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D&D Monster Origins

Monsters (T–U)

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

Tarrasque

The tarasque of Tarascon: a lion-headed beast with a spiked turtle shell and a lizard tail.

The statue of the tarasque in Tarscon, France. Public domain; thanks to the Wikimedia Commons for the photo.

The tarrasque is a creature of French myth. It first appeared in the MM2, written by Francois Marcela Froideval.

There was that time upon the river of Rhone, in a certain wood between Arles and Avignon, a great dragon, half beast and half fish, greater than an ox, longer than an horse, having teeth sharp as a sword, and horned on either side, head like a lion, tail like a serpent, and defended him with two wings on either side, and could not be beaten with cast of stones ne with other armour, and was as strong as twelve lions or bears; which dragon lay hiding and lurking in the river, and perished them that passed by and drowned ships. He came thither by sea from Galicia, and was engendered of Leviathan, which is a serpent of the water and is much wood, and of a beast called Bonacho, that is engendered in Galicia. And when he is pursued he casts out of his belly behind, his ordure, the space of an acre of land on them that follow him, and it is bright as glass, and what it toucheth it burneth as fire. To whom Martha, at the prayer of the people, came into the wood, and found him eating a man. And she cast on him holy water, and showed to him the cross, which anon was overcome, and standing still as a sheep, she bound him with her own girdle, and then was slain with spears and glaives of the people. The dragon was called of them that dwelled in the country Tarasconus, whereof, in remembrance of him that place is called Tarasconus, which tofore was called Nerluc, and the Black Lake, because there be woods shadowous and black.

Iacobus de Voragine (1230–1298), Aurea Legenda (1275), tr. William Caxton (1483), tr./ed. F. S. Ellis. Volume 4, Life of S. Martha.

Telthor

This is a creatue template from Unapproachable East by Sean Reynolds.

These are the guardian spirits of the land of Rashemen, which the books often talked about but weren't ever codified in the rules, so when you told the PCs, "Your actions have angered the spirits of Rashemen!" you didn't really have anything in-game to throw at them to represent this. As some spirits have animal forms and some have humanoid forms, I made it a template to allow customization appropriate to the local terrain (you could have a telthor-wolf guarding a forest, a telthor-bear guarding a mountain, a telthormaar-human-fighter guarding a battlefield, and so on).

Sean K. Reynolds, personal communication, November 28, 2006.

The Thing That Should Not Exist

This creature was designed by Sean Reynolds for The Crypt of Lyzandred the Mad based on a creature originally from Strange Tales #88.

This strange beast is sort of an in-joke between myself and designer Mike Selinker, who both thought it funny that there is an old (Golden- or Silver-Age) comics monster, probably Marvel, called "Zzutak, the Thing That Shouldn't Exist." The last ten encounters for COLTM are "the weird ones," and I wanted something suitable monstrous, incomprehensible, and strange, so I came up with this extradimensional quasi-radioactive creature that looks like intestines looping in on themselves and in and out of reality.

Sean K. Reynolds, personal communication, November 28–29, 2006.

Thousandtooth

Like the various bredthralls, this comes from The Scarlet Brotherhood.

A overly mutated creature derived from medusa, it's an oversized human head with large head-snakes that it uses to move like an octopus. Honestly I have no idea why I created this (other than I like medusas) or why it's in this book ... there is no reference to it in the book other than its monster entry. There's a lot of yuan-ti and other snaky stuff in the book, so perhaps I just had an idea for a snaky monster and decided to put it here.

Sean K. Reynolds, personal communication, November 28, 2006.

Treant

The treant is simply Tolkien's ent, modified in name for legal reasons.

They found that they were looking at a most extraordinary face. It belonged to a large Man-like, almost Troll-like, figure, at least fourteen foot high, very sturdy, with a tall head, and hardly any neck. Whether it was clad in stuff like green and grey bark, or whether that was its hide, was difficult to say. At any rate the arms, at a short distance from the trunk, were not wrinkled, but covered with a brown smooth skin. The large feet had seven toes each. The lower part of the long face was covered with a sweeping grey beard, bushy, almost twiggy at the roots, thin and mossy at the ends. But at the moment the hobbits noted little but the eyes. These deep eyes were now surveying them, slow and solemn, but very penetrating. They were brown, shot with a green light.

J. R. R. Tolkien (1892–1973), The Lord of the Rings (1954), Book III, chapter 4.

Even as he spoke, there came forward out of the trees three strange shapes. As tall as trolls they were, twelve feet or more in height; their strong bodies, stout as young trees, seemed to be clad with raiment or with hide of close-fitting grey and brown. Their limbs were long, and their hands had many fingers; their hair was stiff, and their beards grey-green as moss. They gazed out with solemn eyes, but they were not looking at the riders: their eyes were bent northwards. Suddenly they lifted their long hands to their mouths, and sent forth ringing calls, clear as notes of a horn, but more musical and various. The calls were answered; and turning again, the riders saw other creatures of the same kind approaching, striding through the grass. They came swiftly from the North, walking like wading herons in their gait, but not in their speed; for their legs in their long paces beat quicker than the heron's wings. The riders cried aloud in wonder, and some set their hands upon their swordhilts.

You need no weapons, said Gandalf. These are but herdsmen. They are not enemies, indeed they are not concerned with us at all.

So it seemed to be; for as he spoke the tall creatures, without a glance at the riders, strode into the wood and vanished.

J. R. R. Tolkien (1892–1973), The Lord of the Rings (1954), Book III, chapter 8.

ent m. giant, Æ,AO

Dr. John R. Clark Hall, A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary (2nd edition, 1916), p. 92

The malign Old Man Willow got me interested in the folklore detailing such sentient and evil trees. So indeed, the inspiration was linked to JRRT's writing. English folklore is my main source, though, even if I can no longer remember in which books I found such information.

Gary Gygax (1938–2008), February 9, 2007, EN World Q&A XII

Triton

Triton with caption 'Triton sive bellua marina humana specie.'

Specula physico-mathematico-historica, illus. Johann Zahn (1696). Public domain; thanks to Treasure of the NOAA Library Collection for the photo. The caption reads Triton or human-type sea monster.

Triton was a minor Greek sea god; the term was also used of 'mermen'.

Troglodyte

As a part of the never-ending search for new critters to dismay PCs, I stretched a lot of established fantastic monsters to suit the need, just as I made up quite a few like things out of whole cloth or a mere depiction of name. It worked pretty well, eh?

Anyway, I thought underground dwellers might better be of non-mammalian sort, possibly even of the same genus as salamanders.

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

Troll

While there are lots of references to trolls in Norse mythology and related folk tales, I took my inspiration from the fairy tale of The Great Ugly Troll, the one what lived under the bridge, had a nose as long as a poker and eyes as big as saucers. Then, drawing from Poul Anderson's troll in Three Hearts and Three Lions, the D&D troll was born, just after ogre and before the various giants.

Gary Gygax (1938–2008), February 2, 2004, EN World Q&A VI

The troll shambled closer. He was perhaps eight feet tall, perhaps more. His forward stoop, with arms dangling past thick claw-footed legs to the ground, made it hard to tell. The hairless green skin moved upon his body. His head was a gash of a mouth, a yard-long nose, and two eyes which were black pools, without pupil or white, eyes which drank the feeble torchlight and never gave back a gleam. [... fight scene ...]

Like a huge green spider, the troll's severed hand ran on its fingers. Across the mounded floor, up onto a log with one taloned forefinger to hook it over the bark, down again it scrambled, until it found the cut wrist. And there it grew fast. The troll's smashed head seethed and knit together. He clambered back on his feet and grinned at them. [... long fight scene ...]

Alianora cried aloud. She struck his back with the torch. He hooted and went on all fours. A charred welt across his skin did not heal.

The knowledge burst open in Holger. "Fire!" he roared. "Light a fire! Burn the beast!"

Poul Anderson (1926–2001), Three Hearts and Three Lions, chapter 22.

[U]nder the bridge lived a great ugly Troll, with eyes as big as saucers, and a nose as long as a poker.

Peter Christen Asbjørnsen (1812–1885) and Jørgen Moe (1813–1882), Popular Tales from the Norse (1848), tr. George Webbe Dasent (1859). The Three Billy-Goats Gruff.

Unicorn

A horselike unicorn with a conical horn, captioned 'Monoceros Unicornu Einhorn'

Historiae naturalis de quadrupetibus libri, illus. John Jonston? (1655). Public domain; thanks to NYPL Digital Gallery for the photo. The caption may be a polyglot, reading unicorn in Greek, Latin, and German, or it may simply redundantly repeat the one-horned nature of the beast.

There are wild asses in India the size of horses and even bigger. They have a white body, crimson head, and deep blue eyes. They have a horn in the middle of their brow one and a half cubits in length. The bottom part of the horn for as much as two palms towards the brow is bright white. The tip of the horn is sharp and crimson in color while the rest in the middle is black. They say that whoever drinks from the horn (which they fashion into cups) is immune to seizures and the holy sickness and suffers no effects from poison, whether they drink wine, water, or anything else from the cup either before or after ingesting the drug. They also say that other asses, both tame and wild, and the other solid-hoofed animals have no astragalus or bile in the liver. However, these creatures do have an astragalus and bile in the liver. The astragalus, which is similar in size and shape to that of an ox, is the most beautiful I have ever seen. It is as heavy as lead and the color of cinnabar even at its deepest points. This animal is extremely swift and strong and neither horse nor any other animal can overtake it in pursuit. It begins running slowly, but the longer it runs, the more speed it picks up as it exerts itself brilliantly. Usually this animal cannot be hunted, but when they bring their young to pasture and are surrounded by many men on horseback, they choose not to flee and abandon their colts; rather, they fight both with their horn and by kicking and biting. They kill many horses and men, but they are taken down by the bow and javelin, as one could never capture them alive. Their flesh is inedible on account of its bitterness, but they are hunted for their horns and astragaloi.

Photius (c. 815–897), summarizing Ctesias of Cnidus (4th cent. BC), Indica, §45, tr. Andrew Nichols.

The Orsæan Indians hunt down a kind of ape, which has the body white all over; as well as a very fierce animal called the monoceros, which has the head of the stag, the feet of the elephant, and the tail of the boar, while the rest of the body is like that of the horse; it makes a deep lowing noise, and has a single black horn, which projects from the middle of its forehead, two cubits in length. This animal, it is said, cannot be taken alive.

Pliny the Elder (23–79), Natural History, tr. John Bostock and H. T. Riley (1855). Book 8, chapter 31.

Umber Hulk

[The umber hulk is] just a tough monster I made up from my imagination so the players would have something new and difficult to deal with.

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

The umber hulk a creation made from the whole cloth of my imagination. they were meant to be a considerable challenge to potent PCs, so they were given [intelligence and culture].

Gary Gygax (1938–2008), February 29, 2004, EN World Q&A VI