Libris Monstrum #35: Kuo-toa Revisited

Last time we visited the kuo-toa we talked about their changing existence throughout the history of D&D and their relationship to cosmic horror literature. Because they are D&D IP, other games must find or create different creatures to act in their stead. Today we will look at some examples of that.


This is an interesting one. Skum started off in Dungeons & Dragons as a slave race. Like so many of the horrific, aberrant races of horror the aboleth designed a slave race to do their work and fill their armies. These were the skum: amphibious, slimy creatures that the aboleth could bend to their will. For the most part these have been fairly bland, standard minion-style creatures that you might add some martial class levels to in order to make them more difficult. They are meant to be prelude to aboleths when it comes down to it. But Paizo took advantage of this to find a replacement for kuo-toa.

Skum from Paizo’s Bestiary

In Pathfinder there are, of course, no kuo-toa but we do have aboleths and skum. On Golarion the aboleth empires are no more and the monsters are on the decline. As a result the large majority of skum are left to make their own devious way in the world. They are terrible, sharp-toothed humanoids that try to steal people in order to grow their own populations. They are fairly unsuccessful but the all-male race is making enough headway to have created a new species. The hybrid offspring are known as ulat-kini. While the skum are the surrogate kuo-toa it is the ulat-kini that has potential in my mind. Hybrid offspring forced into a world of immortal ex-slaves amidst the ruins of an ancient alien empire? Talk about a monster ripe for worshiping mad gods and driving coastal towns to ruin!

Deep One

We already covered these Lovecraftian creations before, but I wanted to bring them up again while we are on the topic of Pathfinder. Thanks to the fact that Chaosium seems to have lightened up a bit on their grip of the mythos in the world of RPGs AND the fact that there is plenty of room to take different angles and tact with cosmic horror, Pathfinder contains whole hosts of statistics for mythos monsters from the denizens of Leng to Cthulhu himself. Among these are the deep ones.

The deep ones are right out of the stories and the shores of Innsmouth. These fish people lurk in the deep, dark corners of the ocean but as close to the shore as possible. Messing with coastal towns is among the favorite past times of these horrors and as such we also get plenty of deep one hybrids which take up residence in such strange, plagued towns. What I love about this is that this is what the kuo-toa are at their core; it’s kind of the point of them. With Piazo we get unapologetic cosmic monsters that are 99% what you know is what you get. They have placed them into the lore of Golarion and what it means to be in a (mostly) fantasy setting without stripping what they are or making something new. Don’t get me wrong I love kuo-toa (especially 4E) and illithids and beholders, but Paizo does exactly the kind of thing I need at my table.

Also. 4E kuo-toa are wonderful primal, cave-dwelling versions of deep-ones and can readily compliment each other.

The Trope

Let’s take a quick moment to go over the trope here. Kuo-toa and deep ones are representative of the fish people trope and, more strongly, the fact that reptiles/amphibians are aberrant things. Even when these creatures are from Earth they are strange and alien, recognizable but utterly confounding. They almost always have the humanoid appearance with clear arms, legs, heads, etc. but with lots of features that make them look horrifying. Sometimes these creatures show up and they are cruel creatures that will do awful things. Kuo-toa and deep ones personify this.

Murloc Tidehunter from Blizzard’s Hearthstone

Then there are so many other versions of this too, all of which take up different degrees of the trope. Sticking with the monstrous aspect, murlocs from the Warcraft universe are similar to these but are less prone to alien god worship. While not absent, most murlocs just seem to be primitive and large in number. They are voracious and dangerous, more like territorial, hungry animals than other versions. The zora from the Legend of Zelda games are also like this, especially early on when there are those with more frightening and reptilian appearances. Then there is the creature from Creature From The Black Lagoon which is dangerous and monstrous, trying to steal the woman from the ship. This version tends to take the concept of monster loving a human and killing to protect her in some twisted way. Most recently, though, we have the Shape of Water that plays of that archetype but exemplifies the misunderstanding and hubris of human thought through the creature’s unneeded torture combined with it being a kind if naive-to-our-land being.

The fact is that the kuo-toa are a D&D IP of a common and diverse trope which tends to only see one side at the game table. Take cues from things like the Shape of Water to create some interesting dynamics at the table. And if you need a kuo-toa replacement there are plenty to choose from and making your own is easy.

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