Combat Realism - Combat Tactics Options (5e Variant Rule)

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Combat Realism - Combat Tactics Options[edit]

This penultimate article in the series on Combat Realism options for Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition will focus on a range of additional combat tactic options. Each option is independent from the others - feel free to pick-and-choose the ones that fit best to your group. None of these are essential to make combat work, they are more about adding flavor and are best considered by groups who enjoy getting into the detail of combat (especially the case for the options towards the end of this article).

These combat tactics could be available to all characters, could be restricted to martial classes (perhaps reworked as Fighting Styles), or could be restricted to Battle Master actions. In some cases, a “Simple 5e” option is suggested alongside a “Detailed” variant.

Suggested Tactics Options For All[edit]

This first set of optional tactics are relatively simple and suggested as options for all.


- Simple 5e variant: Gain advantage on attack against one opponent if accept disadvantage on defence against all opponents, or visa versa gain advantage on defense against one opponent if accept disadvantage on attack against all opponents. Note this cannot be chosen if already at disadvantage to either, unlike the Barbarian’s Reckless attack (and the option is of course also not worth taking if already at advantage…).

- Detailed variant: For every 2 Proficiency Bonus points sacrificed from Attack Bonus, add 1 to AC; or visa versa: for every 2 AC sacrificed, add 1 to Attack Bonus (Attack Bonus may only be increased by half of the character’s Proficiency Bonus). If using a Defense combat system, then for every 2 Proficiency Bonus points sacrificed from Attack, add 1 to Defense; or visa versa: for every 2 Proficiency Bonus points sacrificed from Defense, add 1 to Attack.

Note that in the “Simple 5e variant”, your advantage applies to only one opponent but your disadvantage applies to all. In the “Detailed variant”, all modifiers apply to all your attacks and defenses.

Frenzied Attack[edit]

Note that this has some similarity to the Barbarian’s Frenzy but with more disadvantage on defense.

- Simple 5e variant: Bonus attack but concede an Opportunity Attack (at Advantage) to opponent(s).

- Detailed variant: Bonus attack but concede an Opportunity Attack (without Advantage) to opponent(s) and lose Proficiency Bonus from Defense.

Called Shot[edit]

This is a general option to cover a combatant wanting to target a specific part of their opponent’s body, or wanting to have a specific effect such as a trip, or to lock blades, grab with the off-hand, pin weapon, disarm, or anything else. Simply apply a -1 to -10 modifier on the attack roll depending on the difficulty. Note for disarm: opponent sacrifices their next attack to recover weapon.

Default modifier of -5 (note that this parallels Great Weapon Master or Sharpshooter feats) but if you wish to vary from this, then use this rule of thumb:

-2: Relatively simple

-4: Doable with a good hit against a matched opponent

-6: Unlikely against matched opponent

-8: Unlikely even against a weaker opponent

-10: Highly improbable (but theoretically possible), essentially equivalent of a lucky hit against a markedly weaker opponent

Note that these cannot be attempted if they take the number needed to hit above 20 (a roll of 20 is not an automatic success), nor can limited-use attack bonuses or automatic hits be used for these actions.

If using a combat system variant with Damage Reduction from armor, then a called shot can be used to avoid this. Simply apply a negative modifier for the amount of damage reduction you are aiming to avoid (e.g. to avoid 2 HP damage reduction, attack with a -2 to Attack Bonus).

Suggested Tactics Options For Martial Classes[edit]

Stand Your Ground[edit]

Waiting until your opponent attacks first to prioritize defense. The “Simple 5e variant” of this is just to use the Dodge action. The Detailed variant gives 2 options:

- Parry-And-Riposte: attack last in round to gain +2 to AC/Defense

- Wait For An Opening: lose all attacks to gain +4 to AC/Defense, but get an Opportunity Attack if no attacker hits this round


Leading with a dummy attack, to improve the chance of the main strike hitting. The “Simple 5e variant” of this is restricted to Battle Masters, with a Feinting Attack that uses your bonus action to gain advantage on attack. The Detailed variant gives 2 options:

- Pick The Moment: attack last in round to gain +1 to Attack Bonus

- Big Feint: lose an attack (or bonus action) to gain +2 to your next attack. Note that a Fighter with 4 attacks could do this twice in a round. Note also that this can be combined with Called Shot above and may be the main reason for a strong combatant to use this.

Suggested Tactics Options For Martial Classes or Adapt for Battle Master[edit]


If you (block) or an adjacent character (intercept) are attacked, use Intercept / Block as a reaction before that attack is rolled:

- Simple 5e variant: Sacrifice your next attack (or bonus action) to give opponent disadvantage on their attack (note similarities to the Help action where you give up action to give colleague advantage to attack).

- Detailed variant: Sacrifice your next attack (or bonus action) to attempt an intercept / block. Roll as an attack against the opponent - if successful it deals no damage to your opponent but the opponent’s attack is averted. Note that this can be an effective way of using one of your attacks (perhaps even from an off-hand weapon or shield) to potentially block what may be an opponent’s only attack of the turn, leaving you free to use your remaining attacks (especially for a fighter with multiple attacks).

Roll With It[edit]

There is only a “Detailed variant” for this one. Sacrifice your next attack (or bonus action) to reduce damage from 1 attack or spell, after it has already been determined, by your Proficiency Bonus. Note this is of most use when you are not expecting to attack/hit anyway or when you are on your last HPs. The Battle Master variant of this might use a superiority die rather than sacrificing the attack and simply reduce the damage by that amount.


See Combat Realism - Defense and Armor Options for core rules to increase combat realism. _RM_

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