We're running a fantasy game where the adventurers frequently travel through the wilderness. Too many of the threatening encounters they have are with fantasy creatures (like goblins, orcs, etc.). What kinds of non-fantasy creatures could pose a threat to them?

Further information:

  • The setting is temperate, so anything from Europe, North America, or northern Asia is fair game.
  • The characters are fairly low level (in D&D terms, they're around 3rd level).
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    \$\begingroup\$ It seems like the obvious answer would be other travelers. \$\endgroup\$
    – sebsmith
    Oct 23 '11 at 5:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ Please note that answers outside the scope of this question (specifically looking for dangerous non-fantasy creatures) are probably best contributed to Joe's other question about general hardships of wilderness travel - rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/10446/… \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Oct 24 '11 at 5:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ Human are really dangerous too if you give them motivation, means and weapons \$\endgroup\$
    – user4000
    Jul 20 '12 at 13:01

11 Answers 11


Lions and Tigers and Bears... Oh my!

I think the number of dangerous creatures out in the wilderness is almost innumerable, so I will just list categories with a few examples.

  • Reptiles
    • Snakes (Venomous or large)
    • Poisonous frogs
    • Alligators
  • Insects
    • Mosquitoes (with or without diseases)
    • Army ants
    • Bees and Hornets
  • Large Mammals
    • Large Cats (Lions, Bobcats, Lynx)
    • Large Canines (Wolves, Hyenas, Jackals)
    • Others (Boars, Bears, Stampede of Buffalo)
  • Physical hazards
    • False grounds / Pits
    • sudden cliffs/waterfalls
    • Falling obstacles
    • Wild fires
    • Flash Floods
  • Water Creatures
    • Leeches
    • Piranhas
    • diseased water (not boiled)
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ "Wadda ya mean we gotta talk to this lynx? The last monster we talked to ..." If you can complete the line you've been around for a while. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 25 '12 at 20:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ ate half the party. I think that was it. I remember the image anyway. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 13 '21 at 13:55


I have torn more than one group of adventurers to shreds with wolves. Wolves are smart team-hunters. They harry and feint. They wear groups and individuals down. They work together and coordinate their attacks.

Make them spend a night or two being howled at all night. Make sure to use whatever rules your system has for fatigue. Don't neglect the fact that taking a watch means you're short on sleep.

The group stays together huddled around the campfire? Then they don't know where the wolves really are. They send out scouts and outriders? The wolves take those poor lonesome souls down.


Boars are hard to beat for daylight attackers. A boar rushes the party while they're going single-file along the woodland trail? Disaster! A boar is an 250+ lb monster with huge tusks that can leave men and horses bleeding, crippled, or dying. It can charge like a bull, and even kill you after you've killed it - thus the stout crossbars through boar spears, meant to keep a boar from gutting you by running up the spear you just impaled it on!

Australian boars are known to be predators, too, so if you want man-eating boars, that's not much of a stretch.

I have made the danger of wilderness trekking clear to parties in several systems with both of these animals, with nary a green-skinned humanoid in sight!

  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ I heard it is very unlikely for wolves to attack humans, even when they happily trespass their territories - they should attack only when in famine, sick (rabies?) or defending their cubs. Not to mention the fact, that they run away easily when seriously hurt and don't like fire. These are what I heard, though, some from The Riddle of Steel's rulebook called "Of Beast and Men", some from other sources. \$\endgroup\$
    – Maurycy
    Oct 23 '11 at 8:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ That is quite likely the case. However, we're talking about a world in which orcs and goblins exist. I don't think wolf attacks are any less likely than hostile races with an unreasoning dislike of adventurers. Have you ever been in the woods when you could hear howling? The effect can be scary even for adults who know that it's just some coyotes. Wolves are terrifying predators that hit humanity's primal notes of fear. They make great threats for fantasy gaming. \$\endgroup\$
    – gomad
    Oct 23 '11 at 17:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also, modern data on wolf attacks is all in a context where they've been hunted and settled into dwindling numbers. Who knows how wolves used to behave when they were much more numerous and the top predator, above even humans? We can only use our imaginations. ;) \$\endgroup\$ Oct 23 '11 at 18:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ Then again, since this is a high-fantasy setting, maybe there's a reason the wolves are attacking when they normally shouldn't be. Sounds like a good plot hook to me! \$\endgroup\$
    – dpatchery
    Oct 24 '11 at 12:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk - Except the question says, "...running a high fantasy game..." The wolves themselves are not fantastic creatures. They would be considered a mundane threat by any measure. And coordinated attacks by wolves are not unknown today. I'm not denying that wolf attacks are rare, I'm just saying they work as mundane monsters in the wilderness. \$\endgroup\$
    – gomad
    Oct 27 '11 at 15:40

Major threats include

  • Any large predator that is faster than humans.
    • most reptiles during the day
    • all apex predators
    • anything that hunts in groups
  • any large (150# or larger) herbivore
    • Especially Moose and other semi-solitary herbivores in rut
    • also especially dangerous is any herd with calves.
  • any disease vector
    • a rabid bunny is a threat whether it bites you or you bite it. Same for other "innocuous herbivores"
    • any insect, worm, or arachnid that carries disease,
  • anything with poison
    • not all poisons are deadly to everyone, but all poisonous animals poisons are deadly to some fraction of the population...
    • a poison doesn't need to kill to be deadly - intoxication and/or incapacitation can result in predators and scavengers killing someone otherwise unthreatened by them.
  • any creature in sufficient numbers.
    • locusts are harmless and relatively tasty. Except when there's 10 million per acre, and all your food in pack and in the acre is GONE in hours.
    • a rat is timid. 500 rats together are freaking bold and predacious.
    • a mosquito is (barring disease) harmless. 5000 is a massive itch fest, rather obnoxious swelling, and a rather impressive dose of anticoagulants. Heck, 500 is a bit of a problem - full exposed flesh welts and a mildly dangerous dose of anticoagulants. Death by hemorrhage is not pretty.
    • one leach is 2-20 cc's of blood. 30 to 40 is almost a liter, and, again, more anticoagulants.
    • one buffalo is likely to go around you. 100,000 will simply trample over you for lack of room to turn.

Not creatures in the typical sense, but still:

Fear: A rumor about a creature, some weired noises and difficult terrain make some interesting nights.

Bacteria and Virus: A wound, an infection and no healer around .. try to find one.

People: The last time this village hat visitors from abroad, two babies died. Guess what your heros aren't welcome

Traitor: Maybe one of the travelers gets paid for doing harm or has to do it in order to see his son again.

Hunger and Thirst

  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for fear, great idea, leave something to the imagination \$\endgroup\$
    – johnc
    Nov 1 '11 at 1:30

Realistic Animal Attacks

In the US, there's plenty of data on what animals actually result in deaths. Bees/wasps and dogs are way in the lead, as well as "other specified animal" which is more accidents with horses and other agricultural animals (though that means you shouldn't omit the risks of the party's own beasts of burden). There are attacks and even deaths every once in a while from deer, moose, and captive chimps too, but these are exceptions and not really worth including in general, though the occasional demented usually-safe creature can add flavor.

In Africa, for example, hippos and cape buffalos, allegedly herbivores, have killed many more people than lions have. Wolves and big cats have some kills, but that's a bit more rare, and usually only when the animal is sick or something else is up.

And it depends all what you count - this article lists the top deadly animals in Africa, and mosquitoes are #1 and humans are #2... If just "passing by," animals like apes and bears really aren't usually a threat, but if the group stays in one place and becomes an issue in their territory they might.

You can have normal animals being more aggressive, like unprovoked wolf and lion attacks galore because they come up on a random table, but then they are really fantasy animals and not real animals.

In the water, you have sharks and jellyfish as the primary killers. Other things kill only very occasionally and usually when being messed with (such as the unfortunate death of the Crocodile Hunter to a stingray).


Here's two groups that might not immediately come to mind when you think of dangerous animals:


Swarms of angy wasps and bees, biting ants, disease carrying mosquitos, poisonous spiders... a lot of options there, and every single one of them can take down a human. Often very painfully. A cave enterance thats also the hive of aggressive wasps. Fire ants make the PCs sleep in make-shift hammocks in the trees, but the trees are crawling with poisonous spiders. Or a druid cove protected by millions of loyal bees.


Its an odd choice, I know. While the PCs are crossing a river, and looking out for aligators... well, there's plenty of fish out there that will happily tear into human flesh. Or worse, horse flesh, leaving the PCs without mounts.

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for insects! Oh, how could I have neglected swarms? \$\endgroup\$
    – gomad
    Oct 23 '11 at 7:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ Carp! Watch out for the carp! Carp are Fun. (Dwarf fortress reference) \$\endgroup\$ Oct 23 '11 at 7:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ Don't forget Giant Insects! \$\endgroup\$
    – aslum
    Oct 24 '11 at 16:58

I live in a rural, forest area. We have all manner of wildlife here that's dangerous when you mess with them.

However, most animals aren't really aggressive. Sure, they'll attack if cornered, or if they're hurt or rabid, but generally speaking, they'd prefer to avoid humans. Still, if encountered in the appropriate circumstances, there's wolves and coyotes and snakes and bears and insects and even deer and raccoons can be dangerous.

Now, if you want aggressive dangerous animals...

Bears aren't generally aggressive, at least, not the bears we have here. UNLESS they're mother bears protecting cubs, in which case, they will destroy you. Or if they've become acclimatized to humans. Nearly all the bear attacks that have happened in this area have been due to humans getting to close to baby and getting mauled, or bears associating humans with food through ill-advised feeding and dumpsters. They WILL not hesitate to eat you if you don't give them the food they think you have.

Wild boars are just mean. Stupidly mean. Someone above said they were about 250 lbs, but the ones we have here are bigger than that. They're bigger than the bears. I have seen a wild boar leave dents in the bars of a cage made of inch thick steel stock. I have no idea why they're so aggressive, but they don't need a reason to try to murder you.

Something you might not have thought of, but are likely to have closer to towns or former towns are feral dogs. We had a pack of those here a few years ago; escaped from people's property or just abandoned. (In this area, dogs aren't usually leashed or penned.) They're not afraid of people, like the acclimatized bears. They can be worse, though, because while they're individually smaller, they form packs. Think of them like wolf packs that don't avoid people.

And if your party ventures anywhere near a lake or a river, swans, geese, and snapping turtles are all surprisingly awful. Swans and geese WILL attack aggressively, especially during nesting season. And snapping turtles, in addition to being ill-tempered, can bite through fingers and other extremities.

Also, badgers. Forgot about badgers and their ilk. Like wolverines.

  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for boars -- not just wild ones, but feral boars are nasty too! (I wish I could give you another +1 for geese. Watch-geese, anyone? Of course...geese are also surprisingly effective anti-aircraft devices...) \$\endgroup\$
    – Shalvenay
    Nov 19 '15 at 23:20

I give you the dreaded Aurochs

Aurochs were found throughout Eurasia until the 17th century. These were essentially wild cattle that were half again as big as modern cattle. They could stand close to 6 feet at the shoulder with horns spanning about 5 feet, and weighing up to 3500 lbs. An encounter with an ill-tempered bull aurochs would certainly ruin your picnic.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ If you want a still-extant animal along those lines, the American bison is basically the New World equivalent to the Auroch, and just as nasty. \$\endgroup\$
    – Shalvenay
    Nov 19 '15 at 23:15

Its not animals you have to worry about, its nature. Jens answers are spot on. Its not exciting, but its fact.

One of my players is a wildlife biologist, and he said "i want to run a one-shot where your citified characters have to track overland and do an outdoors adventure". MISTAKE! Yes, there were creepy insects, angry druids, sacred spirits upset at us, but by and large it was the fatigue, disease, hunger, thirst, and terror of what COULD happen. Yea, a large cat terrified our horses at night and we lost a few. More predators beyond the firelight cause tamed animals to scatter. Supplies run low, terrain is brutal, horses come up lame and pretty soon no one has any solid sleep because everything IS out to get you outdoors. Ants, snakes, spiders, and all manner of 100% natural hideousness assaulted us.

Character lose weight, and temporarily have their CON, health, whatever reduced. Reduced resilience, decreased speed, strength, etc. made the few encounters we did have that were easier stand up fights into moments of terror.


If you want to include animals, give them the home-ground advantage.

  • Have insects fall from the trees and get in under the heroes' armour, giving nasty bites. Then once the party have removed their armour to deal with the parasites, see below.
  • Have giant alligators drag their prey into rivers or swamps to drown them.
  • Have a pack of wolves/tigers/etc. surround and ambush the party. Whoever is at the front or back of the party is equally susceptible.
  • Have a monkey steal something shiny and imporant and lead them on a chase well off the beaten path.

Although this won't help you in a high fantasy campaign, I've used a small band of rabid wolves to scare the bejesus out of a party recently. There isn't any magical Cure Disease in our campaign, so getting rabies was a real concern.


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