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The Guide To Modern Fantasy Monster Miniatures


Dr.Bedlam
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Now, MOST of us have a clue where the monsters came from, at least in a rudimentary sense. Tolkien invented the orc as we know it, and the giant spider in fantasy; Robert E. Howard seemed to have a thing for giant snakes. We know that centaurs came from ancient Greece, dwarves and trolls from Scandinavian myth, goblins from Western Europe, dragons from more or less everywhere, and so on. No, don't correct me; I'm bein' general here, and approaching a point.

I'm kinda curious, though: Where'd some of the weirdier critters come from?

It is legend among the Gamers and the Geekosphere about the bulette, the owlbear, and the rust monster. 

PrehistoricAnimalsS.jpg.8cc6c3fb3e0341ae3ec20ddccce89510.jpg The legend has it that Gary Gygax, or perhaps Dave Arneson, back when The Game was just getting off the ground, had difficulty finding miniatures to represent various dungeon denizens. Keep in mind that historical miniatures, at the time, were relatively easy to find, (Knights, Archers, Men At Arms, and characters in general) but fantasy gaming as we know it did not yet exist. No mythological monsters! So Gary or Dave, or whoever... cheated.

 

And several inhabitants of the first edition (and later) Monster Manual had some rather peculiar origins. In the picture, at center front, you see what became the Bulette, whereas to the left, there's a Rust Monster and to the right, an Owlbear in brilliant yellow.

In the seventies, you could get these critters in bags in the dime store or on a spinrack in the drugstore, anywhere that sold cheap toys from no-name manufacturers. They were usually marked as dinosaurs, but this particular mob resembles no known prehistoric creatures; the majority of them seem to be knockoffs of monsters from Japanese TV shows like Ultraman, Spectreman, and other ancestors of the Power Rangers. Gary himself spoke about using plastic dinos in lieu of dragons, and the AD&D Monster Manual has the majority of dinos known to pop culture as of 1975. So Gary noticed them at the dime store, bought a bag, and pitted them against his players. And these three creatures became the dreaded Rust Monster, Bulette, and Owlbear, as well as becoming obscure but treasured collectors items among the lords of geekdom.

Which means that all the owlbear miniatures being made right now are all because of a cheap Taiwanese knockoff toy based on a man in a suit monster who appeared on a Japanese kidshow back in the sixties. Or seventies. Or whatever.

It could be that this thread will be doomed to obscurity. I rather hope not. I'm hoping that others will add to it with critters that started out as obscure toys that later achieved a sort of immortality as modern gaming mythology. Do add to it. I'm still more'n a little curious.

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As an aside, some of these models are still available in cheap packs of "dinosaurs" that I've seen in grocery store toy racks. I don't see the big 3 (rust monster, owlbear, bullette) but I've seen a couple of the others still kicking around. 

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Giants are nothing new; the Bible mentions them, and they crop up in several mythologies. But in D&D, they are rigidly codified: ogre, hill giant, stone giant, frost giant, fire giant, cloud giant, and storm giant, in ascending order of height and power. And I know why.

Y'see, Louis Marx and Co., also known as Marx Toys, was the KING of the figurine playset, starting not long after WWII, and extending into the seventies, until the old man finally died and his company was sold off. But he was a sharp guy, and made an EMPIRE out of what most of us would call "little green army men." He didn't stop with that, either; he saw no reason kids wouldn't play with cavemen, Vikings, ancient Romans, or whatever was big in the movies at the time. Marx was well known for playsets that came with BAZILLIONS of props and figures, often based on movies... The Vikings, (with Kirk Douglas) Spartacus (also with Kirk Douglas) Ben Hur, Fort Apache, (both of which did not have Kirk Douglas, but you might have heard of them anyway) and others. And his Stone Age playsets continued to be popular well into the seventies.

Marx's playsets, that is, not Kirk Douglas's.

But are we starting to see a pattern here?

cavemen-red.thumb.JPG.35d721fb21297dc85206d0d154533d95.JPG Marx Cavemen made dandy ogres, and the bigger ones were simply hill giants; look at the AD&D Monster Manual's illustrations, and you can even see the resemblance.

59a1d24a2f473_download(1).png.fa9644ffbbc36edc690b9013ec281d1e.pngdownload.png.87ffab1cd4fe3cf02b26c7c039bf261f.png

Marx's figurines were made ONLY to scale with EACH OTHER, and so other figures from other playsets were often BIGGER than the cavemen. I still have a couple of the Vikings figures, which tower over them. 

Marx-Plastic-Toy-Soldier-Vikings.jpg.1c6efb495b91819e97457509a6acbfba.jpg...anyone else seeing the pattern? For fire giants, we can toss in some Romans...

MRXBlackRomans.thumb.jpg.ad30a06601e1a0904cc142cfb5f4c967.jpg...all of whom were perfectly giantish next to standard lead 25mm figures. And to make things worse, in a time where "action figures" were limited pretty much to GI Joe, Marx also made plastic figures that averaged around six or seven inches tall; I remember seeing them at Winn's department stores when I was little.

59a1d46bc3266_3to6inchcombophoto.jpg.0f4faca733fe1580b850dba6833b91a1.jpg ...which, I guess, explains why early Dungeons and Dragons was so obsessed with giant cowboys... but it sure made for a variety of giants, of varying heights, at minimal expense!

 

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2 minutes ago, Glitterwolf said:

Throw in the various Undead from mythlogy and folklore as well as witches, werewolves and such.

Fairytale creatures like gnomes and djinns, genies.

 

Well, sure. But that mythology already EXISTED, well before fantasy gaming. I'm thinkin' of the MODERN critters, things that WotC could keep out of the Open Gaming License because... well... far as we know, they didn't exist before D&D did. Where did they COME from? Sure, there's plenty of low rent monsters invented by DMs through the years, but I'm thinkin' about the iconics. The umber hulk, for example. More than once, I have complained about umber hulks.

Umber hulks are not mythological. NO one has ever talked about umber hulks outside of D&D, much less made them, EXCEPT for D&D. Wherethehell did Gary Gygax get the idea for a giant bugheaded ape?

Seems that he found his inspiration in the same bag that had the bulette, rust monster, and owlbear:
DSCN6671.thumb.jpg.a024a64e2236611698ffafc95d0ead15.jpg ...specifically, that brownish fellow that's second from left. A sort of dinosaur, but with mandibles. Not MUCH of a resemblance, true... but mandibles speak louder than words. It's a theory, as far as I know; Gary Gygax didn't confirm it, but quite a few in a position to know are confirming that they fought that thing or something like it on a table in Gary's basement.

Anyone know anything I don't?

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6 minutes ago, Glitterwolf said:

It sure has come a long way from that one!

 

I get what you're saying.

I wonder if some stuff came from inspiration like movies and comics?

 

Is it strange that I now would like a bag of those cheap toys?

 

dd-umber-hulk-limited-edition.jpg

 

Not strange at all. They still MAKE them, as of ten years ago or so; I've seen them on the internet, and I still have a bulette from 1979. Wish I still had the rust monster that was in the bag with him.

Bugbears, I know about. Word of Ghod is clear: they told the artist to draw a tall monster with a head that was sort of round, and pumpkin sized. The artist took them rather literally:
greg_bell.jpg.727a91c1e1b71e7933d2fafa4f8491aa.jpg ...and Fantasy Gaming had a Bugbear. Funny thing? In the time between OD&D and AD&D's Monster Manual, in which the Bugbear would take on a very different look... certain miniatures manufacturers were realizing the possibility of fantasy miniatures. And for a brief period, there were pumpkin headed bugbears.

resize.jpeg.1536d13a0e645906e3cf35eb14f31c69.jpeg Although, to be honest, I have to admit, Reaper's later homage to the idea was better. State of the art had moved on by then...

 

download.jpeg.84b1170020dacf96949290662eb44088.jpeg

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Beholders were created by Rob Kuntz's brother Theron, who told Gary Gygax about it. Gygax liked the idea, and included it in a supplement...
Greyhawk_Supplement_1975.jpg.ee2a0000a4ec63f1d7fd21f679d2e9ea.jpg Weirdly enough? Beholders are one of those critters that EVERY miniatures manufacturer has taken a crack at. I have more myself than I will ever use, ranging from the size of a marble to some of the true behemoths that WotC has produced. Why they couldn't have done this with Umber Hulks, I cannot tell you.

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If you're lucky you can still find the cheapo monsters that birthed D&D creatures at retail.

 

I've not but in 2013 Tony Diterlizzi himself saw a Bulette in a Rite-Aid set.

http://diterlizzi.com/essay/owlbears-rust-monsters-and-bulettes-oh-my/

 

I've seen the big Birdosaurus myself just a few years ago in a set at a dollar store but no Bulette, Rust Monster or especially Owlbear.

 

I don't think dinomandibles was the umber hulk. The other artwork adheres so much more faithfully to what these "Chinasaurs" are compared to the Umber Hulk's art.

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36 minutes ago, BlazingTornado said:

If you're lucky you can still find the cheapo monsters that birthed D&D creatures at retail.

 

I've not but in 2013 Tony Diterlizzi himself saw a Bulette in a Rite-Aid set.

http://diterlizzi.com/essay/owlbears-rust-monsters-and-bulettes-oh-my/

 

I've seen the big Birdosaurus myself just a few years ago in a set at a dollar store but no Bulette, Rust Monster or especially Owlbear.

 

I don't think dinomandibles was the umber hulk. The other artwork adheres so much more faithfully to what these "Chinasaurs" are compared to the Umber Hulk's art.

 

The Birdasaurus is somewhere between an archaeopteryx and a pterodactyl, and continues to pop up in no name playsets. I wish to hell and gone the makers of the Chinasaurs would go on Amazon or something; they could make a mint from old nerds like me.

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Awright, this one's going to be messed up and convoluted, so bear with me.

This'z George R. R. Martin. You all know his Song Of Ice And Fire, which started with A Game Of Thrones.
download1.jpeg.b45e5a48a2de30d822a5640b353ad7e6.jpeg Now, before he became one of the major living fantasy authors of the 21st century, he wrote science fiction, and he was a gamer*. Yups. One of us, a fact he himself proudly admits; furthermore, he talks about how his shared universe anthology series, Wild Cards, sprang directly from his Superworld campaign, an old game Chaosium used to make back in the day. And while he was playing Superworld, he was also writing science fiction. Many of his stories took place in a universe in which humanity was recovering from a galactic war with a powerful unhuman psychic species called the Hrangans. We won, apparently, but it took a toll on us. The details of this war were never flat out stated, but we catch snatches of it when the characters talk about it occasionally.

Now, this is a Githyanki.
Monstrous_Manual_2e_-_Githyanki_-_p153.png.3d9372f6b8d12969d50327067a4973de.png A githyanki is a D&D critter, a member of a psychic warrior race once enslaved by the powerful psychic Mind Flayers, but now freed and motivated greatly in their hatred of the mind flayers and pretty much everyone else (but especially mind flayers.) They were created by Charles Stross. THIS guy:
download.jpeg.601e3fecf534ffb4cd51a12355cb31ec.jpeg THESE days, Stross also writes novels, some of which (the Laundry series) are about Cthulhu Mythos monsters and the British government organization devoted to keeping them out of our reality. The Cthulhu Mythos was also turned into an RPG... by Chaosium... the company that made Superworld. The Laundry Series has also been turned into an RPG, but I'm getting even further off into Kevin Bacon territory than I need to.

Anyway, Charlie Stross was a BIG D&D player when he was younger, and invented a race of warrior psychics who hated mind flayers for his campaign. He later sent it into White Dwarf magazine, which at the time published loads of D&D material in Britain. But what would Stross CALL these creatures?

Well, Stross admits he was a fan of Martin's early work. And there's a throwaway line in one of Martin's stories about "githyanki soulsucks" in the service of a Hrangan Mind. 

And the D&D people in England liked Stross's stuff well enough to publish it, and TSR liked it well enough to put it in their second volume of monsters. Even made the cover!
FiendFolioCover.jpg.da4668948ce1a7420f9ff08eafffb2fc.jpg So... George R. R. Martin invented the word "Githyanki." And Charles Stross invented the actual critter. I daresay a D&D monster could have a worse pedigree.

*It is also rumored in low places and certain drinkeries that during his visit to the Reaper factory, George R. R. Martin appointed Reaperbryan as the One True Space Pope, but that's another story, and not really mine to tell...

Edited by Dr.Bedlam
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