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Rahz

D&D 5th - Boring monsters?

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So I am currently running my group (we've been playing since the Red Box or 2nd depending on the players and have dabbled through multiple other RP systems over the years) through a mixed campaign of the Lost Mine of Phandelver and Out of the Abyss (Players were contacted to help find the lost Mine and were kidnapped by the red cape-wearing bandits while in town who turned out to be working for the Drow and they end up in the Underdark in Out of the Abyss.  They are almost out of the Underdark which should lead them back to resolve the Phandelver mess before they get the summons to return to the Dark).  

 

This is my group's second foray into 5e with our first being a painful run through Hoard of the Dragon Queen (we forced the one guy who has never DMed to DM and got what I expected) and when I read the powers/abilities for most monsters I find them boring/flat.  Even elementals and non-humanoid creatures slam, bash, poke, bite once, maybe twice a turn and then sit there.  Greater deamons and other powerful beings do pretty much the same with huge hit point numbers.  Very few have reactive or AoE abilities, or "meta" abilities that control the battlefield, move the PCs...  I've picked up a number of other collections of beasties (Tome of Beasts, Monster Manual Expanded vol I & II, Creature Codex), some of which offer some very cool ideas for fluff, but the abilities still, for the most part, fall under the "I move and then hit you 1 or 2 times.   I reskin things all the time and ad-lib a fair bit during my sessions and try to flavour up the descriptions of whatever the creatures/enemies are doing to my poor PCs, but even then, having a tested base makes it easier to go off-script when I know the numbers and math underneath is sound.  So far adding additional creature types, often using the old 4th minion rules has helped, but not every encounter should consist of a battalion of foes.  

 

I'm just wondering if I'm missing something... 

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What sort of abilities do you want the creatures to have?

 

Plenty of creatures grapple on a hit.  If they move with a grappled creature, they take the grappled creature with them.  Ropers grapple, then drag the grappled creature to them for a bite.  Various creatures have attacks that do mind affecting abilites or spell attacks.  Really it's up to taste I suppose.  I could make suggestions depending on what you are looking for.  I like using NPCs for fights as their abilities more closely match the players (sneak attacks, spell, parries and so forth).

 

5E originally was a move to simplify the rules and combat of earlier editions so some of what you are seeing is a result of that.

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I used a Nilbog last night for the first time since Old D&D days. It was fun. Look em up!

 

Same adventure had a jester's trap that had a dial on a door that when the PCs turned it a Magic Mouth spell would say "What is a pirate's favorite letter?" the 4 options were the obvious "Sea (C) Arrghh (R) Eye (I) & Pirates can't read!. The safe option was the can't read but any other selection it said 'You didn't say B!" 2 bee swarms (insect swarms) rushed out of 2 ogre skulls mounted on the walls. It was fun, deadly yes  but fun encounter.

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Not sure if anyone here watches Matt Colville's channel on YouTube, but he had a very interesting video on tweaking monsters for action oriented encounters.  Worth the watch.

 

https://youtu.be/y_zl8WWaSyI

 

Edited by Clearman
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It really sounds like you prefer the combat system from 4e. 5e is more like a simplification of 3e than a successor to 4e. If you liked 3e more than 4e, then 5e is right up your alley (this is me). But if you thought 4e was where it was at, then 5e is going to seem a bit flat.

 

Damon.

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Try the hobgoblin devastator. Spellcasting hobbie that has extra umph to his to damaging spells) like scorching ray (extra 2D6 per ray) & he has the sorcerer's sculpt spell for himself & a all of his allies!!!

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For a while the Tome of Beasts from Kobold was outselling the 5e Monster Manual by a lot.

 

People RREEAALLYY liked it. ::):

 

One of those where for about a month after release sales were CLIMBING, word of mouth advertising at its best.

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As a player, I honestly don't mind monsters that seem "boring".

 

I'm much more interested in doing my own thing- and to be honest, monster abilities that might debuff me, give me debilitating conditions that could effectively burn one or more turns, AOE the party away, or otherwise just seem kind of anti-fun.  

 

As a DM... eh, I'm still pretty new at DMing, so I don't have a ton of experience there yet.  Personally though, I enjoy roleplaying enemies as realistically as I can, regardless of abilities.  I've found that either huge bruisers like dinosaurs, or reasonably intelligent enemies like Yuan-Ti are fun to run, regardless of their abilities.

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Boring monsters are a "problem" in certain systems. It happens! 5e is one of the systems with this problem, but it's not the only one. And 5e is simple enough that it's at least a little bit by design.

 

As a GM (or DM, depending) you certainly have the ability to liven things up, but it might take some work if you don't want to change systems. Take some time ahead of the session to figure out what the defining characteristics of the creatures are, and write some cool new abilities that reflect them! Or, alternately, borrow some monsters from other, more exciting sources, like the Tome of Beasts.

 

Don't forget the turn of phrase, "Good artists GMs borrow, great artists GMs steal." Check other systems for ideas, even if you're not going to change systems. It sounds like you're familiar with 4e, so that's a good place to start. One of the other recent systems that really focused on solving this problem was Pathfinder 2--it might be worth flipping through the PF2 bestiary for inspiration as well.

 

Alternately, dig deep into the ruleset for other tactics and terrain you can use to liven up the encounters. Tripping, stealing weapons, setting traps... all of these can add flavor without fundamentally changing the stat blocks. This can let you vary the monsters' tactics from other monsters of this type quite significantly. Maybe this group really wants to trip the party and spends a lot of time doing that--while another tries to shove them off a cliff? You've got a lot of tools, even within the boundaries of a published adventure.

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2 hours ago, Lars Porsenna said:

It really sounds like you prefer the combat system from 4e. 5e is more like a simplification of 3e than a successor to 4e. If you liked 3e more than 4e, then 5e is right up your alley (this is me). But if you thought 4e was where it was at, then 5e is going to seem a bit flat.

4th had it's fun and it's problems too, and I like some of the simplification that 5th brought, but I'm starting to think you may be on to something...

 

2 hours ago, cawatrooper said:

As a player, I honestly don't mind monsters that seem "boring".

 

I'm much more interested in doing my own thing- and to be honest, monster abilities that might debuff me, give me debilitating conditions that could effectively burn one or more turns, AOE the party away, or otherwise just seem kind of anti-fun. 

I see where you're coming from as a player, but at the same time my players are feeling it too.  Edition change may just be the issue though.  And I honestly don't mind that some of they are straightforward.  I don't need every goblin and rat to do something fancy, but sometimes something different needs to throw them for a loop, make them think, find a way to use the terrain against the enemies or counter the enemies using the terrain against them...  We're far from an RP heavy group, which is fine, but something has to make a session stand out (or a session every so often) other than someone rolled 2 crits against the "thing" with that had so many hit points. 

 

6 hours ago, Dilvish the Deliverer said:

What sort of abilities do you want the creatures to have?

 

Plenty of creatures grapple on a hit.  If they move with a grappled creature, they take the grappled creature with them.  Ropers grapple, then drag the grappled creature to them for a bite.  Various creatures have attacks that do mind affecting abilites or spell attacks.  Really it's up to taste I suppose.  I could make suggestions depending on what you are looking for.  I like using NPCs for fights as their abilities more closely match the players (sneak attacks, spell, parries and so forth).

 

5E originally was a move to simplify the rules and combat of earlier editions so some of what you are seeing is a result of that.

Nothing in particular.  It's more the modules state there are creatures X and Y and all they really do is bonk the PCs.  Yes I can switch it up, swap them out, reskin something else, but sometimes I just "expect" creatures to do more than whack/bonk and they don't. 

 

35 minutes ago, terminalmancer said:

Boring monsters are a "problem" in certain systems. It happens! 5e is one of the systems with this problem, but it's not the only one. And 5e is simple enough that it's at least a little bit by design.

 

As a GM (or DM, depending) you certainly have the ability to liven things up, but it might take some work if you don't want to change systems. Take some time ahead of the session to figure out what the defining characteristics of the creatures are, and write some cool new abilities that reflect them! Or, alternately, borrow some monsters from other, more exciting sources, like the Tome of Beasts.

 

Don't forget the turn of phrase, "Good artists GMs borrow, great artists GMs steal." Check other systems for ideas, even if you're not going to change systems. It sounds like you're familiar with 4e, so that's a good place to start. One of the other recent systems that really focused on solving this problem was Pathfinder 2--it might be worth flipping through the PF2 bestiary for inspiration as well.

 

Alternately, dig deep into the ruleset for other tactics and terrain you can use to liven up the encounters. Tripping, stealing weapons, setting traps... all of these can add flavor without fundamentally changing the stat blocks. This can let you vary the monsters' tactics from other monsters of this type quite significantly. Maybe this group really wants to trip the party and spends a lot of time doing that--while another tries to shove them off a cliff? You've got a lot of tools, even within the boundaries of a published adventure.

Very true and I've dug up a few appropriate creatures from different books or mixed abilities from different ones.  I think my issue is I used to open a monster book, pick one that looks the part or had approximate abilities/level and then reskin it on the fly (change description and damage types for example) and run with it, but now I feel the need to do a bit more than that which also means more note taking and planing.

 

After reading all your kind answers and talking through it more with one of my players who is our other primary DM, time may be affecting my view as well.  When I DMed in 4th we had 1 kid and I had a pretty laid back job.  Now we have 2 kids, my wife travels a lot, my job is insanely stressful and while DM prep is still very much my relaxation time, I don't have as much of it.  It's 9pm and I just fell asleep while watching a Youtube video while thinking about this reply...  Appreciate the thoughts and comments.  I'll check out the suggestions above when I can see straighter.  I may have to discuss edition choices going forward (after this campaign ends in about 5 years seeing our pace...) or I may need a DM break until I change jobs.  Thank you!

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Yeah. 5th doesn't do interesting very well at all. 4th was so much better! I would rather spend about an hour having a fun and interesting combat then 15-20 minutes being bored out of my mind. I've get a more detailed explanation somewhere. I''ll go find it and post it later.

 

GF

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Found the info I was looking for...

-----

Okay. Here are the big ones I can recall at the moment...


#1: Combat is boring. This mostly comes from the fact that very few monsters are real threats and commonly have little to nothing interesting they can do. This might be made worse by the Stock moduals using primarily basic MM creatures. A DM who is willing and able to pick or even make interesting monsters/encounters would fix this problem completely.

 

#1.2: A large chunk of monsters are little more than EX pinatas because they cannot hit with their attacks most times and even if they did would barely hurt the PC. About 90% of monsters I've faced in 5E are like that. The remaining 10% are way too much of a threat to even try to fight. It is easy to tell which is which though. If it has an ability that requires a saving throw, it is likely in that 10%. if not, then in the 90%.

 

#1.3: Variety. or the lack of it. Fighting 6 of the same identical monster is a fine fight once in a while. But when that is 20 of the 25 fights that could happen in a modual, not so much.

 

#1.4: Terrain is missing in most fights. The fight with 6 clones might be fun again if in a significantly different arena. That rarely happens though.

 

#2: Theater of the Mind doesn't work unless everyone's brains work the same. My biggest problem with 5E is that cannot be sure that I can even try to play because a thing that I count on is not required or even available sometimes. My brain does not work like most other humans. I am not a neurotypical. I am Actually Autistic. My brain does not jump through the hoops NTs do, because it is not even aware those hoops exist. In addition, socializing, while enjoyable, is also stressful and anything that makes it more so is unwelcome. I have a bad memory too. and have hearing difficulties as well. So, having some sort of reference is helpful as it keeps me from getting annoyed and others from being annoyed by me.

 

#3: The two Success resolution mechanics are not even close to equal. Attacking AC and making a saving throw are these two. most monsters only do the first and are generally not good at doing so. and even if they hit, most of them only do a little damage. Failing a save means massive damage or horribly debilitating conditions. and even success on a save can still mean a bunch of damage. add in that HP totals are lower and yeah. This means any monster that has a save effect is way more dangerous than a monster that does not even if that monster is the same level or even higher!

 

#1 and #2 are the ones that a good DM that has the agency to change and plan stuff can easily fix. #3 is more difficult as it is a thing baked into the system itself, so changing it is a difficut and time consuming process. #1 and #2 I expect to be nearly nonexistant in your game as they are both fairly easy and I know you to be a good enough person to put the effort in for everyones enjoyment. #3 I do not expect to happen, at least, not all the time as it is a time consuming thing that honestly requires far too much effort and stress on your part to be done effectively. And I wouldn't want you to explode or cause anyone else to explode with the actions that would cause. #3 is related to #1.3 as well. having encounters with both Ac and Saves can fix a lot of that.


Well, these are the big ones. I'll let you know if I remember any more.

-----

This was from the planning for a 5e campaign that I was thinking of joining but the DM disappeared due to real life problems.

 

Hope this helps.

 

GF

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I think a big part of why basic MM monsters are a bit underpowered is because they were written so they would be a threat if you weren't playing with optional rules, i.e. feats and multiclassing. Once you are using the optional rules that allow PCs to use feats and multiclass the PCs become much stronger, but the MM monsters don't scale up in strength. It seems like the designers realized with later books that most people were using the optional rules so they amped the monsters up a bit to compensate.

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I think a lot of it has to do with the level of optimization with the characters as well.  I noticed this during my 16 month Waterdeep campaign I just wrapped up.  Many of the encounters were fairly trivial for the party, partly due to optimization, and party due to tactics.  Several of the characters optimized for AC (sorcerer that dipped cleric for heavy armor, or cleric/melee tank that dips arcane class for shield spell).  Sharpshooter rogue with cloak of invisibility for much sneak attack.'

Tactics were the shoot and scoot (warlock would pop out from behind a corner, shoot, and move back out of sight), the sneak attack special (dwarf fighter with high AC would run up to the big bad or group of foes, stay within 5ft and take the dodge action.  he would be almost impossible to hit with disadvantage, and with 3+ other characters with varying degrees of sneak attack, when most creatures didn't last more than a round or two).  

I regularly ended up just maxing out creatures hit points just to allow them to have a turn.

 

Some of this was due to the constraints I was under (running in an Organized play environment where there was only so much I could change and not being able to house rule things), some was due to adventure design (really, you want me to throw a handful of low CR creatures at a 12th level party of 6).  the biggest problem I saw was that unless the monster was an absolute beast, if it was alone, a party of 5+characters can merc it 1-2 rounds due to action economy.  This continued through all levels of play, however I was finally able to start feeling like I could challenge the party around 16th level again.  Mostly because of the saving throw abilities.  However even with those abilities, the DCs always seemed on the low side (ok make a Dex save, DC 16!  I got a 24.)

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16 hours ago, Clearman said:

Not sure if anyone here watches Matt Colville's channel on YouTube, but he had a very interesting video on tweaking monsters for action oriented encounters.  Worth the watch.

 

https://youtu.be/y_zl8WWaSyI

 

 

To add to this, here is an older video of Matt about tactics that's older and I feel often overlooked: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FfYItCw00Z4

 

Bullet-points would be:

  • Encounters that aren't life threatening should have a chance of becoming ones: patrol / guards / scouts are there not to fight alone, but to alert the rest of your baddies
  • For encounters that are life threatening:
    • Place your long range hard hitting dude more than 30ft away from PCs
    • Place a line of mooks between said dude and the PCs, but have said mooks stand with 10ft gaps apart, so that players can't move through them without provoking opportunity attacks, but also can't easily nuke them down with area of effect spells
    • Have another striker (high damage, high mobility) or bruiser (high damage, high hit points, low AC, low mobility) creature roaming around as a threat to the party, so that the PCs have more than one problem to solve
  • Use cover: a rock, a tree, a hulking armored undead ogre ;), that your necromancer can hide behind and "split move and fire": move out of cover, target a problematic PC, move back in cover.

I think all of this is easier to implement than home-brewing action oriented design for your encounters, though of course you can combine the two for boss encounters.

 

The short answer though is that: yes, most monsters in 5e are pretty boring.

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