When it comes to combat in the Dungeons & Dragons world, things can get confusing, especially if you are relatively new to the game. Combat takes place in a specific order, and any number of factors, such as a character or creature’s speed and Dexterity, are considered.
And then there are bonus actions, additional choices, and actions that you can also undertake alongside the usual cut and thrust of battle. Even more confusingly, such bonus actions will differ for each character and often depend on the class you have chosen, your race, and whether you have access to certain magic. Read our full guide to Bonus Action 5e below.
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What is a Bonus Action 5e?
Bonus Actions make combat more fun; they move it from a simple line of combatants trying to knock lumps out of each other and allow for spells to be cast, sneaky moves to be enacted, or even more specialized martial skills to be added to the mix.
It may be fun, but we must look closer to see how it all works.
How Bonus Actions Work
Technically, you only get a bonus action if an ability you have says you do, but a good player will find a way of using it on most of their turns. Bonus action moves are something to look out for when building and evolving a character.
Sometimes the ability to soften an enemy up through a regular combat action and then land the killer blow (often literally) through a neat bonus action move can be worth its weight in gold. (Again, often literally.)
During each round of combat, players with such a move are permitted to use one bonus action in their repertoire of abilities. They can do something alongside and separate from the usual hack and parry of hand-to-hand combat.
What additional bonuses each character can call on will be different from one to another. Some may have one additional core skill; others might have a whole bag of actions to choose from.
Bonus Action 5e Example
A typical example might be a Fighter who goes into combat with a weapon in each hand. Standard combat rules allow them to attack with their designated primary weapon. The bonus action can be used to get in a second attack with their off-hand or secondary weapon subject to certain restrictions.
Bonus actions are also the point when certain class-based abilities can come into play, such as the Druid subclass‘s Wild Shape ability or the Barbarian utilizing his trademark Rage. In these cases, we can see the bonus action as a helpful mechanic.
With it, combat would be faster and more logical as characters stand by and prepare their signature moves. With bonus action, it makes more sense.
The Barbarian doesn’t have to stand to one side, working himself up into a battle frenzy. Instead, he goes roaring into combat with the red mist of battle hanging over him, the bonus action providing the Rage and the regular attack benefiting from their heightened battle state.
Feats That Offer Great Bonus Actions
A few feats allow the character bonus action opportunities that are worth singling out as an example of how this works. The Charger feat, for example, means that a character can make a hand-held melee weapon attack or push a creature afterward, using the Dodge action.
Such is the speed of the Crossbow Master that this feat gives the character a chance to make a crossbow shot at a target after first attacking with a one-handed weapon.
The prowess bestowed by the Great Weapon Master feat means that should they land a critical hit on a target, they can immediately take advantage of their opponent’s weakened and unprepared state and make an additional melee attack as a bonus.
Also, the scrappy and underhanded nature of the Tavern Brawlers means that such a character can utilize their bonus action by attempting to Grapple with an opponent after connecting with an Unarmed Strike.
Spells That Offer Great Bonus Actions
Under normal conditions, there is only time to cast one spell per round. That means that if you are permitted to use the bonus action to fire off a spell, then the only other magical casting you can unleash as your standard action will be a cantrip.
However, some potent spells are permitted as bonus actions to some classes, so it is often a trade-off worth making.
Paladins, in particular, have some potent spells in their magical arsenal that can be cast as a bonus action. Paladin spells such as Banishing Smite, Searing Smite, Blinding Smite, Thunderous Smite, Branding Smite, Staggering Smite, and Wrathful Smite make excellent bonus action choices.
Warlocks have a great one-two magical punch at their disposal. Imagine taking the spell Hex as a bonus action and following it up with the Eldritch Blast cantrip — that is going to make your enemies think twice about staying in combat… that is if they are still on their feet and in any condition to carry on fighting.
Final Thoughts on Bonus Action 5e
The bonus action rule is a neat way of keeping things logical, tidy, and moving in combat. Rather than deal with combat moves and particular bonus actions as two separate entities, incorporating the bonus action into the ordinary course of combat helps integrate standard moves with innovative and unique skills.
But in real terms, it does much more than that. It heightens the action without slowing down the mechanics. It allows characters to undertake the usual combat attacks whilst juggling an additional move, preparing a bonus spell, making a second blow on the target, and any number of other extraordinary actions too.
In short, it keeps things exciting. And that is what combat, D&D, and gaming, in general, are all about.
Kendra has always been a hardcore fantasy nerd. Growing up in the worlds of Tolkien, Sanderson, Jordan, and Abercrombie, DnD & board games just came naturally. She and her husband, Bryan, started GameCows.com in 2018 as a fun passion project that just took over their lives. An avid board gamer since childhood and chronic DnD chronicler for more than two decades, she loves to play, write, travel, and learn dead languages. She is also a professional content writer at SlashGear.com