Does flanking always grant advantage, or is it up to discussion?

  • The rules packet does not provide any specific rules about flanking. However the rule does say that the DM has lots of leeway in deciding when to give advantage or disadvantage in combat. Should it be understood that flanking always gives advantage, or is the DM supposed to only give advantage when there is "clever flanking"? What is the best way to handle "flanking" in D&D 5e?

    @V2Blast Fyi, for a period after the D&D Next playtest the policy was to grandfather playtest questions into D&D 5e proper. That policy didn't work that well and created problems and confusion so we discontinued it, but those questions which were successfully grandfathered in and answered for the released 5e are probably best left as such.

    @doppelspooker Ah, okay. Thanks for clarifying.

  • There is no flanking rule as a default; there are, however, a couple of optional rules proposed in the DM's handbook. It should also be noted that these are part of a general set of rules dedicated to playing using miniatures and tactical maps and even then they are marked as optional.

    The flanking rule states:

    Flanking on Squares. When a creature and at least one of its allies are adjacent to an enemy and on opposite sides or corners of the enemy's space, they flank that enemy, and each of them has advantage on melee attack rolls against that enemy.

    When in doubt about whether two creatures flank an enemy on a grid, trace an imaginary line between the centers of the creatures' spaces. If the line passes through opposite sides or corners of the enemy's space, the enemy is flanked.

    Flanking on Hexes. When a creature and at least one of its allies are adjacent to an enemy and on opposite sides of the enemy's space, they flank that enemy, and each of them has advantage on attack rolls against that enemy. On hexes, count around the enemy from one creature to its ally. Against a Medium or smaller creature, the allies flank if there are 2 hexes between them. Against a Large creature, the allies flank if there are 4 hexes between them. Against a Huge creature, they must have 5 hexes between them. Against a Gargantuan creature, they must have at least 6 hexes between them.

    DM's Handbook p.251

    An alternative optional rule offered by the DM's guide is called facing.

    If you want the precision of knowing which way a creature is facing, consider using this optional rule.

    Whenever a creature ends its move, it can change its facing. Each creature has a front arc (the direction it faces), left and right side arcs, and a rear arc. A creature can also change its facing as a reaction when any other creature moves.

    DM's Handbook p.252

    This rule suggests the following effects:

    • An attacker in a creature's rear arc has advantage
    • Shield bonuses only apply AC to the front arc and side arc of the shield arm.
    • Some creatures will not have limited arcs, like an amorphous blob

    This is arguably more complex to adjudicate and manage than flanking is.

    A potential issue one could take with flanking in 5e is related to the change in Attack of Opportunity rules. Previously, circling a creature tightly, even with a 5ft reach would provoke an AoO, as you were moving through threatened squares. In order to flank and avoid an AoO you would typically need to go wide or use an ability. In 5e an opportunity attack is only provoked when you move out of a creature's reach without disengaging. In my opinion this makes it effectively trivial to flank.

    As a further counter argument, keep in mind that DND 5e adds the "help" action, which can easily be used as an analogous — yet more general and less powerful — mechanic.

    Alternatively, you can aid a friendly creature in attacking a creature within 5 feet of you. You feint, distract the target, or in some other way team up to make your ally’s attack more effective. If your ally attacks the target before your next turn, the first attack roll is made with advantage.

    Player's Handbook p.192

    In order to create an advantage, one attacker must focus on helping via a distraction or combat engagement at the cost of not being able to effectively score a hit. However, this still gives the other attacker a far better chance at scoring a hit. This makes this more useful against powerful opponents while being unimportant against lesser ones. I feel this makes this a much more tactical choice than mere positioning, while still providing a simple and generic mechanic that feels balanced and is unlikely to be overused.

    Another drawback is that it undermines the "specialness" of the rogue's sneak attack trigger, albeit in a minor way. When adding optional rules, it's often worth considering whether it overlaps with, and therefore reduces the value of, a class/racial/feat perk that already exists.

    Agreed. Advantage is a key combat mechanic and the trivialness of getting into flanking position would seem to break other advantage mechanics. I suppose some alternatives would be to have it provide +2 as before, or change the AoO rules back to movement through threatened squares. At this point though I'm happy with the base rules.

    We use miniatures in all our games and use the following: flanking grants +1 to hit(only to the flankers, a third player would be out of luck) also once entering the enemy reach you provoke an AoO if moving further. These rules have the following effects: small strategic adv to flanking, disengage is more valuable (and rouges in general), attacks with a reach get AoO. A further rule we have: If you start in space threatened by a creature you can move one square not provoking opportunity attacks by that (single) creature. Everyone got used to the rules quickly, and they have not been an issue.

    I don't think flanking breaks other Advantage mechanics. I think it just highlights (quite realistically) its strategic importance. The help action can still be useful – e.g. a cornered opponent can't be flanked. Also, flanking is not a useful rule if you're using theatre of the mind, in which case; help.

    Also what makes a difference to the value of help is the attack ability of the helper vs. the helped. If the helper is a wizard (for example) with little chance to hit and low damage, she may rather help the fighter.

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Content dated before 6/26/2020 9:53 AM