Wandering Monsters - Big, Strong, and Dumb

Wandering Monsters
Big, Strong, and Dumb
by James Wyatt

Those of you who have tangled with ogres and trolls in your D&D games know that these creatures can bring the hurt. This week, James takes a look at both of these monsters, plus discusses ogre mages (or oni if you prefer).

Talk about this article here.
I like these big brutes and its fun to design encounters with them.



It just too bad the current interation of the rules results in Ogres and Trolls that go down in under two rounds....


Whack - sneak attack for 21 (hitting on a 7 and doing average damage for L3); Smack - fighter hits for 14 (hitting on a 9 and doing average damage at L3) - oops, no more Ogre. 



I guess if you gave them a chance of squishing the PC when they fell on them you could make them a little scary.

Carl
I think they got the intelligence of Ogres and Trolls mixed up.  Trolls should be dumb brutes, and Ogres should be slightly less stupid.  Other than that I think everything else was okay.  I want Ogre Magi to be officially called Oni though.  I always hated the confusion the name Ogre Mage introduced since as far back as the AD&D 1e Monster Manual.

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Love the article.
I really like comparing trolls to kudzu - it's how I've represented them before, but I don't think it's how the average DM has. 

"Troll Infestation" is actually a common term in my gaming world.

Though I do treat trolls a LOT more like the Xenomorph from the Alien franchise.  
The article itself sounds good but the trend toward making everything in the monstrer manual dumb, clumsy, and otherwise brain dead seems to me to be a problem. 

With all this stupidity, social ineptitude, and lack of creativity or guile just seems wrong.

How did these things evolve enough to become the powerful threats they are. Middle to high HD monsters are way tougher than the people who populate the world but if they aren't at lest somewhat as intelligent then they will fall to superior tactics and ingenuity. No adventurers needed.

Is there some greater being out there spontaneously spawning things specifically for us to fight?  Are these dumb assed bruits smart enough to come in out of the rain or to avoid natural hazards? Why aren't they already extinct?

It's looking like a trend where everything we encounter is lucky to have an ability score over 8 except in one area.

Since saving throws and skill checks are based on these ability scores, and the average character using the array has only one number below 10 and the monsters having only one above 8 it seems that the only thing in the game that is going to be a threat to a party is another group of adventurers, or a monster that does 10 d10 damage when it accidently makes a successful melee attack.
I think they got the intelligence of Ogres and Trolls mixed up.  Trolls should be dumb brutes, and Ogres should be slightly less stupid.


I always thought they were equally stupid.  Trolls got regeneration and ogres got big clubs and small humanoids to bully (or were themselves bullied into service by giants)

1e always seemed to have these hierarchies of creaures
Orc < Ogre < Hill Giant < Giant (or various types) < Titan
Goblin < Hobgoblin < Bugbear < Drider < Drow (of various classes and levels)
Kobold < Troglodyte < Lizardfolk < Dragonkin < Dragons (of various ages and colors)
Locathah < Shauagin < Ixitzatchitl < Aboleth

And some humanoids, like trolls, simply existed outside the hierarchies.  You didn't impress a troll into service and a troll didn't impress lesser creatures into service.  At most, if you lived ina dungeon and a troll ended up on your wandering monster table, you just stayed clear of it and hoped the adventurers ran into it first.
@Tlantl: 

- If we're even going to try to take a realistic approach (and I don't demonize it like many fantasy enthusiasts) - I'd wonder how primitive man would have ever survived such a intensely hostile world. 

The answer would be - of course - that the shamans had real power.

But even during this time - ogres and trolls would have had a very easy time propulating large swaths of area.

And - let's face it, in nearly every D&D campaign world - monsters are on the "fringe" of civilization. In essence - nearly every species in the Monster Manual is likely close to the brink of extinction due to the dominance of a handful of violent technologically advanced races (art imitating life I suppose)

====

And animals have intelligence enough to survive natural disasters... why wouldn't a sub-par human intelligence creature be able to?

Apes don't "come in out of the rain" - though, of course, they seek some form of shelter.

Why would a troll even care about a natural disaster - unless that disaster came with lava to introduce it to actual death?

====

My point: There's a reason why you're playing a human (or elf, genasi, etc) - and "monsters" haven't killed off the civilized races.  That 7 Intelligence.

Imagine a troll with the ability to cast heal or protection spells - or become invisible - or whatever.

People whine about overpowered mages now... if these creatures with powerful "natural" abilities could keep up with the one thing the playable races have (their intelligence) - the outrage would be outrageous.
While I have always been a fan of the Norway troll in all it's varieties, this is definitely a DnD classic troll.
We're ready maste-
I'M NOT READY!
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I like my ogres and trolls as big dumb brutes. Ogres are more aggressive with better weapons and trolls more defensive with regeneration.

As for ogre mage, I see them as a recessive trait of ogres. Some ogres carry the smart trait and sometimes an ogre is born with high intelligence. Even with smarts the lack of education, jealousy of their peers, and life in a culture of stupid might trap a potential ogre mage in the life of a dumb brute. But if an ogre mage happens to not eat the spell book of the wizard they just killed... Watch Out.

Orzel, Halfelven son of Zel, Mystic Ranger, Bane to Dragons, Death to Undeath, Killer of Abyssals, King of the Wilds. Constitution Based Class for Next!

I think it was a good article overall. 

Also, i prefer the name Ogre Magi to Oni. 
Also, i prefer the name Ogre Magi to Oni. 


Agreed with this.

Do we really need to continue with semi-racist real-world-race-culture references?  I mean, I suppose it could be worse, and we could go with the actually racist "Japanese Ogre" mentioned in the poll....
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Yeah - dwarf and elf are racist to Vikings! 

Wut?

"Oni" isn't a derogatory term for Japanese people.  How is it "racist"?

I prefer "Oni" because I'm sick of all westernized fantasy.  People (especially Americans) could do with a little education. 
Not everything racist is derogatory.
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"Oni" isn't a derogatory term for Japanese people.  How is it "racist"?

I prefer "Oni" because I'm sick of all westernized fantasy.  People (especially Americans) could do with a little education. 



That's what the Kara-Tur setting is for.  We don't need Eastern monsters outside of specific campaign settings in a Western centric game.
@Maxperson: You really want me to go through the list of Non-European creatures that exist in the Monster Manuals? 

I'll start with - Sphinx, Djinn, Genie, Naga, Deva. Tengu, Ki Lin, Bunyip, Pheonix, Zombie (sorry - no "zombies" in Medieval Europe) and Rakshasa. TIME TO GO FOLKS!  

Plus - "Kara-Tur" is Forgotten Realms. It's awfully presumptuous to think everyone who plays a set of generic rules used for world building... uses only one world.

YOUR D&D may be a "Western Centric" game... but I'd find that entirely too boring. "MY" D&D is a world-centric game. 

===

@Mand12: So elf, dwarf and kobold are racist as well then yes?  Or is it not racist because it's from Europe?
Context matters, Nox.  Elf has gone through a pretty radical departure from the Norse meaning of the word and the context as an element of fantasy.  Blame Tolkien, mostly, but then also pretty much every fantasy book and game since him that has evolved the concept beyond its traditional roots.

Compare that to Oni, which most people are going to be far less familiar with.  Only unless they've actually seen that D&D-specific reference before are they going to get it (aside from a few other references - Oni Link comes to mind).  And, considering it's basically "the same as any ogre, only smarter and better" and it's a specifically Japanese reference, that's where we start running into issues of stereotyping.

Your false equivalence goes even thinner when applying it to Kobolds.  Kobolds in D&D are nothing like the myth - they share only the name. 

As for Dwarf, they're actually the closest to an actual mythological entity.  Now, have they turned into a Scottish-accented, beer-drinking, bearded caricature?  Sure, but that has nothing to do with the myth.  Just about the only thing that has survived is the underground thing and affinity with rocks and smithing.  But again, context matters.  Saying something is a dwarf-like trait has nothing to do with any stereotypical German qualities, whereas Oni does.
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@Mand12: Have you seen some of the pictures of Ogre-Magi?  Sometimes they're blue - sometimes have samurai imagery - other times, kabuki style imagery - and distinctly Asian in origin. 

Still - I'm not sure why you're not opposed to all those other "Foreigners" I named up top - cause not a single one of them originates from Europe.

And... what you're saying is, because people are educated about elves - even if that "education" is a Tolkienized bastardization of the Lios Alfar and Xvaart Alfar (or Dok Alfar) of the Germanic tradition... that it's okay to use them, but god forbid we educate people about other cultures, even if that beginning comes with iconic cultural images.

Making a Varana (the race of monkey people that Hanuman is from in Vedic tradition) have colorful clothing and face paints...be bejeweled and sitting in lotus position would not be "stereotyping" it would be using "iconic imagery".
@Maxperson: You really want me to go through the list of Non-European creatures that exist in the Monster Manuals? 

I'll start with - Sphinx, Djinn, Genie, Naga, Deva. Tengu, Ki Lin, Bunyip, Pheonix, Zombie (sorry - no "zombies" in Medieval Europe) and Rakshasa. TIME TO GO FOLKS!



Other than the Ki-lin and perhaps the Naga, the rest are readily recongnizable to the west.  I'm ignoring Bunyip since it came out in an obscure MM when the designers had already more or less exhausted their supply of creatures.  Come to think of it, Ki-Lin also came out in one of the obscure MMs.

I would not be upse to see Ki-Lin and Bunyip relegated to the Kara-Tur setting.

Plus - "Kara-Tur" is Forgotten Realms. It's awfully presumptuous to think everyone who plays a set of generic rules used for world building... uses only one world.



Kara-Tur is the Asian setting and it can be put into any campaign.  It is just named Kara-Tur in Forgotten Realms.  Pretty sure that in 3e, it was the Lo5R generic setting and not really Kara-Tur. 

YOUR D&D may be a "Western Centric" game... but I'd find that entirely too boring. "MY" D&D is a world-centric game.



Take a look around at every edition ever put out.  It's western centric.  You may homebrew yours into something different, but a western centric D&D is fact, not "my" D&D.   


@Mand12: Have you seen some of the pictures of Ogre-Magi?  Sometimes they're blue - sometimes have samurai imagery - other times, kabuki style imagery - and distinctly Asian in origin.


I'm not objecting to pulling the name and the art from a real-world culture.  I'm objecting to the "like a normal one, but smarter" being given the Japanese adjective/name.  It's fairly widespread, and it's not a good thing.
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I actually prefer Oni or Ogre Mage depending on the fluff.

If it is a completely different species of ogre or a race of offshoot ogres with inherent magical abilities, then name them oni.

If they are a rare mutation of smart ogre that appears randomly in some ogre litters who manage to teach themselves magic, then they are ogre mage and are actually high INT ogre wizards.

Orzel, Halfelven son of Zel, Mystic Ranger, Bane to Dragons, Death to Undeath, Killer of Abyssals, King of the Wilds. Constitution Based Class for Next!

@Mand12: "What" is "fairly widespread". 

You do know that "ogres" originated in Arabia too right?

So they technically can't be in Maxperson's Euro-topia.
You're not reading my posts.  Try again.  I don't care whether it's euro-centric or not, the point is that applying stereotypes of real-world races to fictional fantasy elements that reference those real-world races should not be done.

If we described ogres as turban-wearing suicide bombers, or dwarves as master-race supremacists, I'd have the exact same complaint.
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@Mand12: "What" is "fairly widespread". 

You do know that "ogres" originated in Arabia too right?

So they technically can't be in Maxperson's Euro-topia.



Are you serious?  When you have to to scrounge up a smattering of non-western monsters, you have proven me right, not wrong.  D&D is western centric and the rest is not. 
@Mand12: "What" is "fairly widespread". 

You do know that "ogres" originated in Arabia too right?

So they technically can't be in Maxperson's Euro-topia.



Are you serious?  When you have to to scrounge up a smattering of non-western monsters, you have proven me right, not wrong.  D&D is western centric and the rest is not. 


Agreed, it's an established fact/tradition that D&D is Eurocentric. Much like the Europe of old, D&D has seen elements of other cultures and taken them for its own. 
@Mand12: I suppose I don't ascribe "Just like European people only smarter." to the Japanese. So I guess that's where we're not connecting.

Being "blue" and wearing "stylized armor" isn't what you're taking issue with.

===

@ Maxperson: A smattering?

Well - since Tolkien isn't "mythology" - orc does not derive from any source known in mythology.

That goes with nearly ALL Far-Realms creatures - who haven't existed prior to D&D (or HP Lovecraft/Robert Howard)  

The Deva was a race in the 3rd PHB of 4th Edition... hardly "fringe" and ogre isn't either.

===

So - how many races DO come from European mythology?

Quite a few - but largely Greek. Which was in no way EVER indicative of Medieval Europe...

"But I didn't say medieval."

Oh - but D&D is as much western centric as it is medieval centric. ((And truthfully far less "Western" centric - since the Americas are in the Western hemisphere as well - but you're happy to throw them into Maztica I wager.))

So ancient world creatures in general should not be involved... since there was only one minotaur.. one gorgon (one Medusa specifically) .. only a handful of harpies...

====

And you can throw out the Demons and Devils... cause not a single one of them is European... so "smattering my ass".

With the Outer Planers alone I'd win the argument.

It's only European (and Medieval European) centric... to someone who has no idea where all this stuff comes from (which is most people to be sure).
@Mand12: Have you seen some of the pictures of Ogre-Magi?  Sometimes they're blue - sometimes have samurai imagery - other times, kabuki style imagery - and distinctly Asian in origin.


I'm not objecting to pulling the name and the art from a real-world culture.  I'm objecting to the "like a normal one, but smarter" being given the Japanese adjective/name.  It's fairly widespread, and it's not a good thing.



Except that mischaracterizes what is being done.  They aren't being called Japanese Ogres or Oni because they are smarter.  (That would be racist).


They are being called Japanese Ogres or Oni and described as intelligent and magic using because that is what the creature from their myths looks like.

Thus, it is not 'racist'.  It is recognizing that different cultures have different big and scary monsters/

The key is:  The Oni and the Ogre are too wholly unrelated monsters that just happen to both be big and scary.

The only connection they really have with each other is the accident of publication which resulted in the Oni being called an 'Ogre Mage' in the AD&D monster manual.

And Max:  "Sphinx, Djinn, Genie, Naga, Deva. Tengu, Ki Lin, Bunyip, Pheonix, Zombie and Rakshasa: are NOT all more recognizeable to 'the west'.  Of those only Zombie (which is from the west), Phoenix,  Sphinx (because of the big statue and its presence in Greek, i.e. western legends) and the Djinn/Genie (because of Aladdin) are known to most people outside of our circle.   And note - most of those are actually Western.

THe Rakshasa, Deva, Tengu, Ki lin/ ki rin (aside from the beer brand) are almost totally unknown to non-gamers. 

The only reason you don't just put Oni into that same list is because when the monster under discussion entered the gamer awareness it was called an Ogre mage, not an Oni (and because those games who borrow their 'creativity' from D&D have copied D&D in this as in many other aspects ever since).  If they had gone with Oni from the start, this conversation would never take place.  I don't hear people arguing for Anglicized names for Rakshasa, Deva, Tengu, Ki rin or any of the others.  So why stick with an inaccurate anglicized name for the Oni?

Just because 'that's the way Gary did it?"

Carl

edit:  My memory started bugging me so I went back and looked - the "ogre mage" first appears in Greyhawk supplement to OD&D, not the AD&D MM.    With the phrase "These are properly Japanese Ogres, far more powerful than their Western cousins!" in the text.
@Mand12: I suppose I don't ascribe "Just like European people only smarter." to the Japanese. So I guess that's where we're not connecting.


I'm with you on this.  Other than katanas and ogre magi, I don't know of anything Japanese that is considered superior to its Western counterpart in D&D. 

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Well - since Tolkien isn't "mythology" -


I'd challenge you on that one.  Not all mythology has to be ancient and of uncertain authorship.
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@Mand12: Feel free if you wish. 

I love Tolkien too - but he took from mythology and turned it into modern fiction.  He did not invent his own mythology (in all things). 

I believe some measure of time needs to pass before you can consider his work an "addition to the mythology of X". And still - I would not.  Tolkien's works aren't even "dated" let alone "old" or --- "ancient".

The reason I would not consider his work mythology - ever - is this: 

Our mythology is based in our world... not in fictional universes (even with the addition of places like Olympus which are reserved for divine or semi-divine beings.)



@ Maxperson: A smattering?



Yes.

Well - since Tolkien isn't "mythology" - orc does not derive from any source known in mythology.



You're claiming that Tolkien wasn't European?  Also, if you look up the history of Orcs, he took it from Beowulf.........European Mythology.  To quote Tolkien,  "I originally took the word from Old English orc (Beowulf 112 orc-neas and the gloss orc = þyrs ('ogre'), heldeofol ('hell-devil')). " 

That goes with nearly ALL Far-Realms creatures - who haven't existed prior to D&D (or HP Lovecraft/Robert Howard) 



More European author.  Note.  I said western centric, not western mythology.  You're moving the goalposts. 

The Deva was a race in the 3rd PHB of 4th Edition... hardly "fringe" and ogre isn't either.



If it's not part of the western centric D&D, then it falls outside the center, no matter how popular it is. 

So - how many races DO come from European mythology?



That's irrelevant.  If it comes from a western source, it's part of the western centric D&D.  

Quite a few - but largely Greek. Which was in no way EVER indicative of Medieval Europe...



Greek mythology was picked up by the Romans.  You know, those guys in Italy ;)  Also, western culture has also adopted the Greek mythos as part of its mainstream popular culture.  Do a Google search for movies based on Greek mythology.  Japanese mythology by comparison, is popular with only an extreme minority of people in the west.

So ancient world creatures in general should not be involved... since there was only one minotaur.. one gorgon (one Medusa specifically) .. only a handful of harpies...



I looked, but I couldn't seem to find where anyone, including me, said that western centric meant, "Absolutely true to the mythology that inspired it." 

And you can throw out the Demons and Devils... cause not a single one of them is European... so "smattering my ass".



Wait!  Are you actually claiming that demons and devils aren't a part of European religion? 


Well - since Tolkien isn't "mythology" -


I'd challenge you on that one.  Not all mythology has to be ancient and of uncertain authorship.



I'll take that challenge.


The Mythology of a culture is a collection of beliefs - things which they did or do believe to be true.

Although Tolkien did set out to write a new mythology for the English people, what he wrote is not believed to be true by anyone and thus it is a pseudo-mythology.

If some post-apocalyptic culture comes across his writings and believes they represent a true history, he will have written a mythology.


Carl
@Maxperson:

*sigh* Alright - alright.

Enjoy your D&D... I can re-name the ogre magi to what it was originally styled after anyway.

And you can have Pop-Culture Euro Adventurer Land... and we're all happy. 

======

I'm sorry that you think Christianity originated in Europe - and that you think ha-satan and his band of merry douchebags originated from this make believe European Christianity... but run with that. 

I can rename all that to the factual versions also. 


Mythology Smithology.
To me it comes down to what is presented.

Naturally magical shapeshifting giants shaped like ogres: Oni

Smart ogres who learn magic and lead their dumber cousins: Ogre Mage

Orzel, Halfelven son of Zel, Mystic Ranger, Bane to Dragons, Death to Undeath, Killer of Abyssals, King of the Wilds. Constitution Based Class for Next!

@Maxperson:

*sigh* Alright - alright.

Enjoy your D&D... I can re-name the ogre magi to what it was originally styled after anyway.



One again, it isn't MY anything.  It's the way D&D is. 

and we're all happy.



That's all that really matters.     

I'm sorry that you think Christianity originated in Europe - and that you think ha-satan and his band of merry douchebags originated from this make believe European Christianity... but run with that. 



I doesn't matter where something orginates if it is not only adopted completely by another culture, but almost entirely stolen away.  In today's world, Christianity is a western religion.  Europe and the U.S. have the vast majority of its membership. 



I'm sorry that you think Christianity originated in Europe - and that you think ha-satan and his band of merry douchebags originated from this make believe European Christianity... but run with that. 

I can rename all that to the factual versions also. 



Whether a thing originated in a place does not determine whether a thing is of a place.  Two thousand years of history do matter.
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Mythology Smithology. To me it comes down to what is presented. Naturally magical shapeshifting giants shaped like ogres: Oni Smart ogres who learn magic and lead their dumber cousins: Ogre Mage



 Exactly. I believe they should be two different things. An ogre mage should exist as an ogre who is smarter than most of his race and has magical talents. An oni on the other hand should not be related to ogres at all. Similar in appearance to the ogre mage but no actual relation.
Mythology Smithology. To me it comes down to what is presented. Naturally magical shapeshifting giants shaped like ogres: Oni Smart ogres who learn magic and lead their dumber cousins: Ogre Mage



 Exactly. I believe they should be two different things. An ogre mage should exist as an ogre who is smarter than most of his race and has magical talents. An oni on the other hand should not be related to ogres at all. Similar in appearance to the ogre mage but no actual relation.



Sure.  Two separate entries in the Bestiary:  Ogre and Oni.

And, just as there are goblin leaders (listed under goblin) and orc leaders (listed under orc) there may be ogre leaders (listed under ogres) and maybe some of them have magical (shamanistic) powers and maybe a few people call them Ogre Magi.  But the blue-skinned, flying, polymorphing, cone of cold breathing (or whatever) creature that was called an Ogre mage in the old books is not that "ogre leader".  Even if some of them sometimes come to dominate Ogre Tribes and lead them - they just share an affinity due to their great size (The Oni don't bother to dominate smaller humanoids and the Ogres aren't fond of following anyone smaller than themselves).

Carl
Oni


  • Oni (9ft tall, flying, cold cone shooting, shapeshifting genius brute)



Ogre


  • Standard Ogre (Big, strong, dumb thing with a club and pointed sticks)

  • Ogre warrio/fight/barbarian/whatever (Big, strong, less dumb thing with a stolen weapon and some combat experience)

  • Ogre Mage  (The rare big, strong, smart thing with a spellbook)

  • Info on how to build Merrow


Troll



  • Standard Troll (big dumb regenerating giant)

  • Troll Warrior/War Troll ((big dumb regenerating giant with weapons, armor, and combat training)

  • Info on how to build Scrags

Orzel, Halfelven son of Zel, Mystic Ranger, Bane to Dragons, Death to Undeath, Killer of Abyssals, King of the Wilds. Constitution Based Class for Next!

I want an Ogre Mage to be something different than and Ogre. I don't want it called an Oni in the MM. Oni is a catch all term for demons in Japanese folklore, they don't have a set size, appearance, or set of abilities. And it doesn't fit D&D tradition. So no, I don't want an Ogre Mage to be a particularly erudite ogre or it to be called an Oni.
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