In an entertaining and brilliant bit of scholarship, Planescape artist Tony DiTerlizzi traces the origins of some of the most iconic monsters in Dungeons and Dragons — including the owlbear, bulette, umber hulk, and rust monster — back to an obscure line of plastic toy dinosaurs from the early 70s that Gary Gygax and Dragon editor Tim Kask co-opted as miniatures for early D&D sessions.
Painstakingly tracking down pics of the original toys — which doubtless wasn’t easy, as even small lots sell online for upwards of $500 to collectors in the know — Tony has assembled a line up of vintage toy monsters that will make your eyes pop. If you ran afoul of these creatures more than once in your early adventuring days, Tony’s collection of pics will give you more than one OMG moment.
But his most amazing evidence is a series of quotes from Tim Kask on just how these tiny plastic beasties eventually became an integral part of countless gaming sessions. I found this one, on how Kask created the bullette, at The Acaeum Forums:
I had an empty page in that issue of The Dragon because a full-page ad either cancelled or was late, and I had to go to press. Now Gary and I had had several talks about creating monsters, and he had frequently encouraged me to let my imagination run wild. The umber hulk and the rust monster were fabrications (by Gary) to “explain” two plastic monsters from a bag of weird critters from the dime store that Gary had found and used in Greyhawk… There was still had one that had not been taxonomically identified and defined yet that intrigued me; they called it the “bullet”. I frogged-up the name a bit. At this same time, SNL was hitting its stride and… I imagined what a “real” (in D&D terms “real”) landshark might be…
As Tony puts it, “Dime store toys in the hands of those with wondrous imaginations became something more – they became the geeky stuff of modern fantasy lore.” See his complete article Owlbears, Rust Monsters and Bulettes, Oh My! — and all his marvelous pics — at his blog, Never Abandon Imagination. (Thanks to Wayne MacLaurin for the tip!)