As I mentioned in a recent post, Battle Master Maneuvers came as a welcome surprise to me upon first leafing through the 5th edition Player’s Handbook.
I love the thrill of being locked in combat against a powerful foe in Dungeons and Dragons, but it’s easy for it to deteriorate into a mechanical exercise of probabilities, rather than an epic battle taking place in your imagination. In fact, I’d argue that the longer you’ve been playing the game, the easier it is to slip into a rigidly defined ‘game mode’, where imagination is lost, and outcomes are determined by rules, dice and probability.
The Battle Master’s Maneuvers really come to the rescue on this front. They not only give your fighter a lot more meaningful choice and versatility on the battlefield, keeping you interested (in the same way wizards rarely get bored, with all the options their spellbooks bring to the table) but they also engage the imagination in a big way. You start to visualise the precise move your fighter is attempting, and the rules themselves begin to paint the picture of the story you’re living via your character. The maneuvers create a wonderful symphony between formulae and narrative fiction.
The maneuvers create a wonderful symphony between formulae and narrative fiction.
Not only that, but mechanically the Battlemaster’s Maneuvers are a near perfect fix to a problem that D&D has always faced: that of players wanting to elicit a special effect via their attack, such as disarming, pushing or tripping a foe. Now you can, albeit only by using up a finite resource: your superiority dice.
The Martial Adept feat also means that non-fighters can enjoy a small slice of the pie, so these cool tricks of the trade or not locked into a single archetype of one class. (Alternatively, why not multiclass into Battle mMster? You’ll pick up Second Wind, a fighting style and Action Surge on the way, so hardly a waste of levels!).
I also went and created 14 entirely new homebrew maneuvers for Hipsters & Dragons readers, inspired by dozens of action movie heroes!
If that’s not enough, I recommend a few more resources and publications dedicated to the topic, from Reddit and the DM’s Guild.
A note on spelling: Being English I sometimes slip into the British English spelling ‘manoeuvre’.
Player’s Handbook: Battle Maneuvers
Let’s start by recapping the manoeuvres presented in the Player’s Handbook. For a bit of fun, I’m going to give each a rating out of 5.
I’m far too lazy to type them all out, plus I don’t think Wizards of the Coast would be too keen for me to publish such a large chunk of their copyrighted content in one go… so you might want your copy of the PH to hand.
Requires: Action (1 attack) + Bonus Action
This is a very handy manoeuvre for those selfless enough to sacrifice some of their own action economy for the greater good. Switching out one of your own attacks (plus using your bonus action) to enable a rogue to make a second sneak attack in the round, for example, could significantly amplify the party’s damage output – and also see that damage is done where it is most needed. I can also imagine a scenario where your fighter kills an opponent in one corner of the battlefield but can’t reach any other foes that round… the range of this manoeuvre is potentially several hundred feet.
Nothing quite states your martial superiority over a foe like nonchalantly pinging their weapon out of their hand. Now we have to be a bit careful, because in 5th edition your opponent can use a free action to simply pick it back up again on their turn. So firstly I would ask your DM if they will allow you to get an opportunity attack on creatures that bend down to pick something up in the middle of combat. They will probably say yes. If they don’t, no problem. You will use your own free action to kick their weapon at least ten feet away, forcing them out of your reach and provoking an opportunity attack that way (otherwise I suggest stepping over the weapon and backheeling it if you really don’t want them to get it back). This maneuver can really swing the tide of battle by disarming a foe of a magic weapon or item, and has so many other situational uses. The disarm element is not automatic, but even if you don’t pull it off you still get to add the superiority die to the damage done.
Good demonstration here by Arnie… I enjoyed the ‘Blind Parry + Trip’ maneuver too.
In this attack you add the superiority die to your own damage, and you grant advantage on the next ally to attack’s attack roll. Handy when you’re in a hurry to finish off a BBG, but given that you are the party’s fighter and barbarians can give themselves advantage at any time with Reckless Attack, this is mostly useful only when the party rogue is directly behind you in the initiative order.
I can imagine this coming in handy for that epic moment where you have to sprint through the orc hordes in order to raise the drawbridge, or pull the lever than operates the moon door etc. etc. Unfortunately such moments are few and far between. This manoeuvre effectively gives you a limited Disengage without having to spend your action, but generally, as a fighter, you don’t disengage. If you’re hand to hand with a foe, you’re already in the right position. Another con: the AC bonus can only be applied to one section of movement… so if you run 10 feet, make an attack, then run another 15 feet, you’d only have the extra AC during the first part of your move.
Requires: Bonus Action
I like the idea of this one, but mechanically it’s not a great choice because you have to spend a superiority dice and a bonus action, and if you end up missing both are lost. Ok you will be attacking with advantage so you should hit, but generally I prefer the options where I can choose to spend a superiority die after I’ve hit.
Another of those heroic manoeuvres that a selfish prick like me will never pick. Attack the barbarian or the circle of the moon druid, not me! For something that protects the whole party, you included, take Menacing Attack instead.
Struggling to see the point of this one… please comment below if you’ve used it to good effect! I guess if you also have Polearm Master feat you could use it to attack from 15 feet and then on the next round you’d get an opportunity attack at they enter your range. Once you have two attacks though that tactic probably wouldn’t make sense.
This is a very versatile manoeuvre that I’m sure would come in handy pretty often, either to protect an endangered ally or NPC, or to help your allies reach control points on the battlefield. Might be worth taking, together with two more combat orientated moves, or you could pick it up at 7th, 10th or 15th level (when you get more maneuvers to choose from).
At first I thought this was a bit ‘meh’ but checking the frightened condition again I see that the target would have disadvantage on all attack rolls, not just against you. Doesn’t even require a bonus action. As a DM, I’d probably give Large creatures advantage on the save, and give Huge-sized creatures and larger an automatic pass, so that you can’t go and intimidate that hydra etc. Then again I’m pretty terrified of wasps… so maybe size isn’t everything.
For sure this would come in handy, although the mechanics kind of bug me… I prefer those of Defensive Duelist, or the shield spell – why isn’t the mechanic ‘add your superiority die to your AC for that attack’? After all, either the parry works (f@ck you bad guy!) or it doesn’t (ouch!). Anyway, if we compare this to Riposte, the other maneuver that requires a reaction, you’re going to save yourself maybe 5 hit points on average using Parry (as fighters tend to dump Dexterity) while with Riposte you’d be hoping to do at least 13 damage with a one handed weapon or at least 16 with a two handed weapon, hitting more often than not. If you kill the creature with a Riposte, before it can deliver all its attacks, you might save yourself some HP too. In other words only consider Parry if you’re a Dexterity-based fighter, and even then I’d go for Riposte probably.
Take it from these guys… you’re better off with the Defensive Duelist feat.
I selected this for my first ever 5e character, a rogue / wizard / fighter, as a means of making sure I got my sneak attack damage when I needed it most. There are precious few mechanics that allow you to turn a miss into a hit, making this a powerful choice for a hard-hitting PC, but it’s about the most boring maneuver out there.
Pushing baddies off boats, bridges and cliffs is fun. At first as I was like ‘you can use the Shove a Creature attack option, why bother with this maneuver?’ but I think it has its merits. For a start, 15 feet is obviously a lot further than 5 feet, so a foe who might feel they’re safe could be undone by a clever use of this manoeuvre. There’s nothing to stop you either moving around the other side of your target (as long as you don’t leave their reach you won’t provoke an opportunity attack), so the chasm doesn’t have to be behind them… it could be behind you at the start of the turn! The major difference between this and the Shove attack is that, whether the push succeeds or not, you do a tonne of damage. Ooooh… I just thought of something. If you have Polearm Master feat and you use this manoeuvre on your final attack of the round, then you should get an opportunity attack when they re-enter your range on their turn (assuming they haven’t decided enough is enough and taken to their heels!). As a DM, I would give Large-sized creatures advantage on the save.
Sometimes it’s worth keeping a superiority die in the bag, for one final push…
Requires: Bonus Action
Pretty handy at low levels, but I worry that you’re rarely going to supply your ally with a sufficient HP boost to ward off even a single attack of a medium to high level monster. So overall it’s a thumbs down from me. Better off focusing on eliminating the threat.
Is there anything more satisfying than damaging a creature when it’s THEIR turn. Ok you have to spend a superiority die before you hit, but it’s worth the gamble. This is THE manoeuvre for any swashbucklers out there (they can access it via the Martial Adept feat), not only for that Musketeer moment, but also because you can actually deal your Sneak Attack damage for the second time in a round – as you’re dealing it in someone else’s turn). Being a bit of a party pooper, I feel like this should be restricted to either finesse or at least one-handed weapons… but in RAW this is an excellent choice for two-handed weapon specialists who can make that extra attack really count.
Kind of fun, this could sometimes prove useful against hordes, but to be used to maximum effect you kind of need to know exactly how many hit points your opponents have, otherwise you’re just spreading your damage output amongst multiple foes – which is never a good tactic. The more I think about it, the more that it’s a thumbs down for me.
Hipster Remix: How about adding the superiority die damage to all creatures within 5 feet of you? I’m imagining a low sweeping move that hacks at the legs of everyone in range. A bit silly maybe, but I’d probably allow it following ‘the rule of cool.’
This is similar to the Pushing Attack in that it’s something you can do without the need to spend a precious superiority die. But again there are benefits to be had. You can deal damage at the same time as tripping then, and if successful you would get advantage on subsequent attacks, making it a potentially strong choice for a two-weapon fighter, who has an extra attack in the bag – you could also double down and use your Action Surge if you are successful. If you’re being extra canny you would target monsters who are just before you in the initiative chain, making sure they were prone for as long as possible, and giving ALL your party a chance to weigh in with some additional attacks rolls at advantage. Overall it’s very strong. If we compare to Feinting Attack, we don’t have to use our bonus action, and the advantage we gain on attack rolls should last for several attacks instead of just one. Of course Feinting Attack offers advantage automatically, but you risk losing your superiority die if you then miss… with TA you definitely get to use your superiority die, but you’ve only got around a 50/50 chance of the trip itself working and gaining the extra benefits of your opponent being prone. I know which I prefer overall. Again, as a DM, I might consider giving Large-sized creatures – and four-legged ones – advantage on their saving throw.
New Maneuvers: Unearthed Arcana
Wizards of the Coast published a fairly meaty Unearthed Arcana in November 2019, with – amongst other things – 7 more moves for budding battlemasters.
Since you may not be familiar with them, I’ve written them out in full, along with my thoughts on each, plus rating.
When you make a Dexterity (Stealth) check or an initiative roll, you can expend one superiority die and add the die to the roll.
Thoughts: Not bad, but if I wanted to build a stealthy fighter I would probably take Stealth as a proficiency, and if acting first is important, there’s the Alert feat. I guess the fact that you get your superiority die back after a short rest means you could use this benefit in almost every combat (so in that sense it’s nearly as good as the feat, and cheaper), so I still rank it pretty high even if it doesn’t excite me much. Maybe one to take at 7th level or 10th level, when you know a total of 5 and 7 manoeuvres respectively. Going before your enemy could easily make the difference between victory and defeat after all.
Bait and Switch
When you’re within 5 feet of an ally on your turn, you can expend one superiority die and switch places with that ally, provided you spend at least 5 feet of movement. This movement doesn’t provoke opportunity attacks. Roll the superiority die. Until the start of your next turn, the ally gains a bonus to AC equal to the number rolled.
Thoughts: This is cool, but seems EXTREMELY situational. If a monster has just moved next to an ally then that ally will have a chance to Disengage (I just wrote a post about Disengage by the way!) before the monster attacks again. If the ally didn’t move away, presumably it’s because they felt safe enough to stay put.
When an enemy you can see moves within 5 feet of you, you can use your reaction to expend one superiority die and make one weapon attack against that creature. If the attack hits, add the superiority die to the attack’s damage roll.
Thoughts: Ok, this is like Polearm Master feat but for any weapon. It’s also similar to Riposte, but with the major advantage that you strike before the opponent even swings – you don’t have to wait for them to miss you (or hit, and then miss you!). On the other hand if it’s you who engages the enemy and not the other way around, you won’t have a chance to use this manoeuvre. I think overall I prefer Riposte, because you have longer to assess if and when a superiority die is needed; but certainly this is a very strong choice.
Requires: Bonus Action
Immediately after you hit a creature with a melee weapon attack on your turn, you can expend one superiority die and use a bonus action to grapple the target (see chapter 9 in the Player’s Handbook for rules on grappling). Add the superiority die to your Strength (Athletics) check. The target is also restrained while grappled in this way.
Thoughts: Yeah this one isn’t going to survive playtesting! I was almost on board until the restrained condition came into play. A restrained creature is pretty helpless and so will be forced to contest the grapple on its turn… ie. lose its turn (or multiple turns if it doesn’t succeed). It also brings a broken mechanic to the fore… grappling is done using a skill (Athletics), which most monsters don’t have, setting up an unfair contest, and which doesn’t adequately take account of creature’s size (given that the Strength scores of Large-sized creatures and larger are nowhere near adequately reflected in their stats). I also don’t think you should be able to restrain a creature using just one hand. Referring to the Player’s Handbook, I see that even using the Grappling Feat it would take you two turns to restrain a creature, using two full actions. And you would also be restrained. This needs to be canned.
Rating: BROKEN! (Maybe if you remove restrained condition it might be ok… but even letting PCs use only a bonus action to grapple and increasing their already high chances of winning the contest by some 22.5%, via the superiority die, is probably too much)
When you make a Charisma (Deception) check or a Charisma (Persuasion) check, you can
expend one superiority die, and add the superiority die to the ability check.
Thoughts: At first this seems fairly out of context, and it raises a concern that superiority die are becoming a little too versatile. BUT… given that a fighter needs a great Strength and Constitution score, and some Wisdom and Dexterity are nice, it can be hard to create a charismatic hero of legend. This would at least enable you to exert your impressive military presence on proceedings in key moments, such as persuading the council to take the threat in the north seriously etc. etc. Overall, I like it, and furthermore I might take it for certain characters.
Requires: Bonus Action
As a bonus action, you can expend one superiority die and make a ranged weapon attack. You can draw a thrown weapon as part of making this attack. If you hit, add the superiority die to the attack’s damage roll.
Thoughts: Well the name feels wrong for a start. ‘Snipe’ feels like it should be something like ‘using a bonus action to get advantage on your next shot’… (i.e. the same as the ‘Aim’ mechanic that the designers have introduced via Unearthed Arcana, as part of the rogue’s Cunning Action ability). Generally I’m not a fan of archers in 5e D&D because it’s a bit of a cop out to do so much damage without even engaging the enemy… but if I was a fan of archers, I’d love the chance to actually use my bonus action from time to time using ‘Rapid Shot’ (as it should be called). Weirdly, you can already use a bonus action to make a thrown weapon attack, so not sure what that middle sentence is about.
When you make a Wisdom (Insight) check or an Intelligence (Investigation) check, you can expend one superiority die, and add the superiority die to the ability check.
Thoughts: I could more or less copy and paste my thoughts on Silver Tongue here, although I would personally find less use for this skill.
Maybe because I’ve been watching too many classic action films over the Coronavirus lockdown period, but I started to dream up some more moves that would be fun to bust out over the Dungeons & Dragons table.
I was only going to do a few of these, but the ideas kept coming… so here we go!
I ran these past a fellow DM, and I think they’re more or less balanced. You should be able to insert them into your game, reasonably confidently. But if you spot a problem, please highlight that in the comments section.
You can spend 5 feet of movement and expend one superiority die to confound one target within 5 feet of you. Make an DC 15 Dexterity (Acrobatics) check. If you succeed you gain advantage on your next melee attack roll against the target. If it hits, add the superiority die to the damage.
Design Notes: A similar effect to the somewhat disappointing Feinting Attack, but here you don’t have to use your bonus action (which you might have another use for). You do however have to succeed on an Acrobatics check, so it’s not for every fighter build.
Requires: Bonus Action
When you hit a creature with a melee weapon attack you can expend one superiority die and use your bonus action to attempt to spring out of danger. If you succeed on a DC 15 Dexterity (Acrobatics) check, the target of your attack has disadvantage on their attack rolls against you until the end of your next turn. You may choose to add your superiority die to either your attack’s damage roll, or your Dexterity (Acrobatics) check.
Design Notes: Ninja power! I think players would have fun describing their cartwheels, flips and somersaults in this and the previous manoeuvre.
You target the eyes of a creature within range with a weapon attack. You expend one superiority die and make your attack roll at disadvantage. If you hit, add the superiority die to the attack’s damage roll, and the target must make a Constitution saving throw. On a failed save, it is blinded until the end of your next turn. If it fails by 10 it loses an eye.
Design Notes: Higher risk, higher reward! Be sure to take if you’re entering a cyclops-ridden land.
Cinema’s most famous Blinding Strike?
When you hit with melee attack using your bonus action you may expend one superiority die and use your reaction to make one additional melee attack against the same target. If you hit add the superiority die to the damage.
Design Notes: One for two weapon fighters. A nice Tekken / Street Fighter vibe about this manoeuvre, with a hard hitting final blow.
When you hit a creature with a weapon attack, you can expend one superiority die to attempt to slow the creature down. You add the superiority die to the attack’s damage roll, and the target must make a Constitution saving throw. On a failed save, its speed is reduced by half and it has disadvantage on Dexterity saving throws until the end of your next turn.
Design Notes: Handy if you are planning a tactical retreat, with covering fire provided by lightning bolt etc..
Requires: Bonus Action
You can expend one superiority die and use a bonus action on your turn to feint, choosing one creature within 5 feet of you as the target. Until the end of your next turn, subtract the superiority die from their next attack roll against you.
Design Notes: I designed this with the idea you could keep one foe at bay, while you take out the other one, and if you play flanking you could rule that neither opponent gets a flanking bonus when you play this manoeuvre. It could also be used in a 1 vs. 1 scenario.
Requires: Action + Reaction
When you take the Dodge action you may expend one superiority die to adopt a defensive stance. When in this stance, if a creature attacks you before the start of your next turn, you may use a reaction to strike them with a melee weapon. If that attacks hits, add the superiority die to the attack’s damage roll.
Design Notes: This manoeuvre needed to be better than just dodge + riposte, otherwise it would be better just to take riposte. This is pretty handy actually. Aside from keeping you alive when surrounded by foes, you could also move while doing this, giving you great scope to lower than drawbridge, while cutting down the first fool who tries to stop you.
When you hit a creature with a weapon attack, you can expend one superiority die to hobble the creature’s offensive potential on its next turn. Subtract the superiority die from the creature’s next attack roll. If the creature has multiple ways of attacking, such as claws, bite and tail, at the DM’s discretion, you may select which attack you are targeting.
Design Notes: Could be handy if you’re low on HP!
Down But Not Out
When you are prone and a creature makes a melee attack roll against you, you can expend one superiority die and use your reaction to either impose a penalty equal to your superiority die on their attack rolls against you until the end of your next turn, or, if the creature is Large-sized or smaller, you may attempt to trip them using a free hand or foot. In the latter instance, the creature must make a Dexterity saving throw or fall prone and have its movement reduced to 0 for the rest of the turn. If the trip succeeds the creature takes bludgeoning damage equal to the superiority die.
Design Notes: Quite pleased with this one, even if it’s a bit wordy. Very situational (hence I gave it two options, so as to be a little more useful), but so cinematic, you might just be tempted… I would give Large-sized creatures advantage on the save.
When you hit a Large-sized creature or smaller with an unarmed strike you may expend on superiority die to attempt to stun the creature. You add the superiority die to the attack’s damage roll. The target must make a Constitution saving throw, with a DC equal to the total damage dealt by the strike. If it fails, it is stunned until the start of your next turn. If it fails by 5 or more it is knocked unconscious for 1 minute.
Design Notes: Not a very 5e design this one, I admit, and it might need some play-testing (ie. keep the rules fluid if you allow any PC to take it) but I feel like punching someone unconscious should be possible in D&D, even if it should be unlikely. Given that just the stunned condition itself is very debilitating, I added a bespoke DC to the save that should work out at only 5 to 15 DC, but maybe averaging around 9 or 10 – ie. a fair bit less than the standard DC for saves against the effects of Battlemaster Maneuvers. The fact that you have to do this with an unarmed strike, hopefully stops if from being OP’ed, and now there’s a good reason to a) take the Tavern Brawler feat and b) fight with just a one handed weapon and a bare fist! I would give Large-sized creatures advantage on the save.
When a creature within your reach attacks you, you can expend a superiority die and use your reaction to strike first, making a melee attack roll against them at disadvantage. If you hit, you subtract the superiority die from the target’s next attack roll against you.
Design Notes: This is a very powerful switch of the action economy, hence the disadvantage. A great move if you know your opponent’s next hit will be enough to take you out.
A pretty good demonstration of why the Preemptive Strike beats the Riposte…
Prerequisite: Shieldmaster Feat
Requires: Bonus Action
If you move at least 10 feet in a straight line before you shove a creature with your shield using your bonus action, you may expend a superiority die to improve your chances of success. Add the die to your Strength (Athletics) roll and, if you win the contest, the target also takes bludgeoning damage equal to the superiority die, plus your Strength modifier. You can decide whether to push the target up to 10 feet away, or knock it prone. You may use this bonus action before taking the Attack action.
Design Notes: Jeremy Crawford ruled that you’re supposed to only use the Shieldmaster’s bonus action after your main attack(s), but that kind of ruins the feat and is counterintuitive to how I imagine fighters would use their shield… in the movies at least (I prefer to emulate them than real life!), they tend to lead with their shield, especially when charging into combat. Anyhow this is a workaround mechanic that will help you get some more mileage out of sword and board!
You can expend one superiority die and use a bonus action to attempt to intimidate opponents in a 15-foot-cube in front of you. Large-sized creatures or smaller must make a Charisma saving throw. On a fail, they are frightened of you until the end of your next turn. The first time you hit a creature frightened of you before the end of your turn, you add the superiority die to the attack’s damage roll.
Design Notes: I was imagining Conan doing the figure of eight with a big shiny sword as he charges into battle when I came up with this one. Could also be a charismatic swashbuckler, twirling their rapier. I would give advantage to creatures already engaged in melee, who probably aren’t paying so much attention to this show of strength, and also to Large-sized creatures who would not be so easily intimidated by such antics. Finally, victims should also be smart enough to realise the Showboater is a dab hand with a blade… ie. not beasts or zombies etc., who won’t appreciate the technical wizardry on display.
…the flipside of the Showboating Attack.
You can expend one superiority die and use a bonus action on your turn to perform a spinning defensive maneuver, designed to ward off multiple foes. Any creature within 5 feet of you must make a Dexterity saving throw. Those that fail suffer a penalty equal to your superiority die on their next attack roll against you before the end of your next turn.
Design Notes: Fighting hordes is tough! This should make it easier. It was tempting to invent a maneuver that enabled you to attack more, but I feel a) that’s what Action Surge is there for and b) I didn’t want to step on the toes of the ranger and their Horde Breaker and Whirlwind Attack features.
While ranking these I found there were several I liked the flavour of, but were either not quite powerful enough or were too situational, to give serious consideration to taking; at least at 3rd level.
Given that we now also have 16 maneuvers in the PH, 7 more in UA, and now 14 more homebrewed by Hipsters & Dragons, should you wish to use them, I think it’s only fair to give Battle Masters a bit more choice. So I propose that Battle Masters can choose 3 regular maneuvers at 3rd level, PLUS 1 ‘instinctive’ maneuver. Instinctive Maneuvers are less powerful, and rely more on reactions and less on training. I would say the following manoeuvres would qualify as Instinctive Maneuvers, if you fancy adopting this rule, but you could add anything else you feel is a little underpowered vs. the others.
Goading Attack (PH)
Lunging Attack (PH)
Sweeping Attack (PH, although maybe my Remix shouldn’t be on this list, as it’s markedly more powerful)
Bait and Switch (UA)
Silver Tongue (UA)
Studious Eye (UA)
Defensive Feint (H&D)
Defensive Stance (H&D)
Down But Not Out (H&D)
More Resources – DM’s Guild
I also like this product on the DMs Guild… 25 new maneuvers. I think the idea of some having a fighting style as a prerequisite makes good sense, although in the end I didn’t go that route with my own ones.
Finally this creator has made maneuvers part of the armoury of every class in 5th edition, with 95 to choose from, of different power tiers (ie. you can access better maneuvers as you level up). I think that’s a pretty cool idea, for those that want to introduce more versatile combat play into their game.
Please share your thoughts in the comments, remembering your good manners while doing so.
Also share your own homebrewed maneuvers, or if there’s something you want me to help balance or create for you, I’ll certainly give it a go!