Monday, February 11, 2008

Review: Original D&D Part 2 - Monsters & Treasure

by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson

The second booklet of the original D&D boxed set, entitled Monster & Treasure, serves the same purpose as the Monster Manual, with a dash of the treasure-related sections of the Dungeon Master's Guide.

Let me say that this book certainly doesn't mess about. There's the cover and the title page, both featuring artwork of dubious quality, the index, and then it's straight into the tables with barely a word of explanation. It's Gygax all over.

The table in question runs for two pages, and summarises the stats of every monster in the game. Needless to say that it would be highly unintelligible to anyone unfamiliar with the game. But then again, Original D&D isn't the version of the game that you use to introduce people. It was written for a small audience of hardcore wargamers, and they'd probably know what's going on.

There are a refreshingly small number of stats. There's Number Appearing (which is always some absurdly high range that I always ignored), Armor Class, Move in Inches, Hit Dice, % in Lair, and Treasure Type. And really, in the middle of a game you probably only need three of those. It's great.

After the table the book moves on to the actual monster descriptions. The list is surprisingly comprehensive. There are very few monsters added to the game after this book that are essential. Just as surprising are some of the monsters that aren't present. You won't find most of the quintessential D&D monsters, the ones that are unique to the game. Stuff like beholders, mind flayers, rust monsters, owlbears, and the gelatinous cube didn't come until later (although the cube gets a mention).

Mostly the entries focus on monsters from mythology and fantasy novels. The order of the creatures is seemingly random. It doesn't follow an alphabetical pattern, but rather a series of groupings by type. It makes some creatures hard to find until you learn your way around the book. So what are the groupings and monsters?

Humans: The first few "monsters" shown are the commonly encountered human-types, such as bandits, pirates, berserkers, etc. I'm a big fan of these. This is the sort of thing that was really missing from 3rd Edition, and I'm hoping it makes a comeback for 4th. Ready-made NPC stats are always a god-send. Extra points for the inclusion of Cavemen!

Humanoids: Original D&D has humanoids covered. Kobolds, Goblins, Orcs, Hobgoblins, Gnolls, Ogres, Trolls, and Giants. Back in the days before monsters could get class levels, you didn't battle 2nd-level Orc Fighters, you moved up to Hobgoblins or Gnolls. The only thing missing here is the Bugbear, and that came along soon enough to fill the 3 Hit Dice niche.

There are five types of Giants detailed here: Hill, Stone, Frost, Fire, and Cloud. That's all of the classic varieties except for Storm Giants. Don't fret, they come along soon enough.

Undead: The undead scale upwards in power much like humanoids. Skeletons (1/2), Zombies (1), Ghouls (2), Wights (3), Wraiths (4), Mummies (5), Spectres (6), and Vampires (7+). They've got all the HD filled out, and nearly all the classic types as well. And yes, level drain abounds. Level drain seems like a much more usable mechanic in this form of the game, because there are far fewer things to remember about your character. It was always a pain in AD&D to recall just how many things on your character sheet tied to level, and in 3e it's an utter nightmare. Here, it's the perfect way to instill the proper fear of the undead in your players, without grinding your game to a halt.

Shit That Turns You To Stone: I'm pretty sure that this hits all of the mythical creatures in this category - the Cockatrice, the Basilisk, the Medusa, and the probably-superfluous metallic bull Gorgon. The Gorgon as a metallic bull was always a strange one, but by all reports Gygax got it from a medieval bestiary. And honestly, it's just such an awesome monster that it demands to be included.

Mythological Made From Bits Of Other Creatures: This is a short category, which includes the Manticore (here called a Manticora), the Chimera, and the Hydra. The D&D Hydra doesn't have the typical snake's body, but is instead like a dinosaur with multiple heads. A twelve-headed Hydra in this game is just about the baddest thing going around.

Dragons: The Wyvern gets in first, followed by a three page entry on Dragons proper. This is a lot of space in a 40 page book, but when the game is called Dungeons & Dragons you can't call it excessive. The five classic Chaotic types are included (White, Black, Green, Blue and Red) with the Golden Dragon the sole representative of Law. There are six age categories of Dragon, and this determines how many hit points they get. It's amusing to see that a Very Old Dragon is one that's been alive for 100 years - D&D would later posit much longer lifespans for its draconic beasts. There are rules for attacking sleeping dragons, and for subduing them as well. I've always found it strange that dragons are the only monsters seemingly subject to this rule, but then again I've never seen it used in a game anyway. The rules for selling Dragons on the open market are D&D in its purest form.

Really Strange Humanoids: Yeah, I'm stretching here. Gargoyles and Lycanthropes are up next. The Lycanthrope entry includes Werewolves, boars, tigers, and bears. The Wererat is sadly absent.

Really Big Bastards: The Purple Worm! This guy is a party-killer, and even in these earliest of days he can swallow you whole. Sea Monsters are given a cursory treatment, but it seems like Gygax deemed them beyond the scope of the game to handle. Their stats are very sketchy.

Human-Animal Hybrids: The two classics of mythology - the Minotaur and the Centaur. No surprises here, apart from the humourous dig at rules lawyers that Gygax throws into the Minotaur entry.

Forest-Dwellers and Fairy-Tale Creatures: Ah, the beginning of a long tradition of monsters that are seldom used. This is the domain of the Unicorn, and all those fairy-types that I've never seen in a game - Nixies, Pixies, and Dryads. Actually, Dryads got used a lot in games when I was a teenager, for some reason...

Gnomes, Dwarves, and Elves continue this group, and it's weird to see that Hobbits don't get mentioned. Just more of that Gygax-brand mild contempt for the little folk, methinks!

Ents are next, although my book calls them Treants. They were Ents in the original printings. Then we get more staples of myth: the Pegasus, Hippogriff, Roc, and Griffon.

Other-Planar Beings: The Invisible Stalker gets an entry, as do all four types of Elemental, Djinni, and Efreet. The Efreet entry has a mention of the fabled City of Brass, which is one of the very first mentions of a specific setting in D&D.

Oozes: There is a surprisingly comprehensive spread of oozes - Ochre Jelly, Black Pudding, Green Slime, Gray Ooze, Yellow Mold. Green Slime and Yellow Mold are lethal bastards, and I'm surprised that I've never seen them used much - I guess they got passed over because they never had cool illustrations. I must also laugh at Gygax's description of the Black Pudding as a "nuisance monster". It's got 10 Hit Dice and deals 3d6 damage per hit, which is well hard by the standards of the day.

Animals: And finally, a category for horses, and a general guide for creating animals and insects of all sizes.

That's it for the proper monster entries, except that the list is rounded out with some suggested monsters at the end - Titans, the Cyclops, Living Statues (including the legendary Iron Golem of Maure Castle), Salamanders, Gelatinous Cubes, and even robots.

From there we go into the Treasure Tables, which use the old system of alphabetical categories. I think I prefer this as a way of randomising treasure to the Challenge Rating system of 3rd Edition - it keeps things reasonably balanced while still providing the chance for that occasional big haul. Treasures were much too standardised for my liking in 3e.

The rest of the book is taken up by magical item descriptions, and there are some interesting differences here from later editions. The first is that every magical sword is intelligent. This may be hard to process for AD&D players, because those things were rare in that game. But here, 20% of all magical items will be swords, and all of those are going to have a personality. It sounds like a lot of work to me, and I can see why the idea fell out of favour later on. It should also be noted that while all magical swords get a bonus to hit, only those with a bonus against specific creatures add to damage. It's another strange disconnect from the later game. Other weapon types aren't intelligent, but they all get their bonuses to damage. I'm guessing that players got this "confused" all the time, because it all got simplified eventually.

The rest is a the usual assortment of potions, rings, scrolls, wands, staves, and miscellanous stuff. You'd be hard pressed to find an item from the later core rules that's not here, other than the "named" ones like Heward's Handy Haversack, et al.

What we have with this book is the foundation of the AD&D Monster Manual, and also the core list of magical items that would see the game through for years. I think it's telling that nearly all of these monsters appeared statistically unchanged in AD&D, some 5 years later - Gygax got a lot of this stuff right the first time. It's fascinating as a historical artifact, but it's also a masterclass on cramming as many useful and evocative monsters and items into one book as is possible. It's probably the most important D&D book ever in terms of establishing the game's internal mythology.

1 comment:

  1. My 3.5 Monster Manual has a tendency to open on the Nymph spread. It's a goddamn mystery. (My being 15 when they released it is incidental.)