Combat Basics

Basics: Checks | Ability Scores | Movement | Conditions | Environment | Taking Action: Exploration | Actions | Combat/Attack Basics | Damage & Healing | Resting | Between Adventures | Magic: What is Magic? | Casting a Spell | Combining Magic Effect | Minor Spells & Rituals

The Order of Combat

A typical combat encounter is a clash between two sides, a flurry of weapon swings, feints, parries, footwork, and spellcasting. The game organizes the chaos of combat into a cycle of rounds and turns. A round represents about 6 seconds in the game world. During a round, each participant in a battle takes a turn. The order of turns is determined at the beginning of a combat encounter, when everyone rolls initiative. Once everyone has taken a turn, the fight continues to the next round if neither side has defeated the other.

Combat Step by Step

1. Determine surprise. The GM determines whether anyone involved in the combat encounter is surprised.
2. Establish positions: The GM decides where all the characters and Monsters are located. Given the adventurers’ marching order or their stated positions in the room or other location, the GM figures out where the adversaries are̶how far away and in what direction.
3. Roll initiative: Everyone involved in the combat encounter rolls initiative, determining the order of combatants’ turns.
4. Take turns. Each participant in the battle takes a turn in initiative order.
5. Begin the next round. When everyone involved in the combat has had a turn, the round ends. Repeat step 4 until the fighting stops.


A band of adventurers sneaks up on a Bandit camp, springing from the trees to attack them. A Gelatinous Cube glides down a dungeon passage, unnoticed by the adventurers until the cube engulfs one of them. In these situations, one side of the battle gains surprise over the other.

The GM determines who might be surprised. If neither side tries to be stealthy, they automatically notice each other. Otherwise, the GM compares the Dexterity (Stealth) checks of anyone Hiding with the passive Wisdom (Perception) score of each creature on the opposing side. Any character or monster that doesn’t notice a threat is surprised at the start of the encounter.

If you’re surprised, you can’t move or take an action on your first turn of the combat, and you can’t take a reaction until that turn ends. A member of a group can be surprised even if the other members aren’t.


Initiative determines the order of turns during combat. When combat starts, every participant makes a Dexterity check to determine their place in the initiative order. The GM makes one roll for an entire group of identical creatures, so each member of the group acts at the same time.

The GM ranks the combatants in order from the one with the highest Dexterity check total to the one with the lowest. This is the order (called the initiative order) in which they act during each round. The initiative order remains the same from round to round.

If a tie occurs, the GM decides the order among tied GM—controlled creatures, and the players decide the order among their tied characters. The GM can decide the order if the tie is between a monster and a player character.

Optionally, the GM can have the tied characters and monaters each roll a d20 to determine the order, highest roll going first.

Your Turn

On your turn, you can move a distance up to your speed and take one action.

You decide whether to move first or take your action first. Your speed— sometimes called your walking speed—is noted on your character sheet.

The most common actions you can take are described in the “Actions in Combat” section. Many Class Featuresand other Abilities provide additional options for your action.

You can forgo moving, taking an action, or doing anything at all on your turn. If you can’t decide what to do on your turn, consider taking the Dodge or Ready action, as described in “Actions in Combat.”

Bonus Actions

Various [Class Features], and other [Abilities] let you take an additional action on your turn called a [Bonus Action]. The [Cunning Action] feature, for example, allows a rogue to take a [Bonus Action]. You can take a [Bonus Action] only when a [Special] ability, spell, or other feature of the game states that you can do something as a [Bonus Action]. You otherwise don’t have a [Bonus Action](/compendium/dnd5e/Spells+h-Bonus%20Action) to take.

You can take only one [Bonus Action) on your turn, so you must choose which [Bonus Action] to use when you have more than one available.

You choose when to take a [Bonus Action] during your turn, unless the bonus action’s timing is specified, and anything that deprives you of your ability to take actions also prevents you from taking a [Bonus Action].

Other Activity on Your Turn

Your turn can include a variety of flourishes that require neither your action nor your move.

You can communicate however you are able, through brief utterances and gestures, as you take your turn.

You can also interact with one object or feature of The Environment for free, during either your move or your action. For example, you could open a door during your move as you stride toward a foe, or you could draw your weapon as part of the same action you use to attack.

If you want to interact with a second object, you need to use your action. Some [Magic Items](/compendium/dnd5e/Magic%20Items+h-Magic%20Items) and other [Special](/compendium/dnd5e/Weapons+h-Special) [Objects](/compendium/dnd5e/Objects+h-Objects) always require an action to use, as stated in their descriptions.

The GM might require you to use an action for any of these activities when it needs [Special](/compendium/dnd5e/Weapons+h-Special) care or when it presents an unusual obstacle. For instance, the GM could reasonably expect you to use an action to open a stuck door or turn a crank to lower a drawbridge.


Certain [Special] [Abilities], [Spells](/compendium/dnd5e/Spells+h-Spells), and situations allow you to take a [Special](/compendium/dnd5e/Weapons+h-Special) action called a reaction. A reaction is an instant response to a trigger of some kind, which can occur on your turn or on someone else’s. The opportunity attack is the most common type of reaction.
When you take a reaction, you can’t take another one until the start of your next turn. If the reaction interrupts another creature’s turn, that creature can continue its turn right after the reaction.

Movement and Position

In combat, characters and Monsters are in constant motion, often using [Movement](/compendium/dnd5e/Movement+h-Movement) and position to gain the upper hand.
On your turn, you can move a distance up to your speed. You can use as much or as little of your speed as you like on your turn, following the rules here.

Your [Movement](/compendium/dnd5e/Movement+h-Movement) can include [Jumping](/compendium/dnd5e/Movement+h-Jumping), climbing, and swimming. These different modes of [Movement](/compendium/dnd5e/Movement+h-Movement) can be combined with walking, or they can constitute your entire move. However you’re moving, you deduct the distance of each part of your move from your speed until it is used up or until you are done moving.

Breaking Up Your Move

You can break up your [Movement](/compendium/dnd5e/Movement+h-Movement) on your turn, using some of your speed before and after your action. For example, if you have a speed of 30 feet, you can move 10 feet, take your action, and then move 20 feet.

Moving between Attacks

If you take an action that includes more than one weapon attack, you can break up your [Movement](/compendium/dnd5e/Movement+h-Movement) even further by moving between those attacks. For example, a [Fighter](/compendium/dnd5e/Fighter+h-Fighter) who can make two attacks with the Extra Attack feature and who has a speed of 25 feet could move 10 feet, make an attack, move 15 feet, and then attack again.

Using Different Speeds

If you have more than one speed, such as your walking speed and a flying speed, you can switch back and forth between your speeds during your move.

Whenever you switch, subtract the distance you’ve already moved from the new speed. The result determines how much farther you can move. If the result is 0 or less, you can’t use the new speed during the current move.

For example, if you have a speed of 30 and a flying speed of 60 because a [Wizard](/compendium/dnd5e/Wizard+h-Wizard) cast the _fly_ spell on you, you could fly 20 feet, then walk 10 feet, and then leap into the air to fly 30 feet more.

Difficult Terrain

Combat rarely takes place in bare rooms or on featureless plains. Boulderstrewn caverns, briar choked forests, treacherous staircases—the [Setting](/compendium/dnd5e/Setting+h-Setting) of a typical fight contains difficult terrain.

Every foot of [Movement](/compendium/dnd5e/Movement+h-Movement) in difficult terrain costs 1 extra foot. This rule is true even if multiple things in a space count as difficult terrain.

Low furniture, rubble, undergrowth, steep stairs, snow, and shallow bogs are examples of difficult terrain. The space of another creature, whether hostile or not, also counts as difficult terrain.

Being Prone

Combatants often find themselves lying on the ground, either because they are knocked down or because they throw themselves down. In the game, they are [Prone](/compendium/dnd5e/Conditions+h-Prone).

You can drop prone without using any of your speed. Standing up takes more effort; doing so costs an amount of [Movement](/compendium/dnd5e/Movement+h-Movement) equal to half your speed.
For example, if your speed is 30 feet, you must spend 15 feet of [Movement](/compendium/dnd5e/Movement+h-Movement) to stand up. You can’t stand up if you don’t have enough [Movement](/compendium/dnd5e/Movement+h-Movement) left or if your speed is 0.

To move while prone, you must crawl or use magic such as teleportation. Every foot of [Movement](/compendium/dnd5e/Movement+h-Movement) while crawling costs 1 extra foot. Crawling 1 foot in difficult terrain, therefore, costs 3 feet of [Movement](/compendium/dnd5e/Movement+h-Movement).

Interacting with Objects Around You

Here are a few examples of the sorts of thing you can do in tandem with your [Movement](/compendium/dnd5e/Movement+h-Movement) and action:

  • draw or sheathe a sword
  • open or close a door
  • withdraw a potion from your [Backpack](/compendium/dnd5e/Backpack+h-Backpack)
  • pick up a dropped axe
  • take a bauble from a table
  • remove a ring from your finger
  • stuff some food into your mouth
  • plant a banner in the ground
  • fish a few coins from your belt pouch
  • drink all the ale in a flagon
  • throw a lever or a switch
  • pull a torch from a sconce
  • take a book from a shelf you can reach
  • extinguish a small flame
  • don a mask
  • pull the hood of your cloak up and over your head
  • put your ear to a door
  • kick a small stone
  • turn a key in a lock
  • tap the floor with a 10-­foot pole
  • hand an item to another character

Moving Around Other Creatures

You can move through a nonhostile creature’s space. In contrast, you can move through a hostile creature’s space only if the creature is at least two sizes larger or smaller than you. Remember that another creature’s space is difficult terrain for you.

Whether a creature is a friend or an enemy, you can’t willingly end your move in its space.

If you leave a hostile creature’s reach during your move, you provoke an opportunity attack.

Flying Movement

Flying creatures enjoy many benefits of mobility, but they must also deal with the danger of Falling. If a flying creature is knocked prone, has its speed reduced to 0, or is otherwise deprived of the ability to move, the creature falls, unless it has the ability to hover or it is being held aloft by magic, such as by the _fly_ spell.

Creature Size

Each creature takes up a different amount of space. Table: Size Categories shows how much space a creature of a particular size controls in combat.

Objects sometimes use the same size categories.

A creature’s space is the area in feet that it effectively controls in combat, not an expression of its physical dimensions. A typical Medium creature isn’t 5 feet wide, for example, but it does control a space that wide. If a Medium [](/compendium/dnd5e/Hobgoblin+h-Hobgoblin)[Hobgoblin](/compendium/dnd5e/Hobgoblin+h-Hobgoblin) stands in a 5— foot—wide doorway, other creatures can’t get through unless the [](/compendium/dnd5e/Hobgoblin+h-Hobgoblin)[Hobgoblin](/compendium/dnd5e/Hobgoblin+h-Hobgoblin) lets them.

A creature’s space also reflects the area it needs to fight effectively. For that reason, there’s a limit to the number of creatures that can surround another creature in combat. Assuming Medium combatants, eight creatures can fit in a 5-foot radius around another one.

Because larger creatures take up more space, fewer of them can surround a creature. If five Large creatures crowd around a Medium or smaller one, there’s little room for anyone else. In contrast, as many as twenty Medium creatures can surround a Gargantuan one.

Squeezing into a Smaller Space

A creature can squeeze through a space that is large enough for a creature one size smaller than it. Thus, a Large creature can squeeze through a passage that’s only 5 feet wide. While squeezing through a space, a creature must spend 1 extra foot for every foot it moves there, and it has disadvantage on attack rolls and [Dexterity](/compendium/dnd5e/Ability%20Scores+h-Dexterity) saving throws. Attack rolls against the creature have advantage while it’s in the smaller space.

Actions in Combat

See Combat Actions here.


The most common action to take in combat is the Attack action, whether you are swinging a sword, firing an arrow from a bow, or brawling with your fists.
With this action, you make one melee or ranged attack. See the “Making an Attack” section for the rules that govern attacks.

Certain features, such as the Extra Attack feature of the Fighter, allow you to make more than one attack with this action.

Cast a Spell

See Casting Spells here.

Making an Attack

Whether you’re striking with a melee weapon, firing a weapon at range, or making an attack roll as part of a spell, an attack has a simple structure.

1. Choose a target. Pick a target within your attack’s range: a creature, an object, or a location.
2. Determine modifiers. The GM determines whether the target has cover and whether you have advantage or disadvantage against the target. In addition, [Spells](/compendium/dnd5e/Spells+h-Spells), [Special](/compendium/dnd5e/Weapons+h-Special) [Abilities](/compendium/dnd5e/Sentient%20Magic%20Items+h-Abilities), and other effects can apply penalties or bonuses to your attack roll.
3. Resolve the attack. You make the attack roll. On a hit, you roll damage, unless the particular attack has rules that specify otherwise. Some attacks cause [Special](/compendium/dnd5e/Weapons+h-Special) effects in addition to or instead of damage.

If there’s ever any question whether something you’re doing counts as an attack, the rule is simple: if you’re making an attack roll, you’re making an attack.

Attack Rolls

When you make an attack, your attack roll determines whether the attack hits or misses. To make an attack roll, roll a d20 and add the appropriate modifiers. If the total of the roll plus modifiers equals or exceeds the target’s [Armor](/compendium/dnd5e/Armor+h-Armor) Class (AC), the attack hits. The AC of a character is determined at character [Creation](/compendium/dnd5e/Creation+h-Creation), whereas the AC of a monster is in its stat block.

Modifiers to the Roll

When a character makes an attack roll, the two most common modifiers to the roll are an ability modifier and the character’s proficiency bonus. When a monster makes an attack roll, it uses whatever modifier is provided in its stat block.

Ability Modifier: The ability modifier used for a melee weapon attack is [Strength](/compendium/dnd5e/Ability%20Scores+h-Strength), and the ability modifier used for a ranged weapon attack is [Dexterity](/compendium/dnd5e/Ability%20Scores+h-Dexterity). [Weapons](/compendium/dnd5e/Weapons+h-Weapons) that have the [Finesse](/compendium/dnd5e/Weapons+h-Finesse) or [Thrown](/compendium/dnd5e/Weapons+h-Thrown) property break this rule. Some [Spells](/compendium/dnd5e/Spells+h-Spells) also require an attack roll. The ability modifier used for a spell attack depends on the spellcasting ability of the spellcaster.

Proficiency Bonus: You add your proficiency bonus to your attack roll when you attack using a weapon with which you have proficiency, as well as when you attack with a spell.

Rolling 1 or 20

Sometimes fate blesses or curses a combatant, causing the novice to hit and the Veteran to miss.

If the d20 roll for an attack is a 20, the attack hits regardless of any modifiers or the target’s AC. This is called a critical hit.

If the d20 roll for an attack is a 1, the attack misses regardless of any modifiers or the target’s AC.

Unseen Attackers and Targets

Combatants often try to escape their foes’ notice by [Hiding](/compendium/dnd5e/Ability%20Scores+h-Hiding), casting the [Invisibility](/compendium/dnd5e/Invisibility+h-Invisibility) spell, or lurking in [Darkness](/compendium/dnd5e/Darkness+h-Darkness).

When you attack a target that you can’t see, you have disadvantage on the attack roll. This is true whether you’re guessing the target’s location or you’re targeting a creature you can hear but not see. If the target isn’t in the location you targeted, you automatically miss, but the GM typically just says that the attack missed, not whether you guessed the target’s location correctly.

When a creature can’t see you, you have advantage on attack rolls against it. If you are hidden—both unseen and unheard—when you make an attack, you give away your location when the attack hits or misses.

Ranged Attacks

When you make a ranged attack, you fire a bow or a crossbow, hurl a [Handaxe](/compendium/dnd5e/Handaxe+h-Handaxe), or otherwise send projectiles to strike a foe at a distance. A monster might shoot spines from its tail. Many [Spells](/compendium/dnd5e/Spells+h-Spells) also involve making a ranged attack.


You can make ranged attacks only against [Targets](/compendium/dnd5e/Spells+h-Targets) within a specified range.
If a ranged attack, such as one made with a spell, has a single range, you can’t attack a target beyond this range.

Some ranged attacks, such as those made with a Longbow or a Shortbow, have two ranges. The smaller number is the normal range, and the larger number is the long range. Your attack roll has disadvantage when your target is beyond normal range, and you can’t attack a target beyond the long range.

Ranged Attacks in Close Combat

Aiming a ranged attack is more difficult when a foe is next to you. When you make a ranged attack with a weapon, a spell, or some other means, you have disadvantage on the attack roll if you are within 5 feet of a hostile creature who can see you and who isn’t [Incapacitated](/compendium/dnd5e/Conditions+h-Incapacitated).

Melee Attacks

Used in handtohand combat, a melee attack allows you to attack a foe within your reach. A melee attack typically uses a handheld weapon such as a sword, a [Warhammer](/compendium/dnd5e/Warhammer+h-Warhammer), or an axe. A typical monster makes a melee attack when it strikes with its claws, horns, teeth, tentacles, or other body part. A few [Spells](/compendium/dnd5e/Spells+h-Spells) also involve making a melee attack.

Most creatures have a 5-foot reach and can thus attack [Targets](/compendium/dnd5e/Spells+h-Targets) within 5 feet of them when making a melee attack. Certain creatures (typically those larger than Medium) have melee attacks with a greater reach than 5 feet, as noted in their descriptions.

Instead of using a weapon to make a melee weapon attack, you can use an unarmed strike: a punch, kick, head—butt, or similar forceful blow (none of which count as weapons). On a hit, an unarmed strike deals bludgeoning damage equal to 1 + your [Strength](/compendium/dnd5e/Ability%20Scores+h-Strength) modifier. You are proficient with your unarmed strikes.

Opportunity Attacks

In a fight, everyone is constantly watching for a chance to strike an enemy who is fleeing or passing by. Such a strike is called an opportunity attack.
You can make an opportunity attack when a hostile creature that you can see moves out of your reach. To make the opportunity attack, you use your reaction to make one melee attack against the provoking creature. The attack occurs right before the creature leaves your reach.

You can avoid provoking an opportunity attack by taking the Disengage action. You also don’t provoke an opportunity attack when you [Teleport](/compendium/dnd5e/Teleport+h-Teleport) or when someone or something moves you without using your [Movement](/compendium/dnd5e/Movement+h-Movement), action, or reaction. For example, you don’t provoke an opportunity attack if an explosion hurls you out of a foe’s reach or if gravity causes you to fall past an enemy.

Two-Weapon Fighting

When you take the Attack action and attack with a light melee weapon that you’re holding in one hand, you can use a [Bonus Action](/compendium/dnd5e/Spells+h-Bonus%20Action) to attack with a different light melee weapon that you’re holding in the other hand. You don’t add your ability modifier to the damage of the bonus attack, unless that modifier is negative.

If either weapon has the Thrown property, you can throw the weapon, instead of making a melee attack with it.


When you want to grab a creature or wrestle with it, you can use the Attack action to make a Special melee attack, a grapple. If you’re able to make multiple attacks with the Attack action, this attack replaces one of them.

The target of your grapple must be no more than one size larger than you and must be within your reach. Using at least one free hand, you try to seize the target by making a grapple check instead of an attack roll: a Strength (Athletics) check contested by the target’s Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check (the target chooses the ability to use). If you succeed, you subject the target to the Grappled condition (see [Conditions] ). The condition specifies the things that end it, and you can release the target whenever you like (no action required).

Escaping a Grapple: A Grappled creature can use its action to escape. To do so, it must succeed on a Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check contested by your Strength check.

Moving a Grappled) Creature: When you move, you can drag or carry the Grappled creature with you, but your speed is halved, unless the creature is two or more sizes smaller than you.

Contests in Combat

Battle often involves pitting your prowess against that of your foe. Such a challenge is represented by a contest. This section includes the most common Contests that require an action in combat: grappling and shoving a creature. The GM can use these Contests as models for improvising others.

Shoving a Creature

Using the Attack action, you can make a Special melee attack to shove a creature, either to knock it prone or push it away from you. If you’re able to make multiple attacks with the Attack action, this attack replaces one of them.
The target must be no more than one size larger than you and must be within your reach. Instead of making an attack roll, you make a Strength (Athletics) check contested by the target’s Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check (the target chooses the ability to use). If you win the contest, you either knock the target prone or push it 5 feet away from you.


Walls, trees, creatures, and other obstacles can provide cover during combat, making a target more difficult to harm. A target can benefit from cover only when an attack or other effect originates on the opposite side of the cover.

There are three degrees of cover. If a target is behind multiple sources of cover, only the most protective degree of cover applies; the degrees aren’t added together. For example, if a target is behind a creature that gives half cover and a tree trunk that gives threequarters cover, the target has threequarters cover.

A target with half cover has a +2 bonus to AC and Dexterity saving throws. A target has half cover if an obstacle blocks at least half of its body. The obstacle might be a low wall, a large piece of furniture, a narrow tree trunk, or a creature, whether that creature is an enemy or a friend.

A target with threequarters cover has a +5 bonus to AC and Dexterity saving throws. A target has threequarters cover if about three—quarters of it is covered by an obstacle. The obstacle might be a portcullis, an arrow slit, or a thick tree trunk.

A target with total cover can’t be targeted directly by an attack or a spell, although some Spells can reach such a target by including it in an area of effect. A target has total cover if it is completely concealed by an obstacle.

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