Monday, March 2, 2009

My Top Ten Monster List

As always, I seem to be late to the party. So here is my (belated) top ten monster list.


Dark Elves got a lot of bad press on the top ten lists, mostly because of backlash against Drizzt and the overexposure they get by Wizards of the Coast as a result.  Regardless, I will admit I have a soft spot for them though, mostly because of my fondness for the G1, G2, G3, D1, D2, D3, and Q1 modules. Back then, the drow were a shocking reveal. After all, the players had read the Elf entry in the Monster Manual, and it said that dark elves were “only a legend”. As long as they are used in moderation, I feel they can still be a dangerous and intelligent foe for your group.

Mind Flayers

Another major player in the D1, D2, and D3 modules, I grew to love them despite the confusing psionic rules and complete rip-off of Lovecraft. I have been told I have a flair for horror in D&D. I also enjoy intelligent monsters who try to outwit rather than outfight the party. So obviously Mind Flayers are a good fit for me.


I6: Ravenloft was my hands-down favorite 1E module. As a beginning DM, the tips provided on turning Strahd into a credible threat for the party were a real eye-opener. Plus, you can take almost everything I said about drow and mind flayers above and wrap them into these adaptable undead.


Shades in the original Monster Manual 2 were an early example of what we would now know as a “template” monster. This adaptability suited me well, and a Shade Assassin became a major reoccurring bad guy in one of my long-running campaigns. Ever since then I have had a soft spot for them.


I can’t leave these guys off the list, since they are actually in the name of the game. Dragons were designed to give the players a big fight and boy could they deliver.


Players in my game learned to fear pixies. Seriously, they started leaving pre-emptive offerings for them when they entered the forest.


Despite having read The Hobbit, I always had difficulty reconciling the Lawful Good alignment of Halflings in the Monster Manual with their amazing talent for thievery. So in my games, Halflings had a carefully maintained veneer of respectability, which was a cover for horrific mafia-like activities. If you knew what was good for you, you did not enter the Halfling parts of town after dark.


These temptress demons were a pretty potent weapon when aimed at a group of geeky high school kids. Plus they possessed the dreaded Energy Drain ability. So I used them a lot.


Intelligent, cool looking, and capable of creating potent illusions on a whim! I had a lot of fun pitting these against the party.


If the party has to fight a demon prince, it might as well be Orcus. Well-stocked with powerful undead and demon minions, a battle with Orcus was a great way to finish off any campaign.

And honorable mention goes to…


Many of my most memorable “monsters” were of the human variety.


Questing GM said...

There is a halfling mob in Eberron called the Boromar Clan and they are one of the most dangerous criminal organizations in the city of Sharn. So dangerous that some parts of the city are virtually under their control, including the mayor's office.

Scafloc said...

My own top ten list is not entirely different from Rob's, but I had enough fun trying to figure it out that I wanted to share it.
Like Rob, a large number of my “monsters” were just people. I tended to break out into the “demi-human” races a lot as well, but functionally, they were essentially PCs gone bad (which is sort of the point).
Mind Flayers
Lovecraft for the win! While all of the monsters now known collectively as “abberations” are great, I absolutely loved the Githzerai/Githyanki/Mindflayer deal. By the time I introduced my players to a mind flayer proper, they did not maintain any illusions of successfully fighting them. As far as they were concerned, anything that could enslave dragonriding fighter/mages was BAD NEWS. This let me use the shuggoths ... er mind flayers ... to great effect as slimy servants to an elder thing-that-should-not-be, in this case (ironicly) a demon-god manifested as a giant aquatic brain (not entirely unlike what was later described as an “elder brain” in some 2e books).
I used one of these guys as the head of the thief's guild in a major city; it was tons of fun.
At first I didn't get these guys very well, then I read Dragonlance (for some reason the origins of the draconians really made me understand these monsters much better). The horror concept of transforming your children and allies into deadly inhuman foes is hardly unique here (tons of undead, werecreatures, etc all do this), but the tie in to Cthulian cult style investigating makes these guys really a lot of fun. I rarely used them as throwaways, but loved them as a sub plot in an ongoing game which would eventually come to a head at some point.
Honestly, beholders were a lot of hell, for players and DM's alike. On the other hand, there was little better way to chop an entire party down to size than to shut down the spell batteries and charm the fighters. If only the rules for fighting them were at all similar to any other monster..... On the other hand, they lend themselves to 4e pretty well. Perhaps I will have to see what has been done on that count.
Lizard Men
I loved them mainly because I could make them complex. In one notable adventure, players saved the town from lizard men, only to turn about and discover them trading with a different tribe of them. These new ones were smart and savvy, and for the most part peaceful enough. They made fun of the “hot bloods” for being unable to tell them apart (especially when there was gender confusion) while at the same time making gross errors in identification themselves.
While I didn't care for these guys so much inside the spelljammer setting, I absolutely love them as a mastermind style monster. Magic casting abilities, paired with a facility for catching brute monsters for muscle, make designing an encounter easy enough. From a plot design point of view they are about perfect. They combine creepy-crawly with Cthulian ocean depth feel, and it can be very fun to do a lot of spider imagery which doesn't relate to drow (though aiming that way as a red herring is fun too).
Orogs and Hobgoblins (odd pairing I know)
In an early 1e game I had hobgoblins which were the remnants of the ancient empire (elves usually fill this role, Rome did in the real world). They used intelligent tactics, pulled no punches, and had many character classed leaders – a rarity at that time. I also had a real issue with my players knowing every monster in every book, I went back to another old favorite: the Orc. I repurposed them culturally into warrior houses which used fast raiding ships and fierce melee combat, combined with a strong sense of personal and family honor. At one point I even had them use the Lajatang as a ceremonial weapon in homage to the bat'leth.
Man, people just never gave those little guys credit. I always used them as engineers. They had a surprisingly sophisticated society, with many of what we consider modern conveniences. Essentially I used them like modern men, and treated them as such... they were lazy, greedy, and sometimes wasteful, but quick to shoot things (especially from cover). I always gave them a ton of “better mousetrap” style devices in every lair they had which ran from normal “traps” to indoor plumbing. Invariably I armed them with oriental adventures style repeating crossbows, and eventually guns in 2e. I never really cottoned to the whole “tribes that worship dragons” deal in 3e early on, but have grafted it in, likening it to the way dragon cults work in many other games.
Goblins and Sidhe
Early in my DM'ing career I latched on to the idea that goblins were forest faeries gone wrong in the same way that elves were sort of “normalized” sidhe faeries. This caused me to use more than my fair share of nilbogs and the like, as well as to write up monster entries for things like “goblin, cobbler” and “goblin, midnight.” I similarly wrote up “elf, sidhe,” and treated drow in like manner (explain to me how their faerie fire and dancing lights powers are NOT faerie tale related, I dare you). This also allowed me to have wood elves that rode big wolves (similar to worgs) and so on. I kept bugbears as sort of a dark reflection of high elves mainly by smartening them up slightly and aiming their focus on demonic magic (which today would be warlockdom I suppose). I even developed “under hill” as a series of large pocket planes in the ethereal.