Wednesday, February 17, 2010

they came from Chainmail

Today I got to wondering about what monsters were in D&D from the beginning. So I got out my copy of Chainmail to put together an alphabetical list.

dragon - red, blue, white, black, green and... purple!
elemental - earth, air/djinn, fire/efreet, water
fairie - mechanically identical to elves, but less likely to serve with the forces of Law
giant spider & insect
giant wolf/dire wolf
halfling - undoubtedly hobbits in an earlier edition

No giant snakes! Anyway, it's pretty clear that most of these monsters are ubiquitous across editions. Fairies became Gray Elf (Faeries) in the original Monster Manual and just Grey Elves after that. Purple Dragons became Purple Worms at the same time. Efreet and Djinn got there own statblocks and piles o' special abilities. Other than those changes, the above listed creatures remain stock monsters throughout the history of the game.

Retroclone publishers might want to check the above monster list against their own monster section. And referees might find it useful to look at this list ask themselves if they make regular use of these critters. And if not, why not? I'm not arguing for any prescriptive adoption of a standardized monster list. I simply think it might be an interesting thought experiment to compare one's own monster usage against these hoary standards. For example, I see that the only humanoid goons listed are orc, goblin and kobold. While I've gotten lots of mileage out of gnolls, bugbears and hobgoblins, it might be cool to cut back on their usage for a while and focus on fewer types of humanoids. Just a thought.

Three unrelated but interesting tidbits from the Fantasy Supplement section:
  • Magic swords are always Lawful
  • The forces of Chaos have Anti-Heroes to counter the Heroes, but no Supervillains to oppose the Superheroes.
  • Wizards can automatically set any wooden siege implement or building on fire. Sweet.


  1. Regarding the humanoids, I must admit that I've only used bugbears rarely and hobgoblins infrequently. Gnolls almost never. Not really sure why. Must have been channeling me some Chainmail.

  2. I usually think that monster lists should be either limited in size or near-infinitely large (when you don't care about ecology and want most monsters to be unique). This is a decent sized list for the former, but it might be an interesting thought experiment to look at these by niche: what sort of challenge do each of them pose? Is it a well-balanced list?

    It does appear to be lacking in the evil-mastermind category. Is that intentional or an oversight?

  3. I'd sooner drop the orcs and kobolds than either bugbears or hobgoblins, personally.

  4. It's good to see I've been playing Wizards as they were intended.

  5. The earlier editions also included Balrogs. People don't use them nearly enough...

    Verification word: bulardal -- which is like a balrog, but a bit of a lard-ass.

  6. The forces of Chaos have Anti-Heroes to counter the Heroes, but no Supervillains to oppose the Superheroes.

    Of course not. The biggest heroes don't fight evil dudes, they fight /proper/ monsters. (dragons, Grendel, Jormgandr, Chimera, the Minotaur, the Hydra, the Nemean Lion, etc...)

    Monsters: the main reason (apart from the dog) that The Odyssey is just plain better than The Iliad. Doubt me. Which one got a cartoon series?

    Pyro wizards rock though.

    vw: fedges - Erm, I got nuthin'.

  7. ...referees might find it useful to look at this list ask themselves if they make regular use of these critters. And if not, why not?

    Looking over the list, the only ones I made a point of discarding from my own D&D runs (after using them early on) were the basilisk and cockatrice, because later in the game I wearied of one-roll gimmick powers like petrification. In later years, thanks to other games, I re-embraced these things and learned to use them well, but in my D&D days they grew tiresome and were cast out.

    I never had much use for chimerae, except metaphorically speaking. The same holds true today.

    The rest I used regularly, and still do in my trad-fantasy runs.

    If I could add one item to the list of "fundamental dee and dee mon-stores" it would be the Gargoyle. I can't imagine trad-fantasy gaming without gargoyles :)

  8. I'm guessing that the purple dragon became .... wait for it ...

    the purple worm

  9. Late to the party, but -- Hobgoblins are in fact listed in the Chainmail text: see the last line of the "Goblin" entry. (And compare to the "giant Orcs" noted in the last line of the Orc entry.)