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Monster Minute: Sahuagin

Aquaman?Sahuagin from Super Friends? Or from Maori?
The sahuagin are an aquatic monstrous humanoid species who’s features resemble that of a fish.  They were originally created for D&D by Steve Marsh as a gamer, before he became employed by TSR.  Where Steve Marsh got the idea for the sahuagin is up for debate: one source says that he got the inspiration from a Justice League or Super Friends cartoon featuring similar creatures as monsters.  I did some research, and couldn’t find the exact Super Friends cartoon.  The closest thing I could find (and this is why this week’s Monster Minute is late) is an old episode of Aquaman entitled “The Rampaging Reptile-Men” (Youtube Video).

Another source, says that the sahuagin were inspired by the ponaturi, which are creatures in Maori mythology. The Ponaturi (also called the Tangaroa), are a costal species of malevolent sea goblins or faeries and, according to Maori mythology, live beneath the sea by day and return to shore each evening to sleep.  The most told story about the ponaturi is of Tawhaki.  Tawhaki’s father was killed by the ponaturi. With his family captured, tawhaki takes revenge on the ponaturi by tricking them into staying in his house after dawn. Then he and his brother opened the doors and windows to let light flood into the house, which kills ponaturi.

Personally, I think it was the Aquaman episode that inspired the creation of the sahuagin.

BlackmoorSahuagin in D&D
The sahuagin first appear in a 1975 D&D campaign supplement written by Dave Arneson called Blackmoor.   In this publication they are called “Devil Men of the Deep” and looked like evil aquatic elves rather than the monstrous devils we know today.  They were later republished in AD&D first edition in the Monster Manual and described as “seadevils”.  AD&D 2nd edition not only did they reprinted the sahuagin in the Monsterous Manual, but also gave the monster new a art design, which is a look that we are familiar with today.

sahuagin modern
In most D&D campaign settings, the sahuagin are green skinned and marked with many dark stripes or spots when born. These markings fade when they reach adulthood.  A fully grown male adult stands about six feet tall and weighs about 200 pounds.  Their fish-like features are most pronounced by their webbed feet and hands, gills, and finned dorsal and tail.  The culture of the sahuagin greatly resembles that of the Aztecs. They worship Sekolah, the lawful evil god of sharks, who is the father of their race.  The sahuagin consider sharks as holy animals and sacrifices of living victims are regularly made to them.

Sahuagin in Eberron

In the world of modern Eberron, Sahuagin inhabit the oceans of the Thundering Sea and the Shargoth’s Teeth. Their territory covers the entire expanse between Khorvaire and Xen’drik.  Many sahuagin worship the Devourer and will sacrifice captured victims to the destructive sea god of the Dark Six.

Though their empire is vast, they still live in tribal territories and much of their society is focused on savaging shipwrecks and piracy.  Some tribes are willing to trade and treaty, and often parlay with sailors for land goods in exchange for undersea artifacts. They also serve as guides through the Shargoth’s Teeth, a group of islands and reefs separating Xen’drik from Khorvaire.  The waters of Shargoth’s Teeth are deadly and without the sahuagin’s expert navigation, merchant and passenger ships would be sundered on the sharp reefs or “teeth”.

In Xen’drik lore, a group of sahuagin from the Thundering  Sea came to Stormreach and constructed a community in the flooded sewers of the city when it was still under the rule of giants. The sahuagin of today will not speak of this fallen ancient culture; Eberron scholars believe that this silence is due to some great shame.  These ancient sahuagin of Stormreach were eventually driven out by the Fallen Stone giants, who were said to be a mix race of storm giant and amphibious stone giant.

  • Thanks for the information.. Keep the good work!!



    April 30, 2010

  • Before DDO, I always used to get Sahuagin and Kuo-Toa confused. I think they were “discovered” around the same time. Interesting that DA created Sahuagin and GG created Kuo-Toa, and they are so similar.

    I remember a module that featured the Kuo-Toa and their goddess, “Blippity-bloppity-bloop” or something like that. 😀



    May 3, 2010

  • Actually, the “fish people” in most roleplaying games can trace their origins to H.P. Lovecraft’s fiction. Whether Lovecraft used older mythology to draw from, I do not know. I think he used a sinister form or merfolk and made them more bestial and corrupting in their nature. Lovecraft’s fish people would interbreed with coastal humans and start secret cults to the dark gods of the deep. I feel Sahuagin and the like are derived from this tradition with artistic license.



    May 11, 2010

  • @De’Robfu The origins of both the Sahuagin and Kuo-toa is debatable. After interviewing two friends of mine who worked for TSR as editors and authors — back in the Lake Geneva days — I discovered that the Sahuagin (Blackmoore, 1975) came before the Kuo-toa (Shrine of the Kuo-Toa, 1978). I suspect they created the Kuo-toa because it could be marked as “Product Identity” by TSR (now Wizards of the Coast). Its all really speculation, since the creators of both monsters are now passed on. I may ask my literature professor friend, who studies H.P. Lovecraft and Lord Dunsany, where Lovecraft got the idea. It would be fun research. 🙂



    May 12, 2010