Monster Abilities Part 2 – Dexterity

A couple weeks ago, I started a series on monster abilities. This was mostly for my benefit, to see how different monsters lined up with each other. The result was a massive post that explored Strength in Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition.

Today, I’m continuing the trend with a look at the next physical ability, Dexterity.

In this article I cover:

  • What does each point in Dexterity mean?
  • Where do all the Monster Manual monsters stand in terms of Dexterity?
  • Observations on 5e monster Dexterity.

What does each point in Dexterity mean?

According to the Player’s Handbook Dexterity measures agility, reflexes, and balance.

As usual, a 10-11 is the Dexterity of the average human. Monsters and adventurers are a cut above, of course. 20 is typically the ceiling for most adventurers. Divine beings and monsters can go much higher than 20, although with Dexterity, you’ll find it’s pretty rare that anything goes past lower 20’s.

But just how fast is that stuff? Keep reading to find out.

Dexterity: Ability Checks and Skills

Dexterity gets three skills: Acrobatics, Sleight of Hand, and Stealth. If you’ve ever played a rogue, you’ve probably used all three.

Dexterity (Acrobatics) is your ability to stay on your feet in tricky situations. Sometimes, it’s a good substitute for Athletics, too, such as with escaping grapples and avoiding getting shoved.

Sleight of Hand is all about manual trickery. It’s picking pockets, concealing objects, and other fun thievery.

Finally, Dexterity (Stealth) is the ability to conceal oneself from enemies, get past guards, and sneak up on folks without being caught.

Other types of Dexterity checks include:

  • Controlling a heavily laden cart on a steep descent
  • Steer a chariot around a tight turn
  • Pick a lock
  • Disable a trap
  • Securely tie up a prisoner
  • Wriggle free of bonds
  • Play a stringed instrument
  • Craft a small or detailed object

Dexterity: Attacks and Damage

Dexterity is used for ranged attack rolls and damage rolls with most ranged weapons such as bows and crossbows. It’s also used for melee weapons that have the finesse property like daggers and short swords.

Dexterity: Armor Class

When you want to avoid an attack, Dexterity is every creature’s best friend. Depending on the armor a creature is wearing, a creature can usually add some or all of its Dexterity bonus to your armor class.

Dexterity: Initiative

Let’s not forget that Dexterity helps a creature react quickly when a combat breaks out.

Dexterity: Saving Throws

Finally, Dexterity is important for saving throws for a lot of attacks, traps, and more. It’s considered one of “the big three” along with Constitution and Wisdom. Dexterity saves help creatures avoid fire balls, pit falls, and disintegration rays.

 

D&D 5e Monsters by Dexterity

Now that we understand the basics of Dexterity and how it benefits creatures in D&D, let’s break out all 30 ranks of Dex and see which monsters land where. This will give us a clearer picture of to create abilities for new monsters.

The monsters in bold are those that currently exist int he real world.

Dexterity 1 (-5)
Monsters: gas spore, shrieker, violet fungus

Dexterity 3 (-4)
Monsters: gelatinous cube

Dexterity 5 (-3)
Monsters: black pudding, lemure

Dexterity 6 (-2)
Monsters: awakened tree, gray ooze, ochre jelly, ogre zombie, zombie

Dexterity 7 (-2)
Monsters: purple worm

Dexterity 8 (-1)
Monsters: awakened shrub, basilisk, beholder zombie, camel, earth elemental, ettin, gibbering mouther, hill giant, mummy, ogre, rhinoceros, roper, shambling mound, shield guardian, treant, vine blight

Dexterity 9 (-1)
Monsters: aboleth, clay golem, elephant, fire giant, flesh golem, frost giant, giant crocodile, iron golem, mammoth, mane, stone golem, triceratops

Dexterity 10 (-1)
Monsters: abominable yeti, adult blue dracolich, adult blue dragon, adult brass dragon, adult bronze dragon, adult red dragon, adult silver dragon, adult white dragon, ancient blue dragon, ancient brass dragon, ancient bronze dragon, ancient red dragon, ancient silver dragon, ancient white dragon, androsphinx, black bear, blue dragon wyrmling, brass dragon wyrmling, bronze dragon wyrmling, brown bear, chuul, cloud giant, commoner, crocodile, draft horse, dragon turtle, elk, fomorian, giant badger, giant boar, giant fire beetle, giant vulture, goat, half-ogre, hook horror, killer whale, kuo-toa, kuo-toa whip, lizardfolk, lizardfolk shaman, merrow, mule, mummy lord, myconid sprout, myconid adult, myconid sovereign, nalfeshnee, polar bear, pony, red dragon wyrmling, riding horse, roc, silver dragon wyrmling, troglodyte, tyrannosaurus rex, vulture, werebear, wereboar, white dragon wyrmling, wyvern, xorn, young blue dragon, young brass dragon, young bronze dragon, young red dragon, young red shadow dragon, young silver dragon, young white dragon

Dexterity 11 (+0)
Monsters: animated armor, ankheg, ankylosaurus, badger, boar, bullette, chimera, crab, cyclops, death knight, dretch, duergar, gargoyle, giant goat, giant shark, gorgon, goristro, kraken, lizard, mezzoloth, minotaur, minotaur skeleton, nycaloth, oni, otyugh, rat, sahuagin, sahuagin priestess, scorpion, steam mephit, swarm of rats, tarrasque

Dexterity 12 (+1)
Monsters: adult copper dragon, adult green dragon, ancient copper dragon, ancient green dragon, arcnanaloth, axe beak, azer, bullywug, cockatrice, copper dragon wyrmling, dao, darkmantle, dryad, efreeti, giant lizard, gnoll, green dragon wyrmling, green hag, grimlock, hell hound, hobgoblin, hydra, lizard king/queen, magma mephit, marid, mimic, mind flayer, mud mephit, needle blight, orc, orc eye of gruumsh, orc war chief, orog, owlbear, pertyon, quaggoth, quaggoth spore servant, red slaad, rust monster, sea horse, warhorse, warhorse skeleton, young copper dragon, young green dragon, yuan-ti pureblood

Dexterity 13 (+1)
Monsters: allosaurus, carrion crawler, duodrone, frog, ghost, giant frog, giant octopus, giant scorpion, giant toad, half-red dragon veteran, harpy, helmed horror, hippogriff, hunter shark, hyena, ice mephit, lamia, merfolk, monodrone, owl, piercer, reef shark, remorhaz, scarecrow, sea hag, swarm of insects, tridrone, troll, twig blight, umber hulk, werewolf, winter wolf, worg, wraith, yeti, young remorhaz

Dexterity 14 (+2)
Monsters: aarakocra, adult black dragon, adult gold dragon, ancient black dragon, ancient gold dragon, ape, baboon, banshee, beholder, black dragon wyrmling, blood hawk, bugbear, bugbear chief, centaur, constrictor snake, crawling claw, death dog, deep gnome, dust mephit, drow, eye tyrant, fire snake, galeb duhr, giant ape, giant centipede, giant constrictor snake, giant hyena, giant wasp, githyanki warrior, githyanki knight, grell, grick, gnoll pack lord, goblin, goblin boss, gold dragon wyrmling, hobgoblin captain, hobgoblin warlord, ice devil, intellect devourer, kuo-toa archpriest, mastiff, pentadrone, pit fiend, shadow, quadrone, raven, revenant, rug of smothering, saber-toothed tiger, salamander, smoke mephit, skeleton, spectator, specter, spider, swarm of ravens, storm giant, unicorn, water elemental, wight, yochlol, young black dragon, young gold dragon, yuan-ti malison

Dexterity 15 (+2)
Monsters: balor, barlgura, bat, bearded devil, blue slaad, cat, chain devil, chasme, cloaker, death slaad, dire wolf, displacer beast, djinni, eagle, ettercap, flumph, flying sword, ghoul, giant crab, giant owl, giant rat, giant sea horse, githzerai monk, glabrezu, gnoll fang of Yeenoghu, green slaad, griffon, gynosphinx, homonculus, jackal, jackalwere, kobold, lion, magmin, medusa, night hag, nightmare, octopus, panther, pegasus, phase spider, plesiosaurus, pseudodragon, pteranodon, sahuagin baron, slaad tadpole, spined devil, stone giant, swarm of bats, thri-kreen, tiger, wererat, wolf, vrock

Dexterity 16 (+3)
Monsters: behir, bone devil, bone naga, deer, drider, erinyes, giant bat, giant elk, giant spider, giant weasel, giant wolf spider, hawk, kenku, lich, manticore, nothic, poisonous snake, quipper, satyr, stirge, swarm of quippers, ultroloth, vampire spawn, water weird, weasel, weretiger, winged kobold, yuan-ti abomination

Dexterity 17 (+3)
Monsters: barbed devil, blink dog, fire elemental, flame skull, ghast, giant eagle, gray slaad, grick alpha, hezrou, horned devil, imp, quasit, rakshasa, shadow demon, spirit naga, succubus/incubus

Dexterity 18 (+4)
Monsters: cambion, deva, doppleganger, flying snake, giant poisonous snake, githzerai zerth, swarm of poisonous snakes, vampire

Dexterity 19 (+4)
Monsters: invisible stalker, guardian naga, sprite

Dexterity 20 (+5)
Monsters: air elemental, couatl, demilich, faerie dragon, marilith, pixie, planetar

Dexterity 21 (+5)
Monsters: empyrean

Dexterity 22 (+6)
Monsters: solar

Dexterity 28 (+9)
Monsters: will-o-wisp

Observations on 5e Monster Dexterity

Here’s what we can learn from the monsters and where they stand in terms of Dexterity.

1 Dexterity monsters are immobile.

These are fungi and other things that are more or less stationery objects. They’re not going to hurt you unless you touch them or enter their area of effect.

Why they’re even monsters versus dungeon hazards, traps, or objects is beyond me.

3 Dexterity monsters are so slow they might as well be immobile.

The gelatinous cube falls into this category.

It has almost no ability to dodge, react, or do anything more than exist. It’s just there, but since it can move, it’s doing a little better than the fungi back at Dexterity 1.

The only way someone can get hit by a gelatinous cube is if they’re incapacitated somehow, or turn a corner to fast and run into one face first.

5 Dexterity monsters moves at the rate of molasses.

The thick, oozey black pudding and the awful lemures take up this category.

These beasts sludge their way over to you and it’s pretty unlikely they’ll get the drop on you unless you’re asleep or incapacitated.

And while they’re “faster” than gelatinous cubes, any reasonable person should be able to get out of the way of these things.

6 Dexterity monsters have stiff, rigged movements and almost no hand-eye coordination.

Think old school zombies. Head down, arms down, stumbling your way.

Things like awakened trees (not tree blights, mind you) also fall into this category, so you can imagine that those are lumbering like zombies, too.

Also, we find the oozes with lower viscosity like the gray ooze and ochre jellies. If you like, consider those the “skirmishers” of the ooze world. Still slow as hell, but not quite like molasses like the black pudding.

Stuff with Dex this low needs to work in greater numbers or catch victims unaware to get an effective attack in.

7 Dexterity monsters are still stiff and rigged creatures, but with a little better self-awareness.

While not much faster than the zombies of Dex 6, the purple worm (the only entry in the Monster Manual that gets a 7) is not a stranger to its sluggishness. What it lacks in reaction times, it makes up for in sheer size.

8 Dexterity monsters are clumsy brutes with poor hand-eye coordination.

Our first real world creatures enter here: rhinos and camels.

Slow, kinda dopey (at some point in the future I might try to see the correlation between Intelligence and Dexterity), usually large and brutish.

Ogres and hill giants live here, too, as well as earth elementals, mummies, and slow moving “Intelligent” plants.

9 Dexterity monsters are clumsy, but knows they’re clumsy.

Elephants are our real world example for this category.

On the fantasy end, we find aboleths, fire giants, and all the golems.

Again, there’s not much difference between those in 8 and 9. However, I think it’s fair to say that the beasts we find here carry themselves a little better.

10 Dexterity monsters are human average.

Here we find a great majority of the monsters in the Monster Manual.

Plus, there’s plenty of real world animals, too, such as boars, bears, horses, and killer whales.

Representing fantasy, a vast majority of the dragons and dragon spin-offs are here.

There’s also a few of the other fantasy races like myconids and lizardfolk.

I’d wager that a majority of humanity probably falls within the bounds of 9-11 Dexterity.

11 Dexterity monsters are close to average, but a touch quicker.

While there’s no in-game difference between the stuff in 11 versus the stuff in 10, looking at some of the real entries such as rats, badgers, and scorpions, we can assume that the things with 11 are definitely quicker, but still not as fast as, say, an athletic human.

12 Dexterity monsters are sure of their movements and somewhat athletic.

Going just a step beyond human average are those in 12.

They move more confidently and have slightly better reflexes.

For real world animals we find only the warhose (which is really just a riding horse with training, so it’s somewhat a bad example) and sea horses which move in water.

While these beasts aren’t lightning fast, they’re the type that could probably catch something you just dropped and hand it back to you.

Great reflexes.

13 Dexterity monsters are quick on their toes (or fins or wings), and can usually avoid danger.

Sharks make their debut on the list.

Also, the first bird shows up–the owl, which apparently, is the “slowest” of the birds.

And insects make an appearance here with carrion crawlers, umber hulks, and swarms of insects.

When you imagine Dexterity 13, picture trying to catch a fly in your hand. Or grabbing a frog before it leaps away.

14 Dexterity monsters are very fast, potentially faster than most humans.

Simians appear in this category as do mastiffs.

Additionally, constrictor snakes, spiders, and ravens.

At this point, the real world animals are starting to get much faster than real world humans.

A majority of professional athletes (but not the top folks) probably fall into this category.

15 Dexterity monsters are deadly quick (in the real world).

Just a notch above 14 (same modifier of course) are beasts that we think of as being fast: large predatory cats, eagles, and wolves.

Only the fastest humans on earth could react quicker than a lot of the things in this category; top athletes, special forces military, etc.

16 Dexterity monsters are beyond real world human capacity.

Now we’re entering into the fantastical (somewhat), at least as far as human capability goes.

The beasts that occupy this category are hawks, deer, poisonous snakes like cobras, and quippers (aka piranhas).

While a quick human might be able to beat some of these creatures one out of ten times, for the most part, these beasts will react much faster than a human without advanced technology (guns, etc) ever could.

17 Dexterity monsters are faster than anything in the real world.

While not that much faster than those in Dexterity 16, we do leave behind all the real world examples to enter 17.

Most of the creatures with this score are otherworldly, such as fiends and fire elementals, or are beasts that have special powers that take them to the next level like the grick alpha and blink dog.

18 Dexterity monsters move at dizzying speeds.

The only “real world” similar creatures that show up with an 18 are fantastic snakes.

However, to imagine these creatures moving at the speed of a real world snake is a mistake. Their movements are nearly imperceptible to the human eye.

Imagine that every single hit they toss at you lands, but for whatever reason doesn’t get past your armor.

Doppelgangers are also here, too, which is fun to think about. Consider this: a doppelganger appears as just an average person until they suddenly move at insane speeds, giving away their true identity.

19 Dexterity monsters are a blur to the naked eye.

Not only have we gone far past what even top-level humans can do, now we’re moving into the territory of “things that move so fast, they can barely be seen.”

Invisible stalkers, guardian nagas (more big snakes), and sprites are here.

Like 18, if they attack and don’t deal damage, it’s not because they missed; it’s just because they couldn’t get through your defenses.

Their movements are blurred.

20 Dexterity monsters can dodge bullets.

Neo in the Matrix. That’s how fast this stuff is.

When they’re moving, they’re moving, and there’s no way you can catch up.

It’s possible that they can even move faster than the speed of sound, so you might not even hear it take a move until a second or two after it has.

You thought the demilich was scary before? Picture it casually dodging arrows, howling its horrible howl, hurling spell after spell after spell.

21 Dexterity monsters are bullets.

Once you get past 20, you’re in the realm of the Gods. Only the (Mary Sue ass) empyrean is here.

These things only get hit when they make a huge mistake, and even then, it’s unlikely to affect them.

Nothing on the Prime Material plane comes anywhere near how fast these things are. They’re faster than the wind. Literally.

In fact, I imagine that every time one so much as swing its arm a sonic boom occurs, shattering glass around it.

22 Dexterity monsters move at near lightning speed.

Imagine for a moment a solar hitting the battlefield.

You might see it for a moment. It slows itself. Hovers above those it’s about to do combat with, asking them to surrender.

And if they don’t?

Before anyone can even draw their sword, it’s a white blur.

Dust, loose objects, even bits of the earth fly into the air from a localized funnel surrounding it.

It hits you and knocks you off your feet then hits you twice more mid air; before you can even land, it’s already 30 feet away attacking something else.

22 Dexterity isn’t just fast; it’s a fucking force of nature.

28 Dexterity monsters defy physics.

There is only one creature in the entire Monster Manual that goes beyond 22 Dexterity and that’s the Will-o-Wisp.

So, how do they move?

It’s hard to say. You can’t actually see them move.

There’s a light you see 100 feet ahead.

And then pop! They’re right in front of you. Blinking from location to location, Will-o-Wisps are imperceivable even to the Gods.

The air around them is probably warm and filled with static electricity; small plants die in their wake, not because they’re necrotic and undead, but because they’re slowly destroying the world thanks to their unnatural existence.

Thank the Gods there’s nothing faster than these things, for that could certainly mean the end of the entire universe.

 

Optional rule: no opportunity attacks on things with +3 or better difference in Dexterity modifiers.

Stuff that’s at 16 Dexterity isn’t just faster than stuff at 10 Dexterity; it’s on a whole other level. A commoner has almost zero chance of grabbing a snake without getting bitten. And the same applies in the game. There’s no way something could land an opportunity attack on something that moves that quick.

If a creature has a +3 modifier or better than hostile targets next to it, it can disengage as a bonus action.

 

Thanks for reading!

Well, that covers Dexterity for now.

It’s really interesting to see how quickly things escalate within the space of a few numbers. Often I’ve seen people think that real world athletes have a Dexterity of 17 or 18. But as you can see from these examples, 15 is probably where most real world athletes–even guys like Usain Bolt–top out.

Next up I’ll be taking on Constitution. What does a 1 or a 30 mean? We’ll find out!

See you then!