Player’s Handbook, pg. 192
You can avoid provoking an opportunity attack by taking the Disengage action. You also don’t provoke an opportunity attack when you teleport or when someone or something moves you without using your movement, action, or reaction. For example, you don’t provoke an opportunity attack if an explosion hurls you out of a foe’s reach or if gravity causes you to fall past an enemy.
Player’s Handbook, pg. 195
New DnD players often overlook the Disengage action in combat. However, it’s a powerful action that can be just as useful for getting into the right offensive position as it is for escaping.
This article will cover the basics of how Disengage works in 5e, as well as some rules clarifications for several edge cases. We’ll also go over when and how to use the Disengage action, as well as a way for crafty DMs to respond to players who rely on this move too much.
So sit back, relax, and don’t tell your fiance what you’re up to, because we’re going to learn everything there is to know about getting disengaged.
How Does the Disengage Action Work in 5e?
Disengage is an action that a creature takes on its turn. After using Disengage, that creature’s movement provoke no opportunity attacks for the remainder of its turn. Think of Disengage as a creature spending their whole turn doing their best to tip-toe around enemies without drawing enough attention to be attacked.
In DnD 5e, a creature normally provokes an opportunity attack whenever it moves out of reach of a hostile creature. In other words, once you’re in melee range with an enemy, the Disengage action is usually the only way to move away from it without provoking an opportunity attack.
Disengage typically uses a creature’s action and a creature usually only has one action per turn. So if a creature Disengages, they usually can’t attack, cast a spell, or use any of the other actions laid out in the Player’s Handbook (PHB 192-3). There are exceptions, covered in the Disengage class interaction section below.
If the green creature wants to reach the square with the orange star without provoking an opportunity attack, they’ll have to use the Disengage action. To be clear, the green creature won’t provoke an opportunity attack until it exits a red square — not when it enters a red square.
When a creature takes the Disengage action, they still have their normal movement speed, bonus action, and reaction. Disengaging does not automatically move a creature.
Disengage 5e Rules
The Disengage action is fairly straightforward once you understand how opportunity attacks normally work. However, there are several edge cases that come up often enough to clarify some rules around Disengage and opportunity attacks:
If a mount uses the Disengage action, its rider doesn’t provoke opportunity attacks. That’s because a creature only provokes opportunity attacks when it moves itself — not when “someone or something moves you without using your movement” (PHB 195). Confirmed on Sage Advice.
Disengage lasts for your entire turn. Some new players think that when you use the Disengage action, you’re using it against a specific creature or are somehow limited in how many opportunity attacks you can avoid.
However, as Jeremy Crawford points out, once you’ve used the action, “you gain its benefit until the end of the turn” and “can avoid provoking opportunity attacks from multiple foes.”
You can Ready the Disengage action, but it’s pointless. The Ready action allows a creature to prepare a response to a trigger, which they then take with their Reaction (PHB 193). You can technically Ready the Disengage action, but the Disengage action only prevents opportunity attacks for the rest of the turn.
Since you Ready’d Disengage, you’re not using it on your turn, but in reaction to someone else’s turn. Disengage will only prevent opportunity attacks for the duration of that creature’s turn.
Since you can’t prepare an action and a movement with the Ready action (Sage Advice confirmation), you have no conceivable way of getting any benefit from Readying the Disengage action.
Even with Disengage, the rules for moving around hostile creatures remain in effect. Unless a hostile creature is at least two sizes larger or smaller than you, you cannot move through its space (nonhostile creatures are fine).
So if you’re a Medium creature (as most races are), you can’t move through tiles occupied by Small, Large, or Medium hostile creatures, regardless of whether you’ve used Disengage. If you’re a Small creature, you can move past Large or larger creatures.
You can’t willingly end your turn on any creature’s space, hostile or friendly (PHB 191). Tiles that are occupied by creatures (hostile or friendly) count as difficult terrain, which costs twice as much movement speed to move through.
There’s also the optional rule for Tumble actions, which allow for free passage through a hostile-occupied tile (regardless of size differential) upon winning an Acrobatics contest (DMG 272)
A player with the Fancy Footwork feature or Mobile feat can avoid opportunity attacks from the Sentinel feat as long as they don’t Disengage. This is a highly niche rule, but worth mentioning.
The Rogue subclass Swashbuckler gets a feature called Fancy Footwork that allows a Rogue to avoid opportunity attacks against a creature who they target with a melee attack for the rest of the turn (SCAG 135). The Mobile feat does the same thing, plus some other stuff (PHB 168).
The Sentinel feat allows a player to make opportunity attacks against creatures even if they take the Disengage action before leaving the player’s reach (PHB 169-170).
Neither Fancy Footwork nor Mobile require the player to use the Disengage action in order to avoid opportunity attacks, so they’re safe from Sentinel. However, strangely enough, if a player with Fancy Footwork or Mobile does use the Disengage action, then they do provoke opportunity attacks from a player with Sentinel.
This has been confirmed in the Sage Advice Compendium (SAC 8).
Disengage prevents oppportunity attacks from the Polearm Master feat. The Polearm Master feat allows players using certain weapons to take opportunity attacks when an enemy enters their reach — a powerful bonus that opens up loads more opportunity attacks for these players.
However, since these are still classed as opportunity attacks, Disengage still prevents them from happening.
If a player has Polearm Master and Sentinel, though, then they can still ignore Disengage when the player exits their reach.
How to Use Disengage in 5e
Hit and run. Disengage is often a smart choice when you’ve overextended to kill a high-value target, but now you’d like to get back to your frontline. This is the bread and butter of most Rogue gameplay.
Use it when you won’t be pursued. Disengage isn’t all that great if the thing you’re running from can just catch up to you for free when it’s their turn on the initiative count. However, if you make it back behind a few allies (who can smash the baddie with opportunity attacks if it chases you), then Disengage did its job.
The same goes for naturally speedy characters or races that can fly — if pursuit isn’t likely, Disengage becomes more potent.
Grabbing McGuffins. If there’s a big ol’ horde of zombies, orcs, what have you, between you and that Thing you need for your quest, the Disengage action can make it much simpler to get where you need to go. It’s also pretty handy for getting the hell out once you’ve grabbed it.
Repositioning. While tanky characters in plate armor will often see more utility out of the Dodge action than Disengage, squishier characters who need to either A) keep up with their frontline/faster allies or B) run back to the backline so the tank can cover their retreat will find a lot of value in the Disengage action.
Almost dead. If you’re at death’s door, Disengage can be a lifesaver to put yourself in range of a healer or simply force a DM to pursue you if they’d like to end your character’s story.
Dash still opens you up to an opportunity attack, and Dodge still gives the enemy a chance of landing a hit, so Disengage gives you the most control over protecting your character in this situation.
Should I disengage or dodge? If you’re a tanky character with high AC, you should probably just use the Dodge action and eat the disadvantaged opportunity attacks instead of Disengaging. Why?
Well, because taking an opportunity attack eats up the creature’s ONE reaction, so the squishier party members can run past them without provoking any opportunity attacks — no Disengage required.
And if you’re a DM trying to beat the Disengage action, here’s a tip:
Ready an attack. If a player is consistently making your baddies look like chumps with their constant Disengage shenanigans (cough, Rogues), we’ve got the solution: hold a creature’s attack (or multiple creatures). How do you do that?
Simple, just Ready an attack with the trigger being “when the Rogue (or whoever) gets into melee range.” This is a surefire way to catch a player off guard and add a bit more nuance to their decision-making in combat.
Of course, the downside is that this eats up the creature’s action, so they won’t be attacking on their initiative count, but on the Rogue’s next turn instead. And if the Rogue doesn’t get in range, then you’ve wasted that creature’s turn entirely.
Class Interactions With Disengage 5e
A few classes have features that can make using Disengage a lot more appealing:
Rogue: Cunning Action. Rogues are the #1 users of Disengage in combat thanks to this 2nd-level class feature. Cunning Action allows a Rogue to Dash, Disengage, or Hide as a bonus action, rather than a regular action.
A popular move for Rogues is to move into melee range, strike an enemy, and then use their Cunning Action to Disengage and get back to safety.
Fighter: Action Surge. This 2nd-level class feature allows a Fighter to take two actions on their turn instead of one. One of those actions can be Disengage.
Monk: Step of the Wind. A 2nd-level class feature that allows a Monk to spend 1 ki point to Disengage or Dash for a bonus action.
Overall, Rogues and Monks see the most play out of the Disengage action. It suits the highly mobile, melee-dominant playstyle that most players enjoy about these two classes.