Tuesday, December 2, 2008

D&D Cover to Cover, part 22

Being a series of articles in which the author reads the indelible words of Gygax and Arneson as presented the Original Collector's Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, published by Tactical Studies Rules. Beginning with Men & Magic, and concluding with The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, the author will consider those earliest passages, adding elucidations and interpretations along the way for your consideration.

Monsters & Treasure

MEN: There are several categories of men
Aside from Dragons, the description of Men here is the largest Monster Description. It includes Bandits, Berserkers, Brigands, Dervishes, Nomads, Buccaneers, Pirates, Cavemen and Mermen. Mermen? Yes…oddly enough Mermen are found here, and can apparently fight on land with but a -1 to hit penalty. Due to the nature of types of Men presented here I assume that Men do indeed fall into the ‘Bad Guys’ category on the MONSTER REFERENCE TABLE, and further are listed first because they are expected to be a fairly common opponent for the Player Characters. The fact is, there are many, many Men out there who stand in the way of the ultimate goal of wealth and power. Whether or not you use Men as the de facto opponents in your campaign is up to you, but in regard to establishing strongholds or claiming a piece of the wilderness as your own, Men might be your largest obstacle.

GNOLLS: A cross between Gnomes and Trolls (…perhaps, Lord Sunsany did not really make it all that clear)”
A typo (should read Dunsany) that was never fixed, or perhaps left in place to avoid the same issues that TSR had with the Tolkien references. Although I assume it was simply an oversight. In my own campaign, I have indeed made Gnolls a cross between Gnomes and Trolls, which led to Gnomes and Gnolls becoming something quite different than their AD&D 1e versions.

This is an example of one of the aspects of the original version of D&D which I have come to appreciate. The descriptions here are bare bones, and often nothing more than a collection of six statistics. The creative space for the referee here is tremendous, and I consider this a feature, not a flaw. Granted, once I get a hold of the Monsters here, I end up writing up paragraphs of Monster details, to the point that a reader might consider my game ‘not’ OD&D. The finished product in my games may not feel like the original version, but this is what makes it so entertaining for me. I take these raw numbers, and build from there, dreaming up versions of these Monsters unique to my world.

TROLLS: Thin and rubbery
Trolls are an iconic Monster in AD&D 1e. One of the first examples of the possibilities of the original version of D&D which I encountered and helped me appreciate the creative opportunities I mentioned above was the excellent old school dungeon crawl made available by Jeff Rients titled Under Xylarthen’s Tower (Mr. Rients’ excellent Gameblog, along with Delta’s D&D Hotspot were the two web logs that inspired me to begin my own humble D&D blog here, back in February). If you have not read Under Xylarthen’s Tower, I encourage you to do so. Jeff home brews details for not only Trolls, but also Gnolls, Hobgoblins and Medusae within that adventure. While I cannot claim to have the creativity and economy of words that Jeff has, I do credit that module with influencing the way I read and consider the first three volumes of D&D, so Hat’s Off to Jeff.

GIANTS: act as mobile light catapults with a 20’ range.”
More wargame and CHAINMAIL carry-over here. I’m not sure whether there are examples of boulder tossing Giants in mythology or not, but it seems that this ‘accepted as the norm’ feature of Giants in all editions of D&D was there even in CHAINMAIL. I also like the passage at the end which details the types of guards Giants have in their castles; Hydras, Wolves and Bears.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee


KenHR said...

Giants throwing boulders...I have a vague recollection that this was glimpsed by Bilbo & co. in the Hobbit from afar during a thunderstorm? Maybe that's where the boulder throwing comes from.

Michael Curtis said...

I've always been a little harsh on D&D's for stating that trolls are "thin and rubbery". But that's a personal issue, coming from my Scandinavian heritage.

Trolls should be big and blocky, when they're not small and lanky, or when they don't look like beautiful women with cow's tails. And they should turn to stone when the sun shines on them! And some can only be killed by a silver button shot from a musket!!

Actually, I don't take it that seriously. And I do try to use trolls of the more traditional ilk. The only problem is that D&D trolls have become so iconic that it's hard to swim against the tide.

Anonymous said...

Chainmail descritpion, which puts ogres and trolls in the same bag, while making the distinction that only 'true trolls' have the regerative power, open a place for other kind of trolls - which lakcs the regeneration but could have many other ones. And as chainmail use arquebuses and allows heores to shoot dragons with one arrow, kill them with a muskeet and silver button seems nice.

Sham aka Dave said...

I've done quite a bit of home brew on Trolls, mostly based on Scandinavian legend.

Here's a great Troll blog:


I’m a fan of Th. Kittelson’s Troll paintings, as well.

The whole fae theme is near and dear to my heart, and I plan to include Huldras, Tomtes, Nisses, Skogsra, and more in my not quite yet pieced together sand-box campaign.

Sham aka Dave said...

The link doesn't copy from comments, but I have added it under my 'Linkage' list (not the Blogroll). TrollMoon is a great blog for learning more about Scandinavian legend and myth.

Mr Baron said...


1) Gnolls - I like the newer version of the gnoll as a hynea like creature. I really like the newer art of the gnoll. The gnome - troll thing does not do it for me. I am a new schooler when it comes to these guys.

2) Trolls - Not a big fan of the green rubbery guy. I like the Lord of the Ring massive troll better, even though that is probably closer to the D&D ogre.

Sham aka Dave said...

Although Bugbears are not introduced to D&D until Supplement I, Greyhawk, I'd also add them to that list of Monsters that have been codified by Gygax. Gnolls, Trolls and Bugbears have remained pigeon-holed since the late 70's, to the point that the D&D version has been adopted in other games as well.

I'd add Troglodytes to that list, too. In an example of Gygax as educator, it wasn't until I was working on SGotC for Fight On! that I realized I misunderstood the definition of Troglodyte for nearly 30 years!

This is a good topic for a post, actually. Gygax expanded vocabularies, encouraged reading, and influenced the imaginations of an entire generation of youngsters.

Anonymous said...

I guess mermen are rather Lovecraftian Deep ones, rather than Tritons they became later. It fits better their stats and abilities.

Sham aka Dave said...

Snorri: I'm not sure. I know my campaign is going to make much greater use of chaotic men in the future. Bandits, Brigands, Pirates, etc. just seem much more exciting to my sensibilities than Orcs do. Orcs are clearly the enemy, Men might be friendly, or might pretend to be until they lead the characters into an ambush.

taichara said...

For extra strangeness, one could always keep the gnome/troll hybrid nature of the gnoll while -- at the same time -- using the hyena-man description brought in later on.

And then unleash the crazed magic-user(s) experimenting on gnomes (and trolls!) to try and find the x-factor that could produce such an unlikely offspring.

Lovely notions for a bizarre dungeon --

Sham aka Dave said...

Taichara: Yep, thats one of the reasons I enjoy the creative opportunity of the descriptions here. Especially the whole Gnome - Troll - Gnoll aspect. Just dreaming up features leads to other possibilities. And you're right that one can still use the 'Gygaxian 1e' vision, and have plenty of homebrew room.

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Anonymous said...

Boulder-throwing giants I think first appeared in the Odyssey, where the cyclops throw rocks to shink Odysseus's ship.

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