Stupid Monsters

By Shamus
on Oct 8, 2007
Filed under:
Tabletop Games

I know this has been linked all over the place by now, but in case you missed it:

DUNGEONS & DRAGONS: CELEBRATING 30 YEARS OF VERY STUPID MONSTERS.

I haven’t played earlier editions, but the 3.5 Monster Manual is, to my eye, a rich source of manic comedic lunacy. (There are monsters in there which clearly have no other purpose than to perform certain tasks for gutless DMs who don’t have the stones to handle things out-of-character. Did you accidently let a player have a game-unbalancing item? Well, sure, you could talk to them about giving the item up and coming up with a fun way to do it within the game, or you could just drop a Dimensional Grabber into the mix. These monsters can pass through walls, and amuse themselves by popping up, swiping a single item from a PC, and then running away – through walls – with their ill-gotten item. Ha ha! I stoled ur itemz! If you need to railroad the plot, swipe an item from the PC’s, kill off an annoying PC, nerf a character, or just jerk the players around a bit, you’re sure to find a monster that can do it “for you” so that you don’t have to get your hands dirty. I’m sure the list will bring back old, ridiculous memories for the first and second edition old-timers out there.

One thing I am glad of is that while the monsters are still goofy from time to time, the art has improved immensely over the years.

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20205Feeling chatty? There are 45 comments.

From the Archives:

  1. Browncoat says:

    Sure. Funny for you, but I gotta run to work, and the dumb thing stole my wallet!

  2. Lain says:

    Yeah,

    name of that monster mostly is WIFE.

  3. Skeeve the Impossible says:

    HA the owl bear dates back that far. I had no idea.
    What a silly game it is that we love

  4. Joshua says:

    Okay, that’s one example of a monster. Which other monsters were you thinking of that fell under this category?

    Also, any DM who uses such a method to steal a problematic item from a PC is likely to have really pissed off PCs who would likely quit. Just because such a monster exists in the Monster Manual doesn’t mean the PCs won’t know what’s really going on.

  5. Strangeite says:

    Oh, the memories. I can see how many of the monsters listed seem ridiculus if you have never played D&D, however, as my characters over the years have had many unfortunate encounters with Mimics and Lurkers, I have developed a hefty level of respect for such creatures.

    I am also glad that the author is not so out of touch with the realities of D&D that he makes fun of the truly horrible abomination that is the Rust Monster. No creature that has ever appeared in those hallowed tomes strikes fear in our party like the Rust Monster. I shudder just thinking about it. I would face a Tarrask any day of the week over the horror of the Rust Monster.

  6. Adam says:

    Been there and faced those buggers. A good DM will use them as living traps, which most of those “your gonna die” monsters are. Those things take me back.

  7. bargamer says:

    My monk sighs and squishes the Rust Monster for the screaming-like-girls other classes.

  8. Browncoat says:

    Great. Now I’m at work with no wallet, and no lunch.

    Stupid Dimensional Grabber. And don’t tell me my DM “accidentally let me have a game unbalancing item”! A wallet is not game unbalancing! (especially mine. Alright, it does have a +2 Charge Card of Purchasery, but that’s more of a liability than an asset.)

  9. Phil says:

    A lot of these monsters were created by Gary Gygax when he grew tired of players adopting certain play styles or over focusing on their Bling.

    The Ear Seeker(a bug that eat it’s way to a player’s brain, guess from where?) was created when he was bored that players always listened to doors. I’m not commenting on Grandad Gygax’s DMing style, it speaks for itself, but remnants of this still exist in the latest version of the game.

  10. Avaz says:

    MONKEY BEES!

    Ahem. I mean, how great would it be if you started a campaign, and you started the players in a room where you had the trifecta of things-that-are-other-things – these being the killer walls, killer floor, and killer ceiling – and the only item in the room was a treasure chest which was really a mimic, and inside was a sword that killed you if you touched it. That would be great. :D

    • Darkstarr says:

      D&D isn’t the only game that does this–Warhammer 40,000 had the Catachan Face-eater (if I’m remembering the name right). Imagine this, if you will: a creature in the shape of a washcloth that literally tries to dissolve your face off with stomach acids.

      …In a wargame, no less…

  11. Mordaedil says:

    “The Ear Seeker(a bug that eat it’s way to a player’s brain, guess from where?) was created when he was bored that players always listened to doors. I’m not commenting on Grandad Gygax’s DMing style, it speaks for itself, but remnants of this still exist in the latest version of the game.”

    Why he did that and didn’t rather have a monster on the other side of the door kick the door open, giving the listener a concussion is beyond me.

  12. Davesnot says:

    These monsters were developed for a single purpose.. some of them are pretty fun.. Rust Monster is a classic.

    Players used to develope spells are the same way… I’m just glad I wasn’t at the table when the wizards first learned to cast Stinking Cloud!

  13. WWWWolf says:

    “…was pretty much Elves in Space. Fighting Pirates. And Space Dragons. Not a joke. Really.” What’s wrong with space dragons? Ridley (from Metroid) rules!

    And giant space hamsters? They rule too! Well the miniature ones anyway! (Go for the eyes, Boo!)

    And Mimics are fun! Especially in Nethack! Gelatinous Cubes are fun too – when overcome by cunning biochemistry! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c87vHij7QJQ

  14. Burning says:

    My least favorite was Green Slime. There was basically nothing you could do to hurt it except burn it. On the other hand, any contact between it and a PC’s bare skin would ultimately be fatal unless you did something drastic (like burning the PC).

    I don’t have any of the books with me, so I may be inflating its malignancy in my mind. However, the impression I was left with was that a DM used green slime if they wanted to have an encounter that was guaranteed to do at least some damage no matter what the rolls and would be completely unrewarding to the players.

  15. Winged Ignorance says:

    It’s articles like these and tales of spiteful DMs harassing lucky (or persuasive) players that make me glad I very rarely use monsters. Rangers in my games have a lot of incentive to choose humans, elves, dwarves, and other core races as favoured enemies.

  16. Phlux says:

    I’m not a D&D player but I find this stuff endlessly fascinating for some reason.

    Those of you that play: Do your DMs really throw this stuff at you on a regular basis? Are you in real danger of dying if the DM drops a ceiling monster on your head? Or can you just slice it up and claim the XP?

    This guys makes a lot of these seem like death trap monsters, but all they really get is first strike right? Unless they can kill you in one blow, you get to fight back, don’t you?

  17. Hal says:

    I’m trying my hand at the whole “DM” thing, and I just can’t imagine using half the monsters in the monster manual. Half are just too crazy powerful for my party of three lvl-1 adventurers, while the other half are just too exotic and bizarre to fit seemlessly into the story. The main thing I get out of it is a burning desire to make a character who is half-celestial (or fiend, or draconic, etc). Even a plane-touched (N)PC would be fun.

  18. Brian says:

    I am told that Gygax originally created many of these, including
    the Owlbear, Beholder, Bullette, and everything that looks like
    an Otyugh, after finding them in dime-store toy vending machines,
    the sort with the plastic capsules.

  19. Cat Skyfire says:

    Flumph! Definitely the Flumph. It’s even been featured as a running gag in the Order of the Stick.

  20. Winter says:

    Some of these are not bad at all. The Giff, for instance, were pretty cool. Assuming you bought into Spelljammer. And so on. But yeah, some of them are just… uh… weird…

    Also, Mimics have become such classic monsters that even if the premise is stupid it’s hard to hate them. There are a lot of monsters like that, really.

    • Simriel says:

      I once picked up a rock. A small rock, from the ground, to use as a distraction for guards. It was a mimic. Fucking DM and his Mimics. And they ALWAYS get ME for some reason.

  21. Felix says:

    Those monsters are just like your railroading: they can be done poorly. Doesn’t mean they’re inherently bad, though.

    And who doesn’t like having to get your Widget +6 back from a uniped with enormous lips and four arms who is distracted by shiny things? It would be like confronting a kleptomaniac Dory from “Finding Nemo”. That would be awesome!

  22. Zaghadka says:

    The tarrasque – evidence of a monty haul campaign gone off the rails. Someone beat me to “ear seekers,” which were evidence of some egregiously bad (politely put, “old school”) GM’ing.

    Check out the material components to spells too. There’s a number of cutesy metagaming in-jokes, and nobody really bothered to change them.

  23. mocking bird says:

    What about the trilloch? The ethereal bug that feeds of psychic energy that does….absolutely nothing.

    Ah the Fiend ‘Book of Silly Monsters’ Folio. If it weren’t for the giths, drow and retrievers the book would have been utterly comical.

  24. craig says:

    My god, I love the rediculous monsters. I think my next campeign will be based around fighting these insanities. I remember last time I included a gelatenous cube farm in the jungle, and it was a big hit. Now, gelatenous cube farming seems to be an integral part of dnd for a couple of my friends.

  25. James Blair says:

    I’ve used mimics now and then, since the whole “fake chest” and “fake door” thing sounds like something someone might actually want to set up once in a while. I’ve also used green slime to pump up the CR of some traps. I certainly don’t use them very often.

  26. The Pancakes says:

    @16

    There are so many DnD monsters that I can’t imagine anything being thrown at players on a regular basis. That said, there are some staples, but Lurkers, Trappers, Mimics and so forth are one-trick ponies. You get one chance to use these on your players and after that, the jig is up. Fool me once and shame on, shame on won’t get fooled again, or so the man says.

    Other monsters like Orcs and Goblins and Hobgoblins and Gnolls are more frequently seen in games, but they’re more believable. They have societies and heirarchies and ecological impacts and such. Also they’re bipedal, which I believe adds a lot to the believabilty and frequency of use factors.

    The important thing for me is to design a world that does not interrupt a player’s suspension of disbelief. Evil forest of the lich king? OK, then I can use the evil squirrels that steal acorn-sized pieces of your soul. Dungeon created by a mad wizard? Then by all means add a Gelatanous Cube to keep it clean and shiny.

    There was/is a monster called a Grig. They’re little faerie folk that are the cricket-equivalent of the Centaur. In the books they’re good, harmless little critters. I saw them and thought, “Hey, these would be awesome as a locust swarm.” And then I came up with an appropriate role for them in the ecology: stripping the flesh from dead animals and whatever else happened to be around the dead animals, like adventurers.

    I think that the guy who wrote that article has a serious deficiency when evaluting these critters for dumbness: he doesn’t appear to get the whole “magical fantasy world” thing. Sea Lions for example — I’ve never used them, but they seem no dumber than Orcs to me. They’re predators, they live in the ocean and they operate in prides. If I were running an aquatic-based campaign, and I’ve heard of such things, I might want to use these creatures to populate my ocean ‘savannah’ Maybe I’ll add herds of roaming Sea Cows for them to hunt. Maybe I could have some kind of sea primate riding these creatures, brandishing nets and tridents to repel the evil invaders from the Dry Land world. See how this works? Start with a cool picture and start visualizing. :)

  27. guy says:

    I’ve always wanted to do a trap room with flying attack rust monsters. A room of death whose far door was a mimic appeals to my evil. the sea lions are cool, but the picture is ugh.

  28. Namfoodle says:

    meh. I’m not sure I can fully support the monster maunderings of some guy who never actually played D&D. Spelljammer is hardly D&D’s finest momment. But really, are elves in space such a bad thing?

    Gas spores rule! If you pack them tightly, they are capable of creating some of the most insane kill zones in the 1st addition rules. It only takes one point of damage to set every single one of them off in a domino effect. The number of damage dice are only limited by whatever shreds of decency still cling to the DM’s cold, black heart.

  29. guy says:

    DO NOT TALK TO NETHACK PLAYERS ABOUT GAS SPORES OR MIMICS WHEN USING POSITIVE CONNOTATIONS!

  30. JD Wiker says:

    ::ahem::

    I’m actually responsible for one of those silly monsters:

    MONKEY BEES!

    I really can’t take *full* “credit,” though. I was given a sketch of monkey-headed wasps and told to write stats for it–a bit galling, since I’m not a fan of the “impossible offspring” school of monster creation. But, hey, like the article said, I was getting paid to create the things.

    The owlbear and other classic D&D monsters, though–I can confirm that those were created basically by the early designers writing up stats for the toy figures they had been using to represent monsters in their games. In fact, I’ve seen the original owl bear mini; Skip Williams has it in his collection of minis. (And it looks *exactly* like the illustration in the 1st Edition Monster Manual.)

    JD Wiker
    RPG Designer for Wizards of the Coast
    1998-2002

  31. guy says:

    didn’t the rust monster come from there too?

  32. Telas says:

    Rust monsters come from a dime-store grab-bag of Chinese toys that Gygax & co picked up. My brother had the same toy when he was younger, and when I saw the Rust Monster in the MM, I wondered if it wasn’t based on some kind of real-world bug or crustacean (otherwise, how would cheap toys and D&D end up with them?).

    And yes, a lot of the early monsters were a direct result of player characters getting silly with their dungeoneering, and DMs getting sillier in retaliation…

    JD: Missed you at GenCon this year, what’s up these days?

  33. ngthagg says:

    I hate rust monsters. They are a one shot enemy. Once players know what they are, they’ll just stand back and used ranged weapons/magic/monks to kill them. Once the characters gain more than a couple of levels, they become an easy kill.

    But that first encounter, where decent players feel bound not to meta-game, is just an exercise in frustration. Especially since even magical items have very little defence against rusting.

  34. guy says:

    they are also deadly when they jump out of the doorway at you and obliterate your gear before you can open the distance.

  35. M says:

    Possibly the nastiest cursed item I’ve ever come up with while DMing was the “Wand of Summon Rust Monster”. When activated, it summoned a single rust monster, which immediately attacked the caster, or the largest source of metal in the party, and would remain oriented on that target until the metal was all rusted, or the rust monster was slain.

    Of course, the nasty part of it was that to a cursory inspection, it appears to be a Wand of Cure x Wounds, depending on the level of the players.

  36. Qurqriish Dragon says:

    In one campaign I was in, one character had a pet rust monster (I don’t recall if a charm was cast on it, or there was some other contrived reason for this). It was funny, however. As a party, we agreed that all copper pieces found in treasure would be used as snacks for the pet. This agreement happened after it helped us in a battle, and the owner said “I toss the rust monster a copper piece” or something similar. I forget what he named it (or even *IF* he named it)

  37. Kristin says:

    Hehe, mimics.

    My party was confronted with a giant pair of legs chasing a kobold. While the CN wizard killed the kobold, the party paladin let the fight against the giant pair of legs.

    The party still carries around a stick used to poke things so their shiny weapons don’t get stuck to the evil mimic… (seriously, the paladin was swordless for about four rounds because his Strength checks kept sucking).

  38. roxysteve says:

    White Box, first ed, Monsters & treasure booklet:

    Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you: The Rust Monster.

    The Owlbear (and a very nice rendition of it by Asgard Figures circa 1978)

    The Ent (in the reprint they lost this and found the Treant sitting in its moot)

    The Blinkdog

    The Displacer Beast

    The Gelatinous Cube

    In Greyhawk we have:

    The Beholder

    The Mysterious Roper (it’s in the encounter tables but a description of it doesn’t appear in any of the books, anywhere).

    I guess some of these things had a longer life in them than anyone thought.

    Steve

  39. JD Wiker says:

    Telas: I was there–just on my own initiative.

    As for what I’m up to, drop by my blog: jediwiker.livejournal.com

    JD

  40. lost chauncy says:

    Miniature Giant Space Hamsters are not to be trifled with

  41. AndrewNZachsDad says:

    Hey! I liked Spelljammer!! I’m not feeling ambitious enough to pull out the manuals (and, yes, I do still have them; box and all), but if I remember correctly the Giant Space Hamster was actually a generalized stat listing based on a specific NPC’s pet. Note in the picture the adventurer type standing in front of said phlogiston-faring rodent.

    When I was a fair bit younger (and more single, and less parent-ish), I had given myself the task of compiling a monster list based on the monster manuals of all the games I played at the time and building stats for each of them for use in D&D. In case this seems like a good idea to you, let me assure you that this would have made cleaning the Aegean Stables seem like an afternoons dusting. I still remember having my room filled with manuals and lists. And every once in a while a stray sheet finds its way back to me through some eldritch mechanism which I refuse to consider…

  42. Rann says:

    I will say that one of my previous DMs -never- dug through the Monster Manuals to find monsters to neutralize my stuff.

    He’d just make one up all on his own.

    Another player and I had noticed that he seemed to focus a lot of the “aggro” on my fighter, despite the fact that the magic-users reliably dealt twice the damage every round. (C’mon, everything in the world of D&D knows that between the Lesser Frost Giant in full plate wielding a large crystal broadsword and the skinny guy in the robe and mask, you KILL THE ROBED DUDE FIRST.) So we went digging around the sourcebooks and found a thing called the Retributive Amulet. Made whoever hit you with a melee attack take half the damage themselves. I, being the fair-minded sort, made sure to clear buying this thing with the GM first.

    “So it’s okay if I buy this?”
    “Yeah, sure.”
    “It’s pretty powerful, it’s from the Book of Exalted Deeds.”
    “Hunh, really?”
    “Yeah. Gonna take all of my money to buy it.”
    “Okay. That’s fine.”

    It quickly became the bane of his Fighter-smashing existence, despite the fact that only a third of the monsters he threw at us even USED melee attacks. (They tended to favor “spell-like abilities”, all the destructive power of spells, none of the getting blocked by resistances!) Until finally he just whipped up an enemy that, for no particularly explained reason, had the same ability as the Retributive Amulet. When Fighter and baddy clashed, so did the spells. He took some light damage, my amulet exploded (and gave me some light damage too). Cute. (And no, I was not in any way compensated by getting some nice loot or an equivalent magic item or anything like that, just boom, smirk, oh well.)

    Nevermind how pissed-off it made him when I started cutting off the heads of the giant-ass monsters he loved to throw at us, with a sword he practically -glued- into my character’s hands with a “Take it, dammit!” style plotline.

    Is it still passive aggressive when the passive and aggressive come in turns?

  43. RCN says:

    I thought the Magnus Opus of this kind of DMing was the Rust Monster.

    If a DM really wants it he can have those things pretty much reduce ALL of the players riches into handfuls of dust and has precisely zero loot to make up for it. For me, the only fair way to introduce a rust monster is in such a way as to allow the players to try and deal with it in some other way (the wizard can probably identify the thing in time). If they’re informed and they STILL charge in, then they deserve whatever losses they get.

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