Not everyone knows this, but D&D 5e actually has a lot of options for, shall we say, enemies outside the swords-and-spells fantasy genre it’s most well known for. I am talking, of course, about dinosaurs.
Fans of the spell Polymorph will already know that D&D 5e has stats for the T-Rex — it is one of the better choices for combat shapeshifting and thus has provoked endless debate about whether or not your druid can really transform into something they’ve never seen before (and more debates about whether or not dinosaurs ever went extinct in the campaign world you happen to be playing in).
However, D&D 5e has stats for a lot more dinosaurs than just the big-name actors. In fact, if you want to peruse some of the possibilities for dinosaurs in D&D 5e, I recommend our article on the subject! However, here and now, we’ll be taking a closer look at the quetzalcoatlus in particular.
That’s quetzalcoatlus, pronounced ketz-al-co-at-less, for anyone confused.
If you were obsessed with dinosaurs as a child, you might recognize this creature as not a dinosaur in the most technical sense but rather a type of pterosaur. Of course, for D&D, the difference is mostly semantic.
What Is a Quetzalcoatlus in DnD 5e?
These creatures, Huge beasts by D&D 5e’s classification, are titans of the sky. Creatures large enough to occupy a 15×15-foot square, the quetzalcoatli are a winged terror for anything smaller than themselves (and lacking the strength of arms or spellcasting ability of your party).
Like any of D&D’s monsters, they have their strengths and weaknesses, and it’s worth noting that as beasts, they might not always be facing the party as a direct enemy. So, with that in mind, let’s talk about the quetzalcoatlus and its abilities as a potential future ally, not just a threat.
Let’s take a look at what this dinosaur can do.
- STR 15 (+2), DEX 13 (+1), CON 13 (+1), INT 2 (-4), WIS 10 (+0), CHA 5 (-3)
- AC: 13 (natural armor)
- Hit points: 4d12+4 (30 avg.)
- Speed: 10 ft., fly 80 ft.
- Skills: Perception (+2)
- Senses: 12 passive Perception
- Challenge Rating: 2
In addition to these base stats, the quetzalcoatlus has two main abilities: Dive Attack and Flyby. The former grants a quetzalcoatlus an extra 3d6 (10 avg.) damage on any attack made after diving at least 30 feet toward a target and successfully hitting it with its bite attack. The latter allows the quetzalcoatlus to avoid provoking opportunity attacks when it flies out of an enemy’s reach.
In combat, the quetzalcoatlus has just one attack: Bite. This is a melee weapon attack with a +4 to hit, a reach of 10 feet, and the ability to target just one creature. It does 3d6+2 piercing damage (12 avg.) on a successful hit.
As flying creatures with Dive Attack and Flyby, a quetzalcoatlus’s attack tactics will be pretty straightforward — dive, attack, fly away, repeat. However, there are some attributes to this beast that will alter their tactics from the generic template, alterations that can make the difference in a fight.
I should start out by acknowledging the quetzalcoatlus in the room. These creatures have an Intelligence of 2, making them less intelligent than even an ordinary wolf.
That means that their tactics will never be very sophisticated, and it is likely possible to influence their behavior, even if crudely (more on that in the Countertactics section).
This low Intelligence also means that a quetzalcoatlus is not going to know your party is more powerful than they appear, and they won’t understand magic. They’ll simply see a creature roughly the size of the things they usually eat and dive.
Quetzalcoatli, despite their low intelligence, are still predators. They will prefer to target smaller groups as much as possible and go for what appears to them to be easy prey. They won’t bother ensuring a target is dead, but once they’ve slain someone, they’ll likely try to eat them. After all, that’s the whole point of attacking. A quetzalcoatlus will only attack for food or out of defense, just like any animal.
An Unexpected Challenge
This strategy of attacking primarily to eat can actually be more difficult to face than an enemy intent on defeating the party rather than securing a simple meal. A quetzalcoatlus might just attack a single party member or, worse, simply try to carry away an individual and ignore the rest of the group. If they succeed, it might be difficult indeed to get the creature to return with your friend!
Moreover, quetzalcoatli are Huge, which means their carrying capacity is a full 900 pounds. That’s not just enough to simply carry away your paladin, armor and all, but to grab the horse he’s sitting on as well.
With 80 feet of movement, a successful grapple from one of these creatures can easily result in at least 6d6 (21 avg.) falling damage (from the 60-foot drop, assuming 20 feet to reach you). In the worst-case scenario, you might find yourself falling only after the quetzalcoatlus has had time to climb to 200 feet. In that case, you’d face 20d6 falling damage (70 avg.), considerably worse than the quetzalcoatlus’ normal average damage of just 22.
The potential for grappling makes this creature a bit of a glass cannon, capable of punching well above its CR 2 weight class. While only 30 hit points means it’s pretty squishy, the advantage of flight preventing damage and the possibility of a 200-foot fall can make a quetzalcoatlus threatening to even higher-level parties.
However, after a certain point, most parties will have access to enough magic and/or ranged attacks that fighting off a quetzalcoatlus will be trivial.
As always, when dealing with flying creatures, the best countertactics will simply be ranged spells and attacks. The alternatives, relying on readied actions or magical means of preventing flight, can be inconsistent and limit positioning. The importance of having ranged options really can’t be understated, especially when facing flying creatures like the quetzalcoatlus that have a faster flying speed than the spell Fly grants. Melee attacks are great, but it’s good to have backup options.
The next best thing is, of course, to somehow ground the quetzalcoatlus. Spells like Earthbind, Web, Maximillian’s Restraining Hand, and Sleet Storm (a personal favorite), are all excellent options.
While the quetzalcoatlus has a high carrying capacity, a lot of that comes from the multiplier that their larger size grants. Their actual strength and other stats that these spells use as their saves are not that great. Thus, spells that target these saves can be useful, unlike more supernatural monsters that might have a lower carrying capacity but much better saves.
Dealing With Grapple
Of course, that higher carrying capacity means you cannot simply make yourself heavier than the quetzalcoatlus can carry. Instead, if you do become grappled, you only have a few options. You can either teleport out of the quetzalcoatlus’s grasp, or you can attack the quetzalcoatlus and hope it drops you. If you’re a D&D character, you probably can do enough damage to force release.
Of course, both of these solutions just create a new problem: avoiding the possible falling damage you now face. If you can’t teleport all the way to the ground or if you get the quetzalcoatlus to release you but you can’t fly, you’ll need to survive the fall.
Feather Fall becomes a critical spell here, and these creatures are an excellent reason to make sure at least one spellcaster in your party always has feather fall ready. After all, you never know when a quetzalcoatlus might strike.
Enemies to Friends
This last method of combating quetzalcoatli isn’t actually a combat method at all. Many flying monsters are supernatural, intelligent, and often cruel. That means you face something that wants to kill you not because it needs food but because you represent some kind of obstacle or threat or simply because it’s cruel.
With the quetzalcoatlus and other beasts, this isn’t the case. These creatures aren’t malicious; they are protective. They aren’t cruel; they are simply just hungry. It can be easy to remember with ordinary animals like wolves, but the same holds true for these enormous pterosaurs.
Enter the spell Speak with Animals (and similar abilities, including those that simply allow mind control over animals). Quetzalcoatli aren’t particularly intelligent, but for someone with sufficient Charisma, it is very possible to persuade the quetzalcoatlus that eating your party is a bad idea and won’t end well.
Quetzalcoatli might even be endangered in your world, so this could be the more moral path (if your party cares about that). You might even end up with an extremely dangerous friend, ally, or trained animal companion if you play your cards right!
When facing off against a quetzalcoatlus, it is important to remember that as a beast, there are noncombat options that can function as well or better than actual combat. These things might simply fail against a dragon, but they’re worth considering against these pterosaurs.
Placing the Quetzalcoatlus in Your World
Introducing dinosaurs (or in this case, pterosaurs) to your world can be a big move with ramifications that some DMs might not like. Dinosaurs are, after all, the iconic beast, terrifyingly powerful and with a mythos around them that rivals any other creature that has ever lived on the planet.
Some players might let that go to their heads.
However, when you really take a look at a creature like the quetzalcoatlus, you can see that while it is powerful, deadly, and strong, it is not particularly more powerful, deadlier, or stronger than many of the other more classically supernatural creatures. Certainly, even a host of quetzalcoatli facing off against an adult red dragon might have a pretty difficult time.
Thus, the question is less about whether you should include these creatures in the world and more about whether they fit the lore. Many campaign worlds can accommodate quetzalcoatlus, and I would argue that they should.
Quetzalcoatli can be excellent thematic additions, and their utility for transport shouldn’t be underestimated. The training, upkeep, and feeding of these creatures might not really be worth the carrying capacity (even flying carrying capacity) that they offer, but there would certainly be a niche market for adventurers and other extremely rich individuals who want to travel in Huge style.
Plus, if the party can use these even just once, a multitude of possibilities for aerial combat opens up; possibilities that can be interesting and dangerous to even high-level parties with flight.
If you do decide to include quetzalcoatli in your world, I recommend emphasizing their size and beauty before anything else for maximum impression. Once your players really understand what It means to see a dinosaur, they can find out what it means to face one in combat.
Quetzalcoatli are unique as the only flying dinosaur with an official stat block in D&D 5e, at least so far! While their tactics might be simplistic, they are effective, and their ability to fly makes quetzalcoatli some of the more dangerous beasts out there.
While we’ve talked a lot about tactics and countertactics, I actually really like quetzalcoatli as simply a feature of the world, a kind of megafauna like elephants or whales that are incorporated into how people interact with the world.
Maybe that’s because flying megafauna no longer exist in the world, or maybe it’s because enormous flying creatures are just pretty cool. Regardless of the reason, quetzalcoatli are one of the best candidates for this kind of incorporation. After all, they aren’t actually evil, which already makes them better than many of the other enormous flying creatures in D&D 5e.
Whether you’re interested in dinosaurs or are just looking for some interesting flying monsters, quetzalcoatli are a good option for their effective abilities and the possible ways players can interact with them — as enemies or as a natural part of the world.
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