Let’s start this one with the best creatures in the whole book. The Githyanki and Githzerai. Like the Dark Creeper and Dark Stalker, they are really two variants of the same species, but instead of sharing a single culture, these two are mortal enemies. Gith have always been one of my favorite races in Dungeons & Dragons, though to be more precise, they really became the minor stars that they are in Planescape. One interesting piece of trivia about the Gith is that they were created by Charles Stross, who later got pretty famous as a writer of science-fiction. And he did it when he was 12. Lots of people have created countless of cool monsters when they were 12, but almost all of them are total garbage. This one isn’t just good, it’s actually great! Thousands of years ago, the Mind Flayers (probably the most iconic creature of D&D next to beholders) enslaved a race of humans and bred them to be perfect slaves and food. This not only changed their bodies but also their minds, and generations of living under telepathic control by the mind flayers caused them to develop a natural talent for psionc powers. Eventually a slave named Gith started a rebellion against the mind flayers and led her follwers to the astral plane, where they became known as the githyanki. To no surprise, githyanki absolutely hate mind flayers and will try to kill them at any possible opportunity. In the astral plane they live in huge castle cities floating in the void, which in the Planescape setting are build on and inside the gargantuan petrified bodies of dead gods. They are evil and warlike and lead by an extremely powerful lich queen. Any githyanki who get too powerful (around 11th level) get killed by the queen to ensure nobody will be able to compete and stand against her. To make things worse, the githyanki also made a pact with red dragons. When githyanki come to the material plane, they use red dragons as mounts that can carry whole war bands. Yeah, a huge red dragon comes into town and as it lands a gang of space pirates with psionic powers jump from it’s back. Have fun. The githzerai resemble the githyanki in many ways, but have made their home in Limbo, the plane of pure Chaos. The two races have been at war with each other for a very long time, but as presented here, no reason is given for their hatred. They are not fond of mind flayers, but do not have the same unlimited hatred for them as the githyanki. This was later changed in Planescape, where the one thing that can stop githyanki and githzerai from fighting is the appearance of mind flayers, which they will both attack instantly. And then go back to fighting each other if any survived. Even though they are chaotic neutral, the githzerai have monks instead of death knights, as the githyanki do. I just love these guys. They are very much out of place in more “generic” D&D settings, but in Planescape they are just wonderful. Congratulations, Little Charlie. You did very good.
Next up is the Gorbel, which is another case of classic D&D weirdness. It’s a globe of rubbery material with six eye stalks and two claws. The gorbel uses the claws to grab a persons back and then deals damage each round by digging them deeper in the body. A gorbel can only be removed by killing it, which causes it to explode, dealing 1d4 points of damage. Their armor is quite decent, but becomes extremely low once they got hold of someone. I mostly like the art of this one. The gorbel looks more freaked out than the guy he’s attacking.
Now we have the Gorilla Bear. Which is exactly like any other gorilla, but it has claws. Take a shot?
The Grell is another floating head with tentacles. Early D&D got a lot of these. The main body looks like a giant brain with no eyes but a beaked mouth like a squid, and it has several tentacles on its underside which it uses as arms. The tentacles do only very little damage but are poisonous and cause creatures to become paralyzed. They are just as smart as humans and like to hide in the shadows under the ceiling to attack from above. I recently learned that these are not in fact a truly original creature of D&D, but a blantant rippoff from a 1934 novel called Legions of Space. Later editions of D&D expanded on the background and behavior of the grell, giving them powerful wizards as leaders.
Grimlocks are pretty standard humanoids, but I was quite surprised that these are not actually generic fantasy creatures with a long tradition, but really appeared for the first time in this book. They are savage humans who live underground and are completely blind, and of course heavily inspired by the morlocs from The Time Machine. They are really not that interesting, but I really like what some artists in the 3rd edition of D&D did and instead of showing them as neanderthals who are blind, painted them as humanoids that have literally no eyes. Their foreheads are completely blank, and their faces consisting only of a nose and mouth. That makes them a lot more alien.
Next is a Hoar Fox. Which is exactly like a winter wolf, but smaller. Super creative.
The Hound of Ill Omen might seem like just another demon dog, but this one actually has a lot more to offer. In this incarnation, it’s not really a creature. Pretty much every line in the stat block simply say “no”. It’s a huge dog that is only visible to a single person before it disappears. The person who sees the hound also hears it howl, which causes the person to fall under a curse. The next ten points of damage against the cursed character are multiplied by four. There’s no real way around it and casting the remove curse spell only shortens the duration to the next five points of damage. The hound is said to be send by gods who are angry at the character. Basically, it’s the GM saying “screw you, you are hit by lightning”.
Jermlaine are creatures which I normally would most certainly ignore and not even give a second look, if I were not out looking specifically for odd creatures with unusual behaviors. They are little ugly men who live underground with rats. They are extremely weak, but also really quite fast and usually appear in numbers of several dozens. They are mean and evil creatures, and being very small and weak, they mostly attack targets who are badly injured and unable to fight. Then they come out of their holes with little clubs and keep beating people with them until they are knocked out. Then they are tied up, dragged into the dark, and left for some other dangerous creatures to come along and actually kill them. If someone makes camp near a jermlain lair, they will stealthy sneak up on them to damage ropes and belts and poison any food or water. These are some really mean little bastards. As regular monsters they are a joke. But against a group of characters who have been beaten up badly and retreated to a seemingly save spot to recover, a swarm of jermlains could be a really serious and also interesting challenge. Beaten up and tied up to be left in the dark with no supplies and damaged equipment is no fun at all, even for otherwise quite high level character. I probably wouldn’t asign them to any specific room in a dungeon to attack when the characters enter, but instead keep them in reserve to come out of little holes in the floor whenever there’s a good opportunity to unleash them on the party. These are actually really quite cool once you read the full description and consider how to implement them. Not all old D&D silliness is actually nonsense.
The Lizard King seems more like an NPC than a type of monster, but it’s quite cool nontheless. A lizard king is a really big, tough, and strong lizardmen with above average intelligence, and also utterly evil. He eats two humans per week and if his followers can’t supply them, he will just eat four of them instead. This guy really doesn’t fuck around. Lizardmen are native savages of the swamps and jungles who are not happy about intruders, but this guy is just one really mean bastard. He has a big trident as a weapon which can deal great amounts of damage. If his attack roll exceeds the required number for a hit by 5, he impales his target and deals a minimum of 15 damage. Against a group that expects to fight normal lizardmen, this guy can get really terrifying. And this is a book for AD&D, where even monsters like orcs and goblins where not usually expected to be stronger than the standard version and the regular shamans and chiefs. At 8 hit dice, the lizard king is well above that.
Meenlocks are some really scary little fuckers. They are only about half a meter tall but their faces are pure horror. Normal people and even low level adventurers will simply collapse on the spot because of supernatural fear for several minutes. I assume characters can make a saving throw to avoid it, but the description isn’t quite clear about it. Meenlocks have their lairs deep underground and come outside through small and long tunnels which are too deep and winding to discern their total depths from above. Also, the air coming of it smells like rotting corpses. These tunnels are wide enough for humans to climb down, though I image it’s going to be a very tight fit. Their claws do not deal a lot of damage, but cause paralysis. And alone at the bottom of a long shaft, that’s really not something you want to happen. Meenlocks hunt in the dark, but to make things worse, they can also teleport over small distances, which allows them to bypass almost all barriers. If any person attracts a meenlocks attention, it will follow the creature and keep hunting it. But not secretly, and instead will constantly send telepathic messages that it is coming for him, which makes the target highly distracted and unsettled and results in a penalty to most ability scores and attacks. At night, the meenlock will strike and silently sneak into the camp and drag the victim back to its lair, paralysing any guards if necessary. After a while in the meenlocks lair, the helpless target will be transformed into a meenlock as well. These are one of the scariest critters D&D has to offer. There was a really great adventure for 3rd edition called Escape from Meenlock Prison, in which the player characters get trapped in an old prision that has been mostly taken over be meenlocks, who can easily slip through or teleport between the cell bars and have already made most of the prisoners and guards their own.
The Necrophidus is often called a cleric troll monster, and for good reasons. It’s a large snake-like creature made from a human skull and spines, called a death worm, has all the immunities of undead, and attacks by paralyzing its target. But it’s not undead. Ha ha! It’s used either as an assassin or guardian of treasure.
The Phantom Stalker is a creature from the elemental plane of fire and similar to invisible stalkers and dune stalkers in many way. But I think a much more interesting creature. For one thing, they look pretty freakish and are also two and a half meters tall, and they can change their shape to some extend and fly. They are also commonly summoned not to serve as assassins but as bodyguards for a wizards. However, they despise this service and try to find ways to obey their orders while still causing their master grief and trouble. However, the spell that summons a phantom stalker also forces it to avenge the death of its summoner. When the summoner dies, the phantom stalker instantly vanishes. But a few hours later it begins to hunt the summoners killer through the ethereal plane. They are not actually particularly powerful or deal a lot of damage, but if they are about to lose a fight, they will destroy themselves by exploding as a 6d6 fireball.