All The World’s Monsters Volume III, Part V
Why Can’t I Be Consistent In When I Use Roman or Arabic Numbers?
Seriously, Maintaining Consistent Style Choices Has Been An Issue With Me Since Elementary School, And While It’s Trivial In Most Contexts, It Causes Me Endless Grief When Doing The Two Things That Earn Me Money: Programming And Writing Game Supplements
I added a plugin to deactivate Gutenberg, or, as I call it “If Gutenberg Had Invented This We’d Still Use Monks With Quill Pens”, so at least I won’t be ranting over that. Not that I’m a bitter, cranky, old man who hates change, or anything. Get offa my cyberlawn, you damn punk kids! Anyway, this is likely to be the final entry discussing the brilliantly classic “All The World’s Monsters” series from Chaosium, a perfect artifact from what I call the Burgess Shale era of gaming. The prior part of this volume is here, the start of this series is here, and someday, I’ll organize all of these like I did my Booty And The Beasts and Arduin series. Hah! Yeah, “I’ll get to it someday”. When it comes to procrastination, I’m no amateur!
This continues “S”, which was begun in the prior article. We ended with “Smik Lat”, and resume with…
Soggi: It needs a cooler name. It is yet another creature whose sole purpose in the ecosystem is to try to depower “Monty Haul” characters who are wandering around with the entire stock of a hypothetical magical Wal-Mart stored in their two dozen Bags of Holding. It is an “energy being” which resembles very large plastic wrap, drawing charges or magic powers from its victims items and gaining 8 HP from each such power drained. It’s somewhat unusual in that it has D4, not D8, hit dice… at the time, all hit dice were assumed to be D8, and you simply had more or less of them as you saw fit. Switching this to a different die size (as was done in D&D 3e and related) allows you to vary the damage-absorbing ability of a creature while not affecting its attack rolls and saves (which were based on the number of hit dice). Anyway, as an additional treat, 50% of spells and physical attacks will pass through the creature and hit whomever it is wrapping. Or, maybe, each spell has a 50% chance of passing through completely, while physical damage always does 50% of its damage to the wrappee (and 50% to the soggi). The wording is a bit confusing. Welcome to the era, folks.
Soul Stealer: An undead which looks “harmless” until it attacks, which was typical of the time, which, in turn, is what led players of the time to basically kill anything before it could kill them. To be fair, if you saw a “grey man” wandering around the 17th level of the Dungeon Of Infinite Terrors, and the DM said, “Oh, he looks harmless”, would you just shrug and say, “Sure, he probably is, must have just gotten lost when heading to the pub, right?”. The Soul Stealer drains 6 levels(!) with a touch, and has a 50% chance of “Soul Steal”… which is not explicitly defined, presumably, there’s a spell by that name, or close enough, in the assumed common literature of the era. It can be killed only by six “fingers of death” or six “disintegrates” or six “other equally powerful spells”. It’s not clear if these need to be all in the same round, or close together in time (maybe, in the space of six rounds?) or if it’s in total over the centuries. The “can only be killed/affected by multiple iterations of a powerful spell” was a common mechanic for high level monsters back then, as a way of dealing with players who had trivial access to such spells and would one-shot any creature they met.
Space Bender: Sadly, but predictably, not a perpetually drunken robot who loves blackjack and hookers. (I mean, if it was, it would be pretty interesting given the two decade time gap.) Rather, it’s a Clint Bigglestone creation, and that means it’s bonkers. It looks like an eight-limbed man, with “tentacles instead of eyes”, and it attacks by… well…
Spiderbat: No, I’m not going to write another song. This is a “giant insect”, despite neither spiders nor bats being insects, and is based on “This Immortal” by Roger Zelazny (who inspired a lot of monsters of this era), and does 4d6 damage by “enfolding”. Go figure.
Spined Pincher: An octopus with teeth, which each arm ending in “a sucker mouth”, and has, under attacks “1 strike, devours its victims heart”. No rules beyond that, so, if it hits you, it eats your heart, and that’s that? However, later in the short description, it is noted that “the arms strike as a flail”. (“strike as (weapon)” was common very early in the game’s history. It meant the attack used the “weapon type vs. armor class” table that was almost always ignored, because it meant using one set of modifiers for when you attacked creatures wearing actual armor and one set when you attacked normal things, which in turn meant having to figure out if something’s “Armor Class” was innate or from worn armor, etc.)
Squig: A pig with tentacles. A squid-pig. A squig. If four of the tentacles hit the same victim, it does a 4d6 bite attack, and the victim doesn’t benefit from dexterity or a shield against the bite. This foreshadows how modern grappling/held rules work, and is a good example of how the lack of broader mechanics to cover such situations led to “micro-mechanics” for individual monsters/spells/magic items/whatever.
Stavanzer: A 50 to 150 meter long giant slug, based on “Ice World” by Alan Dean Foster, with the note that “this is a b*i*g monster and it is very unlikely that one could be found in a dungeon”. This may seem obvious to you, in this enlightened age, but back then, finding 1d4 huge ancient black dragons roaming the 10′ by 10′ corridors of the Dread Dungeon of Dreadful Dooms was just something that happened.
Stirge Bear: It’s an owlbear, but instead of an owl head, it has a stirge head.
Holy fark, we’re finally done with “S”?
Tarkus: One of the many RPG creatures of the age inspired by 70s album art, which was itself inspired by some seriously good drugs. The tarkus can be of varying age (rolled on an included table) which increased its body size, weapon damage, and burst radius. At the peak, it could be 9d12 damage with a 40′ burst radius. It could also run over creatures, resulting in death. For the creatures it ran over, I mean. No rules, no rolls, it just crushes you beneath its treads and you’re dead. I suspect, given the makeup of gaming groups at the time, that there was at least one argument over the turning radius of tanks (“It can’t have turned to crush me in only one round, it clearly has a maximum angle change of only 15 degrees and I was standing…”), with one of the players being an armchair general who could quote tank statistics from memory and would do so until the DM gave up. (I could have sworn this one was in an earlier ATWM and I made the same jokes.)
Tarrahook Bat: A bat with a long tailhook that will do 1d12 damage, “ripping open the victims abdomen”, except that 1d12 damage is, well, pretty weak overall… an average of 6.5 HP, which probably won’t kill most PCs past 3rd level or so. There’s a ton of flavor text for this beastie, much more than for most, but the mechanics don’t match up to the gloriously gory tone of the writing, more’s the pity. In a bit of Gygaxian naturalism, we also learn it particularly likes the taste of elves and hobbits. (Hobbits were a favored food of many monsters.)
Tiger, Flying: Exactly what it says on the tin.
Tiger, Horned: Also exactly what it says on the tin, with the horn being worth 1d6*100 gp as an aphrodisiac.
Tiger, Stone: Yes, it’s a stone tiger, immune to a lot of things. Edged weapons attack at -2 and it has 20% magic immunity. Some can turn you to stone.
Tiger, Tyrissian: It’s a cross between a Tiger, Horned and Leopard, Flying, that casts spells as a 20th level Patriarch (cleric), and can become astral at will.
Titterer: Not a tiger. It’s a creature that follows the party around and giggles at them. It has no attacks, 1d2 hit points, and will run away rather than fight, then return when you stop chasing it. It eventually gets bored and leaves.
Look, I dunno, man. I just document ’em, I didn’t create ’em.
These days, it would get a 128 page sourcebook all to itself.
Troll, Shock: Attempts to get a response by posting dead baby jokes under a pseudonym. Also, it’s a four-armed troll with a green eye that shoots “Feeblemind”, a grey eye that shoots “Death Ray” (Both allow saves. How generous!), and can breathe poison which either does 5d6 damage or causes death in 1d20 rounds. It’s not really clear how that works, the stat block lists the damage and then says “see below”, which is where the “death in 1d20 rounds” is, but does that mean you take the damage once and then die in 1d20 rounds, or you take the damage if you make your save and otherwise you die, or what? It’s worth remember that ATWM was a compilation of creatures from many submitters, a lot of whom simply sent in their own homebrew critters. To the creator, the written stats were more a reminder of things they had internalized; they weren’t thinking of a target audience which didn’t live inside their (the creators) conceptual bubble. This phenomenon exists today in the form of missing or incomprehensible comments in code, that surely made sense to the author at the time they wrote them.
Turtle, Flying: A miniature (about 3-4 feet long) Gammera, appropriately credited.
Unipen: Despite sounding like some United Nations agency that distributes writing implements to the Third World, this is in fact a cross between a kangaroo and “an unknown intelligent being”. It has a beak which attacks as a “+3 spear” (see my comments above about the “attacks as weapon” trope in old school gaming), but breaks if it fails to penetrate armor, so it rarely attacks anyone wearing plate or scale. It automatically attacks “evil” creatures, but not “chaotic” ones, which is either an odd mixture of the early 3-value alignment system with the new 5- or 9- value one, or it means it attacks neutral evil and lawful evil creatures, but not chaotic evil ones.
Vamplock: A vampire which can use magic, i.e., a vampire warlock. It casts spells as an eighth level magic-user, you see, and the “level title” for such a character was “warlock”, and level titles are a topic for another day.
Wazoon: Yeah, I’m just gonna leave this right here.
Were Griffin: The result of crossbreeding between werelions and wereeagles. This predates Tumblr and DeviantArt by decades.
Were Platypus: All who see it must save vs. magic or “suffer convulsions of laughter” for 1d3 turns. That’s not me being funny. That’s what it actually says.
Were Wolverine: It’s the best there is at what it does, which is… 2 claws doing only 1d5 each? Yeah, like the werewalrus and wereskunk (also in the same section), it’s a good example of why “were creature” works much better as a template rather than as a specific monster for each type of animal. But templates didn’t exist then, so, what can you do?
Where-There Tree: An invisible, telekinetic, tree. ‘Nuff said.
Windowden: A cannibalistic yellow-skinned humanoid that prefers dwarf flesh, defying my previous comment about how hobbits were the food of choice for such monsters that included dietary preferences.
Wurm Eater: A “sort of flying, three-cornered crab”. Yes, the “sort of” is part of the official text. Go figure. It hunts dragons, using its three claw attacks, its “curse” spell, and, if desperate, its 11HD acid breath attack. Why it only uses this in extremis is not specified; it doesn’t take any damage or suffer ill effects. Maybe acid-dissolved dragons aren’t very tasty?
Yale: A two-horned horse that has an ongoing semi-serious rivalry with the har’vard, which is probably a three-legged donkey with two tentacles for a tail that breathes magnetism.
Yellow Ochre Jelly: Not “Yellow Jelly”, “Jelly, Yellow Ochre”, or “Ochre Jelly, Yellow”, this is… wait for it… an ochre jelly that’s yellow. Not ochre. This joins the “Off-White Black Pudding” and the “Not Green But A Kind Of Teal Green Slime”, in the category of “things I made up but which might have been used in someone’s game, somewhere.” Distinguishing the yellow ochre jelly from the not-yellow ochre jelly is the fact that the former explodes when exposed to any fire, thus (per the creature description) also destroying the treasure it is guarding. Thus, it might be better named the “Ha ha screw you players ochre jelly”, but perhaps there wasn’t enough room in the “H” chapter.
Zandioum: A winged man with webbed hands and feet, who can swim underwater while fully armored, and who advances equally as fighter, mage, and cleric. They do not leave their training until they’re at least third level in each. It is immune to: polymorph, fear, poison, cursed items, sleep, fire, and cold. Other magical attacks do half damage. While the writeup is confusing (boy, that’s a shock, eh?) it appears it can attack with a melee weapon, cast a magic-user spell, and cast a cleric spell, all on the same turn, every turn.
Zanluk: A winged bull, which travels in large herds. (The breakdown of the herd in terms of bulls, cows, and calves is of course provided; I’m surprised they didn’t include something like “For every 10 bulls, there will be one leader-type who attacks as a Myrmidon”.) Presumably, buffalo wings should really be call zanluk wings. However, as buffalo wings were only starting to gain national popularity in the early 1980s (being more regional before then), it’s unknown if this was an intentional reference or the result of a DM trying to find a new monster and deciding “flying buffalo”… hmm… since “Flying Buffalo” was a well known gaming company at the time, it’s possible that was the target reference. Hard to tell.
Zanmuk: A winged lion. It’s not under “Lion, Flying” because it doesn’t fly. The wings just enable it to leap up to 30′.
Zip: And we come to the end of the book, and the series, with the zip, a tiny bee-like creature which travels in swarms. It will dive-bomb any target, doing 1 point of damage and then making the target sick for 1 minute/zip which hit it. Fortunately, you can set out a jug of wine and get the swarm drunk. No, that’s not some obscure reference I’m sticking in there to be funny, that’s the actual description. Oh, they are also known as “ouchies”. That would be embarrassing to talk about in the afterlife. “I died fighting Orcus.” “I fell battling a galactic dragon.” “I was killed by ouchies.”
Phew! A lot to cover in this book, even leaving out many critters that arguably deserved some mention. And a great look at the actual culture of the era, as expressed through what issues of design and mechanics mattered to the people running games and actively involved in the local community, enough to be part of this project. Next time, whenever that is, I will get back to the book of the dead.