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Is there anything a low-level NPC could get their hands on to summon monsters? Preferably an option where the monsters simply infest the location and are non-responsive to the summoner. I'm looking for a way to plausibly construct a scenario where a child NPC has access to magic well beyond their ability or maturity and uses that magic to further her idealistic goals.

I'd rather this be an item or weapon crafted by mortals and as disassociated from divine caprice as possible. I'd rather not implicate a deity in what's going on in my plot line. The analogy here is less "God tells Moses to wave a stick at a body of water" and more "Mom accidentally leaves her handgun lying around on a day her child decides she wants to defeat the evil president"

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There is no such item.

The rules we have in D&D are intended for player characters to follow -- so we have skills for player characters, class progression for player characters, equipment for player characters, et cetera.

NPCs do not follow the same rules as player characters. It's expected and intended that the DM should make stuff up.

If I wanted to generate an effect like the one you described, I'd probably start by looking at the ninth-level spell gate. This spell opens a portal to a plane of your choice (including, for example, the Hells, the Abyss, or the Shadowfell), and creatures can come through unrestricted. Someone could generate that effect and then run away, and it would reliably generate a whole lot of bad monsters.

It's tempting to say "okay, this kid got a hold of a scroll of gate." But a child is not a trained caster and would have difficulty activating the scroll. I'd probably say instead that there was some sort of single-use magic item that created this effect when activated. The nature of the magic item, and the reason it was created, would depend on the setting.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Bingo-just needed to know there weren't any built in things I could advantage myself of. \$\endgroup\$ – Regress.arg Apr 3 at 17:19
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The Wand of Orcus is the only published magic item that can can be used to raise and control a large number of undead (as the question originally asked).

If this 13-year-old somehow got her hands on the Wand of Orcus, she would be able to use its Call Undead feature:

While you are holding the wand, you can use an action to conjure skeletons and zombies, calling forth as many of them as you can divide 500 hit points among, each undead having average hit points. The undead magically rise up from the ground or otherwise form in unoccupied spaces within 300 feet of you and obey your commands until they are destroyed or until dawn of the next day, when they collapse into inanimate piles of bones and rotting corpses. Once you use this property of the wand, you can't use it again until the next dawn.

The Wand of Orcus is an artifact, the most powerful type of magic item in the game. It is normally possessed by the demon lord Orcus, and it would only find its way to the girl's hands if Orcus willed it. The wand has many other features and abilities, which are detailed in its entry in the Dungeon Master's Guide.

More common ways to create and control undead

The usual ways a player character could raise and control undead are via the spells animate dead (3rd-level) and create undead (6th-level). The number and type of undead created varies based on spell and spell slot used.

A low-level character who has obtained a spell scroll for either of these two spells, has a chance of casting the spell from the scroll, even without being normally able to cast 3rd or 6th level spells, as long as they are of a class whose spell list includes the spell in question (animate dead is on the cleric and wizard spell lists, while create undead is on the cleric, wizard and warlock spell lists).

  • Casting animate dead from a spell scroll will create one skeleton or zombie. Casting it at higher levels could create more skeletons or zombies, but this is not possible from a spell scroll.
  • Casting create undead from a spell scroll will create up to three ghouls. Casting it at higher levels will create more ghouls or more powerful types of undead, but again, this is not possible from a spell scroll.

Aside from spell scrolls, I was able to find two other published magic items that can cast animate dead, but none that can cast create undead.

  • In addition to its more powerful Call Undead feature, one charge of the aforementioned Wand of Orcus can be used to cast animate dead.
  • In addition, in the adventure "The Sunless Citadel," contained in Tales from the Yawning Portal, there is a magic whistle called night caller, an uncommon magic item that can be used to cast animate dead once every seven days.

Both of these items will only cast animate dead at its lowest possible level, though, meaning that only one skeleton or zombie will be created.

(Some of these links will only work for those who have the appropriate access in D&D Beyond.)

Addendum: The question as currently worded merely asks for an item that can be used to summon monsters, rather than to raise an undead army, as it did at the time of my answer above.

A bag of tricks may fit what you are looking for. The fact the bag contains "small, fuzzy objects" fits with the idea of a kid finding it, playing with it and inadvertently loosing dangerous creatures.

As written, the bag can only produce three beasts per day, and they are friendly to the bag's user and his or her companions, and they disappear at the next dawn. But if you intend that only the NPC uses it, then feel free to tweak the bag's properties to better fit what you have in mind.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Is there an in-universe thing that a child could use to infest a building with enough monsters to constitute a dungeon's worth of combat? I'm specifically referring to an NPC. \$\endgroup\$ – Regress.arg Apr 3 at 14:57
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A Bag of Beans (DMG pg. 152) with the outcomes predetermined by you could cause pretty much what you are asking for. The item is Rare but doesn't require attunement, so I would say a child would have no issues using the beans. Another added benefit would be that the players could not use the item as “the child used the last bean”.

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