5e Movement: Becoming a Living Cannon

Written by Ethan

Ethan is a storyteller, GM, and all-around nerd. He spends his time introducing all of his friends to D&D and creating hard magic systems for upcoming novels.

The Dungeon Master (DM) tells you it’s your turn in combat. You take a swing at the nearby ogre with your axe and kill it. You’re left exposed, alone, in the open. You’ve already used your action, but you can still move. But how far? Where? Why? Since you don’t know, you end your turn and miss out on some great tactical options. Let’s explore deeper:

Creatures in 5e can move as far as their speed on their turn. Each square is 5ft. Your base movement speed is determined by race, though class features can improve it. To move further on one turn, the Dash action, certain magic items, epic boons, feats, or magic can help.

Assuming you’re using a map for combat (and not Theatre of the Mind), it’s clear that movement is important. So, how can you best use it to maximize your chances in combat? Let’s start with the basics and build from there. (Click here for the part about destroying your enemies by moving faster than sound)

How Does Movement Work in D&D?

Player characters and monsters alike are able to move and change positions according to their movement statistics. How far you can move in a given time frame is primarily determined by your speed. 

Your speed is the number of feet that you can move in a turn, and each square on a grid is 5×5 ft. You don’t have to use all of your movement each turn. Different terrains may limit the distance you can move, like Difficult Terrain. Movement is “paid” when moving into a square.

If you don’t have enough to meet the requirements of that square, you can’t move into it. Example: You have a speed of 25 and are prone. You stand up (taking half your movement; 12.5ft) and move two squares (10ft). You only have 2.5 ft of movement left, so you cannot move because it requires at least 5 ft.

For most characters, your base walking speed is 30 feet, listed in your racial traits. 30 feet equates to six squares on a standard battle grid. Smaller beings, like dwarves and halflings, only have a walking speed of 25 feet and faster-moving folk, like wood elves, have a walking speed of 35 feet.

Movement is usually only important when determining where you can reach during combat (or moments where time is limited). 

Different Types of Movement

The default type of movement in D&D is known as walking. This includes any horizontal land-based travel such as walking, running (not to be confused with “dashing”), or even skipping – in 5e, that’s all still “walking”. 

When you are making a character, your base speed is a walking speed. However, there are five categories of movement: walking, swimming, flying, climbing, burrowing.

As you can guess, swimming is through liquids; flying is through the air; climbing is vertical movement; burrowing is through solid things.

Unlike flying and burrowing, you can still swim and climb if you don’t have a specified swim/climb speed. However, when you do this, it requires twice the amount of movement. If you do have a specified swim/climb speed, then count your movement as normal.

For example, a creature with a base walking speed of 30 feet tries to swim. While swimming, every foot costs two feet of movement, meaning that they can only move 15 feet on their turn. 

If your character only has a walking speed of 25 feet, you could only move 12.5 feet on your turn. However, since D&D is played in 5-ft increments, you would only be able to move 10 feet since you don’t have enough movement to reach the third square.

Flight and burrowing abilities are typically treated differently. 

If you do not have a flying or burrowing speed, you cannot fly or burrow, respectively. This is based on the nature of these movements. You need something that enables you to fly, such as wings or magic, and something that enables you to burrow, like large pincers or claws. 

Hovering vs Flying

There’s some disagreement about what the difference is between hovering and flying. The only difference, as far as Jeremy Crawford seems to care, is that “hovering” means you don’t fall if knocked unconscious, prone, or are grappled. That’s it.

You can have a flying speed and stay still in the air as long as you want, so long as you’re still conscious and able to fly.

How does Combining Different Speeds Work?

If you have multiple speeds, you can use all of them within the same turn. When you “switch” from one speed to another, subtract the number of feet you’ve already moved from the movement you’re switching to.

For example, you have a walking speed of 25 feet, a climbing speed of 30 feet, and a flying speed of 50 feet. You start your turn by flying 10 feet before landing and switching to your walking speed. Subtract 10 from your walking speed. 

You have 15 feet of walking movement left. You then walk/run for 15 feet to a wall until you have no walking movement left. You start climbing. You’ve already moved 25 feet (10 feet of flying and 15 feet of walking). Therefore, you can only climb 5 feet before you have no climbing movement left.

Although you cannot walk or climb, you still have 20 feet of your flying speed left, which you can then use on the same turn. 

Whether you’re using the same type of movement or different ones, you can stop at any point to take an action before moving again.

Moving While Prone

If you are prone, you can spend half of your speed to stand up. Round down to the nearest increment of 5. Example: You only have 25 ft of movement and stand up, now you only have 10 feet left (chopping off the remaining 2.5ft)

If you have multiple speeds, you must spend half of your highest speed to stand up. 

For example, if you have a walking speed of 30 feet and a flying speed of 60 feet, you must spend 30 feet of movement standing up. You then have no remaining walking movement left. However, you can still fly another 30 feet on your turn.

If you decide not to stand up while prone, you can crawl while remaining prone. If you do so, each foot you move costs an extra foot of movement, halving the distance you can travel.

Moving in Difficult Terrain

Certain environments make movement more difficult. For example, an overgrown jungle, swampland, steep slopes, and uneven ground can all make an area difficult terrain.

When you are in difficult terrain, every foot you move costs an additional foot of movement, effectively halving your speed

If you suffer from multiple effects that create difficult terrain, the one that costs the most movement would affect you. However, if your movement is affected by separate sources (like crawling or Spirit Guardians), then these effects can stack.

For example, moving within the spell Plant Growth costs 4 feet of movement for every foot traveled. If you were to crawl through this space, every foot you move costs 5 feet of movement. With a base speed of 30 feet, you can only 6 feet, rounded down to 5 feet = one square.

Again, required movement is calculated for the square that you are moving into. If there is one space on the grid that is difficult terrain, it will cost 10ft to move onto that square but only 5 feet to move out of it.

Moving Through Occupied Spaces

Many combat encounters are fought in tight spaces. To get where you want to be, you need to move through an occupied space. You can move through an ally’s space. However, you can only move through an enemy’s space if they are two sizes larger or smaller than you. 

For example, if you play a halfling, your size is Small. An Ogre is a Large creature. Since the ogre is two sizes larger, you can move through its space by weaving through its legs. Conversely, you can play a human and move through a scorpion’s space since you are Medium and a scorpion is Tiny.

Moving through another creature’s space, whether they are an ally or not, is considered difficult terrain. In the above example, a halfling would use 25 feet of movement to move through an ogre’s space as they are moving three squares and the first two squares are difficult terrain.

Moreover, you cannot end your move in another creature’s space. This is not referring to ending your turn but ending your movement

Example: you’re fighting in a 5ft hallway, and an ally is standing in front of your enemy. You want to move into your ally’s space so that you can reach the enemy, attack, then move back and end your turn where you started. However, this plan requires you to stop in your ally’s space in order to attack. This is considered ending your move in another creature’s space and isn’t allowed

Diagonal Movement

If you are moving on a grid, moving diagonally uses 5 feet of movement. Mathematically, this isn’t exact, but it makes the game much simpler and more playable. You cannot move diagonally between squares if you are rounding the corner of a wall or other object.

How to Use Your Movement Effectively

Now that we understand how and when we can move, we must also ask the question: Why is movement important in D&D?

Reach and Range

At the most basic level, movement is essential for your character’s range. 

Regardless of whether you’re a melee or ranged character, you can’t hit what’s not within your reach. For ranged, you’ll have two numbers. The smaller number is the normal range, while the larger is its long range. Attacking beyond the normal range is at disadvantage. Beyond long range is out of reach.

Battle Tactics

Movement and position is your primary way of keeping enemies where you need them to be. Paladins and Barbarians (AKA Tanks) want enemies to attack them instead of the squishy wizard and druid concentrating on spells in the back. Likewise, being surrounded isn’t a great position to be in.

For more on concentration, check out our article here.

Opportunity Attacks

When in combat, moving effectively means taking opportunity attacks when you can and avoiding them as much as possible. If you want to get somewhere on the grid, you want to look at ways of getting there that won’t move through the reach of enemies.

For more on Opportunity Attacks, check out our article here.

Cover

Use your movement to seek cover, especially if you are fighting at range. 

Each turn, you can pop out from behind a tree, take a shot at your enemies, then return behind cover. While you’re taking cover behind something (not to be confused with hiding): 

  • ½ cover: +2 bonus to your AC and DEX saving throws
  • ¾ cover: +5 to your AC and DEX saving throws
  • Full cover: Enemies cannot target you directly, but Area-of-Effect (AoE) spells can still hit you (like Fireball)

Avoiding Area-of-Effects (AoE)

If your entire party sticks within 5 feet of each other, you are liable to have a fireball dropped on the lot of you. Conversely, if you are able to keep your enemies grouped together, your spellcaster can target all of them with a single spell.

As you’re fighting, consider what attacks you expect from your current enemies and separate as needed. You don’t need to study the Monster Manual to know that standing in cone-formation isn’t a good idea when fighting a dragon (they have breath attacks).

Gaining Movement

Races

If you’re looking for a race with a higher base speed than 30 feet: 

*From the Mythic Odysseys of Theros 

**From Volo’s Guide to Monsters 

***From the Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica

Feats

The Mobile feat boosts your walking speed by 10 feet. If you play a dwarf or a small character, you could take the Squat Nimbleness feat to overcome the 5-foot penalty you have for being small.

The Dash Action

If you need to get somewhere and you don’t mind spending your action on it, you can take the Dash action. When you do this, you gain additional movement equal to your speed. If you have multiple speeds, you gain a bonus equal to your base speed for that movement type.

The Player’s Handbook (PHB) goes out of its way to specify that the Dash action does not double your speed for the turn, despite that being an easier way to describe it. This is because of the way that it stacks with itself. 

For example, a rogue can take the Dash action as an action. They can also take the Dash action as a bonus action.

If your rogue has a base speed of 30 feet, taking two Dash actions gives you an additional 30 feet of movement twice. You can therefore move a total of 90 feet on your turn. 

If the Dash action doubled your speed, two Dash actions would double your speed first to 60 feet then to 120 feet. This is not how the Dash action works.

How Fast Can I Go?

With every aspect of D&D, the question evolves: what’s the limit? 

While there are theoretical answers to this, including accessing incredibly rare and powerful magic items, there are also more practical ways to build your character if you value speed.

Note: The following builds ignore the impacts of moving at insane acceleration and speeds on the character in question. 

Firstly, we will look at a build that can be achieved by you with a little help from your party. 

Play a tabaxi, take 13 levels in monk (any subclass), 5 levels in barbarian, and 2 levels in fighter:

FeatureSpeed Increase
Tabaxi Base Speed30 feet
13 Levels in Monk for Unarmored Movement20 feet
5 Levels in Barbarian for Fast Movement10 feet
2 Levels of Fighter for Action SurgeAn extra action
Elk Totem Spirit15 feet
Mobile Feat10 feet
Longstrider Spell10 feet
Total Base Speed95 feet
Haste SpellDoubled
Tabaxi’s Feline AgilityDoubled
4 Dashes (2 Actions (one from Action Surge), Step of the Wind, Haste Action)Quintupled (including movement before actions)
Total Movement in One Round (6 seconds)1,900 feet

In real terms, that means you could move 216mph/~348kph for six seconds

If you want to actually use it for travel, you’d have to ignore the tabaxi’s Feline Agility, but rounding it to a minute (considering other limitations), you could travel a meager 1.8 miles or 2.9 km (1140ft x10 rounds).

The above build requires a 20th level character and three spells to be cast on you. 

Alternatively, the Haste spell can be accessed by drinking a Potion of Speed or using a Ring of Spell Storing. Regardless, these have been included because gaining access to them is relatively easy

The following build is theoretically how fast a character could go using everything in the rules. If we’ve missed something, message us, and we’ll add it. 

FeatureSpeed Increase
Be Shapechanged into a Storm Giant50 feet
13 Levels in Monk for Unarmored Movement20 feet
5 Levels in Barbarian for Fast Movement10 feet
2 Levels of Fighter for Action SurgeAn extra action
Elk Totem Spirit15 feet
Mobile Feat10 feet
Longstrider Spell 10 feet
Gain Access to a Transmuter Stone10 feet
Start Your Turn in a Paladin’s Aura of Alacrity10 feet
2x Major Artifacts with Speed Increases20 feet
Boon of Speed30 feet
Total Base Speed185 feet
Haste SpellDoubled
Boots of Speed (Bonus action in prior round)Doubled
Tabaxi’s Feline AgilityDoubled
4 Dashes (2 Actions (One from Action Surge), Step of the Wind, Haste Action)Quintupled (including the original movement)
Total Movement in One Round (6 seconds)7,400 feet

In real terms, that means you could break the sound barrier (770mph) by moving 841mph / 1353kph for six seconds. Once again, limiting it to a minute, you could travel 14 miles or 22.6 km (1140ft x10 rounds). 

This build requires you to have multiple spells cast on you, a friendly Transmuter wizard, three magical items (two of which are artifacts), an epic boon meant for 20th level characters, and a paladin’s aura. 

Using Speed Offensively

Here’s where you could debate the damage and shape of the sonic boom created by moving at flesh-shearing speeds. 

It’s hard to say how big the shockwave would be or how forceful, as it’s related to the quantity of air being displaced (aerodynamics of the object, altitude, temperature), but without any math, you could say it would affect everyone within a 40ft sphere doing 10d10 thunder damage. Why not?

Some DMs argue it might as well just be treated the same as Thunder Step.

But expect this to be like a monkey’s paw. If your DM allows it to do serious damage, consider the effects on the structures around you and your teammates. A shockwave of this sort will probably have many undesirable outcomes, including shredded vital organs, collapsing structures, and friendly fire.

Alternatively, consider projectiles. Sure, you could punch someone at this speed, but goodbye to all the bones in your arm/shoulder/body. Instead, think about how a trebuchet does 8d10 bludgeoning damage. 

This article suggests trebuchets launch 15kg objects (roughly 33lbs). A modern arrow flies roughly 200mph, which is certainly faster than a trebuchet payload, but it’s a number we can work with.

In the first scenario, you can go about the same speed as an arrow. If you were to carry something 4x the weight of a standard trebuchet payload (132lbs, but you must remain unencumbered), then you could release this baby at an enemy and do a paltry 32d10.

But let’s get serious for a moment and consider the RAW maximum, baby.

Suppose you were going 800mph, slower than the second build (see above). That’s 4x the speed of a modern arrow. Again carrying an object 4x the weight (132lbs, unencumbered) and were to release that toward an enemy at full speed… 

Well, that might just do 256x the damage of a normal trebuchet(4^4, correct my math if I’m wrong), delivering a nuclear-level payload of 2048d10, supposing you hit.

Again, you could push it further. Suppose you miss, possibly on purpose: is there something solid that the “missile” could plow into, causing a massive, shockwave? I’ll leave you to contemplate dealing with that.

Just always keep in mind that pushing these limits with DMs is akin to wishing on a monkey’s paw.

Summary

Movement is one of the keys to tactical combat both in D&D and in life. Your movement is determined primarily by your race/lineage and can be improved by many class features, feats, and magic items. Here are some key takeaways:

  • There are five different types of movement: walking, swimming, flying, climbing, and burrowing.
  • You can break up your movement between different types, and you can move, attack, and move again using your remaining movement.
  • Standing from Prone takes half your fastest movement speed.
  • Difficult Terrain: If you encounter effects that slow your speed, such as thick jungle, uneven floor, or other creatures’ spaces, every foot of movement costs another foot of movement, effectively halving how far you can get on your turn.
  • Moving diagonally doesn’t cost extra movement, but you cannot move diagonally if you are rounding a corner that is blocked by a wall.
  • You can move through allies (any size) and enemies (two sizes larger or smaller), but it’s considered difficult terrain. You cannot stop in an occupied space, even if you don’t end your turn there.
  • Use your movement to get within range, defend your weaker party members, avoid opportunity attacks, and stay out of your enemy’s range.
  • The fastest a character can move according to the rules is 7,400 feet in one round. That’s 841mph / 1353kph for six seconds, breaking the speed of sound (770mph). Have fun figuring out the sonic boom’s damage and AoE. I suggest a 20ft-sphere and 10d10 thunder damage.
  • Going 800mph and releasing a 132lbs payload at an enemy should net you roughly 2048d10s of (probably) bludgeoning damage.

Once you understand how to use your movement effectively in D&D, your party will increase its effectiveness in every battle as you are actively thwarting what your enemies can do and where they can go. Godspeed!

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