Last Updated on November 2, 2023
Large Monstrosity, unaligned
- AC: 14 (natural armor), 11 while prone
- Hit Points: 39 (6d10 + 6)
- Speed: 30 ft., burrow 10 ft.
- STR 17(+3), DEX 11(+0), CON 11(+0), INT 1(-5), WIS 13(+1), CHA 6(-2)
- Senses: Darkvision 60 ft., Tremorsense60 ft., Passive Perception 11
- Languages —
- Challenge Rating: 2 (450 XP)
Bite: Melee Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 9 (2d6 + 3) slashing damage plus 3 (1d6) acid damage. If the target is a Large or smaller creature, it is grappled (escape DC 13). Until this grapple ends, the ankheg can bite only the grappled creature and has advantage rolls on attack rolls to do so.
Acid Spray (Recharge 6): The ankheg spits acid in a line that is 30 feet long and 5 feet wide, provided that it has no creature grappled. Each creature in that line must make a DC 13 Dexterity saving throw, taking 10 (3d6) acid damage on a failed save or half as much damage on a successful one.
What Is an Ankheg?
Ankhegs are large insectoid creatures with many legs, a chitinous hide, and huge mandibles. As you can see in the stat block above, these creatures aren’t evil, although that doesn’t make them any less of a threat. An Ankheg may not be your next potential big bad, but it’s certainly a dangerous predator to watch out for.
For all intents and purposes, ankhegs are bugs. Of course, there reaches a point where a creature descends too far from its origins to be considered an ordinary, or even extraordinary, beast.
Much like the froghemoth, this is a creature that behaves like its inspiration, even if it’s far more deadly than, say, a grasshopper.
Beyond just “bugs,” Ankhegs are predators. Specifically, they are burrowing predators, which is perhaps one of their most threatening features.
These creatures create large, complex tunnels underground and only really depart from their home territory to hunt their prey.
In this way, Ankhegs are actually interesting creatures. Unlike a vast majority of our encounters in 5e, these bugs don’t have any hidden motivations or even any decision making to be thought of.
Their singular purpose of feeding also makes them a very straightforward encounter. They want to feed, so you can either kill them or find a new food source. The options aren’t really much wider than that at all.
Ankhegs are only CR2 creatures, but their ability to travel in packs (swarms?) means that they are an encounter for a group of just about any level.
What makes the ankhegs exciting for players and DMs alike is that they are simple creatures.
They fit almost anywhere: A small, random encounter on the side of a road? Ankheg. Wave-style battle to defend a city from invaders? Ankheg. Alien-esque horror with allies being picked off one at a time by an invisible force? Ankheg. They’re so simple that they’re complex.
The Ankheg in Combat
Summary for DMs:
- Make sure you take advantage of burrowing
- Try to surprise players and attempt to grapple
- Use multiple Ankhegs if needed to make the combat challenging.
Summary for Players:
- Try to knock them prone to reduce AC.
- If someone is grappled, they are the only one that can be attacked by the Ankheg
- Watch for more Ankhegs possibly underground waiting to attack.
Ankhegs are straight shooters when it comes to combat. They want to feed, and they’ll do their best to lock onto a single target and attempt to devour it.
Beyond that, they’ll use their terrain to their advantage since they’re as skilled at burrowing as they are at hunting.
They’ll stay under the ground until they can pop out and attack a creature, using their bite attack to devour it as fast as possible.
If you want to surprise your players (and have the ankheg benefit from them being surprised), I suggest at least setting a DC for the holes and testing it against the character’s passive Perception scores.
Once an ankheg is out of the ground, it’s time for it to start taking down its prey. Its bite is almost definitely going to grapple a creature; it just has to land the attack.
Once it does that, it may try to get away. Just remember, the ankheg can only move half its speed while grappling unless the creature in its grasp is two or more sizes smaller than it.
So, the ankheg will probably favor a small character, like a halfling or gnome, if it wants to make a hasty retreat. This makes sense because predators know when they’re outnumbered.
Beyond just biting, ankhegs have an acid spray that makes them quite formidable at longer ranges. It does have a very small recharge chance, which means this attack is more of a last resort than anything else.
If it feels cornered or wants to disable a number of its prey at a time, it will line up its shot and spray, hopefully downing one or two so it can regain the advantage.
Going up against an ankheg means taking advantage of the moments when it is feeding. If it has a creature grappled, that’s the only one it can attack.
It’s then very easy to launch a series of blows. A couple of good turns and you’ve taken down a bug, even if it means an ally taking a bit of damage as well.
Still, if a PC can knock an ankheg prone, their AC is dramatically reduced, and you can unleash a barrage of attacks with quick succession to knock them down a peg.
I’m not the only one to notice that, and there is a wonderful video by Matthew Colville that redesigns the ankheg as an “action-oriented monster.”
Watch it here to learn more because I’m certainly not going to repackage his idea as my own. I will, however, talk about it a bit to give you my thoughts.
Colville does a lot to change up how this creature performs in combat. Below are the main features he added or changed:
- Increase AC
- Increase HP
- Increase burrow speed
- Add in claw attacks along with a couple of multiattack options
- Add a single claw attack as a bonus action
- Create three reactions
- Restraining acid glob as a reaction to creatures moving
- Acid blood burst as a reaction to taking damage
- AOE acid burst upon death
- Create “Villain Actions” – round-based actions at the end of players’ turns
- A burrowing dive underground
- Attack from underground and drag a creature down
- AOE acid spray when close to death
What Colville does here is double down on the feel of the Ankheg while also adding in new and unique abilities that make it much less of a punching bag while it’s not actively in its turn.
I also think that we could, and should, really double down on the burrowing aspect of this creature. Surprise attacks, or being ambushed by multiple Ankhegs.
There’s also a decent amount of focus on creating actions centered on the acid spray. Again, I think this is cool, and I think that it makes for a more deadly creature, but I don’t think it really nails down the central concept of what an ankheg is.
There aren’t many entries on the ankheg that focus on its acid, and in RAW (Rules as Written) D&D 5e, it’s basically just a nice little addition so it has range.
New Varieties of Ankheg
I’m a firm believer that most fantasy creatures should have different “classes” or subsets. For an insect creature such as the ankheg, the solution to that is pretty simple. If we create a Larval Ankheg and an Ankheg Brood Queen we end up with a spread of creatures that feels realistic, unlike the strange setup where every ankheg is exactly the same.
A larval ankheg would be the baby version, probably only CR ¼ or CR ½. This creature would have fewer hit points, would only be a medium-size creature, and would have a less developed chitin, meaning its AC would be 11 across its entire body.
We would also change the actual ability scores as well, reducing strength by 2 to drop the modifier a bit.
The brood queen, however, is a serious threat, and we should be doing more than just the obvious bits that come with a higher CR.
We’re going for a CR 8 creature, so here’s my proposal:
Huge Monstrosity, unaligned
- AC: 17(natural armor), 12 while prone
- Hit Points: 95 (10d8 + 50)
- Speed: 30 ft., burrow 30 ft.
- STR 18(+4), DEX 14(+2), CON 13(+1), INT 1(-5), WIS 15(+2), CHA 6(-2)
- Senses: Darkvision 60 ft., Tremorsense 60 ft., Passive Perception 15
- Languages —
- Challenge Rating: 8 (3,900 XP)
Vicious Swipes: For any attacks that target a single creature, the brood queen may instead target two creatures if they are within 10 feet of each other and within range.
Larval Offspring: If the brood queen takes more than 20 damage in a single attack, she produces 1d6 larval ankhegs in her space.
Multiattack: The brood queen makes two attacks with its claws and a bite attack.
Claw: Melee Weapon Attack: +7 to hit, reach 15 ft., one target. Hit: 11(2d6+4) slashing damage. The target must make a DC 15 Constitution saving throw or be poisoned. A poisoned creature takes 1d6 acid damage at the beginning of their turn. A poisoned creature may attempt this save at the end of their turn to end the effect. On a successful save, a creature is immune to this effect for 24 hours.
Bite: Melee Weapon Attack: +7 to hit, reach 10 ft., one target. Hit: 9 (2d6 + 3) slashing damage plus 3 (1d6) acid damage. If the target is a Large or smaller creature, it is grappled (escape DC 13). Until this grapple ends, the ankheg can bite only the grappled creature and has advantage rolls on attack rolls to do so.
Acid Drench (Recharge 4-6): The brood queen spits acid in a 40-ft. cone. Each creature in that area must make a DC 15 Dexterity saving throw, taking 14 (4d6) acid damage on a failed save or half as much damage on a successful one. A creature grappled by the brood queen automatically fails its save.
I’m tempted to add in some lair and legendary actions and really go all out on this, but I believe what we have here is terrifying enough to constitute an increased threat if the adventurers stumble across a nest of Ankhegs.
I hope this article hasn’t made you too squeamish, and as always, happy adventuring.
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As a kid, I was often told to get my head out of the clouds and to stop living in a fantasy world. That never really jived with me, so I decided to make a living out of games, stories, and all sorts of fantastical works. Now, as an adult, I aspire to remind people that sometimes a little bit of fantasy is all you need when life gets to be too much.