I did not see that one coming! – My favourite D&D creatures, and why I think some of them are underused.
The first moment when I got hooked on D&D was, oddly, when I opened the Monster Manual for the first time. I was thinking in purely narrative terms, and a book filled with physical prompts to the story felt like Cthulhu had smiled upon me.
Since then, I’ve fought with many of these creatures, and although I love the sameness of some (I’m ok with Dungeon = skeletons), I do feel some creatures don’t get enough time in the limelight. So these are some of my choices, random, and in no particular order.
1) Aarakokra (Humanoid Eagles/Hawks)
The Aaarakokra were one of the first things to get me into D&D, and this is no exaggeration. I opened the Monster Manual (MM) and there they were, first entry. Oddly, it wasn’t as a creature that I saw them, but NPC’s. I saw a major avian civilisation, living in sprawling towers and cliffs. I saw a people like humans, with good guys and bad guys, but that could fly. I ended up using one as an apothecary in my first adventure, and ‘caw caw’’d her voice throughout. I then lost my voice for 3 days.
2) Were-things (Polymorphs Human/Animal)
I love werewolves, always have. The MM opens up other possibilities, were-tigers, etc, but lycanthropy is a favourite. I think it could work well as a cursed character, revealing him/herself as a were-creature at the worse possible moment. Also, their ability to infect others makes them a much bigger threat than usual.
3) Doppelgangers/Mimics (Shapeshifters)
Perhaps in the same way as the previous entry, I find doppelgangers and mimics inherently interesting. Anything and anyone could be something or someone else. The possibilities are endless. I simultaneously like the tragic aspect that a creature with all faces and shapes might lack one of its own.
I am ambivalent about dragons. I mean, is there any creature more iconic in this game? It’s in the name! I’ve come across dragons on many games I’ve played, and they were usually used as the uber-boss. One game, they were the brains behind the operation, and were the ones hiring the party, which was a nice variation. I don’t know, I just feel they’re played just as Smaug (From The Hobbit fame), stuck in a cave shouting threats. I think Shadowrun might have ruined dragons for me. Dragons should be pulling the strings behind the curtains, they are certainly powerful enough, and old enough, to do it. And if you meet it in a cave, it’s because a) it wished for it to be so or b) the players were so amazingly cunning they surprised it (yeah, right….).
5) Drow (Subterranean Elves, Dark-skinned, White Hair)
The Drow were originally presented as ‘cave elves’, and as the Aarakokra, they have a deep and intricate backstory that usually gets ignored. Now I’m not saying you need to know everything ever written about them (I certainly don’t!), but the moment a drow appears, people immediacy assume he or she is evil, which I think is a serious reduction in the potential of the race. I once had a Drow selling sausages and kebabs out of a cart in the middle of town, during the day. He had a massive cloak to protect him from the sun, and the origin of the sausage’s meat was dubious at best, but it was good to see my players waiting for him to do something evil/treacherous. He didn’t. He was a seller of kebabs. Even the change was correct.
Another creature I consider underused. Maybe it’s attacking the party because it has a purpose? Maybe it would actually help the party if someone took the time to figure out WHY it is haunting or attacking the party at that point?
7) Gnolls (Humanoid Hienas)
I *love* gnolls. They’ve got a face only a mother would love and an aggressiveness to match. I think they work well in packs, but for me, their value lies as the stupid minions of the mid-level baddie. You know what I’m talking about. The jailer that falls asleep with his back to the cell? The guard that is busy smoking, and ignores the moving shrub? I can easily see them as a threat AND as comedy relief.
8) Merfolk (Mermaids/Mermen)
I’d use these guys every near-water adventure I could think of. Maybe there’s a parallel adventure to the party’s happening in the depths, and then suddenly both collide? They’re bound to a civilisation down there at least as advanced as ours. So why wouldn’t their duke get a party together to research what the heck the surface-dwellers are up to? Boom, now you have two parties in the half-sunken temple trying to get the artefact at the same time. Good luck with that.
9) Mind Flayer (Octopus-headed Humanoid)
The Ilithids are Cthulhu-looking interdimensional brain-suckers, and this is pretty much everything anyone needs to know about them. They are properly dangerous, but I’m fascinated about running an adventure in one of their lairs (maybe with the party pretending to be some of their slaves), with the party constantly exposed to technology WAY beyond their ken. And when you meet an Ilithid every other room…. How’re those persuasion rolls going for you?
10) Minotaur (Bull-headed Very Large Humanoid)
Massive creature that is fine as opposition, but I believe works equally well as an NPC (See above). I had a minotaur cloth merchant in one of my adventures. I had to create him in a second, I opened the MM and there he was. He had a string between his horns, with a number of ribbons of fabric floating in the breeze. He was his own billboard.
And these are my first 10 underused creatures. What are yours?
Rui is a Portuguese scientist that, after ten years doing strange things in labs, decided to become a teacher. Then, two years ago, like he was bit by a radioactive D20, RPG’s came into his life, and he’s now juggling teaching, playing and GMing quite happily. He lives in the UK with his partner Joana, an ungodly number of potted plants, 4 to 5 RPG’s at various stages of completion (and across as many rule systems), and maps, cursed idols, evil necklaces, and any other props he can get his hands on. He’s been writing for HLG for a few months, and is one of the resident vloggers. He can be reached at @Atomic_RPG.
Picture Reference: http://menaceminis.blogspot.com/2014/07/walloping-krong-and-low-life-miniatures.html
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.