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Monday, July 31, 2017

Dungeons & Dragons - A Guide to Umber Hulks

In this guide, we'll go through old products and try to dig up all the information on Umber Hulks that we can find. They're definitely a monster that is well known but not explored all that much.

Essential Information

Here's the basic information:
  • They are big, beetle-like humanoids who tunnel through solid rock.
  • They eat people.
  • They love fighting purple worms.
  • They collect gold and silver - nobody knows what they do with it.
  • Rumor has it that they live in cities deep underground.
  • In some editions, they actually speak their own language.
  • Their eyes are valuable, useful components for spells and potions.
  • When they look at you, you suffer from magical confusion.
  • Many of them are lifelong slaves of the neogi.
  • Many of the variants are almost identical to the main type, except for the vodyanoi and the psi-hulk.
  • They worship two neogi gods: P'kk (god of bullying) and Kr'tx (god of wanton destruction).
  • Their babies are called.... "hulklings."
AD&D 1st Edition

Monster Manual

Here's what we learn:
  • It is chaotic evil, 8 feet tall, gets three attacks per round and can cause confusion.
  • Burrows through stone at 1" per turn and through loam at six times that rate. "Their prey includes young purple worms, ankheg, and humans."
  • They attack with claws and mandibles.
  • Any intelligent creature that views its four eyes must make a save or be confused for 3-12 rounds.
  • They have their own language!
  • They're black..? Shading to yellowish grey on the front.
Ghost Tower of Inverness

This is a pretty classic 1st edition adventure and contains a big dungeon. At one point, the group comes to a room with 5 tunnels leading from it. In this room is a locked iron chest that contains a pile of gold and a key they need.

Unless they leave the room immediately, there's this:

"You hear a rumbling sound from the southwest; it sounds like huge quantities of earth falling in the room, perhaps it is a cave-in."

And then.. "Any character who turns to look at the source of the noise - or asks the DM what it is - has looked at an umber hulk."


They helpfully give you the confusion chart. Roll a d10:
  • 1      Wander away for 1 turn (10 minutes!).
  • 2-6   Stand confused for 1 round, unable to attack.
  • 7-8   Attack nearest creature for 1 round.
  • 9-10 Attack the umber hulk for 1 round.
Fighting it while averting your eyes gives you a -4 to hit.

It's kind of weird that this encounter early on in the adventure is given two pieces of art, one of which is on the title page.

AD&D 2nd Edition

Monstrous Compendium

That's the Tony DiTerlizzi umber hulk. He's one of m favorite D&D artists. I think he did an awesome job actually depicting what a gorilla/beetle might look like.

The entry is similar to 1e, expanded a bit:
  • Their mandibles can cut through bone
  • Their four eyes are "mere blackened dots each the size of a small coin."
  • They still have their own language.
  • They dig a tunnel and then peer out of a crack where creatures are likely to stroll by.
  • Burrowing is 10 feet.. per turn?! 60 feet in soft eath. A foot per minute?
  • Their gaze causes confusion as per the spell.
  • They are slow and ponderous.
  • They won't hesitate to cause a cave-in
  • Their babies are born in a special nursery hollowed out by the mother. It takes the "hulklings" two years to grow big enough to hunt.
  • It is rumored that there are entire cities of these being underground with tunnels that radiate out, like threads in a spider's web.
Vodyanoi: This is an aquatic variant of an umber hulk. They have only two eyes and thus they don't have the confusion power. They can rend the hulls of vessels. They can summon 1-20 electric eels!

In 2015, Tony Diterlizzi did a sketch of a new kind of umber hulk:

Seems like that could be some sort of umber hulk lord.

Dungeon Magazine #36 - Asflag's Unintentional Emporium

This adventure is about a wizard's lair that's been abandoned (Asflag the wizard is enslaved in the Gray Wastes). In the lair is a zoo full of weird monsters that have gotten out, some of which are hunting in the city. The group needs to go to the lair and get things under control.

It's a massive place. In Asflag's library are some spell books. One spellbook has a magical trap. If you open it without uttering the passphrase, it summons an umber hulk. It appears in a thunderclap and proceeds to run amok for d6 rounds, and then is banished back to whence it came.

Dragon Magazine #152 - The Ecology of the Umber Hulk

This article is written as if it was an excerpt from a fictional book, "Creatures of the Earth's Deeps", by the sage and wizard Archmyel. Lots of factoids:
  • Umber hulks weigh 1500 pounds.
  • They have two sets of mandibles.
  • Two of their eyes are white with black irises, and the other two are purple with yellow irises.
  • They have no nose. They have gill-like structures on their necks that allows them to eat and breathe at the same time.
  • Umber hulks allow themselves to be swallowed by purple worms for the thrill of "tunneling out" and laying the worms.
  • They can breathe in water for up to 10 minutes
  • They almost always attack creatures weaker than themselves, but the sight of gold or platinum in large amounts stops them in their tracks.
  • The confusion gaze doesn't work on other umber hulks.
  • It's the two eyes on the forehead that cause confusion.
  • Females are rare. 1 in 4 is female.
  • Males live to the age of 50, females to 75.
  • They dislike bright light.
  • They speak "Hulkish". It is a fairly simple language that uses sounds that those without mandibles can't dulicate.
  • They will serve others for gold or platinum.
  • Nobody knows what they do with the gold and platinum. It says they might use it like gizzard stones. What's a gizzard stone? Let's look it up... apparently, some animals without teeth swallow rocks and pebbles, which sit in their gizzards and grind food. Apparently some dinosaurs did this.
  • Their lairs are large, spacious caverns.
  • Their eyes are ingredients for potions and magical inks.
Spelljammer Boxed Set

Now we're getting to the good stuff!

The neogi are evil little slavers, spider-eel things (they are in Volos' Guide to Monsters, page 179). Their race has enslaved many umber hulks. Each neogi has a personal umber hulk slave that is used as a bodyguard, manservant and useful set of hands. The slaves have a tattoo on their left shoulder, front and back, which denotes who their owner is.

The hulks are trained from birth to care for their every need. A neogi who loses their slaves is considered an outcast until it regains them. If they don't, they lose all social status and become a slave themselves.

Dragon Magazine #214 - Ecology of the Neogi

This issue has an extremely grim story about what happens when you get captured by neogi slavers. It's something akin to a snuff film without the snuffing. We learn:
  • Most neogi insist upon being carried everywhere by their hulks.
  • Powerful neogi own two or more hulks.
  • Umber hulks are the prized possessions of neogi. They refer to them as "lord-servants." Other types of slaves are known as "servant-slaves".
  • P'kk: This is a deity! An umber hulk with the head of a neogi, P'kk is the deity of those who like bullying and manipulating. P'kk is lawful evil and lives on Baator aka the Nine Hells! This entity refers to the Nine Hells as Ki'pik.
  • Kr'tx: This god lives in the Gray Wastes. Kr'tx is actually worshiped by umber hulk slaves who delight in brutality and wanton destruction. Kr'tx is a red neogi with burning claws and hair. It's chaotic evil.
Good article!

D&D 3rd Edition 

Monster Manual
Very little info here:
  • They describe the eyes differently. Now there are two eyes like a beetle's, and two eyes like those of an ape.
  • They are not stupid, and they can tunnels to create deadfalls and pits.
  • Truly Horrid Umber Hulk: These are 16 feet tall loners feared by their own kind. Higher level hulks, basically.
Tome of Magic - Dark Umber Hulk
These things live on the plane of shadow. Black and gray armor plates cover their body. This entry is virtually identical to the one in the monster manual, word-for-word.

Expedition to Undermountain - Psi-Hulk


The group is sent on a quest to get a crystal-encrusted skull of a mutant umber hulk. They need to go into caves that are home to many umber hulk. These caves are home to large mushrooms and big insects.

The hulks are led by an umber hulk with a crystal growing out of its head. This crystal gives it special psionic powers. Its main power is a "psionic lion charge" and ability that lets it make a charge attack.

Its head is large, with knobby crystalline growths jutting like a crown of horns from its skull. When slain, its body comes apart, revealing a crystal skull.

Savage Species

This book has rules for making monster characters. The can be useful as long as their driving hunger and nearly constant need for destruction can be assuaged.

They definitely weakened the hulk a bit. Suddenly, tremorsense can only detect people within 10 feet. They don't even have confusing gaze until they hit level 7. They speak the language of "Umber Hulk."

Dungeon Magazine #102 - Zenith Trajectory

This is one of my favorite adventures of all time. It's part of the Shackled City adventure path, set in the city of Cauldron (a city built in a "dormant" volcano).

The group is minding their own business on Magma Avenue when an umber hulk pops out of the ground. There's a lot of people in the street, and they're all hit with the confusion gaze! Pretty awesome encounter, right?

There's a woman holding a baby which is about to fall out of a window, a fruit merchant who absolutely refuses to leave his fruit cart, a criminal who takes advantage of the chaos, and more.

Dragon Magazine #317

There's an article that lists components for spells and magic items. One of them is umber hulk eyes. They are worth 500 gp and are a component for the spell called Vision.

D&D 4th Edition

Monster Manual

In 4e, they don't speak but they understand Deep Speech.

Shadow Hulk: They are a variant whose gaze causes victims to attack their allies.

Monster Vault
Lots o' flavor:
  • "It steadily scoops away rock as easily as a humanoid might shovel snow."
  • "While a purple worm might create a great highway between the grand caverns of the Underdark, umber hulks make the backstreets and alleys."
  • "Drow, duergar, and illithids use trained umber hulks to dig tunnels to dig for them..."
  • Their tunnels are sometimes choked with rubble and prone to collapses.
Umber Hulk Tunneler: It has the ability to "snatch and tun." If it hits with a claw attack, it can drag that creature up to 25 feet. Rebuffing Gaze: The victim take psychic damage every time they move 5 feet closer to it.

Umber Hulk Bewilderer: It has a stunning gaze... yikes. Also has a staggering gaze that does psychic damage and slides victims up to 25 feet.

Dungeon #165 - Alliance at Nefelus

This is a fantastic adventure from the Scales of War path involving the group battling Chillreaver, a two-headed white dragon.

As the group makes their way through the glacier lair of the dragon, they come upon a cavern with a rift in it. This is home to four "icetouched" umber hulks, which are almost identical to regular umber hulks aside from the name.

I remember this encounter being very challenging for my players.

Dragon #427 - Ecology of the Neogi

It's so weird when they do ecology articles on the same entity in different editions. There are so many monsters that need development. Why would they do the same one twice? Umber hulks dig tunnels that neogi use to secretly travel in.

Dungeon #204 - Pearl of the Sea Mother

This is an adventure dealing with the amusing goddess of the kuo toa, Blibdoolpoolp.

As the adventurers make their way through her shrine, they come upon a few large chambers where umber hulk tunnelers lurk, along with a cloaker. The kuo-toas fear these creatures and don't patrol this section of the dungeon.

Later on, the group meets a band of really insane kuo toa who are worshiping the shell of a umber hulk.

D&D 5th Edition

Monster Manual
Those who survive an encounter remember little due to the confusion gaze, which scrambles their memory. Their body can withstand cave-ins.

Princes of the Apocalypse

Claws of the Umber Hulk: Magic item! These claws always comes in pairs and act as magical longswords. Once you are attuned to them, you are proficient with them, even if you're a wizard. They give you a burrowing speed of 20 feet.

Out of the Abyss

There is an umber hulk encounter where it bursts out from behind a wall and attacks the nearest party member. That's all I can find in this adventure. You'd think they would have done more with them.

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