Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Monsters of Seven Voyages of Zylarthen, Part II

Author’s note: I’m writing a series of posts on Zylarthen not so much to plug it, nor merely because I like talking about my work. Rather, I think of Zylarthen as sort of a love letter to early OD&D. Thus, I hope that the design issues I grappled with and the eventual choices I made might be of interest to those who enjoy “thinking about Original Dungeons & Dragons”, whether or not they have read, played, or have any intention of reading or playing my attempted “re-imagining” of it.

In this post I break down the precise sources for the various Zylarthen monsters.

In a previous post I wrote that I decided to include all and only those monsters appearing (in whatever form) in “official” D&D sources through the fall of 1975—those three sources being the original 1974 edition of the game (henceforth the three little brown books or 3 LBB’s), the first supplement—Greyhawk—and the first four issues of The Strategic Review. Interestingly, this cut-off point yielded roughly two hundred distinct creatures, even excluding most of the various “man-types”—leveled non-player characters, hirelings, soldiers and the rest—almost triple the initial number of monsters described and “statted” in the first part of Monsters & Treasure. The place to begin, though, is with those monsters:

Note: in the following lists, re-imagined creatures, my own extrapolations and extrapolations based on later sources will generally be denoted by italics.

THE MONSTERS from Monsters & Treasure, pp. 3-20
Bandits, Basilisks, Berserkers, Black Pudding, Buccaneers, Cavemen, Centaurs, Chimerae, Cockatrices, Dervishes, Djinn, Black Dragons, Blue Dragons, Golden Dragons, Green Dragons, Red Dragons, White Dragons, Dryads, Dwarves, Efreet, Air Elementals, Earth Elementals, Fire Elementals, Water Elementals, Elves, Gargoyles, Ghouls, Cloud Giants, Fire Giants, Frost Giants, Hill Giants, Stone Giants, Goblins, Gnoles, Gnomes, Gorgons, Gray Ooze, Green Slime, Griffins, Hippogriffs, Horses, Mules, Camels, Hydras, Fire Breathing Hydras, Kobolds, Werebears, Wereboars, Weretigers, Werewolves, Manticoras, Medusae, Mermen, Minotaurs, Mummies, Nixies, Nomads, Ochre Jelly, Ogres, Orcs, Pegasi, Pixies, Purple Worms, Rocs, Sea Monsters, Skeletons, Spectres, Treants, Trolls, Unicorns, Vampires, Lesser Vampires, Wights, Wraiths, Wyverns, Yellow Mold, Zombies

Number of Monsters: 77.

Notes: These should obviously make up the core of any OD&D monster list. As it happens, none of them are non-SRD. A few are extrapolations. So, for example, I felt that Camels should be added to Horses and Mules, and that Lesser Vampires (the victims of the Stokeresque Vampires) should be added to Vampires. I fiddled with Gnomes to make them genuinely strange (as opposed to being merely more whimsical Dwarves). And I preserved the spelling of “Gnole” from the original Dunsany story as well as ignoring both the initial description of these monsters—“A cross between Gnomes and Trolls…otherwise they are similar to Hobgoblins”—and the description that would come a few years later in the Monster Manual—“There is a great resemblance between Gnolls and Hyenas”—in favor of leaving them explicitly undescribed, as they are in the story.

OTHER MONSTERS from Monsters & Treasure, pp. 20-22
Androids, Cyclopes, Gelatinous Cubes, Flesh Golems, Iron Golems, Stone Golems, Juggernauts, Living Statues, Robots, Salamanders, Titans

Number of Monsters: 11.

Notes: Some of these—Gelatinous Cubes, Golems, Salamanders and Titans—would later be more fully described in Greyhawk. For the fun of it I named all twelve of the Titans.

MONSTER LEVEL TABLES and WILDERNESS WANDERING MONSTERS from The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, pp. 10-11 and 18-19
Apes, Boars, Lions, Snakes, Spiders, Giant Ants, Giant Beetles, Fire Beetles, Centipedes, Giant Hogs, Giant Lizards, Giant Rats, Giant Scorpions, Giant Poisonous Snakes, Giant Spitting Snakes, Huge Spiders, Large Spiders, Water Spiders, Giant Toads, Giant Weasels, Cave Bears, Dire Wolves, Mammoths, Mastodons, Saber-Toothed Cats, Spotted Lions, Titanotheres, Wooly Rhinoceroses, Brontosaurus, Pterodactyls, Stegosaurs, Triceratopses, Tyrannosaurus Rex, Cyborgs, Doppelgangers, Invisible Stalkers, Shadows, Thoblins, Apts, Banths, Calots, Darseen, Black Martians, Green Martians, Red Martians, Ancients, Therns, Holy Therns, Lotharians, Yellow Martians, Orluks, Sith, Tharks, Thoats, White Apes

Number of Monsters: 55.

Notes: So, counting the Zylarthen extrapolations, the number of these “missing monsters” almost equals the fully described monsters in Monsters & Treasure. The attentive reader will notice the cases where I consulted Blackmoor or even the Monster Manual. But some monsters such as Giant Ants were intentionally re-imagined. (For the Ants, think those creepy bugs from that great Outer Limits episode, “The Zanti Misfits”.) Of course the four varieties of White Martians are extrapolations based on the actual Burroughs stories. For all Martians, I learned much from David Bruce Bozarth’s A Barsoom Glossary as well as from the original Warriors of Mars and the OD&D version by “Doc”.

NAVAL COMBAT in The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, pp. 28-35
Giant Crabs, Crocodiles, Giant Crocodiles, Dragon Turtles, Giant Fish, Giant Leeches, Giant Octopi, Giant Sea Snakes, Giant Squids

Number of Monsters: 9.

Notes: Some of these appeared in the earlier encounter tables, and all them (I think) reappeared in the aquatic-fixated Blackmoor.

Other Monsters from “The Three Little Brown Books”
Amazons, Assassins, Barbarians, Bats, Huge Bats, Bears, Elephants, Halflings, Prisoners, Rats, Tigers, Vikings, Witches, Wolves

Number of Monsters: 14.

Notes: This is perhaps the most interesting group. There are illustrations of Amazons, Barbarians and Witches in Men & Magic, yet these beings were never described in that source or in any other early source (1974-75) nor have they been included in any of the retro-clones, as far as I am aware. Witches would seem to be almost paradigmatic in terms of being staples of fantasy stories as well as being featured in the classic explanation of the charisma ability score in Men & Magic. Vikings (or “Viking” things) are actually mentioned four times in The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures but they fell out in later editions I assume because they were too “historical”. Ditto for Amazons. For Amazons I jettisoned the sexist (though intriguing!) interpretation that they fought without clothing (I kept that for Barbarians, and there is historical justification for that) but kept the fun (for me at least) assumptions concerning body modification and the rumor that Amazons would temporarily take captured males as lovers. I took some of the inspiration for Barbarians from the description of them in that great Avalon Hill wargame Caesar at Alesia, though inexplicably I forgot to cite it in my otherwise relatively long Sources section. There’s a fair amount of reference to “prisoners” in the Treasure Tables of Monsters & Treasure so I decided to expand on that.
Gods and Goddesses
Apollo, Artemis, Athena, Balder the Beautiful, Girra the Fire God, Ishtar, Isis, Kali, Lakshmi, Manannan the Sea God, Math the Great Wizard, Odin the One-Eyed, Pan, Set Lord of Shadows, Silvanus, The Spider God, Thor, Thoth the Terrible, Tsathoggus, Untamo God of Sleep and Dreams

Number of Monsters: 20.

Notes: As I wrote in the first post, it seemed a no-brainer to include gods and goddesses alongside the “regular” monsters. But I also thought the wide-open spirit of the original game dictated including beings from a diversity of sources—Classical, Egyptian, Norse, Middle-Eastern, Celtic, Finnish and of course Hyborian. Though most appeared in the 1976 Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes or its later 1980 incarnation, Deities  & Demigods, the descriptive content was almost entirely taken from original sources. Unlike for the other monsters, I did not give statistics to these immortals, believing that that would be a waste of space as well as sending the wrong message. Any god or goddess could easily defeat a character of any level if he or she had a mind to, so what’s the point of saying so and so has 300 hit points? But for each god or goddess, I did try to provide meaningful and useful information on how to actually include him or her (or his or her followers) in a campaign or adventure, if and when the occasion arose.

Giant Flyers
Bumblebees, Butterflies, Dragonflies, Eagles, Flies, Hornets, Locusts, Moths

Number of Monsters: 8.

Notes: Giant Eagles are mentioned in Chainmail, but the others are extrapolations based on the mention of “Large Insects” or “Giant Insects” in the rules on Aerial Combat in The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures. It was another way to be “original” without completely departing from the sources. I thought these winged critters rounded out the list of standard giant creatures in a way that was both fun and added to the diversity of things.

Evil Men
Brawlers, Ruffians, Duellists, Black Knights, Rakehells, Villains, Bravos, Interfectors, Evil Lords, Malefics, Praecantors, Diabolists, Demonurgists, Black Magicians, Hecatontarchs, Haruspices, Evocators, Incantators, Necromants, Wizards, Lifters, Snatchers, Fingerers, Harpaces, Sicarians, Phansigars, Thugs, Evil Thieves, Evil Master Thieves, Evil High Priests or Priestesses, Evil Priests

Number of Monsters: 31.

Lawful Men
Fighters, Pavisers, Thanes, Knights, Guardians, Defenders, Protectors, Vindicators, Lords, Famuli, Chirosophists, Tregetours, Pellars, Theurges, Thaumaturges, Talismanists, Solonists, Mirabilists, Magi, Archimagi, Borrowers, Mousers, Gilters, Dodgers, Coursers, Rescuers, Targeteers, Swordmen, Thieves, Master Thieves, High Priests or Priestesses, Priests

Number of Monsters: 31.

Notes: I loved the evocative level titles of the early version of the original game—another thing that would gradually fall out over the editions. One thing that virtually everyone has noticed about Zylarthen is the (mostly) new level titles for both the Lawful and Evil members of the three main classes. This was done for legal reasons but also for the sheer fun of it. It’s true that Gygax chose some silly titles, but he also laid claim to some of the better and more obvious ones, so I can’t say the enterprise was quick or easy. A number of specialized dictionaries as well as the OED came in handy here. Zylarthen assumes that player-characters (even Thieves) are basically good-guys, so titles with sinister, dark or particularly violent connotations were reserved for the Evil list. Particular effort was taken to clearly distinguish practitioners of “white magic” from, say, the “Wizards” of the Old Testament and other historical sources. I think most people appreciated the new titles, but everyone (including me, secretly) has their choice for one or two they don’t like. Note that Priests and Evil Priests only have one level. Since in Zylarthen, priests and evil priests become non-player characters, I didn’t see a need fuss things up with a full list of levels. Evil High Priests and High Priests have many of the most powerful Cleric spells that were not collapsed into the list for Magic-Users (including Finger of Death for Evil High Priests) but Evil Priests and Priests simply have a sort of aura, or whatever, around them that helps their friends and harms their enemies.
Monsters from Greyhawk
Aerial Servants, Blink Dogs, Bugbears, Cave Creepers, Brass Dragons, Bronze Dragons, Copper Dragons, Silver Dragons, The Dragon Queen, The Dragon King, Druids, Storm Giants, False Gnomes, Half-Elves, Harpies, Hell Hounds, Hobgoblins, Homunculi, Lammasu, Liches, Lizard Men, Wererats, Ogre Magi, Owl Bears, Paladins, Phase Spiders, Phaetonians, Rust Monsters, Sea Horses, Shift Panthers, Giant Slugs, Stirges, Giant Ticks, Tritons, Will O’Wisps

Number of Monsters: 35.

Notes: Even though these are relatively few in number, there are many canonical ones—so many that some don’t realize they didn’t exist in the original edition. This is why including Greyhawk was a must. A few of these as well some from the next two categories were non-SRD creations that I decided to modify into “science-fictional” or alien creatures. While I initially thought the issue annoying, I ended up with something I actually preferred, as the Androids, Cyborgs, Robots and Martians of the 3 LBB’s were now joined by entities hailing from Jupiter and the surface of the Sun.

Monsters from The Strategic Review
Clay Golems, Ghosts, Leprechauns, Lurkers Above, Guardian Nagas, Spirit Nagas, Water Nagas, Piercers, Rangers, Ropers, Shambling Mounds, Shriekers, Tentacle Men, Wind Walkers, Yeti

Number of Monsters: 14.

Notes: More canonical monsters. I liked what I did with Ghosts. Note that Zylarthen does include Rangers and Paladins (see Greyhawk, above), but only as non-player characters. I’m sure this was disappointing to many.

Monsters from Chainmail
Faeries, Solians, True Wraiths

Number of Monsters: 3.

Notes: Well, the last two fell out of the original for obvious copyright reasons (though the middle one would reappear in an inferior form). I decided to resurrect them.


From Men & Magic: Archers, Armored Foot, Barbarians, Crossbowmen, Heavy Foot, Heavy Horse, Horse Archers, Horsed Crossbowmen, Light Foot, Light Horse Bowmen, Light Horse Lancers, Mailed Bowmen (Medium Horse Bowmen), Mailed Crossbowmen (Heavy Crossbowmen), Medium Horse, Turcopoles

From Chainmail: Knights (Oddly, the term “Knight” appears nowhere in the 3 LBB’s), Javelineers

Extrapolations: Cataphracts, Cheirosiphoneers, Dwarf Guards, Elf Legionnaires, Halfling Slingers, Hoplites, Irregulars, Koursors, Peltasts, Pikemen, Mobs, Savages, Slingers, Varangians

Number of Monsters: 31.

Notes: I thought the original edition was simply begging for a clear and comprehensive list of soldier variations. And I thought it would be fun to include a table for the place of origin (native or foreign) and disposition of the soldiers upon encountering them. You probably don’t want to run into “friendlies” directly after they just got trounced in battle.

The AD&D Monster Manual

Number of Monsters: 1.

Notes: My one concession to post-1975 modernity. Can you fault me?

So that’s the full list, 340 “monsters” if you count them broadly. Virtually all of them also appear in both the “Monster Encounter Tables” and “Wilderness Encounter Tables” of Zylarthen’s fourth and final volume—The Campaign. As with the encounter tables of the first version of the original game, a large proportion—one-third—are “man-types” of one form or another.

All in all, I’d like to think there’s enough “new” material to peak even the most veteran OD&D player’s interest.

Notes on Illustrations:

  1. This drawing doesn't appear in the Book of Monsters but rather in the Book of Magic, p. 21.  What is it? Perhaps a Homunculus small enough to conceal itself in its master's mouth. I suppose you need an additional spell for that. Cropped from an illustration from “The Vision Of Macconglinney,” in Jacobs, Joseph, More Celtic Fairy Tales, illustrated by John Dickson Batten, New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1895, orig. 1894, p. 73.
  2. A Pixie from Book of Monsters, p. 47. From “My Own Self,” in Jacobs, More English Fairy Tales, illustrated by John Dickson Batten, New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1894, orig. 1893, p. 18.
  3. A Witch from Book of Monsters, p. 62. From ”Morraha,” in More Celtic Fairy Tales, p. 87.
  4. An Evil Man from Book of Monsters, p. 22. Cropped from The Magic Purse, from “The Three Soldiers,” in Jacobs, Europa’s Fairy Book, illustrated by John Dickson Batten, New York: Knickerbocker Press, 1916, p. 73.
  5. A Ghost, one of the nastiest monsters in any category, from Book of Monsters, p. 25. Taken from the chapter illustration for “The Golden Arm,” in Jacobs, English Fairy Tales, illustrated by John Dickson Batten, New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1892, orig. 1890, p. 143.


  1. I've been enjoying your blog, since I found it yesterday. Excuse the ignorant question but why did you use Evil instead of Chaotic? Is that some-place in the LBBs, some-place I've totally overlooked!

  2. Thanks. I'm glad to have you as a reader. That's a great question. Let me first say that even though I'm a firm believer in the objective reality of good and evil (especially in fantasy game settings) and of the ongoing conflict between them, I think it just sounds better in the context of a fantasy world to refer to that conflict as one between Law and Chaos. It seems more "swords & sorcery-ish" and less, I don't know, trite (though that's not quite the word I'm looking for). As an example, Poul Anderson used the terms in this way to great effect in his wonderful 1961 novel Three Hearts and Three Lions. Though I know others would disagree with me on this, I believe Gygax and Areneson also began with the notion that those terms were basically just better sounding stand-ins for good and evil. One piece of evidence for this is that Priests or High Priests aligned with Chaos were officially referred to as “Evil Priests” or “Evil High Priests” throughout Men & Magic and The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures. I assume this was because it just sounded better. Remember, this was before the concept of alignments had become well-known. So “Chaotic Priest” might almost sound like a vicar who kept an untidy sacristy. :) I felt the same way about calling the bad guys “Evil Men” as opposed to “Chaotic Men”. I thought it had a cooler and less confusing ring to it, even though “Law” and “Chaos” might sound more appropriate at the general level. Does that make sense?

  3. Oh shit, comment didn't post before.

    Yeah, that makes sense. I think it's a philosophical or theological(?) interpretation, which I think is cool because I can't convincingly portray that kind of theme. I also like how you found it through a subtext, from what I gather is was a close reading. That illustrates what I like about OD&D.

    I tend to interpret Law/Chaos as a pseudo Apollonian/Dionysian metaphysic. Everyone are all equally justified actors. I'm doing a search after this but just in case, would you consider a post expanding on your personal law/evil interpretation? I'd like to see how that is worked thematically into a campaign.