I’m back once more to dive into my favorite spooky, scary monster of the Dungeons & Dragons multiverse! I’ve already covered planar beings and the walking dead, so I’m going to change my focus a bit; the dark tricksters of D&D! I’m talking about the fair folk and shapeshifters specifically! Sure, the scare factor of other strange creatures might excel these nasty creatures, but one shouldn’t discount these beings too much! No matter, let’s turn the page and talk about some monsters!
Let’s start with the Fair Folk, faeries! Sure, a lot of the fey aren’t that scary, but they’re still pretty interesting for their own reasons. Take the Pixie! Sure, it was always a fascinating encounter when it was just a monster, but then 3rd ed rolled out and gave us stats. The basic idea carried over to 4th edition with their “Heroes of the Fey Wild” splat book. More or less, pixies can’t hold weaponry on their own, so they have a magical power to shrink items they can touch. Needless to say, this is the only way a pixie barbarian (a magical equivalent of a hornet) could be possible. Plus, it provides a funny story! At a game one of my good friends was running, a player was playing as the pixie race and they got stuck in a jar. So, what was their solution? Shrink the jar! Another player opened up said jar after finding it, to discover a bloody, pulpy mess… Good times! Pixies, like other fey, are prone to all sorts of mischief. Woe to the weary traveler, for they may lead them astray and keep them wondering in a faerie forest forever! Like most fey, it’s in your best interest if you don’t trust them; lest you get charmed by a bag full of pixie dust! Another rule to follow; please don’t follow them into a circle of mushrooms, only bad things can come of that. That isn’t to say that these creatures are evil, those come later.
My next up on the list are the Fomorians! Rooted in Irish mythology, these titan-like giant beings are hideous creatures prone to acts of violence and destruction. It is hinted that they were once beautiful creatures, tainted by their corrupt nature. All around, pretty cool backstory that makes giants more interesting. While not exactly related to the fey, I guess you can blame 3rd and 4th edition for the parallel. But hey, Faerie (and the subsequent Fey Wild) were interesting additions to the D&D multiverse, in my opinion; at least as demiplanes rather than ingrained cosmology. (I’m looking at you, PoL Axis cosmology!) But, back on track, how can you dislike such a wonderful creature? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, in some ways as well as others.
If we’re talking about the fair folk, one need dive into the unseelie fae! These are the terrifying fey that your folks warned you about! Sure, regular ones pull pranks on you, but that’s pretty much it. These are the fey that make World of Darkness – Changeling a terrifying domain! These are the fey that snatch babies and replace them with dark magic-based horrors! They are the fey that are likely to rip your head off if you take one wrong turn in an enchanted forest. For them, they wish to create a world of eternal night, destruction on a massive scale, and sometimes the equivalent of ALIEN INVASION!
Two favorite dark fey of mine are Redcaps and Hags. Redcaps kind of look like creepy, wrinkled lawn gnomes with big boots and bloodied scythes. These crazy little bastards love stomping things into bloodied pulp and slicing things into bloody pulp! It is said their signature hats were originally white before blood dyed them red! Hags on the other hand are your archetype evil witch! They’re old as could be, covered in warts, have deathly looking skin, wire like old hair, and lead coven-like cults. These mistresses of evil magic seek to enchant fools into their bidding and spreading their dark influence across the lands. The most famous of all hags is the Witch Queen herself, Baba Yaga! This super powerful foe is one of the reasons why this monster is a horror staple! Baba Yaga travels in a magical hut with bird-like legs. A fence of skulls protects her weird home, as she travels in a mortar and pestle for victims to feast upon.
Like the fey, shapeshifters are a tradition in the realm of scary stories and weird tales. I would talk about werewolves, but they are a bit too cliche for this list. That isn’t to say that they’re not awesome in the realms of D&D, but there is so much more to dive into. Werebeasts in the D&D universe come in all sorts of forms; all of which based on (typically) predatory animals. From werealligators to werebats to weresharks, there’s plenty to dish out at your players! Not to mention all of them carry their own unique traits.
One of the werewolf’s distant allies, the wererat, is an example of this! What separates these from other werebeasts is what they stand for. Typically, werebeasts symbolize humanity giving into primal impulse, a return to nature, the collapse of civilization. Wererats on the other hand are a different story! When we think of human progress, we think of people taking hold of civilization and pushing it forward. Wererats are kind of an inverse, it’s civilization taking hold of them. Like the urban rats they’re based on, they live deep within the depths of cities and towns; sewers, crypts, dungeons, and other places built by us but rarely traveled by us. They’re the vermin slipping through the cracks and feasting upon our scraps. I mean, look at this guy; hanging out in a grimy sewer! An urban centric horror game wouldn’t be complete without these beasties.
Now, all werebeasts are inherently evil, right? Well, this isn’t quite the case with the werebear! Sure, the name sounds silly to most people, but bears are awesome. And by that logic, werebears are awesome too! These shapeshifters have more in common with the druid than other beasts. The werebear tries to calm distortions and wrinkles in nature, while others exploit them and revel in them. To the werebear, protecting its friends is essential! The origin of the werebear likely comes from Beorn from the Lord of the Rings universe. This wildman had the power to shapeshift into a bear who cared deeply for the forest lands around him. It’s no mistake that the resulting werebear is a good aligned creature! Personally, I favor the Ravenloft version that brings this creature back to the darker and more savage take on the therianthrope! It’s cool when someone who can change into a giant fluffy tank fights for you, but what about when they’re against you? And not only that, they just ripped both the arms off your team’s wizard in one round! Now that’s a good source of terror. Sure, werewolves are scary, but werebears can easily do it better! That’s a whole lotta NOPE!
When it comes to my favorite shapeshifters, why should werebeasts have all the fun, eh? There’s one personal favorite that I enjoy much more than those transforming fleabags. And that would be doppelgangers! If you want to instil absolute paranoia in a party, you run amok with these things! Their purpose is copying other beings right down to their personality flaws. They are the creature you use if you want to emulate John Carpenter’s The Thing! Not to spoil too much, but they made moments in the Baldur’s Gate video games really unsettling! Albeit, there were not so subtle clues dropped all around. What makes it even better is the fact that starting in AD&D, we saw evolved doppelgangers! The Forgotten Realms gave us the Greater ganger! These guys can perfectly mimic the mentality of the target whose form they steal. In fact, they’re far stronger, more agile, and sometimes pack a bit of extra magical power in them! If you thought the regulars were bad news, these guys will likely take you down first time you meet them. But, there’s always worse. In the Demiplane of Dread, everything is scarier! The Ravenloft equivalent is the Dread Doppelganger! Their home domain is the social decay ridden nightmare of Paridon! This domain isn’t just infested with these beings, it’s lead by them! In fact, one could say most of the population is secretly a doppelganger (dread or normal). These creatures are more of a conundrum than their standard cousins. Researchers allied with Van Richten have pondered if they were created with the help of alchemy or perhaps even the Mists’ dark intervention. Of course, these researchers could very well be doppelgangers themselves trying to create faked “investigations” to through other people off.
So, there you have it! This is a list of more D&D monsters that have been a favorite of mine. I’m not sure when I’ll do another thing on various wonderful creatures again, but I’ll be sure to let all of you know ahead of time. In the meantime, it has been a blast spending the Halloween season talking about particularly favorite creatures of darkness, but there is so much more for me to talk about! One more thing, during the Halloween season, be aware of especially malicious tricks!