|Better check the web|
But in a couple of my recent games, I discovered the amazing power of inflicting status effects upon the characters.
See, D&D is based on a system called Bounded Accuracy. That means that no matter how strong your attack is, it will only ever be so accurate. That's actually a very useful system, because it means an AC of 16 is useful from level 1 all the way up to level 7 or 8. You get a lot of mileage from your saves and defenses.
So, because of this, +1 weapons and armor are considered amazing boons. But the flip side of this coin is that they still needed to make players feel stronger as they leveled up. The solution? Hit Points and Damage.
At level 5, 11, and 17, the player characters get a major boost to their damage. The melee fighters get two or more attacks, cantrips get stronger, additional effects get a boost (such as the paladin's smite and the barbarian's rage), and the dedicated spellcasters get to enter a whole new class of damaging spells. A wizard gets Fireball at level 5, Disintegrate at level 11, and Meteor Swarm at level 17.
But the attack bonuses and spell save DCs don't grow as quickly or as high. A maxed out fighter has a +11 to their attack, and the monsters they would fight at that level usually have 20-22 AC. Meanwhile, the level 1 fighter has a +5 to hit, and is fighting monsters with 13-15 AC.
Basically, if you want to make your monsters tougher, a single point of AC is worth dozens of hit points, especially at higher levels.
This is what makes status conditions so powerful. Many status conditions impose disadvantage on the player's attacks. Disadvantage is a huge blow to the accuracy of an attack. And advantage is a huge boon to saving throws. That's why so many powerful creatures have Magic Resistance (advantage on saving throws made against spells).
When attacks miss, the players have to take another round to try and hit their target. And anything that makes a fight lasts longer is perceived as adding difficulty. It's not just a matter of the characters taking more damage on their turn. Except at low levels, your players will have a generous pool of hit points compared to the damage your monster can put out. It's about making the battle feel like an epic struggle rather than a 4-on-1 beatdown.
So, how do we set up our players with status effects, to make a fight feel more epic?
Before we dig into the various effects, let's talk about monster intelligence.
|While carefully avoiding the subject of player intelligence|
As described in this great blog article, a monster will act differently based on its Intelligence and Wisdom score. A creature with good intelligence will be able to recall the PC's weaknesses at a glance, while a monster with high Wisdom will be able to figure them out during the combat.
So, if you have a monster that inflicts a status effect based on a Constitution saving throw, you have to decide how effectively the monster will use it. With INT 7, it will use it's effect on everyone it is able to. With INT 11, it might target the frailer members of the party. With INT of 15 or higher, it will likely be able to determine exactly what the PC's Con saves are based on their build and class before the battle begins.
On the flip side, a monster with WIS 7 will attack indiscriminately, a creature with WIS 11 will try to change targets if it notices the enemy is resisting its attack, and a creature with WIS 15 or higher will quickly change targets to determine where it can do the most damage.
Aside from knowing the strong saves of your party (Dexterity, Constitution, and Wisdom), your monsters can also get information from an extremely visible part of the player character: their race.
- Dwarves have advantage on saves against poison and resist poison damage. Any creature that has a poison attack and might have encountered dwarves will certainly know this.
- Elves and Half Elves have advantage on saves against the charmed condition, and can't be magically put to sleep. Most humanoid spellcasters will have learned this during their training.
- Halflings have advantage on saves against fright. If a creature relies on fright for its attacks (such as the Quasit or Yeth Hound), it will likely be cautious around halflings.
- Gnomes have advantage on Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma saving throws against magic. Fortunately, there is only one strong save out of those three, but this will also be something any spellcaster will have learned.
In conclusion, use these status effects, but use them according to the intelligence and experience of your monsters.
Now, let's go through the status effects and what can cause them!
The banished condition comes in two flavors: temporary and permanent. The temporary version is based on the Banishment spell, and only happens when the target is currently on their home plane of existence. This requires concentration, so it's not a great choice. If the status is caused by the Plane Shift spell, or the target is away from it's home plane and concentration is held for a full minute, the effect is permanent. This is a hugely powerful status, as it effectively removes a character from the fight. I would only consider using this effect as the temporary version, or after the party is level 13 so a magic user can cast their own Plane Shift spell.
- Creatures: Androsphinx, Arcanaloth, Archmage, Dao (Plane Shift), Death Knight, Death Slaad (Plane Shift), Djinni (Plane Shift), Efreeti (Plane Shift), Githyanki Knight, Githzerai Zerth (Plane Shift), Guardian Naga, Gynosphinx, Lich, Marid (Plane Shift), Rakshasa (Plane Shift)
- Others: Banishing Smite, Banishment, Maze, Plane Shift, Prismatic Spray, Prismatic Wall
Blinded, as many Final Fantasy players know, is one of the simplest status conditions. It imposes disadvantage on the target's attack rolls, and attack rolls against the target have advantage. Also, the target can't see. This is actually a real hamstring for spellcasters, whose spells nearly all say they require the target to be seen. Even Magic Missile is stopped by this condition! The blinded condition is also caused by a monster swallowing a PC, which means the Wizard can not cast Fireball inside the Tarrasque, even though it's right in front of them. But that's just Rules as Written. If your Wizard wants to blow themselves up, you should let them.
- Creatures: Cloaker, Darkmantle, Deep Gnome, Demilich, Dust Mephit, Faerie Dragon, Giant Frog (swallowed), Giant Toad (swallowed), Gibbering Mouther, Kraken (swallowed), Mummy Lord, Purple Worm (swallowed), Remorhaz (swallowed), Shambling Mound (swallowed), Smoke Mephit, Solar, Tarrasque (swallowed)
- Others: Blinding Smite, Blindness/Deafness, Color Spray, Contagion, Divine Word, Feign Death, Holy Aura, Hunger of Hadar, Prismatic Spray, Prismatic Wall, Sunbeam, Sunburst
|Bards: are they charming, or just disarming?|
- Creatures: Aboleth, Beholder, Bone Naga, Cambion, Death Tyrant, Dryad, Faerie Dragon, Harpy, Oni, Rakshasa, Spirit Naga, Succubus/Incubus, Ultroloth, Vampire
- Other: Animal Friendship, Awaken, Charm Person, Crown of Madness, Dominate Beast, Dominate Monster, Dominate Person, Geas, Hypnotic Pattern, Mass Suggestion, Modify Memory
Aside from the actual Confusion spell, these creatures cause the PC to roll a die to determine what their movement or action will be, or simply negate one of their actions entirely. These effects can usually be targeted by a Dispel Magic spell, so if the creature isn't using the actual spell, you should figure out what spell level the listed effect would be equivalent to.
- Creatures: Faerie Dragon, Gibbering Mouther (non-spell), Glabrezu, Pixie, Spectator (non-spell), Umber Hulk (non-spell)
- Other: Confusion
Likely the most useless of all the status effects, with only a few exceptions. If you are looking at countering a spell that requires being heard by the target, you could deafen your own monster to stop the spell. Not really a good option, though, unless your party has a Bard in it.
- Creatures: Androsphinx, Deep Gnome
- Other: Blindness/Deafness, Divine Word, Silence, Storm of Vengeance
- Spells that require being heard: Animal Friendship, Compulsion, Dissonant Whispers, Divine Word, Enthrall, Mass Suggestion, Suggestion, Vicious Mockery
This status involves taking over the PC for a certain amount of time. For many of these creatures, this is accomplished by the Dominate Person spell. Using this status means you'll have some issues with player agency. You should work out ahead of time how you want to handle that, since it will likely cause contention at your table. But if you do it right, Dominated is a powerful status that can redirect some of that big damage to other parts of the party instead of at your monster.
- Creatures: Ghost, Intellect Devourer, Lich, Mind Flayer, Rakshasa, Yochlol
- Other: Dominate Beast, Dominate Monster, Dominate Person, Geas
Another classic status, fright causes a blanket disadvantage on checks and attacks while the feared creature is in sight. It doesn't grant advantage, however, so your monster won't get any special bonus. But if you decide to let the monster flee, the players who are frightened won't be able to follow! The best of these monsters will cause a fear effect to happen automatically on their turn. This can completely negate the flanking advantage usually afforded to players when they fight a large creature.
- Creatures: All Adult/Ancient Dragons (automatic), Androsphinx, Arcanaloth, Banshee, Beholder, Beholder Zombie, Chain Devil, Cloaker, Death Slaad, Death Tyrant, Demilich, Ghost, Green Slaad, Grey Slaad, Lich, Mummy, Mummy Lord, Nalfeshnee, Pit Fiend (automatic), Quasit, Scarecrow, Sea Hag, Spectator, Tarrasque (automatic), Ultroloth, Yuan-Ti Abomination
- Other: Antipathy, Eyebite, Fear, Hallow, Phantasmal Killer, Symbol, Weird, Wrathful Smite
|Pro tip: Grow out your hair and grapple with it to keep your hands free|
- Creatures: Ankheg, Behir, Chain Devil, Chuul, Constrictor Snake, Couatl, Crocodile, Giant Constrictor Snake, Giant Crab, Giant Crocodile, Giant Frog, Giant Octopus, Giant Scorpion, Giant Toad, Gibbering Mouther, Glabrezu, Grell, Kraken, Kuo-Toa, Kuo-Toa Whip, Lizardfolk Shaman, Marilith, Mimic, Mind Flayer, Octopus, Otyugh, Remorhaz, Revenant, Roc, Roper, Rug of Smothering, Salamander, Shambling Mound, Tarrasque, Tyrannosaurus Rex, Vampire, Vampire Spawn, Vine Blight, Water Elemental, Water Weird, Yuan-Ti Abomination, Yuan-Ti Malison
- Other: Grapple Action
This status is rare to find on its own, only because it's a part of many other statuses. Normally, a monster will simply use the other status. It prevents actions and reactions. This includes bonus actions.
- Creatures: Harpy, Myconid Sovereign
- Others: Banishing Smite, Banishment, Feign Death, Hypnotic Pattern, Modify Memory, Symbol, Tasha's Hideous Laughter,
This is a great status, especially for very mobile creatures. It can cause some confusion in adjudication, though, so here's how I do it. If a creature goes invisible, the players can attack it with disadvantage until it moves. Then, the players have to declare which 5-foot square they are targeting with their attacks. If they make a DC 15 perception check as an action on their turn, I give them a 15-foot square where they heard footsteps coming from. If they target right, they can attack with disadvantage. If they guess wrong, the attack simply misses. Note that unless the creature has Greater Invisibility, they will become visible when they attack or cast a spell.
- Creatures: Arcanaloth, Archmage, Barlgura, Dao, Death Slaad, Deva, Djinni, Drow Mage (Greater), Duergar, Efreeti, Faerie Dragon (Greater), Green Hag, Green Slaad, Grey Slaad, Gynosphinx (Greater), Imp, Invisible Stalker (Greater), Lich, Mage, Marid, Nycaloth, Oni, Pixie (Greater), Quasit, Rakshasa, Solar, Sprite, Ultroloth, Water Weird (in water), Will-o'-Wisp
- Other: Greater Invisibility, Invisibility, Mislead, Sequester
These effects move a creature against its will. This is excellent for avoiding Opportunity Attacks, pushing targets off cliffs, slamming them against walls, or breaking grapples.
- Creatures: Air Elemental, All Bronze Dragons, Balor, Beholder, Cloud Giant, Death Tyrant, Djinni, Dragon Turtle, Druid, Githyanki Knight, Kraken, Lich, Merrow, Roper
- Other: Gust of Wind, Shove Action, Thunderous Smite, Thunderwave
Usually, you can only target a single creature with this status, but that's enough. This is one of only two statuses that allows attacks within 5 feet of the target to automatically become critical hits. Add the other effects (incapacitated, auto-fail Strength and Dexterity saves, attacked with advantage) and this is a death sentence to most PCs. it's best to wait until they are at least level 3, and have access to Lesser Restoration, before you bust it out.
- Creatures: Abominable Yeti, All Silver Dragons, Androsphinx, Arcanaloth, Beholder, Beholder Zombie, Bone Naga, Carrion Crawler, Chuul, Cult Fanatic, Death Knight, Death Tyrant, Ghast, Ghoul, Giant Centipede, Giant Spider, Giant Wasp, Giant Wolf Spider, Grell, Guardian Naga, Kuo-Toa Archpriest, Lich, Mummy, Mummy Lord, Pentadrone, Phase Spider, Pit Fiend, Revenant, Sahuagin Priestess, Scarecrow, Spectator, Spirit Naga, Thri-Kreen, Yeti
- Other: Hold Monster, Hold Person
The Petrified status is as close as D&D 5e gets to save-or-die. But usually this status requires multiple turns to take effect, meaning it may not even trigger over the course of a single battle. It's okay to use this one early, but if you expect it to be anything but instant death, you should let your players get to level 9, when they gain access to Greater Restoration.
- Creatures: Basilisk, Beholder, Cockatrice, Death Tyrant, Gorgon, Medusa
- Other: Flesh to Stone, Prismatic Spray, Prismatic Wall
Of all the statuses in D&D, Poisoned is probably the easiest to find and the most difficult to make stick. Most players have a decent Constitution score to buff their hit points, and three of the twelve classes have proficiency in Constitution saves, including the extremely common Fighter class. However, it grants disadvantage on attack rolls and ability checks, making it great for hamstringing a non-Fighter. Just remember that spellcasters who use saving throws won't be affected! For added bonus, poison a creature that is being grappled. They won't be able to escape by using Strength checks!
- Creatures: Bearded Devil, Bone Devil, Carrion Crawler, Chuul, Couatl, Death Dog, Deep Gnome, Dretch, Drow, Drow Elite Warrior, Erinyes, Ettercap, Flumph, Gas Spore, Ghast, Giant Centipede, Giant Spider, Giant Wasp, Giant Wolf Spider, Grell, Hezrou, Homunculus, Myconid Sovereign, Otyugh, Phase Spider, Pit Fiend, Pseudodragon, Quasit, Sprite, Thri-Kreen, Troglodyte, Vrock
- Other: Ray of Sickness
- Creatures: Faerie Dragon, Pixie
- Other: Polymorph, True Polymorph
Prone is one of the most common status effects, and one of the most useful. It gives the target disadvantage, and grants advantage to melee attackers. But because it can be ended by the creature expending half its movement, the best way to utilize this condition is with multiple enemies (so one can cause the condition and another can take advantage of it), or with a grappler (can't spend half your speed if your speed is 0!). Also, don't forget that the Prone condition grants disadvantage to ranged attacks, meaning it can be situationally useful against parties ranged attackers.
- Creatures: Allosaurus, Androsphinx, Ankylosaurus, Boar, Bulette, Dao, Dragon Turtle, Elephant, Elk, Empyrean, Galeb Duhr, Giant Boar, Giant Crocodile, Giant Elk, Giant Goat, Giant Sea Horse, Gibbering Mouther, Gladiator, Goat, Gorgon, Goristro, Hobgoblin Warlord, Lion, Mammoth, Marid, Mastiff, Minotaur, Minotaur Skeleton, Panther, Rhinoceros, Saber-Toothed Tiger, Stone Giant, Tarrasque, Tiger, Triceratops, Unicorn, Warhorse, Wereboar, Weretiger, Winter Wolf, Wolf, Worg
- Other: Command, Destructive Wave, Earthquake, Grease, Shove Action, Sleet Storm, Tasha's Hideous Laughter, Thunderous Smite
You might be surprised to hear that the Restrained condition is the most common one in the Monster Manual. That's because it's often granted as a part of the bite/swallow combo. Much like the blinded condition, this means creatures inside the belly of a beast won't easily be able to cut their way out. In other situations, Restrained is an enhanced form of Grappled, which actually imposes disadvantage on the target's attacks and Dexterity saves, while granting advantage on attacks made against them. use with multiple creatures for greatest effect.
- Creatures: Barlgura, Basilisk, Behir, Beholder, Chain Devil, Cockatrice, Constrictor Snake, Couatl, Crocodile, Death Tyrant, Djinni, Drow Mage, Drow Priestess of Lolth, Druid, Dryad, Ettercap, Gelatinous Cube, Giant Constrictor Snake, Giant Crocodile, Giant Frog, Giant Octopus, Giant Spider, Giant Toad, Gorgon, Grell, Kraken, Kuo-Toa, Lizardfolk Shaman, Medusa, Mud Mephit, Otyugh, Purple Worm, Remorhaz, Roc, Roper, Rug of Smothering, Salamander, Shambling Mound, Tarrasque, Tyrannosaurus Rex, Unicorn, Vine Blight, Water Elemental, Yochlol, Yuan-Ti Abomination, Yuan-Ti Malison
- Other: Ensnaring Strike, Entangle, Evard's Black Tentacles, Flesh to Stone, Imprisonment, Prismatic Spray, Prismatic Wall, Telekinesis, Web
Of the status effects that don't immediately remove a creature from combat, Slowed is one of the most effective. Action economy is a huge part of D&D 5e, and halving it is brutal. If a player character is Slowed, they will likely be the target of a Dispel Magic effect as soon as the party can cast it.
- Creatures: All Copper Dragons, Beholder, Death Tyrant, Stone Golem
- Other: Slow
This status is a powerful, but usually short-term condition. It's generally limited to stronger monsters, and can really hamper a low-level character. Not only can the player not perform any movement, speech, or actions, they also automatically fail Strength and Dexterity saving throws. Combine with breath weapon attacks for maximum fun!
- Creatures: Empyrean, Glabrezu, Intellect Devourer, Lich, Mind Flayer, Mummy Lord, Myconid Adult, Myconid Sovereign, Otyugh, Vrock
- Other: Contagion, Divine Word, Power Word Stun, Symbol,
|Sleeping on the job? Your punishment shall be a critical hit.|
- Creatures: All Brass Dragons, Beholder, Bone Naga, Chasme, Couatl, Death Tyrant, Drow, Drow Elite Warrior, Dust Mephit, Homunculus, Jackalwere, Night Hag, Oni, Pixie, Spirit Naga, Sprite
- Other: Eyebite, Sleep, Symbol
This isn't a common status, but a useful one if you have a monster that is facing a Barbarian or Fighter. However, it tends to rely on Concentration (unless you are a dragon), so at least your Concentration checks won't be as harsh.
- Creatures: All Gold Dragons, Night Hag
- Other: Ray of Enfeeblement
No matter how you use them, status effects can tilt the favor of a battle away from the players and put your monsters on a much more even playing field. Don't neglect them!
Thanks for reading!