This article was originally published October 27th, 2022, and has been updated to reflect new additions to the officially published D&D monster cannon.
The tarrasque has long held pride of place as the most powerful D&D monster. A lot of content has been published since the 5e Monster Manual, and I dare say that there are a lot of monsters that, despite having the same or lower Challenge Rating as a tarrasque (30, that is) are significantly more dangerous. All of the following monsters are from official D&D publications, although some of them are from lesser-known sources.
With 5 attacks, a reflective carapace that keeps it safe from spells that have attack rolls, affect a line or happen to be magic missile, and legendary resistances, the tarrasque is truly a force to be reckoned with. The name recognition alone is worth it. Players who are familiar with Dungeons and Dragons lore are thrilled when they get to fight with a tarrasque.
Tarrasques are lacking in a few critical areas that can make them much easier for a party of adventurers to take down than they should be. For one, they are…not smart…as rocks, and so anything with an Intelligence Save attached to it hits them like a ton of bricks. Secondly, they are very slow, even with the ability to move half their speed as a legendary action. On top of that, they have no ranged attacks, and can’t fly. From a narrative standpoint, this is great, because your players can research the monster to gain an edge. From a pure combat perspective, though, a well-equipped party can take down a tarrasque pretty easily. Is it the most powerful D&D monster? Not by a long shot.
2) Elder Dinosaurs
The Plane Shift series of supplements explores the different worlds of Magic: the Gathering as campaign settings. Ixalan is chock full of dinosaurs, and we get some variations on tarrasques here that solve a few of the problems I mentioned above.
All of them lose the reflective carapace of the tarrasque, and some gain other abilities.
- Etali trades a few of the tarrasque’s melee attacks for storm cloud over its head that can zap enemies, giving it a ranged attack option
- Ghalta has more powerful attacks but gets to make less of them. It’s damage per round is higher, but I’m not sure it’s high enough to offset the value of the attack rolls it loses.
- Nezahal has a 60-foot swim speed, so it’s your tarrasque for water encounters. It’s really limited the fact that four of its five attacks come from its flippers, which can’t be used to attack the same target.
- Tetzimoc deals 2d6 piercing damage to any creature that attacks it. It also has 40 tail spikes that it can hurl as ranged weapons, giving it a few more options in combat.
- Zacama Is like a tarraque with three heads, so it gets two additional bite attacks in place of its claws. That’s fun, but I’m not sure it’s an improvement.
- Zetalpa has a 60-foot fly speed. It hits a little less hard, but that fly speed will go a long way towards keeping players from sniping it to death.
3) Vecna the Archlich
Recently given a ton of name recognition by a name check on Stranger Things, Vecna got a release as on D&D Beyond with a stat block, and he is a nasty piece of work.
The most interesting part of Vecna is his reactions. He gets three reactions per round which can only be used once per turn. Those reactions allow him to use Dread Counterspell, which does what it sounds like, plus some necrotic damage to the caster. Vecna can also teleport away after he is hit by an attack, hopefully giving him the chance to escape from multiattacks.
Last but not least, I should mention his vile teleport. As a bonus action, he can teleport 30 feet. Every creature of his choice in 15 feet of his destination takes necrotic damage. If anyone takes that damage, he regains 80 hit points. If your adventuring party can’t push out more than 80 points of damage per turn, they’ve got a problem.
Sadly, I think Vecna is held back from true greatness by his lack of legendary actions. Also, he may be a bit tricky to find a stat block for, as D&D took the Vecna Dossier down from their website.
4) Cradle of the Storm Scion/Scion of Stronmaus
Bigby Presents: Glory of the Giants brought us the Scions of the Giants’ Gods. These are the grandchildren of the god of all giants, the All-Father, Annam. These godlings can be found at rest in their cradles. Far from being what you’d expect, these cradles are powerful elementals in line with the type of giant the god represents: hill, stone, fire, cloud, storm and frost.
The Storm Giant Scion, Stronmaus is the strongest of the lot. As with any of them, the DM fields the Cradle first. The cradle is a CR 27 siege monster that can unleash barrages of lightning bolts on targets within 500 feet, shoot massive hailstones, and teleport away from attackers when it is damaged.
When defeated, the Scion of Stronmaus, child of the storm giant god, is released. She can create a giant storm that can rain down acid, ice and lightning on her foes. While this creature may not be as powerful as I would have liked, she does make for a very dramatic battle.
5) Gem Greatwyrms
All greatwyrms are nasty, but I think that gem dragons take the cake. All greatwyrms get a 300-foot cone of force damage for a breath weapon, but the Gems benefit from having psychic step, psychic beam, and spellcasting.
Psychic step allows the gem greatwyrm a 60 foot teleport as a bonus action. this can also be done as a legendary. All of this makes for a dragon that can get in close and use melee attacks and get out without drawing opportunity attacks or that might keep it from moving off to a safer position. Psychic Beam is a 90-foot long, 10-foot wide beam of psychic damage as a legendary. The spells these dragons can cast once a day include time stop, force cage and reverse gravity. And if everything goes wrong, the dragon can shape change and slip away, maintaining all of its stats but size.
Hailing from Eberron, Dyrrn is the nightmare mind flayer perfect for capping off your adventure. It is the overmind of all mind flayers in Eberron. It’s mind blast is a 60 foot cone that requires a DC 23 Intelligence Save. Failure lands a target with 30 psychic damage and a stun that lasts one minute, although it can be beaten with that same save at the end of each turn. The mind blast takes all of Dyrrn’s legendary actions, but it has no recharge, so Dyrrn can mind blast every turn.
Dyrrn also teleports as a bonus action, extracts brains like any other illithid, and regenerates. On top of all this, Dyrrn can spawn intellect devourers. These can kill creatures on a simple contested intelligence check.
There’s a lot more I could list about Dyrrn, but I think you get the point. This thing is a body dropper, especially for PCs who don’t excel at Intelligence. And as for those dinosaurs at the bottom of the list, Dyrrn would have them under its control as soon as their legendary resistances wore out.
If you’re worried about the illithid check out my Hotlist. You’ll find a lot more scary things there.
Are We There Yet? Is This the Most Powerful D&D Monster? Nope!
7) Aspect of Tiamat
A projection of everyone’s favorite evil dragon queen, the Aspect of Tiamat brings a 300-foot cone of elemental damage of your choosing. Her claws automatically grapple and restrain huge or smaller creatures, and her bite deals additional piercing damage. She can swim, fly and burrow.
On top of all that, she’s immune to all elemental damage, as well as bludgeoning, piercing and slashing from all nonmagical attacks. She gets a bump up to 5 legendary resistances from the usual 3 as well. Much like the tarrasque, this is a monster with name recognition. Players will know they’re up against a legend.
8) Aspect of Bahamut
The Aspect of Bahamut is very similar to that of Tiamat. There are, however, a few differences between the two that give this one the edge over its evil counterpart. This aspect trades immunity to poison for immunity to radiant damage, and deal radiant damage with its breath weapon. PCs are less likely to be able to resist or mitigate radiant damage. It has another breath weapon that heals. It also has the shape change ability.
These aren’t huge advantages over the Aspect of Tiamat, but enough to distinguish it.
Weighing in at a CR 21, I’d bet Isperia will be a bit of a surprise this high on the list. This guildmaster of the Azorius Senate is shockingly powerful for how low that CR is, nearly unbeatable even.
Here’s how it works. Isperia can cast antimagic field. This spell nullifies all magic spells and makes all magic items mundane while they are in the area of the spell. She’s also immune to all non-magical bludgeoning piercing and slashing. Good luck trying to find a way to break that concentration. Antimagic field last for up to an hour. That’s plenty of time for her to deal with your little adventuring party.
Also, take a look at her Supreme Legal Authority Ability:
Supreme Legal Authority. Isperia chooses up to three creatures she can see within 90 feet of her. Each target must succeed on a DC 23 Intelligence saving throw or Isperia chooses an action for that target: Attack, Cast a Spell, Dash, Disengage, Dodge, Help, Hide, Ready, Search, or Use an Object. The affected target can’t take that action for 1 minute. At the end of each of the target’s turns, it can end the effect on itself with a successful DC 23 Intelligence saving throw. A target that succeeds on the saving throw becomes immune to Isperia’s Supreme Legal Authority for 24 hours.GGR, p 227
If somebody looks like they might have a way to hurt you, tell them “no”.
I have long been disappointed with the power of archfiends. Demogorgon in particular saw two published versions where the majority of his powers could be blocked by the target looking away from him. The latest revision in Mordenkainen Presents: Monsters of the Multiverse fixed that problem and, in general, beefed up the archfiends a good bit.
All that said, if you need an archfiend that can really bust some heads, Mephistopheles from Minsc and Boo’s Journal of Villainy is your guy. Hailing from the 8th level of hell, he has all the devilish features you would expect.
Mephistopheles is the foresmost wizard in the hells, and his spell list reflects this. With both meteor swarm and wish, well, the options are limitless. As a lair action he can cast any concentration spell, and it lasts for the duration without requiring him to maintain concentration. His multiple hellfire attacks ignore resistance and immunity. The list goes on and on. If you can’t kill your players with Mephistopheles, they might just be unkillable.
In Your Voivode’s Humbe Opinion, The Most Powerful D&D Monster Is…
11) Sul Khatesh
Ok, that Mephistopheles guy is pretty serious. How are we going to top that? We’re dipping back into Eberron for the nastiest piece of work I’ve seen published in official D&D material.
Sul Khatesh uses a similar 1-2 punch to that of Isperia, with a bit of a twist. She is immune to bludgeoning, piercing and slashing from nonmagical attacks. Then she has this nasty ability:
Arcane Cataclysm (Recharges after a Long Rest). Sul Khatesh conjures orbs of magical energy that plummet to the ground at three different points she can see within 1 mile of her. Each creature in a 40-foot-radius sphere centered on each point must make a DC 26 Dexterity saving throw, taking 71 (11d12) force damage on a failed save or half as much damage on a successful one. A creature in the area of more than one arcane burst is affected only once. The area of each arcane burst then acts as an antimagic field for 1 hour. Sul Khatesh and spells she casts are unaffected by these fields.Eberron: Rising from the Last War, p.304
So you’ve got the same situation as with Isperia above, but with a ton of damage. Sul Khatesh can still spellcast in the antimagic fields she creates. There’s a couple of ways to beat all this, but I’m not telling you how to do it here!
What If You Don’t Need the Most Powerful D&D Monster?
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