Hipsters & Dragons

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Tag: feats

Player Tips: Maximising Bonus Actions & Reactions

Whilst those paragons of roleplaying virtuosity may be drawn to the table by the chance to breathe life into their complex three dimensional character, in what they intend to be as much an improv theatre session as an RPG, there’s a large number of gamers who, if you’ll forgive the language, just want to fuck some shit up.

And so without further apologies or explanations, let’s spoil ourselves with a little powergaming. Today’s topic is all about how to maximise your use of bonus actions and reactions in order to optimise your PC’s ability to whoop some ass.

Now, as you know, once initiative is rolled and combat has started, time is delineated into rounds, with each PC having their turn within the round. But have you ever noticed how some players manage to pack way more into their turn than others? No one ever forgets to use their main attack(s) or cast a spell, but actually you can often sneak in several more activities if you’re playing smart.

…have you ever noticed how some players manage to pack way more into their turn than others?

Let’s break things down.

Action

Your main opportunity to influence the tide of battle, most likely you will choose to either Attack or Cast a Spell, but it’s worth remembering that other actions you can take are Dash, Disengage (a powerful getaway tool), Dodge (a powerful defence tool that also gives you advantage on Dexterity saving throws), Help, Hide, Ready (useful for when someone keeps using their move to duck back under cover, in between peppering you with arrows), Search or Use An Object (drinking a magic potion being a common example).

Move

Every round you can move up to your speed (for 90% of characters this is 30 feet), and it’s nearly always worth considering what you can do with your move to gain a strategic advantage. Obviously if you’re engaged with an enemy you need to consider whether you want to move out of their reach and provoke an opportunity attack, however it’s possible you could gain an advantage in battle by using 5, 10 or 20 feet of movement (depending on the size of the creature!) to outmanoeuvre the creature without ever leaving their reach.

Bonus Action

Technically you only get one of these if an ability says you do, but a good player will find a way of using a bonus action on most of their turns. Typical things you can do using a bonus action are: make an attack with a second weapon (you have to have selected the Attack action to be able to do so, meaning you can’t Cast A Spell and then sneak in an offhand attack); attack with your shield or butt of your polearm (requires feat); cast a spell that has a casting time of bonus action; take advantage of your Cunning Action ability (Rogues only!) to Dash, Disengage or Hide.

Free Action

On p.190 of the PH it reads: “In combat, characters and monsters are in constant motion, often using movement and position to gain the upper hand…. Here are a few examples of the sorts of thing you can do in tandem with your movement and action:”

It then gives a long list of examples of things you could do as a “free action” (unofficial title!), from which I’ll choose a few that could easily come in handy…

Draw or sheathe a sword
Open or close a door
Withdraw a potion from your backpack
Pick up a dropped axe
Fish a few coins from your belt pouch
Pull a torch from a sconce
Turn a key in a lock
Hand an item to another character.

Reaction

Reactions are actions that you can take in response to a trigger, the most common being opportunity attacks, which you can take as a response to the trigger of someone moving out of your reach (the logic being that this leaves themselves vulnerable to attack for a split second). Most of the time they don’t take place during your turn, but as a reaction to what another creature did during their turn in the round. Whilst you might feel that it’s hard to bank on being able to use your reaction each round (you only get one), I usually find a way to do so. In fact I often find myself ‘saving my reaction’ because I have so many options on how to use them. Typical things you can do with your reaction include: casting a spell, such as shield or counterspell, using Defensive Duelist feat, using Uncanny Dodge ability (Rogues only), making an opportunity attack, making an attack using the Sentinel feat.

So there you go, far from using just an Action each turn you can actually use an Action, Move, Bonus Action, Free Action and Reaction!

Action Packed vs. Dull

Let’s imagine a scenario where (low level) Fighter 1 is locked in combat with Orc A, whilst Orc B is running for the door to summon more stinky green back up. Fighter 1 swings his longsword, hits Orc A but doesn’t kill him. Not wanting to provoke an opportunity attack, he is stuck engaged with the enemy.

Now let’s imagine the same scenario with Fighter 2, who is identical to Fighter 1 except that he chose the Shieldmaster feat. Fighter 2 first uses a Bonus Action to attempt to shove Orc A to the ground with his shield. He is successful, after which can attack the orc with advantage using his Action. He hits but also doesn’t kill Orc A, but as the orc is now prone it either wouldn’t be able to make an opportunity attack (common sense!), or would do so at disadvantage as he is prone (p. 292, PH). Therefore Fighter 2 is able to safely use his Move action to cut off Orc B before he reaches the door – and on the way he uses a Free Action to knock a flask of oil off the table in front of Orc B, potentially causing him to slip on his turn. By positioning himself between Orc B and the door, Fighter 2 ensures that if Orc B were to pass him he would get an opportunity attack against him using his Reaction…

I think it’s fair to say the guy (or girl) playing Fighter 2 is exerting way more influence on the combat, as well as having a lot more fun in doing so, by using each of the potential actions available to them during the round.

Maximising Bonus Actions and Reactions

Ok, so we’ve looked at how effective the extra actions in Dungeons and Dragons can prove in battle, now let’s look at how to better take advantage of them. The key here is choosing abilities and spells that allow you to use bonus actions and reactions on a regular basis.

Whenever I play a caster the first thing I do is look for spells that I can cast without using a full action. Here are all the ones I found in the Player’s Handbook. (There are a few more in Xanathar’s Guide).

Spells You Can Cast with A Bonus Action

Banishing Smite
Blinding Smite
Branding Smite
Compelled Duel
Divine Favor
Divine Word
Ensnaring Strike
Expeditious Retreat (not just for retreating!)
Flame Blade
Grasping Vine
Hail of Thorns
Healing Word
Hex
Hunter’s Mark
Lightning Arrow
Magic Weapon
Mass Healing Word
Misty Step
Sanctuary
Searing Smite
Shield of Faith
Shillelagh
Spiritual Weapon
Staggering Smite
Swift Quiver
Thunderous Smite
Wrathful Smite

Spells You Cast with a Reaction

Counterspell
Feather Fall
Hellish Rebuke
Shield

Having some of these up your sleeve will give you a lot of extra versatility when combat starts.

Second Attack

For anyone that wields a weapon, the obvious way of getting more bang for your buck every single round is to fight with two weapons instead. This way you get to make an extra attack on your turn, using a bonus action.

Failing that feats are the best way to get a regular and potent use from your bonus actions and reactions, as well as giving you other extra powers…

Feats That Grant You a Bonus Action

Charger
Crossbow Expert
Great Weapon Master
Martial Adept (depending on the manoeuvres you choose)
Polearm Master
Shieldmaster
Tavern Brawler

Feats That Use Your Reaction

Defensive Duelist (uses your proficiency bonus so a great feat to grab at a higher level)
Mage Slayer
Martial Adept (depending on the manoeuvres you choose… Riposte is cool)
Polearm Master
Sentinel
War Caster

Of these feats a few stand out for me. Shieldmaster for example lets you use a bonus action every time you take the attack action, whilst Polearm Master feat is probably the best out there as it allows you to use a bonus action every round AND often a reaction too. Sentinel allows you to use your reaction on a frequent basis, although intelligent monsters (and/or metagaming DMs) will target you a lot. Defensive Duelist is underrated and a brilliant one to pick up at a later level as it uses your proficiency bonus as a basis, and allows you to use your reaction every time you are attacked with a melee weapon.

I won’t bother repeating exactly what each does, but do delve back into your Player’s Handbook and consider them for your next PC, or next time you get to pick up a feat (always more fun than taking a +2 modifier to an ability, and usually more effective too).

Plan A Strategy

One thing I like to do is think about how I can put together all my actions in a round into a coherent strategy or gameplan.

For example when playing with Estelle, (5th level paladin of devotion / 3rd level battlemaster fighter), one common tactic was to start my turn by casting thunderous smite (bonus action), then make my first melee attack doing extra 2d6 thunder damage. If my target failed their saving throw and was knocked prone, then I would make my second attack with advantage and use my Greater Weapon Master feat to take the -5 to hit penalty (with advantage I would still normally hit!) and do +10 damage. If my opponent was still standing after this (potentially 6d6 +10 damage plus modifiers), I could use up some divine smite or even my action surge to finish them off. Against a large number of weaker foes I relied on the fact I would reduce an enemy to 0 hit points most round to get a bonus action attack with Great Weapon Master (so I wouldn’t bother with thunderous smite).

With Jaxx Storm, a combat-loving cleric of the Tempest (1st-3rd level), I chose the Shieldmaster feat, which together with proficiency in Athletics, allowed me to regularly knock foes prone with my bonus action – giving me and my buddies advantage on our attack rolls against them. The Wrath of the Storm ability allowed me to use my reaction to good effect on occasion too.

Xenia Zanetti was my first ever 5th edition character and versatile as hell (5th level Rogue Assassin, 5th level Wizard, 3rd level Battlemaster Fighter). She could use a bonus action to Dash, Disengage or Hide, to cast misty step, or to make a second attack, or use a battlemaster manoeuvre such as feinting attack to gain advantage (which meant she could do sneak attack damage even in a one on one situation). Whilst for her reaction she often cast shield, or for less dangerous foes took advantage of the rogue’s uncanny dodge ability.

My 5th level rogue swashbuckler, Drake Leopold Florentine Griffinheart III (it’s always the third!), fights with two weapons, meaning he nearly always uses a bonus action. I also gave him the Martial Adept feat and chose the Riposte manoeuvre (as well as the Disarming Attack) meaning he can use a Reaction to make an additional attack (once per short rest only, sadly), and this actually allows him to deal his sneak attack damage twice in one round (once on his turn, once on someone else’s), making him pretty deadly. At 8th level I plan to take the Defensive Duelist feat, which will help cover his main weakness… his mediocre AC. Being a rogue with proficiency in acrobatics also gives you plenty of scope for interacting with your environment in a creative way, either for dramatic effect or for a tactical advantage, using either a free action or bonus action.

Hipster’s Takeaway Tip

One great tip is to write down everything your PC can do with their action, bonus action, reaction on your character sheet, and then, when it’s your turn, you can quickly remind yourself of your options in combat. This way you’ll rarely miss an opportunity to take full advantage of your character’s powers.

Some potential combat options for my Rogue swashbuckler PC…

Is The Lucky Feat Broken?

I’ve prefaced many an article with how well-balanced I think the 5e rules are, and the more I play, the more I realised how spot on WOTC got things… well apart from Counterspell, healing rules, Paladins (in particular their divine smite ability), and a few other bits and pieces.

One – inexplicable – thing that blows my mind though is how the Lucky feat survived playtesting. Every single one of the four Dungeon Masters in my group has banned it from the table (the only change to the official rules we all agree on!); and if you do allow it you’ll find that once one player has it, every other player will cotton on how powerful it is and select it too, meaning a highly irritating slew of (unnecessary and overly influential) extra dice rolls during every session.

That time you rerolled your charisma check…

Before I complain any further, let’s take a look at it (p.167, Player’s Handbook):

***

Lucky

You have inexplicable luck that seems to kick in at just the right moment.
You have 3 luck points. Whenever you make an attack roll, an ability check, or a saving throw, you can spend one luck point to roll an additional d20. You can choose to spend one of your luck points after you roll the die, but before the outcome is determined. You choose which of the d20s is used for the attack roll, ability check, or saving throw.

You can also spend one luck point when an attack roll is made against you. Roll a d20, and then choose whether the attack uses the attacker’s roll or yours.
If more than one creature spends a luck point to influence the outcome of a roll, the points cancel each other out; no additional dice are rolled. You regain your expended luck points when you finish a long rest.

***

For newbies at first glance perhaps it doesn’t seem too overpowered… after all there are plenty of great feats, and your other option of course is to add 2 to a key ability score that will get you plenty of extra pluses as you go.

However consider this. Inspiration (p. 125, PH), which gives a PC advantage on a key roll during an adventure, is supposed to represent that magical stroke of luck heroes get during crucial moments. That fortune of the brave that helps ensure when they jump from a burning building with the true-born infant king in their arms they don’t splat onto the floor, but expertly roll with the fall, cradling the babe in their arms. Inspiration is a hard earned reward (p.240, DMG), given sparingly to PCs, usually for true-to-character roleplaying (especially roleplaying that puts one at a disadvantage), major goal achievement or epic heroism. As it’s only really designed to settle that adventure-hinging moment, not consistently influence play, only one inspiration “point” can be “stored” at a time. All-in-all it works perfectly as a game mechanic – it’s a powerful reward, for extraordinary deeds, to be used at a key juncture in your party’s story.

And then in walks Lucky feat… and ruins everything.

To select Lucky feat is to essentially be granted unearned inspiration three times a day, and goes against everything the game designers planned for inspiration itself. In fact it’s several times more powerful than three times inspiration because, unlike with inspiration, which you need to declare you’re using before you roll, with Lucky you can wait until the die is cast to decide if you’re going to force a re-roll. That makes it worth more like 5 or 6 inspiration “points” a day, as you get to use it only when you’re sure you need it.

To select Lucky feat is to essentially be granted unearned inspiration three times a day, and goes against everything the game designers planned for inspiration itself.

The result is that any PC with the Lucky feat dictates their own success all too often, in not just a key juncture, but in three big moments a day, when usually they would have failed, perverting the flow of the game in their favour, and often isolating them from ever having anything bad happen to their character. No one likes failing a crucial saving throw, attack roll or ability check, but failure, and the chance of failure, is also a lot of what makes D&D fun – and how you deal with it as a party is similarly often what makes the game memorable and unpredictable. I probably don’t need to tell you either that the larger your chance to failure, the more fun success is when it happens… something else that gets lost when you try to stack the odds.

The exact extend of how overpowered / broken the feat is does depend a fair bit on how many encounters you tend to have at your table a day. My group tend to favour a more realistic flavour of D&D, meaning just one or two encounters during your average day of adventuring at which point Lucky borders on ridiculous in its ability to define key moments. However even if you play hack and slash dungeons with multiple encounters a day I would vote taking Lucky off the table… aside from being overpowered it doesn’t add any flavour at all – it’s a bland catch all that makes you more powerful in any field at any time –  and is essentially a cop out for players unable to deal with adversity.

Lucky Feat variants

If you want to keep Lucky but fix it somehow, here are some suggestions on how to deal with it.

Option 1. Have the player roll a d4 minus 1 after a long rest to determine how many luck points they have for the day ahead (ie. they roll a 4 they have 3 luck points, a 3 = 2 luck points, a 2 = 1, and roll a 1 and they have zero luck points). This gives them an average of 1.5 luck points a day, instead of 3… and this way you get to test if they really are that lucky!

Option 2. Alternatively, if you are a bit more generous than I am, then you could have them roll a d3 simply, giving them 1-3 luck points a day and an average of 2.

Option 3. The PC still gets 3 luck points a day, but instead of forcing a reroll they have the option, after the dice is rolled (but before outcome is determined) to use a luck point to add 1d4 to their original roll. This means that three times a day the PC can turn a narrow failure into a narrow success – with a bit of luck! This better represents what it means to be lucky in my opinion, and is probably how the rules should have been written. It’s still a massively powerful feat, but it can’t turn extreme failure into victory any more.

 

Right, I actually really love feats in general, and they are an awesome way to power up your character whilst giving them more flavour at the same time… so I’ll be back with some more thoughts on best feats for different classes soon! Stay tuned.

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