In 2016, streaming viewers across the nation fell in love with “Stranger Things” a Netflix show about supernatural happenings in small-town Indiana. A big part of the backdrop of this show is the role-playing game, “Dungeons & Dragons” where the characters are shown enjoying the game as well as borrowing its nomenclature for the horrific monsters that they encounter in the fictional nightmare dimension “The Upside Down.” This popular series would become a mega-hit and help to bring Dungeons & Dragons back into the pop culture spotlight. Our list of the top five best D&D monsters offers a fascinating look at some of the coolest fictional villains ever created in fantasy.
Our fascination with myths and monsters can be traced back to the origins of storytelling. Sailors and seafarers, for example, have told terrifying tales of giant squids (Architeuthis dux) consuming entire ships whole for centuries. Across generations and cultures, man has long feared these elusive and mysterious creatures. Often referred to as “The Kraken,” giant squids are rarely ever actually seen, and one has never been caught alive, but these incredible beings are very much real. Now, for the first time ever, researchers have put together a preliminary reconstruction of the giant squid’s full genome sequence. These revelations provide new insights into these gigantic creatures’ origins, but also raise entirely new questions.
Adapting species and now-extinct fauna not only offer fascinating fossils, but also fuel monstrous creatures of the imagination. Fossil remains of an ancient, four-legged whale species that swam the oceans 43 million years ago has been discovered in the Sahara Desert. Scientists say the prehistoric finding is a “critical” piece of history behind the evolution of whales today. Fragments of the skeleton of the beast reveal it had a long snout, sharp, pointed teeth, and powerful jaws. Considered the killer whale of its day, it looked like a cross between a dolphin and a giant aquatic wolf, experts say. Without archeology and paleontology to help analyze these fossil records, it’s easy to understand how tales of monstrous creatures originated.
Real-world monstrous creatures aside, our list of the top five best D&D monsters could be a great resource for Dungeon Masters seeking to challenge their players. This list could also be a handy resource for folks that are curious about the popular tabletop role playing game that is known as “Dungeons & Dragons.” Let us know your favorite monsters in the comments below!
The List: Best Dungeons & Dragons Monsters, Per Gamers
Dragons seem to be an obvious necessity in a game called “Dungeons & Dragons” and Tiamat is the most fearsome of them all. Even non-gamers recognize the iconic visage of this five-headed elder worm. “Considering its place in the title itself, dragons are the monster most closely tied to D&D. Thanks to a combination of published campaigns and longstanding tradition, Tiamat has been the final boss of a great many ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ campaigns since its infancy. While the most common illustrated representation is a red dragon, some players would argue that Tiamat is the evil dragon of D&D. At the very least she’s the most well-known dragon adversary that adventurers have faced in the game’s world,” explains CBR.
Tyranny of Dragons new cover. The collected volume of Rise of Tiamat and Hoard of the Dragon Queen has a cool new cover for a new general release and printing. #dnd #tiamat #dnd5e pic.twitter.com/Ms2ELyUg8Q
— Only the one Hit Point. (@darjr) December 13, 2022
“The Dragon Goddess of Greed, Queen of Evil Dragons, all time enemy of Bahamut and servant of Asmodeus, the great Tiamat. She has a head of each main chromatic dragon type, which is able to cooperate, and fight together. She is a hateful and greedy dragon. She has her own adventure module as well in the fifth edition of ‘Dungeons & Dragons,’ I think it’s safe to say Tiamat is a foe to be reckoned with in battle,” offers Gamers Decide.
“Dragons in D&D come in many colors, but there are really only two larger camps. The Tiamat worshipping, evil-aligned chromatic dragons, and the good-aligned metallic dragons who serve Bahamut. Despite the fact that dragons are in the name of the game, many players will never actually encounter these creatures for one very good reason: they are so powerful that a fully grown one can easily TPK [total party kill] a party. Better get to killing more kobolds; any character is going to need a boatload of experience to hold a flame to D&D’s namesake monster,” adds The Gamer.
Another very recognizable beastie is the Beholder, a giant floating mass of eyeballs. “The Beholder is a monster that’s so iconic, it’s on the cover of multiple D&D books, and it’s been present in every edition of ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ to date. A large aberration you’d typically find in the Underdark, the Beholder is a floating orb with many tentacles and a single, enormous eye,” writes Wargamer.
— Bea_DnD (@bea_dnd) December 20, 2021
“Beholders are floating balls with one massive eye and a even more massive maw of gnashing teeth. They also have 10 eye stalks that mean they literally have eyes in the back of their heads, but they can also fire 10 different magical rays at their foes. They can stun, freeze, paralyse, fear, and do damage all at once to varying members of the party as it sees fit. And you don’t have to nerf your own strategy like you would if you were playing stupider races, a Beholder will know who to shoot at and when – they’re immensely clever. Time to let loose like a magical fleshy disco ball of pain,” according to Green Man Gaming.
Put simply, “What’s creepier than a giant eye with a mouth, covered in smaller eyes? Nothing. Beholders have been around since D&D first started, and even though they’re a pain to deal with (can you say ‘anti-magic cone?’) they’re still a fan favorite,” states Ranker.
One of the entirely original monsters of D&D is the Aboleth. “The Aboleth is kind of the full package as an enemy. They’re highly intelligent, so they make for good villains; they usually dominate ‘lesser’ life forms, so they’re usually at the head of a faction; and when the time comes to actually fight the party, they’re… well, a giant nightmare squid. And none of that is why Aboleths are such dangerous enemies to fight. Their true lethality lies in their ability to dominate the minds of up to three creatures per day, turning them against their allies. Also, if you get too close to them, they can make you sprout gills and need to breathe water for a few hours, which is weird, and gross, and I love it,” details Black Citadel.
— secretsandconsequences (@secretsandcons) March 10, 2022
“An aboleth is a large, amphibious aberration with some nasty features. Its telepathic abilities allow it to read minds, cast potent charm effects on other creatures, and even drain health psychically from a creature it has charmed. It also can cause physical changes. Coming in contact with its mucous cloud can alter a creature so it only can breathe underwater for a few hours. Worse yet, a strike from an aboleth’s tentacles may transform the victim into an aquatic creature with slimy, translucent skin which cannot leave the water without taking acid damage from the air, cannot regain hit points when out of the water, and requires a powerful healing spell to cure the condition,” offers Sideshow.
“Aboleths are basically a tangle of sentient eel monsters, and if that wasn’t bad enough, they have psionic abilities on par with Mind Flayers. Aboleths are from the Lovecraftian side of D&D, and they’re basically Chtulu-lite. Hope you like going insane!” exclaims Ranker.
Another D&D original that has taken on a mythos of its own is the Tarrasque. “There are a lot of giant monsters that roam the various ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ worlds, but none is more feared than the Tarrasque. This creature is an engine of destruction and it can crush entire cities in a single rampage. The Tarrasque is a colossal-sized creature that is resilient to all but the most powerful of attacks. The creators of ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ have been careful not to idly include the Tarrasque in an official capacity, which means that it is possible for every campaign setting to contain at least one of the beasts,” according to ScreenRant.
— Bea_DnD (@bea_dnd) November 20, 2021
This massive dinosaur-like monstrosity is essentially a kaiju plot device rather than a monster that the party will defeat in combat. “The most dreaded monster on the Material Plane in D&D is none other than the ferocious Tarrasque. Another gargantuan monstrosity, these scaly bipeds stand fifty feet tall and seventy feet wide, towering over almost every creature. The monster has the usual array of melee attacks and can inflict fright upon any creature fighting it. Similar to the Kraken, it also has the ability to swallow creatures whole,” writes GameRant.
“This creature, is the single most terrible thing ever known to live on the Material Plane of existence. It is 50 feet tall and 70 feet long! It was created by the Primordials to help them during the Dawn War. Only one was created which sleeps at the world’s core. There is no known way to defeat this being if it awakes so the only option the world has; is to put it back to sleep if something or someone attempts to wake it up,” adds Gamers Decide.
Featured prominently in the 2023 film “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” the owlbear is what the name implies, a massive bear with an owl’s head. “The Owlbear is often used as a mascot for ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ media and content, whether in a more artistic or realistic representation. Whether the players chose to fight or befriend it, most have at least encountered an Owlbear in their time as an adventurer. Owlbears are also among the list of monsters that people with little knowledge of D&D can identify as part of its canon,” states CBR.
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— Hasbro Pulse (@HasbroPulse) March 29, 2023
“While they might appear cute at first sight, make no mistake. Owlbears are vicious predators. The features they gain from their owl head make them incredibly perceptive, so sneaking past one of these monsters in the wilderness is no easy task. Woe to any who stumble upon a mother owlbear and her cub. These muscular matriarchs take no chances with the protection of their young and attack anything that they perceive as a possible threat,” waxes The Gamer.
“This guy is one of my favorites. Why? Look at him! It’s a bear with an owl’s head! If you want to laugh, cringe and feel sick all at the same time, check out the original ‘Monsters Manual’ with all the early ‘combine 2 or more animals/things together to create monsters’ monsters from the 70s and mind of Gary Gygax. Not as majestic or epic as the griffin or the sphinx, but Gary gave it a go. And the Owlbear I think stands with those ancient, emblematic creatures,” posits Green Man Gaming.
You might also be interested in:
- Best Dungeons & Dragons Podcasts
- Best Dungeons & Dragons Campaigns
- Best Fantasy Books
- Best Fantasy Movies
- Gamers Decide
- The Gamer
- Green Man Gaming
- Black Citadel
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