Five Awesome Creatures in the D&D Monster Manual and How to Use Them

The world’s oldest roleplaying game has had no shortage of amazing creatures throughout its history, from the terrifying Tarrasque to bizarre but brutal Behir.  Nonetheless, in any population there are those that stand above  the rest and monsters are no exception, so let’s look at the coolest monsters in the Dungeons and Dragons 5e Monster Manual and explore how to use them in your campaign.

Chuul-5e

5. Chuul

Chuuls are what you get when you merge a crayfish with literal nightmares.  Former servants of the Aboleth Empire, Chuuls are literally remnants of a bygone age driven to guard the ruins of their home and slay those who trespass.  With their large size, you might think them to be clumsy and easily evades but think again.  Their amphibious nature coupled with their often-aquatic environment means that they can easily lie in wait for you to get close before ever revealing themselves and their ability to immediately detect magic near them means that sneaking past them is no small task.

None of this compares to how a Chuul fights, though.  You see, Chuuls like to grab adventurers up in their claws and paralyze them with poison from their tentacles.  Then they usually drop them right into the water that they were fighting in.  Just imagine that, you’re looking for ancient treasure and you happen on a pool of murky water.  This Lovecraftian crab rises out of the water and grabs you, before you know it your body is rigid and unresponsive.  You’re conscious, you just can’t move, and then you find yourself sinking into what now seems like a bottomless murk.  Unable to swim, unable to struggle, and, soon, unable to breath.

Using Them

Resist the urge to use the Chuul as just a CR 4 roadblock.  Don’t let the 19 strength and large size fool you, Chuuls are wasted as brutes.  Chuuls are meant to be hunters, so they should lurk and stalk the heroes.  Use them to introduce some horror into your game and make those underground caverns as scary as they’re probably meant to be.  They most likely won’t do much sneaking, what with being huge and all, so instead build their approach like special monster from classic survival horror games.  Skittering in the shadows, shapes beneath muddy waters and a pair or menacing eyes in the dark.

When the fight begins, have them grab the (physically) weakest player and get that poison in their veins to put the party on a clock.  Can the players save their friend?  Can the wizard overcome the poison?  Or will they all end up added to a treasure hoard beneath the water for an ancient master who may never return?  If your heroes are in deep caverns or ancient ruins, Chuuls are an awesome way to add suspense and tension to your game.

Remorhaz5e

4. Remorhaz

Remorhazes are giant abominations that live in frozen climates and who burrow through ice and snow, aided by the intense heat that radiates from their bodies.  Remorhazes are monsters, often independent but sometimes found in the service of Frost Giants who will capture Remorhazes as infants and train them to guard home and hoard.  While the Remorhaz is a more straight-forward enemy than most of the monsters on this list it deserves a spot for being a unique and powerful creature who can make for a very interesting encounter while also being very simple to manage.  There’s a lot of potential to build up to a climactic encounter with a Remorhaz, but their tendency to burrow beneath the ice and snow only to pop out when prey walks by make them an excellent way to throw some extra violence into a session if need be.

How to Use Them

Being a huge monstrosity, Remorhazes make an excellent centerpiece for an adventure.  They’re large enough to terrify villages and towns, Godzilla-style, requiring the adventurers to hunt them down.  Remorhazes aren’t as complex or cunning as dragons and don’t tend to have massive lairs, so hunting them often means trekking through the wilderness, looking for signs of the monster while avoiding other natural hazards.

You can ratchet up the tension of the hunt by having the heroes find a section with no other creatures, where nearby trees have been torn asunder.  Instead of the normal rumbling of an approaching creature, you can preface the coming of the monster with the sound of the snow and ice below the adventurers boiling and burning.  Maybe even have them sink through the ice and snow into the creature’s nest.  Suddenly the players are trapped, now the hunted instead of the hunter, but of course they also have a huge cavern to fight in, allowing them to use terrain and elevation to turn the fight into a cool, three-dimensional battle underground.

Nothic-5e

3. Nothic

Nothics are the horrifying result of a wizard who sought ultimate power and instead became a wretched, miserable creature driven to kill.  While extremely violent, Nothics are not stupid.  While they have no memory of their previous lives and their spellcasting abilities are long gone, they have the magical ability to pull knowledge from other creatures just by gazing on them.  This means that any Nothic can be a walking repository of secret and forbidden knowledge pulled from any scholar that they have encountered in the past.  They sometimes share these secrets at a price, eagerly accepting magical items, which they cover and hoard.

While a Nothic hoards and covets magic in all its forms, pushed by the vague but definite knowledge that somewhere amid the arcane secrets of the world there can be found a way to reverse their fate.  This is likely false, and while some Nothics have realized that this knowledge is itself part of their curse, a false hope meant to torment them, they still cannot ignore its pull.

How to Use Them

In combat, the Nothic is pretty basic.  They have a pair of claws for melee and a gaze attack, but really in a straight up fight they’re kind of boring.  As low-level masterminds, though, they’re perfect.  A Nothic could be behind a monstrous outbreak in a magic school, having discovered the secret to summoning beasts or breeding deadly aberrations.

When confronted, a Nothic will get much more use out of their pool of forbidden knowledge than their claws or even their rotting gaze.  They can mess with the players by revealing secrets that they have gathered about them over the course of their adventure into their lair, or reveal important plot information that will either drive the story or reveal an important plot twist.  Maybe they’re telling the truth, maybe they’re lying, but either way they can instill doubt and possibly even fear into the players before the encounter’s end.

Invisible Stalker

2. Invisible Stalker

Invisible Stalkers are air elementals summoned from their native plane and bound to the service of their summoner for the malicious purpose of hunting creatures and retrieving objects.  When given a target they pursue them with perfect direction and unfaltering determination.  They cannot be reasoned with or negotiated with or interrogated, and seek only to fulfill the mission put before them by their master.  They are extremely durable and nonmagical weapons have little effect on them even if someone did manage to land a blow on them.  They cannot be fooled by disguise or deception and cannot show mercy.

How to Use Them

Invisible Stalkers are wasted in dungeons because you may as well just use an air elemental.  Instead, they make great catalysts for the rest of a high-level adventure.  Imagine a series of assassinations within a city or kingdom; important people are being murdered and having important magical objects seized.  Whispers of foul conspiracy spread through the city, criminal syndicates and thieves’ guilds come under scrutiny as people hunt for what may be an assassin or might simply be a serial killer, depending on the methods.    The city watch is useless to stop it, and the heroes must rush to figure out what is doing the killing and what connection the victims have until finally one of them witnesses the killer at work only to see… nothing.  Instead of a tangible murderer the players only see the victims body brutally mauled by an unseen force.

The point of that overly long narrative was that Invisible Stalkers don’t have to be targeting the players to be effective, and I would say they add the most to the campaign when the players are chasing them instead of vice versa.  Once they figure out what’s going on, they then have to figure out who the beast is working for, and can be an extremely effective plot hook on their own.

Gelatinous_Cube

1. Gelatinous Cube

Alright, I know what you’re thinking, “The Gelatinous Cube?  Really?”  There are few creatures in the Monster Manual that are quite as consistently the butt of a joke as the gelatinous cube and I too once considered them silly.  A monster that has evolved to fit graph paper and battle maps?  How crazy is that?  But the gelatinous cube is low-key terrifying, especially for lower level adventurers.

First things first, I’ve always assumed that the gelatinous cube was not a naturally occurring creature but rather a man-made menace of mad magic and sinister science.  Their presence of a gelatinous cube is easily justified by their purpose of dissolving refuse and living material while leaving behind gold, coins, bones and other valuables, so most death trap dungeons probably have at least one or two these cubes roaming around to clean up the remains of fallen heroes and to make their treasure easier to collect.  Of course, being slow means that dungeon denizens who know of the cube’s presence will have little trouble avoiding it, but interloping adventurers are a different story.  For the unaware adventurer, it is entirely plausible that they will not even be aware of a gelatinous cube until they have literally walked right into it and find themselves being eaten to death.

How to Use Them

The most effective gelatinous cubes don’t attack or engage, they obstruct.  They block a path where the heroes cannot avoid passing through.  Use them as an addition to another encounter for maximum effectiveness.  Do you have enemies lying in wait for the adventurers?  Have them wait until the players are near a gelatinous cube to spring their ambush, putting your party between a squad of, let’s say, goblins and what appears at first glance to be an empty hallway.  When the archer or mage back up to get distance between them and the villains they find themselves stumbling right into the almost invisible ooze.

Keep in mind, also, that a gelatinous cube is extremely deadly to adventurers appropriate for its CR.  Even a rather stout fighter might only have 20 HP and spending a turn engulfed by the cube WILL kill them.  Because of this, the cubes really serve much better as an addition to higher level encounters where a bad roll won’t take the heroes from perfect health to corpse in a single turn.

Did I miss any creatures that you think deserve a bigger spotlight?  Do you have a really memorable tale of a monster encounter?  Let me know in the commons and follow me on my social media pages using the links below!  Thanks!

One comment

  1. […] Hey! Thank you so much for reading my article!  If you liked my writing, you can check out my archives here!  I’ve also got other reviews! Here’s one I did for an independently published D&D adventure, and here’s one of my attempts at game mechanic design. If neither of those suit your fancy, here’s a list article I did about awesome monsters in the D&D monster manual (and how to use them). […]

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