Make Lair Actions Anytime Actions for 5E D&D

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Over at Nerdarchy the YouTube channel Nerdarchists Dave and Ted present a killer combo for fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons. The discussion involves various cloud based spells and monsters to pair with these effects to create dangerous combat encounters along with ways for players to bring about these conditions as well. Essentially these combos aim towards two goals: making combat more dynamic and discovering ways to elevate creatures into more significant threats. One of the video comments likened these combos to lair actions. I’ve utilized these special scenarios presented in the 5E D&D Monster Manual many times in my own games and I thought it could be useful and fun going through monsters with these special actions to see what’s on the menu. Plucking these from a stat block and dropping them into a combat encounter gives a Dungeon Master a wide selection of ready made ways to punch things up.

Stay home monsters it’s your lair actions we want

As usual for these types of exercises we’ll stick to material from the Basic Rules. This keeps things accessible for all players, who can find the Basic Rules free in a couple of ways (along with lots of other material giving you countless ways to add to your games at no cost). Before getting down to our menu of dynamic combat encounter enhancements here is the description of what we’ll be looking at, straight from the 5E D&D Monster Manual:

Lair Actions

If a legendary creature has lair actions, it can use them to harness the ambient magic in its lair. On initiative count 20 (losing all initiative ties), it can use one of its lair action options. It can’t do so while incapacitated or otherwise unable to take actions. If surprised, it can’t use one until after its first turn in the combat.

Lair Actions

Going in alphabetical order, these are all the lair actions for 5E D&D monsters found in the Basic Rules. I’ll adjust them as needed to make them non-creature specific. Where there are variations on similar actions I’ll distinguish the differences with a slash like this: 90/120 feet. Each round on initiative count 20 (losing all initiative ties) one of these effects takes place:

  • A spell is cast targeting any number of creatures within 60 feet. If the spell requires concentration, no other lair actions can be used while the spell is in effect. If a target succeeds on the saving throw or if the effect ends for it, the target is immune to the spell from this lair action for the next 24 hours, although such a creature can choose to be affected.
  • Pools of water within 90/120 feet of a point on the ground surge outward in a grasping tide. Any creature on the ground within 20 feet of such a pool must succeed on a DC 14/15 Strength saving throw or be pulled up to 20 feet into the water and knocked prone.
  • Water in the lair magically becomes a conduit for a creature’s rage. A creature can target any number of creatures it can see in such water within 90 feet of it. A target must succeed on a DC 14 Wisdom saving throw or take 7 (2d6) psychic damage.
  • A cloud of swarming insects fills a 20-foot-radius sphere centered on a point on the ground. The cloud spreads around corners and remains until dismissed (by you, the DM!). The cloud is lightly obscured. Any creature in the cloud when it appears must make on a DC 15 Constitution saving throw, taking 10 (3d6) piercing damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one. A creature that ends its turn in the cloud takes 10 (3d6) piercing damage.
  • Magical darkness spreads from a point on the ground, filling a 15-foot-radius sphere until dismissed. The darkness spreads around corners. A creature with darkvision can’t see through this darkness, and nonmagical light can’t illuminate it. If any of the effect’s area overlaps with an area of light created by a spell of 2nd level or lower, the spell that created the light is dispelled.
  • Part of the ceiling collapses above one creature. The creature must succeed on a DC 15 Dexterity saving throw or take 10 (3d6) bludgeoning damage and be knocked prone and buried. The buried target is restrained and unable to breathe or stand up. A creature can take an action to make a DC 10 Strength check, ending the buried state on a success.
  • A cloud of sand swirls about in a 20-foot-radius sphere centered on a point on the ground. The cloud spreads around corners. Each creature in the cloud must succeed on a DC 15 Constitution saving throw or be blinded for 1 minute. A creature can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the effect on itself on a success.
  • Lightning arcs, forming a 5-foot-wide line between two of the lair’s solid surfaces within 120 feet of each other. Each creature in that line must succeed on a DC 15 Dexterity saving throw or take 10 (3d6) lightning damage.
  • A strong wind blows around the area from a point on the ground. Each creature within 60 feet of the point must succeed on a DC 15 Strength saving throw or be pushed 15 feet away from the point and knocked prone. Gases and vapors are dispersed by the wind, and unprotected flames are extinguished. Protected flames, such as lanterns, have a 50 percent chance of being extinguished.
  • Fog rises as though the fog cloud spell were cast. The fog lasts until initiative count 20 on the next round.
  • A thunderclap originates at a point on the ground. Each creature within a 20-foot radius centered on that point must make a DC 15 Constitution saving throw or take 5 (1d10) thunder damage and be deafened until the end of its next turn.
  • Stone spikes sprout from the ground in a 20-foot radius centered on a point on the ground. The effect is otherwise identical to the spike growth spell and lasts until dismissed.
  • A 10-foot-square area on the ground turns into 3-foot-deep mud. Each creature on the ground in that area when the mud appears must succeed on a DC 15 Dexterity saving throw or sink into the mud and become restrained. A creature can take an action to attempt a DC 15 Strength check, freeing itself or another creature within its reach and ending the restrained condition on a success. Moving 1 foot in the mud costs 2 feet of movement. On initiative count 20 on the next round, the mud hardens, and the Strength DC to work free increases to 20.
5E D&D monsters lair actions
In our upcoming Patreon rewards Garden of Statuary the litholesca puts lair actions to good use against pesky intruders to its petrified lair. [Art by Askhan Ghanbari]
  • A creature glimpses the future, so it has advantage on attack rolls, ability checks, and saving throws until initiative count 20 on the next round.
  • One creature must succeed on a DC 15 Charisma saving throw or be banished to a dream plane, a different plane of existence imagined into being. To escape, the creature must use its action to succeed on a DC 15 Charisma check. On a failure, the effect ends on initiative count 20 on the next round. When the effect ends, the creature reappears in the space it left or in the nearest unoccupied space if that one is occupied.
  • Grasping roots and vines erupt in a 20-foot radius centered on a point on the ground. That area becomes difficult terrain, and each creature there must succeed on a DC 15 Strength saving throw or be restrained by the roots and vines. A creature can be freed if it or another creature takes an action to make a DC 15 Strength check and succeeds. The roots and vines wilt away when dismissed.
  • A wall of tangled brush bristling with thorns springs into existence on a solid surface. The wall is up to 60 feet long, 10 feet high, and 5 feet thick, and it blocks line of sight. When the wall appears, each creature in its area must make a DC 15 Dexterity saving throw. A creature that fails the save takes 18 (4d8) piercing damage and is pushed 5 feet out of the wall’s space, appearing on whichever side of the wall it wants. A creature can move through the wall, albeit slowly and painfully. For every 1 foot a creature travels through the wall, it must spend 4 feet of movement. Furthermore, a creature in the wall’s space must make a DC 15 Dexterity saving throw once each round it’s in contact with the wall, taking 18 (4d8) piercing damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one. Each 10-foot section of wall has AC 5, 15 hit points, vulnerability to fire damage, resistance to bludgeoning and piercing damage, and immunity to psychic damage. The wall sinks back into the ground when dismissed.
  • Magical fog billows around one creature. The creature must succeed on a DC 15 Wisdom saving throw or be charmed by a hostile creature within 120 feet until initiative count 20 on the next round.
  • Magma erupts from a point on the ground, creating a 20-foot-high, 5-foot-radius geyser. Each creature in the geyser’s area must make a DC 15 Dexterity saving throw, taking 21 (6d6) fire damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one.
  • A tremor shakes the area in a 60-foot radius. Each creature on the ground in that area must succeed on a DC 15 Dexterity saving throw or be knocked prone.
  • Volcanic gases form a cloud in a 20-foot-radius sphere centered on a point on the ground. The sphere spreads around corners, and its area is lightly obscured. It lasts until initiative count 20 on the next round. Each creature that starts its turn in the cloud must succeed on a DC 13 Constitution saving throw or be poisoned until the end of its turn. While poisoned in this way, a creature is incapacitated.
  • A blisteringly cold wind blows through the area from a point on the ground. Each creature within 120 feet of the point must succeed on a DC 15 Constitution saving throw or take 5 (1d10) cold damage. Gases and vapors are dispersed by the wind, and unprotected flames are extinguished. Protected flames, such as lanterns, have a 50 percent chance of being extinguished.
  • Freezing fog fills a 20-foot-radius sphere centered on a point on the ground. The fog spreads around corners, and its area is heavily obscured. Each creature in the fog when it appears must make a DC 10 Constitution saving throw, taking 10 (3d6) cold damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one. A creature that ends its turn in the fog takes 10 (3d6) cold damage. A wind of at least 20 miles per hour disperses the fog. The fog otherwise lasts until dismissed.
  • Jagged ice shards fall from the ceiling, striking up to three creatures underneath. Make one ranged attack roll (+7 to hit) against each target. On a hit, the target takes 10 (3d6) piercing damage.
  • An opaque wall of ice forms on a solid surface. The wall can be up to 30 feet long, 30 feet high, and 1 foot thick. When the wall appears, each creature within its area is pushed 5 feet out of the wall’s space, appearing on whichever side of the wall it wants. Each 10-foot section of the wall has AC 5, 30 hit points, vulnerability to fire damage, and immunity to acid, cold, necrotic, poison, and psychic damage. The wall disappears when dismissed.

Fun fact: all of these lair actions come from various dragons in the 5E D&D Basic Rules except for the aboleth. Compiling this really illustrates how modular 5E D&D can be, a quality of the system touted since early development. Stripped down, lair actions are simply effects that take place on a particular initiative count, and thinking more broadly about this opens up a lot of ideas to explore. Imagine a series of connected actions like this as a countdown. Every round on initiative counts 20, 15, 10 and 5 something happens to facilitate or enhance the next one. A special creature might use these effects to build to a devastating attack, but these actions can be disrupted to stop and reset the clock. You might even stagger them so next round the Big Thing happens on initiative count 15. Now the adventurers must keep this ticking clock at bay while in combat. There might not even be any creatures involved at all, but initiative is used instead as adventurers deal with a death trap or other environmental scenario.

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Nerditor-in-Chief Doug Vehovec is a proud native of Cleveland, Ohio, with D&D in his blood since the early 80s. Fast forward to today and he’s still rolling those polyhedral dice. When he’s not DMing, worldbuilding or working on endeavors for Nerdarchy he enjoys cryptozoology trips and eating awesome food.

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