PDA

View Full Version : On the Origin of D&D Species



Yora
2014-11-14, 05:02 AM
Every so often, I come upon an old work of fantasy, or even science-fiction, and realize there's a creature I've seen in a Monster Manual somewhere.
Please share all the cases you know or find about D&D creatures taken from other sources.

The Monster Toys: A well known story about early D&D monsters is that there was a bunch of them which were visually based on some cheap monster toys and given a description regarding their abilities and behavior. These include the carrion crawler, bulette, owlbear, and rust monster.

Grimlocks are a pretty straight conversion of morlocks from The Time Machine (1895)

Thri-kreen are the Green Martians from A Princess of Mars (1917). They are not clearly insectoid in the book, but otherwise it matches. Tall, green, four arms, big eyes, large tusks/manidibles, living semi-nomadic in the wilderness of a desert planet.

Girallons are White Apes, also from A Princess of Mars. Huge white gorillas with four arms. Perfect match.

Yuan-ti are the Serpent Men from the stories of Kull (The Shadow Kingdom, 1929). Humanoids with snake heads, magic powers, and the ability to disguise themselves as humans, and they worship the Great Serpent and Set.

Kuo-toa are very similar to Deep Ones from The Shadow over Innsmouth (1931), though with a few additional traits.

The Gibbering Mouther is a downscaled Shoggoth from At the Mountains of Madness (1931).

Displacer Beasts are from Voyage of the Space Beagle (1950), as the Ceurl. (Final Fantasy still calls them that.)

The Xill is the Ixtl from the same book.

The Lich is based on a specific character from slavic stories, Koschei the Deathless. A powerful immortal wizard of incredible age, who is more corpse than living man, who has become immortal by hiding away his soul in a special box in a remote and secret place.

Eldan
2014-11-14, 05:23 AM
There's a very useful list here. (http://www.hahnlibrary.net/rpgs/sources.html)

Yora
2014-11-14, 05:34 AM
There are indeed a few more which are not only from mythology, but specific literary creations:

The Orc of D&D is a straight copy of the Orc from The Hobbit (1937).

Same could probably go for the giant talking Eagles.

And certainly for Worgs, which are just a slightly altered spelling of Wargs.

Purple Worms seem to be very closely connected to Dholes from The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath (1927).

Red Bear
2014-11-14, 05:56 AM
There's a very useful list here. (http://www.hahnlibrary.net/rpgs/sources.html)

Wow, very interesting link. Thank you for sharing

Extra Anchovies
2014-11-14, 08:46 AM
Thri-kreen are the Green Martians from A Princess of Mars (1917). They are not clearly insectoid in the book, but otherwise it matches. Tall, green, four arms, big eyes, large tusks/manidibles, living semi-nomadic in the wilderness of a desert planet.

Girallons are White Apes, also from A Princess of Mars. Huge white gorillas with four arms. Perfect match.

Wow. I'd caught the White Ape link, but I'd never noticed the Thri-Kreen <--> Thark connection before. Even their names sound similar...

Gotta be sure to never leave one of those guys with his head and one hand...

hamishspence
2014-11-14, 08:50 AM
I thought they were similar - but more different from Tharks than Girallons from white apes. Tharks are about twice the height of humans for one thing, whereas thri-keens are much closer to human height.

Yora
2014-11-14, 08:59 AM
They are not the same. But the similarities are so great that thri-kreen are clearly based directly on the Tharks.

Though Dark Sun wasn't the first to generously take things from the Mars series. That would have been Star Wars.

hamishspence
2014-11-14, 09:01 AM
I thought Star Wars drew more from the Dune series?

GungHo
2014-11-14, 09:20 AM
I thought Star Wars drew more from the Dune series?

A lot of it's from Lensman, Kirby's New Gods, Flash Gordon, and a bunch of other stuff. Lucas was the BASF of space opera.

Yora
2014-11-14, 09:24 AM
Not too familiar with Dune, but I can't think of any element there that I connect directly to Star Wars.

Princess of Mars seems to have the original ideas for Sand People (Tharks, again, who also build their own rifles), Banthas (their pack animals), swordfights in a space setting, a human hero who can make huge jumps, a space-princess who gets captured by villains, but isn't intimidated by the super scary warlord (and gets dressed like a Red Martian princess in the third movie); speederbikes (in freaking 1917!), fleets of battleships fighting in the sky and getting boarded, ... And there are the Jeds and the Padwars (though in that world, the words mean chief and lieutenant)
And probably some more I can't think of right now.

Eldan
2014-11-14, 10:33 AM
Yeah. Honestly, one can point at Princess of Mars for about half of the general plot, setting and setpiece ideas of any fantasy or science fiction of the 20th century. It's also one of the very few older pieces of fiction that I still find quite entertaining and well-paced today.

Edit: multiple sentient non-human species living in the same setting, each with their own society, instead of being monsters.

For words: Sith, Bantha, Jed.

PPS: there's also apparently an early draft where General Skywalker must win the trust of the barbaric Wookie nomads by defeating their chieftain in combat after they take him prisoner.

hamishspence
2014-11-14, 10:59 AM
Not too familiar with Dune, but I can't think of any element there that I connect directly to Star Wars.

Spice mines.


Banthas (their pack animals), .

"Banth" rather than bantha - it's not a pack animal, but a "Barsoomian lion".

Talyn
2014-11-15, 09:35 AM
Mind Flayers borrow heavily from Olaf Stapledon's Last and First Men, especially in their giant, telepathic elder brains. Obviously, there are strong Lovecraftian influences as well.

Belkarseviltwin
2014-11-15, 10:13 AM
The ELH Hagunemnon comes from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy radio series.

Yora
2014-11-15, 10:48 AM
The Frost Worm is the same as the Remora from the story The Lair of the Ice Worm.

I am not quite sure which story it originated in, but the Conan RPG has a creature called Foaming Blasphemy which is identical to the Chaos Beast. And as far as I know, all monsters of that game are taken from Conan stories, not taken from other games.

I am not sure if they were ever in a D&D book, but the Zuvembie from Pathfinder is from Robert Howards "Pigeons from Hell".

Talyn
2014-11-15, 01:29 PM
The Frost Worm is the same as the Remora from the story The Lair of the Ice Worm.



I haven't read that one, but I can't help but surmise that the Remorhaz is also based on that monster.

Illogictree
2014-11-15, 02:47 PM
In addition to the obvious Tolkien inspiration, the name Balor actually comes from Celtic mythology (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balor). Balor was a warlike Fomorian chieftain with an 'evil eye' that could wreak destruction when it was opened; at one point he wipes out an entire army with it. Perhaps this is the inspiration for the D&D Balor's ability to cast blasphemy?

SiuiS
2014-11-15, 03:04 PM
Darn, I was hoping that I could find some greater origin for rust monsters than "toy". Like, where did the toy come from?!

Eldan
2014-11-15, 03:13 PM
A packet of Chinese plastic "Dinosaur" that Gygax bought somewhere, apparently. Given that therew as a rustmonster and owlbear in there, someone really had no idea what a Dinosaur was.

daremetoidareyo
2014-11-15, 05:17 PM
And then there are the creatures specifically designed by teenage DM minds to trick hack'n'slashers. Cloakers, piercers, lurker above, trappers, mimics, lock lurkers, etc. Cheesy trickery.

SiuiS
2014-11-15, 09:45 PM
A packet of Chinese plastic "Dinosaur" that Gygax bought somewhere, apparently. Given that therew as a rustmonster and owlbear in there, someone really had no idea what a Dinosaur was.

Oh, I know. I had those as a kid. I just always wondered why rust monsters were in there. The answer – they just are – is unsatisfying.

Yora
2014-11-16, 06:48 AM
I haven't read that one, but I can't help but surmise that the Remorhaz is also based on that monster.

Apart from being somewhat worm-shapes and living in cold environments, those two have very little in common. The frost worm has a cold breath, hypnotic voice, and causes devastation when it dies, which matches the creature from the story. The remorhaz has none of those, but instead is glowing hot and burns anyone who touches it and can melt weapons that hit it. Seems like a very different creature.

Serpentine
2014-11-17, 06:31 AM
The Tarrasque is taken straight from real-world legend. It's named after a French town, where a dragon with a lion's head, a turtle's carapace, and big claws and tail turned up and flooded the place, ate people, the usual. A girl, a saint, tamed it and took it peacefully back to the town, where it was promptly dismembered by the townspeople.

Jeff the Green
2014-11-17, 07:17 AM
Barghests, shadow mastiffs, and yeth hounds come from the black dogs of Celtic origin.

Lemures were the vengeful dead in Roman myth.

Dire animals are analogies to the real dire wolf, which lived in North America during the Pleistocene. It actually wasn't larger than an average wolf, merely more robust.

Elementals were creatures supposed to exist by the alchemist Paracelsus. Specifically, they were gnomes (earth), sylphs (air), salamanders (fire), and undines (water). All except undines were statted as separate creatures.

Etins are the English cognate to the Norse Jotuns (giants). The Red Ettin was a fairy tail in which the eponymous character had three heads. Specifically having two heads may derive from C.S. Lewis's Narnia.

Annis hags comes directly from the English Black Annis (or Agnes).

Hippogriffs were originally metaphors for something impossible—griffins like to eat horses, not mate with them.

Scorpionfolk were offspring of the Babylonian Tiamat.

Vargouilles almost certainly come from the Malaysian penanggalan.

Giant insects come from pulp films of the '50s and '60s, particularly ones like Ray Harryhausen made.

Serpentine
2014-11-17, 07:34 AM
Oh, Redcaps! They're some nasty old fey.

Eldan
2014-11-17, 09:06 AM
Lemures were the vengeful dead in Roman myth.


One should also mention that a good chunk the entire infernal and abyssal nobility comes from medieval books of demonology like the Lesser key of Salomon and the Pseudomonarchia Daemonorum. Or at least their names do. Allocer, Amon, Asmodeus, Berith, Glasya are from The Goetia, as an example. Demogorgon is around there, too. And pretty much every Vestige in the Tome of Magic comes from those books, too.

Jeff the Green
2014-11-17, 05:34 PM
One should also mention that a good chunk the entire infernal and abyssal nobility comes from medieval books of demonology like the Lesser key of Salomon and the Pseudomonarchia Daemonorum. Or at least their names do. Allocer, Amon, Asmodeus, Berith, Glasya are from The Goetia, as an example. Demogorgon is around there, too. And pretty much every Vestige in the Tome of Magic comes from those books, too.

Various other ones come from older sources.
Archon means "ruler" and comes to D&D as a group of "angels" who rule the material world as tyrants and impede human enlightenment.
Dispater comes from Dis Pater, a Roman equivalent of the Greek Plouton/Hades.
Mammon literally means "wealth" and was used as the personification of such.
Belial means "worthless" and was used to mean wicked people and eventually devils.
Baalzebul roughly means "King of Heaven", but gained its association with flies and evil by the insulting twist baalzebub, "Lord of Flies".
Mephistopheles is from Faust.
Abraxas is a mystic word, concept, or possibly archon. Possibly the origin of abrakadabra.
Ahrimanes comes from ahriman, an alternative version of angra mainyu of Persian religion.
Azael is a truncation of Azazael, a variant of Azazel (who is a separate demon lord), which means "scapegoat" and was sometimes used to refer to demons.
Baphomet is the fictional demon the Knights Templar were alleged to have worshiped. Possibly a corruption of "Mahomet", the Medieval French spelling of "Muhammad".
Baltazo comes from Balthazar, which is just a name derived from Phoenician but still used (and rightly so, as it is awesome) and I can't figure out where it became associated with demons (or in some media angels).
Bechard is another one that's just a name (in this case a French surname).
Dagon was originally a god but then was turned into a sea monster worshipped as a god by Lovecraft. The fish thing may be a mistranslation.
Demogorgon was supposed to be a demon/Greek god but was apparently made up from whole cloth. The name doesn't really mean anything and was chosen mostly because it sounds evil.

I can continue the list later.

Edit:
Some more:

Eblis is from Iblis, the Arabic name of the devil.
Lamashtu is a Sumerian demon who particularly harmed women during childbirth and babies, gnawing on bones and sucking blood.
Pazuzu was a Babylonian demon of wind. He was a horrible portmanteau of a beast: had a head of a lion or a dog, talons of an eagle, two pairs of wings, a scorpion tail, and a snake for genitals. (Yes, I typed that correctly. Not "genitals of a snake", which would be disturbing enough. Like he had a snake hanging about down there.)
Zzyczesiya comes from someone sitting on their keyboard.
Mariliths are almost certainly inspired by Indian mythology, where demons (and gods) often have multiple arms and/or animal body parts).
Oozes are probably a combination of slimemolds and unicellular organisms.
Father Llymic is the Welsh name for Santa Claus.*
Dendar the Night Serpent is obviously Apep of Egyptian myth.
Kyuss and the Worm that Walks are from Lovecraft:

Wisely did Ibn Schacabao say, that happy is the tomb where no wizard hath lain, and happy the town at night whose wizards are all ashes. For it is of old rumour that the soul of the devil-bought hastes not from his charnel clay, but fats and instructs the very worm that gnaws; till out of corruption horrid life springs, and the dull scavengers of earth wax crafty to vex it and swell monstrous to plague it. Great holes secretly are digged where earth's pores ought to suffice, and things have learnt to walk that ought to crawl.

*This may not, strictly speaking, be true. I wish it were, though.

Yora
2014-11-17, 08:06 PM
Since we're going into mythology:

Naga: Are a race of human-serpents, that are depicted both with human arms and heads, entirely as snakes, or as giant snakes with many heads. They can be evil, but generally seem to show up most commonly as benevolent river spirits with control over weather.
Rakshasa: A race of demon-like monsters from India.
Deva: A benign race of celestial spirits from India, often quite comparable to angels. The name has the same ancient origin as "divine", "deus", and probably even Vanir, one of the two races of Germanic gods.
Asura: The counterparts of the Devas, though not necessarily evil, but with a tendency to chaos. Probably the same origin as Aesir, the dominant race of Germanic gods.
Ogre Mage: Japanese monsters known as Oni. While the word oni is often translated as demon, the specific kind of oni that is the template for the ogre mage is more like a kind of troll. Like most creatures from Japanese mythology, it has many magical powers.
Kappa: A Japanese river spirit. Similar to a man-like turtle, it carries some of the river water in a dent on its head, so it can move outside of its river. Can be defeated by spilling the water, but it's difficult, as they are excelent sumo wrestlers for just that reason. They are said to hide in rivers to drown children who are not careful.
Nymph: A cetegory of nature spirits from Greece that appear in the form of human women. Specific classes of nymphs are Dryads, Nayads, Oreads, and others.
Bunyip: A river monster from Australia. Descriptions tend towards something like a big seal or otter.
Ki-Rin: Basically a chinese unicorn.

Serpentine
2014-11-18, 05:50 AM
Wait, there's a bunyip in D&D? Neato!

hamishspence
2014-11-18, 06:20 AM
I would guess that the bunyip's in 2nd ed - I haven't seen one in any WOTC 3e-4e book (maybe Dragon Magazine or Dungeon had them).

Milo v3
2014-11-18, 06:40 AM
Wait, there's a bunyip in D&D? Neato!

Pathfinder has a chapter on bunyips so I'd expect for them to at least be "Somewhere" in D&D.

Yora
2014-11-18, 06:53 AM
The 1st Edition Fiend Folio has them too. Not sure about 3rd.

hamishspence
2014-11-18, 06:59 AM
The 1st Edition Fiend Folio has them too. Not sure about 3rd.

The 3rd ed FF doesn't, at least.

Serpentine
2014-11-18, 07:12 AM
Pathfinder has a chapter on bunyips so I'd expect for them to at least be "Somewhere" in D&D.A whole chapter? Cooooool. 'bout time some Aussie folkbiology got noticed. Next up: Rainbow Serpents, Mindi Snakes and Dropbears.

Yora
2014-11-18, 07:13 AM
I think it's a page in one of the Bestiaries.

Milo v3
2014-11-18, 07:25 AM
A whole chapter? Cooooool. 'bout time some Aussie folkbiology got noticed. Next up: Rainbow Serpents, Mindi Snakes and Dropbears.
Sadly pf dev's have said they don't like Dropbears because they're silly, even though people keep requesting them....
Though, you can have a platypus familiar, and a tazzy tiger or kangaroo animal companion.

Also a rainbow serpent statted using the kaiju rules with terrain changing powers would be awesome. :smallbiggrin:
... And now I'm hoping that Zimivra, the Endless Coils of the Trackless Desert is the rainbow serpent.


I think it's a page in one of the Bestiaries.
Bestiary 2, but Bunyip was also given a chapter in Mystery Monsters Revisted with things like variant bunyips and feats only bunyips can take.

Mark Hall
2014-11-18, 11:38 AM
Wemics may be Assyrian in origin. (http://www.cayzle.com/wemic/history.html)

Yora
2014-11-18, 12:17 PM
It just occured to me that not all Pathfinder players might be Lovecraft fans like me. The Bestiary 4 in particulary has many creatures from popular culture, with a good bunch of them being from Lovecrafts stories.

The Bhole is an alternative spelling of the dhole, which also seems to be the inspiration for the classic purple worm. This one tries to matches the original much more closely, though.

Elder Thing, Flying Polyp, Mi-Go, and Nightgaunt are all classic Lovecraft monsters, as are Shoggoths, which have been as a downgraded version named Gibbering Mouther in D&D for decades (And are absolutely terrifying instead of just silly).
The Spawn of Yog-Sothoth are also from a Lovecraft and the Star Spawn of Cthulhu from a later writer using the same world and its creatures.

(Un)Inspired
2014-11-18, 12:21 PM
Humans are originally from earth, right?

hamishspence
2014-11-18, 12:23 PM
The Spawn of Yog-Sothoth are also from a Lovecraft and the Star Spawn of Cthulhu from a later writer using the same world and its creatures.

The "cosmic octopi" that the Elder Things are supposed to have warred with in the distant past (according to At The Mountains of Madness) were I think the prototype for the Star Spawn.

Jeff the Green
2014-11-18, 04:02 PM
Nobanion (FR god) is from Narnia. Like, literally. One of his other names is "Aslan" and he came through a portal from there. Aslan himself comes from some inscriptions in Syria talking about Arslan Tash, the Iron Lion, which Lewis decomposed into two characters, the Big Good and the Big Bad.

Talakeal
2014-11-18, 09:42 PM
Bunyips are in the second edition forgotten realms monstrous compendium.

Yora
2014-11-30, 03:08 PM
Yuan-ti are the Serpent Men from the stories of Kull (The Shadow Kingdom, 1929). Humanoids with snake heads, magic powers, and the ability to disguise themselves as humans, and they worship the Great Serpent and Set.
The influence of Howard on the Yuan-ti seems to be even greater than that. There's a character in Worms of the Earth who appears to be a pureblood or perhaps a half-blood. It's not explicit, but it seems that Yuan-ti were not just inspired by the serpent men, but directly copied over.

Tvtyrant
2014-11-30, 03:12 PM
Demodands are from Jack Vance's Tales of a Dying Earth. They are vampire-like creatures which were created by humans in a war some time before the main plot period, and roam the forests of Earth hunting humans.

Talakeal
2014-11-30, 03:20 PM
There's a very useful list here. (http://www.hahnlibrary.net/rpgs/sources.html)

That link is both fascinating and useful, thank you for posting it.

Still, he missed a lot of stuff, much of which has been discussed in this very thread. I wonder if someone could contact the other with a link over here so he can update it.

Jeff the Green
2014-11-30, 03:54 PM
Rainbow Serpents

While I don't think it was explicitly included, it probably did contribute to the couatl. The other inspiration (Quetzalcoatl) was portrayed with green wings, not rainbow ones. There might be a connection to the World Serpent too.

Yora
2014-12-01, 02:57 PM
I just saw this book cover:

http://www.blackgate.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/The-Legion-of-Space-small.jpg

I'm pretty sure that's a grell.

(Un)Inspired
2014-12-01, 03:01 PM
That cover is fantastic. It makes me wonder; what's the gender-swapped version of a damsel in distress?

A Dudsel in distress?

Lord Torath
2014-12-01, 03:29 PM
That cover is fantastic. It makes me wonder; what's the gender-swapped version of a damsel in distress?

A Dudsel in distress?Elan (http://www.giantitp.com/comics/oots0590.html) :smallwink:

No brains
2014-12-07, 11:40 PM
Hey, who knows of any creatures or humanoids that originate from African stories? Egyptian and Carthaginian examples are cool, but are there any examples from anywhere further south on the continent? I thought I knew some...

Yora
2014-12-08, 02:29 AM
Pathfinder has a good bunch. With D&D, I can only think of ghouls and djinns.

Yora
2015-01-16, 05:40 AM
I got a new one: Nopperabo is a Japanese monster, which other than the name does not have a lot in common with the nupperibo devil. It looks like a human with no face, which might have inspired the nupperibo trait of being blind, deaf, and mute.

Beleriphon
2015-01-16, 08:19 AM
Humans are originally from earth, right?

Depends on who you ask. Giogio Tsukalos says maybe not. Its possible that humans are actually from another planet? The only answer is yes.

Segev
2015-01-16, 11:00 AM
That cover is fantastic. It makes me wonder; what's the gender-swapped version of a damsel in distress?

A Dudsel in distress?

Distressed Dude. (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/DistressedDude)

Warning: tvtropes will consume time more voraciously than a Weeping Angel.

No brains
2015-01-16, 08:27 PM
I actually think I can answer my own question:

The Catoblepas and Gorgon (stinky metal bull, not snake-lady) are both inspired by regular African wildebeests. Explorers found them so legendarily ugly, they took two approaches to them being passively deadly.

Jay R
2015-01-16, 09:26 PM
Humans are originally from earth, right?

That's what they want you to believe.

No brains
2015-01-16, 10:26 PM
That's what they want you to believe.

Sarrukh are based on the ancient texts of the Sumerians that talk about the Anunnaki, LIZARD BEINGS that descended from the sky!

Rogue Shadows
2015-01-16, 10:28 PM
The Fomorian giants are from Celtic mythos. In particular their leader was Balor of the Evil Eye. His name's similarity to the balor from D&D is probably a coincidence; Gygax was almost certainly just trying to find a variant on balrog.

On a similar yet completely different note, the Formians come from Ralph Milne Farley's The Radio Man and its series. This is much more explicit in Pathfinder where they come from Castrovel, the planet based on green Venus.

Talakeal
2015-01-16, 10:34 PM
Sarrukh are based on the ancient texts of the Sumerians that talk about the Anunnaki, LIZARD BEINGS that descended from the sky!

Do you have a source for this? I am not seeing anything about them being reptillian, just generic "gods" and am looking for a good sky lizard race.

Yora
2015-01-17, 06:09 AM
I actually think I can answer my own question:

The Catoblepas and Gorgon (stinky metal bull, not snake-lady) are both inspired by regular African wildebeests. Explorers found them so legendarily ugly, they took two approaches to them being passively deadly.

I heard there's a joke in Africa that goes "After god created all the animals, he used the leftover parts to make the wildebeest".

No brains
2015-01-17, 07:43 AM
Do you have a source for this? I am not seeing anything about them being reptillian, just generic "gods" and am looking for a good sky lizard race.

Unfortunately, I do not. I got 'lizard beings' from GTA V, specifically this video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fYX_HIVCVJQ). Unsafe language warning. It seems that this is the only thing that rolls the Anunnaki and Reptilian conspiracy theories into one. That particular bit is around the 9 minute mark.

Raimun
2015-01-17, 09:35 PM
I remember when I was a kid that I heard several times stories about these gigantic, flying fire breathing lizards.

I think they were called dragons.

Yeah, turns out there's some in D&D.

Eldan
2015-02-11, 04:38 AM
We should be before the cut-off point on this, so this should be fine.

I was looking through Tony DiTerlizzi's blog again (everyone should, it's wonderful) and I came across this post again:
http://diterlizzi.com/home/owlbears-rust-monsters-and-bulettes-oh-my/

It details the plastic animals that inspired a lot of classic D&D monsters, with pictures.

The comments have a lot more links to more weird plastic figures and the monsters they could have inspired.