The highest challenge rating in D&D, dropped into every monster manual, the fantasy Godzilla, has become something of a joke. Everyone who’s been in the game long enough has a “Tarrasque plan” or a story of how they one-shot or would one-shot the Tarrasque, and every DM has thrown the word around as the monster equivalent of “Rocks Fall, Everybody Dies”.
It appears in no famous campaigns, it has very little by way of back-story, it just sleeps beneath the world waiting for the time when it must rise and destroy, a thing as old or perhaps older than gods, with no motive other than to smash and destroy. And to be honest, by the time your party have reached an adequate level to defeat it, it’s actually pretty easy because it’s incredibly dimwitted, sluggish, and while it has hit points for days, a bucket of resistances, and can deflect certain magical effects, it can be overwhelmed and destroyed in time.
Now, fifth edition did a lot to lend personality to monsters, to contextualise them in potential scenarios and use evocative descriptions to bring out the best in even the most obscure creatures, such that one could imagine including them in any number of adventures. And yet the Tarrasque remains a law unto itself, the party benchtest, the DM’s biggest and nastiest threat, that arrives without warning, wants nothing but destruction, and needs to be put down the old fashioned way.
Let’s do some work:
People Are Crazy
The Tarrasque represents a force of nature, if you’re looking for a story, look no further than Godzilla for some ideas, although more specifically look at the human elements. The stirrings of the Tarrasque might raise cults or dark scholars who embrace the idea of a world-wide extinction, or perhaps there are lunatic agents who believe they can control the rampaging beast. Necromancers – hells, Vecna himself – might invoke the beast to rise to cause untold death to swell their ranks.
In this scenario we have cults of madness and death, possibly demons, likely necromancers. Players will have to prevent them from seeking rituals, or journey to the place where the Tarrasque slumbers, and go to war against the creatures that wish to awaken it, without doing their job for them.
Times Are Strange
The ground shakes, sinkholes swallow entire forests, hurricanes scour cities, mountains fall, the underground spills out into the overworld, bringing with it every nightmare that had previously remained hidden.
You could run a perfectly ordinary campaign filled with enemies and disasters, all of which stemming from mysterious natural disasters, or perhaps riddled with villains who seem desperate and fearful, or knowing and gleeful. The whole campaign would be almost “business as usual” but riddled with hints at a greater evil or some bigger disaster still to come.
And that’s what the Tarrasque should be, a disaster, not just a big monster, but surrounded by fear, and chaos. Perhaps it’s right that there’s no reflection in the monster’s stat block, that the awakening of the Tarrasque causes the ground to heave and shake, but the concept of the creature is that it is as much a disaster as a tidal wave. Consider adding regional effects, except that its “region” is the size of a continent, and the effects get progressively worse the closer it comes to awakening.
King of Monsters
Go leafing through monster manuals and you’ll find a lot of monsters that could rival the Tarrasque in power, although very few of them are material creatures. Elementals like the Leviathan and the Phoenix, weapons of the gods like the Kraken or the Empyrean, demon princes, arch devils, aberrations, and of course ancient dragons. Want to cast your players in the roles of hapless victims of a war between titans.
There’s potential in that campaign, the desperate struggle for survival, the search for a solution, that ultimately culminates in titan after titan being killed or returned to its slumber through ancient rituals, or cunning on the part of the players. So long as they feel they have some agency in the war, they’ll slowly gather in power until they are ready to murder the king of the monsters himself, Godzi- the Tarrasque.
Changing Things Up
Quick last thing, lets throw some ideas of how to make the Tarrasque more horrifying… because that’s a good idea.
Anti-Magic Breath Weapon – It’s different, it imparts a limitation on the antimagic ability so as not to make it too potent, but it also adds a layer of intimidation to the wizards hiding behind layers and layers of protective magic. It also suggests that the Tarrasque in question is a force designed to end magic in the world, it could herald a time of diminished magic in the world.
The Lionfish Problem – Give it poisonous quills on top of the impervious carapace to casually remind your group that there’s always a bigger fish.
Ranged Weapon – The biggest weakness of the Tarrasque is that it is heavily reliant on its melee reach to have any effect. Maybe just a thrown rock, but with a several hundred foot range, and with an area effect.
Or Burrowing – The ground’s already shaking, and why wouldn’t the Tarrasque be able to tunnel through the ground like it was swimming through water? That bite attack becomes far more harrowing when it’s rising from beneath you.
Corrupted – I included some ideas above for Tarrasque cults, they could probably change the creature into something more demonic, or even undead.
Flying Tarrasque – Why not, that’s hilarious.
Oh! Last thing, someone’s trying to get a Tarrasque mini kickstarted, and the stretch goals are “bigger mini” which I like. Not a fan of the design myself, but I respect the idea and what they’re trying to do. Here’s a link, check it out, no doubt other people will like the design.