D&D General The core monster lineup across all editions

JEB

Legend
Years ago, just out of curiosity, I put together some lists of every appearance in every edition by a monster that was in a core D&D rulebook.

One result was that I now had a list of the monsters that had been "core" in every single edition of the game. Meaning that they appeared in all of the following:
  • 0e: Monsters & Treasure in the original boxed set
  • Basic: 1977 Basic, 1981 Basic, 1983 Basic, Rules Cyclopedia
  • 1e: Monster Manual
  • 2e: Monstrous Compendium Vol. 1 and 2, Monstrous Manual
  • 3e: Monster Manual (3.0 and 3.5)
  • 4e: Monster Manual, Monster Vault
  • 5e: Monster Manual

Here is that list:
  • Black dragon
  • Red dragon
  • White dragon
  • Gargoyle
  • Gnoll
  • Goblin
  • Hobgoblin
  • Kobold
  • Medusa
  • Ochre jelly
  • Ogre
  • Orc
  • Skeleton
  • Werewolf
  • Zombie

So the question is, why? What makes these 15 monsters essential, and not others?
 

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Zardnaar

Legend
Years ago, just out of curiosity, I put together some lists of every appearance in every edition by a monster that was in a core D&D rulebook.

One result was that I now had a list of the monsters that had been "core" in every single edition of the game. Meaning that they appeared in all of the following:
  • 0e: Monsters & Treasure in the original boxed set
  • Basic: 1977 Basic, 1981 Basic, 1983 Basic, Rules Cyclopedia
  • 1e: Monster Manual
  • 2e: Monstrous Compendium Vol. 1 and 2, Monstrous Manual
  • 3e: Monster Manual (3.0 and 3.5)
  • 4e: Monster Manual, Monster Vault
  • 5e: Monster Manual

Here is that list:
  • Black dragon
  • Red dragon
  • White dragon
  • Gargoyle
  • Gnoll
  • Goblin
  • Hobgoblin
  • Kobold
  • Medusa
  • Ochre jelly
  • Ogre
  • Orc
  • Skeleton
  • Werewolf
  • Zombie

So the question is, why? What makes these 15 monsters essential, and not others?

Dragons and stereotypical low level stuff.
 


JEB

Legend
With the pre-1979 editions, it's because the monsters had not been introduced yet.
Funny enough, there are some monsters that were in the original boxed set, but didn't make it into the Basic rulebooks. Giants, for example.

Edited for clarity: Basic '77 does include fire, frost, and hill giants. All three were relegated to the Expert rules in '81 and '83.
 
Last edited:

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
Pretty solid list that hits the low level targets across the board -
humanoids of various sizes, movie monsters (zombies, werewolf, gargoyles) and titular dragons.

The biggest surprise for me is the missing green dragon and the prominence of Ochre jelly
 

JEB

Legend
The biggest surprise for me is the missing green dragon
Yeah, I guess poisonous gas and lightning (blue) were judged too intense for starting players in the late 70s? (But acid was fine...)

and the prominence of Ochre jelly
Indeed. The single "original" monster concept that's been core in every version of the game. (Not that it's super original - it's basically The Blob.)

Medusas (medusae?) were the big surprise for me.
 
Last edited:

Incenjucar

Legend
The 2E Monstrous Manual is pretty much the definitive D&D monster collection, with only a handful of monsters that don't get constantly reused as much. Displacer beasts, trolls, treants, behirs, lizard folk, grimlocks, giants, genies, fiends, mummies, ghouls, shadows, liches, slaadi, mephits, elementals, etc. are pretty core to the D&D monster roster.
 

Larnievc

Hero
Years ago, just out of curiosity, I put together some lists of every appearance in every edition by a monster that was in a core D&D rulebook.

One result was that I now had a list of the monsters that had been "core" in every single edition of the game. Meaning that they appeared in all of the following:
  • 0e: Monsters & Treasure in the original boxed set
  • Basic: 1977 Basic, 1981 Basic, 1983 Basic, Rules Cyclopedia
  • 1e: Monster Manual
  • 2e: Monstrous Compendium Vol. 1 and 2, Monstrous Manual
  • 3e: Monster Manual (3.0 and 3.5)
  • 4e: Monster Manual, Monster Vault
  • 5e: Monster Manual

Here is that list:
  • Black dragon
  • Red dragon
  • White dragon
  • Gargoyle
  • Gnoll
  • Goblin
  • Hobgoblin
  • Kobold
  • Medusa
  • Ochre jelly
  • Ogre
  • Orc
  • Skeleton
  • Werewolf
  • Zombie

So the question is, why? What makes these 15 monsters essential, and not others?
Better agents I reckon.
 

delericho

Legend
What sticks out to me is the inclusion of the three sets of Basic rules - that limits the list really sharply to the low end. Either adding the corresponding Expert rules, or omitting those from the requirements, but surely significantly expand the set?

That said, I'm only surprised by one of the monsters on the list (ochre jelly); it's the omissions that are more noticeable.
 

JEB

Legend
What sticks out to me is the inclusion of the three sets of Basic rules - that limits the list really sharply to the low end. Either adding the corresponding Expert rules, or omitting those from the requirements, but surely significantly expand the set?
If I include the '81 and '83 Expert Rules ('77 was standalone and had no Expert counterpart), that adds 10 more:
  • Basilisk
  • Fire giant
  • Hill giant
  • Hydra
  • Manticore
  • Mummy
  • Purple worm
  • Troll
  • Vampire
  • Wraith

Though as all of these were in the original boxed set and '77 Basic, but not included in '81 or '83 Basic , that still suggests the designers saw them as less essential.
 

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