Heralded by the click-clacking of bone against stone, a nightmare crawls out of the darkness. Resembling a chimeric amalgam of vulture, cockroach, and oversized fishing equipment, the Hook Horror might be one of the nastiest looking things to slither, crawl, and climb out of the pages of the Monster Manual.
These freaky-looking nightmares have been terrorizing the underdark since the earliest days of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (1e) when they were included in the Fiend Folio, the first monster manual to be produced by the UK-based arm of TST (who were also responsible for classic stuff like The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh) and have remained a notorious terror of low-level adventures in the Underdark in pretty much every edition of the game since.
So today we’re going to be taking a closer look at the Hook Horror — what they’re like to fight and how dungeon masters playing D&D 5e can portray them, not just as nightmarish alien horrors from deep beneath the earth but as surprisingly complex creatures worth a closer look.
What Is a Hook Horror?
A Hook Horror is a CR 3 monstrosity found on page 189 of the Monster Manual. It dwells in the Underdark and resembles a 9-foot tall humanoid with a vulture’s head, an insectoid carapace covering its back, and huge serrated hooks made of bone at the ends of its arms, which it uses to climb rocky cave walls as well as disembowel its prey.
Large Monstrosity, Neutral
- AC: 15 (natural armor)
- Hit Points: 75 (10d10 + 20)
- Speed: 30 ft., climb 30 ft.
- STR 18 (+4), DEX 10 (+0), CON 15 (+2), INT 6 (-2), WIS 12 (+1), CHA 7 (-2)
- Skills: Perception +3
- Senses: Blindsight 60 ft., Darkvision 120 ft., Passive Perception 13
- Languages: Hook Horror
- CR: 3 (700 XP)
- Proficiency Bonus: +2
Echolocation. The Hook Horror can’t use its blindsight while deafened.
Keen Hearing. The Hook Horror has advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on hearing.
Multiattack. The Hook Horror makes two hook attacks.
Hook. Melee Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, reach 10 ft., one target. Hit: 11 (2d6 + 4) piercing damage.
Mechanically, the Hook Horror is remarkably simple. It has a climbing speed equal to its walking speed, thanks to its hooks. This means that when it’s in its natural environment of cramped caves and underground tunnels, the Hook Horror is more than capable of keeping up with a party of adventurers.
Advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks, huge darkvision range, and some of the longest blindsight ranges in the Monster Manual also make it very hard to sneak up on — or more likely sneak past — a Hook Horror, let alone a whole nest of them.
It’s honestly a shame how simple Hook Horrors are mechanically. For something this terrifying to be roughly as dangerous as a bear to fight feels like a disservice to the beast. Personally, I like the way that 2e AD&D tweaked these creatures to get some extra free beak damage if both its claws hit their target. If I was running Hook Horrors in 5e, maybe I’d rule that if both attacks hit the same target, that target is grappled, and because Hook Horrors feel like ambush predators to me, they’re probably going to immediately drag the hooked character away into the darkness. If their prey’s friends follow to try and stop it, well, they’re going to have to contend with the fact they just walked into a whole nest of Hook Horrors.
Because the scariest thing about a Hook Horror, surprisingly, isn’t the way it looks; it’s the fact it’s not alone, and it’s smarter than it looks.
The Ecology of the Hook Horror
The longer the Monster Manual entry for Hook Horrors goes on, the more I think they manage to be a lot more interesting than their stat block suggests.
Hook Horrors are fiercely territorial, omnivorous predators that aggressively defend their hunting grounds. Most of the time, however, Hook Horrors are omnivorous — eating lichens, moss, mushrooms, and other subterranean plants as they wait for their remarkably sharp hearing to pick up the telltale sound of a potential main course approaching through the darkness.
Now, Hook Horror darkvision is excellent, but it’s their echolocation that sets them apart from the other Underdark predators.
By tapping against the rock walls around them, or their own body, with chitinous plates, Hook Horrors are able to perceive their surroundings, even in total darkness. The caverns where they forage and hunt echo with the sounds of high-pitched clicking as a Hook Horror navigates the dark, stony space.
Then, from the darkness, something else clicks back.
What’s especially interesting about these creatures is that they not only use clicking noises to “see” in the dark but also to communicate with other Hook Horrors. In fact, the series of clacking noises — though they might sound random to just about any other creature — that Hook Horrors produce can be so complex that they actually count as a complex language.
Using the winding, echoing tunnels of the Underdark, Hook Horrors can communicate with one another over great distances. They can exchange information, coordinate group hunting expeditions, and set up ambushes.
Hook Horrors are pack predators — assuming something big enough wanders into their territory — and will coordinate among one or more large family groups to bring down something huge, like a Bulette.
They also aren’t solitary, and Hook Horrors live in extended family groups or clans, guarding one another’s young and deferring to the eldest female, who typically places her mate in charge of the clan’s hunters. Hook Horrors lay eggs, which are clustered in a central, well-defended area of a clan’s home caverns.
Fighting a Hook Horror
Probably the best way to defeat a Hook Horror is to kill or disable it before its friends show up. As pack hunters with well-defined territories, you can be sure that where one exists, others will surely follow.
The most effective way to get the drop on a Hook Horror is to eliminate its blindsight, which is cut off if the creature is deafened. Spells like shatter, thaumaturgy, and thunderclap are all great shouts here. You can even use magic devices like an artificer’s infused stones or a spell-like prestidigitation to throw sounds in the wrong places.
Of course, it may already be too late. If you’ve been hearing the sounds of “what sounds like small rocks” clattering down the cavern walls and other unexplained clicking noises, you’re probably hearing the Hook Horrors planning an ambush. They’re not especially smart creatures, but INT 6 is enough for complex communication, planning, and strategy.
Hook Horrors will lure you away, separate you from your friends, and drop on you one by one. Some absolute sadist on Reddit suggested that Hook Horrors can make such sophisticated clicking noises that they can mimic human speech to a degree — calling out in a language they can’t understand, repeating the last words of its victims, like the freaking Predator.
Of course, there’s a better analogy for a surprisingly intelligent, highly mobile pack hunter with giant hooked claws.
Running Hook Horrors Like a Pack of Velociraptors
If you’re a dungeon master who’s wondering how to make Hook Horrors feel dangerous — especially to a party who is past the point of 1st-3rd level squishiness, this is how you do it.
It starts with a tapping sound. Small. Isolated. Then silence.
The party freezes. They strain their ears, watching the edge of the torchlight for movement. The ranger thinks she saw something moving up near the ceiling, but it’s gone now, and there’s no way (with her 14 Perception check) to know for sure if it was a bat or something else… After a few tense moments, the party moves on.
Then, the sound comes again. Click-clack… from up ahead this time. Then again Click-click-clack… click-click from behind. Panicked, the party chooses a side tunnel — unlit, with high ceilings hidden in darkness — and breaks into a jog. As their lights fade away down the tunnel, the only sound that remains is the gentle click-clacking echoing back and forth.
The Hook Horrors are planning, misdirecting, and keeping tabs on the PCs. They’re carefully setting up an ambush.
Ideally, the players should think there are only one or two at first, easily beaten back with a deep wound or two. Then, later, someone goes off alone and goes missing, dragged into the darkness before anyone can do anything. Chasing them leads to a dead end, and from the darkness above, the Hook Horrors drop.
If you take a coordinated, careful approach to hunting your players with a pack of intelligent monsters, I think you’re going to have a lot of opportunities to make the Underdark feel like a truly scary place. Until next time, happy adventuring.