Friday, July 11, 2014

[D&D5E] Combat Stunts: Spicing Up the Fighter

One of my personal philosophies with game design is that combat abilities should never be exclusive.

If you can wield a weapon, you should be able to do what you want with it. The endless list of fighter feats in 3rd Ed D&D and Pathfinder was always a pet hate of mine: any fighter should be able to make a power attack, or a try a quick thrust or knock back or smackdown an enemy. They should be able to rush their shot and hopefully get off an arrow before the melee arrives; fighters should always be encouraged to take risks in combat.

The idea was totally stabbed in the face by DCC with its Mighty Deeds of Arms mechanic, which allowed DCC Warriors to try any sort of combat manoeuvre they could think of; they just needed to hit the target for the deed to succeed. It meant an end to "I hit it with my axe....again" and suddenly in every DCC combat the warriors were constantly asking for details about the battlefield looking for anything they could use to gain the advantage in their fights. 

It was a fantastic and inspired piece of elegantly simple game design. And with the new Dis/Advantage rules in 5th Ed D&D it's possible to emulate the Mighty Deeds mechanic, just with a risk/reward system.

If the fighter chooses to attack with a disadvantage he can declare a Combat Stunt.
If the attack succeeds, the enemy takes normal damage and the Stunt succeeds. 

The Fighter cannot already have disadvantage when they declare the deed.

[EDIT] The Fighter can only make as many combat stunts in one round equal to their # of base attacks.
So a 1st level Fighter can attempt 1 Stunt/rnd, at 5th lvl 2 Stunts/rnd, at 11th lvl 3 Stunts/rnd, and at 20th lvl 4 Stunts/rnd.

[EDIT] A non-fighter can also attempt a Combat Stunt, but they do no damage if the Stunt succeeds.

It's really that simple, and makes Fighters soooo much more fun to play. With that simple mechanic you can do all the basics:

• Power Attack: take disadvantage on the attack roll to gain add your weapon's damage dice to your normal damage roll.
• Disarm: take disadvantage on the attack roll to gain advantage on an opposed Strength or Dexterity Check to disarm (each combatant decides which ability to roll).
 Sweep Attack: take disadvantage on the attack roll and if successful gain an extra attack on an adjacent enemy (the second attack has disadvantage as well).
Smackdown: take disadvantage on the attack roll to gain advantage on an opposed Strength Check to knock your enemy prone.

• Pushback: take disadvantage on the attack roll to knock your enemy back 5 feet.

• Feint: take disadvantage on the attack roll to give the enemy disadvantage on their next attack.
Hobble Strike: take disadvantage on the attack roll to reduce the enemy's move by 10 feet. Multiple hobbles can reduce an enemy to zero movement.

Awesome Attack: take disadvantage on the attack roll to gain advantage on a bonus Intimidation check against the enemy.

... and so on. These are just variant attacks, I've seen Mighty Deeds used for all kinds of off-the-wall advantages responding to the unique environment of the encounter. The key to making it work is this: any fighter should be able to do them.

And what are the probabilities of success?

Well thanks to this guy here [LINK] here's the basics of Dis/Advantage probabilities.

Take your typical 1st level 5th Ed fighter and they will have at least +5 to hit, probably more. If you're attacking a Commoner (AC10), you've got a 64% chance of pulling off a Combat Stunt. Pretty easy. Against an orc (AC13), that goes down to 42%. Still not bad. Against a big slow witted ogre (AC11), the chances go up to 56%, and against a Young Green Dragon (wherever would you find one of those? AC18), your chances drop to 16%. Seems reasonable to me.

And if you take the Archery Fighting Style (adds +2 to your ranged attack rolls) you can pull Combat Stunts off against a Commoner 81% of the time, against an orc 56%, against an ogre 72%, and against that green dragon 25% of the time.

Maybe too much? I'll let you know. I'm yet to playtest them, so no idea how it will play on the night yet, but if you do like these houserules and do take them for a spin let me know how they go.

No doubt when the PBH arrives in August all these ideas will be rendered moot, but if you're looking for a sweet and simple fighter mechanic to match the sweet as 5th Ed D&D Basic Rules, this might be what you're looking for.



  1. I'm with you - just limit the number of stunts between rests to proficiency bonus and you are golden.

    1. Curious, what would you use to limit them? Number of Stunts = Proficiency bonus?

  2. Totally porting this into my next Basic D&D game!

  3. I assume if you have Advantage that you just take Disadvantage and you can stunt with your normal attack?

    1. I can't see why not. You could spend Inspiration to remove the Disadvantage as well.

  4. Very cool mechanic, definitely going to use this.

  5. So, tried this out last night in my 5e game. I was using the Starter Set. There is a bugbear in a cavern with goblins, yada yada.
    My fighter, with a great axe, used this twice. Took the bugbear Dow in three hits. It was a quasi honorable fight. Tripped him twice, made each roll and in three hits took the bugbear down. Great mechanic.

  6. @ dragolite: sweet! first actual playtest kill goes to you!