Article Header Image
Defining Our Terms
Wandering Monsters
By James Wyatt

W hen I was neck-deep in writing story briefs for monsters, I adopted some conventions that I realize I never defined when I started transferring those briefs to these columns. So let me explain what I mean by level and environment, then we'll talk about monster type. And I'll wrap up by throwing out my ideas about treasure types.


Level is a simple description—low, medium, or high—of about where the monster should fall in the level range. With D&D Next, we're working on a 20-level span. So in these briefs, "low" means about 1–5, "medium" means about 6–12, and "high" is above level 12. I came up with these numbers by looking at monsters' levels across four past editions of the game, starting with the ten-level spread of 1st Edition, through the CRs of 3rd Edition, and also the 30-level spread of 4th Edition.

It's convenient to use these general designations, since it's possible the way we map the general terms to numerical levels might shift as the design of the game evolves. Given Mike's Legends & Lore column last week, in which he talked about stretching the "adventurer tier" up to about level 15 or 16, maybe we'll shift "high-level" monsters higher.


I'm using some weird terms here, and this is purely idiosyncratic to me. I would like to use this structure when we talk about environments in game terms, including in the final monster entries, but we haven't even discussed this proposal yet.

Basically, this structure throws away terms such as "tropical" and "temperate," but preserves the distinction between a temperate forest and a tropical jungle. It includes a distinction between settled lands and wilderness, without stating it explicitly. Basically, it's a little effort to steer this entry to something that evokes the feeling of the world.

Environment types fall into five categories. If appropriate, I'll use a category name (preceded by the word "any") to encompass a broad range of terrain. For example, a number of monsters might be found in "any wilderness," which encompasses any areas far from civilization, from steppes to jungles.

The five categories are wilderness, settled lands, underground, aquatic, and planar.


These areas are all removed from civilized settlements, and they are unpatrolled and wild.
Grassland: Savanna, steppe, moor, heath, prairie, plains, veld
Forest: Temperate or subarctic, dense, uncut forests; taiga, bush, scrub, brush, thickets
Jungle: Tropical, dense, uncut forests; rainforest
Swamp: Fen, slough, marsh, mire, pond
Hills: Ridges, bluffs, badlands, canyons, gorges, downs
Mountains: Mesas, tors
Desert: Sandy or rocky, salt flats, dunes
Arctic: Frozen lands, tundra, snowfield, glacier, mountain peaks
Wastelands: Blasted, desolate lands
Ruins: Long-abandoned settlements

Settled Lands

These areas are inhabited by civilized races, and they are often patrolled.
Farmland: Cultivated plains, meadows
Woodland: Timberland, sylvan forest, orchards, groves
Urban: Towns or cities, among civilized races
Stronghold: Castles, mountains inhabited by dwarves


Dungeons: Underground construction, tombs, crypts
Caverns: Natural caves, Underdark


Waterborne: Typically on a boat or skimming on the surface
Lakes: Large body of fresh water
Rivers: Running fresh water
Ocean: Large body of salt water
Underground Waters: Subterranean lakes, rivers, and water-filled caves


(Specific plane names)

Monster Type

The Dungeons & Dragons world is populated by a staggering variety of creatures, from a multitude of intelligent races to animate plants, from celestials and fiends from other planes of existence to undead corpses given new life through terrible necromancy. In the bestiaries of this world, all these creatures are grouped into various types.

That's key to how we've tried to think about type: from the perspective of a medieval bestiary. If some monk in a library somewhere set out to put together a catalog of known monsters, what would the chapters be? If we come to a monster and aren't sure about its type, we try to think about what chapter it would belong in. It's not perfect, but it's a useful way to think about it.

A creature's type says something about its creation or origin, its nature, and its place in the world. In and of itself, it does not say anything about how the creature interacts with the rules of the game. That said, some spells, magic items, feats, class features, and other rules elements do interact with creature types. A magic circle spell, for example, is designed to keep fiends and undead at bay, while a dragon-slaying sword is, as you would expect, most effective against dragons.

D&D monsters come in fourteen different types, described here.

Aberration. Aberrations are utterly alien beings that have no place in the natural world—even the fantastic world of D&D. Their bodies and minds are so unlike natural creatures that they are virtually incomprehensible to the human mind. Many of them have innate magical abilities, but even these abilities are alien and unusual, often involving the strange magic of psionics, drawn from the creature's alien mind rather than the normal mystical forces of the world. Many aberrations have the ability to transform natural creatures into corrupted horrors.

The quintessential aberrations are mind flayers, beholders, and aboleths.

Beast. Beasts are living, nonhuman creatures that are a natural part of the fantasy ecology of the D&D world. Some of them have magical powers, but they are mostly unintelligent and lack any society or language.

Beasts include all varieties of natural animals, dinosaurs, dire animals, and giant versions of normal animals. Some more fantastic beasts include griffons, rocs, and carrion crawlers.

Celestial. Celestials are radiant creatures native to the upper outer planes. Many of them are the servants of deities, employed as messengers or agents in the mortal realm and throughout the planes. They have extensive magical powers, typically divine in nature, and are both intelligent and beneficent. All celestials are good by nature, and the exceptional celestial who strays from a good alignment is a horrifying rarity.

Celestials include many (but not all) native creatures of Arcadia, Celestia, Bytopia, Elysium, the Beastlands, Arborea, and Ysgard, and they are creatures such as angels, archons, planetars, and solars.

Construct. Constructs are inanimate objects given animation and some measure of sentience. They include mundane objects made to move for the short duration of a single magic spell, as well as sentient creatures crafted through a painstaking process of years involving many magic rituals to imbue the creation with a fully functioning mind.

Golems are the iconic constructs. Many creatures native to the outer plane of Mechanus are also constructs.

Dragon. Dragons are large, winged, reptilian creatures of ancient origin and tremendous power. The true dragons, including the good metallic dragons and the evil chromatic dragons, are all highly intelligent and have a number of magical abilities. The signature ability shared by many dragons is an exhalation of a deadly magical substance or energy, such as fire or a soporific gas. Also in this category are creatures distantly related to true dragons, but less powerful, less intelligent, and less magical, such as wyverns and dragonnes.

The most important varieties of true dragons are the five kinds of chromatic dragon—red, blue, green, black, and white—and the five kinds of metallic dragon—gold, silver, bronze, copper, and brass.

Elemental. Elementals are creatures native to the elemental planes (or the various regions of the Elemental Chaos), including the planes of Air, Earth, Fire, and Water. (Other elemental planes and their native creatures have been catalogued by sages, but they are far less common.) Some are little more than animate masses of their respective elements, including the creatures called simply "elementals." Others appear much like humans (though sometimes of exceptional size), but wreathed in fire or supported by a whirlwind of swirling air.

The races of genies, including djinns and efreets, form the most important civilizations on the elemental planes. Also notable are the Elemental Princes of Evil, powerful and malign forces that dominate their regions of the inner planes and extend their influence into the natural world through devoted cultists and elemental agents.

Fey. Fey are magical creatures closely tied to the forces of nature. They dwell in twilight groves and misty forests, thriving where the trees grow tall and streams run clear, fading and dying when nature is despoiled or corrupted. In some campaigns, they are closely tied to the plane of Faerie, also called the Feywild, which intersects with the material world in places such as mushroom rings and crossroads. Some are also found in the outer planes, particularly in the planes of Arborea and the Beastlands.

Fey include the good-natured nymphs and dryads, the wild and unruly satyrs and centaurs, and the malicious hags and will-o'-wisps. Fey native to the outer planes include eladrin and guardinals. The race of elves is originally descended from fey creatures.

Fiend. Fiends are creatures of darkness and evil native to the lower outer planes. A few are the servants of deities, but many more labor under the leadership of archdevils and demon princes. Evil priests and wizards sometimes summon them to the material world to do their bidding. Like celestials, they have many magical abilities of a widely diverse nature. In stark contrast to celestials, however, they are uniformly evil, utterly corrupt and depraved. If an evil celestial is a rarity, a good fiend is almost inconceivable.

Devils (native to the Nine Hells) and the demons of the Abyss are the most important and numerous fiends. Many other residents of Acheron, the Nine Hells, Gehenna, the Gray Waste, Carceri, the Abyss, and Pandemonium are also fiends.

Giant. Giants are an ancient race that claims direct descent from certain gods. They all tower over ordinary humans and their kind, with the six varieties of true giants ranging from 18 feet tall to well over 20. They are all humanoid in form, though some have extra heads (ettins) or arms (athachs), and they cling to the remnants of their ancient cultures even as they acknowledge their decline.

The six varieties of true giant are hill giants, stone giants, frost giants, fire giants, cloud giants, and storm giants. Besides these, creatures such as titans, ogres, and trolls are all giants.

Humanoid. Humanoids are the peoples of the D&D world, both civilized and savage, including humans and a tremendous variety of other races and kinds. They have language and culture, few if any innate magical abilities (though most humanoids can learn magic as wizards or clerics), and a common bipedal form.

The most common humanoid races are the ones most suitable as player characters: humans, dwarves, elves, gnomes, and halflings. Almost as numerous but far more savage and brutal, almost uniformly evil, are the races of goblinoids (goblins, hobgoblins, and bugbears), orcs, gnolls, lizardfolk, kobolds, and so on.

Monstrosity. Monstrosities are monsters in the strictest sense—frightening creatures that are not ordinary, not truly natural, and almost never benign. Some are the results of magical experimentation gone awry (such as owlbears and chimeras), others are the product of terrible curses (including minotaurs and yuan-ti). They defy categorization, and in some sense serve as a catch-all category for creatures that don't fit into any other type. In part, they are defined by the fact that ordinary folk in the D&D world, faced with a monstrosity, scream in panic or grab their weapons.

Some creatures that are much like beasts are actually monstrosities, such as worgs. Compared to wolves, worgs are more intelligent and much more evil, and when the folk of a small village learn that a pack of worgs has taken up residence in the nearby forest, they react in terror. Wolves are an ordinary and manageable threat, but worgs are monstrosities.

Ooze. Oozes are gelatinous creatures that generally have no fixed shape. They are mostly subterranean, dwelling in caves and dungeons and feeding on refuse, carrion, or creatures unlucky enough to get in their way. Black puddings and gelatinous cubes are among the most recognizable and well-known oozes.

Plant. Plant creatures, as opposed to ordinary flora, are vegetable creatures with some degree of sentience. Most also have the ability to move around, and many feed on meat or blood. Several varieties of animate and dangerous fungus are considered plants, as are creatures such as shambling mounds and assassin vines.

Undead. Undead are once-living creatures brought to a horrifying state of unlife through the practice of necromantic magic or an unholy curse. Infused with negative energy, many of them draw sustenance from the life energy of living creatures, whether consumed as flesh (ghouls) or blood (vampires), or sucked directly from the soul (wights and wraiths). They include both mindless corpses animated by magic, such as skeletons and zombies, and bodiless spirits such as ghosts and spectres. Most undead are corporeal and retain some measure of connection to their past lives.


One piece of feedback that came up when I presented a sample monster entry was the desire for treasure information in the entry, as every edition before 4th offered. I have an idea for how to do this in a way that's flavorful and gives appropriate treasure for each monster (as opposed to giving appropriate treasure for each CR, like 3E did). It's sort of like treasure types in AD&D, and it was inspired by examining the original treasure type table.

Here's how it works. A monster's treasure entry might say something like "pouch" or "rich chest" or "poor hoard." Pouch, chest, and hoard point to tables that the DM uses to generate the monster's actual treasure. (They might look a bit like the ones in the 4E DM's Kit.) Poor and rich are modifiers to your roll on the table, or modifiers to the creature's effective level when generating the treasure.

For example, the bugbear entry might read, "Pouch; rich chest in lair." For each individual bugbear encountered away from its lair, roll on the Pouch table. For treasure kept in a bugbear lair, roll on the Chest table with a bonus to every roll (because bugbears are relatively rich).

Of course, you don't have to use these tables. You give out treasure, including both monetary and magic treasure, at your discretion. No rules of the game assume that characters must have a certain amount of treasure or gear by a specific level, so there's no pressure on you to award the "right" treasure for each encounter. The key thing is to make sure that the players feel rewarded for playing and feel like their characters are rewarded for taking on dangerous challenges.

I've done a number of stabs at what these tables might look like, but that's still up in the air. It's my hope that we'll get some version of them into a playtest packet before too long.

What Do You Think?

So there's what we're thinking about some monster basics. Does it all make sense?

  What do you consider “low level” on a 1–20 scale?  
Level 1
About level 1–3
About level 1–5
About level 1–7
About level 1–10

  What do you consider “medium level” on a 1–20 scale? (I assume “high level” is anything above this range.)  
Up to about level 5
Up to about level 7
Up to about level 10
Up to about level 12
Up to about level 15
Up to level 20 (and high level is a theoretical “epic tier” above this)

  Do my environment categories make sense to you?  
No, I want to be able to use any monster wherever I want to use it.
No, I need more fine distinction.
Maybe, but I think there’s too much distinction.
Yes, I think it’s great!

  Does the monstrosity type make sense to you?  
No, get rid of it entirely and make them all beasts.
No, most of these should probably be magical beasts instead.
I guess, but where do things like the lammasu live?
Yes, I think it’s ideal.

  Now how about my treasure idea? Does it match your sense of how treasure should be doled out?  
No. Just leave treasure distribution to the DM.
No. I want precise guidelines for how much treasure to give out per level.
No. I like treasure parcels so I can dissociate treasure from monsters.
Yes, though it sounds like a lot of rolling.
Yes, I love rolling on treasure tables!

As always, please leave specific thoughts in the comments.

Previous Poll Results

How does the kuo-toa I’ve described here fit with your sense of the iconic D&D creature?
1—Cast it out from the Sea Mother's sight! 11 1.5%
2—Send the eyese after it! 14 1.9%
3—I can see where it's going, but it's not there yet. 73 9.9%
4—Yeah, I recognize that as a kuo-toa. 356 48.2%
5—Praise Blibdoolpoolp for this awesome kuo-toa! 285 38.6%
Total 739 100.0%

How well does the sahuagin I’ve described here match your sense of the iconic D&D creature?
1—Let Sekolah devour this abomination! 12 1.6%
2—That's no sahuagin. 15 2.0%
3—I can see where it's going, but it's not there yet. 74 10.1%
4—Yeah, I recognize that as a sahuagin. 389 53.1%
5—Perfect in all its four-armed majesty! 243 33.2%
Total 733 100.0%

How well does the bullywug I’ve described here match your sense of the iconic D&D creature?
1—Who cares? 53 7.0%
2—A frog-person does not a bullywug make. 81 10.7%
3—I can see where it's going, but it's not there yet. 164 21.7%
4—Yeah, I recognize that as a bullywug. 336 44.4%
5—It's capable of tremendous leaps! 123 16.2%
Total 757 100.0%

James Wyatt
James Wyatt is the Creative Manager for Dungeons & Dragons R&D at Wizards of the Coast. He was one of the lead designers for 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons and the primary author of the 4th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide. He also contributed to the Eberron Campaign Setting, and is the author of several Dungeons & Dragons novels set in the world of Eberron.
If yours want to print a "Monster Manual", what sense have to called certain type of creature "monstruosity"?
A beholder, a dragon or glabrezu, all of this are monstruosity in human eyes, and for certain all of this cause ordinary folk to sceam in panic or grab weapons. In real world even a pack of common wolwes can cause this.
And the external who aren't alligned to good or evil? In what type of category enter slaadi, formian, gith, ecc.?
I like the magical beast type, because griffons and owlbears may be strange beasts with low intelligence, but unicorn and sphinx are so related on magic, fables, miths and intelligence, that "beast" or "monstruosity" don't wears them.
The rest seems ok.
Posted By: Eilistraecomeback (9/22/2013 9:25:40 AM)