The Plastic Ancestry of the Rust Monster

Ah the rust monster! The bane of just about every fighter's existence, created from a plastic toy for the express purpose of ruining a party's equipment -- which, given the uniqueness of some magic items, is worse than a character dying. But it all started with a plastic toy. So which rust monster is the best? Let's find out!

kemular0.jpg
Dungeons & Dragons

In the beginning, there was a toy. Gary Gygax, co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, explained in Dragon Magazine #346:

When I picked up a bag of plastic monsters made in Hong Kong at the local dime store to add to the sand table array--we were playing Chainmail Fantasy Supplement miniatures at a 1:1 scale, there was the figurine that looked rather like a lobster with a propeller on its tail. As we assigned names and stats to these critters, bulette and owl bear, for instance, nothing fearsome came to mind regarding the one with the projecting feelers. Then inspiration struck me. It was a "rust monster," a thing whose touch turned ferrous metals to ferrous oxide, even magical steel armor or enchanted iron or steel weapons. The players soon learned to hit one with spells and arrows so as to slay it at a distance. When one appeared in the D&D game, usually in a dungeon setting, there was great haste to remove from its vicinity if there was no sure and quick means of destroying it at hand.

The first reference to the rust monster appears in the Original Dungeons & Dragons boxed set, Supplement I: Greyhawk, as summarized by David M. Ewalt:

These seemingly inoffensive creatures are the bane of metal with a ferrous content, for as their name implies they have the effect of rust upon such substances, and this happens nearly instantaneously. Any hits by or upon a Rust Monster cause even magical weapons to rust and fall to flakes. Armor is affected in a like manner. The creature is very fast, being attracted to the smell of the iron-based metals, and when alone it will devour the rust it has caused.

The rust monster has been a staple of D&D ever since. The 1977 Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual added a few more details:

If the rust monster touches the metal with its two antennae (roll “to hit” die) it rusts or corrodes the metal. Note that magically endowed items gain a saving throw, a 10% chance of not being affected for each plus, i.e. a +2 weapon or armor gains a 20% chance of being saved.

And the Third Edition elaborated further:

A rust monster can scent a metal object up to 90 feet away, dashing toward the source and attempting to strike it with its antennae. The creature is relentless, chasing adventurers over long distances if they still possess metal objects but usually ceasing its attacks to devour a freshly rusted meal.

Ultra Origins

Like the other patchisaurs we referenced, the rust monster toy was quite likely a creature from Ultraman, as 1/72 Multiverse explains:

The rust monster is another iconic creature from D&D that originated from toy monsters that were made in Hong Kong. Based on general appearance, it's likely that the toy was modeled after Kemular (ケムラー), also known as the Poison Gas Monster (毒ガス怪獣; Dokugasu Kaiju). Kemular does not have antennae, but the tail and back (with the wing case folded) seem fairly analogous to the rust monster.

Like the bulette, modeled after a patchisaur inspired by Gabora, concessions were made to the plastic molding process so that details of Kemular were lost in the transition. The appendages on his back, which look a bit like a shell, open up to reveal Kemular's brain, a key vulnerability in defeating the kaiju. With those appendages folded, the rust monster resemblance is clear. Kemular's trademark tail (the tail associated with rusting metal) fires energy bolts. Kemular also burrows and spews poison gas from his mouth. As for those antennae jutting from its face?

Originally, Kemular's mouth was to open horizontally like that of an insect's mandibles.

Once again, the original inspiration for the rust monster likely had more in common with green and blue dragons than insects, and was considerably larger than the creature knights everywhere fear today.

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Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca





Anthro78

Explorer
I had several of the plastic bullette toys as well. Pretty sure they came together in some kind of package deal with a bunch of others I can't remember.

Judging by my parents' shopping habits, I'm guessing it came in a cheap tube of creatures purchased from K-Mart. That was our go-to store as a kid.
 

Undrave

Hero
Judging by my parents' shopping habits, I'm guessing it came in a cheap tube of creatures purchased from K-Mart. That was our go-to store as a kid.

K-Mart left my province when I was a kid and the only memory I keep of that store is "G R E Y". Grey floor, grey ceiling, grey shelves, grey people, grey air... If grey had a smell, K-Mart smelled like it.
 

Worrgrendel

Explorer
Judging by my parents' shopping habits, I'm guessing it came in a cheap tube of creatures purchased from K-Mart. That was our go-to store as a kid.
OMFG K-Mart. That was our closest store growing up and it was our go-to store. Wow that's joggin' the ol' noggin' for some history. I had COMPLETELY forgotten that they even existed. Man, they were crappy stores looking back. That has to be where they came from.
 



Gr8Kabuki

Villager
I posted a response on the Owlbear ancestry article a couple of months ago in which I had Identified a kaiju named Totsaurus as the inspiration of the Owlbear. In regards to the Rust Monster, I agreed that Kemular from Ultraman could be an inspiration based on Tohl Narita's original concept art. Still, the rust monster was such a cool and weird design I felt that there might be a more direct inspiration for the Imperial toy. Alas, unlike the Owlbear and Totsaurus, I have not been able to identify an identical match for the Rust Monster. I do have another theory though. What if the inspiration for the Rust monster toy was not a kaiju at all? Could it be from a 50s American sci-fi B movie? If so, "Fiend Without a Face" may be a good place to look. The biggest similarities are the Rust Monster'segg like body shape and the bumpy brainlike texture on its back as well as the antenna.
6-22-21 207.PNG
 

Gr8Kabuki

Villager
I posted a response on the Owlbear ancestry article a couple of months ago in which I had Identified a kaiju named Totsaurus as the inspiration of the Owlbear. In regards to the Rust Monster, I agreed that Kemular from Ultraman could be an inspiration based on Tohl Narita's original concept art. Still, the rust monster was such a cool and weird design I felt that there might be a more direct inspiration for the Imperial toy. Alas, unlike the Owlbear and Totsaurus, I have not been able to identify an identical match for the Rust Monster. I do have another theory though. What if the inspiration for the Rust monster toy was not a kaiju at all? Could it be from a 50s American sci-fi B movie? If so, "Fiend Without a Face" may be a good place to look. The biggest similarities are the Rust Monster'segg like body shape and the bumpy brainlike texture on its back as well as the antenna. View attachment 139999
Its not a huge stretch to see how the back tentacles on the Fiend could be translated into the propeller on the rust monster's tail. Just ad legs and a little face and boom... you would have a reasonable likeness of the Imperial Rust Monster toy.
 


darjr

I crit!
I had all of these as a child, before I knew what D&D was. Sadly they are all long gone. My mom even remembers them. I was obsessed.
 

Nines500

Villager
Given how similar the Umber Hulk, reptilian, Bulette, and Owlbear figures are to their inspirations, I don't think that the Rust Monster is based on Kemular.

I think that a better theory would be that the Rust Monster is based on a Slurfie. They both share the round textured body, four legs, and the face appendages, although most Slurfie figures have a single trunk as opposed to the Rust Monster's two antennae. I've even seen a fair number of Slurfies that had the same yellow and red color combination that most Rust Monster figures are.

I've also seen a picture of a red Slurfie included in a bag of dinosaurs that were the same kind that the rest of the Hong Kong creatures were sold with.
 

Clint_L

Hero
It is amazing to think about the pace at which iconic monsters were created back in those first few years. Such a burst of creativity! All my favourite D&D critters came from those guys, and I love that a lot of them were just because the Wisconsin crew were trying to imagine what they could do with some cheap toys. I collected plastic dinosaurs and I'm pretty sure I had the one that inspired the Owlbear, though in my memory it wasn't supposed to be a dinosaur at all but a prehistoric giant sloth.

If the moulds somehow still exist, it would be amazing if someone could re-release those toys. I bet they could make a lot of money repackaged as collector's items.
 

Mad_Jack

Hero
If the moulds somehow still exist, it would be amazing if someone could re-release those toys. I bet they could make a lot of money repackaged as collector's items.

I imagine it'd probably be a nightmare trying to figure out who has the rights to produce them, if anyone*... Generic toys in the '70's and early '80's were notorious for straight-up hijacking each other's designs.
On the other hand, if Hasbro could get the rights to them they could package them with a couple more cutesy/kitschy "retro" takes on popular old-school monsters and really cash in on the nostalgia value.


* I mean, do any of the companies that put them out even exist anymore?
 

jasper

Rotten DM
I had the bag too around 1981. But since I did not hide it away when I enlisted, the toys when into the toy bin for grand kids. And then the outside coffee tin toys for the grand kids. So if the sand pile still exists, it maybe out there.
 

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