You drop to your knees. There’s no point in running from a creature with a 200-foot wingspan. The roc, high in the sky, begins its descent. In mere seconds you are snatched up by their giant beak, but not slain. Your end is near, but it will not be a merciful one. You find yourself rapidly approaching the roc’s nest and hear its hatchlings squeaking at you. It seems dinner has been served.
The roc is absolutely an iconic D&D creature, and not just because it’s a creature that has been included in every edition of the game. People just love fighting these gargantuan birds of prey.
Which is interesting to me because for a high CR creature they’re honestly a bit boring. They’re literally just an enormous bird of prey. They don’t have any wacky magic abilities or legendary actions. They just fly around really fast and hit people really hard.
Honestly, this might be the reason why they’re a staple high CR creature for many groups. They’re a great “first taste” at what fighting something really big or something with a high CR feels like without either side of the table having to keep track of the creature’s legendary actions, spells, traits, features, etc.
Long ago giants and dragons had a war over controlling the world in the Forgotten Realms. I don’t want to say that it was one-sided or anything, but it’s tough to fight a dragon without the ability to fly.
Annam the All-Father, creator of giants, was a wise god that knew that the giants needed a way to fight the dragons in the skies. Rocs were his creation to fight the dragons in mid-air combat. This worked well and the giants freed the rocs as a reward, allowing them to live as they please.
This is where they messed up. While some giants have been able to tame rocs on occasion, most rocs don’t care about their origins. They’ll hunt and eat anything, people, elephants, whales, and yes, even giants.
Rocs are enormous creatures and because of that, they need a lot of food and space to survive. Thankfully this means that they’re solitary creatures. If they lived in flocks I’m pretty sure they’d have taken over the world at this point.
Rocs like to make their nests in the mountains out of caravans, ships, houses, and trees that they hunt and/or gather. Here they’ll lay eggs larger than a human.
Roc Stats and Abilities
You can find the roc’s statblock on page 260 of the Monster Manual.
Size: Gargantuan monstrosity
AC: 15 (natural armor)
HP: 248 (16d20 + 80)
Speed: 20 ft., fly 120 ft.
STR: 28 (+9)
DEX: 10 (+0)
CON: 20 (+5)
INT: 3 (-4)
WIS: 10 (+0)
CHA: 9 (-1)
Was I a bit harsh calling the roc a big dumb bird? Yes. Was I correct? Also yes. This is a very, very, very, very large bird. It’s also very dumb what with its -4 Intelligence modifier. However, we’re not asking the roc to cure cancer, we’re asking it to swoop down and decimate the party with its sharp beak and talons. It doesn’t need to be smart.
With that being said, rocs are exceptional birds of prey. Just look at their Strength and Constitution modifiers! These creatures hit like a truck and can sustain massive amounts of damage without flinching. They’re terrifying!
It’s not like you can easily run away from a roc that’s hot on your trail. They have 120 ft. of flying speed per turn. That’s four times the average amount of movement speed of the average medium size adventurer! No, your only options as a target of a roc are to either kill the roc or accept your fate.
Or, you know, magic your way out of it because it’s unlikely your DM is pitting a group of low-level adventurers against a CR 11 behemoth.
Rocs have some solid physical defenses. 15 AC is well above the average for a lot of beast or beast-adjacent creatures and they have an enormous health pool of 248 HP that the party will have a rough time chipping away at quickly.
Resistances, Immunities, Saves, and Skills
Saving Throws: DEX +4, CON +9, WIS +4, CHA +3
Skills: Perception +4
Senses: passive Perception 14
CR: 11 (7,200 XP)
Surprisingly, rocs have quite a few saving throw proficiencies. These proficiencies cover the three primary saving throw abilities which is fantastic, and honestly quite necessary. A CR 11, solitary creature is going to be the target of some terrifying magic, they need a way to make these saves.
Birds of prey have notoriously excellent eyesight. The roc’s +4 to Perception is a testament to that, as well as their Keen Sight which we’ll touch on in a moment.
Hold the phone. Is this a creature without darkvision? We did it! We finally found one! Jokes aside, rocs aren’t nocturnal creatures. They’re not going to be hunting at night so it makes sense for them to miss out on darkvision, but it is a potential weakness for a party to keep in mind if they wish to hunt down a roc!
Abilities and Traits
Keen Sight. The roc has advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on sight.
As I said, the roc is a bird of prey, albeit the size of like 30 or so bald eagles stapled together, but a bird of prey nonetheless. They are hunters first and foremost and need to be able to spot their prey from far up in the sky.
The combination of Keen Sight and +4 to Perception checks means that it’s going to be difficult to hide from a roc once you’ve gotten its attention.
Multiattack. The roc makes two attacks: one with its beak and one with its talons.
Beak. Melee Weapon Attack: +13 to hit, reach 10 ft., one target. Hit: 27 (4d8 + 9) piercing damage.
Talons. Melee Weapon Attack: +13 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 23 (4d6 +9) slashing damage, and the target is grappled (escape DC 19). Until the grapple ends, the target is restrained, and the roc can’t use its talons on another target.
All in all, the roc has a solid Multiattack. It is comprised of two different attack actions, Beak and Talons, each of which has an additional perk or feature for their attack.
Beak has a reach of 10 ft. meaning that the roc’s radius for triggering opportunity attacks is pretty damn big given their gargantuan size plus additional reach. It also deals a hefty amount of piercing damage.
Talons deals slightly less slashing damage and doesn’t have the additional reach that Beak has. However, it does automatically grapple a target on a hit. This grapple has an escape DC of 19 which is extremely high, plus it restrains the creature. The only downside is that the roc can’t use Talons on another target when it has someone grappled.
Keep in mind that a restrained creature has attacks against them made at advantage. While the roc has its prey restrained they can make Beak and Talons attacks at advantage as they soar up into the clouds. If they get bored of dismembering their restrained target they can always just drop the creature from a few hundred feet in the air!
120 ft. of flying speed is terrifying in multiple ways. The most obvious reason is that this is essentially four times the movement that an average adventurer is able to make in a single turn. The second is that a flying creature like the roc can avoid melee or short-ranged attacks effortlessly.
Flying speed changes the dynamic of any combat encounter. It forces melee-centric characters to utilize their less ideal ranged options and can force casters to forego the use of their short-range spells. However, the roc can’t benefit from these perks for long if it wishes to deal any damage.
Unlike their fiery bird counterpart, the phoenix, the roc lacks Flyby which, honestly would have been a great addition to the roc’s statblock. Being able to zoom out of a creature’s melee range without provoking an opportunity attack is a handy trait for flying boss creatures like roc.
With that being said though, rocs have an average of 248 HP. They can afford to take a couple of swings from the party. Just be careful of creatures with Sentinel!
You can’t outrun a roc. It’s just not going to happen. They’re too big and too fast. If you find yourself fighting one you’re going to have to stand your ground.
Surprisingly for what is essentially a big beast the roc actually has excellent defenses and survivability.
As I’ve already mentioned their flying speed can eliminate many of the party’s bread-and-butter spells, abilities, and weapons.
Rocs have 15 AC which while not fantastic for a high CR creature, it’s damn good for what is effectively an unarmored creature. In that context their AC is solid.
Their health pool is enormous which isn’t surprising for a creature with a +5 Constitution modifier. Most parties will have a hard time quickly dispatching a well-played roc unless they get the jump on it.
Lastly, rocs have proficiency in all three of the primary saving throw abilities as well as Charisma. While they are still susceptible to spells they certainly won’t be crowd controlled without a fight.
The roc can do one thing, they can swoop down and maul a creature to death with their devastating Multiattack. While they do this they have a high chance of grappling a target with their talons. Once this is done the DM can either have the roc continue to focus on destroying their grappled foe, or they could fly off with their prey.
When we boil it down though, the roc is just a creature that specializes in single-target melee attacks and only that.
Sure, the roc does their job well, but it’s still just a single maneuver. If the party is able to manipulate the battlefield in any way to prevent the roc from diving down and grabbing one of them with its talons then they’ve effectively won the encounter.
Rocs have no ranged attacks, AoE, or utility. They’re just straight-up melee damage machines. A party that faces a CR 11 creature is likely to have some tricks up their sleeve that hinders or prevents a solitary, melee-only creature from decimating them one-by-one.
Limited Use Cases and Solitary Creature
Rocs can’t be plugged into just any adventure or dungeon, primarily because they wouldn’t fit in a dungeon. You’re only going to be able to use a roc in a relatively remote location since they’re solitary creatures, also because if they were near civilization they would probably be disposed of.
A roc needs a huge hunting ground with few trees or obstacles that would hinder them from spotting their prey. Think somewhere like the plains or grasslands.
Depending on how strictly you wish to follow the lore you may also have a difficult time designing a fair encounter for your roc. At the end of the day, the action economy is king, so solitary creatures without legendary or lair actions like the roc are generally at a disadvantage against a party of 3-6 adventurers.
Can a roc do a respectable amount of damage for a CR 11 creature? Absolutely. But it’s going to be difficult to be the true terror that you are when you’re at the mercy of a group of seasoned adventurers with an Action and Bonus action per turn.
A single, wild, roc is a tough encounter to plan for if you’re trying to ride the line between balanced and deadly.
A roc fighting alongside its cloud giant master effectively takes care of the roc’s action economy woes, but it is a much more challenging fight for the party!
How to Play a Roc
One Target at a Time
If you’re going to play a bird of prey you need to think like a bird of prey. What that means is that you spot your prey from afar with your Keen Sight, bide your time, and when an opening shows itself you quickly swoop in and use your Talons to grab a creature.
If the roc is able to, it should try and dash back to its nest with their meal safely restrained in their talons. However, if they’re forced to fight then they’ll need to pick a target and stick to it.
This means that they can either use their entire Multiattack on the restrained creature in their talons, or they can use their Talons to damage their prey and Beak to snap at whoever is refusing to let them leave with their dinner.
Regardless, they need to pick a target and stick to it until they’re able to get away with their food.
Keep in mind that rocs aren’t smart so it’s not like they’ll be able to target the party’s unarmored wizard. They’ll probably just go for whatever they see first or someone that is separated from the rest of the party.
Hunt in Wide-Open Spaces
Rocs need wide-open spaces to hunt in for two reasons really. The first is that they need to be able to spot their prey so they can’t have a ton of trees, buildings, or whatever obscuring their view.
“But hawks and birds of prey can do just fine in forests in real life! Why couldn’t a roc?” Honestly, good question. My answer is that a roc is too large to maneuver through the forest like a regular-sized bird of prey could. However, if it was a forest full of giant trees you could probably put a giant bird in there.
A roc wouldn’t survive in such a location where large creatures could easily hide from them, so the party wouldn’t encounter a roc in a place that wasn’t suited for the roc. Therefore, you’d most likely be having this encounter in the plains or maybe even in a giant tree or a mountain outcropping where the roc lives.
If you’re feeling kind you could give your party a nice boulder or something to hide behind, but most likely it won’t make a huge difference. It’s not like the cover the boulder would potentially provide will do the party much good against a melee attacker, but you never know.
The environment the roc lives in needs to make sense. It needs to be one where the party can’t easily hide from the roc or else most of the roc’s prey would also be unattainable. Ergo, the roc wouldn’t be able to survive there. Nine times out of ten this means the roc will be in an area with a lot of open space.
If your roc lives somewhere that’s an exception to the rule, figure out a reason for it. My advice though, make sure it’s still a location that the party can’t hide in easily.
5 Roc Plot Hooks
- Hunting Big Bird – An eccentric noble desires a roc to be slain so it may be taxidermied and hung in their parlor. You’ll be rewarded hansomly for an in-tact roc corpse!
- Conservation Challenges – The local elephant population has taken a nosedive recently. However, it’s not due to poaching. Whatever is eating them is taking them far away and eating them whole.
- Get Off Me Ship! – The esteemed pirate, Jonathan De Mort, lost his prized ship to a shipwreck. Unfortunately, fixing it up isn’t as easy as he’d hoped it would be. A roc has recently made its nest in the ship’s remains. Clear it out and you’ll be rewarded with foreign treasures the likes of which you’ve never seen!
- Questionable Liberation – A druid circle has asked you to free a flock of rocs that have been captured by a group of cloud giants. Freeing a group of enormous birds of prey does seem like a bad idea, but you’re not paid to think, you’re paid to do!
- Damn Rangers – The party’s ranger has insisted that they are able to tame any beast. They’ve insisted on training a baby roc that the party “rescued” from its nest. This creature has eaten most of the party’s supplies, edible or otherwise, and it’s past time to stage an intervention for the ranger. The roc needs to go.
For a CR 11 creature, the roc is pretty basic. Honestly, it’s got to be one of the smallest statblocks of all the high CR creatures in D&D 5e.
However, simplicity doesn’t mean that the roc is a bad creature. In fact, they’re fairly well balanced. They have some quirks that make them a unique encounter since they are solitary creatures, but their statblock lends itself to making them a challenging encounter with this in mind.
Roc lore was way more interesting than I had figured it was going to be. Like, for what is essentially a winged killing machine they have an interesting origin story at the least.
All in all, I get why the roc has weathered every edition of D&D. They’re terrifying creatures to face in battle. I mean, they can fly off with an elephant without much trouble. They’re fun creatures, even if they don’t have a whole lot of tricks up their sleeves.
Be sure to spice up your party’s next travel day through the plains with a terrifying bird of prey that’s looking to eat them, their horses, and anything else they’re traveling with!