D&D Ideas — Unseen Enemies

D&D Party Composition — Playing an All Paladin Party
Stepping from your Friendly Local Gaming Store into the Friendly Global Online Community of Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition

Welcome once again to the weekly newsletter. This week’s topic is unseen enemies, which we discussed in our live chat. We hangout every Monday evening at 8 p.m. EST and talk about D&D, RPGs, gaming, life and whatever nerdy stuff comes up. Visit us over at Nerdarchy the YouTube channel here and hit that notification bell so you don’t miss these live chats on Mondays at 8 p.m. eastern, plus our regular three videos each week where we talk about D&D and other RPGs. You can get the Nerdarchy Newsletter delivered to your inbox each week, along with updates and info on how to game with Nerdarchy, by signing up here. With the COVID-19 pandemic situation we want to assure everyone we’re following all the guidelines and regulations, and practicing safety and preventative measures like social distancing, and we strongly urge everyone to do the same. Our partners and employees health is our No. 1 priority. Visit Coronavirus.gov for the latest news, updates and developments.

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Delving Dave’s Dungeon

Unseen enemies in Dungeons & Dragons is inspired by the current events. In a world of magic unseen enemies can take on a completely different meaning. We’ve got disease, curses and the will of powerful beings. You have gods, angles, demons, devils and fey to name a few. You could easily add political machinations to the list as well.


One of my favorite D&D monsters falls into this category, the quickling, a Tiny challenge 1 creature with AC 16, 10 hit points, an attack bonus of +8 and 3 attacks per round. Their Stealth is +8 coupled with their 120 feet of movement they might as well be invisible. These buggers punch way above their weight class. Add haste to them and they can harry adventurers of a much higher level.

The invisible stalker is a classic monster from back in AD&D. They are always invisible elementals from the plane of air that get perverted by magic to turn them into deadly hunters.

Other threats

Magical curses and diseases both mundane and magical in nature can be great unseen enemies and plot devices. Whether it is to free a village, kingdom, NPC or the player’s characters themselves it’s a great way to motivate the players to go on an adventure. Finding the cure for a disease or a ritual for breaking the curse could be a single adventure, series of adventures or the basis for a campaign.

Another idea is natural disasters. Look to any natural disaster movie for inspiration. The difference here is it can be caused by angry nature spirits, a vengeful or scorned god, the leaking of elemental energies from the primordial planes or a secret cabal of sorcerers.

  • How do the adventurers quell the source of the nature spirits ire? They require the heroes to cleanse a recently befouled lake.
  • Can a scorned god be placated? The party must convince the god’s former lover to give them a second chance.
  • How do the adventurers stop elemental storms ravaging the land? They must find a hidden portal leaking elemental energies and close it.
  • How do you stop earthquakes rocking a kingdom? Adventurers must figure out the source, a wizard coven that wishes to destroy the kingdom and take over the shattered pieces. Or maybe they are trying to wake an ancient evil under the capital city of the kingdom.

From Ted’s Head

The phrase is evocative: Enemies that are unseen, danger lurking in the dark and from around corners. But are you aware of all the ways that danger and enemies can be unseen?

Hidden. Really not a whole lot to expand upon here. Enemies can hide and if they are not spotted by the party via Perception they can either set an ambush, sneak past or set traps for the possible return journey.

Invisibility. Enemies can be invisible as per the spell or even better yet greater invisibility. This is great for ambushes when you are looking to surprise your players and deadly when you are using assassins against them. Setting up an ambush is easier when the enemies are unseen.

Natural Disguise. Fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons unlike some previous editions offers monster abilities that make it indistinguishable from the other scenery. You can use animated armors, a variety of plants as well as statues or gargoyles. Violet fungus looks like just a plant until it starts attacking. I have not used them a lot but I love that hidden feature. Last time I used them however, the party fireballed the room and took out most of the baddies and I was curious: did the party decide to enact vengeance of a previous sin from regular plants?

Hazards. A little lackluster, but hazards are indeed enemies as they can be very unseen and not be a threat until adventureres are literally on top of them.

Surprises are needed for a Dungeon Master to set upon their players. If you are not keeping them guessing and everything unfolds as it should it is not as much fun. I have said this before, and as unhealthy as it is, I get a sense of joy when my players feel the need to stress eat during the game. Whether you are using one of the examples above or another way of surprising your players the surprise is a surprise because it is unseen and not suspected.

So use the unseen, surprise your players and have fun while doing it and your players will as well.

An invisible stalker as seen (what?!) in the fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual. [Image courtesy Wizards of the Coast]

From the Nerditor’s desk

Enemies can wait in concealment to spring an ambush on adventurers. Creatures with false appearances blend in with their surroundings and invisible entities lurk unnoticed even when they’re right next to you. In fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons there’s no shortage of unseen enemies.

For every hard to detect threat out there, a handful of low level creatures in the Basic Rules for 5E D&D represent an even more insidious kind of unseen enemy — the threat of apocalypse teeters on the edge!

Okay, that’s a bit dramatic but hear me out. There’s six creatures I’ve noted from the Basic Rules, all challenge 1 or less, that could bring about widespread devastation if unchecked. Even in small numbers they’d pose a significant threat to the common folk, and give adventurers a run for their money.

  • Death Dog. One bite from this aptly named two headed hound can spell doom for the victim as a foul disease rots the flesh off their bones until they’re dead.
  • Diseased Giant Rat. Off to a bad start with this frighteningly named creature, which like the death dog carries a deadly contagion in its bite.
  • Harpy. Unfortunates charmed by this monstrosity, unlike most similar effects, will indeed put themselves in harm’s way. They get another shot to succeed on a saving throw but still, with the right numbers a committee of harpies could get large numbers of people to walk into volcanoes, off cliffs or otherwise lead them to their dooms.
  • Shadow. The best! This one truly poses the most apocalyptic threat of perhaps any D&D monster around. It only takes one shadow to start a domino effect and the next thing you know you live on Shadow World. Protip: Protect your campaign setting from shadowpocalypse by making sure everyone is evil. Bonus unseen enemy points for Amorphous and Shadow Stealth.
  • Specter. Be wary as a single specter could take out huge swaths of people if left unaddressed. I suppose a village full of citizens with makeshift weapons might overcome a specter through attrition. The cost would be heavy, and even a small group of specters with a shared hatred for life could wreak serious havoc. Bonus unseen enemy points for Incorporeal Movement.
  • Stirge. I hate this things, which are basically giant mosquitos. I don’t even need to embellish for this one, they come packaged with their own ominous warning: “Packs of stirges can be a formidable threat, reattaching as quickly as their weakening prey can pluck them off.”

One last unseen enemy in this collection is duergar. I’m including the superior dwarves frankly because I noticed they fell into the parameters I’d set and they can turn invisible. But mostly because it’s a chance to advocate duergar and the pronunciation as “dwar-gar.” Take it up with Jackson Crawford if you’ve got a problem!

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