Movement Speed and Key Combat Tactics of D&D 5e

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I was inspired recently to talk about movement speed. I constantly see players not using their movement; it’s an afterthought. I run several D&D 5e games online, and I constantly experience an awkward pause after players declare their attacks, spells, or whatever. “Do you want to move, or are you ending your turn?” I’m surprised at how often the answer from players is to end their turns. Consider this an open letter to all you D&D players out there to use your movement speed as a valued resource.

Movement speed’s importance varies in each situation, but using it effectively is a skill to master always. Gridded battle maps will quantify and visualize the value of movement speed. Theater of the mind will lessen speed’s value, but it will still matter if your DM isn’t hand-waving that you can be anywhere you want. Battlefields with limited space will also lessen speed’s effectiveness.

Movement is increasingly nuanced when dealing with difficult terrain, barriers, flight, swimming, and climbing. The fastest runner will be in trouble if slowed by irregular movement restrictions. Campaigns with seafaring sessions will inflate the value of a swim speed. Other campaigns will inflate the value of a flying speed because much time is spent around swaying towers, reaching trees, and steep cliffs.

Whole classes can suffer from a player’s lack of movement skill. Monks are famously swift, but many players don’t utilize that speed. Movement speed isn’t meant to fling a Monk into the heat of battle without support or adequate defensive advantages. I’ve seen many Monks run into neck deep trouble just because they can. Monk players need coaching on how to utilize their swiftness! This article is here to help.

What is the benefit of being faster than other creatures? It’s not just about covering a lot of ground quickly. This article will expound upon the benefits of boosting your movement speed if you’re using tactics to utilize your mobility. I’ll attempt to describe tactics that are useful for any character archetype and team role.

Mobility Tactics: Exploiting Movement Speed

The next few sections of this article will focus on the nuances of movement related to combat in D&D 5e. I guarantee these concepts will help you if you’re new to tabletop RPG combat, especially if you have one of your D&D characters in mind. As always, these are principles, not rules.


‘Kiting’ refers to tactically moving away from an enemy while attacking from a distance, and maintaining that distance for as long as possible. Movement speed is what makes kiting possible. You don’t want to move slower than the enemies who chase you. A problem arises when foes use the Dash action to catch up to a character whom is attempting to kite. Escape tools are crucial when foes catch up to you.

Rogues are brilliant kiters because they can Disengage or Dash as a bonus action with their Cunning Action; above-average mobility from Cunning Action allows Rogues to continuously attack with their crossbows while kiting enemies. Cunning Action at level two makes a compelling case for dipping two levels into Rogue when multiclassing.

Not every character has Cunning Action to dart around with a robust action economy for mobility. What can non-Rogues do to stay away or escape from enemies? Any racial feature, class feature, or feat that can boost your character’s speed and mobility will be helpful for you.

Wood Elves have been excellent archers since D&D 5e began, and that’s partially because of their 35 movement speed. Typical humanoids move 30 feet per round, so Wood Elves can maintain a distance with the difference between their 35 speed and their foes’ 30 speed. 

The Mobile feat is excellent for many characters, but it’s especially potent for kiters. This feat boosts your movement speed to keep away from enemies. It has an additional benefit of disabling a creature’s ability to make an Opportunity Attack against you for one round after you attack it. You don’t need to hit with that attack, either. For example, a Ranger moves away from an enemy’s melee range after making a bow attack with disadvantage. The Ranger then makes a second attack without disadvantage. The movement speed boost allows the Ranger to move more than forty feet away, forcing the lonely enemy to Dash or use a less desirable offensive option. This scenario is obviously altered by enemies with greater movement speeds, but the scenario remains common against average monsters and the majority of humanoids.

Melee Kiting (Hit and Run)

I mentioned Monks earlier. They excel at acceleration and are suitable for melee kiting. Monks should seriously consider picking the Mobile feat. This feat is golden for Monks. Any Monk with Mobile can attack an enemy then move away. Their movement speed is so high that they may be able to get out of range of the foe’s movement speed. The enemy will need to decide if it wants to pursue the Monk by Dashing or using a ranged weapon. It may take it time to sheathe a melee weapon to draw a ranged one.

Opportunity Attack Homebrew for Martial Classes

One rule regarding Opportunity Attacks has me scratching my head, so I recommend homebrewing to change it. Martial classes should be better at locking down enemies without relying on the Sentinel feat to stop their movement. I heartily suggest this homebrew concept: allow Opportunity Attacks to be grapples or shoves if a character is proficient with all martial weapons.

It seems like an assumed benefit for any character who is trained extensively in weapon combat. If your character is proficient with martial weapons, you may attempt to grapple or shove a creature instead of making an attack roll. I adore this concept as a way to buff the Strength stat and martial classes. They can use an Opportunity Attack to grab someone by their shirt so they can’t actually get away.

Being locked in place is often worse than taking damage from a single attack. Shoves and grapples are usually not allowed for Opportunity Attacks because they are special attacks that require a character to use the Attack action (which they cannot do as a reaction). They could, however, Ready an action to grapple or shove a creature if it attempts to move away. Readying an action wouldn’t usually be useful in this way unless a situation is thus-far nonviolent.

Here is Sage Advice confirming that Opportunity Attacks don’t work with grappling and shoving. The PHB is clear on this already, but it’s easy to miss. I recommend homebrewing that Opportunity Attacks can be attempts to grapple or shove. It will occasionally slow down your games as you resolve Athletics and Acrobatics skill check contests. Let players know if you make this change.

Takedowns with Overwhelming Numbers

We’ve covered kiting, so let’s swap our point of view from the kiter to the kited. How can you takedown enemies when you’re being kited? An obvious solution would be to outpace the kiter’s speed because you can catch them and hopefully lock them down from there. I want to elaborate on other tools to consider for chasing slippery blokes.

Adventuring parties can benefit from multiple player characters with high Strength scores and Athletics proficiencies. One of the best ways to takedown an a kiting enemy is to have one melee-based character use one hand to attempt a grapple or shove. Grapples will reduce a target’s speed to zero so they cannot run away. Shoves will push them prone without requiring a free hand. Prone foes will be attacked by melee attacks with advantage. Getting up from the ground will reduce their speed by half. Your ally will be free to attack the now-stationary enemy while you have keep them in place.

The Charger feat gets stronger when you are working as a unified force with other melee attackers in your party. Charger allows you to make an attack or shove as a bonus action after you take the Dash action. You can charge ahead to push a kiting enemy to the ground, and perhaps even shove them back towards your incoming allies. Allies may not need to Dash thanks to your effort. Moving in a straight line for ten feet prior to making the attack/shove in this way will add damage or add shove distance. I love the visual of knocking an enemy prone while also pushing them ten feet. Their speed will be halved when they stand up, and they’ll have lost ground that they must retread to get away from your team.

Knocking enemies prone is one of the most enjoyable, rewarding functions of the Shield Master feat. Pick Shield Master if you need options for your bonus action, you use a shield (duh), and you have other melee-based friends to take advantage of enemies being prone.

Boxing Out

Kiters aren’t the only enemies you need to lockdown. Any enemy can choose to flee from a fight. You should always remember to box out enemies from their potential escape routes. ‘Boxing out’ is a term that my parents and coaches taught me when I played basketball in my youth. When someone shoots the basketball, you need to get between the opposing player you’re assigned and the basket. This improves your ability to get a rebound. Adventurers similarly need to box enemies in so retreat is difficult. After all, enemies who get away are likely to know who you are and what you can do.

Fleeing enemies are loose ends that can be extremely problematic in the future. They can return with formidable allies to destroy you, work against you in the shadows, or go after your loved ones! Box out enemies to prevent unforeseen issues. Never assume combat is a cage match where everyone will stick around until one side has completely wiped out their enemies.

Cover Fire, Maintaining Distance

Ranged attackers should not stand still. While making ranged attacks and casting spells, a character should be constantly repositioning. Your positioning should allow your melee fighters to be between you and your enemies. Positioning yourself in this way allows the melee allies to effectively box out enemies so it’s inconvenient or suicidal to rush you. Use the maximum range of your spells and weapons while you keep your distance. Avoid firing into crowds if your melee allies are boxing out enemies. DMs who understand and use cover rules will know that there is a chance of friendly fire because your allies are providing a degree of cover.

Think about positioning while you wait for your turn in combat. Ask yourself if you’ve opened yourself up to an attack, if you’re utilizing the range of your weapons, or if you need to move to the left or right to keep an ally in melee between you and an enemy.

Maintaining too much distance can be harmful, too. Unforeseen enemies can join a battle from your flank (this happens to me in Fire Emblem a lot). You don’t want to be alone with new combatants while your allies are far away. Consider the mobility of your enemies. If they can’t cover ground quickly, and your allies are boxing them out, you can afford to stay closer to the fight. It takes getting used to, but you’ll develop instincts for where you should position yourself for fights. This instinct develops in tabletop games as it does in athletics.

Climbing to the High Ground

You win when you have the high ground. Obi-wan Kenobi taught me that. Characters who possess climbing speeds should use them! Tabaxi characters are some of my favorites, and that’s partially due to their climbing speed and acceleration. Climbing can be as good as flight, and it may be even better since you may be less likely to fall while you have your footing. Stay out of reach if your hitpoints are dwindling or your ranged attacks can get the job done.

Climbing speed isn’t always necessary to reach a high point. You may be a good enough climber to successfully climb at half speed (like difficult terrain). You can use a high jump to get yourself going. You can read about climbing and jumping rules on p.182 of the PHB.

Jumping Hurdles, Obstacles, and Terrains

This is especially useful for characters possessing higher Strength scores since jump rules are tied to Strength, but any character can keep this in mind. Jumping should not be forgotten. I know the Jump spell is neglected, but jumping shouldn’t be. You can find rules for jumping on p.182 of the PHB.
Here’s a tip that has served me well when dealing with difficult terrain: jump it! Make a running long jump as part of your movement to get over difficult terrain entirely or partially.

For example, a twenty-foot square on the ground could be difficult terrain that requires twice as much of your movement speed to traverse. You’re ten feet away from the difficult terrain. Instead of running through it and spending forty feet of movement, use your Strength score of fifteen to long-jump fifteen feet and run the last five as difficult terrain. In total, you’ve used ten feet prior to the difficult terrain, fifteen feet while airborne, and ten more feet to drudge fully through the remaining mire. That’s a total of thirty-five feet used of movement. Compare that to if you ran through without jumping; you would use fifty feet of movement. Some DMs would allow you to leap again at the end of the first jump, saving you another five feet as you avoid the difficult terrain.

It’s a common sentiment that Strength is an inferior stat to Dexterity. When you’ve jumping over problems, you’ll be glad you have Strength to back up your movement speed.

Door Jams and Bottlenecks

Carrying on with my comments on Strength, the burly characters should be constantly looking around for useful objects to control movement around a battlefield. Doorways, rocky tunnels, dark alleys, and bridges all can be put to use by strong characters. These are all bottleneck areas, meaning there is a narrow passage that can easily be clogged up to block movement. Strong characters can chill in these areas and wait for trouble.

Bruisers can also grab whatever is nearby to create battlements for cover and and to deny free movement through the bottleneck. A long table in a dining area can be flipped to give cover against arrows. That same table can be flipped and pushed to a doorway to jam or block it. This works especially well if you Ready an action to push the table in front of the door when half of your foes have flooded into a room, blocking half of them out while you deal with half of them. The Strength-based character will remain occupied holding the table against the door while the rest of the party mops up the unlucky foes who ran fastest into your room.

Bridges are especially fun because you can position yourself in a way that blocks movement and threatens a final fall. Position yourself in front of your ranged attackers and spellcasters. Ready an action to shove the first enemy to get close, or Dodge to make yourself difficult to hit as you protect the allies behind you.

Learn to look for these opportunities and you’ll have much more fun as a brawny Barbarian or a tactician Fighter. Your own movement is important, but dealing with the movement of your enemies is critical. If you notice that you’re in a situation where it’s better to let enemies come to you rather than charging forward, these tactics will make other players think you’re a genius. You’ll basically farm for memory-making moments that will be talked about by fellow players for the next decade.

Grapple + Prone

You can keep an enemy pinned on the ground in the prone position by grappling them. Movement rules in the PHB state that a prone creature cannot stand up if its speed is zero. Grappled creatures have their speeds reduced to zero.

Keeping an enemy grappled and prone on the ground will mean they attack with disadvantage, and they’ll be attacked with advantage within five feet. This works extremely well with parties who have multiple close-quarters martial characters and/or spellcasters who pack spells that increase in value when an enemy can’t move from its space on the battlefield.

Crawling and Dropping Prone on Purpose

Becoming prone is usually a bad thing. It often happens because something knocked you to the ground or you fell off your horse. There will be times when dropping prone can be the best move. When facing enemies who are relying on ranged attacks, you can take cover or you can drop prone. Prone creatures are attacked by ranged attacks with disadvantage! Your speed is halved while prone, so I don’t recommend crawling across a battlefield without cover because you won’t catch up to anyone and you’ll be a sitting duck. This tactic is only meant for specific circumstances to defend yourself, and it’s usually temporary.

Taking Cover

Battlefields often have objects and terrain features that can provide cover. You can gain bonuses to Dexterity saving throws and your Armor Class when you take cover. Allies can provide half cover, so standing behind them can give you slight protection bonuses. On the opposite side of a fight, your enemies will get half-cover bonuses when you are taking shots at them while your own ally is in-between. You might even hit your ally by mistake if the roll goes poorly.

I won’t rehash this concept too much because I have an entire article on the topic.

Optional Flanking

P.251 of the DMG has optional rules for flanking enemy creatures. There are varying opinions on flanking for D&D 5e. Many people have ideas on how to homebrew, enforce, or ignore flanking. The flanking rules are further complicated when you focus on directional facings of characters. Learn these rules if your DM is using them. You will be at a severe disadvantage in combat if enemies are utilizing flanking and your party is not. Martial classes need to coordinate to get on opposite sides of formidable creatures they want to slay quickly. Creatures larger than you will easily be able to flank you since only one square of their creature spaces are positioned to flank.

Enemies can’t flank you if they can’t see you (as the rules say). You can pack a Fog Cloud spell or smoke bomb in case you get surrounded. Blocking their vision would be useful without flanking rules, but it’s lifesaving when flanking rules would grant advantage on attack rolls to massacre you.

Flanking is easier to achieve when your movement speed allows you to get around an enemy. Investing in your movement speed will pay off much more with flanking rules than without them. Keep this in mind if you’re thinking of playing a Monk; your swift movement will carry you behind foes while your allies hit the front side. You make more attacks than most characters, so gaining advantage on all your attacks will help you crush foes to dust.

Mounted Mobility

We have several articles about mounted combats that I recommend reading if you want to consider the benefits of riding a mount in combat. Mounts dramatically increase the amount of ground you can cover without sacrificing your action economy.

Ready Action to Move

Have you ever ended your turn without doing anything? This often happens when a player doesn’t believe it has an effective option to attack or the situation isn’t openly hostile yet. Whether the enemy can still be reasoned with or is flying out of reach, you can Ready your action to move up to your movement speed if a hostile creature moves within a specified radius of you. Players with little experience will know they can Ready an attack, but it’s often overlooked that the PHB specifically describes how a Readied action can be to move. Instead of allowing an enemy to make the first move, deny their melee attack by moving away. They’ll need to choose to Dash to you, Ready their own action to move away when you approach them, or some other course of action. You may have a movement speed tug of war if you’re fighting one-on-one, but a group fight will usually demand that an enemy should switch focus from you.

Spellcasting to Augment Mobility

D&D 5e has no shortage of spells to learn and master. Several dozen spells are essential to understand if you want to master mobility. I’ll break down the go-to spells for augmenting and enabling movement. I’ll also cover spells that hinder or block enemy mobility. If you control the battlefield, you control the battle.

Key Mobility Spells: Enabling Movement

Many spells will aid characters who need mobility. These are spells that can be cast quickly and reliably. Spells that quickly impact mobility have casting times that complete in one turn. Their conditions for effectively aren’t dependent on terrain or other atypical factors outside your control. I’ll highlight several must-have spells for the adventurer on the go!

Misty Step is the most accessible eject button in the game. This second-level spell’s cast time is a bonus action, and teleportation won’t provoke Opportunity Attacks. You can use your action on the same turn to attack, cast a cantrip, Dodge, Dash, or another action that fits the situation.

Freedom of Movement does not require concentration. It is integral to keep yourself from getting locked down. It will also protect you from nasty conditions like paralysis. Moving underwater won’t slow you down either.

Longstrider and Expeditious Retreat will augment your movement speed to dart around the battlefield or make an escape. Longstrider’s speed boost will not require concentration. The ten-foot boost is enough to gain ground on characters you are pursuing or escaping. Expeditious Retreat requires concentration. It improves your action economy as its casting time is one bonus action, and it continuously uses your bonus action to Dash on subsequent turns. You also gain the Dash benefit on the turn you cast the spell. Use Longstrider for a pre-combat buff that doesn’t require concentration. Cast Expeditious Retreat in the moment you need it.

Haste serves as a greater version of Expeditious Retreat. Its potential downside of ending and causing a lost turn can seem like a small price to pay when compared to its benefits. You’ll receive an extra action for Dashing (among other options). Your speed will be doubled for quick advances and takedowns, but it will also be useful for retreats.

Flight is invaluable for evading enemies will punishing their lack of ranged options. Fly is an excellent spell if you think you won’t lose concentration and plummet to your death. You can freely kite enemies if you can fly, they can’t fly, and your attack range is longer than theirs. Kiting has never been so easy! Don’t neglect Spider Climb if flight is unavailable or you want to use a lesser spell slot. Climbing is very useful for terrains that enable it.

Dimension Door has incredible range. It does not require line of sight for where you’re traveling. It’s also an excellent spell to couple with Contingency if you set the trigger parameters properly. It’s also a rare one-action-casting-time spell that can teleport you and one other willing creature, making it premium for getting an ally out of danger or helping them catch up to swift target. Since not all classes can use Dimension Door, another spell that can use for kiting or escaping is Tree Stride.

Feather Fall is your parachute. It saves lives, but it can also open up possibilities in combat. If you’re battling in an area with steep cliffs, you can make a quick getaway by dropping down safely to another level.

Water Walk can be cast in a moment of need or ahead of time as preparation. It can affect your whole party since it targets ten creatures. Water Walk can open up a whole new world of movement if you’re dealing with water, shallow or otherwise. It doesn’t require concentration like other spells that aid you in water, such as Control Water or Alter Self.

Find Steed and Find Greater Steed will dramatically boost your mobility. These spells are widely useful outside of combat as well. These special mounts can attack during their own turns, too.

Key Lockdown Spells: Limiting Movement

The flip-side of mobility spells are the lockdown spells, also known as battlefield control spells. Many spells work within this function, so I’ll point out several common ones. Like the mobility spells I outlined earlier, lockdown spells need to be quickly accessible in a pinch. Their reliability will also be critical to success.

Forcecage will end a Barbarian’s fun. It’s one of the most inescapable spells in D&D 5e. If it’s a solid cage, not the barred option, the only ways out are waiting, casting Disintegrate, or passing a saving throw to attempt a teleportation escape. By the way, Forcecage does not require concentration.

There are numerous wall spells that put up barriers to restrict, punish, or slow movement around them. Wall of Force is a powerful wall spell. I personally like Wall of Stone and Wall of Ice. Some wall spells don’t actually block movement, so I don’t like those as much. One spell that isn’t really a wall, but fills the same function, is Otiluke’s Resilient Sphere (like sticking them in a hamster ball). Characters with ninth-level spells will enjoy using Prismatic Wall. It doesn’t require concentration, and it can really mess people up. It cannot be merely dispelled, so you’re bound to get mileage out of it.

Other spells that are good for locking down or hindering enemy movement include Web, Watery Sphere, and Sleet Storm. Any spell that obstructs vision can be helpful, such as Fog Cloud and Stinking Cloud. Obstructing vision or creating an area of low-visibility and inhibited movement will deter foes from entering the area, possibly choosing to circumvent.

If you’re fighting in or around water, several spells will lock down movement. Otiluke’s Freezing Sphere can freeze enemies where they stand in water. Control Water can create a whirlpool that hinders or stops movement.


Movement speeds and mobility options are premium options for player characters. Disregard them at your own peril! Encourage your DM to create elaborate combat encounters that will test your metal and your movement tactics. Many class features will go to waste if you do not focus on movement or if your DM doesn’t give opportunities to flex your speed and battlefield control abilities.

What advice do you plan on applying in your game’s combat scenarios? Dash to the comments section below to tell me your plans to utilize movement resources. I’d love to hear your own thoughts about mobility and general battle tactics in D&D that you think are under-utilized.

2 thoughts on “<b>Movement Speed and Key Combat Tactics</b> of D&D 5e”

  1. Love this!

    I like combining grapple and shove, a prone and grappled creature can’t stand up (zero movement speed) unless they use their action to break the grapple first (or teleport away). They attack at disadvantage, you attack them with advantage (and any allies within 5ft). Fun for raging barbarians and rune knights (adv on athletics checks), especially if they’ve picked up expertise in athletics from a feat or a level of rogue/ranger.

    1. Thanks, Shard!
      I’m going to update my article to point out the grapple+prone combination. That’s an awesome combination that I’ll have to try! I thought of this combo before, but I didn’t look up the rules to validate it. My memory of the rules was incorrect, so I thought it wouldn’t work. I’m glad you brought it up again because I looked up the rules and found that you’re 100% right. Hot diggity!

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