Welcome to our guide to Uncanny Dodge, a 5th-level rogue feature that looks so good at first glance that a lot of DMs house rule it out of their games.
Whether you’re a new rogue looking to understand how to use Uncanny Dodge or a dungeon master who read the rules for this ability and are wondering if Jeremy Crawford (5e’s lead designer) has finally lost his mind (he hasn’t, bear with me), we’ve got you covered.
Let’s jump right in.
What Is Uncanny Dodge?
Uncanny Dodge is a feature of the rogue class. Starting at 5th level, if a rogue is hit by any attack, they can spend their reaction to divide the incoming damage in half as long as they can see their attacker.
As long as the rogue has a reaction available, they can halve one instance of incoming damage from a melee, ranged, or spell attack each round.
It’s a remarkably simple rule, given how much people misunderstand, misuse, and generally freak out about it.
Starting at 5th level, when an attacker that you can see hits you with an attack, you can use your reaction to halve the attack’s damage against you.
At first glance, I kind of get why this ability sets the “balance brigade” all a-trembling.
The ability to halve incoming damage? Every round? Why, that’s basically giving all rogues double hit points! I’m going to house rule this out of my game. It’s just not fair to the wizard and the fighter. It’s broken is what it is.
Is Uncanny Dodge Overpowered?
Okay, calm down, imaginary-straw-man-amalgamation-of-the-several-dozen-anxious-reddit-threads-I-read-while-researching-this-article. It’s okay. Breathe.
(Incidentally, when I typed the title of this section into Google as part of my research, my computer caught fire and started dribbling acid out of the USB ports. Now it won’t stop tweeting mean things about Jeremy Crawford’s kids. Send help.)
While Uncanny Dodge may initially look like you’re turning the party’s rogue into an unkillable killing machine (that’s exactly what rogues need: more freedom from the consequences of their actions!), in practice, this ability is remarkably balanced.
Uncanny Dodge Costs Your Reaction
First, it costs your reaction, which means you can only use this once a turn.
A rogue who thinks they’re invincible and hurls themselves into a mob of enemies or up against a solo monster with multiattack might get to halve one incoming instance of damage but might still have to weather two or even three more attacks before their reaction is back up again.
This ability doesn’t make you immortal.
Also, there are plenty of other things for which you might want to use your reaction.
- Making opportunity attacks
- Casting a spell like Shield or Counterspell (not something rogues need to worry about)
- Readying an action
Opportunity attacks are the most common use for a rogue’s reaction, and using your Uncanny Dodge means you sacrifice being able to lock an enemy down.
Then you have the fact that, in terms of when to use this ability, you’re basically trying to hit a moving target.
Sure, there’s an ogre and three skeletons that are all going to try and hit you this turn, but which one is going to do the most damage? Probably the ogre, but what if he rolls kind of low?
What if a skeleton crits and I can’t halve the damage? It’s stressful being a 5th-level rogue.
A raging barbarian, on the other hand, gets to “uncanny not care about getting hit in the face” for the entirety of their rage, more or less.
Sure, being able to uncanny dodge spell attacks and magical hits is nice, but you only get to do it once.
Uncanny Dodge Only Works on Attacks
Then, we have the fact that Uncanny Dodge can’t reduce all damage, just attacks.
That means that damage from a lot of spells (either area of effect spells like Fireball that require a saving throw or spells that automatically inflict damage like Magic Missile) can’t be halved as well as other effects like fall damage or poison.
Also, damage reduction is great, but Uncanny Dodge isn’t like the Shield spell, which can prevent an enemy from hitting you.
You still get hit, just for less; turning a punctured lung into a nasty scratch along the ribcage.
That means that, while you’re great at consistently reducing the damage you take, enemies that inflict conditions (like Ghoul paralysis or a Gelatinous Cube’s grapple) are still going to affect you.
Uncanny Dodge Versus Extra Attack and Fireball
Lastly, let’s talk about where Uncanny Dodge fits in with the rest of the party. 5th level is a huge power spike, taking you from the first to the second tier of play.
Martial characters gain extra attack, dedicated spellcasters like the wizard and the sorcerer can start throwing around 3rd-level spells, and the overall toughness of your party is getting to a point where you’re going to be able to take on more serious threats.
Uncanny Dodge – far from being “overpowered” – is actually a way for rogues to keep pace with their allies.
As an aside, figuring out how to let the rogue – who can’t cast spells or really hang out with the martial characters in the front rank – stay on par with the rest of the party has been giving designers a headache since the very first edition of the game.
Gary Gygax “solved” the issue in B/X D&D by letting rogues level up faster than other classes and have access to percentile-based skills (many grognards argue this introduction of a skill system was the “beginning of the end of D&D being good,” but they probably just need a snack and a hug); 5e uses Uncanny Dodge (and Sneak Attack).
When Should I Use Uncanny Dodge?
As I said earlier, knowing when to use your Uncanny Dodge can be tricky in the midst of a larger combat encounter.
You don’t want to waste it blocking a hit from a low-level skeleton when his Ghoul buddy is standing right behind him sharpening up his claws.
Personally, I use this order of operations to determine whether I should use Uncanny Dodge in any given moment.
- Is this the best use of my reaction this round?
- Is this the only time I’m going to get hit this round?
- Is this the biggest hit I’m likely to take this round?
If the answer to all of the above is yes, then go ahead and uncanny dodge.
Personally, if I’m in a big melee with a bunch of enemies of relatively equal challenge, I like to save Uncanny Dodge until an enemy rolls max damage or crits.
Then, if a round has basically elapsed and I haven’t had a chance to use it, you can burn it on what looks like the last attack of the turn without feeling too bad.
It’s a very tricky feature to use in a “perfectly optimized” way, but any amount of damage dodged is a good thing.
That’s our guide to Uncanny Dodge, folks – one of the most over-hyped abilities in D&D 5e but actually a surprisingly elegant, well-balanced piece of design.
Now, go forth, ye rogues and remember: thou art, like, super mortal, my dude.