Roper Tactics


Another monster classic, the roper is a dungeon predator/scavenger that nabs its prey by camouflaging itself as a stalagmite or stalactite. The latter is rarer, probably because in every instance I can recall, the roper has always been depicted pointy side up; perhaps dungeon masters never consciously consider that ropers can also adhere to cave ceilings.

Ropers have enormous, toothy maws and sticky tentacles that lash out and seize their prey. Although their exceptional Strength and Constitution and below-average Dexterity suggest a brute fighter, ropers are ambush attackers, using their fast and flexible tendrils to compensate for their lack of mobility (their speed is only 10 feet per round, whether crawling or climbing).

Despite their low Dexterity, ropers have double proficiency in Stealth, along with the False Appearance feature, which allows it to blend in perfectly with its surroundings. I understand this to mean that passive Perception—and even Searching—will never reveal a roper for what it is as long as it’s holding still. Its Stealth skill comes into play only if it’s moving. Thus, a stationary roper will always take its opponents by surprise, as long as its eye is closed and its tendrils retracted until it strikes.

Usually I interpret Multiattack to allow attacks to be used in any order, but the roper’s is phrased in an unusually specific way: “The roper makes four attacks with its tendrils, uses Reel, and makes one attack with its bite.” The roper’s tendril attack doesn’t do any damage, whereas its bite does, so normally I’d suggest that a creature like the roper would keep making tentacle attacks until one hit, then reel in the target, then bite it, then finally use any tendril attacks it has left. But based on the phrasing of the roper’s Multiattack, I think the designers intended all the tendril attacks to be made first.

This limits the roper to a single attack sequence: tendril × 4, Reel, bite. The only variable is who gets attacked. Answering this question requires looking at the roper’s Wisdom—which is surprisingly high, actually. Although its Intelligence 7 indicates upper-bestial cognition and instinct-driven behavior, its Wisdom 16 suggests that it may be quite savvy when it comes to picking its battles—and its targets. But on what basis would it judge? A roper has no way to know that the adventurers traipsing through its cavern have capabilities that ordinary folks don’t. But it does know the difference between metal and flesh, and that it’s harder to bite through the former than the latter. So player characters wearing heavy armor may get a free pass at first.

A roper has six tendrils (unless one or more have been cut off). With a challenge rating of 5, a roper would have no reason to fear six of any kind of humanoid. Thus, with its four tendril attacks, it starts with the least armored opponent (disregarding Dexterity modifiers) within reach (50 feet!) and works its way up, and it uses its bite attack on the first opponent it grabs.

But note that the Reel action pulls a grappled creature only 25 feet. If the roper grabs its intended prey from 50 feet away, it won’t be able to bring it to its mouth in the same turn. So the roper doesn’t attack as soon as a group of foes comes within 50 feet. Instead, it waits for four of them (or all of them, if there are fewer than four) to come closer: within 20 to 25 feet.

ETA: Reader Novice DM makes an insightful observation: “You mentioned how ropers can be stalactites too . . . . As the roper grapples the party from up above, leaving them dangling in the air, the party must try to fight it either from afar or by getting up close. And there’s a danger to breaking its tendrils: you fall and take more damage, and you’re prone, so it’s harder to get away!” This is perfect. It’s exactly how flying monsters fight, so of course a climbing monster would do the same thing. In fact, it seems likely that a roper would fight from the floor only if the ceiling were more than 50 feet up. In all other instances, it fights from the ceiling. Not only does this make it harder for the roper’s prey to fight back, it makes it easier for the roper to get away if it must.

A PC who escapes the roper’s clutches and tries to run away will get a rude surprise when it gets 50 feet away, because as it leaves the roper’s reach, it will get an opportunity attack with one of its tendrils. Oops!

Incidentally, if one of the roper’s initial attacks misses, it will move on to the next target, unless and until it has to choose between an opponent that it’s attacked and missed and an opponent wearing a heavier type of armor.

If an encounter goes south for a roper, it’s in a lot of trouble: it’s much too slow to get away by Dashing or after Disengaging. For this reason, it’s willing to abandon a fight relatively quickly—after being only moderately wounded (reduced to 65 hp or fewer).

But it uses a tricky maneuver to do this, unique to itself: Since all its grappled opponents are also restrained and therefore have disadvantage on attacks and Strength checks (including Strength checks to escape its grapple), and since it has a very high armor class of 20, it can avoid being hit by opportunity attacks relatively easily. Therefore, while holding its grappled enemies in place—being grappled, they have a speed of 0—it takes either the Dash action or the Dodge action, depending on whether all its enemies are grappled (Dash) or one or more are free (Dodge), and moves away as quickly as it can, allowing its tendrils to play out. If it can climb up a wall while retreating, it does. Once it’s 50 feet away from a grappled enemy, it lets go of that enemy, until it’s released every one of them. This is its way of saying, “A’ight, fine, I’mma let you go, but I don’t want you coming after me.”

ETA: A roper that’s clinging to the ceiling, out of reach of enemies on the ground, also has the option of simply letting its prey fall.

Next: nightmares.

Related Posts

53 responses to “Roper Tactics”

  1. Novice DM Avatar
    Novice DM

    Man, I’d never even thought of using grappling rules for a roper’s retreat like that. That’s fantastic!

    You mentioned how ropers can be stalactites too, and that got me thinking: I think my next roper /will/ be a pseudo-stalactite on a ceiling, since I think it makes for a very cinematic combat. As the roper grapples the party from up above, leaving them dangling in the air, the party must try to fight it either from afar or by getting up close. And there’s a danger to breaking its tendrils: you fall and take more damage, and you’re prone, so it’s harder to get away! Ceiling ropers I think have a big advantage, and it’s one that would be interesting to play with.

    1. Keith Ammann Avatar

      I like it.

      In fact, I’m almost embarrassed that I didn’t think of that twist myself. That’s perfect. If a roper can reel an opponent in 25 feet, of course it would reel that opponent up 25 feet! I’m actually going to edit the article to include your suggestion.

      1. Novice DM Avatar
        Novice DM

        Oh wow! Glad to have helped with that suggestion and that you find it so compelling. And as always, thanks for the great tips with the blog, as well as Live to Tell the Tale!

  2. Andy Avatar

    Did NOT think of using ropers on the cavern top… wow.

    And the escape option is fun.

  3. Jack Avatar

    For me when I run Ropers, I always include piercers as well, and place them in a large cave. The Roper performs a “Mother Bird” role, where it drags adventurers to under its “children” – the piercers. They then drop on, kill and then eat the adventurers for sustenance. I also describe leftovers from previous adventurers who fell victim to such a deadly encounter. I make sure to reward my players appropriately, giving them their choice of loot from tens to hundreds of adventurers before them.

    1. Keith Ammann Avatar

      Those would have to be Clausewitz-level strategic geniuses, by roper standards. Imagine an ape keeping a small colony of pythons so that it could share the prey they caught and killed. That’s what we’re talking about, Intelligence-wise. Possible, maybe, but the kind of thing you’d never stumble across twice in one lifetime.

      1. Dire DM Avatar
        Dire DM

        First, I just found this website and am devouring all the articles. Very well done!

        I would set this up more as an opportunistic situation. In an area with a high level of prey the piercers would be around simply because of the abundance of food with the Roper easily dealing with, and eating, the bigger threats to the Piercers. Everyone wins, Roper gets his bigger meals and the Piercers get the left overs and smaller prey the roper misses. Neither make the conscience decision to work with the other, it just happened out of the ease of getting food even if the Roper does grab the occasional Piercer.

      2. Steine Avatar

        Don’t forget about Urophions… Those buggers are very smart. Not only will they target and aim for your pretty little casters, while using the ceiling to keep your annoying fighters away, I wouldn’t be surprised if they employed tactics like that, with some even nastier critters.

        1. Keith Ammann Avatar

          Do those exist at all in 5E?

          1. Joshua Sean Ward Avatar
            Joshua Sean Ward

            Unfortunately not. I did pluck a homebrew statblock for them for my game though.

            I’d love to see an official one in a book sometime from WoC though.

      3. Ellis Avatar

        I know it’s a late comment, but the monster manual says that the piercers are larval forms of ropers. In the piercer section it specifically says that they often attack in tandem with ropers, so I don’t think it would be all that far fetched. The difficult part would be positioning, since the roper can only move things towards it and piercers are so abysmally slow.

        1. Stacy Forsythe Avatar
          Stacy Forsythe

          Yeah, that’s new to 5e, but the connection between piercers and ropers makes the suggested strategy less “ape with pythons” and more “ape feeding its little apes.”

          1. Keith Ammann Avatar

            Which also makes it more plausible.

      4. Chase Avatar

        Or in the case of a Roper being under specific instructions of a Dominate Monster ability or other similar effect

      5. Toby Gray Avatar
        Toby Gray

        I dunno about that. There’s some lore somewhere I’ve read that piercers are the larval form of a roper. I don’t see that as any more intelligent than a bird feeding its chicks a worm. That’s more just instinctive survival imo.

      6. Draconic DM Avatar
        Draconic DM

        Aren’t Piercers supposed to be Roper Larva, so couldn’t it be argued that this sort of tactics are maternal instincts?

      7. Ettina Avatar

        Piercers are baby ropers, so this tactic would be very likely to evolve, for the same reason mother felines carry wounded prey back to their kittens.

  4. Vypir Avatar

    I had a roper attack my adventurers from the ceiling above recently. At the beginning of its turns i gave it a free action to release the adventurers it was dangling 20 feet above the ground, causing them to take fall damage. It would then make 4 more tendral attacks to grapple and real them in again for a bite on one.

  5. DerKommissar Avatar

    I like your articles as they are concise, informed and fun to read!

    One thing i disagree: intelligence of 7 is quite something! Your standard orc has int 7 e.g. so its maybe more of a slow human than a smart animal…

    Just wanted to add that 🙂

    1. Keith Ammann Avatar

      True, but we’re talking very slow. An Intelligence of 6 is ape-level. An Intelligence of 7, you might associate with a caveman—more than animal, but still deficient in any kind of higher cognition. For a human being functioning in the world today, anything less than Intelligence 8 would be considered not mere stupidity but a moderate to severe disability.

      1. Stacy Forsythe Avatar
        Stacy Forsythe

        That is definitely a change from early editions, where functioning adventurers could have Int as low as 3, and animals were below that threshold. I suppose 8 is the practical lower limit for PC abilities now, so that makes sense. Maybe the writers are imagining that dolphins and apes are really smart, though? There has been speculation that dolphins, at least, could be counted as a sapient but non-technological species. So I don’t know that “high animal” is meant to be all *that* dumb. Orcs in some settings build kingdoms and empires and have smithing and all that, which doesn’t necessarily require *high* intelligence but doesn’t scream “subhuman” either.

        1. Keith Ammann Avatar

          True, but those aren’t Monster Manual orcs. In those settings (and in those that I’ve homebrewed), orcs are different from other humanoid PC races more by virtue of culture and, perhaps, temperament than by virtue of lower intelligence or innate evil, whereas even in 5E, D&D takes the essentialist line that orcs are naturally both evil and dumb. I just ran an adventure with my main group in which they had to escort an orcish diplomatic delegation, and while they were unsophisticated—and in the case of a couple of them, suspicious and unfriendly—they were by no means stupid. Their Intelligence scores ranged from 10 to 13, except for the delegation’s soft-spoken scribe, who had a 16.

          1. Jack Krause Avatar
            Jack Krause

            Well though 7 is a relatively low score it is high enough that with no homebrew they have language and culture and gods.(though it is possible their gods are actually fake.). And Completely 5e lore friendly ropers are intelligent enough to make deals and talk to a Pc or a party. (I am looking to


  6. Johnn Avatar

    Is passive perception an official rule? What is the reference for it as I would like to learn more. Thanks.

    1. Keith Ammann Avatar

      See “Passive Checks,” Player’s Handbook, page 175. Also note that the character sheets published with the D&D Starter Set, as well as the blank sheets downloadable from Wizards of the Coast, have a box for passive Perception.

  7. Spatnaz Avatar

    In a cavern with an irregular ceiling, perhaps one with cracks or fissures or tunnels into it, a Roper would want to position itself into a high-traffic area where it can readily ambush prey, be about 35-40′ from the floor to have a good reach with those 50′ tentacles, and have a ready-made retreat bolt-hole to escape to in case of danger. Perhaps an old steam tunnel, or perhaps something that the Roper has helped excavate herself – a nest, if you would. With only 10’/round movement it would be relatively nearby.

    The Roper would know that many subterranean dwellers have darkvision, and would therefore prefer to have a bolt-hole higher up a wall or deeper into the ceiling beyond that sight range. In an underground where deep dwellers with extended darkvision are more common, a Roper might learn to let them pass by unmolested because it knows that they can see well enough to find its bolt-hole. Therefore patrols of Drow or Duerger, for example, might be allowed to pass unmolested while a party of adventurers or a band of orcs would be fair game. With an INT of 7 the Roper is sapient, at least as smart as your average MM-grade Orc or Lizardman, and therefore capable of abstract thought, conscious memory, and symbolic language. Ropers can communicate.

    How do Ropers communicate? How would one communicate with a Roper? Do Ropers have speech? Perhaps they do; they have a mouth. Octopi have mouths but they don’t talk; they communicate by posture, coloration, and what I call “interpretive dance”. Perhaps Ropers communicate by “interpretive dance” and not speech. Perhaps they communicate by subsonic vibrations in the rock. I’m leaning towards a combination of the two.

  8. Peter Avatar

    Long time reader, first time poster. I just came on to say thank you for all the amazing content. It’s really helped me as a DM to mix up my player’s combat experience. My first well-deserved TPK a while ago was delivered by a Roper from the tactics in this very article.

  9. Gao Wenzhong Avatar
    Gao Wenzhong

    So what if the Roper tries to escape via ceiling in this way: the roper uses its tendril to grab the cieling, then reels itself 25 feet into the air. Then it climbs in this manner like Spiderman until it can escape or hide on the ceiling?

    1. Keith Ammann Avatar

      It can’t do that. Its climbing speed is limited to 10 feet per round, regardless of what appendage it’s using to climb with.

      1. SterlingVix Avatar

        Amazing, I was just about to ask “why couldn’t the roper escape faster by grappling the environment and reeling itself away (or even swinging), but it’s been asked and answered (grapples creatures, climb speed of 10).

    2. Chase Avatar

      The Tendril action specifies a target of one creature, so by that logic it wouldn’t be able to grapple something like a rock and use it’s reel ability to move. The Reel action also specifies that the tendrils move toward the roper not vice versa, and also specify creatures as impacted.

      If you really want to get noodly with it (pun intended), an entire line of ropers could theoretically make a chain effect on a specific target and move that target 25ft x the number of ropers in the chain if placed properly? But why tho

  10. Ryan Coke Avatar
    Ryan Coke

    How about a Roper sets itself up on the ceiling above a body of water.
    After grappling an adventurer, it reels it in only far enough to put him over the body of water. It stops the reeling, and lets the adventurer’s own weight drop him into the water. The roper, still holds it’s grapple and tries to drown the target.

    1. JP Avatar

      Devious and in no way out of the question. I saw somewhere that someone set a roper up just over a waterfall, with its tendrils hanging down like helpful vines for when the unfortunate PCs’ boat is about to go over. All the PCs’ jump onto the vines–and the roper starts munching. But since it can only real and munch on one at a time, drowning its other victims in the meantime is a smart strategy.

  11. Ornn Avatar

    Question: Do you think a Roper is smart enough to clear the remains of it’s previous victims from the path, so the next ones that come along won’t be tipped off that something is ambushing in this cavern?

    1. Keith Ammann Avatar

      With Int 7? Maybe, maybe not. A lot of Int 10 humans aren’t smart enough to clear the remains of their snacks from a national park, so …

      1. Ornn Avatar

        LOL. Maybe if their sustenance depended on it they might have..

        I guess it comes down to how much i want the Roper to get a surprise round against my players. Without any clues, i don’t see how they can get wise to the ambush, but hey, they might be extra clever and surprise me.

  12. […] see or breathe, but it lacks the cloaker’s mobility. In its hunting strategy, it’s more like a roper, slow but stealthy, using False Appearance to hide itself until prey comes within […]

  13. Shane B. Avatar
    Shane B.

    Hi Keith…in looking at the features of the Roper, I see that the grapple/restrained condition requires an escape DC 15. This is something that always comes up in my games. Why provide a escape DC for the grapple if escaping a grapple is STR vs STR contest? Is it the “restrained” condition that necessitates the escape DC?

    1. Keith Ammann Avatar

      That rule doesn’t apply if the grappled or restrained condition is a rider on a successful hit. It only applies to grappling attacks specifically.

  14. Kevin Avatar

    First: Keith, loved your books.

    Next, do you feel it changes the CR of combat when you put a Roper on a ceiling 50 feet in the air?

    1. Keith Ammann Avatar

      Probably not. After all, PCs can attack with ranged weapons.

      1. Kevin Avatar

        True, just thinking out loud I guess.
        Was thinking that a Fighter with a Bow is probably not using a fighting style other than defense and short of a magical strength adjusted bow is probably doing d8 + 4 dam on average, against a creature with AC of 20, 96hp, 50-foot reach, and now 40′ off the deck.
        If the stalactite-Roper just ignores the fighter and goes for the squishy folks, seems like it would be tougher than a stalagmite-Roper.

        1. Nedak Avatar

          Realise I’m way late, but it would probably fall under the “modifying encounter difficulty” part (DMG p34,) which would bump up the difficulty one step (ex. from easy to medium.)

  15. Zagus Avatar

    Hey, thanks for the great content! I’m a new DM and I have a question about the tentacles attack action. One of my PC’s had advantage from being grappled. I was a little confused on how to deal with this. To my understanding, the tendril attack isn’t technically a grapple action? It’s just a regular attack that results in the target being grappled as the roper’s long tendrils wind up around you. Or am I misinterpreting? My question is – was the roper supposed to have had a disadvantage on his tentacle attack action when attacking a PC who has advantage from being grappled? Thanks a lot!

    1. Keith Ammann Avatar

      What do you mean “advantage from being grappled”? Grappled doesn’t confer advantage to hit on the attacker, and it certainly doesn’t confer it on the target. The essential point is that a creature grappled by the roper is also restrained, and a restrained creature suffers disadvantage on its attacks, while attacks against it are made with advantage. Grappling + restraining targets is a big win for the roper.

  16. Zagus Avatar

    Well for example, one of my characters has ‘advantage against being frightened’ next to his ‘saving throws’. In this same way another character, who was attacked by tendrils, has ‘advantage against being grappled’. I understand that the ‘grappled’ condition itself does not confer ‘to hit’ advantages. My question was: if a character has ‘advantage against being grappled’ and this particular character is attacked by a tendril – should the roper have disadvantage when making his tendril attack action? (because if successful, the tendril attack results in the target being grappled). I’m confused how this works, sorry.

    1. Keith Ammann Avatar

      No. “Advantage against” doesn’t impose disadvantage on anyone else. What is means in this case is that the character has advantage when rolling to resist or escape being grappled. It doesn’t apply to being grappled as a rider on a successful attack, only to getting out of that grapple afterward.

  17. Wacokid Avatar

    I know this is an old blog post, but I can’t help but note that the Restrained condition does NOT confer disadvantage on checks made to escape it. Restrained only confers disadvantage on attacks and Dex saves.

    1. AnonymousPoster Avatar

      The disadvantage is from this:

      Tendril. Melee Weapon Attack: +7 to hit, reach 50 ft., one creature. Hit: The target is grappled (escape DC 15). Until the grapple ends, the target is restrained and has disadvantage on Strength checks and Strength saving throws, and the roper can’t use the same tendril on another target.

      With this text in the Roper description as the explanation:

      Weakening Tendrils. A roper has six nubs set along its body, through which it extrudes sticky tendrils that bond to whatever they touch. Each tendril sends out hair-like growths that penetrate a creature’s flesh and sap its strength, so the victim can struggle only weakly as the roper reels it in.

  18. Peter Avatar

    There is a WOTC module (no spoilers) in which a roper makes insidious use of terrain to drown characters. This enables it to have greater potential impact on more opponents at once.

  19. Peter Avatar

    In 1st Edition AD&D (and maybe others; I have a gap between 1 and 5) ropers had Exceptional intelligence (15-16), which is consistent with potentially clever tactics. Could be fun to play it that way.

    1. Bryan Avatar

      I came here to mention the same but I feel the designers reflected it’s cunning hunting strategy and natural survival skills with the roper’s high Wisdom score, though in past editions they were legitimately sentient and highly intelligent. I recall a game where a roper acted as a sentry for a drow trade route, having negotiated a deal with the locals to provide security in exchange for shelter and the occasional meal when pickings were slim. It’s name, in undercommon, was Hunger which gave us the insight in how to bribe it for passage. It wasn’t particular about what it was given to eat or where it came from so disposing of bodies became a lot easier for us lol

  20. […] For specific Roper tactics, see The Monsters Know. […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Support the Author

Bookshop | Tertulia | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indigo | Kobo | Google Play | Apple Books | | Audible

Praise for The Monsters Know What They’re Doing: Combat Tactics for Dungeon Masters

“I’ve always said, the Dungeon Master is the whole world except for his players, and as a result, I spend countless hours prepping for my home group. What Keith gets is that the monsters are the DM’s characters, and his work has been super helpful in adding logic, flavor, and fun in my quest to slaughter my players’ characters and laugh out the window as they cry in their cars afterward.” —Joe Manganiello

“The best movie villains are the ones you fall in love with. Keith’s book grounds villains in specificity, motivation, and tactics—so much so that players will love to hate ’em. This book will enrich your game immeasurably!” —Matthew Lillard

“This book almost instantly made me a better Dungeon Master. If you’re running games, it is a must-have enhancement. I gave copies to the two others in our group who share in the Dungeon Mastering, and both of them came back the next time grinning rather slyly. Keith is a diabolical genius, and I say that with the utmost respect!” —R.A. Salvatore

Find my short works on the Dungeon Masters’ Guild, or just toss a coin to your witcher: