5E Legendary monsters are not solo monsters
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  1. #1

    Legendary monsters are not solo monsters

    There have been a lot of complaints and discussion about Legendary monsters, particularly the Legendary Resistance trait. The existence of Legendary Resistance should not be seen as a slap to the face of spellcasters everywhere. Instead, it should be taken as a strong hint from the designers that perhaps the spellcaster's talents are better used elsewhere on the battlefield. It is the DM's job to design the encounter so that that is possible.

    That means that the so-called "problem" is less in the monster design and more in the encounter design. A lot of DMs seem to think "Legendary" means "solo," even though there is no such indication in the rules. I'm sure 4e is largely to blame for this misconception, but I'm willing to bet people who never played 4e are falling into the same trap.

    In a properly designed Legendary encounter, there should be teeming hordes of minions leaping to the defense of the BBEG. If there are not, and if the BBEG is stupid enough to stand and fight without them, the DM is to blame for the imbalance, not the rules. No Legendary creature should be stupid enough to fight alone.

    In a properly designed Legendary encounter, different classes have different roles, and those roles are magnified due to the increased danger level. I think many people are unclear on what those roles actually are, so I'll offer my take on them:

    -- Martial classes excel at single-target damage, especially against the Legendary creature itself. Their job is to attack the BBEG.

    -- Most arcane casters are better at widespread damage against less-resistant targets. They have no business going after the BBEG. Their job is to take out the trash before the trash takes out the martials. Arcanes who are not built for damage are probably built for control, but their role is the same -- keep the minions out of the martials' hair. (Fireball and meteor swarm are great spells, but it is stupid and wasteful to cast them at a single target.)

    -- Characters with strong healing magic should obviously use it when necessary. Otherwise, they should focus on buffing the party, debuffing the trash, or general support. They might use physical attacks against the BBEG, but only if they can do so safely, and only if there's nothing better to do. They should not attempt to control or debuff the BBEG, any more than the arcane casters should.

    -- Druids, in particular, are less likely to fit neatly into any of these categories. They should do whatever the individual druid is built to do, but watch the flow of battle and be prepared to shift roles as needed.

    The Solo Problem

    If you want to have solo encounters in 5e, there's nothing wrong with that, but I would not use Legendary creatures to accomplish it. The Monster Manual doesn't really have anything suitable, so it might be a good idea to come up with something else.

    We need to come up with a good template or catalog of traits that can be given to a monster to make it a viable solo. Of the top of my head, this would include:

    -- More hit points. I would welcome suggestions for some kind of formula. I feel like it's not as simple as a flat multiplier. Should the monster's AC be included in the calculation?

    -- Something like Legendary actions. In many cases, existing Legendary actions are exactly the best fit, which is one reason so many people make the mistake of treating "Legendary" as "solo." But it might be wise to create a list, weeding out existing Legendary actions that are not appropriate for a solo monster. We also need some solid guidelines for the action budget -- probably broken into tiers.

    -- The most pressing need is a way to deal with "save or suck" that is not as harsh as Legendary Resistance. I have seen a few suggestions, but I'd like to see more. One option would be to give solo monsters higher saving throw bonuses across the board. This is a rather swingy way to deal with it, allowing the spellcaster to attempt to cut the fight short, but with a greatly reduced chance (but not zero) chance of success. Another option is something like Legedary Resistance that only kicks in on "second round" saving throws -- it lets the spell take effect the first round, but then the monster can automatically break free on its next turn. What are some other good options?

    Perhaps a system where different body parts are treated as separate entities (kind of like a hydra)? So if you cast hold monster on a dragon's wing, it can no longer fly or make wing attacks, but the rest of its body is still going strong? This probably wouldn't work for every monster, but it might be a useful tool to have in the kit.
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  2. #2
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    This makes me want the condition track from SWSE.

  3. #3
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    Good points!

    I think casters need more (maybe just 1 more each) slot of 8th-9th. This way when your Big Spell fizzles (which is likely) it's not such a big deal, try again next round. You'll have the freedom to actually, for ex., use a 3rd level spell in a 9th slot without feeling like an idiot

    I think the designers feared LFQW so much, they went overboard at the high end with the nerf bat. The 1-slot 8/9th change was introduced only in the last playtest packet - and I don't think enough Hi-lvl playtesting has been done, it'll slowly come out over the coming year IMO that this is a prob - not game breaking, just annoying (like the Moon Druid probs).
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  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by mcintma View Post
    I think casters need more (maybe just 1 more each) slot of 8th-9th. This way when your Big Spell fizzles (which is likely) it's not such a big deal, try again next round. You'll have the freedom to actually, for ex., use a 3rd level spell in a 9th slot without feeling like an idiot
    Instead of more slots, I'd prefer a rule that says that whenever a spell is completely resisted, the slot is not expended.

    But on the whole, I'd really rather fix this at the monster end of things.

  5. #5
    Legendary Monsters can very much be solo encounters. It depends on the encounters. If the fighter or paladin can get to them and unload, they will have a rough time. If they can't, the party will have a rough time. It depends on the legendary creature and where you encounter them.
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  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Joe Liker
    In a properly designed Legendary encounter, there should be teeming hordes of minions leaping to the defense of the BBEG.
    I think this is part of why Legendary critters don't have a different XP total from other critters. An ancient white dragon and a pit fiend don't have different XP values. If you're at a level where they would be a viable threat, you still need the same total XP for the encounter with either one of 'em.

    The ancient white dragon is just more badass. Which is kind of awesome.
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  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Celtavian View Post
    Legendary Monsters can very much be solo encounters. It depends on the encounters. If the fighter or paladin can get to them and unload, they will have a rough time. If they can't, the party will have a rough time. It depends on the legendary creature and where you encounter them.
    I agree. And, sometimes, the Legendary Actions of creatures can help them escape the party when necessary. For example, a dragon can use it's legendary wing buffet to knock PCs down and to move further and escape pretty much whenever it wants to do that. Or it can disengage, move and wing buffet to outdistance the party.

    Also, if I were a dragon, beholder or other Legendary creature, I'd probably set up traps in and around my lair to make it more uninviting to adventurers too. Even though the monster stat block doesn't say to do so, you can get a lot of mileage out of high intelligence.

    If the dragon flies above just at breath weapon range it can breathe down on the party and only suffer ranged attacks and spells. It can even use its dodge action to gain AC and Dex saves, saving itself until its breath recharges.

  8. #8
    The problem is some monsters did stand up very well to being solo, AD&D Dragons and core 3rd Edition Dragons wouldn't be killed by a party 8 CR lower than them. The problem is bounded accuracy and combat streamlining has now made a lot of fearsome monsters able to be defeated by much lower level parties.
    Spell casting monsters are also way more dangerous at high levels. A pit fiend is WAY more challenging than an ancient white dragon. A pit fiend is also likely to have minions, a Dragon not (its part of their lore that they're solitary).
    It's easy to give Dragons and such max hitpoints though, provided your group is OK with that. For solo encounters you basically just need to look at the hitpoint total and damage output of the party, and adjust your creatures accordingly. By default you'll notice a lot of creatures by themselves have an inferior ratio to a built party. This means without tricks up their sleeve (spells , traps, terrain advantage) they're just not a challenge.
    Last edited by DaveDash; Sunday, 7th December, 2014 at 02:42 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kamikaze Midget View Post
    I think this is part of why Legendary critters don't have a different XP total from other critters. An ancient white dragon and a pit fiend don't have different XP values. If you're at a level where they would be a viable threat, you still need the same total XP for the encounter with either one of 'em.

    The ancient white dragon is just more badass. Which is kind of awesome.
    The legendary ability's damage is counted for the monster's DPR (Damage Per Round), and DPR is part of offensive CR, and that's part of the final CR of the beastie...
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  10. #10
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    I'm not totally convinced, despite the OPs very good points, that Legendary does not equal solo. I don't see how a monster 5 CR higher than a party, in its lair with lair actions to boot, would make a poor solo enemy.

    But let me clarify that I'm also not talking about a solo vs. high level PCs (14th+). I'll never run a game any higher than that, and I suspect that there are loopholes or areas that just plain were not playtested nearly as much as low end stuff, and it will come out in time as hundreds of thousands of hours are spent on in it the coming year.

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