Bizarro World History 101: Monster Origins
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    Bizarro World History 101: Monster Origins

    One of the most noticeable characteristics of the Dungeons and Dragons game is the vast amount of monsters contained within. Many of these were created solely for the game, but many of them are derived from mythology, literature and folklore. Some of them may be surprising.

    Part 1: A - Flumph

    Ahuizotl: The bizarre ahuizotl, who grabs sailors with a massive hand on its tail and consumes everything but the eyes, teeth and fingernails of its prey is not, surprisingly, an original creation. The ahuizotl comes from Central American lore. Both the Dungeons and Dragons and Aztec ahuizotl have the body of a monkey and the head of a dog, but the ahuizotl is missing hind limbs in many Aztec depictions.

    Athach: In Dungeons and Dragons, the athach is a bizarre giant with three arms, one of which protrudes from its chest. The original athach is an infuriatingly vague monster; in Scottish Gaelic, the word translates directly as “monster”. Athach seems to have been a group of monsters rather than a single type; some of them were giants and some of them were dwarves, but all of them were characterized by odd numbers of limbs (often one arm and one leg) and a habit of waylaying and eating travelers along lochs and gorges.

    Bahamut: More recognizable as a summonable creature in several Final Fantasy games, Bahamut is the Platinum Dragon in Dungeons and Dragons, a virtuous draconic creature of godly power. In Arabian mythology, incorporated into Islam lore, Bahamut is the being which supports on its backs the Hells and Heavens. Bahamut was said to be a massive fish with the head of an elephant, and was so big that no man could ever behold its entire majesty. Supposedly, Jesus was the only man to ever see all of Bahamut.

    Balor: The balor is one of several creatures that Dungeons and Dragons has blatantly ripped off of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series (see also goblin, halfling, orc, treant, wight, worg). The concept of a massive, powerful demonic creature with shadowy wings and a sword and whip of flame is straight from the balrog. But Gygax and Arneson managed to avoid the wrath of Tolkien’s estate because of the name, claiming they had taken the concept from Irish legend.
    The actual Irish legend of Balor, also known as Balor of the Baleful Eye, is rather different, at least. Balor was the king of the Fomorians (q.v.), a misshapen giant whose one eye could kill with a single glance, and whose eyelid was so heavy that it required four men to lift. Balor was killed by his grandson Lug the Long-Handed, who fired a sling into his eye before its killing gaze could take effect, piercing his brain and killing twenty-seven warriors behind him. It is rather obvious that the legend has little to do with the tanar’ri lord that now bears its name.

    Banshee: Banshees were originally a part of Irish legend. The banshee was a fey spirit, each with a particular family they “guarded”. Whenever the banshee howled, a family member was destined to die in the near future. Other stories suggest that it is they cry of the banshee that kills the victim in the first place.

    Barghest: These creatures, in Dungeons and Dragons, are infernal lupine fiends that can assume the form of a goblin or wolf. The original barghest, commonly spelled barguest, the creatures are a form of shapeshifting “black dog” (see hell hound et al) that can appear as a headless apparition. Like most black dogs, seeing a barguest was said to bring misery and ill fortune.

    Basilisk: The basilisk is probably the mythological creature most changed in appearance since its origins. Originally, the basilisk was the King of Serpents, a rather unassuming snake that slithered erect and it had a crown-like protrusion on its head. It was said to be so poisonous that it could kill with a bite or a breath, its gaze could petrify, and flowers withered as it slithered by. These Greek tales may have been inspired by the Indian king cobra, which is very venomous, can raise a hood when threatened, and does slither upright.
    The legend of the basilisk remained popular into medieval times, and several ingenious methods had been devised to kill or repel it. It was said that its gaze could be reflected in a mirror and used to petrify it, and weasels were said to be their natural enemy (again, probably inspired by the king cobra, which is occasionally preyed upon by mongooses). Also, the crow of a rooster was said to repel it. This was probably the reason it mutated in appearance into a creature with eight avian legs and the head of a cockerel in a famous engraving in Androvandi’s “Natural History of Serpents and Dragons”.
    This mutation was taken further still, and eventually the basilisk was entirely subsumed by the cockatrice (q.v.). These two monsters are more properly separate entities, however. When Gary Gygax created Dungeons and Dragons, his knowledge of folklore was extensive enough that he separated the basilisk and cockatrice, and gave the basilisk more of its primal appearance, retaining a lizard-like body and eight legs but having a more reptilian head.

    Bhut: The original name for the bhut was the bhuta (why this was changed, I don’t know). Both the bhut and the bhuta are malevolent spirits, but the bhuta possessed living people whereas the Dungeons and Dragons bhut limits itself to possessing corpses. Both spirits are found only in desolate and abandoned areas. The bhuta is unusual in its diet; it preferred to feed on excrement, milk and viscera, preferably human.

    Bugbear: Bugbears, a large and savage goblinoid in Dungeons and Dragons, falls into the broad characterization of faeries. The faeries were notoriously diverse creatures, united only by a sense of mischief and an unnatural, human-like appearance. Since every village in Europe had their own faeries, there are literally hundreds of names for various fey creatures, several of them which made it into Dungeons and Dragons. The bugbear managed to outlast many of its fellow fey, and was adopted as the name of a bear-like boogeyman in England, who ate naughty children and was used by parents to scare their kids straight.

    Bulette: The bulette, a burrowing, armor-plated “land shark” was an original Dungeons and Dragons creation, although its history is notable enough to warrant mention here. The bulette’s appearance is modeled after a small novelty toy, cheaply produced and stuck in bags of plastic dinosaurs and shipped to 10-cent stores across the United States. Presumably, the bulette was originally an impromptu miniature before it became the creature it is today.

    Catoblepas: The long-necked hideous monstrosity that kills with a gaze in Dungeons and Dragons is an exaggeration of another exaggeration of a perfectly mundane animal: the wildebeest. When Hetrodotus, the first author of a travel guide and one of the greatest liars the world has ever known, heard of the wildebeest, he exaggerated it immensely. The thing’s head pointed constantly down, according to Hetrodotus, because the creature was so ugly that anything that saw its face would die instantly. See also Gorgon.

    Centaur: The centaurs in Dungeons and Dragons are peaceful, nature loving creatures who avoid contact with other sentient life. However, the original Greek centaurs were not quite as benevolent. Although there were wise and sporting tribes of centaurs, most of the centaurs who have made their names known in mythology (such as Nessus and Eurytus) were boorish, rude, drunken and prone to fits of aggression and raping human women. Even kind centaurs were prone to similar behavior when under the influence of alcohol.

    Chimera: The chimera has changed little in appearance between the Greek myths and Dungeons and Dragons; it was always, and will always be a hybrid of lion, goat and serpent (although the Dungeons and Dragons version takes into account the draconic nature of Greek serpents and gives the chimera a dragon head). The hybrid nature sometimes varies in Greek legend; sometimes it has the body of a goat, the head of a lion and the tail of a snake, and other times it has the heads of all three creatures (often with the serpent head on the end of its tail). The Chimera was one of the monstrous progeny of Typhon and Echidna (as was the Sphinx of Lydia, the Learnean Hydra, Cerebus and Ladon the dragon). It terrorized Turkey until Bellerophon, mounted on Pegasus (q.v.) choked it to death on his spear.

    Cockatrice: Most of the discussion of the cockatrice’s history has been covered (under basilisk), it is worth noting that in Dungeons and Dragons, the cockatrice can only petrify with its touch, and not its gaze. Presumably, this is both in reference to the original basilisk’s venom and in order to avoid repetition of magical abilities.

    Couatl: This feathered beneficent serpent in Dungeons and Dragons takes its name from the Aztec word for snake. The most likely inspiration for the couatl is Quetzocouatl, the Feathered Serpent god of birds, snakes, air and the planet Venus. He was a trickster god, and beloved of the people (predominately because he did not accept human sacrifice). After being defeated by his rival , he promised o return to his people in the form of a helmeted bearded man with pale skin. This prophecy turned out to be a pitfall for the Aztecs, as the conquistador Cortez fit this description, and was welcomed as a god before he began the looting and pillaging.

    Derro: These malicious, insane subterranean dwarves were originally from the works of , a rather insane author of bizarre stories he purported as fact. In these stories, the Dero were a race of evil dwarves living in the center of what he believed was a hollow earth. They had enslaved their relatives, the peaceful Tero, and used powerful machines to attempt to come to the surface to conquer it.

    Dire Animals: The dire animals of Dungeons and Dragons are uniformly large, ugly, powerful versions of their lesser kin, most of them ferocious. However, there actually was a dire wolf (Canis dirus), which lived in North America 10,000 years ago. These creatures were indeed larger then modern wolves, and had powerful jaws for cracking bones. Presumably, they served as carnivore/scavengers in a role similar to African hyenas. Large dire wolf deposits have been found at the La Brea Tar-pits in Los Angeles.

    Displacer Beast: The displacer beast, a six-legged panther with tentacles that appears to be three feet from where it actually is, seems too ridiculous to have been anything other than a Dungeons and Dragons original. However, the displacer beast was originally from the novel The Voyage of the Space Beagle, by A.E. van Vogt. Although the execution was different (the Vogt beast used psychic powers to appear in the minds of its prey to be elsewhere, whereas the Dungeons and Dragons one is shrouded in an illusion), the concept and appearance are almost identical.

    Djinn: The djinni are relatively benevolent genie-folk in Dungeons and Dragons, but originally they were terrifying demonic figures in Arabian lore. They appear to be mostly humanoid, but vary in form from story to story; some are beautiful, some are ugly, and more still have bestial features and appendages. Most djinn were evil, malicious and enjoyed the taste of human flesh, but some of them were kind and even fathered superhuman children. Djinni were capable of granting wishes, and those who were kind to them often got marvelous things, whereas the wishes of cruel masters (or granted by cruel djinn) would be hideously warped to bring torment and death.

    Doppelganger: The iconic shapechanger in Dungeons and Dragons, the original doppelganger was more of an exercise in creative thinking then anything else. Although the concept of changelings and alien creatures that assume human form is nearly universal, the doppelganger (German for “double-goer”) was the embodiment of the idea that everybody has a double. Supposedly, if the original and the doppelganger were to meet, both would be destroyed.
    Drow: The word drow is derived from the Nordic dwarrow, the plural of dwarf. There were “dark elves” in Nordic tales, but unlike the evil spider-worshipping drow, were merely secretive and not malicious. These dark elves, the Svaltalfar, were masterful craftsmen rivaling the dwarves in ability, and were responsible for the creation of

    Dryad: The dryads were originally nature spirits in Greek mythology, the female counterpart to satyrs. Unlike the Dungeons and Dragons dryad, dryads were not necessarily connected to any one tree; instead they were protectors of entire forests.

    Dwarf: Although every culture has its own legends of “little people”, the dwarves of Dungeons and Dragons are direct descendents of the dwarrow of Nordic myth. Like those dwarrow, the dwarves are master craftsmen and skilled fighters of giants. In legend, the dwarrow forged the chain that holds Fenris the Chaos Wolf until Ragnarok, using impossible items (like the breath of a fish and the beard of a woman). Of course, the DnD dwarves owe much of their history to Tolkien’s dwarves as well, but Tolkien’s dwarves were adapted from the Nordic myths as well.

    Efreet: This fiery, horned, hoofed evil genie from Dungeons and Dragons is not far from the original in either appearance or attitude. In Muslim lore, they are a particularly evil variety of djinn, who are so feared that even their name brings fear. Their name was also quite variable; they are known as afrit, afrite, efreet, ifrit and ifreet.

    Elf: The word elf has come to mean any faerie (which is why Santa Claus has elves working for him), but the Dungeons and Dragons elf is the direct descendent of Tolkien. Tolkien’s elves were based primarily on the Alfar of Nordic myth, who were secretive, wise and immortal.

    Ettin: The two-headed giant of Dungeons and Dragons is based on Red Etin, a three headed Irish giant in Scottish lore. Red Etin shares many traits with the DnD ettin; he is cannibalistic and monstrously strong. Unlike the ettin, he is also intelligent and riddles his victims like the Sphinx of Thebes before turning them into stone.

    Flumph: The creative force behind the flumph was probably drugs. Ditto for the tirapheg.

    Demiurge out.
    Last edited by demiurge1138; Sunday, 14th September, 2003 at 05:42 AM.

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    Part 2: Formorian - Nymph

    Formorian: The misshapen giants of Dungeons and Dragons are actually close to their legendary ancestors. The original formorians were Celtic giants who were transformed into monsters by the firbolg (also a Dungeons and Dragons giant). They demanded tribute from the human tribes who lived near their demands, and waged war on tribes that wouldn’t pay, They had several leaders over the ages, including Balor of the Baleful Eye (q.v.), and could mate with human women and produce offspring.

    Ghast: The ghast is the creation of famed horror writer H.P. Lovecraft. In his short novella, The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, the ghasts are horrible leaping creatures that hunt in packs and are enemies of the gugs, massive four-armed giants. Since the story also features ghouls, and the name ghast was probably conceived as a parallel, the ghast became a more powerful version of ghoul in Dungeons and Dragons.

    Ghoul: These eaters of the dead were originally, in the folklore of Arabia, a degenerate species of djinn without as much magic as their kin. Ghouls were still deadly, though, especially to those who interrupted them in their consumption of flesh taken from new graves, their favorite food. H.P. Lovecraft then transformed the ghoul into a hideous breed of corpse eating undead traversing the boundaries of dream in the short stories Pickman’s Model and The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath. The ghoul of Dungeons and Dragons is most likely based on Lovecraft’s ghoul.

    Giant, Frost and Fire: The frost and fire giants are derived from Nordic mythology, as are many other Dungeons and Dragons races. The fire giants, were the lords of Muspelheim, the land of fire. Their lord was Surtur, who was destined to destroy all the world in Ragnarok by fire. The fire giants were brutal and cruel, and plotted against both the gods and the frost giants. The frost giants of Jotunheim were even crueler, and hated the gods for killing Ymir, the first giant, in order to create the universe.

    Gnoll: Although gnolls are hyena-men, the name comes from the combination of “gnome” and “troll”. I just thought this was important.

    Goblin: Goblins were originally a malicious form of fey, but Tolkien adapted them into evil subterranean humanoids for his book The Hobbit. The goblins of Dungeons and Dragons, including their tendency to take slaves and preference for wolves and wargs/worgs as mounts, are directly stolen from Tolkien. See orc.

    Golem: The only actual golems were made of clay. The secret to creating these creatures was fiercely guarded by rabbis, who would build golems in times of crisis in order to provide labor and protection. The golems were prone to going berserk, however; if this happened, the only way to stop the monster was to partially erase the inscription on the construct’s forehead, from emat (truth) to mat (death); this would cause the monster to crumble to dust.
    The other golems in Dungeons and Dragons have disparate origins. The flesh golem was almost certainly inspired by Frankenstein, and the iron golem is reminiscent of Talos, the guardian statue encountered by Jason. Talos, being made of iron and bronze, had the ability to conduct heat; he would sit in a bonfire when he saw a ship, and then hug and burn to death anybody who came ashore.

    Gorgon: The gorgon is the not-so-natural evolution of Hetrodous’ catoblepas (q.v.). Edward Topsell, in his natural history, gave the catoblepas scales and deadly breath that could petrify enemies, and called it the gorgon in honor of Medusa and her sisters.

    Griffin: This famous eagle-lion hybrid can be traced back almost 5,000 years to Mesopotamia and Scythia, making it one of the oldest commonly recognized mythical beasts. Some anthropologists have theorized that the griffin was inspired by skeletons of the dinosaur Protoceratops; the dinosaurs’ remains could conceivably be found in the deserts of Mesopotamia, and its combination of a hooked beak and powerful legs is evocative of both eagles and lions.

    Halfling: The halflings are another direct steal from the works of Tolkien. The name halfling is generic enough that TSR could get away with using it, as opposed to the name hobbit, which Tolkien popularized (hobbits were originally yet another fey creature).

    Harpy: The harpy in Dungeons and Dragons is a hybrid of the original Greek harpy and siren. The harpies were hideous birds with the heads and arms of women, who were sent to torment the blind king Phineus, who displeased the gods, by contaminating his food before he could eat. They were dispatched by Jason, who pitied Phineus. The Sirens were another type of bird-women, whose song was so alluring that men would leap off their boats and into their arms, upon which the Sirens would kill and eat them.

    Hell Hound, Shadow Mastiff and Yeth Hound: These three infernal canines are all descendants of the black dogs of British folktales. Either faerie creatures or instruments of the Devil, black dogs were spectral hounds who would torment humans. Seeing one was considered to bring bad luck, and actually meeting one’s gaze meant certain death. Various types of black dogs were capable of flight, teleportation, breathing fire and other strange and frightening abilities.

    Hippogriff: The hippogriff (half griffin, half horse) is derived from the novel Orlando Furioso. In it, the wizard Atlantes captures a hippogriff as a steed. Since the griffin and the horse were considered to be mortal enemies, an aphorism (and the inspiration for the hippogriff) in Latin for the impossible was “to cross griffins with horses”.

    Homunculus: The familiar created by alchemy was actually considered to be real at one point in history, during the high point of the alchemical trade. Homunculuses were originally stunted little men who could not survive outside of water for long, and were created using blood, semen and various other chemicals and secretions. The alchemist Count Johann Ferdinand von Kufstein actually “created” ten homunculuses in the late sixteenth century; what they actually were remains unknown to this day.

    Hydra: The hydra (a massive draconic creature whose multiple heads have the annoying tendency to grow back) was originally a creature of Greek origin. The Hydra (there was only one) haunted the swamps of Lernaea, and the hero Herakles was sent to kill it as one of his ten labors. Every time he would crush one of its heads with his club, two more would grow back. Eventually Herakles had his torchbearer Iolaus cauterize the heads before they could grow back, and then he cut off its central head (which was immortal) and buried it. Since Herakles had assistance, this labor was not counted as the ten he needed to complete as penance. Unlike the Dungeons and Dragons hydra, originally the creature had poisonous breath and blood, and arrows dipped in the Hydra’s venom factor into several of Herakles’ other adventures.

    Kobold: The original kobolds were yet another fey race, and a particularly disruptive one. According to German mining lore, the kobolds would steal all of the iron from mountains and replace it with their own bluish, weak metal. This metal was then found by the aggravated miners, who named it cobalt. Kobolds are one of the Dungeons and Dragons creatures to change the most after they have been adopted into the game; originally the kobolds were doglike, but now they are reptilian.

    Kraken: The kraken was the Norse exaggeration of the giant squid. In real life, the giant squid is monstrous, growing to 60 feet long from tentacle to the tip of the mantle. In sailor’s tales, the kraken could grow to be miles wide, and it was fond of eating sailors it had pulled from ships. The kraken liked to bask on the surface of the ocean, and tales were told of ships that had landed on krakens and sailors who had camped on them before realizing that they were alive.

    Lamia: The lamia of Dungeons and Dragons is fairly similar to the lamia of Greek traveler’s tales and myths. Both are human-animal hybrids that drain the life from travelers they lure to them in human guise. Like many Dungeons and Dragons adaptations, however, the lamia is far more magical then its historical counterpart. Also, the lower half of the Greek lamia was more flexible then the lion-like DnD version; Greek lamias could have the bodies of lions, serpents or jackals. The first Lamia was one of many consorts of Zeus, who was transformed by Hera in a fit of jealousy. The lamia was "verified" by Hetrodotus' reference to it living in Ethiopia, and by the Middle Ages, they were an entire species of monsters.

    Lammasu: The lammasu in Dungeons and Dragons (winged lion with a human head) is very similar to its Babylonian ancestor. The predominant difference, however, is that in Babylonian traditions, the lamassu (the Babylonian spelling) was always female; they were the counterparts of the always male shedu. Also of note are the five-legged sculptures of shedu; this feature was incorporated into the 3rd Edition shedu. This was a trick used by Babylonian sculptors to produce the illusion of three dimensions, much like the sideways torsos in Egyptian paintings.

    Lich: The word “lich” is Old English for “body”, and later took on the context of the dead body or corpse. How it became applied to a type of undead is not difficult to determine.

    Lycanthropes: This could be the basis for an essay in and of itself. Every culture has legends of men that can turn themselves into animals. The most famous is, of course, the werewolf. The werewolf can be dated back to Greek and Roman times, where it was believed that the first werewolf was Lycaeon, who sacrificed his son to Zeus and was turned into a wolf as punishment. The affliction of lycanthropy, and the categorization of lycanthrope are named after him. The common belief that werewolves could only be harmed by silver is younger, dating to medieval times, when silver was considered to be a sacred metal. The belief that a werewolf transforms on the full moon is a Hollywood invention.
    The term “were-__” is used to describe lycanthropes because “were” was an old English word for “man”. Also of note is lycanthropy as a psychological affliction. This mental illness is categorized by the sufferer believing themselves to be animals and acting like them. During the Middle Ages, many people were put to death for being werewolves and killing and eating children, women and livestock. Some of these cases were certainly frame-jobs, but others of them might have been due to actual serial killers, and a few of them might be attributable to actual cases of lycanthropy.

    Manticore: The manticore of Dungeons and Dragons is far more homogenized than the historical manticore. The name comes from the Persian “mardkhora”, which means “man-slayer”, and the beast may be an exaggeration of traveler’s tales of the tiger. The manticore was said to have the head of a human with a red face and three rows of teeth, the body of a lion and a tail covered in spines (sometimes, the tail is that of a scorpion). The creature fed solely on human flesh, and killed by shooting its toxic spines out of its tail like darts.

    Medusa: The Medusa (like so many creatures translated into Dungeons and Dragons from Greek myth, she was originally unique) was the third Gorgon, and the only one who was mortal. The Gorgons were beautiful women; so beautiful, in fact, that Poseidon was so overcome with lust that he seduced Medusa and had sex with her in a temple to Athena. Enraged, Athena transformed Medusa and her sisters into hideous creatures with tusked mouths, bronze wings and claws, and snakes for hair. Medusa was so ugly that her gaze could turn anyone who saw it into stone. Perseus was forced to slay the Medusa for King Polydectes, and he did so with the help of Athena, Hermes and a mirrored shield.

    Merfolk: Mermen and mermaids (merfolk being the PC modification for 3rd Edition) were originally creatures of terror, not of children’s tales. Only in Scandinavia were the mer-beings viewed with sympathy. Mermen were blamed with sinking ships and causing storms, and mermaids lured men to their deaths with their beauty and singing, much like the Sirens (see harpy). Recently, cultural anthropologists have declared that mermaids were based of sighting of dugongs and manatees, but not only do these tales not come from areas frequented by sea cows, it would be difficult for even the loneliest sailor to mistake a manatee for a beautiful mermaid.

    Minotaur: The Minotaur, whose true name was Asterion, was the son of Queen Pasiphae and the Bull of Crete, conceived in an act of lust. Minos, Pasiphae’s husband, was horrified, and imprisoned his “son” in a massive labyrinth built by Daedelus, his court architect and inventor. Even more horrifying then the Minotaur’s bull-headed appearance was his cannibalistic nature, and Minos demanded seven virgins as tribute from Athens every year in order to feed him. The hero and god-son Theseus arranged for himself to be selected for the lottery in order to slay the Minotaur and end the sacrifices, and seduced Minos’ daughter, Ariadne, who gave him a ball of string which he used to trace his path through the labyrinth. In some versions of the tale she smuggles him a sword; in others Theseus kills the Minotaur in his bare hands.

    Naga: The naga of Indian lore was rather different then the human-headed snakes of Dungeons and Dragons. The nagas were semi-divine beings who were serpentine from the waist down but human from the waist up. They could assume serpent form, and the most powerful ones had multiple heads. Most were benevolent and served the gods, but some were malicious and conspired against them. The evil nagas, and their appearance, was probably formative in the concept of the yuan-ti.

    Nymph: The nymphs are yet another Greek supernatural being; they were the daughters of river gods and the guardians of sacred areas of natural beauty. Despite their beauty, most nymphs were celibate, and many tales of the nymphs involve them turning themselves into trees and other vegetation in order to avoid sex (often with Apollo or Pan). The nymphs of Dungeons and Dragons are unique in their painful (and originally, deadly) beauty.

    Demiurge out.
    Last edited by demiurge1138; Sunday, 14th September, 2003 at 05:44 AM.

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    Part 3: Ogre - Xill

    Ogre: The word ogre is related to the modern word orc (see orc below). Although cannibal giants with low intellects were common in folklore throughout the Dark Ages, the word first appeared in print in the works of, and may have been coined by, Charles Perrault.

    Ogre Mage: The ogre mage is a rather tweaked version of the oni, a Japanese demon/ogre. The oni were capable of kindness, but more often than not were portrayed as monsters. Most oni ate human flesh, and had a variety of magical powers, including flight and the ability to spit globes of molten copper. Oni came in many colors, including green and blue, and were notoriously difficult to kill.

    Orc: The word orc has a much more interesting lineage then the Dungeons and Dragons orc does (they were stolen straight from Tolkien). The word was originally Orcus, a Roman death deity who was eventually subsumed into Pluto (hence the demon lord Orcus in DnD). The name then was applied to a sea monster, the Orco, from which we get the killer whale Orcinius orca. The word went inland throughout Europe into Italian and French, and it was from orc that Perrault coined ogre. Tolkien then used the name as a substitute for goblin in The Lord of the Rings, and the rest is history

    Pegasus: The Greek Pegasus was born from the blood of Medusa after she was decapitated by Perseus. The winged horse was rumored to be untamable, but Bellopheron, with the aid of a magical bridle, subdued Pegasus and rode him into battle with the Chimera. After Bellopheron won, he decided to use Pegasus to soar to the top of Mount Olympus itself. The gods sent a gadfly to sting Pegasus, who then bucked Bellopheron to his death. Pegasus then became one of the steeds of Zeus.

    Phoenix: The phoenix was another creature first related in Greek travelers tales. They were beautiful birds of which only one existed at a time; they could only reproduce by burning themselves to a cinder, at which point an egg would hatch out from the ashes. The phoenix was originally small; only when the Church adopted it as a metaphor for the Resurrection did it attain its massive size.

    Rakshasa: The rakshasas of Dungeons and Dragons are a sadly pale imitation of their originals. The rakshasas were the embodiment of sin and vice in Indian mythology. Rakshasas varied in form from tale to tale, and were either giants or animal-headed humans. Most of them had some recognizable deformity, such as hands turned the wrong way. They were fond of eating human flesh, and when not pursuing it, would tempt humans into depravity. They would do this by assuming the form of a trusted relative of their target, such as an uncle. Despite their evil ways, rakshasas were always kind and loving amongst themselves. Their king, Ravana, had six heads and was powerful enough to be a foe of the gods.

    Roc: The roc is, and has always been, a giant bird of prey renowned for carrying off prey as big as elephants to feed their young. The Arabian spelling was rukh, and tales of it spread throughout Asia. Marco Polo claimed to have seen a rukh feather in the court of Kublai Khan. The “elephant bird” of Madagascar, which grew to eight feet tall and lived until the 1500s, may have been the basis of the legends.

    Rust Monster: Like the bulette (q.v.), the rust monster was originally inspired by a plastic novelty toy.

    Salamander: The humanoid fire snakes of Dungeons and Dragons are grossly exaggerated from the original salamander, which was nothing more then a small reptile that was poisonous and lived inside of fires. This was either inspired by the salamander (as in newt), which lives in logs that would then be thrown, without inspection, into fires and is indeed poisonous, or the salamander amphibian was named after the salamander monster.

    Satyr: The satyr, a man with the legs and horns of a goat with a sexual appetite to match, is little changed from its Greek origins. The satyrs were the followers of Dionysus and Pan, and were constantly in pursuit of wine, women and song. They were mischievous, and their pranks could be painful and even deadly for those they were played on.

    Shocker Lizard: Another of the “facetious origins”. Shocker lizards may very well have been inspired by the pikachu, everybody’s favorite collectable electrical rodent from the Pokèmon franchise. The similarity is uncanny.

    Sphinx: The separation of the sphinx in Dungeons and Dragons into four varieties is in tribute to the two sphinxes, the Greek and the Egyptian. The classic Egyptian sphinx, a guardian spirit of royalty with the body of a lion and the head of a man, became the androsphinx. Other Egyptian sphinxes with the heads of rams and falcons became the crio- and hieracosphinx. The Greek Sphinx was a descendent of the (little-known) Babylonian sphinx in appearance, gaining wings and the head of a woman instead of a man. The Sphinx was evil and treacherous, and held the city of Thebes hostage; anyone who tried to enter it was subjected to a riddle nobody could answer. When the traveler failed, he was eaten. When Oedipus solved the riddle, the Sphinx committed suicide.

    Sprite: See bugbear for a discussion of the prevalence of the fey.

    Tarrasque: The modern, Dungeons and Dragons tarrasque is straight out of a Godzilla movie. The creature’s name, at least, is from folklore, however. The tarasque had the head of a lion, six bear-like paws, a turtle-like shell and fiery breath. It killed and consumed anybody who approached it, and held all of southern France in terror. Saint Martha defeated the tarasque through her faith, and led it tame into the village, where the peasants killed it with rocks and sticks.

    Titan: The titans of Dungeons and Dragons, giant temperamental humanoids, share the name of the first Greek pantheon. Most of the titans were evil and cruel, and the were overthrown by Zeus and his siblings. There were good titans, however, such as Prometheus, who created mankind and brought them fire.

    Treant: Another Tolkien rip-off. Apparently the name change was enough to dissuade Tolkien’s estate, despite the fact that both are large peaceful tree-like humanoids skilled in dismantling buildings.

    Triton: These fish-men are the direct descendents of the Greek tritons, who were the sons and attendants of Poseidon.

    Troll: The concept and name of the troll is taken from Scandinavian folklore. These trolls were giant unless they were smaller then men, and were usually malicious, unless they were friendly. Trolls had several unusual features that render then more interesting then the average ogre; they hated loud noises and were turned to stone in sunlight. They were expert herbalists and craftsmen. The fensirs from the Fiend Folio 3rd Edition are close to the original conception of the troll. The troll also appears in the works of Tolkien as a brutish, dumb and incredibly strong beast. This is probably the primary inspiration for the “true” Dungeons and Dragons troll.

    Unicorn: The unicorn was originally another creature of Greek travelers tales. Before it was adopted into the medieval bestiaries, the unicorn was often savage, not always horse-like, and was occasionally multi-colored. Only in the Middle Ages did the unicorn gain associations with white, virgins and purity.

    Vampire: Like the lycanthropes, much has been written on vampires before. The vampire as a concept (blood-drinking creature of the night) is almost universal. The name vampire is Slavic in origin, and many of the traditions associated with the modern vampire , such as their vulnerability to holy symbols, ability to take animal form, and the tradition of staking them, are also Eastern European. The concept of the vampire as a sexual being was highly embellished by Bram Stoker in Dracula.

    Wendigo: The wendigo was originally close to its Dungeons and Dragons version; they were the transformed spirits of people who had committed cannibalism, who hunted humans and would often tempt people into joining them. In some traditions, wendigos raced into the sky so fast upon their transformation that their feet were left as bloody stumps. Some wendigos were powerful sorcerers, capable of controlling the weather creating storms and blizzards to torment people and push them towards cannibalism.

    Wight: The word wight originally meant “thing”, often with a supernatural context. So Tolkien was perfectly capable of using it in the name of his Barrow-Wights, who were undead creatures that drained the life from their prey. The Dungeons and Dragons wight is also an undead creature that drains the life of its prey. Coincidence?

    Worg: The wargs were the large wolf-like creations of Tolkien. Worgs are exactly the same creature, down to their primitive intellect and association with goblins. Apparently, the one letter difference was enough for them not to get sued. Of course, since in Norse myth there was also a creature called the wyrg (presumably Tolkien’s source), that might have done the trick.

    Xill: The xill (savage, red, four-armed humanoids that implant their prey with eggs) are inspired, like the displacer beast, from The Voyage of the Space Beagle, by A.E. van Vogt. There, the creature was known as the Ixtl, and was less humanoid, although still multiarmed and capable of implanting creatures. The Ixtl was also a major influence on the movie Alien.

    If anybody has any others, please let me know.
    Demiurge out.
    Last edited by demiurge1138; Sunday, 14th September, 2003 at 05:51 AM.

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    Wow, this is really interesting reading, Demi. Thanks for compiling it here.

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    Great stuff! Thanks for the historical background.

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    This is awsome. It makes me want to fight the "real" tarrasque, and write up some DND monsters like thier orrigional legends.

    Now, the monsters I really want to know the origion of are the ones from Lewis Carrol's Poems, the Jabberwock, the bandersnatch, the snark and the boojum.

    This is a great list demiurge. considder it gaffled.

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    Quote Originally Posted by demiurge1138
    The ahuizotl comes from Central American lore. The primary difference between the Dungeons and Dragons version and its mythological counterpart is that originally the ahuizotl has the body of a fish, whereas in DnD it has the body of an otter.
    Ahuizotl was also the name of an Aztec king who preceded Montezuma. Not surprisingly, his totem animal or nahua was an ahuizotl. It was actually thought of as a real animal, since an Aztec natural history book, preserved and translated as the Florentine Codex, lists the ahuizotl among the denizens of Mexico. It supposedly cries like a baby to get people to come close to its lake. But to get back to Demiurge's post, I've never seen it with a fish's body; every Aztec depiction of it I've found looks for all the world like a big-eyed, bucktoothed squirrel.

    I think it may be based on the demigod Xolotl, the dog of heaven, who was supposedly Venus. At one point, I think he leaped or was thrown out of heaven and landed in a lake. He was actually depicted as a dog, with a hand nearby. Although the story of the Morningstar's expulsion from Heaven sounds a bit like something the Spanish introduced.

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    Quote Originally Posted by demiurge1138
    Part 3: Ogre - Xill
    Ogre: The word ogre is related to the modern word orc (see orc below). Although cannibal giants with low intellects were common in folklore throughout the Dark Ages, the word first appeared in print in the works of, and may have been coined by, Charles Perrault.
    Edward Gibbon traced the word ogre back to 'ugri," which was the Slavic work for Hungarians. Their movement was described as the "black swarm of the Hungarians," as they invaded Europe. They were fierce, but rather mediocre in strategy under their leader.

    http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/AS...151270-4380857

    Good book.

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    Quote Originally Posted by demiurge1138
    [B]Gnoll: Although gnolls are hyena-men, the name comes from the combination of “gnome” and “troll”. I just thought this was important.
    Actually, part of this probably comes from a story by the British fantasist Lord Dunsany, who wrote a story called "How Nuth Would Have Practised His Art Upon the Gnoles". Dunsany is mentioned in the appendix in the back of the 1e DMG listing influential authors.

    Lamia: The lamia of Dungeons and Dragons is fairly similar to the lamia of Greek traveler’s tales and myths. Both are human-animal hybrids that drain the life from travelers they lure to them in human guise. Like many Dungeons and Dragons adaptations, however, the lamia is far more magical then its historical counterpart. Also, the lower half of the Greek lamia was more flexible then the lion-like DnD version; Greek lamias could have the bodies of lions, serpents or jackals.
    Actually, the Greek Lamia was singular: Lamia was a mortal woman with whom Zeus had one of his famous affairs. She was cursed by Hera, and turned into a snake-woman who ate children. It was later in the Middle Ages that the lamia became a general monster, and was the beast woman described. It was also rather sirenish, and I heard that it lured men to it that way.

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    Quote Originally Posted by demiurge1138
    Pegasus: The Greek Pegasus was born from the blood of Medusa after she was decapitated by Perseus.
    Well, technically that winged horse was Chrysaor, not Pegasus, but we'll let that slip as I think the Greeks themselves did change that later.

    Worg: The wargs were the large wolf-like creations of Tolkien. Worgs are exactly the same creature, down to their primitive intellect and association with goblins. Apparently, the one letter difference was enough for them not to get sued.
    There was also an old beastie from Norse myth called a wearg or a wyrg or something, IIRC.

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