The barghest originated in Dragon #26 in the Dragon's Bestiary column. This first appearance lacks an illustration, so D&D players would have only a written description of the barghest to start with. (The picture below comes from the later Planescape Campaign Setting). There is also no credit for the column, but in response to a letter in Dragon #30, the editor confirms that Gary Gygax was the creator of the barghest. This is a series of posts about specific monsters from D&D's history. Each entry takes a look at the origin of one D&D creature, and tracks its appearances and evolution across different editions.
For the second post in the series it was tempting to tackle the aartuk, which would follow the aarakocra in a hypothetical Utterly Complete Monster Manual. However, this isn't intended to be a strictly alphabetical series, so this time we're going to move from A to B, and take a look at the barghest.
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Planescape Campaign Setting (1994)
A barghest looks exactly like a large goblin, or occasionally a large dog, which it can change into at will. So like goblins do barghests look in their natural form, that non-goblinoids are unable to tell them apart. This is apparently despite the fact that their goblin skin color changes from yellow to red to blue(!) as they grow in power. The eyes of a barghest also glow orange when it is excited, so adventurers encountering a group of goblins lead by a blue-skinned leader with orange eyes might want to exercise extra caution! The barghests' shape-changing ability has lead to them being called "devil-dogs" in the common tongue, which is misleading, since they are not related to devils.
Although not diabolical in nature, barghests are native to the outer planes, and the specimens most often encountered by adventurers are actually young barghests sent to the Prime Material Plane to feast on human lives, which they need to grow. The game mechanics for the barghest support this process of gradual growth, providing seven levels of barghest development. At its weakest, a barghest has 6d8+6 hit points, but this can grow to as much as 12d8+12 if the creature consumes enough human lives. Its strength, intelligence, armor class, and magic resistance also increase as it grows.
In Dragon #26, barghests are said to be the most common and one of the worst of the "various members of the deodands" inhabiting Gehenna. Plane-dwelling barghests live apart from one another, each ruling over its own stronghold and servants. From time to time, a barghest spawns a litter of six whelps, and these whelps are sent to the Prime Material Plane to feed on humans and grow stronger, before eventually gaining the ability to plane shift, at which point they are able to return to their native Gehenna.
As well as the ability to shapechange between goblin and canine forms, a barghest gets a range of other magic abilities, including change self, levitation, misdirection, projected image, charm, dimension door and emotion. They are also sneaky and fast, able to pass without trace and become nearly invisible when motionless.
Adventurers considering taking on a barghest will need magical weapons (+1 or better is needed to damage them), but they should also take note of the creature's peculiar weakness. Barghests are generally immune to damage from fire; however, if they are targeted by a fire attack when in canine form, and fail a saving throw, they are immediately banished back to Gehenna. This spells almost certain doom for underdeveloped barghests, since they lack the ability to return to the Prime Material Plane to continue their feeding and growth cycle. Barghests returning to their home plane prematurely are usually killed or enslaved by stronger members of their kind.
Not all of the creatures born in Dragon went on to become fixtures in the D&D multiverse. Some early Dragon creatures never escaped the pages of the magazine (looking at you prowler and horast). However, the barghest did. The Monster Manual II was published six years after the Monster Manual, and many of the creatures it contains were copied from early adventure modules or Dragon articles, including the barghest. There are some minor editing changes (barghests are no longer "members of the deodands"), but the text in the Monster Manual II is nearly identical to that in Dragon #26. There is however, still no picture, even though the banderlog, which shares a page with the barghest, gets two illustrations.
AD&D doesn't give the barghest much more attention. Frank Mentzer's helpful Ay pronunseeAYshun gyd in Dragon #93 confirms that the "h" in barghest is silent, and the correct way to say it is "bar-GEST". The Sage Advice column in Dragon #138 answers a few rules questions about the creatures; weaker barghests can be turned by clerics, holy water does standard damage against them, and their size depends on their hit dice. The Manual of the Planes mentions that barghests are "the only true natives of Gehenna" (what happened to the other deodands?) and confirms what we already know about their life-cycle of growing up on the Prime Material Plane, before returning to a desolate rift in Gehenna to build small empires and settle into a life of continuous conflict with other barghests. Despite them being the dominant inhabitants of an entire outer plane, we still don't get a picture of a barghest in the Manual of the Planes.
The Planescape setting rescued many planar creatures from relative obscurity and strengthened their places in the D&D worlds. The barghest gets a two-page spread in the Monstrous Supplement booklet in the initial Planescape Campaign Setting boxed set, and finally, we get some pictures. There is a large illustration of a blue-skinned goblin (presumably a barghest) accompanied by two canines (presumably but not necessarily also barghests). We also get a smaller picture showing the differences between a goblin and a barghest, which could be a useful reference for adventurers struggling to tell the two apart. The text of the entry is a rearranged and edited version of the original Dragon article. The abilities, life-cycle and statistics of the barghest remain unchanged, but we do find out that their diet is "carnivore" (was there ever any doubt?).
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Planescape Campaign Setting (1994)
We learn slightly more about the barghest's place in its home plane of Gehenna in Planes of Conflict. In the boxed set's Monstrous Supplement booklet we learn that they are occasionally prey for the flying, ray-like slasraths, and the Liber Malevolentiae booklet notes that someone seeing a single barghest on Gehenna should know that there are likely plenty of others hiding just out of sight. This contradicts the earlier lore about them being solitary creatures, but perhaps the implication is merely that barghests are so numerous in Gehenna that if you spot one, you've likely strayed deep into barghest territory.
Perhaps the more interesting thing we learn from Plane of Conflict is that despite being native to Gehenna, and numerous, barghests don't play a major role in the politics of the lower planes. Planescape places far more emphasis on the scheming yugoloths, and presents them as a dominant force in Gehenna. It is carefully noted that the yugoloths are immigrants to Gehenna, and not natives, but they seem far more likely to feature in adventures on that plane than barghests.
In D&D 3.0, the barghest received a promotion, appearing in the initial Monster Manual. Although the basics are similar, there are a number of changes to this version of the barghest. They now change into large wolves, instead of dogs, and based on the picture, the barghest version is much more feral and evil-looking than a typical wolf. They are now identified as "fiends", and they speak the Goblin, Worg, and Infernal languages.
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Monster Manual (2000)
We get more information about their combat tactics than previously. Barghests are described as loving killing but having little appetite for direct combat, and favouring ambushes if possible. They have the same suite of magical powers they had previously, but we get more of an explanation of how they use them. Project image is used to conceal their locations and the number of allies they have, and emotion and charm person are used to keep opponents off balance. They also prefer to rely on their high speed to get to isolated foes, and to steer clear of riskier enemies. Notably, 3rd Edition barghests have lost their special vulnerability; there is no mention in the Monster Manual of barghests being sent back to Gehenna when targeted with fire spells.
Barghests still gain hit dice for devouring humanoids (not just humans), but there is no longer an upper limit specified for this ability, and no changes to other abilities as they grow. There is, however, a separate stat block for a greater barghest, which is a large 9HD version. It isn't clear from the text that normal barghests become greater barghests when they reach 9HD, but that seems as if it would be a safe assumption based on their game history. We also learn that it is much harder to raise or resurrect someone slain by a barghest, with even a true resurrection spell having a 50% chance of failure.
Since they were core D&D creatures in 3rd Edition, barghests featured more often in adventures than they had previously. There are two pairs of barghests living in the town of Brindinford in The Speaker in Dreams, and a great barghest named Riu Lotaas serves as henchman to the duergar commander of the Crater Ridge Mines in Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil.
Like the Planescape setting, the 3rd Edition Manual of the Planes emphasises the yugoloths as the dominant residence of Gehenna, and doesn't mention barghests at all in the description of that plane. They do appear on the encounters tables though, and greater barghests are also mentioned in the "devil" monster entry as occasional steeds of narzugons.
The 3.5 revision of the Monster Manual keeps the barghest much the same, but clarifies the relationship between ordinary barghests and the greater variety. It is spelled out that a barghest consuming sufficient souls to reach 9HD immediately becomes a greater barghest. There is also an upper limit of 18HD specified for greater barghests through feeding. Slightly confusingly, the text says that it describes a fully grown barghest. This doesn't quite match the idea of 6HD whelp gradually eating souls to grow, and no stats are provided for younger barghest, so this may simply have been a minor editing oversight in the barghest's description.
In Savage Species barghests become a playable race, with a race/class combination presented. The feeding ability is toned down for balance (it gives a Constitution bonus instead of an increase in HD), and a PC barghest also gets fewer overall hit dice, topping out at 6d8 at 12th level. Other than these changes, this version of the barghest has similar abilities to the Monster Manual incarnation.
At least in the early Drizzt novels, R. A. Salvatore had a habit of using some of the less mainstream D&D creatures, including dire corbies and hook horrors. In Sojourn, one of the sub-plots deals with the machinations of a pair of barghests named Ulgulu and Kempfana. Ulgulu is the dominant of the pair, and is close to absorbing enough human souls to be able to return to Gehenna. However, his plans begin to unravel when he causes Drizzt to be falsely accused of murdering a farming family. Both Ulgulu and Kempfana are ultimately slain by the drow.
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A Reader's Guide to R. A. Salvatore's Legend of Drizzt (2008)
In the Realms, barghests also spawned an entire sub-species of planetouched. The Mines of Tethyamar in the Desertmouth Mountain region had been the subject of ongoing conflict for some time, but in 1104 DR, orc circle adepts summoned a legion of "bloodthirsty barghests and demons". These hordes successfully seized control of the area, and the barghests' offspring have ruled over Tethyamar even since. Lost Empires of Faerûn notes that these offspring are of mixed goblin, orc and barghest blood, and that they are known as worghests.
In the article Legacies of Ancient Times in Dragon #350, Eric L. Boyd fleshes out the worghests, and includes options for using them as a playable race of planetouched. Worghests don't have the same range of magical abilities that true barghests do, but they keep the shapechanging and feeding powers of their ancestors.
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Dragon #350 (2006)
A discussion of warlocks in Class Chronicles: Warlocks, Part Two on the Wizards of the Coast web site notes that an immense greater barghest known as Tarkomang has moved into the Mines of Tethyamar. He is described as "one of the largest barghests ever to live in Faerûn, a monstrosity of such immense size that his goblin and worghest servants had to hollow out the inside of a small mountain to house him". The article goes on to link goblin and worghest warlocks to Tarkomang, with this legendary beast able to create warlock pacts.
Outsiders in general tend not to be too much of a focus in the Dragonlance setting, but the Dragonlance Dungeon Master's Screen for D&D 3.5 notes that Krynnish barghests, along with achaierai and hellhounds, serve Sargonnas, the god of wrath, vengeance, and retribution.
In the Eberron setting, which doesn't use D&D's default planar structure, barghests originate in Mabar, the plane of Endless Night, according to the Eberron Campaign Setting.
Barghests received a slight demotion between D&D 3.5 and D&D 4, only appearing in the Monster Manual 2. This version of the creature is no longer an extra-planar inhabitant that happens to look exactly like a goblin. Instead, they are described as members of the goblin race, who are born at random among goblins. This is apparently viewed as a blessing from the god Bane. They also no longer have tell-tale blue skin, but do have unusual features such as a shock of white hair or a discoloured eye to hint at their special nature.
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Monster Manual (2009)
In 4th Edition, there are no longer ordinary and greater barghests. Instead stat blocks are provided for a Barghest Savager and a Barghest Battle Lord. These are similar in power to their earlier edition counterparts, but 4e is mechanically different enough from its predecessors that a direct comparison isn't feasible. The Battle Lord still has a feeding ability similar to earlier barghests, but the Savager can instead mimic powers that it has seen opponents use in battle.
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Monster Manual (2009)
One of the Chaos Scar series of adventures, "The Pillar of Eyes", published in Dungeon #180 features Foosteth the Fat, an overweight barghest who is so lazy that he seldom leaves his throne room, preferring his underlings to do his villainous business for him.
Barghests are mentioned in passing in the Bestiary of the first D&D Next playtest packet (May 2012). The entry for goblins refers to them as "shapechanging goblins known as barghests", possibly supporting a 4e approach of making them part of the goblin family, rather than being independent planar creatures.
However, the more recent Dead in Thay adventure includes a full barghest stat block, and here it is clear that they revert to fiendish wolf form when slain. This version gives them similar abilities to their 1st, 2nd and 3rd Edition brethren, although a barghest can only cast spells (levitate, misdirection, and dimension door) while in goblin form. The mechanics of the feeding ability -- now delightfully called Devour Body and Soul -- have changed slightly.
It takes 24 hours for a barghest to fully consume a devoured soul, and killing the creature before it has finished digesting frees up the deceased's soul so that he or she can be raised from the dead. On the other hand, once that soul has been fully consumed, that creature cannot be raised or resurrected by any means. This small change creates an excellent narrative hook for 5th Edition barghests, with the possibility of a race against time to track and kill a barghest who has consumed a fellow adventurer, or an important NPC.
Barghests and other monsters
Given their appearance, barghests on the Prime Material Plane are frequently found with goblins. Dragon #26 notes that goblins tend to worship barghests, and will fear and serve a barghest which chooses to live with them. This can be a symbiotic relationship, with the goblins providing regular human sacrifices for their barghest ruler, and the barghest protecting the goblins from more powerful enemies in return.
Although (as initially described), barghests in canine form were indistinguishable from dogs, real dogs can immediately identify an impostor, and will attack the barghest if given the opportunity. Later incarnations of the barghest had a less canine appearance, likely making it easier to tell them apart from typical dogs.
As mentioned above, both the 3rd Edition Manual of the Planes and the Fiendish Codex II note that narzugon devils sometimes use greater barghests as steeds.
Races of Destiny contains a example of an illumian cabal which watches over the barghest-led Hellmaw tribe of goblinoids. One of the adventure hooks provided has the PCs trying to rescue two captive illumian scouts from the Hellmaw tribe before they are forced to reveal the extent of the illumians' spying activity.
Despite being under-illustrated for most of their early existence, the barghest makes up for this by having three separate miniatures produced during the run of Wizards of the Coast's prepainted miniatures. The very first set, Harbinger, included a barghest as miniature 39/80, and four years later, a greater barghest was included as miniature 31/60 in the Night Below series.
Finally, a 4th Edition Barghest Savager was produced as miniature 5/40 in the Legendary Evils set.
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Night Below (2007)
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Legendary Evils (2009)
The Eater of Souls, Foosteth the Fat, Gormulag, Grellak Silverback, Hrugrin, Kempfana, Kras, Lahorak, Malfeshnekor, Riu Lotaas, Samang, Skrom, Tarkomang, Thaerraad, Ulgulu, Vralgor Szarn.
Dragon #26, p44, "Dragon's Bestiary" (June 1979)
Monster Manual II, p13 (August 1983)
Dragon #93, p24, "Ay pronunseeAYshun gyd" (January 1985)
Manual of the Planes, p108 (June 1987)
Dragon #138, p77, "Sage Advice" (October 1988)
Sojourn, p33 (April 1991)
Planescape Campaign Setting, Monstrous Supplement, p6 (March 1994)
Planes of Conflict, Monstrous Supplement, p25 (November 1995)
Planes of Conflict, Liber Malevolentiae, p32 (November 1995)
Monster Manual, p22 (October 2000)
The Speaker in Dreams, p20, 21, 24 (January 2001)
Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil, p101 (June 2001)
Manual of the Planes, p167 (August 2001)
Savage Species, p159 (February 2003)
Monster Manual v.3.5, p22 (July 2003)
Eberron Campaign Setting, p97 (June 2004)
Dragonlance Dungeon Master's Screen, Dungeon Master Resources, p22 (December 2004)
Races of Destiny, p62, 83 (December 2004)
Fiendish Codex II: Tyrants of the Nine Hells, p126 (December 2006)
A Reader's Guide to R. A. Salvatore's Legend of Drizzt, p114 (September 2008)
Lost Empires of Faerun, p134-135 (February 2005)
Dragon #350, p56-57, "Legacies of Ancient Times" (December 2006)
Wizards of the Coast web site, "Class Chronicles: Warlocks, Part Two" (March 2007)
Monster Manual 2, p20-21 (May 2009)
Dungeon #180, p35, "The Pillar of Eyes" (July 2010)
D&D Next Playtest Packet, D&D Playtest: Bestiary, p13 (May 2012)
Dead in Thay, p77 (April 2014)
Other ENCyclopedia entries
Visit the Monster ENCyclopedia index for links to other entries in this series.
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