Monsters in Classic D&D

'Grugnak' by Peter Seckler (CC-BY-3.0)
'Grugnak' by Peter Seckler (CC-BY-3.0)

This is part of my ongoing series dissecting early Dungeons & Dragons, and building the retroclone Dungeon Raiders out of it.

Early D&D relished its monsters. To avoid drawing the ire of Wizards of the Coast’s lawyers, Dungeon Raiders‘ bestiary is simply a list of classic fairy tale monsters, accompanied with stats.

The stats for these monsters may seem either simple or surprisingly complex, depending on what you’re used to. Those expecting only one or two stats may be surprised by how many things we need to keep track of:

  • Attack roll, including the possibility of multiple attacks.
  • Damage bonus, if applicable.
  • Hit Points, represented as a single number. No die rolls here; too swingy. We have other ways of making combat swingy, as you’ll see in a few lines, and the GM can always tweak the numbers up or down to make a fight harder or easier.
  • Armor, to absorbe damage.
  • Saving throw bonuses, for particularly magical creatures (or particularly unlucky ones).
  • Alignment, not that it’ll matter much.
  • Number Appearing, to add a certain amount of swinginess. How many goblins are in that lair? Could be anywhere from 10 or 100. Roll to find out!
  • Treasure kept on-hand.

Here are a few example monsters:

Monster Attack Damage HP Armor Speed Saving Throw Alignment # Appearing Treasure
Beetle (Giant) 1d12 8 +3 15 -2 Neutral 1d8 B
Dragon (Young) 1d10,1d6,1d6 +2 40 +5 50, fly +5 Any 1d4 D
Dragon (Adult) 1d12,1d8,1d8 +3 60 +5 50, fly +5 Any 1d4 D
Goblin 1d4 4 25 Ch. Evil 1d10*10 A
Lizardfolk 1d8 7 +2 40 -1 Evil 2d8 A
Ooze 1d4 +3 1 +4 35 -3 Neutral 1 A
Troll 1d6+2 +1 15 50 -2 Evil 2d6 B
Wight 1d6 -1 3 15 -1 Ch. Evil 2d10 A

Let me add a few notes on dragons, pulled almost directly from Dungeon Raiders:

Each dragon has three attacks as noted: a breath attack (the first listed) and two claw attacks.

A dragon’s breath attack always deals typed damage, in accordance with the dragon’s preferred environment. White dragons breathe ice in a sphere 30 feet wide; red dragons breathe a column of flame 50 feet long and 10 wide; blue dragons throw a wall of pure force 20 feet wide that flies 40 feet; grey dragons fire a cone of lightning 5 feet wide at its base, 30 feet long, and 15 feet wide; and the fearsome black dragons scream a horrid shriek of necromantic magic that affects all creatures within 20 feet. Note that the dragon need not be within its preferred environment to use its breath.

Moreover, dragons are typically 20 to 30 feet wide. Other monsters are approximately the same size as humans.

So what does that letter in the Treasure column mean? Check out next week’s article to find out!

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