This week’s monster knows an offal lot about sewers, trash, and filth fever.
That’s right. We’ve delved deep down in the underground, past crazy junk people weighed down by their past and their possessions, through catacombs and a labyrinth of sewers to find the stomping grounds of the latest monster that we’re going to drag into the spotlight. So, make sure you’re up on your shots and maybe grab some lysol, because this week, it’s the Otyugh.
Otyughs are a fascinating part of D&D. They are monsters–to be certain, but they’re one of a few monsters that feel designed to fit the world, rather than dropped in as something for players to fight. It never has an interest in human treasure, it lives in the foul places of the world, and is a big omnivorous dopey scavenger that will eat whatever it can (including adventurers), but for all that it feels like it’s earned its place in the world. This is a monster that is adapted to the places filled with refuse, dung, offal, and carrion.
They’re the reason that the world above might seem clean–they fulfill a natural function and don’t exist as a threat. Nobody ever complains about a ravaging band of Otyughs–and fighting and killing one doesn’t feel particularly heroic. Necessary, perhaps, and annoying (because if you fight one you’ll likely end up diseased), but they aren’t there for PCs to prove how brave and adventure-y they are. They’re there to make the world feel like a real place. They’re there to fill a niche that needed filling in the world with an evolutionary purpose, so to speak. This was a big part of the design of 1st edition, I’ve often commented that it’s meant to emulate a real world with its own ecologies and so on, and this monster is a prime example of that.
Otyughs also help remind players that the world has its own consequences–including some of the less attractive ones. Early Otyughs infected players with real-world diseases (like typhus) and from then on disease has been a core part of their identity as monsters. Even now I associate them with filth fever. Whenever they come up it’s a reminder that “oh hey there’s this whole section of the rules that are meant to evoke a sense of real-world adventure because you don’t often hear stories of a powerful wizard who is brought low with a fever.” But when it happens it adds texture to the game.
In short, Otyughs, by being forgotten, make you pay attention and remember about the world. Also they are hilarious. So without further ado, let’s dive in and take a look.
The Otyugh in 1st Edition is a simple creature at first glance. Described as a “weird monster” that eats whatever it finds, it’s almost enough right there. But before the description is finished we learn that it often partners with other subterranean monster, existing in a sort of symbiosis with whatever else inhabits the dungeon around them. An Otyugh being present is a sign of a healthy dungeon ecosystem, weirdly enough.
With a “sensory organ stalk” and two big tentacle arms, it’s a weird trash monster that burrows its way through filth and attacks its prey, biting whoever gets close enough and infecting them with disease. In 1st edition, there’s a 90% chance that any player bit contracts Typhus. No joke. It’s an interesting lesson–you don’t necessarily have to kill everything–its special defenses and telepathy let it communicate with other life forms. Players who attack an Otyugh are likely to be diseased for their efforts and might learn to be cautious when messing with “the natural order.”
But one Otyugh was not enough for 1st edition–no article on these trash monsters would be complete without mentioning the neo-otyugh.
These guys are bigger, badder, and smarter who are more prone to attack and communicate with monsters. Their place in the monster manual also means that players are more likely to encounter the neo-otyugh first, only their stats and description are all dependent on knowing what an otyugh is.
2nd edition Otyughs are the most adorable of them. I mean just look at that eyestalk up there. It looks so happy! Probably because it successfully held onto its identity after having been given an attempted rebranding in Dragon #69 which gathered otyughs and neo-otyughs together under the banner of “gulguthra.” The ecology article (written by none other than Ed Greenwood) describes the complex mating process of Otyughs–I won’t go into too many details but let’s just say I learned that a) all Otyughs are bisexual, and b) “jelly-like eggmass.”
2nd edition Otyughs gained a grab attack and a little intelligence over their previous incarnation. The rules for the grab attacks are a little more solidified, with otyughs gaining a bonus to bite grappled opponents and neo-otyughs (the smarter ones) gain the ability to use their victims as shields which not only improved their armor class by 1, but also let them force attackers to hit the grappled creature as a reactive defense. And as before their bite is full of disease–though now it’s a random disease with an 80% chance of a merely debilitating disease or a 20% chance of a fatal one infecting the bitten creature.
And much like their 1st edition counterparts, they collect no treasure and–what’s more–their corpses are so filth-ridden that even their parts have no monetary value. Makes you wonder what players kept trying to do…
3rd edition Otyughs lost a little of their power. Though they retain a solid number of hit dice, they lose the ultra high-disease chance of the previous editions. Where before an otyugh could inflict disease with almost certainty on at least one creature per fight (and likely more), otyughs in this edition only cause problems to creatures who fail a DC 12 Fortitude save.In theory it should be easy to make even for characters who don’t have the highest constitution or Fortitude as one of their “good saves.”
Also absent is the mention of telepathy, limited or otherwise. Though in exchange they become much more focused on being a grappling threat. They gain improved grab and a constrict ability that lets them auto-damage creatures grappled by their tentacles, meaning they could go after touch AC and do their best to bite grappled targets (though their bite was a grand total of -2 to hit). And in spite of all of that, I can still remember whole parties rolling 5s and under and being laid out by Filth Fever for days while the low-level cleric used remove disease.
4th edition Otyughs are great. Sadly the neo-otyugh is still absent (as it was in 3rd), but they became stealthier and hit a great deal harder with all of their attacks. These guys were hard to deal with. Owing to their stench, creatures attacking them took a -2 penalty on attack rolls, they could grab and pull enemies on a hit with a tentacle (with a 15 foot reach), and could deliver a devastating bite that dealt 1d10+6 and inflicted the 4th edition version of filth fever. This version was a level 3 disease that begun with the loss of a healing surge and would worsen into penalties to AC, Fortitude, and Reflex defenses, and the eventual inability to regain hit points.
But they also learned a trick from the dianoga and could submerge most of its body, keeping only its eyestalk above murky water or refuse for a massive bonus to stealth checks.
5th edition Otyughs have more personality. And charm? I think so–something about that gaping maw just seems friendly. Or maybe it’s the lore that makes them seem like big dumb dogs who just don’t know any better and eat their “trainers” when they have eaten all the waste that gets dumped on them and there’s nothing left. But! In a triumphant return to form these trash friends are once again telepathic and can communicate simple concepts to anyone within 120 feet as long as they understand a language.
Or maybe it’s the playfulness of its abilities that makes it seem so delightful. So–sure these otyughs have a bite attack (that hits pretty hard at 2d8+3) and two tentacles attack that auto grapple on a hit–but they also have an ability called tentacle slam that lets it slam creatures it’s grappled onto other surfaces or…each other. Yup. It’s basically something out of an old cartoon. And it lets it damage and temporarily stun enemies.
So there you have it. The Otyugh–your trash loving pal who’s fun to be around. Consider them the next time you’re trying to figure out how to clean up after your monsters!
And now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to a healer as I am fairly certain I’ve got 12 diseases by now.