Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Fawning candy blink dogs

A couple months ago Ken Hite was putting together the monster list for the upcoming 13th Age Bestiary from Pelgrane Press. I'd been helping with suggestions and sample monster write-ups. Then I mentioned the monsters I wasn't sure we should cover.


Any time D&D did a book of monsters in 3e and 3.5, you could count on a substantial portion of the contributions amounting to dogs. Go ahead, start paging through with the core Monster Manual, you'll hit the hound archon, barghest (wolflike is doglike, man), blink dog, dire wolf, gnolls (because hyenas count), and so on, up through the warg, winter wolf, and yeth hound. The monsters just get barkier in the Fiend Folio and in the old Monster Manual II, sometimes when you don't really expect it. Caniloth? That's a dog-like not-demon/not-devil. Senmurv? That's some kind of coyote humanoid with rainbow wings. As soon as you do a race sourcebook, that race has gotta have a dog. Or three. The parade of dog-like monsters keeps spooling out like a WTF multiversal dog show.

I became aware of our canine design tendency when I was choosing minis for the D&D Miniatures game. Like other powerful unconscious tendencies, dog-ness often took us by surprise. A gravehound, a werewolf, a Nessian warhound, a gnoll priestess, an iron defender and a goblin warg rider feel like different monsters. But if you squint, they're all from Canine Kennels.

The ubiquity of dog monsters isn't a surprise. We think with what's familiar. Twisting the familiar into a monster creates scary and resonant monsters. And other creators have had weird dog-fixations. Shakespeare tended to link 'fawning' in the same sentence as candy (sweetmeats, candied jellies) along with a dog or hound or mastiff, there are upwards of seven plays that feature this precise association, something like a text analysis fingerprint. Us 'd20-rolling designers? We've got an even more obvious thread: new monster concept = obvious (or just maybe stealthy) dog.

So Ken made the call to exclude dogs from the upcoming 13th Age Bestiary. It was a good call. 13th Age is aimed at imaginative GMs and players who are being encouraged to add their own cool ideas to each campaign and session. It's clear that most of us gamers can design actually-interesting dog-monsters ourselves and we've covered a few of the obvious wolves and hellhounds in the core book. We're trying to supply ideas and inspiration you might not have had immediately on your own, so throwing more dogs onto the pile just isn't necessary.

And by the hoary breath of the winter wolf, my previous work cycle created enough pre-painted plastic dog-style miniatures that you should have no problem finding minis to suit your new creations.


  1. Koboolds were originally "dog-like" humanoids. In Kobolds Ate My Baby! they still are.

  2. I always forget about dog-like kobolds! Suddenly, I find this obsession with dogs tone fascinating. It's especially interesting when you compare it with the less popular cat-like monsters.

  3. Tezza, like Andrew, I also forget about dog-like ur-kobolds. Thanks for the reminder.

  4. Do cats get a equivalent amount of shades of variation? Are game designers dog lovers instead of cat lovers?

  5. Mage-Ou, I believe an answer to your question could be interesting enough to warrant its own blog entry. Lemme see if I can get to that in the next couple weeks.