Learn how bonus actions work and how to maximise their use
In D&D, during combat, there’re a lot of things you can do on your turn which are mostly broken up into a few types of actions. These action types include your; action, bonus action, reaction and (possibly) a lair action. On top of this, players will also be able to move as well. Within each of these action types are loads of options depending on your class, race, feats you’ve taken and any spells you have.
There’s a lot to know but no need to worry, we’re here to help you understand how these work. In this guide we’ll cover bonus actions and how to maximise their effectiveness.
What is a bonus action and how does it work?
A bonus action is one of the action types you can take during combat in D&D 5e. A bonus action can be taken in addition to a standard action and a movement, but only when an ability specifically states it can be performed as a bonus action. Typically, bonus actions are quicker and take less time than a standard action allowing your character time to perform both acts.
There are a few different types of abilities that can be used as a bonus action:
- Offhand attack
- Cast a spell
- Class feature
Bonus actions are extremely useful as they can give your character some extra advantage during combat. With this in mind, it’s important to ensure that your character has bonus actions available to them to maximise on their usefulness in combat. This might involve picking certain spells or feats with this feature.
The challenge in using bonus actions usually comes down to your action economy. You can only use a single bonus action in a turn so using the most effective option is important. On top of this, there can be certain limitations, especially when it comes to spell casting. In other cases, you may consistently want to use a certain bonus action most turns, preventing you from using other bonus actions (such as a rogue’s cunning action or attacking with an offhand attack).
Our guide will help you understand how different bonus actions work and which are the most effective options.
Different bonus actions and how they work
An offhand attack (or two weapon fighting) can be used as a bonus action if you use your action for an attack and if you’re wielding 2 weapons at the same time. There are limitations to an offhand attack though.
Your offhand attack doesn’t receive a damage bonus from your ability modifier unless it’s a negative modifier. In addition, you can only dual wield light melee weapons.
These drawbacks can be offset with certain class features and/or feats. The two-weapon fighting style can be taken by fighters, rangers and college of swords bards or as part of the fighting initiate feat. This ability allows you to add your ability modifier to the damage of your offhand weapon. The dual wielder feat allows you to ignore the light restriction of melee weapons (though no dual wielding two-handed weapons still). It also grants you +1 AC when dual wielding.
Bonus action spells
Some spells can be cast using a bonus action and will be stated as such in their description. There is one important rule to remember with bonus action spells though. If you’re also casting a spell for your action, one of the spells you cast must be a cantrip (levelled spells take too long to cast 2 in one turn). With this in mind, if you want to maximise the use of spells for your bonus action, it’s worth having some effective cantrips available.
We’ve included all the spells available in D&D 5e that can be cast as a bonus action below:
|Shillelagh||Cantrip||Touch||1 minute||Druid||Conjure d8 damage weapon that uses spellcasting ability to wield|
|Divine Favour||1st||Self||1 minute, concentration||Cleric (War Domain), Paladin||Deal an extra d4 radiant damage with weapon attacks|
|Hail of Thorns||1st||Self||1 minute, concentration||Ranger||1d10 piercing damage|
|Healing Word||1st||60ft||Instantaneous||Bard, cleric, druid||Heal a creature 1d4 + spell casting ability modifier|
|Hex||1st||90ft||1 hour, concentration||Warlock||Add 1d6 necrotic damage and debuff of choice|
|Hunter’s Mark||1st||90ft||1 hour, concentration||Ranger, oath of vengeance paladin||Add 1d6 damage when you hit a named enemy|
|Sanctuary||1st||30ft||1 minute||Cleric, oath of devotion paladin||Possibility to prevent a creature from attacking the target|
|Searing Smite||1st||Self||1 minute, concentration||Paladin||Add 1d6 fire damage to attacks and burn target|
|Shield of Faith||1st||60ft||10 minutes, concentration||Cleric, Paladin||Add +2 AC to target|
|Thunderous Smite||1st||Self||1 minute, concentration||Paladin||Adds 2d6 thunder damage and possibly push enemy back 10 feet|
|Wrathful Smite||1st||Self||1 minute, concentration||Paladin||1d6 psychic damage and possibly frighten enemy|
|Branding Strike||2nd||Self||1 minute, concentration||Paladin||Deal an extra 2d6 damage and make an invisible creature visibile|
|Flame Blade||2nd||Self||10 minutes, concentration||Druid||Turn your sword into a temporary flame tongue|
|Magic Weapon||2nd||Touch||1 hour, concentration||Paladin, wizard, war domain cleric||Make your weapon magic and +1|
|Misty Step||2nd||Self||Instantaneous||Sorceror, Warlock, Wizard||Teleport to a place within 30 feet|
|Spiritual Weapon||2nd||60ft||1 minute||Cleric||Conjure a weapon that fights independently and deals 1d8 + spell casting ability modifier|
|Blinding Smite||3rd||Self||1 minute, concentration||Paladin||3d8 radiant damage and a chance of blinding target|
|Lightning Arrow||3rd||Self||1 minute, concentration||Ranger||Add 4d8 lightning damage to ammunition|
|Mass Healing Word||3rd||60ft||Instantaneous||Cleric||Heal up to 6 creatures by 1d4+ spell casting ability modifier|
|Grasping Vine||4th||30ft||1 minute, concentration||Druid, ranger, nature domain cleric||Vines bring enemies to you|
|Staggering Smite||4th||Self||1 minute, conentration||Paladin||4d6 psychic damage and possibly disadvantage to attack rolls and ability checks|
|Banishing Smite||5th||Self||1 minute, concentration||Paladin||5d10 force damage and possibly banish back to plane of existence|
|Swift Quiver||5th||Touch||1 minute, concentration||Ranger||Let off 2 shots for your bonus action|
|Divine Word||7th||30ft||Instantaneous||Cleric||Send creatures in range back to their plane of origin and cause conditions on the remaining creatures you choose|
A lot of classes have options for bonus actions allowing you to make the most use of your turn. These are special actions that can be taken using your bonus action. Some of these are as simple as switching an ability off or commanding a summoned creature. There’s a lot of these so we’ll just detail out some of the more useful ones:
- Barbarian – Rage: Barbarians can enter rage as a bonus action. It’s one of their most crucial abilities, giving them buffs in combat.
- Bard – Bardic Inspiration: Bards can buff allies using their bardic inspiration which gives them a dice to add to a roll they make.
- Fighter – Second Wind: Regain a small amount of health.
- Monk – Unarmed Strike: You can make an unarmed strike as a bonus action.
- Monk – Ki: Your ki abilities allow you to make 2 unarmed attacks, dodge, dash or disengage as bonus actions.
- Ranger – Vanish: You can take the hide action as a bonus action.
- Rogue – Cunning Action: You can take the dash, disengage or hide actions as a bonus action.
- Sorceror – Quickened Spell: You can cast a spell that requires an action using a bonus action instead.
Bonus action feats
Feats are abilities that can be taken by any character when thy level up instead of taking an ability score improvement. Feats can provide all sorts of benefits and in some cases, can allow you to make use of your bonus action. Below, we’ve detailed the feats that can make use of your bonus action:
- Crossbow Expert – Crossbow expert allows you to shoot a hand crossbow for your bonus action when you make an attack with a one handed weapon.
- Dual Wielder – Removes the light requirement from dual wielded weapons meaning you can get up to 1d8 damage weapons per attack increasing damage output of your bonus action (and your standard action) plus you gain +1 AC.
- Polearm Master – Allows you to strike with the butt of your polearm as a bonus action in addition to your normal attack.
What are the best bonus actions?
This is a tricky question to answer as the answer can be highly situational and likely depends on your class and role in the party. However, some bonus actions are certainly more useful than others. We’ll try and breakdown some of those below.
Best bonus action abilities
For martial classes, using your bonus action for an offhand attack is often going to be an effective use of it, whether your a monk performing a flurry of blows or using two-weapon fighting to dish out your offhand attack. Of course, there’s always the trade-off between higher damage weapons and lower damage weapons that can be dual-wielded. There’s also the trade-off of the extra protection that a shield might provide.
One advantage of making an offhand attack is you get a second chance to land a strike. This can be really helpful for someone like a rogue that only gets one attack, but really needs to land an attack to get their all important sneak attack in.
A barbarian’s rage is also always an effective bonus action to take granting you extra damage and resistances. Bardic inspiration can grant powerful buffs to allies making others more effective. Other than that, the ability to cast a second spell in a turn is also hugely effective, but we’ll look at which ones are the best use of your bonus action below.
Best bonus action spells
Spells can be a very powerful option and essentially allow you a free spell use each turn meaning it’s a good idea to ensure your spell list has at least 1 or 2 bonus action spells available.
Healing word is a great spell to use when you need to guarantee getting an ally up when they’ve fainted. The healing is minimal though so unless you’re fighting at a low level, you may not get a lot of benefit out of the increase in health.
Banishing smite is a very powerful paladin spell that not only gives them extra damage, but can banish a creature if they’re reduced to 50hp or less. Great against spell casters to remove them from combat early on. At lower levels, other smites are also great options for paladins to add an extra dose of damage to their attacks.
Misty step is a great teleport spell to get you out of danger (or closer to it if you really want). It’s even handy outside of combat too.
Spiritual weapon is a hugely effective way for clerics to get an additional d8 damage per turn for what will probably be the rest of the combat and doesn’t require concentration to maintain either.
Our final pick is shield of faith. It’s a hugely effective buff spell giving you or an ally +2 AC for a whole combat making that character significantly tougher to hit. It’s particularly effective for paladins who like to be in the thick of combat but can be less effective for clerics as it’s a concentration spell and you may want to use your concentration on a different spell (like spirit guardians). Paladins, on the other hand, have very few concentration spells anyway.
You should now know everything you need to know about bonus actions and how to make the best use out of them. If you want to know more about how to get the most out of your turn, why not take a look at our guides on movement and reactions.