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[All Editions] In which we delve into the inspiration behind the game's monsters

#1
As we all know, one of the big things that makes D&D stand out compared to most other RPGs is the huge roster of monsters that the game has. Some of these - for example the dragons that the game is named after - have clear roots in popular storytelling and mythology, and are found all over the place. Others - such as the beholder - are unique to D&D and have become iconic of the game.

I thought it would make an interesting thread to go through the monsters in the game and see how well we can source them. Which ones are original, and which are inspired by fiction/myth? And where are those inspirations from?

Obviously there are hundreds, probably thousands, of monsters that have appeared anywhere in the game. That's far too many for us to be able to go through. So I suggest that we stick to the main monster books.

So, in this thread, we'll go through the main monster books of each edition (starting with Monsters and Treasures for OD&D, and finishing with Volo's Guide to Monsters for 5e) and look at each monster in the book in turn. It's going to be an epic journey through the game's history on par with the Mystara walkthrough that we did. I'm hopefully going to cover two or three monsters at a time, although some might get their posts to themselves if there's a lot to say about them.

Also, I'm by no means an expert on this subject, so everyone should feel free to chip in with whatever info they have that I've missed.

As far as I can see, the list of books we should be interested in is (I've skipped the campaign-specific Monstrous Compendium supplements for AD&D 2e as being not sufficiently "core" to the game):

  • 1974 - Monsters & Treasures (OD&D)
  • 1977 - Holmes Basic
  • 1977 - Monster Manual (AD&D)
  • 1981 - Moldvay Basic (B/X)
  • 1981 - Marsh/Cook Expert (B/X)
  • 1981 - Fiend Folio (AD&D)
  • 1983 - Mentzer Basic (BECMI)
  • 1983 - Mentzer Expert (BECMI)
  • 1983 - Monster Manual 2 (AD&D)
  • 1984 - Mentzer Companion (BECMI)
  • 1985 - Mentzer Masters (BECMI)
  • 1986 - Mentzer Immortals (BECMI)
  • 1993 - Monstrous Manual (AD&D 2e)
  • 2000 - Monster Manual (3e)
  • 2002 - Monster Manual II (3e)
  • 2003 - Fiend Folio (3e)
  • 2003 - Monster Manual III (3.5)
  • 2006 - Monster Manual IV (3.5)
  • 2007 - Monster Manual V (3.5)
  • 2008 - Monster Manual (4e)
  • 2009 - Monster Manual II (4e)
  • 2010 - Monster Manual III (4e)
  • 2014 - Monster Manual (5e)
  • 2016 - Volo's Guide to Monsters (5e)

That looks like a huge amount, but don't forget that most of the monsters are repeated in book after book, being updated for each edition - so by the time we're about a third of our way through the list we'll only be looking at the small minority of monsters that are new, not the many repeats of old monsters (although if a monster gets a significant change - such as the kobolds' change from dog-people to lizard-people - we might give it a quick mention).

So, who's with me?
 

SetentaeBolg

Registered User
Validated User
#3
This is interesting; I think it might be worth covering some of the 2E Compendium supplements, in particular for monsters which go on to become D&D "mainstream": things from planescape, spelljammer etc which gain traction.
 

Moonmover

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Validated User
#4
Monsters & Treasure starts with bandits.

Bandits are real, so we don’t have to wonder where the core idea came from. I’m going to nitpick the entry, though.

There is a random chance for a gang of bandits to include a Cleric, which seems odd. Since bandits are typically wicked outlaws, I would have expected that to be an anti-Cleric. I guess Friar Tuck was technically a bandit?

There are two more powerful forms of bandit presented: the berserker and the brigand. The berserker has a to-hit bonus, extra hit points, and never has to check morale. It’s obviously supposed to be a viking, but could be reflavored as any sort of fanatic warrior. The brigand is just like a typical bandit, but has +1 to morale checks and an alignment restriction. Wheras normal bandits can be Neutral or Chaotic, brigands are always Chaotic. They’re basically just like bandits, but braver and meaner, I guess.
 
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Tricksy and False

Social Justice Murderhobo
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#5
This is interesting; I think it might be worth covering some of the 2E Compendium supplements, in particular for monsters which go on to become D&D "mainstream": things from planescape, spelljammer etc which gain traction.
The 1993 Monstrous Manual does contain a lot of the more noteworthy setting-specific creatures from the Compendiums, like the Giff, Neogi, and space-specific Beholder-kin from Spelljammer.

It sadly lacks the Giant Space Hampster and its many variants, though.
 

Erik Sieurin

Translemurist
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Validated User
#6
I think this is a great idea!

Bandits, Brigands and Berserkers:

Not having access to the module: Are there other groups of humans who have cleric leaders, and do they specify if they're anti-clerics or general clerics.
 

ESkemp

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Validated User
#7
There is a random chance for a gang of bandits to include a Cleric, which seems odd. Since bandits are typically wicked outlaws, I would have expected that to be an anti-Cleric. I guess Friar Tuck was technically a bandit?
Friar Tuck's a good example. I also like that this seeds the idea of religion as something that's not always about being a good person very early on. I got into the game killing evil clerics in the Shrine of Evil Chaos, so why not have some terrible person ministering to the wicked ways of these outlaws?
 

Moonmover

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Validated User
#9
I think this is a great idea!

Bandits, Brigands and Berserkers:

Not having access to the module: Are there other groups of humans who have cleric leaders, and do they specify if they're anti-clerics or general clerics.
That takes us to the next entry, the dervish! 0D&D expects game masters to do a lot of cross-referencing. For example, dervishes “fight as Berserkers” and are “otherwise as Nomads.”

The entry for nomads says that they “are similar to Bandits as far as super-normal types and most other characteristics go.” In other words, they have the same chances of including Clerics, Fighters, and Magic-Users with levels amongst their ranks.

So, in order to run a random encounter with dervishes, the book wants you to first check the entry for berserkers (which is inside the entry for bandits), then the entry for nomads, and then that redirects you to the entry for bandits again. It’s kind of a mess.

Anyway, the dervishes are obviously based on the whirling dervishes of some ascetic Muslim groups. Although, as far as I can tell, the idea of dervishes being warriors comes from the Dervish State which existed only in the early 20th Century. I’m not very knowledgeable on the subject, though. Feel free to correct me.

Although the book says that nomad forces are mostly the same as bandit forces, the charts provided to roll up encounters with them indicate they should have a ton of cavalrymen. I think the nomads presented here would be an acceptable way to represent Fantasy!Bedouins, Fantasy!Mongols, or Fantasy!Sioux. Choose your favorite nomad horseback archer culture and go.
 
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Terhali

Generic Title
Validated User
#10
There is a random chance for a gang of bandits to include a Cleric, which seems odd. Since bandits are typically wicked outlaws, I would have expected that to be an anti-Cleric. I guess Friar Tuck was technically a bandit?
Hosea 6:9: "And as troops of robbers wait for a man, so the company of priests murder in the way by consent" [/joke answer]
 
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