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D&D 5E Potential Monsters in Quests from the Infinite Staircase Adventures

Cynidiceans, the werefoxes and polymars... oh my!


Since the adventures contained in Quests from the Infinite Staircase have been revealed, I thought it might be fun to take a look at the monsters appearing in the original adventures and speculate about what new fifth edition monsters we might see in the upcoming anthology.

For each adventure, I’ve split the review into new monsters and other monsters. The former refers to creatures presented as “new monsters” at the end of the original adventure, while “other monsters” covers the rest of the creatures appearing in that adventure. In a few cases, the other monsters were also new to D&D when they were published.

B4: The Lost City (June 1982)

Fifth edition versions of The Lost City monsters have already appeared in Goodman Games’s licensed OAR4: The Lost City (2020). Since that is now out of print (and fetching a considerable price in online auctions), we can safely ignore OAR4 for the purpose of guessing what might be updated in Quests from the Infinite Staircase. There are four new monsters in The Lost City: the banshee, Cynidiceans, the werefox and the polymar. The adventure also features a fair number of monsters from the Basic and Expert D&D sets that haven’t yet appeared in fifth edition.

New monsters

The banshee in The Lost City is not the same creature as the banshee in the Monster Manual. The fifth edition version is a spirit of a female elf and is the direct descendant of the groaning spirit in the first edition Monster Manual (1977). This banshee is a ghost-like figure that haunts families, warning of an impending death. Despite having all the characteristics typically associated with undead creatures, The Lost City is adamant that this banshee is not, in fact, an undead creature. When it was reprinted in the Creature Catalogue (1986) it remained definitely not undead and became the “lesser” banshee, presumably to differentiate it from the AD&D banshee. Given the confusing name and nature of this creature, it seems likely that it will just be replaced with an alternative monster in Quests from the Infinite Staircase.


Unusual variations of humans were a popular inclusion in several early Dungeons & Dragons adventures. At least the Cynidiceans of The Lost City have some differentiating characteristics; they are humans who have lived underground so long that they have pale skin, unusually large eyes, infravision, and an aversion to sunlight. They also wear colorful masks and bright clothing. Three factions of Cynidiceans play a role in the story. The Brotherhood of Gorm are lawful male fighters who wear golden masks of Gorm, the god of war. The Magi of Usamigaras are neutral magic-users who wear the silver masks of Usamigaras, the smiling child god. The Warrior Maidens of Madarua are neutral female fighters who wear the bronze masks of Madarua, goddess of birth, death and the seasons. Both Jim Holloway’s art and the list of Cynidicean encounters give the impression that the Cynidiceans are not to be taken entirely seriously. Fifth edition doesn’t typically treat cultures as new monsters, and some aspects of the Cynidiceans might not survive a sensitivity and inclusivity review. A sidebar noting the Cynidiceans’ mutations seems a more likely approach for Quests to take than a monster entry.


The werefox is listed in The Lost City as a type of lycanthrope but since it is a fox that can change into a human, rather than a human who can take the form of a fox, it is more accurately classified as a shapechanger, like the jackalwere. Lycanthropic vulpines have an inconsistent history in D&D. There is a foxwoman (a lycanthrope) in the first edition Monster Manual II (1983). She shares the werefox’s charm ability, but the AD&D version can only take female form and it has an in-between form that is a mix between fox and elf. There is also already a fifth edition version of the werefox—the redtooth werefox from Monstrous Compendium Vol. 4: Eldraine Creatures—but that is setting specific, so an updated version of the original seems quite possible for Quests.


Last of the new monsters in The Lost City is the polymar, which is an underwhelming version of the mimic. Indeed, when it appeared in the second edition Mystara Monstrous Compendium Appendix (1994) it was specifically referred to as a more sociable version of the mimic. While there is a small chance that we’ll see an updated version in Quests from the Infinite Staircase, substituting the adventure’s lone polymar for a mimic would make more sense.

Other monsters
Of the six adventures being updated for Quests, The Lost City is the lone import from Basic D&D instead of Advanced D&D. Nonetheless, the majority of the creatures in The Lost City can be found in the fifth edition Monster Manual, including: basilisk, black pudding, blink dog, blue dragon, carrion crawler, chimera, displacer beast, doppelganger, fire beetle (in fifth edition this is correctly referred to as “giant”), gargoyle, gelatinous cube, ghoul, giant bat, giant rat, giant scorpion, giant weasel, hellhound, hill giant, hobgoblin, hydra (although the version in The Lost City has eight heads instead of five), manticore, medusa, minotaur, mummy, ogre, owlbear (spelled “owl bear” in The Lost City), rust monster, shadow, skeleton, spectre, sprite, stirge, troll, vampire, werebear, wererat, weretiger, wolf, wight, wraith and zombie. Green slime and yellow mold can be found in the fifth edition Dungeon Master’s Guide.


Basic D&D has a slightly different set of “core” monsters than AD&D. Several of the monsters The Lost City uses are from the Basic Set (1981) and didn’t make it into the fifth edition Monster Manual, but could be represented by very similar creatures that did. White apes are nocturnal apes that, like the Cynidiceans, have become pale over time. They could be replaced with fifth edition’s generic ape. Rock baboons are a larger, more intelligent version of the baboon but could be substituted with ordinary baboons. The spitting cobra, pit viper and rock python are serpents that could be replaced with fifth edition’s generic (giant) poisonous and/or constrictor snakes. A trilogy of giant lizards, the gecko, draco and tuatara could easily be substituted with fifth edition’s generic giant lizards. Giant shrews would be simple to replace with giant rats. Giant oil beetles and giant tiger beetles do not have fifth edition versions, and while they could also be replaced, it would be a pleasant surprise for some new giant beetle variations to join the Monster Manual’s lonely giant fire beetle.


There are some killer bees guarding a treasure room in The Lost City. Found in the Basic Set (1981) they were renamed as giant bees in the 1983 Basic Set. Giant bees also appeared in the AD&D Monster Manual II (1983), the second edition Monstrous Manual (1993), and the third edition Monster Manual (2000). There don’t seem to be any giant bees in fifth edition yet, but there are giant wasps, a possible replacement. There is also no fifth edition giant ant to use for the driver ants, but since they appear only on a wandering monster table, that entry will probably be replaced.

The Lost City’s living iron statues are not the same as the fifth edition living iron statues in Ghosts of Saltmarsh (2019). Basic D&D has “living statue” equivalents of most of AD&D’s core golems. Golems and living statues aren’t quite the same thing, but they are pretty close, so a replacement with an iron golem in Quests is a strong possibility.


This brings us to the thoul. At least one theory is that this monster is the result of a typesetting error mixing toads and ghouls in Book III of the original 1974 D&D boxed set. The first proper description of a thoul was in the Basic Set (1981), where it is described as a magical combination of a ghoul, a hobgoblin and a troll. This monster is odd enough to deserve a monster entry, but only appears on a wandering monster table in The Lost City, so would be trivial to replace in Quests.


As well as monsters from the Basic Set (1981), The Lost City also used five creatures from the Expert Set (1981). The bone golem is one of several golem variants debuting in the Expert Set. It is made from the bones of dead men and sometimes has additional weapon-wielding limbs attached. The bone golem was reprinted as the skeletal golem in the Mystara Monstrous Compendium Appendix (1994) and D&D has several other golems made of bones, but none in 5th edition. However, since the bone golem appears only once in the adventure, an updated monster entry seems unlikely.

The caecilia worm first appeared in Monster and Treasure Assortment: Sets 1-3 (1980), which is strange since it didn’t appear in any of the original assortment sets. Instead it seems to have been edited in to replace various other monsters specifically for the Sets 1-3 compilation. This is despite it not getting a monster entry until the following year’s Expert Set where it is described as a thirty foot long gray wormlike creature that swallows prey whole. There’s really no need for an updated version of the caecilia, which can be easily replaced with a purple worm or the young purple worm from Princes of the Apocalypse (2015).


The devil swine is another refugee from the Expert Set (1981). A lycanthrope with human and hog forms, devil swine have a taste for human flesh and the ability to charm those they meet. Although the devil swine was reprinted as the wereswine in the second edition Mystara Monstrous Compendium Appendix (1994), it faded from D&D after that. A replacement creature seems likely for the devil swine’s single The Lost City appearance in Quests.

The lesser djinni is a bit of an oddball. It seems intended to be a less powerful version of AD&D djinni, but in its initial Expert Set (1981) appearance it is described as a free-willed air elemental with a human-like appearance. The text of later descriptions amends this to be a free-willed enchanted creature from the elemental plane of Air, instead of an actual elemental. However, this fairly redundant monster is unlikely to get any sort of update in Quests.


Although fifth edition doesn’t yet have a wood golem, there have been a surprising number of them in D&D history. As well as the Expert Set (1981) version, there is a wood golem in Imagine #19, another in Dragon #119, an Athasian version appears in Monstrous Compendium Dark Sun Appendix: Terrors of the Desert, and Dragon #341 has yet another. The original Expert Set version is a golem carved from wood, so essentially an animated wooden statue. The wood golems in The Lost City aren’t integral to the plot, but they did get their own illustration, which probably increases the odds of seeing an updated version in Quests.


We wrap up the monsters from The Lost City with, of course, Zargon. Described as a fifteen foot tall humanoid figure with the head of a lizard, a single red eye, a single sharp horn, six taloned tentacles instead of arms and six more tentacles instead of legs. (Quite how any part of this could be considered “humanoid” is left as an exercise to the reader!) Zargon is the primary antagonist in the adventure, and although it doesn’t get a Monster Manual style write-up in The Lost City, it will almost certainly get one in Quests from the Infinite Staircase. It has to be noted that Zargon has already been mentioned several times in fifth edition. The Player’s Handbook (2014) includes Zargon as an example of a Great Old One who might act as a warlock’s patron, Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes (2018) lists Zargon in the sidebar on Elder Evils, and Monstrous Compendium Volume One: Spelljammer Creatures (2022) includes Zargon on a list of Great Old Ones who might be a benefactor of an arcane lich. The promotional video for Quests confirms an Elder Evil stat block. The coming of Zargon has been heralded!

So what’s the verdict for The Lost City?​
  • A near certainty for a full update: Zargon.​
  • Quite likely to get a full update: werefox.​
  • Likely to be updated but not get a full write-up: Cynidiceans.​
  • Might get an update: wood golem.​
  • Small possibility of an update: banshee, bone golem, caecilia worm, devil swine, giant oil beetle, giant tiger beetle, polymar, thoul.​
  • Unlikely to be updated: driver ants, giant draco lizards, giant gecko, giant shrew, giant tuatara, killer bees, lesser djinni, living iron statue, pit viper, rock baboon, rock python, spitting cobra, white ape.​

In the next installment, we will be turning our attention to UK4: When a Star Falls

What do you think of the monsters in The Lost City?
Do you have any fond memories of encounters with these monsters?
Do you have a favorite creature you’d like to see updated for fifth edition?

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When it was reprinted in the Creature Catalogue (1986) it remained definitely not undead and became the “lesser” banshee, presumably to differentiate it from the AD&D banshee. Given the confusing name and nature of this creature, it seems likely that it will just be replaced with an alternative monster in Quests from the Infinite Staircase.
This sounds like it would be worth redoing. Only this time I think they could call it a Karen.

Not only is there the Werefox, there's the Hu Hsien (archaic Wade-Giles spelling of what would be Hu Xian in Pinyin) from the Kara-Tur Monstrous Compendium that's close to the mythological version of Fox Spirit, though mostly the Chinese version (Korean and Japanese folklore also have similar myths about fox spirits) based on the name. Then there's been the old Hengeyokai PC race that has Fox as an option. So there's like at least 3 versions of a Fox that can shapechange into a humanoid throughout D&D's history.

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