Shove is an ability that can be used by all characters in D&D. Shove’s use is highly situation but, under the right circumstances, it can be incredibly powerful.
For any melee character with high strength, Shove is an essential part of their toolkit.
How Does Shove Work?
Shove does two distinct things. It can either be used to knock a target prone or to push a target away.
When you use the attack action on your turn, you can use one of your attacks to Shove a creature that is no more than one size larger than you. Shoving is a melee attack that does no damage.
Whether your Shove is successful is determined by a contested check. You roll Strength (Athletics) and your target rolls their choice of Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics).
As with all contested checks, a draw results in the status quo (i.e. the target not being shoved) so your roll must be higher than the target’s roll for the Shove to be successful.
If your Shove is successful, you can choose to either knock the target prone or push the target away by 5ft.
Restrictions and Edge Cases for Shove
Direction of Shove
There are situations where you might want to push a target 5ft in a particular direction and you might be wondering if you can Shove a creature to the left or right.
Shove always pushes the target directly away from you. Some DMs might allow you to shove a target sideways but this isn’t supported by the rules for Shove in the Player’s Handbook.
That said, you may often be able to maneuver around an enemy to get a better angle for Shove.
Shove and Attacks of Opportunity
There are two big questions that players often have relating to Shove and opportunity attacks.
Can I shove as an opportunity attack?
No. All special attacks like Shove, Grapple, etc. can only be made when you use the Attack action on your turn. Some DMs might use a house rule that you can make these attacks as an opportunity attack but if you’re playing strictly by the published rules then this isn’t allowed.
Does a shoved creature provoke opportunity attacks?
No. You don’t provoke opportunity attacks if you’re moved by someone or something else without using your movement, action, or reaction.
There are situations where you might want to shove an allied creature. A common question, in these cases, is whether your ally can choose to automatically fail the contested check and allow you to shove them.
There’s nothing in the rules which allows you to choose to fail a contested check and, based purely on the published rules, this isn’t allowed. That said, this is a case where a lot of DMs might allow you to automatically fail the check.
If not then you can choose to make the check with your weaker skill, out of Strength (Athletics) and Dexterity (Acrobatics), so the shove is more likely to succeed.
Shove and Reach Weapons
Shove does require a free hand like Grapple does, so some players might view it as an attack made with their weapon. In this case, does it not logically follow that Reach weapons like lances and pikes would allow you to Shove from further away?
The answer here is also no. While it’s not explicit in the published rules, 5E’s lead designer has stated that the Shove action doesn’t use your weapon and therefore reach weapons wouldn’t extend its range.
When Should I Use Shove?
The most obvious use for shove is when a battlefield has environmental hazards. Whether you’re fighting by the edge of an active volcano, a train track, or a portal to the Elemental Plane of Fire, 5ft can often be the difference between a 100hp enemy and no enemy at all.
In these cases, why not give them a shove? You don’t need to slog through 60hp of an ogre’s health when you can simply push it off a cliff.
To gain advantage on melee attacks
If your party is very melee-heavy then shoving enemies prone may be a good way to gain advantage on those attacks. Ranged attacks have disadvantage against prone targets though, so this is much less useful if your party contains ranged characters.
Once you’ve shoved an enemy prone, you can also then grapple them to prevent them from standing up again. Standing up from prone uses half of a creature’s movement on its turn and grappling a creature prevents it from moving.
There are some situations where you might want to Shove an ally. In particular, Shove can be a great way to push a more fragile ally out of enemies’ melee ranges without provoking opportunity attacks.
Especially if you’re directly before them in the initiative order, this can allow them to leave melee range without using their action to disengage.
What Classes Make the Best Use of Shove?
Shove is most valuable to characters who operate in melee, have a high strength stat, and can make multiple attacks in a single turn. These characters are most likely to be in a position to Shove, they’re most likely to succeed in Shoving, and they’re able to deal damage in the same turn that they Shove.
Strength-based fighters can make great use of Shove. Fighters uniquely gain a third (and eventually a fourth) attack per turn. This makes them great at using special melee attacks because they sacrifice less of their damage for doing so.
Shove is also very useful for barbarians. Barbarians can only make two attacks per turn but they have unparalleled survivability which makes them a great choice for control-focused characters.
Their Rage also gives them advantage on strength checks, which makes Shove attacks much more likely to succeed.
Alternatives to Shove: Battle Master Maneuvers
There are two Battle Master maneuvers which are upgraded forms of the two parts of Shove. These are available to Battle Master fighters, but other fighters can also access them with the Superior Technique fighting style from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything.
Pushing Attack allows you, upon a successful weapon attack, to use a superiority die. The superiority die is added to your attack’s damage and a target that’s Large or smaller must succeed on a strength saving throw against your Maneuver save DC. If the target fails their save, they’re pushed away by up to 15ft.
This is much stronger than Shove. Where Shove sacrifices an attack when you could have dealt damage, Pushing Attack deals more damage than a successful weapon attack.
Pushing Attack can also be used by Small creatures against Large creatures, where Shove can only be used against Large creatures if your character is Medium.
The ability to push a target 15ft is also very powerful and makes Pushing Attack much less niche than Shove. Pushing Attack is also a weapon attack, which means it benefits from increased range from Reach weapons.
Pushing Attack also forces a raw strength saving throw, rather than giving the target a choice between athletics (strength) and acrobatics (dexterity). This is powerful against targets with high dexterity and low strength.
It can also be strong against high-strength targets because athletics proficiency no longer applies to the check.
Trip Attack can also be used when you make a successful weapon attack and also requires that you expend a superiority die, which is added to the damage of your attack. A target that’s Large or smaller must succeed on a strength save against your Maneuver save DC or be knocked prone.
This is powerful for many of the same reasons as Pushing Attack. You gain damage by using it instead of sacrificing damage to use it, it can be used by Small creatures against Large creatures, and it can benefit from the range of Reach weapons.