One book every dungeon master has in their collection is The Monster Manual. It’s necessary reading for any true Dungeons & Dragons player and is essential for running a game. Your campaign is defined by the enemies you’ll face, their different spells, abilities, and physicalities outlined in The Monster Manual. Many of the creatures we’ve come to know and love in our D&D games are ripped right from traditional mythology. Gorgons, zombies, golems, wyverns; the game’s originator, Gary Gygax didn’t have to reach too far to imagine these monsters and craft statistics for them for his game. But finding miniature figurines to bring them to life and give players something more visual was tricky. It was the 70’s after all and Hero Forge and custom minis were a long way off.

Tony DiTerlizzi's image of an "owlbear" next to it's entry.

So when Gygax wandered into a shop one day and came across a bag of odd plastic figurines, he snapped them up and quickly incorporated them into his game. The label on the bag said “Prehistoric Animals”, but any archaeologist would sooner eat their doctorate than actually call these accurate. The toys were made in Hong Kong and probably sold in the U.S. as dinosaur types to capitalize on their popularity amongst kids during that era. But in Japan at the time there was a very different craze going on: kaiju. Kaiju is a Japanese word that very roughly translates to “big ass monster”. The monsters in the plastic bag that Gygax found were definitely knock-offs of a kaiju TV show, probably Ultraman, as Dungeons & Dragons artist Tony DiTerlizzi recounts. 

Ultraman kaiju Bemstar.

Gygax and his collaborators were inspired by the tiny plastic figures. Their strange chimeric forms stretched the team's imagination. They incorporated them into The Monster Manual and thus some of the most iconic D&D monsters were born. The owlbear, the bulette, the rust monster, carrion crawler, and others all were brought into existence because of this crappy bag of toys. 

For more D&D check out this list of the best Dungeons & Dragons shows, this other list of the greatest DM’s in the game, and the real life mythology behind more D&D monsters.

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