Interesting and varied enemies are a big part of keeping combat interesting in Dungeons and Dragons. As such it is very alluring to constantly create and find new stat blocks, trying to give every enemy a unique twist and varied abilities. But preparing different stat blocks for every enemy is excessive, and sometimes you just want to create a quick enemy that seems unique without too much added work. I would like to share with you a simple way of creating enemies that seem different and unique that can even be done in the middle of battle. For this we will use two techniques that I will call Flavor and Fusion.
Flavor is perhaps the most widely used of the two, and most DMs will use it without thinking about it. Flavor is describing an ability in a way that makes it seem completely different as to what it was written. Let’s say your minotaur enemy would like to use the ability charge, but you want this minotaur to feel different. Let’s say you want to make it seem like an adapt swordsman instead of whatever a minotaur usually is. So immediately you think to change the great axe to a sword. Now if you use charge as an additive to this sword instead of the regular gore, you can describe it in a way that makes it seem like a unique ability.
“The minotaur sheaths his sword, staring you down, then, in an instant he closes the distance between you and draws the sword in a flash, a swirl of wind booms around you as the strike of the sword nearly pushes you off your feet, make a Strength save”
Now suddenly this minotaur seems like a master swordsman that just did a really cool attack that seems different from any other minotaur, and all we used for that is the stats that were already there and just adapted them slightly. This is what Flavor is: small changes to a stat block, described in an interesting fashion that makes it seem like you came up with a unique enemy.
Fusion is a bit more complicated, although not much and the more you run the game the easier it will get. Fusion is taking a few different abilities and adding them together to create something that seems like you made up something really interesting and different. In a game I ran my players were fighting some earth benders and I wanted to make one seem very different but hadn’t come up with anything beforehand. So, in the moment I made the choice she could climb up walls, which I described she could do thanks to having her hands and feet encased in spikes made of stone as she climbed across the wall like a 4 limbed spider. Already my players were a bit perturbed by this enemy. Then she dropped from the ceiling in between two of the players and I knew I wanted this impact to create a shockwave. First thing I thought of was the spell shatter so I made players in a radius roll a CON save and take damage, but I knew I wanted more so I thought of adding the effect of earth tremor, so those who failed were knocked prone. Next round I wanted her to make a cool attack using her spikes, so she attacked two people on opposite sides of her with one of her spike hands described as happening simultaneously using the multiattack from the stat block she was based on and added a divine smite as I really wanted it to have extra impact. Next round she died and that was that. Later I asked about enemies like her that I made up on the spot and players genuinely thought that she was unique and different.
So Fusion: quickly adding new abilities to an enemy by fusing preexisting abilities together and describing it as one whole.
Whether magic missile becomes a blow gun shooting small undodgeable darts or wall of fire becomes a sphere of boiling mud surrounding an enemy, obstructing them from view. These 2 simple techniques can make an enemy feel really different even though you as the DM made up nearly everything on the spot and as such did not have to prepare anything, creating a fun experience for the players without creating much work for yourself.
TL;DR: Flavor is doing small changes to statblocks and describing them in new ways to invoke a completely different feel and Fusion is adding multiple abilities together to quickly come up with interesting abilites mid combat.
Hope these ideas help some of you DMs, especially newer ones.
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