Making Monster Matter: 10 Monsters To Terrify Your Players

Fear. It can be potent, tangible, irrational or downright well founded. In tabletop roleplaying games, characters face down legions of terrifying monsters on a regular basis, often without showing the slightest twinge of terror. They are fearless. That is why it is comforting, as a Game Master, that there are still certain monsters that will give not only the characters pause, but the players as well.

When these malicious monstrosities arrive on the scene, the entire game changes. Your players enact "Panic Mode", changing their usual willy-nilly tactics for something more thought out and profound. These are enemies that won't just kill your party in embaressing and painful ways, they will play with them first. They will take away everything they love about their character before finally snuffing them out, and the players know this.

Here are 10 Monsters to Terrify Your Players.

10. Gibbering Mouther
"Never look a gift horror in the mouths."

Not so much deadly as it is pure nightmare fuel. This Lovecraftian monstrosity is literally a writhing mass of babbling insanity. Its food source? Your bodily fluids and sanity, because why not? Both are things you can live without, if you call a mad, withered husk living. But that is probably the least scary thing about the Gibbering Mouther. This... thing's incoherent babbling can penetrate even the strongest mind, driving the listener batshit crazy. This causes the character to either attack their friends (thinking they're enemies), attack themselves (because sometimes a good blood-letting is good for the health), or stand their like a blithering idiot, spouting off a tirade of insane ramblings. 
When they show up, it is usually considered good form to end the creature quickly before the fighter or barbarian decapitates themselves or the healer. 

9. Gelatinous Cube
"Who wants a hug?"

There are few creatures as classic, or as iconic as the Gelatinous Cube. While a big, nearly invisible hunk of living jell-o isn't the most terrifying thing on paper, its deadly reputation speaks otherwise. Often encountered in a variety of various dungeons, the cube does two things really well; cleaning and killing. A faint shimmer is all most adventurers see before they find themselves trapped inside this outlandish ooze. Once chilling out inside, they are often paralyzed by the cube's paralytic composition and slowly dissolved as it breaks down their bodies... in front of the rest of the party.  
If you want to be truly evil, place one of these at either end of a long hallway with no doors. Your players will love you for it.

8. Rust Monster
"I can haz tha chainmailz?"

If there is a heavily armored fighter or melee weapon wielder not opting for a stick in the party, the rust monster is nothing short of their arch nemesis. These could be the same stalwart heroes that stood face to face with a dragon without flinching, but as soon as they see those rust-colored feelers start twitching around, they turn into frightened children, demanding the mage use their most powerful spell to send the foul creature back to hell, where it must have obviously come from. 
With little else going for it aside from its insatiable hunger for all of the characters shiny metal gear, the rust monster isn't so much deadly as it is annoying. Unless you are a warforged. Run if you are a warforged. Run away and never return. 

7. Basilisk
 "Girl, I looked into your eyes, and my heart turned to stone... along with the rest of m--"

It should be noted that no artisan makes highly detailed sculptures of small animals and horrified people, and leaves them in forests or caves. Never. Your players probably already knew this when they started walking through the most messed up art gallery ever. They're not stupid. Something is turning folks to stone, and not a lot of folks keep Stone To Flesh prepared on the daily. Even the most balls-to-the-wall party will start to begin thinking tactically. Eyes cast to the ground, ears strained to listen to even the slightest movement, the party creeps through the area. It is only when the Basilisk reveals itself do the players realize that the real monster is their Game Master.
The Basilisk doesn't just turn you into stone. No, that would be too easy. A lot of things can turn you to stone. What sets this multi-legged monstrosity apart is its diet. It eats stone. Typically things it has turned to stone. All those statues in the beginning? Those are meals it hasn't gotten to yet. The party is effectively walking through its fridge. 
Fighting one of these while averting one's gaze is a daunting task, especially since the creature is more than formidable. If you really want to add insult to injury, place a few blind creatures in the area that act as scavengers, attempting to swoop in and grab an easy meal before the basilisk can finish off everything.

6. Drider
"My drider-sense is tingling!"

A lot of people are afraid of spiders. Rightfully so. Millions of years of evolution have turned them into perfect, efficient killing machines. The only solace we medium-sized creatures can take from this is that we are significantly larger than them... except for giant spiders the size of horses. Then it us perfectly acceptable for shit one's pants in terror. However, when you slap a half-insane drow on top of that giant spider like the most unfortunate centaur ever, you enter a level of nope most folks can only dream of.
Driders are often depicted as drow who failed some manner of test and were cursed by their God, or whatever things like drow worship in the dark places of the world. Drow on their own are an intimidating prospect. Take into consideration that your average drow (a stone cold killing machine their own right) is afraid of a drider. Need I say more?

5. Demons
"Possession is nine-tenths of the law."

While devils are predictable beings of corruption that patiently play "The Long Game" when it comes to the soul of the world, their destructive counter counterparts from the abyss take the cake in the "Scary-right-the-hell-now" competition (A totally real competition). 
Demons represent destruction for the sake of destruction, which in and of itself is a terrifying prospect. What makes it worse is there is literally a demon for just about every level, each with their own little niche. From the lowly Quaisit to the Balor itself. Their abilities are as varied as their forms. Some are strong beyond belief, others are prodigious spell casters, while others can poison or burn, or freeze, or melt their enemies. Most are resistant to just about everything under the sun, and if being formidable isn't enough of a nightmare, they can posses people. That's right, they can be anyone.

4. Mind Flayers
"An hour into Netflix and chill, and he give you that look..."

I love me a good Mind Flayer. The world loves a good mind flayer, and with good reason. These brain-sucking bastions of beauty have been around since the first edition of Dungeons & Dragons. While your average fighter may be terrified of the lowly rust monster, your spellcasters will be quaking at the sight of these tentacled terrors. Why? Because they eat brains, and the can smell the most intelligent and wise brains in the room. They hunger for that stuff the way I hunger for a burger from Five Guys; insatiably. But the non-brainy members of the party need not feel left out. These scions of psionics have no problem including everyone else through way of domination. There is nothing so freeing as being the puppet for an alien intelligence bent on never letting a good mind go to waste. 

3. Beholder
"World Champion of Professional Peekaboo."

Two D&D exclusive monsters in a row? Fear not, Pathfinder friends. I am not showing bias (at least not too much). These horrors are easy enough to convert for your home game. 
When the beholder shows up, because it really is a matter of when, it means a couple of things. First, it means that either the Game Master is ready to challenge you, or you have pissed them off. Second, it means that someone is probably going to die tonight.
The many-eyed floating head of teeth and more eyes has been a staple in rpgs right from the beginning, and since then it has always held a certain terror for many gamers. That reputation is earned. Bought and paid for. This thing can systematically dismantle a party. While other monsters get into fights, a beholder treats the battlefield as an operating table, and they are the surgeons. How do they accomplish this?
As of the most recent edition, they can shoot rays out of those eye stalks that can charm creatures, paralyze them, terrify them (as if that hadn't been accomplished already), slow their bodies down to a crawl, drain their lifeforce, telekentically toss them across the room, make them take a nap, turn them to stone, flat out kill them or just plain disintegrate them where they stand. Oh, and that big eye in the middle? Yeah, that keeps folks from casting spells. Beholders are dicks.

2. Lich
"I got 99 problems, but a Lich ain't one."

These guys.... oh these guys. They have end-game written all over them. These evil spellcasters are not content with the typical nefarious shenanigans. They feel they need to up the ante. How? By ripping their own soul out of their body and hides it in a phylactery, which they in turn hide somewhere else, as it is their only weakness. There are a thousand different reasons to want to become a lich, and few of them are ever altruistic.
You can typically find these guys in evil lairs, surrounded by an army of the undead, plotting and scheming, and all the other things classic villains do. While tough on their own, and often potent mages, the thing that makes a lich really terrifying is their ability to keep coming back. Like Jason and Freddy, these guys just won't stay dead for long. That phylactery keeps raising them over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. 
Finding the phylactery can be a campaign in and of itself, and getting to it is often a lethal endeavor. But, once it is destroyed, the lich is vulnerable. And if you though it was tough before, you have not seen what a desperate lich is capable of. Remember, it tore its own soul out when it was in a calm frame of mind. What do you think it will do when it fears eternal death?

1. Dragons
"Sup, brah!"

There are few creatures on this list responsible for more character deaths than the immensely powerful dragon. These winged menaces can get so big and badass that entire nations give them a wide breadth and post signs saying "Don't Go Over There". A bad dragon fight-that is a fight where the dragon sits in one spot and lets everyone whack it-can still be lethal for one or more characters. A good dragon fight-wherein the dragon uses ever advantage is has-can be lethal for an entire kingdom. 
Dragons are smart. Terribly smart, clever lizards that only get smarter the older they get. When they get to become great wyrms, you are dealing with a creature with Stephen Hawking levels of intelligence, a body that is nearly indestructible, and all the physical capabilities of an army. The only two things that have stopped dragons from taking over any world they live in is their covetous greed keeping them close to their hoards, their massive egos, and their complete disregard at considering the mortal races as any kind of threat. Honestly, would you consider ants as anything but a minor, negligible annoyance? Just remember, in the ancient eyes of a dragon, we're the ants. 

And there you have it, 10 monsters that are sure to cast a shadow of terror upon your campaign. Use them sparingly for maximum effect. There are few feelings in this world as satisfying as watching your players squirm.

If you are looking for more nightmare to throw your players way, be sure to check out the Open Gaming Store, where you can pick up a plethora of new and deadly monsters to take your game to the next level. Tell them Ed The Bard sent you.

Have a monsterous day,
+Ed The Bard 

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