Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Let's Read the 5e Monster Manual - The Dragon Turtle

The Dragon Turtle

The Dragon Turtle is one of those peculiar creatures that has been in the game since the days of THACO and 1d4 hit points, yet I have never heard of anyone using one. This is probably primarily because aquatic campaigns, and therefore aquatic baddies, are fairly rare in most people’s gaming. Additionally, our terrible testudines is packing a pretty hefty (and potentially undeserved – more on that later) CR17, meaning it will only show up to hassle high-level parties. 

I personally adore the sea-monster trope, and the Dragon Turtle is competing with some stiff competition in the Kraken or Sea Serpent. Here be monsters…


Allow me to share a fairly pointless niggle or pet-hate. That ship is quite clearly from the later days of the Age of Sail and resembles something from around the time of the Spanish Armada. It clearly has areas for cannon – and fairly advanced, slim cannon at that - in a game that assumes gunpowder is yet to be discovered. This is stupid and inconsistent.

The actual artwork is a nice effort at imbuing the Dragon Turtle with some menace: its attacking an unaware ship, about to snap the rudder, and the art is designed to give the whole piece a sense of scale. There’s a shark helpfully drifting past to show you that the Dragon Turtle is bigger than a shark and nonplussed by a shark.

My problem is that this all seems a little staid; a little formulaic. I like my seas brooding and romantic; my monstrosities thrashing and terrible. It’s a boring composition.  I much prefer the original execution.

It’s also not really giving me much ‘Dragon’ to work with. It’s just a really big turtle, and turtles hardly inspire terror.

Purpose and Tactics

It’s a big monster, with enough intelligence to communicate and be a tool. In your campaign, you could make it a controllable minion of a maritime big bad (essentially the plot of that Pirates of the Caribbean film with the Scottish Mind Flayer) or a major part of a naval attacking force. In this case, finding a method of destroying the Dragon Turtle (avoid fireballs, jump repeatedly on its head) could form part of your quest chain.

It could also just turn up as you cross an ocean to attack the player’s ship. In battle, it seems more Michelangelo than monster, though. It has a big pile of hit-points and fairly high AC, and a multi-attack ability to nail your players. As mentioned with the Red Dragon, simply damage and toughness generally aren’t enough to make a fight, and the Dragon Turtle looks easy to vanquish for any vaguely prepared level 17 party. This is a party with epic spells – multiattack physical and fire damage aren’t going to cut it.

It’s also weirdly slow. (40feet swim? What?)

So it falls to the DM to jazz up this turtle and make it worthy of CR 17. The first way to do this is make the fight occur in water – not at sea, in the water – a Dragon Turtle should make short work with an initial multiattack of most ships, and ensure they’re taking on water. As the fight progresses, the players should be clinging to driftwood, lost barrels, ship fragments – and focussing as much on avoiding the depths as they are the Turtle. This also makes the Tail Attack’s knockback and prone abilities far more meaningful.  I’d add an ability to grab party members in his jaws and subsequently drag them into the depths, so party members will be constantly struggling to combat this force of nature. As with the Red Dragon, use the Reach ability to ensure your Dragon Turtle is attacking from within the water and is outside of melee range and arguably obscured from view. Additionally, it has 120 feet of Darkvision and we’re angling for every advantage we can get, so make sure it’s a nocturnal turtle (nocturtle?).

If you have a little more CR pennies in the bank, pairing it with a Marid or spellcaster of some kind will help enormously.

Despite my complaints about Legendary Resistance, this creature needs it. Otherwise a single successful casting of say, Dominate Monster or Ottiluke’s Irresistible Dance ends the combat.


There’s some interesting information on motivations: it covets treasure as much as a typical Dragon, and thus will drag wealthy ships beneath the waves. Additionally, they’re mercenaries or even mounts of intelligent aquatic creatures, giving you a plethora of potential plot hooks beyond the simple “We need a random encounter at sea” impulse. Some of the language here is quite beautiful, and would make for excellent in game description – especially the idea that sailors might mistake a turtle for the reflection of the moon, until….

Plot Hooks
The Most Serene Republic of Firtenzia has been closed out by its mightier rivals, and now its merchants are assaulted, boarded, blockaded and abused by its powerful maritime rivals.  But there is rumour of a way to win back control of the seas…

Your players, after weeks at sea, find a small island jutting from the water. After wandering on the island to search for food, they notice the movement of gentle breathing, and how far they are from land….

Sultan Aquisul, The Most Magnificent Marid-King of the Hundred-Thousand Seas of the Plane of Water, needs a steed to pull his coral palanquin. Could your players tame Tetsuferrax, the legendary scourge of the seas?

Verdict: I think this has the nucleus of a good idea but is one of the most poorly executed monsters in the entire book. Use a Kraken instead. 

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