Villains: The Enemy With the Inhuman Face

5E D&D How to Pick your Character Class
Dungeons & Dragons and the Deck of Many Things Campaign

Salutations, nerds! I want to talk a little bit more about designing and running the bad guys in your fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons game. Specifically, I want to talk about the kinds of bad guys that cannot be reasoned with. Dark creatures that could never be mistaken for “human.” I’m talking dark gods. I’m talking the tarrasque. I’m talking the massive thing on the horizon that just swallowed the cathedral and made the party feel so small in Session One in a single bite, yes. I’m also talking about smaller demons. I’m talking about the insectoid creature that keeps hollowing out people’s bodies and using their meat puppets to its own ends. These are the inhuman monsters so alien there is no connecting with them and the only chance you have is running them through before they do more damage. If you even can. If you’re even sure where to hit it.

Dungeons & Dragons inhuman monsters villain
The tarraque as seen in the fifth edition Dungeon & Dragons Monster Manual. [Image courtesy Wizards of the Coast]

Inhuman monsters as villains in D&D

There is something terrifying about a villain like this in the sense that you often have no idea what it’s capable of. How do you strategize against something with inhuman motives? How do you plan when you aren’t sure how this thing is going to behave or if it even bleeds? Villains like this are great if you’re running heavy combat. They can be good for a game where your players want more roleplay, too, but sparingly.

As a big bad

The obvious answer is the planar creature pulling cultists into its web of madness. I mean, let’s be honest, a big bad like this? Screams Cthulhu Mythos.

This is where you want to put those creatures that will drive you crazy just from looking at them. The ones with anatomy that doesn’t make any kind of physical sense. The ones that even a 20th-level party will think twice about just charging at.

Fallen gods. Eldritch horrors. Whatever this thing is, it doesn’t know what a big mess its making. It’s not operating on any kind of humanoid logic and yet humanoids are being swept under it at every turn and it must be stopped.

It’s hard to run one of these as a big bad without some degree of madness in its followers. These beings are world-enders. You can’t really follow one and be sane.

As a threshold boss

inhuman monsters villain
Speaking of alien…the star spawn larva mage as seen in the fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes. [Image courtesy Wizards of the Coast]
Alien bad guys make amazing threshold bosses. If you’re dealing with dark spellcasters, well, those guys love summoning creepy entities into the world and letting them take a chomp out of places.

A rival kingdom might call one down on one of their enemies, or it could be accidentally unleashed from a hundred years of sleep by an otherwise well-meaning NPC. Heck, the party could do it if they screw up enough.

There won’t be a lot of personal face time with a villain like this, of course, but it could be the thing that makes an otherwise easy villain dangerous to deal with.

These don’t quite have to be building-eaters, but they should be weird and have some kind of odd mechanic for the party to deal with.

As an encounter boss

I mean, who doesn’t love an alien infestation at the end of a dungeon, am I right? This is probably the easiest way to use this sort of villain. The party fights their way through the temple and gets to the corrupted high priest only to have a giant centipede creature eat its way out of his chest? Gruesome.

This could be the thing corrupting the enchanted pools that have kept the people of this town young and capable for hundreds of years, or it could be the being leaving all those strange black orbs around town. And if those are its eggs, pray none of them have hatched, and prepare a big fire — you might want to just raze the town and rebuild at that point.

Regardless of what set up you have, things like this make for some amazing one-off fights. Oh, and just by the way, these are an excellent excuse for a good mystery session.

People keep turning up dead? It’s not a who-done-it, it’s a what-done-it. Good excuse for the characters to hit Ye Olde Library for some research and all. What’s not to love about a good old-fashioned monster hunt?

As a minion

Summoners have these crawling out of their ears, guys. Small strange creatures can be super fun to throw at the party, just be aware that when you do this, you’re going to make the villain using them look just a little bit cowardly unless they charge in with them.

And if they charge in with them, let’s be honest, they are probably going to get killed because that’s how D&D parties work.

The good news is, these are often planar creatures and you can pretty much throw as many of them as you want at the party. They’re a good excuse for damage resistances and a good excuse for bizarre attacks that might not be life threatening but are sure as heck a pain in the butt to deal with.

How do you use inhuman creatures in your games? Do you have a favorite encounter you’ve run with something like this? Please let me know in the comments below.

And now for a shameless plug

I’ll try to keep this brief but I just want to take a second to talk about my current work in progress which will hopefully be coming out around December 2018.

Imagine the 1920s, but everything is powered by summoned demons, and the protagonists are mobsters. Picturing it? That’s basically Torchlighters. If you’re enjoying my writing here I’m hoping you’ll enjoy it too! I’ll be posting regular updates on my progress and eventually a preorder link on my Fortune Favors blog and I hope to see you there.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled nerdfest.

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Follow Megan R. Miller:
Speculative fiction writer and part-time Dungeon Master Megan R. Miller lives in southern Ohio where she keeps mostly nocturnal hours and enjoys life’s quiet moments. She has a deep love for occult things, antiques, herbalism, big floppy hats and the wonders of the small world (such as insects and arachnids), and she is happy to be owned by the beloved ghost of a black cat. Her fiction, such as The Chronicles of Drasule and the Nimbus Mysteries, can be found on Amazon.

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