Last Updated on January 22, 2023
Behold! A hellish fusion of man and beast. A winged, barb-tailed, loathsome creature whose cruelty is matched only by its unquenchable hunger for human blood and flesh.
Beware! The beast in question is patient and cunning. Likely, it is not alone. Its batlike wings lift it high out of reach of bow and arcane fire as barbed quills fly like arrows among your ranks. From a distance, the beast will make you bleed, duck, and run for the shadows of the rocks. There, its allies await.
Their faces are almost human in the half-light, but their mouths are used for naught but telling lies and biting chunks of flesh from their prey. Their claws — stolen by past acts of cruel sorcery from the body of a tiger or other great cat — are used exactly as nature intended.
So, beware the forsaken corners of the world, young adventurers — the rocky badlands and high mountain passes, the caverns where no beasts of the forest of goblins will tread — lest you behold this vile beast, this monstrosity of tooth and spine and leathery wing: the manticore.
That’s right, folks. Today we’re going to be taking a deep dive into what’s probably my favorite monster, not just in D&D, but in all of mythology. We’re going to talk about manticores, what they’re like in D&D 5e, how to fight them, how to escape them, and how any dungeon master can use manticores to run a genuinely terrifying adventure or just have something up their sleeve the next time they roll for a random encounter.
- STR 17 (+3), DEX 16 (+3), CON 17 (+3), INT 7 (-2), WIS 12 (+1), CHA 8 (-1)
- Armor Class: 14 (natural armor)
- Hit Points: 68 (8d10 + 24)
- Speed: 30 ft., fly 50 ft.
- CR (XP): 3 (700 XP)
- Senses/Languages: Darkvision 60 ft., Passive Perception 11 / Common
- Proficiency Bonus: +2
- Size: Large
- Type: Monstrosity
- Alignment: Lawful Evil
- Damage / Condition Resistance / Immunity: None
- Skills: None
- Saving Throws: None
Tail Spike Regrowth. The manticore has twenty-four tail spikes. Used spikes regrow when the manticore finishes a long rest.
Multiattack. The manticore makes three attacks: one with its bite and two with its claws or three with its tail spikes.
- Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 7 (1d8 + 3) piercing damage.
- Claw. Melee Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 6 (1d6 + 3) slashing damage.
- Tail Spike. Ranged Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, range 100/200 ft., one target. Hit: 7 (1d8 + 3) piercing damage.
What Is a Manticore in DnD 5e?
A manticore is a large, CR 3 monstrosity with a human-like head and face, the body of a big cat, and the leathery wings of a dragon. It also has a barbed tail that ends in a cluster of long quills like a porcupine, which the manticore can shoot at its enemies from a distance.
While not especially intelligent, manticores nevertheless possess a low cunning and speak the common tongue. They often taunt their victims, demanding they surrender in exchange for a quick death or use their voices to lure enemies into ambushes. They are disdainful, pride-fueled creatures, believing themselves superior in strength to anything smaller than they are and smarter than everything else.
That doesn’t stop them from working with other creatures, however, as some species like orcs and goblins will form temporary alliances with manticores — providing them with a steady stream of food in exchange for what amounts to fantasy air support on their raiding missions.
Manticores — whether attacking as a solo monster or fighting in packs — are fearsome predators. They can attack enemies from up to 200 feet away using their tail spikes, and while their “ammunition” is limited, a manticore can still shoot quills at a party for eight straight rounds (shooting three spikes per round with a +5 to hit) before it needs to make a decision whether to close to melee range.
Even if the players do have ranged attack options at their disposal, manticores have solid AC (14) and a sizable hit-point pool. Also, their 50-foot flying speed means that a manticore in its favorite terrain can easily emerge from behind some rocks, fire a volley of spikes at its prey, and be back into three-quarters (or even full) cover on the same round.
Then, they rinse and repeat until they’re out of tail spikes.
Then, when a manticore does close to melee range, it brings a hefty claw-claw-bite multi-attack to the party, which can dish out about 20 points of damage every round.
The manticore’s darkvision makes them well suited to attacks at dusk, after the sun goes down, or deep in underground caves. Also, their ability to speak and therefore taunt or misdirect their prey makes them especially dangerous if a party gets separated and can’t be sure who’s speaking from where.
How To Defeat a Manticore
As a budding 1st-level adventurer, fighting a manticore can be a seriously challenging prospect.
Unless you have serious ranged capabilities (a ranger with a longbow or a warlock with Eldritch Blast), your party might seriously struggle to even tag the beast. At a point in the game when a manticore has a chance to down a 1st-level sorcerer or wizard with a single tail spike, having to weather a hail of three of them every turn with no way to meaningfully close the distance can feel like a nightmare.
In these situations, the best tactic is probably to get under cover — indoors, ideally somewhere you can take pot shots at the manticore without it getting a full view of you. Although, keep in mind that it can move faster than most characters in all three dimensions, so just getting behind something isn’t a permanent solution.
Next, if your party lacks ranged damage or control options, you’re going to have to find ways to close the gap. Lassoes — maybe the 2nd-level Earthbind spell if you have a 3rd-level druid, sorcerer, warlock, or wizard in the party — are probably your friend here.
Still, for a low-level party (especially if you’re facing more than one manticore), the best option may not revolve exclusively around combat. The manticore’s combination of stupidity and a complete belief that it’s the smartest creature in the world is probably a more potent weapon in your arsenal than any sword or arrow.
Get a manticore talking — whether you’re making a long-winded surrender speech, offering it something, or simply playing to its vanity — and you may be able to force it to land. Now, they still have pretty high Wisdom, but if you’re looking for a way to give an opening to the party barbarian (ideally carrying a big net), a clever bard may be able to get you there.
Of course, if you’re spotted, it’s highly unlikely you’ll get a second chance. And, with that 50-foot flying speed, you’d probably need a horse to put any meaningful distance between you and it.
Honestly, the best way to survive a manticore encounter might not be to outrun the beast; it might simply be to outrun your least favorite NPC.
Why You Need To Run a Manticore Encounter in Your Next Campaign
I cannot express just how much I love the manticore in D&D 5e, not just as a monster, but as a piece of game design. When I run D&D for low-level play, I have four broad categories of enemies that I like to cycle through (or just throw at my players all at once):
- Undead (like ghouls, skeletons, and zombies)
- “Monstrous” non-humans (like gnolls, kobolds, or goblins)
- Cults (sometimes working alongside the “monstrous” humanoids above)
- Flying alpha predators (like griffons and perytons but especially manticores).
I think each of these groups acts as a thesis statement for what I like about low-level (1-5, otherwise known as Tier I) play in D&D 5e. I feel like this could be a whole article in and of itself, but for now, I’ll break it down as briefly as I can:
The Undead let players know that the world is ancient, mysterious, and governed by rules that most folks don’t understand. Undead reinforce the idea that the players walk among the ruins of long-dead empires far grander than the civilization they currently inhabit.
Goblins, kobolds, gnolls, and other “monstrous humanoids” let the players know that the lands beyond the plowed fields surrounding their starter town do not belong to humanity (or civilization if you’re playing a less human-centric) campaign. They are the threat from outside civilization’s walls.
Conversely, Cults represent the threat from within. They are a cancer eating at the heart of civilization and a great way to remind the players that adventures don’t only happen outside of the town.
Lastly, flying monstrosities like the manticore exist to remind the players that while orcs, goblins, and kobolds are fundamentally just trying to live out their lives as best they can — and it’s really only issues of resource scarcity and fear of the other that cause conflict — there are other things out there that view humans as food and nothing more.
Manticores (along with other alpha-predator monstrosities like chimeras, griffons, and perytons) are the real reason that the wilderness outside the starter town is a scary place. Used correctly, manticores will make your players think long and hard before venturing into a dark cave or even into the mountains at all. Frankly, if you play this monster to its true potential, your players won’t want to leave town at all.
So, let’s break down exactly why I think manticores are such a well-realized part of the D&D 5e Monster Manual, why they’re so fun to use (and roleplay), and how you can use them to their fullest potential.
For a creature with such a simple stat block, manticores actually give a dungeon master a fair amount of stuff to do. I think this actually makes them a better “teaching monster,” both for DMs looking to get the hang of running combat (one manticore is a lot easier and arguably more interesting to run than half a dozen goblins) and players.
This only works, however, if you play the manticores as cunning creatures. I’m not saying they’re smart. They’re not smart. They’re vain, prideful, greedy, and petty. They want to dominate, terrorize, kill, and feast upon weaker creatures, but they’re also not dumb beasts like a wolf or a bear.
Their stupidity is a very human kind of stupidity, and I think that makes them not just really fun to roleplay (and run in combat) but very easy for your players to hate. Sure, a dire wolf looking to make a meal of you is fine, but a creature that taunts you, goads you, tries to make you feel angry and small while it shoots darts at you from behind a rock and flies faster than you can run? That’s a monster only a Dungeon Master could love.
It takes some finesse, however. Charge straight in with a manticore and even a low-level party will burst them down in a few rounds. With a manticore encounter, the best thing you can do is keep the creature alive as long as possible. Rather than thinking in terms of a four-round combat, think about fighting a manticore as a whole three-act horror film.
First, the party hears little scratching sounds in the hills around them. They see a tiny dark shape flying high against the sun — too high to pick out how big it is. The manticore watches the party from afar, spying on them from the darkness at night.
This is when it strikes. It might kill a horse or pet if the opportunity arises or try to lure a single PC away with its uncannily human voice. (I like to imagine the manticore repeating things it’s heard other people say — scraps of frightened language with a horrible, sadistic edge. Think of the Predator using recorded voices to lure the soldiers into an ambush).
When the attacks begin in earnest, it’s all about starting with the tail spikes. The manticore can cheerfully pepper the party with them from cover. If it kills someone or knocks them unconscious, it swoops down and drags their body away. If it doesn’t, it backs off, stalking the party over a series of days like a wolf or a lion (if a lion had a crossbow and the capacity to also call you a lil’ bitch).
Also, if the party proves numerous or strong enough to pose a real threat (or starts to hunt the manticore), the manticore leaves, visiting the territories of its neighbors to assemble a hunting pack. The next time the players rest, they hear more than one voice calling to them from beyond the edge of the fire. The last thing the players are going to think before the spikes start flying is, “Why didn’t we just stay home?”
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I played my first tabletop RPG (Pathfinder 1e, specifically) in college. I rocked up late to the first session with an unread rulebook and a human bard called Nick Jugger. It was a rocky start but I had a blast and now, the better part of a decade later, I play, write, and write about tabletop RPGs (mostly 5e, but also PBtA, Forged in the Dark and OSR) games for a living, which is wild.