01 April 2013

A is for Aboleth

The aboleth is a fantastic creature, not merely for its powers and abilities, but for the myriad of uses one can find for these strange beasts.

If you have never heard of an author named H.P. Lovecraft, I would highly recommend you find out more about him if you wish to bring an element of horror and dread to your RPG table. Particularly a short story called The Call of Cthulhu. The story, written in first person, tells the tale of a man driven to the bring of insanity by a horror he has witnessed, and a terrible truth he has learned.

Now, the aboleth is a horrifying creature that can really be used to great effect to terrify low-to-mid level characters. Other variations can be found to use at higher levels, making them fantastic villains to plague players for an entire campaign. They are aquatic, preferring to live deep within underground lakes and rivers. Perhaps most frightening of all, they have the ability to dominate the minds of others, controlling them and turning them into their slaves. Entire communities have been infiltrated by aboleth slaves, and before one knows it, the town is under their control. They wield powerful illusionary magic. They are older than the stars and cannot die unless killed. Combined, one could not ask for better qualities in a campaign villain.

Most source books say the aboleth are an ancient race, the progenitors of the Material Plane, and older than the gods themselves. When I first read about them, I realized they sounded similar to the creatures that H.P. Lovecraft loved to write about. His tales of the strange and otherworldly greatly influenced my treatment of aboleths and aberrations as a whole. When first introducing these creatures to my campaign, I started slow, building an environment of fear and portent. The players came across a mysterious letter written by a dead man warning any who found the letter to turn back and not go further into the madness of a town they had recently discovered. The town was covered by fog, and the letter spoke of a tentacled beast. My players, being fairly new to the game thought nothing of it and continued on.

As the adventure got deeper and more ominous, I decided to make the aboleths come from a place called the Far Realm, or the Dark Tapestry. Already a place influenced by Lovecraft's work, this realm was a place of madness, located far beyond the stars and beyond the knowing of any sane man. It fit perfectly into the Lovecraftian feeling I was attempting to convey. To this day, in almost all campaigns I run, aberrations are from a place beyond madness. A place that man was not meant to know. They are the way that I like to bring a Cthulhu theme to my games, something to make the players despair and feel no hope. I am quite proud of my first reveal of an aboleth, coming out of a black portal, inky water spewing out, its eel-like slithering body oozing out of the portal and sliding across the floor. The players, weakened and frightened at the horrors they had already witnessed in the town, ran for their lives and their sanity. An adventure well-concluded.

If you are a fan of the dark and macabre, I would suggest taking a look at aberrations in a new light. Not as ugly beasts meant to be killed in a night of hack-and-slash, but as otherworldly aliens that can be used to eerie effect, to frighten your players and make them respect the dangers of insanity. Looking at enemy types in new ways is a feature I hope to bring to The Adventurer's Tomb often. Stay tuned tomorrow for "B is for Boss".

Relevant Links
D&D 3.5 Aboleth
Pathfinder Aboleth


  1. I never really liked using Aboleths in my games because they were just too strange for my liking. I didn't really get what they were all about or how to use them effectively. And then I read the Abolethic Sovereignty series set in the Forgotten Realms. The books were fantastic and really give me an insight into how to use them effectively. I strongly encourage you to check them out whether you're looking for info on Aboleths or just want a good read. 1) Plague of Spells, 2) City of Torment, 3) Key of Stars all by Bruce R. Cordell.

    1. I've never heard of these books, primarily because I've never read any of the fictional books about D&D, but I'll be sure to take a look at them now. Thanks! Aboleths really can be great fun when applied properly and ominously.