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Okay, that title is false. Dumb monsters are dumb, but that doesn’t mean they don’t serve a purpose. I’m currently entering Fiend Folio data into my 1st Edition AD&D database, so I’ve got dumb monsters on the brain. This reminds me of countless articles I’ve read listing the dumbest monsters in D&D. I don’t agree with all the entries, and I’d guess many of you don’t either. One list had a Beholder on it. That’s got to be a minority opinion. And Teos will have words with anyone who criticizes the flumph. This is, of course, because these lists are subjective, but most of these lists do involve the usual suspects.
For example, let’s look at the mauler. Just look at it. Try not to give it too much thought. You definitely shouldn’t consider how the thing reproduces. That won’t end well because you’ll likely have to consider what it looks like from behind, especially while it’s rolling around. Anyway, there aren’t many things dumber looking than that. However, such a monster can serve a purpose to an adventure writer.
D&D takes place in a world of magic, and that necessarily leads to things that don’t make logistic sense. In fact, maulers don’t need to breed through a natural process. Phew! So, let’s say that your BBEG is performing an apocalyptic ritual. You decide that the ritual’s end goal is to cause non-sentient animals to gain sentience and kill all humans. You don’t want to give that away, but you need an adventure seed that hints at what’s going on. You decide that the early stages of the ritual must manifest themselves with increasingly strange effects on the natural world. The early stages of the ritual may be working out the fine details of the process, causing grossly odd mutations to normal wildlife in the meantime. Such mutations would probably be painful, which would anger temperamental animals such as big cats. Sure, you could give them stronger bites and extra claws, but that’s not so much “odd” as mere exaggeration. We already have exaggerated animals, whether prehistoric or “dire.” You want something far weirder than a larger animal with an extra couple of claws. That plays out no differently than just giving your normal animal more attacks with the claws it already has. The mauler fits this scenario perfectly, so you should be glad that the mechanics of how such a creature would work are already written for you.
The mauler helps in another way. As I was writing this post, I chose the mauler. From there, I had to reverse engineer how the mauler would fit into the example I gave above. I decided that the nature of the ritual was to grant sentience and anger to ordinary animals; ergo, the mauler inspired my writing. Its odd nature gave me the idea I didn’t already have. One of these bizarre creatures could inspire an unexpected story element.
Let’s also look at the carbuncle. That freak always makes the lists of dumb or “unusual” monsters. It has a very specific goal. The actual problem with this creature is that everyone’s aware of it, so players aren’t going to fall for its tricks. However, the carbuncle teaches us that we can come up with a silly little story idea then build a creature around it. I’m sure that’s how the thing came into existence in the first place.
Dumb monsters can fit nicely within your adventure and even help you write it. Once you’ve chosen to use one, you already have a shortcut on how such oddly structured creatures would play out in combat.
Now go insert a duckbunny in your adventure.
Note: I’ve exhausted all the posts I’ve written and don’t plan to write any more for a while. Sorry, but I’m not in the mood and won’t be for some time. I guess the current streak ends at 194 days in a row with a post.
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