Monsters. Without them, you are just sitting around play acting in someone’s living room. That may be fun for failed drama students, but most of us that play the game want to hit something now and then. A wide variety of monsters have withstood the test of time in D&D. But there are a few that really stand out, but each for its own specific reason. Below are two iconic monsters, but for different reasons.
The Good - Beholder
I know that beholders aren’t ‘good’ creatures. By good we mean that they are freaking awesome to have in your campaign. The earliest beholders also went by the name of eye tyrant. I mean, right there, I was in love with them. In 5e, there is now a death tyrant and spectator, both variants of the beholder. So now there are three of these creepy bastards to choose from when you want to TPK the party. Below is a list of the spells from AD&D and 5e.
Charm Person Charm ray
Charm Monster Paralyzing ray
Sleep spell Fear ray
Telekinese Slowing ray
Flesh Stone ray Enervation ray
Disintergrate ray Sleep ray
Fear ray Petrification ray
Cause Serious Wound Disintergration ray
Death ray Death ray
So as we can see, not a lot has changed over the years, but the minor changes are fairly substantial. In AD&D the charm spell was split into two, while in 5e, the charm spell applies to both (DC 16 Wisdom save or charmed for an hour - yikes!). It was replaced by the paralyzing ray, which, on a failed Constitution save (DC 16), causes the target to be paralyzed for a minute. You know, nothing major at all….
It’s the Antimagic Cone (or Anti-magic ray in AD&D) that really screws your over. An anti magic field in a 150 ft cone is bad enough, but being able to move and turn it off and on at will on each turn is just plain mean. Yes, the antimagic ray doesn’t allow the beholder to utilize his own eye stalk spells, but if your primary spell casters are clumped together, then the beholder is free to use his eye stalk spells on your tanks. And with a 150 ft cone, there is a good chance the wizard isn’t casting any spells and your cleric isn’t healing. Also, you can forget about flanking, cause while you can get advantage on your attack, you then aren’t protected from his eye stalk attacks.
Oh yeah, the death ray sucks.
The Ugly - Owlbear
Ugly…butt ugly. This is the only way to describe the Owlbear in AD&D. How stoned was Gary and Co. when they came up with this?
First off, as most everyone knows by now, the owlbear has the body of a bear, and its head is that of an owl. Here’s what really gets me about the owlbear in the early editions. Why is it standing on two legs? I mean, it’s supposed to be a bear….but it walks around like a humanoid? WTF. Don’t even get me started about his head. How is that an owl face? It looks like he’s wearing some strange kind of hat. I mean seriously, whose fucked up nightmares did this come from? I am amazed that the owl bear has survived through the years, if for no other reason than the picture above.
The main reason I don’t understand why the owl bear exists is that its nothing special (other than the fact that it’s really ugly…have I mentioned that yet?) The only special attack, the hug from AD&D, no longer exists in 5e, probably because they realized it was a bear, and bears walk around on all fours. The hug wasn’t even that special - any hit of 18 or better caused the target to be dragged to the owlbear and take an additional 2d8 damage until the creature is killed. Interestingly enough, there is no mention of a saving throw to escape, so apparently the player just kept taking the damage with no recourse. Not too bad for a lower level monster.
The 5e owlbear at least looks better, but is quite the boring creature. A CR3 creature, it can multi attack on its turn with a claw and a beak, but the average total damage per round is 24. Nothing to write home about. Sure, it can be dangerous to lower level heroes, and they may pee a little in their armor when they see it, but a decent party of 4 can easily defeat them.
Of interest to me personally is the mention in the MM on pg 240 that owl bears can be trained to race, be war beasts, and even pets. And as a large creature, maybe my next gnome character will train one to be my mount. Yes, it’s just one more shameless plug for my post on mounts.