Monster of the Week: Monkey Bees (Dungeons and Dragons)

Okay, so technically they're Howler Wasps
Okay, so technically they’re howler wasps.

Yes, really.

If you’ve ever played Dungeons & Dragons, you might be familiar with the noble tradition of “A wizard got drunk one night and….” monster mashups. The most infamous of these is the owlbear, which is—are you ready?—a bear with an owl’s face!

Sorry to those of you who guessed “owl with a bear’s face.” It was a 50-50 shot.

According to D&D lore, the owlbear is “of unknown origin” and “probably a wizard’s experiment” and all the players look at each other and nod sagely and go “yup, drunk wizard.”

Unfortunately, the howler wasp does not have that excuse. We know the wizard who created monkey bees was sober.

And, yes, I’m going to keep calling them monkey bees. Because that is what they are.

The D&D 3.5 edition Monster Manual IV explains that the powerful wizard Otiluke wanted to create a magical creature to guard his tower. From there, his thought progression went something like this:

Monkeys!

No, wait—bees!

NO

MONKEY BEES

I mean, presumably. I wasn’t there.

Look, Otiluke was a very powerful and influential wizard. He was one of the Circle of Eight, a group of respected wizards in the World of Greyhawk setting. He also created a number of spells, wrote magical texts, and, bless, him, penned the lesser-known Otiluke’s Practical Gardening. Maybe he should have stuck to his garden, because he had the lowest wisdom score out of all the wizards in the Circle.

Not surprisingly, his creation was a complete failure. It turned out that the monkey bees did not distinguish between friend and foe, which made things a little awkward whenever Otiluke had other members of the Circle over for tea. He put it down on his agenda to destroy them all.

But before he could get around to it, his enemies attacked his tower. The monkey bees escaped in the ensuing chaos.

See, kids, this is why you don’t procrastinate.

Now monkey bees terrorize the wilderness, sticking to forests and warm climates, where they build nests out of “paper, dried leaves, and skins of dead animals.” Lovely. But wait—paper? What the hell? Where do they get enough paper to build giant hives?

Well, the Monster Manual IV indicates that they prefer to nest in abandoned buildings, especially libraries and temples, where they can find lots of paper. But this is where I start to get mad.

Imagine an abandoned library. It’s dark inside, perhaps overgrown with vines or fungus, old books rotting beside trees like the ones their pages once were. Branches loom across the aisles. Shadows darken every corner. There’s a strange sound… something eerie… something monstrous…. Your breath catches in your chest. You turn the corner and there it is, right before your eyes—

MONKEY BEE.

Oh, come on! That could have been genuinely scary. You’ve got a nice, atmospheric setting and everything, but nope, here comes a monkey bee to fuck it all up.

Okay, sure. If I ever met a part-monkey part-bee in real life—and the typical worker bee is about four feet long, not to mention the eight-foot long queen—I would be terrified. Sure, it’s weird-looking, but do you want to go head to head with that? I don’t think so!

Still.

MONKEY BEE.

You try making that sound scary. Go ahead. Use its proper name, if you like. I guarantee you that no matter how grotesque and horrifying your description is, there’s going to be at least one asshole in your gaming group who raises an eyebrow and says, “So… it’s a monkey bee?”

Spell broken.

The monkey bee is a lesson in tone. It’s absurd and maybe comical, if used correctly. Don’t try putting it in a genuinely creepy situation. Save your abandoned libraries for the best monsters.

It’s also, believe it or not, an example of wasted potential. You might hear MONKEY BEE and think that really doesn’t have a lot of potential. You would be right. But one thing really disappointed me when reading the entry on this creature: their social behavior is exactly the same as bees’. Where is the monkey influence? If you’re going to do an idea as ridiculous as monkey bees, you have to commit.

So here is my challenge for you this week, gentle readers:

Prompt: Come up with a setting that’s tonally appropriate for monkey bees. Alternatively, if you’d like to take the difficulty up to insanity mode, prove me wrong. Make the monkey bee genuinely horrifying. Go ahead and post it on this blog, even.

Publicly shame me.

I dare you.

2 Comments

  • EEM Reply

    Why does this make me think of the wicked monkeys in the Wizard of Oz — you know, the flying ones? I guess they had everything but the stripes. And I do think they succeeded in being scary, if you got into the right frame of mind for that movie (which most younger kids watching the movie did…) So……. it is the stripes that make it hard to take the monkey bees seriously? Or the size? (Frankly, anything that can sting you seems scary to me, especially in droves (? hoards? swarms??) What do you think?

    • Becca Reply

      That’s a good point! I think you said it best—it’s about getting into the right frame of mind. The flying monkeys work because we really believe the Wicked Witch is a threat to Dorothy, and the monkeys fit into her creepy aesthetic. They set the mood and then make creatures to fit it. The monkey bees aren’t scary to me because they’re such a ludicrously absurd combination—seriously, monkeys and bees? It seems like a Monty Python or Terry Pratchett joke. It doesn’t put us in the frame of mind to be scared, even though they could pose a legitimate threat with those stingers and pointy teeth.

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