D&D Monsters of Neverwinter, Part 1: The Staples
Dungeons & Dragons was drawn from a lot of different sources, from medieval European folklore to sword-and-sorcery fantasy stories by Howard, Tolkien, Vance, Anderson, Lieber and many others. From its genesis, it has included a core set of monsters that have appeared in just about every iteration in one form or another. These are the staples of D&D, and the chances are excellent that we will see all of them in Neverwinter. Some have already been confirmed by recent press releases, some have been encountered in-game during the last beta weekend, and some are educated guesstimates.
Note: The images in this article are taken from the 4th Edition Monster Manuals published by Wizards of the Coast. These are not official Neverwinter art.
Orcs and Other Goblinkind
Goblinkind are the nemeses of the low-level adventuring group: tribes of vicious monster-men bent on war, domination, chaos and destruction that are just tough enough to succeed under the right circumstances, but who are still fairly easy to kill by nearly anyone with a sword. They are usually encountered in a progression from the weakest to the toughest: goblins, then orcs, then bugbears, then hobgoblins. Orcs in particular are convincing enemies for a wide spectrum of adventuring levels, as they are often the foot soldiers of a powerful villain and they are just clever enough to take class levels, making them competitive with the more civilized races.
Goblins, hobgoblins, bugbears and kobolds have been around for a very long time in European folklore, usually as diminutive rustic troublemakers who often performed mischievous deeds while nearby farmers were asleep. Orcs are lifted right out of the works of Tolkien, who borrowed the word from either a translation of a word meaning "ogre" or an unrelated mythological evil spirit that may have lived in underwater caves.
Orcs are definitely a part of Neverwinter's bestiary, and have even starred in their own game trailer. They are encountered fairly early on in the Tower District, seeking to control that region.
Zombies, Skeletons and Other Undead
Undead are usually encountered just after the adventuring group has gotten a little practice against the squishier low-level monsters. They are a new kind of challenge - they are immune to certain attacks, especially vulnerable to others, and often spread disease through their normal attacks, which can make their victims weaker. The presence of the walking dead is often an indicator of powerful evil magic nearby - a megalomaniacal Necromancer raising an army, a dark curse or terrible plague, or the radiations of some foul and ancient relic buried in some forgotten tomb. The Cleric is particularly suited for fighting undead - his holy magic causes them injury, and he has the unique ability to "Turn" undead, causing them to flee in panic or be destroyed.
The idea of vengeful undead has been a part of humanity likely since we started burying our dead in Paleolithic times. The different kinds of undead in D&D come from a variety of sources - for example, the wight seems to draw heavily from the draugr of Norse mythology, and the mindless, flesh-hungry zombie seems to come more from George A. Romero movies (though the concept has been around for much, much longer than that).
Undead are encountered almost immediately in Neverwinter, besieging the city during the tutorial missions. Cleaving your way through rattling waves of shambling skeletons is how you learn about movement, defense and attacks.
Ogres, Trolls and Other Giants
At later levels, seasoned adventuring groups need bigger challenges. Ogres are essentially upscaled orcs - bigger, yes, but without any particularly noteworthy special abilities, other than those related to sheer size. Trolls are rather more challenging, as large as ogres but able to regenerate Hit Points and uniquely vulnerable to fire and acid. Oni are a semi-new addition to the lineup, mixing the large size of a giant-kin with magic powers (and more or less replacing the Ogre Mage of older editions). Actual giants - Hill Giants, Fire Giants and Storm Giants - are somewhat less noble in bearing in 4th Edition rules than they were depicted in previous editions (for example, Storm Giants are now Evil instead of Chaotic Good). They now seem to embody elemental fury, and have all become behemoth rage-monsters.
Giants are mentioned in Greek and Norse mythology, as well as in the Bible. Ogres are somewhat newer than that, but are derived from European folklore where they are often portrayed as large, homely humanoids with a taste for human flesh. The trolls of D&D are pulled mostly from the Poul Anderson novel, Three Hearts and Three Lions (which inspired several aspects of D&D), rather than from the trolls of northern European folklore which can vary in form and nature - Beowulf's enemy, Grendel, is one kind of troll, but other stories feature trolls more thematically related to the faeries of English folklore. Oni come from Japanese folklore, and have retained their mythological invisibility, nasty temperaments and taste for human flesh.
Ogres are encountered fairly early on in Neverwinter, often as bosses among the orcs in the Tower District. They are big and slow and their attacks can be dodged fairly easily, but when they do land a hit, it hurts.
Demons and Devils
High-level encounters require powerful opponents, and there are few beings more suited to the job than the denizens of the Abyss and the Nine Hells. Demons and devils cover a broad range of challenges, from the lowliest (Imps) to the mightiest (Balors). These are the very essence of malevolence, from the raw, uncheckable fury of raging demons to the corrupting seduction of scheming devils. These monsters are not only physically powerful, but most of them are also adept with magic, and come fully equipped with special attacks and stalwart defenses, making them tough encounters for well-equipped, high-level groups.
Demons and devils are clearly inspired by entities from religious works - a concept that earned the righteous wrath of a number of religious groups in the 1970s and 80s. Much of the early controversy over Dungeons & Dragons came from the inclusion of demons and devils in the earliest editions. By the time TSR rolled out the 2nd Edition, they had changed the names to appease the pressure groups: demons had been renamed Tanar'ri, and devils became Baatezu, but they had all the same attacks and skills and stuff. 3rd Edition relaxed a bit, reverting to demons and devils but keeping the Tanar'ri and Baatezu monikers as "sub-types." 4th Edition seems to have done away with these extraneous labels altogether, using only "demon" and "devil."
While I never encountered demons or devils in the main story arc of Neverwinter, I did encounter many of their illegitimate offspring: Tieflings, one of the playable races. And I did end up battling a large number of them in one of the Foundry adventures posted on the bulletin board, finding myself shuttled off to the Abyss after a wild game of poker using a Deck of Many Things. They are definitely in the game, but I may have to hit higher levels to encounter them in the main story.
There's simply no way that a Dungeons & Dragons action-MMO won't include at least one encounter with a powerful dragon. Dragons are the ultimate late-game boss monster. They take a whole team to kill, they hoard gold and awesome loot like they were the stars of an A&E documentary series, and they are intelligent enough to mastermind complex schemes and strategems. Depending on the DM, the campaign and the setting of the game, they can be as Machiavellian as Bond villains, secretly controlling vast areas with magic and fear, or simple fire-breathing brutes living in a dank cave with their piles of gold coins and crowns and chalices.
Dragons take many forms in different mythologies throughout the world. The European dragon is typically depicted as an evil, fire-breathing beast that lives in a cave filled with gold and treasure. Asian dragons are typically more serpentine, and are afforded a much more benevolent personality - heralds of good fortune, symbols of strength and power. In D&D, the "chromatic" dragons seem to be based on the western wyrm, and the "metallic" dragons have a more Oriental aspect.
According to the press copy that accompanied the Mount Hotenow teaser trailer, the volcanic heat of that region is the "perfect home for a red dragon..." We can likely expect to encounter one there, presumably as the boss of a large group fight. But there are many different colors of dragon, and the lands around Neverwinter can provide suitable homes for just about any of them.
What other monsters are you looking forward to battling in Neverwinter? Let us know in our comments!