Thursday, 9 July 2020

The Top Ten Emblematic D&D Monsters

In the cause of 'Gygaxian Populism' (its like 'Gygaxian Democracy' except I didn't really think it through), I ventured onto my socials to ask the following simple question;

"What Ten monsters would you say are emblematic of 'classic' D&D?"

After literally minutes of stumbling through your replies and dicking about with an excel sheet, I have synthesised the following cutting-edge breakdown and penetrating commentary;



(In reverse order for greater drama)

10. Skeletons!

9. Kobolds!

8. Orc!

7. Owlbear!

6. Mind Flayers!

5. Rust Monster!

4. Dragons (non-specific)

, but if you add all dragon mentions they come it at number one..)

3. Gelly Cube!

2. Gobbos!

1. Beholders!

Quite a surprising list as its a strange mix of VERY D&D cretures like Beholders, Gelly Cube, Rust Monster, Mind Flayer, Owlbear, all of which you only ever see with WotC product.

And GOBLINS at number TWO? Dragons, Orcs, Kobolds (what the fuck even are Kobolds they change every edition and just do what goblins do?, and Skeletons.

Ok, Orcs, Goblins and Skeletons all need no excuse for placing this high (though I am surprised that Goblins beat out the rest so hard). BUT what the fuck do you all like about Kobolds so much?

The Gelly Cube feels like the MVP here as, for being essentially a cube of corrosive jelly, it has rated very highly indeed.

The question as to who truly deserves top spot, Beholder or 'Dragons' will occupy sages for times immemorial to come. Should all mentions of Dragons be combined into one thing? What about the three people who voted specifically for the 'Red Dragon'?


11. Liches
12. Mimics
13. Carrion Crawlers
14. Slime (green, though many mentions of slime generally)
15. Gnoll
16. Stirges - amazed they rated this high
17. Troll - very sad performance
18. Bugbears - what the fuck even are they
19. Bulette

Clearly the slime/jelly vote was split by the enormous range of possible slimes.

Votes ranged from "Slimes (all)" 2 votes, "Slimes" 1 vote, "Slime (green)" 7 votes. "Fungus/Mold" 1 vote and "Ochre Jelly" 1 vote. This is what happens with proportional voting people.

Absolutely crushed for the Liche here, and the Mimic. They did well and we expected them to do well, just not well enough in a packed field.

Likewise with the Troll, another under-loved classic,

Gnolls - about where I would expect them to be, and while I am a fan, honestly they did well to get even this far.

Stirges - these were really surprisingly popular to me. What the fuck is it about Stirges that makes them, not even "emblematic" but popular at all? Is there a vast Stirge fandom community our there?

Bugbears - get the fuck out, worse than Kobolds. What even are these things. Utter rubbish.

Bullette - yep, harsh to say it but this is pretty much where I would expect it.

And tbh, lucky to be this high.


It seems the key to being memorable and popular is some complex synergy of being part of a strong monster grouping and also specific enough to dominate the concept of that grouping.

So 'Gelatinous Cube' just crushes all the other Slimes, but 'Yellow-Musk Creeper' just isn't strong enough to dominate either the undead or angry plant groups and so gets wiped out.

Many people voted for demons or devils, but unfortunately for the damned ones, they were all seperate votes. Marilith, Pit Fiend & Succubi got one each.

Likewise, a huge number voted for Dragons generally, but a significant chunk was split from that vote by 'Red Dragon' specifically, which got three, making it an important low-level contender just on its own, and by "Dragons (colour coded)" and "Black Dragon" which got one each.

If you put all those together you get the number one spot.

Curious, for the very concept of a 'Red Dragon' implies other-coloured dragons but the specific nature of that particular kind of dragon seems to strike a powerful chord within the mind. I wonder how many voters for 'Dragons (non-specific)' were imagining a Red Dragon?


Yuan-Ti - only one vote for the snake-men.


- One vote! And it can't purely be because they are generic, Dragons are up there.

Shambling Mound - One vote, Swamp Thing not doing it for you?

Slaadi - Fucking Githyanki got higher than Slaadi? Despite being boring as fuck? Shocking.

Purple Worm - only two votes for the vast one. What a shame.


The following all could have been expected to do a lot better than they did in my opinion.

Frost Giants - one one vote.

Blink Dogs, only one,

Otyughs - only two votes! Its a Gygaxian classic!

Githyanki and whatever the other ones were, 3 votes. Boring.


This is a great image too

3 votes, not bad but hoped for more.

Tarresque -

Only four votes for Wallmart Godzilla. Could have done better.

Umber Hulk 4 votes and Displacer Beast 3 votes. Not shameful but I would have expected them to be higher.


- ONE VOTE for the Gothic Misandrists. All that fetish gear for nothing. I weep.


Amber Golem - the only mention of Golems and its these?

Seems they are from Ravenloft? Honestly, this sounds like a pretty good name and 'Amber Golem' has that tasty and unusual specificity which suggests something interesting and magical. Their current rules don't seem that interesting so these might be ripe for a remix of some kind.

Rot Grubs - 

3 votes so surprisingly popular. But 'Spawn of Kyuss' got no mentions despite having a better name?

Decapus - 

ok its that thing from Palace of the Silver Princess, ok not that bad.

War Lords?

 (Still have no idea what these are)


All of these got one vote. I'm not sure why but I respect that the community still has some independent minds left in it.

Ear Worms??

Flumphs -

 Someone had to I guess.


Kuo Toa. 

- If there was anything interesting to say about them I would say it.

Theiflings - 


Did you mean 'Tieflings' or did I mis-type? (Actually, if they don't already exist a monster called 'Theiflings' sounds pretty cool.)

Wolf-in-Sheeps Clothing -

ahh the hilariously specific-mimic.

Yellow Zombie Creepers

 - Honestly I agree. These are underrated.

Paralysing Claw - I'm not sure what this is. Like an animated hand or a creature *with* a paralysing claw?

Svirfneblin - really?

Water Weird - you do you man.


Orc Warchief -  and yes specifically the orc warchief



Paladins - pfft.

Zagyg the  Sorcerer!

- Stop. My sides.

"I guess the undead in general" - headdesk.

Man (the greatest monster) - SIGH.

"maybe the Demogorgon bc of Stranger Things ??"


And there you have it. Dungeons and Dragons, a game, fundamentally, about Goblins, (one of the commonest Fantasy concepts), Beholders, (the mad giant lazer shooting eyeball guys you find nowhere else), and giant cubes of jelly. With Dragons possibly also included.

Does this tell us anything about the complex synthesis of shared paracosms in the corporate-industrial age? How our imaginations are at once united and exploited by corporations and trademarked confabulations which simultaneously give us a shared language of the imagination and allow us to form social groupings far beyond those of our immediate experience while also to some degree making us the subjects of capital to some degree?

Does it tell us anything about the interlacing of the widely-known general powerful and classical idea-structures with the alarmingly-specific, often goofy and bonkers beings we both desire and fear to encounter? How meaning itself is born from the archipelago of our neural networks where the novel and the known combine and contrast?

I do not know, but our course is set; work out better powers for the Amber Golem, work out what 'Theiflings' should be and find out why the fuck people like Kobolds so much.

Also, our Hardcopy Store is now back open.


  1. Amber golems that attack by releasing giant trapped prehistoric insects?

  2. I think more that the giant trapped prehistoric insects are driving the Amber Golems "mech" suits. They are insect sorcerers of a lost age.

    1. Much more interesting. Or perhaps they are stuck in a sort of fitful slumber as the amber is their preservation medium - the "golem" is incidentally animated by their perhistoric insect dreams.


    3. This concept does seem like a winner.

    4. Ya this is an awesome idea...

    5. @Dkrowley- oh yeah, like the "reality" of the world is their insect "dreamlands". So all this insects are living out alt-lives as rulers or lovers in amber bodies. "Hey you know your king is a giant hideous insect in encased in a gem right?" "Yes, but XXICHI was a real outsider candidate that everyone could unite around."

    6. Also now we know why Jurassic Park went to shit - it was the Mosquito all along.

    7. Quite what shapes the unconscious minds of ancient insect mages would take though... I was thinking more like they should be cosmically powerful but haven't quite woken up yet. So madly fumbling around in a hostile future full of weird pink things inside rocks when their world was just ferns, ooze and barbarian giant centipedes.

    8. Didn't the Fiend Folio have some beast that was just a humanoid pile of insects. Seems that should be related somehow to the Amber Golem Mech.

  3. I get the impression that Kobolds fit better into a Dungeon's infrastructure through being in thrall to Dragons. However, otherwise they are rather Goblin-like - there must be something else.

    Should the Amber Golem be a statue seemingly moulded from amber as above (also, why does this Golem look like Horus? Amber is more associated with the Baltic than the Nile, at least to me) or a roughly humanoid sculpture made of numerous pieces of naturally occurring amber?

    The property of (cut, polished) amber that springs to mind first is its translucency. An amber golem focussing light through itself seems interesting.

    1. Its good but its not going to beat the Rise of the Mosquito Liche by that guy above.

    2. I concede defeat; anything that can produce an amber-plated trilobite is clearly superior.

      Mind you, a hive of preserved insects could form a more naturalistic pebble-golem....

  4. I would have voted for gith if I had seen this :(. I just like Charles Stross, but also there was this 3.5 module, probably wasn't good, but it had this cool necro/bio/science-fantasy vibe with like red dragon hybrids and psychic liches and stuff...

    Anyway I loled for real at your bugbear comment 🤣

    Also, flumphs ftw!

    1. Thou art banned for all time

    2. Is it because of the flumphs? I accept my banishment with pride- Viva la Flumph 😝!!!

    3. the Flumph is love the Flumph is life

    4. I'd always thought of Flumph as Wizard-created mobile trash cans. Sort of a Fantasy Rumba. Get them to puke and you might get some interesting stuff.

  5. Kobolds are memorable bc they are shittier goblins

    1. Aren't they essentially shit goblins who cosplay as dragons?

    2. Like a sensation of something trapped in your teeth or an irritating ad jingle? kobolds kobolds kobolds on sale now now now

    3. So the remixed version is they are shittier goblins obsessed with selling you dragon cosplay as part of their obnoxious multimedia startup?

    4. More likely a pyramid scheme.

    5. What I did with kobolds was that one day they realized they could protect their dragon's hoard more efficiently by lending most ofitat interest and focus on building dungeons to protect the most precious and unique pieces (the value of which is difficult to monetize anyway). Eventually people started paying them rent to protect their artifacts too and leaving their money to them for protection rather than building their own treasure-chambers and such. Eventually they started actively investing the money they received and paying interests.
      Kobolds are lawful evil bankers.

  6. I did this same exercise ages ago, you hack.

    Oddly, or perhaps not oddly, it ended up being the Beholder for my selectorate as well.

  7. I voted the amber golem. It's not a Ravenloft thing, it was in Mentzer Expert set.

    1. Are there any details in there about its background and what it does?

    2. They are supposed to resemble giant cats and be trackers without a fault who can see invisible creatures

  8. Kobolds probably have undue popularity these days because of a Dragon article called "Tucker's Kobolds" that gets passed around a lot, and which is probably many new-school players' first introduction to the idea of combat as war. It's not quite emblematic of proper OSR imo-- the kobolds just attacked, viciously on sight-- but they're still probably responsible from breaking lots of folks out of the stale "balanced combat as sport" rut.

    1. But do people actually use them that way?

    2. I did, a few, years ago. They've captured the entire party who somewhat complained they didn't lose to the kobolds, they lost to the dark

    3. I did It's fun.
      I know you don't know me, but I'm people and used Kobolds like that so I'm marginally useful to the conversation.

  9. Thieflings are like if Hobbits or Kender were a species of psychotic little kleptomaniac freaks, scurrying around underfoot and worming their way into everything. The stuff they take is mostly random, like you can't find your pepper grinder and then your left shoe goes missing. But they will steal gold too. They infest places like negative gnomes. If caught they start screeching and stabbing with tiny knives

    1. I feel like we might be getting somewhere with that.

      Its possible theiflings are their own swag bags and disspear inside themselves when in danger, and iside its like Fagans lair from the musical 'Oliver'

    2. Maybe thieflings can steal things that can't normally be stolen, like your name or shadow, and every thiefling's missing something essential themselves. Maybe there's people out there cobbled together from stolen pieces, or people who've lost a part of themselves and start to shrivel up and eye others covetously.

    3. Thats everyone online in 2020

  10. Got to like the goblin. Undersized, he's nonetheless compact and can bring that mace. Good stuff.

  11. I wrote 'paralysing claw ghoul' as a way to differentiate between the Lovecraft ghoul and/or any variety of ghouls that don't fucking paralyse you with their claw strikes. They're D&D only I think and hence, why I included them... FOR CRYING OUT LOUD PATRICK.

  12. In future, I will not use triomial nomenclature.

  13. One point for kobolds that no one has mentioned is that kobolds are as puppy-like as they are lizard-like. Their servitude to Dragons can be read as cuter then the more humanoid goblin.

    Another point is that how weak and pitiful contrasts well with how big and powerful dragons are. They are very much the underdogs of monsters, and that makes them endearing. Also 3.5 had a thing with kobold sorcerers, and the inversion where a kobold is suddenly powerful is cool adds to the underdog thing.

    Also people lewd them. All these monsters have been lewded, but porn of a rust monster or beholder is either very niche or a goof. Kobolds have a more sizable fanbase which most likely intersects with furries who like humanoids with long snouts, like canine-furrys and shark-furrys.

    1. The idea of evil-puppy dudes is cool but lewd kobolds... no

  14. Bugbears were lucky enough to get some very good miniatures early on. Check out these ones from the 1985 Citadel range:

    It gave them a very distinct visual identity - goblins, but huge and hairy and aggressive instead of small and bald and sneaky - which has helped to carry them forwards. That and the way they fill the crucial 3 HD gap between ogres and gnolls.

    I think Pathfinder tried to turn them into fear cultists or something.

    1. Ok I will accept that those are lovely minis HOWEVER, you did not tell me that early Bugbears looked like THIS


    2. That looks like some Runequest cross pollination. Eg. A Jack-o-bear... A hugely iconic RQ monster. I wonder which came first?

    3. The D&D one came first, apparently due to a miscommunication between Gygax and the illustrator: Gygax meant they had pumpkin *shaped* heads, but the illustrator drew an actual pumpkin. This was corrected in the 1977 monster manual, which gave them their now-familiar 'giant furry goblin' look instead.

      Apparently they ended up in Runequest because when Greg Stafford commissioned the original Runequest miniatures range, the company suggested that he add some of their other figures to the Runequest bestiary so that they could be released as part of the Runequest miniature line. They were already making pumpkin-headed bugbears for D&D, so Stafford wrote them into Runequest as Jack-O-Bears, and they've stayed there ever since.

      (Source: this Dragonsfoot thread.

    4. Pumpkin-headed bugbear came first. It was a miscommunication between Gary and the artist. Gary meant pumpkin-shaped. Blueholme keeps them this way, I think.

    5. What rough beast, it's your come at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born? (Fantastic info; I'd like to have been a fly on the wall for that convo...)

  15. I'd love to see the spell version of this post.

  16. Patrick, may I share two pictures from Veins of the Earth with accreditation to you and Scrap Princess in a collection of my favorite art images on my blog? I'm also asking her