Are your adventurers parched and starving in a desert wilderness? Does your group need a little challenge on the way to the pyramid? Let us do the work for you. Here is a list of 10 Awesome Monsters for a Desert Encounter (and some Dark Sun ideas) from the Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Monster Manual.
There are tons of monsters out there in all the books across versions, but this list includes only monsters that can be found in 5th Edition materials and would be typically found in the desert. Let us know what’s your all-time favorite desert monster in the comments below. For a complete list of desert monsters check out page 302 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide.
Challenge Rating: 5
An air elemental is a cloud of spinning air that can pick up debris as it moves. For adventures pursuing a magic user across the desert, a small sandstorm could actually be an attack by a summoned air elemental.
Challenge Rating: 1/8
This beast does not present much of a combat challenge, but nothing says desert like a camel. An encounter with a camel (or a small herd) can provide your players with a beast they can tame to ride or carry supplies. Your adventurers could also find them being used in races by gamblers.
Challenge Rating: 3 to 23
Blue dragons are vain, deadly, territorial and an enormous threat to any desert caravan or nomadic tribe. These dragons can attack from the air or from under the sand. A blue dragon’s liar should be easy to find by looking for a raging thunderstorm in the desert.
Challenge Rating: 5
Like a walking hill, an earth elemental can glide through rock, earth or sand like liquid. A group traveling through the desert would be easy for an earth elemental to pinpoint and surprise attack.
Challenge Rating: 11
These air elementals are what people think of when they hear the word genie. A typical djinni is blue, well muscled and dressed in shimmering silk. Djinni are good, but they are mischief makers that can be bribed or bound into service. Have your party help a Djinni defeat a Dao and gain its favor for a wish.
Challenge Rating: 3
A giant scorpion makes two attacks with its claws and one attack with its poisonous stinger. Just one of these large beasts is deadly challenge for starting groups. Giant scorpions can still be a threat for higher level groups when facing three or more.
Challenge Rating: 1/2
These demonic jackals have three physical forms they shift between and they often work for Lamia masters to capture slaves or caravans. Group them with normal jackals for a surprise when you shift them into human or jackal-humanoid form.
Challenge Rating: 4
The luxurious lair of the decadent lamia can be found deep in the desert inside ancient, crumbling ruins. Lamias rely on jackalweres to capture slaves and acquire fine goods. Lamia can use a pool to spy on the surrounding territory and can fight with claw and magic when they run out of servants to fight for them.
Challenge Rating: 3
These terrifying and cursed monsters can be used to fill up a desert tomb and provide some resistance on the way to battling a larger monster or a mummy lord.
Challenge Rating: 15
A mummy lord that is reawakened can act as a campaign level threat as he reclaims his throne and begins restablishing an old empire. To truly destroy a mummy lord you must find their shriveled heart that is stored in a canopic jar and destroy it with fire.
Dark Sun is a Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting that was released in 1991 featuring the fictional desert world of Athas. The Dark Sun setting is known for psionic powers, its harsh, environment and peoples. Athas also has a ton of interesting monsters, check out Terrors of the Desert (1992), Dark Sun Monster Supplement (2004) or the Dark Sun Creature Catalog (2010). If you are looking to try out Dark Sun for fifth edition you already have a number of monsters available. Here are a few of my favorites.
Challenge Rating: 1/4 | Page 12
The Monster Manual has placed the Aarakocra in the Elemental Plane of Air, but you can place them back into a Dark Sun campaign. These bird-like humanoids are hunters and scavengers that attack from high in the skies above Athas. Aarakokra are a playable race in Athas, check out Rich’s Aarakocra playable race build.
Challenge Rating: 3 | Page 300
An quick elven messenger fails to run fast enough to warn his tribe who he finds slaughtered. A hairless dwarf is killed before achieving his life’s goal. These types of deaths can resurrect a soulless body that will endlessly pursue what they couldn’t accomplish while alive. These undead are stuck between life and death, their spark of life replaced by a yearning to consume the life force of others. You could have your heroes complete a task for a wight to free its soul or use your knowledge of a wight’s past life as an emotional weapon.
Challenge Rating: 1 | Page 288
These four armed, insectoid-like humanoids wander the deserts in isolation and have innate psionic abilities that allow them to cast spells with no components. Thri-Kreen are a playable race in Athas, check out Rich’s Thri-Kreen playable race build