Disarm is a little-used rule in DnD 5e, partly because it is an optional rule for DMs to include and partly because its effective use can be very situational.
If you’re a DM thinking of bringing this rule into your game or a player who wants to know more about how Disarm works in 5e, you’ll find everything you need in this guide.
Best Uses of the Disarm Action
- An enemy is holding an important object that you need to retrieve or remove from their grasp.
- An enemy has a powerful attack and a lot of hit points, so disarming them reduces the chance of them attacking this round whilst you chip away at their hit points.
- Disarming an opponent to force them to drop their shield, reducing their AC until they pick it up and don it again.
How Does the Disarm Action Work in DnD 5e?
A creature can use a weapon attack to knock a weapon or another item from a target’s grasp. The attacker makes an attack roll contested by the target’s Strength (Athletics) check or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check. If the attacker wins the contest, the attack causes no damage or other ill effect, but the defender drops the item.
The attacker has disadvantage on its attack roll if the target is holding the item with two or more hands. The target has advantage on its ability check if it is larger than the attacking creature, or disadvantage if it is smaller.Dungeon Master’s Guide, p. 271.
The Disarm action appears in the Dungeon Master’s Guide as an attack option that DMs can choose to use in their game or in specific scenarios. This means it is generally up to the DM as to whether or not Disarm can be used in the game, but players can of course request it as an option.
Disarm is used as part of a weapon attack and it can knock a weapon or another item from the target’s grasp. To check the success of the Disarm action, the attacker makes an attack roll versus a Strength (Athletics) check or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check by the target. If successful, the target drops the item but they do not take any damage.
The Dungeon Master’s Guide also adds that the attacker will have disadvantage if the target is holding the item with two or more hands – so it is more difficult, for example, to disarm someone holding a two-handed axe than it is to disarm someone holding a sword.
The size of the target matters too. So larger targets get advantage on their ability check whereas smaller targets get disadvantage, meaning it is more difficult to disarm a creature larger than you but it is easier to disarm a creature smaller than you.
Here’s an example of how this might work in combat:
- Olga the Orc Queen is holding a crystal that lets her command an undead army. One option to stop her is to kill her, but the adventurers are being attacked by the undead and fear it will take too long to kill Olga before they are killed themselves.
- Finley the Fighter and Rayna the Rogue manage to get to Olga the Orc Queen. Finley uses his action to make a weapon attack against Olga but uses the Disarm action.
- Finley rolls his weapon attack and gets a 14. Olga does a Strength (Athletics) check and gets a 12. Olga drops the crystal.
- Rayna then uses her action to pick up the crystal. The undead army now obeys Rayna and stop attacking the other players.
This is an ideal use of Disarm, particularly helped by the fact that Rayna is able to pick up the item in the same round before Olga can.
There are instances, however, when this won’t work as smoothly. For example, if you use Disarm to force an opponent to drop their weapon, they can pick up that weapon or draw a new one as a free action on their turn.
Disarm vs. Disarming Attack
Disarming Attack. When you hit a creature with a weapon attack, you can expend one superiority die to attempt to disarm the target, forcing it to drop one item of your choice that it’s holding. You add the superiority die to the attack’s damage roll, and the target must make a Strength saving throw. On a failed save, it drops the object you choose. The object lands at its feet.
Player’s Handbook, Fighter, p. 74.
Some of the confusion around the Disarm action arises because there is another action in DnD that lets players disarm their opponents – the Disarming Attack. So what is the difference between Disarm and Disarming Attack?
First off, not just anyone can use Disarming Attack. Disarming Attack is one of the Maneuvers that can be learned by Battle Masters, one of the Martial Archetypes that Fighters can select at 3rd level. Battle Masters have special dice called ‘superiority dice’ that can be spent to use Maneuvers.
If the Battle Master chooses to learn Disarming Attack as one of their Maneuvers, then during combat they can do this if they successfully hit an opponent. The Battle Master rolls their superiority die and adds the result to their damage roll. The target then makes a Strength saving throw and drops the item if it fails.
The differences between the Disarm action and Disarming Attack are:
- Disarm is an optional combat rule whereas Disarming Attack is not.
- Anyone can use the Disarm action but only Battle Masters can use Disarming Attack.
- Disarm does not deal damage but Disarming Attack does.
- Disarm is used instead of hitting the opponent, whereas Disarming Attack is used to enhance an already successful hit.
- The success of Disarm is measured in a contest between the attacker’s hit result and the target’s Strength or Dexterity check result.
The Disarm Action in Your Game: Tips for DMs
DMs might be wondering, “should I include the Disarm action in my game?” The Disarm action can cause a lot of frustration for both players and DMs if it is used to remove weapons from opponents since that opponent can simply pick it up for free on their next turn.
That said, there are times when the Disarm action can be useful both for players and for NPCs and enemies run by the DM. If you’re considering using the Disarm action in your games, it is worth explaining to your players how picking up objects works as a free action.
You could also bring in the Disarm action for individual scenarios. The above example about Olga the Orc Queen and her crystal controlling her undead army might be a scenario in which you temporarily bring in the Disarm action since you know it could be used effectively.
There’s nothing wrong with bringing in additional combat rules for certain encounters and then removing them afterwards.
Final Thoughts on the Disarm Action in DnD 5e
The Disarm action isn’t for everyone. Many DMs will find it simpler to rule it out or, at the very least, to discourage players from using it too much. That said, the Disarm action can create some interesting situations and gives players more tactical options.
Our final tip? Run it in a few games and see if it works for you and your players.