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An Epic Fight You’ll Never Remember
The false hydra is a fan made homebrew monster that gained quite a bit of popularity for evil Dungeon Masters. This creepy bugger has been tossed around quite a bit with a bunch of different versions and iterations, but you can thank a guy named Goblin Punch for the original idea from his article here. Why did a homebrew critter get so much attention? Because it’s creepy, terrifying, and will completely screw with the minds of any party that has to face it. The false hydra is more than a monster to fight, it’s a paranoia inducing experience that will linger with your players forever so just sit back and try to retain your memories as we go through everything you need to know.
So, What’s the Gimmick?
Imagine you walk into a small town; everything seems alright except it’s a little off. The town seems pretty big, but you don’t see nearly as many people as there should be. Dozens of houses lie empty and dilapidated and everybody you ask says nobody ever lived in them. Animals keep freaking out unexpectedly, you trip over seemingly nothing. You arrive at an inn run by a lovely married couple. In the morning, only the wife remains, and she claims she never married, she cries when you press her about it, and she doesn’t know why.
This town is the unwitting lair of a false hydra, and you’ve probably already seen it and forgotten about it a dozen times since you got here.
If you’re a Doctor Who fan, the false hydra is basically “the silence” in D&D monster form. Stat-wise, it’s not exactly weak, but it just has a few basic bite and claw attacks. Its real power is its “blind song”, which makes everyone forget they ever saw it or anyone it has eaten.
Needless to say, that this whole concept is CREEPY and is a huge goldmine of roleplaying opportunities. People around the party keep disappearing and they’re left to hunt for clues as their own minds reject the monster staring them in the face.
False Hydra Stats
There’s no “official” version of the false hydra since it started as more of a roleplaying concept rather than a stat block. However, a free ruleset has become the agreed upon standard which you can find on the DM's Guild here. I recommend looking through it even if you just use the stats posted here, as their town events and surrounding flavor is worthy of a one-shot adventure all on its own.
Large-Huge aberration, neutral evil
Armor Class 15 (natural armor)
Hit Points 150 + 100 / additional head
Speed 5 ft.; Burrow 40 ft.
STR DEX CON INT WIS CHA
16 (+3) 10 (+0) 16 (+3) 8 (-2) 20 (+5) 20 (+5)
Saving Throws Wis +11, Cha +11
Condition Immunities blinded, charmed, deafened, grappled, prone, stunned, knocked unconscious
Senses Darkvision 120 ft., passive Perception 15
Languages Understands the languages of its victims
Blind Song. All hostile creatures that can hear the Hydra sing must make a DC15 Wisdom saving throw at the start of their turn. If the Hydra sings with more than one head, all hostile creatures must subtract 1d4 from their saving throw. On a failure, the creature forgets the Hydra is there.
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Multiattack. The Hydra can use a claw attack and a bite attack on its turn.
Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, reach 15 ft., one target. Hit: 9 (1d10+3) piercing damage.
Claws. Melee Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, reach 10 ft., one target. Hit: 8 (1d8+3) slashing damage. If the Hydra succeeds on a claw attack, it can choose to grapple the target instead of dealing damage. (The hydra can only grapple one creature at a time and cannot use its claw attack while grappling a creature.)
Sing. The Hydra can use a bonus action to stop singing or to start its song with an additional head.
Regrowth. The Hydra can use a bonus action to begin regrowing a head that has died. It takes three Regrowth bonus actions to fully regrow a head. It regains 20 hit points each time it uses Regrowth.
Multireact. The Hydra can make two reactions per round as long as it has three or more heads.
Wail. After taking damage, the Hydra can use a reaction to wail. Creatures within 5ft of the Hydra when it wails take 2d4 psychic damage.
Physically, the false hydra resembles a “mundane” hydra in a superficial way but is a creature altogether far more disquieting and sinister. It has pallid nearly white skin, and while it has multiple long-necked heads like a hydra, each head is uncannily humanoid in shape with savage teeth and blackened pits in place of eyes. It prefers to spend its time mostly underground, so the first and often only time it is observed is as a single white humanoid head snaking up from the ground and dragging its victim underground to be devoured.
Using the False Hydra as a DM
Looking through these stats, you should notice a few minor templating errors (it is homebrew content after all) but there’s also something rather important missing, the CR. It’s HP and its most powerful abilities are directly tied to the number of heads, which is meant as a sort of throttle to make the monster easier or more difficult. It recommends using “a number of heads equal to half the number of PCs + 1” which for say a normal party of 4 players would mean 3 heads.
It’s also never explicitly stated (unless I was a bonehead and missed it somewhere) how you kill each “head”. The “standard” hydras have rules concerning chopping of heads that the false hydra is sorely missing. I recommend either lopping off a head every 100 hit points, or to make it a bit easier, a head every time it takes a critical hit.
This threat throttling makes it difficult to judge CR, but I wouldn’t throw even a 1 headed version at any group lower than level 6. I feel like the sweet spot here is a level 7 to 8 encounter. Any higher and the hydra’s actual attacks start to feel token and unimpactful. CR calculators will place it around CR 10, but it’s weighted so heavily on the quite frankly ridiculously high hit points that I’d place it a bit lower.
Really though, this is designed as a roleplaying encounter, not just a monster slugfest. Your players should slowly become more paranoid and concerned before the actual fight. The stat block on DM’s guild comes with an entire town worth of these encounters that can blend up beautifully to the gut-wrenching climax. However, you can set up false hydra scenarios in any setting.
Set up your unfortunate town with tons of little clues and unexplained mysteries. Emphasize people missing, the survivor’s missing memories, and elude to townsfolk only to have their very memory missing the next day. I also loved the animals responding to the false hydra and people literally tripping over the beast only to instantly forget it.
Assuming 3 heads, your PCs will be making a DC 15 Wisdom save with a - 2d4 modifier as they enter town. Odds are in favor that they’ll all fail this at the start, but even if they don’t, they’ll all fail eventually. It happens every turn and even if they succeed make sure they only get glimpses at the start (don’t want to spoil the fun early).
You should run your players through multiple encounters with townsfolk that give them more and more reason to believe something is wrong. Eventually though, you’re going to need to give your players a chunk of information to work with. Let them find a book with a legend of the false hydra, or a religious story with vague illusions to a memory eating demon. Maybe you could give them a crazed NPC holed up in town with plugged up ears.
However they finally figure out what’s going on, they’ll still need to find a way to fight the false hydra without forgetting it. You can let them come up with their own plans, but there’s generally 3 ways they can do it and you’ll need to provide hints for at least one of them:
- Plugged Ears: Logically this should work, they can’t be affected by the hydra’s song if they can’t hear it. If they go this route, they should all have the deafened condition during the fight.
- Mirrors: Like fighting Medusa, you can leave hints that using mirrors to fight the creature allows you to remember it due to the degree of separation. If they do this, have them all make their attacks at disadvantage.
- True Seeing/ Similar Divination: While I think the clever options are more thematic, if the party has a caster with true sight or similar effects they should be able to fight the false hydra without forgetting about it (or at least will still see the threat each round, even if they forget how it got there).
My final note for running the false hydra is don’t be too cruel with it. Once the players are catching on to what’s going down you should let them work it out and don’t keep “mind wiping” them when they get close. Also be aware of the false hydra’s burrow speed, it’s fine to use it to lure the PCs into an underground lair for the final fight, but don’t be annoying and use it to play keep away. The false hydra should be about paranoia and fright, not frustration.
Fighting the False Hydra
If you find yourself in a false hydra lair (and you’re naughtily looking up hints here) you’re basically stuck until you can actually identify the problem. This is going to depend on what tidbits your DM gives you or some REALLY good Wisdom saves.
I will say that this fight is prone to metaknowledge problems, and you should try to play as if your memories are really wiped whenever you fail against the song.
Once you and your party can figure out the problem, the easiest solution is plugging up everybody’s ears and just hacking the thing to bits. The deafened condition is mild as a penalty, and while the memory loss is daunting the false hydra’s actual attacks are rather lackluster. What it DOES have is a big pool of hit points, so expect to spend a few rounds chipping away at it.
The only wrinkle in this straightforward final fight is the false hydra’s burrow speed, which won’t be a factor unless your DM wants to be especially annoying. If the DM wants to play keep away, try going for a grapple or a hold monster spell to keep the thing from scurrying away at the last second.
We love the false hydra largely because of how it plays out; a red dragon is terror, a false hydra is horror.
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Last updated: January 27, 2019
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