Libris Monstrum #25: Kuo-toa
Good evening everyone we are back, beginning with the Libris Monstrum. In the last entry I went over one of the more mythological creatures that you can find in the Monster Manual, the oni. This time we get to something a little more mundane but unique to D&D. Tonight I am going to be talking about one of my favorite semi-obscure monsters that belong directly within the Forgotten Realms of Dungeons & Dragons. The strange fish people live underground and worship even stranger gods. Quite frankly they’re one of the more Lovecraftian monsters outside of aberrations. Before we get into tonight’s article I need to mention that this is the first one I am not technically typing. Due to the injury to my tendon in the left hand I cannot properly type. Instead I am using speech to text and using my free hand to correct any mistakes and spell strange words. Hopefully I don’t make any more mistakes than I normally do. That being said let’s go deep into the Underdark and talk kuo-toa.
What Were They?
Kuo-toa today are not quite what they were in the days of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Once upon a time these fish people were not the insane creatures that we generally paint them as today. Nevertheless they were still pretty maddening. These humanoids worshiped a strange goddess that for all purposes to human until you got to some minor details. Okay, so these details aren’t so minor. They’re goddess, Blidoolpoolp, had lobster claws for hands and a lobster’s head sprouting from her torso. It takes only two minor details to turn another evil race into one that seems quite crazy. In the late seventies they appeared in The Vault of the Drow and in Shrine of the Kuo-toa. After that they appeared in the Fiend Folio.
In their original setting the race was driven underground by the other surface races. While they have a deep hatred for another common aquatic people, the sahuagin, they actually maintain decent relations with the drow. While there’s not a significant amount of lore to be had there are two bits that we can get from various authors. Aside from being a strange fish people that worship a strange lobster goddess, the kuo-toa are actually a fairly a advance to race. At least compared to some of the other evil races. While they may seem barbaric and backward, it has been mentioned, or at least hinted at, that these people may even be monks of some kind. That of course is mostly speculation based on one line from a Salvatore novel. Still, it is the vague of security coupled with constant presence that make this race one of the more enjoyable and easy to use races when it comes to running a game.
What Are They Now?
This is kind of a loaded question, because I have two answers for it and one isn’t really in the now. But let’s go ahead and start a bit with fifth edition. Kuo-toa now have gone a little bit closer to their old Forgotten Realms routes. That after disappearing for a while there lobster headed goddess has returned. Not only that but they’ve returned to their much more fishy appearance. The strange creatures also now mix some of their original story pieces with those that have been added over the previous addition. That having been said, I think we can now talk about the fourth edition version of the kuo-toa. In this time the fish people became monstrous and reptilian.
During fourth edition the kuo-toa were given one of my favorite appearances and art throughout the editions. Small, hunched, and looking like a cross between a piranha and a lizard they looked like horrible creatures to have to deal with. Art made them tribal but they had shamans and worships dark gods. I have to say it’s probably their best iteration art-wise. This change brought them much more close to the half-fish people that live in the fictional Innsmouth of Lovecraft’s Massachusetts. Not only that but they were given to worshiping Dagon, the same entity that those fish hybrids worship in the stories. Of course now Dagon is given the title of a Demon Lord. Along with a heap of insanity they became perhaps the first D&D servitor race that was not aberrant in nature.
Despite how much I enjoyed that version, they were not the race that had existed for so many years. This might as well been something different. Fifth edition did a lot to rectify that and combined some of the best of both worlds. Aside from bringing them back to their roots they also kept back heap of insanity. The origin of this was, of course, prolonged enslavement by the mind flayers. Because of this insanity and the heavily religious and worship based society, the kuo-toa actually manage to create gods. While the Forgotten Realms gives you Bildoolpoolp, this new addition to their lore allows you to take inspiration from that goddess and run wild. You could even create a whole pantheon of strange, aquatic gods and goddesses developed by the broken minds of a deranged fish race.
While we could go ahead and use these creatures as a seaside or aquatic race of goblins, we can also get pretty weird with them. Given what I just mentioned they could easily and make for a long-term campaign enemy. Just imagine groups of them raiding shorelines and trying to summon avatars of the gods they’ve created! That in and of itself could be a ton of fun but the kuo-toa are rife with the potential to go all Cthulhu myhtos. For those of you who want to keep it strictly fantasy and more like a normal game, just stick with the aberrations and weird gods and goddesses. That should come close enough to adding a layer of insanity to your game.
For those who want to take the next step, you can easily make it a little more subtle and a little more creepy. Instead of being their own race, perhaps most of them are now or once were humans. Sure they were fish people long ago but the mad worship of them mattered gods eventually infected the minds of fishermen. Much like the town created by Lovecraft, your seaside villages could be developing problems of xenophobia and fishermen beginning to change. Strange creatures, maybe even demons, could be coming out of the ocean and attacking the innocent. Eventually players could learn of a cult to a god that most think our only worshiped by deranged fish people. Honestly, either way you go the kuo-toa are a wonderful race with plenty of potential and your players will never really know what in the Nine Hells is going on with them.
Do you have a favorite module that features these guys? Or perhaps you a story of how you used them. I would love for you to share them the comments below and any ideas for when we’ve revisit the kuo-toa in a future entry!