Deep Dive - The Kraken

Deep Dive - The Kraken

The release of The Ghosts of Saltmarsh brought to the forefront many of the aquatic creatures that are not used in today’s D&D. We were disappointed when we found out the Tarrasque of the ocean, the Kraken, was not in The Ghosts of Saltmarsh. Sure, there is a juvenile kraken, but that doesn’t come anywhere close to the destructive power of the mighty CR 23 monster.

Where did this mighty creature come from? Well, it has its roots in Scandinavian folklore, as it was a mighty sea creature that attacked ships off the shores of Norway. As far back as the 13th century, references to a giant sea creature lurking in the depths of the ocean that could drag down the largest ship in the ocean have been found in Norwegian literature. While there is no such thing as an actual kraken, we hope, many think the idea behind the lore came from sailor sightings of giant squids, which can grow up to 50 feet in length! Descriptions of the Kraken have evolved throughout history with original descriptions having the creature be more crab-like in nature to squid-shaped to an intelligent octopus-like creature. No matter what one thinks about the Kraken’s shape, its massive size and destructive power were and still are, enough to strike fear into even the most hearty of seafarers.

So let’s take the plunge into the Kraken’s hungry maw and see how the creature has changed through the many editions of D&D.

OD&D - The Kraken

Armor Class: 2
Magic Ability: (See Below)
Move: 18"
Fighter Ability: 15th Level
Hit Points: 100

The Kraken comes to us fully described in A. Meritt's Dwellers in the Mirage. It is a giant octopus which is able to live on the land. This creature must be called from another dimension where it is imprisoned, and is constantly trying to leave. It feeds on human souls/energy levels and if the victim doesn't make his or her magic saving throw all his levels are drained. He can be called on by any evil priest knowing the spell.

The first mention of the Kraken comes from Supplement IV: Gods, Demigods, Heroes (1976). A couple of interesting things to note here: In the world of OD&D, this is a massively powerful creature. I’m a little disappointed in the AC, since I picture the Kraken with a hard outer shell, like the crab in the older Norwegian mythos. Beyond this, it is not something you’d want to fight. A level 15 fighter hits hard and there are very few creatures, except for the gods themselves, with this many hit points.

In keeping with the tradition of D&D being a dungeon dive, this kraken can live on land. I’m not sure I get the concept of the mighty sea creature of legend being reduced to a giant octopus that can crawl on land. I wonder if its primary home in in the sea and it travels to land to feed or if it lives in a cave, alone and plotting his escape back to the plane of water. Either way, it’s an odd thing to do to our buddy the awesome and fearsome Kraken.

OD&D puts the Kraken under Robert E. Howard's Hyborea, which is the famed world of Conan the Barbarian. In Hyborea, Howard went to great lengths to limit his magic and sorcery to firm up the believability of his stories. There are many gods in this world, some of which prefer to watch and not interfere in the life of humanity, and others that have direct influence and interaction with them. The supplement features an entire section of Norse gods & Finnish gods and we aren’t quite sure as to why the Kraken isn’t mentioned there. With only seeing the movies of Conan, he never fights a Kraken, though he does fight a Kraken in one of the books, but we still say the Norse gods should get first dibs.

Finally, the Kraken of OD&D is from a different dimension. This is a rare thing for OD&D since, while many creatures are from the material plane and the depths of hell, there are few if any creatures trapped here from another dimension. Maybe our poor misunderstood sea monster isn’t a monster at all, but just a giant land dwelling octopus who wants to go home.

1e - The Kraken

Frequency: Very rare
No. Appearing: 1
Armor Class: 5/0
Move: //3" (21")
Hit Dice: 20
% in Lair: 75%
Treasure Type: G,R.S
No. of Attacks: 2 and 4-6 and 1
Damage/Attack: 2-12(x2), 2-8 (x4-6), 5-20
Special Attacks: See below
Special Defenses: See below
Magic Resistance: Standard
Intelligence: Genius +
Aligntment: Neutral evil
Size: L
Psionic Ability: Nil
Attack/Defense Modes. Nil/nil
Level/X.P. Value: X/16,900 + 30/hp

Monster Manual II,  1983 TSR Inc

Monster Manual II, 1983 TSR Inc

Our friend the Kraken now is outlandishly powerful in AD&D and is featured in the Monster Manual II (1983). Once again, the Kraken has the ability to breathe underwater and on the surface. Legend speaks of a time when the kraken were a smaller, yet still very evil race, who were driven deep into the sea by the forces of good. There, the Krakens grew in size and power and their hatred for all good creatures has lead them to hunt down and kill all good creatures. Not only that, but they spend their free time eating small creatures, and if there are no small creatures around, they don’t mind taking on larger size creatures like those little sperm whales that roam the oceans.

Not only are Krakens incredibly powerful, they also have a variety of abilities they can do. They can shoot out an ink cloud of poisonous substance that will deal 1-4 damage per round, they can attack with up to 6 striking tentacles covered in barbs, a bite attack, constricting with their tentacles and they can swim incredibly fast. The Monster Manual goes into detail about how if the Kraken has a few victims, I mean food, in it’s tentacles it will drag them to its lair 1,000 feet below blessed sweet air and consume them down there.

But, don’t fret as you can still save your allies by targeting the tentacles or it’s squishy head. They have a much lower AC of 6, as opposed to the thick shell of the Kraken with an AC of 0. Each tentacle can be severed with 16 points of damage from sharp weapons, so your cleric with a warhammer isn’t going to be much of use in freeing your comrades.

Futhermore, we are given rules on how a Kraken can pull down a 60-foot long ship, and rules for larger ships to be dragged down into the Kraken’s lair. For large ships, it can drag them down under the water, crush it and eventually sink it and drag it under the water. All in all, if you were ever unfortunate enough to see a kraken in 1e, you better hope you can swim fast, of course, Kraken can swim very, very fast at 120 feet per round in 5e terms. Maybe flying away would be a better option.

As if they weren’t powerful enough, Kraken also get magical abilities. All Krakens have the innate power to cause Airy Water in a sphere of 128 feet across, which lasts for a day. This is an interesting ability. Since it has been rumored that Krakens take humans to their lair deep below the surface to serve as food and slaves, it’s good to have an ability to keep them alive. They can also have additional abilities which they can cast at will, but only one at a time:

  • Faerie Fire for 8 hours

  • Control Temperature within a 40-foot radius for 1 day

  • Control Winds once per day

  • Weather Summoning once per day

  • Animal (fish) Summoning 3 times per day

Now, if the Kraken doesn’t constrict you to death, eat you or drown you, it can whip up a storm to push you under the waves or freeze you to death with its Control Weather & Control Temperature abilities.

2e - The Squid, Giant

Climate/Terrain: Very Deep Oceans
Frequency: Very rare
Organization: Solitary
Activity Cycle: Any
Diet: Carnivore
Intelligence: genius (19-20+)
Treasure: G, R, S (+A)
Alignment: Neutral Evil
No. Appearing: 1
Armor Class: 5/0
Movement: Sw 3, Jet 21
Hit Dice: 20
THAC0: 1
No. of Attacks: 9
Damage/Attack: 3-18(x2)/2- 12(x6)/7-28
Special Attacks: See Below
Special Defenses: See Below
Magic Resistance: Nil
Size: G (90'+ long)
Morale: Fanatic (18)
XP Value: 14000

A kraken is a rare form of gargantuan squid. It is one of the most deadly monsters in existence.

Monstrous Manual ,  1993 TSR Inc

Monstrous Manual , 1993 TSR Inc

Boo. The kraken in 2e is just a big squid… but smart. That is such a step down from being an all powerful creature of the sea that is as unique as it is deadly. The Squid, Giant is introduced in the Monstrous Manual (1993) and the Krakens are introduced as a smarter variant to the Squid, Giant. Krakens still hate all things good, and can still breathe air and underwater. There is a small mention of how the mighty Krakens will rise from the depths again, so your characters should be prepared to serve their Kraken overlords.

Most of the attack mechanics are the same from the past edition, with the damage being adjusted in the Kraken’s favor. Beyond the Kraken still having chances to run away after certain points, the Kraken's ink cloud deadlier than ever, now dealing 2d4 damage per round. The Kraken has the same magical abilities and still goes after huge ships to bring more slaves and food to its lair. Once again, you aren’t safe anywhere in the water when a Kraken is around.

We finally get more of a description about how super smart they are, giving them control of vast underwater lairs and control huge portions of the oceans they inhabit. They still keep humanoids as slaves and food, but in 2e they not only capture humans, but breed them too. Fun times for us under the Kraken overlords!

Long and the short of it is that not much changed between the first two editions, except the kraken gets much more powerful. I guess that compensates for being called a giant squid.

3.5e - The Kraken

Gargantuan Magical Beast (Aquatic)
Hit Dice: 20d10+180 (290 hp)
Initiative: +4
Speed: Swim 20 ft. (4 squares)
Armor Class: 20 (–4 size, +14 natural), touch 6, flat-footed 20
Base Attack/Grapple: +20/+44
Attack: Tentacle +28 melee (2d8+12/19–20)
Full Attack: 2 tentacles +28 melee (2d8+12/19–20) and 6 arms +23 melee (1d6+6) and bite +23 melee (4d6+6)
Space/Reach: 20 ft./15 ft. (60 ft. with tentacle, 30 ft. with arm)
Special Attacks: Improved grab, constrict 2d8+12 or 1d6+6
Special Qualities: Darkvision 60 ft., ink cloud, jet, low-lightvision, spell-like abilities
Saves: Fort +21, Ref +12, Will +13
Abilities: Str 34, Dex 10, Con 29, Int 21, Wis 20, Cha 20
Skills: Concentration +21, Diplomacy +7, Hide +0, Intimidate +16,Knowledge (geography) +17, Knowledge (nature) +16, Listen +30, Search +28, Sense Motive +17, Spot +30, Survival +5 (+7 following tracks), Swim +20, Use Magic Device +16
Feats: Alertness, Blind-Fight, Expertise, Improved Critical (tentacle), Improved Initiative, Improved Trip, Iron Will
Environment: Temperate aquatic
Organization: Solitary
Challenge Rating: 12
Treasure: Triple standard
Alignment: Usually neutral evil
Advancement: 21–32 HD (Gargantuan); 33–60 HD (Colossal)
Level Adjustment: —

Monster Manual,  2003 WotC

Monster Manual, 2003 WotC

The Kraken first appears in the 3e/3.5e Monster Manual (2000/2003) and at first blush appears to have grown in power. The Kraken still has 20 Hit Dice, but as a magical beast, they are now d10s, and it gets a +180 hit point bonus on top of that. With a maximum of 380 HP, the Kraken is now the Tarrasque of the sea… except the Kraken is only a CR 12 versus the Tarrasque being a CR 20.

The Kraken's loses two tentacles, which is kind of weird, but 8 tentacles is still a crazy amount of slithery appendages you have to dodge. The mechanics remain the same; two raking tentacles, six crushing tentacles and one big bite. I don’t know about you, but I still don’t want to be eaten by a Kraken. The potential damage per round increases once again, to an average of 122 and a maximum of 158 points of damage and that’s not factoring in critical hits. Just so the DM doesn’t get bored trying to keep track of things, its tentacles have 20 hit points, and its arms have 10 hit points. An opponent can make a sunder attempt against a Kraken’s tentacles or arms as if they were weapons.

Defensively, things have changed for our buddy the Kraken. A Kraken has a set 20 AC, though a horrible touch AC of 6, and still usually withdraws from combat if it loses three of its arms. There is no exact percentage as there is in 2e, so the DM has a little discretion here. Another cool feature that the Kraken gets is that it can regrow its severed limbs in 1d10+10 days. So I hope you are out of the water and well inland within 20 days or you can bet it’s going to come looking for you.

One downside the Kraken gets is that its ink cloud is no longer poisonous, just obscures the vision of everyone inside of it. As this is a primary escape weapon, it’s probably fine that the cloud doesn’t deal damage as our friendly kraken runs away. The Kraken special movement ability is now referred to as Jet. The Kraken can now, once per round as a full-round action, move at a speed of 280 feet. While it restricts the Kraken to only move in a straight line, it does not provoke attacks of opportunity. Coupling that ability with its ink cloud can get the Kraken out of trouble quickly, especially if it has lost all of its arms and tentacles.

The Kraken now gets two languages, which means that maybe in the past editions it couldn’t speak? We aren’t quite sure as the previous editions never state the Kraken could speak… but do call the Kraken a genius. Furthermore, the Kraken gets to keep some of its ‘spell’ abilities, the biggest spell it loses is it’s ability to create airy spheres. Each of the following abilities can be used once per day:
Control Weather, Control Winds, Dominate Animal & Resist Energy

Finally, the Kraken has moved to the tropics, since its environment has been changed from aquatic to temperate aquatic. Good for them, because the deep sea is a dark and lonely place. Causing all that destruction is hard work, so it’s nice to think after a hard day of drowning sailors, the kraken can just layout on the beach with a good book.

4e - The Kraken

Sea Kraken - Level 10 Solo Soldier
Gargantuan aberrant magical beast (aquatic), XP 2,500
Initiative +13 / Perception +15; darkvision
HP 432; Bloodied 216
AC 24; Fortitude 26, Reflex 22, Will 22
Speed 6, swim 10
Saving Throws +5; Action Points 2
The sea kraken can breathe underwater. In aquatic combat, it gains a +2 bonus to attack rolls against nonaquatic creatures.
Threatening Reach The sea kraken can make opportunity attacks against all enemies within 3 squares of it.
Crushing Tentacles (At-Will) - Attack: Melee 3 (one creature); +15 vs. AC
>Hit: 2d8 + 5 damage, and the kraken grabs the target. The kraken can grab up to eight creatures at one time.
>Sustain Minor: The kraken sustains all its grabs, and each creature grabbed by the kraken takes 5 damage.
Devourer of Ships (At-Will) - Attack: Melee 3 (one vehicle); +13 vs. Fortitude
>Hit: 2d10 + 10 damage, and the target is restrained while the kraken remains within 3 squares of it. While restrained by this power, the vehicle takes 20 damage at the start of the kraken’s turn. The pilot of the vehicle can spend a standard action to give the vehicle a saving throw. On a save, the vehicle is no longer restrained.
Coils of Doom (At-Will) - Effect: The kraken uses crushing tentacles twice and devourer of ships once.
Wavewrack (zone) - (Encounter) - Effect: The kraken creates a zone in a close burst 3 that lasts until the end of the encounter. The zone is difficult terrain. Any creature that starts its turn within the zone takes 5 damage and is slid 2 squares. Once per round as a minor action, the kraken can move the zone up to 3 squares.
Fatal Plunge (Minor Action, At-Will) - Attack: Melee 1 (one creature grabbed by the kraken); +13 vs. Fortitude Hit: 1d8 + 5 damage, and the kraken slides the target 3 squares.
Fling (Minor Action, At-Will) - Effect: The kraken slides a creature grabbed by it 5 squares to a square adjacent to a creature. The grab ends, and the kraken makes the following melee attack against both creatures. Attack: +13 vs. Fortitude
>Hit: 1d8 + 5 damage, and the target falls prone.
Venom Bolt (poison) - (Minor Action, At-Will (1/round)) - Attack: Ranged 10 (one creature); +13 vs. Fortitude Hit: 2d8 + 4 poison damage, and the target is blinded (save ends).
Vengeful Constriction (Triggered Actions, At-Will) - Trigger: A creature grabbed by the kraken deals damage to it.
>Effect (Immediate Reaction): Each creature grabbed by the kraken takes 5 damage.
Str 23 (+11) | Dex 22 (+11) | Wis 20 (+10) | Con 20 (+10) | Int 18 (+9) | Cha 19 (+9) Alignment chaotic evil / Languages telepathy 20

Monster Manual III,  2010 WotC

Monster Manual III, 2010 WotC

The poor Kraken is treated pretty rough in 4e as it has to wait until Monster Manual 3 (2010) to be released and it gets a pretty hefty nerf to its abilities. No more little hyper-intelligent squid, or the lore of hating all things good, or taking slaves under the water. The kraken is now a creature from the Far Realm, and nothing good could ever come from there. Krakens existed before the time of man and one of the great wars - the Blood War or the Dawn War, was the event that saw them escape from the Far Realm to terrorize other planes of existence. Though, I would like to point out that there are more powerful Kuo-Toa out in the ocean… that’s sad.

There is no mention of how many tentacles the kraken has in this edition, so you can apparently choose 8 or 10. It does state that the kraken can grab up to 8 opponents at once, so maybe 8 tentacles and two arms makes sense, but one could also argue that it now just has 8 tentacles and that’s it. A tentacle does 2d8+5 damage when it initially grabs you, and an additional 5 HP of damage per round until you break free, drown, or are crushed to death. Either way, you and 7 of your closest friends can all hang out in the grip of the mighty kraken and watch yourselves be slowly crushed to death. Interestingly enough, the kraken no longer speaks, but has the ability to telepathically communicate within 100 feet. Which is a bit better than in 3e where it had two languages it knew. Why the change? Probably because it is from the Far Realm and all things from the Far Realm tend to have some sort of mind abilities. And as a bonus, since the Kraken doesn’t need to know what language you speak, it can now mock you as you’re slowly dying in its grasp. Things just keep getting better and better.

We are also introduced to the Astral Kraken. When your party boarded that planescape ship and thought you were safe from the terrors of the deep, no one bothered to research if Krakens inhabited the great Astral Sea! These creatures are truly terrifying and are a better Kraken than the actual Kraken is. The Astral Kraken will appear out of the darkness of the astral void with its 932 HP, AC 39 and psychic powers from the Far Realms and drive you insane before it kills you. It has the ability to dominate creatures just by hitting them, send out Psychic Screams at it’s enemies and is a huge CR 25 creature.

Just great. We are never leaving the comfort of solid ground. Dragons we understand…crazy flying squids from the depths of the ocean or the blackness of the astral sea that will crush you to death after it drives you mad we don’t get, don’t get at all. But for some reason… we really like it.

5e Kraken

Kraken / Gargantuan monstrosity (titan), chaotic evil
Armor Class 18 (natural armor) / Hit Points 472 (27d20 + 189)
Speed 20ft., swim 60ft.
Str 30 (+10) | Dex 11 (+0) | Con 25 (+7), | Int 22 (+6) | Wis 18 (+4) | Cha 20 (+5)
Saving Throws Str +18, Dex +8, Con +15, lnt +14, Wis +12
Damage Immunities lightning; bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing from nonmagical weapons
Condition Immunities frightened, paralyzed
Senses truesight 120ft., passive Perception 14 / Languages understands Abyssal, Celestial, Infernal, and Primordial but can't speak, telepathy 120ft.
Challenge 23 (50,000 XP)
Amphibious. The kraken can breathe air and water.
Freedom of Movement. The kraken ignores difficult terrain,and magical effects can't reduce its speed or cause it to be restrained. It can spend 5 feet of movement to escape from non-magical restraints or being grappled.
Siege Monster. The kraken deals double damage to objects and structures.
Multiattack. The kraken makes three tentacle attacks, each of which it can replace with one use of Fling.
Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +18 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 23 (3d8 + 10) piercing damage. If the target is a Large or smaller creature grappled by the kraken, that creature is swallowed, and the grapple ends. While swallowed, the creature is blinded and restrained, it has total cover against attacks and other effects outside the kraken, and it takes 42 (12d6) acid damage at the start of each of the kraken's turns.
If the kraken takes 50 damage or more on a single turn from a creature inside it, the kraken must succeed on a DC 25 Constitution saving throw at the end of that turn or regurgitate all swallowed creatures, which fall prone in a space within 10 feet of the kraken. If the kraken dies, a swallowed creature is no longer restrained by it and can escape from the corpse using 15 feet of movement, exiting prone.
Tentacle. Melee Weapon Attack: +18 to hit, reach 30ft., onetarget. Hit: 20 (3d6 + 10) bludgeoning damage, and the target is grappled (escape DC 18). Until this grapple ends, the target is restrained. The kraken has ten tentacles, each of which can grapple one target.
Fling. One Large or smaller object held or creature grappled by the kraken is thrown up to 60 feet in a random direction and knocked prone. If a thrown target strikes a solid surface, the target takes 3 (1d6) bludgeoning damage for every 10 feet it was thrown. If the target is thrown at another creature, that creature must succeed on a DC 18 Dexterity saving throw or take the same damage and be knocked prone.
Lightning Storm. The kraken magically creates three bolts of lightning, each of which can strike a target the kraken can see within 120 feet of it. A target must make a DC 23 Dexterity saving throw, taking 22 (4d10) lightning damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one.
Legendary Actions The kraken can take 3 legendary actions, choosing from the options below. Only one legendary action option can be used at a time and only at the end of another creature's turn. The kraken regains spent legendary actions at the start of its turn.
Tentacle Attack or Fling. The kraken makes one tentacle attack or uses its Fling.
Lightning Storm (Costs 2 Actions). The kraken uses Lightning Storm.
Ink Cloud (Costs 3 Actions). While underwater, the kraken expels an ink cloud in a 60 foot radius. The cloud spreads around corners, and that area is heavily obscured to creatures other than the kraken. Each creature other than the kraken that ends its turn there must succeed on a DC 23 Constitution saving throw, taking 16 (3d10) poison damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one. A strong current disperses the cloud, which otherwise disappears at the end of the kraken's next turn.

Monster Manual,  2014 WotC

Monster Manual, 2014 WotC

Finally we get a Kraken that is shown the proper respect it deserves and appears in the Monster Manual (2014) and it doesn’t look like a giant squid! The Kraken's head is clearly defined as a separate part of the body and it’s mouth is no longer the weird beak-like thing, but a giant void of sharp teeth and darkness. Tentacles appear to be attached at different locations along its new snake shaped body rather than being attached below it’s beak/mouth. And it has 10 tentacles, ending any confusion there might have been from 4e.

But that’s not all. Now it is a powerful force of primeval energy. It is a massive, hulking monster fit for the actual legend of the Kraken and something that all characters, no matter their level, will be afraid of. It can summon lightning, destroy ships and emits a poisonous ink cloud that it can hide in and murder any creature that tries to face them head-on in combat.

The lore of the Kraken is also expanded and we get a bit of information. They are no longer creatures from the Far Realm, but warriors for the gods during the gods’ wars. Afterwards, they shrugged off their servitude and decided to only work for themselves, building lairs deep under the ocean. Occasionally, a Kraken might even go up river streams and take up residence inside of a lake, destroying towns and cities on its way up the river.

Furthermore, Krakens still don’t keep slaves, at least according to the Monster Manual, but rather they have cultist worshipers that work hard to bring about the plans and machinations of their Kraken overlords. When the worshipers please their master, the Kraken will calm the seas and brings them huge bounties of fish from the ocean… It doesn’t explain what happens if the the cultists displease the Kraken, but I can assume that fish is not on the menu that day.

It seems a bit weird that Krakens are given the ability to summon lightning bolts, but as they don’t get spells in this edition, it makes a bit of sense as they can control the weather within 6 miles of their lairs. Speaking of lairs, don’t ever go near them as the surrounding waters will create water elementals that are bound to serve the Kraken and all unintelligent aquatic life will do anything in their power to protect the Kraken and defend the lair.

Krakens have had a strange history. It began, not as one would expect from the Scandinavian mythology, but rather from Hyborea for that one time Conan fought a Kraken. The Kraken’s power waxes and wanes from edition to edition, though they all swear how truly horrifying and powerful a Kraken can be… even if it is barely breaks double digits when it comes to it’s Challenge Rating. All in all, our favorite rendition of the Kraken is 5e where they are truly the powerful and mythological creature that they are meant to be.

If you enjoy our Deep Dive series consider
supporting us on Patreon and following us on Twitter!

More Deep Dives…

Rewind - The Lost Spells

Rewind - The Lost Spells

Deep Dive - History of Bigby

Deep Dive - History of Bigby