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D&D Monster Origins

Monsters (N–Q)

This is a part of a collection of monster origins. See the main monster origins page for more.


He soon saw that she was the Nix of the Mill-pond, and in his fright did not know whether he should run away or stay where he was. But the nix made her sweet voice heard, called him by his name, and asked him why he was so sad? The miller was at first struck dumb, but when he heard her speak so kindly, he took heart, and told her how he had formerly lived in wealth and happiness, but that now he was so poor that he did not know what to do. Be easy, answered the nix, I will make thee richer and happier than thou hast ever been before, only thou must promise to give me the young thing which has just been born in thy house.

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Grimm's Tales (1812), tr. Margaret Hunt (1884). Tale 181: The Nix of the Mill-Pond.


Alas, said he to himself, what kind of people have I come amongst? Are they cruel, savage, and uncivilised, or hospitable and humane? I seem to hear the voices of young women, and they sound like those of the nymphs that haunt mountain tops, or springs of rivers and meadows of green grass. At any rate I am among a race of men and women. Let me try if I cannot manage to get a look at them.

Homer (c. 700 BC), The Odyssey, tr. Samuel Butler (1835–1902).


Because of the large and varied ecology of the D&D dungeons and underground, it was necessary to have scavengers of all sorts, so I made up the gelatinous cube, carrion crawler, ocher jelly, etc. There was no particular inspiration save for nature--amobeas, insect larva, and imagination.

Gary Gygax (1938–2008), June 19, 2005, EN World Q&A IX

He turned on the lights looked at what we had done and then went back to the other room, telling us that a black blob (like the thing in the movie "The Blob") had killed one of the NPCs who ran into it. We soon found that our weapons dissolved when we struck it. Then we got some torches relit and found that we could fight it with fire. Eventually we killed it losing a couple more men in the process.

Greg Svenson, The First Dungeon Adventure, c. 2005.

Ooze, Black Pudding

Dave Arneson conceived the black pudding, and I confess it is one of my favorite critters for disconcerting PCs...

Gary Gygax (1938–2008), September 7, 2002, EN World Q&A I

Ooze, Gelatinous Cube

My concept wasthat both [grey oozes and gelatinous cubes] were accidental creations of careless wizard alchemists that dumped various failed magical and alchemical experiments down the drain or into some cess pit. These admixtures affected single-celled life forms, thus eventually engendering the various jellies (and a gelatinous cube is one of those), oozes, puddings. The slimes were generated in similar fashion, the waste affecting normal slime.

Gary Gygax (1938–2008), October 1, 2006, EN World Q&A XII

Ooze, Grey Ooze

My concept wasthat both [grey oozes and gelatinous cubes] were accidental creations of careless wizard alchemists that dumped various failed magical and alchemical experiments down the drain or into some cess pit. These admixtures affected single-celled life forms, thus eventually engendering the various jellies (and a gelatinous cube is one of those), oozes, puddings. The slimes were generated in similar fashion, the waste affecting normal slime.

Gary Gygax (1938–2008), October 1, 2006, EN World Q&A XII


Perrault is the oldest source I have found for ogres, although similar legends of man-eating giants have existed for thousands of years.

The favorite tale was that in the castle lived an ogre, who carried thither all the children whom he could catch. There he devoured them at his leisure, and since he was the only person who could force a passage through the wood nobody had been able to pursue him.

Charles Perrault (1628–1703), The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood (1697), tr. A. E. Johnson (1921).


The D&D orc comes directly from Tolkien, whose anthropomorphic orcs were a far cry frm the bodiless demons of early English stories. While half-orcs also arguably existed in Tolkien, the D&D half-orc is unrelated.

There are Orcs, very many of them, he said. And some are large and evil: black Uruks of Mordor. For the moment they are hanging back, but there is something else there. A great cave-troll, I think, or more than one. There is no hope of escape that way.

But even as they retreated, and before Pippin and Merry had reached the stair outside, a huge orc-chieftain, almost man-high, clad in black mail from head to foot, leaped into the chamber; behind him his followers clustered in the doorway. His broad flat face was swart, his eyes were like coals, and his tongue was red; he wielded a great spear. With a thrust of his huge hide shield he turned Boromir's sword and bore him backwards, throwing him to the ground. Diving under Aragorn's blow with the speed of a striking snake he charged into the Company and thrust with his spear straight at Frodo. The blow caught him on the right side, and Frodo was hurled against the wall and pinned.

J. R. R. Tolkien (1892–1973), The Lord of the Rings (1954). Book II, chapter 5.

orc II. m. demon, Gl. [L. orcus]

Dr. John R. Clark Hall, A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary (2nd edition, 1916), p. 231

As I recollect, Dave Sutherland, rest his soul, did the hog-faced orcs and the hobgoblins in samurai-like armor. Minifigs worked from those illustrations.

Gary Gygax (1938–2008), March 13, 2007, EN World Q&A XII


As for the owlbear, I used the Oriental plastic figure sold in a package of various other "monsters" as the basis for it's appearance, then made up its specs.

Gary Gygax (1938–2008), March 10, 2003, EN World Q&A II


Gary Gygax confirmed that the pechs and brownies are based on early English folklore depiction of the Picts (EN World Q&A XI, July 21).

Phantom Fungus

Other than in the initial playtests, I can't remember ever seeing a phantom fungus in play. I can't remember ever seeing it in a product. I know as a designer and as a DM, I have never used it.

It's not that it's a bad monster. The illustration doesn't thrill me, but that's just personal taste--it's a fine illo. But something about it just says "don't use me, keep on looking..." whenever I'm looking through the MM for a monster to use. I don't know why for sure.

Do you feel this way too? Or have you used the monster? If so, how did you use it and did it work well?

I can tell you why the monster exists. We felt the game needed certain monsters in certain roles and niches. Specifically, we wanted a low-power monster that was invisible in its standard state, so that low level characters would get used to fighting invisible things now and again, and new players would see the value (and shortcomings) of invisibility early on. It also serves a role as a low-CR plant monster so druids have something to use their plant spells against.

Monte Cook, April 29, 2004, Phantom Fungus thread on EN World


Yet these creatures receive their start in life from others: there is one, a bird, which renews itself, and reproduces from itself. The Assyrians call it the phoenix. It does not live on seeds and herbs, but on drops of incense, and the sap of the cardamom plant. When it has lived for five centuries, it then builds a nest for itself in the topmost branches of a swaying palm tree, using only its beak and talons. As soon as it has lined it with cassia bark, and smooth spikes of nard, cinnamon fragments and yellow myrrh, it settles on top, and ends its life among the perfumes.

They say that, from the father's body, a young phoenix is reborn, destined to live the same number of years. When age has given it strength, and it can carry burdens, it lightens the branches of the tall palm of the heavy nest, and piously carries its own cradle, that was its father's tomb, and, reaching the city of Hyperion, the sun-god, through the clear air, lays it down in front of the sacred doors of Hyperion's temple.

Ovid (43 BC–17), The Metamorphoses, tr. A. S. Kline. Book 15, lines 391–417 (one of Pythagoras' Teachings).

This phoenix looks like a large eagle, standing serenely on its legs.

Sancti Ephiphanii ad Physiologum (1588). Public domain; thanks to the University of Victoria Special Collections for the image.

They have also another sacred bird called the phoenix which I myself have never seen, except in pictures. Indeed it is a great rarity, even in Egypt, only coming there (according to the accounts of the people of Heliopolis) once in five hundred years, when the old phoenix dies. Its size and appearance, if it is like the pictures, are as follow:- The plumage is partly red, partly golden, while the general make and size are almost exactly that of the eagle. They tell a story of what this bird does, which does not seem to me to be credible: that he comes all the way from Arabia, and brings the parent bird, all plastered over with myrrh, to the temple of the Sun, and there buries the body. In order to bring him, they say, he first forms a ball of myrrh as big as he finds that he can carry; then he hollows out the ball, and puts his parent inside, after which he covers over the opening with fresh myrrh, and the ball is then of exactly the same weight as at first; so he brings it to Egypt, plastered over as I have said, and deposits it in the temple of the Sun.

Herodotus (484 BC–c. 425 BC), The History of Herodotus, tr. George Rawlinson (1860). Book 2.

THE BIRDS of Æthyopia and India, are for the most part of diverse colours, and such as a man is hardly able to decipher and describe. But the Phœnix of Arabia passes all others. Howbeit, I cannot tell what to make of him: and first of all, whether it be a tale or no, that there is never but one of them in the whole world, and the same not commonly seen. By report he is as big as an Ægle: for colour, as yellow & bright as gold; (namely, all about the necke;) the rest of the bodie a deep red purple: the taile azure blew, intermingled with feathers among, of rose cornation colour: and the head bravely adorned with a crest and pennache finely wrought; having a tuft and plume thereupon, right faire and goodly to be seene. Manilius, the noble Romane Senatour, right excellently well seene in the best kind of learning and litterature, and yet never taught by any, was the first man of the long Robe, who wrote of this bird at large, & most exquisitely. Hee reporteth, that never man was knowne to see him feeding: that in Arabia hee is held a sacred bird, dedicated unto the Sunne: that hee liveth 660 yeares: and when hee groweth old, and begins to decay, he builds himselfe a nest with the twigs and branches of the Canell or Cinamon, and Frankincense trees: and when he hath filled it with all sort of sweet Aromaticall spices, yeeldeth up his life thereupon. He saith moreover, that of his bones & marrow there breedeth at first as it were a little worme: which afterwards prooveth to bee a pretie bird. And the first thing that this yong new Phœnix doth, is to performe the obsequies of the former Phœnix late deceased: to translate and carie away his whole nest into the citie of the Sunne neere Panchæa, and to bestow it full devoutly there upon the altar. The same Manilius affirmeth, that the revolution of the great yeare so much spoken of, agreeth just with the life of this bird: in which yeare the starres returne againe to their first points, and give signification of times and seasons, as at the beginning: and withall, that this yeare should begin at high noone, that very day when the Sunne entreth the signe Aries. And by his saying, the yeare of that revolution was by him shewed, when P. Licinius and M. Cornelius were Consuls. Cornelius Valerianus writeth, That whiles Q. Plautius and Sex. Papinius were Consuls, the Phœnix flew into Ægypt. Brought he was hither also to Rome in the time that Claudius Cæsar was Censor, to wit, in the eight hundred yeare from the foundation of Rome: and shewed openly to bee seene in a full hall and generall assembly of the people, as appeareth upon the publicke records: howbeit, no man ever made any doubt, but he was a counterfeit Phoenix, and no better.

Pliny the Elder (23–79), Natural History, tr. Philemon Holland (1601). Book 10, chapter 2.


As far as I can recall, both [the quickling and the obliviax] made their first appearance in MM2. [Lawrence] Shick had the concept for the quickling, and blamed if I can remamber anything about the obliviax

Gary Gygax (1938–2008), August 4, 2006, EN World Q&A XI