D&D Creature Types: Beasts, Photo Sketch of a Wolf Overlooking a Forest

A Guide to Beasts in 5e

With all the magical wonder behind the multitude of creatures in Dungeons & Dragons and other tabletop roleplaying games, it’s easy to forget about the more mundane creatures.

Luckily, it’s equally easy to explain beasts because, well, they actually exist in real life. But, the trick is translating the animals we all know into D&D 5e.

How does D&D 5e classify animals? How do you use them in a game? How many are there?

This article is all about beasts in 5e. I’ll go over what they are and how to use them in your D&D game.

Let’s start things off with explaining what beasts are in D&D 5e.

What Are Beasts in 5e?

Beasts in 5e, Photo Sketch of a Tiger
Beasts in 5e include pretty much any & all natural animals

"Beast" is one of the 14 creature types in D&D 5e. It includes natural fauna and other like creatures that aren’t humanoids or monstrous in appearance.

From page 6 of the Monster Manual:

"Beasts are nonhumanoid creatures that are a natural part of the fantasy ecology. Some of them have magical powers, but most are unintelligent and lack any society or language. Beasts include all varieties of ordinary animals, dinosaurs, and giant versions of animals."

Source: DnD Beyond: Basic Rules – Monsters

Basically, beasts in 5e are animals and other natural creatures like insects.

Wolves, deer, goats, spiders, cats, etc. These are all examples of beasts in D&D 5e.

It’s really as simple as that. Some beasts in 5e have abnormal abilities like the Nyxborn Lynx. But, for the most part, they’re mundane, run-of-the-mill animals.

…Unless they’re giant animals. There are quite a few giant beasts. They’re like regular animals but…bigger…that’s about it.

If a creature looks like an animal but has some magical ability, that usually pushes them into the monstrosity creature type.

Because of this, beasts have a wide range of features and abilities. Some have fly or swim speeds, some have darkvision, and a myriad of other features as varied as the real-world animals.

Using Beasts in Your Game

Photo Sketch of Two Bears Fighting
Beasts will usually either work as companions or low-level enemies in your D&D games

There are several ways to use beasts in your D&D 5e game. Personally, I like using them as companions, simple enemies, villains, or omens.

Now, the last one is a bit weird. But, it’s possible.

You’ll usually use the first two in your game since beasts tend towards the weaker side of creatures.

One thing you should remember when it comes to running beasts in combat; animals rarely fight to the death. If their opponent is clearly stronger, they’ll attempt to flee. The only times animals fight to the death is during bouts of desperation, to protect their offspring, or because they were trained to do so.

For example, a starving tiger might fight to their last breath out of the sheer desperation of killing for food. Or, a mother brown bear fights off an encroaching foe because her cubs are nearby.

With that in mind, let’s go over each of these uses starting with beasts as companions.

5e Beasts as Companions

The first way to use 5e beasts is as companions for the party or NPCs.

Obviously, creatures like horses or oxen have a place as working animals. But, travel companions like hunting dogs or trained falcons may join the party or NPCs.

How a companion animal joins the party is up to the you as the DM. Maybe you’ll have a player character make a string of successful Wisdom (Animal Handling) Ability Checks or you’ll offer trained animals for sale from a traveling merchant.

However you go about it, I almost guarantee your party will either love or hate having an animal companion.

Now, if you have a Beast Master Ranger in your party, you’ll also contend with the mechanics of adding basically a side kick character. You should have a list of eligible beasts on-hand both as a DM and a player if you’re planning on player this Ranger Archetype.

Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything simplifies things a bit by offering an optional replacement feature for the Beast Master’s Ranger’s Companion feature in the Primal Companion. Basically, it simplifies the choices from any beast with a CR ¼ or lower with three, pre-built options; Beast of the Land, Beast of the Sea, and Beast of the Sky.

If you plan on having the party pick up a beast companion, I recommend keeping it simple. You might be tempted to give them something exotic like a Giant Elk or something. But, then travel and adventuring gets…difficult. An animal companion can easily turn into a burden if the DM and party aren’t prepared for handling a given situation.

That said, a party pet often brings the player characters together and strengthens their bonds.

5e Beasts as Enemies

The second, and probably most frequent, way to use beasts in 5e is as adventuring encounters. Usually, this means a random encounter during travel or as an early level quest. But, they may be more of like social encounters too.

I like to use beasts in combat encounters in one of three ways:

  1. As low-level slaying quests
  2. As random encounters
  3. As ancillary enemies

Fighting beasts is usually reserved for low-level adventures. Some poor dirt farmer has a gang of coyotes harassing his draft horse and ancient barn cat. So, he asks for help dealing with the coyotes.

Things like that.

You see, beasts are rarely formidable foes. At least, the more mundane beasts aren’t. So, once your player characters get to even 4th level, they can take and dish out so much damage it trivializes fighting beasts.

The same goes for random encounters. But, the fun part with this is surprising your party when they least expect it.

Say your party is wandering through a thick tropical forest. Maybe a hungry tiger (or several) catch the scent of the group’s rations. In the middle of the night, the tigers attack the sleeping party.

Finally, use beasts as additional enemies for more intelligent creatures.

If your bandit camp doesn’t have two or three guard dogs, I’d say those are some incompetent bandits. Beasts in D&D 5e tend to have pretty solid passive Perception scores. Which means animals work as an early alarm system. And, these animals are usually trained to fight until their last to protect their owners.

Some examples of other creatures using beasts are:

  • Bandits using Mastiffs as guard dogs
  • Goblins taming Giant Rats to protect their homes
  • Kobolds keeping Giant Lizards as mounts
  • Lizardfolk using Triceratops as beasts of burden
  • Your villain putting Giant Crocodiles in their moat

Beasts make great ancillary enemies because of their versatility.

If your story allows, putting your relatively accomplished adventuring party up against the less common beasts in 5e like the Tyrannosaurus Rex means you can still challenge them.

5e Beasts as Villains

Now, how do you use beasts as villains?

I’m not talking about early game adventures, either. Yes, technically, the wolves you send your party out to kill at 1st level are "villains". But, they’re not the villains.

So, how do you go about using beasts as the villains in your D&D 5e game?

One of the four narrative conflicts is "Character Versus Nature". Basically, your characters are not facing an intelligent enemy, but some form of nature itself. It’s about survival.

This is tricky in D&D as players tend to want a villain to which they may focus their attention. In this case, survival means more or less the same thing as travel; it tends to be boring and slows the game down.

Consider this; Jurassic Park.

Yes, humans caused the events of the story. But, the entire plot revolves around surviving the dangers of big ass lizards. Put your party in a situation where they have to contend with dinosaurs and you have an campaign that could take you from 1st to 8th level pretty easily.

Along the way, the beasts are the core antagonists. You could throw some humanoids in here and there. But, the main focus and antagonistic force is the dinosaurs.

This is still tricky with other beasts, I will admit.

However, as always, I encourage you to get weird with how you use your beasts.

Maybe an enormous bear threatens the surrounding countryside. Or, an innumerable swarm of giant spiders emerges from deep underground and skitter their way across the kingdom. Or, the birds become increasingly aggressive, congregating and attacking literally every other living thing.

Whatever the reason, if you want to put beasts as your main villain, I say think outside the box.

5e Beasts as Omens

The final way you can use beasts in your 5e game is as omens.

For as long as humans have been around, different animals have held some form of symbolism.

An easy example is the crow. Often, you’ll see the crow or other corvid as an omen of coming death. Another one is you’ll have bad luck if a black cat crosses your path.

If you’re feeling ambitious, assign different meanings to some of the beasts in your world.

What does it mean if you see a single crow versus multiple crows? What happens if you hear a wolf howl on the night of a blue moon? What does it mean when you see an albino elk on the road?

There are so many different angles you can take when it comes to using symbolism and omens for beasts in your setting.

Whether these omens are true or not is up to you. Different cultures the world over assign different meanings to the animals we see everyday. It’s just something people do. So, why don’t the peoples in your D&D setting do the same?

This also gives you some agency as a DM.

If you want to nudge your players a certain way without telling them directly, send them an omen in the form of one of 5e’s many beasts. Make sure you’ve seeded any omens ahead of time or have an NPC on-hand to explain it to the party, though.

D&D 5e Beasts by CR (Challenge Rating)

Photo Sketch of Three Sharks Underwater
Beasts in D&D 5e range from CR 0 to CR 8

There are a lot of beasts in D&D. But, most of them are lower in the Challenge Rating (CR) system.

Here’s a group of lists of 5e beasts by CR. Now, I only pulled beasts from D&D’s Basic Rules because they’re readily available at no cost.

For a full list of all official beasts in 5e, check DnD Beyond’s monster list.

CR 0 Beasts in 5e

  • Baboon
  • Badger
  • Bat
  • Cat
  • Crab
  • Deer
  • Eagle
  • Frog
  • Giant Fire Beetle
  • Goat
  • Hawk
  • Hyena
  • Jackal
  • Lizard
  • Octopus
  • Owl
  • Quipper
  • Rat
  • Raven
  • Scorpion
  • Sea Horse
  • Spider
  • Vulture
  • Weasel

CR 1/8 Beasts in 5e

  • Blood Hawk
  • Camel
  • Diseased Giant Rat
  • Flying Snake
  • Giant Crab
  • Giant Rat
  • Giant Weasel
  • Mastiff
  • Mule
  • Poisonous Snake
  • Pony
  • Stirge

CR 1/4 Beasts in 5e

  • Axe Beak
  • Boar
  • Constrictor Snake
  • Draft Horse
  • Elk
  • Giant Badger
  • Giant Bat
  • Giant Centipede
  • Giant Frog
  • Giant Lizard
  • Giant Owl
  • Giant Poisonous Snake
  • Giant Wolf Spider
  • Panther
  • Pteradon
  • Riding Horse
  • Swarm of Bats
  • Swarm of Rats
  • Swarm of Ravens
  • Wolf

CR 1/2 Beasts in 5e

  • Ape
  • Black Bear
  • Crocodile
  • Giant Goat
  • Giant Sea Horse
  • Giant Wasp
  • Reef Shark
  • Swarm of Insects
  • Warhorse

CR 1 Beasts in 5e

  • Brown Bear
  • Dire Wolf
  • Giant Eagle
  • Giant Hyena
  • Giant Octopus
  • Giant Spider
  • Giant Toad
  • Giant Vulture
  • Lion
  • Nyxborn Lynx
  • Swarm of Quippers
  • Tiger

CR 2 Beasts in 5e

  • Allosaurus
  • Giant Boar
  • Giant Constrictor Snake
  • Giant Elk
  • Hunter Shark
  • Plesiosaurus
  • Polar Bear
  • Rhinoceros
  • Saber-Toothed Tiger
  • Swarm of Poisonous Snakes

CR 3 Beasts in 5e

  • Ankylosaurus
  • Giant Scorpion
  • Killer Whale

CR 4 Beasts in 5e

  • Elephant

CR 5 Beasts in 5e

  • Giant Crocodile
  • Giant Shark
  • Triceratops

CR 6 Beasts in 5e

  • Mammoth

CR 7 Beasts in 5e

  • Giant Ape

CR 8 Beasts in 5e

  • Tyrannosaurus Rex

5e Beasts FAQs

Photo Sketch of a Komodo Dragon

What is the Highest CR Beast in 5e?

The highest CR beast in 5e is the Tyrannosaurus Rex with a Challenge Rating of 8.

What is the Largest Beast in D&D?

The largest beasts in D&D are the Brontosaurus from Volo’s Guide to Monsters and the Sperm Whale from Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden. Both of these beasts have the Gargantuan size.

Do Dragons Count as Beasts in 5e?

No. Dragons are not beasts in 5e. They use the dragon creature type instead.

 

Summary of Beasts in 5e

That covers beasts in 5e.

They’re basically natural animals including mammals, fish, birds, insects, lizards, and more. Unfortunately, this means any sort of combat encounters restricts them to low-level adventures because they just can’t keep up with the more magical creatures in D&D. That said, with a little creativity, you can develop adventures and plots centering on certain beasts in your game.

One final thing I’ve been tossing around in my head that I want to share with you; give a beast in your setting a level in a player class.

This fits in with altering the creatures for your game. But, who says a bear can’t have a level in Barbarian. Heck, give it three levels with the Path of the Totem Warrior for the damage resistance. That’s a low-level villain right there. A bear that’s really hard to kill.

Just something to consider.

How do you use beasts in your game? What’s your favorite beast in 5e to use? Leave a comment below and be sure to follow Role Player’s Respite for notifications of new posts!

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