The Anhkheg, more commonly spelled as Ankheg, is the first card in Set 1 of the AD&D Monster Cards from 1981. This large burrowing insect can be devastating to any party, with its chitinous shell, strong mandibles and deadly acid stream. The large variation in their hit dice makes them ideal for challenging character at different levels and their burrowing ability makes them a great wandering monster for outdoor adventures.
I have used them in several adventures to generate Tremors-like drama for the party. Forcing them to think of ways to move across areas without touching the ground out of fear of summoning several Anhkhegs. As you can see from the art, they also have a great movie-monster quality about them. In one running of Isle of Dread, I added a group of semi-intelligent Anhkheg to the mix with disastrous results to the players.
The Anhkheg would get a name change for 2nd edition. Dropping an “h” to become the much simpler Ankheg. It is not clear why, outside of simplifying. I tend to like the original spelling, but I always forget the second “h”. So I guess I can see why they might change it.
Now let’s take a look at this art:
The Anhkheg was created by famed fantasy artist Erol Otus. Under its original spelling, the “anhkheg,” made their first appearance in the Creature Features column of Dragon Magazine #5, which was published in March of 1977. It was this early work by Otus that would ultimately land him a job at TSR.
According to Otus:
I sent in several more things, including the write-up and artwork for “The Ankheg,” published in The Dragon #5. They ended up giving me a ring when looking to hire a staff artist and so I moved to Lake Geneva to work full time. – Tor.com
The Anhkheg would make its first book appearance in the Original Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual on Page 6. Interestingly enough, the description of the creature on the card and in the Monster Manual is very different. The card version is much more straightforward, but they both relay the same information in the end.
Here is the description of the card and the original Monster Manual Entry along with its artwork.
While this creature appeared before the publishing of the Forgotten Realms, the Anhkheg is native to that world making appearances in the role-playing video games Pool of Radiance, Baldur’s Gate, and Gateway to the Savage Frontier.
The Anhkheg is a classic Dungeons & Dragons monster. One that most modern players are unfamiliar with. So if you want to spice up a campaign and terrify even the most hearty of warriors, send in a couple of Anhkhegs. They are tough, stealthy agents of destruction that will make all your players nervous if they happen to hear a slight rumbling under the ground.
Anhkheg Random Encounter
The party is hired to track down a lost merchant caravan that went missing about a week ago. After traveling for two days, they stumble across a clearing near a road. In the distance they see a group of wagons, but no people.
This caravan made the fateful decision to rest over an Anhkheg nest. Now only a single survivor remains. He will wildly wave his arms and try to caution the party to stay away, because he knows any sound or movement over the nest might call fourth some Anhkhegs.
Once the party steps off the road, they have a 1 in 4 chance of having an encounter with 1-3 Anhkhegs. You should explain that they might be able to get to the wagons while staying off the ground via trees and rocks, if they brought enough rope and are skilled enough to figure it out.
If they make it into the field, give them opportunities to figure out that vibration summons these monsters and let them rest in trees or on a boulder or two. This will give them a chance to survive while heightening the tension.
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