This thread is inspired by the prior threads on the core classes, the core races, the core alignments, feats, and the legendary D&D monsters. Also? We need to argue about what should be in the upcoming D&D movie, amirite? :) IMPORTANT NOTE- DOWNVOTES ARE WORTH 2 IN THIS THREAD. Each monster...
No monster is more iconic to D&D except the Dragon itself, and those were famous long before D&D came along. The Beholder is different. It’s famous BECAUSE of D&D, with countless copycats showing up in other games, an image that is so iconic that people who have never even played D&D recognize it, and parties continue to be absolutely terrified of them even when they keep pet goldfish.
Intelligent and powerful lawful evil dragons. They have control and ambitions. Plus their early depiction is fantastic, the horns and long bat like fanged face really works. The lightning breath is a clean power, unlike the corruption of poison gas or acid. You can really see them as the Dragons of War in D&D.
The Death Knight, or more specifically Lord Soth, Knight of the Black Rose.
A fallen Knight of Solamnia, (DragonLance/Krynn) who ended up becoming trapped in Ravenloft.
His story predates that of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader of a good guy turning evil. His story (along with The Black Knight of King Arthur lore) shows that not all monsters have claws, or fur, or scales to bring dread and death to all that crosses it's path. From it's aura of fear, to its natural fighting skills, to its magic resistance and magic skills. It's charisma and leadership skills over other creatures (undead and other monsters) makes this one big bad-As-S.
Well I'm going to (possibly) Second the nomination of the Kobold.
Though I also started taking a shine to them in Second Edition (who doesn't love the idea of someone attacking the adventures with something as incredulous as a Scorpion-on-a-Stick?), I have to admit that my adoration of them didn't fully come into being until 3rd Edition. When the ancient tales of Tucker's Kobolds, and the newfound flavor of being a "dragon" that even a normal human commoner could overpower, fully intersected to make an unmistakably iconic monster that is distinct from most other games, complete with quirky rules mechanics, and an aesthetic that that been honed over time to the current edition's trash-wearing lizard-dogs. From that point on, what set them apart from their cannon fodder piers was one key factor: To a Kobold, the Adventurers are the invading monsters. Their warrens are their home that they shed blood, sweat, and tears for, and despite their craven natures, they will do anything to defend it. The end result is a charming creature that I gleefully throw at my groups, and especially brand new players, in order to illustrate that swinging a sword or casting a spell isn't the only way to win an encounter.
For “favorite image depicting it,” does the image have to depict the creature as it appears in D&D? For example, if I nominate goblin, would an image of a Pathfinder goblin, or a magic card art, or a Brian Froud picture disqualify it?
The first time I encountered it was not the first campaign id played in but it was memorable. The campaign happened in a post undead-apocalyptic enpire. Boneyards are incredibly resourceful/adaptable, fiendishly intelligent (average int of 18) feed in a way that just screams metal, and spawn personal armies of pretty powerful skeletons from their own body if they feel its strategically a good idea. Great tacticians. Multiple of them can also be used in conjunction with "aumvors fragmented phylactery" (an epic spell) by a sufficiently powerful lich to incredible effect too. And that is exactly what happened. So while we were trying not to get our own bones ripped out of our bodies we were trying to locate these boneyards and then extract and destroy the right bone in...i dont know for sure how many millions of bones. They can spawn crazy things like multiple young adult dragon skeletons from their main mass or huges mobs of skeletons smaller than that. Why stop at splitting your phylactery a couple hundred times when you can also turn several bundles of the pieces into pieces of powerful hyper intelligent undead that are practically a fortress unto themselves? In a giant city with a giant necropolis and several million undead roving around which the boneyard who is hyper intelligent will also use to regenerate you are in for a wild ride.
Now this is a monster!
Just imagine creeping though the catacombs and running into one of these things by the light of a couple of torches or a lantern....
Especially if you've never seen, let alone read, the Fiend Folio & your DM has you check for surprise followed by showing you this picture. "WT* is that??"
This was my introduction to the Fiend Folio. To this day I love using Grell.
Oh, and there's never been a better picture of a Grell than this one.
Could there be any question? The Ogre Mage/Oni has been one of my favorite D&D monsters since I began playing. The oni is a monster that is both physically powerful and gifted with subversive magic powers: shapechanging, invisibility, darkness, gaseous form and flying. Those powers make an oni a great recurring villain as they have many ways to hide and escape if their plans go south. They are highly intelligent and can plot and scheme with the best but could also serve as muscle for more magically powerful monsters. I am of Japanese heritage so I also appreciate the nod to Japanese folklore. Whether a bloodthirsty warlord or hidden, solitary killer, the oni can be whatever sort of villain you imagine.
In times long forgotten, giants and dragons engaged in seemingly endless war. Storm giants created the first behirs as weapons against the dragons, and behirs retain a natural hatred for dragonkind.
Are you ready for the dragon yet? No?
Then face the mighty behir! It is a snake? a centipede of some sort? a dragon itself? Quick and adept a climbing, fast and agile as lightning, the behir strikes with deadly speed and swallows its prey whole!
It is a true monstrosity waiting to devour you. Be prepared.
I can still remember the horror that this creature generated when I first encountered it. Unable to move away and having your weapon stick to it if you attack it. It's the epitome of teaching uppity adventurers about being too greedy. The fact that it can be any household item also generates a paranoia in the party once they have encountered one. Suddenly everything can be a mimic and you never know if the door or chest you are about to open will be your last!
I'm by no means an arachnaphobe, and yet this creature always seems to find itself into one of my campaigns. It is one of my favorite boss monsters, because there are so many types. One of my most memorable encounters using this monster, involved the aquatic Diving Bell Spider. For years I've been running a pirate campaign where water is the main theme. It has been an excellent opportunity to use all those aquatic monsters that would otherwise not see that much use. The spider is perhaps the most generic monster in D&D, and yet there are so many interesting variations of it!
The players found themselves in a large cave with a round stone platform in the middle. On this platform was a mysterious stone coffin, sealed with evil magic. A partially collapsed stone bridge was the only means of reaching the central platform. Down below, the cave was filled with water. Little did the players know that below the surface of the water was a vast underwater spider nest made from webbing. Countless remains of previous adventurers, along with their gear, were wrapped into grizzly little cocoons of pure nightmare fuel. But where were the spiders...?
Along the steep cave walls were three waterfalls, and the spiders were waiting in caves behind them, hidden from sight. As the players approached the platform they would fling their webs through the water and at the players. If they landed a hit, they would attempt to pull the players off the platform and into the web-filled waters below.
As the spiders sprung their deadly ambush on the players, the much larger Queen spider slowly descended from the ceiling onto the platform...
Picking a single one was not easy! In the end, I’m going with:
Because they are fearsome foes. Because I love using the undead in my games. Because they allow for DM creativity in their spells, but aren’t a bunch of glass cannons. But mostly because of one session that happened towards the tale end of 1e, so either 88 or 89. On a whim, on a warm summer night, I ran a dungeon using the DMG’s random dungeon generator on the fly. Behind a set of imposing double-doors, I rolled a lich. I’d never used one before, but the fight was an epic one. The party triumphed, barely, though they did not find the lich’s phylactery. And so was born a recurring foe that would last well into 2e, as the lich came back with greater and greater schemes and threats. All from a few random rolls of the dice.
Beholders are the first thing I think of for iconic D&D monsters right after the obvious dragon. They are a visual horror that evokes a sense of power in an opponent. There is something about a flying alien monstrosity shooting magic out of many eyes that combines elements of horror and fantasy from many different classics. I could see this monster in any setting and fitting in to D&D as well. It doesn't matter if it's faux Conan, Cthulu-esque, steam punk, of Futurama parody -- beholders always scream D&D.
The Nightwalker from the BECMI's Master's set is my entry.
A giant humanoid undead that's entirely jet black and has no facial features. It's mere presence fills an area with a menacing chill that spoils water and food (and even mangical potions). It can enter and leave the ethereal plane at will, has a bevy of spell-like abilities and immunities, and can summon other undead.