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3/04/2011

Forgotten Fiends: The Squonk and the Stair Stalker

The Fiend Factory was a regular feature in White Dwarf magazine back in the late 70s and into the 80s before the British publication became a house organ for Games Workshop products. Readers would send in descriptions of their homebrewed D&D monsters and Don Turnbull would decide who made the cut. Crazy-cool artists like Russ Nicholson would then bring 'em to life visually. Man, why doesn't the OSR do this? *hint-hint* *nudge-nudge*

Some of these monsters "graduated" to Turnbull's Fiend Folio. The Folio got (and sometimes still gets) a lot of flack for being sub-par compared to the likes of Monster Manuals I and II. Even Ed Greenwood has gone on the record to say (and I paraphrase here) that the book was weak sauce. I can't say that I agree. Sure, there's some whacked-out creeps in there -- gorbels and flumphs and CIFALs, oh my -- but there's just sooo much win -- slaad! kenku! githyanki! -- that any perceived inadequacies are really just an odd aftertaste to this sumptuous Creature Cake. And, to be honest, I wouldn't want to live in a world without flumphs. I like to imagine that all those bizarre, almost Carroll-esque beasts are lurking in my campaigns. And the more I ponder it, the more I want to include them in the menagerie of monstrosities my PCs will encounter.

Tonight I was poring over early issues of White Dwarf looking at monsters who didn't meet the (obviously stringent) requirements to be part of the Folio. I found two that I want to talk about now, but more forgotten fiends will be forthcoming.

The Squonk, created by Christopher Kinnear, appeared in WD #7 (June/July 1978). Basically, he's a feeble little rat-beast with serious skin problems (dungeon-funk?) who cries a lot and happens to be 100% resistant to magic. 100% RESISTANT. Don Turnbull makes some silly comment about how female players are more likely to respond to the squonk and have pity on it. To hells with that, I say! If something has that kind of natural magic-off about it, then I would be rounding these babies up and breeding them in captivity. I'd then find myself some sort of monster anatomy specialist who could figure out just what squonk-organ is the source of its magical antipathy. Then it's harvesting time! If there's anything my friend Cyclopeatron taught me, it's that good stuff can be found in entrails! Note the squonk's 2D8+1 Hit Dice. That tells me that these babies are big, possibly twice the girth of your average giant rat. "It will shy away from contact and will hide and move fast." So there will definitely be some strategy involved. I would suggest laying down some high-grade (bug)bear traps.

The Stair Stalker, created by Roger Musson, is just plain fucking creepy. It appeared in WD #9 (Oct/Nov 1978). "This is, of course, a wildly 'silly' creature," says Don. I'm not so sure. A shaggy green creature with animal intelligence that could be carrying a sizable amount of gold that compulsively haunts stairwells? I mean look at that drawing. It's like Dr. Seuss's hastily sketched nightmare. My mind is filled with questions. Where is this thing getting its gold? Do adventurers leave it tips? And how does it reproduce? Does a she-stalker have different habits? What is it eating if it's so indifferent to adventurers? Don says it's probably immune to Charm Monster and any other magic that would lead it away from its stairwell. Creepy. I picture the stair stalker roaming some poorly lit, spiraling stairwell, tenaciously gripping its bag of gold with its green claws and not making a sound. Talk about a candidate for Philotemy's Mythic Underworld...

BONUS:

That there is the dakon as it originally appeared in issue #9. Quite a far cry from the intelligent gorilla you see in the Folio. This drawing is much more to my taste. It totally changes my perception of this monster, and I can't help but imagine him puttering around the dungeon and having territorial disputes with kobolds.

16 comments:

  1. Whats wrong with gorbels?!

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  2. I wrote up my own version of the squonk and though it's been heard crying in my game, noone's yet seen one. The oldest mention of the squonk is probably in Fiercesome Creatures of the Lumberwoods although it was also mentioned in the excellent Book of Imaginary Beings, both of which are must haves for any beastiary collectors!

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  3. The stair stalker is certainly creepy for the single-mindedness and repetition. It comes through in the intensity of the pose in the picture. It's just out there as an idea and makes me wonder how it could be adapted to other location types.

    Trey's recent train makes me think of a railway line, but beyond this there's lengths of corridor or water, and perimeters, maybe of battlements or towers and pools. It could also repeatedly perform actions in more interactive locations like libraries and kitchens, or pass through doors. Its route could be useful or relevant too.

    It would also work for ladders, then being very inconvenient for anyone needing to pass. It's starting to remind me of a sprite in an early platform game.

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  4. @Porky - It could also a dumb-waiter stalker. And (at least in the City) one might worry about escalators. ;)

    Nice ceature archeology, Greg.

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  5. Awesome post :) The first I heard of a squonk was the old Genesis song. I think those old bestiaries like the ones ze bulette mentions are a terribly underused source of monsters. It might be a cool project to take one of those books and convert it to a gamebook by adding stats for all the entries.

    I was surprised when I first heard that some people thought the Fiend Folio was somehow sub-par, and honestly it makes me wonder about Greenwood's gamer-sense. All the DnD'ers I've known got very excited when a DM brought out the FF, and we generally felt it was the 'cream of the crop' when it came to monster books.

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  6. Love the FF and love the articles in White Dwarf. There was one monster called a Stinwicodech that, if memory serves screws with one's ability score (notice the letters that make up the monster's name). I think it first increases them with each hit and then dropped them. I converted it for my own game once. If you're into weird fiction, I think the FF is the way to go.

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  7. @Evan: Nothing! They're a wonderfully odd monster.

    @ze bulette: That's really cool. I was not aware of the squonk's connection to lumberjack folklore -- thanks for the linkage! And that's a creepy little aside re: the unseen, weeping squonk.

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  8. Ah yes, fond memories of the "Fiend Factory"!

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  9. Man, your interpretation of the Stair Stalker made it an essential lurker in the dungeons of my imagination.

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  10. @Blair: Glad to be of service, dude.

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  11. Thank you!

    BTW, AC 0, 3+1 HD, Attacks: 1-6/1-6
    The Stair Stalker is no pushover! I can see one TPKing a beginning party...

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  12. The stair stalker is indeed cool. BTW, I dig your blog title art.

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  13. I think I may need to add a stair stalker to my megadungeon. A very cool beastie, especially with your take on it.

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  14. @David: Enjoy, man! I'm happy to see that the Stair Stalker is going to get some play! (Interpret that as you will!)

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  15. nice work. The pedant in me feels the need to point out that White Dwarf was always the house organ of Games Workshop, it's just in the early days their products were imported US games such as D&D, heck, GW even published their own editions of D&D, CoC and even Runequest.

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  16. @zhy bajiee: Is that true of Traveller as well?

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