The DMs Guide to Using Legendary Actions & Resistances 5e

Legendary monsters are just that. Legendary. They are the stuff lore and nightmares are made of. It makes sense that these monsters should be difficult to kill on their own. But what would happen if a mage simply cast a spell that took the creature out of the fight on the first round? That’s…well…lame.

Legendary Resistance in Dungeons & Dragons 5e ensures that legendary creatures are not rendered powerless by one failed saving throw. If a legendary creature fails a save, they can choose to succeed on that save instead. In a similar way, Legendary Actions allow one creature to have multiple turns, making a single monster encounter much more challenging.

These Legendary tactics are part of what makes these creatures so terrifying. While they make the battle more interesting, the question becomes: How should a Dungeon Master use them to create more epic encounters?

What are Legendary Resistances & Legendary Actions?

Legendary Resistance 5e

Legendary Resistance is an innate ability given to extremely powerful creatures. Creatures of this level are naturally more in touch with the arcane, giving them great advantages against magic.

The number of Legendary Resistances a creature can use will depend on the creature itself, most often, it is 3 times per day.

This ability “activates” when the creature fails a save of any kind. If a creature fails, it can choose to succeed instead. This wording is very important. The creature is not forced to use its Legendary Resistance, it chooses to do so or not to do so. We will discuss this more in the “Purpose” section of the article.

Legendary Actions

Legendary creatures also have Legendary Actions. A Legendary Creature can use one of its Legendary Actions at the end of another creature’s turn. Spend Legendary Actions are regained at the end of the creature’s turn.

Legendary Actions can ONLY be used at the end of another creature’s turn.

ALL actions spent during the round are regained at the END of the Legendary Creature’s turn and can be used in the next round. This means a Legendary Creature should take one Legendary Action per round of combat.

What is the Purpose of “Legendary Actions”?

Most often, the party will face only one Legendary creature in an encounter. Normally, this would mean that the creature would have to survive an onslaught of attacks from the party until its next turn. This would be unbalanced, enter Legendary Actions.

To better understand Legendary Actions, let’s look at an example from Roll20:

Lich Legendary Actions:

The Lich can take 3 Legendary Actions, choosing from the options below. Only one legendary action can be used at a time, and only at the end of another creature’s turn. Spent legendary Actions are regained at the start of each turn.

Cantrip: The lich casts a cantrip.

Paralyzing Touch (Costs 2 Actions): The lich uses its Paralyzing Touch.

Frightening Gaze (Costs 2 Actions): The lich fixes its gaze on one creature it can see within 10 feet of it. The target must succeed on a DC 18 Wisdom saving throw against this magic or become Frightened for 1 minute. The Frightened target can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the effect on itself on a success. If a target’s saving throw is successful or the effect ends for it, the target is immune to the lich’s gaze for the next 24 hours.

Disrupt Life (Costs 3 Actions): Each non-undead creature within 20 feet of the lich must make a DC 18 Constitution saving throw against this magic, taking 21 (6d6) necrotic damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one.

The Lich has 4 options for its Legendary Action. At the end of any other creature’s turn in combat, the Lich can choose to use any one of these, but it can only use one at a time.

This means the Lich could cast a cantrip after each player’s turn in combat because a Cantrip is a free action. Or, the Lich could use Frightening Gaze once during the round by spending 2 actions. But it CANNOT use both a Cantrip and Frightening Gaze at the same time.

Once the round is finished and the Lich has taken its turn again, it regains all spend actions. This means if the Lich used “Disrupt Life” at the cost of 3 actions last round, it can use it again the following round.

Turning One Monster into Multiple Monsters

Because the Lich has the option to attack outside of its turn, Legendary Actions essentially turn a single encounter into multiple encounters. Be sure to take this into consideration when building your encounter!

If you aren’t sure if your party can handle a Monster of Legendary proportions, or if you need more help building balanced encounters in general, you will find all the help you need in this article, “Building Balanced Encounters.

What is the Purpose of “Legendary Resistances”?

Why do some creatures have LR? Many DMs have questioned the purpose or usefulness of this mechanic. But LR is an important part of encounter building.

The purpose of Legendary Resistance is to prevent a powerful creature from being rendered helpless because of one failed saving throw. These creatures are often ancient and powerful. In the overall story, it would not make sense for such a creature to fall easily to arcane tricks.

By allowing the creature to choose 3 times where it can choose to succeed on a saving throw, the mechanic balances potentially game-wrecking spells. An encounter with one of these creatures should be harrowing, Legendary Resistance helps to ensure that it is just that.

When to Use Legendary Resistance

This ability is triggered only when the creature fails a saving throw. When this happens, the creature can choose to let the fail stand or to succeed instead.

The creature is NOT required to succeed when it fails. Legendary creatures are intelligent, or at least experienced, such a creature would know when to let a fail stand and when to change the fates.

Feel free to pick and choose what spells to resist and which to allow the creature to fail. This is not cheating or meta-gaming! This is the perk of a Legendary Creature! Such creatures should be a challenge and that is the whole point to Legendary Resistance.

Could this be frustrating to spell casters? Yes. Casting a high-level spell only to have it flicked away is frustrating, but it doesn’t have to be! When you use a resistance, work it into the narrative of the story to make your players feel powerful, not useless. More on this below!

Legendary Resistances and the Narrative of Combat

No one likes to be dismissed, and Legendary Resistance can feel like a complete diss to spell casters. To avoid frustration and the feeling of being “useless,” be sure to work those moments into the narrative of the combat.

Instead of simply saying, “The Lich fails the save, but uses a Legendary Resistance.” Describe that moment! Let the players know what the Lich is thinking by telling how it acts/responds. Just telling the players the Lich saves will make them frustrated and feel useless; however, if you say:

You see the Lich’s form begin to shrink, it looks as though your polymorph spell is taking effect! Its body begins to twist and shrink…but then…it stops. The Lich clinches a fist and gives a gravelly shout and the transformation is undone. It looks to you, eyes burning brightly and says with a hint of surprise in his voice, “Well, well. I suppose I should take you more seriously…this is going to be fun.”

Halfling Hannah

How a Legendary Creature reacts to using Resistance will vary based on its intelligence, pride, and other key factors. Regardless of how it reacts, the point is that it should react.

These reactions will keep your combat interesting and make even battle feel like part of the story. If you aren’t sure how to describe situations like these, you can check out my article on Becoming a DM (Description Master!)

Here are some ideas to get you thinking!

An Intelligent Creature’s Reaction to Using Resistance

  • Pride: I didn’t have to use that, I just did it to prove that you cannot hurt me! *internally* crap crap crap crap crap
  • Surprise: Especially the first time this ability is required! A monster of this power is not used to being challenged by something that requires it to use what is essentially an “in-case-of-emergency” feature.
  • Denial: Not to worry, that won’t happen again! (once it does, move to the next stage)
  • Anger: How dare such a small and useless adversary force an ancient being to use such a power! Make them pay for it!

Alternatives to Legendary Resistances

There are many Dungeon Masters who do not like the Legendary Resistance mechanic in D&D 5e. Alternatively, you can choose to throw out Legendary Resistances and substitute any of the following:

Advantage on Saving Throws

If you are DM who likes to let the dice decide, then you can give your Legendary Creature advantage on all saving throws. This option removes the DM and leaves everything to chance while still giving the monster resistance to magic.

Resistance to Certain Effects

Some monsters already have this ability, but if they do not (or you are homebrewing), then you can choose to make your creature immune to certain magic, such as “being charmed.”

Luck Points

While Luck Points are similar to Legendary Resistance, Luck Points allow the user to “reroll” instead of “automatically succeed.” Some DMs are more comfortable with this option as it still has a limit and still allows the dice to decide.

Give Your Game Advantage

When using a Legendary Creature as your final boss, or just as a deadly encounter, mastering Legendary Resistance and Legendary Actions will be key in ensuring the battle is EPIC.

If you have any questions I did not answer, be sure to Cast Sending and let me know! Want more tips and tricks, check out the recent articles below. To stay caught up on all things Halfling, make sure to subscribe to our DM League (plus you get a free gift just for signing up! Yay!).


* indicates required

Until next time,

May your game have advantage, my friends!

-Halfling Hannah

Want to support Halfling Hobbies? Buy from the Trinket Shop!

  • Is Curse of Strahd Low Magic?
    Curse of Strahd is a low-magic, high-fantasy setting. This is because the commodity of magic within Strahd’s domain of Barovia is scarce and the magic that once existed is either
  • Complete Guide to Illusion Magic in D&D
    The School of Illusion is a school of magic that specializes in deceit. Like the School of Enchantment, illusion spells focus on altering the perceptions of others to achieve your goals. This can be as innocent as creating an image in a 5 foot cube to as wicked as harnessing the nightmares of your enemies to drive them into madness. 
  • Can Strahd Von Zarovich be Killed? D&D 5e
    No. Strahd Von Zarovich, the Vampire villian of the D&D adventure module starting back in AD&D, cannot be completely destroyed. Because he is the ruler of a Domain of Dread, if “killed” Strahd will regenerate within his Domain anywhere from a few days to months later.
  • Using Werewolves in D&D
    So if you’ve got a player asking to be a lycanthrope or want to include a Big Bad Evil Pupper in your campaign, but you’re not sure where to start, this article is for you.  We’re going to explore several ways that you can incorporate werewolves into your campaign.
  • The Best Resources for Epic D&D Adventures
    To create an epic D&D Adventure, be it a one-shot, campaign or side quest, you will need the following resources:

Recent Posts