D&D 5e – Combat Tactics
Tip 1: Know your enemy
There are class features that let you find out specific information about the enemy. Such as the Rogue Masterminds “Insightful Manipulator”, or the Fighter Battle Masters “Know Your Enemy”. But there are also the knowledge skills.
- An arcana check might give you information about a certain magical creature or about what type of spell it is casting.
- A nature check might give you information about beasts and animals.
- A religion check might give you information about demons, undead, and celestial creatures.
- A history check might give you information about local creatures or details about ancient battles.
As a dungeon master, make sure you set a correct DC. Try to be immersive in your descriptions.
BAD: “The skeleton is vulnerable to bludgeoning damage”
GOOD: “You think that using a weapon such as a hammer or a mace, might be more effective against this skeleton than trying to pierce it with a spear or slash it with a sword.”
Tip 2: Ask if an enemy is wounded
Sometimes you want to know if your opponent is hurt, so you can take appropriate action.
As a DM you can describe it by saying “He looks ok”, “About half way dead”, “Almost dead”. But we can describe this in a better way.
4e edition introduced the term “bloodied”. If a creature is bloodied it means that it is equal or lower than half of its hitpoints.This is a good start, but let’s add some more descriptions to make the combat come to life.
- Full health: The creature has no signs of injury
- 3/4 Hp: The creature has minor Injuries that do not seem to bother the it very much
- 1/2 Hp: The creature looks injured, there are traces of blood and wounds but the creature is still fighting strong.
- 1/4 Hp: The creature is heavily injured. The creature is angry and wounded seems to have a hard time keeping up the fight.
- A few hitpoints left: The creature is severely Injured. It is staggering and barely standing on its feet.
Tip 3: Only Fools Rush In
When you roll initiative, usually the first thing on your mind is launching an attack. However sometimes it is better to find a more tactical position.
You can retreat a little and find a choke point such as a door or a hallway. Found a trap in the dungeon? Use it to your advantage and let an enemy trigger it.
You can also ready an action. For example “If I see the orc coming through the doorway, I will fire my crossbow at it.”.
One thing to note. As a Dungeon Master we put a lot of effort in creating an encounter. Sometimes we use mini’s and battlemaps. If you decide to retreat or move in such a way that the whole preparation of the Dungeon Master is rendered useless, it might be better to discuss your plan with the group and the Dungeon Master first.. Not only for the Dungeon Masters sake, but also for the pace of the game.
Tip 4: Know your positions
Let’s talk about positions at the start of combat. In Dungeons and Dragons 5e you can categorize your characters in three different roles during combat:
The Tank has a high armor class and a lot of hitpoints. It is his job to protect the weaker party members. Position yourself in such a way that the enemy has to move through your threatened range to get to the others. If there are multiple tanks, keep 10 feet distance between you, so that both tanks get an attack of opportunity when the enemy tries to go in between them.
The Ranged Combatant has a lower armor class and less hit points than the tank. They should position in such a way that the enemy has a hard time reaching them.
The Melee Combatant has an average armor class and hit points, their position is behind the tanks, catching the enemies that have been able to pass by. Try to position in such a way that the ranged combatants still have a clear shot at the enemy.
Tip 5: Control the battlefield
The next step is to gain control. The way to do this is to take out enemies as quick as possible.
When there is are multiple enemies, focus your damage. This is because a creature with 1 hitpoint does the same amount of damage as when it would have full hitpoints. So take them out one by one.
At this point, use your controlling spells and abilities. This can take out one or multiple enemies from battle. If the enemy has creatures with controlling spells and abilities, focus on them first.
Tip 6: Flanking
Many D&D players and dungeon masters like to use the optional flanking rule in their game.
The rule is: When a creature and at least one of its allies are adjacent to an enemy and on opposite sides or corners of the enemy’s space, they flank that enemy, and each of them has advantage on melee attack rolls against that enemy.
As with many of these tactics, flanking is especially useful if you play with grids and battemaps. It is more difficult to employ when you play theatre of the mind.
I personally really like this rule, it makes a battle more tactical. The downside to using this rule is that other abilities that can give players advantage feel less powerful and useful.
Be warned, if you use the flanking rule, the enemies can flank you too.
Tip 7: Break up your movement and use cover
In 5e you can break up your movement. This means that you can jump out of cover, use a ranged attack or spell, and return to position with cover.
Cover can mean the difference between life and death in many situations.
- Half cover means that you have a +2 to armor class and dexterity saving throws.
- Three-quarters cover means you have a+5 to armor class and dexterity saving throws.
- Total cover means that you can’t be targeted by a ranged attack or ranged attack spell.
You can also use creatures as half cover. So if arrows are flying around, don’t be afraid to stand behind your tank.
Also keep in mind that enemies can use you as half cover. When you are positioning yourself, make sure to give your ranged party members a clear shot at the target.
Tip 8: Area of Effect
There are creatures that have area of effect abilities. If you are fighting such creatures, it is wise to spread out so that you don’t become an easy target.
If you have party members that regularly use certain area of effect spells and abilities, remember their distances. This is useful when you have buffs such as Bardic Inspiration, or the Paladin’s Aura’s.
Communicate with your spellcasters before you engage a group of enemies. Sometimes the spellcaster wants to use an area of effect spell such as fireball, but if you move in, they can’t cast it without hurting you.
If you know multiple languages, you might be able to communicate in secret some of your party members if the enemies don’t speak it.
Tip 9: Know your party members
If you hang out with the same people for a while, you learn their habits. This is also true for a party of adventurers.
Learn their abilities. There are some type of characters that can only really shine if their party members are aware of the mechanics. Things like sneak attack, characters having reach, or having certain feats such as sentinel and polearm master.
Some spellcasters can change their spells after a long rest. If you do so, make sure you discuss it with the party.
I remember one of my players jumping from a ledge, waiting for the featherfall spell from the wizard and then learning that the wizard didn’t prepare the spell that day.
Tip 10: Actions in Combat
If you want a creature to stop moving around, you can grapple it. Grappled creatures can still fight each other, but you prevent the grappled creature from moving around. You can also move a grappled creature at half your speed.
You can also shove a creature, you either shove it away in a certain direction, or prone. If you attack a prone creature, you get advantage on your melee attack roll. But you can also shove it 5 feet, in to a pool of lava or from a high cliff for example.
If you find yourself in a bad position, you can chose to disengage. This uses up your action, but prevents the enemy from making attacks of opportunity against you.
Sometimes you need to run a big distance to get to a better position. You can take the dash action and basically double your movement.
If you are protecting your party members. And you are in a very defensive position. You can use the dodge action to try to avoid attacks. You get a advantage on dex saves, and enemies get disadvantage on attacking you.
If you are unsure what to do in combat, you can always use the help action. You give another player advantage on an attack. This is extremely useful when there is a party member that can deal a lot of damage in one turn. The rogue will be especially happy because it will give him sneak attack damage.
Tip 11: Feats
Having a reach weapon in 5e is less interesting than in previous editions. Your rogue won’t be to happy when you decide to take a reach weapon because you need to have an ally adjacent to the enemy in order to get sneak attack damage. However there are two feats that makes reach weapons a much more interesting choice.
The Sentinel Feat allows you to hit a target with an opportunity attack and reduce its speed to 0 for the rest of the turn.
The Polearm Master Feat gives you a bonus action to hit the enemy with the back of your weapon, and creatures provoke attack of opportunities when they enter your reach.
Grappling by itself isn’t super great since it only keeps the enemy from moving around. However, if you take the Grappler feat, you get advantage on the attack rolls against a creature that you are grappling. And you can also make another grapple check, to pin the enemy down. You and the creature are both restrained. This means that your party gets advantage on attack rolls against this creature, and the creature gets disadvantage on its attack rolls. This is especially useful if you are fighting a single enemy.
Lucky lets you roll an extra d20 on an attack roll, ability check, or saving throw. You choose which of the d20’s is used. It is basically a form of advantage that you can get three times per day until you finish a long rest.
You can also use it on an enemy’s attack roll against you. So when an enemy rolls a crit, you can decide to change the attack in to the one that you roll. It’s a life saver.
Shield Master lets you shove an enemy with a bonus action. If you use this bonus action before your regular action, you can try to knock it prone and give you and any other melee party members advantage on your attack roll. Besides that it also gives your shield’s AC as a bonus to dex saves, and if you make a dex save to take half damage, and you succeed, you can use your reaction to take no damage at all.
Mobile is great for hit and run tactics. It increases your speed by 10 feet. If you Dash, difficult terrain doesn’t cost you extra movement on that turn. And best of the three, si when you make a melee attack against a creature, you don’t provoke opportunity attacks from that creature for the rest of the turn, whether you hit or not. Its true that a rogue can achieve something similar with its cunning action, but a rogue with a mobile feat can actually decide to move away and still use its bonus action to dash or hide.
The Sharpshooter feat allows you to use the long range of your weapon without getting disadvantage AND your weapon ignores half and three-quarters cover. This allows you to stay out of danger while still being able to use your ranged weapon very effectively. You don’t have to worry about party members blocking your view, and you can shoot down enemies from great distance. It also feels very rewarding to be able to shoot down an enemy that is running for its life.
Mage Slayer feat can be used to cancel those annoying concentration spells. You get a reaction attack if a creature within 5 feet of you casts a spell. When you damage a creature that is concentrating on a spell, it gets disadvantage on its concentration check. And you have advantage on saving throws from spells cast by creatures within 5 feet of you.
War Caster gives you advantage on your concentration check when taking damage. You can perform the spell even if you have a weapon or shield in your hand. And you can use your reaction to cast a spell instead of making an opportunity attack.
The Last tip, Tip 12: Useful class abilities
The fighter subclass Battle Master gives you a crazy amount of tactical combat maneuvers to choose from. Don’t forget that many of these maneuvers can be made with a ‘weapon attack’, so you can do it with ranged weapons as well.
The Barbarian subclass, Path of the Totem Warrior is really cool..
The Bear Totem gives you resistance against all types of damage except for psychic damage while you are in rage. This turn your barbarian into an amazing tank.
The Totem of the Wolf gives your friends advantage on melee rolls to creatures that are near to you. Free advantage on creatures nearby! Your party’s rogue will be very happy about this.
The Monks Stunning Strike and Way of the Open Hand can both stun and knock an enemy prone. It is a a great way to gain control on the battlefield.
My favorite class ability is the Wizard, School of Divination, Portent.
Portent allows you to roll two d20’s after a long rest and you can then use those rolls during your day. You can replace a roll that you make, and rolls that your enemies make.
This means that If you have someone in your party using a extremely powerful ability or spell, you can have the player use the very high roll that you made earlier, or have the enemy use the very low roll as a saving throw.
Let’s say you rolled a 1 on your portent. You can use polymorph on the big bad evil guy, using your pre rolled die as its save, and turning it into a chicken.