Fighting Dirty: Cinematic Combat Stunts
WARNING: Everything in this article is homebrew, and you should ask your Dungeon Master before trying to use it in your home game. None of this is legal for use in the D&D Adventurer’s League.
In Rogue 101: A Beginner's Guide to Stealth and Subterfuge, I created a simple combat trick to make life more exciting and swashbuckling for rogues.
House Rule: Combat Stunt
As an action (or in place of a single attack if you can attack multiple times when you take the Attack action), you can make a DC 15 ability check. You must propose which ability and skill proficiency you use to make this check to the DM before you make it, and can only perform this check with the DM’s approval.
If you succeed on this check, you can make a single weapon attack or a Dexterity (Stealth) check with advantage. If you fail this check, you waste your action. For instance, while in the jungle, you can make a Dexterity (Acrobatics) check to swing from a vine and attack a creature on the other end of a chasm. In the desert, you could make a Strength (Athletics) check to kick up a cloud of sand and duck behind cover as the enemy blinks sand out of its eyes. Or, while in an echoey cave, you could make a Charisma (Deception) check to throw your voice and convince an enemy that you are approaching to attack it from a different direction.
This stunt is a simple catch-all mechanic for any sort of combat trick that a rogue might want to take in combat to gain a slight edge before hiding or making an attack. It allows you to (possibly) gain advantage for being stylish and making combat more varied and lively than “I move. I attack. Do I have sneak attack?”
You can use this combat trick no matter your character’s class, but be aware that you waste your action if you fail your skill check. Rogues are the class best suited to using this trick for a number of reasons. They only have one attack per turn, and want to maximize the odds of this attack dealing damage. Gaining advantage on an attack is incredibly powerful, since it also activates their Sneak Attack feature. Rogues also have lots of skill proficiencies and the Expertise feature, making it much more likely that they’ll succeed on the DC 15 ability check required to use this generic combat stunt.
Unique Combat Stunts
The design intent behind the generic combat stunt presented above was to create a simple framework that players and Dungeon Masters could use to improvise their own stunts. However, it can be difficult to think of creative and cinematic action moves on demand, especially if you want to do more with your maneuver than just gain advantage on an attack roll. Here are eight new tricks that your character than use to fool, confuse, and outmaneuver your enemies.
These tricks can be used by characters of any class, but are most useful for characters that would describe themselves as “swashbucklers,” “action heroes,” “daredevils,” or “dashing scoundrels.” As with the generic combat stunt presented above, these unique stunts are most useful for rogues, but low-level bards, fighters, and monks may also get some mileage out of them.
Stunt Saving Throw
If a combat stunt requires another creature to make a saving throw, the DC of that saving throw is equal to 8 + your Strength or Dexterity modifier (your choice) + your proficiency bonus.
You clamber onto a massive creature in order to hide in its blind spot.
The creature you want to climb must be at least one size larger than you and must be within your reach. Using at least one free hand, you try to grab the creature as an action. Make a Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check (your choice) contested by the target’s Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check (its choice). If you succeed, you climb onto the creature and hang on.
While hanging onto a creature, it can’t see you (unless you are hanging onto the front of the creature or it can also see behind it), and it makes attacks against you with disadvantage. If the creature moves, you can choose to let go as a reaction and fall to the ground beneath it, otherwise you move with it. At the end of each of your turns, you must make a DC 10 Strength saving throw or lose your grip and fall off.
You swing your blade in a dazzling pattern, causing your target to look in all directions—except the one your attack is actually coming from.
Choose a creature you can see within 5 feet of you. Make a Charisma (Deception) check contested by that creatures Wisdom (Insight) check as you swipe your blade in all directions. If you succeed on this contest, you make a single melee weapon attack with advantage.
You hastily tie a lasso or attach a grappling hook to your rope and hurl it at a creature’s legs.
If you are holding a rope, you quickly tie a noose or prepare a grappling hook and make a ranged weapon attack to throw it at a creature you can see within 30 feet as an action. On a hit, the creature must make a Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check (its choice) opposed by your Strength (Athletics) check. If it fails, you choose whether it falls prone or is pulled up to 10 feet toward you.
You can cause a snared creature to fall prone or be pulled up to 10 feet toward you as an action. The snared creature can use its action to make a DC 10 Dexterity check, escaping the snare on a success. Severing the rope also frees the creature.
You dive and tumble in an attempt to avoid an attack.
You make a DC 15 Dexterity (Acrobatics) check as a reaction when you are attacked by a creature within 5 feet of you. If you succeed on this check, you move 5 feet in a direction of your choice. If this causes you to leave the creature’s reach, the attack misses and it cannot make an opportunity attack against you. If you are still in the creature’s reach, it makes the attack that triggered this reaction with disadvantage.
If you fail this check, the attack that triggered this reaction automatically hits.
You swing from a vine, rope, or chandelier to strike a foe with staggering force.
You grab a hanging rope or similar tether and make a DC 15 Dexterity (Acrobatics) check as an action to swing towards a creature. On a success, you can make a single melee weapon attack with advantage against that creature as part of the same action. If your attack deals bludgeoning damage, the creature must also make a successful Strength saving throw or be pushed 10 feet away from you.
Your trick-shooting skills allow you shoot past your target, ricochet your shot off a nearby surface, and strike your target from behind.
Make a DC 15 Wisdom (Perception) check to line up a trick shot at a creature or object within range of a ranged weapon you’re wielding. There must be a solid surface within 30 feet of your target to ricochet your shot off of. On a success, you make a single ranged weapon attack with advantage. On a failure, you make a single ranged weapon attack but it automatically misses.
Is it Possible to Ricochet an Arrow?
While bullets, slingstones, and other round missiles can be ricocheted by a skilled shooter, it is nearly impossible to ricochet an arrow or a crossbow bolt and cause it to hit another target with any degree of precision. Talk with your DM before using this stunt; they might allow it if your character is a literal demigod or if you like to play following the “rule of cool” instead of following the laws of physics.
By hurling a handful of sand, glass shards, or embers at your foe, you blind them long enough for you to make a quick getaway.
You hurl sharp or stinging particles at a creature you can see within 5 feet of you as an action. This cloud of sharp objects could be from your inventory, such as a bag filled with glass shards, or from the environment, such as kicking up a cloud of sand from the desert dune around you. That creature must make a successful Constitution saving throw or be blinded until the end of your turn.
You skid between a creature’s legs to strike at it from below.
Make a DC 15 Dexterity (Acrobatics) check to slide underneath a creature that is your size or one size larger than you. You have advantage on this check if you moved 15 feet straight toward the creature before making this check. On a success, you can move through the creature’s space and make a single melee weapon attack against the creature with advantage as part of this action. On a failure, you can move through the creature’s space, but fall prone after moving through its space.
I Know Your Tricks!
Dungeon Masters should implement these stunts in a way that best suits their players. As mentioned in Rogue 101, "The best stunts are used once and thrown away. From an in-universe standpoint, using an improvised attack as a standard tactic defeats the purpose of using the situation at hand to your advantage." If your players are using the same trick over and over again (and this overuse is making the game less fun or interesting for you or your players), consider implementing the following rule:
I Know Your Tricks
Once you use a combat stunt, you can't use it against the same creature until you complete a long rest. Additionally, if you use a stunt against a creature that saw you use the same stunt in the past hour, you have disadvantage on ability checks to perform that stunt against it and it has advantage on saving throws made to resist that stunt.
It’s Your Turn!
These eight tricks are hardly the be-all and end-all of combat tricks. They may suit your playstyle, or they may not fit your version of D&D at all. Not every Dungeon Master will approve of every improvised action; the same goes for these combat stunts. Whether or not these stunts spoke to you, I that they’ve inspired you to invent your own! I’d love for you to post your own creations posted in the comments; I’ll look at every single one of the comments to see all your cool and inventive dirty tricks.
James Haeck is the lead writer for D&D Beyond, the co-author of the Critical Role Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting, and a freelance writer for Wizards of the Coast, the D&D Adventurers League, and Kobold Press. He lives in Seattle, Washington with his fuzzy acrobats, Mei and Marzipan. You can usually find him wasting time on Twitter at @jamesjhaeck.