Creatures of Torment

A Walk Through the Planes – Part 62: Creatures of Torment




Remember how the Outlands is supposedly one of the most important parts of a Planescape campaign, yet the only real resource on it was the sketchy and embarrassing Player’s Primer to the Outlands? Yeah, that’s long been a bit of an issue with running a campaign here, to the point that I suspect that, contrary to the setting’s initial intention, the Outlands ended up getting pretty ignored by most players. At least, that’s my personal experience with the place. This seemed to be an issue for the designers of Planescape: Torment too, who wanted to take players of the game into this world but seemingly didn’t feel like there were enough interesting creatures there. Fortunately, they went ahead and made their own, and four of their monsters were featured in Dragon Magazine issue #262, in August of 1999. The game’s well-regarded designer Chris Avellone himself penned the article “Creatures of Torment,” and the addition of four more interesting creatures for the Outlands may not feel like a big deal but is nonetheless appreciable by anyone wishing to use this plane as more than just a series of gate towns on the way to elsewhere. 

That’s right, it’s yet another one of those bestiary articles, but this one is even better than the last, and not just because it’s something that any fans of Torment may wish to check out. All four of the creatures included are worthwhile additions to the Outlands, and most of them are also memorable and unique. I can’t say that they’ll blow anyone’s minds, but they’re not really supposed to; rather, they’re around to flesh out an otherwise sketchily designed area. Plus, they’re rather fun monsters, and the fact that they’re designed for second edition AD&D is already a solved problem that we’ll get to in a moment. 


First off is the gronk, which are huge “hopping rocks” or “stone frogs” that don’t actually eat anything but are nonetheless aggressive. They attack in packs, and have a strange physiology in which they reproduce by slamming their heads together. Most everything about them derives from their hard heads, including how they frequently die. “As gronk age, their brainplates crack and flake off until the creature suffers brain failure and dies.” Hilarious. 

Sadly, the only “illustrations” of these monsters are computer generated and, as such, utterly hideous. I used the more recent article of fifth edition conversions (mentioned below) for this essay’s images, as they’re at least a tad better than the originals in Dragon.

Unrelatedly, the cover image I used for this article has nothing to do with Planescape…. but since the cover of this Dragon issue happens to randomly be by Tony DiTerlizzi I still felt justified enough including it. *shrug*

Then there’s the somewhat strange grilligs, who also look more than a bit toadlike, though their movement “resembles gorillas.” Sort of. What distinguishes them is that grilligs were “born from two-dimensional angles,” and as a result are impervious to edged weapons in a strange new way. Edged weapons pass through them harmlessly, like passing through air. Likewise, they don’t breed, instead they just appear, perhaps out of angles? Yeah I don’t really get it either, but once again they’re a unique and strange creature, and it’s nice to have low-level encounters that nonetheless feature new abilities. Not having to throw your players up against generic kobolds and goblins is an extremely welcome addition to any campaign, planar or otherwise.

Sohmien “resemble huge horses with leathery, ashen hides and dead white eyes.” I kinda disagree, they look more like thin bulls to me, but to each their own. They’re supposedly “born from the fall of the last of the nightmare lords,” and as such are both neutral evil and hate nightmares. They’re not nearly as interesting as the first two creatures (outside of some in-game Torment lore from an item description… if I’m remembering things correctly, which is doubtful), but at least they’re happy to be summoned by vengeance pacts and enjoy a good stampede. This is the only of these entries that I suspect I’ll forget about entirely as of tomorrow, but oh well.


Last of all are the trelons, strange beasts described as a “mixture of orange and shadow” (what?) and armed with huge pincers. They hate magic, as they were likely bred on a Prime Material world to exterminate its mages, and notably don’t exist in any form until they come within 30 feet of their victims. I don’t quite get what this means either (they’re not invisible, they truly don’t exist), but it’s at least a scary concept and forces mages to deal with hand-to-hand combat, i.e. their worst enemy. Trelons can see through invisibility or other similar wards, and in fact may track things by their magical cloaking. Plus, trelons are immune to illusions, shadow magic, mind-influencing spells, and things like Hold Monster and Protection from Evil. In all, they’re a cool way of challenging low level mages and make the Outlands a bit more terrifying. 

My original magazine copy makes trelons look more red than orange, so at least they fixed that with the rerelease.

As I said, none of these are earth-shatteringly exciting monsters, but they’re all welcome additions to the Outlands. If you plan on running a campaign that uses this area as originally planned, which is to say a good place for planar adventuring before characters are strong enough for the rest of the Outer Planes, they’re pretty much perfect. These monsters also allow you to run adventures similar to Torment yourself, which I’m sure some people would also appreciate. My only real mark against this article is that all of its images are CGI drawn from the game and, as such, insanely hideous.


I should also note that ne of the stranger aspects of the article is that the stats used here are almost certainly not even close to what appears in-game. There, these monsters are all relatively high level, and some are quite lethal and populate Torment‘s apocryphal undersigil dungeon (it’s the only part of the game’s addition to Planescape lore I can think of that I wouldn’t carry over). If you really wanted to emulate the computer game for a pen-and-paper campaign you’d have to mess with those numbers more than a bit. Torment features a weird levelling progression despite emulating second edition AD&D quite closely in other respects, and I suspect that it was issues with this that caused these discrepancies.


The other issue some may have with this article is that they don’t want to convert these monsters for use in a campaign being run today. Surprisingly, the problem of them existing only in second edition AD&D statistics was solved by Wizards of the Coast themselves. In 2017, they released a fifth edition supplement that includes full statistics for all four of these creatures (though here they’re even weaker than before, and due to these and ability tweaks are even further from their digital versions). The text of this is primarily drawn from Avellone’s original work, and though it loses a little bit of his detail it’s mostly still included. They don’t match up perfectly with the originals, but do a good enough job that I’d happily use these versions myself. If Planescape ever does see a real return to the game, I’d love to see these monsters become slightly more officially integrated into the setting, as they’re all welcome additions to the Outlands that feel planar without also requiring a party decked out with 15th level mages.

[Editor’s note: Planescape’s surprising return to D&D was announced after the writing of this article. We at Exposition Break are eagerly anticipating that release, though also more than a bit trepidatious about how it will actually turn out.]

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