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D&D Ideas — Sound

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Delving Dave’s Dungeon

Sound — what the adventurers hear — is one of the ways Dungeon Masters bring the worlds of Dungeons & Dragons to life for our players. In previous editions sound was also a damage type, or least sonic was as Nerdarchist Ted highlighted during the live chat. In 5E D&D sonic became thunder damage. This makes sense, I guess. Sonic feels a bit more sci-fi and thunder presents a more fantasy vibe.

There are a lot of ways you can use sound in D&D as a DM to engage the players or help you tell a story. I’ve got some suggestions of ways to use sounds to spice up your game. First as a catalyst for players’ reactions and second as a curiosity to capture the imagination.

If you want to change the mood or make players jumpy roll on the table below and see what happens.

10 Sounds to Creep Out D&D Players

  1. Baby crying
  2. Baby giggling
  3. Cat purring
  4. Slurping
  5. Retching
  6. Crackle of fire
  7. Scream
  8. Crack of a whip
  9. Twang of a bowstring being loosed
  10. Slamming door

You can also use sound to make your magic items a little more unique. Here are some ideas for sprucing those magic swords.

10 Sounds for Adding Character to a Magic Sword

  1. Roars when unsheathed audible for 300 feet
  2. Maniacal laughter when swung
  3. Whispers incoherent words when wielded
  4. Begins snarling when wielded
  5. Creates a peal of thunder on a successful hit
  6. Hissing of vipers heard when the sword is drawn
  7. When drawn the sound of smiths working at forges can be heard
  8. When held aloft and pointed at the sky a clarion call rings out audible for 500 feet
  9. The sword sings when swung
  10. The sword ridicules you the whole time you wield it

From Ted’s Head

Sound in Dungeons & Dragons is a big part of the game and unfortunately often overlooked. We engage sight so much more than sound but not all creatures are sight driven. Some creatures in the real world rely more on sense of smell or hearing. As D&D players and Dungeon Masters we should be mindful of the things our characters hear as well as what the players hear.

Sounds are able to do so much for us. Sound is usually a clue to things taking place. How creepy is it when you describe how the party hears nothing? How terrifying is it when the party hears a roar that literally shakes the ground?

I am going to try something I have not done before so please let us know if this is something you find useful. I’ll provide a sound prompt and different directions you might be able to use the same prompt in different ways. I will break it down sentence by sentence.

“You can hear every few moments a water drip into the pool below. A faint wind whips through the chamber. Far in the distance you hear a rustle of stones clattering.”

When I look at this collection of sentences all possibly coming from one area it is at first evocative of a nice scene that is slightly serene and peaceful. The sound helps paint the picture. But if you look at each individual sentence any one of them could predict an event about to happen.

“You hear every few moments a water drip into the pool below.”

This one is easy. There is something in the water about to attack. But what if you are underground and instead of it being water what if it is a stalking creature drooling so much in anticipation of the impending assault of the party so it could devour them? The creature would have to be stealthy for sure, but it’s possible. It could also be an ooze creature collecting in the pool to ambush whoever comes to drink next.

“A faint wind whips through the chamber.”

This one also has many options you might not consider. The faint sound could be the only warning of a hidden assailant launching an arrow or spell at the party. A silent flying creature — or a bunch of silent flying creatures! — could be moving towards the party to attack or simply just passing by. (It does not always have to be an attack.) It could be the first sign of wind the characters have seen in a long time, indicating their climb up trying to leave the Underdark is proving fruitful and an exit should be near.

“Far in the distance you hear a rustle of stones clattering.”

To me this is the clearest indication someone or something is moving in the distance. I immediately imagine the scene from Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring when Gollum is following Frodo and you subtly hear the stones shifting. But pursuit need not necessarily be aggression. A wandering traveler or merchant or heck, even a natural critter can skitter past stones causing a panic on travel weary and alert adventurers.

From the Nerditor’s Desk

Preparation for the live chat with Nerdarchist Ted about sound in D&D led down an unexpected rabbit hole. Not only did it reveal some interesting observations about the implications of sound in the game on a mechanical level but also how often monster entries incorporate sound as an aid for Dungeon Masters to help sell the sizzle, something to always keep in mind.

But it was a question from the chat audience that rang out in my mind. They asked how we’d run a D&D campaign inspired by A Quiet Place, the 2018 film about a family who struggles to survive in a post-apocalyptic world inhabited by blind monsters with an acute sense of hearing. (The thunder damage themed sapphire dragonborn bard concept from our chat is also on deck.)

The challenge of recreating a scenario like A Quiet Place in D&D is scalability. The normal humans in the movie don’t become more powerful or acquire extraordinary abilities through their experiences. They just live. Likewise the monsters threatening them don’t get progressively more dangerous to keep up with attrition. With this in mind A Quiet Place themed D&D game might go a little something like this encounter.

Sounds Like Trouble


While there may not be enough cool D&D monsters with Keen Hearing around which to structure a whole campaign there is one bonafide classic creature to fit the bill perfectly. Hook horrors clawed their way into the game way back in the first edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Field Folio. Back then hook horrors looked like beefcakes who skipped leg day with bird heads and not at all scary looking hooks for hands. In the next edition they appeared way too insectile for my taste and ever since the hook horror kept the same general look — a big, bulky bipedal bird-headed beast boasting bone hook arms about the size of a halfling.

Hook horrors primarily dwell in the Underdark where they live in clans ruled by the eldest female whose mate typically leads the clan’s hunters. They possess rudimentary intelligence and their signature scraping hook sounds are actually a distinct language they share. They have long range blindsight unless deafened and Keen Hearing too, plus tough armor, fast climbing speed and beefy hit points in a challenge rating 3 package.

Since this encounter is inspired by A Quiet Place you’ll employ sound in several ways to sell the sizzle for the good old hook horror. In this scenario a hunting party of hook horrors were cut off from their clan’s home caverns and wound up on the surface after wandering through the Underdark trying to find another way home. They emerged from a cavern beneath the rocky hills where strange crystals embedded in the stone amplify sound all around.

In order to survive the hook horror hunters take advantage of the abundance of fleshy prey on the surface, easy to track and ambush thanks to their Keen Hearing and amplified sound in the region. It’s been too long since they’ve been away and surviving in the unfamiliar environment has begun to take its toll.

The hook horrors are desperate to find a way back home, with hunger and fear of the unknown driving them to the brink. That’s where the adventurers come in.


Rocky hills or mountains

Suggested Level

Beyond Deadly for four 6th level characters (calculated using the guidelines in the Dungeon Master’s Guide). Since this encounter emulates the tension and peril of A Quiet Place the adventurers should feel overmatched.


  • 5 Hook Horrors


2200 cp, 900 sp, 80 gp, bone rod engraved with spirals worth 25 gp, bone scepter engraved with a labyrinth worth 25 gp, cloth cloak threaded with dyed silk worth 25 gp, fine leather coinpurse tooled with draconic scales worth 25 gp, fine leather mantle trimmed with rabbit fur worth 25 gp, Boots of Striding and Springing, Gloves of Missile Snaring, Sentinel Shield


This encounter is useful anytime adventurers are traveling in the appropriate environment. For a more structured approach a frontier settlement experiences trouble when their livestock begins to go missing, bloody signs indicating a slaughter. One of the settlers, a rugged individual who’s their best tracker, followed the trail into the rocky terrain but turned back when they came to a strange area with crystalline rocks where sound carried unnaturally through the air. Bonus points if there’s already a settlement and NPCs with whom the adventurers are already familiar.

The adventurers travel along as they often do and perhaps it takes a moment before anyone notices. Maybe the rogue’s usual padded footfall resounds uncharacteristically, casual road chatter pierces the air or the snap of a cloak in the wind cracks like a peal of thunder. Sounds emanating from the party seem amplified to a great degree.

Characters who take a hushed moment and succeed on a DC 14 Wisdom (Perception) check notice the environment around them is eerily quiet except for the occasional insect chirp, also with unusually high volume. A character who succeeds on a DC 14 Intelligence (Nature) check observes there are no other animal sounds. In either case successful characters perceive one sound distinctly not natural.

Random clacking noise carries in the air all around the party. There is no way to determine distance or direction of the source because of the strange regional effect amplifying all sound to ten times louder than normal. Dexterity (Stealth) checks to move silently through the region are made with disadvantage.

Five hook horrors have made this region their hunting ground while they search for a way to return to the Underdark. The terrain allows them to make terrific use of their 30 ft. climb speed as well as cover. The adventuring party is now being hunted. The hook horrors are some distance from the party, enough time to allow characters a few minutes to assess their predicament.

Through observation and whatever skill checks you deem appropriate the characters might discover the following details about the region.

  • The natural stone protruding from the hills all around contains flecks of sapphire.
  • Any creature capable of telepathic communication has its telepathy range doubled while within 1 mile of the lair. This includes creatures with innate telepathy and magical telepathy such as the Rary’s telepathic bond spell.
  • Giant spiders live around here in large numbers. (This isn’t factored into the encounter difficulty but instead as a potential clue and X factor to keep in your back pocket.)

The hook horrors spread out to surround the party in a wide ring. They are intelligent enough to recognize the adventurers are not prey animals and they’ll employ hit and run tactics to wear them down. This is potentially a moving ambush. One or two hook horrors at a time will climb down the steep rocky terrain and use cover until they’re within range to move to a character, attack and then retreat to cover.

While the hook horrors are desperate they’re not fatalistic. Their goal is weakening the party bit by bit and picking off adventurers one at a time. If the tide turns against them they’ll seek to flee. The party may wish to pursue them, and success on a DC 18 Wisdom (Survival) check allows just this (DC 13 if any hook horror has less than half its total hit points). The ground in the region is difficult terrain, with the rocky walls requiring a successful DC 14 Strength (Athletics) check to climb.

The hook horrors’ nest lies one mile away from the ambush spot, not far from the cavern where they first emerged. Unfortunately for the hook horror hunting party their entire ordeal was caused because the passage they followed no longer exists. Whether the party tracks the hook horrors back to their lair or discovers it on their own they’ll find the treasure listed above within. A successful DC 18 Wisdom (Survival) check in the area around their lair reveals tracks leading repeatedly to one particular cavern leading beneath the rocky hills, but there is nothing of note inside.

There are a few ways the adventurers might interact with the hook horrors aside from surviving their predatory ambush. For starters the 2nd level spell silence makes an effective area of relative safety, negating the hook horrors’ blindsight and causing them to become deafened. Unfortunately magic such as comprehend languages and tongues won’t help with understanding Hook Horror since both specify a spoken language, which Hook Horror is not. It is however actually a language and the hook horrors communicate with each other through clacking their hooks and scraping them on stone. A clever character might succeed on a DC 14 Wisdom (Insight or Perception) check to glean this. Telepathic communication such as The Great Old One warlock’s Awakened Mind circumvents the need to share a language in order to communicate too.

Adventurers able to diffuse the situation may wish to aid these wayward hook horrors if they come to learn of their predicament. This sounds like a wonderful Complication to me.


Did you pick up on the clue in the encounter? The hook horrors ran afoul of a Sapphire Dragon on their way home from a hunting excursion. Sapphire Dragons share a connection to sound through their Debilitating Breath, and their Regional Effect inspired the sound amplifying stone terrain. They’ve also got a Lair Action allowing them to shape a section of stone up to 30 feet in any dimension to open or close a passage through a wall, as long as the wall is less than 10 feet thick. I the hook horrors stumble across this lair, barely escape and get trapped on the surface when the dragon seals up the tunnel behind them.

If you like the idea of a sapphire dragon’s involvement in a future scenario you’ll be pleased to know another regional effect of theirs is that natural stone within 6 miles of the lair is a conduit for the dragon’s psionic presence. As an action, the dragon can cast the clairvoyance spell, requiring no spell components and targeting any natural stone formation in that region.

*Featured image — A hook horror looking frightening as hell from Into the Unknown: The Dungeon Survival Handbook for fourth edition Dungeons & Dragons. [Image courtesy Wizards of the Coast]

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