Player’s Handbook, page 192
Dodge is a powerful action in DnD 5e that many new players overlook. Even veteran players are guilty of skipping over Dodge as a possibility, in favor of more fun (but less optimal) actions.
We’ll cover exactly how the dodge action works in 5e, why it’s so good, and when it should be used.
What Does the Dodge Action Do in 5e?
The dodge action causes all attack rolls against you to be made with disadvantage if you can see the attack and you have advantage on Dexterity saving throws. If you’re incapacitated or your speed is dropped to 0, you lose these benefits.
Attacks being made with disadvantage means that attackers roll 2d20 for their attack roll and choose the lower result. Advantage on Dexterity saving throws means rolling 2d20 and choosing the higher result. Dexterity saving throws are forced by many spells and effects.
Rules of Dodging in DnD 5e
Here are some quick rules clarifications for the dodge action in 5e:
Anyone can use the dodge action. “Dodge” is one of the ten main actions that every Dungeons and Dragons creature can take. Dodging does use your action for the turn, so you cannot attack and dodge on the same turn under normal circumstances.
You can move on the same turn as you use dodge, and use your full movement speed if you like. You can also use bonus actions on the same turn as dodging.
Dodge doesn’t help against grapple or shove attempts. Because grapple and shove attempts don’t involve an attack roll or a Dexterity saving throw, the dodge action does nothing to help against these special attacks (SAC 10).
The dodge action ends early if your speed drops to 0. This does not mean using all your movement in a turn; you can move as much as you like while dodging. However, if any of these conditions are applied to you, your speed drops to 0 and you lose the benefit of the dodge action:
Dodge doesn’t help against attacks from hidden attackers. As the rules state, dodge only works “if you can see the attacker.” This means that invisible creatures and those who are hidden from you (PHB 177) won’t suffer from disadvantage on their attack roll against you.
However, you still have advantage on Dexterity saving throws, even if you can’t see the attacker.
To be clear: being able to see the attacker doesn’t literally require you to be looking at them to benefit from dodging. Line of sight just implies that a straight line can be drawn between the two creatures, so don’t worry about which way creatures are facing relative to each other when calculating whether dodge works.
Dodge works against opportunity attacks. Opportunity attacks fall under the category of “any attack roll,” so dodge certainly works to give an attacker disadvantage on their opportunity attack.
How to Use in Dodge in 5e
Here are a few ways to use dodge in 5e for maximum effect:
Use it on high AC characters. I won’t get into all the math here, but suffice it to say that dodge’s power increases on characters who have a higher AC. The gist is that giving disadvantage on an attack that’s already unlikely to land is more impactful than giving disadvantage on an attack that’s likely to land.
Block passageways. DnD 5e lacks a reliable way of “taunting” enemies to attack the group’s tank. However, the rules of positioning mean that a blocked passageway is all you need to leave enemies with few options other than attacking the creature doing the blocking.
Pack Tactics has a great video detailing exactly how optimal this strategy can be for reducing total party damage and allowing your party’s backline to do their thing without any fear of being hit (or watching their tank go down). Check it out below.
Pair it with persistent effects and spells. The Cleric “Spirit Guardians, Spiritual Weapon, Dodge” combination is the most common variation of this theme, but many other damaging concentration-based spells also work. The idea is that you can still do damage each round and be an effective tank.
This is especially good with effects that deal damage and slow enemies down, because it sort of acts like the passageway trick. Sure, they can run by you…at the cost of extra damage and wasting turns moving at half speed. This is the beautiful “rock and a hard place” situation you’re trying to put enemies in.
Use dodge before running away. While disengage is the usual action of choice for avoiding opportunity attacks as you run away from enemies, dodge can also be a good choice. It’s especially effective on a tanky character who uses dodge and then runs past a horde of enemies, triggering all their opportunity attacks (and eating their reactions for the round).
Then, the tank’s allies can run by the same horde without fearing their opportunity attacks — and they still have their action to attack, slow down the pursuit, or whatever else they want to do.
Use it as a default action. This is a tip straight from the game’s main rules: “If you can’t decide what to do on your turn, consider taking the Dodge or Ready action” (PHB 189). Dodge is always a safe bet, because you’re improving your defensive status at the very least.
Mechanics That Interact With the Dodge Action
As far as I can tell, only two mechanics in DnD 5e have a specific interaction with the dodge action:
Monk: Patient Defense. Level 2 class feature that allows the Monk to spend 1 ki point to Dodge as a bonus action.
Dwarf: Dwarven Fortitude: Racial feat that allows dwarves to spend one hit die to heal themselves whenever they take the dodge action in combat (XGtE 74).
DM Tips for the Dodge Action
For DMs, the dodge action can bring up a few tactical, RP, and realism issues. Here’s my opinion on these questions:
Make dodge perceptible to creatures you run (after one round). While the rules don’t say whether creatures recognize the dodge action, my logic is that creatures are able to appreciate the fact that a dodging creature isn’t attacking and seems extra focused on avoiding damage.
In response to that, they should probably turn their attention elsewhere (if that decision doesn’t put them in more danger).
But (and this is a big but), don’t ignore the dodging player right away. The point is that creatures need to see evidence that the creature is dodging before they’re aware of what’s going on. Otherwise, you’re meta-gaming and arbitrarily reducing the effectiveness of your player’s well-considered action.
Allow dodge to help against shoves and grapples. Personally, I think it’s silly that someone who is “focus[ing] entirely on avoiding attacks” is just as vulnerable to shoves and grapples as anyone else.
Since being shoved or grappled allows the target to choose between an Athletics or Acrobatics check, I recommend giving advantage on this check to a player who’s used the dodge action.
Cap the number of attacks dodge can help per round. This has never bothered me, but some DMs don’t like how a player can dodge an infinite amount of attacks per round by expending just one action.
If this bugs you, you can always cap the number of attacks and/or Dexterity saving throws a creature can use dodge to benefit against. Tying it to the character’s Dexterity modifier and proficiency bonus makes sense to me.