If you are looking to run a campaign with a Necromancer villain, (click here for a quick guide on how to build one for your campaign) it can be challenging to come up with monsters that aren’t your run-of-the-mill zombies and skeletons.
While they certainly have their uses, an entire campaign of just these monsters would be incredibly boring.
Lucky for you, there are lots of interesting, terrifying, and challenging undead monsters to choose from!
That’s why I created this list of my top 10 undead monster picks that aren’t zombies, to add a little extra terror to your necromancy campaign!
What are some undead monsters that aren’t zombies or skeletons in Dungeon & Dragons 5e? Here are a few from Volo’s Guide to Monsters and Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes:
- Gnoll Witherling
- Spawn of Kyuss
- Skull Lord
- Vampiric Mist
With their own unique abilities and backgrounds, each of these monsters provides both the fear factor and the story factor that you need to up the stakes in your campaign.
Mind Flayer Alhoon (Volo’s Guide to Monsters p 172)
Challenge Rating: 10 (5,900 XP)
Mind Flayers do not normally have an interest in magic. In fact, it is disdained by the Mind Flayer community and any Flayer caught using it is immediately cast out of the community.
Yet, for some, the allure of the mysteries of magic are too enticing to resist. Those Mind Flayers who give in to the urge must flee their beloved community and seek refuge with other outcasts.
When Mind Flayers die, their consciousness combines with that of the elder brain, ensuring they continue living and are never alone. An excommunicated Mind Flayer, however, has nothing to look forward to in the afterlife but oblivion. This can drive outcast Mind Flayers to seek everlasting life as Liches or as Undead.
Few have the magic or resources to become Liches, a far more obtainable route is to become an Alhoon, one who seeks immortality through becoming undead.
At least 3 Alhoons can cooperate to create a periapt of mind trapping. This fist-sized container made of silver, emerald, and amethyst traps the souls of the Alhoon’s living sacrifices and passes on their life force to the Alhoon. The older the sacrifice, the more years of life the Alhoon gain. The ritual can also be repeated as many times at the Alhoon wish to continue extending their lives.
If an Alhoon is killed, its soul is trapped within the periapt of mind trapping with the souls of the other Alhoon and the souls of the sacrificed victims. Still better than oblivion, I guess? However, if the periapt of mind trapping is ever destroyed, all the souls trapped within it are doomed to oblivion.
Story Ideas for Alhoons
Preventing a Alhoon ritual makes an awesome side quest! Here are some examples:
- Your adventurers wander into a small community of elves and find that 5 of the village elders have gone missing. Following the trail, they stumble upon a periapt of mind trapping ritual, which they must stop.
- The party, unwittingly, stumbles across an Alhoon periapt of mind trapping, hidden deep within a dangerous dungeon. The party suddenly find themselves attacked at every turn as the clever group of Alhoon try to get it back before their next ritual.
Bodak (Volo’s p 127)
Challenge Rating: 6 (2,300 XP)
Bodak’s are the twisted, distorted remains of a person who has sacrificed themselves to Orcus, the Demon Lord of death and unlife. Bodak’s are the very extension of Orcus’ will and exist only to bring death and destruction.
When a worshipper of Orcus takes a ritual vow and carves the demon lord’s symbol above their heart, Orcus’ power flays the body, mind, and soul of the individual, leaving them a mindless husk of death and sucks in all life energy around it. The very stare of a Bodak can kill, leaving its victim wearing a mask of horror.
Even nature despises Bodaks. The sun’s light burns its flesh and animals run in fear of an approaching Bodak.
Story Ideas for Bodaks
Because Bodaks are created through willing sacrifice, they lend themselves well to the cult storyline. Here are some examples:
- The party has been hearing unsettling rumors about a Cult of Orcus that is forming on the outskirts of town. The mayor/guild/priest hires the party to investigate. As they do, they discover a plot to destroy the city using a dark ritual.
- Something dark and sinister has been stalking the land at night. Many farmers have been found in the morning, dead, with a look of horror sealed on their faces. The villagers are terrified and beg the adventurers to go and kill these creatures.
Gnoll Witherling (Volo’s p 155)
Challenge Rating: 1/4 (50 XP)
Gnoll’s cannot control their hunger or urge to kill. If they are denied this pleasure for too long, they turn against one another, killing and devouring one another, all except for the bones.
The bones of Gnoll killed in this way are kept and used in a ritual that turns them into undead. These Witherlings do not hunger or eat, but they hunt with the rest of the pack like they did in life. This maintains the pack’s strength while reducing the number of mouths to feed.
Story Ideas for Gnoll Witherlings
While pack creation of Witherling’s is the most common way they come to be, you can change it up for your necromancy campaign. Here are some ideas!
- Your party is hired to take care of a Gnoll pack that keeps terrorizing small villages on the outskirts of the kingdom. No problem! Except, when they get there, they realize these Gnolls are not normal. They are killing, but not for food. They take the bodies into the Underdark where the party finds a Necromancer creating a vast army of undead..
Spawn of Kyuss (Volo’s p 192
Challenge Rating: 5 (1,800 XP)
Zombie worms that infest the body to make more zombie worms and spread exponentially?
Perfect for a necromancy campaign!
From a distance, or in poor light, Spawn of Kyuss look like ordinary zombies. It isn’t until a creature gets closer that the observer can see thousands of tiny, green worms crawling in and out of it.
When a Spawn of Kyuss gets close to another humanoid, these worms jump on to it and begin burrowing into the skin. Once inside the body, the worms make their way to the victim’s brain and kill it, animating the body into another Spawn of Kyuss that breeds more worms.
Spawn of Kyuss’ are an extension of the will of Orcus to replace all life with undeath, and they will never stop, reproducing exponentially if nothing stops them.
Story Ideas for Spawn of Kyuss
Spawn of Kyuss provide an extra twist when used in place of or along with zombies. The mere idea that the heroes could become zombies themselves, souls trapped inside an undead body, adds an element of fear not normally present. Here are some ideas:
- A village is under attack from undead. Your party must defeat the enemy, but to let even one escape would mean the spread of evil.
- A necromancer stumbled upon the foul magic of creating Spawn of Kyuss and is now using it to bend nations to his will, releasing Spawn upon those who do not give him what he wants. Your party must stop him before it’s too late.
Eidolon (Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes p 193)
Challenge Rating: 12 (8,400 XP)
Some areas should never be touched by mortals. Temples that house sacred items, vaults that contain legendary artifacts, or sites of miracles are often guarded by Eidolons.
Sacred guardians, Eidolon are the spirits of fanatic, unwaveringly loyal devotees of the gods who, upon death, were granted the honor of protecting a holy site for eternity. Eidolons never leave their posts and do not require air, food, drink or sleep. They are always on duty, always watching.
When a hostile creature tries to invade the temple, the Eidolon possesses sacred statues, which were created for just such a purpose. The Eidolon can then control the statue as if it was its own body, smashing and crushing anything in its path.
Story Ideas for Eidonlon
Any god can have Eidolon servants, so they lend themselves to any adventure with sacred items or holy relics. Here are some ideas!
- The party has been charged with retrieving a legendary item from a long-abandoned temple. They expected to find a few monsters in the place, but they were not prepared for the sight of the statues coming to life.
Nightwalker (Mordenkainen’s p 216)
Challenge Rating: 20 (25,000 XP)
Terrifying, huge, undead creatures, Nightwalkers devour all life they come across. Nightwalkers find their way to the Material Plane when especially ambitious (read stupid) mages enter the Negative Plane via the Shadowfell. This is easy enough to do if the mage can find a place where the barrier between the planes is thin.
However, once inside the Negative Plane, a Nightwalker is released to take the mage’s place and the mage is trapped in the Negative Plane until the Nightwalker returns to take his/her place again (which it never does willingly).
Nightwalkers are forces of death that desire only to extinguish life and will do so as long as they are able, even seeking the places most familiar to the mage it replaced for the sole purpose of destroying them.
If the Nightwalker is killed in the Material Plane, the mage is stuck forever in the Negative Plane with no hope of escape.
Story Ideas for Nightwalkers
The release of a Nightwalker can utterly obliterate an entire region. Use them as side quests for high-level adventurers (level 15-20)! Here are some ideas:
- The party receives news that a wizard friend of theirs conducted an experiment that has gone horribly wrong. They need to lure an undead monstrosity back to the Negative Plane to release the wizard and save the area before it destroys everything.
- A powerful Necromancer has created a portal to the Negative Plane to unleash a Nightwalker on the city. Your party must kill the Nightwalker, trapping the mage in the Negative Plane, before it destroys the city!
Skull Lord (Mordenkainen’s p 230)
Challenge Rating: 15 (13,000 XP)
Created from combining three traitorous warlords, Skull Lords command vast armies of undead in the Shadowfell and constantly war against their rivals there. However, due to its tri-personality, Skull Lords always seem to fail in their plots for conquest as they fight and plot against themselves.
Story Ideas for Skull Lords
Skull Lords are very powerful, but fickle. Due to their split personalities and self fighting, they must uneasy allies. Here are some story ideas for using Skull Lords:
- A necromancer is building a portal to the Shadowfell to unleash a Skull Lord and his vast armies of undead to crush his rival. Your party must stop his plans before the whole country falls under the Skull Lord’s control
- Your party is sent into the Shadowfell to retrieve an item from a Skull Lord which was promised in a bargain. The Skull Lord refuses and captures the party. Can they make it out of the Shadowfell alive?
Vampiric Mist (Mordenkainen’s p 246)
Challenge Rating: 3 (700 XP)
When a vampire is killed, its body turns into a mist that returns to its burial place to be restored. When a vampire cannot return to its burial place, the vampire is stripped of its personality and intelligence and reduced to an unholy, blood hunting cloud.
From a distance, the Vampiric Mist (or Crimson Mist) is indistinguishable from a normal fog cloud, allowing it to approach victims unnoticed. The Vampiric Mist can sense blood up to a mile away and, much like a shark, will track down wounded creatures.
Vampiric Mists will descend on creatures, causing blood to pour out of their pores, nose, and eyes. The blood then evaporates into a crimson smoke that the Mist consumes. When it is full, the mist turns a crimson color and rains drops of blood wherever it goes.
Because the feeding causes no pain or discomfort, the Mist can feed on victims while they sleep, draining them of their blood in the night.
Story Ideas for Vampiric Mists
Use Vampiric Mists pretty much anywhere to add to the creepy feel of your campaign. Here are some ideas:
- The party stops its journey to look out over a valley covered in a full moon’s light. The ranger notices a low, drifting cloud making its way across the valley floor. Only one thing is off. He swears it is crimson. As he stares, he notices raindrops start to fall on his armor. He looks down to discover they aren’t raindrops at all…
- While exploring an abandoned castle, the rogue accidentally springs a trap, taking a few cuts from flying darts. Nothing too serious. But now, the party swears a mist is following them around the castle.
Boneclaw (Mordenkainen’s p 121)
Challenge Rating: 12 (8,400 XP)
Many try to become Liches, very few succeed. Some who try might even turn into a Boneclaw.
Immortal slaves to darkness, hatred, and pain, Boneclaws are the souls of those who were too physically or magically weak to force their soul into a prepared phylactery. Instead, the soul seeks out a new master, specifically looking for the strongest source of evil intent in the area. Once it finds a source, it binds itself to it forever, doing whatever it can to fulfill its master’s desires.
Boneclaws love murder and torture. They hide in the shadows, waiting for victims to approach within reach, then they spear them with their long, bony claws and slice them to pieces or teleport them elsewhere to torture them to death.
Masters of Boneclaws may not even be aware one has bound itself to his/her service. While they can appear before their masters to receive orders, sometimes Boneclaws merely go about fulfilling the subconscious desires of their master without their knowledge.
Boneclaws cannot be killed while their master lives. As long as they are alive, the Boneclaw will continually respawn and continue carrying out its master’s will.
Story Ideas for Boneclaws
Get ready for some creepy stuff! Boneclaws are dark creatures, use them to create moral dilemmas and as the henchmen of villains. Check out these ideas:
- Recently, children and adults have been found slaughtered in the woods outside a small village, apparently tortured or ripped to pieces. Your party has been hired to get to the bottom of this atrocious crime. They find the monster, a Boneclaw, but they can’t kill it. Every night it comes back. Finally, they track down its master, a young, abused, and neglected boy. Now they have a choice to make.
- A petty crime lord hadn’t been a problem for the city until she acquired a new henchman. With a Boneclaw doing her bidding, she has quickly spread fear, pain, and death through the criminal underworld. Your party has been hired to take her out, but can they get through her defenses?
Deathlock (Mordenkainen’s p 128)
Challenge Rating: 4 (1,100 XP)
A pact with a patron bring great powers, but also, great consequences. If a warlock fails to live up to their end of the bargain, they run the risk of being raised from the dead as a Deathlock. Alternatively, extremely powerful Necromancers have been known to discover the power to create their own Deathlocks.
Deathlocks are obsessed with serving their patron, be it a god, devil, or necromancer. They will work tirelessly toward their master’s goal, whatever it be.
Deathlocks can be highly intelligent and capable of leading armies, gathering followers, or following complex plans.
Story Ideas for Deathlocks
Faithful followers, Deathlocks make excellent rivals for your party at lower levels, constantly staying one step ahead of them as they try to find the necromancer behind it all. Here are some ideas for using Deathlocks:
- The party is aware that a powerful necromancer is up to no good. They are tasked with preventing him from obtaining 3 pearls of power from 3 holy temples, but twice now the necromancer’s Deathlock servant beat them to it. Can they track down the final pearl before the Deathlock and prevent the necromancer’s evil plot?
- Your party is charged with discovering the intentions of a new cult. As they ask questions, finally infiltrating the ranks (either by force or disguise) they find a Deathlock leader and a conspiracy that goes so much deeper than they could have imagined.
If you are looking to run a dark and creepy necromancy campaign, these monsters are just the thing to give your players nightmares for weeks! Intriguing and menacing, your players will be screaming when you describe these undead monsters.
YOLO? Yeah right.
Until next time,
May your game have advantage, my friends!