Banshee Variants for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition

Banshees are an interesting D&D 5e monster. Undead, and driven by a compulsion of hating and destroying all life, they work well as storytelling devices (like Agatha in the Lost Mines of Phandelver). But what other role do they fill? Let’s take a look!

Here’s what to expect from this article:

  • What is a banshee?
  • How do banshees fight?
  • What banshee variants are needed?
  • 5 new banshee variants.

What is a banshee?

Before I deliver the Monster Manual description of a banshee, I want to take a look back at the origins of this ghost.

Banshees in Irish folklore

According to Wikipedia, a banshee was a ghost of Irish folklore that heralded the death of a family member through its horrific wailing. Banshees were often depicted as a sweet-faced virgin that died young. She would later rise to sing of the incoming doom of one of her kindred.

I also learned these other classical functions of the banshee:

  • The keening woman banshee would wail of lament. And these were often actual people, versus spirits.
  • Then, there was a fairy type (which may have been another way for the folk to describe a ghost, too, by the way) who sang when a family member died or was about to die, even if that family member was far away.
  • Next, there was a banshee that warned others of just plain ol’ death and danger. Sort of a “hey, don’t go down in that basement ’cause you gonna get ate” warning that deterred travelers.
  • According to the lore, banshees only wailed for the “true Irish.” And each family had their own banshee. Kinda like a ghostly guardian.
  • Finally, if many banshees appeared at once, that meant something big and bad was coming: lots of death (war), or the death of someone very important like a holy person or king.

Dungeons & Dragons 5e Banshees

Like most monsters in modern Dungeons & Dragons (looking at you, kobolds), banshees take a pretty big departure from the source material. In the Monster Manual, banshees are still beautiful women–elven this time instead of Irish–but horrible to look at. In fact, they’re so terrible you have to convince yourself that it’s just an illusion or you’ll be frightened for 1 minute.

Their wail is still there, of course. However, instead of being used as a warning or a song of lament, it’s an area effect that can drop anyone to zero hit points that fails to make a Con save. Brutal.

The biggest departure, however, is in the story. Instead of being harbingers of death or familial protectors, 5e banshees were beautiful elves who failed to use beauty to bring joy to the world. They used their looks and charm to corrupt others. And then some higher power was like, “Nope!” made them ugly and decayed, and gave them the wail. That’s D&D for you.

 

How do 5e banshees fight?

According to our buddy, Keith Ammann, Banshees are pretty tough Challenge Rating 4 undead. They have some serious advantages that can help them against 1st tier adventurers:

  • Banshees can fly 40 ft. per round. So they’re not just fast, but they fight in three dimensions, too.
  • They’ve got great Dexterity and some potent resistances and immunities.
  • And they’re incorporeal, so not much is going to stop them from escaping.
  • Banshees have three main attacks: corrupting touch, horrifying visage, and the dreaded wail.

What are a banshee’s tactics?

Banshees are chaotic evil and they hate life, so they’re going to try to kill as many as they can. Their basic combat routine is like so:

  • Round One: drop into the middle of as many attackers as it can and pop its wail. While the DC 13 isn’t a particularly tough one to pass, chances are it’ll probably get at least a couple. From there, she’ll fly up out of reach.
  • Round Two: she then gets rid of the “lovely lady” act and turns horrifying. Since this is either a “it works or it doesn’t” effect she’s not going to use it more than once.
  • Round Three: from there, it’s all hit-and-run attacks with her corrupting touch. With her defenses, she’s not too concerned with opportunity attacks.
  • Overall, she’s going to target first any of those who are out of range of the rest of the group. Then she goes for those who are more beautiful than she, because, you know… vanity.

You can read more about banshee tactics at The Monsters Know.

 

What banshee variants are needed?

What’s tricky with creating banshee variants is that banshees are sorta just… banshees. They’re ghosts, they’re ugly, and they wail. It’s kind of hard to change that up if you stick within the 5e description.

My initial reaction was to create six variants based on the seven deadly sins, the banshee being pride. She was narcissistic, so she got cursed with ugliness. Thus, gluttony would be a rail thin ghostie that was obsessed with eating, greed would always desire gold and turn valuables to dust when it touched it (that’d be pretty fun actually), etc. And all that seemed pretty cool and something I’ll probably do later.

But reading through the Irish folklore, I think subtle variants which keep the classic motifs, but change the overall setup was a little more fun.

Here’s the ideas I started coming up with:

  • An elven NPC keening who mourns the loss of the dead and “haunts” crypts.
  • A fairy that warns her kin with her songs when a family member is about to die.
  • The warning spirit, possibly even used as a DM tool to say “if you go in there, things might get ugly fast.”
  • A family banshee that protects her descendants.
  • And a banshee subtype that gains more power when around other banshees.

Again, while not as colorful as a gaggle of Seven Deadly Sins banshees might’ve been, these variants should give DMs a lot more to work with rather than a random forest encounter of low-level boss monster.

 

5 banshee variants for D&D 5e campaigns.

The first banshee subtype I’ll simply call a crypt keener. Basically, she’s an elven maiden who, for whatever reason, was given the task of protecting elven crypts with her mournful songs. This is a fun one, since the presence of a crypt keener might even make it so crypts aren’t overrun with undead. Because she’s keeping them all in bed.

Next, is the beinsi. This is the traditional Irish folklore banshee, the fairy that warns of impending death. Instead of undead, the beinsi will be a fey. And thanks to the fey’s close connection to elves (at least in Realmslore) she will work closely with elves.

The herald of danger is a lesser banshee and protector of dangerous places. This ghost isn’t necessarily malicious, but there to make sure people don’t hurt themselves. And when necessary, she can dispose of those who fail to heed her warning.

Elven families are guarded by guardian banshees. These are spirits of long dead family members (usually virgins) that watch over their descendants. Instead of being tied to a place, they’re tied to a person, and are basically ghostly shield guardians for their kin.

Finally, the heralds of death are powerful greater banshees who work in bevies of three-to-six. These banshees travel the world to warn others of some great calamity such as war or the death of an important person.

These 5e banshee variants are free for you to use in your Dungeons & Dragons fifth edition campaigns. Just not commercially! And the art isn’t mine. Borrowed!

 

herald-of-omens

Banshee Herald of Danger

Medium undead, chaotic neutral


Armor Class 11

Hit Points 31 (7d8)

Speed 0 ft., fly 30 ft. (hover)


Abilities Str 1 (-5), Dex 13 (+1), Con 10 (+0), Int 10 (+0), Wis 9 (-1), Cha 15 (+2)


Saving Throws Wis +1, Cha +4

Damage Resistances acid, fire, lightning, thunder; bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing from nonmagical attacks

Damage Immunities cold, necrotic, poison

Condition Immunities charmed, exhaustion, frightened, grappled, paralyzed, petrified, poisoned, prone, restrained

Senses darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 10

Languages Common, Elvish

Challenge 1 (200 XP)


Detect Life. The banshee can magically sense the presence of creatures up to 1 mile away that aren’t undead or constructs. She knows the direction they’re in but not their exact locations.

Incorporeal Movement. The banshee can move through other creatures and objects as if they were difficult terrain. She takes 5 (1d10) force damge if she ends her turn inside an object.


Actions

Corrupting Touch. Melee Spell Attack: +3 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 8 (2d6 + 1) necrotic damage.

Horrifying Visage. Each non-undead creature within 60 feet of the banshee that can see her must succeed on a DC 12 Wisdom saving throw or be frightened for 1 minute. A frightened target can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, with disadvantage if the banshee is within line of sight, ending the effect on itself on a success. If a target’s saving throw is successful or the effect ends for it, the target is immune to the banshee’s Horrifying Visage for the next 24 hours.

Wail (1/day). The banshee releases a mournful wail, provided that she isn’t in sunlight. This wail has no effect on constructs and undead. All other creatures within 60 feet of her that can hear her must succeed on a DC 12 Constitution saving throw or become stunned for 1 minute. A creature can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the effect on itself on a success. If a creature’ saving throw is successful or the effect ends for it, the creature is immune to the banshee’s Wail for the next 24 hours.

 

banshee-herald-of-doom

Banshee Herald of Death

Medium undead, chaotic evil

Armor Class 13

Hit Points 110 (20d8 + 20)

Speed 0 ft., fly 60 ft. (hover)


Abilities Str 1 (-5), Dex 16 (+3), Con 12 (+1), Int 14 (+2), Wis 13 (+1), Cha 20 (+5)


Saving Throws Wis +5, Cha +9

Damage Resistances acid, fire, lightning, thunder; bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing from nonmagical attacks

Damage Immunities cold, necrotic, poison

Condition Immunities charmed, exhaustion, frightened, grappled, paralyzed, petrified, poisoned, prone, restrained

Senses darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 11

Languages Common, Elvish

Challenge 9 (5,000 XP) or 11 (7,200) when part of a bevy (see below)


Detect Life. The banshee can magically sense the presence of creatures up to 5 miles away that aren’t undead or constructs. She knows the direction they’re in but not their exact locations.

Incorporeal Movement. The banshee can move through other creatures and objects as if they were difficult terrain. She takes 5 (1d10) force damge if she ends her turn inside an object.

Innate Spellcasting. The banshee’s innate spellcasting ability is Charisma (spell save DC 17, +9 to hit with spell attacks). It can innately cast the following spells, requiring no material components.

At will: chill touch

3/day: bestow curse, misty step

1/day: blight


Actions

Multiattack. The banshee uses its Horrifying Visage. It then makes makes two corrupting touch attacks.

Corrupting Touch. Melee Spell Attack: +7 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 20 (5d6 + 4) nercrotic damage.

Horrifying Visage. Each non-undead creature within 120 feet of the banshee that can see her must succeed on a DC 15 Wisdom saving throw or be frightened for 1 minute. A frightened target can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, with disadvantage if the banshee is within line of sight, ending the effect on itself on a success. If a target’s saving throw is successful or the effect ends for it, the target is immune to the banshee’s Horrifying Visage for the next 24 hours.

Wail (1/day). The banshee releases a mournful wail, provided that she isn’t in sunlight. This wail has no effect on constructs and undead. All other creatures within 60 feet of her that can hear her must make a DC 15 Constitution saving throw. On a failure, a creature drops to 0 hit points. On a success, a creature takes 17 (5d6) psychic damage.


Variant: Bevy of Banshees

When a major cataclysm is foreseen by multiple heralds of death, these banshees must form a bevy to alert the land of the impending doom. A bevy is made up of at least three heralds of doom but can have as many as six.

Shared power. While all members of the bevy are within 120 feet of one another and not incapacitated, they have advantage on all saving throws and attack rolls. If any of the heralds are destroyed, this effect ends.

 

guardian-banshee

Banshee Guardian

Medium undead, chaotic neutral


Armor Class 15 (natural armor)

Hit Points 99 (22d8)

Speed 0 ft., fly 40 ft. (hover)


Abilities Str 1 (-5), Dex 17 (+3), Con 10 (+0), Int 12 (+1), Wis 11 (+0), Cha 17 (+3)


Saving Throws Wis +3, Cha +6

Damage Resistances acid, fire, lightning, thunder; bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing from nonmagical attacks

Damage Immunities cold, necrotic, poison

Condition Immunities charmed, exhaustion, frightened, grappled, paralyzed, petrified, poisoned, prone, restrained

Senses darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 10

Languages Common, Elvish

Challenge 5 (1,800 XP)


Detect Life. The banshee can magically sense the presence of creatures up to 5 miles away that aren’t undead or constructs. She knows the direction they’re in but not their exact locations.

Detect Ward. The banshee can magically sense the presence of its ward as long as its ward is on the same plane of existence as she is. She knows the direction they’re in but not their exact location.

Incorporeal Movement. The banshee can move through other creatures and objects as if they were difficult terrain. She takes 5 (1d10) force damge if she ends her turn inside an object.

Ward. The banshee selects an elven descendant as its ward. Whenever the banshee’s ward is within 30 feet of the banshee and must make a saving throw, the ward gains a +3 bonus to the saving throw.. The banshee must be conscious to grant this bonus.


 

Actions

Multiattack. The banshee makes two ethereal scimitar attacks.

Ethereal Scimitar. Melee Weapon Attack: +7 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 6 (1d6 + 3) slashing damage plus 7 (2d6) necrotic damage.

Horrifying Visage. Each non-undead creature within 60 feet of the banshee that can see her must succeed on a DC 13 Wisdom saving throw or be frightened for 1 minute. A frightened target can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, with disadvantage if the banshee is within line of sight, ending the effect on itself on a success. If a target’s saving throw is successful or the effect ends for it, the target is immune to the banshee’s Horrifying Visage for the next 24 hours.

Wail (1/day). The banshee releases a mournful wail, provided that she isn’t in sunlight. This wail has no effect on constructs, undead, or the banshee’s ward. All other creatures within 30 feet of her that can hear her must make a DC 13 Constitution saving throw. On a failure, a creature drops to 0 hit points. On a success, a creature takes 10 (3d6) psychic damage.


Reactions

Protect Ward. When a creature the banshee can see targets its ward with an attack, and the ward is within 5 feet of the banshee, the banshee may choose to swap places with its ward. The banshee becomes the target instead.

 

beinsi

Beinsi

Medium fey (elf), chaotic neutral


Armor Class 13

Hit Points 27 (6d8)

Speed 30 ft., fly 30 ft. (hover)


Abilities Str 11 (+1), Dex 13 (+3), Con 11 (+0), Int 12 (+1), Wis 14 (+2), Cha 17 (+3)


Saving Throws Dex +5, Cha +5

Skills History +5, Persuasion +7

Damage Resistances bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing from nonmagical attacks

Condition Immunities charmed

Senses darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 12

Languages Common, Elvish, Sylvan

Challenge 1 (200 XP)


Magic Resistance. The beinsi has advantage on saving throws against spells and other magical effects.


Actions

Multiattack. The beinsi makes two claw attacks.

ClawMelee Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 5 (1d4 + 3)

Mournful Song. The beinsi sings a magical melody. Every creature that is not a construct or undead within 60 feet of the beinsi that can hear the song must succeed on a DC 13 Wisdom check or be charmed until the song ends. The beinsi must take a bonus action on its subsequent turns to continue singing. It can stop singing at any time. The song ends if the beinsi is incapacitated.

While charmed by the beinsi, a target is incapacitated and ignores the songs of other beinsi. Whenever the charmed target takes damage from a source other than the beinsi, the target can repeat the saving throw. A charmed target can also repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns. If the saving throw is successful, the effect ends on it. A target that successfully saves is immune to this beinsi’s song for the next 24 hours.

 

elven-keener

Elven Crypt Keener

Medium humanoid (elf), chaotic good


Armor Class 15 (chain shirt)

Hit Points 33 (6d8 + 6)

Speed 30 ft.


Abilities Str 11 (+0), Dex 14 (+2), Con 12 (+1), Int 12 (+1), Wis 13 (+1), Cha 16 (+3)


Saving Throws Dex +4, Con +3, Wis +3

Skills Religion +3, Perception +3, Performance +5

Senses darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 13

Languages Common, Elvish, Undercommon

Challenge 2 (450 XP)


Fey Ancestry. The elf has advantage on saving throws against being charmed, and magic can’t put the elf to sleep.

Spellcasting. The elf is a 4th-level spellcaster. Its spellcasting ability is Charisma (spell save DC 13, +5 to hit with spell attacks). It has the following bard spells prepared.

Cantrips (at will): friends, mage hand, vicious mockery

1st level (4 slots): charm person, faerie fire, silent image, thunderwave

2nd level (3 slots): hold person, shatter

Song of Rest. The elf can perform a song while taking a short rest. Any ally who hears the song regains an extra 1d6 hit points if it spends any Hit Dice to regain hit points at the end of that rest. The keener can confer this benefit on itself as well.


Actions

Shortsword. Melee Weapon Attack. +5 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 6 (1d6 + 3) slashing damage.

Shortbow. Ranged Weapon Attack. +5 to hit, range 80/320 ft., one target. Hit: 6 (1d6 + 3) piercing damage.

Song of the Dead. The keener sings a mournful melody. Each undead of the crypt keener’s choice that is within 30 feet of it, can hear it, and not already affected by Song of the Dead gain advantage on all saving throws. The keener must take a bonus action on its subsequent turns to continue singing. It can stop singing at any time. The song ends if the keener is incapacitated.

 

Thanks for reading!

Some pretty cool banshee variants, some of which I’m probably going to use in my own campaign soon.

If there’s any requests you have or something (or someone) you’d like me to stat, feel free to drop a message below in the comments or contact me at hamrickbrands@gmail.com.

Next up I’ll be covering basilisks. See you then!

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