Vox Populi Forum
By Michael Curtis
It’s a well-known fact that some of D&D’s iconic monsters owe their existence to cheap plastic dinosaurs made in China. Gary Gygax, lacking the now-omnipresent sources for fantasy miniatures, used toy dinosaurs as stand-ins for weird monsters in his early campaigns. Some of these dinosaur figures are still manufactured and a search of “rust monster toy” on eBay will likely net you a few hits. Using whatever is handy to fill your campaign is the type of creative game mastering The Dungeon Alphabet seeks to cultivate in its readers.
In an earlier update, I mentioned that we did this same exact thing as kids without any clear knowledge of who Gary Gygax was or what went on in the early days of the hobby. I think I could probably tell you that Gygax “made D&D” at the age of 12, but the particulars of the game’s origins were completely unknown to me. We just happened to share a similar creative bent with Gary and that explains why we were playing his game in the first place.
In those campaigns back in the 1980s, our PCs lived in fear of the dreaded “battle axe.” This wasn’t the weapon favored by Vikings and Cimmerians, but a bizarre and terrible monster that dwelled in the dark dungeons under the earth. The creature flew about on leathery wings and possessed a great maw set into its breast. It’s long neck terminated in a single baleful eye, lacking any true head. Battle axes flocked together and could fly faster than a man could run. Slaying these dire creatures was a triumphant event, resulting a more than a few high-fives around the table.
You won’t find the battle axe monster in the Monster Manual or an old issue of Dragon Magazine. It’s not even in the pages of some Xeroxed fanzine your older brother bought at a convention or traded an issue of The Uncanny X-Men #182 for. There weren’t any published stats for the beast, and I’m fairly certain even we didn’t have them written down. No, the battle axe wasn’t something a game designer came up with—it was a monster we made up based on a Star Wars figure one of us had lying about.
If you were lucky enough to have or know someone who owned the Star Wars Death Star playset back then, you might remember the trash compactor monster. It has an official name now, but back then that’s what we all called it. At least, until it became the battle axe. The T.C.M. was a man-sized green alien creature with the same features I attributed to the battle axe above. Somewhere along the line, we decided that the T.C.M. resembled a double-bitted battle axe and that its fins were actually wings. It wasn’t before too long that we ran into the first of these monsters in our D&D games and the rest was—to us, anyway—gaming history.
More than thirty years later, that youthful creativity is still there inside me. I tap into it every time I sit down to write an adventure for publication or my home group. It’s easier to do some days than others, but, if I look hard enough, I can find that spark and kindle it into a bright flame. I’m betting The Dungeon Alphabet will help you do the same.
In closing, ladies and gentlemen, I give you the battle axe for the first time in published form. Please add it to your dungeons and let a new generation of adventurers fear that which flaps in the dark.
Battle Axe: Init +2; Atk bite +6 melee (1d8+2) or eye ray +3 ranged (2d7); AC 14; HD 3d8; MV 10’ or fly 40’; Act 1d20; SP light-induced rage, infravision 120’; SV Fort +5, Ref +4, Will +1; AL N
Battle axes are man-sized flying beasts native to the underworld. They’re typically found in caverns with ample space to fly about, but some small flocks find their way into constructed dungeons and crypts. Battle axes are creatures of darkness and light in any form drives them into a violent rage. When frenzied, they attack anyone carrying light sources relentlessly, never failing morale checks and gaining a +2 bonus to damage. The eye of the battle axe is capable of focusing existing light into a burning ray with a range of 60’. It cannot use this ray in complete darkness. Battle axes are carnivorous, preferring fresh meat over carrion, and are encountered in groups of 1d4+1 in dungeons and 2d10+2 in caverns and caves.