One reason I haven’t addressed the remorhaz (pronounced rem-o-raz) yet is that I’ve tried to emphasize creatures that are likely to have fighting styles more complex than “Rrrrraaaaahhhhh, stab stab stab” (or “chomp chomp chomp”). Generally, that’s meant skipping over monsters with simple brute profiles—high Strength, high Constitution, low-to-middling everything else, without much in the way of tactics that might modify this—and the remorhaz is one of those. However, a reader asked me to take a look at it, so let’s see what there is in its stat block that might liven it up:
- Burrowing movement. Remorhazes aren’t stealthy, but it doesn’t take proficiency in Stealth to sit in a hole in the ground and wait for prey to stroll by. (I love how the Monster Manual handwaves the combination of their arctic habitat and their Heated Body feature by declaring, “While hidden under the ice and snow, it can lower its body temperature so that it doesn’t melt its cover.” Well, isn’t that convenient!)
- Sixty feet of tremorsense. OK, this I like, because basically it works the same way as the sandworms in Dune. It doesn’t have to see you walking overhead: it can feel you.
- Heated Body. Touch a remorhaz, or hit it with a close-range melee attack, and you take fire damage.
- The Swallow action. This is where the remorhaz gets interesting.
All right, so we can take it as given that a hunting remorhaz will lurk beneath the ice, waiting for prey; I can’t buy the flavor text’s assertion that it can lower its body heat at will, though. I’d give any player character with a passive Perception of, let’s say, 16 or better a tip that something isn’t right—he or she feels a strange warmth from below the ice, or the snow seems to have settled strangely over a certain spot—and allow that character to act during the “O HAI IT ME REMORHAZ” surprise round.
Remorhaz combat is going to revolve around the Bite/Swallow combination, which takes place over two or more rounds, since remorhazes get only one attack per round. A successful Bite attack imposes both the grappled condition and the restrained condition on its target. A successful Swallow attack, which can only target an already grappled opponent (implicitly, grappled by a Bite attack), does an additional attack’s worth of Bite damage and sends the target on an all-expenses-paid vacation through the remorhaz’s digestive tract.
The limitations on these actions are crucial. After a successful Bite, a remorhaz holds its target in its jaws and therefore can’t Bite anyone else; it can only Swallow the target. After an unsuccessful Bite—a missed attack—there’s no grappled opponent to Swallow. So the flowchart here is super-simple: Anything in its mouth? If not, Bite. If so, Swallow.
What if a remorhaz’s Swallow attack fails? Then the target is still in its jaws, taking no damage (albeit getting thoroughly coated in remorhaz slobber); the remorhaz can try to Swallow the target again on its next turn.
If, as a dungeon master, you use the optional Disarm rule on page 271 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide, you might allow your players to try to bash the remorhaz upside the head in order to make it drop a character it holds in its jaws; it’s not likely that they’ll succeed, given the remorhaz’s extraordinary Strength, but at least there’s a rule that can be reasonably interpreted to cover the attempt.
A swallowed character is blinded and restrained, two conditions that impose disadvantage on attack rolls, which is relevant to any attempt that character makes to fight his or her way out. To make a remorhaz puke them back up, a swallowed character will have to inflict 30 points of damage in a single turn—not a single round. Generally speaking, therefore, the damage has to be done by one swallowed character. (But here’s a loophole: If a second character is swallowed, he or she can Ready an Attack action to take place at the same time as the first character’s. In that case, both characters’ Attacks, if successful, do damage on the same turn. Cute, huh?)
Here’s the real bad news for anyone who gets swallowed by a remorhaz: This is an evolved creature with a fully functional survival instinct. When it’s seriously wounded (reduced to 78 hp or fewer), it’s going to skedaddle, throwing a wrench in any ongoing rescue attempt. And since it has the ability to burrow, it will.
Don’t imagine that it leaves a convenient tunnel behind it, either; it’s a monster, not a mining engineer. Any snow or ice it burrows through is quite likely to collapse behind it. And even if it doesn’t, the remorhaz is like a biological Zamboni: its body heat, melting the ice, is going to leave its path smooth and slick. Pursuers will find themselves moving over difficult terrain, no question.