The Nine Most Harryhausen-esque Monsters in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons

By Christian Lindke in Daily Lists
Wednesday, May 29, 2013 at 6:00 am

4) Cyclops - Did I say earlier that Jason and the Argonauts was the most D&D film of all time? Hmm... I might have to rethink that because The 7th Voyage of Sinbad comes pretty close to taking the title. Adventuring party sent on ridiculous mission? Check. Overpowered magic items possessed by party? Yep...Genie Lamp. Wait a minute...this adventure has both a dungeon and a dragon...and the evil wizard needs a dragon on a chain to keep this crazy Cyclops at bay.


In ancient mythology the Cyclops of Homer's Odyssey is probably the most memorable, but Polyphemus is not an animalistic creature. Polyphemus knows when he has been tricked by Odysseus and he cries out to Poseidon for aid. In the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Deities and Demigods book, these are classified as Greater Cyclops, but there is a Lesser Cyclops as well. The Lesser Cyclops is brutish and tends to live a solitary life on islands who seem to have as their sole purpose the eating of adventurers...kind of like Harryhausen's Cyclops.

3) Hydra - It looks like Jason and the Argonauts isn't going down without a fight for which Harryhausen movie had the most influence on D&D. The Hydra from this movie is amazing. The fight between the Hydra and Jason a grand demonstration of just how skilled a craftsman Ray Harryhausen was. There are so many moving parts. It almost boggles the mind at the amount of patience it would take to animate this sequence.


In the tales of Jason and his Argonauts, his battle against the dragon is one of the ways in which Jason's adventures mirror the labors of Herakles. In the Argonautica, Jason must battle a dragon in a manner similar to Harakles' battle against the Lernaean Hydra and Jason must sow fields with the Khalkotauroi - bull shaped fire-breathing automatons - which echoes Herakles 10th labor with the Cretan bull. Harryhausen's Hydra is closer to the Larnaean Hydra than it is to descriptions of the dragon Jason faces in myth, and is one of many demonstrations how Harryhausen borrowed liberally from myth and was willing to add his own touches in order to improve a tale. One would do well to follow that advice when running a good campaign.

2) Carrion Crawler - When I first saw an illustration of this creature, my response was "how the fuck would anyone come up with an idea for a giant tentacled caterpillar?" It seems that the easy answer to that is, "because they saw Ray Harryhausen's work in First Men in the Moon."


D&D Basic Set 1981

The Carrion Crawler is one of those quintessentially D&D creatures, so much so that when Hasbro issued the OGL they excluded the creature from the open license. One of the things that I find so interesting about the creature is that the Monster Manual version of the creature has no attacks that cause damage to its opponents. The creature can paralyze its foes, but it cannot kill them. This makes it a great creature to pair up with other foes and provides a potential non-lethal foe for adventurers to face. I have often wondered why the creature has no attacks that cause damage. Is it because it is really only interested in carrion?

1) Skeletons - What? You thought that number one would be the Minoton? I love that animated brass golem as much as the next guy, but Harryhausen's skeletons are iconic. They are the skeletons to beat all skeletons, and they are what will help us decide whether Jason and the Argonauts or The 7th Voyage of Sinbad is the most D&D movie of all time. Weapon-wielding skeletons aren't a commonplace feature in a lot of fantasy stories, and according to the recent Osprey book on the Argonautica the classical version of the Children of the Hydra is as "mud men" that are comprised of actual flesh and blood. This leads one to believe that the skeletons of D&D are Harryhausen Skeletons. Another dead giveaway regarding the origins of the D&D Skeleton is the fact that in AD&D, Skeletons only take half-damage from bladed weapons. Only blunt weapons do full damage. Watch these two sword fights and tell me that Gygax and Arneson weren't thinking about these fights when they made that rule.

If you were to ask most film fans what the most "Harryhausen-esque" of monsters were, I think you would be hard pressed to find a person who didn't answer that it was his Skeletons that fit the bill. Not only do Skeletons highlight Harryhausen's skill as an artist, there is something chilling about them in how they are always smiling. No matter how much damage you do to the body, a Skeleton's head seems to be taunting you.

I know...I're wondering where the epic creatures from Clash of the Titans fit into the mix. Though the Medusa image in the Monster Manual might bear a resemblance to Harryhausen's, Clash of the Titans was released in 1981 which is two full years after the Monster Manual was printed. In 1981, Larry DiTillio - of He-Man fame - wrote up D&D and Runequest stats for all of the monsters in Clash. Back in the early 1980s audiences were fairly critical of Bubo, or as the charming mechanical owl has been referred to by nay sayers... the Jar Jar Binks of Clash of the Titans, so Larry left out statistics for the little automaton.

Since that time, and possibly as the result of two remakes, Bubo has acquired some fans so maybe we'll see stats for him yet. Let's see...AC? 19...Alignment? Chaotic Good...HD?...

Email Print

Sponsor Content