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The dnd5e Tarrasque does not look that dreadful to me. It seems very vulnerable to airborne attacks. In a world where fly is a third level spell, hippogriffs (among other flying creatures) can be ridden and longbows have a range of 150/600, it would seem that a relatively small force of flying longbowmen can easily defeat it. 20 flying longbowmen only hitting on a crit and having +1 damage from dex bonus will kill it in ~70 rounds. Sounds very long for players but it is only 7 minutes in real time.

Sure, it is still a big challenge for a party of 4 and not every town and village in the realms would be able muster airborne archers. Yet, the King should be able to muster even a larger force if the Tarrasque is an existential threat to his realm. Tarrasque also does not have an AoE attack so seems vulnerable to numbers as long as they can stay out of the fear aura. 1600 longbowmen would likely one-shot kill it, again assuming only hitting on a crit and doing +1 damage from Dex (It would require very disciplined unit positioning, though).

The ancient red dragon, on the other hand, would be a superweapon on the battlefield with its 80 ft fly speed and 90 ft breath weapon every third turn.

EDIT: The archers need magic weapons so the 1600 archer scenario is not very likely. Still, 20 flying archers with magic weapons should be enough.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Seven minutes is actually an extremely long time to be engaged in high-intensity combat, and is fairly unrealistic. Like anything else, combat ebbs and flows. But to fight hard in active combat for seven minutes would take an exceptional and legendary warrior. It would be much more realistic to double the size of your example attacking force by adding an additional group and pass active combat between the two. Forty longbowmen in two groups splitting seven minutes of combat back and forth for a round or two a piece is much more realistic. \$\endgroup\$ – L0j1k Apr 26 '17 at 20:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ Well, sure, I was in the infantry for twelve years and deployed four times. When people talk about being in combat for X days, they don't mean in a sustained hard firefight like what you're describing here. Infantry units "bound" in combat, passing combat back and forth. The longbowmen also are mounted (which means they would actually be using a shortbow), and their combat isn't the same as being far afield and firing a ranged weapon downrange twice a minute. Cavalry is the closest analog here -- for example the ancient Roman ala, mounted archers -- and cavalry charge to rout and retreat. \$\endgroup\$ – L0j1k Apr 26 '17 at 21:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Solanacea It's true that many historical battles and sieges have lasted for hours, days, and even weeks, but that doesn't mean that the two battle lines were pressed against each other the whole time. Why not? It's just not possible for a human to operate at maximum physical output for more than a few minutes at a time - even an absolute beast of a man would collapse of heat exhaustion within minutes, especially if he's also in heavy armor and/or in a hot environment. As long as the two forces are still struggling for dominance overall, you can say that the battle is still ongoing. \$\endgroup\$ – Jeutnarg Apr 26 '17 at 21:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ I am a bit biased here because it's what I know, but the ancient Roman ala -- in particular the cavalry units of mounted archers -- I mentioned previously is probably one of the best starting points for real-world examples of how this particular fight could play itself out. Those mounted archers were used specifically to loosen up enemy lines so that when the legionary swordsmen -- who were the best in the world at high-intensity, close-quarters combat -- arrived, they had an advantage. Alternatively they were used to chase down retreating enemies. But "never" in sustained firefights. \$\endgroup\$ – L0j1k Apr 26 '17 at 22:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ @L0j1k I asked this question in the history SE. Maybe we will get more references. \$\endgroup\$ – Solanacea Apr 27 '17 at 15:37
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Part of the reason that the Tarrasque is so dreaded is what it is doing during those 70 rounds.

For example, if it is eating a city, 70 rounds means a lot of buildings and roads destroyed and a lot of civilians killed. In that situation, the ruler of the city is not going to accept the adventurers sitting on flying creatures way out of harms way, plinking away with arrows.

I'm not paying you to sit up there and shoot arrows! Get in there and kill the —ing thing before it eats any more of my city!

A dragon or demon is probably going to go after the characters. A tarrasque is going to ignore them and just keep smashing everything it its path.

To phrase it another way, a tarrasque is not an enemy combatant; it is a force of nature.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It would kill 350 if he can get all 5 attacks every turn. In a typical medieval battlefield, that would be light casualties. It can still wreck havoc until the flying team is assembled, though. \$\endgroup\$ – Solanacea Apr 27 '17 at 13:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ If the Tarrasque only attack 350 people, then yes, that's not bad. But this is the Tarrasque. It's not just going to attack people. It's going to attack buildings and carriages. In a smaller town, a single swipe at the blacksmith and your town just lost its master blacksmith, its apprentice blacksmith and everyone who might know about how to be a blacksmith. It's going to leave holes in your city walls leaving you vulnerable. It's not dreaded because it's tough to beat in a stand up fight. It's dreaded because it represents the potential for immediate uncontrollable destruction. \$\endgroup\$ – A Bailey Apr 27 '17 at 13:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ It also has the Siege Monster trait, which means it's going to deal double damage to these buildings as well. A Tarrasque encounter should play out like a kaiju movie, with the main goal being to mitigate the destruction it causes as much as possible. If you're fighting the Tarrasque in an open field, the DM is using it wrong. \$\endgroup\$ – r256 Apr 27 '17 at 14:36
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First, let me start with this...

The Tarrasque is severely nerfed in 5E compared to earlier versions. Each successive edition has made the Tarrasque weaker. Earlier versions of the Tarrasque included massive health regeneration (3.5E it regained 40hp per round), some of the best Damage Reduction in the game, the ability to ignore any Resistances or Immunities you had, and a irresistible aura that drug flying creatures down to a max altitude of 20 feet. Which puts you within its reach. The 5E Tarrasque lacks all of these qualities.

However, for why it is the 'Most Dreaded Creature' even in 5E, we have to look a little closer at the lore around the creature.

Yes, in combat, the Tarrasque is potentially bestable by an Ancient Dragon, and relatively easy to fight if you can fly. But bear in mind that high level adventurers and high level magic is relatively rare in The Realms.

Even in 5E, only high-powered adventurers have a chance against it. It's immune to mundane weaponry... you could shoot it in the face with a Heavy Ballista and it wouldn't care. Your 1600 longbowmen wouldn't faze it unless every single one of them was equipped with magic weapons.

The main reasons it is so dreaded can be summed up here:

  1. You cannot predict its coming. It sleeps underground in an unknown location, and awakens on a totally unpredictable schedule, upon which it 'rises from the depths' and attacks. You cannot guess where or when it will emerge.
  2. You cannot reason with it. A Dragon can be bribed, a Dragon can be placated with promises of wealth, a Dragon can even be negotiated with. The Tarrasque speaks no languages, doesn't have a high enough Int to communicate via Telepathy, and the 5E MM calls out that its only apparent goal is to 'obliterate everything in its path.'
  3. It destroys everything. As mentioned above, the 5E MM specifies that it 'destroys everything in its path.' A Dragon may burn down a village, but the Tarrasque leaves nothing behind.

In addition to the above, there are two extra pieces of information about the Tarrasque that existed in older editions. IF you treat these as still existing, they compound the problem.

  1. It is only active for about a week at a time. This does not give you long to rally your forces and raise an army to fight it... or in many cases, even get the word out that you are under attack. Most likely, most of the times when the Tarrasque emerges, no one distant from the attack point knows what happened until after it has disappeared again. This is a lore piece, and may be considered to hold true for 5E.
  2. You cannot kill it. Reducing it to zero HP simply puts it back to sleep and it sinks back into the ground, and this apparently has no effect on how long it will sleep before it attacks again. Note that this is NOT called out in the 5E statblock, so this trait may have been removed.

So... you have a monster that is functionally an unpredictable Natural Disaster. It can appear anywhere, at any time, and will decimate the area for up to (about) a week, before it disappears again for an unknown span of time. If this thing emerged in Neverwinter, it would destroy the vast bulk of the city before anything could stop it. Even if there were adventurers in town, they probably wouldn't be high enough level to take it down (just, law of averages). And, given its immunity to mundane weapons and the extreme rarity of magic items in D&D 5E, your average kingdom will not be able to fight it.

So, sure... in 5E, if it emerges directly in the presence of a group of 20th level adventurers with flight capabilities who are properly equipped to engage it (and it doesn't eat any of them before they get clear), then they could probably take it down more easily than they could take an Ancient Dragon, as long as they had the sense to stay out of range, not use any magic that required an Attack Roll or cast in a line, and had enough ammo and spell slots to burn it down before your flight spell wore off (or your flying mounts panicked and fled).

But what are the odds of that? If this thing pops up in a completely random location, what are the odds that a max level adventuring party is going to hear about it, get there in time, and with all the proper equipment needed to stop it before there's nothing left where it emerged?

And, if you are still considering the 'cannot be truly killed' bit from prior editions to be true....then killing it does nothing but reset the clock before it goes and attacks somewhere else again. At least if you kill an Ancient Dragon, it is well and truly dead. And it takes a dragon a long time to reach that degree of power.

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    \$\begingroup\$ A lot of this seems to either be incorrect (Tarrasque has no burrow speed, reducing it to 0 only puts it to sleep, etc.) or based on info from other editions. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Apr 26 '17 at 17:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ @guildsbounty Is that true? Can you point to something that says that? Especially with regard to functional capabilities? As you've said, they've nerfed it with each edition, so how do you know what still remains unless it's explicitly stated? And assuming that players/DMs know previous history/lore doesn't seem like it should be a requirement. And that Crawford always seems to go back to "the writing is on the tin." You're adding things that aren't on the current tin. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Apr 26 '17 at 17:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @guildsbounty I dont think that's necessarily bad, but when answering 5e questions, the answer should be 5e supported. In addition, some other of your points are incorrect with the 5e tarrasque (points 2 and 5). You specifically call out Point 5 in your last comment, but that requires that to be in the stat block, which it is not. So at 0 HP in 5e, the tarrasque is dead (unless you do saves for NPCs.) Points 1 and 3 have textual support, but Point 4 does not. In all, there is too much either incorrect with 5e info, or info that is pulled from non 5e sources for me. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Apr 26 '17 at 17:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ @guildsbounty Just FYI, my observation here is that the standard assumption is that lore is informative when there is a later edition's absence of lore, but people don't assume capabilities span editions. The assumption is that a given edition's rules are complete description of ability, while only background info is (and only sometimes, when obvious or non-contradictory) relevant from other editions. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 26 '17 at 18:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ On the one hand, rallying an army in under a week is hard. On the other hand, if you're a wealthy noble with powerful adventurers in your pocket, it really doesn't matter that the nearest level 20 party is probably 100 miles away. If your court wizard is level 5, you can cast Sending, while the epic-level adventurers almost certainly have access to Teleport. \$\endgroup\$ – aebabis Apr 27 '17 at 19:13
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The Tarrasque has been a dreaded creature in D&D for so long that it is generally grandfathered in with that term for 5e. It does NOT mean that it currently is as powerful as it once was.

As has been stated in Guildsbounty's answer - they have nerfed the Tarrasque with each new edition.

In general, this is a terrifying creature with high AC, HP, and attack capabilities. It has a 120' range on it's Frightening Presence, but it has no other ranged attacks. In addition, it has no means to close range if something is in the air (other than climbing a natural/unnatural structure.)

So yes, theoretically, while a large enough group of archers firing magic weaponry could take it out without a threat, the Tarrasque would likely destroy the world until that happened.

It is important to note that the encounter design will go a long way here. Understanding the limitations of magic in the world you are playing in, where the tarrasque erupts, what other secondary factors are going on, etc. will all play into that scenario. If you enter into the easiest way to kill it, then it'll be easy to kill.

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Allow me to supplement these excellent answers with an anecdote describing the tarrasque's legendary status, followed by an analysis of the logistics of tarrasque hunting.

The origin of the tarrasque's reputation

Back in D&D 3.5, a friend and I decided to pit the tarrasque against the highest challenge rating creature in the Monster Manual: the CR 27 great wyrm gold dragon. The tarrasque in this edition was only challenge rating 20, limited to a base speed of 20 feet, and unable to fly. I assumed that the dragon would win easily.

I was wrong. The tarrasque's carapace in that edition gave it immunity to the dragon's breath weapon, as well as to rays (including disintegrate). Not that it mattered, because the tarrasque was also immune to fire—and a lot of magical effects, including poison, energy drain, ability score loss, and even magic missile.

This forced the dragon to attempt melee combat. The tarrasque had damage reduction 15/epic: in D&D 5e's terms, it ignored the first 15 damage per hit unless you had an artifact-level weapon. Then it had regeneration 40, so it healed 40 damage every round. You had to roll a considerable amount of damage just to keep its hit points from increasing.

To quote the Monster Manual, "No form of attack deals lethal damage to the tarrasque."

We ran the numbers on the tarrasque's damage output versus the gold dragon's. In a straight-up melee battle, the tarrasque would murder the dragon by a safe margin. Hit-and-run attacks were not possible. The tarrasque would heal to full hitpoints if given a break of two minutes.

Eventually, the gold dragon won by turning it to stone with magic, one of the few types of attack it was not immune to. Even so, its spell resistance gave the dragon a 55% chance for the spell to fail outright, and even then the dragon had to fail its saving throw, to which it had such a high bonus that it needed to roll a natural 1 to fail. It was an absolute fluke.


No human army in this edition could harm the tarrasque. Arrows could not deal enough to penetrate its damage reduction, let alone overcome its phenomenal regeneration. It dealt out six attacks per round, with base damage sufficient to kill the average man, and no ordinary warrior could even hit the tarrasque's armor class except on a natural 20.

Dragon Magazine #359 even increased the tarrasque to CR 30. That issue noted the tarrasque's legendary status, but admitted that it is not the most powerful:

The tarrasque is widely held as the toughest monster in Dungeons & Dragons, despite their being creatures in the Monster Manual of higher CRs, not to mention dozens of other deadlier beasts in other books.

The logistics of tarrasque hunting

In D&D 5th edition, the tarrasque inherits the reputation of its earlier version, even if it's not so invulnerable. Still, its D&D 5th edition incarnation remains a being of immense ferocity.

Against adventurers, it deals honest melee damage, which is difficult to be immune to. It has +19 to hit, in an edition where a high-level character's armor class may well be around 20. And if we trust the designers, it's challenge rating 30—balanced for 30th level characters in an edition where player characters cannot advance beyond 20th level.

Against normal armies, who are not often equipped with magic items, it is almost entirely invulnerable. In theory it will fall to some 150 magical arrow hits, but this is still not trivial.

Should it use all its legendary actions to run, it can move up to 100 feet per round. Even if a flying archer can keep up, they make a DC 17 Wisdom save or be frightened for 1 minute, which means they have disadvantage on their attacks and can't move toward it, which means they can't follow it as it flees. They can try to stay out of range (120 feet), but a longbow's short range is 150 feet, and that's within the tarrasque's movement speed.

In other words, a great many of the flying archers will still be shooting at disadvantage against an AC 25 target. Even a moderately talented archer may only have a +5 or +6 bonus to hit. That means only a 5% to 10% hit chance, and if that's with disadvantage, it's a 1/400 or 1/100 chance to hit. That means to hit with 150 magical arrows, you need to actually fire more like 15,000 arrows.

The fly spell only lasts up to 10 minutes, and only grants a fly speed of 60 feet. You need a lot of wizards (or one powerful wizard) just to grant flight to a small squad of archers. Then there's the logistics of this. How do we know the tarrasque will be near the archer squads, or where do we station the squad? What about the risk to the wizards, who must be relatively close to the tarrasque?

So now the problem goes beyond simply hiring twenty elite archers and twenty brave fifth level wizards. Each archer will, at best, have 10 minutes or 100 rounds in the air, in practice less because they will have to get to and from the tarrasque. You would need a minimum of 150 elite flying archers to put out enough damage to kill the tarrasque in a single encounter. In practice, due to getting to and from the tarrasque, archers being out of range and so on, you're looking at maybe 300 archers and some 200 to 300 high level wizards.

There may not be enough brave wizards in the entire kingdom to pull this off.

And even if you can, the tarrasque can flee at 100 feet per round. Your three hundred elite archers can only fly 60 feet per second. The longbow's maximum range is 600 feet, and that's you firing at disadvantage, and that's if you can manage the logistics of bringing an army to bear in the time and place where the tarrasque chooses to strike.

Meanwhile, the tarrasque just levelled half of Baldur's Gate. A local archmage tried to kill it with a disintegrate spell, but it deflected off the beast's hide and the mage was eaten in one gulp. From the perspective of the ordinary folk, it really is the most dreaded creature.

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There is nothing stopping the tarrasque from throwing a piece of building at the annoying flying thing that is hurting it. There are animals that fling stuff in the real world so even with the low intelligence it could still attack flying enemies.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast I do not think this is a comment on a different answer, but an answer in its own right. The question is “why can't a swarm of flying gnat-like archers take out a tarrasque?” and the answer is essentially “if you tried to do that your DM might improvise a nasty ranged attack: it's not in the Monster Manual but it is incredibly believable.” Would be interesting if it could be done within rules-as-written. \$\endgroup\$ – CR Drost May 17 at 17:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ @CRDrost OK, I'll go with that. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast May 17 at 19:40

protected by Oblivious Sage Jun 27 '18 at 21:16

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