Sunday, January 20, 2013

Ancient Builder: "New" Monster

 Old Ones with Shoggoth, art by Howard V. Brown for At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft, Astounding Stories, Feb 1936 issue. Scan via Dieselpunks.

Holmes didn't provide us with many "new monsters" not found on the standard Monster List of Basic. There are few in the Sample Dungeon, mostly giant animals (giant crab, large octopus, giant snake), with partial stats and description, and which serve to show a new DM that they are not limited to the standard monsters. Holmes also provided stats for Pellucidar creatures in a letter to Alarums & Excursion #18, Jan 1977. Most extensively, he wrote up a number of entities for "The Lovecraftian Mythos in D&D" in Dragon #12, Feb 1978. Co-author Rob Kuntz wrote the entries for the deities Cthuga, Ithaqua and Yig. Holmes was responsible for the rest of the deities, as well as the "monsters": Byakhee, The Deep Ones, The Great Race, The Old Ones, The Mi-Go (Fungi from Yuggoth), and The Shaggoths [sic, for Shoggoths]. These entries were later revised and partially re-written by Jim Ward for inclusion in Deities & Demigods, where The Old Ones were retitled The Primordial Ones to avoid confusion with Lovecraft's other Old Ones such as Cthulhu. These creatures are alternately referred to as The Elder Things by Lovecraft and the Call of Cthulhu RPG.

In his novel The Maze of Peril, Holmes writes of the origin of the vast underworld: "Somewhere beneath the surface of this ancient land the tunnels and corridors of some prehistoric race coiled and raveled, delved, and probed unimaginable depths into the core of the world" (pg 3). Holmes does not further disclose the nature of this race, but Lovecraft's Old Ones are a natural fit, being both pre-human and extensive builders. Here's my analog of the Old Ones where they fulfill this role of original architects of the underworld, written up in Holmes Basic format. It also mentions Dagonites and Whisperers, which are analogs for The Deep Ones and the Mi-Go, respectively. 

Ancient Builder

Move: 120 feet/turn

Hit Dice: 8
Armor Class: 5
Treasure Type: 50% chance of 1 device with the power of a ring or wand

Alignment: neutral
Attacks: 1d4 leg tentacles
Damage: 1d8 points per tentacle

Sages speculate that the vast underworld was the effort of many races, toiling over the eons, but that it began with vast underground cities built by a pre-human race that came to the lands from regions unknown. This race of Ancient Builders flourished for a time but was eventually weakened by wars with the malign Whisperers, and ultimately overthown by their own creations, the now mindless Black Puddings. Over the ages their cities were much changed and expanded by later races such as the Dagonites and Troglodytes, but there are still occasional reports of adventurers finding hibernating Builders far below the surface.
Extreme caution is urged as these sleepers may lash out at intruders if awakened or capture them for further study without care for their well-being.  

The Builders are said to be slightly larger than man-sized, but wholly inhuman in form, with a columnar body with a ring of
tentacles at the top (sense organs) and bottom (legs), and more at the sides for grasping and holding items. From the relics of their culture it is clear they are highly intelligent albeit in fashion alien to humans, and they often wield weird devices that duplicate the powers of rings or wands (1d20 charges).

Update: The Ancient Builder now appears in the Blueholme Journeymanne rules:


  1. Wow! This is an amazing post!
    This creature, the Ancient Builder, is going straight to my DM's notebook.

    Would it be safe to say that Dr. Holmes was "bringing up" Lovecraft's critters long before it became fashionable in RPGs? (Everything now seems to draw inspiration from Lovecraft.)

    1. Thanks for the compliment, Tony.

      Yes, the article in Dragon in '78 was the first major treatment of the Cthulhu mythos that I'm aware of. Even before this, Holmes name-dropped Cthulhu, along with Zeus and Crom, as a possible deity, a for characters in the Basic rulebook in 1977. However, the earliest reference to Cthulhu in D&D that I've noted is in the description of the Gate spell in the Greyhawk supplement (1975). Kuntz was a co-author of this supplement so he may have been responsible for this.

  2. Great new monster, ZA! I especially like using the rules for wands to simulate new devices. That way the new critter sticks to the Holmes rules as much as possible.

  3. I agree, great monster write-up and excellent intro to it. Nicely done Z. :-)

  4. "[The Maze of Peril] also mentions Dagonites and Whisperers, which are analogs for The Deep Ones and the Mi-Go, respectively."

    Where are the Whisperers mentioned in The Maze of Peril? I must've missed that.

    The Dagonites in the story really are Deep Ones, not just analogues. At one point, Ebeneezer (the most knowledgeable magic-user in the story) says, "I'm not fool enough to get trapped by the Deep Ones, or locked in a cell with a bunch of idiots." (page 105) He is the only character in the story who recognizes the creatures for what they are. Elsewhere, they are called Dagonites, "Frog-Heads" (as opposed to the weresharks, Dagonite "Fish-Heads"), "Frog-Men" and "bachtrians."

    I believe the term "bachtrians" is a typo (and should not be confused with "bactrian," a type of camel). The word should be "batrachian," which means "frog-like" or "amphibian." August Derleth repeatedly described the Deep Ones with this word in The Trail of Cthulhu.

    1. My pronoun "It" refers to my write-up of the Ancient Builders: sorry for the confusion!

      Great find on the specific mention of Deep Ones in the Maze of Peril text. I wonder if Holmes perhaps wrote the story using Deep Ones and then changed it to Dagonites later on?