Thirty years of D&D / Cthulhu / other RPGs, and there are still monsters I have never used. On the other hand, there are monsters I’ve used so much – and I mean, so much – they almost deserve an award of some kind. Like, Most Valuable Monster...
Here’s a list of my Top Five MVMs. Other longtime DMs may very well have a completely different Top Five, of course.
Ghouls? Not orcs or zombies? Lemme tell you why that is. Ghouls are present in Call of Cthulhu, Dungeons & Dragons, and Vampire: The Masquerade (which I ran for ten years). It figures...
There are no “regular” monsters in the White Wolf games; no beholders or trolls or giants or dragons. It’s just vampires, werewolves, wraiths, ghouls, and at the end they added mummies and fairies and banes (demons) – the page count became ridiculous, and it sorta fell apart, like True Blood, you know, when there are no more “normal” humans left anywhere. Whenever the PCs had to fight in any Masquerade scenario, it almost certainly involved a few ghouls. Every strong vampire had his own ghouls to serve as guards, scouts, or agents. “Outlawed” vampires had frightening quantities of them. And then there was that persistent plague of ghouls-without-a-master, those were the worst, a real nuisance.
I also used my fair share of ghouls in Cthulhu, even though I had many other options in the Lesser Monsters department. And I sure jammed a lot of skeletons, zombies, and ghouls into my D&D campaigns, because clerics turn them two times out of three anyway – and when they don’t, it’s fun to watch: D&D ghouls have this paralyzation ability which provides a delightful additional layer of unexpected mayhem.
Can’t speak for other DMs out there, but the ghoul is, without a shadow of a doubt, the one monster I used the most in my DMing career.
Cultists are not technically “monsters”, but what the heck – they’re so much fun! The dialogue is never demanding, because cultists rarely deliver elaborate exposés like Bond villains; they simply shriek: “Ia! Shub-Niggurath!” and lash out savagely.
I love cultists.
They don’t wanna talk. They don’t come knocking on your door like Jehovah’s Witnesses. They have absolute faith in their stuff but never try converting anybody else to it; they leave your own religious beliefs alone and just kill you with the most elegant of all weapons – curved knives.
#3 Formless Spawns
I’m crazy about the formless spawns of Tsathoggua, even though Tsathoggua himself isn’t my favourite Great Old One. The formless spawn, like the shoggoth, is formless – so it can be anything: bubbly, spiky, flat, thick, round, long, and it fits everywhere! It can pass right through iron fences, shuttered windows, or silently slip under a locked door. It’s the only lovecraftian creature I ever adapted into D&D. Never used any black pudding, ochre jelly, or green slime, because I replaced them all with my cool “D&D Formless Spawn”... One player hated them so much he once called me “Tsathoggua” in gym class while picking a team for basketball practice.
Needless to say, I also used them by default in almost every Call of Cthulhu adventure I ran. What an awesome monster!
#4 Golems / Gargoyles
I’m a sucker for plausibility, and I always wonder: what is this particular monster doing there? With golems and gargoyles and other animated statues, you do not have that problem. They were placed there in that very room, or in that corridor, fifty years, or a hundred, or two hundred years ago, and when anyone walks in, they magically activate and attack – no food, water, or explanation required. I used scores of these guys.
This one is self-explanatory. Any DM who read Tolkien will be using orcs by the dozen, indoors, outdoors, everywhere. It’s the Generic Fantasy Monster, and I had an awful LOT of Gruumsh’s Children whacked in my games. Sorry, Gruumsh. Love you, buddy.