An ogre standing guard over a narrow doorway, a clogged corridor where the wizard finds himself between a rock and a hard place – the Tumble Action offers a way to let characters move through an enemy’s space and either escape or gain the upper hand in a battle.
The Tumble Action is an optional rule found in the DMG (pg. 272) that allows characters to move through a hostile creature’s space.
This optional rule is one of only a few ways that characters can move directly through otherwise blocked areas.
It consumes either an action or bonus action and requires a contested dexterity check against the creature in question you are tumbling past.
A creature can try to tumble through a hostile creature’s space, ducking and weaving past the opponent.
As an action or a bonus action, the tumbler makes a Dexterity (Acrobatics) check contested by the hostile creature’s Dexterity (Acrobatics) check.
If the tumbler wins the contest, it can move through the hostile creature’s space once this turn.
Source: DMG pg. 272
When Should I Use the Tumble Action?
In tight quarters, such as dungeon corridors, collapsed ruins, or densely packed trees, it is easy for the battlefield to form natural bottlenecks.
Characters without reach weapons or good ranged options at their disposal can find themselves unable to use their abilities effectively, and characters who would prefer some distance find themselves hemmed in between tooth and walls.
Tumbling allows you to move past a creature or creatures that are otherwise blocking your path.
If you need to reach a downed party member, escape a room crumbling into the inky void, or just need to be on the other side of a creature, taking the Tumble Action can really help out.
What Should I Know About Tumble?
You roll a Dexterity (Acrobatics) Check against the Creatures Dexterity (Acrobatics). Success allows you to move through their space.
It is worth remembering, however, that even with the tumble action, their space counts as difficult terrain for you, costing you 10 feet of movement rather than the regular 5.
With any other creatures in front, even allied ones, just getting to the other side of an enemy (in a straight line at least) is going to cost you 25 feet of movement.
The breakdown: 10 to move through your allies, 10, with the Tumble check, to move through the enemy, and an additional 5 feet of movement to occupy the next square; so, plan accordingly!
In this picture, our dwarf friend is trying to get past the wizard and the orc to the empty square behind him.
Doing this is going to take all of his movement but will land him on the other side of the orc. If he doesn’t make the check, he has to use his movement to return to the square he started in.
What Happens if I Fail the Check?
Failing the check means that you do not get to move through the enemy creature’s square, and, if there is an ally there, this can quickly become problematic.
You cannot willingly end your turn on the same space as any other creature, friendly or otherwise.
This means that movement you were going to use to get to the other side needs to be spent moving back, away from the creature.
This has its own consequences, such as provoking attacks of opportunity from said creature, but provided you have an action left to use, you can do one of two things.
Firstly you can try again. The Tumble Action requires an action OR a bonus action; so, you are able to take a second bite at the cherry here by using either one you haven’t already used.
If you succeed this time, you are able to move through as planned! Failing again, however, will mean you are now forced to back away into a free space and will likely provoke an opportunity attack while doing so.
Secondly, if you used your bonus action to take The Tumble Action and want to, you can always make an attack as you are now adjacent to the creature in question.
Then use your movement to back away, still likely taking that opportunity attack but at least getting the chance to fight back before you do.
If there is no friendly creature blocking your path, you are free to remain adjacent to the creature as normal. You have, however, been unsuccessful in getting past the blockade.
When Shouldn’t I Use the Tumble Action?
The first answer is when there is a gelatinous cube present. The Engulf ability will likely mean you end up being digested rather than deftly dodging by!
But there are other options, such as Misty Step, to move past enemies (for spell casters at least), or you always have a backup reach weapon for those tight spaces where you can’t quite bring your arms to bear.
It is also a Dexterity-based skill check. So if you are a hulking great weapon master and Dexterity isn’t your strong suit, then perhaps another similar Action, such as Overrun, is more suited to your needs.
Other times Tumble isn’t required is if the creature in question is two sizes different to yours.
If you are a small creature, such as a halfling or a gnome, you can move through a hostile square as if it were difficult terrain without a check.
Medium creatures can move through Tiny and Huge Creatures spaces with the same difficult terrain penalty applied.
It is also worth understanding that once you take that space behind the creature, no one else, unless they have extra movement or have saved their action to dash, is getting past you.
Looking back at our example from earlier, our dwarf needed 25 feet to get to where he was. With him now positioned there, it will take 30 feet.
Our Fighter now doesn’t have the movement to make it to the empty square behind our Dwarf, and she can’t willing end her turn on his square.
So using The Tumble Action isn’t an option unless she tumbles using her bonus action and takes the Dash Action to move past the dwarf, bringing with it a likely Attack of Opportunity.
If you or a party member is in a jam and need to move somewhere else, taking The Tumble Action is a solid choice.
It can open up the battlefield to you and allow you a chance to move past opponents who are creating barricades.
It isn’t without its problems, however, and using it should be closely considered.