Top 10 Ways for a Dungeon Master to Terrorize His Players

Dungeons & Dragons is a game all about cooperation and story-telling. Gathering around a table (or a computer monitor) to explore vast fantasy worlds, topple tyrants and defeat mad titans with your friends is getting more popular than ever. While D&D is ultimately about having fun with your friends and having the heroes emerge victorious…as a Dungeon Master you do want to make sure you strike a certain level of fear in your players. Plus, how are they suppose to know what victory tastes like if they don’t have a taste of defeat to compare it too? Here is my own personal list of the top 10 ways to terrorize your players.

10. Giant Gelatinous Cube

One of the strangest monsters to ever be conceived in the world of D&D, it’s also a classic. But there’s nothing like losing a player right in front of your eyes as they dissolve in a giant cube of jello. Or, if not the player losing those precious magic items to the same fate.

9. Aging Curse

Seeing the look of confusion on a players face when they’re instantly aged 10 to 50+ years is priceless. If they’re some type of Fey-related creature like an Elf or Eladrin, not too big of a deal. But, if you’ve never seen a Half-Orc player come to the realization they’re just past their life expectancy you haven’t lived as a DM.

8. Deck of Many Things

Photo Credit: Robbie Landis / Checkpoint XP

I included this very special magic item despite having not used it myself. The Deck of Many things holds within it countless surprises and horrors. Sure, a player could end up granting themselves 10,000 Experience Points. Or, they could end up tearing their own soul from their body and having it stored away someplace and guarded by Demons of the Nine Hells. It’s like the D&D version of a really twisted lottery.

7. Chasme

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A Chasme is a Fiend I wasn’t familiar with until a recent episode of Critical Role. It’s a great enemy to put your players in peril. Apart from looking like a weird mosquito-demon with a bad mullet, it has two awesome characteristics players will love. The first is Drone, which requires players to make a saving throw or simply fall unconscious. The second comes when it uses its probiscious to attack dealing normal damage and reducing maximum HP by the same amount. Ouch.

6. Dragon’s Breath

Photo Credit Dungeons & Dragons / Wizards of the Coast

Nothing beats a Dragon’s Breath attack. It’s one of the the things that makes fighting them so terrifying. Knowing that even if you save against the DC you’re still taking somewhere north of 30-40 damage can be cripplingly frightful to players.

5. Beholder

Photo Credit Dungeons & Dragons / Wizards of the Coast

Like a Dragon, the Beholder is one of the quintessential monsters of Dungeons and Dragons. Unlike the Dragon, some Beholder’s have a true one-hit KO in their disintegration beam. A Dragon knocks you down, maybe someone has a resurrection spell? Really, just a hand will work to bring someone back if you know the right people. But a Beholder Eye Beam is the D&D equivalent of a Thanos snap. You turn to dust.

4. Charm

Charm (and to a lesser extend player possession) is such a great way to threaten the party. It’s one thing to know that every time the DM throws the dice your fate hangs in the balance. It’s another to watch your party members, friends and allies since the beginning, rolling dice to determine your fate. Nothing is as sweet as watching one player end another’s character.

3. Slimy Doom

Slimy Doom is one of my favorite diseases from 4th edition and could easily be home-brewed into 5th edition. Unlike a Dragon’s Breath, a Beholder’s Eye or even falling rocks, Slimy Doom isn’t determined by a single roll of the dice. It takes time. Days, sessions even. Watch with delight as your player tries to stave off the effects, teetering between ill and almost cured until either they survive it…or are reduced to a pile of slimy goo.

2. Gravity

This one is a personal favorite of mine since it’s attributable to nearly all the KOs in my own person campaign. Climbing dangerous cliff sides, falling into bottomless pits with a portal trap. Present a challenge to your players that could simply be solved by tying a rope around your waist…and watch as they ignore the basic safety rules of rock climbing and plummet to their death.

1. The Players

Photo Credit Dungeons & Dragons / Wizards of the Coast

Finally, no matter how prepared you are as a Dungeon Master. No matter how nefarious you try to be, how cunning you think your monsters are…the greatest enemy a party of players will ever face is themselves. No one will find a more creative, sudden and inevitable death than those sitting opposite of you at the table.

For more Dungeons and Dragons from Robbie Landis and Checkpoint XP, follow on Twitter (Robbie and Checkpoint XP) and at Join Robbie as he DM’s 2d6 Emotional Damage every Monday at 8:30 p.m. ET.

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About The Author

Robbie Landis Host of the CheckpointXP National Show, Other Identity comic book podcast and a Dungeon Master. Robbie Landis has been playing games since Yoshi's Cookie Factory was released on the NES. He enjoys RPGs, APEX Legends and World of Warcraft.

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