Flanking Damage

5th Edition’s flanking optional rule grants advantage to Player Characters who are on opposite sides of a foe. We’ve previously focused on 5e flanking, including examining what feat(ures) it overlaps, how to manage it in relation to the tactical environments of your game, and some alternate suggestions for how to handle it (e.g. +2 attack, no flanking if flanked).

There’s another possibility we didn’t explore. While that’s not without reason, it does provide an interesting design exercise.

What if flanking gave a bonus to damage?

How to Do It?

There’s a few methods you could use to apply this idea:

  • Add a flat damage bonus to a successful flanking attack.
  • Add an extra weapon die to a successful flanking attack.
  • Add a damage die to a successful flanking attack.
  • Add scaling sneak attack dice to a successful flanking attack.
  • Add extra damage dice for each flanking ally.
    • Scaled by amount.
    • Scaled by die size.

Obviously, some of these are going to have bigger impacts than others. The more damage characters can juice out of flanking, the more the practice is going to be incentivized at the table.

Design Issues

There’s a few reasons you might not want to use this kind of design, or things that you would have to take into consideration if you did.

Everyone’s a Rogue! Adding extra damage for flanking, while not identical to the Rogue’s Sneak Attack feature, definitely plays in similar territory. Especially since Sneak Attack is such an iconic part of the Rogue’s kit, there’s a serious concern of toe-stepping.

Deadliness. Adding extra damage without changing anything else makes the game more deadly. This is especially true when adding damage dice that can double with critical hits. In order to balance this out, you may need to consider scaling hit points. How much will depend on the amount of extra damage you’re allowing.

Playstyle. The more damage players can squeeze out of flanking, the more they will be incentivized to seek it out. This will highly emphasize a gridded tactical playstyle. It will also cause players to focus more on positioning, perhaps emphasizing it over narrative or causing them to ignore environmental features and effects. While this could prove to be an interesting playstyle for a while, it might prove tedious over a longer campaign. To mitigate the dreaded “conga line” some folks experience, you can institute a “no flanking if flanked” rule. For methods employing a greater number of dice, consider allowing the target to subtract a flanking damage die for each adjacent ally.

Flanking Dice

With these considerations in mind, let’s build out the last option above as an exercise. It’s the most complicated in practice, but also the most mechanically interesting.

Simple. The simplest way to do this would be to give extra damage dice for characters standing in the traditional flanking positions:

This would be relatively easy to track and implement, and it caps out at a reasonable 3d6. Such a bonus would require 3 allies helping you on the far side, each of whom would only benefit 1d6 of additional flanking damage.

Surrounded. You might argue that each adjacent ally warrants another damage die. In that case, it makes sense to give more damage dice when allies are standing in the traditional flanking positions. Let’s try +1d6 for adjacent allies and +2d6 for flanking allies:

That damage racks up quick! We certainly don’t want flanking to deal any more than 10d6 damage, so even though we’re pushing our limits, that should mark our top end. The good news is that we’ll cap out at +10d6 with the +1/+2 method against a fully surrounded medium creature. It’s a lot of damage, but it kind of makes sense when you’ve got them surrounded.

We can limit the number of flanking dice that are flying around by subtracting a flanking die for allies adjacent to the target. This will keep minions useful and may prevent the party from ganging up on the main bad guy at the beginning of the fight.

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3 thoughts on “Flanking Damage

  1. Those look like rear attacks, not flanking.

    Unless in 5e the term “flanking” refers to having an opponent sandwiched (as above), but rotated 90° such that the opponent has an attacker to their left and to their right (i.e. flanked).

    Which then raises the complicated question of why does the attacker to one side gets +2d6, while the attacker to the other side gets nothing?

    Which way is X facing here?

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  2. IMC, we use “flanking grants advantage”, and “can’t flank (or provide flanking) if you’re flanked (or blind/prone/stunned/incapacitated/restrained)”. The Rogue is generally firing from stealth, or is one of the flankers; sometimes, thanks to Tasha, standing still for Steady Aim sneak attacks. Flanking is generally a very ideal circumstance – and, coming from 4e, we’re very comfortable with a tactical grid – and is always sought if possible.

    I think giving bonus damage is probably too much on top of this. It would just be saying “Everyone, do an extra Xd6 on every attack. Except you, wizard; you lose.”

    HOWEVER, what I don’t have a happy solution for is “Flanking when you already have Advantage”. You discussed this – and I commented – in your other article. In my houserules, I decided “you get an extra +2 to hit”. Has never been used in practice. Maybe the answer is, instead, this Flanking Damage bonus. If you already have advantage, and you flank the target, you’re not only more likely to land a hit, you’re more likely to land a solid blow. Maybe *that’s* when you add the +1d6. Sure, the Rogue can Sneak Attack for +Xd6 (nearly) all the time, but the fighter can land those nasty hits too, if he’s flanked a target and then knocks it prone for the extra d6! Or maybe the wizard has restrained the foe in a Maximilian’s Stony Grasp, and the cleric steps up to flank, and lands a solid ribcracker (+d6) with his hammer.

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