A great many of the monsters of AD&D are drawn from real legends and folklore, but most have been considerably altered by the time they reach the page. Below we provide a collection of creatures known to haunt the Lands of Mist, with the most recent accessory to include them, each followed by a brief description of how that creature appears in real-world legends.
While hopefully amusing simply as a curiosity piece, a Dungeon Master might find that some of these "real" creatures could make intriguing variants on the AD&D standard. Alternately, they could use these descriptions as inspiration for what the common denizen of Ravenloft might know (or think they know) about these creatures, especially where the AD&D monster varies considerably from the folklore.
Woe be to the adventurer who relies on some Sri Rajian's assurance that he can banish a rakshasa just by saying "Uncle!"
|Apparition||MC14: Fiend Folio Appendix|
|In terms of parapsychology, an apparition is the supernatural appearance of a person, whether living or dead, far from their actual location. These visions may be momentary and dreamlike, or may seem entirely solid and real. Apparitions always appear to someone close to the "doubled" individual, such as a friend, relative, or loved one. Of course, I suppose they could be appearing to other people too, but in those cases they’d be hard to notice. The most disturbing type of this phenomenon is the crisis apparition, which appears at or near the moment of the "double’s" death, even if the witness has no idea anything has befallen that person. These apparitions seem to serve to notify the witness of the "double’s" demise.|
|Banshee simply means "female fairy," an innocuous enough name for a rather morbid entity. These spirits come from Irish folklore, and it is said to witness one is a certain omen of death. These spirits often attach themselves to certain families, and appear whenever a member of that family will soon die. Like many other folkloric creatures, banshees come in several varieties. Sometimes they are young and lovely, sometimes monstrous and deformed. Sometimes they weep for the departed, sometimes they are seen washing blood out of the clothes of the one about to die.|
|Baobhan Sith||Ravenloft MC Appendix III|
|A term from Highland Scotland which, like banshee, simply means "fairy woman" in the literal sense. However, it generally refers to a kind of succubus. Baobhan sith take the appearance of beautiful young women, and like vampires, will suck a man dry of blood. However, they will vanish come the dawn, and like all faerie, they can be kept at bay with iron. Baobhan sith is pronounced "baavan shee."|
|Bodak||Planescape MC Appendix I|
|The closest source I’ve found is the bodach, a Celtic bogeyman. In some versions the bodach comes down the chimney to steal naughty children. The British Bodach Glas is a death omen. Like the wraith, to see the Bodach Glas foretells that death will soon come for the witness.|
|Broken One||Ravenloft MC Appendix I|
|Broken Ones have no legendary counterpart, having been inspired by the animal men of H. G. Wells’ novel, The Island of Dr. Moreau. One could associate them to the Chimerical creatures prominent in Greek myth, but that’s a real stretch. Their actual inspiration is Darwin’s theory of evolution, which offers the unnerving concept that man and animal aren’t really all that different.|
|Corpse Candle||Ravenloft MC Appendix III|
|A form of death omen from Wales and other parts of the British Isles, called canwll corfe in Welsh. (Death omens are common in the folklore of the region, as witnessed by the banshee, etc.) As floating lights seen at night (referred to as ghost lights in the most general sense), they appear similar to Will O’Wisps, but have the distinct appearance of candle flames. As always, exact beliefs vary. In some versions, corpse candles accompany the souls of the departed, and are snuffed when the spirit finally moves on to its final rest. In some lore, a small flame predicts the death of an infant, while a larger flame presages the death of an adult.|
|Dhampire||A Guide to Transylvania|
|The dhampir comes from the gypsy lore of eastern Europe. The vampires of some gypsy legends have insatiable sexual appetites (along with their appetite for blood), mainly directed towards their widows. Although a female vampire cannot bear children, a child can be produced from the union of a male vampire and living woman. These children, most of whom are male, are called dhampirs, and have the special ability to detect vampires (many of whom can become invisible in gypsy legend). The dhampir may hire himself out as a vampire killer, either engaging in all sorts of odd rituals, wrestling with the invisible spirit, and/or doing it in with a single shot from a pistol. Just like vampires, the exact names and characteristics of the dhampir differ from region to region. Most of the time, dhampirs were considered to be normal humans, other than their special abilities of detection, but in some cases they were thought to have a jelly-like body, dooming it to a short life. This latter claim stems from a belief that vampires have no bones. In some traditions, the abilities of a dhampir can be passed to a male offspring, creating a dhampiric lineage. Other names for dhampirs include vampir (if male), vampuiera (if female), vampijerovic, or lampijerovic. The last known dhampir ceremony, lest you think these creatures are remnants of the distant past, took place in Yugoslavia in 1959.|
|Doppleganger means "double-goer" in German, and as such falls into the wide category of spirit doubles. (See also apparitions and wraiths for more examples.) Sighting a doppleganger is sometimes considered a death omen, but this is not a definite. The most entertaining version of dopplegangers I’ve come across has to do with beliefs surrounding mirrors and the spirit world. To wit, what you see in the mirror is not a reflection of light; it is a window into the spirit world, which surrounds us as all times. (In fact, this is why vampires have no reflection; as soulless creatures, they have no duplicate in the spirit world.) Thus, when you look at your reflection in the mirror, that’s actually your doppleganger looking back at you. All well and good, so long as your doppleganger decides to stay on its side of the glass…|
|Doppleganger Plant||Ravenloft MC Appendix I|
|The doppleganger plant is inspired by the "pod people" of Jack Finney’s sci-fi novel Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The story is most likely a deviously clever jab at Cold War paranoia. The closest kin to the pod person in folklore is probably the changeling, but the similarity is pretty thin.|
|The dwarf comes to us from Norse mythology by way of Tolkien. In the legends, dwarves (or dwarfs) appeared to be short, human-looking men, although they might not actually have sexes; all appear to be male. Their largely human appearance is marred by two odd features; first, their feet are strange, often turned around backward or shaped like bird’s feet. Second, they can not bear the light of the sun; the touch of daylight will either turn them into stone forever, or into toads until sunset, depending on the version of the tale. Good thing for them they spend most of their time deep in the earth, crafting priceless, often magical objects (such as the famed Der Ring des Nibelungen). They love gems and beautiful stones, and are willing to help mortals, but become very cross indeed if betrayed. In Celtic terms, they can be considered a type of faerie, a distant kin to the kobold and knocker.|
|Elementals spring from medieval European science/philosophy, which theorized four types of spirits (angels, demons, souls of the dead, and elemental spirits), and four types of elements (familiar to any AD&D player). These elemental spirits are intelligent entities occupying the realm between Man and God, but lack free will and thus are entirely dedicated to maintaining the cycles of the physical world, which was seen as the visible manifestation of the actions of the elementals. The four types of elementals are the gnomes of the earth (Greek gnoma: knowledge); sylphs of the air (Greek sylpha: butterfly); undines of the sea (Latin unda: wave); and salamanders of fire (possibly from the Greek salambe: fireplace).|
|AD&D’s elves mainly come from the pen of Tolkien, who drew on a mixture of Norse and Celtic legends to create his "First-Born." Elf is the Old English term which was later replaced by "fey" and "faerie" when the Saxons moved in, so to speak. These terms then evolved into the modern "fairy." As such, elf can be used as a general term to refer to any faerie, but it most properly refers to those faeries who appear most human, and have the most direct dealings with humans. Which is not at all to say that they are most human; like all faeries, elves are essentially alien creatures who simply seem fascinated by we mortals. These human-like elves are always decked out in the finest clothes (and armor if appropriate), and enjoy dalliances with mortals, but can become enraged if their mortal consort ever breaks their word in any way (and they always know when you’ve broken your word). Although faerie powers vary considerably, we can safely assume the following: elves are immortal, they have the power of faerie glamour, they can be kept at bay with iron or by turning widdershins, and they can be driven off by the power of God. In other words, holy water, the cross, consecrated earth, etc., just like undead. In AD&D terms, a Christian cleric could probably turn them as well.
The mythological origins of the faerie are fascinating and widely varied, but sadly require a little too much detail to go into here. Suffice to say the theoretical origin which best fits the AD&D elf is that they were Tuatha de Danann, a giant race which ruled Ireland before being forced underground by the coming of man. With their loss of power, they became the Daoine Sidhe, a noble faerie race which has gradually grown smaller and smaller over the ages.
|Elf, Drow||Monstrous Manual|
|In Norse mythology, when the frost giant Ymir was slain and his body formed the world, the maggots which fed on his flesh became the race known as elves, and divided themselves between the Light Elves and the Dark Elves. The light elves claimed Alfheim as their realm, and the dark elves did likewise with Svartalfheim, an underground world. Beyond that, there’s not much to say; it seems the "dark elves" which inspired AD&D’s drow are actually confused references to dwarves!|
|Familiar, Psuedo-||Ravenloft MC Appendix III|
|The Psuedo-Familiar is Ravenloft’s dark twist on the standard familiar, and in a way is actually a bit closer to the original concept. In medieval Europe (and dating back at least as far as ancient Greece) familiars were spirits, linked to a sorcerer, which supplied him with his magical power and kept an eye on him in general. These spirits usually took animal form, but sometimes would reside inside special fetish-like trinkets the sorcerer kept on his person. In the mindset of the time, these "spirits" were invariably imps or minor demons. Often in these dealings, it wasn’t exactly clear who was in charge of who; the sorcerer or the familiar.|
|Fetch||MC4: Dragonlance Appendix|
|Another spirit double from Irish and English folklore, this time the ghostly double of a living person. According to Irish lore, to see a fetch in the morning means one will live a long life, but to see it at night is a sure omen of the witness’ death. As with a wraith, the witness is usually the fetch’s own double.|
|Furies||Ravenloft MC Appendix III|
|The Furies come from Greek mythology, and are minor goddesses of vengeance. They are called the Erinyes (meaning "the angry ones"), and are the children of Ouranos (Uranus) and Gaia. They are extremely hideous women, with live snakes entwined in their hair, and they mercilessly torment the target of their wrath. Fortunately, they only target those who have wrongly shed blood. They have a prominent presence in the Orestia, Euripides’ famed play detailing the fall of the House of Arteus, which begins with the murder of Agamemnon at the hands of his wife Clytemnestra. Their son, Orestes, murders Clytemnestra in the name of vengeance, and this killing brings the furies down upon his head. In the end, Zeus intervenes on Orestes’ behalf, and after a trial acquits him, the Furies are persuaded to abandon their pursuit.|
|It’s widely known that gargoyles were never thought to be actual creatures in folklore. They were menacing looking sculptures added to buildings (especially cathedrals) to serve multiple purposes; they were often built around spouts that would channel rainwater away from the walls, preventing erosion; along with all the other sculptures on the cathedral, they serves to teach the illiterate masses religious lessons; and their wicked appearance would frighten off the forces of supernatural evil. (Supernatural creatures were easily frightened in this way; the Jack o’ Lantern originally served the same purpose. Before I veer entirely into a tangent, by the by, the name Jack o’ Lantern comes from a legendary ghost light.)|
|However, it’s not so clear where gargoyles got their name. The most likely candidate appears to be Gargouille, a dragon which emerged from the Seine river in France and set about terrorizing the region. Rather than breathing fire, Gargouille could spout out great torrents of water, and caused widespread flooding before he was stopped by the Archbishop of Rouen, who instantly tamed the beast by making the sign of the cross. The dragon was then led into town and burned to death. You know, sometimes medieval Christian legends are wonderfully dramatic. But sometimes, well…|
|Geist||Ravenloft MC Appendix III|
|Geist is simply German for "ghost" or "spirit."|
|A spirit of the dead, at least to all appearances. They may be visible, or may be sensed only by cold spots, odd breezes, or other unnatural phenomena. Although ghost is widely used as a general term, it best describes a spirit which appears repeatedly over time (in other words, is involved in a haunting), as opposed to a singular event, such as the appearance of an apparition or wraith.|
|A nocturnal demon from Islamic lore which feeds on the flesh of the living, especially travelers, children, or corpses stolen from graves. The name comes from the Arabic ghul (masc.) and ghula (fem.). There are several kinds of ghoul in Arabic lore, but the most notorious is a female type which can appear as an entirely normal woman.|
|The term ghoul is sometimes now used (especially in Fortean circles) to describe an area which contains a powerful, inexplicable sense of dread. Quite literally, all one must do is enter this intangible aura to be utterly terrified. I’m quite sure it was just my head playing games with me, but I once encountered one of these latter "ghouls," and it was quite the… intriguing experience!|
|A small, grotesque, and either mischievous or outright evil spirit, typically considered a type of faerie. Unless the speaker is Puritan, adding the prefix "Hob-" (as in hobgoblin) means the spirit is actually kind and helpful. However, the Puritans associated "Hob" with the devil, so Puritan hobgoblins are just as bad as goblins, if not worse. Just goes to show you can never know what to expect from the Unseelie.|
|Around the world, there are many legends of people giving life to inanimate objects, to differing results. However, the origin of what we really consider to be the golem is a creature of medieval Jewish lore. According to the most famous version of this legend, a rabbi in 16th century Prague crafted a golem from clay, in the shape of a man. When the name of God was spoken over the golem and the word emeth (meaning "truth") written on its forehead, the golem was imbued with life, and became a physically powerful, mute servant. The rabbi’s intention was to provide his community with a protector, but sadly the golem proved increasingly difficult to control. This golem was not only strong, but clever, and eventually went berserk. All creatures must rest on the sabbath, and the rabbi had always deprived the golem of life each Friday night. (How? You’ll find out.) On this particular Friday dusk, the rabbi forgot his task, and the golem went wild in the streets. Fortunately, the rabbi was able to erase the first letter of emeth, changing it to meth (meaning "he is dead"), and the golem immediately collapsed into clay. The term golem itself refers to an unfinished or embryonic substance.|
|The flesh golem is the fictional invention of Mary Shelley.|
|Gnomes are one of the four types of elemental, and control the element of earth. Gnomes appear as small, dark human-like people, and are guardians of the earth’s treasures. Their personalities differ depending on who describes them, but most agree that gnomes are patient, hard-working, and more-or-less willing to cooperate with humans. The most famous trait of the gnome is the ability to swim through earth as if it were water.|
|The youngest class of Unseelie, and one that serves to prove that even the spirit world is capable of adapting to modern times. An invention of the 20th century, belief in gremlins (the name is derived from "Grimm," as in the Fairy Tales) started with the highly superstitious pilots of WWI, but didn’t really become well-known until WWII. Gremlins are mischievous spirits, somewhere between poltergeists and goblins, and are said to have extensive knowledge of engineering, aerodynamics, and other scientific skills, which they used to pull pranks on the beleaguered pilots. Since gremlins are usually invisible, it’s hard to accurately describe them, but widely varying descriptions do exist. My personal favorite is a foot-tall humanoid, looking something like either a jackrabbit or bull terrier (or a cross between them), wearing a waistcoat and spats, and which has webbed feet with fins on the heels. Today, it seems gremlins have branched out from aeronautics, and can be blamed for problems with virtually any complex machine. Unless it’s Microsoft’s fault, of course.|
|Grim||The Shadow Rift|
|Also known as a Church Grim, so called because they guard churchyards from the Devil. A Grim is a spirit which takes the form of a large black dog, but to see it is an omen of death. According to some of the lore, the first man to be buried in a churchyard had to remain on the Earth to guard it, taking the form of a Grim. Where this belief was held, a dog was often buried in a corner of the graveyard first as a substitute. Mind you, in earlier beliefs, Grims were considered malicious; at different times they were associated with Odin or the Devil. So, you never know just what might happen; my advice is simply to avoid them entirely.|
|Grim Reaper||Ravenloft MC Appendix I|
|A medieval European anthropomorphism of death. In most American depictions, the Grim Reaper wears all black, while in Europe it generally wears white. Since the Grim Reaper’s "cloak" is actually a funereal shroud, the Europeans are more "correct," while we Yanks are more "Goth."|
|Gwydion||The Shadow Rift|
|A character from Celtic myth, a wizard and bard of northern Wales, and son of the Welsh goddess Don. Gwydion performed many feats of magic, and is considered a possible inspiration for the character of Merlin of Arthurian myth.|
|The basic Hag is an ugly old woman who has given herself over to witchcraft; thus AD&D continues the widely-held tradition (New Age philosophy put aside) that witches are essentially supernatural creatures, rather than simply people who can cast a few spells or who inherit psychic abilities. In some Celtic legends, Hags were the personification of winter, and some could (just as winter turns into spring) transform from hideous old crones into beautiful young maidens.
The Annis Hag is based on Black Annis, a cannibalistic hag said to haunt the Leicestershire region of England. She has a blue face and iron claws, and (typical for her ilk) delights in terrorizing and devouring children. She was said to live in an (actual) cave, called "Black Annis’ Bower Close" and rumored to have been dug out with her own nails. She was also associated with a monstrous cat. Until the 18th century, it was tradition to hold a drag hunt from Annis’ Bower to the Mayor of Leicestershire’s house on Easter Monday. (A drag hunt is one where the hounds trail a bit of dead bait dragged along by the master of the hunt.) In this case, the bait was a dead cat drenched in aniseed.
The Green Hag comes from such Celtic legendary monsters as Jenny Greenteeth, a wicked, monstrous hag who lurked under the surface of lakes and ponds, just waiting to snatch some unwary child and drown them.
The Sea Hag is basically a relative to Jenny Greenteeth and her ilk. It might be noteworthy to mention that the Sea Hag is one of Popeye’s enemies. Hey, don’t laugh; that comic strip inspired the terms goon and jeep, too.
|This term is generally used as a verb, or as "haunting" and is usually used to refer to a ghost’s activities, rather than the ghost itself. That said, haunt can be used as a general term for a ghost.|
|Taken from the lore of medieval Europe, a homunculus is an artificial man, the creation of alchemy. The process to create such a creature is fairly complex (although it’s more time-consuming than difficult), but is now easily found. Once the homunculus has been created, it takes the form of a small, living human child. Other than his small size, the homunculus is entirely human in form.|
|Hound, Yeth||MC5: Greyhawk Appendix|
|Also known as Yell-hounds or Wish Hounds. Spectral, headless hounds which hunt in several regions of England, including Dartmoor and Cornwall. It is sometimes said they hunt a demon called Tregeagle, or that the master of their hunt is the Devil himself. They are related to the Wild Hunt of Celtic myth.|
|Imp||Planescape MC Appendix I|
|Technically, an "imp" is an offshoot or cutting from a plant. Imp has thus taken the meaning of a "small devil," an offshoot of Satan. Imps are to demons as cherubs are to angels, and are generally nasty, malicious little buggers. However, being minions of Hell, the standard holy measures (holy water, symbols, prayers, etc.) work quite well against them.|
|Incubus/ Succubus (Tanar’ri)||Planescape MC Appendix I|
|A type of demon from Christian legends of the Middle Ages. The succubus takes the form of a beautiful woman, with the incubus its male counterpart. These demons sexually molest men or women, respectively, and leave them battered and fatigued. There was, in fact, quite a bit of discussion at the time as to whether these demons could impregnate a woman, but I’ll leave it to the Malleus Maleficarum to explain the details. (They can, and they can’t; it’s a bit complicated and icky.)|
|Jack Frost||Ravenloft MC Appendix III|
|An anthropomorphism of winter. As an American raised on TV holiday specials, it’s tough for me to think of Jack Frost without also thinking of Rudolph the Red-Nosed reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, or the song "White Christmas." Jack Frost might best be described as a mischievous sprite; it’s Old Man Winter that really has it in for your heating bills.|
|A mischievous, and occasionally malevolent, spirit from German folklore, about the size of a doll. There are two types of kobold: the household kobold is related to the British brownie or boggart, and helps around the house so long as he is well-treated. If mistreated, the kobold will start playing pranks on those living in the home. The second type of kobold is more common; these live in mines, and are thus related to the Corning knocker and the American tommyknocker. Like the household kobold, the mining kobold can be helpful if well-treated, leading miners to rich veins by knocking on the walls of mine shafts. However, many mining kobolds are evil and will gladly kill miners by causing cave-ins and accidents. In some of the lore, kobolds are actually the ghosts of Jews present at Christ’s crucifixion, damned to labor beneath the earth; others believe they simply predate the coming of Christianity. Either way, kobolds cannot bear the sign of the cross; miners hoping to stay on the kobolds’ good side should avoid marking anything with an X.|
|Larva||Planescape MC Appendix I|
|In the folklore of ancient Rome, larvae are evil spirits which seek to frighten and harm the living. They are associated with lemures.|
|Lashweed||Ravenloft MC Appendix III|
|The novel The Day of the Triffids, by John Wyndham, features an invasion by plants very similar to this.|
|Lemure (Baatezu)||Planescape MC Appendix I|
|In the folklore of ancient Rome, Lemures are the ghosts of people who died without surviving heirs, or who were evil in life. (The counterpart to lemures are lares, good ghosts.) In some cases, a lemure can be created when someone dies prematurely, such as victims of accident or murder, or executed criminals. These lemures then walk the earth until their allotted time runs out. To prevent a lemure from rising from the grave, burn black beans around the tomb while the body is being interred. If it’s too late for that, a lemure can be driven off by banging on drums, or can be appeased during Lemuria, an annual three-day Roman festival which was held specifically to appease these spirits.|
|Lhiannan Shee||MC11: Forgotten Realms Appendix II|
|On the Isle of Man, the Lhiannan-Shee is a vampiric spirit which attaches itself to a single man. While he considers the spirit irresistibly beautiful, she remains invisible to all others. If he yields to her seduction, he is lost in body and soul. The Leanan-Sidhe of Ireland is much nicer, a life-giving spirit and inspiration to poets and minstrels. Most lore combines these beliefs, presenting the Lhiannan Shee as a source of inspiration for her mortal lover, but fickle, and sure to destroy him in the end. Both names translate as "fairy sweetheart," and are to be avoided if you know what’s good for you.|
|Lich comes from the German leiche, and means "corpse." Everything beyond that seems to be largely a modern invention. A cool one, though. It is true that folkloric witches and sorcerers often sought to cheat death, and they generally became any number of undead or spirit creatures; it’s just that none of those creatures have much resemblance to the AD&D undead wizard.|
|Technically, lycanthropy is a medical term, referring to a psychological disorder in which the patient believes they are a wolf. Even more technically, it should not be used to refer to any type of werebeast other than werewolves, therianthrope being the correct and artless term. So, AD&D and I say to heck with it, and freely refer to all werebeasts as lycanthropes, and power to us for it. Legends of men and women able to take the shape of various animals are found throughout the world, and probably date back to the very earliest of man’s religious beliefs, well before the coming of civilization. (Did you know cavemen feared the undead? It’s true!) In most cases, the "werebeast" is an evil sorcerer, who uses magic to transform himself into an animal (or animals). Shapechangers with an innate ability to change between man and beast are usually animals that can turn into humans.
The infected werebeast is largely modern fiction’s extensive revamping of older superstitions. In medieval Europe, unwilling werebeasts typically kept their human minds, and didn’t change according to the moon; rather, they changed once, either until their curse was lifted or for a flat seven years. Considering that a common way of ending up with this curse was to be a cuckolded husband (which means your wife is cheating on you), it was a really raw deal. Decent people who occasionally transformed into slavering beasts can be found in the folklore, however, and surviving a werebeast’s attack is one of the ways to be infected. Other methods of becoming a werewolf included sleeping outdoors, drinking water from a wolf’s pawprint, any number of other innocuous or bizarre activities, or even circumstances totally beyond the werewolf’s control, such as being the seventh son of a seventh son, or being born on Christmas. Silver bullets weren’t an important part of the mythology until Universal Studios got their hands on it, and the half-man, half-animal staple of movies is almost entirely the invention of filmdom (namely, limits in FX technology). Werebeasts almost always took a completely animal form, although they often had some sort of distinguishing feature (not to mention human-level cunning) that marked them as unusual.
|The ancient Egyptians never believed that the bodies of their dead could rise up and walk, and any Egyptologist would be happy to explain for you just why a mummy couldn’t get loose of his wrappings even if he did wake up from his long nap. However, the Egyptians did have a penchant for curses (it might be added they also had a lot of grave robbers who didn’t worry about said curses), and in their mythology, the afterlife was entirely dependent upon keeping the physical body intact. If the body is completely destroyed, so is the soul(s).|
|Night Hag, Nightmare||Monstrous Manual|
|There is in fact a still-unexplained psychological condition where, while in a half-waking, half-sleep state, an individual can feel like he’s fully awake, but that a massive weight is pressing down on his body, crushing and pinning him. This phenomenon has been documented since the times of ancient Greece, and is the source of numerous supernatural legends, most notably the Night Hag, also known as the Night-Mare. The Night-Mare of legend comes to its victims as they sleep and sits on their chest, "riding" them while draining away their life force, and is the source of the modern term simply meaning a bad dream.|
|Odem||Ravenloft MC Appendix III|
|This one’s a stumper. The name might mean something, or it might not. The word odem seems to turn up in a few languages, and is a not-too-uncommon surname. In Hebrew, odem is another name for carnelian, a type of quartz, which tells me nothing. So I haven’t figured it out yet, but while we’re hovering around the realm of Jewish lore, let’s turn to ancient Cabalistic-Chassidic legends to find a similar entity: the dybbuk. According to this ancient lore, those who died with impure souls were doomed to wander the Earth for a time before they could find rest. To make matters worse, these spirits would be beset by evil, demonic spirits. To escape these spirits, the unclean soul would take refuge in the body of a pious person, whom the evil spirits could not harm. Once in their new host, the dybbuk would use the body to finish those things they had left unresolved in life. As in Christian myth, these spirits could be exorcised.|
|Penanggalan||Children of the Night: Vampires|
|The penanggalan is a type of Malaysian vampire and truly some of the most disgusting undead out there. All penanggalans are female, and appear to be human during the day. At night, however, the penanggalan’s head detaches from her body and floats away, the intestines dangling beneath it. The bloody fluid dripping from her intestines (which are luminescent, by the by) can cause terrible sores, and she delights in draining the blood of women in labor (although she’ll go after anyone in a pinch, including men). Her intestines bloat so much that a penanggalan must soak her organs in vinegar before she can fit them back in her body. One can guard against penanggalans by decorating their house with special thorny thistles from the jeruju plant. The thorns snag the creature’s intestines and trap it until dawn, when it becomes vulnerable. The penanggalan made it into the original Fiend Folio with nearly all its loathsome details intact, but has been sanitized in more recent appearances, which I consider a bit of a shame.
There are a few other types of Malaysian vampiric entities as well, and they’re all nearly as disgusting as this one.
|Phantom||MC11: Forgotten Realms Appendix II|
|A general term referring to all manner of ghostly phenomena, perhaps most recognizably with examples like The Phantom Hitchhiker. Although this doesn’t hold true for everything labeled as a phantom, many phantoms appear to be entirely solid and real (if perhaps a bit odd) when first encountered, but then have the unnerving habit of inexplicably vanishing as soon as the witness takes their eyes off them for a few moments.|
|A poltergeist is a mischievous or malevolent spirit, always invisible, which manifests itself through displays of strange noises, moving objects, and general physical disturbances. Thus comes its name, from the German polter, meaning "to knock," and geist, meaning "ghost" or "spirit." Poltergeists usually manifest in homes with a teenage child; some parapsychologists believe that, rather than being a separate entity unto itself, the poltergeist is actually some sort of external, telekinetic manifestation of the adolescent’s inner turmoil.|
|A demonic spirit from Indian folklore, the name Rakshasa translates literally as "destroyer." They can take many shapes, including beautiful men or women, or many kinds of animals, as well as many monstrous forms. In their true form, they are said to be black figures with flaming hair, and wear a wreath of entrails. They are the enemies of mankind, and have many gruesome habits to back this up, including eating human flesh and drinking blood from human skulls. They are nocturnal creatures and often haunt graveyards, perhaps because it is said they can reanimate the dead. They can also possess the living, causing madness or illness, and their touch brings death. Fortunately, they are dimwitted (a common trait among the demons of India), and can be banished simply by saying the word "Uncle."|
|Revenant||MC3: Forgotten Realms Appendix|
|A general term referring to any member of the dead who has returned to the land of the living. These revenants may be ghostly or corporeal. The AD&D revenant is similar to the type made popular by the classic EC horror comics of the 1950’s: the rotting corpse which drags itself from the grave to enact its revenge on those who caused its demise.|
|Rushlight||Ravenloft MC Appendix III|
|Well, according to my Webster’s, a rushlight is simply a candle made from the pith of a rush (a grasslike plant) as the wick. If there’s a supernatural connotation, I’ll keep trying to find it.|
|If there’s one dead thing your typical peasant wasn’t scared of, it was a skeleton. They knew darn well that without any muscles or tendons to hold those bones together, that skeleton wasn’t going to have much chance of standing up, much less posing a threat. The skeleton was, however, a common symbol of death (for obvious reasons), and this eventually led (through the likes of Ray Harryhousen) to the animated skeleton now found in fantasy fiction.|
|A general term which can apply to any apparition, ghost, or any object of fear or dread. TSR uses the British spelling; my spell-checker would greatly prefer if I spelled it specter.|
|The AD&D Vampire is largely inspired by modern fiction, which in turn was largely inspired by Bram Stoker’s Dracula and the Byronic vampires created by other authors of the 19th century. Vampires of folklore are somewhat different. Using the widest possible definition, vampires are simply spirits which feed on the living, the hungry dead, and as such vampiric entities can be found in legends throughout the world. However, the creatures closest to our concept of the vampire come from the Slavic folklore of eastern Europe. The Slavic vampire (of which there were countless varieties, under as many names) was a symbol of the slow, inexplicable death; they were the hidden cause behind any sort of wasting disease, especially easily communicable ones such as cholera. They were generally loathsome creatures, their ghastly bodies bloated with blood. To go into too much more detail is to start cutting out many varieties. Typically, a stake through the heart will kill any Slavic vampire, but if I were you, I’d chop him into little pieces, burn the bits, and scatter the ashes. Or you could just nuke ‘em from orbit; only way to be sure.
Nosferatu is just a term for one of the many varieties of Slavic vampire, made popular through its use in Dracula, and especially by the film of the same name.
|Vampyre||Ravenloft MC Appendix I|
|Vampyre is simply a variant spelling of vampire. This follows the time-honored AD&D tradition of, "change a letter, get a brand-new monster." Same deal with goblyns.|
|Originally a Germanic term simply meaning "being" or "creature," wight increasingly came to mean good or evil spirits. It already meant "dangerous spirits" by the time Chaucer used the term in The Canterbury Tales.|
|Will O’Wisp||Monstrous Manual|
|A type of ghost light (the most general term) or ignis fatuus, which translates as "the foolish fire," since anyone who follows these spectral lights must be a fool. Ghost lights are mysterious, nocturnal flames which dance through the air, and can mislead lost travelers. Although ghost lights are encountered throughout the world under many names, the Will-o’-the-Wisp (or Will-o’-the-Wykes) is a British variety, and is considered evil. The most common modern explanation for ghost lights is that they are simply ignited pockets of swamp gas, or distant lights misunderstood by the witness.|
|Wishing Imp||Ravenloft MC Appendix III|
|This creature is presumably based on the artifact from the short story The Monkey's Paw, by W. W. Jacobs. The perfect gift for the player that wants everything...|
|A kind of apparition, a wraith is a spirit double, and a sure omen that the "double" will soon die. Most disturbingly, the most common witness of a wraith is its own double. When you’re being haunted by your own ghost, you know you aren’t going to have a good day.|
|In the Vodoun (Voodoo) faith, a zombie is a dead body restored to life by a sorcerer called a bokor, to be used for manual labor. The zombie appears to be a living person, but has no will of its own, and needs only be fed bread and water to keep it working. However, a zombie must never be fed salt; this reminds the zombie that it is dead, and it will immediately try to return to its grave. The Voodan Zombie of the Book of Souls is a faithful translation of the folkloric zombie. Zombies do exist, but in actuality are probably just the brain-damaged victims of powerful neurotoxins. The word "zombie" may come from the Congo word nzambi, which means "the spirit of a dead person."|
|Zombie, Cannibal||Ravenloft MC Appendix III|
|These creatures are almost certainly based on the ghouls in director George Romero’s trilogy of Living Dead movies. Romero’s basic idea behind Night of the Living Dead was one society being replaced by another, and the elder society’s inability to cope with or even understand the changes. In other words, it’s about the generation gap. Those wacky kids and their flesh-eating…|
|Zombie, Fog||Ravenloft MC Appendix III|
|These creatures seem to have been inspired by the film The Fog, directed by John Carpenter.|
Dragons: A Natural History. Dr. Karl Shuker (Simon & Schuster: New York) ©1995.
Encyclopedia of Fairies, An. Katherine Briggs (Pantheon Books: New York) ©1976.
Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits, The. Rosemary Guiley (Facts on File; New York) ©1992.
Encyclopedia of Occultism, An. Lewis Spence (Citadel Press: New York) ©1960.
Faeries. Brian Froud and Alan Lee (Peacock Press/Bantam Books: New York) ©1978.
Fallen Angels: and Spirits of the Dark. Robert Masello (Berkeley Publishing Group: New York) ©1994.
Paranormal: An Illustrated Encyclopedia, The. Stuart Gordon (Headline Book Publishing: London) ©1992.
Vampire Book, The: The Encyclopedia of the Undead. J. Gordon Melton (Visible Ink Press; Detroit) ©1994.
Vampire Encyclopedia, The. Matthew Bunson (Crown Trade Paperbacks: New York) ©1993.
Back to the References...