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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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UK4: When a Star Falls (June 1984)

Of all the adventures appearing in Quests from the Infinite Staircase, there are the fewest new monsters in When a Star Falls. Only two creatures had full monster entries: the maschin-i-bozorg and the memory web. All of the other monsters appearing in When a Star Falls were from the first edition Monster Manual, Fiend Folio or Monster Manual II, but as we’ll see, quite a few of those have not yet been updated to fifth edition.

New monsters

When a Star Falls features a group of machine-obsessed svirfnebli who call themselves the kagu-svirfnebli. One of the machines that they are capable of making is the maschin-i-bozorg, which sounds like something transplanted from a Paranoia game. The maschin-i-bozorg is a metal dome that comes in three sizes (small, medium and large) and attacks with stun darts and jets of steam. It moves around on wheels, is capable of rolling over (and crushing) prone creatures, but gets bogged down in soft terrain. When a Star Falls seems to be the only time the maschin-i-bozorg appears in D&D lore, so an update in Quests, which seems quite likely, would be only its second appearance.


The second creature to get a full monster entry in When a Star Falls is the memory web, an animated web that can scrunch itself into a ball and then leap on targets to constrict them. It absorbs memories from victims. If it is slain, recently consumed memories burst out and lodge in the minds of nearby creatures. The memory web was reprinted in the second edition Monstrous Compendium Three: Forgotten Realms Appendix (1989) and Monstrous Compendium Annual Volume Three (1996) and seems like a good candidate for a fifth edition update.

Other monsters
As to be expected, When a Star Falls features many creatures now found in the fifth edition Monster Manual: brown bear, bugbear, giant eagle, giant goat, giant wasp, griffon, imp, jackalwere, lamia, ogre, spectator, wolf, saber-toothed tiger, and troll.


The shadow mastiff, originally found in the Monster Manual II (1983) has already appeared in Volo’s Guide to Monsters (2016) and Mordenkainen Presents: Monsters of the Multiverse (2022), but might be reprinted. A reprint of the giant subterranean lizard previously found in Tales from the Yawning Portal (2017) also seems likely, although the huge fifth edition versions may find navigating the cramped maps of the original adventure challenging.


When a Star Falls has derro warriors, a derro leader, and derro students. There are already fifth edition derro (and derro savants) in Out of the Abyss (2015) and Mordenkainen Presents: Monsters of the Multiverse (2022), but a reprint of the derro monster entry seems likely, perhaps with a spell-casting savant replacing the leader.

When a Star Falls also has gnomes (including guards and captains) and a wide variety of humans (including children, hunters, a leader, monks, sages, scribes, scullion, slaves, wardens, and with typical first edition sexism, women). Of these, only the sage already has a fifth edition monster block (in 2021’s Candlekeep Mysteries). Gnomes and humans are in the Player’s Handbook, and fifth edition doesn’t feel obliged to have monster stat blocks for playable races, so the humanoids in When a Star Falls are likely to get NPC stat blocks where needed.


The machine-obsessed kagu-svirfnebli mentioned earlier are a significant part of the plot of When a Star Falls, so even though the svirfnebli appear in the fifth edition Monster Manual (under “Gnome, Deep”) it wouldn’t be surprising to get one or two new NPC stat blocks in Quests from the Infinite Staircase to represent the burrow warden and assistant kagu-svirfnebli from this adventure. The kagu-svirfnebli are friends with a pair of red dragons named Grlsdelfawr and Pyrofenlx. They are specifically medium-sized, sub-adult dragons in When a Star Falls. Medium-sized would suggest using the fifth edition’s dragon wyrmling stats, but a young red dragon seems a better match as a challenge than a wyrmling.

There are a few ordinary animals in When a Star Falls that don’t have fifth edition Monster Manual versions, specifically the gorilla, the war dog and the mountain lion (although the Monster Manual does have a lion). Also missing are small (horse minimal), giant (giant beaver, giant otter, giant sheep and giant stag) and huge (huge raven) versions of some animals. It is possible that some of these will get updates or abbreviated updates in Quests from the Infinite Staircase, particularly the huge raven, since it is a featured companion of one of the villains. The adventure’s huge spiders are likely to be replaced with fifth edition’s slightly smaller giant spiders.


Both the first edition Fiend Folio and When A Star Falls were produced by TSR UK. That might explain the number of creatures from the former appearing in the latter. In the Fiend Folio (1981), the caterwaul is described as feline and bipedal, but a quadrupedal giant cat is depicted. The second edition version in the Monstrous Compendium Fiend Folio Appendix looks slightly more inclined to walk on two legs, but the word bipedal is edited out from that description. This monster’s only gimmick is a harmful shriek. It appears only in one random encounter, so it would be easy to replace; an updated version isn’t likely.


The Fiend Folio (1981) describes the coffer corpse as resembling a zombie, and notes that they are usually found in stranded funeral barges or other situations where a corpse has been unable to return to its maker. Normal weapons appear to harm a coffer corpse, but it is only pretending and gets up again, triggering a fear response. When not pretending to be hurt by weapons, a coffer corpse attempts to strangle enemies. The coffer corpse appeared in second edition in the Monstrous Compendium Fiend Folio Appendix (1992) and the Monstrous Compendium Annual Volume Three (1996) and briefly in fourth edition in Dungeon #215 (2013). The coffer corpses are part of a specific encounter in When a Star Falls, and not just on the random encounter charts, increasing the odds of a fifth edition update.


The doombat is essentially a very large (25-foot wingspan) bat that can bite and lash with its tail, and has a shriek attack that prevents concentration. It first appeared in White Dwarf #13 (1979) before being included in the Fiend Folio (1981) but it wasn’t reprinted again after that. Since it only appears in random encounter tables in When a Star Falls, the chances of a fifth edition update are low.


The gambado is a human-sized cylinder of muscle with clawed arms and a skull for a head (usually animal, but occasionally humanoid). Its modus operandi is to hide in a pit, pretending to be just a skull and then spring out to bite and claw targets. The gambado first appeared in the Fiend Folio (1981) but was updated to second edition in the Monstrous Compendium Fiend Folio Appendix (1992). This is another creature appearing in When a Star Falls only as a random encounter, so the odds of an update are low.


Originating in the Fiend Folio (1981), gibberlings are humanoids who attack in numbers while making ghastly howling and chattering noises. They’ve appeared in every edition to date, getting a second edition update in Monstrous Compendium Fiend Folio Appendix (1992), and a third edition version in Monsters of Faerûn (2001). They appeared in fourth edition as a gibberling bunch in the Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide (2008) and as a gibberling mob in Dungeon #215 (2013). The Gates of Firestorm Peak (1996) introduced a brood version, which was reprinted in the Monstrous Compendium Annual Volume Four (1998). Dragon #265 (1999) provided a playable second edition gibberling race. The gibberlings in When a Star Falls have their own village. That and their extensive D&D history makes them a likely candidate for a fifth edition update.


A vortex is a grapefruit-sized sphere that bobs around inside a humanoid-sized whirlwind. If it captures a target inside the whirlwind, it will spin them to death unless slain by someone who isn’t trapped. The vortex was reprinted in the second edition Planescape Campaign Setting (1994), but is only a random encounter monster in When a Star Falls so an update seems unlikely.


Moving away from the Fiend Folio, the last two monsters are from the first edition Monster Manual II (1983). A shade is a humanoid who has used magic to transmute themselves into shadowstuff. This transmutation grants a number of powers associated with shadows; most shades dwell in the Plane of Shadow. The shade has a considerable D&D history, with an ecology article in Dragon #126 (1987) and a second edition update in Dragon #213 (1995) and again in the Monstrous Compendium Annual Volume Four (1998). The shade appeared in the third edition Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting (2001) and as a playable race in Dragon #307 (2003). The fourth edition Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide (2008) also had a shade template. Despite this rich history, the odds of an updated shade in Quests from the Infinite Staircase are low, simply because the only shade in When a Star Falls is Sion, a monk serving the villain Piyarz. Sion’s monk background and special companions (a huge raven and a shadow mastiff) make it very likely that he will get his own NPC or monster write up, without an accompanying generic shade update.


The stone guardian is also a creature found in the Monster Manual II (1983), but it debuted two years earlier in The Secret of Bone Hill (1981). It is a golem variant with the option of creating a ring protecting against a particular guardian at the time that guardian is created. It did get a second edition update in Greyhawk Ruins (1990), and it does have a specific role as a door guard in When a Star Falls, but the stone guardian is too easy to replace with a stone golem or something similar. An update seems unlikely.

So what’s the verdict for When a Star Falls?​
  • Very likely to get a full update: maschin-i-bozorg, memory web, Sion (a shade).​
  • Quite likely to get a full update: coffer corpse, gibberlings.​
  • Likely to get new variations: svirfnebli.​
  • Likely reprints: derro, giant subterranean lizard, shadow mastiff.​
  • Likely to be updated but not get a full write-up: Grlsdelfawr, huge raven, Pyrofenlx.​
  • Small possibility of an update: caterwaul, doombat, gambado, giant beaver, giant otter, giant stag, gorilla, horse minimal, mountain lion, shade, stone guardian, vortex, war dog.​
  • Unlikely to be updated: huge spider.​
In the next installment, we will be turning our attention to UK1: Beyond the Crystal Cave

What do you think of the monsters in When a Star Falls?
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?


What I am really interested in is how they will edit this particular adventure (if at all). The original was from "Basic" edition so the challenge ratings of the monsters were all over the place. Plus, there was room provided to allow the DM to further expand the adventure by adding additional levels to the pyramid and more adventures once the players reach the Lost City. But if WotC keeps with the theme of making this a lower level adventure, I'll be curious to see how this affects the original. I would think it would be VERY hard if not impossible for a lower level party to reach the more difficult levels let along the Lost City itself without some major adjustments to the encounters. My guess is that part of the module will just be scrapped but it would sure be cool to see.


Getting a hang of this!
I do hope that gibberlings get updated. They're a bit iconic from their appearance in BG1, and it's surprisingly they haven't seen an update before this.
They appeared in that Minsc and Boo's Journal of Villainy Extra Life supplement, but I don't think that would keep WoTC from putting them in this. After all, Minsc and Boo's had demodands, and that didn't prevent them from appearing in Planescape 5e.

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