D&D 5E Epic Monsters: Grendel's Mother

Once more we’re going way, way back with Epic Monsters to the epic of Beowulf’s greatest foe: Grendel’s Mother!

Grendels Mother DnD 5E BANNER.jpg

Grendel’s mother—who is never named—is a bit of an open book. There’s centuries of debate over the nature of this monster, and very little to go on for what her abilities were or what she looked like. What is not debated from the original manuscript are that she birthed Grendel, is a descendant of Cain, vengefully attacks the mead hall Heorot, lives in a cave under a lake, and that she almost kills Beowulf before he grabs at an ancient sword and decapitates her.

Design Notes: With the scant details available for Grendel’s mother lets use the 2007 film Beowulf as the general basis for her statistics. It makes sense for her to naturally be a giant like her son (meaning we never see her true form), but she can assume the shape of a human or dragon too—although not instantly. She’s got a few innate spells and a Toxic Blood feature similar to her boy, plus some fun with a crazy long hair braid. Let’s do the numbers! The DMG 14.25 came in higher on this one while the Blog of Holding hit 13.66. Seems sensible to round up a smidge with the Toxic Blood feature so we’ll settle on CR 14.

Grendel’s Mother

Large giant, neutral evil
Armor Class 16 (natural armor)
Hit Points 252 (24d10+120)
Speed 50 ft.
25 (+7)​
19 (+4)​
21 (+5)​
16 (+3)​
18 (+4)​
16 (+3)​
Skills Athletics +12, Intimidation +8, Perception +9, Persuasion +13
Damage Resistances cold, fire; bludgeoning, piercing, slashing from nonmagical weapons
Damage Immunities acid
Condition Immunities frightened
Senses darkvision 120 ft., passive Perception 19
Languages Giant, Olde English
Challenge 14 (11,500 XP)

Innate Spellcasting. Grendel’s mother’s innate spellcasting ability is Wisdom (spell save DC 17, +9 to hit with spell attacks). She can innately cast the following spells, requiring no material components:
3/day: charm person, fear, mislead, suggestion

Legendary Resistance (3/Day). If Grendel’s mother fails a saving throw, she can choose to succeed instead.

Magic Resistance. Grendel’s mother has advantage on saving throws against spells and other magical effects.

Magic Weapons. Grendel’s mother’s weapon attacks are magical.

Toxic Blood. When a creature within 5 feet of Grendel’s mother hits her with a melee attack that deals piercing or slashing damage, that creature takes 7 (2d6) acid damage. While in the form of an adult brass dragon, the attacking creature takes 9 (2d8) fire damage instead.

Multiattack. Grendel’s mother attacks four times with slam and once with her braid whip.

Slam. Melee Weapon Attack: +12 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 16 (2d8+7) bludgeoning damage.

Braid Whip. Melee Weapon Attack: +12 to hit, reach 25 ft., one target. Hit: 12 (2d4+7) slashing damage. Instead of dealing damage, Grendel’s mother can grapple the target (escape DC 20).

Thrown Object. Ranged Weapon Attack: +12 to hit, range 250/500 ft., multiple targets (determined by object size; make one attack roll per target). Hit: 14 (1d8+10) damage. The damage type depends on the object (bludgeoning, piercing, or slashing) and at 100 pounds and every 100 pounds thereafter, the damage increases by 1d8 (up to a maximum of 10d8+10 at 1,000 pounds). A creature thrown at an object bigger than it is takes regular damage, but only takes half damage when thrown at another creature.

Change Shape. Grendel’s mother starts to magically polymorph into a Medium humanoid, into an adult brass dragon, or back into her true form. If Grendel’s mother dies, she reverts to her true form. At the start of her next turn, her transformation completes.
In a new form, Grendel’s mother retains her game statistics and ability to speak, but her movement modes and other actions are replaced by those of the new form, and she gains any statistics and capabilities (except for class features) that the new form has but that she lacks.

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Mike Myler

Mike Myler

Aaron L

Nice! Grendel's Mother is endlessly fascinating, especially the debate about just what the heck the word aglæcwif means.

I personally believe that Grendel's Mother was actually a Dis, one of the Disir ("The Ladies", perhaps one who has descended into madness) who were essentially the earlier mythological prototypes/predecessors of the Valkyrior.

(Or, looking at it from another angle; perhaps the term Valkyrie, which means "Chooser of the Slain", actually originated as a kenning, or a kind of poetic nickname, for the Disir, one which over time eventually overtook and replaced their actual name because people felt it was just too damn dangerous to invoke their true name... in the same way that faeries were called "The Fair Folk" as a flattering way of referring to the Fey because saying their true name was too dangerous as it could call their attention to you.)

Aaron L

Unfortunately I have never liked any of the movie versions of Grendel's Mother. They have all seemed either underdone, or extremely gaudy and over-done. The Angelina Jolie version was particularly gross, and just incredibly tacky in my opinion (not to mention those awful Scorpion King levels of bad CGI.) There was nothing at all sexy about Grendel's Mother in the poem Beowulf (but then, that entire movie was in poor taste, in my opinion. That utterly bizarre interpretation of Crispin Glover as Grendel was just insufferably bad.)

I really dislike this tendency in modern retellings of Beowulf for the writers to believe they are being clever and original by portraying Grendel sympathetically... even though this clever "original" idea has actually been done to death (seriously Neil, you are so much better than that, and should have known that idea was already a cutesy cliche since back in the '70s.) The whole idea of Grendel being a poor, downtrodden, sympathetic monster just sticks in my craw, and entirely misses the point of even having monsters in fiction in the first place. Monsters are intended as representations of actual Evil, and aren't meant to be understood; in fact, the mere attempt to understand monsters robs them of most of their power and impact. Monsters are the the ultimate bad guys, and there to be eliminated without any qualms.

That's why they exist in stories, because such things don't exist in real life, and therefore they are used as cathartic symbolic representations restricted to the realm of fiction and fantasy.

And when we have our fictional monsters taken away from us in our stories as representations of Evil to be freely vanquished without any pesky questions of morality (because only fictional monsters can be completely, irredeemably Evil) then we as human beings have a very bad tendency for our search for such monsters for us to slay to spill out over into the real world, onto living human targets who don't deserve it...


Well, that was fun
Staff member
And when we have our fictional monsters taken away from us in our stories as representations of Evil
Nobody has taken anything away from you, and all characters, from Arthur to Dracula to Batman get a wide range of different witer/artistic interpretations and always will. Some are great, some are not, some appeal to some people, others appeal to others. This is not a feature, not bug.

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