There Goes the Neighborhood
The tarrasque is a creature of legend, both in fantastical worlds and around the game table. The tarrasque has been terrifying players since the very first edition of dnd and while stats and lore may have changed as the years and editions have passed its role in your games hasn't. It's the biggest, the baddest, the creature that is synonymous with "unbeatable" and its arrival in any dungeons and dragons 5e campaign usually heralds the game's end. But how should you actually use this beast in your adventures? And what do you do if your DM plops it down in your path? Grab your magical tarrasque slaying mcguffin of choice as we go through everything you need to know.
The 5e tarrasque is an absolutely massive beast, akin to a dragon or T-rex but with a lot more spikes and is essentially D&D's version of Godzilla. It is a quadrupedal beast with a tough carapace, it's 50 feet tall, 70 feet long, and is practically unkillable with 25 AC and a nearly 700 hit point maximum. The tarrasque's carapace also naturally reflects magic. At the end of the day though, it's not very complex. It's a big dumb monster that just wrecks stuff and eats everything.
From a lore and fluff perspective we've gone through several different versions with conflicting origins and our current 5th edition lore sort of combines them all into a flat "we don't know where it came from". It's consistently and irrevocably tied to the prime material plane, and there's only ever the one tarrasque. It's a force of nature, or perhaps an inevitable curse, an ultimate destructive aspect of our world that we can only run from but never truly escape from.
Going back to the Godzilla analogy, just like the king of the kaiju, this colossal creature tends to work in cycles by showing up and wrecking the place only to go back to slumbering right after. It usually pops up, devours a few cities, then goes back to sleep for a few weeks, months, years, or decades. In some versions it'll be asleep just somewhere deep in the earth, while in other versions it literally slumbers at the core of our planet until its terrible hunger rouses it from sleep.
In 5th edition there is only one official version of the dreaded tarrasque, behold its stats in all its toothy horror!
Gargantuan monstrosity (titan), unaligned
Armor Class 25 (natural armor)
Hit Points 676 (33d20 + 330)
Speed 40 ft.
STR DEX CON INT WIS CHA
30 (+10)11 (+0)30 (+10) 3 (-4)11 (+0)11 (+0)
Saving Throws Int +5, Wis +9, Cha +9
Damage Immunities Fire, Poison; Bludgeoning, Piercing, and Slashing from Nonmagical Attacks
Condition Immunities Charmed, Frightened, Paralyzed, Poisoned
Senses blindsight 120 ft., passive Perception 10
Challenge 30 (155,000 XP)
Legendary Resistance (3/Day). If the tarrasque fails a saving throw, it can choose to succeed instead.
Magic Resistance. The tarrasque has advantage on saving throws against spells and other magical effects.
Reflective Carapace. Any time the tarrasque is targeted by a magic missile spell, a line spell, or a spell that requires a ranged attack roll, roll a d6. On a 1 to 5, the tarrasque is unaffected. On a 6, the tarrasque is unaffected, and the effect is reflected back at the caster as though it originated from the tarrasque, turning the caster into the target.
Siege Monster. The tarrasque deals double damage to objects and structures.
Multiattack. The tarrasque can use its Frightful Presence. It then makes five attacks: one with its bite, two with its claws, one with its horns, and one with its tail. It can use its Swallow instead of its bite.
Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +19 to hit, reach 10 ft., one target. Hit: 36 (4d12 + 10) piercing damage. If the target is a creature, it is grappled (escape DC 20). Until this grapple ends, the target is restrained, and the tarrasque can't bite another target.
Claw. Melee Weapon Attack: +19 to hit, reach 15ft., one target. Hit: 28 (4d8 + 10) slashing damage.
Horns. Melee Weapon Attack: +19 to hit, reach 10ft., one target. Hit: 32 (4d10 + 10) piercing damage.
Tail. Melee Weapon Attack: +19 to hit, reach 20ft., one target. Hit: 24 (4d6 + 10) bludgeoning damage. If the target is a creature, it must succeed on a DC 20 Strength saving throw or be knocked prone.
Frightful Presence. Each creature of the tarrasque's choice within 120 feet of it and aware of it must succeed on a DC 17 Wisdom saving throw or become frightened for 1 minute. A creature can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, with disadvantage if the tarrasque is within line of sight, ending the effect on itself on a success. If a creature's saving throw is successful or the effect ends for it, the creature is immune to the tarrasque's Frightful Presence for the next 24 hours.
Swallow. The tarrasque makes one bite attack against a Large or smaller creature it is grappling. If the attack hits, the target takes the bite's damage, the target is swallowed, and the grapple ends. While swallowed, the creature is blinded and restrained, it has total cover against attacks and other effects outside the tarrasque, and it takes 56 (16d6) acid damage at the start of each of the tarrasque's turns.
If the tarrasque takes 60 damage or more on a single turn from a creature inside it, the tarrasque must succeed on a DC 20 Constitution saving throw at the end of that turn or regurgitate all swallowed creatures, which fall prone in a space within 10 feet of the tarrasque. If the tarrasque dies, a swallowed creature is no longer restrained by it and can escape from the corpse by using 30 feet of movement, exiting prone.
The tarrasque can take 3 legendary actions, choosing from the options below. Only one legendary action option can be used at a time and only at the end of another creature's turn. The tarrasque regains spent legendary actions at the start of its turn.
- Attack. The tarrasque makes one claw attack or tail attack.
- Move. The tarrasque moves up to half its speed.
- Chomp (Costs 2 Actions). The tarrasque makes one bite attack or uses its Swallow.
Using a Tarrasque as a DM
It can be very tempting to use a tarrasque as the BBEG (big bad evil guy) of your campaign. They're iconic, monstrous, and represent a universal threat that can be easily plopped into any setting. However, they really can't work as the villain of your story. Sure, they're dangerous, but they're not even evil. They don't have any schemes to thwart, or minions to fight, and they're about as smart as a dog so you're not going to be getting any witty banter out of them. The threat of a coming tarrasque however, is a very powerful plot device.
Think of the tarrasque like you would a natural disaster, or an apocalyptic event. The proverbial bomb that could go off unless a brave band of adventurers were to intervene. Try setting up some other figure as your BBEG and use the tarrasque essentially as the mcguffin of your villain's evil plan. Maybe an outsider tired of the material plane's insolence who’s committed to completing the ritual to awaken the tarrasque deep within the core of the earth. Or maybe a villain who wants revenge on a city and is seeking out the mythical scroll of tarrasque summoning (that is a real thing, and you can find it in Icewind Dale) to unleash ultimate destruction on those who wronged them. What I'm trying to get at is that the tarrasque doesn't really have any agency to play around with. When the villain floods the city or makes the volcano explode, we aren't mad at the water for being wet or the lava for being hot, it's still the villain who is the actual antagonist.
When it comes to actually fighting the tarrasque, you've got two real options. Either you run the fight straight, or you let the players cheat.
Fighting the legendary tarrasque fairly should only occur VERY late in tier 4 or around levels 18-20. The tarrasque isn't quite as formidable as it was in some previous editions, but it's still literally the highest CR creature in the monster manual. There aren't a whole lot of tricks to running the beast either. The tarrasque has a lot of very strong but very straightforward attacks and will typically kill a 20th level player character every 1 to 2 turns until they all die, flee, or manage to bring it down. Actually fighting the tarrasque should only ever be the final conflict of your campaign, because it's going to be hard to top and the odds of anyone surviving are LOW.
Now if you're giving your players the ability to cheat you've got some options. What I mean by cheating is giving the players some item or circumstance that weakens, contains, or automatically defeats the tarrasque in some way. A mystical sword of tarrasque slaying, an allied archmagi that'll suck the thing into another dimension Etc. Exactly how far you take this is up to you, but it's a time-honored tradition for giving your players the rush of defeating the tarrasque without TPKing in the process.
Remember also that the tarrasque has animal intelligence and actually cares about self-preservation. If the party comes up with some dumb trick to inflict damage over a long time, the tarrasque will do its best to not be injured any more. If they get it low enough on hit points, it will try to escape. It's not an attack robot, it's alive and should act as if it had at least two brain cells to rub together.
Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the whole clay golem vs tarrasque gimmick, which is a weird edge case of a creature that can strangely hold its own against the tarrasque and your players may try to summon the golem as a way to fight it. You can find more information on that whole mess here.
Fighting a Tarrasque
The short answer is don't. Hopefully your dungeon master is using it as a mcguffin, and you'll have some method to avoid fighting the thing or a plot-based solution. If you actually do have to fight a tarrasque head on, the DM has likely grown bored of the game and has essentially just pushed the game-over button.
It's not entirely hopeless though, and you do have some options.
Run. Unless you're trapped somehow, the tarrasque doesn't have any features that prevent you from buggering off to somewhere else, and it'll likely have no inclination of following you. Your town with all your friendly NPCs may be doomed, but them's the breaks, time to settle somewhere new.
Lure it Away. The tarrasque ain't an automaton but it ain't too bright either. With a bit of careful planning and baiting, you may be able to simply lure it somewhere less impactful or even contain it. A lot of this plan depends on your setting and situation but get creative. It only has melee attacks, so a flying character can sometimes act like a carrot on a string, albeit on a titanic scale.
Cheese it to Death. There are a bunch of oddball ways people have tried to eke out a win against the tarrasque. Most of them involve the tarrasque being completely unthinking and standing there doing nothing while you chip away at it with hit-and-run attacks. I doubt your DM will allow you to get away with whatever scheme you come up with, but your DM may just award cleverness.
Actually Fighting It. For the moment, let's assume you have a full party of 18th to 20th level characters (god help you if you don't). If your only course of action is to fight the tarrasque straight up without a whole army at your back, there is an excellent chance that you're all going to die as it has an average damage output of about 148 a turn. But if you must go tarrasque hunting those damage output capabilities can hopefully be mitigated with a good battle plan.
Firstly, the tarrasque's defensive abilities magic resistance and reflective carapace make full spellcasters, wizards, and spell attacks extremely ineffective against it. It also has damage immunity to fire and poison, which rules out the whole "drop it in a volcano" plan. Things like an paladin's smite ability or an assassin's sneak attack cleanly bypass all of this and is one of the strongest sources of damage here, as is any other martial class that can add additional damage (using magic weapons) such as psionic attacks that doesn't allow for saving throws.
Second, if you spread out you can hopefully keep its damage spread throughout the party rather than focusing it down on one player. One player at its back can take the tail swipe, two at the sides for the claws, one at the face for the bite. The damage per hit on each individual attack shouldn't be lethal damage, and with each player on a different damage source you may be able to keep up at least partially with a cleric's healing to counteract the damage.
Spellcasters in your party will be best utilized as sources of healing and buffs for the martial classes, unless they're willing to go for a VERY desperate tactic...
A spellcaster can either through spells or magic items get resistance or damage reduction to acid damage, and then get themselves eaten by the tarrasque intentionally. Depending on how your DM rules it, this magical beast's reflective carapace feature is an aspect of its skin not present in its stomach. Once inside the spellcaster will start dissolving (slowly due to resistance) but can blast away with disintegrate spells freely in its guts. You could die before it does, but man, what an epic way to finish a fight, emerging triumphant covered in tarrasque guts!
Last updated: January 27, 2019
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