Last Updated on January 22, 2023
While many players know the power of using their action to attack or cast a spell, there’s more than can be done with that action.
The Player’s Handbook lists a variety of actions that you can take in combat. One of these actions is the Disengage action.
But, what does the Disengage action do? Why isn’t this action used as much as the other actions from the list of combat actions?
Let’s take a look at why the Disengage action tends to be the tactical choice only in a few key moments.
What Is the Disengage Action?
The Disengage action is a combat action a creature can take to avoid opportunity attacks. By taking this action, a creature acts defensively as they move, preventing enemies from delivering any sudden strikes as the defender moves away from their foe.
Let’s take a look at what the Player’s Handbook says about the Disengage action:
If you take the Disengage action, your movement doesn’t provoke opportunity attacks for the rest of the turn.
Ultimately, the rules don’t say much about this action. Basically, by taking this action in combat over something like attacking or casting a spell, you prevent your movement from opening yourself up to attacks.
So, save for some unique class features or other trickiness, you won’t be disengaging and attacking on the same turn.
The biggest downside of using this action comes from its opportunity cost. Actions are valuable, especially in combat. Giving up your action to be reactive rather than staying on the offensive hurts.
Most players would love to be able to avoid having to use this action altogether. However, it’s a critical action to take when things get dicey.
When To Use the Disengage Action
The Disengage action has most of its utility tied to retreats or repositioning on the battle grid to a place outside of a monster’s reach.
Without taking the Disengage action, you provoke an attack as your foe’s reaction by moving outside of their reach.
Some monsters have opportunity attacks that can deal major damage to your character, making just walking away dangerous.
So, if you find that you need to retreat rather than Dodge, a Disengage could be the right play to make. It would allow your character to position themselves behind cover or near an ally that can assist them.
Since you won’t have your action to Dash, characters with higher movement speeds benefit more from the Disengage action since they can create more space.
Still, the Disengage action doesn’t have to be solely defensive. Characters that want to break for the enemy backline could benefit from Disengaging before their movement.
That way, they can rush over to a key target at the back of the fight and start threatening them with opportunity attacks. For encounters with spellcasters or other ranged creatures, this maneuver could turn combat in your favor.
Also, some frontline characters have effects that work best in a group of enemies.
A cleric with spirit guardians up or an Oath of Conquest Paladin with their fear effects would want to put themselves in the middle of the enemies.
By Disengaging, these characters can get into the backline to maximize their targets without taking damage on the way in.
Like all of the actions in D&D 5e, the Disengage action has multiple tactical uses.
Design elements such as this make it clear why D&D is traditionally played on a grid map. Without these considerations around movement, the Disengage action wouldn’t have to exist at all!
Alternatives and Variations to the Disengage Action
D&D 5e isn’t the same game now as when it was released six years ago. With the release of new books, more character options have been introduced.
The release of these books is an exciting time, but they also herald something else: changes to the kinds of characters you can make.
Specifically, mobility and forced movement options have become more prevalent in D&D 5e since its initial release. These options give players other avenues to move around the battle grid without taking the Disengage action.
Forced movement in particular is interesting. According to the Player’s Handbook, you can only make an opportunity attack against a creature that has taken deliberate action to move.
Teleportation or push and pull effects won’t trigger an opportunity attack, but forcing a foe to spend movement speed would.
So, here are some examples of things that have come out that allow you to move both friend and foe around the battlefield:
- Repelling Blast and Grasp of Hadar: These warlock invocations let you pull and push enemies around, giving allies space to move away.
- Fancy Footwork: Swashbuckler rogues can move away from foes they attack in melee without using the Disengage action.
- Command and Dissonant Whispers: These spells can force foes to expend movement, pulling them out of position and opening up space on the grid.
- Telekinetic: A newer feat from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything that lets you move an enemy that fails a Strength saving throw 5 feet.
- Dunamancy spells: Many of the spells from Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount have a pull or push effect attached to them as the spellcaster conjures the power of gravity.
There are also class features out there, such as the Rogue’s Cunning Action or the Monk’s Step of the Wind, that let you Disengage as a bonus action.
By moving your Disengage to your bonus action, you retain your ability to attack, cast spells, or otherwise do big things on your turn while still moving away safely.
Also, a Strength-based character could attempt to Shove a foe using their Athletics.
It only works on creatures no more than one size bigger than you, but if you succeed, you can push the target 5 feet away.
Since many monsters only have a 5-foot reach, this can let a Strength-based character create space or push an enemy into hazardous terrain without Disengaging.
Here are some of the common questions out there about how the Disengage action works in D&D 5e:
How Does the Disengage Action Work?
When you take the Disengage action, you don’t provoke opportunity attacks from moving until the end of your turn.
Taking this action means you ignore opportunity attacks from all creatures for your turn – not just a creature you are adjacent to when taking the action.
Who Can Use the Disengage Action?
Any character or creature can take the Disengage action. Some player classes, such as the Rogue and Monk, can Disengage as a bonus action instead of their main action.
There are also other ways to move without provoking attacks, such as forced movement effects.
The Disengage action is a tactical action that won’t be used round after round like others. Instead, this action is at its best when used to withdraw or put your character into a stronger position.
While many characters have alternatives or other ways to create distance with foes, the Disengage action has the benefit of being useable by every creature.
If you need to get away from a monster, you’ll always have the Disengage action as an option.
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I played the game a lot as a kid, back in first edition. Over the past few years since 5e was released, I’ve really started getting back into it. Currently, I run a campaign online for some friends and my brothers, and we also play a side-sesh just to mix things up.