The Displacer Beast is an iconic Dungeons & Dragons monster that has appeared in every edition of the game since 1974. It is also one of the monsters where you can trace its origins. It is based on an alien race of feline predators called the Coeurl. They were created by the science fiction writer A. E. van Vogt and made their first appearance in the short story, Black Destroyer back in 1939, before being reused in the 1950 novel, The Voyage of the Space Beagle.
They are described by Vogt as large felines with long forelegs and tentacles that protrude from their shoulders. While Vogt never specified the color of the Coeurl, on the cover of The Astounding Tales, where it made its first appearance, it is depicted as black.
You can see just from this cover how this terrifying ebon beast would evolve into the space-shifting six legged panther-like, the Displacer Beast. An early version of the beast was illustrated on the Basic D&D draft manuscript by Christopher Holmes, son of Eric Holmes, who was the editor of the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set.
Holmes’ version of the Displacer Beast is powerful looking, cat-like and yet unnatural. It is very similar to all of the illustrations that would follow, including the one in the Monster Card.
Art on this card was done by Bill Willingham. Another of the seminal artists at TSR, in addition to scores of interior illustrations, Willingham was the cover artist for the AD&D Player Character Record Sheets, Against the Giants, and Secret of Bone Hill. His Displacer Beast is wonderfully menacing. Powerfully built, it is obviously feline, but he manages to make its shoulder tentacles look alive with menace. And those eyes, give the creature an almost alien appearance.
Stats for the Displacer Beast and the description in the original Monster Manual line up well. This is one of those instances where the illustration in the Monster Manual holds up well with the monster card. Of course, this is because the Monster Manual version is one of the fabulous woodcut style works by David A. Trampier (DAT).
Both of them are far more evocative and I think superior to the version of the Displacer Beast in the 2nd Edition Monster Manual that was done by Tony DiTerlizzi. While the illustration in that book is fine and much more realistic, I just prefer the more fantastic nature of the earlier works.
The Displacer Beast card is probably the first card featuring an “iconic” Dungeons & Dragons Monster. Looking at it, you can see why. It was familiar, yet alien and had powers that made for compelling encounters. It is no wonder that Dungeon Masters return to this magnificent creature time and again.
Random Displacer Beast Encounter
Your party of adventurers has stopped for the night at the Haggard Dragon Inn. They awaken after midnight to human and equine screams. A mysterious beast has broken into the stable and attacked and killed a horse. While doing so, the groom who is also the innkeeper’s son, was badly injured. This was not the first attack by this mysterious beast and the Innkeeper, who is a former adventurer, offers the party some treasure to hunt and kill the beast.
The trail should be easy to follow, but things get more complicated when the party discovers that the beast is hunting so aggressively to feed her litter of kittens.