The party teleported into the city, walking into a whirlwind of chaos. Citizens ran to gather their belongings as guards feebly tried kept order. The ground trembled and ancient buildings crumbled into dust. The party flew into the air and were the first to see the beast. The oceans parted as a creature lurched forth from it’s depths, tidal waves pummeling the shore. It opened it’s maw and unleashed an ear-splitting screech that shook the city. The Tarrasque had arrived.
I first started this series as a response to somebody telling me that dragons are boring and uninteresting creatures in Dungeons and Dragons. I argued against that idea, and showed that just by simply focusing on their lair you can make them one of the most dangerous and fun to play monsters in the manual. I now stand with my greatest foe, the monster with which I believe to be one of the least fun in the game even though it is one of the series most iconic monsters. Lairs of Legends has always aimed to elevate monsters to the iconic status that they deserve, and none deserve that status more than the strongest creature in the game.
One of the main reasons the Tarrasque is pegged as being the most boring creature in the game is that it is meant to be the final challenge for adventurers who can kill gods, and yet it is not that different from an Owl Bear in terms of actions. It has the numbers to back up a challenge rating 30 creature, but numbers don’t convey a story that well. The most terrifying creature ever has an intelligence of 3, which means if the party knows what they are doing the mighty Tarrasque should pose little threat.
Finding out the lowest level possible to defeat the Tarrasque is a fun challenge, and some editions have even managed to accomplish at level 1. (Pun-Pun is an abomination). With a close-quarters combat style in a tier where even the Barbarian is expected to have ranged attacks, the Tarrasque can be kited and killed with a normal bow and arrow and the haste spell. The players are vying to gank this monster as early as possible, the abysmal intelligence stat, and zero range, it’s no wonder that it’s reputation has suffered. But rather than discuss the shortcomings of the Tarrasque it’s important to talk about it’s strengths.
In previous editions, killing the Tarrasque was a much more difficult feat than simply dropping it to 0. It was constantly regenerating, needed to be at -30 HP, and have a Wish spell cast on it to permanently get rid of it. Kids these days have it much easier, and if you want to incorporate these rules to make the Tarrasque more of a challenge feel free to do so. My goal with this article, however, is to make the vanilla Tarrasque as terrifying as possible. Fortunately, what they have given us in the book is plenty to allow the Tarrasque to live up to it’s name.
The Mind of the Beast
The Tarrasque as we know it, represents the monsters that you could be expected to find in classic Japanese cinema: the Kaiju. What makes these monsters so special is the weight and gravity that comes with their arrival. They are natural disasters that threaten the extinction of humanity. Nothing that is known to man can take down these beasts reliably, and if it has your home in it’s sights there is nothing you can do.
There are 3 keys to a great Kaiju fight. Respect, Mystery, and Scale. Unfortunately for the Tarrasque, we don’t start the battle with respect and mystery. Many players know the tactics needed to defeat the Tarrasque early, and it’s sense of mystery is destroyed as soon as a player opens up the monster manual and wants to see the toughest baddie in the game. It is our job as Dungeon Masters to earn back the respect and mystery of this legendary Kaiju.
The lore of the Tarrasque is that it slumbers somewhere deep inside the earth, awakening every decade to wreak havoc for a week only to return to slumber once again. It’s destruction should be well documented, with ancient cities being destroyed in a day and a pile of rubble where there once used to be mountains. The Tarrasque is less a creature and more a force of nature that is impossible to prepare for. It’s the strength of a hurricane, earthquake, and tidal wave combined, and it is a sentient being. This isn’t a creature that you stumble upon in the wild, you hear of it far before you meet it. And when it does emerge from the depths once again, it has in it’s sights the players favorite city.
The names for this force of nature should vary across the world, as the only ones to talk about this being are the survivors. Your players shouldn’t hear the name of the Tarrasque until they are ready to fight it. Tarrasque has too much baggage associated with it, and doing away with that allows you to focus on developing it’s reputation. For something that appears once a decade, destroys everything in it’s path, and then leaves again it should be something steeped in history, religion, and culture. Occasionally, however, the Tarrasque will not go away after a week and instead will lay waste to everything for months, changing the very geography of the world, and knocking things back to the stone age. Saboros, the archon of judgement. Ueshee, razer of Ghamile. The Ancient One. Legends tell of how the gods defeated the great beast when it roamed the earth and sealed it away.
The Tarrasque, as written in the book is only 50 feet tall and 70 feet long. For reference, the statue of liberty is 305 feet tall and a blue whale is 80 feet long. For a supposed world ender, this is disappointing to say the least but it can be worked with. Buildings in medieval times were much smaller than they are today, with the tallest building in the 15th century (the Lincoln cathedral) only standing 271 feet high. A Tarrasque will be smaller than the largest building, but for the average cottage it will tower over it. A single step of the Tarrasque is enough to destroy a building and a swipe of it’s tail can destroy blocks of homes. Where it steps, the earth trembles, and the players are inconsequential to the beast until they can deal enough damage for it to notice them. While it may not be massive by modern sensibilities, this beast is larger than anything the average person has ever seen. And it is blisteringly fast despite it’s massive size.
Tarrasques have one great thing going for them against epic level adventurers. They are extremely tanky. 676 health is massive, and an 25 AC will still be hard to hit. The magic resistance ability should counter at least half the party, and can help preserve the 3 legendary resistances for later use. Even with it’s abysmal intelligence stat, your players will have to blow through 3 legendary resistances, and potentially more if it succeeds any saving throw. Reflective carapace will also be a fun surprise for the players who aren’t as familiar with the Tarrasque stat block and get their spell thrown back at them. This, fortunately limits some of the party’s many options that are available and will get them thinking outside of the box.
While a Tarrasque may be somewhat useless at long range (we’ll remedy that soon), the real danger comes from them in close quarters. In one round of attacks the Tarrasque can dish out 148 damage, which is 8 more than Meteor Swarm a 9th level spell. Even spreading out the damage among multiple targets, this is a brutal amount to throw out each turn. Any target who gets hit by the bite attack is automatically grappled with no save, and has one turn to escape before they get swallowed. Getting swallowed is basically a death sentence, and even if they managed to deal 60 damage while restrained and blinded, they only have a 50/50 chance of getting regurgitated. Getting swiped by the tail is no fun either, and requires a DC 20 Strength save or else you’ll be knocked prone, and the ones getting swiped by the tail are probably not the Barbarian.
The Tarrasque dishes out a ton of damage and tanks damage incredibly well, but has one major flaw. It has no ranged attack for some reason. This means that reading as written, the Tarrasque can be beaten as soon as somebody gets the fly spell. Tarrasques are not stupid, however, simply as intelligent as the average animal. With it’s move action, 3 legendary actions, and 20 foot reach with the tail, the Tarrasque can attack a target that is 120 feet away. If that proves to be too far, they can still throw something and an improvised thrown weapon, no matter what dice you decide to use for it, will still deal a minimum of 10 strength damage. (I’d recommend using the Storm Giant’s rock as a suitable alternative).
The Tarrasques Legendary Actions aren’t particularly exciting, letting the Tarrasque move, attack, or bite, but even with an uninspired section there is still a lot you can do with this. Dishing out 3 extra attacks a turn adds an additional 84 damage per round. Move actions out of nowhere can throw positioning off, and suddenly get the wizard within multiattack range. But the strongest ability by far is the bite action. A particularly nasty thing the Tarrasque can do is save it’s Legendary actions right before it’s turn starts, chomp down on somebody, and swallow. This means the only chance they have to not get swallowed is to get lucky and hope that a +19 attack is lower than their armor class twice in a row. This can also be executed after the Tarrasques turn because the Legendary Action chomp can also be substituted for a swallow, but does give an ally a turn to save them.
Lair and Regional Effects
The Tarrasque has no lair or regional effects written into it’s stat block, but given a creature of this size things are bound to happen around this monster all the time anyways. For a literal walking natural disaster, let’s create some chaos.
On initiative count 20 one of these effects occur. You can’t use the same effect twice in a row.
- The ground trembles as the Tarrasque smashes it’s foot into the ground. Each creature within 30 feet of the Tarrasque must make a DC 20 dexterity saving throw or fall prone.
If a character ever falls prone and the Tarrasque gets to move next, that is up to 5 devastating attacks, all with advantage. Falling prone means that the characters movement speed is halved for the turn, and since the Tarrasque can move 20 feet as a legendary action they may be able to get out of a characters range for a turn for very little investment.
- The Tarrasque knocks down a building/tree into the path of the party. Each creature in a 30 foot line must make a dexterity saving throw or take 36 (4d12+10) bludgeoning damage on a failed save, or half damage on a success. The area is now considered difficult terrain.
A Tarrasque isn’t going to be very kind to whatever environment it finds itself in, and will casually destroy things without even thinking about it. It’s a decent amount of damage, but the real strategic advantage comes from the difficult terrain. If a character has 30 feet movement speed, even just one square will sap 10 feet of their movement, and that brings us back to the legendary action moving exactly 20 feet away. Staying out of the fighters range to keep them from their action surge supernova turn will give an already tanky monster even more durability.
- The Tarrasque lets out an ear-shattering roar. Each creature within 60 feet of the Tarrasque must make a DC 20 constitution saving throw. On a failed save, the creature takes 27 (6d8) thunder damage and suffers the deafened condition. On a success, the creature takes half damage.
Another weakness of the Tarrasque is it’s lack of AoE. With this lair action, the problem is amended and has the added bonus of causing the deafened condition. Now, the strength of this condition depends entirely on the roleplay of the party, and should make planning less effective for a DM who enforces the deafened condition. Otherwise it doesn’t have much effect outside of flavor, but getting to hit every creature in the area is still very useful.
For the regional effects, it’s hard to have anything concrete since at this point I’ve started treating the Tarrasque as it’s own walking lair. I’d recommend having regional effects that play into what the surrounding locale is. Earthquake tremors, massive waves, and huge ruts in the wake of the Tarrasque are all suitable. If your players are anywhere near a Tarrasque, they should know exactly where it is.
Lair of the Ancient
The Tarrasque isn’t simply a monster, it is an event. When the Tarrasque appears cities crumble, maps become outdated, and displaced souls wonder why the gods decided to punish them. Every decade a city gets destroyed, and once in a lifetime it’ll rampage for months on end. Deciding to kill the beast is something nobody contemplates anymore, as it’s far easier to let it destroy the city and rebuild from the rubble.
If the young and the foolish decide to take on this legendary creature, the goal of the Tarrasque should be to eat. Swallowing a character is the quickest way to take them out of the fight and the Tarrasque has multiple ways to get them into it’s gullet. The Tarrasque has never known true pain before, so if the party somehow manages to get the Tarrasque underneath 200 HP, it’ll probably try to make its escape. And if they do succeed in killing the Tarrasque, the whole world over will celebrate their victory, and it will be the dawn of a new age.
Tarrasques get a bad rap, and will probably continue to be perceived as a boring and underwhelming monster. But reputations can change, and a Tarrasque is not a beast you want to underestimate. A Tarrasque shouldn’t simply be a monster that appears when the party hits 20th level, but should be an omnipresent force in the word that effects everything in culture. Legends of the creature have existed for millennia, and tales of the strongest cities being flattened should be commonplace. When your players face a Tarrasque, they aren’t fighting a monster, they are fighting a legend.
There were only 2 members of the party left. Sheshan, Erowyn, and Dun were all devoured by the beast. I trembled as I put weight on my broken leg, using my snapped spear to support my body. The Tarrasque wasn’t looking as my last friend, Arwen, prepared to cast another useless spell. I blinked, and in a flash it had slapped her out of the air with it’s tail. She lay on the gravel in a twisted shape and didn’t stir. I looked up, as rows of teeth filled my entire vision, and accepted my fate.