Before you start Dming your games you should know the monsters to avoid for new DMs. These monsters have a few things in common so they should be easy to spot.
The 5 types of monsters to avoid for new Dms are instant kill, complex, nullifying, destroying, and monsters that have a different way of thinking.
These monsters are either run poorly or can destroy your game if handled incorrectly. That is why you should not use them, but let’s delve more into these 5 types.
The types explained
The 1st monster to avoid for new DMs involves instant kill abilities.
These monsters are able to be used by experienced Dms because they understand their party. The experienced Dms understand that no one likes to fail a save and die. That is why this mechanic is removed from most monsters. There are some that still retain an instant death mechanic, and good Dms know when to introduce these monsters.
The 2nd type of monster to avoid for new Dms are destroying monsters. These monsters can also be labeled as permanent death monsters or perma death monsters. Perma death monsters not only kill the party but do not allow them to be resurrected. These monsters are much harder to deal with as a Dm since death is permanent.
For the 3rd type of monster we have nullifying monsters. These monsters make an entire group of players, or the whole party, unable to do anything. If done poorly, these monsters can make it feel like the character who is unable to do anything is being targeted.
The next type of monster involves them being complex. These monsters don’t have great stat blocks and are not meant to fight like normal. They thrive through strange mechanics or subterfuge. This can frustrate players and make them unable to figure out how to be these creatures if done poorly.
The last type of monster to avoid for new Dms is a culturally different monster. These monsters don’t just think ‘stab, kill, rawr!’ These monsters might also require the Dm to be put in an entirely different culture. If the Dm doesn’t understand what they are running the players can end up correcting the Dm or just feeling awkward.
These types of monsters are very distinct. Luckily, we are going to talk about how to handle each type of monster so that when you run these monsters it won’t be disastrous.
Players: “I see it! Let’s kill the thing!”
Dm: The banshee lets out a wail. Roll saves.
Players: 3 out of 5 fail. Everyone is mad and the campaign is over since no one is able to heal or stabilize and everyone fails death saving throws.
This situation is not unique to banshees. Intellect devourers can do something worse. If the target does not make an intelligence save they stand a good chance of becoming a bumbling fool for….. well, potentially ever! An intellect devourer can also instant kill a person by eating their brain, so there is also that.
You get the idea. Instant kill monsters are a potential disaster for any campaign. That is why you need to know how to use them properly and there are a few ways to do this.
Instant kill monsters should be foreshadowed so that the players can prepare. If the players were given an opportunity to prepare but didn’t, they can look back on the incident and be mad with themselves instead of the Dm.
Instant kill monsters can still get through with an unlucky save. That is why you need to understand your group. Do not give instant kill monsters to a group that doesn’t want them. If your group is happier go lucky and less gritty and murdery then they will not like instant kill monsters. The second type of group might also not want to face these monsters.
Know that your group will be alright facing this monster before you use it. These groups are usually more veteran groups that are okay with characters dying. These groups might want to face a challenge, and an instant kill monster is a great way to give them a challenge.
Know your group and only use an instant kill monster when it is somewhat fair. No one likes dying for no reason when they didn’t have a chance of beating it. It is even worse for monsters that permanently kill a character.
Instant death monsters are terrible. No one likes dying just by rolling poorly. That is why no one likes dying permanently from a bad roll.
Do you have the diamond dust for revivify? Doesn’t matter! Jim is dead for good and nothing short of a wish will bring him back!
These abilities are harsh. A beholder using disintegrate is a great example. A player has been disintegrated and now is unable to be resurrected unless the party has access to 9th level spells. Which of course, they don’t.
This is why the beholder is frightening along with many other reasons. A character when killed from this attack is permanently dead and there are other monsters that do this. So how do you deal with this?
Make sure that the players have time to prepare, and are a group that is ready for this potential outcome. Basically the exact same steps as in instant kill monsters. There is 1 important difference though.
Make monsters that cause permanent death bosses. If you need help on how to run a boss in DnD then check our article here. If you have read the article, then you know how to use a boss but why make these monsters bosses?
When a character has to die, they want to go out in a blaze of glory. What better way to die than by being killed by the campaign boss! It isn’t much consolation, but it is something that softens the blow a lot and permanent death really gives that final boss a weight that they normally wouldn’t have. Do not give these creatures out as random encounters if the players have a snowball’s chance in hell of dying.
The next type of monster won’t kill a player but it will make them feel a little dead inside.
One of the most complained about monsters is nullifying monsters. Death sucks, but it is a part of the game. Having a monster that makes you specifically unable to do anything is just mean.
Let me ask you, have you ever been a barbarian trying to fight a dragon? If dragons are used well as we described in this article then a barbarian should be able to do nothing. That is a terrible feeling and is a huge reason why these are monsters to avoid for new Dms.
In order to use a nullifying monster the player who is nullified needs to do something else. If the 12th level party is facing a Rakshasa then every spellcaster is worthless! That is why there are a few quick fixes that you can do to make everyone have fun.
If your players have skills (which everyone should have) then make use of these skills! Have the barbarian start to dislodge a part of the ruined castle to have it crush the dragon. Have the wizard who is unable to cast work on a timed puzzle. If it is unsolved then everyone dies anyway!
Giving your players a task to do while the party deals with a threat is a half measure at best since you cannot always implement these challenges. For example, getting the barbarian to work on a collapsing part of the ruined castle is a player choice. It might not work.
That is why you need to work on giving your players tools to deal with enemies like this. If a barbarian is getting magic items give him/her some utility items instead of that 7th ring. Make the barbarian able to fly for 1 minute. Give the wizard poison balloons to shoot at in order to hurt the Rakshasa. Do something!
These tools to deal with enemies might be temporary in the fight or they could be given in advance. Just make sure that nobody is unable to do something while the others are trying their best but are now 1-2 people down.
Dm: The person charges at you from around the corner and attacks!
Players: We kill it.
Dm: That was a weak monster so it is dead but shock! It is a doppelganger!
Complex monsters are monsters to avoid for new Dms since they aren’t straight forward in how to use them. If a Dm uses a doppelganger like this then they have failed to create an interesting encounter. Note how I said interesting? That is what you need to think of creating. An interesting instead of satisfying encounter.
Night hags are also strange enemies. They assault players in their dreams and are not the best 1 on 1 combatants. You will find a plethora of different enemies that function like this. They are not good in a straight-up fight, and that is why many Dms just look at Cr and throw them at players.
1st, if you do this then read our article on Cr. It is a lie that should not be relied upon!
2nd, these monsters need to be understood before you use them. Many monsters just have stats and can be used for flavor, but a golem is a golem. A zombie is a zombie. They don’t need much backstory or understanding in order to play correctly. These other monsters do.
That is why before using any complex monster you need to understand them intimately. Why do these monsters want to kill the party? What is their actual goal? How are they accomplishing this goal? How would these monsters react if the party showed up?
Understanding these monsters is critical in making them work. If you don’t understand these monsters then you will not be able to run them properly since normal combat will be somewhat boring for their challenge rating.
Culturally different monsters
The strangest monsters to avoid for new Dms are culturally different monsters.
In real life, people have different opinions. Others have different cultures, ideas, and ways of approaching problems. This does not necessarily make them better or worse. Just different.
Now imagine that multiplied by 10.
You are trying to understand an alien culture. Humans are cattle and they come from the future. They came to our time in order to escape the end of time. These are the Mind Flayers or Illithids. However you want to call them, these creatures are very different than us humans.
Now apply this to other creatures.
Orks are easy. They value strength and that is something that we can understand. Valuing knowledge when you have been to the end of time is confusing. What could our timeline even offer these creatures?
I know that I am delving a lot into Illithids but this is how much thought you need to put into these different cultures. For some monsters, you need to understand their cultures in order to understand how they think. These cultures may be literally alien and hard to understand. That is why these monsters are hard to run and should be avoided by new Dms.
Until you understand how these monsters work you shouldn’t run them. Study their culture, values, and how they work since you might not able to assume anything when you need to improvise without this preparation.
I know that there are quite a few things to consider. There are also a lot of monsters to avoid for new Dms, but you can now run them. Just make sure that you take the proper steps and prepare.
Most new Dms should not run these monsters since they have not built up the knowledge that most Dms have after years of playing. After a year of looking at a Mind Flayer you will understand them a little bit. After getting close to player death, you have experienced what it is like and will know if your group can deal with instant kill or perma death monsters.
If you have been lucky enough to not have a player die then you might want to look at our article on player death. It will happen to everyone eventually.
Now that you know how to run these monsters you can run them with preparation, but I would wait. It takes a while to understand your group, strange monsters, or how to plan non-standard encounters.
If you have to, use 1 of these encounters in a campaign. Ease yourself into using these monsters and take it slow. That way you will be able to prepare and have a lot of fun in the meantime!
This has been Wizo and keep rolling!