Thanks to @_lanternshark_ for this art piece!
- First Appearance: 88 Tangled Depths
- Armor Class 18
- Speed 20 ft., 60 ft. swimming
- Truesight 120 ft, Passive 14, Telepathy to 120 ft
- Immune to lightning, non-magical physical weapon damage
- Immune to frightened and paralyzed
- Legendary actions (NO legendary resistances)
- Suggested average, max HP: 472, 729
- 804 estimated total damage taken
- 374 estimated to tentacles
Taliesin: And I feel so useless.
Matt: Welcome to fighting a kraken, buddy.
Older than most mortals can fathom, the kraken is one of the few remaining creatures in the Monster Manual that, completely unmodified, can provide a terrifying, deadly challenge for even heavily seasoned adventurers. Originally bred for purpose in the war of the primordial titans, the krakens broke free. Dangerously intelligent and cunning, krakens ultimately exist to destroy, and tales of lost ships and destroyed seaside civilizations haunt seafarers and coastal dwellers alike.
According to Matt, kraken in this world are less demi-deities and more creatures of great power lurking in the depths. They have little desire to gain worshippers and every desire to feed and destroy. The kraken just outside the portal happily fed on incoming adventurers sent by the Water Ashari, eagerly awaiting the day the tribe’s magical barriers fall so it may pass to wreak havoc in the Prime Material plane.
The titan’s statistics largely match those listed in the first printing of the Monster Manual. This kraken had greatly enhanced HP (which we’ve come to expect by now), the ability to bash enemies together (in place of flinging them away), and the ability to telepathically communicate to those who speak Common.
The kraken used its Ink Cloud ability as a Lair Action, seeming to replace its MM-described ability to render all creatures vulnerable to lightning damage. The ink cloud obscured the battle field, but was unable to deal its prescribed poison damage to Vox Machina, thanks to their Heroes' Feast. The kraken also interchangeably used Lightning Storm and the lightning charge that’s described in the MM as lair actions.
The kraken’s tentacles provided the most frustration for Vox Machina. With a 30-foot reach from its gargantuan body and prey that can only move that distance by spending a full turn to move, absolutely no one was safe. The kraken could grapple or bash using up to three tentacles on its turn, with an additional three uses thanks to Legendary Actions. No sooner would someone get free than the kraken would lash out and re-grapple them. Various members of Vox Machina found themselves grappled 16 times throughout the battle.
If grappling wasn’t bad enough, its swallow ability also provided an unwelcome challenge. Although this is not the first time Vox Machina has found themselves inside the stomach of a much larger creature, this is the first time they’ve encountered a creature that could swallow more than one creature at a time, including Large creatures. Recall the feymire crocodile of Episode 62: Grog’s use of the Titanstone Knuckles elevated the barbarian’s size to make him larger than the plant creature could hold, expelling Grog from the stomach. The kraken’s gargantuan form allowed it to easily swallow Keyleth and an enlarged Grog simultaneously, and later Grog and Vax. The kraken swallowed members of Vox Machina five times (Grog, Keyleth, Vax, Grog, Grog).
It should be noted that the damage, attack, and saving modifiers matched perfectly with the MM suggested values (assuming Matt is using the original version of the MM; fun fact: the 2016 revision lowers the Wis save to +11 from +12!). A single creature using textbook values without supporting allies to increase the difficulty of the encounter against a six-character party approaching epic levels with god-wear equipment: this is indeed significant. It should also be noted that it didn’t even dignify Grog with a word of acknowledgement until the sixth round. 494 damage and 6 removed tentacles were enough to genuinely annoy (not threaten) the monstrosity.
While the kraken by itself was formidable, this encounter is a perfect demonstration of just how much the environment can affect difficulty. Water combat, in particular, forces a number of disadvantages. Without magic like Alter Self, Wild Shape, Polymorph, Animal Shapes, or Freedom of Movement, all land-based creatures are restricted to half of their regular movement speed, and are forced to make attacks at disadvantage. (The handbooks allow certain ranged attacks to not be made at disadvantage, but no spears or tridents came into play.) Percy’s reliance on gunpowder rendered his primary weapons completely unusable, leaving only a longsword at his disposal.
Spells become significantly more difficult to cast under water as well, especially if the spell requires a vocal component. This was mitigated by the Ashari-provided throat beads and goggles, allowing Vox Machina to speak and see relatively unhindered. Furthermore, any fire damage-dealing attacks in the water would have only dealt half damage (assuming it had been dealt externally, instead of inside the creature).
Vox Machina found themselves facing a foe that they were absolutely not allowed to kill (or allow to stay dead). While this was not the first time such a task has taken place, and we have confidence that it would have taken a concerted effort to take out the kraken, balancing hitting the Kraken's tentacles enough to break free with spending actions on fleeing provided an additional challenge, to put it mildly. This turned the focus of their plans, both pre- and mid-battle, on escape, a defensive rather than the typically offensive approach.
This defensive approach ultimately proved to be the primary pain of the battle. Due to the kraken’s reach and legendary actions, an escapee who spent their entire turn squirming free from the creature quickly fell victim to yet another tentacle. Grog took the lead on limiting the kraken’s use of its appendages, destroying five of its ten tentacles. Vex, Percy, Vax, and Vex’s summoned shark cleaved through four others.
Taryon’s artificer ability to Infuse Magic into an object proved exceedingly useful to VM. Vex, Percy, and Grog all took the opportunity to use Alter Self, allowing them to move their full speed through the water. This gave them a better chance at leaving the plane with their gilled heads.
Polymorphed sea creatures also came up in the planning session in Vesrah: either turn half the party into hardy and fast whales, or turn everyone into small and relatively quick electric eels. After much mid-battle debate, Keyleth enacted the latter plan. This worked, protecting VM from one of the Lightning Storms, and giving everyone 10 free hit points until they were struck or Keyleth went unconscious. Without those 10 HP, Keyleth would have gone unconscious sooner (and potentially forced her to fail a death save or prevented her from casting Plane Shift). Those extra 10 HP also ensured Grog didn’t have to use Relentless Rage against the kraken’s last hit.
Keyleth also brought Plane Shift as her last resort spell, using it to get her, Vex, and Vax out of the plane before they could risk being grappled and eaten again. Vax’s body was completely defenseless by that point, and the only other person Keyleth could reach was the then-grappled Vex. It was a daring move that required her trust in her allies and their trust in her. As Travis and Marisha discussed on Talks Machina, had Keyleth not trusted Grog to leave by getting the half-elves out, the goliath likely would have stayed to his own demise protecting his family instead of escaping with his life (and 8 HP).
When it came to getting out of the kraken’s stomach, Grog reigned supreme, dealing a total of 221 damage from within the intestines (oil from the Alchemy Jug included). He and Keyleth teamed up to make her Spire of Conflux Fireball even more powerful with oil from the Alchemy Jug. Later, it was only through Grog’s powerful attacks that prevented Vax’s body from being completely dissolved. Grog found himself swallowed again at the end of the battle, but managed to free himself and cross the planes before the kraken had the chance to regrapple him with its remaining tentacle.
Percy found himself extremely limited in this encounter, and was forced to use his time hacking away at the tentacles that grabbed him instead of firing from a comfortable distance. At the end of the battle, he spent his turns directing from the portal. Without his intervention (and Grog’s willingness to share the definition of “nitwit” in the moment), the last lodestone and the key to completing the mission would have been left behind.
Oh, and Tary, too. (We would have felt bad for Doty, honestly.)
If we count the Thordak battle as separate from the Raishan battle that followed it, this was the most damage Vox Machina has sustained in a battle. The party entered the encounter with 936 total HP thanks to Heroes’ Feast, and ended with less than a cumulative total of 70 HP. Party members were rendered unconscious 6 times, with one death.
We anticipate that the long term cost of this battle will be great. For now, however, Vox Machina succeeded in their mission to retrieve the lodestones and keep the kraken alive, preserving Vesrah for years to come and completing another major hurdle for the new leader of the Air Ashari.