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] while 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."[6]

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.[7] 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."[8]

Notable monsters[edit]

See also[edit]