What Is Action Economy In Dungeons & Dragons?

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  • The Strength Of Action Economy

Dungeons & Dragons It is one of the most widely popular traditional tablet RPGs around, with a history dating back to the 1970s. At its core, D&D is a blend of character-driven roleplaying encounters and tactical combat scenarios in which each player manages and controls their personalized character. While each of the game’s playable classes brings different assets to a party’s combat strategies, there are a variety of fundamental elements of D&D’s combat system that players should be conscious of. By and large, one of the most integral elements of combat in Dungeons & Dragons is Action Economy.

Related: Dungeons & Dragons: What Are Saving Throws?


While this is a core element of D&D’s combat system, it isn’t really discussed within the Player’s Handbook. So to help newcomers to D&D better understand the game’s combat system, this is everything you need to know about Action Economy in Dungeons & Dragons!

What Is Action Economy

Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide by Tyler Jacobson

sword coast guide cover

To put it simply, Action Economy is essentially a concept that judges a creature based on how much a creature can accomplish within a single turn. Within D&D’s fifth edition, on each creature’s turn, that creature has access to an action, a bonus action, and a reaction they can use within each turn. Characters that are maximizing their action economy are those that can reliably make impactful use of each of their action, bonus action, and action in productive ways that benefit the party, such as dealing damage or preventing damage from their enemies. As some classes gain the ability to make additional attacks when they take the attack action, these types of actions inherently improve a character’s economy is it allows more to be done with a single action.

A solid example of a build that is able to reliably utilize its action economy effectively is the Fathomless Patron Warlock subclass. Due to their Tentacle of the Deep feature that allows this type of Warlock to attack with a spectral tentacle as a bonus action, a Fathomless Warlock can cast spells and cantrips with their action whilst always having an effective use of their bonus action. Additionally, as characters of this subclass gain a reaction in the form of Guardian Coil that can be used to reduce damage taken by a creature, a Fathomless Warlock will often be able to go through each turn rotation whilst making use of their action, bonus action , and reaction, not letting any go to waste.

One of the reasons that the Fighter class’s Action Surge feature is viewed so favorably, is it provides a character with an entire additional action on their turn, greatly improving upon that character’s potential output of value through damage or other useful abilities, while fundamentally expanding upon what is normally expected from a character’s action economy.

While each character effectively has their action economy, a party should be conscious of their collective action economy, knowing how many attacks they can make and how much damage they can deal within a single turn rotation. Being conscious of this information makes it easier to gauge if the party is outmatched, out-numbered, or well-suited for a combat encounter once it begins.

Monster Action Economy

minion of the might mtg kobold art Oriana Menendez
Minion of the Mighty by Oriana Menendez

When viewing a combat encounter, the difficulty of an encounter can often be gauged by comparing the action economy of the monsters versus that of the party. It has been said that the side in combat with more actions will emerge victoriously, so it should be no surprise that the strongest monsters in the game tend to have means of improving their Action economy, whether it be through the use of Legendary Actions or Lair Actions. Even if a party may seem outnumbered by a group of kobolds, remember that standard goblins within the Monster Manual don’t have a means of using their bonus action or action, and they’re only capable of making a single attack.

It’s also important to remember that while action economy is quite important, it’s not the only factor to be aware of in combat, as even if the action economy of a gang of kobolds outweighed that of an adult dragon, the dragon’s combination of bulk and damage output would allow it to win this encounter with ease.

The Strength Of Action Economy

goblin javelineer mtg d&d art Mike Jordan
Goblin Javelineer by Mike Jordana

New DMs may notice that bosses that they may throw at their party may end up getting steamrolled due to the lack of balance within the action economy, as the party may have access to upwards of ten attacks, while a boss may have access to no more than two or three. For this reason, the use of minions in boss battles, even if rather weak, can help balance the encounter and add some additional difficulty for the party to overcome. Minions can not only supply additional attacks within combat but they can also be used to provide utility through the likes of the Help Action to assist a key monster or boss.

As a DM, the difficulty of an encounter is often determined by the number of actions that the opposition is capable of making within a turn rotation. Meanwhile, many of the most potent builds that players can utilize are those that maximize the actions they have or supply additional actions through the use of summoned allies or beneficial effects provided by spells like Haste.

Next: Dungeons & Dragons: What Is Initiative?

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