Deep Dive - The Umber Hulk
The Umber Hulk. This creature is so stupid ugly, it makes the Xorn look pretty. I know we make fun of the art in the older books a lot, but the first pictures are beyond words. Though someone must love it as it keeps rearing its ugly head no matter what edition you look in.
Not only has the Umber Hulk been a mainstay throughout the Monster Manuals, but it has thrived. Each edition seems to have its unique take on the Umber Hulk and given it new abilities and lore... though, it still resembles a science experiment gone wrong between an ant and an ape.
D&D Original - Umber Hulk
Number Appearing: 1-4
Armor Class: 2
Move in Inches: 6
Hit Dice: 8
Number of Attacks: 2 claws/1 bite
Points of Damage/Per Attack: 2–12/claw, 2–8/bite
% in Lair: 50%
Type or amount of Treasure: E
The Umber Hulk was first introduced to the D&D world in the supplement Greyhawk (1975). It’s amazing that the Umber Hulk is one of the original monsters in D&D and still exists today, though many of the monsters in this supplement are still around like the Beholder, Carrion Crawler and even the Dragons.
There is no picture given for most of the monsters back in OD&D, and the supplement isn't very helpful in their description of our fearsome beast... insect? monster?
They are described as a similar shape to humans, and if it is dark can be mistaken for something less deadly. We've no idea what they think an 8' tall, 5' wide, bushel basket shaped head, a gaping maw with huge mandibles and claws that are as hard as iron could possibly be mistaken for... but we are confident we don't want to know.
One interesting ability of our friendly and not at all deadly Umber Hulks have is that if you look squarely into their four eyes, they will cause confusion... Oh, and we almost forgot to mention one small little detail, they highly prize human flesh.
D&D Basic - Hulker
Armour Class: 2
Hit Dice: 10
Move: 60’ (20’)
Attacks: 2 claws/1 bite
No. Appearing: 1-4 (0)
Save As: Fighter: 10
Treasure Type: G
XP Value: 1000
When Dungeons & Dragons was revised in 1977 for a simpler ruleset, known as Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set, the umber hulk was also revised for those rulesets. Unfortunately, it lost a bit of its uniqueness and took almost 10 years for it to come out!
In 1986, the Creature Catalog finally came out and our best buddy the Umber Hulk was no longer the Umber Hulk. Instead, the Umber Hulk was renamed the Hulker and was part of the Hook Horror family. It’s smarter, taller and its picture is way better than the Hook Horror, which just looks like a turkey. While the Hook Horror’s beak does more damage than the Hulker, the Hulker has far better vision and can see into the infravision. Though interestingly, no confusion upon looking into its way more than 4 eyes.
1e - Umber Hulk
No. Appearing: 1-4
Armor Class: 2
Move: 6” (1”-6”)
Hit Dice: 8+8
% in Lair:30%
Treasure Type: G
No. of Attacks: 3
Damage/Attack: 3-12, 3-12, 2-10
Special Attacks: Confusion
Special Defenses: Nil
Magic Resistance: Standard
Alignment: Chaotic evil
Size: L (8’ tall, 5’ wide)
Psionic Ability: Nil
Attack/Defense Modes. Nil/nil
Unlike the Basic edition, our Umber Hulk in 1e comes at the very beginning in the Monster Manual (1977). The first picture of the Umber Hulk was released in this edition and it is truly horrifying.
It has a strange muscular body, which is all black except for its chest which is a yellowish gray and its head is gray with ivory mandibles. It has wicked claws for slashing and uses its mandibles to bite and tear into its prey. Speaking of prey, it likes to feed on young purple worms, ankhegs, and similar monsters… but it’s favorite meal? Human flesh.
Going back to the head, the Umber Hulk’s head is what puts the creature over the top. On its gray-colored head are four eyes, two in front and an additional one on each side of its head, and just like before if you stare longingly in them you have to save against magic or be confused for 3-12 rounds. Confusion is a 7th level Druid spell, so that makes it a powerful effect to succumb to. You may do anything from wandering away to attacking your friends.
Living underground, the Umber Hulk uses its powerful claws to burrow through the earth, and they can even dig through solid stone at a rate of 1” per round. This ability allows them to pop out of nowhere and get the drop on the unsuspecting party.
2e - Umber Hulk
Activity Cycle: Any
Intelligence: Average (8-10)
Alignment: Chaotic Evil
No. Appearing: 1-4
Armor Class: 2
Movement: 6, Br 1-6
Hit Dice: 8+8
No. of Attacks: 9\3
Special Attacks: See Below
Special Defenses: Nil
Magic Resistance: Nil
Size: L (8’ tall, 5’ wide)
Morale: Elite (13)
XP Value: 4,000
The Umber Hulk doesn’t waste any time in 2e and is released in the loose-leaf Monstrous Compendium Volume One (1989) collection, the same year that 2e is released. It is later reprinted in the book Monstrous Manual (1993) and 2e brings in a few new details.
Their description gives a detailed strategy for how the Umber Hulk can surprise its prey. Burrowing up to a point adjacent to a main dungeon corridor, or finding a dead-end in the dungeon, it will peek through a crack and jump out on its unsuspecting prey as they walk by. Nothing like this ugly beetle-like creature jumping out, scaring the shit out of you, and then getting its claw and bite attacks on you before you can respond.
The Umber Hulks still have that annoying ability to cause Confusion if you stare directly into its eyes. In addition to the Confusion ability, the Umber Hulk can also see into the infravision so that there is no hiding from this beast. But what happens if you somehow get the upper hand on an Umber Hulk? Umber Hulks aren’t willing to fight to the death but will either burrow away or cause a cave in. There is a 25% chance that if an Umber Hulk tries to cause a cave-in, you will be caved in. Of course, this isn’t a big deal to the Umber Hulk as it can burrow its way out… Unfortunately for you, humans, elves, gnomes, and many other humanoid races aren’t very good at burrowing.
We finally get a glimpse into the Umber Hulk society. They are solitary creatures but will mate and go on their separate ways. Females will give birth to 1-3 young, and once they reach the age of 2 are taken out by the mother to learn how to hunt. This is one of the only ways a party can run into more than one Umber Hulk. I don’t know about you, but I have no desire to fight a mother Umber Hulk and her 3 bratty kids, all of whom love the taste of human flesh.
2nd edition also saw many variations of the umber hulk. The Vodyanoi are introduced in the Monstrous Compendium Volume One (1989). The creators felt that the Umber Hulk needed an underwater cousin, hence the Vodyanoi. These creatures live in freshwater and lose the ability to confuse their prey since they only have two eyes instead of the normal four. They can, however, summon up to 20 electric eels once per day, so at least they have that going for them, furthermore, they hunt by rending the bottom of boats and sinking them… and then feast on the, hopefully, humans swimming to shore.
In December of 1989, Dragon #152 was released and with it, an article titled The Ecology of the Umber Hulk. This article reveals that Umber Hulks breathe through gills on the side of their near-non-existent necks, allowing them to breathe and eat at the same time. Umber Hulks, who have a steady diet of young Purple Worms, will occasionally let themselves be eaten by Purple Worms so they can have the thrill of ‘tunneling out’ and killing the worm. They’ve also been known to stop attacking adventurers so long as huge stacks of gold and platinum are paid towards them, but it is a rare thing for that to even happen. No one is quite sure what they do with this wealth, but some hypothesis that there is a vast Umber Hulk city far below the surface.
Finally, the last version of the Umber Hulk comes with the introduction of Spelljammer in Dragon #184. Umber Hulks in the Spelljammer universe have now become slaves to the Neogi race. Making your own Umber Hulk is a rite of passage for the Neogi race, who looks like a cross between a spider and an eel. Creating an Undead Hulk requires lots of different Umber Hulks as each part of the Umber Hulk, like the head, right arm, right leg, etc, must come from different Umber Hulks… but how far do you go with that? Do you have to find four different Umber Hulks for the four eyes? What about mandibles and claws?
Either way, these mindless atrocities attack without fear or planning and use brute force to overwhelm their foes. They lose their confusing gaze ability, but we are now introduced to their ability to grab and squeeze their victims after two successful claw attacks, that deal no damage… until it begins squeezing you on its turn and makes your eyes pop out like you are a squeaky toy.
3e/3.5e - Umber Hulk
Hit Dice: 8d8+35 (71 hp)
Speed: 20 ft. (4 squares), burrow 20 ft.
Armor Class: 18 (-1 size, +1 Dex, +8 natural), touch 10, flat-footed 17
Base Attack/Grapple: +6/+16
Attack: Claw +11 melee (2d4+6)
Full Attack: 2 claws +11 melee (2d4+6) and bite +9 melee (2d8+3)
Space/Reach: 10 ft./10 ft.
Special Attacks: Confusing Gaze
Special Qualities: Darkvision 60 ft., tremor sense 60 ft.
Saves: Fort +8, Ref +3, Will +6
Abilities: Str 23, Dex 13, Con 19, Int 11, Wis 11, Cha 13
Skills: Climb +12, Jump +5, Listen +11
Feats: Great Fortitude, Multiattack, Toughness
Organization: Solitary or cluster (2-4)
Challenge Rating: 7
Alignment: Usually chaotic evil
Advancement: 9-12 HD (Large)
Level Adjustment: —
The Umber Hulk gets introduced in the Monster Manual (2000) for 3rd edition, and then released in the updated Monster Manual (2003) for 3.5 with a new addition, the Truly Horrid Umber Hulk.
And here we go again with new art for the Umber Hulk that proves that mothers can truly love anything. It is now described as looking like a cross between a great ape and a beetle, has a golden brown color, its mandibles are twice the size of the previous incarnations, and its claw are massive. The four eyes are now centered on the front of its head, but that does little to improve its appearance.
The Umber Hulk gets a few buffs in 3rd edition, a little more Hit Points, AC and damage. There is no mention of being able to surprise someone, but it does say that the umber hulk will use its tunneling ability to create traps and pitfalls to incapacitate an unsuspecting adventurer. Confusion also remains as its special ability attack, and the umber hulk uses the ability as if it was an 8th level caster. A key ability it gains is Tremorsense, allowing it to sense vibrations in the ground and pinpoint any creature in contact with the ground.
Finally, more Umber Hulks are brought to the light and we learn about the Truly Horrid Umber Hulk, which is a mighty beast and what happens when you allow an Umber Hulk to live a long time. The Truly Horrid Umber Hulk was released with 3.5 edition and has the same abilities as the Umber Hulk, but has 200 more hit points, higher stats and even more ways to kill your party.
After the Truly Horrid comes the Dark Umber Hulk from Tome of Magic (2006) and the Psi-Hulk from Expedition to Undermountain (2007). The Dark Umber Hulk is given the Dark template which makes it from the Plane of Shadows, while the Psi-Hulk is given great psionic power.
4e - Umber Hulk
Umber Hulk - Lvl 12 Elite Soldier
Large natural magical beast, XP 1,400
Initiative +11 / Senses Perception +13; darkvision, tremorsense +5
HP 248; Bloodied 124
AC 30; Fortitude 33, Reflex 28, Will 27
Speed 5, burrow 2 (tunneling)
Saving Throws +2; Action points 1
> Claw (standard, at will). Reach 2; +18 vs. AC; 2d6 +8 damage
> Grabbing Double Attack (standard, at will) - The umber hulk makes two claw attacks. if both claw attacks hit the same target, the target is grabbed (until escape). a grabbed target takes ongoing 10 damage from the umber hulk’s mandibles until it escapes. the umber hulk cannot make any other attacks while grabbing a creature.
Confusing Gaze: (minor 1/round; at-will) Gaze, Psychic - Close blast 5; targets enemies; +16 vs Will; the target slides 5 squares and is dazed (save ends).
Str 26 (+14) | Con 20 (+11) | Dex 16 (+9) | Int 5 (+3) | Wis 14 (+8) | Cha 11 (+6)
Alignment Unaligned / Languages -
Introduced in the Monster Manual (2010) the Umber Hulk once again gets more changes to its beautiful appearance. Its back looks like a turtle shell and the antenna now stick out from the side of its head. Four creepy eyes remain, as do the giant mandibles. It now takes on an earthy brown hue and has strange ape-like arms that end in wicked claws.
4th edition provides even less information on the Umber Hulk than previous editions. While the scant information about tactics and lore doesn’t mention the Umber Hulk’s panache for burrowing and surprising its prey, the new and darker Umber Hulk does. We are introduced to the Shadow Hulk, a badder, stronger and phase-ier Umber Hulk that is apt at ambushing prey. We can just imagine a scenario where the Shadow Hulk has made a small hollow cave for it to await adventurers, phases through the wall, grabs some human meat and phases or tunnels back to its hole to eat its favorite meal.
Confusing gaze remains, but the effect no longer has the chance for the target to attack its party members, unless the Shadow Hulk gazes on you. A character under the effects of a normal Umber Hulk’s gaze will move 5 squares and become dazed. The biggest change to the Umber Hulk is the addition of a special attack, the double grabbing attack. The Umber Hulk now can grab a target if both of its claw attacks hit the same target. A grabbed target takes 10 damage every round if it’s in the Umber Hulk’s grasp until it escapes. The Umber Hulk cannot make any other attacks while it is grabbing a creature, which kind of sucks. It can still use its confusing gaze, so you can picture it spinning around willing characters to gaze lovingly into its eyes, all the time chewing on the character it is grabbing.
5e - Umber Hulk
Umber Hulk / Large monstrosity, chaotic evil
Armor Class 18 (natural armor) / Hit Points 93 (11d10+33)
Speed 30 ft., burrow 20 ft.
Str 20 (+5) | Dex 13 (+1) | Con 16 (+3) | Int 9 (-1) | Wis 10 (+0) | Cha 10 (+0)
Senses darkvision 120 ft., tremorsense 60 ft., passive Perception 14 Languages Undercommon
Challenge 5 (1,800 XP)
Confusing Gaze. When a creature starts its turn within 30 feet of the umber hulk and is able to see the umber hulk’s eyes, the umber hulk can magically force it to make a DC 15 Charisma saving throw, unless the umber hulk is incapacitated. On a failed saving throw, the creature can’t take reactions until the start of its next turn and rolls a d8 to determine what it does during that turn. On a 1 to 4, the creature does nothing. On a 5 or 6, the creature takes no actions but uses all the movement to move in a random direction. On a 7 or 8, the creature makes one melee attack against a random creature, or nothing if no creature is within its reach. Unless surprised, a creature can avert its eyes to avoid the saving throw at the start of its turn. If the creature does so, it can’t see the umber hulk until the start of its next turn, when it can avert its eyes again. If the creature looks at the umber hulk in the meantime, it must immediately make the save.
Tunneler. The umber hulk can burrow through solid rock at half its burrowing speed and leaves a 5 foot-wide, 8 foot-high tunnel in its wake.
Multiattack. The umber hulk make three attacks: two with its claws and one with its mandibles.
Claw. Melee Weapon Attack: +8 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target.Hit: 9 (1d8+5) slashing damage.
Mandibles. Melee Weapon Attack: +8 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 14 (2d8+5) slashing damage.
Finally arriving in 5th edition, and the Umber Hulk looks like a cross between the 3e and 4e versions of this strange insect-ape creature. The Umber Hulk is introduced in the Monster Manual (2014) and comes with a bit of lore regarding surprise attacks, wanton destruction and lone survivors recalling horrifying accounts of the Umber Hulk.
Beyond the fascinating lore of the Umber Hulk’s abilities, not many changes. It does go into detail about how the Umber Hulk will lie in wait and then burst through the dungeon wall and get the drop on the characters. This surprise round is the best way for the umber hulk to use its confusing gaze and be successful. Otherwise, most characters will probably just avert their gaze, while it means they have disadvantage on attack rolls it does have a pretty beefy AC of 18 which might make a few characters willing to gamble on that Charisma saving throw and looking at the Umber Hulk.
The last bit of lore really tries to make this creature feel like a mysterious force of destruction, claiming that Umber Hulks “take on supernatural status in these harrowing stories…” and that if you can see one, you are already dead. That’s a very evocative bit of lore, unfortunately, the Umber Hulks are only CR 5… which lacks a bit of that threatening presence, at least to us. Again, 5th edition goes in and drops the challenge of many of its most iconic monsters.
There it is, the Umber Hulk. Arguably one of the top 5 ugliest creatures in the game, it has progressed from strange humanoid-bucket-headed creatures to an insect-gorilla creature to a weird beetle monster. It has survived pretty coherently across the editions of Dungeons & Dragons and, despite its appearance, is slowly crawling its way into our hearts.