Remember the first time you cracked open the Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual? It was like stepping into a bizarre, horrifying, sometimes highly amusing new ecosystem where the actual dragons were among the least interesting creatures.
There were Rust Monsters and Rot Grubs. Umber Hulks and Gibbering Mouthers. Water Weirds and Jackalweres, Homunculi and Succubi. (And, for some reason, a bunch of plain old dinosaurs.) A harmless room containing a chest could become a death trap if the chest was a Mimic, the floor was a Trapper, and the ceiling was a Lurker Above. Delightful!
What's your absolute favorite Dungeons & Dragons monster? Our answers are below, along with some from our PC Gamer forum members.
Tyler Wilde: I mainly like the Shambling Mound because "large plant, unaligned" is a funny bit of descriptive text. Looking out my window, I see many small, medium, and large unaligned plants, so it's like D&D is right in my backyard, at least in that both contain plants with no particular moral direction.
The only thing that bothers me about the Shambling Mound is its immunity to lightning damage. I once saw a tree that had been hit by lighting, and it did not look immune. Highly vulnerable, I'd say. But it does make sense that the Shambling Mound can engulf a player character. I once fell off my bike and into a bush, and I would describe the result as an engulfing—a painful one. The official Shambling Mound art depicts an engulfed guy, and I love that it doesn't look intentional on the Mound's part. It's like it has man-shaped gum stuck in its hair. Apparently that's how it feeds, but I prefer to think that the Mounds just shamble along, and halflings and dwarves occasionally fall off of their old-timey bicycles (the tall ones with one giant wheel) and get stuck in their backs before getting shambled away into the woods.
Jody Macgregor: I've got a soft spot for all of the monsters based on cheap plastic toys that could be used as figures—the carrion crawler, umber hulk, rust monster, bullette, and owlbear all have their origins here, as D&D artist Tony DiTerlizzi explained on his blog—but I also love the stench kow. It's a big ugly orange-green bison from the Nine Hells that smells so bad it can poison anyone who stands near it. As far as I know it wasn't based on a toy or anything, someone just thought, "Hey, what do devils eat? They gotta eat something." And then decided the answer was a cow that farts death. Genius.
Robin Valentine: D&D has no end of weird and creative monsters to pick from, from sword-eating bugs to evil sentient clothing. But I think, in my heart of hearts, my favourite beast will always be the humble owlbear.
It's so simple yet so absurd, and I love both its original goofy, muppet-ass design, and the various strained attempts since to make it look cool and/or ferocious. There's something so purely D&D about it—it couldn't exist in any other context. What's it for? Fighting adventurers. Where did it come from? A wizard made it. What benefit does it gain from having an owl head over a bear head? Errrr.... advantage on Perception checks? Perfect.
Wes Fenlon: I've never actually played real D&D, but I have played Nethack, which like a lot of old computer RPGs cribbed its monsters straight from D&D. One run, in a stroke of incredible luck, I was just a few floors into the dungeon when my pet stepped on a polymorph trap, transforming from a kitten to a master mind flayer. This extremely owned. Where my kitten would follow me around and maybe tank a hit or deal a little damage here and there, the master mind flayer would melt the brain of every enemy that walked close to me. I was suddenly an unstoppable god. A few floors later my mind flayer stepped on another polymorph trap and turned into a horse or some shit. Stupid polymorph trap.
Andy Kelly: I only know D&D monsters from the Baldur's Gate games, but I like any kind of slime, jelly or ooze. There's just something about a sentient pile of goo I find very appealing. If I had to pick one, I'd probably go for Black Pudding, a shadowy ooze that can eat through wood and metal, squeeze through small spaces, dissolve armour, and split into multiple, smaller oozes when attacked. But mainly I just like that it's called Black Pudding.
Andy Chalk: I like low-level D&D that sticks to the basics: A cavern to explore, some scrub monsters, and enough treasure at the end to cover a round of drinks and maybe a slightly nicer pair of boots. And since Robin snagged the owlbear, which figured prominently as a heavy-hitter in my formative dungeoneering days, I will stand for the lowly kobold, a bottom-tier cave dwelling species that serves as fodder for adventurers just getting their start.
Kobolds—one in particular, really—also provided the spark for a sort of D&D epiphany I had years ago. Deekin Scalesinger was a kobold bard who appeared in Neverwinter Nights, who wanted nothing more than to live his life on his own terms. His determination to break free from the bonds of convention gave him the courage to stand up to his dragon master, who was so impressed that he granted the little kobold his freedom. From there, Deekin grew into a famed adventurer in his own right. He wrote books, became a successful merchant in the city of Neverwinter, was elevated to the leader of his tribe, and helped found the first human/kobold community in the Forgotten Realms.
I wonder: How many unsung Deekins have I killed over the years because they had some small trinket hidden away in their homes? I think I liked D&D better when the monsters couldn't talk.
Chris Livingston: I was never a great Dungeon Master but I loved drawing D&D maps on graph paper and populating them with monsters, and I always threw in a gelatinous cube. The idea was always to try to trick someone into accidentally walking into one. Put one on top of an important looking key at the bottom of a pool of water, and hope someone dives in and gets cube'd. Place a narrow tunnel between two chambers, and put a cube pressed up against one end of it, so if someone crawls through: cube'd. I don't know why they were so fascinating to me. Maybe I just liked Jell-O with bits of fruit suspended in it, and this was the monster version of that.
Morgan Park: How can this not be my favorite? It's a little bastard that can shapeshift into any object! This sharp-toothed jerk is the inspiration behind the spooky space mimics in Prey (2017) and the carnivorous treasure chests in Souls games.
Sewing distrust between the player and the objects around them is a delightful twist to D&D's often boring looting process. Mimics tend to make funny things happen, and more games should have them.
From our forum members:
I Will Haunt You: I have two. The first is simple: the Tarrasque. The Godzilla of the D&D multiverse, a creature I have never seen used in a campaign nor did I have the courage to make use of it myself, but it nonetheless still holds a certain amount of awe in both its design and potential.
The second would be the Flumph. A rather vindictive dungeon master once thought he'd punish me by giving me one as a familiar. I was quite upset over that, but eventually turned it to my advantage (and drew the DM's ire) by maximizing its rather nonthreatening appearance and its quite potent poison abilities. Before either of those it was long standing that I was quite obsessed with the Dracolich.
Frindis: Well, *cough* that has to be the Air Elemental that I got a critical failure summoning. I was in a full party and we were going around in a cramped labyrinth looking for an entrance that would contain a room with a chest we had a quest finding. Supposedly it was going to be guarded by two gargoyles and we knew we would be in for a fight.
Just as we found the entrance I decided to roleplay one of my bad quirks which were being too impulsive. Soooo, I got that critical failure I mentioned, the air elemental turned against the group and we ended up running like a bunch of headless chicken out of the labyrinth. Even the GM shook his head and we ended up not getting any chest. I was quite popular that day.
Mazer: Oh god, about half of the first two monster manuals are made up of god-awful abominations that should never have seen the light of basement flourescents. I'm with Chris in liking the absurd gimmick-based ambush predators, the more specific the better.
For starters, there's the 'Executioners Hood' which disguises itself as a piece of headwear that offers neither protection or style in the hopes that some edgy, goth elven rogue might have lost his old balaclava so it can pop their head off like a cork when worn. Then there's the equally specific and awkwardly named 'Wolf In Sheep's Clothing' which is basically a carnivorous tree stump that can grow a fake bunny rabbit out of it's head to lure in druid's and furries.
But my favourites in this category would have to be the Lurker and Trapper, which are just big flat manta-like creatures who take the form of the ceiling or floor respectively. The obvious question being; did two different fantasy naturalists discover the same creature hiding on different surfaces, or are they separate but equally ridiculous creatures that evolved to occupy different but similar ecological niches?
Mknott: I'm all about that Bulette life. Sweet land sharks that turn your game into a fantasy version of Tremors? Sign me up. It's also pronounced Boo-Lay, which feels fancy to say.
Sarafan: There are many fantastic creatures in the D&D system. It's hard to pick only one. I after a lot of hesitation I decided to choose a Lich. It's a high-level, very powerful undead mage, which can throw many ugly spells on your party. Sometimes it evolves into an even nastier version—a demilich. Without the necessary preparations he can wipe a whole party in a matter of turns (or seconds). I still remember the insane amount of effort I had to put to kill Kangaxx from BG2 for the first time. Very powerful creature!