Most new players of Dungeons and Dragons overlook the Disengage action. It is still a powerful move that can be useful for both getting into the right offensive position as well as for getting out of trouble.
This article will explain the way Disengage works in 5e along with some clarifications regarding some edge cases you may encounter.
As well as the Disengage action, we will also discuss when and how to use it, as well as a method that DMs can use if players overly rely on it.
WHAT DOES A DISENGAGE ACTION DO IN 5e?
Disengaging is an action taken by a creature each time it takes its turn.
After a creature has used Disengage, the movement of that creature doesn’t trigger an opportunity attack for the remainder of the turn.
Think of Disengage as a creature that spends all of its turn trying to keep enemies at bay without drawing the attention of the enemy so that it can be attacked.
In DnD 5e, whenever a creature moves out of the reach of a hostile creature, the creature normally provokes an opportunity attack.
The Disengage action is, essentially, the only way you are going to be able to break away from an enemy once you are within melee range of them without provoking an opportunity attack.
When a creature uses its action to disengage, it has usually only one action per turn. Therefore, if a creature disengages, they are usually unable to attack or cast a spell.
When a creature takes the Disengage action, it still has the bonus actions, the reactive spells, and the normal movement speed. When a creature takes the Disengage action, it does not automatically move.
The Disengage Rules For 5e
Disengage is a relatively straightforward action when you know how opportunity attacks are usually executed.
Even so, there are a few edge cases that occur frequently enough to clarify some rules about Disengage and opportunity attacks.
- When a mount uses the Disengage action, its rider is not exposed to opportunity attacks.
That is because a creature cannot provoke an opportunity attack unless it moves itself – not when “someone or something moves you without using your movement”.
- A “Disengage” lasts the duration of your turn. Often, new players mistakenly believe that when they use the Disengage action, they are using it against a specific creature, or that their ability to avoid opportunity attacks is limited.
- You can prepare the Disengage action, but it is of no use. When a creature uses the Ready action, they prepare a response, which they then take with their Reaction.
Although the Disengage action is technically Readyed, it only prevents opportunity attacks for the remainder of the turn.
- Disengage prevents opportunity attacks when the Polearm Master feat is used.
The Polearm Master feat can be used by players using certain weapons to take advantage of opportunity attacks whenever an enemy enters their reach, a powerful advantage which opens up several new opportunities for those using certain weapons.
Ready’d Disengage can only be used during someone else’s turn and not during your own. Disengage only prevents opportunity attacks during the turn of the attacking creature.
As the Ready action cannot prepare actions or movements, you have no practical advantage in Readying the Disengage action.
In spite of Disengage, the rules when it comes to moving around hostile creatures still apply.
Unless you are at least two sizes larger or smaller than a hostile creature, you cannot move through its space (nonhostile creatures have no such limitations).
Due to this, if you are a Medium creature (as most races are), you cannot move through hostile tiles occupied by Small, Large, or Medium creatures, regardless of whether you have used the Disengage ability.
It is possible for Small creatures to pass by Large or larger creatures.
You cannot end your turn in a hostile or friendly creature’s space. It is difficult terrain whenever a tile is occupied by creatures (either hostile or friendly), which requires double the movement speed.
When one wins an Acrobatics contest, the player has the option of taking Tumble actions, which allow free passage through hostile-occupied tiles (regardless of their size).
Even so, since these attacks have been classified as opportunity attacks, Disengage still prevents these attacks from taking place.
How To Use Disengage In Fifth Edition
Hit and run. Disengage is often the right choice when you’ve gone too far to take down a high-value target, but now you want to get back to your frontline. This is the fundamental strategy of most Rogue gameplay.
It is most efficient when you are not being pursued. You don’t need to disengage if the person you are running from can catch up to you for free when it is their turn.
Disengage works best if you are able to get behind allies (who can smash the baddie with opportunity attacks if it chases you).
The same goes for naturally fast characters or races which are capable of flight – if pursuit is unlikely, then Disengage becomes more effective.
Grabbing McGuffins. If there is a huge horde of zombies, orcs, or whatever it is between you and that Thing you need for your quest.
The Disengage action can help you get to where you need to be. You can also use it to get the hell out once you have grabbed it.
Repositioning. Although tanky characters wearing plate armor will often find the Dodge action to be more useful than Disengage, squishier characters who need to either A) keep up with their frontline/faster allies or B) retreat back to the backline so the tank can cover the retreat will find the Disengage action to be very useful.
Almost dead: The Disengage power can save your life if you are on the verge of death to place yourself in the range of a healer or simply force your DM to pursue you if he wishes to end your character’s story.
In this situation, The Dodge still leaves you vulnerable to opportunities attacks, and the Dash still leaves you vulnerable to opportunity attacks, so Disengage gives you the most control over how your character is protected.
Is it better to disengage or dodge? If you have the kind of character that has a high AC and is tanky, in general you should simply use the Dodge action and ignore the disadvantaged opportunity attacks rather than Disengage. But why?
In actuality, because taking an opportunity attack eats ONE reaction off the creature, the squishier party members can run past them and not provoke opportunity attacks – there is no need to Disengage from them.
Additionally, if you are a DM trying to beat the Disengage action, here are some tips that might prove useful:
Ready for an attack: Players who consistently make your baddies look like chumps with their constant Disengage actions (cough, Rogues), we have a solution: hold a creature’s attack (or multiple creatures). How can you accomplish this?
It is extremely simple to implement Ready attacks with the trigger being “when the Rogue (or whoever) gets into melee range.”
This is a surefire way to catch someone by surprise and add a bit of complexity to their decision-making process.
Obviously, this consumes the creature’s action, so he will not be able to attack on his turn, but on the next turn of the Rogue. Moreover, if the Rogue does not enter range, you have wasted that creature’s turn.
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