A lot of good monsters in stories and games are those that are easy to grasp. They have striking concepts, even when they lack total coherence. Medusa (if we want to call her a monster) has snakes for hair and turns people into stone. Iconic. The connection between snake hair and petrification could be posited, but is actually unnecessary. A manticore has the head of a man, the body of a lion, and the tail of a scorpion. It’s clear why it’s scary and we can guess how it acts because we know what a man, a lion, and a scorpion are.
Unknowable monsters are uninteresting on their own. They need a good story to go into. But a cowardly little guy with a dog face and scales makes for a good story all on his own.
Usually a good monster is pretty simple, but a major exception is the “Weird Guy” category. Your vampire, your wizard, your cat lord. They often have a loose theme under which they may have a dozen or more features and quirks. But note how many of those features are themselves striking and simple. Dracula can turn into a bat (and we know what bats are), drink blood (and we have strong associations with blood), hypnotize people, command wolves, climb walls like a lizard, get burned by crosses, flee the sun, be unkillable, and other things you don’t need to explain.
Some intuitive monsters:
- Hollow bronze statues that walk around and stab intruders with spears. There’s a circular hatch in their back that’s sealed with wax, and if it’s knocked out they die. They’re powered by bees, who fly out of their back if they’re killed to spoil and pillage.
- Peacock with a fiery tail that burns your house down and spits smoke.
- Looks like a woman, but full to the brim with rats who can pop out to bite you, though their tails root them inside the body.
- A turnip that rolls around as though in the wind, and every time it rolls a circle around you, you age by a year. You get your youth back if you eat the turnip.
- Goat that pretends to be lost livestock, then later turns into a wooden cage with wheels and carts you off to Hell.
- Wolf that leaves a trail of black sand wherever it goes, and when it dies the sand combusts.
- The head of a hyena, the legs of a giraffe, and the body and tongue of a frog.
- Teen with a skull for a head, that drools acid
- Bat that turns inside out and summons angry mobs
- Little guy that does favors for you, but then can command you an equal number of times. He lives in an orchard.
- Evil millstone that rolls around crushing people, especially those it heard gossip about.
- Sorcerer who turns you into a tree and then chops you down.
- Huge monster that looks like a tower with a big lion head. Encases everything around it in crystals, then has its minions shatter people.
- Talking goblet that teaches you spells and rituals designed to backfire.
- Beaver, but if it uses a part of your house to build its dam you become its slave.
- A tiger no one else can see or acknowledge.
- Evil pair of horses pulling a carriage. Revolvers are held out to shoot at anyone the horses don’t trample to death, and if you make eye contact with the thing inside, you die. This is all one creature.
- Super-strong man with a sponge for a head, and when you squeeze it milk comes out and he gets confused.
- Looks like a boar, but its belly opens up and there’s an army of angry women with spears.
- Horse, but most of its face is just a hole to nowhere. If you fall through and lose your grip on it, you’ll fall forever.
- Person with wooden insides. If you disobey any of their requests or commands, you explode.
- Weird guy with very reflective eyes and constantly wet hair, who can float in the wind, send copies of himself that pop when punctured, speak Dutch, become invisible to the mundane and tawdry, brew poison, and sing to change the weather.
- Weird guy who makes trees grow overnight, causes the dead to rise, track those who have stolen from him, turn into a beetle, run really fast, and make locks and latches shatter on command.
- Weird guy who vapes underground by day, resembling a mundane geyser. By night, he spits lightning and kidnaps people. He can summon rats to do his bidding. Vinegar kills him, milk makes him lose his powers, and honey makes him obey your orders.
Some things people intuitively understand
13. one thing divided in two
14. one thing inside another
15. one thing entwined with another
20. one thing through another thing