Photo Credit: Wizards of the Coast, Dungeons and Dragons.
The Holidays are a time for joy and celebration. Spending a few days away from work and with your family, reconnecting and remembering the good times. I spent my holidays contemplating the best and most terrifying ways to deliver an unforgettable experience to my players. Dungeons and Dragons can be a way of life for a Dungeon Master. There are few waking moments where I’m not thinking about where the next plot arc could take the party on their grand adventure. There isn’t a creature or a person I don’t see and get inspiration for the next great villain. This Christmas my imagination went into overdrive thanks to an amazing gift that my girlfriend got me. It’s a book called Dungeons & Drawings by Blanca Martínez de Rituerto and Joe Sparrow. It’s a collection of monsters seen throughout the tabletop world, drawn in a stunning, beautiful and unique ways and accompanied by some lore and a description. It also features a power-level type chart for their combat, magic, smarts, loot and danger. If you want to check it out for yourself or grab a copy you can find it on Amazon.
My girlfriend thumbing through the pages two days before Christmas, because we do Christmas Early. We’re adults and that’s our decision to make. She came upon a creature that really captured my eye and thus inspired this article. Tabletop roleplaying games are filled with classic monsters of all varieties, but I want to focus on the truly diabolic and terrifying ones that can be used to masterful effect by Dungeon Masters everywhere.
We’ll start with my latest obsession and the creature my girlfriend found first and said, “You should make your party fight this!” I don’t believe the Worm-That-Walks has yet been made official in any Wizards of the Coast material but there are some homebrew stat blocks out there. The Worm-That-Walks is a being comprised entirely of worms and bugs that come together to form the shape of a humanoid. Either through some diabolical spell or cursed ritual the soul of the caster is transferred into a swarm of worms or insects. They work now as a colonial organism, each carrying the memories of the caster or mage. There are many examples of beings that can turn into swarms of rats, bats or insects, but the Worm-That-Walks’ true form is the swarm. They must hide themselves in heaps of robes and rags or done some semblance of fake flesh. Should you attempt to destroy the Worm-That-Walks you’d want to make sure you got every last organism in the mass because if even one survives, so does the brain behind the swarm. Setting up a great returning villain for your campaign.
The Oblex is another I’ve only just recently come across thanks to Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes. It’s a highly intelligent ooze created by Mindflayers that feeds on the memories and is able to create copies of it’s victims that are nearly indistinguishable from the originals except for a faint smell of sulfur. Oblex’ tend to prefer intelligent beings as their targets. They submerge the individual within their ooze and drain their memories, learning all of their strengths and weaknesses and leaving the prey with difficulty remembering the memories that were taken. Normally, the copies can’t venture too far from the Oblex limited to a range of 120 feet and are always anchored to it by a very thin, transparent tether. A few homebrew changes to this that allow the copies to rome anywhere and you could make a truly sinister villain for one of your campaign arcs.
Normally very skilled magic users the Rakshasa are all about deception and misdirection. They’re demon’s that resemble humans in shape but have a tiger-like head and hands. The hands are most unusual because they’re backwards with palms facing outward. Rakshasa’s magic abilities are usually illusory in nature and they have the ability to shape-shift as well. They’re very intelligent and often insert themselves into positions of power and wealth. What makes the Rakshasa truly dangerous and a foe to be respected is that they have a limited magic immunity. In Dungeons and Dragons Rakshasa are immune to any magic that is cast at 6th level or lower, unless they choose to be. They also get advantage on any magic saving throw that would otherwise affect them. On top of that, should you actually manage to best and defeat a Rakshasa…if it’s not on the plane of existence from which he is from he simply returns there and can then begin to plot his revenge. The only way to truly kill a Rakshasa is to find him on his home plane and kill him there. Also, if struck by the claws of a Rakshasa you may be inflicted with a curse that prevents you from gaining any benefits from a Long Rest.
Fans of Dungeons and Dragons and other tabletop games will talk for hours on end about Beholders and Mindflayers and the evils and atrocities they commit. There are few that speak of the Aboleth, a large grey aquatic type being with a gaping, razor toothed maw. It’s what you’d get if you crossed an apex predator like a great white shark with an old god such as Cthulhu. Before the coming of the gods in the worlds of Dungeons and Dragons, when the primordial world was nothing but a vast ocean the Aboleth’s ruled. They used psychic powers to reach out to any and all living beings they could touch and enslave them to their will. Eventually the Gods came, toppling the Aboleth empire but the Aboleths have never forgotten. Aboleth’s have a trait called eternal memory, which allows them perfect recall and as thus the defeat at the hands of the gods is always a fresh wound. They also have the ability to enslave the minds of any foes that come near them. Aboleth’s secrete a mucus that if infected by you can only breath underwater for a certain amount of time. Aboleth’s also have a number of regional effects such as turning the water sources within 1 mile of the lair foul. Should you fight an Aboleth on it’s home turf it has devastating lair actions like the ability to cast Phantasmal Force on any number of creatures it can see. The Aboleth is old, ancient and eternally pissed off.
As terrible as the Aboleth may seem nothing I’ve come across in my time as a Dungeon Master is more nightmarish than the Sibriex. It’s classified as a demon but a good argument could be made that this thing is an abomination. It resides mostly in the abyss and is a conglomeration of misshapen, deformed heads and body parts. The form of this creature constantly exudes streams of blood and bile that run and drip off it at all times, corrupted and changing the ground it touches. The main goal of a Sibriex is to dominate any and all lifeforms it can. It takes a sick pleasure in corrupted and modifying anything it can find. It’s said that over the eons as a Sibriex gains more power and influence in the abyss that even other Demon Lords would come to them for advice or information about their enemies. If met on the battlefield the Sibriex has a plethora of tools at its disposal. One of the most wretched is an ability called Warp Creature, if you fail to make the saving throw you gain a level of exhaustion. At 6 levels you die instantly and are reborn as a cursed wretch under the Sibriex’s command. The only good news is that if you make your saving throw you can’t be affected by the Warp Creature ability again, the bad news is this targets everyone within it’s 120 foot radius.
Monsters in the world of Dungeons and Dragons aren’t just about breath attacks and giant swords. Sometimes the threat is unseen for several sessions and even after it’s uncovered, it remains unseen for several more. These terrible, horrific creatures make great single encounters but also make for unforgettable campaign long experiences. Don’t be afraid to terrorize and traumatize your players with the chaotic and unknown because when they’re finally able to defeat their adversaries, those are memories they’ll cherish for ages to come.
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