Roc Tactics

There aren’t too many gargantuan creatures in the Monster Manual. Ancient dragons grow to gargantuan size; aside from that, you’ve got your kraken, your tarrasque and your roc, a monstrous avian whose name, curiously, shares an etymology with “rook,” the chess piece (from Persian rukh, by way of Arabic) but not with “rook,” the corvid bird (from Old English, an imitation of its croaking call).

This terror with a 200-foot wingspan—roughly the size of a Boeing 747—hunts big, slow-moving game, snatching up an elk, a buffalo or even a giant as easily as a hawk or owl would seize a squirrel. It’s unaligned and has only bestial Intelligence. Its Strength and Constitution are extraordinary; its Dexterity, as ordinary as you can get.

Rocs are fearless. Aside from their enormous pool of hit points, they have proficiency in all of the big three saving throws (Dexterity, Constitution, Wisdom), plus Charisma. Magic doesn’t scare them, and it takes massive damage to even deter them: From their maximum of 248 hp, they’ll need to be reduced to 99 hp or fewer to be driven off.

Probably, the common folk’s fear of rocs is far greater than the threat they truly pose, because the average humanoid isn’t large enough to make much of a meal. If you see one diving toward your trade caravan, chances are it’s planning to carry off your team of horses, not you. A roc would have to be starving to bother to carry off an adventuring party.

Really, a roc has only one method of attack: its talon/beak Multiattack. A successful talon attack grapples and restrains its target, giving it advantage on a follow-up bite. Real-life birds of prey don’t try to carry their game off alive—they strike hard to stun it, or they grab it and tear open an artery so that it bleeds to death. So while it’s entertaining to think of a roc flying off with a moaning buffalo in its talons, the truth of the matter is, it’s going to try to finish off the buffalo first, then fly it back to its nest while it’s still fresh, or maybe even eat it on the spot. A roc does an average of 50 points of damage in a single round if both its attacks hit. That’s enough to do in a giant elk, or seriously injure an elephant.

As long as a roc holds a creature that isn’t dead yet in its talons, it will continue to attack that creature, and only that creature—unless it’s attacked itself. Then it will peck back at its attacker with its beak, without letting go of its prey. Or, if the prey is itself seriously injured (reduced to 40 percent or fewer of its maximum hit points), it will simply fly away with it, without regard for opportunity attacks. It has a base flying speed of 120 ft, so there’s no way any other creature is likely to catch up with it if it Dashes, short of casting wind walk.

And that’s basically it. Not all that exciting, but a reader asked for it, so I’m obliging.

Next: ropers.

11 thoughts on “Roc Tactics

  1. It is kind of sad that the roc isn’t more exciting. For a creature of legend that the players would probably hype in their mind, it doesn’t quite live up to expectations, since it really is just “rawr-claw-bite.” Well, I suppose the potential for kidnapping does make things more interesting, but it’s hard to find a player who’s okay with not getting to play while the party tries to find them.

    1. Wanted to throw in that, with 3 Int, they’re solidly on the higher end of animal intellect. So they probably are smart enough to barely plan and can learn. They likely will acknowledge the dangers from the pointed steel things and they get in the way of the big prey (draft horses) when its trying to eat. So it’ll either avoid caravans anyway, or if its anything like the stubbornness of my cats, it’ll actively attempt to terrify, break things to distract, and even pick up and drop foods/adversaries in dangerous areas that will do damage for it without risk. It may even “pay” other birds in food, ala Ravens, to encourage them to aid it in attacking.

      They aren’t geniuses by any means and will likely do exactly what’s described whenever they think its safe to do so, but they’re smart enough to give a little caution and probably won’t fall for something twice if it nearly kills them, avoiding fields or other areas of they’ve been ambushed there before.

      1. Well, the true upper end of animal intellect is occupied by apes and dolphins, which both have Intelligence 6. So while Intelligence 3 indicates smarts on the level of a cat’s or a dog’s, these would be average cats and dogs, not the best and brightest. And while I’ve had some reasonably intelligent cats, their attempts to sneak up on my bowl of ice cream have all been transparent. I agree with you, though, on not falling for dangers twice.

  2. I suspect that if for whatever reason a roc wants to eat a draft horse or humanoid defended by other humanoids carry sharp-shinies then it off makes sense to carry off the target to a place where it won’t be disturbed, because unlike real birds of prey a roc’s meals might try to defend eachother.

    I imagine an experienced roc’s standard attack on PCs spending the first round diving and ending the turn about 20′ off the ground, still plummeting. Then on its second turn grabbing the tastiest looking creature in the group with its Talons, making a Beak attack, then flying up with the remaining 100’ish of movement. After that it either drops the target in the same turn if it’s trying to kill the whole party for coming near-ish its nest; or flies away with its meal if trying to feed, dropping the a creature which deals enough damage to be noticed, then circling back to see if the fall finished it off.

    1. My main reason for saying the above is that it makes rocs a little more interesting than just bags of hitpoints, while seeming plausible because of the difference in prey.

  3. What about fighting it on home turf? Would it put its home atop a peak, or somewhere more hidden and sheltered? It’s ability to drop targets for 10D6+ damage seems useful.

  4. Thanks so much! I used these behaviors for a Roc in my game this week. With its ENORMOUS wingspan, I beefed it up a bit with the ability to use the Gust of Wind spell from the PHB. My thought process being that it’s ‘dog level intelligence’ would allow it to learn this trick after the Roc observed what hovering near the ground does to its surroundings.

    (Since the players were clinging to a cliff trying to reach it’s nest, they found this terrifying!)

    1. Probably could have achieved this effect (or something close to it) by importing a dragon’s Wing Attack legendary action as a standard action. Knocking a climbing character prone=long fall.

      1. I mostly say this because allowing a creature to cast an innate spell means allowing it to be countered by counterspell (if it has any discernible components) and dispel magic (if the effect isn’t instantaneous) which makes no sense given that the effect is being created mechanically by giant flappyflaps.

  5. I do believe this article missed the most iconic roc ability in mythology: it litteraly grabs a creature it wants dead (such as an elephant, or an angry dwarf barbarian), goes up 120 feet in the sky, and lets go. That’s 12d6 fall damage. It’s the whole point of the Roc’s terrorizing attacks in arabian mythology: it bombards people with other people, or animals.

    So, a Roc flies 120 feet in the sky. It has advantage on every perception checks that rely on sight, so it easily spots the players’ caravan. From that distance, it resembles a large vulture flying near them, no worries. Suddenly, it plunges unto the players, revealing all of his might and size: immediately, it attacks with its talon. Assuming it touches, target is restrained and roc has advantage on its beak attack against it. End of Roc’s first turn.

    Roc’s second turn: it attacks again, restrains and grapples again. Beak attack again. Assuming the Roc hit with its talons, it THEN uses its 120 ft flying speed to go up 120 ft in the sky with the grappled target and drops the player as a free interaction. In ONE turn, roc attacked twice, once probably with advantage, and caused the restrained creature to take an additional 12d8 falling damage. ADDITIONNALY, RAW state (Xanathar I think?) that a creature that falls less than 500 ft ”falls instantly”, meaning a DM might reasonably say: « everyone in that 10 fr. radius make a dex save, a body is about to fall on you.” or something like that.

    The Roc then ends its turn in the air, in range of some range weapons and spells, true, but safe from any melee-intensive player.

    Rince and repeat until all players are crushed and fed to the Roc’s chicks.

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