Posts Tagged ‘monsters


Weird Tables: Corpse Bits 4 Ca$h

Arch-wizards, alchemists and taxidermists crave various chunks of monster anatomy for their own peculiar purposes, and sometimes they’re willing to pay good money for such things! Players who recognize this may get into the habit of chopping up everything they encounter and hauling the bits back like deranged slaughterhouse workers. To keep the PCs from overdoing it, you may wish to limit such sales to specific requests (or “quests” for short) proffered by enchanters for whatever fresh ingredient they happen to need at the moment, as determined by the


Roll twice on a d20 to determine what weird thing the local magician desires. If this offers a nonsensical result, like a ghoul horn or hellhound wing, ignore it and roll on the “special reagent” table instead.

Roll Creature Reagent
1 Basilisk Blood
2 Cockatrice Bone/Skull
3 Doppelganger Brain
4 Dragon Ear
5 Ghoul Eye
6 Giant Flesh
7 Gryphon Genitals
8 Harpy Hair/Feathers/Scales
9 Hellhound Hand/Foot/Paw
10 Hydra Heart
11 Manticore Horn/Antler
12 Medusa Liver
13 Minotaur Nose
14 Mummy Saliva
15 Ogre Skin/Hide
16 Owlbear Stomach/Intestine
17 Troglodyte Tail
18 Troll Teeth/Beak
19 Wereolf Tongue
20 Wyvern Wing


Roll 1d12.

Roll Reagent
1 Carrion crawler tendril
2 Displacer beast hide
3 Fire beetle gland
4 Gelatinous cube gelatin
5 Giant scorpion stinger
6 Giant spider venom
7 Giant toad tongue
8 Killer bee honey
9 Ochre jelly protoplasm
10 Rust monster antennae
11 Shrieker spores
12 Stirge proboscis

Appropriate payment will vary based on how much gold you want to put into the PCs’ hands. In the past, I’ve generally offered 1d6 x 100 gold pieces for reagents. Now I’m considering monster HD x monster HD x 100 gold pieces. This may inspire PCs to go after monsters that outclass them in order to earn some sweet loot!


Quick and Dirty Idiosyncratic Wilderness Encounter Charts

The Marsh/Cook Expert set has a nice, neat set of random wilderness encounter tables in the back. Similar tables can be found in other editions. These are pretty nifty in that they cover a wide range of terrain types, providing different encounter sub-tables for each type of terrain, so you won’t see the same monsters in the desert that you ran into in the jungle.

Nonetheless, there’s still a certain lack of variety. Might there not be different monsters on the jungle-covered Isle of Dread than in the rainforest of Hepmonaland? Won’t the humanoid tribes in the hills near Greyhawk be less powerful, numerous and varied than those in the Broken Lands? Surely the partially tamed wilderness in Furyondy isn’t going to be infested with big-ticket monsters that can butcher your 2nd-level party. And what about the demons and undead that should be roaming the downs and barrens of the domain of Iuz? I don’t see them on any of the standard tables.

So yeah, having distinct wilderness encounter tables for each region is awesome. But it’s also a lot of work! Fortunately, there are several quick and dirty way to make an idiosyncratic wilderness encounter chart. See below!

1) Steal it from a module. Are your low-level PCs traversing a marshy shoreline in a civilized — albeit unpleasant — area? Use the encounter tables for Nulb in T1-4: The Temple of Elemental Evil, which are full of relatively weak monsters, including pirates! On the other hand, the dragon-infested encounter table in X10: Red Arrow, Black Shield is well-suited to really nasty badlands where only high-level characters dare to tread.

2) Alter the distribution on the top-level table. Wilderness encounter charts generally have a top-level table which, when rolled upon, sends you to one of many sub-tables. For instance, with a table like this:

1 Men
2 Flyer
3 Humanoid
4 Unusual
5 Animal
6 Humanoid
7 Dragon
8 Dragon

… you can just roll a d6 instead. Presto, no more Dragon subtable, and no more dragons!

3) Modify the top-level table to make certain results common. For instance, in the above table, instead of eliminating entries #7 and #8 outright, you could replace them with “7: Merchants” and “8: Brigands” for a dangerous trade route. Alternately, if they’re going through the haunted Bone March, you could bump it up to a d10, with entries of “7: Skeletons”, “8: Zombies”, “9: Ghouls” and “10: Wights” to make the undead far more prevalent.

4) Use the tables as-is, but replace inappropriate or undesired results (maybe you don’t want Frost Giants in this volcanic badlands, or Giant Lizards in that taiga) with something else — either with a specific pre-determined entry, a “Special Replacement Table”, or with a whimsical spur-of-the-moment choice.

Give one of these quick and dirty wilderness encounter mods a try. If you do, let us know how it works for you!


White Box Archaeology: An Especially Deadly Assortment

Purple Worm

It looks like these fellows may be out of their league.

The word “level” gets bandied around a lot in D&D. One use involves deliberate parallelism: character levels and dungeon levels. It’s expected that the monsters on any given level will be a fair match for PCs of the same character level. So when your third-level PCs hit the third level of the dungeon, they’ll encounter 3 hit die monsters that’ll give them a good workout without demolishing them.

And yet this isn’t actually the case.

Part of the challenge of old-school D&D lies in the subversion of this expectation. Sometimes you’ll tackle unexpectedly weak opponents that’ll drain your resources without giving you much reward. And more importantly, sometimes you’ll run into enemies much stronger than you are. At this point, you’d better be ready to get lucky, use up precious one-shot magic items, run away or die.

The Moldvay Red Box deals with this in a relatively tame fashion (p.B29):

“A monster’s level is only a guide, and a monster could be found anywhere in a dungeon, whatever the level. However, as a general rule, it is useful to limit monsters to 2 dungeon levels higher or lower than their hit dice. When monsters are encountered on dungeon levels less than the monster’s level, there should be fewer monsters than normal. And when monsters are met on dungeon levels greater than the monsters’ level, there should be more monsters than normal. EXAMPLE: A 4th level monster might be found anywhere in dungeon levels 2 through 6, but it is not likely to be found on the 1st or 7th levels except one at a time (on the 1st level) or in large numbers (on the 7th level or below).

OD&D is more precise, presenting a matrix for determining which level’s random encounter table you should use. For example, on the second dungeon level, you’d roll 1d6. Roll a 1, it’s a first-level monster. Roll a 2, it’s a second-level monster. Roll a 3 or a 4, it’s a third-level monster. Roll a 5, it’s a fourth-level monster. And if you roll a 6, it’s a fifth-level monster.

And then you get the Monster & Treasure Assortment, at which point all bets are off.

This handy old supplement provides lists of 100 monster encounters at each level from One through Nine, making it quick and easy to fill in a dungeon level. And there’s a broad spread of nastiness available at each level, with some monsters being much stronger than you’d expect to find. Let’s see what over-the-top possibilities can be found here:

Level One: 1 carrion crawler, 1 gelatinous cube, 1 giant black widow spider, 1-2 third-level M-Us, 1-2 third-level clerics, 1-2 third-level thieves, 1 fourth-level fighter

Level Two: 1 wyvern, 1 werebear, 1 owlbear, 1 wraith, 1-4 giant draco lizards, 1 sixth-level M-U

Level Three: 1 troll, 2-5 fifth-level priests, 1-2 seventh-level priests

Level Four: 1 wyvern, 1-2 stone giants, 1-2 werebears, 1-2 trolls, 1-3 seventh-level priests, 1-2 eighth-level fighters

Level Five: 1 eight-HD green dragon, 1 black pudding, 1-3 seventh-level thieves, 1-2 eighth-level clerics, 1 ninth-level thief, 1-4 ninth-level M-Us, 1 eleventh-level M-U

Level Six: 1 seven-HD black dragon, 1 seven-HD blue dragon, 1 Type I demon, 1-4 hill giants, 1-3 frost giants, 1-2 fire giants, 1 nine-headed hydra, 1 black pudding, 1-2 ninth-level fighters, 1-3 tenth-level M-Us

Level Seven: 1 Type III demon, 1 Type II demon, 1-2 frost giants

Level Eight: 1 ten-HD red dragon, 1 Type V demon, 1 Type IV demon, 1 thirteen-headed hydra, 1 purple worm, 1-3 tenth-level thieves, 1 twelfth-level thief, 1-3 tenth-level M-Us, 1 twelfth-level M-U

Level Nine: 1 eleventh-level gold dragon, 1-2 ten-HD red dragons, 1-2 cloud giants, 1 twelve-headed hydra, 1-2 purple worms, 1 giant slug, 1-2 eleventh-level fighters, 1 thirteenth-level M-U

As you can see, there are some freakishly powerful adversaries to be found in the Monster & Treasure Assortment. There are three distinct 6-hit die entries on Level Two. Level Four gives us 9-hit die stone giants, and Level 5 gives us the 10-hit die black pudding, our first dragon, up to four ninth-level Magic-Users and one shockingly puissant eleventh-level M-U!

Clearly this isn’t the modern 4e “fair and balanced” monster table. The old-school dungeon is much wilder and less predictable. When you delve into such a dungeon, watch your back and be ready to run!


Random Table: A Rising Goblin-Tide

Moved by a sudden impulse he groped for a loose stone, and let it drop. He felt his heart beat many times before there was any sound. Then far below, as if the stone had fallen into deep water in some cavernous place, there came a “plunk,” very distant, but magnified and repeated in the hollow shaft.

‘What’s that!’ cried Gandalf. He was relieved when Pippin confessed what he had done; but he was angry, and Pippin could see his eye glinting. ‘Fool of a Took!’ he growled. ‘This is a serious journey, not a hobbit walking party. Throw yourself in next time, and then you will be no further nuisance. Now be quiet!’

—J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

The PCs attract the attention of a horde of humanoids—goblins, orcs, gnolls or what have you—which inhabit a lower level of the dungeon, possibly by means of dropping something down a well. How do the humanoids react?

Roll 1d6 on the following table. Apply an ad hoc penalty to the roll if the PCs seem especially dangerous (the booted footsteps of a score of hirelings echo through the dungeon, or the party is preceded by the flash and crack of lightning bolts), while applying a bonus if the PCs seem like a juicy target (they’re accompanied by the cries of frightened children, or they spill coins like sparkly rain down a stairwell).

    1: The humanoids withdraw and hide.
    2: A scouting party (1d4 humanoids) skulks up to investigate.
    3: A raiding party (2d6 humanoids) strafes the PCs with missiles.
    4: A war party (3d6 humanoids + 1 sub-leader) assaults the PCs.
    5: A strike force (3d6 humanoids + 1d3 sub-leaders + 1 affiliated monster [dire wolf, troll, etc]) slams into the PCs.
    6: The entire horde swarms up to overwhelm the PCs.

Red Box Beastie: The Liger


Armor Class: 6
Hit Dice: 9
Move: 150′ (50′)
Attacks: 2 claws/1 bite
Damage: 2-8/2-8/2-16
No. Appearing: 1
Save As: Fighter: 5
Morale: 9
Treasure Type: U
Alignment: Neutral

The offspring of a male lion and a female tiger, the liger is a massive beast whose adult mass equals that of both its parents put together. Its body resembles that of its father, though without the mane, while its fur bears faint, irregular tiger-stripes and a white underbelly. Ligers do not naturally appear in the wild. However, certain beastmasters and magic-users have been known to create them either through careful breeding or by magic.


The Wandering of Wandering Monster Checks

Telecanter’s Receding Rules has an excellent post on wandering monster checks, covering the different ways in which various old-school rulesets handle wandering monsters: how often the DM checks for them, encounter distance, increased probabilities if the PCs are making noise or loitering at a major intersection, etc. Telecanter also offers his own house rules for handling wandering monsters.

The details of wandering monster encounters are important for the old-school DM to consider. I’ve been using the Holmes rules (roll once every three turns), with additional rolls when the PCs do stuff to attract attention. Now I’m considering moving up to the probabilities in Moldvay (roll every two turns). Rolling every turn, as in OD&D, seems too often to me, unless it’s to make up for absent-mindedly forgetting to roll half the time.

What method do you use for wandering monster checks in your game?


Tactic Table: Ghouls

Ghouls have descended on the party! Their bodies reek of rot and corruption. Claws rake an adventurer’s flesh — paralysis! A victim falls prone, frozen but conscious.

What do the ghouls do next? Roll on the following table!

* * * * *

Roll 1d6 the first time any member of a group of ghouls paralyzes a party member. Apply an impromptu penalty if the ghouls feel outmatched, or a bonus if the ghouls feel they outmatch the party.

Less than 1: The ghouls flee for safety, hoping the other adventurers will tend to their paralyzed comrades instead of pursuing.
1: The ghouls flee in hopes of luring the party after them (possibly into a trap), then double back to seize the paralyzed adventurers.
2: The ghouls tear out the throats of paralyzed adventurers to ensure that they stay down. This coup de grace takes one round.
3-4: Whenever an adventurer is paralyzed, a ghoul will pick up the adventurer on the next round and carry him or her off to the lair.
5-6: The ghouls ignore the paralyzed adventurers, leaving them alone until the battle is over so they can feed on their still-living bodies at leisure.
More than 6: Any ghouls not engaged in melee spend the rest of the combat glutting themselves on the flesh and blood of paralyzed adventurers, stopping only if attacked.


looking for death in all the wrong places

Confession: I’ve spent a decent amount of time playing Dungeons & Dragons, but I’ve never fought a dragon.  Or a beholder.  Or  mind flayer.  Basically, if you look at a list of the fall-down-awesome D&D monsters, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered them.

if only that could be ME getting my brains devoured

Quiz time!  How many of these things have you encountered?  And, if you did, what happened?

  • Aboleth
  • Beholder
  • Berbalang
  • Black Pudding
  • Bulette
  • Demons (any – though my party met a Type V one time when I missed a session)
  • Devils (any)
  • Dragons
  • Drow
  • Githyanki
  • Kuo-Toa
  • Lich (though my party met one when I wasn’t around)
  • Mimic
  • Mind Flayer
  • Owlbear
  • Purple Worm
  • Rakshasa
  • Roper
  • Rust Monster
  • Salamander
  • Slaad
  • Umber Hulk
  • Xorn
  • Yellow Musk Creeper
  • Yuan-Ti

It’s a shameful, disgraceful list!  I’ve fought like a zillion freakin’ goblins, gnolls, stirges, and a gelatinous cube once or twice.   But I’ve never fought any of those.   Where the hell are the Mind Flayers?!

Part of the problem is that all these really great monsters are hiding out toward the end-game as juicy rewards to people who have put in the time, and I’ve never gotten past Level 7.  But dang it, Beholders are totally fucking beast!   Just throw one at us!  Make us run away!  Even if I get killed, I can die happy knowing that it was one of the greatest monsters in the history of RPG’s that killed me!  (Notice that a huge percentage of these things have crazy-ass ways to kill you, just like a James Bond villain is defined by his goofy weapon.)

I’m really hoping that, as Tavis’s campaign heads off into the Outer Planes and into the Underdark beneath Thracia, that we start encountering some of these guys.

Tavis, Eric –  hook a brother up with a grisly, trademark-related death!

And the rest of you – are these critters awesome to play against, or am I building them up too much by ogling the Monster Manual?  What were they like in play?


two new monsters

Spellbook Virus

Not so much a new monster as a hazard of the professional Magic-User, possibly some sort of specialized curse or adapted feeblemind spell.  Magic-Users who frequently copy scrolls to their tomes may suffer unanticipated consequences as the magical energies from different sources comingle and combine in unexpected fashion.  Also, spellbooks, being magical, routinely attempt to maintain themselves against bookworms and decay; occasionally these self-maintenance attempts go astray and cause massive difficulties.

In general, any spellbook remains free from viral or other mishaps for 6d6 months.  At the expiration of this “warranty period,” the spellbook falls prey to numerous hardware and magical software difficulties.  These mishaps may include but are not limited to:

  • Erasure of spell notes (be sure to back up your spell book to scrolls!)
  • Corruption of spell data (may trigger “wild surges” due to memorization errors)
  • Binding disintegration (may cause loss of pages due to physical binding deterioration, or loss of any familiars/bound spirits)
  • Vulnerability to astral predation (increases odds of wandering monsters, but mainly of the “outsider” type, possibly including clairvoyant surveillance of the owner and his or her use of the book)

These difficulties can be solved by using a back-up spellbook or scrolls, but Magic-Users with low Wisdom scores are unlikely to have taken such measures in the recent past.  They must make a Save vs. Dragon Breath or lose 1 level as if drained, reflecting the untimely and aggravating loss of knowledge and hard-fought experience.

Rubbery Sludge

Armor Class: 8

Hit Dice: 3

Move: 4″

Attacks: 1 per hour

Damage: 2d6 + Special

No. Appearing: 1d4

Save As: Fighter 8

Morale: 12

Treasure: Nil

Alignment: Neutral

The Rubbery Sludge, like the Grey Ooze and the Ochre Jelly, is a blob-like monster found on I-95 between New York City and Washington DC, and it is believed to be created when misfortune overtakes a cargo-drum of alchemists’ reagents along the roadside.  The stench is overpowering, but the Sludge itself is not immediately visible.  All horses, wagons, and foot traffic to pass through the Sludge must Save vs. Petrification or become stuck in place for 1d6 hours, attracing the usual gamut of wandering monsters.  (Owing to difficulties with leverage, those attempting to rescue others from the Sludge must also Save or become stuck themselves.  The Rubbery Sludge may be dissolved by acid but it will burn those stuck within as well.)  Those so stuck take 2d6 points of psychic damage, cursed with the knowledge that their comrades-in-arms are even then sojourning into the Caverns of Thracia to plunder the jewels that glitter in the darkness, gaining treasure and XP without you, the inconsiderate swine. Victims must also make a Save vs. Poison to avoid embarssing mishaps owing to a lack of sanitary facilities.

Past Adventures of the Mule

May 2023

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