• Justin Handlin

How to make your Dungeons and Dragons Combat more Dynamic!

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Let's talk about one of the best ways to make your Dungeons and Dragons combat more dynamic and engaging. One of the most critical pillars of Dungeons & Dragons in combat. This becomes glaringly obvious when you take a good look at how much of the Player's Handbook is dedicated to it. In the past, the complexity of the game required a 100-hour full college-level course to fully understand. Now, this certainly had its own pros and cons. Wizards of the Coast, taking a new direction decided to streamline the game so that it was easy to jump into without needing an entire semester of study. While there is no debating that the 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) is the most popular edition in the history of the game. The stream-lining process did come at a bit of a cost. For most, this comes down to the complexity of combat, specifically the simplification of monster stat blocks.

D&D is my favorite version of the system but is not without its flaws. While it's obvious this comes into play with monster combat and action economy. Action economy is effectively a measure of what a creature or character can do each turn. When we look at a creature's statblock, most (at least weaker ones) often only get a few basic actions, and that's it. Let's take a look at one of Dungeons & Dragon's most iconic monsters, the Owlbear. Statblock compliments of DnDBeyond.

Dungeons and Dragons Owlbear statblock

Here our monster has multiattack, which gives it a few more options beyond just its basic attacks beak, and claws. With this, we can shove and grapple as well. But overall, that's pretty much all we can do as is. But...it should...do more. I mean it's a large "monstrous cross between a giant owl and a bear" with a "reputation for ferocity and aggression" making it a feared predator. But, in combat against heroes...this never really comes off. Additionally, its minimal actions make it not very dynamic.

How can we make this monster more "ferocious", dynamic and all and all more interesting to fight? It's important to keep in mind that monsters follow a calculation to determine their Challenge Rating (CR). Changing any of these parameters such as Armor Class, Damage, Hit Points, etc. increases the CR and the difficulty of the encounter via the Dungeon Master's Guide calculations.

I recommend looking at some of the amazing features in 5th Edition has already included in the game. We can use these systems and enhance the complexity, and more importantly, the dynamic of combat. What I'm talking about is the 5th Edition's most memorable feature, the Legendary Action.

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Legendary actions are usually attacks, spells, or other abilities taken outside of a creature’s turn. Typically, a creature with legendary actions has 1-3 options that have different action costs and a set number of actions that can be used per round. Each option costs 1 action unless otherwise stated. Only one legendary action can be used at a time; legendary actions can only be taken at the end of another creature’s turn, and a creature regains its legendary actions at the start of its turn. While these are typically given to powerful monsters, they don't have to be limited to them.

We will continue with the Owlbear example. First thing, since the creature is at such a low level, we don't want to give it another attack. This will just increase the creature beyond its CR rating. Though, if we wanted, we could split its multiattack up across different turns. This will instantly make combat seem more dynamic and back and forth. This is especially noticeable if a party of adventurers is fighting the beast alone. This is actually one of my favorite features to spread out among creatures that have more than two multiattacks they can take personally.

Let's look at other options though. Keeping within the traditional of 1-3 legendary actions, let's give our Owlbear two. Starting with what we know about the Owlbear it's ferocious.

First, let's give it a feature that makes it "feel" ferocious.

Imposing Figure. The owlbear stands on its hind legs and lets out a roar. Any creature within 30 feet of the owlbear that can see and hear it must make a DC 11 Wisdom saving throw or be frightened of the owlbear until the end of their next turn.

This simple feature not only allows us to give the Owlbear a very cool thematic feature, but it does so without increasing the core parameters that increase its overall CR.

Next, we want to consider that the Owlbear is a pretty hefty beast carrying a "Large" classification.

Overpowering Charge. The owlbear moves up to 15 feet in a straight line toward a creature. The creature must make a DC 15 Strength saving throw or be knocked prone. If the target is knocked prone, the owlbear make an attack using its claws.
Related Articles: Weapon Perks: Enhance player combat dynamics. Allow each weapon to feel unique.

Now, this feature actually does potentially increase the damage output but requires specific conditions. First, they have to fail the saving throw and be prone. This additional damage comes at a cost. Remember we want a dynamic fight, right? Because it's charging at a target that is a distance away, it is likely moving out of combat range of its enemies. This extra damage means it is opening itself up to Opportunity Attacks of any nearby when it charges. So while the damage increase makes it a bit more threatening, it's at a cost.

A creature of this size is likely to be used to getting its way. Because of this, we can assume the Owlbear is probably a stubborn bastard.

Stubborn Furiosity. The owlbear rerolls its saving throws against one effect causing it to be charmed, frightened, incapacitated, or stunned.

Now, this is a fantastic defensive feature. I honestly like this far more than say "Legendary Resistance", but that's just my opinion. Because we are likely to be taking more damage due to the Overpowering Charge we can't really afford to be wasting any actions we may get, or grant the characters additional benefits. The Stubborn Furiosity is a fantastic way to offset this. Simply beefing up its defenses against control magic and features at the cost of one of its Legendary Actions is perfect.

When it comes down to it, dynamic combat is simply allowing the monsters more actions in around. High-level monsters do this well. Low-level monsters can too. If this Owlbear is anything to go by, it can be done in such a flavorful way, that the entire table will enjoy it. Especially the players that may get an extra action before it's their turn again.

Coming up with a variety of ideas for all the 300 different monsters in the Monster Manual is quite the chore. But is also a lot of fun. But if you're busy like me. Then you probably don't have time to do it yourself. Don't worry, an awesome team of creators over at Dungeon Masters Guild has already started the process! Christopher Walz, Christian Eichorn, and Alex Clippinger created the Legendary Bestiary: Legendary Actions for Low-Level Monsters!

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