If you’re new to Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition, you may have heard the words Advantage & Disadvantage used.
They are pretty simple ideas on their own. But, like many other parts of a role-playing game, they have their own problems and uses.
So, I’ll talk about what the 5e advantage system is, how and when you might get one, and some of the math behind why you want one.
First, let’s talk about what “advantage” means in 5e.
What is the Advantage and Disadvantage of DnD 5e?
The advantage is a rule in 5e that lets you roll two 20-sided dice and use the one with the higher number.
This is how advantages and disadvantages are explained on page 173 of the Player’s Handbook or the Using Ability Scores page on DnD Beyond:
“Sometimes a special ability or spell tells you that you have advantage or disadvantage on an ability check, a saving throw, or an attack roll. When that happens, you roll a second d20 when you make the roll. Use the higher of the two rolls if you have advantage, and use the lower roll if you have disadvantage.”
The advantage and disadvantage rules in 5e help you either make a roll or fail it. And if you want to spice things up, having an advantage when trying to roll for critical hits in 5e helps a lot. We’ll talk about math when it’s time.
Whether you’re adventuring or trying one of the many actions in D&D combat, if you roll a d20, you might be able to make your roll with an advantage (or disadvantage).
What if a Creature Has advantages & Disadvantages?
During a 5e game, this usually happens.
When something happens, both good and bad things happen to your character. This can happen because the rules of D&D 5e are hard to understand because everyone is fighting while blind, or for any of a number of other reasons that are specific to your game.
The most important thing to remember is that if you have both advantages and disadvantages on a roll, you roll as if you had neither. Or, a “straight roll,” as it is often called.
But what happens if you have more than one advantage and only one disadvantage?
Again, the PHB makes this clear on page 173.
“If circumstances cause a roll to have both advantage and disadvantage, you are considered to have neither of them, and you roll one d20. This is true even if multiple circumstances impose disadvantage and only one grants advantage or vice versa. In such a situation, you have neither advantage nor disadvantage.”
Wizards of the Coast’s Lead Rules Designer, Jeremy Crawford, also confirmed this on Twitter, saying:
“Advantage and disadvantage cancel each other regardless of the number of things that give either of them to you. Either you have advantage/disadvantage or you don’t. Instances of them don’t stack up.”
So, one disadvantage can’t be made up for by any number of sources that give you an advantage.
How to Get Advantage in 5e?
Now, everyone wants to know how they can take advantage. Because why wouldn’t you want to roll with an advantage whenever you can?
Well, here’s the thing: getting the upper hand isn’t always clear.
There are ways to get an advantage in 5e that don’t involve magic (like the optional flanking rule or attacking a creature with the blinded condition). But there are also a lot of other ways, like if you roleplay well or if your DM likes the way you think.
Here are some of the most common ways to gain advantage or cause disadvantage in Dungeons & Dragons:
- When you use the Help action, another creature gets a bonus on its next ability check.
- The Help action can also give another creature within 5 feet of you an advantage on an attack roll.
- When you take the Dodge action, all attacks against you have a disadvantage until the start of your next turn.
- You also get an advantage on all Dexterity saving throws until the start of your next turn when you take the Dodge action.
- When you attack a creature that hasn’t seen you yet, you have the advantage.
- You get less damage when you attack targets you can’t see.
- Different situations give or take away advantages and disadvantages (such as prone granting advantage on attacks against you for creatures within 5 ft. of you)
- The optional Flanking rule in the Dungeon Master’s Guide gives you an advantage on attack rolls if a friendly creature that isn’t incapacitated is on the opposite side of an enemy you’re trying to attack.
- At Level 1, Exhaustion makes all ability checks harder, Level 3 exhaustion makes all attack rolls and saving throws the same.
And, really, I could keep going. The Lucky feat is interesting because it doesn’t give you an advantage. Instead, it lets you roll 2d20 and choose which result you want.
Remember that this is not a full list. Nor is it possible to make a list that covers everything. Because, yes, there are only so many ways to get an advantage or disadvantage mechanically in D&D 5e.
But if you do something cool or just plain stupid, your DM might give you an advantage or disadvantage.
But if you want a pretty good list of ways to get ahead, this Reddit post has a pretty good number of them.
DnD 5e Advantage Probability
Alright. Here’s the part for people who love numbers.
Probability was never one of my best subjects. So, I’m going to make things as easy as possible to understand, because that’s the only way I can.
Let’s start by looking at a d20.
With 20 choices, there is a 5% chance that any one of those numbers will be rolled. So, if everything else stays the same, you have a 50/50 chance of rolling either 1–10 or 11–20. Should be easy, right?
Well, just adding one more d20 with advantage changes the whole thing.
This post on Probabilities for Advantage and Disadvantage says that your chances of rolling an 11 or higher go from 50% (the base) to 75%.
Now, this number changes depending on which way you go. For example, the odds of rolling a number higher than 16 change by 18.7% if you have an advantage.
But you can see how having an advantage is, well, a huge advantage.
On the other hand, the downside is also very big. I mean “terrible” when I say “great.”
When you have an advantage, you have a 25% better chance of rolling an 11 or higher. When you have a disadvantage, you have a 25% worse chance. Yes, if you have a disadvantage, you have about a 25% chance of rolling an 11 or higher.
Now, none of the bonuses from your ability scores or other skills can be used. These numbers come from a boring d20 roll that was not changed in any way.
I’ve seen advice posted around the community that says advantage and disadvantage are the same as adding +5 or -5 to any roll.
This is because if each number on a d20 is worth 5% and rolling an 11 with an advantage should happen about 75% of the time (instead of the base 50%), the math is easy.
5% = 1 on a 20-sided die. So, 25% (the chance of something happening) = 5 numbers. That means you’re pretty much adding 5 to your roll, right?
Ehhhhhhhh, kinda. It…just doesn’t work that way.
The advantages and disadvantages of 5e are shown in the Columbia post above. Too much in either direction (lower or higher numbers) reduces the benefit or harm.
For instance, if you roll a 17 or higher on a flat die, there is a 20% chance that it will work. With advantage, that number goes up to about 36%… which is about the same as a +3 (36 minus 20 is 16, and 16 divided by 5 is 3).
Am I saying that you shouldn’t use +/-5 and carefully assign modifiers based on the advantage/disadvantage curve?
Not even close. The flat modifier does what it’s meant to do. Now, I don’t think it’s better than the pros and cons system. I’d say to keep the system the way it is. But it works fine for passive skills, like passive Perception.
That pretty much sums up the advantage in D&D 5e.
You get to roll two 20-sided dice for an ability check, an attack, or a saving throw, and then choose the better or worse of the two. In 5e, there are a lot of ways to get an advantage.
And the math behind the system shows exactly how much advantage helps and how much disadvantage hurts your chances of succeeding in any given role.
One last piece of advice for Dungeon Masters: don’t cut corners on either of them.
Give a player advantage on their roll if they want to do something cool and related to the theme.
Or, if you want to show how hard something is (like jumping a deep chasm or persuading a stubborn noble), have them roll with disadvantage.
It’s a tool that helps show how likely something is to work out. So do it.