D&D General Obscure monsters that you got great use out of

Yora

Legend
D&D has a big and well established stable of famous classic monsters. Can't shot a magic missile into the darkness without hitting an ogre, or a dragon, orc, carrion crawler, or frost giant.
But with the just staggering amount of monster books that came out in 2nd and 3rd edition (and those scattered throughout the whole 3rd edition catalog), the amount of published monster that barely ever made any further appearances in later appearances is even considerably greater than that.

The question is mostly addressed at GMs who have used any of those monsters, but of course also to players who had them appear as important forces in campaigns they played.

What's some critters that are not much talked about that played big roles in your campaigns, or at least particularly memorable appearances? How were they used to make them stand out as more as just another demonic dog, evil ape, or variant ghoul?
 

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aco175

Legend
I like using lizardmen, but mine are mostly appropriated Neanderthals. I'm rather vanilla in terms of strange monsters.

The strangest things are beholders and gibbering mouthers, things from the monstrosity heading / far realm. I like undead, elementals, constructs since they can be in anyplace and live in a forgotten dungeon for years and not need to make up something on how they got there.

I did make a dungeon of oozes with several forms and modified versions. It was an old wizards lab that got out of hand and formed caverns underneath. The leader was some sort of caster ooze.
 



Yora

Legend
I've taken quite a liking to mohrgs. I think using just one as a main monster of a mystery adventure for a low-level party should be really cool.
Random zombies appear in the town, and people who have been savagely murdered at night start rising from their graves. It's a bit like a corporeal wraith.
 

the Jester

Legend
So I'll speak to several different obscure monsters that I've gotten great use out of.

First, the avolakia, from 3e's Fiend Folio (originally from a Dragon Magazine). These guys are wormy, Kyuss-linked aberrations that feed on undead flesh and like to forge alliances with mind flayers. They can shapechange and pass as a human to infiltrate human societies. I have used them on several occasions and have converted them to both 4e and 5e.

Second, the dharculus, from Gates of Firestorm Peak (a 2e adventure). This is my favorite monster and I have used it several times.

Finally, the 4e osteopede- basically a centipede of bones, a nasty undead skirmisher. From the 4e Open Grave book, this thing was nasty, and I tried to be faithful in my 5e conversion.
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
I had a Fiendish Aquatic Otyugh who was a major villain

Nightwings are great leaders of undead armies

and I used lots of insectoid goblins and ettercaps

and yeah will also endorse Avolakia, theyre terrifyingly great abberations
 
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Yora

Legend
Nightwalker leading an undead army makes me think of Death Stranding.
Second, the dharculus, from Gates of Firestorm Peak (a 2e adventure). This is my favorite monster and I have used it several times.
Yuck!
I had to look it up, and I think I remember a picture. But the description makes it so much more interesting as a monster.
 

AcererakTriple6

Autistic DM (he/him)
Interesting thread. I have a few obscure monsters that I'm pretty fond of.

First, in my Eberron setting, Husk Zombies (from Explorer's Guide to Wildemount) play a fairly important role in the Mournland. Long story short, the Mourning created a disease that only Warforged can get, and it turns them basically into rusted "Robot-Zombies" if they die with the disease. (All Husk Zombies in my campaign are Warforged "Rust Zombies" found solely in the Mournland, and their claw attack is reflavored as them having two rusty Armblades.) At one point in my campaign the Lord of Blades tried to infect the party's Warforged Battle Smith Artificer with the disease to get an undead artificer under his command on his side, but it didn't quite work out for him.

Second, in my Spelljammer campaign, Star Spawn are one of the main antagonists that the PCs faced. They party ran into multiple cults in Realmspace that worship the various Elder Evils (mainly Atropus the-World-Born-Dead, Kyuss the-Worm-that-Walks, and Dendar the Night Serpent), many of which had Star Spawn amongst their ranks (mostly Star Spawn Grue). I also wanted to drive home the alien-ness of the Star Spawn, so I gave them extremely weird physical appearances and strange uses of certain parts of their bodies that they could harvest. (Star Spawn Grue blood draws oxygen out of the air, spoiling it. Star Spawn Hulk mucus makes you resistant to psychic damage if you smear it all over your body. Star Spawn Mangler claws can make deadly weapons.)

Third, in my homebrew world, Archons (the M:tG version, where they're humanoid celestials that ride winged animals) have a fairly important role; they're in charge of leading the Giants in a war against the Aboleths (who have dominated the Krackens and taken over the oceans). Some giants have began to emulate them in behavior and will occasionally team up with Adult/Ancient Dragons that they ride into battle against the Krackens and Aboleths.
 

RoughCoronet0

Dragon Lover
Another set of creatures I’m trying to figure out for my world are Lindworm, the flightless dragons from older D&D editions. I like the idea of making them more primal dragons to be a counter balance to the other types of dragons.
 

Two that come to mind from the 2E City of Splendors boxed set are the Lock Lurker and Palimpsest. Neither particularly deadly but sure caught the PCs off guard and made for exciting encounters. It was probably 25 years ago so I don't recall the particulars of the encounters, but I do vaguely remember my players being pretty taken aback.

The Yitsan from the 2E MC9 Spelljammer Vol 2 was great too. I ran a whole adventure terrorizing the players like the movie Alien killing players and crew until the remaining players finally tracked it down and killed it.

 

Voadam

Legend
I try to use a mix of both familiar D&D staples and more out there ones in my monster palette. I remember in the 80s working my way backwards through the Monster Manual II to slip in the less known ones where appropriate as I ran a long term campaign. Not every game but every once in a while and it worked fairly well.

In 3e I got a ton of 3rd party sourcebooks so I had a lot to choose from. I remember when running Lord of the Iron Fortress and the planar city of Rigus is described as being populated by humans, aasimar, and elves that I replaced the population with mostly Lawful war oriented evil mortal and planetouched races: Hobgoblins, Duergar, Tieflings, Fire Giants, and these aggresively militaristic flying tiger people from Complete Minions. It worked well to have a variety of both familiar and new that were all on theme.
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
Two that come to mind from the 2E City of Splendors boxed set are the Lock Lurker and Palimpsest. Neither particularly deadly but sure caught the PCs off guard and made for exciting encounters. It was probably 25 years ago so I don't recall the particulars of the encounters, but I do vaguely remember my players being pretty taken aback.

I remember Palimpsest - parchment mimic? But covered with layers of ancient Text
 

I remember Palimpsest - parchment mimic? But covered with layers of ancient Text
Yeah, pretty much. I just looked it up. I stand corrected when I said they weren't that deadly. They attacked and absorbed creatures into themselves and caused them to become part of the paper and once fully absorbed only a wish could restore them. I've forgotten how deadly and unforgiving 1E & 2E could be at times.

Another one that I just remembered was the Black Ball I think it was called from the Mystara MC, IIRC it was basically a living sphere of annihilation that wandered randomly through the world destroying anything in its path.
 

I try to use a mix of both familiar D&D staples and more out there ones in my monster palette.
Seems as the years went on the staple monsters didnt surprise players as much as they used to without reskinning them in some way. Think its because newer/younger players have more of a RPG video game background, and older players were already familiar with them. I started using more and more obscure creatures in campaigns out of the gate.
 

Giants.

For some reason they just never crop up, barring a Giant specific campaign or adventure (SKT, or Against the Giants etc).

As a DM and a Player. Over nearly 40 years now.
 

Voadam

Legend
Seems as the years went on the staple monsters didnt surprise players as much as they used to without reskinning them in some way. Think its because newer/younger players have more of a RPG video game background, and older players were already familiar with them. I started using more and more obscure creatures in campaigns out of the gate.
I go for a mix of staples to anchor my players in the fact that it is fantasy D&D we are playing. So when the "big ole cattywampus" the swampers have been talking about shows up and ambushes the party and turns out to be a displacer beast the party goes "right, good old D&D."

The familiar knowledge base can also be a flavor tool, such as if the party hears about an underground mind flayer slaver being a political power in the criminal underworld of the city the party can fill in some unstated blanks on their own without the DM having to explain known different aspects of the new monster, the players can stay in character and keep the flow going without stopping for a DM background information dump.

You can use all 3rd party monsters across the board and get a lot of surprise, but it will feel a lot more alien than normal D&D. That can be fine, Dark Sun in particular went pretty hard in this direction to great effect IMO, but it is a specific flavor/tone choice.

Sprinkling in a mix of new and familiar fantasy monsters feels very classic D&D to me and is a tone I enjoy and generally go for as a DM.
 

Voadam

Legend
I try to use a mix of both familiar D&D staples and more out there ones in my monster palette. I remember in the 80s working my way backwards through the Monster Manual II to slip in the less known ones where appropriate as I ran a long term campaign. Not every game but every once in a while and it worked fairly well.

In 3e I got a ton of 3rd party sourcebooks so I had a lot to choose from. I remember when running Lord of the Iron Fortress and the planar city of Rigus is described as being populated by humans, aasimar, and elves that I replaced the population with mostly Lawful war oriented evil mortal and planetouched races: Hobgoblins, Duergar, Tieflings, Fire Giants, and these aggressively militaristic flying tiger people from Complete Minions. It worked well to have a variety of both familiar and new that were all on theme.

I looked up the Complete Minions tiger men because it has been 15 years since that campaign. Asherake.

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It worked out well with them, I even managed to weave in their magical flying ships and their use of frostbiter arctic vipers (also from Complete Minions) as missile weapons.
 

I go for a mix of staples to anchor my players in the fact that it is fantasy D&D we are playing. So when the "big ole cattywampus" the swampers have been talking about shows up and ambushes the party and turns out to be a displacer beast the party goes "right, good old D&D."

The familiar knowledge base can also be a flavor tool, such as if the party hears about an underground mind flayer slaver being a political power in the criminal underworld of the city the party can fill in some unstated blanks on their own without the DM having to explain known different aspects of the new monster, the players can stay in character and keep the flow going without stopping for a DM background information dump.

You can use all 3rd party monsters across the board and get a lot of surprise, but it will feel a lot more alien than normal D&D. That can be fine, Dark Sun in particular went pretty hard in this direction to great effect IMO, but it is a specific flavor/tone choice.

Sprinkling in a mix of new and familiar fantasy monsters feels very classic D&D to me and is a tone I enjoy and generally go for as a DM.
I agree with everything stated here. I didnt use unique creatures exclusively but more than usual than years past in late 2E, early 3E. In 2E and previous editions from what I recall there wasnt any guides on what level of knowledge adventurers would have for creatures encountered. Which was something I sometimes struggled with in regard to giving too little or too much information. There may have been a NWP that gave an indication of that but I dont remember. Pretty sure 3E had a knowledge skill. I suppose in hindsight I couldve based this off the monsters frequency, for example common orcs, goblins, ettercaps, etc characters would know their tactics, weakness, etc. But something rare or unique that the party has never encountered would have no or little knowledge of. Wouldnt know what theyre encountering, its tactics, powers and weaknesses. There seemed to always be one player in the group who would shout out "Trolls, they regenerate, hit it with fire, and chop them to pieces" as an example. That was my attempt to eliminate the need to adjudicate that type of meta-gaming. In some of your examples above, in those cases when they were plot driven and added for flavor if they had an inkling of what they were possibly up against regarding staple creatures it was likely that the party would do at least a modicum of research by consulting those with that knowledge before confronting them and prepare accordingly. At least a suggestion by me for them to do so.
 

jgsugden

Legend
Giff. My upper levels often feature Spelljammer activity - and the Giff form massive mercenary armies. Any enemy with resources will likely have Giff under their command, and their appearances are often big surprises in the story. They have no magic, but their technology is advanced. A lot of them run around with early 1900s era technology, and some have technology on par with modern technology. Their homeworld, which exists in the same plane as my Prime World, has futuristic technology - designed to account for the presence of magic, and to oppose it.
 

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