Tactics and Tips02/14/2006

Fightin' Dirty (Part 1)
A Focused Look at Alternative Combat Tactics

Just like the movies, D&D is meant to be epic, cinematic, and action packed! PCs are expected to dive off cliffs, swing from chains, and toss away their enemy's sword with a flick of the wrist. Sometimes, however, players forget that they have a lot more options available to them during combat than they realize. Starting on page 154, the Player's Handbook lists several "special attacks" that can simulate most of the alternative combat tactics that give a bit more variety to "I hit the orc with my +1 longsword." Over the course of the next few articles, we'll take a look at not how these special attacks work (check out Rules of the Game for those more details), but when to use (or avoid) these maneuvers for their best results.

This week, we take a look at two special attacks to make your opponents rather miserable: bull rush and disarm.

Bull Rush

Sometimes you want your opponent to be not right here, but way over there. That's where bull rush comes into play. Bull rush is almost exclusively the bailiwick of fighters, barbarians, Large creatures, and other characters that have a high Strength score -- your Strength 9 kobold sorcerer should avoid this tactic unless he's intent on pushing back his fellow kobolds for some reason.

When and Why You Should Bull Rush:Obviously, bull rushing is done for very specific reasons, such as preventing your foe from reaching a given point or keeping him from attacking an ally. Bull rushing works best against opponents that are weaker than you are, which can be difficult to discern if you haven't seen the foe in action before. Just like charging, you can move only in a straight line to bull rush your opponent and you provoke attacks of opportunity, especially from other opponents that are nearby -- ideally you should wait until your target is far enough from his allies where they can't take attacks of opportunity and you can smack him around with impunity.

Attempting a bull rush works best when your opponent has something to get pushed into (or off of) -- a cliff, a staircase or railing, fire, and the like. Let your wizard cast acid fog,blade barrier, wall of fire, or another static, yet damaging spell, behind your opponent and bull rush him into it for an automatic slice and dice. Let these hazards do the damage for you if you can help it.

House Rule Alert!: In my games, I allow a +4 circumstance bonus (yes, much larger than the typical bonus) to an attacker who bull rushes an opponent while holding a tower shield -- you're basically smacking into someone with an object the equivalent size of a door, so it makes sense to me that the attacker would get a big bonus.

Another House Rule Alert!: Falling down stairs isn't exactly covered in the Player's Handbook (though it should be!). In my games, if you fall down the stairs, you suffer falling damage (see page 303 in the Player's Handbook), but the Reflex save is reduced to a mere DC 10 (normally DC 15) to see if you take half damage.


Ah, disarming your opponent. A few years ago, I was in an Oriental Adventures campaign with the illustrious James Wyatt. My character, Samakar, a mid-level monk, became the disarming master. Honestly, I tried disarming merely as a lark, and it turned out to be more potent than I realized. In one attempt, I snatched the über villain's staff of ultimate evil destructive nasty power and made it fly out of his reach -- effectively rendering him (mostly) powerless. Over the course of the next few adventures, disarming my foes became a staple technique of my character . . . until James decided to have us face foes that had only natural attacks.

When and Why You Should Disarm: In most cases, you're better off simply attacking an opponent directly instead of trying to remove whatever he has in his hand. However, as described above, there may be times in which denying your opponent his weapon/tool/staff/powerful evil totem has distinct advantages. Remember that unless you have the Improved Disarm feat, attempts to disarm provoke attacks of opportunity. If an attack of opportunity against you deals damage, the attempt fails, so make sure you're at the advantage before attempting. Because this check is based on your attack roll, not your Strength, quick characters, such as rogues and monks, should not overlook this extremely handy option.

The best time to attempt a disarm is when your opponent is holding something that grants her a distinct advantage against you and your group. Is your opponent a serious threat because she's holding a particularly powerful weapon, rod, or staff? Is she wielding a wand that causes you nothing but headaches? If you can disarm her of the object and either hold on to it or throw it far away (preferably over a cliff, into a river, or the like, to be recovered later by you), then you're seriously degrading her offensive might. This tactic works best against nonmartial types, such as druids, sorcerers, and wizards (and certain types of clerics) who rely heavily on magic items, but often lack the Strength score to keep them in their grasp when a disarm attack is attempted. Realize, too, that this tactic can be used against your PC -- how would you feel if your character was suddenly denied the use of his favorite weapon? Now, apply that same mentality against your enemy and see how she reacts.

Certain weapons grant a bonus (typically a +2 bonus, but check each weapon's description) when attempting to disarm: dire flails, flails, nunchaku, ranseurs, sais, spiked chains, and whips. If you want to avoid having your weapons pulled out from your grasp, wear a spiked gauntlet (page 118 in the Player's Handbook) or spend a whopping 8 gp to get a locked gauntlet (page 124 of the Player's Handbook) and never let your trusty longsword fall from your grip again!

Game Resources: To use the material in this article to its fullest, check out the following resources: Dungeon Master's Guide, Monster Manual, Player's Handbook.

About the Author

Eric Cagle cut his teeth at Wizards of the Coast, but now lives the extravagant freelancer lifestyle. Look for his name on D&D, d20 Modern, and Star Wars books. Recent credits include d20 Apocalypse, Races of Destiny, and Monster Manual III. He is also a contributor to the Game Mechanics, Green Ronin Publishing, Dragon Magazine, and this lovely website. Eric lives in Seattle where the coffee is dark and bitter like his goddesses.

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