It’s like a spontaneous mini blog carnival I tell ya! A fair chunk of RPG blogdom (not least ChattyDM, Grognardia and noisms) are weighing in with their own personal list of favourite critters. I’m not one to miss a speeding bangwagon, so here’s my own list of Top Ten Monsters. In no particular order…..
Kobolds might be the current poster-children for low-level 4e play, but my love for them goes way back to their D&D roots as scaly dog-headed things that chatter in a series of wuffs and barks. I love ’em because they’re so darned adaptable; I’ve had winged kobolds, verdant kobolds (who live in forests and drop nets from trees ewok-like) and urban pickpocket orphan kobolds who speak with bad cockney accents. In my campaigns they’re like rats – you’re never far away from a Kobold, and they can survive in all but the harshest of places.
Body of Hulk Hogan, head of an animal, any animal (but goat is most common). These savage chaos-spawned brutes from Runequest are immense fun because the players never know quite what to expect as each one is different. One might have a huge crab-like claw while another has barbed tentacles which rise from his back. Another might explode on death, or split to form two more Broos. They’re easy to transplant into D&D too – just use the stats for Orcs, go wild with the descriptions, and you’re there. Fear the Broo!
Big, dumb, strong and easy to fool. No wonder players feel such a kinship for Ogres :D They’re like trolls without all that fiddly book-keeping and can put up a fight that the players will talk about for weeks. Beating their first Ogre should be a rite of passage for all low-level characters as it’s their first chance to tackle something bigger than themselves and (hopefully) live to tell the tale.
Y’know what players never do? Look up. Add a few Darkmantles into a dungeon though, and that changes quickly. Darkmantles add another dimension to the dungeon quickly and easily, giving the players one more thing to be worried about (death by strangling from above!) and well as providing them with a rather useful ally if they can somehow lure other monsters down the Darkmantle-infested corridors. Nice.
I’m disappointed that the Darkmantle didn’t make the first 4e Monster Manual (MMII, maybe?), so here’s a rather good fan conversion – their speed seems a little high to me, but other than that it’s good to go.
Kruthik & Kythons
It’s a tie for this spot as they both fill the “Alien substitute” niche for D&D. Both creatures are scary-ass different and evolve through their lifetimes, with Kythons somehow managing to be even more Alien than Alien itself. I love the idea of them hatching weapons from their eggs in particular. Kruthiks win bonus points for being in the 4e Monster Manual as a Core Critter meaning it’s likely we’ll see much more of these as adventures are written. Kythons hearken from the Third Edition Book of Vile Darkness – a notoriously difficult tome to get your grubby mits on. Excellent book, shame about the bookseller-unfriendly name. You try going to a bookstore and saying “Hi, I’d like a copy of the Book of Vile Darkness please.” without being arrested.
That Scene from Star Wars. Need I say more?
Nothing, but nothing, screams Classic D&D to me more than a Manscorpion. In my mind they’re the pinnacle of the hybrid-composite monsters. I mean – the centaur can run fast and flick flies with it’s tail, the Drider is a failed member of a failed Elven race (how lame is that?) and the Minotaur is just a big Chaos Broo with the chaos kicked out of it. But a Manscorpion….. it’s got the lot. Armoured exoskeleton, able to survive in the harsh desert environments and a poisonous sting. In a fantasy version of rock-paper-scissors, Conan beats Dragon. But Conan versus Manscorpion – too close to call. That’s badass.
Manscorpions only merited entry into a 3e Monster Manual (II, or maybe III – I forget which) as part of an appendix boasting about just how great the OGL is. Oh how things change, eh? When it comes to 4e, it’s a case of fanbase to the rescue once more with a spiffy Manscorpion to be found right here.
You always know where you are with a zombie. They’re moving when they shouldn’t be, and that’s just plain wrong. Kinda like Paris Hilton, only without the makeup. Zombies come in all shapes and sizes because anything can be a Zombie, though I suggest holding off on using that Zombie Gelatinous Cube. Zombie Anthropophagi are fun. “Chop of it’s head! Oh. Damn.”
A Zombie’s only purpose in life is to be hit, shot, stabbed and generally sent back from whence it came. They’re simple, uncomplicated foes. Unless of course you make the animated corpse one of the player’s loved ones – or worse yet, his family pet. But that’s just cruel GM’ing and I would never do such a thing. Nope. Never.
Air Shark, Air Shark, lumpy munchy Air Shark.
They’re Sharks, but they fly through the air. It’s like Jaws, only worse. Far, far worse. Air Sharks (alternately called Land Sharks, though not to be confused with the Bulette) originated in All the Worlds Monsters II, a softcover blue book dating back to the early days of D&D and co-authored by the late great David Hargrave, he of the Ardiun Grimoire fame. If you want to freak out your players, describe a horde of Orcs cresting a hill toward them riding sharks and I bet you get at least one “oh fuck” from them, right there.
I started with scaly things, so let’s end with ’em too. D&D wouldn’t be D&D without Dragons – it would be just called “Dungeons &” which is a silly name.
I love me some dragons of all flavours from the lowly (and awesome) Spiretop Drakes all the way up to Tiamat and beyond. My love for things Draconic waned a lot during 3e D&D because, cool though they were, Dragons were just so bloody unplayable at the table. 4e D&D changes that and does a terrific job of capturing both their raw potency and managing to make them hella cool fun to play at the same time. Add in the sheer range of draconic things (the MM alone boasts Chromatic Dragons, Dragonborn, Dragonspawn, Drakes and Wyverns – enough for an all-draconic campaign from levels 1-30!!) and there’s plenty of potential in the old scaly things yet.
So anyhow. There’s my Top Ten Monsters. What’s yours?