Bringing Killer Monsters to your Dungeons and Dragons Game
D&D has the best high fantasy monsters and creepy dungeon crawls but what about spinetingling horror? Is it even possible to run a straight Horror campaign with Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition?
Well of course it is!
Look no further than Curse of Strahd, Descent to Avernus, or Tomb of the Annihilation for Premade Adventure guides. These campaigns have enough fright to go around without losing the high fantasy from Dungeons and Dragons.
This helpful guide is for those Homebrew Dungeon Masters out there! The ones who relish in crafting their OWN magical worlds.
With the help of D&D Beyond and the power of imagination, there really IS no limit to the world or story that you can create. There are literally thousands of monsters you can use to create encounters around. You want whimsical, steampunk, or in this case, even horror – it’s all there waiting for you to play with.
The following list is just a small sampling of the best monsters to use in horror campaigns. They all bring something to the table, and they all stand out as unique additions to any homebrew campaign.
I’ll be highlighting some of the less common options in the Monster Manual so no vampire, witch, or ghost is going to make the cut! (Pun intended.)
(Descriptions are consistent with Official Dungeons & Dragons Products and Sourcebooks.)
Challenge your Dungeons & Dragons Crew with Body Snatchers
Found in the Basic Rules.
(Think – Invasion of the Body Snatchers)
A Doppelganger is a devious shapeshifter that take on the appearance of other humanoids, throwing off pursuit or luring victims to their doom with misdirection and disguise.
Doppelgangers are devious shapeshifters that take on the appearance of other humanoids, throwing off pursuit or luring victims to their doom with misdirection and disguise. Few creatures spread fear, suspicion, and deceit better than doppelgangers. Found in every land and culture, they can take on the guise of any individual of any race.
A doppelganger’s adopted form allows it to blend into almost any group or community, but its transformation doesn’t impart languages, mannerisms, memory, or personality. Doppelgangers often follow or capture creatures they intend to impersonate, studying them and probing their minds for secrets.
A doppelganger can read a creature’s surface thoughts, allowing it to glean that creature’s name, desires, and fears, along with a few scattered memories. A doppelganger impersonating a specific creature as part of a long-term plot might keep the double alive and close at hand for weeks, probing the victim’s mind daily to learn how to behave and speak authentically.
Capture Lost Souls with D&D Hellraisers
Found in the Basic Rules
This ominous fiend wears chains like a shroud. Driving lesser creatures before it with its fearsome gaze, a chain devil animates the chains that cover its body as well as inanimate chains nearby, which sprout hooks, blades, and spikes to eviscerate enemies.
Chain devils act as sadistic jailers and torturers in the infernal realms, relishing pain and living to inflict it on others. They are called on to torment mortal souls trapped in the Nine Hells, inflicting their sadistic fury on the horrid lemures in which those souls manifest.
A Science Fiction nod for High Fantasy
Found in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes
(Think – The Blob)
By experimenting on the slimes, jellies, and puddings that infest the depths of the Underdark, mind flayers created a special breed of ooze, the oblex — a slime capable of assaulting the minds of other creatures. Cunning hunters, these pools of jelly stalk prey, searching for the memories they so desperately crave.
When oblexes feed on those thoughts, sometimes killing their victims, they can form weird copies of their prey, which help them to harvest even more victims for their dark masters.
Oblexes feed on thoughts and memories. The sharper the mind, the better the meal, so oblexes hunt obviously intelligent targets such as wizards and other spellcasters. When suitable fare comes within reach, an oblex draws its body up to engulf its victim. As it withdraws, it plunders the creature’s mind, leaving its prey befuddled and confused. An oblex doesn’t require sleep.
Make your D&D Players Wish for Death
Found in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes
(Think Lovecraftian Horror)
Incarnations of chaos and evil, demons display endless variation in appearance and in how they go about wreaking havoc across the multiverse.
Thought to be as old as the Abyss itself, sibriexes haunt remote parts of the plane, where they use their vile abilities to breed new horrors and apprehend forbidden lore. Rivulets of blood and bile cascade from a sibriex’s body. Where these noxious fluids hit the ground, the landscape becomes polluted.
Sibriexes have spent eons amassing information from across the planes, hoarding knowledge for when it might be useful. Such is their incredible intellect that many seek them out, including demon lords.
Some sibriexes act as advisors and oracles, manipulating demons into serving their ends, while other sibriexes cling to their secrets, parceling out lore only when doing so would advance their plans.
A Unique choice for Brainy Dungeon Masters
Found in Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden
(Think – The Man With Two Brains)
Through rituals combining alchemy, necromancy, and grim surgical precision, the brain of a mortal being is encased in a glass jar filled with preserving fluids and the liquefied goop of their body’s flesh. The transformation renders the brain ageless and imbues it with psionic power so that it can spend eternity plotting and executing its desires.
A brain in a jar can speak without vocal cords, psionically projecting its disembodied voice outward for all to hear. It enjoys conversation so much that it is prone to talking for hours on end, sometimes to itself if there are no others with whom it can speak. It also likes to think out loud and reflect on the events and decisions that led to its great transformation.
A living brain floats in a jar of thick solution, pulsating as it reacts to its surroundings. Some brains have been known to thump against the walls of their containers when excited or vexed. A jar’s metal casing might be rusty but serviceable, or an elegantly wrought masterwork, depending on its creator.
Still, other brains desire nothing more than to regain a body. This might be the brain’s original body, another frame they covet, or some more elaborate design of their own diabolical creation. While disembodied, a brain in a jar weighs roughly 125 pounds.
Creep your players out with this D&D “THING”
Found in the Basic Rules
(Think – The Thing)
Of all the terrors created by foul sorcery, gibbering mouthers are among the most wicked and depraved. This creature is the composite eyes, mouths, and liquefied matter of its former victims. Driven to insanity by the destruction of their bodies and absorption into the mouther, those victims gibber incoherent madness, forced to consume everything in reach.
The gibbering mouther’s body is an amorphous mass of mouths and eyes that propels itself by oozing forward, fastening several mouths to the ground, and pulling its bulk behind. Though it moves slowly, it swims through water, mud, and quicksand with ease.
When a gibbering mouther senses prey, its mouths begin to murmur and chatter, each with a different voice: deep or shrill, wailing or ululating, crying out in agony or ecstasy.
This cacophonous gibbering overcomes the senses of any creature that hears it, causing most to flee in terror. Others are overcome with madness or stand paralyzed, fixated on the horrific creature as it oozes forward to consume them.
Build a sense of dread with The Living Dead
Found in Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft
(Think – World War Z)
Among the undead, a lone zombie ranks far from the most menacing. The horror of the shambling dead lies not in their individual menace, though, but in their numbers, their persistence, and their disregard for their well-being. A throng of zombies will douse a forest fire with their ashes or march into a dragon’s maw until the monster chokes.
In the course of their relentless marches, zombies might suffer all manner of trauma, potentially reducing them to masses of crawling limbs (see a swarm of zombie limbs), infecting them with terrible diseases (see zombie plague spreader), or crushing an entire horde into a single, rotting titan.
Immediate option for Dungeon Masters to Challenge Player Characters
Found in the Basic Rules
(Think – Stranger Things)
A nothic is a monstrous creature with terrible talons and a single great eye. When driven to violence, it uses its horrific gaze to rot the flesh from its enemies’ bones.
A baleful eye peers out from the darkness, its gleam hinting at a weird intelligence and unnerving malevolence. Most times, a nothic is content to watch, weighing and assessing the creatures it encounters. When driven to violence, it uses its horrific gaze to rot the flesh from its enemies’ bones.
Rather than gaining the godlike supremacy they crave, some wizards who devote their lives to unearthing arcane secrets are reduced to creeping, tormented monsters by a dark curse left behind by Vecna, a powerful lich who, in some worlds, has transcended his undead existence to become a god of secrets.
Nothics retain no awareness of their former selves, skulking amid the shadows and haunting places rich in magical knowledge, drawn by memories and impulses they can’t quite understand.
Nothics possess a strange magical insight that allows them to extract knowledge from other creatures. This grants them a unique understanding of secret and forbidden lore, which they share for a price. A nothic covets magic items, greedily accepting such gifts from creatures that seek out its knowledge.
The Best D&D Monsters from a Horror Classic
Found in the Basic Rules
(Think – Frankenstein)
A flesh golem is a grisly assortment of humanoid body parts stitched and bolted together into a muscled brute imbued with formidable strength. Powerful enchantments protect it, deflecting spells and all but the most potent weapons.
The construction of a golem begins with the building of its body, requiring great command of the craft of sculpting, stonecutting, ironworking, or surgery. Sometimes a golem’s creator is the master of the art, but often the individual who desires a golem must enlist master artisans to do the work.
After constructing the body from clay, flesh, iron, or stone, the golem’s creator infuses it with a spirit from the Elemental Plane of Earth. This tiny spark of life has no memory, personality, or history. It is simply the impetus to move and obey. This process binds the spirit to the artificial body and subjects it to the will of the golem’s creator.
Golems can guard sacred sites, tombs, and treasure vaults long after the deaths of their creators. This allows them to carrying out their appointed tasks for all eternity while brushing off physical damage and ignoring all but the most potent spells.
Flesh Golems can be created with a special amulet or another item that allows the possessor of the item to control the golem. Golems whose creators are long dead can thus be harnessed to serve a new master.
Bend Dreams and Reality with This D&D Bogeyman
Found in the Basic Rules
(Think – The Babadook)
In nursery rhymes, oni are fearsome bogeymen that haunt the nightmares of children and adults alike, but they’re real and HUNGRY. They find human babies especially delicious. Oni have blue or green skin, dark hair, and a pair of short ivory horns on their foreheads. Their eyes are dark with strikingly white pupils, and their teeth and claws are jet black.
Night Haunters. By the light of day, an oni hides its true form with magic, gaining the trust of those it intends to betray when darkness descends. These creatures can change their size as well as their shape, appearing as humanoids as they pass through towns, pretending to be travelers, woodcutters, or frontier folk. In such a form, an oni takes stock of the selection of humanoids in a settlement and devises ways to abduct and devour some of them.
Magical Ogres. Oni are sometimes called ogre mages because of their innate magical ability. Though they are only distantly related to true ogres, they share the habit of joining forces with other evil creatures. An oni serves a master if doing so proves lucrative or provides it with a luxurious, well-defended home. Oni covets magic, and they work for evil wizards and hags in exchange for useful magic items.
Build the Homebrew Encounters of your Dreams (Nightmares)
Adding any of these 10 Monsters to your Campaign is a surefire way for Dungeon Masters to induce spine-tingling moments. Make sure you set up their appearance though. It’s one thing to just plop a mini down in play and scream ZOMBIE CLOT. It’s another thing to build the anticipation and set the scene. There is beauty in describing the sounds, smells, and vibe before the monster ever ATTACKS!
Good Luck and Happy Haunts D&D Horror Fans!
What are The Best D&D Monsters For Horror Scenarios?
Did we leave any Creepy Crawlers out?
Any Monsters you think should have made the Top 10?
If so let us know all about it in the comment section below.