© Wizards of the Coast by Johann Bodin

Extra Attack in DnD 5e: Swing Until Dead – Multiattack Mahem

With the scaling of spells as a way for casters to deal increased damage as the enemies become tougher, beginner players might find themselves asking how martial classes can keep up with that damage.

So, in comes the Extra Attack feature. It can be said that spell scaling and Extra Attack are reciprocal features of martial and casting classes.

They allow them to deal more damage per turn as their level — and the level of enemies — increases.

How Does Extra Attack Work?

As the name implies, the Extra Attack feature allows a character to make more than one Attack when using the Attack Action. It’s granted at higher levels of martial classes.

Beginning at 5th level, you can attack twice, instead of once, whenever you take the Attack action on your turn.

Player’s Handbook (Barbarian)

The class determines the number of Extra Attacks given to a character. Barbarians, Monk, Paladins, and Rangers get one Extra Attack. Bladesingers and Bards who are part of the College of Swords or the College of Valor get one Extra Attack.

Fighters are the real meaty Extra Attack class with up to 3 Extra Attacks, 4 total, at 20th level.

Extra Attack is sometimes referred to as “multiattack” by players taking the similarly functioning monster action. These multiattacks increase characters’ damage potential and damage output by increasing their chances to deal damage with each action.

You can attack multiple times when you take the Attack action; you cannot hold onto this feature. It triggers on the main action if the main action is Attack and no other time.

So if you were to try and “hold” the Extra Attack by using the Ready action, your primary action would have been Ready and not Attack, so Extra Attack wouldn’t trigger.

An Extra Attack is not another action. Instead, it modifies the player’s Attack action so that when they use their Attack action, they make more than one attack.

This doesn’t grant them any extra actions, and they can’t do anything besides make another attack. For instance, they can’t replace it with a spell or use the Disengage action with their Extra Attack feature.

Spells that include a Weapon Attack, such as Booming Blade or Green Flame Blade, also can’t be used with the Extra Attack action as this would be considered a Cast Spell action rather than an Attack Action (covered in more detail below.) The weapon attack is merely a part of the Cast Spell action and does not trigger an Extra Attack.

You can move in between attacks without breaking the action and continue the action when you finish your movement. Assuming you don’t move more than your maximum amount, you would even be able to move each time you attack as a Fighter if you desired.

Caster classes don’t generally get Extra Attacks. Their damage is scaled up by the spell slot and spell level rather than with attacking multiple times per turn. The exception to this rule is Bards who are part of the Colleges of Swords or Valor.

Extra Attack Math

Let’s take a quick look at the number. How much does Extra Attack increase our damage? You might say, “well, obviously, it doubles it!” but that’s not precisely accurate.

You can’t just factor in the number of attacks; you also have to factor in your chance to hit. We’ll calculate both your per-hit damage and per round damage (average of three turns.)

The average number of sides on a weapon damage die is 6.97, so we’ll round that up to 7 for ease of calculation.

With a maximum damage value of 7, our weapon will deal 4 damage on average per attack (50% + 0.5). We’ll calculate this using a Fighter at the 20th level, so they’ll have 4 attacks per turn instead of the usual one.

A fighter who has maxed out their Strength will have a 95% chance to hit a creature with the lowest Armor Class (a natural 1 always misses!) and a 35% chance to hit a creature with the highest Armor Class. This evens out to a 33% chance to hit overall.

This means that on average the Fighter will now hit approximately one of their four attacks per turn.

You might say, “but that’s garbage!” but you have to consider how many attacks they were hitting prior. A 33% chance to hit with only one attack averages out to about one attack every 3 turns. Raising the threshold to 1 per turn actually raises your per-hit damage output by 67% and triples your per round damage.

In terms of actual damage numbers, that’s an average of 4.5 damage per turn and 9 extra damage a round in weapon attacks alone, assuming the weapon has no upgrades whatsoever, across all weapons..

How Do I Get Extra Attack?

The Extra Attack feature is present in the class features of Barbarians, Monks, Paladins, Rangers, Fighters, Bladesingers, and Sword/Valor Bards.

Aside from Fighters who get 4 extra attacks in total, most classes only get one extra attack. There are no feats that give extra attacks; the only way to get them is to reach the appropriate level of one of these classes. 

Classes That Get Extra Attacks

Barbarians, Monks, Paladins, and Rangers get their Extra Attack at the 5th level. Bladesingers and Sword/Valor Bards get their Extra Attack at the 6th level. Fighters get an Extra Attack at the 5th, 11th, and 20th level. 

Though it may seem out of left field, Rogues don’t ever get Extra Attacks because their damage is supplemented by Sneak Attack. They can, however, make a bonus action Attack if they use Two-Weapon Fighting (detailed below.)

Extra Attack & Multiclassing

When multiclassing, it’s important that players remember the same name rule. That is that a player cannot benefit from two features which have the same name and have both features function concurrently; they will only get one instance of the benefit. 

This rule is true of Extra Attack as well; a player with 5 levels in Barbarian and 5 levels in Monk will only recieve a single extra attack, not two extra attacks, even though they have the feature twice because the feature has the same name.

Similarly, a player with 11 levels in Fighter and 5 in Barbarian will not get 4 attacks, only the 3 from Fighter.

Extra Attacks do not work well for casters who don’t have any weapon features because they don’t work on spells (as detailed below.)

Pact of the Blade Warlocks can take the Thirsting Blade Eldritch Invocation which functions as an Extra Attack for their Pact Weapon, but most casters simply don’t need Extra Attacks since they don’t use weapons that often.

Attack Actions VS Spell Attack Actions

Extra Attack does not trigger on Spell Attacks, only Attack Actions. Attack Actions are distinct from Cast Spell Actions. Attack Actions only work with melee or ranged weapon attacks or unarmed strikes. When a Spell is cast, the main action becomes a Cast a Spell action.

The Attack action allows the player to make an attack with a weapon or unarmed strike, but not all attacks require that the player actually take the attack action.

Spells such as Firebolt use the Cast a Spell action. The Ready action can be used to read an attack but is a distinct action from the Attack action altogether.

In short, all Attack actions are attacks, but not all attacks are Attack actions. Extra Attack can only trigger on an Attack action. Regardless of what spell is cast, it cannot trigger on a Cast a Spell action because “Cast a Spell” is not an Attack action.

Other Ways to Attack More Often

Bonus Action Attacks

Whether spells or attacks, there are plenty of ways to get in more attacks by using the bonus action to attack. There are several different ways one could get in a Bonus Action attack.

Two-Weapon Fighting

When you take the Attack Action and Attack with a light melee weapon that you’re holding in one hand, you can use a Bonus Action to Attack with a different light melee weapon that you’re holding in the other hand. You don’t add your ability modifier to the damage of the bonus Attack, unless that modifier is negative.

If either weapon has the Thrown property, you can throw the weapon, instead of making a melee Attack with it.

Two-Weapon Fighting works as long as you are making you attack with a Light Melee weapon — that is a club, dagger, sickle, light hammer, handaxe, scimitar, or shortsword — and allows you to make an attack with a Bonus Action.

When Dual Wielding with the Extra Attack feature, the bonus attack action can happen at any time during the attack, but will generally come at the end of the attack for sake of clarity.

Monk: Martial Arts

The Monk’s Martial Arts feature allows the Monk to make an Unarmed Strike as a Bonus Action when they take the Attack action.

Spells With A Timing of “1 Bonus Action”

Spells which have a timing of “1 Bonus Action” can be cast alongside a main action. For martial casters, this may be a weapon attack — even a multiattack — and for casters these spells can be cast alongside cantrip spells.

List of Bonus Action Spells

Cantrip

1st Level

  • Compelled Duel
  • Divine Favor
  • Ensnaring Strike
  • Expeditious Retreat
  • Hail of Thorns
  • Healing Word
  • Hex
  • Hunter’s Mark
  • Sanctuary
  • Searing Smite
  • Shield of Faith
  • Thunderous Smite
  • Wrathful Smite
  • Zephyr Strike

2nd Level

3rd Level

  • Blinding Smite
  • Lightning Arrow
  • Mass Healing Word
  • Spirit Shroud

4th Level

  • Grasping Vine
  • Guardian of Nature
  • Staggering Smite

5th Level

6th Level

  • Tasha’s Otherworldly Guise

7th Level

  • Divine Word

9th Level

  • Blade of Disaster

Continuous Spells

Continuous Spells deal damage each turn or when an enemy is within its sphere of influence either at the start or end of their turn.

Most continuous damage spells like Black Tentacles, Cloudkill, and Spirit Guardians require the caster to maintain Concentration on the spell to keep the spell’s effect active, but a few like Spiritual Weapon will remain active even without concentration.

Warlock: Thirsting Blade

The Pact of the Blade Eldritch Invocation “Thirsting Blade” is available to Pact of the Blade Warlocks starting at the 5th level, just like martial classes who get Extra Attacks.

Unfortunately, even though Thirsting Blade seems it wouldn’t fall under the Same-Name rule, the PHB specifically forbids the crossover between Thirsting Blade and Extra Attack.

Frequently Asked Questions About Extra Attack

Does Extra Attack need to be completed with the same weapon?

You can change weapons in between attacks if you are holding more than one weapon or switch between weapons and unarmed strikes if you desire — particularly if you are a Monk.

There’s no rule that says the weapon attacks have to be with the same weapon, so you can switch weapons freely if you have the means.

Can Extra Attack hit multiple targets?

Yes! The PHB states that a Fighter could attack, move 10 feet, then attack again, and move 15 feet then attack again. So there’s no reason to assume they wouldn’t be able to change targets.

Do attacks made with Extra Attack get bonuses?

Yes! All attacks made with Extra Attack get the full bonus of proficiency and ability score modifier. It’s only attacks made with Two-Weapon Fighting that do not.

Does Action Surge stack with Extra Attack?

Kind of. Action Surge gives you an extra action. If you use that action for the Attack action, that will trigger Extra Attack. So if you use Action Surge and use the Attack action twice at 20th level, you will attack 8 times.

Conclusion

Attacking more will give you more damage per turn and round which gives you the best chances of surviving to see another fight!

When combined with other aspects of classes, Extra Attack is an appropriately powerful feature to have tucked away in your arsenal! Happy questing!