Last Updated on January 22, 2023
Guide to the Tanarukk in D&D 5e
Demons are certainly creatures to be feared throughout the Forgotten Realms and other common 5e settings. As Chaotic Evil creatures, their thirst for violence, bloodshed, and domination truly knows no bounds, and they often have the destructive force to back up those ambitions.
Today, we’re talking about a type of demon that is almost more feared than a demon lord — not because of its power but because of the fact that you are far more likely to run into one of these in your daily travels.
In this article, we’ll be looking into the ins and outs of the Tanarukk, a fearsome demon that you don’t need to be in the Abyss to worry about. We’ll be talking about how these creatures perform in combat, how dangerous they truly are, and how to make one if you’re looking for some added excitement.
- STR 18 (+4), DEX 13 (+1), CON 20 (+5), INT 9 (-1), WIS 9 (-1), CHA 9 (-1)
- Armor Class: 14 (natural armor)
- Hit Points: 95 (10d8 + 50)
- Speed: 30 ft.
- CR (XP): 5 (1,800 XP)
- Senses/Languages: Darkvision 60 ft., Passive Perception 12
- Proficiency Bonus: +3
- Size: Medium
- Type: Fiend (Demon)
- Alignment: Typically Chaotic Evil
- Damage / Condition Resistance / Immunity: Fire resistance, Poison resistance
- Skills: Perception +2, Intimidation +2
- Saving Throws: —
- Languages: Abyssal, Common, plus any one language
Magic Resistance. The tanarukk has advantage on saving throws against spells and other magical effects.
Mulitattack. The tanaruk makes one Bite attack and one Greatsword attack.
Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +7 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 8 (1d8 +4) piercing damage.
Greatsword. Melee Weapon Attack: +7 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 11 (2d6 +4) slashing damage.
Aggressive. The tanarukk moves up to its speed toward an enemy that it can see.
Unbridled Fury. In response to being hit by a melee attack, the tanarukk can make one Bite or Greatsword attack with advantage against the attacker.
What Is a Tanarukk?
It all depends on what source you’re reading. Prior to the release of Mordenkainen Presents: Monsters of the Multiverse, it was common knowledge that a tanarukk is the result of an orc baby corrupted with demonic influence. Now, well, all we know is that they are creatures corrupted with demonic influence.
It’s a weird bit to change, but 5e seems to be heading in the direction of much more open-ended storytelling and doing so in quite a strange fashion. This is pretty clear if you look at the alignment “typically chaotic evil.” In reality, there aren’t any tanarukks that stray from this path, at least not enough to bother adding “typically” to the alignment.
This whole concept of not boxing creatures into a specific alignment is fine, and it’s pretty clear that they removed a tanarukk’s orc origin (orcigin if you will) in order to alleviate some of the negative thoughts revolving around orcs.
Personally, I don’t think that’s necessary at all. The original text of the tanarukk’s description in Volo’s Guide to Monsters even specifies that tanarukks are made “…when demonic corruption taints a tribe’s leadership (and) orcs turn to abyssal magic…” That pretty clearly says to me that tanarukks aren’t just a staple in all orc tribes.
Regardless, tanarukks are creatures made of a ritual doused in abyssal magic that corrupts a child (I’ll say, typically orc) and creates a creature that is far more violent and savage than the rest of its lineage.
No matter how you look at it, these are some terrifying creatures, particularly because you never know when you could run into them.
But, just how savage are these creatures? Well, that’s something that hasn’t changed between publications. Tanarukks are vicious fighters, but they are so violent and aggressive that they must be imprisoned off the battlefield.
Unrestrained, a tanarukk will seek to overthrow the group it fights for and lead its people to engage in reckless war and violence, burning countrysides to the ground and never resting.
Creating a Tanarukk
Only completely evil parties should even come close to considering this as it requires corrupting a child, but some may go to these drastic lengths to achieve their goals. More likely, you’re looking for this information so you can spot one of these rituals and stop them before they happen, so good on you.
Interestingly enough, back in 3e, tanarukks weren’t created by any strange ritual but rather by the breeding of demons (particularly tanar’ri) and orcs. I find this a bit more interesting, and it sets tanarukks up more as their own race of humanoid than as the result of awful blood magic.
The precise ritual isn’t described anywhere in 5e, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a few ideas kicking around in my head to add some flavor to your next campaign involving these creatures. Ready for it? Warning: Excessive violence incoming.
Tanarukks are more than simple mutants; they are orcs corrupted at the very core with the vile magic of the abyss. While many tanarukk have arisen as the spawn of a tanar’ri parent and orc, in recent years, Baphomet has produced a ritual to transform any humanoid child into this demonic savage.
To create a tanarukk, conditions must be just right. Only a child born under a blood moon, when the magic of the abyss is strongest on the material plane, can undergo the transformation needed.
The birth must occur within an inverted magic circle fashioned from the entrails of a celestial (pegasus works best) and the blood of the child’s father.
Finally, the throat of the mother must be slit just as the child enters the world, allowing the creature to bathe in the blood of its mother, feeding the innate bloodlust within.
Even this bloodshed is not enough. A creature that has undergone this ritual will be forever tainted and marked for savagery and bloodshed, but only once this creature has killed of its own volition before its 12th blood moon will the transformation into a demonic tanarukk be complete.
There you go — a bloody, vile, and evil ritual to create a tanarukk fitting for the amount of bloodshed these creatures will go on to create.
How Does a Tanarukk Act in Combat?
In combat, tanarukks are incredibly straightforward. They don’t have a wide variety of abilities, and those that they do have are focused on good old-fashioned violence.
While it may seem like they have some variety in their attacks, they really only have two different flavors of melee weapon attacks with slightly different amounts of damage to dish out. Throw in the fact that they’ll be using both in a single multiattack, and it’s basically just one big melee attack.
They do have a spicy bonus action, allowing them to move up to their speed toward a hostile creature. They might use this in place of a dash action to cover distance in the first round of combat and get an attack off. Or, they might use this as a way to utilize both of their attacks if they manage to finish off a creature with the first piece of one of their multiattacks.
Magic resistance isn’t half bad either for a tanarukk. It means these things are pretty resilient to magical onslaught, even if their mental ability scores are pretty dismal.
Lastly, they have a pretty nice reaction that functions like an improved opportunity attack, allowing them to make a reaction melee attack when they themselves are hit by a melee attack.
So, put this all together, and a tanarukk is a creature that rushes forward into battle, viciously attacking its opponent, even outside of its turn, until it’s time to move on to the next victim.
Making Tanarukks Feel Truly Savage
For me, this style of attacker is so incredibly boring. I can’t tell you how many creatures I see with some slight variation of this two-melee-weapon multiattack. It’s a fine way to make creatures deal a lot of damage, but it isn’t exciting, and it certainly doesn’t scream “savage demonic mutant” to me.
So let’s do something about that and make a tanarukk that you should be afraid of. I want it to stay in CR 5, so I won’t be changing a lot of its abilities, but I have a few things to introduce that I think will make a difference.
First, let’s make the Aggressive ability a bit more aggressive. Quite simply, we’re just going to say “After moving, if the tanarukk is within range, it makes a Bite attack.” This changes it from a quick version of dash to something more akin to a minotaur’s charge.
Next, we’re adding in a new attack. This won’t be part of the multiattack, but it will read as follows:
“Sweeping Blade. Melee Weapon Attack: +7 to hit, reach 10 ft., up to three targets. Hit: 11 (2d6 + 4) slashing damage and 5 (1d4 +2) bludgeoning damage. The tanarukk only makes a single attack roll to hit all targets of this attack.”
There’s just something exciting and dangerous about the arching sweep of a great sword that feels perfectly on brand for a creature of this variety.
Lastly (I told you I’m not going too crazy), we’re going to bring in one more new ability.
“Bloodthirst. Whenever a tanarukk drops a creature to 0 hp, it takes an extra single target melee-weapon attack against the nearest creature within range. If there are no creatures within range, it can move up to 15 feet toward the nearest hostile creature, making the attack if this puts it within range.”
This just gives it a little extra raw power and can possibly lead to it getting a lot of attacks off in one turn. Of course, and this is on purpose, the bloodthirst attack does not specify hostile creatures in the first clause, so this may result in the tanarukk becoming so frenzied that it attacks its allies.
Personally, I believe the tanarukk should be a higher CR creature with some really unique and interesting abilities, but if I want to keep it as a CR 5, I think these are some exciting changes that add quite a lot of raw power.
Tanarukks are terrifying creatures born of nothing less than violence, so it makes sense that everything from their description to their mechanics should follow. While I do think 5e has missed the mark on what makes these demon orcs so exciting, I will say that they provided me with a great template to create a truly exciting creature.
Remember, you can always change the official rules to make them more appropriate for your table, more deadly, or just more exciting. 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.