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Suppose the party suspects that combat is imminent, and some of the PCs ready actions (attack nearest hostile creature, attack first thing that moves). Then combat erupts. Some of the PCs are considered Surprised (for instance, because the attack came from enemies they weren't expecting).

When do the readied actions take place?

  • Before or after initiative is rolled and gaining any Warlord initiative bonus such as shifting?
  • During surprise round turns? If so at the PC's initiative or at the mob's initiative?
  • Or do they wait to trigger until the PC is no longer Surprised?

Is it possible to be Surprised while you have a readied action?

Also, what's the PC's initiative order after this? Can the PC wind up at a higher position than was rolled?

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5 Answers 5

up vote 14 down vote accepted

Here's my take on the situation you have described:

Readied Actions are meant for use in Initiative Order only.

Quote from Wizard's FAQ @ their community forum:

On your turn, you spend a standard action to ready an action. You then choose a target (if applicable), a triggering circumstance, and a specific action to ready. When/if the trigger action takes place, and it's legal for you to perform the action, you perform the action as an immediate reaction to the trigger action. Then you change your place in the initiative order so that you take your turn before the creature who triggered your readied action.

Your PCs cannot get around rolling Initiative just by saying "I'm going to attack the nearest hostile I see." Generally that's what everyone is going to do in combat, hence why we roll for Initiative. If you allow these out of combat Readied Actions, your PCs will always have readied actions like that set up and it will severely impact how your encounters will need to be designed from now on.

So, you cannot ready an action outside of combat. That fact should simplify much of issue you are dealing with.

Quick notes on Readied Actions: A Readied Action is an Immediate Reaction. It is not an Immediate Interrupt, so the enemy gets to complete its Triggering Action before the Readied Action happens. Also, when you change your position on the Initiative Order due to a Readied Action you can wind up in a higher position than you initially rolled.

On surprise:

It is possible to be surprised even when you are expecting a fight. Your PCs (especially that Rogue or Assassin) would want a chance to sneak up on an alert/ready to fight band of enemies, wouldn't they? The monsters get that same consideration. That's why we have the Perception skill and the Stealth skill.

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If the PC's are readied, I wouldn't have a surprise round. They are specifically looking for an enemy to show up, and these are heroes we're talking about, with better-than-human reflexes.

Here's how I would run the combat.

  1. Roll initiative, but do not start the combat until the monster appears.
  2. Take turns as normal. This means that any PC's that act before the monster could ready an action.
  3. Start the combat on the first monster's turn. This triggers the readied actions, and any readied PC's would take their actions before the monster can do anything.
  4. Continue turns as normal.

This makes it so that your initiative score (a measure of your reflexes and luck) determines whether you react before the monster gets an action or not.

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I was thinking of the following scenario. The party is trying to diplo/bluff/intim the door guards to be allowed admittance to the castle. Negotiations aren't going well and the guards are getting angry, and the PCs suspect they're going to have to fight their way in. Suddenly dire hawks swoop down and a bulette emerges. –  Snowbody Sep 23 '11 at 17:08
    
In that case I think my answer still stands. Though you'd need to pay specific attention to the readied conditions. The rogue's readied Deft Strike for when the guard attacks would not trigger on a dire hawk coming out of nowhere. But still no surprise round because the PC's were expecting combat and their senses were already heightened. –  dpatchery Sep 23 '11 at 17:44
    
Just because they are expecting combat from one source doesn't prevent them from being surprised by the hawks and bulette. They just wouldn't be surprised by the guards. –  GMNoob Oct 22 '11 at 16:38

I'm predicating this answer on the theory that the action system (standard, move, minor; in initiative order) only makes sense in combat, and that out of combat you just "do stuff". I'm not certain that there are rules to support this interpretation.


With that notion in mind, out of combat you can't "ready an action" in the same sense as doing so in combat.

You can declare that you are on the lookout for enemies. In which case, you should get a better chance of observing unexpected enemies (though perhaps should not be able to roll diplomacy, bluff or the like against the creature being interacted with)


Or if you prefer (and I wouldn't) you could roll initiative at the very begging of the encounter, before it's clear that combat will erupt and try to run the social part of the encounter within the framework of the combat round.

This second option, however, has the disadvantage of both introducing some difficulty with regards to the monsters that attack by surprise (do they get a surprise round in the middle of combat?) and prevents players with "at the start of an encounter" style abilities from being able to use them properly.

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Here's what I consider to be the case:

  1. You can only ready actions in combat. Outside of combat you're not in initiative order, everyone acts "whenever".
  2. Surprise rounds only happen when you're unaware of your opponent and they're aware of you. In a surprise round, only the "aware" creatures go -- and they only get one action and can't use APs.
  3. You can't ready an action against being surprised. The only way to avoid being Surprised is to spot the enemy before they attack, with a good Perception roll (or high enough passive perception) or some other means of detection like an alarm ritual.
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I was having trouble with a similar scenario. This is what I've come to:

Characters can ready actions before combat. The characters readying their bow/spell/whatever on the door that they heard something behind is a pretty normal reaction for them to make. I'm going to allow my players to do that.

Characters can still be surprised, even by what they suspect is there. Just because you see giant spider webs and suspect there are giant spiders inside the building, it doesn't mean you aren't surprised when they climb over walls and through the windows.

A reaction interrupts the opponents action as soon as the condition is met, but the action continues afterwards. Surprise trumps reaction. If the character isn't surprised by the giant spider, the reaction occurs right as the spider meets the condition (is seen, moves past said point or line, or whatever), and the spider can continue its turn afterwards. Including surprise is maybe where it gets a little bit tricky. I'm thinking that a reaction won't happen during the surprise round (since the character is for 6 seconds taken aback), but will happen immediately after if the player so chooses. In my giant spider example, a ranger "ready" to shoot the next thing it sees might still be surprised by the spider climbing overtop of the building, and the spider can make its full surprise round. After this, the ranger can choose to take it's reaction and shoot at the spider. After surprise and after reactions, order goes according to initiative.

This is kind of my working theory at the moment. I've been caught in this situation two or three times now and kind of fumbled it, but this is what I think I'm going to do this week if the situation arises. Maybe not RAW, but it seems to me to be somewhat realistic and balanced. I just can't really justify not letting my players ready a combat action outside of combat, because it seems like such a strategic move for a group of adventurers to make.

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