Deep Dive - The Kuo-Toa
Ah, the Kuo-Toa. Fish-like monstrous humanoids that dwell under the sea and worship an insanely named god… Blibdoolpoolp. And no, I didn’t make that up, though in some editions they change their worship from the crayfish-headed goddess to Dagon, a cthulu-like monster that will bring about the end of the world.
These strange creatures are known for being a bit insane and worshiping new gods into existence, though they weren’t always like that. Originally they were just run-of-the-mill-human-sacrificing-fish people… like everything else that lives in the oceans, looking at you Sahuagins! Then, they were driven from their oceans and now reside in the deep, dark caves underground where they build vast cities, like Sloopdilmonpolp, which is ruled by Priest-King Dagagoorg.
They really have such a way with names…
AD&D - Kuo-Toa
Frequency: Very Rare
No. Appearing: 2-24 (40-400)
Armour Class: 4
Hit Dice: 2 or more
% in Lair: See below
Treasure Type: Individuals L, M, N; in lair, Z
No. of Attacks: 1 or 2
Damage/Attack: By weapon type and/or 2-5
Special Attacks: See below
Special Defenses: See Below
Magic Resistance: See below
Intelligence: High and up
Alignment: Neutral evil (with chaotic tendencies)
Size: M (higher levels L)
Psionic Ability: Nil
Level/X.P. Value: II and up/variable
The Kuo-Toa was first introduced in the module D2 Shrine of the Kuo-Toa (1978) written by Gary Gygax before being introduced in the Fiend Folio (1981). They were introduced as being traders with the Drow, but didn’t really care for the dark elves and would often have skirmishes. If the players are respectful of the Kuo-Toa people and make nice with these inherently evil beings, they Kuo-Toa can help them out… otherwise the fishfolk will attack. But how deadly could fish people be? ( Of note - this module also introduced the Deep Gnome sub race, which is still around today)
Looking at their stats, nothing is really concrete and there is a reason for it. These Kuo-Toa are all over the place when it comes to what they can do. There are Assassins, Clerics, Fighters, Assassin/Fighters, Cleric/Assassins, and a special “Monitor” class who uses their entire body for fighting. Monitors are special celibate monks chosen at birth and have a few special properties: they have double movement, an armour class of 1, and have 4 attacks to make in a single round.
Talking about special Kuo-Toan, let’s review their clerics and what separates the men-fish from the boy-fish. Kuo-Toan priest have a 50% chance they are carrying a special pincer staff that can be used to grab on to their prey. This staff has two pincers that close together to grab prey and keep them from moving or swinging their weapons. When they hit, they have a 10% chance of catching both arms inside the pincers, a 40% chance that only one arm will be trapped, of that trapped arm there is a 75% chance it’s your left arm and 25% chance its your right arm, and if you are is trapped… well, you can’t move it so you lose any shield bonuses or weapon bonuses depending on how you wield a weapon. Then their buddies come and start beating you up while you stand their defenseless and attackless.
Furthermore they have spells to cast! And if you thought these clerics couldn’t possibly have anything more going for them, you’ll be shocked to hear that they can generate lightning bolts if two or more clerics work together. There is a cumulative 10% chance per cleric per round that the clerics will shoot lightning out in a 2’ wide path and there is no max length that I could find… so, that means they are going to target you from the other side of the room, safely behind their meat-shields.
But, let’s take a step away from their abilities and talk about the history of Kuo-Toa.
The ancient Kuo-Toa people once inhabited the shores and islands but due to their tendencies of human sacrifice, they were slowly driven down into remote sea caverns and subterranean waters, while any that stayed on the surface were driven to extinction thanks to mankind and their powerful allies. Those that hid in caves found themselves evolving and changing to better match their environment and began prospering… before they started also getting wiped out by creatures that live in the deep waters. Then, the Kuo-Toa went further underground where they continued to change and adapt to their new environments. By this point, mankind had all but forgotten about the Kuo-Toa, but the Kuo-Toans never forgot or forgave.
Because they have lived underground for so long, they have developed a few awesome abilities that almost make it impossible to sneak up on these guys, even if you are invisible, astrally projected or on the Ethereal plane. Their eyes have independent monocular vision, a very wide degree of field (180°) and they can see all movement. The only way to not be detected is by not moving. Furthermore, they can see into the infrared, ultraviolet spectrum and they sense all vibrations within 10’ of them. It goes on to explain that a Kuo-Toa can only be surprised on a 1 when a DM rolls a d6 to determine if they are surprised… and the Kuo-Toa Monitors get a d10 to determine if they are surprised. Also, all illusion magic is useless against them. Luckily, bright light is there bane and they take a penalty while in it.
The Kuo-Toa were no joke in AD&D and it shows, especially as the module they were introduced in is for characters between level 9 and 14. Let’s jump over to 2e and see how well they fared there!
2e - Kuo-Toa
Climate/Terrain: Aquatic subterranean
Frequency: Very rare
Activity Cycle: Night
Intelligence: High and up (13+)
Treasure: L, M, N; Z in lair
Alignment: Neutral evil (with chaotic tendencies)
No. Appearing: 2-24
Armor Class: 4
Movement: 9, Sw 18
Hit Dice: 2 or more
No. of Attacks: 1 or 2
Damage/Attack: 2-5 and/or by weapon type
Special Attacks: See below
Special Defenses: See below
Magic Resistance: See below
Size: M (higher levels L)
Morale: Elite (13)
Normal: 175 / Captain: 3,000 / Lieutenant: 1,400 / Whip: 420 / Monitor: 975
The Kuo-Toa was released in the Monstrous Compendium Volume Two (1989) and then reprinted in the Monstrous Manual (1993), which gives it a pretty prominent position in 2e, as other notable monsters like the Aboleth, Mimic, and Tarrasque were released in the same Volume Two book. The information about the Kuo-Toa is largely copied from 1e and cleaned up for 2e rules, but there is a tiny bit more information.
Before we talk about those changes, let’s discuss what these fish people looked like. They are described as mostly man shape, albeit a paunchy one, with a fish head. They have elongated hands and feet with webbing to help them swim, and their eyes tend to swivel in different directions. They are typically a pale grey coloring, though males with have a slightly yellow or tan undertone. They don’t wear clothes except for leather harnesses to carry their things with them.
A bit more information in 2e is that they are in a lifelong three way rivalry with Drow and Mindflayers, with many scholars speculating that the reason none of those races have tried taking over the surface world is because of their wars. They will occasionally trade with Drow even if they hate them… though Mindflayers are never given a chance and are immediately attacked. Beyond that, there isn’t much difference in 2e from 1e and they still keep all their same abilities like the pincer staff, the two-priest-lightning-bolt and a wickedly barbed harpoon used by the stronger Kuo-Toa to stun and snare prey with.
One other weapon they utilize, which was also present in 1e, was a sticky resin that they adhere to their shields. When a creature attacks a Kuo-Toan from the front, there is a 25% chance that their weapon will be held fast against their specially treated leather shield. Upon your weapon getting stuck, you have the same chance of removing it as opening a sealed door, which basically just means get your barbarian over there to remove it. A character with 15 or less in Strength can only remove their weapon on a 1-2 off of a d6 roll, after that they can’t try again. Even a character with 18 Strength can only remove the weapon on a 1-5 off of a d6, so there is always a chance your favorite sword is just hanging out with the shield until you get some Universal Solvent*.
*I don’t know if Universal Solvent works on it, but I assume it does. I also don’t know if that is the only way to remove it, but if you are especially mean, it might be!
3e/3.5e - Kuo-Toa
Medium Monstrous Humanoid (Aquatic)
Hit Dice: 2d8+2 (11 hp)
Speed: 20 ft. (4 squares), swim 50 ft.
Armor Class: 16 (+6 natural) or 18 (+6 natural, +2 heavy wooden shield), touch 10, flat-footed 16 or 18
Base Attack/Grapple: +2/+3
Attack: Shortspear +3 melee (1d6+1) or bite +3 melee (1d4+1)
Full Attack: Shortspear +3 melee (1d6+1) and bite –2 melee (1d4)
Space/Reach: 5 ft./5 ft.
Special Attacks: Lightning bolt, pincer staff
Special Qualities: Adhesive, amphibious, immunity to poison and paralysis, keen sight, light blindness, resistance to electricity 10, slippery
Saves: Fort +3, Ref +3, Will +5
Abilities: Str 13, Dex 10, Con 13, Int 13, Wis 14, Cha 8
Skills: Craft or Knowledge (any one) +4, Escape Artist +8, Listen +7, Move Silently +3, Search +8, Spot +11, Swim +9
Feats: Alertness, Great Fortitude
Environment: Temperate aquatic
patrol (2–4 plus 1 3rd-level whip)
squad (6–11 plus 1 or 2 3rd-level whips, 1 or 2 4th-level monitors, and 1 8th-level fighter)
band (20–50 plus 100% noncombatants plus 2 3rd-level whips, 2 8th-level fighters, and 1 10th-level fighter)
tribe (40–400 plus 1 3rd-level whip per 20 adults, 1 4th-level monitor, 4 8th-level fighters, 1 10th-level whip, and 2 10th level fighters)
Challenge Rating: 2
Alignment: Often neutral evil
Advancement: By character class
Level Adjustment: +3
Moving on up! The Kuo-Toa appear in the first Monster Manual (2000 / 2003) for 3e/3.5e. The Kuo-Toa remain largely the same and there is still the focus on Clerics, Fighters, Rogues, and to a lesser extent Monks. The main difference is that they now resemble a deflated frog-man rather than a pudgy fish-man… which is not a good look.
Another difference is, now many fighters and all high level whips (clerics) carry the big bad pincer staff and it can affect small to large creatures. That’s a pretty big difference from elf-to-gnoll sized creatures, and deals 1d10 bludgeoning damage. They can then attempt a grapple, and on a success the staff deals 1d10 bludgeoning damage while the grapple is maintained. That’s a tiny bit better than losing all ability to attack, but being grappled has its own problems that will effect your character’s actions.
Since being able to use their own body oils (along with other undefined materials) to create a sticky adhesive isn’t enough, those same body oils now make the Kuo-Toa damn near impossible to pin down. This slippery ability prevents the Kuo-Toa from being trapped by regular or magical webs, with similar forms of entrapment having little to no effect on them. Take that Sahuagin and your stupid nets!
Now, the information provided for Kuo-Toa isn’t an exact copy-and-paste from 2e, but a lot of the information remains largely the same. No mention of their eternal hatred of mankind, but plenty of information describing them as an ancient race with diabolical tendencies. They constantly smell like rotting fish and they have recreational swimming pools in their lairs… that are also used for breeding.
Like usual, they hate the drow above all but there is no mention of the Mindflayers. The drow are still trading partners, but both sides will often have small skirmishes and take prisoners.
And lastly, we get a bit more information about Blibdoolpoolp. In the older editions, it just states they worship the Sea Mother, but never go into more detail. In 3e we get just a tiny bit more, that all Kuo-Toa, thanks to the Whips enforcement, worship the Sea Mother and that all settlements will have temples to her. Larger temples for Blibdoolpoolp are meeting grounds for different Kuo-Toa communities and they do not fight at these locations, as Kuo-Toa hate other Kuo-Toa communities.
4e - Kuo-Toa
Kuo-Toa Marauder - Level 12 Skirmisher
Medium natural humanoid (aquatic), XP 700
Initiative +11 / Senses Perception +11; darkvision
HP 119; Bloodied 59
AC 25; Fortitude 22, Reflex 23, Will 21 (25 while bloodied)
Speed 6, swim 6
> Skewering Spear (standard; at-will) - Weapon +17 vs. AC (+19 while bloodied); 1d8 + 4 damage, and ongoing 5 damage (save ends).
Sticky Shield: (immediate reaction, when missed by a melee attack; at-will) The kuo-toa marauder makes an attack against the attacker: +15 vs. Reflex; a weapon wielded by the target drops in the target’s space.
Quick Step: (minor, usable only while bloodied; at-will) The kuo-toa marauder shifts 1 square.
Slick Maneuver: (move; at-will) A kuo-toa adjacent to an enemy shifts to any other square adjacent to that enemy.
Alignment Evil / Languages Deep Speech
Str 15 (+8) | Dex 16 (+9) | Wis 11 (+6) | Con 15 (+8) | Int 11 (+6) | Cha 13 (+7)
Equipment leather armor, slimy light shield, spear
Still in the first monster manual… and they even look a bit more fearsome! No longer those weird squishy looking frog people, now they look like they are built for war. Though, that under bite is pretty funny. Also… their eyes no longer see invisible creatures, they just have darkvision! Going to be easy to sneak up on those guys now.
Not much lore to work off of in 4e but we do get a few new things to add to our favorite fish people. Instead of worshiping the Sea Mother, they now worship dark gods and even aboleth “gods”. They are working sinister plots to destroy all other humanoids, as they are obviously the superior humanoid. They can be found happily working with aboleths, in communities located in the underdark, and out ranging for slaves.
There is also a madness that taints the entire race. This madness spreads like a disease and causes communities of Kuo-Toa to collapse. This lunacy must be watched out for by the Monitors and Whips, who have such strong mental discipline that they are normally not affected by it. I can’t imagine what it would be like to travel through the underdark only to stumble on a Kuo-Toa community collapsing thanks to madness, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to be there in the first place.
The Kuo-Toa stats have gotten pretty strong from the previous edition, and feels more like where they were at the beginning of D&D where they were set up to be encounters for level 10+ characters. We have:
Kuo-Toa Guards (Level 16 Minion) / So long as they are in the presence of their leader, they have fanatical ferocity. Once their leader is killed, they will run away in fear.
Kuo-Toa Marauder (Level 12 Skirmisher) / They are typically tainted by madness and are always looking for more slaves. They are very good at moving around their opponents and carry sticky shields to drop the opponent’s weapon, not stick them.
Kuo-Toa Harpooner (Level 14 Soldier) / They have harpoons that they use to reel in prey with slimy cords. If it brings the creature in closer, it impales the creature dealing auto-damage every round.
Kuo-Toa Monitor (Level 16 Skirmisher) / These monk-like Kuo-Toa use their entire body to deal damage and have a special attack, Lightning Fist to cause burst damage against a single target.
Kuo-Toa Whip (Level 16 Controller) / The highest tier of Kuo-Toa, they can summon a slime vortex that keeps creatures from moving, they then cast Lightning Strike at the creature and can use their Pincer Staffs to move them closer to the other Kuo-Toa. Interestingly, they don’t need another Kuo-Toa Whip to create the Lightning Strike.
5e - Kuo-Toa
Kuo-Toa / Medium humanoid (kuo-toa), neutral evil
Armor Class 13 (natural armor, shield) / Hit Points 18 (4d8)
Speed 30ft., swim 30ft.
STR 13 (+1) | DEX 10 (+0) | CON 11 (+0) | INT 11 (+0) | WIS 10 (+0) | CHA 8 (-1)
Skills Perception +4
Senses darkvision 120 ft. , passive Perception 14 / Languages Undercommon
Challenge 1/4 (50 XP)
Amphibious. The kuo-toa can breathe air and water.
Otherworldly Perception. The kuo-toa can sense the presence of any creature within 30 feet of it that is invisible or on the Ethereal Plane. It can pinpoint such a creature that is moving.
Slippery. The kuo-toa has advantage on ability checks and saving throws made to escape a grapple.
Sunlight Sensitivity. While in sunlight, the kuo-toa has disadvantage on attack rolls, as well as on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on sight.
Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +3 to hit, reach 5 ft. , one target. Hit: 3 (1d4 + 1) piercing damage.
Spear. Melee or Ranged Weapon Attack: +3 t0 hit, reach 5 ft. or range 20f60 ft., one target. Hit: 4 (1d6 + 1) piercing damage, or 5 (1d8 + 1) piercing damage if used with two hands to make a melee attack.
Net. Ranged Weapon Attack: +3 to hit, range Sf15 ft., one Large or smaller creature. Hit: The target is restrained. A creature can use its action to make a DC 10 Strength check to free itself or another creature in a net, ending the effect on a success. Dealing 5 slashing damage to the net (AC 10) frees the target without harming it and destroys the net.
Sticky Shield. When a creature misses the kuo-toa with a melee weapon attack, the kuo-toa uses its sticky shield to catch the weapon. The attacker must succeed on a DC 11 Strength saving throw, or the weapon becomes stuck to the kuo-toa's shield. If the weapon's wielder can't or won't let go of the weapon, the wielder is grappled while the weapon is stuck. While stuck, the weapon can't be used. A creature can pull the weapon free by taking an action to make a DC 11 Strength check and succeeding.
5e is back with some interesting revelations about the history of the Kuo-Toa… and maybe the friendliest looking fish I’ve ever seen. They just look so excited to be Kuo-Toa… which is a shame because they are incredibly insane. Their power of insanity is so great that they can bring forth gods, and that’s insane!
But let’s take a step back and talk about their history, they are immediately called degenerates and it only gets worse from that first sentence. They were driven underground by humans and their ilk where they were subjugated by Mindflayers. Unfortunately the Kuo-Toa are just too simple of folk and their minds were broken by the Mindflayer’s psychic abilities. When the Mindflayer’s abandoned their mentally-broken Kuo-Toa, the Drow found the Kuo-Toa and immediately started killing them.
Apparently, the Kuo-Toa can’t catch a break as they have been mortal enemies of the Drow since the Drow stumbled on them and they attack each other on sight. Now, it isn’t all bad news for our favorite fishfolk, because of their broken minds they adopted a religious fervor and have created gods to protect them. You would think invented gods wouldn’t be of much use, but the energy of their collective subconscious can cause gods to manifest… which sounds like a big epic quest if I've ever heard of one!
They mostly worship the Sea Mother, Blibdoolpoolp, who is described as: female human body with a crayfish head and claws and an articulated shell over her shoulders. Not exactly a pretty sight, but its better than the aboleths that they will worship as gods too. Maybe if you just look weird enough, they’ll worship you as a god! (Chris’ note - it is the Sea Mother Bilbao…whatever, that was the driving force behind this Deep Dive. Stephen thought the name was so ridiculously funny that he brought it up constantly. It almost drove me insane.)
Because of their strong devotion to whatever made up god they manifest, the strongest believers can believe magical abilities on to themselves and their followers. Though one of the biggest abilities they get, shooting lightning, is pretty much gone from their stat block. Now, the Archpriest just deals a bit of lightning damage with its scepter, but I can’t imagine they get to use that often when they have so many other spells and so many other Kuo-Toas to throw at the adventuring party.
Now, let’s jump over to the Kuo-Toa Monitor, they aren’t given a true stat block in 5e, but rather they are a variant Kuo-Toa Whip, Whips being subservient to the Archpriests. They lose spells, they get a minor boost to their AC and can make three attacks in a round: 1 Bite and 2 Unarmed Strikes. The most interesting thing about the Monitor, is they deal lightning damage with their Unarmed Strike.
The Pincer Staff is now given to all Kuo-Toan Whips and has the ability to grapple creatures, though its fairly easy to break out of it and works on Medium or smaller creatures. The Sticky Shield is back at full effectiveness and causes weapons to become stuck to it, unlike in 4e where the weapon just drops to the floor. Furthermore, their insane vision of seeing invisible and ethereal creatures is back! Which is pretty awesome, and makes it extremely hard to surprise them. It’s a pretty good change from 4e, though I can’t help but think they are a little weak compared to their former glory days.
Looking back at the history of Kuo-Toa, its been pretty hard on them. All accounts can agree that humans and their ilk drove them from the surface world, but accounts differ on what happens next. Some say that Kuo-Toa were subjugated by Mindflayers which drove them mad, other accounts are that the Kuo-Toa grew mad being underground for so long. Regardless, these guys can be nonsensical and any agreement made with them shouldn’t be expected to last long. As we draw to a close, we leave you with these thoughts on the Kuo-Toa. First, Does it really seem fair to make a proud, vicious race go from plotting the demise of all humanoids to flat out bat shit crazy? Second, who thought giving an aquatic humanoid race an ability with lightning was a good idea? Sure, it’s better than fireball, but now that they’ve gone insane, I wouldn’t put it above them to use that ability underwater. Finally, does they last depiction of the pincer staff (above right) look like a lobster claw cracker to anyone else?
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