4th Edition's Monster Manual 3 releases next month, introducing a wealth of new creatures into the game (e.g., catastrophic dragons, apocalypse spells, new types of slaad, umber hulks, beholders)… but this is D&D Alumni, and we're much more concerned with those monsters of past editions finally making their return to the game!
And so, we give you our (admittedly subjective) Top 10 monsters returning from the 1st Edition Monster Manual. We wanted to look back at the origins of these creatures—with their details pulled and paraphrased from 1st and 2nd Edition Monster Manuals—to help explain why we're so thrilled to see their reappearance (even if that means we'll soon be fighting them at the table).
Next time, we'll continue our look back by presenting the Top 10 monsters returning from the 1st Edition Monster Manual 2 and Fiend Folio. Until then, enjoy!
Let's be honest. Back in the day, it simply paid to be an elf (racial level limits notwithstanding): infravision, weapon bonuses, a laundry list of languages, resistance to sleep and charm… and immunity to a ghoul's paralyzing touch.
With the rest of the party immobilized, it was left to the elf to save their collective bacon. So then, how do you panic an elf (aside from simply overwhelming them with ghouls)? Embed a ghast in the encounter, "so like ghouls as to be completely indistinguishable from them, and they are usually found only with a pack of ghouls. When the pack attacks it will quickly become evident that ghosts are present, however, for they exude a carrion stench in a 10’ radius which causes retching and nausea unless a saving throw versus poison is made." Worse than their stench, however, a ghast's paralyzing touch could overcome even an elf's inherent immunity.
Ghasts were meaner, tougher, and harder to turn. You couldn’t even keep them at bay with a protection from evil spell without adding powdered iron to the mix. Now returning in the 4E Monster Manual 3, "When ghouls go too long without humanoid flesh, they rot away from the inside out. The insatiable hunger that accompanies this transformation grants ghasts a desperate strength and ferocity." Stench of death? Check. Immobilizing bite? Check. Fearlessness of elves? Absolutely—even ghouls can now affect the elven race. So good luck exploring that crypt.
Why was it called a jackalwere, and not a werejackel? The 1E Monster Manual provided a rich array of lycanthropes (werewolf being just one variety): humans with the ability to transform into animal or hybrid animal form, thanks to the curse of lycanthropy. Whereas a jackalwere undertook the opposite transformation: "a jackal able to assume the form of a man. In this guise they roam about seeking to waylay and murder humans. They then steal their riches and eat the slain victims."
Just as ghasts surrounded themselves with ghouls, so jackalweres sometimes ran with jackels. Add in their sleep-inducing gaze, and they made for a true trickster of an adversary, a "malign foe of humankind". What might have sold them most, however, was their illustration—a hybrid jackelwere laying into its fallen victim.
Lycanthropes are a steadfast component of the fantasy genre (including, we grudgingly suppose, the Twilight Saga), and trickster jackals have long been part of world folklore. As far as jackalweres' origins in the D&D universe, the MM3 provides the following backstory:
"All lands were ravaged when the war between the gods and the primordials shook the world. Primal humanoid tribes were hard-pressed to survive, fighting fiercely with the predators for control of the scattered herds. In one fierce series of battles, a tribe of ancient humans fought and destroyed a great nation of primal jackals—cunning creatures that had intelligence exceeding that of normal beasts. Alone and destitute, the few surviving jackals howled their fear and fury to the heavens, never suspecting that the primal spirit called Dark Sister would hear their cries. She gave the jackals her gifts, and they became jackalweres."
#8. Rot Grub
Why would anyone root around heaps of offal or dung in the first place—habitat of the rot grub—risking infection by D&D's version of hookworm or the candiru fish? Possibly to search for hidden treasure (more than a few creatures seemed to carry gems around in their gizzards), or perhaps for clues and keys placed there by cruel DMs. Whatever the motivation for doing so, reach into a steaming pile of catoblepas dung and "these small creatures will viciously burrow into any living flesh which touches them, for they greatly enjoy such fare to dine upon."
Absent a cure disease spell, the only remedy was to apply fire to the wound (1-6 hit points damage per application, as the Monster Manual so helpfully stated). Otherwise, the rot grubs would quickly burrow to the heart and kill their host.
The MM3 presents the further (and completely horrible) information that gnolls capture rot grubs and use them to torment captives in bizarre rites to Yeenoghu. Bugbears keep pits filled with rot grubs to dispose of corpses and make their traps more deadly. And kobolds brave and stupid enough to hunt these creatures sometimes keep them in small, ceramic containers they hurl at intruders (note: even worse than getting hit with a pee-filled balloon). While rot grub swarms are bad enough, just wait for the rot grub zombie, a corpse reanimated into a dark parody of life… and acts as a carrier for the swarm of rot grubs it carries around inside it.
#7. Su Monster
What could be tougher than a monster named Sue? ("It's the name that helped to make your strong.") One of the Monster Manual's psionic critters, known for its terrifying appearance—dirty gray fur, black face, blood-red paws—as well as using its prehensile tails to hang upside down in order to freak out and attack with all four claws and its bite at once. "Su-monsters are at home upright or hanging upside down—the latter being one of their favorite methods of lurking for prey." Surprise!
2nd Edition added the legend that su monsters were magical hybrids of humans and apes, created by an evil wizard in order to guard his forest against psionic intruders. 4E slightly alters this legend. Su monsters now come from "the Isle of Dread, a jungle island based in the Feywild. A wizard named Halkith created the creatures to guard his tower from the island’s other inhabitants, including yuan-ti and hostile humanoid tribes. To create su monsters, Halkith combined the intellect and cunning of primates with the strength and stealth of fey panthers."
"These beautiful, ever-young appearing women inhabit the loveliest of wilderness places, grottos in the sea, clear lakes and streams, and crystalline caverns. They dislike any form of intrusion, and they have means to prevent it." Boy, do they ever. Truth be told, this is probably my earliest memory of the game, listening to older kids in the neighborhood—clearly enthralled with the Monster Manual's slightly risqué entries and artwork—breathlessly discussing that, "looking at [a nymph] will cause permanent blindness unless the onlookers save versus magic. If the nymph is nude or disrobes, an onlooker will die unless a saving throw versus magic is successful."
Approached carefully, nymphs might have been friendly, especially toward human males with 18 Charismas. Originating from the woodland spirits of myth and legend, nymphs have been expanded upon in MM3:
"The children of the four seasons and four wind brothers were the nymphs, fey beings who embody both their mothers’ ties to the seasons and their fathers’ fickle and tempestuous nature. The nymphs played with mortals, especially mortal men, toying with their minds and hearts, and they were pleased by such diverting toys. If the toys sometimes broke, what of it?"
Why settle for one lovely spirit? There are now spring, summer, autumn, and winter, as well as wood nymphs—each with their own unique powers. Consider the autumn nymph's wonderfully capricious power, whisper game:
Attack: Ranged 10 (one creature); +11 vs. Will
Hit: 1d8 + 4 psychic damage, and ongoing 5 psychic damage (save ends). Until the end of the encounter or until the nymph drops to 0 hit points, whenever any creature saves against this ongoing damage, the nearest ally within 10 squares of it gains
the ongoing damage. When the nymph drops to 0 hit points, the effect ends and the creature currently affected by the ongoing damage takes 15 psychic damage.