Kraken Tactics


Release the kraken! A high-level boss monster that player characters won’t encounter until they’re masters of the realm (if you, as their dungeon master, have a shred of decency in you), the kraken isn’t so much a creature as it is a natural disaster.

Running a kraken, like running a dragon, requires keeping track of legendary actions and lair actions as well as regular and bonus actions and reactions. One consolation is that, of all boss monsters, the kraken is probably the most likely to be encountered outside its lair, unless the PCs are on a mission to slay it. On the other hand, if the kraken is encountered within six miles of said lair, its regional effects mean that PCs will have to run a gantlet of hostile crocodiles; swarming schools of quippers; giant crabs, frogs, seahorses; sharks of all kinds; and water elementals. They’ll also have to contend with torrential rain and storm-strength winds, imposing disadvantage on navigation checks, Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on sight or hearing, and ranged weapon attacks. In colder climes, they’ll have to make DC 10 Constitution checks against exhaustion every hour—and saving throws every minute if they fall in the frigid waters—unless they have natural or magical protection.

In its lair or out of it, the kraken is a juggernaut, with only average Dexterity but godlike Strength, Constitution and mental abilities. No, it’s not just a mindless engine of devastation. It’s smarter than anyone in your adventuring party and most likely wiser as well, and its massiveness and majesty are mesmerizing. Its decisions in combat should convey a sense of calculated malice and cruelty. It knows everyone’s weaknesses, and it doesn’t miss an opportunity to exploit them. If it chooses to communicate (via telepathy), it will be only to taunt, belittle and humiliate its victims; there’s nothing a kraken wants that the PCs can tempt it with.

A kraken has proficiency on every kind of saving throw except Charisma, so spellcasters don’t impress it—unless they try to cast divine word. That spell will get its attention, and not in a good way. But for divine word to have an effect, the target has to have 50 hp or fewer. The kraken starts with 472. Let’s stipulate right now that if a kraken encountered outside its lair is seriously injured (reduced to 188 hp or fewer), it flees back to its lair, forcing its foes to fight it on its own turf if they want to finish it off.

A kraken is immune to lightning damage and to being frightened, paralyzed or magically restrained. It’s immune to physical damage from nonmagical weapons. It has an armor class of 18. It’s fearless, and opportunity attacks concern it not at all. Its Siege Monster feature doubles the damage it does to inanimate objects and structures. If you show up in a ship, it’s not going to attack you—it’s going to attack the ship, then deal with you when you’re floating in the water, making saving throws against hypothermia.

On its own turn, the kraken has three choices of Attack action: a triple Multiattack comprising three tentacle or Fling attacks; a single bite attack; or a single Lightning Storm.

  • Tentacle is a bludgeoning attack with a 30-foot reach that automatically grapples on a hit. A grappled target is restrained, giving it disadvantage on attacks and giving the kraken advantage on attacks against it.
  • Fling can be used only on an enemy who’s already grappled. The MM says the enemy is thrown “in a random direction,” but I’d overrule this. The kraken has Intelligence 22. It’s not going to Fling anyone or anything in a random direction. It’s going to aim. If there’s another enemy within 60 feet who’s annoying the kraken, it will Fling its victim at that enemy, potentially doing bludgeoning damage to that enemy and knocking him or her prone as well (and remember, the kraken has advantage on attacks against a prone enemy it’s within 5 feet of). If there’s no one the kraken particularly wants to throw its victim at, it will Fling the victim as far as it can, at a solid surface—and as any diver will tell you, water is a solid surface if you don’t enter it properly. I’d suggest requiring an opponent Flung into the water to make a DC 18 Dexterity (Acrobatics) saving throw to pull into a dive and enter the water without taking damage. Also, there’s nothing that says the kraken has to Fling an opponent it’s holding grappled. It can keep making tentacle attacks against that opponent, squeezing it or smacking it against things, and it does so with advantage, because the opponent is restrained. Whether a kraken Flings an opponent or keeps it grappled depends on the likelihood that the opponent will struggle free. An opponent with an Acrobatics or Athletics skill modifier of +3 or lower is fairly unlikely to escape, so the kraken may as well hold on. It’s got 10 tentacles; it’s not likely to run out of them.
  • Bite can be used on a grappled or ungrappled opponent. Against an ungrappled opponent, it simply does damage. But a grappled opponent, on a hit, is swallowed. A swallowed opponent is blinded, has no movement and has disadvantage on attacks against the kraken from inside. He or she is also subjected to acid damage from the kraken’s digestive juices every round. This is a good way to take a troublesome opponent out of play, especially one likely to break the kraken’s grapple.
  • Lightning Storm can strike up to three targets at once—or a single target three times! The Dexterity saving throw DC is huge, and the attack does damage even if the target succeeds. This is the kraken’s nuclear option for dealing with a low–hit point, high–damage output enemy such as a wizard or sorcerer, but it’s also a highly effective way of striking enemies it can’t reach with its tentacles.

As a DM whose players have risen to level 11 or higher, you should have a good idea who in the party is most dangerous, who’s most durable and who’s most fragile, and the loss of whom is most likely to demoralize the party. The kraken knows everything you know. It can “read” the PCs’ abilities as if it had their character sheets in front of it, and it can calculate their threat level as if it were referring to “Creating a Combat Encounter” in the Dungeon Master’s Guide. It can also sense immediately whether any of them has a weapon capable of harming it. It uses this information to choose its actions:

  • If, as previously mentioned, the PCs are on a ship, or some other floating whatsit that’s keeping them dry, the kraken attacks it first, attempting to destroy or at least capsize it. Contrary to what you might expect, it does this with Lightning Storm, not with tentacle attacks, because it does more damage (both mean and maximum) and because inanimate objects can’t make Dexterity saving throws, so the hits are automatic. However, if the PCs’ vessels are Large or smaller—say, if they’re in rowboats or kayaks—the kraken will strike them with its tentacles, and if they’re not destroyed outright, it will seize them and Fling them. A PC who’s “knocked prone” owing to his or her boat’s being Flung should be considered to have fallen overboard.
  • If the PCs are unsupported by some other structure, either in the water or on land, the kraken’s threat assessment comes into play. At first, when it’s undamaged or only lightly wounded (having 331 hp or more) and if the encounter is rated Deadly for the PCs, it contemptuously attacks the weakest and most vulnerable targets first. If the three most vulnerable are all more than 30 feet away, and its movement won’t allow it to close the distance in order to reach them, it strikes them with Lightning Storm. Otherwise, it strikes with its tentacles. Its No. 1 target is the PC most likely to make the other players go, “Nooooooooo!
    Note that a kraken doesn’t have to attack three different targets, nor does it have to wait until its second turn to Fling, squeeze or bludgeon a grappled target. It can seize one target with a tentacle as its first attack, Fling that target as its second and grab another target as its third. Or it can seize two, then Fling one. (What it can’t do, though, is grab an opponent and swallow him or her in the same turn.) Its goal is to do as much damage as it can to each one; if it grabs one who’s got a good chance of struggling free (Acrobatics or Athletics modifier +4 or higher), it either tries immediately to bash him or her unconscious (if he or she has 52 hp or fewer) or grabs, bashes, then Flings him or her at another opponent between 30 and 60 feet away.
  • Once the kraken is moderately wounded (reduced to 330 hp or fewer), or if the encounter is rated Easy, Medium or Hard for the PCs, it takes its opposition more seriously, and it focuses its attacks not on the most vulnerable but on the most dangerous. Again, it uses Lightning Storm if its biggest threats are out of tentacle reach; otherwise, it attacks with its tentacles. It doesn’t Fling an opponent it considers especially dangerous unless that opponent has a good chance of struggling free (Acrobatics or Athletics modifier +4 or higher), but it also doesn’t try to swallow any opponent who might be able to do 50 hp or more damage in a single turn from inside it. Any such opponent, it simply holds onto with its tentacle and keeps squeezing or bashing until it no longer needs to.
  • At some point, it’s possible that the kraken will have grappled every opponent within reach whom it considers a major threat. If this has proved effective—if it’s neutralized their ability to do any meaningful harm to it—it will keep grabbing up its other opponents, until it runs out of either opponents or tentacles. (The former is more likely.) It then moves to get the ones who’ve been out of reach so far. If it can’t get at them with its tentacles, it strikes at them with Lightning Storm.

The kraken also has legendary actions, taken at the end of other creatures’ turns. These comprise a single tentacle or Fling attack, a Lightning Storm attack (which costs two legendary actions) and Ink Cloud (which costs three). Ink Cloud can be used only underwater; the kraken uses it as a defensive measure as soon as it’s moderately wounded (reduced to 330 hp or fewer), anytime all its opponents are within a 60-foot radius around it, and once more when it’s seriously wounded (reduced to 188 hp or fewer) and about to retreat. At the end of the turn of any opponent who tries to attack it in melee, it makes a legendary tentacle attack against that opponent. If it hasn’t yet had a chance to Fling an opponent it probably won’t be able to hold onto, it does so at the end of the turn just before that opponent’s. If enough PCs’ turns have gone by that it’s obviously not going to need to make more tentacle or Fling attacks before its own turn, and it still has two or more legendary actions left, it uses Lightning Storm. Otherwise, it uses any legendary action left over before its own turn on a gratuitous tentacle attack.

In its own underwater lair, the kraken has a choice of three lair actions, always taken on initiative count 20:

  • A strong current pushes opponents away from the kraken.
  • Lightning damage is doubled against creatures within 60 feet for one round.
  • The water itself does lightning damage to creatures within 120 feet.

Per the wording of the lair action descriptions in the MM, the effects of the second and third lair actions can’t be stacked: Either lightning damage is doubled, or the water does lightning damage, but never both. But also note that, unlike chromatic dragons or mummy lords, the kraken is not restricted from using the same lair action two turns in a row. Thus, lair action No. 3 is the default. Anytime the kraken doesn’t plan specifically to use lair action No. 1 or No. 2, it uses No. 3.

Lair action No. 1 pushes creatures out of the kraken’s reach—but most of the time, the kraken wants its opponents within reach, so it can grab them. This lair action is appropriate only under specific, limited circumstances: either the kraken is seriously wounded; or it’s got hold of a dangerous opponent whom it doesn’t want to let go of, and another opponent within 30 feet, who’ll be hard for the kraken to grab or keep hold of, is trying to help him or her get free.

The kraken’s Lightning Storm ability reaches out to 120 feet, but its second lair action doubles lightning damage only within 60 feet. Since the kraken generally prefers to attack enemies within reach with its tentacles rather than Lightning Storm (grappling them restrains them and confers advantage on attacks, along with the option to devour), lair action No. 2 is appropriate when the kraken plans to use Lightning Storm against opponents who are between 30 and 60 feet away from it.

A kraken out of its lair is playing offense; a kraken in its lair is playing defense. If the PCs have enough chutzpah to confront a kraken in its own lair, it has to take them seriously from the get-go, and it won’t mess around abusing vulnerable opponents for the fun of it. It will go straight for the most powerful of its enemies and do its level best to disable or debilitate them. Its primary goal is to neutralize; killing, as an end in itself, is secondary.

A kraken staring death in the face in its own lair is in a terrible bind: it wants to flee to save itself, but it’s also stronger inside its lair than outside it. It really doesn’t want to leave its lair, nor does it want to die. Thus, it has to consider what means of defending itself will be most effective against its attackers. If they’re more agile than they are tough, an Ink Cloud does poison damage to every enemy in a 60-foot radius (that’s 60 feet from the center of the kraken—all its other abilities are measured from its physical exterior), gives them disadvantage on all their attacks by heavily obscuring the area, and makes the kraken untargetable by spells. If they’re tougher than they are agile, Lightning Storm does guaranteed damage, albeit to only three enemies at a time—but lair action No. 2 can double that damage. If it doesn’t have confidence in either of these recourses, it will use lair action No. 3 (if its enemies are all badly injured) or lair action No. 1 (if not) one last time before either Disengaging (if it’s within reach of a melee attacker) or Dashing (if not) and swimming away at full speed.

Next: nagas.

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26 responses to “Kraken Tactics”

  1. Novice DM Avatar
    Novice DM

    Brilliant analysis of the kraken and its abilities, and it really puts it in a different perspective; I hadn’t considered its intelligence despite it being so blaringly immense.

    Something related to krakens that’s become a pet peeve of mine is seeing krakens or kraken-esque creatures in media reduced to tentacles attacking the deck of a ship, because it’s absurd; kraken is not just going to thwack at the heroes on the deck. It is big enough to annihilate the ship on its own without trying, so I love that you’ve taken that into account in this look at the kraken.

    I can’t wait to see the naga! They’re a personal favorite monster of mine, so I’m interested to see what you get out of them.

    1. Keenan Avatar

      They are trying to copy the Kraken fight from Pirates of the Caribbean. However, in that film Davy Jones sees the ship as his property, so his Kraken has good reason not to destroy it.

  2. Prof_Walrus Avatar

    This is my favorite article so far! Well done Sir

  3. […] in the 5E MM, when a monster (such as the recently examined kraken) has an attack that automatically grapples on a hit, the grappled target is also restrained, but […]

  4. Jean Avatar

    Great article as always. Impressive analysis!

  5. Devin Buettgenbach Avatar
    Devin Buettgenbach

    Absolutely marvelous breakdown of how cunning a kraken can really be. I applaud you on your analysis of tactics without any rancor against the monster itself.

  6. James James Avatar
    James James

    Hi Keith

    I have a question about Kraken fling attack.

    To start: can a kraken grapple a huge creature? Can it then fling said creature? How much damage?

    Given that a medium/ large creature (1 square) takes 1d6 per 10ft distance. What damage would a huge creature take (9 squares)?

    Then if said huge creature hits a medium/large creature, how much damage do they take being hit by the huge creature?



    1. Keith Ammann Avatar

      Fling explicitly states that it can be used against “one Large or smaller object held or creature grappled by the kraken.” Tentacle has no such limitation. A kraken can grapple a Huge creature, but it can’t fling that creature.

  7. Victor R. Avatar
    Victor R.

    Why would a kraken use Lightning Storm against a ship rather than tentacle attacks? It gets 3 per round for an average of 60 damage before Siege Monster if they all hit, and with the +17 on the attack roll it’s only missing on a natural 1 unless the ship’s made of adamantine or something. Considering that the kraken can just hang out right underneath the ship where no-one on board can see it, 3 tentacle attacks plus 3 legendary-action tentacle attacks seems a much more efficient way of sinking a ship.

    1. Keith Ammann Avatar

      Siege Monster deals double damage to inanimate objects regardless of the method of attack. It works for Lightning Storm as well as for Tentacle. Thus, three bolts of lightning deal an average of 132 damage and a maximum of 240. And the kraken can still use its legendary tentacle attacks.

      1. Victor R. Avatar
        Victor R.

        Ah, that’ll do it. Somehow I missed that it gets three bolts.

      2. Eric Hanson Avatar
        Eric Hanson

        Hey Mr. Ammann

        I know I’m a bit late to this party, but the DMG says in chapter 8 that ships aren’t objects (emphasis mine in caps):

        ‘For the purpose of these rules, an object is a discrete, inanimate item like a window, door, sword, book, table, chair, or stone, not a building or A VEHICLE THAT IS COMPOSED OF MANY OTHER OBJECTS.’

        I *think* they still count as structures for the purposes of the Siege feature, but they can make saving throws thanks to the nautical rework done by Ghosts of Saltmarsh

        Also I know GoS came out literal years after this article so that’s not something you would have known, but I think the changes to ships make it worth revisiting.

        I still think that lightning storm is better for the raw damage, but considering how the Kraken has no restriction on the size of the target (*target*, not creature or object) it can grapple with it’s tentacles, and that that grapple restrains (disadvantage on Dex saves), would it be better for the Kraken to smack the ship three times and grapple it on it’s first turn in combat (or legendary action grapple it if something else beat the Kraken’s initiative), *then* blast it with lightning storm on subsequent turns?

  8. Eric A. Smith Avatar
    Eric A. Smith

    Holy smokes, your website rocks.

    I admit to compiling all of your posts into a PDF, but, that said, I am also eager to buy a hardbound copy of your book.

    Well done, sir. Well done indeed!

  9. Aiden M Avatar
    Aiden M

    Heres an interesting question for you. how would a (probably ancient) bronze dragon + warship + party do against a Kraken? what forms would the dragon take? the party is level 15, and includes a zealot barbarian, who for all respects and purposes, cannot die. would the kraken know this?

    1. JP Avatar

      The warship gets destroyed first, and all the creatures in it are in the drink. The dragon’s greatest weapon is its lightning breath, which the kraken ignores; its repulsion breath relies on the kraken failing a strength save, but with a +17 to the save, that will happen almost never and constitute a wasted action. Beyond that, the dragon is helpless against the kraken. Its claw and bite attacks are not magical, and thus cannot hurt the kraken. The kraken knows all of this and will ignore it, focusing on the party.

      If the party can be drowned, it’ll drown them. If they can’t, it’ll focus down the weakest ones first, Biting and swallowing where possible to remove combatants from the action, focusing on weaker spellcasters first. Once it’s swallowed two or three PCs, or killed one outright and swallowed another, it will retreat, rest up, and then come back for round two. The dragon isn’t fast enough to follow it, and can’t hurt it anyway, and presumably none of the PCs are either.

      If the kraken swallows the shapeshifted dragon, with a magic weapon of some kind, or the zealot barbarian, problems for it may ensue, as these are the only creatures that it both won’t be able to escape from that may be able to wear away at its HP before being dissolved. However, it’ll already know not to bother swallowing the barbarian; either it can kill the barbarian with lightning attacks alone from a greater distance than the barbarian can retaliate to bypass rage resistance, or if it can’t bypass that resistance, then swallowing them is a bad idea anyway since they’ll resist that too. As for the dragon, the second it makes an attack against the squishy little humanoid with AC 22, a faster swimming speed than all the others, and incredible strength, it’ll realize something is wrong and reconsider.

  10. Fast Jimmy Avatar
    Fast Jimmy

    I know this is about a year late, but I wanted to comment – you mentioned Divine Word as problematic for the Kraken, but failed to mention Banishment!

    As a 4th level spell that eliminates a creature for one minute with only one Charisma Save (the Achilles heel of the Kraken), I’ve had more than one encounter completely waylaid by its use against my Krakens – either as an escape policy or as a way for the entire party to prepare and dogpile it as soon as it comes back.

    Any thoughts on how to shore up one of the (in my experience) biggest weaknesses of the Kraken?

    1. Anonymous Avatar

      Give it proficiency in the save, or give it minions that stall long enough for it to return. Or just give it allocating levels with counterspell

      1. Fireslayer Avatar

        If you give it proficiency in the save, it will have proficiency in every single save in the game. Just something I noticed.
        In any case, why are people so determined to get rid of the weaknesses monsters have? PCs have weaknesses. Wizards can’t survive melee combat. Barbarians can’t do much to flying monsters. Supporters have trouble dealing damage. Does that mean that you create a monster that specifically attacks every PC’s weakness?
        There is not a single monster in the Monster Manual that is said to have no weaknesses in its statblock. If you, however, want an unbeatable monster, feel free to create your own.
        (Like a Tiamat with a 22 Dexterity, the ability to stun someone as a bonus action, and regenerating 30 hit points every turn instead of every time her turn comes around.)

  11. Kit Avatar

    Great article as always, thanks!

    Has anyone run a kraken using the full extent of its capabilities? At what level do we think a party of 4 could fight this?

    1. JP Avatar

      CR 23 is big, but not impossible for a party of 4. Level 17 and higher should be able to kill it, though multiple PC deaths are possible. By level 20 it won’t really even be much of a contest. 16 and lower looks more like a tpk.

      There is a scientific way to calculate this in the DMG, and also in Xanathar’s, but they tend not to reflect the realities of such encounters as well as might be expected.

  12. an evil DM Avatar
    an evil DM

    Are you aware that the real D&D team posted a link to this article in one of their own articles about monster tactics? That’s how I discovered this blog, and i’m sure i’m not alone with that, so good job with that. here’s the article:

  13. […] will be helpless if they destroy the boat with Bite and Claw attacks first. Unlike, say, a kraken, dragon turtles—regardless of age—don’t possess the Siege Monster trait, so sinking a whole […]

  14. Morgan Ruthardt Avatar
    Morgan Ruthardt

    This may be a dumb question, but I can’t find an answer anywhere else. Does a kraken need to be swimming in salt water? The MM states that it is amphibious, so it can breath air and water, but doesn’t ever state whether fresh water is habitable.
    I’m running a unique module to practice my GMing style on something that is not as important as my home-brew campaign. Endless weird stuff will be happening, to one town, where the whole thing will be based.
    This town is on the shore of a lake, and if my players want to bring in high-level PCs for a session, the antagonist could bring a Kraken into the lake, to be dealt with; IF just being in fresh water won’t kill it (War of the Worlds, anyone?).
    So, that’s my super basic, but rather key question.

  15. Kyle B Avatar
    Kyle B

    Thanks for this! Can you give ideas of what a Kraken would say when speaking through its Kraken Priest (using the Voice of the Kraken action from Volo’s Guide page 215)?


  16. […] even the fastest ship. And while it may not be able to demolish a ship with the efficiency of a kraken, it’s not as though it’s on a deadline. While the crew cowers inside, it can patiently batter […]

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