Monsters in Dungeons & Dragons

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Monsters are an important element of the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy role-playing game. Since the game's first edition in 1974, a bestiary was included along other game manuals, first called Monsters & Treasure and now commonly called the Monster Manual. Described as an "essential" part of Dungeons & Dragons, the game's monsters have become notable in their own right, influencing fields such as video games and fiction, as well as popular culture.[1]

The term monster in Dungeons & Dragons can refer to a variety of creatures, including traditional monsters such as dragons, supernatural creatures such as ghosts, and mundane or fantastic animals—in short, "an enormous heterogeneous collection of natural and monstrous foes."[2]


The sources of Dungeons & Dragons monsters are diverse, including mythology, medieval bestiaries, science-fiction and fantasy literature, and film. In game books, monsters are typically presented with illustrations, fictional elements, and game statistics. Monsters are adapted to fit the needs of the game's writers and publishers, such as by describing combat abilities that may have been absent or only implied by an original source. In a few major cases, names taken from the works of J.R.R. Tolkien had to be changed due to copyright disputes (such as the balor, originally named Balrog), and fictional elements were altered to further distance the works.[1]

Original monsters have also been included in Dungeons & Dragons, and these are among the game's most memorable. Monsters such as the gelatinous cube have been described as "uniquely weird,"[1] inspired by unusual sources or designed to suit the particular needs of a role-playing game. The rust monster and owlbear, for instance, were based on toys purchased at a discount store.[3] The mimic disguises itself as a chest, thwarting players expecting to find treasure.[4]

Because of their broad, inclusive background, D&D monsters have been called a pastiche of sources, freely combining qualities of classical works as well as modern or wholly original creations.[2]

Influence and criticism[edit]

The monsters of Dungeons & Dragons have significantly influenced modern fantasy fiction, ranging from licensed fiction, such as the novels of R.A. Salvatore, Margaret Weis, and Tracy Hickman, to how monsters are portrayed in fantasy fiction generally. The scope of this influence has been compared to the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. Indeed, as Jeffrey Weinstock notes, "it is not even clear where Tolkien pastiche leaves off and Dungeons & Dragons pastiche begins in modern genre fantasy."[1] In a 2005 interview, author China Mieville stated,

"I use AD&D-type fascination with teratology in a lot of my books, and I have the original Monster Manual, and the Monster Manual 2, and the Fiend Folio. I still collect role-playing game bestiaries, because I find that kind of fascination with the creation of the monstrous tremendously inspiring."[5]

References and homages to Dungeons & Dragons monsters can be found in works such as Adventure Time, and the game's monsters have inspired tributes that both celebrate and mock various creatures. A 2013 io9 retrospective detailed memorable monsters,[4] and in 2018 SyFy Wire published a list of "The 9 Scariest, Most Unforgettable Monsters From Dungeons & Dragons",[6] and in the same year Screen Rant published a list of the game's "10 Most Powerful (And 10 Weakest) Monsters, Ranked".[7] Other writers have highlighted the game's more odd or eccentric creations, such as in the article "Dungeons & Dragons: Celebrating 30 Years of Very Stupid Monsters",[8]'s list of "The most underrated monsters of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons",[9] The Escapist's list of "The Dumbest Dungeons & Dragons Monsters Ever (And How To Use Them)",[10] and's "15 Idiotic Dungeons and Dragons Monsters".[11]

The monsters of Dungeons & Dragons have received criticism from multiple sources. In addition to other game elements, the presence of magical or demonic monsters has provoked moral panics among religious conservatives.[12] The game's emphasis on slaying monsters has also elicited negative commentary. As monsters have traditionally been defined by the amount of "experience points" they award when killed, the game has been said to promote a "sociopathic" violence where the dungeon master "merely referees one imagined slaughter after another."[13]

Notable monsters[edit]

TSR 2009 – Monster Manual (1977)[edit]

This was the initial monster book for the first edition of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game, published in 1977. Gary Gygax wrote much of the work himself, having included and expanded most of the monsters from the previous D&D supplements. Also included are monsters originally printed in The Strategic Review, as well as some originally found in early issues of The Dragon (such as the anhkheg and remorhaz), and other early game materials. This book also expanded on the original monster format, such as including the stat lines on the same page as the monsters' descriptions and introducing more stats, expanding the length of most monster descriptions, and featuring illustrations for most of the monsters. The book features an alphabetical table of contents of all the monsters on pages 3–4, explanatory notes for the statistics lines on pages 5–6, descriptions of the monsters on pages 6–103, a treasure chart on page 105, and an index of major listings on pages 106–109.

Creature Page Other Appearances Variants Description
Beholder 10 Greyhawk set (1974), Dragon #76 "The Ecology of the Beholder" (1983), D&D Companion Rules (1984), MC1 – Monstrous Compendium Volume One (1989), Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia (1991), Monstrous Manual (1993), I, Tyrant (1996), Monster Manual (2000), Monster Manual v.3.5 (2003), D&D Miniatures: Deathknell set #32 (2005) Hateful, aggressive, avaricious spherical monster that is most frequently found underground  
Bulette 12 Dragon #1 (1976), Dragon #74 "The Ecology of the Bulette" (1983), MC2 – Monstrous Compendium Volume Two (1989), Monstrous Manual (1993), Monster Manual (2000), Monster Manual v.3.5 (2003), D&D Miniatures: Giants of Legend set #67 (2004) Landshark burrows underground and feeds on humans, horses, and halflings  
Devil Don Turnbull considered the devils the most prominent among the new monsters introduced in the Monster Manual: "they are all pretty strong and compare not unfavourably in this respect with the Demons we already know".[14]  
Displacer beast 28 Greyhawk set (1974), D&D Basic Set (1977), D&D Expert Set (1981, 1983), Dragon #109 "The Ecology of the Displacer Beast" (1986), MC 1 – Monstrous Compendium Volume One (1989), Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia (1991), Monstrous Manual (1993), Monster Manual (2000), Monster Manual v.3.5 (2003) (also includes a Pack Lord), D&D Miniatures: Harbinger set #41 (2003), D&D Miniatures: War of the Dragon Queen set #29 (2006) (Displacer Beast Pack Lord), D&D Miniatures: Unhallowed set #37 (2007) (Displacer Beast Manhunter) Vaguely puma-like beast always appears to be three feet away from its actual position  
Gelatinous cube 43 Greyhawk set (1974) Cubic scavengers cleanse living organism and carrion from the floor and walls of underground passageways  
Hell hound 51 Greyhawk set (1974) Not from the material plane, breathes out scorching fire. Don Turnbull noted that the breath weapon of the "much-feared" hell hound has been altered from its previous appearance.[14]  
Ki-rin 57 Eldritch Wizardry (1976),[15] Monstrous Compendium Volume Two (1989),[16] Monstrous Manual (1993),[17] psionic variant of the ki-rin in The Complete Psionics Handbook (1991),[18] third edition Oriental Adventures (2001)[19] Race of lawful good aerial creatures that will aid humans if the need to combat evil is great
An obituary to Gary Gygax specifically highlights the Ki-rin as an example of the way in which D&D embraces world culture and folklore.[20]
Lich 61 Greyhawk set (1974) Created with the use of powerful and arcane magic, formerly ultra powerful magic-users now non-human and non-living  
Mimic 70 Subterranean creatures that are able to perfectly mimic stone and wood  
Mind flayer 70 Eldritch Wizardry Evil subterranean creature that considers humanity as cattle to feed upon, draws forth brains with its tentacles  
Mummy 72 Dungeons & Dragons set (1974) Undead humans that retain a semblance of life and seek to destroy living things. Don Turnbull noted that the mummy was revised from its previous statistics, and could now cause paralysis on sight (as a result of fear).[14]  
Night hag 73 Rule the convoluted planes of Hades, form larvae (see above) from evil persons they slay, and sell to demons and devils. Don Turnbull referred to the night hag as "splendid" and notes that the illustration of the night hag is the best drawing in the book.[14]  
Otyugh 77 Weird omnivorous scavengers whose diet consists of dung, offal, and carrion, always found underground. Don Turnbull referred to the otyugh as a "most interesting creation".[14]  
Owlbear 77 Greyhawk set (1974) Horrible creatures that inhabit tangled forest regions, attacks with great claws and snapping beak  
Rust monster 83 Greyhawk set (1974) Subterranean inhabitants that eat ferrous metals such as iron, steel, and steel alloys  
Shadow 86 Greyhawk set (1974) Horrible undead creatures that drain strength merely by touching an opponent. Don Turnbull noted his disappointment that the shadow in the Monster Manual is of the undead class and thus subject to a cleric's turn undead ability: "I used to enjoy seeing clerics vainly trying to turn what wouldn't turn, when Shadows were first met".[14]  

TSR 2012 – Fiend Folio (1981)[edit]

The Fiend Folio: Tome of Creatures Malevolent and Benign was the second monster book for the first edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, published in 1981. While the Monster Manual consisted primarily of monsters previously published in D&D books edited by Gary Gygax, the Fiend Folio consisted mostly of monsters submitted to White Dwarf's "Fiend Factory" column. Don Turnbull, later Managing Director of TSR UK, was the editor for the "Fiend Factory" column, as well as the Fiend Folio, which was billed as "the first major British contribution to the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game system." The monsters in this book are presented in the same format as those in the previous Monster Manual work, and most featured illustrations of the monsters. Also, there are full-page black and white illustrations of various monsters throughout the book. The book contains a foreword on pages 3–4, an alphabetical table of contents on page 5, explanatory notes on pages 6–7, descriptions of the monsters on pages 8–97, a treasure chart on page 99, additional tables and charts for all the monsters in both the Monster Manual and Fiend Folio on pages 100–119, an index of major listings (including the contributor for each monster) on pages 120–124, with an epilogue on page 124.

Creature Page Other Appearances Variants Description
Al-mi'raj 11–12 MC14 – Monstrous Compendium Fiend Folio Appendix (1992) Based on Al-mi'raj "in Islamic poetry, a yellow hare with a single black horn on its head."[21] Counted among the saddest, lamest creatures in Fiend Folio by artist Sean McCarthy, a hybrid creature with physiology resulting from maladaptation rather than evil.[22]  
Carbuncle 17–18 White Dwarf #8 (1978), Best of White Dwarf Scenarios (1980), Tome of Horrors (2002) Armadillo-like creature with a jewel in its head, counted among the saddest, lamest entries in Fiend Folio by artist Sean McCarthy, a hybrid creature with physiology resulting from maladaptation rather than evil.[22]  

TSR 2016 – Monster Manual II (1983)[edit]

Monster Manual II was the third and final monster book for the first edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, published in 1983, and has the largest page count of the three. As with the Monster Manual, this book was written primarily by Gary Gygax. While this book contains a number of monsters that previously appeared in limited circulation (such as in Dragon or in adventure modules), unlike the Monster Manual and Fiend Folio a large amount of its contents was entirely new at publication. The monsters in this book are presented in the same format as the Monster Manual and Fiend Folio. The book contains a preface on page 4, a section entitled "How To Use This Book" on pages 5–7, descriptions of the monsters on pages 8–132, random encounter tables on pages 133–155, and an index of all the monsters in the Monster Manual, Fiend Folio, and Monster Manual II on pages 156–160. Unlike the previous two books, this book does not contain an alphabetical listing of the monsters in the beginning of the book.

Creature Page Other Appearances Variants Description
Bat, giant 14 D&D Basic Set (1981), D&D Basic Set (1983), MC1 – Monstrous Compendium Volume One (1989), Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia (1991), Monstrous Manual (1993) The giant bat in the Fiend Folio is exactly what its name would suggest—a giant form of bat with a 6' wingspan. White Dwarf reviewer Jamie Thomson commented on the giant bat, noting that it "seems an obvious choice for D&D.[23]  
Death dog 23 White Dwarf reviewer Jamie Thomson commented on the death dog, which is "rumored to be a descendant of Cerberus".[23]  
Grue, elemental 72–74 Described are the chagrin, harginn, ildriss, and verrdig. White Dwarf reviewer Megan C. Evans referred to the grues as "a collection of terrifying beasties from the Elemental Planes".[23]  
Stegocentipede 114–115 Lawrence Schick described the stegocentipede as "a giant arthropod notable for its twin row of back plates (wow!)"[24]  
Stench kow 115 Monstrous Manual (1993), Polyhedron #133 (December 1998), Tome of Horror (2002), pp. 243–244 from Necromancer Games Lawrence Schick described the stench kow as "a monstrous bison that smells real bad".[24]  

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d The Ashgate Encyclopedia of Literary and Cinematic Monsters. Ed. Jeffrey Weinstock. 2014.
  2. ^ a b Churlew, Matthew (2006). ""Masters of the Wild": Animals and the Environment in Dungeons & Dragons" (PDF). Concentric: Literary and Cultural Studies. 32 (1): 135–168. Retrieved 2019-10-03.
  3. ^ "Owlbears, Rust Monsters and Bulettes, Oh My! – Tony DiTerlizzi".
  4. ^ a b "The 10 Most Memorable Dungeons & Dragons Monsters". io9.
  5. ^ "An Interview with China Mieville". Believer Magazine. April 1, 2005.
  6. ^ Granshaw, Lisa (October 24, 2018). "The 9 scariest, most unforgettable monsters from Dungeons & Dragons". SYFY WIRE.
  7. ^ "Dungeons & Dragons: 10 Most Powerful (And 10 Weakest) Monsters, Ranked". ScreenRant. May 20, 2018.
  8. ^ "Stupid Monsters someone was paid to make = the best job ever".
  9. ^ "The most underrated monsters of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons". June 27, 2016.
  10. ^ "The Dumbest Dungeons & Dragons Monsters Ever (And How To Use Them) | Tabletop | The Escapist".
  11. ^ " - America's Only Humor Site |".
  12. ^ "Monstrous Futures: Dungeons & Dragons, Harbinger of the "None" Generation, Turns 40". Religion Dispatches. September 21, 2014.
  13. ^ Erik Sofge (2008-03-10). "With Dungeons & Dragons, Gary Gygax created a monster". Retrieved 2019-10-03.
  14. ^ a b c d e f Turnbull, Don (August–September 1978). "Open Box". White Dwarf (8): 16–17.
  15. ^ Gygax, Gary; Blume, Brian (1976), Eldritch Wizardry (1 ed.), Lake Geneva, WI: TSR
  16. ^ Cook, David, et al. Monstrous Compendium Volume Two (TSR, 1989)
  17. ^ Stewart, Doug, ed. Monstrous Manual (TSR, 1993)
  18. ^ Winter, Steve. The Complete Psionics Handbook (TSR, 1991)
  19. ^ Wyatt, James. Oriental Adventures (Wizards of the Coast, 2001)
  20. ^ Jonathan Rubin, "Farewell to the Dungeon Master: How D&D creator Gary Gygax changed geekdom forever," Slate (March 6, 2008).
  21. ^ DeVarque, Aardy. "Literary Sources of D&D". Retrieved 2020-01-07.
  22. ^ a b McCarthy, Sean (2011-11-06). Allison, Tavis (ed.). Panel Discussion. D&D in Contemporary Art. New York.
  23. ^ a b c Thomson, Jamie (Dec 1981 – Jan 1982). "Open Box". White Dwarf (review). Games Workshop (28): 14.
  24. ^ a b Schick, Lawrence (1991). Heroic Worlds: A History and Guide to Role-Playing Games. Prometheus Books. pp. 106–107. ISBN 0-87975-653-5.