Hate-fueled, screaming undead that herald the demise of all who hear them, banshees are a terrifying addition to any gothic, ghostly dungeon.
Equipped with an array of nasty abilities — including a show-stopping wail that can drop an entire party of low-level adventurers — banshees can even prove to be a serious threat to a higher-level party.
Narratively, they also come with an interesting mythological connection (even if their lore in the Monster Manual itself leaves a lot to be desired) that places them squarely in between the fey and undead creature types.
What Is a Banshee in DnD 5e?
A banshee is a CR 4 undead — the spectral form of a beautiful dead elf that has been cursed to remain in a particular place for the rest of time. They hate the living but adore beautiful things like art and jewelry, and their wail is so terrible that they can snuff out all life around them in an instant.
So, if you’re looking to provide a little variation to an endless parade of zombies and skeletons or even for a solo undead that can form the heart of a short adventure and comes complete with some interesting narrative implications, this guide should give you everything you need to know to bring your next Banshee encounter kicking and screaming into your campaign.
But first, let’s pop the hood on this CR 4 undead stat block and see what the Banshee can do.
- AC: 12
- Hit Points: 58 (13d8)
- Speed: 0 ft., fly 40 ft. (hover)
- STR 1 (-5), DEX 14 (+2), CON 10 (+0), INT 12 (+1), WIS 11 (+0), CHA 17 (+3)
- Saving Throws: WIS +2, CHA +5
- 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
- CR: 4 (1,100 XP)
- Proficiency Bonus: +2
Detect Life. A banshee can magically sense the presence of all creatures that aren’t undead or constructs up to 5 miles away, sensing the creature’s direction but not how far away it is.
Incorporeal Movement. Banshees can move through solid matter and other creatures as though they are difficult terrain, taking 1d10 force damage if they end their turn inside an object.
Corrupting Touch. Melee Spell Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 12 (3d6 + 2) necrotic damage.
Horrifying Visage. Every creature within 60 feet of the banshee that can see it (and isn’t undead or a construct) must successfully make a Wisdom saving throw (DC13) or be affected by the frightened condition for 1 minute.
If a creature is frightened of the banshee, it can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, although it makes the save with disadvantage if it can still see the banshee is within line of sight.
On a successful save, the effect on itself ends. 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 unleashes an accursed scream, exposing those who hear it to the full extent of its foul curse. This ability doesn’t work if the banshee is in sunlight, and the wail has no effect on constructs and undead.
All creatures within 30 feet of the banshee that can hear the wail must succeed on a DC 13 Constitution saving throw. On a failure, a creature drops to 0 hit points. On a success, an affected creature takes 3d6 psychic damage.
How Dangerous Is a Banshee?
For me, banshees evoke some of the sheer terror of powerful undead in older editions of D&D — back when a ghost, wraith, spectre, or wight drained away your levels when it touched you, not just hit points.
While the banshee isn’t going to do anything quite so permanent to a party of 5e adventurers, the combination of its many, many damage resistances and immunities, the fact that its frightful presence has a good chance to impose a hell of a lot of disadvantage on attacks against it, and the fact that it might just down you’re entire party in one go — especially if the party healer faiths their save — means this is in no way an enemy to be trifled with.
Banshees are going to take half damage from just about everything unless your party has magic weapons, which means that this undead foe is especially scary at lower levels when a party may not have a single option at their disposal that can really hurt it.
Of course, there are a few ways that a clever party, even without magic weapons, can make un-life difficult for a banshee.
Three Ways To Defeat a Banshee
Radiant Damage: Any cleric or paladin probably has some way to deal radiant damage on hand.
Obviously, if your party doesn’t have any holy folk on the payroll, you’re going to need to either make your way to the nearest church to recruit some help or move on to plan B.
Flattery will get you everywhere: Banshees — unlike skeletons and zombies — are not mindless undead, and while their personalities are nothing I’d invite over for dinner, they can at least be bargained with.
Banshees are the ghosts of elves who were eternally cursed for… narcissism? The lore’s not great, but it does give you some great leverage. Think of a banshee like a great big spooky magpie; they love beauty and beautiful things.
As much as a banshee may detest the living, it may still agree to let you go on living in exchange for an especially beautiful trinket.
Just leave: It can’t go farther than five miles from the spot where it died.
I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather take my chances convincing a townful of peasants to relocate somewhere new than going up against a banshee with nothing but mortal weapons and foul language.
Failing that, just come back in the daytime, as you’ll be taking the banshee’s yell — arguably its most dangerous weapon — off the table.
Oh, and you should plug your ears with lumps of wool and beeswax, Odysseus style. You’ll probably still have to save against the wail, but a kind and benevolent DM (like me) would definitely give advantage on that saving throw.
Banshees in Folklore
Banshees originate in Irish folk tales and seem to fall somewhere between a demon, a fairy, and a ghost.
They are female spirits that were thought to haunt the vicinity of standing stones, bodies of water, and tumuli (mounds found throughout the Irish countryside believed to have a strong connection with the ethereal world of ghosts and fairies).
Seeing or hearing a banshee often heralds the death of a family member or loved one. Their iconic wailing sound is thought to have been inspired by the keening of widows and daughters at their loved ones’ wakes.
Though descriptions vary, banshees are often depicted as women with wild hair, dark green or gray clothes, and faces that are beautiful and lustrous one moment and frightfully ugly the next.
Banshee Lore in DnD 5e (And Making It Better)
In D&D 5e, banshees used to be elves, fey-touched humanoids who are bound to the world after their death.
These undead echoes of elves were supposedly blessed with great beauty but “failed to use their gift to bring joy to the world”. Instead, they used their beauty to corrupt and control others.
Yeah I think it’s pretty stupid too. So a (note: only female) elf’s purpose is to bring joy to the world with her beauty? And if she instead uses that beauty to further her own designs she’s cursed? Forever?
To hate the living, relive every day of her life and never understand that the curse is all her fault, and still be vainly obsessed with jewelry and pretty clothes?
So, setting aside the pile of pretty sexist mediocrity that is the heart of the banshee’s lore, let’s see what else is in here.
Elves affected by the curse cannot experience joy and feel only distress in the presence of the living. This is pretty great, and I love the idea that something about the banshee curse makes living things actively repulsive to them.
Maybe they’re made painfully aware of all the biological processes going on around them all the time — all the millions of cells dying and being reborn amid wobbling, neurotic sacks of blood, fat and waste. Maybe it’s jealousy.
Maybe they just can’t bear to be in the presence of all that beautiful life. Either way, I think it would be really fun to roleplay an encounter with a banshee, especially when you take into account the next two things.
Firstly, as the curse takes its toll, a banshee’s mind and body decays until death completes their transformation into undead monsters.
The idea that a banshee doesn’t go from a living, breathing elf to a screaming avatar of the grave in the blink of an eye is great.
It introduces all sorts of interesting ideas for the banshee curse progressing so that a banshee on the first night after their death could just be the fragile ghost of a dead elf and grow steadily more monstrous as the week progresses.
And second, banshees are beauty hoarders.
This is officially because “the vanity that inspired the banshee’s cursed creation persists in undeath,” meaning they covet beautiful objects: fine jewelry, paintings, statues, and other objects of art.
Also, reinforcing the vanity angle at the same time, the banshee abhors any mirrored surface, for it can’t bear to see the horror of its own existence. A single glimpse of itself is enough to send a banshee into a rage.
I think that we can totally come up with a more interesting banshee that only slightly tweaks the lore.
Meet the Better Banshee
My version of the banshee has all the same stats and abilities as the Monster Manual version. It’s still an elf but specifically a Shadar-Kai, one of the shadow elves in service to the Raven Queen.
When Shadar-Kai die outside of the Shadowfell, their souls are normally recovered by the Raven Queen and reborn in her palace, the Fortress of Memories.
However, sometimes the soul of a Shadar-Kair isn’t taken back to the Raven Queen. Maybe she discarded it as a punishment to the elf in question or simply couldn’t retrieve it.
Either way, the wayward soul waits trapped on the material plane as a banshee.
It remains tied to its decaying body, growing ever more desperate as its soul deteriorates.
It still hates the living (for they may still journey to the Raven Queen’s Fortress of Memories), but instead of coveting beautiful things, it collects doorways — mirrors, reflective gems, disused doors and windows — anything it believes might open into its home plane.
Final Thoughts on the Banshee
A banshee is just another reason why undead are my favorite type of monster in D&D 5e. Undead all have some kind of story baked into them.
In the official banshee, it’s one of vanity punished by the cosmos (as much as I think it’s kind of dull, it does spark an idea of a different type of undead for every sin), but I think you can have fun with it.
Until next time, happy adventuring.