Make Flanking More Dynamic in Your 5E D&D Game
Flanking is an optional rule from fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons I’ve heard much debate on. The usefulness and overpoweredness of flanking and lacks thereof emerge in many 5E D&D discussions. Flanking is certainly a strange rule and much as I stated in the D&D Tag about the rules I just don’t get advantage is both generic and complicated — a bizarre duo to say the least. Nerdarchists Dave and Ted address this concern and others in a recent video. After watching I got to thinking about ideas to make 5E D&D combat more dynamic and homebrew rules to make combat faster paced and, well, engaging.
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Flanking as a concept in 5E D&D
To begin I’ll consider flanking as a concept. Flanking is technically not purely offensive. It’s a tactic indicating creatures in combat cover multiple sides.
Offensive flanking means essentially surrounding the enemy. In a tabletop roleplaying game like 5E D&D this usually manifests as enemies on opposite sides of a creature on a grid. Because the creature cannot typically defend from both sides at once those flanking the creature are afforded advantage. Flanking is described in the 5E D&D Dungeon Master’s Guide chapter eight. This Running the Game chapter includes flanking as an optional rule found in the Using Miniatures section.
In a broader sense outside the material in the DMG flanking when defending is when two or more creatures position themselves with backs to one another and guard multiple sides. I think flanking as an optional rule in 5E D&D should incorporate this defensive aspect alongside the offense. As pointed out by my good friend Robin on my D&D Tag video the point of having a rule as simplistic as advantage and disadvantage is it mitigates crunchiness. It lessens the necessary math.
Maybe you don’t mind a tiny bit of extra math. In this case the following homebrew rules might be right for you.
The concept most players are likely familiar with is the idea of offensive flanking. This is when a combatant attacks from one or more angles other than the enemy’s point of engagement. It might look like striking a shield user from behind or charging a lance wielder from the side.
While examples of what this looks like abound we can boil it down to a melee assault from an angle other than the front. I like this definition a bit better because while it technically allows for flanking more often than the optional rule it feels more realistic. On a square grid this means one creature would have to engage the enemy from one or more of the squares in front of it. A second creature would then flank by occupying one of the squares not directly in front of the target. Reach would expand this range of squares for flanking.
Now, for the rule about what offensive flanking actually does. The goal is for the creature being flanked to be easier to hit. This feels right thematically. Advantage fulfills this role just fine but it is quite potent. Alternatively a -2 penalty to Armor Class for the creature at an angle feels right especially when you consider this mitigates a nonmagical shield and does better than mitigate something like, say, the Defensive Duelist feat.
Part of the goal here is for combat to be dynamic so I’ll incorporate a rule stating a flanked creature can use its reaction to turn around and thus mitigate the bonus from flanking. The reason this works despite its lessened potency is it makes advantage more valuable once again. Furthermore it can technically stack with advantage for those niche situations where flanking and other factors might be at play.
Flanking can also be done defensively. This comes about when two or more characters stand adjacent with their backs to one another and defend from multiple sides. The benefit from this is simple — it prevents others from benefiting from flanking. Additionally defensive flanking allows a creature being flanked to use its reaction to turn and thus prevent itself from being flanked by the creature.
Alternative Flanking Mechanic
Now that I’ve discussed how this should work I’ll boil it down to a simple and concise mechanic. For the purposes of this homebrew flanking rule engaged means the creature is currently fighting another creature already and initiative has been rolled.
When attacking an engaged creature from an angle other than the front the defender suffers a -2 penalty to Armor Class. If a creature is flanked by an adjacent ally both the creature and its ally are immune to being flanked by enemies.
When a creature is flanked by an attacker the creature can use its reaction to turn, changing the direction of its engagement.
It’s simple. It’s neat and I think it helps make advantage and disadvantage a hair more special while simultaneously representing a more grounded mechanic and it does so with minimal math.
What do you think?
Do you like this alternative version of the flanking optional rule for 5E D&D? What do you think about offensive vs. defensive flanking? Let us know in the comments below or on our Facebook page!