Aberrations in DnD 5e, Photo Sketch of Tentacled Monster

What Are Aberrations in D&D?

Strange alien creatures that defy comprehension. Mind manipulating entities from beyond the stars bent on the destruction of the mortal psyche. Be-tentacled beings that seem to have tentacles for…no apparent reason other than to look scary.

We’re talking aberrations in D&D 5e today.

Today, I’m gonna tell you what aberrations are, where they come from, and a few homebrew rules you can add to your Great Old One-lite creatures.

First off, let’s talk about what aberrations are.

What Are Aberrations in D&D 5e?

Photo Sketch of Bizarre Stone, Serpent Creature
Aberrations are a creature type in D&D 5e, they’re entirely alien creatures to the mundane world

Aberrations in D&D 5e are a creature type outlined in the Monster Manual. They’re usually otherworldly or completely alien appearing creatures. Beholders, illithids, and aboleths are all examples of aberrations.

Basically, if it has a few too many tentacles and isn’t an actual octopus or squid (or squid-adjacent thing, lookin’ at you kraken), it’s an aberration.

The Monster Manual describes aberrations on page 6 as:

"Aberrations are utterly alien beings. Many of theme have innate magical abilites drawn from the creature’s alien mind rather than the mystical forces of the world. The quintessential aberrations are aboleths, beholders, mind flayers, and slaadi"

For the most part, aberrations are based on creatures from cosmic horror stories. Cthulhu, Rlyeh, and the like are the inspiration for aberrations in D&D. So, that’s roughly the idea behind them.

Aberrations in D&D 5e are meant to be creatures that are utterly alien to a fantasy setting. Typically, they’re some sort of psychically inclined form of being. Which, in turn, is supposed to add to the horror factor as they’re able to mess with people’s minds.

They also usually love to do exactly that.

See, aberrations typically have little to no love for others. They’re often deeply paranoid and distrustful of others of their kind. So, aberrations usually don’t take even less kindly to other creatures.

About the only time an aberration type creature deals with others is when it benefits them in some way.

…Or, in some cases, to stroke their own egos.

They’re weird, alright? Some aberrations are extremely practical and only want to create the perfect hivemind (i.e. illithids). While others are extremely paranoid but vane enough to accept excessive compliments (i.e. certain beholders).

And, to make things even better; the more powerful aberrations love being worshipped as deities.

They’ll accumulate followers through the twisted "recruitment" method of their choice. Usually, they gain their cultists through promises of power, guarantees of safety, or good old brainwashing. This army of zealous followers then does whatever the aberration tells them to.

Where Do Aberrations Come From?

Photo Sketch of Giant Squid Underwater
Aberrations usually come from remote underwater coves or deep underground cave systems

Honestly, it depends.

Most aberrations can trace their ancestry to far beyond the Outer Planes. But, many of them dwell across the planar cosmos. Aberrations can come from the Astral Plane, the Elemental Plane of Water, or can even call the Inner Planes home.

So, to answer the question "where do aberrations come from" for D&D 5e is a bit tricky.

Usually, aberrations come from an outside plane of existence. Aboleths usually come from the water plane. But, you might find them in the Astral Plane. Illithids are from who knows where, so they’re scattered across the planes like awful, be-tentacled roaches.

If you’re looking for a general solution, I’d say aberrations come from far beyond the Outer Planes.

The Great Old One patrons are usually found beyond the known planes. They reside outside of perception. So, making that the home of aberrations (since they’re based on these entities) is a good option.

That being said, aberration creatures rarely come directly here.

In your game, your aberration creatures will probably already have a home in some underwater cave, deep underground, or in some criminal lair. They’ve been there for however long you want and they don’t intend to leave. In fact, they’re usually looking to expand.

But, if you want a thematic lair for your aberration monsters, put them in some nigh inhospitable place. Underwater or underground are classic options.

How Aberrations Behave in Your Game

Photo Sketch of an Alien Holding Their Knees
Aberrations are usually practical in their survival & malicious in their intent towards mortals

The thing to remember about aberrations in D&D 5e is they’re all over the place.

Even when you compare them to D&D’s fey creatures, they’re abnormal. At least with the fey you can take a guess that what they’re doing is purely for their own enjoyment. Aberrations…don’t really enjoy things.

Sure, certain ones enjoy stroking their ego. But, the way aberrations tend to be almost purely practical, paranoid, or malicious.

It all depends on the type of aberration you’re dealing with.

Mindflayers tend to be extremely practical in their goals in order to ensure the survival of their hivemind. Beholders are extremely paranoid and can do some bizarre things because of some obscure, perceived, and often non-existent threat. And, aboleths just hate. But, they like to create cults that worship them.

So, on an individual basis, an aberration’s goals are easy to understand. But, it’s difficult to generalize them because they’re so varied.

About the only consistent things aberrations share are:

  • They hate mortals
  • They hate the gods
  • They use psychic powers/mental manipulation to create thralls and cults
  • Their goals typically revolve around conquering/destroying the world/cosmos
  • There’s usually tentacles involved

If you’re looking for a good, entirely malevolent opponent to put your players up against, aberrations are a great pick.

The best part is their methods are almost completely up to you.

While aberrations in D&D 5e have general methods in which they achieve their goals, they all have different means to do them. Mind flayers have a hivemind, beholders have immense power and planning skills, and aboleths have their followers. All different obstacles with different solutions for your players.

Just remember when playing aberrations, they hate and they don’t care about anything except themselves…usually. Illithids are technically a hivemind and exist as a single being despite being multiple bodies.

Optional Additions to Aberrations in Your D&D 5e Game

Photo Sketch of a Man Standing Before a Shadowy Figure
I like giving aberrations weird abilities especially when it comes to granting power to their followers

Here are a few rules I’d add to my game to make aberrations a bit more unique from other monsters.

Sanity Ability Score

A big thing about eldritch horror is the breakdown of a person’s sanity. I’d argue that if your player’s are going to deal with aberrations make them roll Sanity saves in place of Wisdom saving throws.

Sanity is an optional variant rule on page 265 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide.

Basically, you use it when your players face something that’s so completely alien to them that their mind can’t handle it. Or, if they face creatures that can mentally break them. Both of which get checked off by aberrations.

I’m an advocate for using this variant rule because 1) it makes a bit more sense over blanket Wisdom saves and 2) it’s more thematic.

There’s something fun and satisfying in asking your players for a Sanity saving throw. And, the panic that sets in when they make their roll.

Summoning Big Aberrations

What do I mean by big aberrations?

I’m talking things like the beholder and aboleth at the least. Or, things like the Elder Brain. Though, that’s a little iffy since you techinically need to create an Elder Brain to start through a whole process.

But, that’s beside the point.

I’m talking about all those eldritch rituals the Great Old Ones always seem to love. Blood rites, mortal sacrifices, chants in a long-dead or otherwise indecipherable language. The works.

After all, if it works for the big guys why can’t it work for aberrations of a sufficient power?

Come up with some wild and weird rituals (within reason and your players’ comfort levels) for summoning your big bad aberration.

Maybe your monster needs followers to wear a certain shade of yellow and chant in the midday sun. Or, a certain number of seemingly mundane objects need to be arranged in a specific location, at a specific time. Or, maybe a certain person needs to have a really, really bad day for whatever reason. You think the aberration cares? Not likely.

The point is; if Great Old Ones, the progenitors and inspiration behind aberrations, can be summoned, play with that idea for your powerful monsters.

"Wish" Granters

Next up, give your aberrations the ability to grant wishes.

Maybe not specifically the wish spell. But, giving them the power to bestow power on their followers plays into their presence. They’re akin to gods and should have powers that reflect that.

Basically, if your aberrations are being worshipped, they may draw in the desperate with promises of power. Also, they could grant powers to their most devoted to continue their machinations.

After all, this is how you get Warlocks. Though, typically, they go straight to the source (as in the Big Bads way out past known existence).

…That being said, it should always come at a price.

Mutliation and madness should go hand-in-hand when gaining the boon of a lesser aberration.

The Great Old Ones have the raw power to share with mortals. And, they’re so far out that their power may not warp a mortal’s body.

But, I’d say any run-of-the-mill aberration would have difficulty passing on their power. So, their followers or those they enthrall would suffer side-effects. But, they gain mystical powers only through worship of the creature. So…yeah.

Sounds like a fair trade.

There’s also the matter of now fully obeying the whims of the aberration.

Anyone who accepts this power would need to follow the orders of the creature. If they disobey, they run the risk of losing their power or death. Probably both, if we’re honest.

Aberration Cults

A big thing with aberrations is their accumulation of followers.

Give your aberration villains a cult of worshippers or workers. This gives the players a mortal foe to face. And, they’ll need to navigate the moral concerns of fighting and killing non-monstrous opponents.

Furthermore, a cult of eldritch entity worshippers fits the theme in any game featuring aberrations as enemies.

Even better, this lets you build an army of eldritch-powered enemies to pit against your players. Give them strange powers and create a hierarchy of cultists the party needs to face and thwart.

…Or not. And the summoning of a Great Old One is imminent.

However your game goes.

Regardless, I personally think that any aberration in D&D worth their salt should have at least a small group of followers. The creature is powerful, hungry, and hates everything. So, they need lackies to further their goals.

After all, you can’t expect them to do everything themselves, can you?

Frequently Asked Questions About Aberrations

Photo Sketch of a Tentacled Monster

Here are a few common questions regarding aberrations in D&D 5e.

What Do Aberrations Speak in D&D 5e?

Deep Speech is usually what aberrations speak in D&D 5e.

Sometimes they’ll know Common or other languages. But, the main one to know when interacting with aberrations is Deep Speech.

Are Aberrations Undead?

No. Aberrations are not undead in D&D 5e. They’re two distinct creature types.

While the word "aberration" describes something that deviates from the norm and could apply to undead people. In Dungeons & Dragons, they’re two different types of creatures.

Are Beholders Aberrations?

Yes. Beholders are aberrations in D&D 5e.

They’re probably the classic aberration people think of.


That about covers aberrations in D&D 5e.

  • They’re supposed to be completely alien and almost horrific creatures in any given setting.
  • They’re based on cosmic horror creatures and entities like Cthulhu and the like
  • While they trace their origins to beyond the outermost planes, aberrations usually dwell underground or underwater

Have any questions on running aberrations in your game? Or, what is your favorite thing to do with them in your campaign? Leave a comment and we can talk about it.

2 thoughts on “What Are Aberrations in D&D?”

  1. Interesting article. I’m all for integrating all kinds of stuff into D&D and I am a big Lovecraft fan but it’s worth mentioning that if this is the kind of thing you want, Call of Cthulhu does it REALLY well, and in a more realistic horror setting than D&D (i.e. based on Earth with normal technologies rather than a fantasy realm). But cross-over is good. I am one of the lucky ones with an original Deities and Demigods from 1st Ed D&D complete with the Cthulhu mythos in it!

    1. Oh, for sure. I’ve wanted to try Call of Cthulhu for a little bit but finding even more free time for another game is tough. But, from what I’ve heard, it does seem like a much better system for horror games.

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