Many dungeon masters lean on goblins, kobolds, and bandits for their first low level encounter enemies. But these enemies can feel as tired as starting your games in a tavern. D&D is full of unique low level encounter enemies that rarely get to see the light of day. Check out our suggestions for enemies that you can introduce to your players early in the campaign. All of the following monsters are levels 0-4 and can be found in the Monster Manual, Volo’s Guide to Monsters, or Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes.
Low Level Encounter by Enemy Type
An aberration has a bizarre anatomy, strange abilities, an alien mindset, or any combination of the three. They generally come from somewhere other than the material world, be it a different plane of existence or another universe entirely. Higher level encounters with aberrations will generally consist of Aboleths, Beholders, Slaads, and Mind Flayers.
- Slaad Tadpole (CR 1/8): Born of the eggs of a Red Slaad, these tadpoles emerge from eggs implanted beneath their victim’s skin and devour their insides before emerging as a blue slaad tadpole. Unlike many low level creatures, the slaad tadpoles have magic resistance, giving them advantage on saving throws against spells and other magical effects. They are high in Dexterity and Stealth, meaning they’ll try to hide as soon as they emerge from their host.
- Gibbering Mouther (CR 2): A horror show of mouths and eyes, the Gibbering Mouther makes up for its slow speed with its range. Not only is the ground 10ft around the creature considered difficult terrain, any creature that starts its turn within 20ft of it is susceptible to its gibbering, which can cause a number of random effects.
- Intellect Devourer (CR 2): Intellect devourers are essentially brain with feet. They are created by Mind Flayers to steal bodies and use them as puppets, often luring in unaware comrades. During combat they do very little physical damage, but any player that made Intelligence their dump stat might be in trouble. They’re a great introduction to a campaign that heavily features Mind Flayers.
- Grell (CR 3): Grells look like a floating brain with a beak sitting above multiple tentacles that end in venomous barbs. Grells prefer to ambush singular prey, incapacitate them with their venom, and float away. They may be willing to bargain with adventurers if shown that they are a serious threat instead of an easy snack.
Normal animals can be enough of a challenge for any low level encounter. Any Beast with a CR of 0-3 can absolutely mess up your players if they attack in packs or swarms.
- Stirge (CR 1/8): Flying creatures are often a pain for low level martial classes, and the Stirge’s high Dexterity and 40ft fly speed will make it no exception. After a successful first attack, the Stirge automatically uses its Blood Drain feature to cause the victim to lose 1d4 + 3 hit points every round it’s attached.
- Ape (CR 1/2): Not only is the Ape capable of running and climbing at 30ft, its ranged rock throw attack will make it a threat to both front line and back line fighters.
- Rot Grubs (CR 1/2): Rot grubs are a threat that need to be taken care of as soon as possible. A single attack from a swarm will cause 1d4 Rot Grubs to enter the targets body and begin burrowing their way to its heart. If they’re not burned off with fire after the first round of burrowing, they must be dealt with by magical means as they are now too far under the skin.
- Quippers (CR 1): The D&D answer to piranhas, Quippers swarm their target and do more damage the larger the swarm is. With their Blood Frenzy ability giving them advantage on attack rolls, players who are already injured could be in real trouble as rounds progress.
- Giant Scorpion (CR 3): Perfect for any desert campaigns, giant scorpions pose an obviously larger risk than their smaller counterparts. A multi-attack, poison, and a higher AC can give low level groups some trouble.
5e seems to suffer a little for not having very many Celestial monster options, probably because they expect your party members to be good and fight against evil. Feel free to take any monsters of the Beast category and give them an angelic personification. High level encounters are typically Planetars, Solars, and Empyreans.
- Pegasus (CR 2): An intelligent mount that is both large and fast, these wild and shy creatures can’t be tamed by normal means. Crashing down from the sky, its hooves can do plenty of damage and then move out of most attacking ranges.
- Couatl (CR 4): Appearing as large snakes with wings, the stats on these creatures are all way above average. These highly intelligent guardians can cast spells, bite, constrict, and change their shape. They also have Truesight and a number of damage immunities which will give any party a difficult time.
Constructs are beings that are generally created, not born. These animated objects are usually slaves to the wills of their creators and are often manufactured through violent or evil means. They might be the minions of Hags or any high level Mages.
- Homunculus (CR 0): Used more for scouting & spying than combat, these winged constructs share thoughts, sense, and languages with their creator. Its telepathic bond with its creator allows it to communicate over any distance, provided they are both on the same plane of existence.
- Stone Cursed (CR 1): Indistinguishable from normal statues while inert, these constructs are created by a ritual on a humanoid that had been turned to stone. They seek out the living with their petrifying claws that make them just as dangerous as any Basilisk or Cockatrice.
- Scarecrow (CR 1): Normally unobtrusive in any field, these Scarecrows are brought to life with the spirit of a slain evil creature. It has damage resistances to non-magical weapons as well as a high number of condition immunities. Its Terrifying Glare ability both Frightens and Paralyzes its target.
- Iron Cobra (CR 4): Poison, confusion, and paralysis coupled with a +7 Stealth, these constructs can strike quickly from the shadows and incapacitate your party before they even know what hit them. The addition of its magic resistance and damage immunities will make for a tough fight for the adventurers who didn’t initially get picked off.
Most dragon fights are saved for high level adventures. But there are a number of young dragons that can still pose a threat in a low level encounter.
- Pseudodragon (CR 1/4): These creatures are shy by nature and avoid others. Pseudodragons are most commonly seen as familiars to mages, but they are selective in who they choose to serve. If attacked, the Psudodragon will make use of its poisonous stinger at the end of its tail, which can knock the target unconscious if they fail their saving throw by 5 or more.
- Adult Faerie Dragon (CR 2): These tiny dragons change color and gain new spells with age. They enjoy teasing passersby with pranks and illusions. Fighting them would be similar to fighting a low level Illusion wizard who can telepathically call its friends for aide.
- Guard Drake (CR 2): Scales given as gifts by dragons to their followers allow for the ritual to create Guard Drakes. Guard Drakes imprint like birds on the creature that feeds it first. These creatures resemble mastiffs crossed with dragons. They are loyal and obedient to their masters and make great guard dogs.
- Chromatic Wyrmling (CR 2-4): The youngest of the dragons, they prefer to stalk their prey and then ambush. Young as they are, they still have their breath weapon and are generally smart enough to know to run away if the fight isn’t going their way.
Elementals are creatures native to the elemental planes. Elementals are usually summoned to the material plane by casters to act as servants.
- Mephits (CR 1/4 – 1/2): Mephits are a combination of two elements that delight in dark tricks. Their Death Burst ability makes defeating them a Pyrrhic victory; a failed Constitution save will cause Blindness for creatures in a 5ft radius.
- Magmin (CR 1/2): Magmins are at their best when they are summoned in mobs and delight in setting things on fire. Like Mephits, defeating a Magmin harms those around it; creatures failing a Dexterity saving throw within 10ft of it take 2d6 fire damage and flammable objects ignite.
- Azer (CR 2): Azers make excellent front line warriors due to their Heated Body that inflicts 1d10 fire damage when hit with melee attacks and the fact that if they use a metal weapon it deals an extra 1d6 fire damage due to their Heated Weapons ability. Their high AC will allow them to pound away at a party’s melee characters while doing large amounts of damage.
- Water Weird (CR 3): Excellent as guardians, these creatures are bound to a source of water. Their ability to be invisible when fully submerged in water makes them great ambush predators who will attempt to grab and drown their victims.
Natives of the Feywild are often mischievous and ruled by their passions and impulses. If they like your party they can be an invaluable help. If they don’t, it can turn into a nightmare of an encounter.
- Boggle (CR 1/8): Normally ready to partake in harmless pranks, Boggles have a number of defenses at the ready. They can produce an oil that is either slippery or sticky, allowing it to either escape grapples or keep its hold on things, including walls and ceilings. If those means of escape fail, the Boggle can create a dimensional rift that only it can use.
- Darkling (CR 1/2): Found most often in caves and tunnels beneath towns due tot their light sensitivity, Darklings often take on the roles of thieves or assassins. Upon death a bright light flashes in a 10ft radius that will burn non-metal and non-magical items. It can also blind anyone who fails their Constitution saving throw.
- Quickling (CR 1): As the name suggests, Quicklings move fast. Attacks against them have disadvantage unless they’re incapacitated or restrained. Luckily they’re more into pranks than murder, but they’re not above stealing something important from travelers.
- Meenlock (CR 2): Meenlocks are created whenever a creature in the Feywild is overwhelmed by fear. They dwell in their lairs full of twisting tunnels. Not only do they have a Fear Aura that can frighten party members, they can also send out hallucinations telepathically. They can also move quickly using their Shadow Teleport.
Fiends are comprised of devils, demons and yugoloths, but all are cruel and evil. They delight in destruction, chaos, and desecration. The following creatures can be used in low level encounters as harbingers to greater evils.
- Nupperibo (CR 1/2): The embodiment of gluttony, the Nupperibo is only interested in finding things it can devour. They are surrounded by a cloud of vermin that deals damage on a failed Constitution saving throw and when there are more than one Nupperibo, they make the saving throw at disadvantage. Anyone attacked by this cloud of vermin can be tracked by the Nupperibo for 24 hours.
- Quasit (CR 1): Damage resistances and magic resistance coupled with Invisibility make the Quasit a difficult creature to defeat. Adding to the fact that they can also change their shape into a bat, centipede, or a toad means it can sneak away if the battle isn’t going its way. It can also attempt to scare a creature once a day.
- Rutterkin (CR 2): The true terror of the Rutterkin comes from its bite, which afflicts targets who fail a Constitution saving throw with a Warping Plague. If a target dies while poisoned with this disease, they become a living Abyssal Wretch.
- Merregon (CR 4): Magic resistance, a number of damage resistances, and a high AC make Merregon stout legionnaires. They hit hard with both melee and ranged weapon attacks and their Loyal Bodyguard ability lets them take a hit for any fiend ally within 5ft.
No surprise that there aren’t many low level giants; their size and strength make encounters difficult even at higher levels. But there are a few types that are typically unused for low level encounters.
- Half-ogre (CR 1): Half-ogres can make interesting NPCs and can be a great substitute for Orcs or Half-orcs. Their skills with both battleaxes and javelins make them excellent fighters.
- Ogre Howdah (CR 2): Ogre Howdahs are so strong they carry a palisaded wooden fort on their backs filled with up to four small humaniods. This fort also allows the smaller creatures three-quarters cover, so they can feel safe raining down arrows at their targets while the Ogre moves them around the battlefield.
- Ogre Chain Brute (CR 3): These brutes excel at controlling the battlefield with their large, spiked chain. They can either sweep in a 10ft radius and knock creatures prone while doing damage, or they can smash and knock creatures unconscious.
- Ogre Battering Ram (Cr 4): If you need a fortified door or wall to come down, consider using an Ogre Battering Ram since it deals double the damage to objects ans structures. They’re especially great at causing massive damage during attacks of opportunity with their Block the Path ability.
D&D is packed with plenty of of Humanoids, but this is probably the category that sees the least in-game variety for low level encounters. Trade in your classic D&D enemies with these fresh takes.
- Xvarts (CR 1/8 – 1): Excellent stand-ins for Kobolds, these creatures are found in hills, forests, and caves. They are obsessed with treasure and often kidnap people to use as sacrifices. Xvarts can form alliances with ordinary bats, rats, or even Wererats. Some may form a pact with their god Raxivort and be granted spellcasting abilities.
- Grimlock (CR 1/4): Grimlocks make a great substitute for Goblins in campaigns that feature Mind Flayers. Their Stone Camouflage and Blindsight make them experts at underground ambushes.
- Gnoll (CR 1/2 – 4): Trade in your Orcs or Hobgoblins for Gnolls. They add insult to injury with their Rampage ability, moving to attack again after downing an enemy. Their Pack Lords have the ability to Incite Rampage, letting another Gnoll it can see within 30ft use its reaction on an enemy.
- Quaggoth (CR 2): Creatures of the Underdark and servants of the Drow, Quaggoths deal more damage the closer they are to death. Variants, called Quaggoth Thonot, have Psionic spellcasting abilities.
Monstrosities are like Beasts taken to the extreme. They’re often the result of magical experimentations or curses. These creatures are often unnatural in appearance and are usually extremely dangerous.
- Steeder (CR 1/4 – 1): Male and Female Steeders are generally found accompanied by Duergar. Their Sticky Legs help them grapple their foes while their bite causes large amounts of piercing and poison damage.
- Darkmantle (CR 1/2): These creatures are indistinguishable from stalactites when unmoving. They attack by dive-bombing a creatures head, blinding and suffocating the creature while crushing it. They can also activate a Darkness Aura once a day that produces a 15ft magical darkness around it.
- Peryton (CR 2): Making their homes in mountains and high caves, Perytons are terror from above. Their Dive Attack does extra damage if unimpeded for 30ft while its Flyby lets it skirt away from opportunity attacks.
- Phase Spider (CR 3): These large monstrosities have the ability to magically shift back and forth from the Material Plane to the Ethereal Plane. Their bite has the ability to both poison and paralyze their victims.
These dangerous blobs typically make their homes underground. Oozes typically operate on instinct, but higher level oozes can have their own ambitions.
- Oblex Spawn (CR 1/4): These oozes search out prey in order to devour their memories and spawn new oblexes. The oblex gains the personality of the creature it devours, but in a twisted way.
- Grey Ooze (CR 1/2): While unmoving, these oozes resemble oily pools or wet rocks. But when attacked, adventurers are in for a sad surprise if they’re using non-magical metal weapons. Their Corrode Metal ability cumulatively adds a penalty to those weapons until the weapon is destroyed.
- Ochre Jelly (CR 2): If a large or medium sized Ochre Jelly is hit with a lightning or slashing attack, it splits into two smaller Ochre Jellies with half the hit points each of the original. Adventurers might quickly find themselves surrounded by jellies if attacking with the wrong kind of damage.
- Slithering Tracker (CR 3): Willing creatures hellbent on revenge can give themselves to a ritual that turns them into a Slithering Tracker. They numerous abilities that make them not only excellent trackers but amazing ambush predators. Slithering Trackers that have completed their quest for vengeance are completely insane and will attack anyone indiscriminately.
Most plants are happy to feed on prey that is unfortunate enough to wander into their reach. But those placed at the pleasure of Myconids or servants of Zuggtmoy can be used for nefarious purposes.
- Shrieker (CR 0): These fungi can be used as cave or underground alarm systems. They emit a shriek that travels 300ft if any creature or bright light comes within 30ft of it.
- Vegepygmy (CR 1/4 – 2): These fungal creatures are a good substitute for Myconids. They can regenerate their hit points and have a natural camouflage in areas covered with plant life. Their Chief can release toxic spores that damage poisoned enemies at the start of each of its turns.
- Vine Blight (CR 1/2): Some of the rare plants that can speak, Vine Blights constrict their targets and then bludgeon them. Their Entangling Plants ability allows it to sprout difficult terrain 15ft around it that can restrain creatures within it.
These creatures are magically cursed with undeath, whether by their own hand or another’s. They are either driven by compulsions or orders given to them by their masters. Low level encounters are usually full of Zombies or Skeletons that can be controlled by a Lich.
- Shadow (CR 1/2): Damage resistances and condition immunities make Shadows challenging for low level encounters. They can hide as a bonus action in dim light or darker. Their Strength Drain not only deals damage but reduces the target’s Strength score by 1d4.
- Specter (CR 1 – 2): The mobility of the Specter makes them difficult to pin down. A fly speed of 50ft coupled with the ability to move through creatures and objects will make it hard to hit, while its Life Drain will reduce the targets hit points by the damage amount taken. The variant Specter, the Poltergeist, adds an additional level of difficulty with their Invisibility, Forceful Slam, and Telekinetic Thrust abilities.
- Sword Wraith Warrior (CR 3): You can cover a long abandoned battlefield with Sword Wraith Warriors. Their Martial Fury allows them to make an additional attack using their bonus action.
- Deathlock (CR 4): Deathlocks are warlocks who continue serving their patron even after death. You can customize the Deathlock to have patron-specific spells. They also have advantage on saving throws against turn undead.
Reskin to Fit Your Low Level Encounter
There’s nothing wrong with using Gobins or Kobolds for your low level encounter. Part of their appeal is their easy stat blocks. But we recommend that if you’re going to use creatures that are commonly seen in D&D campaigns, it might be a good idea to slap a new coat of paint on them.
Essentially, a creature can look however you want to describe it. Maybe your creatures crawl on all fours to remain stealthy before they stand up and shoot the adventurers from cover. They can still have the same stat blocks as goblins. But now your players aren’t sure what kind of creature they are versus experienced players knowing exactly how to handle a Goblin.
Let us know if you have any low level encounter monsters you prefer using or if you have a handy trick for reskinning monsters on Twitter.