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The Decamer Campaign: Start with D&D’s 10 Stupidest Monsters…

Posted By Martin Ralya On November 12, 2009 @ 2:44 am In GMing Advice | 22 Comments

This idea hit me like a bolt from the blue, and I knew I had to write an article about it. It’s weird, but the more I thought about it, the more I liked it.

Welcome to the Decamer Campaign concept, which I hope features just the right amount of crazy.

“Decamer” is short for “deca,” as in 10, plus “merde,” as in shit.

Step 1: Choose D&D’s 10 Stupidest Monsters

I’ll freely admit that I love gelatinous cubes. I have a gelatinous cube mini on my desk, and the cube contains minis for my first D&D character and my longest-running character.

But there are folks out there — maybe even you! — who (brace yourself) think gelatinous cubes are really stupid. And they’re wrong, wrong, wrong, and probably kill puppies in their spare time, too I can kind of see where they’re coming from.

In other words: One D&D player’s stupid is another D&D player’s awesome.

So: Step one is to choose the 10 monsters in D&D you think are the stupidest, from any edition. Seriously.

Don’t think about it for more than about five minutes, and don’t cheat and try to pick 10 that are secretly kind of cool. You have to think these monsters are dumb, dumb, dumb.

Here’s my list, in no particular order (and the real problem is picking just 10!):

1. Slaad

You know what’s not scary? Frogs. You know what doesn’t make them scarier? Turning them into giant, bipedal frog monsters.

It doesn’t help that it’s hard not to read their name as “salad,” or that they seem to be one of D&D’s classic filler monsters, along with elementals, golems, and giants.

Monster book developer: “We’re short five pages.”

Monster creator: “No problem — let’s add fuschia slaad, effervescent slaad, bluish-greenish slaad, and a template for 1/4-slaad, 1/2-giant, 1/4-elementals.”

2. Giant Space Hamster

I like Spelljammer. I even like hamsters. But what clearer sign could there be that your party has hit the skids than having to fight a giant hamster in space?

Recently resurrected adventurer: “What happened? Where am I?”

Fellow party member: “We brought you back from the dead. You…uh…you were killed by [giggles]…a hamster.

Recently resurrected adventurer: “The fuck I was! I have like a billion hit points!”

Fellow party member: “In all fairness…[giggles] it was a LARGE hamster.”

3. Owlbear

Owl + bear = I don’t know, a less frightening bear whose head can rotate 360 degrees, maybe?

Why this is a “classic” monster baffles me — unless it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Why stop at owl + bear?

Bring on the wafflerhinoceros (rhino + breakfast food), the dickbat (giant bat + schlong), and the churchsteeplemeerkat (religious architecture + weird rodent thing)!

Scout: “There’s an owlbear up ahead, sir. We should detour around it.”

Commander: “Is it like a bear that can fly?”

Scout: “Nossir. It can’t fly.”

Commander: “Ah, so it’s more like an owl with a bear’s ferocious bite?

Scout: “Nossir. It’s more like a bear with a beak, actually.”

Commander: “Somehow I think we’ll be able to survive, soldier.”

4. Dinosaurs

Nothing says fantasy like dinosaurs.

Wait, that can’t be right. It should be “Nothing says fantasy less than dinosaurs except maybe robots.”

Granted, in Eberron halflings ride dinosaurs — briefly making halflings cool, albeit still not really a fantasy trope for the ages.

Player: “Wait…did you say ‘You see a T-rex up ahead’? In a fantasy game?”

GM: “Yep. Its jaws are glistening with saliva as it turns its –”

Player: “Fuck you, man. I’m going home.”

5. Ocularon

It looks like a giant, floating nutsack.

It collects eyeballs.

It’s full of toxic gas, and explodes when you kill it.

It flies at 90′ per round with perfect maneuverability.

Player: “Shit! It sucked out my eyes and killed me! I’m at -12.”

GM: “It flies straight up in the air, then flies back down at Mach 1 and slaps its gigantic, gas-filled balls across your forehead. Teabagged, motherfucker!”

6. Senmurv

Why do the paragons of good-aligned creatures in D&D always look like a truck full of kittens crashing into a rainbow factory?

The senmurv is a perfect example: they’re giant, upright huskies with feathery rainbow wings in place of their front paws. You can also ride them.

Good deity: “I need a fearsome champion of all that is good…how about I mash together a sled dog, an eagle, and a rainbow. Let me pull some Scrabble tiles to name it…S-E-N-M-U-R-V — that’ll work. Damn, I’m good!”

Evil deity: “I need a fearsome champion of all that is evil…how about a winged demon the size of a house that carries a massive sword and a whip made from living fire — that sounds awesome. I’ll call it a pit fiend, so you know it means business. Damn, I’m good!”

7. Giff

Oh, Spelljammer, when will you learn? Hippopotamus + Victorian-era naval uniform + flintlock pistol != anything remotely close to awesome.

And to make things worse, they were one of Spelljammer’s iconic races.

Fuck you, space hippos.

Player: “OK, Spelljammer is actually pretty cool so far. I’m sorry I whined about it before — I just didn’t think D&D in space was going to make any sense.”

GM: “Awesome! I’m glad you like it. Now roll for initiative — you’re being boarded by a ship full of space hippos in bowler hats. They have muskets.”

Player: “You asshole.”

8. Hecatoncheires

The Epic Level Handbook is one of the worst D&D books ever written, so it’s no surprise it spawned at least one thundercrap of a monster.

It looks like a tree with tentacles at its base, plate armor, 50 heads, and 100 arms — and each arm is holding a greatsword.

Yes, it gets 100 attacks per round…in 3rd Edition, a game where combat generally takes about 30 seconds of in-game time and six fucking hours or real-world time.

Won’t that be fun to fight!

Player: “Finally! We made it to epic level! I hope we fight something awesome tonight!”

GM: “Dude, you so will. Check this thing out: [shows picture of hecatoncheires]. I’m going to spread this battle across our next 12 sessions. If you lose initiative, you’ll probably get to attack it sometime around session eight.

Player: “You asshole.”

9. Phasm

Upper left: floppy dong.

Rest of image: giant blue nutsack.

Entire concept: Worst thing to be killed by in D&D, ever.

GM: “You see a phasm up ahead. It jiggles at you.”

Player: “You asshole.”

10. Dragonne

In and of themselves, dragonnes aren’t lame. But in a world where dragons exist, they’re like the ultimate bait-and-switch.

What’s one of the coolest, most epic foes you can face in D&D — at any level? Dragons, motherfucker.

What’s the cheap knockoff of a dragon, the “Goucci” to a dragon’s Gucci? That’s right: the dragonne.

Player: “Dude, a dragon! We’re going to get a chance to fight a dragon?! That’s totally awesome! I’ve been playing D&D for 10 years, and I can count the number of dragons I’ve fought on one hand. This is going to rock.

GM: “Actually, it’s a dragonne, with an “N-E” and the end.”

Player: “What the fuck is that?”

GM: “It’s like a dragon, only lame.

Player: “You asshole.”

Step 2: These 10 Monsters are the Focus of Your Entire Campaign

Step two is really just a pause while you adjust to this idea. Yes, the Decamer Campaign is based on these monsters — no excuses.

  • You must use them all.
  • They have to be front and center, the focus of the campaign.
  • And it still has to be a fun game for everyone at the table.

That’s the challenge: What can you do with this set of tools? Think of it like a haiku, but all you have to work with are the stupidest words in the English language.

Step 3: Now What?

Step three starts with a fork: you can run the Decamer Campaign as a joke game, or you can take it seriously and try to run a “normal” campaign wrapped around this concept.

I’ve never played a long-running humorous game, but I’ve played and run my share of Og: The Caveman RPG, Bunnies and Burrows, and Paranoia — joke games are a lot of fun.

I honestly don’t think much advice is needed on doing Decamer this way — just make it funny, and perhaps don’t try for an epic, 10-year-long campaign.

The other side — trying to turn these 10 turds into a coherent, enjoyable game, sounds trickier to me.

And it really depends on what 10 monsters you picked. I pulled two themes, a nemesis organization, a shift in D&D lore, a “pinnacle foe,” and a setting out of my list:

  • Mad wizards: slaad, giant space hamster, owlbear, senmurv, giff. These are all weird hybrids of other creatures, and if memory serves “created by a mad wizard” is actually canon for how owlbears might have come to exist in D&D. To blow this out to a campaign theme, I’d create an organization of mad wizards to oppose the PCs, and scale which Decamer monsters (and other critters) the party faces according to their level. Since fully half my monsters are part of this theme, I’d say it’s the major hook for the whole campaign.
  • No dragons: dragonne. When are dragonnes not lame? When dragons don’t exist, and they’re the top of the fantasy food chain. I’d delve into or create lore around why they’re actually awesome, rather than being “lite dragons.” All the legends in the world of great slayers would involve dragonnes, and I’d probably wind up developing a few different versions to challenge the PCs at different levels.
  • Ancient jungles: dinosaurs, phasm, ocularon. When I think dinosaurs, I think lost jungles, ancient temples, and hidden places — so I’d extend that theme to the phasm and ocularon, both of which have kind of a creepy “spore monster” vibe to them. Minus the obvious cock and balls references, they could make decent jungle guardians. I’d also use the jungle theme to form the basis of the setting for the campaign — making the jungle more “vanilla fantasy” somehow, without losing what makes ancient jungles cool.
  • The ultimate threat: hecatoncheires. With a house rule to abstract their 100 attacks into something manageable, a single, unique hecatoncheires could be the tarrasque of this campaign world. Created by ancient mad wizards, it would overshadow the whole campaign — towns would be destroyed by it before it returned to its slumber, and the PCs would catch glimpses of it throughout their adventuring careers. At the close of the campaign, they’d fight it.

So to sum that up, my Decamer Campaign would be set in a fantasy-ified ancient jungle, feature an organization of mad wizards as the PCs’ nemesis (and their creations as the party’s central foes), include legends around dragonnes — replacing the role of the dragon in traditional D&D settings — and would build up to a truly epic fight with a hecatoncheires.

I’d actually run that as a GM, and I’d actually play it as a player — it doesn’t sound half bad. With more than 10 minutes of thought to tie it together, and a couple hours of brainstorming, note-taking, and fruitful streams of consciousness, I think I could create a fun Decamer Campaign using this list of turds.

How about you? What would your Decamer list be? And how would you turn it into a Decamer Campaign?

About  Martin Ralya

A father, husband, writer, small-press publisher, former RPG industry freelancer, and lifelong geek, Martin has been gaming since 1987 and GMing since 1989. He lives in Utah with his amazing wife Alysia and their awesome daughter Lark in a house full of books and games.




22 Comments (Open | Close)

22 Comments To "The Decamer Campaign: Start with D&D’s 10 Stupidest Monsters…"

#1 Comment By Idran On November 12, 2009 @ 4:16 am

The art for the senmurv might look silly, but it’s a legitimate mythological creature. It’s also known as the simurgh, and it’s one of the largest icons of Iranian mythology. It’s a cornerstone of Sufism.

The hecatonchire’s also mythological, but it’s much more minor. Blasting the senmurv because they had a silly picture in D&D is a little silly itself.

#2 Comment By trisj On November 12, 2009 @ 7:11 am

I want to say I am glad/disappointed that you did not mention the Ethereal Filcher. The Ethereal Filcher is totally silly/awesome.

And I would like to say I used it once to steal a near-sighted wizard’s ‘bifocals of detect magic’ and had planned to use it again as the whole reason starting point for a campaign. Reworked for 4th edition, they were running through a city, stealing magic items. It’s totally usable.

I love the Ethereal Filcher. It looks stupid, it doesn’t really have eyes, it can just take stuff and GO. But everyone I know hates it. I just want to throw this out there for people who might not have ever basked in the turquoise and white glory of this ridiculous creature.

#3 Comment By callin On November 12, 2009 @ 9:50 am

This is a very funny article, but for a campaign it would last about 3 weeks and then people would want to move on.

#4 Comment By Scott Martin On November 12, 2009 @ 4:03 pm

I don’t know what I’d pick as my creatures– while I enjoy limiting the creatures I work with, I’d be a little afraid of picking the ten least worthwhile.

It could be interesting, I grant, but I suspect it’d head in the joke direction. Of course, games have a life of their own…

#5 Comment By John L. Williams On November 12, 2009 @ 4:57 pm

This is one of the funniest posts I’ve read in a long time. I don’t think I could run a campaign with all those creatures that didn’t involve me using psychedelic drugs. I think that would be the only way to properly visualize these monsters craptacular awesomeness, and make the game enjoyable.

#6 Comment By Mairkurion On November 12, 2009 @ 8:42 pm

There’s a pretty established tradition of stupid monster lists on the internet these days…and they’re always contentious. (For example, I cheer until I see the classic owlbear, shake my head when I see dinosaur, and then am simply confused when I see the awesome dragonne hitching a ride at the end.) I congratulate Martin for owning the nature of such lists from the beginning. Of course, he must be so traumatized from people not loving the gelatinous cube (c’mon, you’re making that up, right?) that he just isn’t thinking straight. I mean…no flumph? Stupidest monster EVAH! ;P

#7 Comment By Matthew J. Neagley On November 12, 2009 @ 9:59 pm

I admit I have a weird taste in monsters. On any list like this, I can always point out a handful that I love. Case in point:
Slaad, Owlbear, Dinosaur, Giff

Here are two “stupid monster” lists that make me laugh endlessly:
http://www.headinjurytheater.com/article73.htm
http://www.headinjurytheater.com/article95.htm

@Idran
I think you’re a bit off-base. The fact that something is a legitimate mythological monster doesn’t mean that it’s DnD interpretation isn’t patently retarded. In fact, a lot of DnD interpretations of classic mythological monsters are horribly off-base.

@Mairkurion
You step off the Flumphs or we’ll be having a back alley knife fight. Flumphs are, and always have been, really awesome.

#8 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On November 13, 2009 @ 12:18 am

That stupid armadillo that grows gems on its forehead. It’s just screaming to be ranched.

Githyanki-my-crankee. “We’re badass, and we hate everything. And we’ve got these really cool swords.”

The endless supply of treasure-imposters (mimic, etc). Because of them, gamers perform more tests on found gear than anal-retentive Consumer Reports researchers.

Any monster based on a rabbit. Yes, we’ve seen the movie, and it was funnier with the original cast. Now go away, or I shall taunt you a second time…

Just about everything in the 1E Fiend Folio. “Hey, how does this Hook Horror thing wipe his ass?”

I give up. You’re a better decamer than I.

#9 Comment By AlasseMages On November 13, 2009 @ 2:15 am

My friends and I always laughed at that owlbear pic in the 3.5 monster manual. It’s pose is like “what the hell guys, come on! Why aaaam IIIII.”

I’ve always hated the Hag concept. It’s strange that old ladies constitute a paradon-tier monster. However, the 4e Bog Hag picture is pretty cool looking.

Destrachans have also been difficult to like. I try to use them whenever I can though, just so I can tell my players that the dinosaur thing echolocated them to death.

Aboleths are just dumb in my opinion, though it’s because it’s so hard to include a game with them in. It’s the same with any aquatic creature really, because generally PCs can’t fight underwater unless the entire party has some kind of breathing and free moving magic. Otherwise, it’s just kinda boring.

Otherwise, I can’t really think of anything offhand that I’d really refuse to put into my game.

#10 Comment By Martin Ralya On November 13, 2009 @ 6:47 am

@Idran – I didn’t know that about the senmurv. No disrespect to Iranian mythology, though, just being a mythological critter doesn’t make it any less lame as a D&D creature. “Sinmurgh” is a much cooler name, too.

@trisj – If only for the “ehtereal felcher” aspect, they crossed my mind. I’ve never used them, and from your description it sounds like they’ve actually got some appeal.

@Matthew J. Neagley – Those are great, and new to me. Much better than my article, too!

@Mairkurion – Flumphs would probably be my #11. ;-) Maybe I have a soft spot for them because of OotS?

@Kurt “Telas” Schneider – In the same vein as the hook horror’s little wiping problem, I’ve heard that the reason Pikachu is so frustrated and shock-y is because his arms are too short for him to jerk off. (Count on the Stew for your morning dose of maturity!)

@AlasseMages – I think aboleths are pretty cool. And if you build up to them as a major foe, equipping the party with the gear they need to survive underwater would come up naturally — I think they’d make a great nemesis.

#11 Comment By trisj On November 13, 2009 @ 7:21 am

@Kurt “Telas” Schneider

Okay, those stupid ‘armadillo’ with a gem on its head thing is a carbuncle and hot damn if it didn’t nearly wipe out our Planescapes party with its evil shiny goodness. I hate those things in the face except that you can’t because it has some kind of freaking ability where you don’t want to kill it even though its the biggest jerk in the multiverse. Tangling with that thing killed out minotaur barbarian.

The point of the article is that even the stupidest monsters can become the most formidable foes, in the hands of the right GM and with the right amount of gravity from the players. Our GM was drawn to the carbuncle specifically because it looked stupid and the story involving it was probably one of the more memorable arches in that game. My husband GMed a game where he used mimics a few times and he had our party basically on edge, freaking out any time we saw an inanimate object and bypassing treasure just in case (Mimic plus one of those dragon-type creatures with one hand that animates objects = a lot of anxiety).

I’m all for stupid monsters, as long as the GM is willing to work ‘em for what they’re worth, which is generally more than their stupid pictures.

#12 Comment By Volcarthe On November 13, 2009 @ 9:55 am

as an added handicap, i’m only pulling what’s out of my MM1 (because it’s right here at my desk)

1. Arrowhawks.
what’s better than a hawk? cutting off the legs of two hawks and gluing them together belly to belly!

2. Cloaker.
flying, angry manta rays.

3. Dretch.
The Special Olympians of the demon world.

4. Lemure.
almost as retarded as a dretch.

5. Shrieker Fungus.
hey, you wanna hear the most annoying sound in the world?

6. Grick.
just don’t dress like a schoolgirl.

7. Howler.
because “porcupines from hell” really isn’t that scary of a concept.

8. Kuo-Toa.
you thought slaads were bad? meet the Kuo-Toa!

9. Rast.
floating monster dog head with spider legs. keep telling yourself that paralyzing effect is because you’re scary. we all really know it’s based on people trying to figure out why you haven’t committed suicide yet.

10. Tojanida.
vagina monsters are never cool.

#13 Comment By GeoffA On November 14, 2009 @ 8:58 am

I am surprised that the peryton has not got a mention yet. In my opinion, it is similar to the owlbear, only stupider – an evil deer that can fly!

I was running a campaign a couple of years ago with some players who were old enough to have 1st edition monster manuals, and some players who were 10 or 15 years younger. The younger group was looking through old books one day, and found the peryton, which then became a running joke through the rest of the campaign. If you see a flying monster in the distance, it might be a peryton. If you have to travel through the dangerous mountains where no one will go, look out for perytons.

#14 Pingback By Monsters that suck. | The Recycle Bin On November 14, 2009 @ 4:52 pm

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#15 Comment By Matthew J. Neagley On November 14, 2009 @ 7:45 pm

@GeoffA
Here’s a Peryton sighting for you: In World of Warcraft various races and factions use different flying creatures to ferry characters across long distances. The night elves call theirs a “hippogryph” but they’re full of shit. Their flying taxis look nothing like hippogryphs and everything like the peryton. Here’s an official picture-
http://www.worldofwarcraft.com/screenshots/images/basics/transportation/ss0003.jpg

#16 Comment By pseudodragon On November 15, 2009 @ 12:44 pm

The most instructional part of this article is that anyone can come up with several asinine monsters off the top of their heads (Gorbel, anyone?). It’s way too easy. What does this say about the quality control of game designers working on monster collections? The game companies are happy to foist 50 pages of crap on us in a 200 page book and WE BUY IT! It’s time the game companies put a little more effort into producing useful, high quality enemies for our worthy heroes without all the fillers, artificial colors, and artificial preservatives. The Pathfinder Bestiary does a better job than most (even though the Owlbear found its way into it). I recommend checking it out if you haven’t already.

As a veteran player and DM, I’ve become quite comfortable tweaking (and/or ripping apart and reassembling) monster descriptions to fit my campaign and make more sense for my players. Screw canon, make it challenging and fun (or at least make sense). I heartily recommend this sort of Frankenstein approach to monster creation. Your players will love it, because they won’t know everything the monster can do and you’ll love it, because the creature works with your story and isn’t just a hodge-podge plug in that happens to meet the level and challenge rating requirements.

For example, last night the PCs sheltered in an abandoned, ruined fishing village. Where had everyone gone? What could have happened to them? They found out later in the evening when a siren song lured the majority of the party to a sandbar offshore, but accessible by way of a breakwater that had conveniently been uncovered by the low tide. Not only did the siren (which isn’t in the 3.5 Monster Manual) have her song going for her, but a few druid levels, too! While the one coherent member of the party tried to restrain or slap some sense into the others, the siren summoned a swarm of crabs (from said Pathfinder Bestiary, bwa-ha-ha-ha!) to rid herself of the nuisance PC. The most dramatic (and enjoyable) moment came when the unaffected PC confronted the siren on the sandbar under the veil of an obscuring mist only to realize that the siren was half-woman/half-lobster! Oh, the look on my players’ faces was priceless! Suddenly, it all became clear — the disappearance of the fishermen, the swarm of crabs, the eerie mist — the siren/druid was an eco-terrorist! A grand battle ensued and when the siren was injured her song ended, the rest of the party snapped out their trance in a round or two a grand battle commenced. They capped it off with a crab feast, having destroyed most of the swarm with a flaming sphere. A good time was had by all (and there wasn’t a crabman to be seen anywhere).

#17 Comment By Matthew J. Neagley On November 17, 2009 @ 12:42 pm

@pseudodragon
That’s an awesome encounter. I may steal that!

I think that which monsters are cool and which are lame is really subjective, and thus it’s hard to accuse designers of intentionally foisting filler crap on us. Likely someone on their design team thought it was cool, and there’s a great chance someone in the market thought it was cool too. Maybe the marketing of the future for stuff like this is micro-transactions so we can each buy just the monsters we like and leave the rest out.

#18 Comment By BryanB On November 19, 2009 @ 4:56 pm

Hey, I like Gel Cubes. And that mini is sweet! :D

#19 Comment By Rust On November 21, 2009 @ 11:18 am

I laughed out loud several times reading this. Then I had to explain to the folks in the room what I was laughing about. That was . . . awkward.

Still, nice article.

:)

#20 Comment By Zourath On January 23, 2010 @ 6:00 pm

The giant space hampster is a reference/in joke for people who played Baldurs Gate for the PC, for those of you who don’t know. Minsc is a chaotic good human ranger that can join your party. One of his inventory slots is permanently filled with Boo, his pet hampster, which Minsc claims is a “Miniature Giant Space Hampster”.

#21 Comment By Martin Ralya On January 24, 2010 @ 3:28 pm

@Zourath – I think Boo is probably the closest GSHs ever got to being cool. ;-) They were an AD&D 2e Spelljammer monster long before Baldur’s Gate, though.

#22 Comment By Kitchen Wolf On December 4, 2012 @ 9:54 pm

One of my other gaming geek incarnations is as a minis sculptor (an amateur hack, but a sculptor nonetheless). I’ve been doing my own list of “fookenstupid” critters.

Great Horned Owlbeast (Hackmaster’s even stupider Owlbear):

http://www.flickr.com/photos/kitchen_wolf/sets/72157631633640485/

A really damn happy Cloaker:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/kitchen_wolf/sets/72157631331641756/

And just for Mr. Rayla, a T. rex (sorta):

http://www.flickr.com/photos/kitchen_wolf/sets/72157631331660056/

There’s also a Piercer and a Roper on the bench. I am *NOT* ever going to build a campaign around Piercers or anything else that falls off the ceiling as its only form of attack.


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