Positioning is a huge factor in your character’s success in combat. More so than any amount of character optimization or min-maxing could account for. The Dodge, Dash, and Disengage actions in D&D 5e give every character regardless of class or race tools to get themselves out of harm’s way.
There is always something that you can do even if you cannot attack an enemy or cast a spell. D&D 5e has quite a few actions that any character can take to help their party in combat even if they’re tapped out of their own resources.
For example, we’ve covered the Help action which is a way to use your turn to provide some aid for an ally when they can accomplish much more than you could hope to. We’ve also taken a look at the Ready action which is a way to temporarily hold your turn to unleash a spell or attack at a more opportune moment.
The Dash, Dodge, and Disengage actions are different from these two actions in that they’re self-serving. However, I don’t mean that like it’s a bad thing. The Dash, Dodge, and Disengage actions are all tools to squeeze yourself out of a tight situation. Let’s face it, you’re no use to the party if you’re making death saves.
All three of these actions can be found in the Actions in Combat section of the Player’s Handbook (PHB) on page 192.
The Dash Action
Mechanics of a Dash Action
When you take the Dash action, you gain extra movement for the current turn. The increase equals your speed, after applying any modifiers.
Any increase or decrease to your speed changes this additional movement speed by the same amount.
Basically, the Dash action doubles your movement speed during your turn. If your movement speed has been increased or decreased the extra movement speed you gain from using the Dash action will reflect that.
Like regular movement, the movement gained from a Dash action can be used throughout your turn. You can make an attack, move a bit, use your bonus action and then move, or any other combination of actions and movement that you would normally do.
When to Use a Dash Action
Melee-centric or short-ranged characters are typically the ones that will make use of the Dash action offensively. They need to make up the distance between themselves and the target in order to fulfill their role of either dealing damage or causing disruptions amongst the enemy forces.
Let’s put it this way, the average movement speed for a character in 5e is 30 ft. Creatures have much more variance, so a faster creature will always outpace the characters should they desire to. Someone is going to have to bite the bullet and either halt the other side’s movement or increase their own movement.
The Dash action is a natural way to increase your own movement, so it makes sense for a melee character to use it on their turn to get as close as possible to the enemy until they’ve successfully bridged the gap between themselves and their target.
If the enemy is retreating, the Dash action is again a useful choice for catching up with your target. This is also the scenario where even a ranged character may opt to use a Dash action offensively. This can quickly break out into a chase encounter, but in the meantime, the Dash action will do the trick!
All types of characters and creatures can use a Dash action defensively. Good positioning is an enormous factor in your success or failure in an encounter.
A Dash action forces you to miss out on attacking or providing utility to your allies, but it can give you enough movement to create a healthy amount of distance from the enemy. It can also be used as a way for you to rush to cover to take much safer ranged attacks at your enemies.
Of course, there are also scenarios where your party needs to flee to safety. Use Dash actions to retreat. Once you’ve got some separation from the enemy you can set up traps or create difficult terrain to further slow down the enemy and solidify your escape.
The downside to using a Dash action defensively is that if you are within a creature’s reach they can make an opportunity attack against you. This may still be worth the risk to put some additional distance between yourself and your enemies, but it’s potentially the riskiest defensive action out of the 3 in this article.
That being said, if taking one or more opportunity attacks wouldn’t phase your character, it’s better to take a Dash action than a Disengage. For example, if you are a character with high AC within reach of a few weak creatures, it’s better to get some additional movement with a Dash action as long as you’re not at low hp.
The Disengage Action
Mechanics of the Disengage Action
If you take the Disengage action, your movement doesn’t provoke opportunity attacks for the rest of the turn.
Keep in mind that this is only during the rest of the turn. If you somehow get movement speed during your Reaction, you will provoke opportunity attacks unless otherwise noted.
When to Use a Disengage Action
Out of the 3 mechanics, the Disengage action is definitely the one that I see used the most in play. The reason for this is that it’s essentially a guaranteed way to remove your character from harm whereas using a Dash or Dodge action still opens up a potential for your character to be smacked around.
Your character can opt to disengage for one of two reasons. The first is that they are within at least one enemy’s reach and are at low health. It’s more productive for your character to get to safety at this point than it is to grit their teeth and hope for the best as they would with a Dodge action.
The second and more likely reason is that they are in a poor position either offensively or defensively. Your character needs to get deeper into the enemy lines or they need to fall back a bit in hopes of the enemy following them and moving out of position.
In both of these scenarios, one determining factor needs to be present. It’s a better mechanical decision to use the Disengage action to avoid being hit by at least one opportunity attack than it is to move and take the hit. In general, this usually circles back to the low hp reasoning, but it could also be because your character would provoke multiple opportunity attacks.
The Dodge Action
Mechanics of the Dodge Action
When you take the Dodge action, you focus entirely on avoiding attacks. Until the start of your next turn, any attack roll made against you has disadvantage if you can see the attacker, and you can make Dexterity saving throws with advantage.
You lose this benefit if you are incapacitated or if your speed drops to 0.
Grappling is a natural counter to the Dodge action as it drops the grappled creature’s speed to 0. Since you cannot dodge with 0 speed, you are unable to continue to use the Dodge action once you have been grappled.
The Dodge action also does not give you any mechanical benefits against creatures trying to grapple you. A grapple check is contested with either a Strength (athletics) or Dexterity (acrobatics) check, so you do not have advantage on these checks as they are not Dexterity saving throws, they are ability checks.
Keep this in mind if you intend to dodge in the middle of a group of enemies. If even one of the creatures is able to successfully grapple you, you’ve essentially just wasted your turn.
When to Use a Dodge Action
Dodge is an excellent action to take in a pinch. For tanky front-line characters, it’s a great way to let you sit in the center of a group of enemies and eat a bunch of attacks. This of course only works if these enemies are focused on you and won’t just leave to charge at the rest of your party.
For characters with low AC, the Dodge action can be an excellent defensive maneuver. Sometimes you can’t outrun the enemy that is charging right at you. Instead, you need to buy time until the rest of your allies can get to your side. Take a Dodge action and gain a bit more survivability!
You can take a Dodge action as a calculated risk instead of a Disengage action. If you can afford to take a hit, but trust your chances enough for most of the opportunity attacks against you to miss a Dodge action is a better choice as it continues to provide protection throughout the rest of the combat round.
I tend to use the Dodge action as my “default” action if my character cannot attack, provide utility, or do something of value with their action. If you ever can’t think of what to do for your action, simply take a Dodge action and see what happens!
Unique Class Interactions with Dash, Dodge, and Disengage
Fighter – Action Surge
At 2nd level, a fighter gains the Action Surge feature which lets them take an additional action once before they must finish a short or long rest. For the record, they gain another use of Action Surge at 17th level.
Having 2 actions to work with on a turn can be very handy. For the most part, you’ll probably be using this to make additional attacks. However, you can use one of your actions to take a Dash, Dodge, Disengage, or any other action.
You won’t have to sacrifice mobility or defenses to make an attack action if you use an Action Surge in this manner!
Monk – Step of the Wind & Patient Defense
At 2nd level, a monk gains the Ki feature. Step of the Wind is just one such feature that they can spend their ki points on.
For one ki point, a monk can double their jump distance on their turn. In addition, they can take the Disengage or Dash action as a bonus action on their turn.
This is particularly great because it keeps the monk’s action free. They can attack or do anything else they would do with a typical action. They can then use Step of the Wind to move to a safe location away from the enemy, or further advance upon enemies further away with a Dash or Disengage action.
A monk can still use their action to also make a Dash or Disengage action. This means you could get 3x your typical movement with 2 Dash actions, or you could safely Dash and take a Disengage to prevent opportunity attacks.
Patient Defense is another ki feature you gain access to at level 2. This allows you to spend 1 ki point to take the Dodge action as a bonus action. Again, a very useful perk for 1 ki point which will recharge on your next short or long rest.
Monks get the benefit of being able to choose which defensive action they’d like to use without losing much of their action economy. Use Patient Defense if you’re going to be staying put, but need to bolster your defenses. Use Step of the Wind if you need to retreat or reposition yourself without fear of opportunity attacks.
Rogue – Cunning Action
At 2nd level, a rogue gains the Cunning Action feature. This lets rogues use their bonus action to take the Dash, Disengage, or Hide action.
Basically, this is the same idea as the monk’s Step of the Wind except that it can also be used to Hide and it doesn’t cost any resources. I won’t say it’s better since Step of the Wind also doubles your jump distance, but Cunning Action is certainly more reliable.
Sorcerer – Metamagic: Quicken Spell
At 3rd level, sorcerers gain access to Metamagic options. One of which is called Quickened Spell and it lets you spend 2 sorcery points to cast a spell that has a casting time of 1 action as a bonus action.
What’s this have to do with Dash, Dodge, or Disengage? Well, now that you have an action available, you can use it for one of those actions!
Quickened Spell lets your sorcerer still retreat or make a defensive action while still being able to cast any of their spells. Therefore, they’ll never miss a beat!
The Dodge, Dash, and Disengage actions in D&D 5e can all be used to accomplish the same goal. Pick any one of them during a “get me the hell out of here” moment. Depending on the situation one will probably be better than the other two, but for the most part, any of them will get the job done.
Dodge is useful when you can afford to take a hit or two, but want to extend your defensive benefits past your immediate turn.
Dash is great if you can take a hit or a couple of weak hits. You’ll have extra movement to get yourself into the ideal position after you take your opportunity attacks. It can also be used to chase down your enemies.
Disengage is best used if you need to take exactly 0 damage from creatures this turn. You can rush through a gauntlet of enemies unscathed in hopes that your party can back you up once you’re in a better position.
They’re short, sweet, and to the point. Best of all, any character or creature can make use of these so keep them in mind whenever you’re in a pinch!