In an answer to another question I made the point that using non-standard variants of published monsters has been common practice since the early days of D&D. This was based on my own experience, but I am certain I have seen the practice in published aventures. What is the earliest instance of a variant monster in a published D&D adventure?

How I am defining the term "variant monster":

  • A variant monster must be based on a published, official monster but differs from the official monster in a significant way due to a fundamental change in the monster’s nature. By significant way, I mean any change in physical statistics or capabilities not natural for the officially described species. May also be a change in the monster's physical description that might cause players to misidentify it or not notice it (example: red slime with green slime stats).
  • Includes any monster with abilities not accounted for in its official description, such as a spell-casting medusa, a psionic basilisk, a day-walking vampire, or a water-breathing owl-bear.
  • Includes any monster that behaves in a way that would normally be impossible for that monster (example: a sentient iron golem that acts on its own free will). But this does not include a creature that has been turned into a monster and still behaves as its natural self (example: a gnome trapped inside an iron golem's body).
  • Does not include new types of old monsters that receive a full description in the module and possibly later were published as monsters in their own right in supplements. Example: the drow (mentioned briefly, not statted in the 1e Monster Manual) was fully described and statted in the appendix of the first adventure in which they appeared (G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King) and was later published in the 1e Fiend Folio, so drow is a unique monster in its own right, not a variant monster.
  • Does not include monsters that are physically and statistically the same as their official type but behave in an unusual way (e.g., a good-aligned red dragon or a cunning, educated ogre).
  • Does not include monsters equipped in an unusual way.
  • Does not include variants that are actually mentioned in the monster's official description. Example: the 1E AD&D Monster Manual description of the ghoul mentioned the existence of lacedons, an aquatic ghoul that conforms in all other respects to a standard ghoul. The manual does not give a swim speed for the lacedon, which presumably it has, so giving a lacedon a swim speed in a published adventure would not count as a variant, unless other of its stats or characteristics have been changed.
  • Does not include monsters who are normal members of the species officially described but have stats altered because they are young, old, injured, sick, under the effects of a specific spell (such as enlarge), or magic item (such as a ring of invisibility). May include monsters who have been altered by some non-specific magic such as "a wizard's experimentation."
  • Does not include NPCs of a race that is described as a published monster but is also available for players to use. Example: A dwarf thief. Also does not include NPCs of a non-player race when the possibility of such an NPC is mentioned in the monster description (like a spellcasting shaman version of the monster).

NOTE: The question specifies D&D or Pathfinder, which includes all editions of those games. Published adventures would be any official adventure modules, adventures published in Dragon or Dungeon magazines, or third party modules designed for use with a qualifying D&D or Pathfinder system.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ “D&D, which includes all editions of Pathfinder” is, you know, not actually true, so maybe reword that, and maybe favor [pathfinder] over [published-adventures] which this is only tangentially related to. (Then again, I’m not quite sure why we have [monsters] and [monster-design].) \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Sep 15, 2020 at 3:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ Made the change. \$\endgroup\$
    – ruffdove
    Sep 15, 2020 at 10:37

2 Answers 2



The earliest published standalone adventure for Dungeons & Dragons was Palace of the Vampire Queen. That adventure has several variant monsters. In particular, the Dwarf Children all have 1 hp (technically 1 'Max. Damage') (excepting the Princess, but she is labeled 'dwarf princess', not 'dwarf children'), and none of them have levels in fighter, while the Dwarf entry in Monsters and Treasure allots 1 full hit die to each dwarf and instructs that one out of every 40 dwarves in any given group should always be a levelled fighting-man.

No specific published stats for dwarf children followed in any manual for the very early game (at least, not explicitly), and the children don't receive full stat blocks, sort of, since if they get attacked or try and punch something you gotta refer to Monsters & Treasure again to find out they are extra good versus the Ogres on floor 5 room 13 and "otherwise as outlined in CHAINMAIL".

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ This is an excellent answer to my question as originally worded, so I am up-voting it. However it exposes a definition of monster variant that I did not originally intend to include: a monster that is differently statted because it is young, old, injured, diseased, etc. While this fits my original definition, it is not what I was looking for, which is a monster whose actual nature had been changed. I will change the definition in my question. Thank you for finding this. \$\endgroup\$
    – ruffdove
    Sep 15, 2020 at 10:32

1978, possibly 1975

My own research into the two oldest modules I own (both AD&D modules published by TSR in 1978) revealed two cases of variant monsters under the revised definition.

First, Area 29 of the upper level of Module G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl features a black pudding that, while conforming to all normal black pudding stats, is white in color to blend with the snowy, icy environment.

The second is Area 8 of S1 Tomb of Horrors which has a "mutated" gargoyle with four arms and correspondingly more attacks. This module also has an animated hill giant skeleton, though that could be defined as a normal hill giant under the effects of a specific spell (animate dead), so it doesn't qualify under the revised definition.

Since Tomb of Horrors was first designed and played at the 1975 Origins Convention, it is possible that it was published in a limited run that year. I know there were tournement prints of C1 Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan sold at the 1979 Origins Convention that are now collectors items, but I cannot confirm whether this was done in 1975 with Tomb of Horrors. Without multiple copies made available to the public, it wouldn’t count as published. Further, the Tomb of Horrors Wikipedia page states that the adventure was revised for publication in 1978, so I cannot confirm the mutated gargoyle was in the original.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Do those modules lack stat blocks for their monsters? I thought S1 at least had those. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 16, 2020 at 17:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ Relevant combat stats given parenthetically in the text, yes. But they are not fully statted (the full Monster Manual stat block with details of frequency, treasure type, etc) and described in a special appendix the way drow were in G3. \$\endgroup\$
    – ruffdove
    Sep 16, 2020 at 20:36

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