Conditions in 5th Edition are an excellent suite of mechanics by which characters can affect monsters, and vice versa. There are fifteen in total: from simple effects such as the prone and restrained conditions to dire situations such as the paralyzed and petrified conditions. While these effects are powerful, many monsters possess defenses against them, the most common of which are condition immunities. This prevents characters from defeating all enemies with a single condition they like to inflict while adding variety to the foes they face. However, one condition stands in defiance of convention, existing in a bizarre design space within 5E. Over time, the strange influence of this condition has harmed the gameplay experience thanks to its inconsistency and redundancy. Let us count the ways and find out why the stunned condition is a menace at the game table and should be stricken from play—or, at the very least, revised.
Redundant is Redundant is Redundant. Four conditions in 5E start off their list of effects with, “the creature is incapacitated.” This doesn’t even count the incapacitated condition itself, which prevents a creature from taking actions (including bonus actions, reactions, legendary actions, and lair actions). These four conditions are paralyzed, petrified, stunned, and unconscious. This redundancy is already strange, but let’s try a thought experiment. Quick! Off the top of your head without looking anything up, try to explain the difference between these four conditions. What are their mechanical distinctions? I’m a veteran 5E designer and even I am not 100 percent certain. If I have to look these up, you better believe your table will too.
Is this redundancy really necessary? Looking at the stunned condition, we see every single one of its effects are shared between these other conditions. In fact, there is only one difference between stunned and paralyzed: the ability to score an automatic critical hit on a paralyzed target from an attack made within 5 feet of said target. While this is not a minor difference, it shows there is a lot of mechanical overlap. This flies in the face of 5E’s design principles, which aspire to give uniqueness and distinction to its mechanics. Having an effect reference another effect, which in turn references another effect, is a very 3.5 thing to do, forcing a new player to turn to three different references to find out what just one condition does. This begs consolidation and mechanical change. Adjusting the stunned condition would allow for some unique flair and prevent it from bumping shoulders with other conditions. A good alternative we have explored is the following change.
Revised Stunned Condition
This new model makes the condition more unique while still providing powerful benefits. There are additional perks we have yet to discuss, so bear with us as we justify this nerf and its implications.
Where is the Stunned Condition Immunity?!
Name one creature immune to the stunned condition! Ten bucks says you couldn’t. If you turn to page 292 of your PHB, you will see a lore illustration of what the stunned condition looks like: an ogre who has clearly been bonked in the head and is now stunned. Makes sense to me. Head gets smacked or mind gets rocked, creature gets dizzy for a time. Only that is not what is typically happening when we think of stunning a creature. Pour over the MM, and you will discover the overwhelming majority of creatures are not immune to the stunned condition. Looking at the illustration, I have to wonder why. Why can a gelatinous cube—which has no head and no brain to knock about—be stunned and knocked unconscious? How on earth can one stun a lich, but not a demilich?! The latter is just a floating head (and can still be knocked unconscious)! One would think that makes it more “stunnable!”
What is weirder is that so many creatures are immune to the paralyzed condition. What makes a golem immune to paralysis but not to being stunned? This is unclear to me, and clarity matters. Players may get understandably confused when the monk stuns the golem, but the hold monster spell fails spectacularly like my latest attempt at a souffle. My initial impression was that stunned was contingent on a creature having some kind of mind that could be bamboozled. If we take a look at the hydra from the MM on page 190, we see this logic in play. Thanks to its Multiple Heads feature, the hydra has advantage on saving throws against being stunned! But looking over the rest of the book’s creatures, it becomes less obvious as to what stunned actually is supposed to be. So what is going on?
My theory is that because monks are the stunning champions of 5E, WotC decided most monsters should be susceptible. Stunning Strike is by far the monk’s most powerful tool for this reason. Not only does it work on nearly anything, a monk can force a creature to attempt a Constitution saving throw against being stunned four times in a single turn. That is a discussion for another time, but that fact alone makes monks one of the most powerful classes in the game. (For those itching to push back on that statement, don’t worry, I’ll explain my reasonings at another time and we can argue about it then!) Back to the matter at hand—we see a similar strategy with radiant damage. Even celestials only have resistance to radiant damage, which was likely done because that damage type is a paladin’s bread and butter. However, resistance is still something, and it’s completely bizarre how inconsistently immunity to the stunned condition is applied. For the sake of lore consistency and in the name of reducing the oppressiveness of monks, we propose the following homebrew change to make the stunned condition function more like its peers.
ConditioN Immunity Parameters for the Stunned Condition
A creature should add the stunned (and sometimes unconscious) condition to its condition immunities if it meets one or more of the following criteria: A nonexistent mind or lack or cranial anatomy (such as a gelatinous cube or golem)
A Near-exclusive Player Tool
Effects that produce the stunned condition are rare, especially among monsters. As 5E has expanded past its core rules, we have seen more effects that can cause the stunned condition, mostly focused in spellcasting, with psionic-themed spells such as psychic scream. However, it is still quite rare. No monster with a spellcasting feature uses such a spell, and only a handful can produce the condition by other means. This leaves the stunned condition firmly in the players’ toolbox, which feels extremely weird. Typically, it is the monsters doing things the characters cannot, not the other way around.
The consequences for being stunned are also more severe for monsters. Losing the ability to take any actions, including lair and legendary actions, is devastating. Legendary resistance can protect against most applications of the condition for a time, but there is a notable issue in this area. Stunning Strike can apply multiple instances of the condition in a single turn, burning through an entire pool of legendary resistance with a few unlucky roles. Other applications are often contingent on an Intelligence saving throw. A large portion of monsters are either not proficient in this saving throw, have low Intelligence scores, or both, making such effects extremely potent. Other effects that incapacitate are typically on a Wisdom or Constitution saving throw, which are far more common and robust among monster statistics. For this reason, when given the choice between an effect that stuns or any other form of incapacitation, a player should almost always choose the stunning effect. This is not a good dynamic. Technically, the paralyzed, petrified, and unconscious conditions are more powerful on paper, but the game’s meta has not shaken out to favor them. Returning to our revised stunned condition, I feel that effect is far more reasonable, given the vulnerability of monsters to the condition and their lack of defenses against it, especially when it's players who are handing it out most of the time.
I’m Sorry, Monk Players
Nerfing the stunned condition is tough, because it’s really the only thing monks have going for them throughout tier 1 and tier 2 play. However, the effect is too oppressive, especially on Stunning Strike. If you or your DM follows our suggestion for adjusting the stunned condition, monks will suffer tremendously. As mentioned previously, I feel the class is very difficult to play, but it’s not underpowered. It is misunderstood and underappreciated, leaving many people to believe it a weak class. If this is you or your players, be sure to give monks some extra love as compensation for changing their most powerful feature. Our aim in suggesting these changes isn’t to punish monk players, but to make the condition function properly and comfortably within the 5th Edition system.
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