If you’ve run D&D games for very long at all you may have come to think of Thri-Kreen as “Orcs of the desert”. They fill a similar role in encounter building. You need something that’s tougher than a goblin; you want a humanoid (they’re easy to scale for different level parties, just add or take away from their numbers as needed); you need a “war-band” or a “hunting party” to consume some of your players daily resources to soften them up for the next encounter… As far as all those criteria go it’s true: Thri-Kreen are sort of “Orcs of the desert”. Thri-Kreen are also so MUCH more though, come with us on a journey into the minds of this insectoid fantasy race that we think deserves more time at our gaming tables!
First off (and foundational to running them) Thri-Kreen are a race that’s Neutrally aligned. The 5e Monster Manual even states, “If a creature is useful for something other than food, the thri-kreen aren’t likely to attack it on sight. Thri-kreen kill to survive, never for sport.” So they aren’t some mindless hive nor are they an evil race who relishes in killing and torture. They are chaotic neutral, the alignment we’d argue that best fits nature in general. Sure they see other living creatures as potential food, but they also see that there are other uses for them as well. Thri-Kreen are driven to survive. A lone wanderer who is clearly poorly equipped to defend themselves is a target for Thri-Kreen hunters, but a trading caravan in need of water may just find the Thri-Kreen their best hope of making it through the desert if they’re willing to trade with them. We don’t think a thunder storm as anything against us personally when it drops golf-ball sized hail stones down destroying our crops and cars; adventurers in our games shouldn’t think Thri-Kreen have anything against them personally (as long as they are well armed and look like they have something to offer the Thri-Kreen)
Here’s 5 tips for running Thri-Kreen that we employ:
1) They can jump… reeeeeaaallly well: regardless of if they’re moving or standing still a Thri-Kreen could dunk a basketball with their feet! They can spring 15′ straight up and 30′ out. So if you want to frustrate the martial types in your group use terrain to give the Thri-Kreen an advantage. Have them instigate combat in an area riddled with fissures. Your beefy Fighter’s +2 great sword or your Monk’s stunning strike aren’t much use if they can’t get close to these springy combatants.
2) That bite! Don’t forget that Thri-Kreen have a poisoned bite. It’s true that the save is low (DC 11) but your low level wizard or bard are likely to spend the rest of the combat poisoned. Disadvantage on attack rolls and ability checks can tip the scales for our chitin covered buddies!
3) Those Variant weapons are sweet! The Thri-Kreen double headed spear/bo staff combo the Gythka is cool (but not really any more effective than their bare claws) but their thrown weapons the Chatkcha are AWESOME! 1d6 + dex mod with a 30/120 (mechanically the same as a crossbow but without the loading property). Expect your PCs to want to gather up as many of these as they can.
4) Psionics!!! Love em or hate em Psionics have long been a feature of the Thri-Kreen and the 5e monster manual lays down some variant rules to power up a Thri-Kreen or two with them. Three features that you’ll likely find very useful in a Psionic souped-up Thri-Kreen:
a) Their telepathy: This can bridge the communication gap between the party and a band of Thri-Kreen and is the #1 reason why we almost always have at least one Psionic Thri-Kreen in each group of them.
b) invisibility: Because… invisibility! There are a myriad of handy benefits that come from making yourself invisible!
c) Blur: This is the single-most effective combat ability the Thri-Kreen Psionics get. Disadvantage on attack rolls is a HUGE boon. No Psionic Thri-Kreen should plop their mini on a battle mat without using Blur.
5) Tacking on class features: We LOVE to tack on a class feature to creatures. Especially as our characters level up and grow more and more powerful. It keeps things interesting and is a great deterrent for murder-hoboism. (Nothing slows down your mindless killers like having their level 6 character put into death saves by a Bugbear with some barbarian class features.. but we digress). The number one thing we like to tack onto Thri-Kreen are extra Multi-Attacks (like Fighters excel in). They do after all have FOUR arms to swing, toss, and claw with. Another fun one is to tack on abilities similar to those found in the Grappler feat, again FOUR arms.
Also consider making your Thri-Kreen fill important social niches in desert life. Maybe they have the best knowledge of water sources, or they keep the trade roads safe from other desert dangers (as long as the caravans pay their tolls), make them important trade partners for desert life. Constant dealings with a sentient creature that doesn’t really care at all about concepts like good or evil can add an interesting spice to your game world!
Who has 4 thumbs and loves the taste of elf flesh? These guys!