Ducking and Taking Cover In Dungeons & Dragons
Let’s imagine that you, in real life, are walking along when suddenly an arrow goes flying past your head. What’s the first thing you’re going to do? Probably try to find something to hide behind, right? Just because they missed the first time doesn’t mean they’re not going to try again, so you’d have to be crazy to just stand there waiting for it. In that case, why do we so often do just that in our tabletop encounters? There are NPCs firing arrows and Magic Missiles at your character, and so often we’ll have our poor adventurers just stand there taking it. They deserve better -- they deserve cover.
The first thing you need to know about cover is that it is, in large part, very subjective. While there are mechanical rules for it, they require judgment calls that you will have to depend on your Dungeon Masters (we call them Quest Masters) to make. Each time you take cover, you will need to find out if the item you’re ducking behind provides half cover, three-quarters cover, or full cover. Each type of cover offers a different level of protection as far as the mechanics of the game are concerned.
Half cover, which is provided by something that can cover at least half of your character’s body, gives you a +2 bonus to AC, as well as a +2 bonus to Dexterity saving throws. The logic behind this is that anything you might be making a saving throw to avoid is just as likely to hit your cover as it is to hit you.
Three-quarters cover also lives up to its name, as it is achieved when you find something to hide behind that covers at least three-quarters of your body. This amount of cover gives you a +5 bonus to your AC and Dexterity saving throws.
Full cover means you’ve been able to completely conceal yourself behind something sturdy enough to stop an attack. If you manage to find full cover, you cannot be directly targeted with an attack, though some area-of-effect attacks can still affect you.
A World of Possibilities
In general, the cover available to you in any battle is going to depend on your Quest Master (QM). They set up the battlefield, and you can take a look at the map to see if there are any promising rocks, trees, buildings, or furniture you can hide behind. Because it’s usually impossible to tell how thick a tree trunk is or how tall a boulder is, you’ll have to ask your QM how much cover each item would provide you. However, keep in mind that ducking or squatting is always an option when height is a determining factor. Another thing to remember, as cold-hearted as it may sound, is that living creatures can also be used as cover. Sure, standing behind your horse may leave your bottom half exposed, but that’s still half cover! And if you’re a halfling, gnome, or dwarf, standing behind a party member might be enough to even provide you full cover from certain angles, if your QM is feeling generous.
The Matter of Materials
Sometimes, there’s more to keep in mind than exactly how much of you is still visible when it comes to cover. You also need to think about the material you’re hiding behind and how much protection it can afford you. For example, a boulder is going to offer quite a bit of protection -- good luck shooting even the sturdiest of crossbow bolts through a few millimeters of solid stone! However, if you duck back behind a tent and the attacking NPC sees you do so, your QM may decide that the NPC can still try to attack you, though perhaps at a disadvantage. After all, they may not be able to see you, but their arrow or bolt can likely pierce through the canvas of the tent pretty easily. While that may make the tent and similar materials seem useless as cover, that’s far from true! Many spells require the target to be within the caster’s line of sight, so having that flimsy tent between you and an aggressive caster may be the difference between life and death saving throws.
I recently played in a session where we ended up facing off against an opponent who was nearly 600 feet away and able to shoot at us thanks to some special abilities and a fancy longbow. As if that weren’t bad enough, we were in the middle of a field with no cover to be found. Thankfully, our party’s druid was packing Mold Earth, so he was able to make us some temporary cover while we figured out a game plan. Sometimes a complete lack of cover is part of the challenge, but with magic and a little creativity, that can often be overcome. What was your most creative use of cover in a D&D game? Tell us all about it below!