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Dodge & Disengage: Do They Need Tweaking?

Few players at my table ever remember to use the Disengage and Dodge actions, which is probably why it’s taken me about four years to realise they are way too powerful. Or, at the very least, they are immersion breaking.

I can get on board with someone managing to extricate themselves from a fight by taking the Disengage action… but the fact that they can then ‘move around the board’ with impunity doesn’t make any sense to me. A rogue could end up running down a 60 foot corridor of bloodthirsty orcs without them laying a single axe on her fleet frame. Indeed, in RAW, the orcs wouldn’t even try swinging, presumably too bedazzled by her Usain Bolt-esque afterburners.

Don’t worry chaps… we’ll Disengage and make a run for it! (William Barnes Wollen).

Dodge is less problematic, but doesn’t make sense in certain situations… for example when you’re surrounded by a horde of rampaging gnolls, harrying you from all angles. Or you’ve got a dozen archers all taking aim. When the character is an unarmed, and unarmored wizard, it’s hard to visualise how they would be able to go about defending themselves so effectively – imposing disadvantage on ALL attacks. Surely there’s a limit on how many attacks one can defend oneself in a single round? (Perhaps if 5th edition had facing rules, that would help determine which attacks could be seen or not, which in turn would help mitigate the problem… but it doesn’t).

Yep, as you’ve probably guessed by now, I’m going to stick my oar in 5th edition’s lovely elegant design and give it a good whirl.

Disengage: Hipster Remix

When you take the Disengage action you can select a number of creatures equal to your Dexterity modifier (min. 1). Your movement doesn’t provoke opportunity attacks from those creatures for the rest of the turn.

RAW version here.

Dodge: Hipster Remix

When you take the Dodge action, you focus entirely on avoiding attacks. Until the start of your next turn, you can impose disadvantage on a certain number of attack rolls made against you, provided that you can see the attacker in each case. That number equals your AC minus 10, or 2, whichever is higher. Additionally, you make Dexterity saving throws with advantage. You lose these benefits if you are incapacitated or if your speed drops to 0.

RAW version here.

So what do you think? Pretty reasonable, no? In most cases PCs won’t notice a downgrade in these abilities… but it will make the tight spots they occasionally find themselves in realistically tighter. And if they do end up dead, you can always send them my apologies.

As always, please share your thoughts in the comments…


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  1. Matt

    Your proposed version of Disengage is better, but it makes Dexterity even more important. Dexterity is already the most important stat.

    The proposed Dodge rule is overly complicated and won’t make a difference in 95% of combat scenarios. If a creature is surrounded by more than two enemies, those enemies are likely not the main threat on the table.

    I really like allowances that are tied to ability scores or modifiers. For example, my home brew rule for holding breath is that a creature without a swim speed can hold its breath for a number of rounds equal to its Constitution score. It’s simple, easy to remember and makes sense. In that vein, I would likely allow a dodging or disengaging character to dodge/disengage up to their DEX or STR modifier.

    • duncan

      hey Matt

      Well I don’t think removing the 1 from in front of your AC is that complicated or hard to remember! I do agree that’s it’s better to tie a new rule direct to the a modifier if you can, but the reason I did it this way – and not Dex modifier + Proficiency mod. , which was my other consideration – is to reflect that, of all the classes you’d bank on being able to shut up shop for a round or two against multiple foes, it would be a heavily armoured fighter with a shield. But as you say, maybe it’s not really worth having an extra rule here, as it won’t come into play very often. Still I like having some kind of a check / limit on the ability.

      By the way your homebrew is a quite a large deviation from RAW… on p.183 of the PH it states that a creature can hold its breath for a number of MINUTES equal to 1 + its Constitution modifier (so 3 minutes with Con 14). After which it can then survive for a number of rounds equal to it’s Constitution mod.

      So 32 rounds (official) vs. 2 rounds (yours) with Con 14. I think the Player’s Handbook is maybe being rather generous, but your homebrew is rather extreme! Maybe in combat it makes sense, but would make diving for pearls for example rather tricky.

      • Matt

        I’m moving away from 5e largely because it’s too abstract and unrealistic for my personal preferences. I cut my teeth on 3.5, moved into Pathfinder and have been dabbling in various other rule sets for a little while.

        I think you misread my house rule. It is : “You can hold your breath for a number of rounds equal to your Constitution Score (not modifier). ” I also think your math is off, or I’m forgetting something. RAW, a character with CON 14 would have 1+2=3 minutes x 6 (rounds per minute) yields 18 rounds, not 32.

        The breath-holding rules, like so many rules in 5e, make no sense. Peak performance humans (Navy Seals) can only hold their breath 2-3 minutes while maintaining aerobic activity.

        This rule is more intuitive for dealing with negative CON scores. Whereas RAW has a caveat “(minimum 30 seconds)”, using the CON score in rounds is simpler for players to understand. At the low end, a CON 8 wizard would have 5 rounds using RAW, and 8 rounds using my system. A CON 20 Barbarian would have 36 rounds RAW vs 20 rounds (still over 3 minutes!) with my rules.

        • duncan

          Ok yes I did misread your house rule! That would be more realistic for sure, and is easier to remember than RAW. (There is also a precedent for using a full score to determine the length of a character’s long jump, so your rule feels on point).

          However I am thinking that game wise it probably works better to only be able to hold your breath for your Con modifier, and not full score – during combat at least… otherwise very few fights would last long enough for drowning to even be a possibility. Recently I DM’ed a scenario where a PC fell into a subterranean river in full plate during a combat. I improvised and had him start making Con saves pretty shortly into the combat, giving him levels of exhaustion for failure. It was a fun encounter.

          In RAW (or even your rules) he could have held his breath for whole combat and then his buddies could have fished him out with time to spare at the end. Not very dramatic!

          I think D&D becomes more believable if you are flexible about how long a round lasts. Sure a round could last 6 secs… if everyone just swaps swings. But realistically people take a breather, size each other up, manoeuvre etc. etc. So some rounds might last 6 secs, others much longer. A three round battle doesn’t last just 18 seconds in my mind.

          I think my maths were ok… a round in 5e is 6 seconds, so 10 rounds a minute. You are basing your maths on 6 x 10 second rounds (maybe from 3.5… I never played that edition).

          Another recommendation for Pathfinder. I will check it out. There’s still a tonne of 5e stuff I want to get stuck into though!

  2. Dennis

    5e is focused on simple rules and heroic fantasy, a genre with plenty of room for unrealistic feats of competence. The Disengage and Dodge RAW seem to fit these fairly well. If you want a bit more gritty realism, perhaps you’d prefer Pathfinder?

    If I were inclined to gripe about lack of realism in D&D, Disengage and Dodge would be very far down the list.

    • duncan

      Hi Dennis

      Interestingly, the DMG notes 11 flavours of fantasy of which Heroic Fantasy is only one… although gritty fantasy or historic fantasy are absent, perhaps tellingly so.

      I def. should pick up the Pathfinder core rules… would be interested to know how they played. I was under the impression it was also heroic fantasy though?

      Overall though there are plenty of reasons why I’m unlikely to switch from D&D (lore, community content, plus many excellent mechanics):

  3. Steve

    The beauty of 5e is that you are free to tweak things like this to fit your table. If you’re my DM and you explained these rule mods to me in session 0, we would agree to whatever modifications you implement. I think issues arise when, mid campaign, the DM says “oh, wait, I’m using a different rule for (disengage, dodge, w/e). You can’t do that even though is RAW”.

    Your table, your house rules. As long as everyone knows and agrees to your home rules upfront, have fun!

    But let’s temper the amount of real world filters we apply to D&D. It’s a fantasy game where I can be a 5’ tall talking cat or lizard that often casts magic spells to incapacitate or outright kill griffons and kobolds.

    Everyone at the table is working together to tell a story or complete a quest. Amend the rules as your group sees fit, but just make all those changes apparent before the first dice rolls, and as DM, be open to hearing out your players if they have different interpretations of something random that comes up in the campaign.

  4. Feral Gangrel

    For the people that want to house rule this and that, go for it. But when saying things don’t sound “Realiatic” remember. You’re playing a game, set in a world of fantasy. With Wizards, Dragons, and Gods that you can interact with. I’ve been in games where the question of “Can you use fireball under water?” has come up. Short answer yes.
    If it helps improve the flow of your game go for it. But remember you’re playing a game, and the point at the end of the day is to have fun. In my experience when things like this get brought up, it drags the game pace down and drastically lowers player enjoyment. And when players aren’t having fun, they start looking for new means to enjoy themselves.

    • duncan

      That’s a funny argument that people always use when discussing rules: “it’s fantasy, there’s magic, everything is unrealistic etc etc”, but the argument doesn’t really make sense… the rules are based on a sense of realism, eg. if you wear armour you are better protected, as are the adventures: you commit a crime in front of the guards, they will try to arrest you. And in fact that sense of realism is crucial to (most) player(s) immersion and enjoyment. If someone tries to cast fireball underwater and it works, I am having less fun… the game has descended into something stupid for me. And I’m definitely not alone there.

      Back in the beginnings of D&D virtually everything was house rules, but I do agree that the modern player seems to prefer just to play the official rules. That way they feel that the DM can’t somehow be biased against them, their character powers are never limited by a DM ruling, and that they are playing the official version of the game.

      Good D&D is about finding people on your wave length…

      • Dennis

        Players object to GM’s changing the rules because it usually comes as an unpleasant surprise. The player puts time and effort into crafting their character then a few levels in gets a chance to use the special combination of abilities they’ve been looking forward to for weeks/months. And the GM announces a house rule that prohibits it.

        To the player it appears like an arbitrary nerfing of their character and feels like a personal attack. It doesn’t matter if the GM has been using the house rule for years with other groups and forgot to tell the player, or if it’s on page 27 of 50 page handout the GM gave all the players (and none of them read). The key point is that it’s a surprise to the player.

        Far less often are such rules *effectively* communicated to the players *before* they create and are invested in their characters.

        Also, players looking to join a D&D 5e game presumably *want* to play D&D 5e. Players who aren’t satisfied with the D&D 5e would presumably be looking to play some other game. If I didn’t like a GM’s house rules I’d simply opt not to play, but many players will feel pressured to play anyway (perhaps it’s long running group or they don’t known of any other games to join instead) and thus may become resentful.

  5. Why not make disengage apply only to the creatures you’re engaged with at the start of your move?

    • duncan

      Hi Huth

      That makes sense to me, but I would consider that more of a nerf than my version, as the characters that wish to use disengage are typically dextrous and will typically be disengaging from only 1 or 2 foes, so using their Dex modifier offers them more protection and flexibility. It also rules out running safely between two guards, starting your turn out of melee and then using disengage to stroll by them, but maybe you shouldn’t be able to do that anyway. The idea that you can run between two guards without them even swinging at you is rather absurd. It sounds like Disengage was thought up for one purpose (the one you state: to disengage from melee safely), and then worded as simply as possible.

  6. Panda

    My issue is that this tinkers with options that are more rarely used and makes them less useful. Even in the cases where they are more likely to come up (with monks and rogues) you are taking something without giving anything in return. It feels like a stingy nod to realism in a game that doesn’t do realism well to start with.

    I am not sure how to fix them to address your issues, but I think you can absolutely tell your disengaging rogue that stunned orcs are too startled by his or her speed to react or that (purely as flavorful description) orc axe blades are nipping at his or her heels as they run.

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