Cover in Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition is a great set of rules to add a bit of tactical strategizing to your combat encounters.
Player characters and Game Master-controlled monsters both benefit from Cover in 5e. So, understanding how it works gives you more options for making combat a bit more interesting.
This guide to Cover in 5e goes over everything a new player or Game Master needs to know to get started.
Let’s start with how Cover works in D&D 5e.
How Cover Works in 5e
Cover in D&D 5e is a system of rules that grants creatures bonuses for putting obstacles between them and their enemies. Using Cover in 5e gives your combat encounters a more tactical feel.
Basically, Cover in 5e is a combat rule that grants your character or monsters a bonus to their Armor Class and Dexterity saving throws. This is a huge benefit and makes your combats more interesting as creatures attempt to outmaneuver each other for these bonuses.
Page 196 of the Player’s Handbook explains cover in the following way:
So, if you’re standing behind some sort of obstacle, your character benefits from Cover.
That said, to enjoy the bonuses of Cover, an attack, spell, or other effect must originate from the other side of that Cover. This means if you have Half Cover from a low wall but an enemy fires an arrow at you from your side on the same side of the wall, you wouldn’t get the benefits of Cover for that attack.
Which leads into the next point, Cover in 5e comes in three levels; Half, Three-Quarters, and Total.
Types of Cover in D&D 5e
D&D 5e has three levels of Cover: Half Cover, Three-Quarters Cover, and Total Cover. Each level of Cover grants a different benefit to a creature.
Technically, there’s a fourth level and that’s no Cover. But, since that’s more of a non-state and confers no bonuses, we’re not going to address it.
Now, Half and Three-Quarters Cover do more-or-less the same thing. The difference is that the latter grants a better bonus over the former. Total Cover is a unique state and isn’t necessarily an upgrade over Three-Quarters rather than offering a different benefit.
It’s important to remember that a creature benefits only from the highest, most protective level of cover available. So, if a creature stands behind a low wall that would grant Half Cover and a wall that grants Three Quarters Cover, that creature would only receive the benefit of Three-Quarters Cover. The benefits of Cover don’t compount.
So, without further ado, let’s go over the three levels of Cover in D&D 5e.
Half Cover in 5e grants a creature a +2 bonus to their Armor Class and Dexterity saving throws.
Half Cover comes from obstacles that hide at least half of a creature from at least one side. Examples of obstacles that grant Half Cover include low walls, trees, or another creature.
Three-Quarters Cover in 5e grants a +5 bonus to a creature’s Armor Class and Dexterity saves.
Three-Quarters Cover comes from obstacles that block a majority of a creature from one side. Honestly, "three-quarters" might be a bit misleading as one of the examples includes arrows slits which cover up more than 3/4 of a creature from the outside. Basically, so long as you at least three-quarters of your character blocked and your aren’t behind Total Cover, you’ll have Three-Quarters Cover.
Examples of obstacles that grant Three-Quarters Cover include a wide tree, a wall with an arrow slit, or a creature at least one size larger than you.
Total Cover breaks line-of-sight to a creature completely. A creature behind Total Cover can not get targeted by most attacks or spells as an attacker or spellcaster can’t see them.
Unlike the other levels of Cover in 5e, Total Cover doesn’t confer an Armor Class or Dexterity save bonus. Instead, it grants the benefit of removing line-of-sight entirely, removing a clear path to a target that benefits from this level of Cover.
Page 204 of the Player’s Handbook states:
Basically, hiding behind a completely solid object to the point where none of a creature’s body is visible grants Total Cover. Since most attacks, abilities, and spells require a clear path to their target, creatures behind Total Cover can’t be the target of these abilities.
That said, some spells and abilities can still affect creatures behind Total Cover. For example, the fireball spell explicitly states that "The fire spreads around corners." So, even if a creature has Total Cover from your character’s viewpoint, they’ll still get hit by the effects of fireball so long as they’re within the radius of the spell.
How to Get Cover in 5e
A creature benefits from some level of Cover when they position themselves on the other side of a physical obstacle.
Getting Cover in 5e is actually pretty easy. All you need to do is maneuver your character or creature to the other side of a physical object. What that object is depends on your environment and situation.
The most common way to get Cover in 5e is to move behind a solid object of some kind. Walls, trees, and rocks are some of the easiest obstacles to hide behind.
When you think of Cover, you’ll probably imagine your character pressing their back up against a wall, loaded crossbow at the ready or flipping over a table and ducking behind it to avoid oncoming arrows. And, honestly? That’s pretty much how it goes.
Putting a large enough object between your character and an enemy may grant you some level of Cover. But, it does need to be large enough to qualify. A standard-sized mop bucket won’t confer Cover.
Now, an ancient dragon’s mop bucket? That might do something for you.
Other creatures also grant you cover, whether they’re friend or foe.
Now, should you go throwing your friends between your character and the dragon? Depending on how good of friends you are, maybe.
The idea that other creatures grant Cover to those behind them makes sense. Creatures are physical objects, so they can block attacks made against creatures behind them by virtue of blocking line-of-sight.
That said, there is an optional rule you can toy with that puts creatures acting as Cover in danger.
Hitting Cover in D&D
Page 272 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide outlines an optional rule for hitting Cover with an attack if you miss your intended target.
The basic idea behind the rule is if a creature misses on an Attack roll made against a target behind cover but that attack would’ve hit if the target wasn’t behind cover, then the attack hits the object providing Cover to the target.
Maybe an example works better.
Say your character targets a rampaging owlbear, with a base AC of 13, that currently stands behind a tree. The tree is big enough to grant the owlbear Half Cover, so it gets a +2 to its AC for a total of 15. You roll a total of 14 on your attack. Now, you miss the owlbear because it benefits from Cover, but you would’ve hit it had it not had Cover. This would mean you hit the tree instead.
Now, D&D 5e has rules for destroying objects. Essentially, when attacking an object, you roll normally, attempting to meet the object’s AC which is essentially how difficult it is to damage that object. For example, a boulder has a higher AC because of it’s hardness.
Objects also have a damage threshold which is basically the minimum amount of damage required to actually cause any harm to it. If you don’t roll enough damage, the attack is more-or-less a superficial blow and doesn’t do enough to count against that object’s Hit Points.
So, when you miss a creature behind Cover, you could then compare to see whether you hit the object providing cover’s AC, roll damage normally, and see if you meet or surpass it’s damage threshold.
Same works for creatures providing Cover to another creature. If you miss the target’s AC but meet the covering creature’s score, you hit the covering creature instead.
Now, this is an optional rule. So, if it’s too confusing, don’t feel bad about not using it in your game.
That said, it can add a lot of fun and make combat’s more dynamic as obstacles providing Cover slowly fall to pieces in the ensuing battle.
5e Cover FAQ
Does Cover Give Advantage in 5e?
Cover doesn’t grant advantage in 5e on its own. Now, taking the Hide action while behind something would give you advantage so long as you count as your target loses sight of you thanks to the Unseen Attacker rules on page 195 of the Player’s Handbook or here on DnD Beyond’s Basic Rules.
What Does Cover Do To AC in 5e?
Cover in 5e grants a creature a +2 or +5 bonus to their Armor Class (AC) depending on if they’re behind Half or Three-Quarters Cover, respectively. Total Cover doesn’t do anything to AC instead meaning other creatures can no longer target you.
How Does Cover Affect Saving Throws?
Cover affects only Dexterity saving throws. You get a bonus to you save depending on what level of Cover you have; +2 for Half Cover and +5 for Three-Quarters Cover.
Summary of D&D 5e’s Cover Rules
That about covers everything you need to know about Cover in 5e.
Cover is a set of rules that grants creatures a bonus to their Armor Class from enemies on the other side of an obstacle. An obstacle grants one of three different levels of Cover; Half, Three-Quarters, or Total. And, obstacles include pretty much any physical object including walls, trees, and other creatures.
Now, if you’re running or planning on running a game, I encourage you to include obstacles for creatures to use as Cover during combat. The jockeying for better positions helps keep combat encounters alive and prevents them from becoming a stagnant slog-fest.
What’s your favorite obstacle to use for Cover in D&D? Leave a comment below with your story.
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