D&D: A Tarrasque Means Never Worrying About Leftovers
When the Tarrasque wakes, it devours enough for a small town then settles down to hibernate for thirty years. Living the dream.
There’s nothing like a favorite dish at the holidays, we brought back this player favorite. Enjoy, and have a great weekend!
The tarrasque, in D&D, is not so much a monster, as it is a force of nature. It is a gargantuan engine of destruction, with a reflective carapace, and an unstoppable hunger that drives it on.
It can trample over lesser creatures in its quest. Nothing can stop a charging Tarrasque (save caltrops or scattered ball bearings). But this unstoppable beast slumbers for years at a time. It only rises to occasionally upend everything, devouring everything in sight, leaving only devastation in its wake. Kinda like visiting relatives.
But where did the Tarrasque come from? How did it get to be so unstoppable? In the game, its origins are shrouded in mystery. But in our world? The truth is stranger than fiction.
Origins of the Tarrasque
Like many of D&D’s classic monsters, the tarrasque has a counterpart in real-world mythology. In fact, the tarrasque is a deep-cut monster. A b-side beast.
That is to say, it began life as a local legend, terrorizing 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 a horse, with teeth like swords and big as horns.”
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.
You can kind of see the resemblance.
That’s the 1st edition version of the Tarrasque up there. There are the standard 6 attacks–2 claws, 2 horns, a tail, and a bite like a sword of sharpness. That’s not a 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 your 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.
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:
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).
4th edition makes the Tarrasque more final-boss-like, with its 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.
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, and 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).
But this Tarrasque is lacking in ranged options. This is important, because without them, as written, there’s no easy way for the tarrasque to deal with a creature that can fly and hit it from range. You can find whole threads about how even a first-level Aarakocra Cleric can, eventually, take down a Tarrasque with the weight of numbers. Assuming it doesn’t have ranged attacks back, or a way of making a huge leap.
And now, the 5th Edition Tarrasque is a sort of fantasy WMD, as you can find the new Scroll of Tarrasque summoning, which can be used to summon the Tarrasque within a mile radius. Best hope you have a vehicle to help you keep that mile of space between it and you.
Even so, 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.