The showdown happens on a rocky cliff; everyone struggles to keep their balance during the fight. One enterprising Barbarian sees an opportunity to eliminate one of the incoming zombies by sidestepping an attack and shoving them over the steep side. The rest of the party cheers and motions for them to keep doing that with more as they work to thin the horde.
How the Shove Action Works
Shove is one of the actions you can take on your turn instead of casting a spell or making an attack. You can either try and shove a creature prone or push them away from you in a chosen direction. How successful you are depends on a contested check, meaning that both you and your opponent must roll.
Your DM will ask you to roll a Strength (Athletics) check, and your enemy can choose to either roll the same or a Dexterity (Acrobatics) check. The higher roll wins. If you attempt to shove a target and they succeed, you don’t knock them prone, and they aren’t pushed away from you in any direction. Remember, the phrase “meets it beats it” applies here, too: if your foe and you roll the same number, they still win the contest.
There are some restrictions to the Shove action you have to keep in mind. For example, you cannot shove a creature that is more than one size larger than you. For most medium-sized adventurers, that limits your shoves to large creatures.
Additionally, you cannot use shove as an attack of opportunity when an enemy leaves your range. You can either attack or possibly cast a spell (if you have taken the War Caster feat), but you cannot perform any special actions like Shove or Grapple. Similarly, if you shove a target and they move out of your or others’ ranges, no one gets an attack of opportunity because the movement was involuntary.
Shove and Reach Weapons
Shove is a melee action, meaning you must be within reach of an opponent to shove them. So, how does that work with weapons with the reach property? In Dungeons & Dragons, you can only shove with your bare hands. It’s counterintuitive and somewhat bizarre, but you can’t use a weapon to perform the shove action. Unfortunately, that means that reach weapons don’t extend your range for shoving.
When to Use the Shove Action
As the intro noted, the Shove action is particularly effective when there is something to shove an enemy into (or off of). Environmental hazards are common when fighting outside, so pushing an enemy into quicksand, a trap, off a cliff, or into a pool of molten lava to your left is always a good option.
Shoving can also force an opponent prone, which gives you and other allies advantage on melee attacks. If you are working in concert with another melee friend, you can shove your target prone and then have your friend grapple them to ensure that they don’t go anywhere before your turn comes back around. Keep in mind that allies do have disadvantage with ranged attacks if their targets are prone, though, so use this aspect of Shove judiciously.
Another time to use the Shove action is when your allies are grappled or in immediate danger, and you can try to move them 5 feet away. Remember, a shoved creature doesn’t provoke an attack of opportunity, so shoving your friend away from a melee attacker won’t land them in hot water. If you’re ahead of them in the initiative, they can take their normal movement on their turn to get out of Dodge without wasting their action disengaging with their attacker.
Best Classes to Use the Shove Action
The best classes to use the shove action are Fighters, Barbarians, and Paladins because they have Strength as one of their primary ability scores. You’re rolling a Strength (Athletics) check, so you want to ensure that your character has a fighting chance. Barbarians who are Raging have advantage on Strength checks which include shoves, so they’re more likely to win the contest.
Fighters are in a particularly advantageous position because they get so many attacks in a single action. Paladins and Barbarians have two attacks beginning at level 5, so they can attack in the same turn that they shove their targets, but Fighters continue gaining further attacks and can really go to town.
Alternatives to the Shove Action
For Battle Master Fighters, two maneuvers provide excellent alternatives to the standard shove action. Even other characters can take a feat (Fighting Style, Superior Technique) to learn one of these maneuvers or choose Superior Technique for their Fighting Style feature.
These maneuvers include Pushing Attack, which lets you make a weapon attack, add extra damage, and possibly push the target up to 15 feet in your chosen direction. Trip Attack works similarly, but it knocks your opponent prone if successful.
Alexa spends the majority of her days explaining the ins and outs of DnD to her two cats, much to their dismay.