What to do when you run out of monsters?
Thumbnail art by Bastien Aufrere
D&D has hundreds, if not thousands of monsters for the DM to place in the game. However, at some times the usual ones start becoming normal appearances in the campaign. You want something new to surprise your players but nothing comes to mind without having to derail the campaign to a different plane or something of the sort. If you are starting to corner yourself in these kinds of situations, read ahead to get to know the useful techniques I use to maintain my home game continually changing.
Reflavor the monsters
Page 273 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide talks a bit about this. If your players already know the way to defeat a troll is by burning its wounds, and you still want to impress them with something similar you can easily implement this technique. Make a fire-covered troll appear, with fiery flames coming from its eyes. This troll’s regeneration can only be stopped with acid. Most spells don’t have acid damage so this will greatly increase the difficulty.
Want to make it even more different? Let’s have the fire troll breath fire. Giving it a normal dragon’s breath damage may be a bit too much for what we are looking for. Consequently, the best alternative can be giving them a Wyrmling’s fire breath. The Bronze Dragon Wyrmling’s one deals 3d10 on a failed save which is pretty much the number we were looking for. If you want to go an extra step, give the monster fire resistance, as it would make sense for the troll to have it.
Other different uses for this technique are for when you want to have some monster you saw in a TV series, videogame, book, or movie appear in your game like Stranger Things’ Demogorgons, for example. The Monster Manual, Volo’s Guide and Mordenkainen’s Tome may not have every single monster that has ever been seen in media, but they usually have some similar ones. As long as you can think of a monster that does have a close enough ability to the one you are picturing you can steal it and use in your new monster. Giving the Monster Manual a good read, or looking at page 280 from the DM’s Guide, where most monster traits are listed are excellent ways to get familiarized with them.
Don’t change monsters but the encounter
Maybe it’s not the monsters that are getting old, but the way you are using them. Having enemies constantly be meat bags with abilities in an open field for your players to kill can easily become boring. There are many ways to vary these encounters for more fun, and I will be listing some of them. They may not change the monsters you are using but will create a nice change of pace.
Changing the terrain the battle is taking place in can greatly vary the encounters. This can transform the normal combat encounter into a completely different thing, distancing it from the ones you have been doing before. Just having a puddle in the center of the battle mat is enough to change it up a bit. The puddle makes most of the battleground difficult terrain, meaning the players can strategize to use it to have the high ground over the enemies. High terrain, trees, rocks, and ravines are some other excellent examples. As this was not enough, the weather can also play a big part in it: Strong winds and rain can change how combat is going to play out too.
Last but not least, another great way to improve encounters is to roll for each monster’s HP separately. This will inform you how tough they are, and thus you can give them some personalities. Consequently, their behavior during combat might change. If a group of bandits set up boobytraps, seem to have some sort of strategy planned out, or cry out sadly when they see one of their partners fall in battle, the encounter becomes much more memorable, as if those were real individuals. Another great tool is my Create an Enemy Champion on a whim mechanic. Check it out!
3rd Party Creators
There are many 3rd party companies that write entire monster-filled books for you to grab. The Creature Codex and Legendary Dragons, for example, are two great ones I reviewed that you may like. Another great product looming in the horizon is the Seas of Vodari Campaign Setting, that even though it is not a monster compendium it does have some great ones you will want to add to your seafaring campaign!
Internet is your friend
5th Edition official books are not the end of the line when finding monsters. Lots of them can be found if you search a bit around the internet. They may take some extra effort from your part to add them to the game, but the results pay off most of the time.
Past editions are excellent to gather some monsters. 5e still has not converted all monsters from previous editions – and there are some great things in there-. Books like TSR’s Fiends Folio, 4th Edition Manual of the Planes, and even the Monster Manuals have lots of incredible creatures. Moreover, some of the already existing ones are so different you may want to port those ones to your 5e game. These books are not that easy to find, so I recommend you go search for them in webpages such as Amazon, eBay or…
DM’s Guild is another very reliable place to find new things. Most of them have monsters that are not balanced enough and may need some tweaks. Nothing that some hit points shifting in the midst of battle can’t handle, though. Lots of past edition books can also be found here for a great price when on sale. Some fans even posted entire Homebrew Monster Manuals you can grab if you like.
There are plenty of different choices to spice your monsters up. Even if you don’t want to go through that effort there are also huge quantities of already existing monsters you can grab in the book stores or the internet.
So, which was the last monster you reflavored? Is there any product you recommend looking at for interesting creatures? Have you created one yourself that you are proud of? Share all this and more in the comments below!
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Looking for some interesting encounters to add to your campaign? Consider adding a blood moon to it!