Action Oriented Monsters | Running the Game #84
Here’s the scratch pad I used to make these. My next step would be plugging in attack and damage numbers, and cleaning it up to be usable on the night.
Come by the store! Buy a shirt or Strongholds & Followers!
Get an alert when the Kingdoms, Organizations, & Warfare Kickstarter goes live:
Support the channel on Patreon
Follow me on Twitter
Join the conversation on our Discord
So many ideas. Thank you. These are the kind of monsters I like to make and you made them great.
I used the Ankheg in this video, it went over really well I think.
Had a party of 4 level 2 players, one level 1 player
Had to lower the HP to its normal average, and it only killed one character (although I was pretty brutal, multi attacking her downed body)… poor rogue (it also knocked the level 1 fighter out cold).
The tunnelling and grabbing them freaked them out, especially going after the wizard, and they got some cool loot out of it in the end
Thank you, Mr Colville!
This video is really useful! I love this system of designing monsters with more actions the way it was done here. I cant wait to test it out against my unsuspecting players 🙂
Had forgotten that the Ankheg was looked at in this video and having used one as a random encounter only to have it be totally annihilated I learned one thing, use action oriented monsters.
I linked this video in a Facebook chat looking for advice on how to specifically run a goblin encounter, and they don't even know that I'm giving them so much more if they really pay attention. Had to stop and watch the video again myself because it's just solid advice.
Sounds like you were using the concepts of 4E monster design.
I just created a Dire Wolf that is a pack leader of some regular wolves. It uses a legendary action once per turn to let another wolf attack like the Commanders Strike ability. It'll also try and run away at low hp. If the PC's manage to kill it they get a bounty off of it. It's gonna be their first encounter at level 3 for this campaign.
This is the best video. If you watch one video. Watch this video.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve recommended this video to other DM’s. The advice is just golden! 👏
I have a struggle I have come to terms with. As a dm my players are 2 paladins and 2 clerics, they chose to be all kobolds so pack tactics. They go nova and deal 90 damage on a good round at lv3. I had 3 of them fight a frost giant cr8 and it was an ok challage sence I only hit once. But after they where drained a bit I have 2 of them fight a shadow demon, it was a close fight, one paladin killed it while the cleric fell unconscious. They swarm and destroy.
This is the single greatest encounter balancing advice ever presented for 5th edition. I use this technique all the time now and constantly refer new DMs to this video. Thank you Matt, for being such an amazing treasure and resource!
I really want the sequel to this with made up monsters!
I homebrew every monster I use lol.
Thank you thank you thank you. I was trying to figure out how to run the next section of my campaign and this video has given me my answer.
Ugh this is SUCH a good video.
Yo gimme a couple villain actions for Auril.
A lot of very good advice in this video! I do have a few concerns, though.
I strongly disagree with certain design philosophies Colville espoused, such as discouraging monster stat blocks that include multiple options for spells. This is how we wound up with liches in 4E that weren't masters of the arcane so much as they were very un-subtle boom sticks. I hated that SO much. Give me a monster with 15 spells and I will take 5 minutes ahead of time to look the different options over and come up with one or two combinations that they will favour based on certain circumstances. I don't want to see a lich with a grand total of five abilities. That's boring. That's not a lich. I will take having an option for everything and forgetting to use it over not having an option for something and needing to use it. When I ran the ultimate battle with Acererak in Tomb of Annihilation, I used eleven different spells for him, and I had five others that I seriously considered using. Compare that with the 4E lich that had one (1) at-will ability, one (1) recharge (5,6) ability, and one once-per-encounter heal. BORING! BORING BORING BORING! Hated it.
I also strongly disagree with using minions. They were awful additions in 4E, screwing up the immersion. Maybe it works for heroic campaigns like Colville's, but as soon as players realize that most of the creatures in the room are minions, it trivializes the drama. "Oh, it's just a minion. I'll take it out in one hit along with the other four on my turn." Dumb design.
These concerns are just based on how my tables have always run, but I feel that these two points have the potential to seriously mess up the game. Otherwise, the suggestions are pretty consistent with how legendary monsters are designed, albeit with more interest in integrating them with the flow of battle. I particularly like the idea of having multiple types of reactions and ensuring that all the monsters have bonus actions, since even legendary monsters tend to feel like they are lacking in utility, which other action types are great at addressing. I felt like a good part of this video was just reinventing the wheel, but it yielded some good insights with clever execution of new abilities.
such good design advice. i recently tacked on "Burrow" to a one-monster encounter and it really brought out the most from my players. the ranger immediately recognized it as a trap, the sorcerer figured the downed npc would make good bait to get the creature to re-emerge, and the paladin took the opportunity to reposition to protect everyone better (even the bait).
it was just the slightest adjustment to the monster, but it created a character-building moment in what was otherwise a pretty straightforward combat encounter. the ranger has a keen sense for danger, the sorcerer will spend other's lives to protect the group, and the paladin will thread that needle between supporting the group's actions and doing the most good.
I stumbled across this while using dnd videos as background noise. I not only paid close attention, but I ended up taking notes. This gem has revitalized my entire approach to setting up enemies and combat. Thanks Matt!
I am so gonna use this recepie you have no idea 😀
your videos were recommended for me for quite a while now and today i took the time (since your vids are rather long lol) and watched some of 'em. and i don't regret it one bit! kinda struggling balancing my encounters and this video made the future encounters so much better, can't wait to try those villain options. thank you so much!
This is the best D&D design video on the whole internet and you sir, are a creative genius.
I absolutely adore this! I feel like dnd 5e combat struggles to be interesting or controllable so I'd love to give this a shot. Thanks Matt!
This is the best advice I have ever heard for running dynamic encounters
You are a master. Thank you for your creative passion and excellent explanations!
BRILLIANT! I have a boss fight coming up for my party and I am percolating with ideas.
We are running HOTDQ and they are, well, off the rails, which is totally fine, we are having fun. But I have them going into some elven ruins that have been converted into a small camp for members of the dragon cult. specifically the Blue Half-Dragon but he is there with his brother, a Blue dragon wyrmling. I think I can make a cool boss encounter where the to dragon-kin brothers working together in combat with the help of your wonderful video!
Thank you for the great video!
This system is exactly what I was looking for. So many low level monsters that are conceptually cool, but their stat block is so bland. Boiling down to AC, HP, and maybe a few resistances. Let the concept inform the design, such a cool way of putting it.
A bonus action to attack a prone PC might be too much with a low level encounter. If a player gets unlucky and goes down, that would mean that the Ankheg could deliver them 2 failed death saving throws on a platter.
But this is all super useful and the ideas are just bubbling and boiling in my mind. Super great video!
I really like that you get into the important things first
Just thought I’d put this here a year later, but the double claw hit knocking a player prone wouldn’t be useless at all with the bite. If a prone player gets grappled by the bite, they have 0 movement and won’t be able to move or stand up until they’re not grappled. Until then, they have disadvantage on attacks against this horrifying creature.
it makes me happy to hear people have ideas similar to mine
It's so cool and inspiring! Thanks
Now you sir have some campaign saving ideas for new DM's. Thank you so much ❤️
i dont really like when the villian can take actions after every player characters turn. it doesnt really make sense logically. in 6 seconds they are jumping around the battlefield doing all these actions. meh
I recently ran into the same thought process as you after realizing my party was shredding all my encounters and just bumping up the stats lead to either an easy sweep or a party member getting downed by the boss' single attack on his turn. I immediately looked to legendary actions to fix this, but never even thought of just straight up homebrewing bonus actions and reactions. sure, giving them pre-existing spells or attacks, but never really thought of the full on homebrew route, especially for 5e in particular. the "villain actions" are cool too. I had always done these anyway as sort of "phase 2"s of every major boss fight, but didn't really realize the necessity to keep combat's momentum up until now. even just using 2 minor legendary actions per round greatly increased engagement and kept the flow of combat going. way less people on their phones and more people trying to figure out this boss' attack patterns. I absolutely love this philosophy because once you sit down and run one of those OP boss encounters, you realize just how important action economy is to not only keep combat interesting, but just so your monster has a chance as well.
The biggest problem I always had with my campaigns was that setting them up was a nightmare to do, I was always so focused on getting all theit stats and stuff at the ready, making sure everything is fully built so that it fits in any situation just like in the books.
I realised after a long time that the books have all the details because they're meant to be tools people can use in any campaign. If I'm making something up for one encounter, it doesn't matter if it's good at performing if it doesn't plan on performing at any point. It doesn't need to have everything about it written down exactly cause it's probably only going to use 10% of what it will have anyways.
And since it's made up, even if a stat I didn't account for gets tested by a spell or action the players used, I can make up the stat there and then based on what the concept of whatever I made is. If it's a legendary wizard, then it's Strength probably isn't as good as it's intelligence. If it comes back multiple times throughout the session or campaign, you can easily write down the new stat for later to keep it consistent.
The moment you focus on what's important instead of focusing on the what ifs and extreme scenarios or unlikely possibilities, making encounters and campaigns becomes so much easier and less time consuming, and the freedom of it also lets you adapt things to better suit the situation and keep things interesting.
I'm glad to see I wasn't crazy in thinking breaking the rules a little isn't actually a bad idea as long as it's consistent enough.
I like to add puzzle elements to my fights to make them more interesting. Figure out the requirements to cause damage kinda thing
A new ability I recently came up with for boss monsters is to use minions in a new and specific way that offers the players a new tactic.
Should the Boss fail a saving throw against a spell or targeted ability, a nearby minion can jump in front of the spell as a reaction preventing the boss from being hit by it, if the spell does damage the minion is eliminated, otherwise they suffer the effect. This creates the tactic of causing a prioritization of the minions to help the abilities and spells get through to the boss.
this could work well with the "goblin summoning" boss. start with fewer minions, but be able to summon new ones each turn.
I am gonna do this for my manticore!
Thought he would yell “Bree-yark!”
As usual, I agree with his points but disagree with how he arrives at them 😛
I love scorpions-themed crratures, but I thought the Giant Scorpion was way too weak, so I upgraded it's HP in 30 points, upgraded it's intelligence from 1 (-5 mod.) to 4 (-3 mod), and called it Scorpion Mother, because the new ability I gave the Scorpion: Once per day, the Mother Scorpion can shake itself to release three baby scorpions (just regular ones) who where attached to her body. Well, in the battle now my players have a Queen Scorpion to fight and three minions
The Goblin Boss would be perfect for the Tomb of the Delian Knights One-Shot
This is Matt's most important video. Can WOTC please redisign all monsters with this in mind!
I absolutely love that you refer to early game monsters having multi attack while some medium to high cr monsters don't have multi attack for example the Rhemoraz(I probably spelled that wrong) only has one attack per round but also has 2 damage immunities and retributive fire damage and can swallow a PC if it hits.
Just ran one of these. What happens when you get to the 4th round and the battle is still in full swing?
That goblin boss reminds me of Krenko from MTG.
Oh shit. Throw in a lair action or a lair action chart. Maybe d1 and 2 you arm a trap in a random square that your goblins know where they are. D3, 4, and 5 you bring in another minion, and d6 you bring in a caster/ shaman/ healer goblin minion.