20 essential monsters


First Post
Folks, I've been trying to come up with a list of just 20 essential monsters with which whole campaigns could be made. The kind of critters I could keep the statblocks on 8 sheets of paper and be able to create an infinite number of scenarios. Of course, that means that the majority of the monsters will have to be scalable by class advancement to provide a broad spectrum of CRs, but that's good. I'd also like the list to be 'iconic' D&D creatures, and straight from the SRD. So no mind flayers or displacer beasts. Boo hoo!

Here's the list so far, organised by 'default' CR:

Kobold, Warrior 1st (1/4)
Dire Rat (1/3)
Skeleton, Human Warrior (1/3)
Goblin, Warrior 1st (1/3)
Hobgoblin, Warrior 1st (1/2)
Orc, Warrior 1st (1/2)
Zombie, Human Commoner (1/2)
Gnoll (1)
Ghoul (1)
Wolf (1)
Dire Wolf (3)
Ogre (3)
Owlbear (4)
Vampire Spawn (4)
Wraith (5)
Troll (5)
Red Dragon, Very Young (5)
Wyvern (6)
Red Dragon, Young Adult (13)
Red Dragon, Very Old (21)

So, we've got the classic badguy humanoids and undead at the low levels, Dragons at the high CRs....and not much in between. Granted the gap between CR5-6 and CR13 could be filled with an unending stream of Orc Barbarians, Kobold Sorceror/Shadow Dancers and the like, but....I want monsters!

Here's my question. Just 20 essential monsters, all SRD, all classic D&D fodder, all flexible enough to be used over and over without boredom setting in. What would you choose, and why?

That's two questions. Darn.

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First Post
You could classify the red dragon as one monster, perhaps? Would open up two more "slots". As for more monsters, drow is awfully "classic" as are most any giants. Balors and pit fiends are awfully high CRs, but seems to fit your requirements fairly well. There are elementals as well. Werewolfs, troglodytes, beholders, umber hulks (one of my favorites) are other good options, IMO. Hmm, I'd change the vampire spawn to just vampire. Will beef up those mid-level encounters.

The Sigil

Mr. 3000 (Words per post)
1 - Orc - need mindless legions of mooks
2 - Zombie - need mindless legions of undead
3 - Mummy - "Classic" horror undead
4 - Vampire - "Boss" undead
5 - Ogre - "Boss" for orcs
6 - Troll - Uberboss for orc mooks
7 - Wyvern - "Minor" Dragon
8 - Red Dragon - Pick an age category (need a "major" dragon)
9 - Genie or Elemental (your pick) - Your conduit to the inner planes
10 - Stone Golem - Need at least one construct
11 - Medusa - More versatile than a basilisk or cockatrice or gorgon thanks to potential character levels
12 - Minotaur - Stuff of legends, and with character levels makes a nice threat
13 - Gelatinous Cube - Because there's always room for jello - and oozes
14 - Hellhound - Can be used as demonic/devil steed AND with your orc mooks
15 - Imp - Because you need a wimpy devil
16 - Chained Devil - Mid-power devil
17 - Pit Fiend - "Boss" Devil
18 - Glabrezu - "Mooks" of demondom
19 - Succubus - Because you can't have demons in a campaign without a succubus.
20 - Balor - "Boss" Demon

How's that look? A little bit of everything, with attention paid to the need for both mooks and bosses.

EDIT: Not 100% happy with minotaur at #12 and medusa at #11; could see putting in Gargoyles for "mook constructs" and elementals/genies (whatever you didn't put in at #10) to give you two inner planes representatives - or maybe sub in werewolf instead. Mummy at #3 could go too, but I like having something between zombies and vampires - and mummy rot is lethal at level 3-6 if you're not careful. If you take out the mummy, maybe that's where you sub in werewolves.

Don't forget, many of the "non-character-levelling" guys can be advanced with Hit Dice - a triple Hit Dice mummy is a rather nasty threat and a whole tomb of them can level even close-to-name-level PCs. :)

--The Sigil
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First Post
Excellent grab-bag of badness, Sigil! I like your thinking. I'd missed out the devils and demonstuff completely, becuase I've found in the past that once they're introduced into a campaign, it's very hard to get away from them again. Before you know it, all the adventures are tied in some way to demons and devilspawn. That's one imp I'd rather keep in the bottle - but that's my own campaign preference.

I agree about the Dragon 'slots' Emongnome. Putting 3 Red Dragons in there is pretty lazy; as you say, it does give me a few slots to play with. Drow....mmmmmmmmm......nice. Tasty on rye bread too.

OK, Drow makes the list.

Thank, both. Keep them coming!

The Sigil

Mr. 3000 (Words per post)
One important thing to remember, too, is to try to get some synergy with your monsters to "fill in the gaps" between levels. For instance:

Ogres riding wyverns.
A gelatinous cube working with a stone golem (stone golem unaffected by cube).
Orcs on hellhounds
Chain devils on hellhounds
Succubus plus medusa tag-team. Watch out, boys!
Heck, even a large mummy riding a sphinx-shaped stone golem could be fun.
Troll legions kept in line by Balor or Pit Fiend (afraid of demon/devil's fiery essence)

--The Sigil


First Post
Hey! I've done the stone golem-in-a-cube thing! Players hated me for that one. Underwater trolls are fun too.

Synergy is important, I agree. Wyverns make great mounts for most evil troops, and every trooper needs somone to push them around.

Mind you, I tend to think that half of the fun is in finding the unexpected synergies. That's where the adventures are made. What, after all, could link a wraith to an owlbear.....there's the adventure seed.


A suffusion of yellow
1. Goblins
2. Ogres
3. Sahuagin (for when adventures go Aquatic)
4. Velociraptors (medium sized version)
5. Sprites (can be friendly NPCs too)
6. Giant Spiders
7. Giant Lizards
8. Dire Animals (Shark, Hawk, Wolf, Giant Eel/Snakes)*
9. Assasin Vines (representing the plants)
10. Ghost (who says they have to be humanoid?)
11. Ghouls (intelligent undead that aren't super powered)
12. Air Elementals (Whirlwinds are fun)
13. Trolls (all Trolls are feindish imc)
14. Otyugh (for tentacle goodnes)
15. Ettercaps (I like ettercaps for spidery creepiness)
16. Shadow
17. Lizard folk
18. Gnolls
19. Griffons (I like Griffons for no good reason)
20. Other Unique creatures

The creatures from 1 - 10 I use a lot, those from 11 - 20 not as often
Dire Animals includes Awakened Dire Animals (which may be should be in their own category)

I cheated slightly by keeping slot 20. reserved for Unique creatures - sometimes I will use a monster and make it the only incident of it in the world

Remember with Templates even a basic monster can be transformed (one of my favourites was a half-fiend insectoid goblin (considered the gob of flies) who hung out with the ettercaps and giant spiders (and other insectoid goblins). Another minor diety imc is a magma paraelemental ogre scorcerer, I also has a BBEG who was a fiendish aquatic Otyugh Psion

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