Grimlock (Dungeons & Dragons)

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First appearanceFiend Folio in 1981
TypeMonstrous humanoid
AlignmentUsually Neutral Evil

Grimlock is a fictional monstrous humanoid that lives in the Underdark, a vast interconnected system of caves underneath various Dungeons & Dragons campaign settings. Based on subterranean humanoids called "morlocks" created by H.G. Wells for his 1895 novel The Time Machine, the grimlock was first adapted for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D), and has appeared in each subsequent version of D&D rules as a savage, pale-skinned and eyeless humanoid that dwells in dark places and prefers the taste of human flesh.

Antecedent: the morlock[edit]

In 1895, H.G. Wells created a horrific species of carnivorous subhumans called "morlocks" for his novel The Time Machine. These creatures lived in dark subterranean places, only emerging at night to seek food. The Narrator of the novel describes one as "a queer little apelike figure, its head held down in a peculiar manner... [it was a] dull white, and had strange large greyish-red eyes; also that there was flaxen hair on its head and down its back... [they were the] half-bleached colour of the worms and things one sees preserved in spirit in a zoological museum. And they were filthily cold to the touch."[1]

Publication history[edit]

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons[edit]

In the late 1970s, the British magazine White Dwarf began collecting submissions for proposed monsters from its readers. Many of these were gathered up and published as TSR's Fiend Folio in 1981. One of the new monsters was the grimlock, created by Albie Fiore, a staff editor at White Dwarf and one of the book's illustrators. It was clearly based on H.G. Wells' morlock: "fierce subterranean humanoid warriors" with "blank and sightless" eyes, "thick, grey skin", "usually clad in dark rags", with "particularly white and sharp" teeth who were hard to detect when they were motionless.[2] Unusual characteristics of the grimlock included the ability to "see" using their other senses to a distance of 20 feet, a corresponding vulnerability to spells that caused auditory hallucinations and thus disrupted their "sight", a very high rate of movement in combat—twice that of a normal human—and extremely thick skin that was the equivalent of fairly good armour. These qualities plus the fact that they would be encountered as a mob of anywhere from 20 to 200 made them a formidable opponent for the average party of adventurers. The grimlock was said to be able to occasionally cooperate with medusae, since their blindness made them immune to the medusa's gaze. The illustration, presumably by Fiore, shows a group of snarling, muscular humanoids that resemble long-haired Neanderthals with shark-like teeth.

Two years later Fiore wrote an article in Issue #41 of White Dwarf (May 1983) about various gods worshipped by non-human races, including one named Klagg, a demon worshipped by grimlocks (although not exclusively—"Grimlocks will worship almost any evil deity").[3]

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition[edit]

The grimlock was converted to the second edition AD&D rules system for the Monstrous Compendium Fiend Folio Appendix, which was released in 1992.[4] For the most part, the basic description of the morlock and its abilities as updated by Norm Ritchie was unchanged. However, the illustration was considerably different, showing a grinning devilish-looking humanoid with pointed ears and chin that closely resembled the Green Goblin except for the tusks sprouting from its cheeks. Several new paragraphs added further social and ecological details:

  • The grimlock preferred human flesh and often raided other races of the Underdark that kept human slaves (such as drow).
  • For the same reason, grimlocks sometimes associated with illithids (mind flayers), because they discarded their human victims after they had eaten the brains. This association automatically made grimlocks and githyanki adversaries, since githyanki and illithids were mortal enemies.
  • Grimlocks were otherwise very xenophobic

In 1993, this material was reprinted verbatim in the Monstrous Manual.

In Bruce R. Cordell's The Illithiad, published in 1998, the relationship between grimlocks and illithids was now less congenial: any grimlocks in the company of mindflayers were brain-washed slaves.[5]

In Issue #265 of Dragon (November 1999), an article suggested seven humanoid races—including the grimlock—could be used by a player, with a few adjustments, as a semi-civilized pseudo-human player character. The text outlining the grimlock quickly summarized information given in previous publications, and also noted that a grimlock's 20-foot "sight" can be reduced to 10 feet by continuous loud noise or strong odours that interfere with the senses that replace sight. This article also suggested that grimlocks can "see" through disguises so well with their other senses that they may not be able to tell the disguised person is attempting to wear a disguise. Unusually for a race that was originally introduced as sub-human carnivores, the author also suggested that grimlocks have a strong attraction to certain sensuous luxuries, including rich brocades, subtle scents and soft chanting music.[6]

The same year, the grimlock's role in the Underdark of the Forgotten Realms campaign setting was detailed in Drizzt Do'Urden's Guide to the Underdark (1999).[7]

An adventure in Dungeon #81 (July 2000) included a grimlock-derro conjoin.

Dungeons & Dragons Third Edition[edit]

In previous editions of D&D, the grimlock did not appear in any source material until a few years after the introduction of each edition's core rules; this changed in the third edition released in 2000, as the grimlock appeared in the first volume of this edition's Monster Manual. Several changes were made to its abilities: its speed was reduced to that of a human, but its ability to "see" with its other senses was extended to 40 feet; rather than appearing in mobs of up to 200, it now was encountered in small packs of 2–4 on the surface, although communities underground could be as large as 80. These large communities would often be led by a medusa or illithid (although there is no mention of slavery or thralldom to the mind flayer in this edition.) The illustration in this edition was a throwback to the morlock of H.G. Wells: a muscular troll-like eyeless humanoid with pale, lumpy skin, fangs, clawed fingers and toes, wearing a tattered loincloth and brandishing a primitive stone axe.[8]

Because of third edition's use of 1-inch grids to define character movement and monster sizes, the grimlock's size was listed as "Medium" (equal to an area of 1 inch x 1 inch, or 5 feet x 5 feet in game scale.) The third edition of D&D also included a game mechanic called Challenge Rating, an attempt to quantify the combat ability of each creature versus an average party of four adventurers. The grimlock was given a Challenge Rating of 1, meaning one single grimlock was an appropriate challenge for a party of 1st-level characters. (In comparison, a hobgoblin was rated a 1/2, and a blink dog was rated a 2.)[8]

An adventure in Dungeon #96 (January 2003) included a grimlock child.

Dungeons & Dragons v3.5[edit]

When the rules for Third Edition D&D were updated to version 3.5, the grimlock again appeared in the first Monster Manual source book, but its description, abilities and illustration were reprinted verbatim from Third Edition, with the only exception being that their Alignment was changed from "Always neutral evil" to "Often neutral evil".

The grimlock was again presented as an alternate player character race, for the Forgotten Realms setting, in Underdark (2003).[9]

The voidmind grimlock appears in Monster Manual III (2004).[10]

The grimlock was detailed in Dragon #327 (May 2005), in the "Ecology of the Grimlock". According to Dragon #327, grimlocks were originally surface-dwelling barbarians with stonelike skin. After enduring their bloodthirsty raids for generations, other races eventually united to drive them into the underearth. There they managed to survive, though many became enslaved by mind flayers, who bred them like cattle, augmented them with their profane sciences, and sometimes sold them to other slave-holding races of the depths.[11]

Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition[edit]

With the release of Fourth Edition rules in 2008, the grimlock again appeared in that edition's first Monster Manual. However, most of the descriptive text found in previous editions was stripped away to make room for blocks of detailed combat statistics. The only facts left were that the grimlocks are blind and use other senses to "see", they often serve as thralls or minions for more powerful creatures of the Underdark, their only strategy in battle is to attack in numbers, they prefer the taste of humans, and they are usually encountered in small packs, sometimes led by medusae or mindflayers. The rest of their text is taken up by combat statistics for various grades of grimlocks: the grimlock minion, the grimlock follower, the grimlock ambusher and the grimlock berserker. The illustration shows a stouter, larger grimlock with dark skin, still primitive and savage as evinced by its tattered loincloth and stone axe.[12]

In various campaign settings[edit]

Forgotten Realms[edit]

In the Forgotten Realms setting, grimlocks are the descendants of humans of Uthgardt ancestry from the Golden Eagle and Red Pony tribes. Long ago, in 576 DR (the Year of the Sunless Passage), these barbarian tribes vanished into the Underdark by way of a passage that leads down from beneath One Stone, the Uthgardt ancestor mound located in the easternmost Moonwood. After years of wandering in the lightless passages of the Underdark, these barbarians evolved to the current grimlocks. They still retain twisted vestiges of their ancient traditions, including a depraved form of ancestor worship that involves consumption of the aged and weak while they still live.[citation needed]

In the Underdark of Faerûn, some groups of grimlocks worship individual medusae, considering them as minor deities. The power of a medusa's gaze is beyond the grimlock's ability to comprehend (as they are blind), so it seems divine to them. More enlightened grimlocks, however, tend to worship Shar, the goddess of darkness.[citation needed]

Many wild grimlocks are born in an extended series of caves that they call the Fingerhome. The caverns of the Fingerhome extend throughout the upper, middle, and lower Underdark.[citation needed]

One tribe of grimlocks resides in the Cavern of Cloven Heads, a small cave that five thousand years prior was the site of a battle between a rear guard of dwarves of Clan Black Axe and a group of drow refugees led by Menzoberra the Kinless (the Lolthite priestess who founded Menzoberranzan). This tribe abandoned their nomadic ways and settled the surrounding caverns. Within the Cavern of Cloven Heads lies a monstrous boulder engraved with runes. Surrounding the boulder are the riven skulls of hundreds of drow. This discovery matched fragmentary legends regarding the grimlocks' lost ancestor mound, so they now revere this mound as such. (This mound is actually an ancient dwarven cairn of the Black Axe Clan. The inscriptions on the boulder are Dethek runes that relate the legend of the "Brave Beards." The rock itself lies atop the spot where the last defender of the dwarven rear guard, Dorn Black Axe, literally sank into the floor of the cavern.)[citation needed]


Grimlocks have been depicted in the World of Greyhawk campaign setting as worshippers of Erythnul, though it is unknown if this is typical.[citation needed]

In other games[edit]

Pathfinder Roleplaying Game[edit]

The Pathfinder Roleplaying Game replaced Grimlocks with Morlocks. Morlocks are a similar violent underground-dwelling race with slight differences.[13]


  1. Wells, H.G. (1895). The Time Machine. London: William Heinemann. ISBN 978-0-7434-8773-3. Search this book on Logo.png
  2. Fiend Folio. Cambridge (UK): TSR Hobbies Inc. 1981. p. 48. ISBN 0-935696-21-0. Search this book on Logo.png
  3. Fiore, Albie (May 1983). "Fiend Factory: Inhuman Gods Part III" (PDF). White Dwarf. Games Workshop (41): 29–30. Archived from the original (feature) on 2011-07-27. Retrieved 2010-09-30. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  4. Monstrous Compendium Fiend Folio Appendix. Lake Geneva WI: TSR, Inc. 1992. p. 33. Search this book on Logo.png
  5. Cordell, Bruce R. (1998). The Illithiad. Renton WA: Wizards of the Coast. p. 88. ISBN 0-7869-1206-5. Search this book on Logo.png
  6. Brown III, Lloyd (November 1999). "Primitive PCs: Seven Monstrous New Heroes". Dragon. Renton WA: TSR, Inc. XXIV, No. 6 (265): 48–49.
  7. Boyd, Eric L. Drizzt Do'Urden's Guide to the Underdark (TSR, 1999)
  8. 8.0 8.1 Cook, Monte; Tweet, Jonathan; Williams, Skip (2000). Monster Manual. Renton WA: Wizards of the Coast. p. 28. ISBN 0-7869-1552-8. Search this book on Logo.png
  9. Cordell, Bruce R, Gwendolyn FM Kestrel, and Jeff Quick. Underdark (Wizards of the Coast, 2003)
  10. Burlew, Rich, et al. Monster Manual III (Wizards of the Coast, 2004)
  11. Hart, Mark A. "Ecology of the Grimlock." Dragon #327 (Paizo Publishing, 2005)
  12. Heinsoo, Rob; Sims, Chris (2009). Monster Manual 2. Renton WA: Wizards of the Coast. ISBN 0-7869-5101-X. Search this book on Logo.png
  13. "Do Morlocks replace Grimlocks?". Paizo. Retrieved 2017-05-03.

External links[edit]

Official sources:

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