This week DnD Next is making me feel optimistic. That isn't usually my take but I really like this weeks blog about Legendary monsters. These monsters are designed to be usually powerful creatures that break a lot of the standard rules. The are all named things, beasts that are whispered about and which have stories told about them around campfires. They might be dragons, giants, wielders of legendary artifacts, or otherwise unusual. So the lore is fine and all, but what about the numbers?
'What about the numbers?' could be my rallying cry around here...
It turns out that the numbers are pretty good. The example given is of a black dragon and it has some very familiar mechanics like a breath weapon, a bunch of physical attacks, and interesting movement abilities such as flying and swimming. It also has a list of immunities that make sure that it can't be easily incapacitated by one shot spells and four times per day it can automatically make a saving throw. Basically they recognize that when you fight a really special critter the fight is not very interesting if on round 1 the wizard stuns it and it never gets to go again! It isn't outright immune to everything but the defenses it does have mean that you really have to just beat through its hit points rather than hoping for a instant victory. This is a good thing as boss fights really do need to last a bit of time to feel appropriate and epic.
The best thing about the dragon is that it addresses action economy in a great way. Normally a single enemy's actions have to be insane to make up for the fact that the players get five times as many actions as it does. This dragon gets four actions in between each of its turns. Those actions aren't nearly as good as its regular turn but it can make an attack, move a short distance, or recharge its breath weapon. Thus the players have to constantly react to changing battlefield conditions and can't just plan on the battlefield being entirely predictable between each of the dragon's turns.
I think this is marvellous from several perspectives. First off it will keep the players guessing and on their toes as well as making the battle feel dynamic. That is just a 'feel' sort of thing though, the second benefit is raw numbers - when an enemy gets so many actions each action is small and things tend to even out. If an enemy has only a single action each turn that action needs to be utterly devastating and if it always hits it should probably spell doom for the players. With a lot more dice and many small effects there is much greater likelihood that the battle outcome is predictable and players can be challenged but still emerge victorious.
Lastly there are rules for the dragon when it is engaged it its lair. The lair has extra abilities and powers that make things difficult and complicated for the characters. This is a really cool effect but I do think that the dragon should have different experience values depending on whether it is encountered in its lair or not. It makes a huge difference in the challenge overall and that should be reflected in the experience reward. Overall though this is a really positive design for a boss type monster. I approve.