Not many folks know but there is a whole range of extra combat options outside of the Player’s Handbook. Only those who have braved the depths of the Dungeon Master’s Guide will be able to find them.
In those pages, one of those options you’ll be able to discover is the overrun action.
But, what is the overrun action? Is it even useful to use as a player? Let’s take a look at this rarely-used action to see if it’s a hidden gem or a just bygone tactic from an earlier edition.
What is the Overrun Action?
The overrun action is an optional combat action from the Dungeon Master’s Guide. When a creature takes this action, it makes an Athletics check against its opponent’s opposed Athletics check. Success for the creature starting the action means that the creature can move through its opponent’s space once on its turn.
In other words, you won’t find this option in the player’s handbook. Instead, this is an optional combat rule that DMs can allow their table if they want.
The Overrun action, as well as a bunch of other optional rules for combat, are in the DM’s Workshop chapter of the Dungeon Master’s Guide.
Here’s what the Overrun action specifically states:
When a creature tries to move through a hostile creature’s space, the mover can try to force its way through by overrunning the hostile creature.
As an action or a bonus action, the mover makes a Strength (Athletics) check contested by the hostile creature’s Strength (Athletics) check. The creature attempting the overrun has advantage on this check if it is larger than the hostile creature, or disadvantage if it is smaller.
If the mover wins the contest, it can move through the hostile creature’s space once this turn.
The overrun action isn’t an attack. Instead, it’s a way to use your Athletics skill to maneuver better on the battlefield. This action calls back to a similar action players could take in earlier editions of D&D. With 5e’s attempt to make the game more straightforward, this rarely used action got moved to the DMG.
Because this combat action is an optional rule, it might not be available at all tables. You’ll have to check with your Dungeon Master and see if they allow it.
When to Use the Overrun Action
If you’re lucky enough to play the table that uses the overrun action, then you’ve got another great tool and the tool belt for combat. This is especially true if you play on a map with miniatures.
Because so many adventures take place in cramped dungeons, you’ll eventually come to a point where an enemy is blocking the path.
While most games would make it impossible for you to get behind your opponent, in this case, tables that allow for the overrun action mean players have some options squeezing through tight quarters in a scrap.
A common house rule that many tables will use is flanking. With this rule, creatures that end up on opposite ends of a foe will have advantage on their melee attacks thanks to this positional advantage.
With the overrun action, a successful Athletics check could let you get into a flanking position. With that position, you can really lay down the hurt!
It’s also worth noting that positioning options matter for more than just damage. In the tight spaces adventures often find themselves in, enemies could cut players off from their allies.
The overrun action could make it possible for one of the stronger characters to push past that foe and towards their ally.
Anybody who’s ever played with a rogue or somebody that has taken the Mobile feat has seen the benefit of this mobility. Both of these characters can move about the battlefield and get themselves into positions enemies might not expect.
While the overrun action doesn’t guarantee anything, it gives more characters ways to get around and if light.
The overrun action is great when you need to get around a foe and you’ve got enough muscle to do it.
Best Characters to Use the Overrun Action
Not all characters will be equal in using the overrun action. Because this action requires an Athletics check, it’ll be best suited for characters that either have that proficiency or a good Strength score.
The best class to take advantage of this action without any extra work is definitely the Barbarian. Thanks to the Rage ability, Barbarians can always guarantee that they have advantage on athletics checks.
Combine this with a barbarian’s improved movement speed and you have a character that can easily shove foes aside to get to where they need to go.
Barbarians can get this going on turn one if they want. Since the overrun action can be used as either an action or a bonus action, it fits into a barbarian’s turn no matter what.
On the first turn, a barbarian could enter the rage as a bonus action and then overrun a foe as their normal action. Later on, the barbarian could use their action to attack and then overrun as a bonus action to get past the foe they just chopped up!
Since most barbarians rely on their attack action in combat, having something to do as a bonus action after raging is great.
To a lesser extent, any class that encourages a high Strength score would do well with this action, too. Fighters, Paladins, Rangers, and some Clerics can all benefit from a high Strength score.
While none of these classes can guarantee advantage without magical assistance, they can all still find a way to weave this action into their turns.
However, all of this only matters if you’re trying to get the most out of this action. Sometimes, the creatures that you’re fighting don’t look like they would have a high Strength score or proficiency in Athletics.
In those instances, an adventurer of almost any background could succeed in pushing their opponent out of the way to rejoin with their allies.
All in all, the overrun action isn’t something that will get used very often even if it’s allowed at your table. While it’s nice to be able to push past foes, the circumstances that you needed in aren’t super common.
It’s worth checking to see if you can try this action the next time you play, especially if an ally’s life hangs in the balance!