Thrilling heroics have always been an important part of adventuring in table-top roleplaying games. The rules of 5th edition are great for covering most basic action but occasionally players want something more exciting to happen. The swashbuckler may want to distract opponents by kicking the table at them, or the cavalier leaps from their charging horse to make a more devastating attack, this is all part of thrilling heroic action at the heart of adventure based roleplaying games.

A goliath barbarian leaping in the air about to strike with their axe.
Image Credit Nick Robles

Spectacular heroic action itself adds a lot to an encounter, but what makes an action thrilling is the risk that goes along with it. Players who want to attempt some daring action that creates an extra effect, should offer some option for how they do it and what the drawback is if they fail. As with most things in 5th edition, this usually takes the form of stating some goal, picking a skill and stating what the outcome is for success or failure and rolls against a difficulty set by the DM.

The most simple case is the player asks for some action to create a bonus to an action, the DM says they have to succeed on skill check or lose the action entirely. In this case the reward is some simple bonus, and the risk is that they have to essentially succeed on two rolls to pull of an action or lose it altogether. Greater bonuses or effects may require putting something more at risk.

Heroic Action!

Heroics are some action that grants a bonus, advantage, or some condition that isn’t normally allowed or available through the normal rules. Some examples of things players might try to gain from a heroic action are:

Example Heroics

Bonus Impact
+1 bonus Minor
+1d4 bonus Minor
Disadvantage for opponent Moderate
Advantage for player Moderate
Additional damage die Moderate
Push the use of an ability Significant
Add significan new effect or combine effects Significant

Thrilling Risks!

Heroics are some action that grants a bonus, advantage, or some condition that isn’t normally allowed or available through the normal rules. Some examples of things players might try to gain from a heroic action are:

Risk Impact
Loss of half movement Minor
Require a skill roll Minor
Player disadvantage Moderate
One opponent advantage Moderate
Take extra die of damage Moderate
Invoke Attack of Opportunity Moderate
All opponents advantage Significant
Fall prone Significant
Loss of Action Significant
Loss of Turn Very Significant


By their very nature, an action the generates new options would be difficult or hard to pull off. Otherwise it wouldn’t be very spectacular and anyone would do it. The DC for a roll typically starts at DC 15 or higher depending on the difficulty of the situation and effect they are trying to achieve. The DM should declare the difficulty before the player decides to proceed with the action so they can determine if this is a risk they are willing to take.

Balancing Things Out

The core idea of Thrilling Heroics is that they balance risks with rewards in 5th edition games. These are not intended to create new mechanics, imply a new contract with the DM and are always expected to be adhoc actions to add excitement to a game, not be a replacement for the rules or cause action creep into the game.

When requesting some sort of heroic action there are a few things to keep in mind to keep this from going off the rails. Heroics are generally creating an opportunity for something they might reasonably have access too. It’s generally a good idea to avoid allowing access to features or abilities not available until later in the game, such as multiple attacks. Likewise it’s generally good to avoid granting a character access to some ability or feature that is a unique aspect of another characters class or role.

It can’t be emphasised enough that balancing these requests is not only important to maintain the challenge of a game, but for inclusion of play styles as well. Some players are naturally more introverted and, others might be more talkative and coming up with Thrilling Heroics more often. Granting more advantages to players who just talk more is a disservice to players with a more introverted or cautious style of play. Balancing these advantages with potential risks maintains a healthy respect for different play-styles.


The types and variations of possible requests are near infinite and limited only by the groups imagination. This is what is so fantastic about table-top roleplaying games and what sets them apart from something like a video game. It does make it difficult however and for this to work, everyone needs to be bought into this as a fun addition to the game. Some examples of a Thrilling Heroic action might be:

  • “Can I kick the table in front of us at the enemy to block their vision for a moment before I attack? I’ll roll Deception to try to give me advantage on so I can sneak attack, if I fail I lose my attack.”
  • “Can I leap off my charging horse and attack the enemy with an extra die of damage. I’ll roll athletics and if I fail I fall prone and take one die off damage.”
  • “Can I throw the lantern in front of the archers to create smoke that gives them disadvantage on shooting at us. If I miss I might hit one of the PCs?”
  • “Can I use my whip to try to grab the weapon out of their hands so I have it if I sacrifice my actin surge?”
  • “Can I use acrobatics to tumble through the group of enemies and avoid attacks of opportunities, if I fail I’ll stop in the middle and the first attack on me has advantage.”
  • “Can I try to wake up an unconscious character at 1 hp with a Medicine Check, if I fail they will start to make death saves again, starting with 1 failed save?” (Note this would require consent of the other character)
  • “With my rope tied to my ice axe, can I throw it and try to pull the hag down off of the wall? I’ll roll and shove attack, and the rope snaps if I fail and I lose my weapon.”