D&D Monsters of Neverwinter, Part 2: Speculating on the Weird Stuff
Perfect World Entertainment has just released a video for their forthcoming Dungeons & Dragons-based MMO, Neverwinter, showcasing the Icespire Peak region. The video shows off some winter-themed monsters - Ice Trolls, Frost Giants, Winter Wolves and Ice Golems. Last week, we speculated on the inclusion of giants in Neverwinter, and this video confirms it.
This week, we'll engage in even more outlandish speculation, looking at the weirder side of D&D monsters. Some of these are awesome and iconic monsters we want to see in Neverwinter. Some of them seem more like the fevered brain-doodles of an over-tired DM trying to find new ways to screw his players over.
Slimes, Fungi and Mold
Much of Dungeons & Dragons takes place in subterranean locales - crypts, catacombs, tunnels, caves, et cetera. Green plants cannot grow in these spaces since there is no sunlight, but the dank, dark and often humid nature of underground spaces create ideal growth conditions for lichens, mold, fungi and other slimy, nasty things. And in the grand D&D tradition, if something is gross, it is often also deadly. Even when they don't make any real sense as adversaries.
Though they have fallen in prominence in recent years, there were once vast swarms of slime-monsters creating deadly environmental hazards in 2nd Edition dungeons. They ranged from transparent slithering slime and psionic Grey Ooze to the mighty Gelatinous Cube, a nightmare serving of evil Jell-O that swallowed adventurers whole and dissolved everything but their magic items. Fungus and mold was anthropomorphized into the Myconid and Vegepygmy, respectively - humanoid monsters with varying degrees of intelligence, composed entirely of non-meat organic matter.
Of the huge assortment of oozes, slimes, puddings, fungi and molds, the Gelatinous Cube is perhaps the most likely to slither and jiggle its way into Neverwinter. It was originally designed by Gary Gygax as a sort of robo-vac for dungeons - 10 feet per side, the same as a standard dungeon passageway, it would slither down the hallways and dissolve any organic material (read: dead adventurers and monster corpses) it came across, the ultimate in self-cleaning dungeon technology.
Deadly Jackalopes and Wolpertingers
The Monster Manuals have always been filled with a huge range of creatures, many of them drawn from myths and legends and others created to fill ecological niches. But there are also a huge number of weird monsters that all sort of fit into one generic category: "An X with the Y of a Z and the A of a B." Like the Jackalope of North America or the Wolpertinger of Bavaria, these bizarre cryptids are Frankensteined assemblages of various creature parts kit-bashed into one body.
Some of these are ripped directly from
ancient myths. The Griffon, for example, has the body of
a lion and the head, wings and talons of an eagle, and has been used as a
heraldic emblem for hundreds of years. Some of these monsters are
interpretations of old myths - the Catoblepas, for
example, is an exaggeration of a creature described by Roman naturalist
Pliny the Elder, who may have been attempting to describe the gnu or some
other kind of unfamiliar wildebeest. Others are entirely new creations,
like the Grell (a giant floating brain with the beak of
a parrot and the tentacles of an octopus) or the
Owlbear (a monster created by Gygax for the 1st Edition,
which was inspired by a Chinese toy).
Many of these mashups are likely to make an appearance in Neverwinter. Griffons are industry-standard aerial mounts, the Grell is featured rather prominently in the 4th Edition Monster Manual and is a strong contender for late-game underground encounters, and the Owlbear is one of those wilderness encounters that makes D&D the game it is.
Revenge of the DM
Occasionally, the dungeon master needs to correct a mistake introduced in a previous session. Characters become too powerful and no longer fear death by Hit-Point-loss, so a new form of danger must be introduced that once again gives them pause and makes them cautious. A player with a powerful magic item has been using it to annihilate his enemies at every corner, so a new enemy with immunities to that item's effects comes into play. Or perhaps the DM simply wishes to exercise his sadistic streak and punish and abuse his players. Either way, the Monster Manual provides the means to achieve these ends.
A good storyteller will add clever twists to his tales to keep the audience guessing, and lazy DMs can accomplish this with deceptive monsters. Mimics look like treasure chests until they chomp off the hand that reaches in to loot them. That sweet dark garment hanging on a hook by the door might not be a real magical cloak, but a Cloaker that will attempt to strangle and eat anyone attempting to wear it. Those perfectly normal-looking stalactites? Some of them are alive and will impale you when you walk below them. That puddle of water? Actually it's just water... but at the bottom is a crystal-clear slime-monster indistinguishable from the puddle above. Even perfectly ordinary clear air can be hostile if an Invisible Stalker is in the neighborhood. The Monster Manuals give the DM loads of tools to help him be a player-hating dick.
A number of monsters have particularly deadly, impairing or deleterious effects on the players. Instant-death attacks have become less common over the years, but the Banshee's wail has always been instantly lethal. Even worse than that was the Rot Grub, a worm that would burrow into the victim's flesh until it reached the heart, killing the host. This was particularly cruel because the victim needed to make a successful Wisdom check to even notice the infestation, and the "cure" involved burning the worms out with fire... within the first 6 or so rounds of infection. After that, the only solution was a Cure Disease spell. 4th Edition rules have more or less eliminated the instant-kill monster, but these guys are nasty even in their nerf-y 4E bodies.
There were only ever a small handful of monsters with instant-death attacks. But there are loads of monsters with incapacitating attacks - especially petrification and paralysis. Medusae, Cockatrices, Basilisks, Catoblepases and Gorgons, among many others, all have attacks that permanently turned their victims to stone. Paralysis is another very common type of incapacitating attack occuring in loads of monsters (including the previously-discussed Gelatinous Cube). Powerful demons, devils, dragons and other large beasties have a fear aura, which can cause anyone just looking at them to freak out and flee in a panic.
One of the douche-iest DM-Revenge monsters ever created is the Rust Monster, a creature that destroys any metal objects it touches. Fighter types with razor-sharp enchanted swords and bunker-like plate armor, who can take on most any powerful foe without fear, are reduced to quivering bowls of angry Jell-O when faced with a Rust Monster. In older editions, the Rust Monster was relatively peaceful, only interested in consuming the metal worn and carried by adventurers and not in their meaty bodies. 4th Edition has beefed the Rust Monster up a bit, giving it a stronger bite attack and increased movement speed from 3rd Ed, but nerfing the rust effect so that it only happened as the result of a successful bite attack.
Mimics have already brought their brand of cruel deception to Neverwinter, but hopefully none of these other creatures find their way in. Avoidable instant-death attacks are to be expected as a part of boss fight mechanics, and temporary, non-lethal incapacitating attacks are a major part of any game system using magic. But any kind of balancing issues that might otherwise require the introduction of a Rust Monster can be avoided by standardizing gear and loot drops, which is sort of central to any MMO.
Beholders are the stuff of nightmares and the terrors of the Underdark. The Beholder is a large floating head with a giant, glaring central eye, a massive fang-filled mouth and a varying number of creepy eyestalks instead of hair - the standard beholder had 10 eye stalks, lesser variants had fewer, and some weird offshoots have more. Each eye has a different magical ability. In the old days, the central eye of a standard beholder was an anti-magic cone, but that has been replaced by a daze attack in 4th Edition. Beholders are egotistical and xenophobic, believing themselves to be the pinnacle of creation and everything else to be lesser beings. They hate everything that is different from themselves, including variant sub-species.
While a massive part of the Dungeons & Dragons bestiary is derived from folklore and the works of other writers, the beholder is a wholly original creation, created by Terry Kuntz, one of the earliest employees of TSR. It was first published in the original Greyhawk rules supplement, appearing on the cover and detailed inside.
Beholders are late-game monsters, even in the tabletop version, and have made many video game appearances over the years. There is no guarantee that they will be included in late-game Neverwinter. But, as one of Wizards of the Coast's most recognizable unique properties, they damn well should be. At the very least, they should be made available in the Foundry toolset so creative players can include them in their own adventure modules.
The Tarrasque is a perfect engine of raw destructive power. It is enormous, violent and very nearly unkillable, and it exists only to destroy. There is only one Tarrasque (per world) but that is a good thing. It is powerful and destructive enough to bring ruin to the earthly works of the gods themselves, and it can only be defeated by the equivalent of an army (but not killed - that requires powerful magic and possibly divine intervention). From its conception, the Tarrasque has always been an epic boss fight, the last thing an adventuring group would fight on the Prime Material plane before challenging the gods themselves.
The Tarrasque has gone through a number of changes since its 1st Edition introduction. The early edition versions were immune to basically everything and regenerated Hit Points at an absurd rate (and could even regenerate from instant-death spells), but could be slain by reducing it to negative hit points and using a Wish or Miracle spell on the gooey remains. The 4th Edition version is less expansive - it's only a sub-entry of the Abomination category. It is less physically resilient, with no regeneration and immunity only to charm and fear effects, but it technically cannot be killed. When reduced to 0 Hit Points, it sinks back into the world's core and takes a nap.
The Tarrasque is based on a legendary French beast of nearly the same name (minus one R), which was said to have six stumpy legs, a turtle's shell, a scaly tail tipped with a scorpion stinger, and the head of a lion. Unlike the D&D monster which is immune to charm effects, the Tarasque was tamed by Saint Martha, who charmed it with hymns and prayers and then led it to the nearby city. The people there freaked out when they saw it and attacked it, but the creature, charmed by Saint Martha, offered no resistance and died. Saint Martha cussed all the heathens out for being dumbasses and converted them to Christianity, and the name of the town was changed to Tarascon in honor of the slain beast.
The Tarrasque has not appeared in any game to date. There is only one (per realm), after all, and slaying it would run contrary to most canon. At least, it would prior to 4th Edition. In 4th Edition rules, the Tarrasque simply resets when it reaches 0 Hit Points. The 4E Tarrasque is a natural MMO boss fight., and since Neverwinter is the first 4E MMO, it would make sense to build an endgame raid around this. It is very unlikely that the Tarrasque will make an appearance, but the logic of the system supports his existence, and we can always hope for the best.
Neverwinter's second beta event starts this weekend on March 8. What weird, unlikely monster would you like to see in the game? Let us know in our comments!