Your 5E D&D Monsters Need More Actions

The Art of Playing an Archer Without a Bow for 5E D&D
Insight 101 - 5E D&D Skills and Skill Checks

If you are anything like me then you like making monsters for your fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons games. I consistently game with veteran players. In fact, many of the people I have recently been playing with have been gaming longer than I have or even longer than I have been alive in some cases. They’re generally familiar with all the great monsters in the Monster Manual and other official 5E D&D publications, making it challenging to surprise them.

Because making my own monsters from the ground up involves mainly my own creativity, this means there is no way players are going to have a chance of knowing what is in the stat block. Only I do, because I made it. But after years of playing 5E D&D I fear I have made a mistake with many of the monsters I made previously. It is very easy to take a monster and scale it up or down to make it more powerful or weaker, but this is not very creative. I have also taken a monster, made some slight changes, moved some stats around and described it differently. But this is not what I am looking for either.

5E D&D monster actions
When you create your own 5E D&D monsters sometimes you end up with nifty creatures with unusual actions like the bulbitid from the Bestiary of Benevolent Monsters. [Art by Nelson Vieira]

Action packed 5E D&D monsters

I know what some of you are thinking. There are so many companies making third party monster books, just use them. There is no way your players know them all. You would have a point in bringing this up. I do back or buy third party monster books that catch my eye. I occasionally use them, but I mostly use them for inspiration. Nerdarchy also produces our own products, including monster books.

What I am looking at today is the design of the actions in any given stat block. Everything gets a speed and can move during its turn even though there is no movement phase anymore. But with the rest of the round we have an action, a bonus action and a reaction. Those last two are very important. I want to talk specifically about them because I think they have a larger part in the game than many of the monsters in 5E D&D are willing to admit. I think this is because many monsters do not actually have anything to do with either.

When I recently looked at the slow spell, which allows the target to either take an action or a bonus action but not both, it got me thinking. Are there any other spells or effects that target the use of actions? Does it effect multiattack, actions, bonus actions or reactions?

The Nerdarchy team came up with several options. The confusion spell stops the target from taking reactions. Even if they get to act normally they are still under the spell and can’t use those abilities. Staggering smite does the same thing, stopping the target from using reactions until the end of its next turn. Stinking cloud takes away its action, so if you make a monster with a useful bonus action it still has something impactful to do.

So when I look at monster design I am now seeing things differently. I want to make monsters that give players an opportunity to rob them of their abilities if they choose the right ones, and I want my monsters to have options when players use other abilities. They key is to keep everything balanced.

We should not be giving monsters extra attacks as a bonus action if they already have mutliattack. We should not be giving bulky monsters some kind of counterspell abilities. We should be making monster stat blocks that make sense and are going to be fun and enjoyable for the Dungeon Master to run as well as for the players and their characters to face.

If you are going to design monsters I highly recommend you look through the stat block one more time to see if you might be able to give it another tweak and fit those bonus actions or reactions in there.

Did I convince you? Thanks for reading. Until next time, stay nerdy!

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Follow Ted Adams:
The nerd is strong in this one. I received my bachelors degree in communication with a specialization in Radio/TV/Film. I have been a table op role player for about 20 years 17 of which with the current group. I have played several itterations of D&D, Mutants and Masterminds 2nd and 3rd editions, Star wars RPG, Shadowrun and World of Darkness. I am an avid fan of books and follow a few authors reading all they write. Favorite author is Jim Butcher I have been an on/off larper for around 15 years even doing a stretch of running my own for a while. I have played a number of Miniature games including Warhammer 40K, Warhammer Fantasy, Heroscape, Mage Knight, Dreamblade and D&D Miniatures. I have practiced with the art of the German long sword with an ARMA group for over 7 years studying the German long sword, sword and buckler, dagger, axe and polearm. By no strecth of the imagination am I an expert but good enough to last longer than the average person if the Zombie apocalypse ever happens. I am an avid fan of board games and dice games with my current favorite being Quarrios.

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