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.

17 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.

  6. I’m going to disagree on the idea that the roc uses bird of prey tactics against large size creatures in such an illogical way. Not even birds of prey stay on the ground for long durations of time if the prey survives it’s quick attacks, they will take the prey in the state that they rendered it in, be it just grappled like a bald eagle hunting salmon, or stunned like a Condors hunting or killed like a Falcons.

    Maybe against huge creatures. Remember the Roc is big even for gargantuan, it’s talons don’t even have a size requirement to restrain like the tarasque does. Meanwhile, birds of prey, as you picture in D&D, are mostly tiny size with the largest of them, Andean condors and bald eagles maybe being small. When they hunt tiny sized creatures, like squirrels rabbits, or salmon they would, in the D&D world, have their speed halved for grappling a creature, not 2 sizes smaller, The roc against large size prey does not have to worry about that, it is akin to something the size of a human picking up a rat, there’s no need to kill it before you carry it off. The only risk is if they break free mid air and go splat and the closest the animal kingdom comes to this, a creature of a significant size difference hunted by a bird of prey whose main risk is the prey escaping the grapple into an area where it can’tg be hunted, is a particularly large bald eagle hunting salmon, https://tinyurl.com/yxg9wxtz

    That is the tactic a roc would use.
    A roc would peck for the multi attack, because it gets one and there’s no reason to not use it, but it’s so unlikely it will hold onto the prey on the ground for 6 seconds without flying especially if it’s size large (or powerful build) prey like a goliath or centaur PC, or the parties pack animals the horse, moorbounder or donkey.

    Condors Eagles and Vultures also often consider turtles easy food. They’re so slow they can just walk up and pick them up, fly and drop them, the shell prevents them from going everywhere.

    Perhaps, even though they are tiny by comparison, a humanoid wearing sufficient metal armor, half plate, breastplate, splint, or full plate, would be comparable to a turtle, and that if lifted up and dropped it makes for an easy meal. Not because plate armor makes for an easy target, it doesn’t as the target likely has a high strength too if it’s wearing armor with a strength requirement and low AC bonus to AC, while the target itself has a high AC (although the roc does have +13 and doesn’t comprehend magic armor) but it will do so because if it falls, the meal isn’t ruined. In such situations, the rock might fly particularly high and not even bother with a beak attack against that target, more so using the beak to fend off any nearby allies, and then using the dash action on other turns to gain more hight up to 220 feet. Then they will drop them at terminal velocity, and if they have any movement left they’ll fly back down to them eager to eat.

    This strategy will also be employed on pack animals with barding which is the most appealing prey to a Roc.

    Either way, even if a roc’s multi-attack doesn’t kill its prey that’s not just a reason for it to sit on the ground and peck until it does. ESPECIALLY in situations where players might fight a roc, either thinking someone in plate armor is fall-seasoned turtle soup, or that the parties pack animals usually a horse or donkey is a slow easy meal struggling to pull a cart (it can likely lift a horse and a cart for 30 feet of movement before the cart falls off under it’s own weight likely killing the horse if that scenario comes up). Even it’s more common prey, an elephant injured with its full multi-attack, that is big enough to slow a roc’s flight, falls 60 feet by escaping on its next turn: all the better for the rock as the fall will result in it either landing prone near death’s door with half the roc’s movement away to get to it come it’s next turn, repeating the strategy, where the multi-attack has advantage but the hight is smaller and less likely to explode the elephant. Or, if you home rule-based around physics, straight killing the elephant but not smashing them and exploding the beast to the point of being inedible.

    There’s no reason for a roc to sit down and peck at its prey on the ground before flying except to mimic some but not all birds of prey who do a similar strategy for a reason that the Roc doesn’t experience (being slowed when carrying prey) and that such birds can do effectively over Rocs because they can kill their main prey, AND that they still don’t do the way you describe of staying on the ground to peck and not flying if the prey manages to survive the initial attack. It’s not right for the roc, it’s a false mimic of birds of prey strategies, and it’s a false generalization of bird of prey strategy.

    Do the multi-attack, and fly immediately. A Roc that flys for food will only do the “drop from 210 or more feet” strategy against an armored opponent or a turtle-like opponent, but they will not use their beak of the multi-attack against that opponent either since terminal velocity is usually sufficient. Other than opponents sufficient for that strategy the roc prioritizes the largest target and mostly ignores size medium creatures without powerful build unless defending its territory, and for size large or larger creatures it will multi-attack the target it grapples, but for a medium with the powerful build trait, it will peck at something else to scare off it’s next biggest threat.

    In the case of territory defense as opposed to hunting, it will not care about eating medium creatures or destroying the body, it will spread it’s talon and peck attack out, making a talon attack and a peck attack against different targets (because this strategy will render the peck redundant) then lift the target it hit with the talon as high as it can, it will fly the remainder of its speed upward at a diagonal (birds of prey struggle flying straight up), and fling the target into the air for fall damage, adding 20 feet to the altitude of the roc, as it’s not rules obligated that the grappled creature is underneath the Roc, just logical it’s fair for it to fly at a diagonal for less hight, but add the hight of the gargantuan creature to the fall damage due to it rotating in it’s flight.
    The fall damage the Roc believes is usually sufficient enough that it’s redundant to bite that target. The roc will believe this even if it witnesses a target survive a fall unless it witnesses it fly or use the feather fall or levitate spell. It doesn’t comprehend who cast these spells, but who the spell effects.

    It will prioritize targets it can’t do the throw strategy against using it’s peck instead. As a mostly unintelligent beast it will peck at the lightest weight target, halflings gnomes, monks, and anyone completely unarmored. And throw heavier targets, barbarians, characters with the powerful build trait, large size creatures, war forged, or anyone wearing heavy armor.

    This strategy requires a lot of movement, so it will need to have some knowledge of opportunity attacks, using the 10-foot reach of its beck whenever possible. Its talons are 5ft reach from anywhere on it’s occupied space, so it will position itself to always be 10 feet away from the target it chooses to peck, and 5 feet over the target it tries to grab, if it can’t do so (rare is it’s so massive) it will prioritize grabbing an ideal target over getting the multi-attack that target, as it’s not worth wasting movement to peck someone else.
    Since most targets, it chooses to peck don’t use glaives it will by this spacing always avoid opportunity attacks from that target, not ignoring any other opportunity attacks it might take, however since it’s movement is so weaponized if the sentinel feat is used against it, the Roc will make the person with the feat one of its targets for its talons or it’s beak consistently. It’s too big and not smart enough to do any strategy for avoiding opportunity attacks beyond not taking opportunity attacks against the target it grabbed and pecked.

    If it fails the grab, it will try to fly away to a safe distance and take the opportunity attack, unless it tried to grab someone it knows has the sentinel feat, then it will stay, eager to throw it from as high a hight as possible.

    It also has a preference of not letting flying characters head towards its nest, if a flying character gets too far from the battle of the Roc defending turf towards the direction inwards of its territory or near its nest, it will with its 120-foot speed, race after any fly characters moving in the direction and grab them with its talons, unleashing multi attacks until the flying threat is unconscious while midair, and dropping them afterward. When trying to neutralize a flier approaching its nest, it will only attack another target, if said target is also flying towards its nest, in which case it will talon what it is holding and peck who it is not, and position itself so as many flyers as possible risk opportunity attacks if they head towards its nest

    This is a fighting style for defending its territory. And by far the scariest,

    Note: in any other situation of a roc hunting, the sentinel feat would make the Roc conclude that a fight is dumb, and simply have it try to fly away empty-handed with the dodge action.

    The last roc vs player encounter I can imagine is the Roc seeks medium-sized prey to feed it’s young.

    Some birds eat and regurgitate food for their young, others bring live food to them, if you want the Roc to hunt players, we’re going to assume it’s the latter.

    The Roc will hunt near its nest, within 600 feet, grab the easiest to medium grab target as judged by appearance, with keen eyes, it will know the AC ignoring the unarmored defense of monks or barbarians or magic items. Because the restrained condition also gives disadvantage on dex checks you might as well ignore dex as well, even if the Roc can tell it simply does not care as a dexterous target is very unlikely to escape its claws, it will then grab the most ideal target (the one with the lowest AC ignoring dex and unarmored defense) and peck the biggest threat nearby because it DOESN’T want to kill what it’s carrying. It will immediately fly, with dash actions, back to the nest, to hold the prey down in its talons, preferably holding it down prone beneath a talon taking an action to render it that way, as soon as it lands.

    The babies (maybe 1d4 babies with half the strength half the proficiency and half the damage, size large no multi attack) then do their peck attacks against it until the prey dies, meanwhile, momma Roc simply grapples and holds you there prone, she will hold her action to talon and peck if you manage to escape, doing so with advantage as she will use her talon on you as soon as you escape and before you stand up, and peck you just to teach you a lesson.

    For this scenario, you might fight both parents especially for a high-level encounter, they will pull a similar strategy as each other, prioritizing the best medium-sized target for the children, but once one picks up a medium-sized target, the other will change strategies to whichever of the previously discussed strategies is best.

    If the players posed a threat to it, (dealing 80 points of damage or more, or doing significant magic to it such as polymorph or banishment, or they possess the ability to fly) it will fight with the defending turf strategy discussed earlier and will be aggressive towards ANY target that flies, even if it doesn’t appear to approach the nest, since the Roc believes it plans to.

    Else: If there are any large or huge size creatures to eat nearby such as pack animals it may hunt for the parents to eat. Note: A roc increases it’s standards of size when hunting for two, so it will not hunt barbarians, powerful build characters, or characters in a suit of armor, because it takes more food to feed two Rocs. The sizes category has to be large or larger there are no exceptions this time.

    Failing the presence of momma’s dinner, they may get another medium-sized target but only if they have a large litter of 4 baby Rocs. Momma Rocs value their survival over that of the survival of their ENTIRE litter and although hunting for the babies is a higher preference than hunting for the parent, having neither of the parents hunts for the parents is not a higher priority than hunting for ALL the babies, so if momma Roc grabs the wizard daddy roc would prefer to grab the horse for himself than another player character. That being said, if they DO have a large litter and there isn’t a horse you might as well feed them all.

    Failing all of that, the second Roc will conclude “job done will hunt again later” and follow their mate back to the nest.

    Although you may be high level if fighting two rocs, as they’re notoriously stronger than their CR suggests when they utilize their flight, Rocs seeking to feed their hatchlings automatically assume they can carry a medium-sized creature 600 feet, they will also assume that any dropped medium creature dies unless they witness it feather fall, even if it’s a monk or high-level player character, and will go back and try to retrieve a different target from the location where the fight happened as it prefers to feed it’s young LIVE food. But if it’s hunting for itself it will swoop down to eat the food that fell to its death.

    1. The last thing to note about rocs, although they weaponize falls, they don’t want their prey to explode here’s a guide to how high a Roc carries prey that it plans to eat based on size, of how high above the ground they’re willing to go, as larger creatures are more likely to explode from fall damage

      A roc will never grapple a tiny sized creature

      A roc will never grapple a small-sized creature

      A roc will carry a medium-sized creature to terminal velocity (220) if it is wearing heavy armor, if it is simply large-for-medium-sized it will only carry it 160 feet up, twice it’s movement at a comfortable diagonal

      A roc will carry a large size creature only 160 feet into the air, twice it’s movement at a comfortable diagonal if it is wearing armor. Otherwise, it will only carry it 120 feet, it’s movement straight up.

      A roc will only carry a huge size creature 120 feet off the ground, it’s movement straight up if it is wearing armor. Else it will only carry it 60 feet off the ground, half it’s movement straight up.

      A roc should not feasibly be able to fly while carrying a Kraken, Tarasque, or other gargantuan creature

      This only applies to creatures the Roc wants to eat.

    2. Honestly, I am not a biologist nor an ornithologist, so I am not going to argue with you on the finer details of birds of prey tactics, assuming you know a lot more about it than I. I was speaking from a purely tactical point of view, with what the Monster Manual gives you to work with.

      Personally I would not assume the Roc is a typical bird of prey and therefore must always just be a giant hungry eagle. The Roc is a mythological being created in stories and myths, and, at best, the storytellers must have had little concerns for typical bird of prey behavior when imagining birds bombarding ships.

      But more importantly, the Roc can simply have ”motives” that go beyond simple predatory behavior: What if the Roc is the magical guardian of a sacred treasure/location? What if the Roc is controlled by a mighty magician/bad guy and shoots to kill, not to eat? I’ll give you even more: what if the Roc is the avatar of an arabian (or arabian-ish for non histrical campaigns) divinity?

      I guess what I am saying is, I want both an illogical mythological monster and a giant predatory bird, so why no kill two birds with one Roc?

  7. I love this website. Really nice to read about all this different tactics. And to contribute a bit to Roc encounters:
    I like to use them as oversized crows. In my world they are a threat to everything that tries to be bright, colorfull and shiny. Caravans and ships with bright colors but also castles, temples and churches that use gold ornaments. These things are all magnets to this kind of Roc. People can only imagine what its hoard will look like.

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