We Belong Dead: Monsters That Should Never Be

GROGNARDIA: My Least Favorite Monsters beat me to it, but here’s a list of my 10 monsters that I never want to use or see in a campaign:

  1. Ear Seekers.  Despite my abiding affection for things like the Rust Monster, Ear Seekers cross the line between challenging the player and punishing smart play.  Even if the dungeon is stocked by a mad arch-mage intentionally seeking to thwart explorers, this kind of thing is just a reason not to play.  Whether to risk listening at the door is not the kind of decision that a GM wants to emphasize.
  2. Drow. I tried to read R.A. Salvatore’s Drizzt trilogy, I really did.
  3. Krenshar. A big cat that can peel the skin of its face back, so that… what?  I’m not getting it, either in evolutionary or mad wizard design terms.
  4. Troglodytes.  Why did cavemen become some wierd lizard creature?  And why aren’t lizard men and reptilian kobolds enough?
  5. Tarentella. (a spider that has a bite that not only causes the victim to dance, but makes onlookers save vs. dancing)  Even I have a limit to the pun-inspired game features I can take.
  6. Girallon.  To be honest, I’ve never actually seen or heard of these used, but adding an extra pair of arms to a gorilla and calling it a new monster was not anybody’s finest day.
  7. Deathbringer.  Now they’re not even trying.
  8. Gem Dragons.  Scraped right past the bottom of the barrel there.
  9. Jermlaines.  What purpose do these serve that kobolds don’t do better?
  10. Forest Sloth.  So…it’s a sloth.  With lightning fast reflexes, that can move along the ground or climb through the trees faster than a human can run.  Why exactly is it a sloth, again?  So that when the GM just says the name instead of describing what the characters see, they can get fooled for a moment into thinking they’re facing something slow?

My thanks to Ed Bonny, Jeff Grubb, Rich Redman, Skip Williams, and Steve Winter, without whose Monster Manual II this list would have had to stop at number 5.

17 thoughts on “We Belong Dead: Monsters That Should Never Be

  1. I actually used troglodytes and drow to good effect in my D&D game, by trying to extrapolate their culture from clues in the Monster Manual. Troglodytes are basically stinky lizard people by stats, but their entry has two interesting tidbits. Their leaders are clerics, and species survival is paramount. In my game, evil clerics transform into undead after they die. So I reasoned that, if troglodytes had very short personal lifespans, then their customs would be geared towards creating institutional memory. In particular, great leaders could come back as undead to help guide their people (but not really be accepted as part of the community). The clerical leadership would act as an intermediary between the living and the Elders. This became important when the PC’s took over a troglodyte village and banished their Elders. They had to start playing the role of Elders, and training the next generation of leaders.

    My impressions of drow were from a couple of FR books by Elaine Cunningham, the only D&D author so far I can stomach. Again, drow life was geared for species survival, with the backstabbing amongst them being social Darwinism urged on by their goddess Lolth. So I interpreted drow as being the flip side of elven nature ties, with drow culture inspired by the eat-or-be-eaten aspects of nature. They consider the other elves “decadent”, in that tree-hugging and saving baby animals just weakens the herd. When they visited the drow lands, my players were favorably impressed and almost converted to Lolth.

    I think there are two types of “bad monsters”. The first type are those that are so contrived that they just seem gauche (even compared to a rust monster.) The second are those that seem kind of generic, where my reaction is “I paid money for this?” I won’t necessarily exclude the second kind from my world, because sometimes I just want a generic creature that isn’t already in play.

    Actually, I’ve ended up using the first kind of bad monster more than I expected, as well. In D&D, you get some strange situations coming up, and creatures that seem too bizarre for words actually fit some very bizarre ecological niches.

    Q: If a druid casts summons nature’s ally IV in a mini-Hell dimensional pocket, what would they get?
    A: A fiendish owlbear (described on page 39 of the Monster Manual.)

    If I really don’t like the available options, I’ll make up my own monsters. But with D&D savvy players, sticking with the “core monsters” whenever possible allows an element of familiarity that I like. Because the players basically know at least the names of entries in the Monster Manual,
    those creatures seem like they’re from the same world as the PC’s.

  2. I disagree about the Jermlaine. I think of them less like inferior kobolds and more like a gang of tiny evil fey. For instance, the following might be hard to pull off with kobolds:

    1. The characters could be like Gulliver when he travels to Lilliput and the Lilliputians tie him down while he sleeps. Except the Jermlaine then eat the characters. Players love it when the Jermlaine start with the toes.

    2. The Jermlaine are Evil Smurfs. The trickster aspect of the Jermlaine covers part of this, but you could also play up other things. For instance, the Smurfs are often accused of being communists. Why not take this to the next level and make a tiny Jermlaine Stalin with tiny Jermlaine secret police and tiny Jermlaine gulags. You could even send 10mm Cossack figures after your 28mm heroes.

    3. More evil smurfs: Gargamel as the local alchemist hermit constantly harassed by Jermlaine hires the PCs to clear out the infestation. You could even pull in wicked princeling Johann who protects his village of the little monsters because he enjoys the torment that they cause other people.

    4. Jermlain posing as cute pets to the unwary. Why would they do this? Are they looking for something? Maybe they just want to burn down the town one night in an orgy of violence.

    5. Even in a conventional dungeon setting, they live in places that are simply too small for normal characters to go, unlike Kobolds. The jermlain can freely harass and steal from the players then retreat to places where the characters simply can’t go. Sure, maybe they can pitch a fireball or something in there, but can they do it without melting everything worthwhile in to slag? Even if they kill the Jermlaine without damaging the treasure, how are they going to get at it without pulling the entire dungeon apart?

  3. @Russell- still not going to use Drow. I’m sure practically any monster concept can be salvaged with enough work, and one of your goals with your setting was to create the world that the D&D rules implied (or at least was as compatible as you could make it)… but unless the concept is to make them a commentary on (or parody of) Drow, it would work just as well if they were home-brew splinter faction of elves or a brand-new race. And then you wouldn’t be toting around the Drizzt baggage.

    @Gary- meh. 2-2 1/2 feet tall is already plenty small enough that there can be places where humans can’t easily follow. As for cute pets, did you even look at the illustration? 😉

  4. All I know about Drizzt is that he uses two swords, so there’s no baggage for me.

    I started using drow stats for my splinter elves, because I was lazy and they seemed as good as any. Then there didn’t seem to be any reason to hide the fact that these were really drow from the players. I just told them drow was a racial epithet that would get them in trouble among the True Elves.

  5. I have a soft spot for drow. Mainly because I remember what a big reveal they were when I was running Against The Giants (G1,G2,and G3). It was exciting to have a monster no one had ever heard of to play with.

    I will definitely agree that nowadays they are horribly overexposed and devoid of mystery. And I can’t even blame R.A. Salvatore for it. After all, it’s not his fault everyone started buying books about his drow character! He is just trying to make a living after all.

    Rob’s last blog post..Why Dollhouse disturbs me

  6. I think the Girallon was intended as a homage to a similar four-armed brute in the John Carter of Mars storys.

    Totally with you on the Krenshar though. Hackwork.

  7. If you are playing where alignments matter, what sense is there to have metallic good dragons and evil chromatic dragons, but no neutrals? Even if few and rare. Gems as a theme makes as much sense as anything — earthy like the metals, colorful like the chromatics. Even if they were that bad, I think they were inevitable.

  8. Nothing that took 30 years before somebody came up with it to pad out a book of supplemental monsters can really be described as inevitable. 😉

  9. @r_b_bergstrom- I’ve got to admit, whether something might have appeared in the Dragon in the 80’s is not the kind of thing I would know. I think Doug has the complete set on DVD or something…

  10. The Troglodytes actually didn’t orginate from cavemen. It is, by DND legend, that they are one of the few orginal races made to serve Dragons, along with Kobolds, and lizardmen. Quick question. Has anyone heard of the Metellic Kobolds?

  11. @Jeff, I’m talking about the word “troglodyte” not whatever backstory they gave them in D&D. It’s as if they had decided to call a race of humanoid spiders “neanderthals.” there’s no reason for it that I can see, and it only serves to confuse people not steeped in D&D lore.

  12. Ohh. Sorry. I didn’t understand that. xD I’m one of those Kobold freaks so I know alot of the random DnD facts about the dragon descent Creatures. Sorry THough. Though what in the World is an Ear Seeker. I’m a DM and I’ve not heard of them once…

  13. @Jeff – Ear Seekers were a monster introduced somewhere along the way in D&D that existed just to punish players for “wasting time” listening at doors. They were tiny insects that lurked on dungeon doors waiting for the opportunity to crawl in somebody’s ear and lay eggs, which would hatch and devour the victim’s brain.

    I’ve never actually seen them used, since the GM would have to be a real dick to employ them, at least without providing plenty of clues first that the dungeon was infested with them.

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