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The rules packet does not provide any specific rules about flanking. However the rule does say that the DM has lots of leeway in deciding when to give advantage or disadvantage in combat. Should it be understood that flanking always gives advantage, or is the DM supposed to only give advantage when there is "clever flanking"? What is the best way to handle "flanking" in D&D 5e?

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The DMG (released well after this question was asked) has an optional rule for flanking. See my answer below, please. –  OpaCitiZen Dec 29 '14 at 11:49

4 Answers 4

up vote 14 down vote accepted

Being a playtester DM I've spent some time to make a list of all the things that grant advantage and disadvantage within the current ruleset.

The following things grant advantage to an attack roll:

  • Hidden attacker
  • Attacker being helped†
  • Paralyzed target
  • Prone target (melee attacks only)
  • Restrained target
  • Stunned target
  • Unconscious target

Unless you apply DM fiat, flanking does not give advantage.

† Flanking doesn't count as "helping" in D&D Next. Helping is a specific action. It used to exist in previous editions (3.x) and it gave +2 to the attack roll, provided the aiding character was adjacent to both the aided one and its target. The distinction here is that helping is an action and therefore it uses up your turn. Flanking in 3.x is a passive thing that requires no action itself, just good positioning, so both flanking characters get to attack (if they have any action left, that is) and both get the flanking bonus.

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You can also aid a friendly creature in attacking a creature within 5 feet of you. In this scenario, you give away your attack and your friend gains advantage on his attack roll. (PHB. 192 - Help Action) –  felipecrp Jan 10 at 3:27

In the current 5E playtest, there is no flanking. In fact, there are few rules for combat at all, and definitely no rules for grid-based combat and positioning. As stated elsewhere, the playtest doesn't represent the final ruleset, so positioning rules may be added later on, but for now, granting advantage is merely a judgement call.

Personally, I would say that it depends a lot on the situation. A normal humanoid creature being ganged up on by two assailants might be at a disadvantage, whereas as large creature, or exceptionally skilled opponent, might not have that same problem. Grant advantage on a case by case basis, and come up with a set of criteria that suit you and your gaming group.

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There actually are rules for grid based combat and positioning. For example, a medium sized creature can only be surrounded by 8 other medium sized creature, and a gargantuan creature takes up "3 slots" etc. I believe it's in the DM section rather than the general rules though. Other than that small point, I think you have a good answer. –  GMNoob May 28 '12 at 10:35
Right, I had missed those. Still, the point stands. The "surrounding" rules are just a way to account for that sort of thing when not using a grid. That being said: I would definitely grant (dis)advantage if someone was mostly surrounded. –  Mike Riverso May 28 '12 at 15:13
@GMNoob Surrounding rules date back to 2e and 1e and are unrelated to the WotC-era concept of "flanking". I would not grant disadvantage to someone surrounded unless an enemy's pack tactics needed to be represented via advantage. Being attacked 8 times a round is plenty deadly all itself. –  SevenSidedDie May 29 '12 at 19:37

There's an optional rule for Flanking in the 5th edition Dungeon Master's Guide.

The gist of it is that indeed, flanking does give advantage to each of the flankers.

For details, see the p.251 in the book.

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Good new information but not a complete answer - the best answer to this question would also cover the base case and not just an optional rule. –  mxyzplk Dec 29 '14 at 17:22

I don't believe the intent is that flanking always grants advantage, but of course all the rules aren't out yet. It seems like it's hearkening back to 1e-2e where backstab required actual stealth or other sneakniess and the rogue wasn't a DPS machine. There's nothing to indicate you can get advantage simply by flanking (it would be way too powerful for random positioning to get you 2d20 take highest IMO). It says nothing anywhere about flanking conveying Advantage so assuming it does is quite unsupported by the rules.

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