You carefully move deeper into the underground tunnels when you suddenly feel rumbling beneath you and an Umber Hulk attacks. The beast swipes with its claws and clacking mandibles while you stand there helplessly.
Today we’re talking about a great example of creatures that punch well above their Challenge Rating with the Umber Hulk in D&D 5e!
What is an Umber Hulk?
An Umber Hulk is large, beetle-like creature that can be found burrowing in caves, subterranean dungeons, and the Underdark. These carnivorous creatures are known to prey ankhegs, young purple worms, and especially humanoids.
The Umber Hulk’s gaze manipulates and scrambles the minds of those who lay eyes on it. Even upon slaying one of these monstrosities, adventurers may only have the foggiest of memories about the encounter.
There’s a lot of history behind this monster. Before appearing in the 5e Monster Manual, these mind-scrambling behemoths first appeared in the AD&D 1st edition Monster Manual II in 1983!
Excuse my sentimental nature, but there’s just something extra special about monsters that have been in the game for so long but still haven’t lost their edge.
I see you.
The Umber Hulk stands true to its name at nearly 8 feet tall. Their chitin plating is as hard as steel while their large claws are strong enough to burrow through solid stone.
Two antennae on top of its head work with the hairy feelers on its body to sense tremors of movement through the ground. These are particularly useful for ambushing prey who are then left stunned by the Umber Hulk’s gaze and are summarily devoured.
When attacking, the Umber Hulk uses its large build to corner prey and lash out with a fury of claw strikes and bites from its massive, barbed mandibles.
The Umber Hulk is a monstrosity in every sense of the word!
The Umber Hulk’s Confusing Gaze
The most terrifying aspect of the Umber Hulk is its Confusing Gaze.
Those who are surprised by the Umber Hulk or brave enough to look at it will find themselves rolling Charisma saving throws to resist the effect.
It’s worth mentioning that activating the effect of its Confusing Gaze is not an action. It is simply an effect of looking at the Umber Hulk. Anyone within 30 feet of the beast that is not covering their eyes must make a saving throw or risk having their mind scrambled.
Failing this saving throw, a character can’t take reactions until the start of their next turn and must roll to determine what they spend their turn doing. They may stand idly, take off running in a random direction, or even attack a random nearby target.
This means that those who choose to stand and fight the Umber Hulk must cover their eyes when doing so. With the Umber Hulk’s AC of 18, making attacks at disadvantage is particularly punishing.
The Umber Hulk’s Confusing Gaze alone can quickly result in the death of everyone in the party.
Using an Umber Hulk in 5e
Even without its Confusing Gaze, the Umber Hulk packs a very powerful punch. It makes three attacks per round with its claws and mandibles for an average of 32 damage total if they all hit. Factor in its very high Armor Class thanks to its natural armor, and you already have a major threat.
Umber Hulks will very commonly attempt to ambush the party. They are clever enough predators to know that this is the best way to get their prey to fall for their Confusing Gaze. Plus, getting advantage on their first surprise attack is nice too.
After ambushing their prey, the Umber Hulk will ferociously lash out with everything it has. It will particularly take an interest in whatever adventurer it can down the most quickly. If an adventurer is stunned by the Umber Hulk’s Confusing Gaze, it becomes a primary target unless someone closer is a more immediate threat.
To make the most use of its Confusing Gaze and brute strength, an Umber Hulk will try to keep as much pressure as possible on the party. If they attempt to back up, the Umber Hulk will pursue them.
If the Umber Hulk is severely wounded, its ability to burrow makes for a quick getaway option. It can burrow 20ft with its movement or half as much if tunneling through solid stone.
The party may attempt to pursue the Umber Hulk if it’s burrowing through stone, but they then risk being stuck in its tunnel with nowhere to run to. This puts them at even great risk of getting affected by its gaze. If it’s tunneling through loose earth, though, the tunnel collapses behind it.
Fighting an Umber Hulk in 5e
When fighting against an Umber Hulk, adventurers don’t have very many clearly good options.
Spells like Darkness are questionable in these situations. On one hand, you don’t have to worry about the Umber Hulk’s gaze now. But on the other hand, you’re still attacking with disadvantage AND the subterranean Umber Hulk will have advantage on its attacks against you.
Tremorsense is rare, but vicious!
If your character happens to have very high charisma, you may fair well against the Umber Hulk. However, a DC 15 Charisma save to resist its gaze is still no walk in the park!
Similarly, if you are able to safely move out of range of its gaze, you can focus on dealing damage. But with its high AC, it may take some time and you’ll want to be sure that it won’t close the distance!
The Umber Hulk may not be a clever monster, but its predatory nature and large build mean that it will not hesitate to keep up pressure on adventurers that it thinks it can drop quickly.
Conclusion – Umber Hulk
It’s almost shocking that the Umber Hulk is only a CR 5 monster. It uses pure shock and awe to overwhelm party members and that Confusing Gaze is a beast of its own!
As a DM, you’ll want to be clever with how the party encounters the Umber Hulk. With its tremorsense, having it burst out of the ground to surprise the party starts the encounter with an incredible bang.
I could easily see a skill challenge after the party has encountered an Umber Hulk where they need to cross an area carefully to not attract more. Talk about tension!
The Umber Hulk makes for a great encounter in any adventure that is going beneath the ground. It’s sure to be an encounter that your players will never forget and their characters will never remember!