Hypnotic pattern, banishment, and Conquering Presence have a reasonable chance of influencing most encounters. Enemies may have defenses - Magic Resistance, condition immunities, or good saves - but a bit of preparation can usually reveal a workaround. All of that goes out the window in solo boss fights, primarily due to Legendary Resistances.

Control issues

  1. Why bother? If the PCs are only forcing one or two saving throws per round, the fight will almost certainly be decided before they burn through Legendary Resistances. In that case, the control PCs effectively did not influence the fight at all. This leads to players not even trying for saving throws.
  2. All-or-nothing. Many non-damaging saving throw spells and features do absolutely nothing against a legendary creature - until they do everything. If a PC lands hold monster on the BBEG, they've probably won the fight. Until then, Problem 1 is in the back of their mind - "what if this fight is over before I land a spell?"
  3. Strange tactics. What is the best way to burn through Legendary Resistances? Throwing out your strongest spells to blast the boss into submission? Nope. It's casting the lowest level spell you have that's dangerous enough that the boss will want to use its Legendary Resistance to stop it. Then, you hit them with the good stuff.

What I've tried

  • Add some minions as control fodder. This works mechanically, but some enemies are narratively encountered alone - dragons and beholders, for example.
  • Run enemies without Legendary Resistances. Somewhere on the Plane of Water floats an uninjured kraken who learned a valuable lesson about weak Charisma saves.
  • Choose not to use Legendary Resistances if the effect would be "narratively satisfying". I run pretty mechanically-focused combats, so arbitrarily deciding if a player does something or nothing for their turn doesn't really fit the feel of the table.

This brings me to my question: how can I let control abilities influence (but not trivialize) solo boss fights, especially when only one or two PCs are focused on control? I'm open to solutions using official rules or tested homebrew1.

1 Don't forget our Back It Up! principle for good subjective answers.

Back It Up! means that your answers must be based on either:

  • Something that happened to you personally
  • Something you can back up with a reference
  • \$\begingroup\$ I read somewhere that WoTC are looking at extending legendary resistances in the new rules (D&D 5.5 or whatever they are going to call it) so the designers don't seem to feel this is as much of a problem as you do, or maybe that it isn't really solvable. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Nov 7, 2021 at 20:13
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Keep in mind that "at the start of the battle, both sides are carefully probing their opponent's capabilities" is both far more realistic and more cinematic than "in the surprise round, the players all unload their heaviest swings". Players throwing some lower spells in the beginning might just make a lot more sense. \$\endgroup\$
    – Erik
    Nov 8, 2021 at 14:44
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Erik I think the issue is that after the battle and you think about the cinematics it often feels very different to when you are in the middle of that combat feeling ineffective. 3 rounds can sometimes take over an hour at my table so that is a long wait. And the length only increases when the martial characters are afraid because the control casters aren't able to mitigate the threats, so they weigh the options really carefully. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Nov 8, 2021 at 16:03
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I expect the close votes are due to the type of answers you are receiving which is partly why people don't often like subjective questions (even good ones like this) \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Nov 8, 2021 at 17:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ Please do not answer in comments, folks. That's what answers are for! \$\endgroup\$
    – Oblivious Sage
    Nov 10, 2021 at 23:55

6 Answers 6


This is what keeps casters from trivializing martials at higher levels.

You options ("What I've tried") are sound if you want to buff casters in your game. But I suggest that you shouldn't. Legendary resistances (plus legendary & lair actions) are what keeps the game interesting for the non-casters. This is why you brought along the barbarian. Martial classes may not have as many tools as casters for solving problems, but when the problem is a tough single boss with legendary resistances, the martial tool set is very effective.

Nothing keeps you from eliminating or changing legendary resistances, but you will just make the party's casters stronger, and add to the gap between casters and martials.

To answer the "Why Bother" question: I suggest that casters need to focus on other spells that help their martial members do damage. Things I have seen in the past include Haste, Greater Invisibility, Bless, etc. Either that or trying to burn through Legendary Resistance saves before the party is killed. In my experience in high level play the former is more effective than the latter, and still lets the casters participate.

  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ A good control caster increases the value of the DPS classes by reducing incoming damage to them, increasing their chances to hit or get better positioning. Only very few spells (looking at you banishment) actually end a fight without needing the martial characters. I think the solution the op is looking for allows all classes to feel useful in the same way they normally do \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Nov 8, 2021 at 14:14
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I agree with Bri, the most powerful spells aren't the ones that deal damage dice or instant-lose; they're the ones that lock down the opponent so the weapon users can beat them down. Magic and abilities that cause stunned, restrained, or paralyzed can really steamroll even a tough battle. The "I'll hold him down, you beat him up" strategy is why they have Legendary Resistance, which does lead to the strange scenario of not using those spells early, instead trying to strip the Legendary Resistance ahead of the big effect. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 8, 2021 at 14:55
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ That said, it's actually good for the drama. Until those auto-saves are stripped off, the dragon has free rein to beat the party down. Then there's an inflection point where suddenly the party can start doing lockdowns, and the tide starts to turn in their favor. If spellcasters were effective from the start, then you could possibly lock down the dragon in round 1 and never feel you're in that much danger. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 8, 2021 at 14:57
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I agree that removing LR completely would allow control abilities to dominate. I was hoping for some kind of middle ground that didn't involve the Divination wizard (effectively) starting combat on Round 4 instead of Round 1. \$\endgroup\$
    – Red Orca
    Nov 8, 2021 at 15:23
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ They stop most of the common control spells, which is the point of the question. I play a control caster and can work around the resistance just fine but I have to plan for them in spell selection and use different tactics to normal. The question assumes it is not fine (for well stated reasons), otherwise it wouldn't be asked. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Nov 8, 2021 at 17:10

There was a lot of tweaking, finding edge cases, and rewriting that went into this, so I'm putting the bottom line up front:

Legendary Resistance (X/Day). If the creature suffers a failed saving throw, it may attempt to resist the effects. If all of the effects of the failed saving throw are instantaneous (such as failing to save for half damage), the creature may attempt the saving throw again immediately, otherwise the creature may attempt the saving throw again at the end of the next creature's turn in initiative. This new attempt ignores any effects which would cause the saving throw to automatically fail.

Let's lay out our problems:

  • Given a number of guaranteed failures, PCs aren't even trying to force attempts
  • Spell effects are binary, everything or nothing
  • Baiting out legendary resistances (hereafter LRs) with weaker spells (I'll argue this is a feature and not a bug, read on)

I notice two more:

  • All of the above leads to an encounter being done and dusted by the time a caster can finally land the crippling spell
  • LRs are as effective against high DCs as they are against low DCs

And our goals:

  • Allow tactics blunted by LRs to still be at least partially viable
  • Viable across wide range of CRs, and with or without LAs
  • Avoid the 'save or suck' problem

Immediately I will argue that "weaker spells to draw off LRs" is not a bug, but a feature; it is a mind game in its own right. Caster has limited spell slots, dragon has limited LRs. Both have the option to take short term risks in return for long term success, and it's a balancing act: does the caster use big spells that make LRs more likely, or small spells that don't have as great an effect? does the dragon use LRs often and risk running out, or rarely and risk suffering bigger effects and losing the fight with unspent LRs? This already resembles some problems in game theory, TCGs have this same mind game with creature removal (which is where I started to really grok the concept), poker has the choice of whether (and how much) to raise, etc., and if you're facing something big and intelligent enough to have LRs, it'd be a little jarring if you didn't see this kind of mind game.

One other effect I've seen that limits the effect of control effects on a legendary creature without completely nullifying them is this: allow it to work normally, but for a fraction of its normal duration. I encountered this in one of the Mystery Dungeon handheld games, where control effects still worked but had greatly reduced durations, but I also encountered this effect a lot as well in Dungeon World, as results on 7-9 often stipulate that you get what you want but only in the here and now: Zuko Style's effect lasts only a moment, Ordering a Hireling makes them do it now but come back with demands later, Parley requires you to give some concrete assurance which may backbite you in the future in order to get what you want right now...

So, with all that on the table, we come to the proposal that opened this answer.

The intent of the rewriting of the first clause is:

  • to allow an effect that would have succeeded if not for a burned LR to affect the creature for a very short time, eliminating some of the determinism.
  • to favor the kind of control spells that give your allies an opening, rather than do the deed themselves. A canny team of wizard and rogue, for example, can see the rogue readying their action to attack after the wizard lands a hold monster, in order to benefit from the advantage (and the Sneak Attack). A barbarian might not get sneak attack, but at least still gets advantage. Still runs the risk of the target outright succeeding without needing to use LR, but still allows for awesome party combos that make everyone feel awesome.
  • for the creature's use of LR to represent a continuous struggle against the effect until breaking free, preserving the necessity to decide at the time of failing the save whether to burn the LR and try again next round. They can always choose to stop resisting and let it go, but if they do let it go, they're stuck with it.
  • to allow the relative difficulty of resisting the spell to still be a factor in how hard it is to resist. Before this change, the save DC still affects whether the target needs to use one, but if they do, it only takes one regardless of the save DC. Under this change, if the save DC is high, successfully resisting it takes more LR (and turns) than if the save DC was lower.
  • to still provide that possibility, however slim and remote, that the first spell you land will eventually burn through all of the target's LRs if all of their reattempts fail. It's extremely unlikely to happen, it takes at least as many turns as the target has LRs, and it encourages the same early toying with lower level spells to draw off some LRs, but the possibility makes leading with your biggest guns no longer a guarantee of disappointment.
  • to preserve LR's effectiveness against non-control spells like fireball.
  • to reflect the way I've seen them narrated anyway; failure, yet a moment later, success regardless.

The second clause's purpose is to preserve the original LR's ability to circumvent effects that cause automatic failures.

So, yes, it's a straight nerf to the LR ability, and is likely to get eaten up much more quickly; to counter that, give them more uses per day. But how many more? Let's do the math.

If we want it to be roughly as effective, it should be able to last through the same number of spells at a given save chance. If that's 50%, you can expect six "safe" saving throws before the change: three natural successes and three failures countered by LR. Six may sound like a lot, but if anything, we might want to bump it up to compensate for the small window of opportunity granted by the brief effect until LR succeeds.

Given that 50% save success rate with this change, that's a 1/2 probability of spending none, 1/4 of spending 1, 1/8 of spending 2, etc.

A quick trip to Cross Validated's question on how many coin tosses before a heads to confirm the math, and the expected number of LR charges spent on a single spell comes out to 2 (under RAW LR it was 0.5). So although none of my trial runs have had a fight last that long, that would indicate that quadrupling the charges from 3 to 12 would make it effective against the same expected number of spells (though, again, you may want more than that to compensate for the moment of vulnerability with the new version).

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I really like the idea of re-saving every turn (and adjusting LRs up to compensate). Have you tried a system like this out at the table? And how would it handle edge-cases like a high spell save DC (warlock + rod) or a demilich's -5 to Strength saves? \$\endgroup\$
    – Red Orca
    Nov 9, 2021 at 0:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've only partially been able to playtest this. Creating scenarios and running everyone involved myself is one thing, and it's helped me work out a lot of the edge cases I did find, and while I do have a group I plan to playtest it with (albeit at much lower levels), that session is about a week out and these are all newer players, so I'm not quite there yet. I took the question to chat and sat on it for a while for that reason. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 9, 2021 at 3:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ As for the edge cases you mention, I disagree that they are edge cases; check the fourth bullet point. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 9, 2021 at 3:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ What is behind the 50% save rate? Is this idea that each boss would have their own number of LRs calculated using their highest save ability? Or does one size fit all? \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Nov 9, 2021 at 8:26
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri It is the chance of saving throw success, but for this target in this scenario, not an average of every save ever. That would vary too much for an average to be useful here.. Initially I did try this same math with 25% and 75% as well just to see how it would affect the conversion, but it got so hairy that I stuck with 50%. I do agree that the math section could use a rewrite to make that clearer; I'll work on that. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 10, 2021 at 0:42

Change Legendary Resistance to a (secondary) pool of HP or 'Defiance'

One GM (I'm playing with) ran into the same/similar problem as you and his solution was to:

  • remove Legendary Resistance
  • increase the HP of enemies that would have had it
  • never apply certain control effects (like paralised etc.) to these enemies and instead have them take a certain amount of damage instead of the control effect.

This worked fairly well as it was both narratively and mechanically easy to show the effect of control spells had (i.e. the creature shakes off the paralysis, but bloods is running out of his nose and it looks quite a bit worse). Notably this was in an open round with a changing roster of PC's and worked both well with and without players using control effects.

My second suggestion works similarly and is brazenly stolen from the defiance mechanic of Guild Wars 2: Legendary/Boss creatures ignore normal control effects, however they have a pool of 'defiance' that gets reduced whenever they would be hit with a control effects. Once the pool is depleted a certain effect takes place (simple effects could be: a creature is stunned for 1 round) and the potentially regenerates (allowing further control effects to pile on and cause the effect again).

Either implementation would probably take some tweaking of numbers (i.e. how much extra health / defiance do creatures get and how much do specific control effects take away from this). The second version allows for more specific effects of using control effects (from stunning to countering lair effects), but is of course also more work for the DM to implement.

  • \$\begingroup\$ How did the players respond to this? Were they okay losing their control spells in return for DPR? As someone who has played a divination wizard, losing out on my control spells wouldn't have been something I wanted. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Nov 9, 2021 at 17:10
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch In this specific group noone complained. But like I said it was a very open group, essentially never had the exact same composition of players - some may have not liked it but decided to not come again or bring a different character. For a fixed player group it may not be the best solution to just use health/DPR \$\endgroup\$
    – Nicolai
    Nov 9, 2021 at 17:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think this is quite vague in terms of answering the question. What effect does increased hp have? How much was the increase? And are you suggesting that something like hold person would do damage instead of applying a status effect? That doesn't sound like allowing control spells to work \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Nov 9, 2021 at 22:46

Remove Legendary Resistances, add special Legendary Actions to escape control effects

Legendary creatures are designed to be capable of acting as solo boss encounters for a party. Trying to achieve this goal puts them at odds with 5e's basic action economy, which generally holds that a single powerful creature will not win against multiple weaker creatures that "add up" to a similar power.

To that end, the designers gave them Legendary Resistances, to avoid powerful disabling effects that trivialise them, and Legendary Actions, to try to keep up with a party's action economy.

Therein lies the solution - a Legendary creature has been given extra actions to fight the party with; so let control effects both (a) work, by taking away those actions that could hurt the party, and (b) work less well than on a normal creature by letting the Legendary creature spend their Legendary Actions to escape these effects.

So - remove Legendary Resistances, and give one or more of the following Legendary Actions to all Legendary Creatures. (And also tell your players you're doing this, so they can vary their tactics accordingly)

Struggle. This action can be used while the creature is incapacitated. The creature repeats a saving throw against one spell or effect that is incapacitating it.

Escape (Costs 2 Actions). This action can be used while the creature is incapacitated. The creature ends one spell or effect that is incapacitating it.

Delayed Escape. This action can be used while the creature is incapacitated. If the creature has charged this action, it ends one spell or effect that is incapacitating it (and was also incapacitating it at the time of the action being charged). Otherwise, it charges this action.

You can mix up which of these any given Legendary creature has, and make them stronger or weaker as appropriate to the creature (e.g. breaking all control effects rather than just one, increasing or decreasing the action costs, giving advantage/disadvantage to repeating saves, etc.) - although I would suggest the creature's other Legendary Actions should be proportionally stronger/weaker too - players will be less frustrated a boss has quickly broken their control if they know the uncontrolled boss would have smacked them for half their heath instead.

  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ Have you tried this at your table? How did it affect fights with legendary creatures? \$\endgroup\$
    – Red Orca
    Nov 8, 2021 at 15:31
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I didn't downvote this because in theory I like the suggestion (it was on my own mind) so I really hope you do have some experience you can edit in to say how this works \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Nov 8, 2021 at 15:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ Maybe add other conditions? In particular, stunned (insert "Monks are OP" rant). \$\endgroup\$ Nov 9, 2021 at 5:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GreenstoneWalker The stunned condition also applies the incapacitated condition (as do all the major disabling conditions), so there's no need to specify stunned in addition - the Monk's Stunning Strike is an effect that applies the stunned condition and therefore also the incapacitated condition. \$\endgroup\$
    – Vigil
    Nov 9, 2021 at 10:11

Give monsters Advantage on saves with Legendary Resistance instead of automatically saving.

In short, rather than give monsters automatic success with a use of Legendary Resistance, give them Advantage and/or a re-roll, instead. If your dragon's got a 40% chance of failing its save, then with Advantage, it'd have a 16% chance of failure instead. This would allow your monsters to have a better chance of avoiding being trivialized than not using their Legendary Resistance at all, while allowing casters to potentially do something with their save-or-lose spells.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I am not sure that really meets the 1st criteria, having such a low chance of success averages out at 8 rounds before doing anything useful, so I know I still wouldn't bother. The general DND maths gives the players a good chance to succeed on the things they are good at \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Nov 8, 2021 at 8:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri Well, usually monsters only have 3 or so Legendary Resistances, so once those are all burned through, they'd have a much higher chance of failing a save. \$\endgroup\$
    – nick012000
    Nov 8, 2021 at 8:14
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ that was the case beforehand, I understand you (and considered a similar answer), but I think this presents the caster with effectively the same options: burn though legendary resistance and then be useful, but now adds a small element of luck \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Nov 8, 2021 at 8:17
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ Many monsters already have Advantage on these saves on top of Legendary resistance, how would you handle those? \$\endgroup\$
    – Erik
    Nov 8, 2021 at 14:43

Legendary Resistance works fine if played as written

The legendary target doesn’t know what spell it has failed its saving throw for until after it decides to use or not use its legendary resistance. See Do creatures with Legendary Resistance know what they're making a saving throw against when they choose whether to use it?

As such, your problem is a non-problem. You cast a spell, the creature fails its save. Now it must decide to use its Legendary Resistance or not. Is the spell Dominate Monster or Fireball or Vicious Mockery? You know; the target doesn’t.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ You definitely have a point here, but Fireball vs. Dominate Monster is a bad example; The target knows it's Fireball and not Dominate Monster because an explosion has happened and they are making a Dex save to avoid it. Charm Monster vs. Dominate Monster (or other spell with subtle effects or no effect before save failed), yes they don't know. \$\endgroup\$
    – Vigil
    Nov 7, 2021 at 21:13
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ This is a good point, but does not, in my opinion, nullify all of the problems presented in the question. It still makes it pointless to even try powerful effects until Legendary Resistance is burned through. It does nothing for the caster who is concerned that they won’t be able to force enough saves before the fight is over. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Nov 7, 2021 at 21:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also you are completely ignoring the metagaming aspect here. True, the monster does not know, but the GM will most likely know, because the player sayd something like "I try to cast Hold Monster on the dragon". \$\endgroup\$
    – Patta
    Nov 7, 2021 at 21:20
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ The requirements were pretty clear, so even as a frame challenge this seems invalid to me. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Nov 7, 2021 at 22:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Patta Not every table has a GM that will use that meta information to make optimal monster decisions. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Nov 10, 2021 at 7:09

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