50 4.8%
3—They're pretty drowlike, but not there yet. 164 15.6%
4—Those are the drow, or close enough. 503 47.8%
5—They are the ideal of drowish perfection. 296 28.1%
Total 1052 100.0%

Enough about drow. How well does the drider I’ve described here match your sense of the iconic D&D creature?
1—It should be cast into a deep chasm and never spoken of again. 23 2.3%
2—Kill it and put it out of its misery. 43 4.2%
3—It's getting there, but it needs more work. 151 14.8%
4—Yeah, I recognize that as a drider. 532 52.1%
5—The perfect drider—now get it away from me! 272 26.6%
Total 1021 100.0%

Digging a little deeper into the drider, what do you think of their origin story?
Drow should be cursed by Lolth and outcast from drow society, period. 123 11.5%
Drow should be blessed by Lolth and welcomed as allies to the drow. 172 16.1%
I like the compromise in this description—different communities view them differently. 775 72.4%
Total 1070 100.0%

How well does the duergar I’ve described here match your sense of the iconic D&D creature?
1—Bury it. Bury it deep. 36 3.6%
2—I know duergar, and that is not a duergar. 38 3.9%
3—It's getting there, but it needs more work. 164 16.6%
4—Yeah, I recognize that as a duergar. 603 61.1%
5—It is the perfection of all dwarfkind—the ultimate duergar. 146 14.8%
Total 987 100.0%

Does the compromise between traditional duergar and infernal durzagon work for you?
No, stick with the duergar and get rid of the fiendish abominations. 167 16.3%
No, stick with fiendish duergar so we don't have yet another evil Underdark corruption of a surface-dwelling race. 128 12.5%
No, keep both races, but they need a stronger differentiating story. 164 16.0%
Yes, that seems like a good compromise and there's room for both in my world. 564 55.1%
Total 1023 100.0%

Finally, how well does the grimlock I’ve described here match your sense of the iconic D&D creature?
1—The blind led the blind into a chasm. 14 1.5%
2—It is fumbling in the darkness. 40 4.2%
3—A couple of stumbles, but it's getting there. 137 14.3%
4—I think it knows where it's going. 458 47.9%
5—It might be blind, but it can still find its way. 308 32.2%
Total 957 100.0%

James Wyatt
James Wyatt is the Creative Manager for Dungeons & Dragons R&D at Wizards of the Coast. He was one of the lead designers for 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons and the primary author of the 4th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide. He also contributed to the Eberron Campaign Setting, and is the author of several Dungeons & Dragons novels set in the world of Eberron.
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I think the kuo-toa society is too simplyfied. I mean: a caotic race who is doomed by a clerical and lawfull nobility can cause internal tension and silent opposition that come beyond other than be simply insane.
And the caratteristic drow alliance?
Adventuring kuo-toa comes from this two aspects.

Other races is ok.
Beyond that, acquatic races will be more interesting whit a good system for tridimensional fighting underwater and more interesting sunken sites.
Posted By: Eilistraecomeback (9/20/2013 2:43:26 PM)



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