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It’s the Fracas of the Forgotten Realms! The Rumble of Roleplaying. The ah… Mashup of Memes!
Back when 5e first rolled out and everybody started pouring through the new content, someone noticed a little quirky issue buried in the statistics. Somehow, against all logic and reason, it seems that mathematically a humble clay golem should be able to eventually destroy the ultimate icon of D&D monsters, the mighty tarrasque. “This can’t be” half the internet cried, “oh yes it can” the other half replied, and everyone followed normal online etiquette and fought about it forever. Thus the “Tarrasque Vs Clay Golem” memes were born. How could this happen? Who would actually win? Stick with us ringside for the fight of the edition as we go through everything you need to know.
What’s a Tarrasque?
Imagine Godzilla and you’re pretty much on the money. There’s only one tarrasque, and it has been terrorizing the world of D&D since all the way back in 1st edition. The lore behind its existence has shifted around a lot between editions, but a few things have remained consistent. It’s a big reptilian spikey beast that looks a bit like a t-rex but far bigger. It alternates between extremely long hibernations and devouring entire cities, and nobody has ever been able to kill the damn thing. Most people’s solutions to the tarrasque don’t involve actually fighting it. Rather than committing suicide by fighting it outright, most solutions somehow involve putting it back to sleep or tricking it into something that can magically contain it.
What the tarrasque really IS though, is a monster you’re not supposed to be able to defeat. It has ridiculously powerful abilities, is practically immune to magic, has 25 AC, nearly 700 hit points, and can deal a ludicrous amount of damage every round. If your Dungeon Master plops down a tarrasque in front of you, it either means they’re sick of the game and wants you all to die now, or they’re very firmly telling you to run the other way.
Many players see this as a puzzle to solve though, and I can recall some particularly amazing ways that people have circumvented this thing that is intended as an insurmountable threat. Sometimes it involves whittling away at it with some janky combination of spells and abilities, or sometimes the DM provides some magic items that they really shouldn’t have. I remember one game where a player managed to trade souls with the tarrasque and ended up a level 20 monk inside a tarrasque body!
One way or another though, the tarrasque is meant to be the ultimate unkillable monster. Which makes it incredibly laughable to even think for a second that something as weak as a CR 9 monster would have a chance against it. However, …
What’s a Clay Golem?
Golems are animated constructs made from some material. So, you can have stone golems, iron golems, golems made out of some corpses you had laying around, whatever you want really. In game terms, the big sticking point for golems is their magic resistance. All (or at least currently all) golems either resist or are straight-up immune to most spells. They’ll then usually have some specific spells that weaken them or sometimes even buff them up.
For a DM, golems are usually considered “martial test”. They usually aren’t too much of an issue for martial classes to deal with but can be insanely difficult for magic users to deal with. Sometimes a DM might use a golem to punish a party of all casters or to let a martial player shine after the casters have had most of the spotlight.
So… What makes the clay golem so special? Well, nothing really. It has a bunch of typical golem abilities, does respectable damage, and is a decently challenging encounter for mid-tier players.
However, it has 4 abilities that just so happen to line up perfectly with the tarrasque’s abilities:
Damage Immunities Acid, Poison, Psychic; Bludgeoning, Piercing, and Slashing from Nonmagical Attacks that aren't Adamantine
Condition Immunities Charmed, Exhaustion, Frightened, Paralyzed, Petrified, Poisoned
Acid Absorption. Whenever the golem is subjected to acid damage, it takes no damage and instead regains a number of hit points equal to the acid damage dealt.
Magic Weapons. The golem's weapon attacks are magical.
And that’s it, these 4 abilities are what potentially puts this humble clay boy into consideration for a title fight against the big bad tarrasque, let’s see why.
So, in our hypothetical tarrasque and clay golem deathmatch, the gigantic hulk of toothy doom should win, right? Well, there’s a few issues.
The Tarrasque Can’t Damage the Golem
The clay golem is immune to “Bludgeoning, Piercing, and Slashing from Nonmagical Attacks that aren't Adamantine”. For all the tarrasque’s might, its attacks aren’t actually magical, or adamantine for that matter. So, while tarrasque may be dishing out an average of 148 damage a round, that damage is reduced to a whopping 0.
The Tarrasque Can’t Frighten the Golem
The clay golem is immune to “Charmed, Exhaustion, Frightened, Paralyzed, Petrified, Poisoned” conditions. Note that “frightened” is on that list. The Tarrasque has a powerful frightening presence ability that can stop a lot of creatures in their tracks, the clay golem just strides on through.
The Tarrasque Can’t Digest the Golem
The tarrasque’s ultimate move is to simply swallow its enemy whole. While inside the monster’s gut, creatures will take obscene amounts of acid damage that should rather quickly obliterate anything unfortunate enough to be eaten. But… guess what the golem is immune to…
The clay golem is not only immune to acid damage, but it gets buffed by it.
“Acid Absorption. Whenever the golem is subjected to acid damage, it takes no damage and instead regains a number of hit points equal to the acid damage dealt.”
The clay golem not only survives the tarrasque’s gut, it gets healed by it. That clay golem will stick around slugging it out with the tarrasque’s insides until the beast coughs it back up.
The Golem can Actually Damage the Tarrasque
The tarrasque’s natural defenses put a stop to most “peck at it until it dies” plans, as it has immunity to Fire, Poison; Bludgeoning, Piercing, and Slashing from Nonmagical Attacks
But conveniently the clay golem isn’t some non-magical chump, he’s got magic attacks baby!
All that really means is that the golem is capable of damaging the tarrasque, but that’s an important piece of the puzzle here.
So… Who Wins?
Finally, we get to the core of this nerdy argument, who would actually win in this matchup of tarrasque and clay golem?
If you look at these two monsters as purely stat blocks, where they just make attacks against one another until one of them dies… clay golem wins. From that purely hypothetical scenario, there’s really nothing to it. The clay golem can very slowly deal small amounts of damage, and the tarrasque can’t do any.
However! If you have the tarrasque behave like an actual creature instead of a mindless attack machine, it has options.
Firstly, and rather lamely, the tarrasque can always just walk away. None of the clay golem’s abilities come even close to restraining the tarrasque or keeping it in place. Once the tarrasque discovers this odd clay man that he can’t seem to kill and tastes lousy, he can just stomp his way elsewhere for more digestible meals. The tarrasque’s base walking speed is 40 feet, while the clay golem has a plodding 20-foot movement speed. With double the speed, the tarrasque can simply leave the golem behind, making the fight a draw.
But surely there must be a way for this legendary titan to actually kill the golem? Yes, there totally is, and the way it can do it is almost as pedantic as the proposed fight in the first place. Let’s look at the golem’s damage immunities again:
Acid, Poison, Psychic; Bludgeoning, Piercing, and Slashing from Nonmagical Attacks that aren't Adamantine.
Notice the word “attacks” in there. This may seem extremely picky, but the golem is only immune to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage from nonmagical attacks. This is a real distinction that matters, and multiple creatures and abilities will provide a complete immunity to the damage type, this one doesn’t.
This means that if the damage comes from a source other than an attack, it goes right through and actually damages the golem. So, we just need a convenient source of bludgeoning, piercing, or slashing damage from something other than an attack, like fall damage.
The tarrasque has a wonderful grapple ability attached to its bite, and the titanic beast can simply drop the golem off the most convenient cliff, tarrasque wins.
Or, a bit more simply, the tarrasque can dig a hole, plonk the offending golem down and bury it like an unwanted chew toy, tarrasque wins.
Admittedly both plans depend on the tarrasque having at least two brain cells to rub together. But it has slightly higher Intelligence than many beasts and should be able to figure out that it can throw away the annoying goop man that’s been punching its ankle for half an hour.
What was the Point?
Honestly, the argument is just a meme. There’s a whole lot of tarrasque vs clay golem content out there, but not because it will actually come up in your adventures. The whole scenario is so incredibly unlikely to happen, and it mainly serves as a funny thought experiment. What it does highlight though, is that D&D monsters aren’t designed to fight each other. Monsters are balanced against player characters, and they’re designed with the abilities of player characters in mind. There are a ton of other odd mismatches of monsters that you can pull from the monster manual, this one just got all the press. So, take this whole fight as a cautionary tale and think carefully about any scenario in your adventures that pits monsters against each other, sometimes their abilities match up in bizarre ways.
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Last updated: January 27, 2019
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