10 Monsters I Use in Every D&D Campaign (And 5 I Don’t)

addmmI actually had come up with this post BEFORE everyone else on the RPG Bloggers Network started doing their own lists… honest! So here’s my list not necessarily of my favorite monsters in D&D, but of those that I always try to work into every campaign I run.  Then, a list of 5 monsters we joke about including, but it never seems to happen except under rare circumstances.


1. Umber Hulk

Giant bugs with some ill-defined confusion attack. Do they have those swirly hypnotist eyes? Do they just rhythmically chant “Ummmmbbbbbeeerrr Huuullllkkkk” until you go crazy? Who knows… I just know these giant burrowing critters are an expected part of every one of my D&D games.

2. Bullette

Obviously we have to pair these with Umber Hulks. The Bullette, or “Land Shark”, does its burrowing to tunnel through the ground and snap up unsuspecting adventurers. In  4e, they even come in two sizes (Deadly and Extra Deadly).

3. Beholder

Is there a better pair of words in the English language than “Eye Ray”? 

4. Owlbear

There’s a fierce debate that rages every time: what do these creatures sound like? In 4e they have a screech attack, which suggests some kind of loud honking noise, but I always pictured them as making a noise that was a cross between an owl’s hoot and a bear’s growl. Maybe someday, this question will be settled by genetic splicing.

5. Mimic

“I search the treasure chest for traps.” “Roll initative.” 

There may not be a monster that epitomizes “retro stupid” more to me than the mimic, a treasure chest that grows a mouth and arms to attack.

6. Gelatinous Cube

Besides being the best miniature of all time, you can place these near-invisible blobs in the path of any unsuspecting adventuring party, and they’ll go out of their way to go “SPLAT” into it.

7. Wraith

To me, the canonical undead creature. While skeletons and zombies may pop up more, they’re just difficult to injure (but easy to turn) nusicances. Wraiths, on the other hand, are scary, life-draining spirits that can lurk in any dark corner.

8. Troll

This is the classic “trick” monster- you must know its weaknesses to beat it. (Of course, the legend of “Abe’s Trolls” has made declaring this weakness to be dangerous). The troll is the main monster where you have to be specically equipped to deal with it, and many an adventuring party has been forced to improvise weapons from their torches to put the thing down once and for all.

9. Mind Flayer

All they want to do is eat your brains. There’s few monsters I would consider more classic and essential to D&D than the Mind Flayer. They know psionics, magic, and have tentacle attacks. In 3e, four of those, and CRUNCH… you were food.

10. Dragon

Of course, their name is right in the title, and there’s no monster that says D&D to me more. D&D’s way of characterizing dragons by family and color may not jibe with mythology, but it does give them a very unique flavor.


1. Zaratan

It’s a turtle with an island on its back. Great setting, but often harder to work in than a monster that the PCs would actually, you know, fight.

2. Aurumvorax

It has many legs and eats gold. We generally remember the first part, and not the second. Maybe I just need to make an encounter consisting of an Aurumvorax, Rust Monster, Dire Beaver, and Moth Swarm. I call it: “Your stuff is lunch.”

3. Ixitxachitl

It’s an evil manta ray or something, but we just like it because of the name. Fun fact: I once owned an iguana that I named Ixitxachitl, and despite having to write the name down at the vet’s office many times, I still cannot spell it from memory.

4. Atropal

First coming to our attention with the 3e Epic Level Handbook, the Atropal is a stillborn god-fetus that rises as undead. Eww. Plus, it uses the two greatest words in the english language… remember them? That’s right, it has eye rays!

5. Tarrasque

The Tarrasque (sometimes pronounced “Tarsk” and sometimes pronounced “Terr-ask”) always sits at the top of the monster food chain to us. Sure, there are monsters of higher hit dice, challenge rating, level, etc., but nothing seems to come close to being the ultimate “oh crap” encounter as the big regenerating beastie. Why do I never use it? Campaigns rarely get to high enough levels to even think about challenging it, except when I run a game that starts in epic levels, in which case it’s the first thing they fight.

The legend had a bite taken out of it (literally) when we heard the story of a player using the Wish spell to turn it into a regenerating candy bar.

OK, that’s my list! Has anyone started assembling these into a mini-carnival yet?

About Dave

Dave "The Game" Chalker is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Critical Hits. Since 2005, he has been bringing readers game news and advice, as well as editing nearly everything published here. He is the designer of the Origins Award-winning Get Bit!, a freelance designer and developer, son of a science fiction author, and a Master of Arts. He lives in MD with e, their three dogs, and two cats.


  1. I still want the Gelatinous Cube mini soooooooooooo bad. Maybe even TWO of them. That would be sweet.

    I totally agree on beholders – which is why I own all three of ’em. They’re just awesome on so many levels.

    Anybody here a recovering EverCrackhead? What were the names of those creatures that looked like flying sperm? I always liked them.

    Geek’s Dream Girl´s last post: By Popular Demand: The Poll for People With Wayyy Lots of RPG Books

  2. Out of that list, the mimic and the beholder are the only guys I don’t use a lot. The 3.5 Lords of Madness really soured my outlook on beholders. I already thought they were goofy-looking bozos, but reading their expanded fluff (they’re goofy-looking bozos who have an egocentric genocidal loathing for all the rest of their race) made laugh in its face and toss my beholder mini over my shoulder.

    Mimic I’ve used all of once. I don’t use treasure chests in my games a lot, so anyone can tell if there’s a chest somewhere, something’s fishy.

    Wyatt´s last post: Scourges of Eden: Kuannei, The Eternal Night

  3. My philosophy is that no campaign is complete without at least one encounter with 1) a dragon, 2) some giants, and 3) either a pack of dangerous fiends or one -really- dangerous one.

  4. screech attack, which suggests some kind of loud honking noise

    …honking? Seriously?

    I always went with something like this, which I can definitely picture coming out of a bear/owl.

    Graham´s last post: Scales of War – All sorts of updates

  5. You only included that “don’t” list because you’re very well aware more than half that list comprises some of my favorite monsters of all time 😛

  6. I have! All of them…….i think.

    Questing GM´s last post: Word of Wizards – Dungeon 163 Art & Map Gallery

  7. The first PC to die in a game I DMed met his end in a gladatorial arena fighting an owlbear. Where ever your spirit rests Zanz of Torm, may it rest well.

    The Last Rogue´s last post: Cave Fisher 4e

  8. What always killed me about the Ixitxachitl is that in addition to being evil manta rays, there were also vampire Ixitxachitl. That is the point where my suspension of disbelief breaks.

    Rob´s last post: Who needs powers anyway? Using improvised damage.

  9. I really like ixitxachitl – I used lots of them with added cleric levels when I ran an underwater adventure set in Demogorgon’s palace on Abysm.
    Totally agree about the gelatinous cube mini.

    RichGreen´s last post: Green Man Tweeting

  10. That Monstrous Manual cover has got to be hands-down one of my favorite pieces of D&D artwork. It might be because it manages to capture that retro-D&D feel while still being a really good work of art, or PERHAPS it just reminds me of the Beholder-like creature from Big Trouble in Little China.

    Dave: I’m actually surprised that your list doesn’t include one that appears on so many other people’s lists, the Rust Monster. Considering your last 3.x game we encountered a room full of them and a GIANT rustmonster in a pit. Maybe you stopped using them when we greased & stoneshaped the floor so that all of the bad guys ended up in with the biggun’ rust monster? 😀

  11. I perceive a correlation between how difficult it is to pronounce a critters name, and how likely you are to use it in your campaign.

  12. How did: kobold, goblin, and bugbear not make the list? O.o

    It is *not* a campaign without seeing at least one of each in some role or another >.<

  13. I love gelatinous cubes almost as much as they love me. Whenever I play agile characters they are usually the only things that wind up catching me.

    joshx0rfz´s last post: YouTube Tuesday: Singing about Kissing Wookies Edition

  14. Sandrinnad says:

    screech attack, which suggests some kind of loud honking noise

    huh. really? honk makes me think goose, and while geese can be nasty they aren’t really owl-bearish….

    ‘screech attack’ makes me think more ‘roc from the old Sinbad movies’….

    and ya, I _love_ mimics 😀

  15. To everyone who is confused about screech = honk, we tend to assume everything makes a honking noise. It’s just one of our quirks.

  16. …good point. I had almost forgotten about that one. 🙂

  17. Matthew Lane says:

    Is it wrong to say i am filled with geeky love for the Zaratan & would love to translate it to 4E, but am a little to lazy.

    I love the idea of people living on the back of a giant turtle. i even ran a 3.5 adventure on the back of one where their where no clerics, but instead bards. The bards used big padded “boffer” sticks with which they could awaken and to a limited degree control the zaratans movements (by banging on the shell & singing in Aquan).

    Though i will admit it is a little to geeky for everyday use & is a horrible monster to try and fight.

  18. @Matthew Lane –

    That just makes it even easier to translate to 4e.

    Remember that, in 4e, things the party isn’t expected to face in combat (like, say, house cats) don’t need stats. The Zaratan doesn’t need any mechanical translation to use in 4e. It’s primarily a setpiece.

    Graham´s last post: Scales of War – All sorts of updates

  19. OriginalSultan says:

    Owlbears are standard fare in every D&D campaign we run. And they always, always, make honking noises.

    It is somewhat disappointing that they are no longer chaotic evil for no apparent reason. Now they are just neutral like other animal-esque monsters.

  20. Ishcumbeebeeda says:

    In relation to the owlbear I imagine it would sound an awful lot like an owl, given that most people actually mistake the hooting that bears make for owls. Fun fact I picked up from my dad, while were hanging out at his place in the middle of the woods (I live in the backwoods of Vermont) and (apparently) bears were hooting.