D&D: Monster Spotlight – The Tarrasque

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tarrasque attack dungeons dragons

Tired of turkey? Stuffed with stuffing? Call upon the most voracious monster in RPG history to get rid of those turkey sammiches.If there’s one monster that sits at the top of the food chain in RPGs, it’s the Tarrasque. Oh sure, you may have your elder gods and demon princes and what not, but Big T is pure fantasy Kaiju. Fueled by an unquenchable hunger, slumbering for years at a time, rising only to wreak devastation and fulfill ominous portents, and then returning whence it came. Kinda like visiting relatives.

tarrasque dungeons dragons monster


Look at it. Looks so happy up there.

First appearing in the Monster Manual II (1983), the Tarrasque has been around since the early days of D&D. Earlier, actually. Like many classic monsters, the Tarrasque has a counterpart in real-world mythology.

While maybe not as famous as the manticore or the griffon (gryphon? griffin?*) the Tarasque was a monster that terrorized the town of Nerluc in Provence, France, where it was said to have devastated the landscape for miles around. Descriptions of the beast are varied.

One account describes it as “a sort of dragon with a lion’s head, six short legs like a bear’s, an ox-like body covered with a turtle shell, and a scaly tail that ended in a scorpion’s sting. Another has it as, “a dragon, half animal, half fish, thicker than an ox, longer than an horse, with teeth like swords and big as horns.”

tarrasque statue

At any rate, the beast withstood an onslaught of catapults and knights (presumably not knights launched via catapults, that’s what I would’ve done). In the end, Saint Martha is said to have visited the beast and tamed it with prayers and hymns. When she brought it back to the town, the terrified peasants killed it, then felt so guilty that they changed their town name to Tarascon. It’s still on their coat of arms today.


It makes your town’s coat of arms look like crap doesn’t it?

You can kind of see the resemblance.

tarrasque 1st edition dungeons dragons

“My teeth are swords” just doesn’t sound the same coming from Gary Busey, though.

That’s the 1st edition version of the Tarrasque up there. There’s the standard 6 attacks–2 claws, 2 horns, tail and a bite like a sword of sharpness. That’s not metaphor, that’s actually one of the special rules this version of the monster has. On a roll of 18 or higher, say goodbye to a limb, your torso, or head. Also present is the monster’s signature reflective carapace, which bounces rays, magic missiles, lightning bolts, etc. As well as some minor regeneration (1 hp a turn) and invulnerability to nonmagic weapons.

2nd edition tarrasque dungeons dragons

The 2nd edition version got some updated, cooler, 90’s art. You could almost imagine a Cable/Tarrasque crossover. Actually, there’s no need. I’ve done it for you:

tarrasque and cable team up

“Hey man, you need to get more pouches and at least one more sword if we’re gonna hang.”

Along with the “grittier” look, the 2nd edition Tarrasque also gained fire immunity, along with the vague, semi-mythical backstory that posits it as a creation of “elder forgotten gods,” or the work of some kind of dark forgotten magic, responsible for the extinction of at least one civilization.

The 3x, and Pathfinder versions of the Tarrasque are similar. Each version adds another layer of complexity to the monster, reflecting the changes brought to the game by the d20 engine. So you see things like Improved Grab and Swallow Whole (3.x–gotta love any rules entry which details how many monsters can be held in a gullet) as well as ranged attacks (Pathfinder–to Paizo’s credit, they realized how much of an advantage flight was in combat).

tarrasque 4th edition dungeons and dragons

4th edition makes the Tarrasque more final-boss like, with it’s 1,420 hp. Say what you will about 4th edition, the designers at the very least understood that one giant monster (even one with 6 attacks) isn’t that much of a threat to a party of adventurers. So they changed up the classic formula, and gave the Tarrasque a number of area of effect powers, including the ability to make a bite attack against anyone in range, and a trample attack. And like Pathfinder, the designers acknowledged how much trouble flight could cause for monsters. Here they gave it a 40 ft. aura that reduces fly speeds and caps out maximum altitude at 20 ft.

tarrasque 5th edition dungeons dragons

Finally we have the 5th edition Tarrasque. A combination of 3.x and 4th, the monster is much less “endgame raid boss” and more monster that poses a threat to a party. Gone are all the AoE’s, in their place are the legendary actions that many iconic monsters have to keep them active throughout the turn order. As well as a few extra defenses (poison immunity, for one, and the ability to succeed on a save no matter what 3 times a day).

And ever present is the description of the Tarrasque as an all-consuming engine of destruction. So whatever edition you happen to play, if you’re looking for a monster to terrify your players, it’s hard to go wrong with the Tarrasque.

Ever danced with the devilTarrasque in the pale moonlight? Tell us the whole story below. Got another monster you want to see in the spotlight? Same deal.