Guide to D&D Legendary Actions And Lair Actions 5e
A flaw inherent to DnD 5E is that combat encounters usually favor the side with more actions in each round. This makes strategizing epic boss encounters rather challenging.
One boss creature has but 1 action each round, while players have at least 1 per turn. Bosses can be offered some minions to even the odds, but a common way is to give them some legendary and lair actions.
Even though they are mostly reserved for epic creatures and boss monsters, other creatures can qualify with a little home brewing. Let’s take a look at what legendary and lair actions 5e are.
What are Legendary Actions?
When a creature achieves legendary status like a monster from ages bygone or an ancient dragon, several legendary actions are offered to be used per round. While 3 is usually the number of legendary actions afforded to them, the exact count often varies. This number gets reset when their turn begins, and they cannot be saved up, so you have to use them all not to let any go to waste.
Legendary actions are unique in that they can be employed beyond the creature’s turn. These actions take place directly following a player’s turn in combat.
Note that a creature can act only once in between players’ turns. This prevents legendary creatures from using temporary poor positioning with their legendary actions at the worst possible moment.
|Legendary Action||Effect||Monsters Who Use It|
|Detect||Creature makes a Wisdom/Perception check||Aboleth (CR 10)/ Adult Dragons (CR 14)/ Ancient Dragons (CR 20)|
|Tail Swipe||Creature makes a tail attack||Aboleth (CR 10)/ Adult Dragons (CR 14)/ Ancient Dragons (CR 20)|
|Claw Attack||Creature makes a claw attack.||Androsphinx (CR 17)/ Gynosphinx (CR 11)|
|Cantrip||Creature casts a cantrip||Lich (CR 21)|
|Attack||Creature makes an attack or uses one of the other actions||Mummy Lord (CR 15)/ Tarrasque (CR 30)|
|Blinding Dust||Sand swirls and blinding dust magically form around the creature, and each target within 5 feet must succeed on a DC 16 Constitution saving throw or else be blinded till the end of their next turn||Mummy Lord (CR 15)|
|Move||Creature moves up to ½ of its speed, but it does not provoke opportunity attacks for Vampires||Tarrasque (CR 30)/ Vampire (CR 13)|
|Hooves||Creature makes an attack with hooves||Unicorn (CR 5)|
|Unarmed Strike||Creature makes an unarmed strike||Vampire (CR 13)|
|Teleport- costs 1 to 2 actions, based on the creature||Creature magically teleports with all equipment it is wearing or carrying, up to about 120 feet to an unoccupied visible space||Androsphinx (CR 17)/ Gynosphinx (CR 11)/ Solar (CR 21)|
|Wing Attack- costs 2 actions||Creature beats its wings, and those within 10 feet of the dragon have to succeed on a DC 19 Dexterity saving throw or else take 13 (2d6 + 6) of bludgeoning damage to be knocked prone. The dragon can fly up to ½ its flying speed.||Adult Dragons (CR 14)/ Ancient Dragons (CR 20)|
|Lightning Storm- costs 2 actions||Creature uses Lightning Storm and magically creates 3 bolts of lightning, each with the ability to strike a target they can see within 120 feet. A target has to make a DC 23 Dexterity saving throw, while taking 22 (4d10) lightning damage on failed saves, or ½ as much damage on a successful one.||Kraken (CR 23)|
|Frightening Gaze- costs 2 actions||Creature fixes its gaze on 1 creature visible within 10 feet. The target has to succeed on a DC 18 Wisdom saving throw against the magic or else be frightened for 1 minute. Frightened targets can repeat the saving throw at the end of each turn, ending the effect on a success. If a saving throw is successful or the effect ends, the target will be immune to the creature’s gaze for 24 hours.||Lich (CR 21)|
|Blasphemous Word- costs 2 actions||Creature utters a blasphemous word, and non-undead targets within 10 feet that can hear the magical utterance have to succeed on a DC 16 Constitution saving throw or else be stunned till the end of its next turn.||Mummy Lord (CR 15)|
|Whirlwind of Sand- costs 2 actions||Creature magically transforms into a huge whirlwind of sand, moving up to 60 feet, and reverting to its normal form. While in whirlwind form, it is immune to all damage, can’t be grappled, knocked prone, petrified, restrained, or stunned. Moreover, all equipment worn or carried remains in its possession.||Mummy Lord (CR 15)|
|Searing Burst- costs 2 actions||Creature emits magical divine energy, and each target in a 10-foot radius has to make a DC 23 Dexterity saving throw, with 14 (4d6) fire damage + 14 (4d6) radiant damage on failed saves, or ½ as much damage on successful ones.||Solar (CR 21)|
|Chomp- costs 2 actions||Creature makes 1 bite attack or uses its Swallow against a large/smaller target it is grappling. If it hits, the target takes the damage, it is swallowed, and the grapple ends. When swallowed, the target will be blinded and restrained, with total cover against attacks and effects outside the creature, though it takes 56 (16d6) acid damage at the beginning of each turn.||Tarrasque (CR 30)|
|Shimmering Shield- costs 2 actions||Creature creates a shimmering magical field that revolves around itself or another visible target within 60 feet. The target gets a +2 bonus to their AC till the end of the next turn.||Unicorn (CR 5)|
|Bite- costs 2 actions||Creature makes 1 bite attack.||Vampire (CR 13)|
|Cast a Spell- costs 3 actions||Creature casts a spell out of its list of prepared spells, with a spell slot as normal.||Androsphinx (CR 17)/ Gynosphinx (CR 11)|
|Ink Cloud- costs 3 actions)||Creature expels an ink cloud within a 60-foot radius while underwater. The cloud spreads near corners, and the area is heavily obscured to everyone other than the creature. |
Everyone other than the creature who ends its turn there has to succeed on a DC 23 Constitution saving throw, while taking 16 (3d10) poison damage on failed saves, or half the damage on a successful one. A strong current will disperse the cloud, or else it will disappear at the end of the next turn.
|Kraken (CR 23)|
|Disrupt Life- costs 3 actions||Non-undead targets within 20 feet must make a DC 18 Constitution saving throw against this, taking 21 (6d6) necrotic damage on failed saves, or ½ as much on a successful one.`||Lich (CR 21)|
|Blinding Gaze- costs 3 actions||Creature targets a target visible within 30 feet, and if the target sees it, they must succeed on a DC 15 Constitution saving throw or else be blinded till magic such as the lesser restoration spell does away with the blindness.||Solar (CR 21)|
|Heal Self- costs 3 actions)||Creature magically regains 11 (2d8 + 2) HP.||Unicorn (CR 5)|
For each such creature, there lies a list of actions usable with legendary actions. A few of the most powerful options on the list mentioned above can cost more than 1 action, depleting a monster’s legendary actions of the round quicker than usual.
If the creature is unable to take normal actions, especially when incapacitated, it will not be allowed to take legendary actions. Legendary actions are also off the table until after the 1st turn in combat.
Mechanics of Legendary Actions
Creatures will have a pool of legendary actions usable from every round of combat. Each of these legendary actions can cost them between 1 to 3 actions per use, based on their power.
The actions are clearly defined mechanics that can never be substituted for something else. It could be a defensive maneuver, a movement, using one of the attacks or abilities of the creature, casting spells or cantrips, or special abilities usable only as legendary actions.
The creature cannot get extra legendary actions, and once all of them are expended, it must wait for the beginning of the next turn to get back their use. If it is unable to use its action for whatsoever reason, its legendary actions will remain out of bounds as well.
Legendary creatures in the Monster Manual have 3 to 4 unique legendary actions each to choose from. But the rules dictate there will not be a set limit on the number of unique legendary actions a creature can select from.
We recommend keeping it somewhere between 3 to 5 varying actions so that it is relatively simple to remember and use.
But, of course, the sky’s the limit when it comes to homebrewing actions and creatures. The only homebrewing rule you must follow is that every creature must have a set number of legendary actions unique to them, and those should cost them several actions based on their power.
What are Lair Actions?
Lair actions, as we mentioned earlier, are not actions a creature takes, but it can only use the lair actions if it is inside its lair. Lair actions symbolize the magical augmentations of the creature’s lair, giving it a home-field advantage against potential intruding adventurers.
Creatures without a long-term lair won’t have lair actions, and that is something to keep in mind if you choose to run an ancient dragon that has only had its home for a few days.
Lair actions inevitably start on an initiative count of 20, which means that the effect occurs before the players who rolled a 19 with initiatives, and after those who rolled a 20 or higher along with bonuses.
|Lair Action||Terrain||Monsters That Use It|
|Creature casts phantasmal force (requiring no components) on any number of targets visible within 60 feet. While keeping up concentration on this effect, the creature won’t be allowed to take other lair actions. Once a target succeeds on saving throws or once the effect ends, the target will be immune to the phantasmal force lair action for 24 hours, though such a target may choose to be affected.||Subterranean lakes/ rocky depths of ocean/ ancient fallen underwater city||Aboleth (CR 10)|
|Water in a creature’s lair magically transforms into a conduit for its rage. It can target a number of targets visible in such water within 90 feet. Targets must succeed on DC 14 Wisdom saving throws or brave 7 (2d6) psychic damage. It can’t deploy this lair action again till it has used another one.||Subterranean lakes/ rocky depths of ocean/ ancient fallen underwater city||Aboleth (CR 10)|
|A significant part of the ceiling will collapse above a target visible within 120 feet of the creature. The target has to succeed on a DC 15 Dexterity saving throw or else take 10 (3d6) bludgeoning damage and then be knocked prone, and buried. Then the buried target is restrained and it cannot breathe or stand up. Targets can take an action to employ a DC 10 Strength check, terminating the buried state with success.||Barren lands having crystallized caverns and vibrant tunnels beneath the sands||Blue Dragon (CR 3/ 9/ 16/ 23)|
|Lightning arcs, creating a 5-foot-wide line in between 2 of the lair’s solid surfaces visible to the creature. They have to be within 120 feet and 120 feet of each other. The target in that line has to succeed on a DC 15 Dexterity saving throw or else take 10 (3d6) lightning damage.||Barren lands having crystallized caverns and vibrant tunnels beneath the sands||Blue Dragon (CR 3/ 9/ 16/ 23)|
|A thunderclap initiates at a point visible to the creature within 120 feet of it. A target within a 20-foot radius has to make a DC 15 Constitution saving throw or else take 5 (1d10) thunder damage and then be deafened till the end of the next turn.||Coastal cave/ salvaged shipwreck||Bronze Dragon (CR 2/ 8/ 15/ 20)|
|Creature picks a point on the ground visible within 120 feet. Stone spikes sprout out of the ground in a 20-foot radius. The effect is identical to the spike growth spell, lasting until the dragon makes use of this lair action again or till the creature dies.||Dry uplands or hilltop/ in narrow caves||Copper Dragon (CR 1/ 7/ 14/ 21)|
|The creature takes a glimpse of the future, giving it advantage on ability checks, attack rolls, and saving throws till initiative count 20 on the following round.||Idyllic lakes/ mist-shrouded islands/ cave complexes behind waterfalls/ ancient ruins out of the way||Gold Dragon (CR 3/ 10/ 17/ 24)|
Creatures won’t be able to use the same lair action twice a row, and the DM has to mix it up instead of simply picking the best option for a specific situation. Moreover, only legendary creatures get access to lair actions, so if a DM wishes to offer other creatures a chance to represent their home-field advantage, this lair action system is a terrific place to start!
Note that these ought to be homebrew and are to be reserved for the tougher challenges.
Mechanics of Lair Actions
Juxtaposed to legendary actions, lair actions are relatively simple to keep track of and deploy in combat. There is a lack of resources to keep track of, with the only requirement being that the creatures have to be within the lair for actions to impact them. At the top of the round, a choice will be given in regards to which lair action you would prefer to go for.
Creatures tend to have somewhere between 2 to 4 lair actions that they must select from, one at a time. They will not be able to use the same lair action more than once in a row. This keeps you from picking the “optimal” choice in each round, keeping encounters fresh.
Creatures With Legendary and Lair Actions
|Creature||Description||Legendary Action?||Lair Action?|
|Aboleth (CR 10)||Resentful creatures from before the gods/ can never truly die||✓||✓|
|Androsphinx (CR 17)||Guardians of secrets who see true and reward valor||✓||✓|
|Dragons(Various CR)||Ancient epitome of danger, strength, and intrigue, driven by greed and a quest for knowledge||✓||✓|
|Gynosphinx (CR 11)||Cunning creatures that see beyond the walls of the ordinary world, challenging the wit of those who come before her.||✓||✓|
|Kraken (CR 23)||Tentacled terrors of the depths||✓||✓|
|Lich (CR 21)||Classic undead wizards hungry for power||✓||✓|
|Mummy Lord (CR 15)||Most powerful among the wrapped undead/ who were kings, queens, high priests or forgotten arch sorcerers||✓||✓|
|Solar (CR 21)||Celestial warriors in need of only 24 of their kind to serve the gods and shield the world against cosmic threats||✓||✗|
|Tarrasque (CR 30)||Almost unkillable immortal engines of destruction, rising every few decades to feed||✓||✗|
|Unicorn (CR 5)||Divine guardians of the enchanted woods.||✓||✗|
|Vampire (CR 13)||Classic bloodsucking undead/ aristocratic, clever, ruthless||✓||✗|
How Do Legendary Actions or Lair Effects Increase CR?
The most efficient way for Dungeon Masters to understand how including a lair effect or legendary action affects an encounter’s level of challenge is by deploying the Experience Point Value table belonging to the Wizards of the Coast and locating similar examples within existing monsters.
A Dungeon Master takes into account the number of actions the creature can have in each round (and that includes legendary actions and lair effects), the average damage players will be able to take every round, and the number of debuffs players could receive, which then can decrease the average damage output.
There is no fast mathematical way to calculate new challenge ratings, though we can compare a few of those creatures with and without legendary actions as well as lair effects to see what leads to a change in CR:
We must compare an Aboleth, a Stone Golem, a Deva, and a Young Gold Dragon, all CR 10. The Aboleth and the Young Gold Dragon have lairs, though only the Aboleth has legendary actions.
Creatures with Legendary Action or Lair Effects
A Deva has AC 17 and 136 hit points, and they receive a +8 to their hit. They make 2 melee attacks for a total of 25 magical damage. They are sensational with advantages to saving throws against both spells and magical effects and non-combative spellcasting.
They can heal 20 HP to any creature, or polymorph into a creature of its CR or lower, though they will retain their HP. The usual round of combat for Devas will lead to about 50 points of damage or 20 points of healing.
Aboleths have AC 17 and 135 HP. They can also receive a +9 for their hit. They can take 3 tentacle attacks (12 damage in each hit + a Constitution ST/ a target becomes diseased that comes into effect within 10 rounds or 1 minute).
They can make a Tail attack (15 damage) or attempt to charm one target thrice a day (DC 14), taking them under its control. In each round, they can also perform Legendary Actions like yet another tail attack or psychic drain (10 damage) on charmed creatures, letting them regain HP.
Lair actions also contribute by causing any of the following effects in every round: forcing one target to focus on any Phantasmal Force illusion for its action, making use of water to pull in and knock prone the targets, attacking with water in exchange for 7 damage.
Note that the range of damage for Aboleths in each round is 25 to 70, along with removing a charmed person from combat and stealing another one’s action.
3. Young Gold Dragon
A Young Gold Dragon flaunts AC 18 along with 178 hit points. It has a +10 to hit. Young Gold Dragon turns typically include 3 attacks for 43 damage, along with Fire Breath for 55 damage for each target within a 30-foot cone (DC 17), or a debuff of DC 17 for disadvantage on the Strength saving throws, as well as ability checks.
The range of damage for Young Gold Dragons in each round is 43 to 55*21 medium-sized creatures within the 30-foot cone, assuming they fail their saving throws.
A Young Gold Dragon’s lair effects may allow it an advantage on saving throws, ability checks, or even banishing targets into a dream plane until the next round.
A Stone Golem has AC 17 and 178 hit points, and they get +10 to hit. They have straightforward turns, and their forms cannot be altered. They also have an advantage on saving throws against all spells and magical effects. Plus, their weapons are magical.
Stone Golems can make 2 slam attacks for 19 damage each, which can debuff a player’s speed, reactions, or action economy with a ⅓rd chance of recharging.
A typical round of combat for Stone Golems will cause 38 damage or reduce a target’s abilities.
That is all there is to know about D&D Legendary Actions and Lair Actions 5E. We hope the list of actions and effects, along with those who can use it, is helpful on your next challenging quest. Make sure you follow the rules, which makes the tabletop game fun. Of course, we are not talking about homebrewing- there, and you are wild and free.
Let your DM get creative and pitch in with ideas if any. The purpose of the whole system of D&D legendary actions and lair actions 5E is to make the game more fun while also amping up the tempo by throwing in newer challenges, along with brand new powers to complement said challenges.
We hope this article was all that you came looking for and more. Happy questing!
I have been playing DND, Destiny 2 & other PC Games for ages now. In my free time, I recover old arcade machines and I believe that today we have the ability, the knowledge and technology to enhance the mystic around them. So, the name, ArcadeMan!