DnD 5e: Legendary & Lair Actions, Explained

As a Dungeons & Dragons campaign advances, the player characters will grow to epic heights, unlocking powerful abilities and easily wiping out lesser creatures without breaking a sweat. By this point in the game, Dungeon Masters should know when they need to up the ante to create challenging combat scenarios for their players.

As players begin facing off against legendary creatures, they'll quickly discover their enemies have even more powerful abilities than they could have imagined. To make them equally terrifying, the lairs and dens in which they live can be equally challenging -- but how does that work, and what can players do to ensure their survival?

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What Are Legendary Actions?

Legendary creatures have had the time and experience to hone their abilities, granting them powers beyond belief. Though many of them may have minions, those are nothing when compared to the creature they serve. Unfortunately for these legendary monsters, they often find themselves in battle alone with an entire party hacking away at them round after round. Legendary actions are designed to give them opportunities to balance combat so they aren't killed or incapacitated too quickly.

Every legendary creature is different, and each one has unique powers up their sleeves, but the one thing they have in common is a pool of legendary action points that can be used each round. In many cases, creatures have three legendary actions they can take per round, and these actions can only be used at the end of another creature's turn.

Legendary actions are regained at the end of each combat round. While some actions may be countered by players who have relevant reactions, nothing but incapacitating the enemy entirely can stop them from using their legendary actions.

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What Are Legendary Resistances?

Legendary creature encounters aren't meant to be easy. No matter how powerful the party is, they shouldn't be able to simply cut down a legendary creature without a major fight. Legendary actions help sustain powerful creatures sustain themselves in combat (particularly when the number of combatants on each side are against them), but such creatures also have legendary resistances. These allow them to decide that they'd rather not make a saving throw they could potentially fail.

D&D is chock full of game-breaking spells and abilities that even legendary creatures can fall prey to, and if such abilities are used early on in combat and the fight is made too easy, combat itself starts to feel pointless. That's why each legendary creature has three legendary resistances that they can choose to expend whenever they choose to automatically succeed on a saving throw.

Once used, legendary resistances can't be regained, so players should use their spells strategically. Trying to tempt a legendary creature into using their resistances against lesser spells in hopes of catching it off guard later when it has no resistances left is a great way to turn the tide of battle.

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What Are Lair Actions?

Some legendary creatures have remarkable lairs filled with magical effects that make combat even more harrowing and tricky for a party of adventurers. When rolling for initiative, the creature's lair has its own initiative, which is an automatic 20. That means that in each combat round, when it is the lair's time to take a turn, the DM can choose to take a lair action to up the ante.

Legendary creatures with lair actions generally have around four actions they can choose from on the lair's turn, though they do not have to use them. The same lair action cannot be used twice in a row, which prevents the DM from always choosing the most dangerous or optimal action.

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Lair actions might include things like granting the legendary creature advantage on attack rolls and saving throws for the entire round, or it could result in an area of effect maneuver that causes meteors to fall from the sky in a specific area within the lair for a round. The lair might also suffer natural effects, like quakes or regional effects that dissipate at the end of the round or over time after the creature is killed.

Combat is not supposed to be easy, no matter the level of the players or the monsters they face. Added features like legendary actions and resistances, combined with lair actions, are designed to pose a challenge that makes combat encounters a part of the game that requires consideration and strategy.

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Jennifer Melzer (450 Articles Published)

Artist, writer, avid gamer, lover of comics, manga and anime and all around nerd, Jennifer has been creating online content for numerous websites for over 15 years. She can generally be found on Tuesday nights playing Drow Warlock Zaelien Vel'rai in the So Many Levels D&D campaign on Twitch!

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