April 2, 2012 (Renton, Wash.) Thanks for being good sports. Wizards of the Coast loves being able to joke around with our fans and we hope you enjoyed it.
o here we are again. It's been a while, and I wasn't sure I'd be walking this road again. Years ago, before I played Dungeons & Dragons, I grabbed a bunch of Monster Manuals and decided to make fun of what I found in them. And then and I did it again, having played a few games.
I really thought I was done. It wasn't like I'd find more silly monsters of yesteryear, nor could I get away with another article mocking the game that technically pays my rent these days.
Oh, how wrong I was.
As I'll reiterate at the end of this article, stupid does not mean the same thing as "not fun." That said, with it being April Fool's Day, what better time to take a fond if slightly critical look back through the many monsters in the game, and point out the quirky, the goofy, the oddly visualized, and—as you'll see at the end—the beholder's placed inside clear hamster balls?
Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like you to rally your strength as we dive into Stupid Monsters Part 3: "Mocking the Hand that Feeds." There's a lot of ground to cover, so let's do this.
Chapter 1: Fool's Folio
Yep. The original Palace of the Silver Princess had killer soap bubbles. And that's about all we'll say about that adventure module...
I'm starting to understand why some folks might not like pixies. This mob variant of them known as "petals" randomly fly around, put you to sleep, take off your clothes, give you a bath, and do your laundry. They think they're doing a good thing because "everyone needs a good night's rest." But ultimately, if petals show up they're going to knock you out and get you naked.
The roving mauler's design is based on old mythological illustrations. I only pose one question:
How terrifying would it be to see this monster from the other side? There's an anatomical question here begging an answer that none of us want to hear.
The stalwart is a monster in the same way that a guy from Jersey Shore might be a monster. You walk into a clearing and you find this big musclehead who talks about how awesome he is and won't let you pass unless you beat him in a feat of strength. If you don't accept his challenge, he takes your stuff. Maybe he's the origin of the Skill Challenge: If you don't compete via woodcutting, weight lifting, or log rolling, he makes fun of you and runs off with your gold. On the flipside: If you beat him he joins your party for a month as a pack mule.
Here by popular demand, is the carbuncle. Most people suggest this magic armadillo as a stupid monster because it can "will itself to die" as a free action. But it goes far beyond that. There's a gemstone in its head that's worth lots of gold—but it becomes useless if the carbuncle dies. So the best thing to do is to invite it to join your party. Once you're best buds, it'll give you its skull gem. The flipside? If you don't kill it, it'll use its telepathy to make you betray your friends and tell monsters where you are hiding. And if you catch on, it kills itself before you can get any gold or XP. Well played, TSR. Well played.
While in the Underdark, watch out for torpedoes.
Fun Fact: If you start digging there's a 5% chance of a lesser god showing up to smoosh your face in.
This is so incredibly lame that it spins the dial all the way back to awesome simply because they decided to "illustrate" it.
You'd think the Mad Hatter would be a joke monster, but back in the day Gary Gygax wrote two Alice in Wonderland-themed adventures (Dungeonland and Land beyond the Magic Mirror) and his foreword is best paraphrased as such:
"Because this is awesome."
The Mad Hatter is of note because he literally throws magic hats at you, including monsters that look like hats that swallow you, hats that swallow you that aren't monsters, and hats that make you dance.
Gygax also translated Humpty Dumpty into an encounter. If you loot his Exalted Eggcellency (his in-game title), 24 rhinos and 72 giants show up to beat you up. Just like the Lewis Carroll story!
Because "mummy covered in glue" just didn't have the right ring to it.
So if you go cow tipping or don't respect her barley and assorted grains, this nymph variant will get you intoxicated with her mystical booze powers. If that doesn't work, she makes cows chase you. I wish I was making this up.
So you're the Dungeon Master and you want to run a game of Planescape. That's cool. It's a neat setting and the art rules. But how can we complicate things so that your head caves in?
This is the dabus.
The dabus only speak in riddles. Instead of talking, the storyteller just hands you a piece of paper. This seems cool at first, but players are quite well known for surprising and frustrating their game masters. If you didn't prepare ahead of time for every possible thing the PCs will want to know, then you'll be reduced to playing charades because, let's face it, the dabus knows a hell of a lot more riddles than you actually do. And heaven help you if you can't draw.
The nilbog (goblin backwards) was the most heavily requested monster for Part 3, because of the simple fact that because it is backwards you have to heal it to kill it. But the nilbog is waaaaaaaaaaay more stupid than that. I'm just going to quote the Fiend Folio:
"Many and varied accounts have been received about the nature of the space-time disturbances which take place in the presence of nilbogs. Only one factor appears to be common—the adventurers will have no control over their own actions and will generally pursue courses of action contrary to their normal intent; for example they may feel an overwhelming compulsion to load all their treasure into an empty treasure chest in the nilbog lair and leave empty-handed. There are no saving throws against these effects, nor is there any known defense."
Read that again and tell me that the nilbog isn't the epitome of "Your DM hates you." Why does your PC walk into the room, stab himself, and giving the monster all his treasure? Because there's no save. Oh, and because—your DM? He hates you.
Oh, calzone golem. I'll take you to go. (You can still find its adventure online, by the way!)
Chapter 2: One of These Things is Not Like the Others
Things that look like other things are a staple of Dungeons & Dragons. In the first installment of "Stupid Monsters," I talked about the room of death, where the floor, ceiling, and walls were all monster that wanted to eat you. I forgot to mention that the way into the room wanted to eat you too:
Spanner (Living Bridge)
Monster bridge. That shimmies and shakes to kill you.
In the Dragonlance setting, I'm not surprised they're obsessed with draconic weapons. Here, a dragon pretends to be a dagger by going to sleep.
Would you like a ride in my beautiful balloon?
My lucky coin seems to be eating my flesh. Huh.
"Don't tread on me," said the almost invisible dragonfish as he poisoned the fighter. Living traps have a special place in my heart. Of course, there are more convoluted ways to screw with your players. Such as:
Pseudo-undead are monsters that look like they're undead (including ghosts), but they're not. So while your party is trying to turn undead or find the right kind of weapon to slay a vampire, the monsters are eating your face. It's a classy kind of "gotcha" move, really. It's still a little weird that no explanation is given to an ethereal translucent phantom not being undead, but hey, this is the kind of monster that shows up one when you think your players might be too happy with the game. Fun Fact: These are 2E Vryloka (Heroes of Shadow, 4E).
I don't care if it's mythologically accurate. I didn't need to see that there are almost a dozen killer paper monsters in Dungeons & Dragons.
Strike that. Make that a baker's dozen.
Vampyre, Valadimir Ludzig
"Hey, Steve, why did you draw the vampire with sunglasses?"
"Sunglasses are cool?"
"But this is Ravenloft. What kind of monster fights wearing glasses?"
"The cool kind?"
"I hate you, Steve."
Valkos Bloodblade: Extreme Gardener.
Killer tumbleweed. I need not say much else.
Chapter 3: Lowbrow, Meet Highbrow
Tall mouthers eat halflings. Apparently in Faerûn, halflings refer to relatives lost this way by saying, "They were mouthed." This amuses me to no end. The fact that it's a baboon head with six arms and no body is just icing on the cake.
Guardgoyle? As opposed to normal gargoyles that guard things? Sure, I can say that name with a straight face.
When facing pirates, remember that if there are fewer than fifty of them, there's no chance they'll have a cleric or a wizard with them. This is probably why lots of ye olde Dungeon Masters hedged their bets by deploying about 2,000 pirates. Otherwise a DM couldn't count on having something besides . . . well, pirates. Personally I'd just log out and reroll my pirates, but that'd be ye olde cheating, right?
Orcs speaking Orc and Ogre isn't as hilarious as orcs speaking Lawful Evil. I had no idea there was an ethical language barrier. Seems a pretty easy way to out the party's traitor. If he doesn't understand you speaking Lawful Good, chances are he's not to be trusted.
Speaking of expanding your vocabulary, how is your Latin? If you're under thirty years old, it's probably like mine. Horrendous.
I don't care if draco rigidus frigidus is legit Latin. That's still silly as heck (although, it would make for a good spell in Harry Potter). Fun Fact: In the first Monster Manual, all the dragons got Latin names. Some of them make sense (blue dragon = draco electricus), and some I'm pretty sure were only designed to sound kind of Latin-esque (green dragon = draco chlorinous nauseous respiratorus). I'm not sure what to think of brass dragons.
I will never understand Twilight fans.
I'm sorry, teacher, but my homework was eaten by a creature magically designed to do so.
To be fair, I'm pretty sure sushi wasn't popular in the U.S. when this Monster Manual came out. I wonder if this is related to the decapus, the other land-dwelling tentacle monster?
Please tell me I'm pronouncing this monster's name wrong. Did you know that at night a bhut's hair becomes wild while its skin becomes scaly? Bhuts are extremely clever and often use deception and trickery to obtain their meals. In combat, bhuts attack by biting.
They say "mist," but we both know that we're looking at a mephit with flatulence.
What does Dungeons & Dragons (and maybe fantasy in general) and Star Trek have in common?
Entirely different species can interbreed. With half-orcs and half-elves being standard, the notion is pretty heavily entrenched in the game. Of course, not every couple makes a beautiful baby.
I don't like to think that orcs were crossbred with baboons, but . . . um, yeah. Let's just stop here.
Chapter 4: The Senmurv Presents
Let's talk about animals that shouldn't be. And plants. They count, too.
If you prick us, do we not bleed delicious Ranch dressing? (Remember, while these guys are now jokey monsters in Gamma World, they started out as legit. And they'll soon have their own Ecology Of article as well!)
Dracotaurs are a gateway monster. Today it's just them. But tomorrow? You're roleplaying a cowtaur.
If tooth beasts were more common, I'd totally play a misfit elf named Herbie.
"Hey, Rocky, want to see me pull an unwilling sacrifice for tonight's primal festival from my hat?"
In related news, it's very hard to not make a ninja turtle joke at the moment.
You're looking at a Wolverine raven. Quoth the raven . . . snikt?
Not a wolf spider. Not lame. As you were.
"You take 2d6 points of hug damage."
. . . because these snakes don't need to get on your airship.
Oh no, it's a dread minimal! That's a miniature version of a normal animal. Only . . . in the picture of the minimal elephant we drew a normal size tree so . . . that's a broccoli stick pretending to be a tree? Curse you art direction! You're distracting me from the hilarity of a monster called "minimal."
Riddle me this: What do you get if you cross a halfling with a centaur?
And what do you get when you cross a gnome with a goat?
So what do you know about Dark Sun? As in, what's the one thing that's iconic to Athas? The last thing I'd expect in a Monster Manual for Dark Sun would be a completely ordinary dolphin that swims in an ocean that doesn't exist in that campaign setting. Turns out there's a Dark Sun module called Mindlords of the Last Sea that explains that there is indeed one ocean in the post-apocalyptic desert world.
So when in Athas, make sure to go wind surfing. Because that'd be totally rad.
If ever there was a monster that I wanted to just wrap up in a paper towel and throw it away, the gelatinous bear would be it.
Because the Ghost of Laundry Past won't let you forget.
Tarantubat, Tarantubat, doing things spiders can't.
Can he swing from a web?
There's no need—he flies!—you're dead.
Look oooooooouuuut! Here comes Tarantubat!
Chapter 5: Back to Basics
Did you ever wonder what happens when a mindflayer's breeding goes wrong?
Of course, now you know and you can never forget.
Ray Arnold: "The lysine contingency is intended to prevent the spread of the animals in case they ever get off the island. Dr. Wu inserted a gene that makes a single faulty enzyme in protein metabolism. The animals can't manufacture the amino acid lysine. Unless they're continually supplied with lysine by us, they'll slip into a coma and die."
Ian Malcolm: "You do realize it's an animated skeleton right?"
Ray Arnold: "Hold onto your butts. It's time to cast turn undinosaur."
How many monsters can you defeat by putting a heavy book on top of them? I'm not going to lie: I want one of my very own just so I can fill it up with helium.
You ever wonder how necromancy works? It's not like animating a skeleton makes sense. I mean, magic is what's keeping the body together, what allows the skeleton to "see," and . . . well, do anything.
The dread is what I'd like to think of as a necromancer's senior thesis.
"As animated skeletons do not truly walk and are animated by magic, I propose that extremities dedicated to the purpose of locomotion are unnecessary. Similarly, an undead can see, think, and speak without the typically required organs. As such, I theorize that one can make a perfectly functional animated skeleton using only the skeletal components required for manual labor."
And that's how someone got a lawful evil research grant by creating the dread.
Really? I'm being attacked by a heart? It occurs to me that in Dungeons & Dragons almost every human body part gets deadlier when it falls off and takes on a life of its own. Which reminds me: If I could find a monster that was just a floating ear, I think I could recreate an entire human being Frankenstein-style, using monsters that are just fallen off parts. Which is unsettling somehow.
So far, 4E has been pretty good at not making the list. That being said, there are some exceptions to that rule. Dungeon magazine may not provide illustrations for all its monsters, but that didn't stop me from flipping through a few issues to see if I'd missed anything.
Butterfly in the sky
I can go twice as high
Take a look
It's in a book
A Reading Rainbargh! Oh, my god! They're eating my flesh! Eating my FLESH! Dear LORD, why did I open up this world of imagination? Why?!
Ham & the Crusties sounds more like a Saturday morning cartoon to me than a combat encounter.
. . . and the squirrels never got into the birdseed ever again.
And there you go, ladies and gentlemen. I suspect that there shall not be a Part 4. For while I'm sure I missed something, I can't dig any deeper for obscure monsters of shame. Hope you've enjoyed the ride. Remember: Stupid doesn't mean it isn't fun. That being said, I'll let the dabus play us out:
who only mocks the things he loves...
Behold, a Bonus!
Because some things aren't monsters—but are still amazing.
The problem with iconic monsters is that eventually people try to make variants. I am not talking about the infinite number of alt beholders—though please note the one that looks like a naked headless savage in a loincloth. And that other one? He rides a dire centipede. Why? Because he can. What I will talk about is beholder weaponry.
The balldozer: Oh, yeah.
Yes, there's a magic item that lets beholders climb inside an enchanted hamster ball and "Kool-Aid Man"-it across the dungeon. For reals.
But say you're a beholder that wants to get a bit more in on the action? Or you're sick of using those eye rays? Never fear, we have an item for you:
Beholder armor: Words fail.
I would love to see any of the "mouthpick" weapons illustrated in action, but sadly, Dungeons & Dragons was too smart to do that. Still, the image of a swashbuckling beholder haunts me to this day.
Book of Wondrous Inventions
Finally, we have a few things from the Book of Wondrous Inventions. The book, while clearly meant to be a joke, still has full stats and very serious histories included. For every war machine or golem the book has, there's something like this to balance it.
The animated money changing machine. Because gold gets heavy and deep gnomes really have nothing to do all day.
Bladderwick's human catapult: Because even a fatally short fly speed is still a fly speed.
"You have to think about the undead in terms of billable hours"—Mike, Penny Arcade
Fun Fact: This is actually how your washing machine works right now. Tiny skeletons? They're mocking your unmentionables.
No way. I'm done.
For real this time.