The Creature Collector with DM Jared - Monstrous Compendiums and the Krajen
For Advanced D&D 2nd Edition, while there were plenty of hardcover sourcebooks and softcover supplements, many of the monster collections were provided in a 2- and 3-hole punched format, for easy insert into a binder.
The Monstrous Compendium Volume I came as a 3-ring binder itself, heavy cardboard with a thin plastic coating to make it more durable, featuring a trio of iconic monsters on the front cover: an umber hulk, beholder, and displacer beast. Inside was a wealth of information about these monsters and many more as well, all of which I would consider classic creatures: orcs, goblins, trolls, elementals, giants, lycanthropes, dragons, and many others.
The cover of that Volume I states “A perfect range of creatures to play the game”, and I agree. But you can always have a larger range, which brings us to the appendix supplements. These were packages of additional monsters, with conveniently punched holes.
These appendixes were usually themed around a specific campaign setting, such as Ravenloft, The Forgotten Realms, or Spelljammer, but some were more broad, such as the Fiend Folio. Each cover had a similar layout to the Volume I binder, showing a trio of creatures. Some of these trio were somewhat familiar, others more alien, but all served as a small preview to the wide range of creatures found within.
The appendixes also contained several full-color pages of artwork. Each page depicted a scene of adventure, tranquility, or wonder, telling a small piece of what was no doubt a much larger story; an adventure past, future, or currently in progress!
I was a big fan of the format back then, and still am. It made encounter preparation easy, as you could assemble a specific set of monsters to use with an adventure, arranged however you wanted. While today's hardcover monster collections are nice, there can be a lot of page-flipping involved when it comes time to run an encounter. Not to mention carrying the entire book with you if you're playing elsewhere, sometimes just to have a single monster reference available when you need it.
Sure, you could buy a PDF instead, to print out the required pages and store them in a folder or binder of your own. But it was really nice to have them all prepackaged that way from the start.
Most of the monsters I will be talking about come from the aforementioned appendixes, but for this post, let's go back to that first monster I saw in the orange Spelljammer softcover book – the Krajen.
I mentioned in my previous post that a krajen looks like a land-born squid, and the reality is close to that. They do resemble squids, albeit with a central tentacle much larger than the others that ring it, and the surface they usually inhabit is not traditional land, but the hulls of spacefaring craft.
Krajens live to eat and to grow.. They start out life as tiny spores, drifting through space. Ships can pass through a cloud of them without the crew noticing. Once the spores take root, however, they quickly become a problem. Once the spores root in the hull, they quickly form a hardened shell, like a barnacle, to protect themselves while they feed. Anyone disturbing the shell is apt to get a lashing from the central tentacle. When small, this is not very damaging, though the tentacles do excrete a strong paralyzing poison as well, which can be dangerous. Once the disturbance stops, the krajen tucks its central tentacle back down inside the shell, only emerging again if required to defend itself.
Left alone, a krajen will consume material from the surface of the hull for about two months' time, weakening it all the while, at which point it will detach and float off into space. This is also when its sentry tentacles appear; small tentacles that ring the creature and whose purpose it is to protect the main body, which they do with strong paralytic poison. This is the krajen's immature stage, where they are only about a foot long. At this size, they are not very dangerous individually, though a group of them can be difficult to handle, due to the chance of being paralyzed and then becoming food.
Upon reaching their adult size of 40 feet long, a krajen becomes a true terror of the void. At this size, its central tentacle is capable of crushing entire ships at once, while its paralytic sentry tentacles deal with any crew attempting to stop the destruction.
Krajen never stop growing, so there are tales of truly massive ones out there in the depths of space, drifting, and feeding.
The krajen are just one example of a creature that can be adapted to any campaign or character experience level, since they have multiple growth stages. As they feed on ships, their behavior could easily be migrated to seafaring vessels. Likewise, while the documented young krajen spores travel through the openness of space in a cloud, they could just as easily be drifting through the ocean in the same fashion, or carried upon the winds of the world, attaching to ships or other structures and wreaking havoc if not properly dealt with when young.
Even if you're already running Spelljammer or a similarly themed game, adapting creatures like the krajen to another environment is a good way to get even more mileage out of them.
In future posts, I'll be talking more about monster conversions, changes, and adaptability, hopefully introducing some you haven't yet encountered, and offering new takes on the creatures more common in the worlds of D&D.
All images are Copyright 1989 TSR (now owned by Wizards of the Coast)