Combat in Dungeons and Dragons can be one of the most exciting aspects of the game. Ideally, you want to experience a battle that seems like enough of a challenge that players feel engaged, but you don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you are completely overwhelmed. The best Dungeon Masters are often those who can find the perfect balance for these encounters.
Unfortunately, we don’t always play with the best DMs. Furthermore, we sometimes push our DMs to introduce challenges that far exceed our abilities. Whether intentional or by accident, these ten monsters can be campaign enders at any point in your adventure.
Just because it appears at the start of this list is no indication of its difficulty. The Kraken can destroy a party of adventurers well into their campaign. As of 5e, the Kraken maintains the ability to breathe both air and water, deals double damage to structures and objects, and ignores difficult terrain.
If all of that wasn’t scary enough, the Kraken’s attacks will be. Using its bite or tentacles, the Kraken has a +17 to hit on each, and between 13 and 24 damage per attack. Each of its ten tentacles can grapple a party member, and anything smaller than a large creature can be swallowed.
And we didn’t even mention the lightning storm.
Lists of monsters in D&D are required to include dragons. It can’t be avoided.
Dragons come in a variety of sizes and colors, which determines their strengths and weaknesses. A mere wyrmling won’t pose a significant threat to most parties, but what it grows into is quite the opposite.
The most ancient of dragons will have spent more than 800 years doing dragon things like hoarding treasure and eating adventurers. Different dragons will have different motives, so the details may vary, but the outcome won’t: You will seldom land a meaningful blow and even more rarely last long enough to fully diminish its HP to 0.
Dragons are powerful. That’s a fact. So are Liches. Combining the two is the recipe for a bad day for a party of adventurers.
Why might a dragon choose to undergo the process of extending its already long life? Well, for starters, they retain all their previous resistances and add a few more. Immunity to poison? Check. Immunity to charms, being frightened, and paralysis? Check. Oh, and the dragon becomes immune to exhaustion, hunger, thirst, and breathing.
In order to take this path, a dragon must be ancient or adult. This means that the challenge the dragon presented prior to its transformation was significant enough. Adding this template is overkill, and it is unlikely that you will ever encounter such a fiend in your adventures.
Departing 5e for a moment, direct your attention to The Epic Level Handbook of 3e. Under the “monsters” chapter, you will find all sorts of terrifying foes. Not far in, you will find yourself staring at what appears to be a tree with arms. That tree actually possesses 100 arms and 50 heads. Terrifying indeed.
It turns out that having all of those heads gives this beauty a +50 bonus to Listen, Search, and Spot checks. Good luck playing sneaky. If that wasn’t enough, each of those arms will have either a boulder or a great sword equipped for your convenience while you attempt to deal with its 624+ HP. Good luck.
6 Demon Lords
With the prolific nature of Stranger Things, it has become poor form to reference the Demogorgon in search of cheap attractions. Rather than do that, we will include all of the many demon lords into one category.
The Abyss isn’t for the weak at heart. Through a variety of means, truly evil demons and particularly worthy outsiders can receive dark blessings which increase their power exponentially in their pursuit of control of the Abyss. The mere description of these demon lords is enough to discourage encounters, let alone their detailed stats.
On the subject of powerful entities who have ascended to godhood, the actual gods of D&D are no walk in the park. The 3e book Deities & Demigods offers a good insight into battling one of the most powerful beings in the realms. For fun, let’s examine the Champion of Evil, Hextor.
Hextor has 20 levels each in the Fighter and Cleric classes, along with 78 AC and an easy 1100 HP. Ignoring attacks, which his offhand weapon gets three of, Hextor can have up to ten uses of certain Craft skills per turn as an automatic action.
4 Prismatic Dragons
We established that dragons are strong earlier. We even looked at a few ways they can be stronger. Now we’re going to look at two ways to push them over the edge, and the first is the prismatic dragon. Hopefully, you kept that Epic Level Handbook handy.
The good news is that prismatic dragons aren’t very aggressive. Unprovoked, one will rarely attack a human. However, if you find yourself unfortunate enough to provoke one, you might notice that they possess substantially higher stats than a normal dragon. Old prismatic dragons have comparable stats to Hextor’s.
Before we abandon the subject of dragons altogether, we have to discuss the queen of the evil ones. That would be Tiamat.
Tiamat is the former ruler of the first layer of hell, and the object of worship for all evil dragons. With all of her power, Tiamat stands in an eternal state of desire to obtain all the treasures of the multiverse. She isn’t very kind to her worshippers either, being that she hoards her magic almost as greedily.
Tiamat is no normal dragon. She has five heads, each fully capable of attacking, and each embodying one of the five dragon types who worship her. If you are ever unfortunate enough to confront her, we suggest finding a new playgroup. Your current DM isn’t cutting it.
2 Mind Flayers
Before we discuss the worst thing your DM could confront you with, let's talk about another really bad one.
In the 3.5e Monster Manual, mind flayers are vividly painted. Observing first an ability which all mind flayers possess, Mind Blast. This lovely psionic attack allows the mind flayer to stun prey for up to 12 rounds of combat, effectively dealing with your party at their convenience.
Not enough? At will, these guys can detect your thoughts, levitate, plant suggestions, and shift planes. Pretty tough. These won’t be impossible at later stages, but a poorly placed mind flayer too early can end a campaign.
Purely based on measurements, tarrasques are described as 50 ft tall and 70 ft long. These monsters are immune to fire, poison, bludgeoning, slashing, and piercing damage from any nonmagical item. The tarrasque basically has every benefit the Kraken had earlier, minus a 30 ft range, with more options to attack.
Need another kicker? Three times per day, if the tarrasque fails a saving throw, it can choose to succeed instead. Why not? It can also make up to five attacks with a variety of its weapons in order to truly make opponents suffer.
No one should ever fight a tarrasque. If you do, it is the end of your adventure. Go home and enjoy trying to sleep.