What came first, the kuo-toa or the murlocs? No, not the frightening and intelligent Morlocks or H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine. I mean the annoying little fish people from World of Warcraft.
Because that’s what kuo-toa are. Annoying little fish people that are very dangerous in large numbers.
At least that’s what you would think at first. The truth is, they aren’t little, they are plenty dangerous on their own, and their madness — while annoying — hides a cunning intelligence that can quickly surprise and overwhelm entire humanoid societies.
What Is a Kuo-Toa?
A kuo-toa is an amphibious medium humanoid that resembles an anthropomorphic fish. They have a complex society and are usually hated by every other creature.
Medium Humanoid (Kuo-Toa), Neutral Evil
- Armor Class: 13 (natural armor, shield)
- Hit Points: 18 (4d8)
- Speed: 30 ft., swim 30 ft.
- STR 13 (+1), DEX 10 (+0), CON 11 (+0), INT 11 (+0), WIS 10 (+0), CHA 8 (-1)
- Skills: Perception +4
- Senses: Darkvision 120 ft., Passive Perception 14
- Languages: Undercommon
- Challenge: 1/4 (50 XP)
- Proficiency Bonus: +2
Amphibious. The kuo-toa can breathe air and water.
Otherworldly Perception. The kuo-toa can sense the presence of any creature within 30 feet of it that is invisible or on the Ethereal Plane. It can pinpoint such a creature that is moving.
Slippery. The kuo-toa has advantage on ability checks and saving throws made to escape a grapple.
Sunlight Sensitivity. While in sunlight, the kuo-toa has disadvantage on attack rolls, as well as on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on sight.
Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +3 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 3 (1d4 + 1) piercing damage.
Spear. Melee or Ranged Weapon Attack: +3 to hit, reach 5 ft. or range 20/60 ft., one target. Hit: 4 (1d6 + 1) piercing damage, or 5 (1d8 + 1) piercing damage if used with two hands to make a melee attack.
Net. Ranged Weapon Attack: +3 to hit, range 5/15 ft., one Large or smaller creature. Hit: The target is restrained. A creature can use its action to make a DC 10 Strength check to free itself or another creature in a net, ending the effect on a success. Dealing 5 slashing damage to the net (AC 10) frees the target without harming it and destroys the net.
Sticky Shield. When a creature misses the kuo-toa with a melee weapon attack, the kuo-toa uses its sticky shield to catch the weapon. The attacker must succeed on a DC 11 Strength saving throw, or the weapon becomes stuck to the kuo-toa’s shield. If the weapon’s wielder can’t or won’t let go of the weapon, the wielder is grappled while the weapon is stuck. While stuck, the weapon can’t be used. A creature can pull the weapon free by taking an action to make a DC 11 Strength check and succeeding.
The kuo-toa seen here is a basic version of the monster. In addition to this, there is a Kuo-toa Archpriest that is essentially a 9th-level cleric (CR 6), a class of kuo-toa called Whips that are essentially 2nd-level paladins (CR 1), and kuo-toa monitors that are basically 2nd-level monks (CR 3).
I make these comparisons because of their combat abilities and spellcasting. They have no other class abilities other than what is listed in the standard kuo-toa stat block.
Together, these four classes make for a varied and complex kuo-toa adventure. If you see these monsters, be prepared. They aren’t all the same.
All kuo-toa have uncanny perception. They can perceive invisible creatures even while moving and have a passive perception of 14. However, this can be hindered by their sunlight sensitivity, which all kuo-toa also have. Finally, all kuo-toa have the Slippery trait, so don’t try to tie one up or grapple one.
A Kuo-Toa Guide for Players
Kuo-toa are found in underground and watery areas. Sometimes they show up in coastal regions if they are making raids on the surface but even then only at night because of their Sunlight Sensitivity.
If you spend a lot of time underground or near water, you may come into contact with these creatures, and it will most likely be violent. Considering how kuo-toa are usually treated by members of other races, they will be more likely to capture or kill you before asking what your intentions are.
How To Fight Kuo-Toa
Do not underestimate these weird creatures.
The first thing to know is that their perceptive abilities are uncanny. As mentioned above, they have an impressive Passive Perception and can detect invisible creatures freely. Stealth may not be your best option here – at least not up close.
One thing all kuo-toa lack is ranged combat ability (except for the spellcasters). This is likely because they fight underwater just as well as they do on land. Ranged weapons don’t work so well underwater. If you do happen to come across kuo-toa in the big blue, stick with melee or spellcasting.
How To Avoid Fighting Kuo-Toa
This is a much better question. The kuo-toa have a tendency to live in a society with laws. Granted, as neutral evil monsters, that isn’t always true, but they do have a social organization that can be taken advantage of.
Because of their tragic history, kuo-toa are extremely religious. However, they have a strange view on what counts as a god. Basically, anything can be a god. Usually, they make a god out of things they create, statutes and the like, but they could just as easily find something inspiring and start worshiping it.
If you find yourself outnumbered and outmatched, consider challenging the archpriest to a duel as champions of a god — their god versus your god (or even yourself). Even if you don’t defeat the archpriest, you may be able to cause enough of a delay to give the party time to make a plan.
Alternatively, kuo-toa are no strangers to being a society or slaves to more powerful monsters. Mind Flayers and aberrations have both enslaved kuo-toa in the past and used them as liaisons between the water and the surface world.
Perhaps if you have the ability to summon an aberration or even demonstrate aberrant qualities, you may be able to exploit this aspect of their personality and gain an audience with their archpriest to negotiate passage.
Kuo-toa are an easy and interesting monster to use. They already come with a bit of variation in the published material, so there is no need to do your own homebrew.
They also have a basic history that places them geographically in the world and provides you with an overview of several possible social structures.
In addition to finding kuo-toa as an isolated underground society, you could put them on the surface in the employ of a powerful entity. Perhaps they serve as nighttime raiders for a warlock of The Fathomless/Great Old One, an aboleth, or a mind flayer.
Perhaps they are being pushed out of their underwater caverns by invading lizardfolk and are now on the surface as refugees. They could be deep in the mountains and navigate the rivers, caverns, and water pits of a thermal spring system. Or they could even be in the frozen tundra, cutting tunnels in the glaciers that go above and below the water with ease and hunting penguins, seals, and polar bears.
In the Monster Manual, kuo-toa are said to live in small, isolated theocracies ruled by an archpriest. The archpriest has several whips about them that have basic spellcasting and are supposed to compete for the archpriest’s position after they die.
The archpriest also has a contingent of monitors that ensure their commands are being obeyed throughout the clan. There are different stat blocks for each of these already published.
The archpriest is said to hear directly from whatever random god they worship, so there can only be one. I would say make every kuo-toa society be composed of one archpriest, 10% whips, 20% monitors, and the 80% standard kuo-toas.
Another option is to make the kuo-toa vassals of a powerful aberration. A mind flayer or an aboleth could rule over several archpriests, with each archpriest ruling over its own contingent of whips, monitors, and regulars.
This would work like a normal kuo-toa society, but it could be 10 times as large. In this option, you could also have the mind flayer or aboleth rule over lizard folk and sahuagin, forcing the three races to compete against each other for the approval of the ruling aberration and its inner circle of cultists and various tentacled friends.
Lastly, if you would like to make kuo-toa be a central part of your next adventure or campaign, here are a few story seeds to get you started! Don’t say we never gave you anything.
Displaced (Urban, Tier 1-2)
The kobolds who live under the city are upset. Usually they get along just fine with the citizens on the surface. The kobolds maintain the sewer and trash systems and in turn get the protection of the city and the freedom to build tunnels underneath. But now the kobolds are attracting attention to themselves and being blamed for all manner of crimes, not to mention how unruly they are becoming with the noise coming from the sewer grates at all hours of the night and day.
An investigation has revealed that the kobolds are being forced out of their homes under the city by a clan of kuo-toa that are moving in from further underground than the kobolds cared to dig, and they are trying to defend themselves. When their resources ran out, they started “borrowing” from the surface.
Can the PCs defend the kobolds from the wrath of the city authorities and stop the kobolds from being replaced by something worse? Is it possible that the kuo-toa are being pushed by something even greater than them? Or is one of the city council members also a cultist/servant of an aberration using the kuo-toa to clear out the kobolds and establish a base of operations for their slimy activities?
One Person’s Junk… (Urban/ Tier 1)
Things are going missing. Little things. Spoons. Scraps of wood and metal. Street signs. After a while, people start to notice and make complaints. When the nose from the statue of the current mayor goes missing, the mayor decides to crack down on the “horrible crimewave affecting our city.”
The PCs must hold an investigation to discover who is stealing all the random things and find out where the stuff is all going. They discover that kuo-toa are coming out at night and collecting odds and ends before disappearing back into the sewers.
Once they go into the sewers themselves, they discover the stolen items are being used to make traps to dissuade surface dwellers from following under the ground. After navigating an underwater dungeon filled with traps and trained guard beasts, the PCs find the rest of the loot in a kuo-toa camp.
It turns out the new archpriest has moved his clan to this location and has decided to make a new god for them to worship composed of the pieces of the city they now live under.
The PCs can choose how to respond from here. They can negotiate the return of some of the items, get violent, or let the kuo-toa alone as harmless creatures. The kuo-toa will be willing to avoid violence if possible.
Once the god is complete, however, surface dweller sacrifices will need to be made to it regularly to keep it satisfied, but maybe the PCs don’t find that out until it’s too late?
We hope this rundown on the kuo-toa will be helpful and inspiring for your upcoming game.