While some campaigns and one-shots may start out at high levels, it seems most start between levels 1-3. If you’ve played Dungeons and Dragons long enough, you’re probably sick of fighting the same overused creatures at low levels. Goblins, kobolds, undead, and bandits are among some of the most common (and hence boring) adversaries for low level players. Other creatures like lycanthropes, fey, beasts, and myconids are less common, but still border on repetitive.
With just a little bit of creativity, and your trusty Monster Manual, you can feature these low-level, frequently forgotten creatures into your next one-shot or low level campaign. While they are 5e specific, similar creatures can be found or created for other TTRPGs.
1) Animated Objects
Think of an item. It could be something mundane and unassuming, or something rare, horrifying, or even rusty or rotting. Now imagine that item trying to kill you. Animated objects are usually used briefly in low level campaigns, but imagine building a whole module or one-shot out of them. Libraries full of flying books, armories full of weapons, and kitchens full of plates and utensils all animated to make your characters distrust every single item they see. There’s technically only three animated objects in the Monster Manual, but with generous sprinkling of the animate object spell, just about anything can be turned into a deady item.
Do you remember what a Bullywug is off the top of your head? I completely forgot about them until I paged through my Monster Manual again. They’re little frog people that love to terrorize those who trespass through their swamp. Sneaky, territorial, and willing to take captives, it’s a wonder I have never heard of them being used in low level play. While there is only one instance of them in the Monster Manual, give them some class levels in rogue, fighter, or wizard and not only will they make for a formidable story thread , but you can even scale them into higher levels of play. The swamp-based opportunities are abundant.
Who doesn’t find Jurassic Park both slightly terrifying and creatively immersive? It’s the perfect inspiration for a low level D&D campaign. Dinosaurs do it all: flying, swimming, running at high speeds with giant snapping maws. What’s not to love about a dinosaur campaign? With a total of six in the Monster Manual, they won’t require the creative effort of the bullywug, unless you want to scale them past CR 8. Finally, you can set them in almost any environment.
If we’re being honest, we’d have to admit that Lizardfolk are basically goblins that can hold their breath and ambush you from underwater. There’s less options for them in the Monster Manual (three stat blocks), and they are not as environmentally flexible as goblins are. I assume these are the reasons they’re not as popular as goblins or kobolds. However, their lore presents some great opportunities for a rich low level campaign. They craft great jewelry and tools, and have an awe of magic that could give a unique roleplaying opportunity to any magic users in your group. They love feasts and sacrifices, which can make for a great story elements. Finally, they worship dragons, and are often exploited by them. A low level Lizardfolk campaign could easily transition into a high stakes dragon plotline.
These little guys are so cute and have a lot of potential. But if you’re not running your sessions in Mechanus, there’s little plausible reason your players would encounter them. These little creatures are fun to run and to play against though, so pull up your creative britches and figure out a reason to run a few sessions with these guys. Maybe they’ve gone rogue, or maybe it’s time for the “Great Modron March.” No matter what you figure out, with at least five canonical options, you’re sure to have a great time playing with modrons.
Whether you’re able to make a short campaign out of these, or just stick to a one-shot, they’re sure to provide a type of fun that’s different than goblins, kobolds, and zombies (oh my!). There’s a lot of other low level creatures that we didn’t cover, but could still use some love. Check out the Monster Manual and Volo’s Guide to Monsters for even more ideas.
Ryan Langr is a DM, player, and content creator of Dungeons & Dragons 5e. His passions include epic plot twists, creating exceptionally scary creatures, and finding ways to bring his player’s characters to the brink of death. He also plays Pathfinder/3.5. In his real life, he is a stay at home dad, husband, and blogger of many other interests.
Photo credit: Goblin art by Armandeo64 (armandeo64.deviantart.com) CC BY-SA 4.0
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