DMDavid started a discussion on Stunning Strike last week. There was a lot of great discussion about the ability as well as how a DM can play around an ability that can straight-up take a creature out of the fight for an entire round.
What surprised me was that there was an indication that many DMs fudge rolls to “counter” Stunning Strike. I’m against fudging rolls in general. However, to counter a single class’ signature feature seems ridiculous to me. Even if that feature effectively removes a creature from combat for a round.
Plus, Stunning Strike isn’t powerful enough to warrant that kind of treatment.
Despite my lack of interest in playing a monk (save for becoming the Kung Fu Panda) all of my friends seem to be enamored with the class. I swear I have had at least one in every 5e campaign I’ve run. I’ve learned how to ensure that Stunning Strike doesn’t completely counter my encounters.
Stunning Strike is a solid feature. However, it’s not impossible, or even difficult to keep it in check as a DM. You just need to keep a few things in mind when you design your encounters. If you can manage that then Stunning Strike will continue to be fun and effective for the monk to use, but not frustrating for you as the DM!
What is Stunning Strike?
Starting at 5th Level, you can interfere with the flow of ki in an opponent’s body. When you hit another creature with a melee weapon Attack, you can spend 1 ki point to attempt a stunning strike. The target must succeed on a Constitution saving throw or be Stunned until the end of your next turn.
Stunning Strike is, in my opinion, the monk’s signature ability in 5e. It allows you to spend a ki point to potentially stun the target of one of your melee weapon attacks. It’s particularly great because if a creature fails the save and is stunned then they are stunned until the end of your next turn.
This is awesome because it allows you to take full advantage of your stun. Plus if you stun the creature on1st or 2nd hit you can get at least one or two additional attacks in at advantage during the initial turn.
Not to mention the fact that you take away that creature’s turn and give your allies advantage on their attacks on the target as well.
The only limit that Stunning Strike has is your ki pool. Thankfully, ki points recharge on a short or long rest so it doesn’t take long to replenish your ki and get back to stunning creatures ad nauseam.
How Does Stunning Strike 5e Impact Encounter Design?
Essentially, if a target fails their Constitution save, they’re effectively taken out of the fight for an entire round of combat. The best part about this is that the monk doesn’t have to sacrifice their action economy to use Stunning Strike. You can simply choose to use it as part of any melee weapon attack!
This does present a bit of a problem for the DM when they’re designing an encounter. Stunning Strike essentially gives the monk a free way to completely remove a creature and give the whole party better odds at dealing damage to this creature.
It’s not the effect of Stunning Strike that makes it such a deadly move for a DM’s nefarious plans. The real challenge that a monk presents to encounter design is that they can a) use this feature multiple times per short rest so it’s frequently available, and b) they don’t have to sacrifice their action economy to use it.
However, I don’t consider it to be overpowered. It is the monk’s bread-and-butter ability for providing utility and crowd control for the party. Plus, it uses their class resource of Ki which could’ve instead been spent to use another one of their features, such as one that provides survivability.
I will say that you do need to make a few considerations to keep encounters challenging when the party has at least one monk with Stunning Strike. Let’s talk about those.
What We Can Do to Keep Encounters Challenging
The vast majority of your encounters should do just fine against a monk. What I mean is that, if your typical encounter has multiple enemies going toe-to-toe with the party then Stunning Strike will not prove to be an issue.
However, if you’re someone that likes to throw a single, powerful, boss monster at the party then you’re going to find yourself frequently frustrated with Stunning Strike.
If Stunning Strike essentially removes one enemy creature from play and there is only one enemy creature on the board then you’re going to have a bad time.
Add More Enemies
The simplest solution to make sure your boss fight doesn’t rely on the creature passing multiple Constitution saving throws is to simply add more creatures. This way, the monk can stun one and still contribute and you have plenty of pieces to still terrorize the party with.
Honestly, including multiple enemies in an encounter is good encounter design. I mentioned the action economy before, but what I didn’t mention is that the action economy is usually in favor of the party since they usually have regular access to bonus actions and the like.
Throwing a group of enemies at the party is one way to even out the action economy and ensure that the fight is a challenge for both sides to win.
Give Important Creatures Legendary Resistance
If you don’t want your big boss to be stunned then they’re going to need to have some tools to prevent it. One such tool is Legendary Resistance which allows a creature to expend one use of their (generally) three uses of Legendary Resistance to choose to succeed on a failed saving throw.
While using Legendary Resistance to revert the outcome of a successful Stunning Strike does feel bad for the player, in the end, it’s actually in their best interest for you to be forced to use Legendary Resistance to do just that.
If you have three total uses of the ability and you used one on a single Stunning Strike then you now only have two for the rest of the monk’s Stunning Strikes as well as any of the party’s high-level spells.
Think of Legendary Resistance as insurance. You as the DM get a cushion to ensure that the big bad can deal some big bad damage, but the players are still able to play around it if they’re smart about it. You’re saved from Stunning Strikes, but you may have just doomed your creature to deal with Mental Prison!
Avoid Creatures with Low Constitution
Being more mindful of the creatures you choose for your encounters is always a great idea. That’s the premise of an entire series of articles here after all!
If you know that the party imposes a bucket full of Constitution saving throws on your enemies every session then perhaps choose creatures that have a better chance at succeeding on those saving throws, to begin with.
For the record, I’m not suggesting you comb through the Monster Manual and choose only creatures with at least a +6 Constitution modifier. All I’m saying is that you make sure you’re using creatures that can at least have a fighting chance against a slew of Stunning Strikes.
It’s also easy to avoid creatures with a low Constitution since most creatures will have at least a decent Constitution. After all, what good is a creature with low HP?
Throw Multiple Encounters Per Day at the Party!
I’ve written about this before, but you should always strive to throw multiple encounters at your party for each adventuring day. While monks do get the benefit of being a short rest class, they do still need to manage their resources efficiently.
Playing a monk is entirely about resource management. You can use your Ki for a plethora of things. For example, you can use one to make two unarmed strikes as a bonus action, you could use Stunning Strike, you could take a Dodge action as a bonus action, plus a ton of other options.
However, you can only have so much ki at once. Even though you will regain it all after a short rest, you still need to ensure that you have enough to survive multiple encounters before needing to take a quick nap.
If you’re only throwing a single encounter at the party, the monk is going to just dump all of their kit at once onto your creatures. They won’t preserve ki, they’re just going to dump truckloads of ki in the form of Stunning Strike and Flurry of Blows and watch you squirm.
Also, your spellcasters are probably just dumping their high-level spells on your single encounter so even if you don’t have a monk you should still throw some more creatures and obstacles at the party.
Make sure you put the party up against multiple encounters per day. This way you’ll make everyone spend their resources wisely, not just the monk!
The monk in D&D 5e is known for two things: unbelievable mobility and solid single target crowd control. Stunning Strike is responsible for the latter of the two. The stun lasts for an entire round and revokes the creature’s ability to move, take any actions, and reactions. The creature is effectively useless for one round.
Stunning Strike also provides some combat utility to the party by giving advantage to any attacks made against the stunned creature. Plus, any Strength or Dexterity saving throws the creature is forced to make will automatically count as failures.
Needless to say, this creature becomes a high-priority target for the group to focus fire upon.
We need to consider the fact that the saving throw calls for a Constitution save. I think that’s very important in making the case that Stunning Strike isn’t all that bad since most creatures have at least a respectable Constitution modifier.
The way to “counter” Stunning Strike is to just ensure you have good encounter design. Throw multiple enemies at the party, give your boss monsters Legendary Resistance, and make sure you’re draining the party’s resources throughout the day with multiple challenges.
If you keep all of these tips in mind I can assure you that you’ll find that Stunning Strike doesn’t deserve the reputation it gets. It’s a fantastic feature, but it’s certainly not one that’s grossly overpowered or the bane of any DM’s existence!