OSR: Sequencing the HD(NA) of the Monster Manual

D'you remember Fafnir? A giant? Well he's a dragon now, don't ask me why.
-Anna Russell


In Volume 1 of Original D&D, Gary wrote that “There is no reason that players cannot be allowed to play as virtually anything, provided they begin relatively weak and work up to the top.” I’ve noted that I played several Balrogs, and way back in the Introduction, I told the story of Sir Fang, the first Vampire player character.

Note, however, that Sir Fang was not the LAST Vampire player character.

One of the gang at the U of Minnesota wanted to play a vampire. This was LONG before vampires were sparkly, and, for that matter, long before they were Brad Pitt. A vampire was Christopher Lee or Bela Lugosi in tuxedo and opera cape, period.

In D&D, if you wanted to play anything, you ALWAYS started low level and worked your way up. D&D undead had a correlation between type and hit dice; a Skeleton was 1 HD, a Zombie 2, etc, up through Ghoul, Wight, Wraith, Mummy, Spectre, Vampire… so our would-be vampire started, of course, as a Skeleton. But at long last he became a vampire, and then, per the rules, proceeded to make a bunch of slaves by “putting the fangs to them.” Of course, those killed would rise with 1 HD also… as a Skeleton.

Eventually the vampire got a cohort of slave vampires and spectres following him. Hooray.

Well, one dark moonlit night our PC and his henchpires were out travelling somewhere and had a random encounter… another band of vampires. PC decides he’s going to eliminate the lead vampire of the other gang and take them all over; the NPC vampire had much the same idea. And the fight was on.

Vampire attacks Spectre. Vampire hits; Spectre is drained 2 levels; Spectre becomes a Wraith.

Wraith attacks a different enemy, a Spectre, because it’s easier to hit, and hits. But wraiths drain one level, not two, so the enemy Spectre is drained one level… and turns into a mummy.

Oh, by the way… both vampire gangs had been flying, and were fighting at an approximate altitude of 1000 feet above the ground. And mummies are notable for their aerodynamics – “notable” in the sense of, “They fly about as well as a dessicated human corpse that’s had its internal organs pulled out and then been wrapped in bandages.”

And the hapless mummy plummets earthward, flapping its arms madly.

I’m sure you can see where this is heading. The aerial duel continued in something rather like “Night of the Living Dead” meets “Blue Max,” and as the combatants were drained levels, they would eventually hit a non-flying form… zombie, ghoul, wight, or mummy… and go hurtling towards the ground in the grip of that puissant incantation, “9.8 meters per second squared”.

I picture the peasants below, huddling in their wretched huts and praying as hard as they can as various half-decomposed bodies fall out of the sky to land with meaty thumps. On the other hand, all that organic material would be great fertilizer.

I’ve never needed rules for “comic relief” in D&D. Wait patiently and the players will provide it in abundance.
-Mike "Old Geezer" Mornard
I remember hearing this story years and years ago in a slightly different form from (I think) someone who hard heard it from someone else. A sort of IRC proto-meme. Anyway, I found a half-written scrap of paper with a rough HD list stuck in the back of one of my old notebooks, and I decided to finish the job once and for all.

Your Attention Please...

After the discovery of the Royalty Prism (capable of splitting Royal effusions into specially graded tones), there seemed to be little work left for the Illusionists. They'd detected Good and Evil, Chaos and Law, Lies, Inheritance, and even Luck. The fortuitous revelation of the "HD" changed everything. For years, thaumaturges, scholars, and mages had tried to discover why some creatures changed and others remained constant.

With the ability to detect a creatures "Heuristic Denomination" or "HD", a mage with a simple wand and a ledger book could categorize Nature. Small creatures, having no HD to speak of, are difficult to rate, but large creatures are easily detected, sorted, and linked. The grand web of life, formerly shrouded in the mists of ignorance and buried in the soft peat of muddled metaphors, was gradually revealed.

Thanks to many hours of research and a fortuitous burglary, the mechanism of HD gain has also been revealed. Gold is magic, as anyone who has been handed a large bag of the stuff can attest. It is condensed, solidified magic from the dawn of time. Get enough of it in one place and the world starts to bend. Looted gold (not paid or earned, it seems) triggers a morphological response. Testing is ongoing; owing to the nessesary secrecy and great expenditures, results have been neither consistent nor profitable.

There seems to be a method of gaining HD by combat, but it is both tedious, risky, and almost immeasurably slow. Nevertheless, in impoverished regions, this must be the only way for creatures to reach other forms. Nature, in her infinite variety, has creatures for all occasions. Just as the humble worm becomes a beautiful butterfly, or the noisome goose becomes a fish in midwinter, so do many creatures change and alter their forms for procreation, survival, or other, stranger, less obvious needs.

Creatures, it seems, can remain in one form and gain HD, but can also sometimes advance to other forms. Many men have been detected with 4 HD or more; not all become Berserk or Apes (despite what the peasants say).

Archmage Barkland speculates that, in a former age, gold was much more abundant, and was hoarded by both the Titans and by the gigantic lizards we have discovered embedded in the rocks of quarries and mines. These lizards, he suspects, hoarded gold for themselves and buried it underground for safekeeping, only to be trapped in a series of colossal cave-ins, leaving only their bones and distributed hoards trapped in the rock.

Testing on the "HD-draining" effect of some undead creatures is difficult, though not for the reason one might think. The late Alec Card, of the firm Card, Renfield, and Strumpet, has offered his support. His vampiric touch is very effective, but his hourly rates are ruinous.

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Using This Chart

For those of you joining us from other editions, "HD" are actually Hit Dice, the total number of d8s rolled to calculate a creature's Hit Points.

This chart includes all the creatures from the original AD&D Monster Manual, with the following exceptions:

-Dinosaurs (too many HD, not too useful to list)
-Demons and Devils (already sequenced by HD)

Leveling as Anything

Advance upwards each time you level. You can choose to move to a linked creature or stay as your current creature. If there are blank spaces above the creature, it indicates levels that must be gained without change in HD to reach the next creature listed. If an entry repeats, the creature gains an HD as it levels.

If 2 or more creatures share a HD band entry, any one of them can be chosen.

E.g. A 3HD Hippogriff levels up. It can choose to become a 4 HD Cocatrice or remain as a 3HD Hippogriff.

E.g. A 4 HD Cockatrice levels up. It can choose to become a 5 HD Manticore or advance 1 level towards becoming either a Griffon or a Lammasu or remain as a 4 HD Cockatrice. It does not gain an additional HD until it gains its next level and transforms into a 6 HD Griffon or Lammasu.

E.g A 1 HD Leech, Giant levels up. It gains 1 HD and becomes a 2 HD Leech, Giant.
The numbers in brackets are +[HP]. E.g. A creature in the 2 HD band with +[1] rolls 2d8+1 for HP. If there's no + sign, the number in brackets is the creature's total HP or HP range.

 Possible 0-Level Characters (<1 HD) Starting Characters

For the weirdest group ever. Bear in mind that these creatures aren't nessesarily sentient.

Become a Berserker, a Baboon, a Gorilla, and a Carnivorous Ape.
Or become a Gnoll, a Hyena, a Giant Hyena.
Or a Wererat, a Jackalwere...
Or a Skeleton...

Or an Ogre...
Or a Harpy...


Become a Wererat, a Jackalwere...


Become a Jackalwere, a Werewolf...


Become a Troglodyte, a Lizard Man, a Crocodile...
Or a Pseudo-Dragon, a White Dragon...


Become a Dwarf. That's it.


Become an Orc, a Hobgoblin, a Bugbear...

Become damn near every small magical creature.

Gas Spore
Become an Eye of the Deep, a Beholder. Good luck; you need to gain 12 levels without exploding.


Become... oh screw it, you can't play mold. It's off the list! Off, I say. Anyway, if you do, you can become a Fungi, Violet, a Shrieker...

Cerebral Parasite

Become a Brain Mole, a Thought Eater...

Eye, Floating

Become a Barracuda, a Pike, Giant...

Centipede, Giant
Become a Carrion Crawler.

Ear Seeker

Become a Centipede, Giant...
Or become an Ant, Giant..
Or become a Stirge, a Tick, Giant...

Rot Grub

Become an Eel (Weed), a Lamprey, an Eel (Electric)...
or a Leech, Giant...

Alternative ecologies here.

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