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Creepy and Crawly—Simultaneously!
Wandering Monsters
By James Wyatt

W e've talked about bug-beasts such as ankhegs, carrion crawlers, purple worms, rust monsters, and stirges. Last week, we talked about a couple of hulks with bug-like characteristics—the umber hulk and the chuul. This week, let's turn our attention to giant bugs—well, technically speaking, giant arthropods (including arachnids, but we'll leave crustaceans out of our discussion for now). Oh, and also the lamia.

Monstrous Spiders

Beasts of Unusual Size
Alignment: Unaligned
Level: Low–medium
Environment: Any

Giant spiders can be categorized in two different ways: by size and by hunting method. Spiders that count as monsters cover the whole range of creature sizes in D&D, from Tiny (in sufficient numbers) to Gargantuan. Some of them are web spinners, the kind that spin elaborate webs and wait for creatures to blunder into them. Others are hunting spiders, the kind that wander freely and jump at their prey.

Third edition took a sort of toolkit approach to spiders: Pick a size (Tiny to Colossal), then pick a hunting method. A spider of any size might hunt in any way, and the level range from CR 1/4 to CR 11 was covered.

Every other edition has taken a more organic (and surprisingly consistent) approach, with specific kinds of spiders coming in specific sizes with specific hunting methods. Here's a sort of synthesized list, grouping very similar monsters together, from smallest to largest. I think these seven spiders provide a good and useful range of creatures for the game.

Hairy Spider: This swarm of Tiny spiders is deadly in numbers. Individual hairy spiders can also serve as familiars for drow wizards. These creatures are also known as a spider swarm (3rd Edition) or bloodweb spider (4th Edition). Individually, they are low level, but at medium level, they act as a swarm.

Cave Spider: The cave spider is a Small (1st Edition) or Medium (4th Edition) spider that spins a web but roves freely around it in search of prey. A cave spider is also known as large spider (1st Edition and 2nd Edition). (It might seem odd to call a Small spider "large," but as spiders go, it's certainly not small!) These creatures are low level.

Wolf Spider: A Medium hunting spider, a wolf spider is also known as a huge spider (1st Edition), watch spider (2nd Edition), or deathjump spider (4th Edition). It is low level.

Giant Spider: The giant spider is a Large web builder, and it is also known as a doomspinner spider (4th Edition). It is medium level.

Sword Spider: This is a Huge (2nd Edition) or Large (4th Edition) hunting spider with specialized forelegs bearing sharp edges. The drow like to use them as mounts. Also known as a blade spider (4th Edition), it is medium level.

Bebilith: This Huge demonic spider is a web builder that roves away from its web to hunt. It is also called a demonweb terror (4th Edition), even though a bebilith is not technically the same monster—I think it's fair to combine them. This creature is medium level.

Whisper Spider: This Gargantuan web builder is of medium level.

Spiders are sacred to Lolth, so spiders are important to the drow, serving as familiars, companions, guards, and soldiers. All monstrous spiders have venomous bites and generate filaments of silk from their abdomens. Spider silk is strong but flammable. It is sometimes adhesive.

I believe that 3rd Edition introduced the idea that web-spinning spiders could throw webs at enemies—basically, giving them something more active to do with the web than just waiting for creatures to stumble into it. I'm not crazy about the idea, because it feels more appropriate to Spider-Man than a giant spider. The real-world net-casting spider spends a good half-hour spinning a net, then hangs upside-down waiting for prey to pass below it so it can spring the web trap. That seems like a fine modification to a giant spider, but not something that every spider needs to be able to do.

That's a lot more time than I expected to spend talking about spiders. Let's move on.

Monstrous Scorpions

Beasts of Unusual Size
Alignment: Unaligned
Level: Low–medium
Environment: Any

For much of its history, D&D has not felt the need for as many varieties of scorpion as it had varieties of spiders. A single giant scorpion (size Medium) was enough for the 1st Edition Monster Manual, and 2nd Edition introduced two smaller varieties. Third Edition is the exception, where scorpions got the same treatment as spiders and centipedes—one of every size. Then 4th Edition came along with its stormclaw scorpion and its hellstinger scorpion, and here we are today. What does the game need?

We have neither a Demon Queen of Scorpions, nor do we have a race that keeps scorpions as pets and companions. Therefore I think we have less need for a variety of scorpions. I'm inclined to say that the single giant scorpion of 1st Edition is sufficient. Do we need a swarm of scorpions?

A scorpion grabs its prey with its claws to bring its poisonous sting to bear. That's really the thing that matters about scorpions.

Giant Insects

Beasts of Unusual Size
Alignment: Unaligned
Level: Low
Environment: Any

A quick survey of the monster books at my desk shows that the game has had giant ants, giant ant lions, giant bees, giant cave crickets, giant dragonflies, giant bluebottle flies and horseflies, giant hornets, giant praying mantises, giant termites, giant ticks, giant wasps, and giant beetles of many varieties in the past.

The classic giant beetles include bombardier beetles, boring beetles, fire beetles, rhinoceros beetles, stag beetles, and water beetles.

Of those, I'm most interested in wasps (which can absorb bees and hornets, as far as I'm concerned) and beetles. Giant wasps fly, can serve as mounts (for tasloi, naturally—as in Dwellers of the Forbidden City), and have a nasty disposition to match their poisonous sting. Theoretically, giant wasps could absorb the spider eater introduced in 3rd Edition (for reasons that aren't clear to me), gaining a paralytic poison and the horrifying ability to implant eggs in paralyzed foes. Worse, we could model special traits on certain real-world wasps, like the ones whose implanted young take control of the host's mind. Giant wasps are Large (riding-size) and low level.

Giant beetles are useful underground critters. Fire beetles are a weird cross between a monster and a light source. (I don't think we'll return to the fire-spewing beetle of 4th Edition, though perhaps that could be an optional trait.) They're Small and low level. Bombardier beetles (Medium and low level) give off a spray of corrosive vapor. Rhinoceros beetles, stag beetles, and water beetles are awfully similar—they're all Large and toward the high end of low level, with nasty bite attacks. We probably don't need more than one of them. Boring beetles are not much different, except for the rumors that they develop a sort of communal intelligence.

Speaking of communal intelligence, the idea of a busy hive of workers is what makes giant ants interesting. They're individually low level, but always found in numbers that make them dangerous to low-level parties. After you've angered an ant nest, the ants just keep coming until you take care of the queen. Okay, I've talked myself into giant ants as an interesting giant insect. You might say the same things about giant termites, but I think one of these monsters is enough.

Giant Centipedes

Beasts of Unusual Size
Alignment: Unaligned
Level: Low
Environment: Any underground

True confession—I loathe centipedes. The big ones with clearly segmented bodies and discernable legs are bad enough, but it's the little ones, whose legs look like waves undulating alongside them, that really get to me. Ugh.

In theory, that makes giant centipedes a pretty good monster for D&D. I know I'm not alone in my revulsion, and any monster that can make the players squirm is a good addition to a Monster Manual. The question in my mind is this: How many giant centipedes do we need? Once again, 3rd Edition gave us our pick of sizes, from Tiny to Colossal, ranging from very low level to the high end of medium. The 1st Edition Monster Manual had just one, which was the Tiny one (about 1 foot long). Second edition added the "huge" centipede, which was only 6 inches long (still huge for a centipede!), the megalocentipede (Medium, 5 feet long), and the tunnel worm (Gargantuan, 25 feet or more).

I think giant centipedes are creepiest and most useful when you peer into a dark place and find a nest of teeming centipedes that are about a foot long, that spills out like a literal can of worms, writhing and squirming and biting with their poisonous mandibles. I'd say the tunnel worm is useful as a dungeon threat as well, a medium-level monster that lunges out of its burrow to grab prey.

The poison of a giant centipede is paralytic.

Lamia

With the lamia, I face a bit of a conundrum. I don't think we did the game any favors by taking the name of a classic (and Classical) D&D monster and applying it to an entirely new creature in 4th Edition. On the other hand, it was a pretty cool new creature. I'd like to see the 4th Edition lamia stick around in some form, but under a different name.

The clue to a solution might lie in the pages of the 4th Edition Monster Manual, where the lamia appeared on a page directly opposite a creature called the larva mage. Both creatures are the bodies of powerfully magical creatures (a fey creature in the case of the lamia, an evil spellcaster in the case of a larva mage), whose spirit or memories live on in the swarm of beetles or worms or maggots that crawl in the corpse. Why not make these monsters two expressions of the same general kind of creature?

There are differences, and I don't want to gloss over them. The lamia is a swarm of beetles by nature—its mind is its own, not that of the body it devours. (It's a fey magical beast, in 4th Edition terms.) It can absorb some of the memories and knowledge of the fey creature it consumes, but it is its own thing. A larva mage, on the other hand, is fundamentally a person, whose spirit takes over the writhing vermin that make up its physical form. (It's an undead creature.) A lamia can change shape to appear as an attractive fey, while a larva mage never loses its horrific appearance (perhaps because it doesn't want to).

My inclination would be to tweak the lamia's story so it's more like the larva mages, which essentially makes both creatures the undead spirits of magical creatures bound into the vermin that now make up their physical forms. That suggests some possible names, which I'll stick in at the end of the poll—but if you've got a better one, be sure to let me know!

What Do You Think?

Previous Poll Results

1) How does the umber hulk I’ve described here fit with your sense of the iconic D&D creature?
1—I don’t know what it is, but it’s not an umber hulk. 8 1%
2—Looking at it makes me confused. 21 2%
3—I recognize the parts, but not the whole. 81 7%
4—I’m beginning to see umber hulk from here. 474 44%
5—It is the perfect summation of umber hulkitude. 487 45%

2) How smart should umber hulks be?
Pure instinct: Intelligence 1 or 2 16 1%
Really dumb: Intelligence 3–5 103 9%
Dim: Intelligence 6–8 775 71%
Average: Intelligence 9–12 160 15%
Smart: Intelligence above 12 11 1%

3) Do you believe the rumors of umber hulk cities?
No, there’s no way these solitary hunters congregate in cities. 527 49%
I am skeptical. They’re smart, but they lack culture or community. 383 35%
It sure is a cool idea. Imagine what it would look like! 138 13%
I’ve seen it; it is terrifyingly real! 28 3%

4) How does the chuul I’ve described here fit with your sense of the iconic D&D creature?
1—I don’t know what it is, but it’s not a chuul. 23 2%
2—It reminds me of slimy tentacles and not in a good way. 44 4%
3—I recognize the parts, but not the whole. 209 19%
4—I’m beginning to see chuul from here. 544 50%
5—It is the perfect summation of chuulish hulkitude. 234 22%

5) Chuul: Monstrosity or Aberration?
Aberration, just as it is. 118 11%
Aberration, but amp up the psionic powers and body horror. 234 22%
Monstrosity. 707 65%

6) How smart should chuuls be?
Pure instinct: Intelligence 1 or 2 62 6%
Really dumb: Intelligence 3–5 265 24%
Dim: Intelligence 6–8 521 48%
Average: Intelligence 9–12 179 16%
Smart: Intelligence above 12 30 3%

7) How does the gray render I’ve described here fit with your sense of the iconic D&D creature?
1—I don’t know what it is, but it’s not a gray render. 15 1%
2—It’s gray and it rends, but that’s where the resemblance ends. 23 2%
3—I recognize the parts, but not the whole. 90 8%
4—I’m beginning to see gray render from here. 485 45%
5—It is the perfect summation of gray, rending hulkitude. 437 40%

8) How smart should gray renders be?
Pure instinct: Intelligence 1 or 2 100 9%
Really dumb: Intelligence 3–5 624 57%
Dim: Intelligence 6–8 249 23%
Average: Intelligence 9–12 73 7%
Smart: Intelligence above 12 11 1%

James Wyatt
James Wyatt is the Creative Manager for Dungeons & Dragons R&D at Wizards of the Coast. He was one of the lead designers for 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons and the primary author of the 4th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide. He also contributed to the Eberron Campaign Setting, and is the author of several Dungeons & Dragons novels set in the world of Eberron.
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