My criteria for picking a silly monster to get an upgrayedd is based on at least one of these factors, and usually all three:
- The illustration looks goofy
- People make fun of it online
- I've never used it in a game before
For today's example we'll use the Displacer Beast. Now I know it's not the silliest monster out there, but to me a panther with spiky tentacles grafted at it's shoulders is goofy enough. I've seen other people mention it as a silly monster online, and I've personally never used it in 25 years of playing RPGs… so it's a good enough candidate for today's example.
Let's take a look at this thing:
- It's not a natural earth-like sort of creature, despite being described as 'cat-like'
- It's based on the Coeurl an alien predator from A. E. van Vogt's short story "Black Destroyer" (1939)
- It has tentacles which it uses to attack - it strikes with them rather than grappling
- It confuses enemies into thinking it's several feet away from where it is
- It is semi-intelligent, carnivorous, aggressive, and vicious - this is a nasty creature
Things we're going to change from the common depiction (like the mini pictured above):
- It's not a panther with tentacles - that's just a rough approximation of what it looks like. This is an alien creature that is only vaguely 'cat-like'
- It doesn't have octopus or squid tentacles with suction cups on them - it's not grabbing and squeezing with these things, it's attacking with them. They're going to be sharp and whip like.
- Since we're making it an alien creature instead of a magical one the displacement effect should be some sort of strange alien physiology that it uses when hunting. Angler fish use bioluminescence to attract and confuse their prey. They also have one or more long filaments growing out of their heads… like thin tentacles. Making the Displacer Beast's power based on a similar bioluminescence makes it feel more "real" to me. Alien, but real.
- Finally, that name has got to go. Maybe some local guy calls it that, but that doesn't mean everyone does. Toss out the silly name and give it something else. The Beast of the Black Woods, or some Alien sounding name would be better.
And speaking of which, at this point our silly monster is actually starting to make me think of another not-so-silly monster from a Sci-Fi movie I saw quite recently.
The Moorwen from Outlander.
Imagine it being a bit smaller and cat-like, the tendrils coming out around it's head and shoulders instead of it's tail, and its bio-luminescence distorting your vision. Our monster won't be quite as Dragon-like and indestructible as the Moorwen (unless you want it to be), but it's a lot more fearsome and less silly than a panther with some squid tentacles glued to it's shoulders.
I think you could use this process with virtually any monster from any RPG source-book. With some you might need to replace a bit more than others, but there's almost always something there for you to work with.
Like I said yesterday: They're not bad monsters… they're just misunderstood.
* Note for my players: I could be totally faking you out here. :D