5e Bonus Action Basics

Keeping track of all your actions during D&D 5e combat can be confusing. How are you supposed to keep track of all your character can do? How many bonus actions can you get? What is a reaction?

Fear not because this 5e cheat sheet will give you all the information you need to keep things straight at the table. Beginners, experts, or anyone in-between can find something to learn from this guide.

We’ll walk you through the following:

  • What a bonus action is
  • What you can do with a bonus action
  • The difference between actions and bonus actions
  • What a reaction is and how to use it
  • Attacks of opportunity
  • The complete guide to taking your turn in combat

Mastering combat and the different actions are your first steps to truly mastering Dungeons and Dragons. Not only that, but it will give you a leg up when moving over to other TTRPG systems too.

What is a Bonus Action?

A bonus action is an action that you can take in addition to your primary action during D&D combat. These typically involve special moves and can be used with certain spells. Sometimes, they can also involve magical items.

Bonus actions 5e are specialty moves and can give players all sorts of other stuff to do during combat sessions. Some DMs will also include specific house rules about what you can do on a bonus action or create specialty items that have to be used there.

How Can You Get a Bonus Action?

You don’t automatically get a DnD 5e bonus action. Instead, certain classes, features, items, and exceptional circumstances can give you a bonus action.

The Cunning Action feature for rouges gives the class access to a bonus action. Some spells can be cast as a bonus action, giving your character access to bonus actions where there weren’t any before.

Sometimes, an object you have will also give you access to one. For example, you could only use a specific healing item on a bonus action. Alternatively, a magical item could give your character a bonus action.

How Many Bonus Actions Per Turn 5e?

You can only take one bonus action on your turn. 5e actions per turn are determined by your character’s features and special conditions. Typically, you can only take one of each type of action on your turn in combat.

How Long is a Bonus Action?

A bonus action takes as much time as your regular action does. You won’t lose extra time in combat using a bonus action since other activities are usually done simultaneously.

The set time for a turn in D&D 5e is six seconds. This means that your bonus actions take only six seconds since they are done concurrently or immediately after your regular action.

What Can You Do on a Bonus Action?

Bonus actions are a great thing to work with and give you a chance to do other things on your turn than just going after an enemy. They can be used for all sorts of things and have the potential to end a fight in moments.

Here are some of the things you can do with a bonus action:

  • Cast certain spells
  • Make special attacks (per class features)
  • Use certain magical items
  • Dual wield a weapon
  • Use specific skills (depending on your class and your DM)

You can also choose to use your bonus action when you’d like. You don’t have to take your bonus action every single time; you can take it when you feel like it. However, if you want to maximize your turn, you should take it as often as possible.

Some magical items can be used as a bonus action. These are as diverse as the world of D&D, so carefully read over every item’s stat block to verify the bonus action conditions. For example, some might only allow you to use it as a bonus action if you drop below a certain HP, or certain races can only use them.

Some DMs may allow you to make skill checks as a bonus action. For example, if you’d like to pickpocket a character while you attack them, that could count as a bonus action. Other DMs may opt for kill checks to count as a free action.

These are not hard or fast rules. Some DMs are much more strict with the formal combat rules than others and restrict skill checks as actions. You should check with your DM before doing one of these during combat.

Actions vs. Bonus Actions

Actions and bonus actions are very similar, but there are significant differences.

One similarity is that the two of them can only be used when your character is up and not otherwise impaired. If you are incapacitated or prone, you can’t use your bonus or primary action.

Another similarity is what you can do on each of those actions. You can make attacks (depending on your bonus action’s rules), activate items, and cast spells. You can also help your allies and give them medical care.

However, there are some things that your action can do that your bonus action can’t.

For example, you cannot take a full attack with a one-handed weapon on your bonus action. Instead, you could hold two light weapons simultaneously and use your bonus action to make a secondary attack with the weapon in your off-hand. Dual-wielding is only possible with a bonus action or other relevant checks.

You could hold your action and use it as a reaction, but you can only take a bonus action during your current turn.

The general rule is that a bonus action is meant for small steps that do not constitute a full action. These are small and can typically be done while everything else is occurring.

What is a Reaction?

A reaction is an action you can take outside of your normal combat turn. These are usually dealt after special conditions are met, like being attacked for a certain amount of damage or a particular type. You can also delay spells to activate when a specific event of your choosing occurs.

All characters get one reaction per round. Your reaction cools down every time you return to the top of the initiative order. This is fantastic because, during every turn, you can do a new thing to help your party or take advantage of battlefield changes.

There are other types of reactions, but they are unique and typically reserved for NPCs that you might fight down the road. Your DM might also homebrew different kinds of reactions to fit specific aesthetics or enemies.

How Can You Use a Reaction 5e?

Players can use reactions for all sorts of things. They include special attacks, imposing conditions, and other legendary-style actions. They can also negate damage and do all kinds of other stuff, such as setting spells to go off.

Reactions are commonly found when dealing with an enemy your DM has found. Legendary creatures and other boss creatures have reactions. In fact, all creatures have a reaction that they can use every turn. PCs are not the only ones who get access to this ability.

Attacks of Opportunity

One of the most common reactions is an attack of opportunity. This is when an enemy is fleeing and leaves melee range to safety. They could also pass through another melee area on their way to safety, giving all opponents who have access to a reaction the chance to attack them.

The only exception is if a combatant takes the Disengage action or activates a specific class feature. However, your party can take complete advantage of these to deal a lot of damage and turn the fight in your favor.

Taking Your Turn in Combat

Taking your turn in combat is relatively simple as long as you keep your wits about you. Or you could take a peek at this guide! This next section will go through how to maximize your actions, use your bonus action, and utilize reactions.

Taking Your Regular Turn

We’ll start this guide with how you can take a regular turn in combat. The initiative order has been rolled, everyone has weapons ready, and you are prepared for a fight.

Taking your regular turn is relatively simple. All you need to do is follow these steps:

  1. Use your movement (if needed).
  2. Take a standard action.
  3. Take a bonus action (if available).
  4. Use your reaction during the initiative order when something happens.

Take a little bit of time and plan out your turn before the DM comes to you. If you are up first, then you might not have a chance, but if you have a few other players before you, think about what you’re going to do.

Take time to get your spell cards ready, collect damage dice as needed, and be prepared to justify what you’re doing to your DM. Not only does this give you time to think through what you want to do and utilize everything, but it will make your turn go faster.

Justifying your actions to your DM is a step that many players forget when taking their turn. Many DMs believe that fun and creativity are kings at the table and that these two values can trump the rulebook. If you can make a compelling case, you might get certain perks, like Inspiration, or do things that the rules don’t typically cover. The answer is always no if you don’t ask!

Maximizing Your Turn

Taking your turn is one thing; maximizing it is another thing.

Using Your Movement

Take time on your turn to use your movement. You can move to new areas of the field or enter a melee range against a new target. There are so many practical uses for this, and you should use this as much as possible.

Keep track of if you have entered difficult terrain or not. If you need to cross a whole battlefield, you need to keep track of how far you can go in one turn. If there is rugged terrain, the conditions may cut your movement speed in half.

Some class features will give you the chance to ignore difficult terrain. Rangers, in particular, are one class that can avoid this at high enough levels. Some other features or spells can allow you to avoid them, such as the Fly spell letting your wizard fly over quicksand.

However, if you focus on one enemy or have already entered melee range with your movement, you should focus on maximizing your action instead. That’s what this guide will look at next.

Maximizing Actions

Each time your turn rolls around (forgive the pun), you should take complete advantage of it. A combat scenario can end in the span of one well-planned turn, so you need to be ready.

As we said above, take some time while other players plan your turn and what actions you want to take. It will all go so much faster and easier if everyone is prepared.

You could even coordinate with your fellow players to maximize your actions and create particular effects together. For example, a wizard could cast something to give your rogue a special advantage to hit and provide them with access to their Sneak Attack ability.

Maximizing Bonus Actions

Bonus actions 5e can be an excellent opportunity to get extra time and extra things to do on each of your turns in combat. They also give players more to focus on and think out while working.

Ideally, it would help to use your bonus action as frequently as possible. Since bonus actions are not guaranteed for every player, if you have one, it’s so important to take advantage of them.

Additionally, you can use your bonus action to further spread your character’s actions. Instead of choosing what single action to take, you can take your main action and then do something else.

For example, a rogue should use the Hide action as frequently as possible during their bonus actions. Hiding can give you the element of surprise and let your rogue maximize their Sneak Attack while also allowing them to avoid future attacks.

Using Reactions

Players and DMs can take reactions after specific combat criteria are met. This is typically in the form of a certain level of damage being dealt or a particular type of damage being dealt.

Since every time the initiative order cycles around again, you gain a new reaction, you need to use it. Make sure you utilize this as much as possible; you never know when it might come in handy.

There may also be other, unique reactions, but those often go to NPCs that your party might face. Instead, you might want to look into readying an action and saving your reaction during a fight.

Readying Your Action

Sometimes, one of the best things you can do in battle is hold your turn and ready an action. Also called delaying your action, readying your action can be a great way to let others go first with specific attacks. Holding your turn will give you a leg up in many ways, even if it seems counter-intuitive.

For example, you could prepare a spell for later in the fight when the boss steps into a specific region. You could also time it off after your enemy attacks a particular player character. This would count as your reaction, and you could not ready a spell until the next round rolls around.

Alternatively, you could hold your turn until after your party’s spellcasters have inflicted debuffs that will give you advantage or damage bonuses. This is an excellent method if a barbarian on the team needs a chance to go to town on the enemy

 or your party has rogues who can take advantage of vulnerabilities.

You can even use this ability to hold your turn and change where your character sits in the initiative order at some tables. However, this is a variant rule, and you need to check with your DM before making this move in combat. 

Bonus Action Explained

Bonus actions can be precious in combat, and knowing the difference between all the different types of actions is imperative to successfully fighting. Not only are they rare to come across, but they can have unintended effects that help your whole party. You can use them with your other actions to maximize damage and have a better time overall.


What is Bonus Action 5e?

A bonus action is an additional action you can take on your turn that can have similar weight to a complete action but is not interchangeable. Extraordinary circumstances typically give bonus actions, such as features, magical items, and DM grants.

What Grants a Bonus Action 5e?

Class features, magical items, certain spells, and other DM-designed mechanisms can give you a bonus action. You cannot have one outside these unique circumstances that grant you a bonus action.

How Often Do You Get a Bonus Action 5e?

Bonus actions are granted under particular circumstances. You can get a bonus action as frequently as you gain these special perks or as a part of your class features.

Can You Use an Action as a Bonus Action 5e?

No, you cannot use an action as a bonus action. Bonus actions are reserved for specific actions, while actions have more freedom. Sometimes, there is overlap, but that is rare.

How Long is a Bonus Action 5e?

A bonus action takes as long as your regular combat turn. It lasts no more than six seconds of in-game time and can be done during your typical turn.

Is a Reaction a Bonus Action 5e?

A reaction is not a bonus action. Creatures can take reactions during every round of combat instead of every turn, and every character has access to a reaction, while others don’t get access to bonus actions.

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Written By Jake Morley

Jake, the founder of The Dungeon Rats, started playing D&D in 2012. He has continued to level up his player and dungeon master skills and wanted to share his journey and helpful knowledge with other like-minded individuals. He launched The Dungeon Rats in 2021 as an outlet for those interested in learning more about Dungeons and Dragons in hopes they can take what they learn and apply it at their own table!

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