D&D Monster Monday: Merrow
Kneeling at the shore you find yourself vomiting the salty seawater and struggling to catch your breath after your boat was overturned by a violent wave. “Thank the gods,” you think to yourself. You then feel a sharp pain in your abdomen and you are violently dragged back into the ocean. That was no wave, that was a merrow!
I hold a dear place in my heart for the merrow. After all, it was one of the first creatures I used in 5e to kill a player character! While I’m not out here collecting ears like it’s Diablo 2, the merrow is certainly a creature that could give me the tools to do so.
They may not be the fastest creatures on land, but that’s no issue when you have a ranged weapon attack that can be used to drag a fleeing creature back into the watery depths. Merrows are hunters through and through. They wreak havoc through the oceans of the Material Plane as well as your adventuring party!
So for the first Monster Mondaylet’s splash into the Monster Manual and learn all about the demonic merfolk, the merrow!
The merrow were once merfolk. For reference, merfolk are creatures that have the upper body of a humanoid and the lower body of a fish. Merfolk are a diverse and intelligent people just like any other humanoid in D&D.
A tribe of merfolk once found an evil artifact of Demogorgon. Soon after bringing this artifact back to the tribe, the merfolk noticed that those who touched the artifact were afflicted with an unnatural madness, including their leader.
The leader, in their madness, ordered their tribe to open a portal to the Demogorgon’s layer of the Abyss. The tribe went to the abyss after slaughtering many unafflicted merfolk in service of the ritual.
In the Abyss the tribe was physically transformed. Their once humanoid top-halves of their body turned into demonic fish-like monstrosities. They became frightening creatures, but extremely powerful ones at that.
Demogorgon took a liking to his newfound followers, sending them on missions to decimate coastal populations in the Material Plane and turn the oceans red with the blood of the innocent.
Merrow Stats and Abilities
The merrow statblock can be found on page 219 of the Monster Manual.
Size: Large Monstrosity
AC: 13 (natural armor)
HP: 45 (6d10 + 12)
Speed: 10 ft., swim 40 ft.
STR: 18 (+4)
DEX: 10 (+0)
CON: 15 (+2)
INT: 8 (-1)
WIS: 10 (+0)
CHA: 9 (-1)
This portion of the merrow’s statblock is… not the greatest. It’s min-maxed to give the merrow the highest damage potential possible. Their offenses reflect this, and they are deadly creatures to pit against the party.
This damage does come at a price and a hefty one at that. For starters, their common saving throw abilities are quite low with Constitution being the highest at a +2. The merrow is, in general, not in a great position to succeed on saving throws, which is a bit of an issue.
Their AC is o.k. for a CR 2 creature. It’s not great, but it’s enough to keep them in the game. Their average HP is decent at 45. These are by no means defensive-minded creatures concerning their lore and their statblock reflects that.
The merrow’s speed is exceptional when they’re in the water. Seriously, these creatures will thrive in underwater combat by being able to zoom around the party whose speed has been halved underwater. However, as soon as they’re dragged out on land they become slow with a speed of 10 ft.
Resistances, Immunities, Saves, and Skills
Senses: Darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 10
Languages: Abyssal, Aquan
CR: 2 (450 XP)
Unfortunately, the merrow doesn’t have a whole hell of a lot going on here. They have mediocre passive Perception, but at least they do have Darkvision which is useful for seeing things in the deep dark ocean.
I think CR 2 is very fair for the merrow. Their offenses are above-average for sure, but their defenses are a bit below-average. Especially when they don’t get resistance to fire damage from being in underwater combat.
Abilities and Traits
Amphibious. The merrow can breathe air and water.
This is a nice flavor trait, and it’s one that the merrow have kept from their merfolk origins. While it does allow merrow to operate out of the water, I’d highly recommend using them in aquatic-centric encounters. Their statblock relies heavily on them being submerged, or at least able to primarily use their 40 ft. of swim speed.
Mechanically this trait does give the merrow the ability to jump out of the water for a short period and drag their prey back into the water with them while still being able to breathe.
Multiattack. The merrow makes two attacks: one with its bite and one with its claws or harpoon.
Bite. Melee weapon attack: +6 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 8 (1d8 + 4) piercing damage.
Claws. Melee weapon attack: +6 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 9 (2d4 + 4) slashing damage.
Harpoon. Melee or ranged weapon attack: +6 to hit, reach 5 ft. or range 20/60 ft., one target. Hit: 11 (2d6 + 4) piercing damage. If the target is a Huge or smaller creature, it must succeed on a Strength contest against the merrow or be pulled up to 20 feet toward the merrow.
This is a solid Multiattack that can deal between an average of 17-19 damage per action. For a CR 2 creature, this is a solid amount of action economy, especially since if the Harpoon attack is a part of it, you can also drag a creature 20 ft. in your direction.
Which brings me to my first point. Unless there is some reason as to why you can’t use your Harpoon, you should never opt to use Claws over Harpoon in your Multiattack. The extra 2 damage is fantastic, but the ability to drag a creature towards you is just fantastic battlefield control.
The fact that the drag portion of Harpoon is a Strength contest is actually in the merrow’s favor, in my opinion. They have a +4 modifier to Strength which should give them an advantage over the majority of their targets.
The +6 to attack is well above-average for a CR 2 creature so be sure to make good use of it! Merrow are nasty creatures and certainly subscribe to the philosophy of “a good offense makes a good defense”.
Dangerous Offensive Capabilities
Merrow are deadly creatures for a low-level party to square-off against. Their 17-19 average damage per Multiattack is quite threatening at lower-levels. Not to mention that their +6 to hit can make them a threat even in the early mid-game as well!
Typically low CR creatures have some sort of weakness or missing link in the offensive portion of their kit. The merrow is quite well-balanced. While they aren’t long-ranged snipers, their Harpoon has a range of 20/60 ft. which is a respectable amount of range considering that the creature has 40 ft. of movement and can easily get close to their prey.
Their harpoons are also presumably attached to a chain or rope that gives them the ability to drag a creature towards them.
Able to Break the Party’s Formation
Merrow are solid creatures in their own right. You could certainly use just a group of merrow and call that an encounter. However, they’d also pair well with other aquatic creatures such as Sea Spawn which can offer their bit of crowd control in the right conditions.
Regardless, mixing in a merrow in a group of creatures is a great call. If you decide to do this, use the merrow as a displacer. This is a creature whose job is to mess-up the enemy formation. Their Harpoon is perfect for this, allowing them to drag a creature 20 ft. towards them.
If this is underwater combat, that 20 ft. is a significant amount of movement speed for most player characters. It’s probably more than they can move on their turn! Honestly, 20 ft. is a ton of free movement displacement in general. This is a fantastic feature and certainly one that you can get creative with.
Hell, feel free to use a couple of merrow and combo their Harpoon for tons of fun!
Susceptible to Crowd Control
The merrow’s defenses are by no means terrible, especially when they have the benefits of underwater combat such as resistance to fire damage. They’re not great, but they’re not terrible.
What does suck though is that merrow a susceptible to most forms of crowd control, unless they require a Strength saving throw. They have a decent chance of making Constitution saving throws as well, but anything else is a roll of the dice (or worse thanks to -1’s in Intelligence and Charisma).
One of the merrow’s strengths is their ability to swim around rapidly and deal a boatload of damage. Taking away either or both of these will allow the party to annihilate our demonic fishy friend.
Fish Out of Water
Merrow can operate on land thanks to Amphibious and their 10 ft. of movement. However, I’d highly recommend that you don’t put them on land as this is practically a death sentence for them.
A merrow being forced out of the water loses 30 ft. of their effective movement speed, for starters. The 10 ft. that they have on land is between 15-20 ft. less than the average adventurer’s putting them at an enormous disadvantage. This allows them to be effortlessly kited around the battlefield.
Realistically, the only time you should willingly have a merrow submerge is to have them use their harpoons to drag a creature into the water, where they can then finish them off quickly.
How to Play a Merrow
Drag Them From Safety, One at a Time!
Harpoon is easily the merrow’s signature ability. It’s like a swiss army knife of death! It hits hard, can be used as a ranged weapon, and can displace a creature’s movement. The fact that it’s part of the merrow’s Multiattack is just butter!
Generally, you need to worry heavily about positioning when playing your creatures in combat. While the merrow isn’t an exception, they do sort of flip the table on the party. Their moves now need to be carefully planned as one wrong step can have you dragged halfway across the battlefield and into enemy territory.
Being able to pick off a single character is a huge benefit. The downside is that merrow aren’t super bright. They won’t be able to pick off the most optimal target just from a first glance. That’s ok though, dragging even a weakish-looking character behind enemy lines is still a huge benefit, even if it’s not the party’s glass cannon magic-user!
Force the Party Into Underwater Combat
Combining the merrow’s 40 ft. of swim speed and their 20 ft. Harpoon drag makes them deadly creatures to fight underwater. The party will try desperately to find ways to leave the water if they are capable of doing so. Your job is to ensure that this is not possible, or at least, not possible without trying.
If an encounter with merrow is happening deep below the ocean’s depths then you have nothing to worry about. Outside of teleportation, the party won’t be able to get to dry land quick enough for it to be a viable option.
However, if you are planning on doing a shoreline encounter, the party can get on and stay on dry land. This is where you need to utilize the merrow’s Harpoon as much as possible. Use them to drag a party member into the water and have another merrow or other creature grapple them and drag them deeper into the water.
Take hostages, take important items that the party will chase after. Whatever you do, make the party join the merrow in the water. It’s their best shot at giving the party a tough time in combat!
5 Merrow Plot Hooks
- The Red Sea – The town’s fishermen arrived home early empty-handed. They calimed that the nearby fishing pools have been completely decimated, the sea soaked red with their blood. Whoever or whatever did this clearly means to harm the local animal and humanoid populations.
- Revenge of Demogorgon – The city bordering the sea is said to be home to the heroes who vanquished Demogorgon’s latest attempts on the Material Plane years ago. On the 10th anniversary of their success a horde of merrow have appeared seemingly out of nowhere, wreaking havoc on the nearby coastline.
- You Want Thingamabobs? I’ve got Twenty! – It’s said that when merrow raid a merchant vessel they’ll store the valuables deep within their caves below the ocean. Recently a heavily-guarded ship full of valuables was ransacked by these creatures.
- Druid of the Sea – A tribe of merrow have been encroaching upon a tribe of druids who protect the nearby coastline. They are looking to hire heroes to drive off these demonic creatures with ill-intent.
- Reverse the Curse – A merfolk researcher has been desperately trying to find a way to reverse this demonic curse imprinted upon their merrow cousins. They believe they have found a viable method of doing so, however they need a test subject brought to their laboratory.
Merrow are some deadly creatures for sure. While they are literal fish out of water on land, if you go toe-to-toe with them underwater they’ll surely put up a terrifyingly-good fight.
Their harpoon is by far the deadliest tool that the merrow has in their kit, and it’s quite a unique action too. It deals a hefty chunk of damage, can be used as a ranged weapon, and has a solid chance of being able to drag a creature 20 ft. towards the merrow. Couple this with 40 ft. of swim speed and you have a creature that can easily lock down a single foe.
The merrow’s lore is fun too. They’re a great low-CR option for a demon or Abyss-themed campaign since they’re a great candidate for showcasing what happens to creatures who accept demonic powers. They’re also just fantastic options for any sea-faring campaign in general.
All in all, they’re a strong choice for giving your party a hard time on the ocean floor. I can assure you that they’ll be thoroughly annoyed with the merrow after a couple of rounds!