Introduction

Legendary Actions are special actions taken by Legendary Creatures at the end of another creature’s turn. In turn, a Legendary Creature is defined as a creature that has Legendary Resistances and/or one that can take Legendary Actions, and we can just go in circles like this all day, but that’s not why you’re here. You’re here to become a better Dungeon Master and to learn the ins and outs of another important tool in your DM’s toolbelt. By the end of this article you’ll have a better grasp on what Legendary Creatures can add to your game when used properly, and more importantly, when to use them properly.

Knowing how to use them is one thing, but we’ll then take it a step further by exploring how to make one with the use of our Monsterizer utility. I’ll walk through the step by step process I used when building my CR 3 Legendary the Hobgoblin Commando by modifying the Hobgoblin. Following that I’ll take a deeper look at how I put the creature’s Legendary Features together and explain why I gave it the features that I did.

Table of Contents

Disclaimer

RPGBOT uses the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks, which is simple to understand and easy to read at a glance.

  • Red: Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational. Nearly never useful.
  • Orange: OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances. Useful sometimes.
  • Green: Good options. Useful often.
  • Blue: Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character. Useful very frequently.

We will not include 3rd-party content, including content from DMs Guild, in handbooks for official content because we can’t assume that your game will allow 3rd-party content or homebrew. We also won’t cover Unearthed Arcana content because it’s not finalized, and we can’t guarantee that it will be available to you in your games.

The advice offered below is based on the current State of the Character Optimization Meta as of when the article was last updated. Keep in mind that the state of the meta periodically changes as new source materials are released and this article will be updating accordingly as time allows.

RPGBOT is unofficial Fan Content permitted under the Fan Content Policy. Not approved/endorsed by Wizards. Portions of the materials used are property of Wizards of the Coast. ©Wizards of the Coast LLC.

Absolute Legend

The purpose of Legendary Actions is incredibly straightforward: to make a solo monster a credible threat without being overwhelmingly strong. This isn’t really explained by either the Monster Manual or the Dungeon Master’s Guide. Let’s break that purpose in half and tackle each side individually.

Credible Threat

In D&D, no matter the edition but especially in 5E, the Action Economy usually determines the outcome of evenly matched fights. That is to say, unless one side is overwhelmingly stronger than the other, the side with more actions will typically win. Legendary Actions solve this problem in a clever way. A creature with Legendary Actions can take one, and only one, at the end of another creature’s turn. This means that a Legendary Creature has about as many actions as a 4-persone party, but also that the number will drop if there are less creatures in the combat. But why go through all this trouble when we can just make the monster stronger?

Overwhelming Force

We could just make the monster hit harder with bigger numbers. Why go through all this trouble of taking extra attacks when we could just load all that damage into one big attack and kill a player a turn? Because spiking the players is not the point of a boss fight. The job of the dungeon master is to facilitate fun and interesting adventures. The role of the Legendary Creature is to change up that formula occasionally to a solo fight without just throwing a deadly encounter or one-shotting a character.

What Makes an Action Legendary?

There aren’t really hard and fast rules for Legendary Actions, but we can infer a few guidelines from the published ones. If the monster primarily makes attacks, making one of these attacks usable as a Legendary Action is fairly common. The Fleecemane Lion, for example, makes a claw attack, which is weaker than its bite, while the Unicorn makes a hooves attack, which is stronger than its horn attack. Some monsters also gain entire abilities that can only be used as Legendary Actions. Continuing to use the Fleecemane Lion and the Unicorn, the Lion has a roar that causes fear, while the Unicorn can increase a target’s AC.

The other key part of a Legendary Action is the cost. A Legendary Creature has a set number of Legendary Actions that reset at the beginning of its turn and each use costs at least one of these actions, but some stronger features cost multiple actions. The aforementioned roar of the Lion and the AC boosting shield of the Unicorn both cost two actions, for example. From this I would have to say that actions with multiple targets or actions with lingering effects should cost multiple actions.

Again, there’s not really a hard rule about specifics. The best advice I can really give is to read the stat blocks of published Legendary Creatures to get a feel for what makes sense. You’ll even find that some Legendary Creatures don’t even follow these guidelines. Vecna, for example, instead can take three Reactions per round in place of Legendary Actions. Other creatures occasionally are Legendary by just having the Legendary Resistance feature without actually taking extra Legendary Actions.

Putting It All Together (Some Assembly Required)

While there are some great Legendary Creatures already published, how do we go about building one of our own? Making a monster from scratch is already a tough prospect and now we have to add on all these extra Legendary features. Well for that, we at RPGBOT have a tool, the Monsterizer.

This utility will assist you in calculating where your monster ends up on the scale of CR in real time as you tweak the numbers. If you’re already familiar with how it works, that’s great. I’m sure you’ll have no trouble figuring out how to use it to gauge Legendary features as well. If you’re not already familiar with the use of the Monsterizer, then read on and I’ll walk through how I created the Hobgoblin Commando.

Hobgoblin Commando

Hobgoblin Commando Legendary Creature Stat Block

Magic Wand (Make my Monster Grow!)

Now let’s break down what I did in the Monsterizer. When you first open the Monsterizer, you’ll be on the intro and changelog screen, but you’ll want to head to the second page for the basics. Now, you can build a monster completely from scratch with this tool, but it’s just so much easier to start with an existing creature. I have started with the basic Hobgoblin in order to make a solo boss encounter. Honestly, Hobgoblins are scary. They have 18 AC from Chain mail and a shield, and what is basically 2d6 Sneak Attack dice. We’ll be changing a lot of that.

On this first page, after picking the base creature, we can rename it to whatever we want to appear in the stat block. If you’re following along with me, that’s where I named it Hobgoblin Commando. We can leave things like type and alignment alone, but the Target CR is important. This is where we choose the actual displayed CR of the monster as opposed to the calculated CR. We’ll be fine-tuning the traits and actions of the creature later to get our calculated CR to match our target CR, but the target CR also determines the Proficiency Bonus of the monster. For the Hobgoblin Commando, I wanted to get it to CR 3.

Further down on this page we decide the ability scores, movement speeds, and skill proficiencies. For the Commando, I boosted Strength and Constitution a bit and gave it proficiency in a handful of skills that help us define the creature. The big one is Athletics since it’s used in one of our Legendary Actions. We’ll talk more about that later, but we’ve also got some other seemingly strange choices, like Arcana. This represents that the Commando is no stranger to the dangers posed by magic users. Medicine on the other hand is for leaving foes barely alive but stable so that they may recount the tale of their almost fatal encounter.

Is This a Bad Enough Dude (To Rescue the President?)

On the next page we’ll find the defensive stats, but more importantly this is the first page that will display our calculated CR. The Monsterizer calculates two values, D(efensive)CR and O(ffensive)CR based on the stats and abilities we give to the monsters and then averages them together for actual CR. We’re aiming for a calculated CR of 3 with our Hobgoblin Commando.

The Monsterizer provides the Hobgoblin’s stats from the SRD, but we’re going to modify these a bit. The Hobgoblin’s AC is 18 because of Chain mail and a shield, but we’ll lower that to 16 because we’re ditching the shield. 18 AC would be too much with the HP we’re going to add. The Monsterizer will display the expected values for our target CR. In this case, 13 AC is the expected value for CR 3, but by being +2-3 over expected AC we are adding +1 to our base DCR.

Where did our base DCR come from? Our base DCR comes from our HP, which Monsterizer tells us to aim for 100 to 115. We’re going to set it to 60 (specifically 8d8 with a 2 Con modifier and 1 Additional HP modifier) because of our Legendary Persistence feature. I’m treating it as identical to Legendary Resistance as far as HP calculations: “Each per-day use of this trait increases the monster’s effective hit points based on the expected challenge rating: 1–4, 10 hp; 5–10, 20 hp; 11 or higher, 30 hp.”

Further down, we find the saving throws. As the Monsterizer explains, adding up to two save proficiencies won’t cause any adjustment to our calculations, so we give it Constitution and Wisdom for sturdiness. Below the saves are where we could add resistances and immunities if we wanted. We’re not going to do that on this monster, but feel free to play with the options. You’ll find that adding a few resistances will eventually start calculating the DCR from the hit points of the monster as if they were doubled.

Rip and Tear (Until it is Done)

The next page, Actions, is where (almost) all of our OCR comes from. We have to tell the Monsterizer a few things about how we fight. Right at the top there will already be set to Attack, but if you’re following the Hobgoblin Commando you’ll need to adjust the attack bonus to +5. This won’t modify any of the actions below, but the Monsterizer can’t read those to determine this value, which can impact our OCR.

The Actions page does a wonderful job of explaining exactly how it does what it does in long paragraph form, so in the interest of not repeating the tips in the tool I’ll just discuss what I changed on the Hobgoblin. As you can see on the stat block above, for flavor I’ve swapped out the longsword for a functionally identical battleaxe and traded the longbow for handaxes. That’s pretty straightforward.

What is a bit more complicated is just below the actions. You’ll find some sections that are collapsed by default: Bonus Action, Reaction, Lair Action, Legendary Action. We’ll want to open up the Legendary Action section and have a look at what should be pretty familiar after the Actions section above. I wanted to give the Commando something cool and something basic to do with these actions, so it can either Shove everyone in melee range or make attacks with the Handaxes it has.

After we’ve filled all of that in, the Monsterizer adds up the average damage we can do over three rounds if we just choose the highest damage action every round to find our DPR. This will finally give us our base OCR. If you did everything as I have, you’ll find it does 26 DPR and that lands us at our CR 3 target.

Spells Aside

The monster I’ve built does not have spells, but I need to point out that the next page does not have any effect on the calculations. Instead, any spells that might be used to do damage in a fight need to be input on the actions page. That is what the show and hide buttons are for if you don’t want to clog up a stat block with multiple spell descriptions while still adding the numbers to the calculations.

Extra Extra (Read All About It!)

This is the page where we add any special features or traits to the Monster. You’ll notice the Hobgoblin’s Martial Advantage will already be here, but I’ve removed that from the Hobgoblin Commando. Too much solo training has made it lose any advantages that are normally gained from Hobgoblin teamwork. But instead the Hobgoblin Commando has trained in a special technique that I made up based on Legendary Resistance. I called it Legendary Persistence

Legendary Persistence: (3/day) If the Hobgoblin Commando is subjected to a Condition, it can prevent the Condition if it so chooses. This cannot be used to prevent falling Unconscious from reaching 0 HP.

As I mentioned above while entering the HP, Legendary Resistance adds an effective 10 HP for each daily use for CR 1-4 monsters so we’ll use that value for this ability as well by putting 30 into the HP box on the trait. You might wonder why I didn’t just use Legendary Resistance instead. I decided that what I wanted from the Commando was the ability to avoid being crowd controlled without being able to automatically pass on saving throws against damaging effects. This also allows the Commando to slip out of a Grapple, something Legendary Resistance cannot prevent.

This page is also where we enter the Tactics, Description, and Inventory boxes for the monster. Even if you don’t intend to publish the monster anywhere for anyone else to read, you’ll be glad you wrote these things down when you pull the monster out three months later. Trust me.

Breaking it Down (To Build It Back Up)

Let’s take a closer look at our Commando’s Legendary Features to see why I made the choices I made.

Faceaxe

With Faceaxe, I wanted the Hobgoblin to have an attack option in order to do some damage, but I didn’t want it to just make extra swings with the primary Battlaxe. As some insight into the iterative design process, at first these Handaxe attacks were only usable as Legendary Actions, but later I decided they made a lot of sense as a replacement for the Longbow attacks of the original Hobgoblin, thus now showing up as both Actions and Legendary Actions.

Heavy Shove

With this Legendary Action, I wanted something dramatic and cool that can be done if the Commando is feeling pressured in melee. This can even build some tension if the players notice the Commando holding back on spending some Actions before it first uses this Legendary Action to suddenly knock a PC Prone for Advantage on later attacks. Because it can hit multiple targets and because it can impose the Prone condition, I priced this action at two.

Legendary Persistence

As I mentioned above, Legendary Creatures typically have some kind of defensive feature as well to avoid immediately dying. For most this is Legendary Resistance, but I just wanted to protect the Commando from most crowd control Conditions, particularly anything that removes the ability to take actions, without inhibiting pure damage effects. Clever players will be able to figure out that it has no immunity to difficult terrain or other control-like effects that don’t impose Conditions.

Conclusion

Legendary Creatures are a tool to be used at all levels of play to add variety and spice to your campaign. I believe the name itself Legendary gives this unfortunate sense of “Oh no I can’t use those, those are Epic monsters that only level 20 PCs are allowed to fight.” But as you can hopefully now see, adding these to your DM toolbox and knowing how to use them at every level of the game is just another skill to practice and become familiar with.

I will leave you with one last lesson for the Monsterizer: You can import and export the monsters in various formats. Included below is the JSON export data that can be pasted into the Monsterizer’s “Import” field to load the Hobgoblin Commando for your own experimentation. But don’t stop there. Feel free to share your own creations with us and each other so we can all keep our players on their toes.

Hobgoblin Commando Monsterizer JSON Import Code

{
  "_monsterizerVersion": "1.1.0",
  "abilityScores": {
    "Strength": 16,
    "Dexterity": 12,
    "Constitution": 14,
    "Intelligence": 10,
    "Wisdom": 10,
    "Charisma": 10
  },
  "ac": 16,
  "acNotes": "chain",
  "actions": [
    {
      "averageDamage": 8,
      "description": "*Melee Weapon Attack:* +5 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. *Hit:* 7 (1d8 + 3) slashing damage, or 8 (1d10 + 3) slashing damage if used with two hands.",
      "name": "Battleaxe",
      "reusable": 3,
      "targets": 1
    },
    {
      "attackModifier": 3,
      "attackType": "Melee or Ranged Weapon Attack",
      "averageDamage": 6,
      "description": "The Hobgoblin Commando can quickly draw a single Handaxe as it makes this attack. *Melee or Ranged Weapon Attack Attack:* +5 to hit, reach 5 ft. or range 20/60 ft., one target. *Hit:* 6 (1d6+3) slashing damage. *Ammo:* 12",
      "name": "Handaxe",
      "range": "20/60",
      "reusable": 3,
      "targets": 1,
      "damageType": "Slashing",
      "damageExpression": "1d6+3"
    }
  ],
  "alignment": {
    "lawChaos": "Lawful",
    "goodEvil": "Evil"
  },
  "attack": 5,
  "bonusActions": [],
  "cantSpeak": false,
  "challenge": "3",
  "conditionImmunities": [],
  "conditionResistances": [],
  "conditionVulnerabilities": [],
  "creatureType": "Humanoid",
  "creatureSubtype": "goblinoid",
  "damageImmunities": [],
  "damageResistances": [],
  "damageVulnerabilities": [],
  "description": "*A lone Hobgoblin stands before you brandishing an Axe. You can't help but feel uneasy at the Hobgoblin's brazen choice to come at you alone. *\n\nThe Hobgoblin Commando is a highly specialized Hobgoblin trained to fight alone in situations where a squad would be impractical. His goal is to demoralize the enemy by claiming victory over an entire squad in hopes that rumors will spread of the might of Hobgoblins.",
  "hitDice": {
    "count": 8,
    "size": "d8",
    "modifier": 1
  },
  "inventory": "Battleaxe. Chainmail. 12 Handaxes. Healer's Kit.",
  "lairActions": [],
  "languages": "Common, Goblin",
  "legendaryActions": [
    {
      "averageDamage": 6,
      "cost": 1,
      "description": "The Hobgoblin Commando quickly draws a Handaxe to make a melee or ranged attack.\n<br>*Melee or Ranged Weapon Attack:* +5 to hit, range 5ft. or 20/60ft., one target. *Hit:* 6 (1d6+3) slashing damage. *Ammo:* 12",
      "name": "Faceaxe",
      "targets": 1
    },
    {
      "averageDamage": 0,
      "cost": 2,
      "description": "The Hobgoblin Commando makes a Shove attempt against each creature of its choice within melee reach.\n<br>*Shove:*  Strength (Athletics) +5 vs target's choice of Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics). *Success:* Push 5ft. or target Prone.",
      "name": "Heavy Shove",
      "targets": 2
    }
  ],
  "legendaryActionsCount": 3,
  "name": "Hobgoblin Commando",
  "nameShort": "",
  "reactions": [],
  "savingThrows": {
    "Constitution": {
      "proficient": true
    },
    "Wisdom": {
      "proficient": true
    }
  },
  "senses": "darkvision 60 ft.",
  "skills": {
    "Performance": {
      "proficient": false
    },
    "Persuasion": {
      "proficient": false
    },
    "Arcana": {
      "proficient": true
    },
    "Intimidation": {
      "proficient": true
    },
    "Insight": {
      "proficient": true
    },
    "Athletics": {
      "proficient": true
    },
    "Medicine": {
      "proficient": true
    },
    "Survival": {
      "proficient": true
    }
  },
  "specialTraits": [
    {
      "effect": {
        "hp": 30
      },
      "name": "Legendary Persistence",
      "tooltip": "Effect on hp is dependent on number of legendary resistances.",
      "description": "(3/day) If the Hobgoblin Commando is subjected to a Condition it can prevent the Condition if it so chooses. This cannot be used to prevent falling Unconscious from reaching 0 HP."
    }
  ],
  "spellcasting": [],
  "speed": {
    "land": 30
  },
  "size": "Medium",
  "tactics": "The Hobgoblin Commando will attempt to close into melee and try to take down the biggest target. If it cannot make it all the way into melee it will choose to use thrown Handaxe attacks. The Hobgoblin Commando will move to a fresh target when the current one is unconscious. \n\nThanks to knowledge of Arcana, the Hobgoblin Commando can get a rough read on how dangerous a particular spellcaster might be after two rounds of combat.\n\nIf he manages to best the party, he will quickly stabilize anyone still breathing and leave a single handaxe behind.\n\n*You awaken hours later, battered and bruised but still breathing. You spy a single bloody handaxe, the grim reminder of how your story might have ended differently.*",
  "usesAttackBonus": true,
  "group": ""
}