D&D 5E 5e Flanking - the good, the bad, and the broken?

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
A group I'm in the DM is considering using the flanking rules, which grant advantage. I've used them and personally felt that it cheapened all of the features that granted sneak attack, made advantage too common, and lessened impact of AC such that it wasn't worth any opportunity costs anymore.

But the DM was running during 3.5 days when flanking was common, and his old DM from that time will be joining the group as well and has pushed for it when the current DM brought it up.

I want to present the DM with some of the ways it changes the tenor of play so that he can determine if that is to his (and the rest of the group's) liking or not, as well as some of the ways it can be abused.

I am not saying this isn't a valid variant. I am saying that I personally did not enjoy it, and I want to compile a list (positive as well - I'll be fair) of way that play changes when the variant is used so he can make an more informed decision then "flanking was fun in 3.5". It's not a dealbreaker to me if he chooses it, but I do at least want him to make the call with his eyes open. And who knows, maybe I'll be the one convinced.

So, what experiences do you have with it? The good, the bad, the broken?
 

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prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
The Flanking optional rules as written do cheapen other abilities that grant Advantage, as you suspect. Further, since movement within a creature's threatened area is effectively free, it does, IME and IMO, the opposite of its intent (rewarding tactical play) because there's no price for it.

In principle, I'm granting a +2 bonus to attack rolls for Flanking, but in practice I'm rarely remembering or bothering. Even that isn't really worth it, and it kinda breaks the tattered remnants of Bounded Accuracy in ways that Advantage technically doesn't.

I would prefer to have rules that rewarded placement and tactical decisions. The Flanking optional rules in the DMG are not those rules.
 

We’ve abandoned flanking and it has improved combat for the better, IMO.

We’ve also embraced this philosophy (although players don’t go for it as much as I thought they would):

Finally, as we often have 6 players, we’ve moved to Players Grant Inspiration (h/t DMG and @iserith)

Plenty of opportunities for advantage at our table without flanking.
 

aco175

Legend
We used flanking as a hold over from 4e days and have not had problems with using it. PCs can gain up on the big monster and rogues can deal sneak attack damage more often. The party tends to be only 4 PCs with one caster or two PCs that tend to hang back, so the flanking is for the fighter and cleric, with the rogue coming and going. This does tend to make the rogue melee more and not just snipe or hide behind the fighter and snipe for advantage.

The fighter in the group does not use feats and tends to not deal that much damage, so flanking is not a damage problem like if he had some combos where he negates the flanking +5 with the -5/+10.

Flanking does make the fight more static. The fighter may move up to a monster and then circle them with the extra movement, allowing for another PC to come and flank. Once you are flanked, it its harder to move away unless you withdraw.

Monsters can flank. This tends to favor the DMs numbers when you have 10 orcs and 4 PCs. Does not help is you have 1 ogre and 4 PCs though. On the other hand, the fight with the ogre goes fast and you can move on.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
You’re correct that flanking in 5e cheapens other features that grant advantage. It’s far too easy to attain, especially since moving within a creature’s reach doesn’t provoke attacks of opportunity. It makes it so you never have to seek out other sources of advantage, which actually reduces tactical play. If your players insist on using flanking, I recommend either changing the benefit to +2 to your attack, having movement within a creature’s reach provoke attacks of opportunity, or both. But really, I just wouldn’t use flanking. Instead, grant advantage (and disadvantage) more often for circumstantial things that the players can actively try to orchestrate (or avoid). Cinematic Advantage is a decent enough way of reminding yourself to give the players environmental features to take advantage of.
 

ECMO3

Hero
I've played with it and I have played without it. I don't like it and I really don't see the need for it or that it brings anything to the game. I will play games with it and I have fun in them, but I much prefer no flanking. For me the rub is - why have it?

If you have it the characters and the enemies move around each other to try to get it and in large battles it just makes the game cartoonish. It also nerfs spells like blur and invisibility and classes like Rogue and Barbarian and makes dodge an even less viable option.

It also tends to make combats less flavorful and less fun. There is already an opportunity cost for doing anything other than swinging your sword or casting your spell. Things like help, grapple, throwing a flask, or trying to jump on an enemy two sizes higher than you, if you put flanking in the penalty you pay for doing these things is even higher. Finally and most significantly players won't get creative to try to gain advantage when they can just get it anyway.
 
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Further, since movement within a creature's threatened area is effectively free, it does, IME and IMO, the opposite of its intent (rewarding tactical play) because there's no price for it.
This is the argument I would make to a 3.5 DM: Flanking in 3.5 existed as part of a full set of tactical combat rules (greater AoO, 5 foot step, etc.). Adding flanking in isolation just doesn't work the same way.

A game I am a player in uses flanking, but also allows AoO for moving within the space a creature threatens. That at least somewhat mitigates the ease of getting a flank, as you are often need to take an AoO to get it. I might suggest that as a compromise if the group is dead set on including flanking.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
This is the argument I would make to a 3.5 DM: Flanking in 3.5 existed as part of a full set of tactical combat rules (greater AoO, 5 foot step, etc.). Adding flanking in isolation just doesn't work the same way.
Yes, this. The comparison between flanking in 3-dot-Pathfinder and 5E is ... stark. One kinda has cost-benefit implications; the other does not.
 

Mort

Legend
Supporter
Started playing with it and dumped it quickly.

Advantage, already not all that hard to get, became completely trivial (it started to approach 100% of the time).

Keep in mind that ACs in 5e are already (as a whole) lower than they were in 3e and advantage gives a much bigger benefit than a simple +2. Plus since the movement and AoO rules are greatly simplified in 5e, there is no real cost to getting a flank.

My group found it better to just not use the optional rule (after having tried it).
 

pming

Legend
Hiya!

Don't use the rules...use the concept...and leave it up to the DM to decide if "Flanking" is possible on a case by case, round by round, action by action basis. If the Player(s) can't handle that sort of trust with the DM...then yeah, maybe don't use it.

^_^

Paul L. Ming
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
Hiya!

Don't use the rules...use the concept...and leave it up to the DM to decide if "Flanking" is possible on a case by case, round by round, action by action basis. If the Player(s) can't handle that sort of trust with the DM...then yeah, maybe don't use it.

^_^

Paul L. Ming
Or if it's worth the bonus.

It's possible this is what you meant--if so, I apologize. It's an interesting idea, and I kinda like it, and I'm not trying to walk on your thunder.
 





doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
IME it doesn’t cheapen any features.


My experience, though, is also that it encourages using special attacks like shoving and grappling, fighting back to back if possible, and the characters never stand in one place and whack until the whack target drops.

Features/abilities that grant advantage are still very good, allow you to employ other tactics than flanking while getting advantage.

In the campaign where I’m a player, my rogue/Wizard has a familiar, and she gives someone advantage most rounds, I also regularly hide when it’s a good strategy, and taunt and hit and run with booming blade to make them have to choose between chasing me and taking damage or staying in a bad position relative to my allies. I still use Steady Aim sometimes, and I still use stealth and occasionally invisibility to get advantage.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
I think flanking is boring, personally. It makes absolute sense. No one can defend fully against opponents on opposite sides. But it’s still boring. Despite my mostly old-school preferences, I do like cinematic games. So when Sly Flourish dropped Cinematic Advantage, I was over the moon. Dungeon Craft did a video on it as well.

 

I think flanking is boring, personally. It makes absolute sense. No one can defend fully against opponents on opposite sides. But it’s still boring. Despite my mostly old-school preferences, I do like cinematic games. So when Sly Flourish dropped Cinematic Advantage, I was over the moon. Dungeon Craft did a video on it as well.

13th Age in orign, like so many other good ideas.
 

I'd prefer a gang up bonus like in Savage Worlds over flanking these days. Just give people a +1 bonus for every additional person over the first is engaged with them. Flanking just creates these weird conga lines.

Really though ganging up on people doesn't really need any bonuses in D&D. It's clearly the optimum strategy to take. If anything, I feel like it's alreay too good. The most effective thing to do is to gang up and finish off one person before moving on to the next and doing the same etc ect. It's not very cinematic. That would be more people squaring off and battling each other. It's both the optimum strategy and the one that leads to the fastest combats and the most deaths (which make things more satisfying, there's nothing more dull then distributing damage around because when you just make hit points go down nothing happens that meaningfully connects the fiction to the game)

5e really needs something like 13th Age's mook rules. Lots of fairly easy to kill monsters that are satisfying to take out. But then you go a bit further and makes sure there is also an incentive to take them out (something 4e especially struggled with. (Such as have them do double damage if there are more mooks on the table then the PCs or have a greatly increased crit range, stuff like that gets the PCs spreading out to take them out quickly). 13th Age also lets mook damage carry over to the next (which at least lets the boring one note wonders like the rogue with its single target damage all the time feel like they can join the wizard and cleric party for a minute).
 

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