The jungle canopy erupts with fierce roars and the sounds of splintering wood as a troupe of giant apes bounds through the trees. Standing over 9 feet tall and weighing over a ton, their massive frames seem to shake the very earth with each thundering step. One pauses, catching an unfamiliar scent on the wind – the smell of adventurers in its domain. With a rumbling bellow, the alpha charges toward the source of the scent, beady eyes burning with territorial rage. Your party readies themselves for a fight as the foliage parts to reveal the enormous simian barreling your way…
Few monsters inspire pure primal fear like the giant ape.
While long part of D&D lore across many editions, the giant ape sees its true potential realized in 5th edition. With formidable stats, devastating physical attacks, and sheer intimidating presence, giant apes can challenge even seasoned parties. This comprehensive guide will equip DMs to use giant apes to their full potential and provide players with tactics to defeat – or even become – these colossal beasts.
Origins of the Iconic Giant Ape
To understand the giant ape, we must first trace its origin in pop culture. The early 1900s saw apes become monstrous figures in the public imagination, largely thanks to Edgar Rice Burrough's 1912 novel Tarzan of the Apes. It portrayed violent conflicts between the nimble title character and the massive gorillas lurking in the African jungles. This image of the aggressive killer ape was further popularized in films like the original 1933 King Kong.
It's no wonder then that when D&D was first created in 1974, it included giant apes as enemies. The original white box Dungeons & Dragons set described them not as beasts of their own, but as simply larger, meaner relatives of goblins. They were characterized by higher morale than their smaller kin.
The giant ape grew more complex across D&D editions. AD&D noted they live solitary lives or in small family troops led by a dominant male, viciously attacking any intruders in their territories. By 3rd edition, the dire ape entered the scene – a more bestial ape larger than normal ones. 4th edition included the great ape, modeled more closely after real world gorillas.
5th edition's giant ape clearly pays homage to the territorial, aggressive nature of 3rd edition's dire ape but increases its power to CR 7. This history shows how D&D consistently portrayed giant apes as exemplars of untamed animal fury, a tradition that continues to this day.
Delving into the Biology of Giant Apes
Giant apes stand out from their smaller kin thanks to their massive stature. They range from 9 to 10 feet tall even when hunched over and weigh a staggering 1,400 pounds – about the size of a full grown bull elephant. Their broad shoulders and long, muscular arms end in wicked claws capable of shredding flesh with ease.
Thick, coarse fur ranging from dark brown to black covers the majority of the giant ape's body, with sparser hair on the face and fingers. Powerful jaws filled with jagged teeth accentuate its bestial visage. Bloodshot eyes blaze with feral intensity when the ape is enraged. Their squat legs contain enough power to propel their bulk up to 40 feet per round on land.
Perhaps the most striking feature of giant apes is their long arms, which enable them to travel through the treetops at 40 feet per round just as fast as on land. This grants them unparalleled mobility compared to most other creatures of their size. Combined with their speed, ferocity, and intimidating musculature, they are truly kings of their jungle domains.
Exploring Giant Ape Society and Behavior
While certainly dangerous, giant apes are not mindless beasts. They have complex social structures and habits that influence their behavior. Giant apes are rarely found in large numbers in any given location. Many live solitary existences, while others form small family groups called troops.
A troop is led by a dominant alpha male who has sole mating rights with the adult females. Younger males are driven out once they reach maturity to avoid challenging the alpha. Solitary aged males, desperate to retain territory as their strength wanes, are likely the most hostile to perceived threats. Females attend to young and defer to the male.
Above all, giant apes are highly territorial. Their remote forest and mountain domains provide scarce resources they must zealously defend. As a result, they will violently attack all intruders, regarding them as threats to their territory and resources regardless of the trespasser's identity or purpose. They have even attacked dragons straying into their domains!
While not tactical fighters, giant apes have demonstrated basic tool use by hurling rocks, branches, and other debris at foes or using tree limbs as clubs. Their fierce strength combined with protective motherly instincts make them dangerous opponents, especially when provoked.
Unleashing the Giant Ape's Potential as D&D Enemies
At first glance, the giant ape can seem like any other brute monster to throw at a party. However, a creative DM can utilize them in many memorable ways:
- Surprise Overconfident Parties
- Mid-level parties around 5th-8th level may have faced few truly deadly foes. The sudden appearance of a towering giant ape, embodying raw animal power, can shock arrogant groups who assumed they were untouchable heroes. Nothing shatters hubris like being reduced to a pile of mangled limbs by a 1,400 pound force of nature!
- Deadly Guardians
- With their territorial instincts, giant apes make for imposing guardians of locations and treasures the party may seek. Whether it is an ancient temple, the lair of a dark druid who has enlisted their aid, or the den of a dragon too clever to dirty its claws, giant apes can provide another dangerous hurdle for parties to overcome.
- Moral Quandaries
- Does the party attack the normally peaceful giant ape who attacked due to mistakenly perceiving them as threats? Or do they find a way to calm the enraged mother defending its young? Giant apes provide opportunities for thoughtful parties to find non-violent solutions – or violently enforce them.
- Apex Predator Advisory
- Nothing drives home the peril and untamed wilds of frontier borderlands like including giant apes as an ever-present threat stalking the trees. Their presence transforms benign forests into regions where desperate bands of refugees dare not enter and trade caravans require armed escorts lest they become crushed wagons.
- Lost Civilization Hook
- What destroyed the ancient civilization whose ruins bear motifs of worshipping giant apes as gods? Could the apes have rebelled against cruel masters, toppling an empire? Or did the civilization foolishly attempt using magic to uplift the apes, who then turned on them? Giant apes lingering around ruins provide a compelling adventure hook.
These examples illustrate how a creative DM can take the giant ape beyond being just another monster to fight, transforming it into a unique encounter that drives intrigue and memorable moments.
Optimizing Giant Apes' Formidable Statistics
Now that we have covered giant ape lore and behavior, let's analyze the raw numbers that make them a deadly foe:
- Ability Scores – With a +6 Strength modifier and +4 Constitution, giant apes possess herculean raw power and endurance. Their Dexterity of +2 allows them to strike with shocking speed for their size. However, with -2 Int and Cha, they lack sophisticated tactics and socialization.
- Hit Points – At 157 hit points, giant apes can take substantial punishment before falling and have the Constitution to avoid losing effectiveness as they take damage.
- Armor Class – Their AC of 12 seems low, but remember that hides covered in coarse fur, muscle, and fat still provide some protection. However, they clearly favor offense over defense.
- Speed – 40 feet of movement on land coupled with 40 feet of climbing speed provides giant apes incredible mobility around the battlefield. Few foes can keep up.
- Senses – While their senses are nothing extraordinary for a beast, they can still effectively perceive threats at a distance when calm.
With their imposing physical prowess but lack of mental sophistication, tactics and equipment, giant apes are clearly living engines of destruction that rely on natural gifts honed by their hostile environment. Now let's examine their attacks:
- Multiattack – Giant apes can use their action to make two Fist attacks, hammering enemies with relentless blows.
- Fist – These powerful punches deal 3d10 + 6 bludgeoning damage, or 22 on average. Against low-level parties, this can be nearly lethal in one hit. Two per round is devastating.
- Rock – At range, giant apes hurl chunks of stone and debris to pummel enemies for 7d6 + 6 damage on a hit, or an average of 30 – enough to crack skulls and shatter limbs of those foolish enough to provoke them.
Giant apes are straightforward in application but still require tactics to use effectively, which leads to our next section…
Giant Ape Tactics to Challenge Players
A lone giant ape stomping right at the party and attacking may present an easy threat to counter. But clever tactics can transform giant apes into deadly foes. Here are some suggested tactics to use:
- Stealthy Ambushers
- Giant apes can stealthily stalk targets when calm, moving through forests and ruins with unexpected grace for their size. They can pelt a party with surprise rock throws before closing into melee, gaining advantage on their first mighty fist attacks. Few things are more frightening than when an eerie silence erupts into bestial roars and a hail of stones cracking bones!
- Hit and Run Assaults
- Rather than futilely battling toe-to-toe with formidable groups, giant apes can judiciously engage in hit and run assaults. They can use their full movement to barrel out of cover, pummel a target with fists and/or rocks, and then withdraw out of range. This steadily whittles away opposition while avoiding lasting counterattacks.
- Intimidating Displays
- Few things terrify more than a gargantuan ape bellowing, beating its chest, and charging straight at you in a berserker fury. Giant apes can use intimidating displays like these before attacking the most threatening or heavily armed foe, sometimes frightening minions right out of a fight!
- Height Advantage
- By climbing cliffs, ruins, and tall trees before a fight, giant apes can rain deadly rocks down from above while out of reach of melee attackers. Only ranged weapons and spells will threaten them up there. And they can always shimmy down swiftly when needed to finish grounded foes with mighty fists.
These examples demonstrate how tactics and environment transforms the giant ape from a simple bruiser into a dynamic and unpredictable threat requiring thoughtful responses from players. But what about fighting as a giant ape rather than against one? Read on…
Polymorphing into a Living Wrecking Ball
At 7th level, full spellcasters gain access to the potent Polymorph spell. By transforming themselves or an ally into a giant ape through this magic, a party can gain tremendous advantages:
- The giant ape's 157 hit points provide a massive buffer against attacks compared to most PCs at this level. They can keep soaking damage while dishing it out.
- +6 Strength modifier coupled with Multiattack provides devastating melee damage potential far beyond what most characters can achieve on their own. Skulls will be cracked!
- Fist attacks reach 10 feet and rock throws reach 50 feet, providing excellent attack range flexibility depending on the situation.
- With 40 feet of movement on land and climbing, giant apes can outmaneuver enemies with ease and get wherever they need on the battlefield.
- Their Huge size makes giant apes excellent tanks on the frontlines, drawing attacks away from wounded spellcasters and rogues.
- The simple bestial mentality of giant apes allows even the most sophisticated player to realistically roleplay their new form.
While potent, there are some downsides to weigh. The giant ape's AC is low at 12, making them vulnerable to counterattacks. Their size provides cover against enemies with ranged attacks or spells. And being polymorphed prevents players from using their class features. Overall though, polymorphing into a marauding giant ape devastates most 7th level encounters.
Beyond the Basic: Customizing Giant Apes
Creative DMs can customize giant apes to make them perfectly fit their campaigns:
- Regional Variants – Arctic giant apes with white fur coats and ice weapons dwell in glacial mountain caves while swamp apes with algae-covered fur lurk in bayous. Volcanic mountain apes may even hurl fiery boulders!
- Legendary Apes – Perhaps hidden valleys shelter less aggressive ancestral giant apes, a subterranean race wields ancient technology, or albino apes demonstrate strange powers.
- Trained Attack Apes – Evil druids, rangers, or simian-worshipping cults could train giant apes as attack beasts, guards, or servants via animal friendship, awaken, dominate beast, and other spells. Many low-level minions support an ape chieftain.
- Weird Hybrids – Mix traits from other creatures like a giant ape with a bullette's carapace, troll regeneration, or a ghost's incorporeality for truly terrifying combinations.
Do not feel constrained by the Monster Manual. Let your imagination run wild in creating unique giant ape variants to surprise players in every locale!
Entering the Lair of the Ape Lords
Giant apes may seem like simple brutes, but they have the potential to be truly memorable encounters and allies. This guide covers every aspect of giant apes in 5th edition D&D, from their background to tactics to ways DMs can customize them. Just beware the thunderous roar heralding the ape lord's charge when exploring ancient ruins and accursed jungles – something primal and terrible this way comes!
With this definitive guide, you now have all the tips, tricks, and knowledge needed to effectively use giant apes in your 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons campaigns. Whether it is leveraging their intimidating presence as territorial defenders of the wilds, teaming up with them as formidable animal companions, or crashing through dungeons as unstoppable simian juggernauts in Polymorph form, giant apes make for epic adventures. Just mind that vorpal fist headed your way!