DnD 5e: How Bonus Actions Work

When it comes to Dungeons & Dragons combat, all of the different terms can get a bit confusing. Actions, reactions and bonus actions all work together to create a player character's action economy, but sometimes, determining exactly what can be used as a bonus action isn't clear. Bonus actions are special in that they can often come in the form of a spell, racial trait, feat or even a class feature.

Having the opportunity to take a bonus action can help significantly speed up combat, and when combat moves quickly, it is often much more fun to participate in. Here's what players need to understand about how bonus actions work and how to gain access to more options.

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What Are Bonus Actions Used For?

During each round of combat, players are allowed to use one bonus action. However, different characters will have different options, and some will have a wider variety available than others. Players attacking with two weapons, for example, can use their attack action for their dominant-hand weapon (adding their proficiency bonus to the attack), then take a second attack with their off-hand weapon without adding the proficiency bonus.

There are also class abilities that count as bonus actions, such as a Barbarian's Rage or a Druid's Wild Shape. If these did not count as bonus actions, it would slow combat down by forcing these characters to spend an entire turn getting ready to use their signature abilities before getting to actually benefit from them. Luckily, the fact that these are bonus actions mean a Barbarian can launching into their Rage, then use their attack action to take advantage of that bonus in the same turn.

Some classes have access to spells that can be cast as an action, then used with a bonus action, like the Cleric's Spiritual Weapon or a Wizard's Bigby's Hand. Once the spell has been cast with the action, the caster can use their bonus action to attack with it, then use their bonus action on each subsequent turn to move and attack with it until the spells runs out. Taking a bonus action to cast Misty Step can increase a player's movement by up to 25 feet, allowing them to reach an enemy they might not have otherwise reached on foot, or escape combat without taking an attack of opportunity.

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Say a player wants to disengage from combat to avoid taking an attack of opportunity when using their movement to escape. Ordinarily, that would require the player's action, but Rogue's may be able to use a bonus action instead and still take advantage of their action to do something else on their turn. Rogues can also use a bonus action to dash to move half their movement speed more or hide.

Feats That Offer Bonus Actions

There are a handful of feats that grant players bonus action opportunities. Charger, for instance, allows a player to make a melee weapon attack or shove a creature after using the dodge action, while Crossbow Master offers the chance to make a crossbow shot at an enemy after attacking with a one-handed weapon. Great Weapon Master allows the player to make an additional melee attack when they land a critical hit, and Tavern Brawlers can use their bonus action to attempt a grapple after connecting with an unarmed strike.

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The Best Bonus Action Spells

When it comes to casting spells as a bonus action, there is one major rule to keep in mind: After casting a first level or higher spell as a bonus action, the only kind of spell the player will be able to use as their action is a cantrip. Fortunately, there are some powerful bonus action spells that make settling for a cantrip more than worth it.

Paladins in particular have some powerful spell options that can be cast as a bonus action, as Banishing Smite, Searing Smite, Blinding Smite, Thunderous Smite, Branding Smite, Staggering Smite and Wrathful Smite are all options. As for Clerics, Healing Word, Mass Healing Word, Divine Favor, Divine Word and Sanctuary are great bonus action spells.

Warlocks can take advantage of the spell Hex as a bonus action, then use their Eldritch Blast cantrip to level a world of hurt at enemies. Rangers can cast their Hunter's Mark as a bonus action and move it to another enemy on successive turns using their bonus action, so long as they continue to maintain concentration.

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Artist, writer, avid gamer, lover of comics, manga and anime and all around nerd, Jennifer has been creating online content for numerous websites for over 15 years. She can generally be found on Tuesday nights playing Drow Warlock Zaelien Vel'rai in the So Many Levels D&D campaign on Twitch!

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