D&D Monster Monday: Unicorn
“How dare you defile our sacred lands?”, roars the voice in your head. You run, gasping for breath, daring not to look behind you – the pounding of hooves getting ever closer. Then, the pounding stops and a sharp pain juts through your heart. The unicorn has brought you to justice.
Unicorns are the poster child of “lawful good”. Most unicorns can be found either protecting a forest or fighting alongside a good-natured paladin. They are intelligent horses that have an iconic horn on their heads. They are obviously magical creatures but mostly keep to themselves.
A unicorn is more of a guardian than a fighter, but they can still pack one hell of a punch. Their horns are expectedly deadly especially when a unicorn is charging at you at full speed. However, their hooves might be even more deadly when they put the full weight of their body into smacking you with them.
“But why would the party ever fight the epitome good-aligned creature?” I don’t know, maybe your party is full of jerks. Besides, that’s your job! My job is just to analyze these creatures on a bi-weekly basis.
So without further ado, let’s trot into the Monster Manual and take a look at the celestial steed, the unicorn!
The unicorn is a pretty common creature in the fantasy genre due to it being a real-life mythological creature. But there’s a lot going on there unlike the minotaur which was much more straight-forward to cover. So let’s stick with the D&D 5e lore because there’s an entire page worth of unicorn lore.
A typical unicorn will be found in one of two places. The first is being somewhere in a forest. Enchanted forests are their natural habitat. They protect the forest they reside in with their lives, keeping evil at bay. However, they’re well-known to allow their friends and allies to hunt and make use of the forest.
The second place is by the side of a chosen companion. In most cases, this is a paladin, but a good-natured cleric, druid, or celestial warlock may also be recognized as a suitable companion or disciple for a unicorn. Unicorns are loyal creatures, provided that you stay true to your word and walk the path of good.
The horn is the unicorn’s defining feature. It’s also the source of their divine powers. Their horn is also extremely deadly, as I’ve alluded to previously. However, due to its powerful magical essence, unicorn horns are a sought-after component in powerful magic.
Beware, though, a creature that takes part in the demise of a unicorn will surely meet divine retribution!
A Unicorn’s Lair
Unicorns are surprising creatures, mechanically speaking. They have a ton of different mechanics, including lairs! While lairs are optional, they can provide some fun mechanics to spice up a battlefield, or set the scenery of an adventure.
There’s a whole list of regional effects a unicorn may have, but you’re more than welcome to make up your own, flavorful effects. Let’s take a look at these regional effects.
- Open flames of a nonmagical nature are extinguished within the unicorn’s domain. Torches and campfires refuse to burn, but closed lanterns are unaffected.
- Creatures native to the unicorn’s domain have an easier time hiding; they have advantage on all Dexterity (Stealth) checks made to hide.
- When a good-aligned creature casts a spell or uses a magical effect that causes another good-aligned creature to regain hit points, the target regains the maximum number of hit points possible for the spell or effect.
- Curses affecting any good-aligned creature are suppressed.
Of course, you could use one, some, or all of these effects, but keep in mind that in the case of a unicorn’s lair, these effects end immediately after the unicorn’s death. A unicorn’s presence is what makes their domain magical, unlike some creatures where their lair will maintain regional effects for a long period of time after their death.
Unicorns are also only CR 5 creatures. They’re powerful, but not supremely in the grand scheme of things. Their regional effects should be flavorful and useful, but nothing obscene. Honestly, the maximum number of HP effect may be a bit much, the rest aren’t are pretty alright in my book.
You don’t have to use a lair in your game to use a unicorn. They can exist outside of their lairs. Their lairs can just be thematic and nice looking but have no mechanics. Their statblock and their success in combat don’t hinge on having these regional effects.
Unicorn Stats and Abilities
You can find the unicorn’s statblock on page 294 of the Monster Manual.
Size: Large celestial
HP: 67 (9d10 + 18)
Speed: 50 ft.
STR: 18 (+4)
DEX: 14 (+2)
CON: 15 (+2)
INT: 11 (+0)
WIS: 17 (+3)
CHA: 16 (+3)
All in all, the unicorn’s ability scores are phenomenal. Their lowest is Intelligence which is arguably the least-useful ability score for a creature due to the lack of intelligence saving throw spells and effects in D&D 5e.
Everything else is somewhere in the realm of +2-+4, with their spellcasting ability score being a +3 and their physical damage ability score being a +4. This is a damn strong array of ability scores.
Their speed is 50 ft. which is to be expected for a horse-like creature. They clock in at 2x the speed of a typical small-sized player character (PC) and just above 1.5x the speed of a medium-sized PC.
Unfortunately, their base survivability is pretty poor. An AC of 12 for a CR 5 creature is abysmal and their 67 HP isn’t doing them any favors in that regard. The rest of their statblock helps boost this slightly, but overall this is not a defensively-gifted creature.
Resistances, Immunities, Saves, and Skills
Damage Immunities: Poison
Condition Immunities: charmed, paralyzed, poisoned
Senses: darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 13
Languages: Celestial, Elvish, Sylvan, telepathy 60 ft.
Challenge: 5 (1,800 XP)
As I said, they have a few extra defensive traits to help boost their garbage AC and HP. Immunity to poison damage as well as the charmed, paralyzed, and poisoned conditions is a welcome boon for the unicorn’s statblock. Poison damage is a common spell damage type so that immunity, in particular, is awesome.
Unicorns are guardians of the forest and their respective domains. They need to be able to spot evil wherever it hides, including in the darkness. Their 60 ft. of darkvision will aid them in that endeavor as well as their 13 Perception which is well above-average.
They can speak quite a few languages that fit their flavor. Plus, they can talk to literally any creature that knows a language thanks to their telepathy. They’re great talkers and they have a Charisma modifier of +3 so there’s a good chance that they can talk themselves out of some tricky situations.
Abilities and Traits
Charge. If the unicorn moves at least 20 feet straight toward a target and then hits it with a horn attack on the same turn, the target takes an extra 9 (2d8) piercing damage. If the target is a creature, it must succeed on a DC 15 Strength saving throw or be knocked prone.
Innate Spellcasting.The unicorn’s innate spellcasting ability is Charisma (spell save DC 14). The unicorn can innately cast the following spells, requiring no components:
- At will: detect evil and good, druidcraft, pass without trace
- 1/day: calm emotions, dispel evil and good, entangle
Magic Resistance. The unicorn has advantage on saving throws against spells and other magical effects.
Magic Weapon. The unicorn’s weapon attacks are magical.
Charge might not always be usable on your turn due to needing to move 20 feet straight toward a target, but you should use it every time an opportunity presents itself. The additional 9 piercing damage is effectively a third attack’s worth of damage.
Not only that, but Charge’s ability to knock a creature prone gives you a bit of crowd control (CC) as well as some battlefield control. A creature can’t effectively maneuver around the battlefield if they have to use half their movement to get up. Plus, its DC 15 Strength saving throw is damn solid.
Magic Resistance gives us a sizable amount of survivability. The unicorn is already immune to three different conditions, so Magic Resistance will help us shake off the other ones. With their excellent array of ability scores, they’ll have no issue succeeding most saving throws caused by spells and magical effects.
Magic Weapon is a nice flavor trait, but it won’t be particularly useful against PCs. This will be an excellent trait for fighting other creatures, or if somehow your PCs have resistance to damage from nonmagical weapon attacks. It’s a niche trait, but there’s some value there in the right circumstance.
Unicorns have some creative spells at their disposal, so let’s talk about a few of them!
For starters, their DC 14 spell save is actually pretty solid, especially in Entangle‘s case as it requires a Strength saving throw which is one of the less common saving throw abilities. Therefore, many characters will use it as a dump stat.
Detect Evil and Good is an excellent at will spell for a unicorn that is patrolling their lair for potential evil intruders. It and Dispel Evil and Good are flavorful choices, though both have niche uses.
Calm Emotions is a sneakily good 1/day spell for the unicorn in the right conditions. They’re able to suppress effects that cause humanoids within the spell’s radius to be charmed for frightened for the duration of the spell (up to 1 minute).
Entangle is just all-around a fantastic CC pick for the unicorn and welcomed considering the fact that they don’t have any ranged attacks.
Multiattack. The unicorn makes two attacks: one with its hooves and one with its horn.
Hooves. Melee Weapon Attack: +7 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 11 (2d6 + 4) bludgeoning damage.
Horn. Melee Weapon Attack: +7 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 8 (1d8 + 4) piercing damage.
Healing Touch (3/Day). The unicorn touches another creature with its horn. The target magically regains 11 (2d8 + 2) hit points. In addition, the touch removes all diseases and neutralizes all poisons afflicting the target.
Teleport (1/Day). The unicorn magically teleports itself and up to three willing creatures it can see within 5 feet of it, along with any equipment they are wearing or carrying, to a location the unicorn is familiar with, up to 1 mile away.
If you haven’t noticed by now, unicorns have a ridiculous amount of options to choose from in their kit.
Their Multiattack is a run-of-the-mill Multiattack clocking in at two attacks for an action. Between Hooves and Horn, you’ll deal an average of 19 bludgeoning/piercing damage per turn, but if you combo Multiattack with a successful Charge you’ll deal a total of 28 bludgeoning/piercing damage per turn.
Horn and Hooves are just your standard melee weapon attack actions. Don’t forget that these are considered magical attacks!
Healing Touch is a damn powerful action. It’s effectively a 2nd-level Cure Wounds except that it also cures any diseases and poisons on the target. It heals 11 hit points, but I honestly think it should heal 12 due to their spellcasting stat being Charisma which has a +3 modifier and not a +2 as Healing Touch implies. Regardless, you can use this action three times per day on another creature
Teleport is an amazing escape ability. If your unicorn is getting demolished just pop an action and poof to safety up to 1 mile away from your current position. The only hitch is that the unicorn needs to be familiar with the location and you can only use this once per day. Use it wisely!
Unicorns can take 3 legendary actions in total. These actions can only be taken at the end of a different creature’s turn. For a deep dive on legendary actions check out my article on the subject!
Hooves. The unicorn makes one attack with its hooves.
Shimmering Shield (Costs 2 Actions). The unicorn creates a shimmering, magical field around itself or another creature it can see within 60 feet of it. The target gains a +2 bonus to AC until the end of the unicorn’s next turn.
Heal Self (Costs 3 Actions). The unicorn magically regains 11 (2d8 + 2) hit points.
All in all, we have a couple of solid legendary action combos.
For starters, using Hooves three times to attack is obviously our most ideal option for dealing some impressive damage. It’s an average of 33 bludgeoning damage if all three hit!
The issue with this is that when we commit to using all three of our legendary actions in this manner, we’re assuming that we will always have a target within melee range to attack. If anyone moves, we may have wasted 1 action as Hooves is our only 1-cost legendary action.
Shimmering Shield is for sure our best legendary action. You gain +2 to AC bumping our AC up to 14 for an entire round, even through your turn! Use Shimmering Shield immediately after the creature following your unicorn in the initiative order finishes their turn. Then, follow it up with a Hooves on a different round.
Heal Self is a waste in most scenarios. For starters, its action economy is godawful. While I get that you can’t heal yourself with Healing Touch, it only takes a single action to use that to heal the same amount of hit points. It’s only an average of 11 hit points anyway. There’s a good chance a single character’s attack will undo that healing.
If your unicorn is in dire straits, perhaps Heal Self is worthwhile to keep them alive until they can Teleport away. But chances are, the combo of Shimmering Shield and Hooves is going to give you considerably more value for the same cost.
Unicorns are, in essence, magical horses. They’re going to be fast. That should surprise no one.
As I mentioned before, their 50 ft. speed is effectively 2x the speed of a small-size PC and 1.5x the speed of a medium-size PC. Unless a PC can fly or burrow, they’re not going to outmaneuver or outpace a unicorn.
A creature can’t even guarantee their escape by teleporting away. The unicorn’s Teleport action gives them a distance of up to 1 mile away that they can teleport to. If a creature can teleport further, or more than once, then that might be an issue, but still.
Pass Without Trace gives the unicorn and their allies within a 30 ft. ft of the unicorn +10 to Stealth checks for up to 1 hour. They already have a +2 Dexterity so they have a decent shot at sneaking up on a target or hiding from a threat.
A Fantastic Variety of Actions
The unicorn’s statblock is chock-full of variety. You’ve got physical melee attacks, a long-distance teleport, multiple heals, a mid-range shield buff, and six utility/CC spells many of which require concentration and have long durations.
Unicorns can do practically anything and they have the ability score array to ensure that they can do all this effectively. They’re respectable spellcasters and powerful single-target damage dealers. They have a fantastic action economy that supports both multiple actions on their turn as well as up to three legendary actions.
Unfortunately, this variety doesn’t translate into any ranged attack options or AoE damage abilities, but considering the fact that unicorns have every other kind of action that’s not an enormous issue. Particularly since they have such exceptional mobility and a few CC options to lock-down enemies.
Exceptional Support Capabilities
Unicorns are solid creatures in their own right. They have respectable damage and some solid CC to take on any foe that’s thrown their way. However, they can really shine as a creature that is supporting other creatures, their squad of minions, or even supporting the players in combat.
Every aspect of their statblock has at least one support or utility ability that they can use to heal, buff/debuff, or teleport their allies. Not to mention, they’re a creature that can be used as a mount for the average humanoid.
Their Shimmering Shield is a fantastic support action that only costs two of their three legendary actions. Shimmering Shield allows the unicorn to give a creature within 60 ft. of them +2 bonus AC.
Healing Touch is another great support action, though it does significantly hinder the unicorn’s combat effectiveness as it would take the place of a Multiattack. It heals a respectable amount for a single action, but it also removes all diseases and poisons on the target. If you can hold off to use Healing Touch out of combat it will be an ideal scenario. You keep your damage output, but can still support your allies.
Teleport also lets you teleport three creatures within 5 ft. of you up to 1 mile away. It’s already a spectacular action for your own movement and positioning needs, but lets you bring a few friends out of a dicey combat encounter with you.
The unicorn as a whole is a solid CR 5 creature with many benefits. However, there is one Achilles’ Heel in their statblock.
Garbage Physical Defenses
The one glaring weakness of the unicorn is their absolutely horrendous defenses outside of saving throws triggered by spells or magical effects thanks to Magic Resistance.
Their base AC is 12. This is damn awful for a CR 5 creature. You’re almost guaranteed to be hit by incoming attacks from an appropriately-leveled PC.
Now, thanks to Shimmering Shield this can be bolstered to 14 AC which is better, but still below-average. This also requires two of your legendary actions and negates you from using Shimmering Shield to buff an ally instead if you use it on yourself.
Their 67 HP isn’t helping them either. Low AC and low HP is an awful combination for a creature. Especially for one that is reliant on being in melee range to deal damage with their Multiattack.
This weakness can be mitigated by acting as a backline support caster for other creatures or for your allied adventuring party, but at its core, any direct attacks are going to turn a unicorn into swiss cheese very quickly.
How to Play a Unicorn
Charge in and Wreak Havoc!
Unicorns can deal a respectable amount of single-target damage between their Multiattack, Charge, and Hooves legendary action. Ideally, you want to utilize Charge as often as possible, but you may not always get the chance to do so considering its movement prerequisites.
Consider Ensnaring a few enemies before charging in buck-wild to give yourself advantage on Charge and your Multiattack.
This is a solid strategy if the unicorn believes they can end things quickly, or if they have a frontline creature or PC to take most of the hits for them. Keep in mind that they’re not the hardiest of creatures.
If the fight gets too hairy for our unicorn, they need to be ready to smash that Teleport button and zoom out of danger.
Support Your Allies!
Ideally, the unicorn will have a couple of allies in an encounter that they can support. Sure, they can pack a mean punch when they need to, but they’re also fairly effective backline support creatures.
Their Shimmering Shield is an exceptional support action as it doesn’t require concentration and doesn’t even use up the unicorn’s entire pool of legendary actions. They also have a few buff and CC spells in their arsenal that they can cast from a distance.
When the opportunity presents itself, the unicorn can easily Charge into an enemy from up to 50 ft. away, or they can rush in to Healing Touch or Teleport an ally that’s in dire straits.
There’s a ton of utility and variety at the unicorn’s disposal. Make good use of it all!
5 Unicorn Plot Hooks
- My Little Unicorn – A baby unicorn is lost in a cave. Can you guide them to safety, or will the terrifying horrors that inhabit the caves get to them first?
- Guardian of the Grove – The sacred grove has been left untouched by evil’s ever-encroaching presence. But what could the unicorn be protecting?
- Finding a Partner – Your paladin is looking for a steed, a true champion of good. Aid them in their quest to find a willing, and worthy partner.
- Unholy Poachers! – Poachers have been slaughtering a herd of unicorns in a nearby forest for their prized horns. The local druids are searching for a group of heroes that can bring these evildoers to justice!
- Building a Lair – Your unicorn ally is ready to build a domain of their very own. But they need a bit of help decorating!
I originally picked the unicorn because I had the idea that it would be a nice, soft ball of an article to write before my vacation. Turns out, I was dead wrong. I forgot just how much stuff is in the unicorn’s statblock. Especially for a CR 5 creature!
Unicorns are a creature that can viciously charge an opponent and dismantle them with ease, but they can also sit in the backline and assist their allies with their utility/CC spells and actions.
The glaring weakness of the unicorn is that they’re a glass cannon. Any direct attacks are going to quickly drop a unicorn. They’re best used as a creature that can support allies from far away until an ideal opportunity to Charge presents itself.
Like the pseudodragon it’s more likely that your unicorn will be an NPC or an ally of a typical adventuring party rather than a combat encounter. However, unlike the pseudodragon, the unicorn can absolutely hold their own in combat.
That’s a great article and the lowest picture is a real blast from the past! 1st edition Monster Manual, I think. Many thanks! (Incidentally, the one unicorn I encountered regarded being referred to as a ‘horse with a horn’ as a deadly insult!)