D&D: Top 5 Low-Level Monsters

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monster manual cover

We’re about to earn 500gp for the entire party this week, by taking a look at (and killing) the 5 best low level monsters in D&D.

Every adventurer starts somewhere. Whether it’s killing rats in the sewers, or trying to fetch back a tome that has disappeared from the local wizard’s tower, there’s one thing that’s certain, you’re gonna have to kill a lot of 1/4 hit dice monsters if you’re gonna get anywhere in life.

So this week, we’re taking a look at the best of the best of low-level monsters.

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Goblins

First on our list are everyone’s favorite all-encompassing-horde-that-is-really-three-monsters, Goblins. And much like D&D and Pathfinder, I’m including the other goblinoids–Bugbears and Hobgoblins–in this entry, because goblins are the gift that keeps on giving. You’ll likely keep running into them in some form or another well into 5th level. What makes them stand out as great low level monsters to me, is that they’ve got everything you need. Big threatening brutes? Call a bugbear. What about warlords that can serve as a boss to cap off the low-level arc of the campaign you’ve just started? Hobgoblins have got you covered.

And they’ll command an army of goblins along the way, with no shortage of goblins filling in roles as cannon fodder, bodyguards, and shamans along the way. But whatever you might have planned, it’s almost always a safe bet that goblins will turn up underfoot, somehow. And probably shank you in the ankles just a little bit.

gnoll horde

Gnolls

Continuing on the marauding horde theme, we come to gnolls. The all-devouring all-dancing horde of the (campaign) world. Gnolls are voracious hyenamen who revere Yeenoghu, a voracious demon prince that wields a giant three-headed flail and commands that his servants consume the world. Gnolls are a great villain because they’re evil through and through. They are also the most fearsome of these monsters. Towns fight off goblin attacks–they become the aftermath of gnoll rampages.

skellingtons

Low Level Undead

Necromancers love them. Low level adventurers who just stumbled into a room full of “long-dead bodies scattered around the floor” know they’re about to fight them. They are the undead. This entry encapsulates your skeletons, zombies, ghouls, ghasts, and wights. And while that might seem like it’s a little full, there’s always room for the incorporeal undead because they don’t take up any (physical) space. So we can also cram in ghosts, specters, shadows, and wraiths.

The undead are a veritable skittles grab bag of monsters you’ll be able to fight, any time, any where, any place.

Kobolds kobolds kobolds kobolds dungeons dragons

Kobolds

It’s no secret that I think Kobolds are great. There’s a reason for that. Even though these guys aren’t much of a threat on their own, they’re a testament to how “small things used well” can cause great difficulty. Whatever the edition you’re playing in, there’s always enough of these little guys to cause problems for any group of adventurers investigating the mysterious disappearance of the villagers’ baubles. After all, white dragon wyrmlings have to get their hordes started somewhere, and they can’t be expected to gather it themselves. If you want monsters who will tie the adventurer’s bootlaces together, or who were voted “most likely to use sovereign glue” then look no further than the humble kobold.

orcs dungeons dragons lotr

Orcs

Man, these guys are a classic for a reason. Whether they’re guarding a 10 x 10 room with a chest, chasing after pie, or waging war in the name of gruumsh, Orcs are perhaps the second most iconic monster in all of D&D. What’s fantasy without orcs? These guys are the everyman, basically–the fighting Uruk-Hai, the warriors that you can always count on to threaten 3rd level parties. The ones who can kidnap the kindly cleric, or who are enough of a threat that the captain of the king’s guard has to hire the party to take on these greataxe-wielding barbarians, and Gruumsh-worshipping battle shamans who always keep an eye out for adventurers to take on. If there’s a low-level monster more iconic than Orcs, I’m not sure what it is.

 

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Bonus: Ogres

When you need a beating and a half, Ogres are the ones to call. These are the perfect end-cap to that intro adventure. After having fought their way through the two goblin encounter, the four goblin encounter, the trap, the otyugh, the other trap, and the brown mold, the ogre is a perfect “boss,” dealing enough damage to threaten even the fighter, while taking up enough space to encourage the entire party to pile in and flank them. So you get a good fight and a nice lesson in combat tactics all in one encounter.

 

Think we left one out? Got a good story of an encounter with one of these going awry? Leave a comment.

  • zeno666

    How about them Baaz Draconians? 🙂

  • Commissar Molotov

    Ah, all classics. 2nd brought us the Bullywug, too.

  • Joel Carrera

    I feel like this article was unfairly slanted toward terrestrial humanoids. Here are my corrections:

    Rust monster–the DM’s stat-sheet eraser, for when the vorpal sword and enchanted platemail that you gave the third level fighter was a mistake.

    Gelatinous cube–this was my first “WTF” monster ever. Killed half the party until everyone figured out what to do. Honorable mention to green slime, which was down-graded for a while to something like a trap.

    Lycanthropes–awesome boss villains for atmospheric pieces. Were-wolves are iconic, but I’ve never lost my love for were-rats. Been picking up were-rats and skaven minis for years all in the vain hope that I can run “Wererats of Relfren” out of Dungeon magazine as a one-off. Bonus to your bonus for reskinned ogre as “rat-ogre” that my warhammer playing friends won’t expect in DnD.

    Kuo-Toa–but don’t give me this blipdooldepoop crap. These guys worship Dagon/C’thulhu in any self-respecting campaign. For those times that your game needs some great old ones.

    Teh Bandits–seriously, we got more magical loot from humans and demi-humans. Seriously, if darksouls players fear the human sized boss, then DnD players love human enemies. More/better lootz.

    • dave long island

      GREAT LIST! Couldn’t have said it better myself.

    • Rhaen

      Blipdoodlepoop wins you this competition I believe.

  • Vepr

    In some ways I think low levels are the most fun. 🙂 I enjoy taking parties above 10th level but some of the most fun and epic things seem to happen levels 1-3.

    • JPMcMillen

      It’s because low level characters aren’t so powerful that one good hit can’t take them out. Gives them a reason to be scared.