In most circumstances, it is easy to determine when turn based combat ends:

  • One side is completely killed, unconscious or has fled
  • All parties declared truce

But when in a hostile area, like a Dungeon, do you end turn based action after each chamber with an encounter or do you stay in it for the whole crawl?

This is relevant because there are various effects in the game where you gain a bonus each time you roll initiative or depending on whether an enemy already acted.

As an example:

When you are in a dungeon or building completely filled with enemies and the PCs just cleared a room from enemies, but they don't know whether there are enemies in the next room and if there are whether they have noticed the sounds of battle.

Do you keep them in round based action, because maybe the door opens and enemies enter? Or do you leave it and possible give away that there is no nearby danger or have to reroll initiative when enemies enter the room (and give them the corresponding bonuses).

  • 1
  • \$\begingroup\$ Could you provide an example of the "depending on whether an enemy already acted" situation? \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 10:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ @enkryptor actually I only know one by heart. That would be the Rogue's (Assassin) assassinate feature. "You have advantage on attack rolls against any creature that hasn't taken a turn in the combat yet." \$\endgroup\$
    – Thyzer
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 11:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Thyzer but it doesn't matter if the party enters turn-based mode just now, or if they haven't left it after the last encounter. It only matters if the target creature has or has not acted in this combat. \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 12:20
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @enkryptor if the creature knows they are there and prepares himself in the next room in some way, one could say he already acted. If you reroll initiative the Rogue gets a new opportunity to assassinate him. \$\endgroup\$
    – Thyzer
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 12:26

5 Answers 5


You enter turn-based action when you need to track time* that closely. You leave it as soon as you don't need that close tracking.

Turn-based time tracking dominates combat, but it can also be used for chases (DMG 252), complex traps (DMG 121), even tense social scenes. That said, it's a really clunky mechanism, right up there with alignment and "what HPs mean" for likelihood of starting an argument.

You're right: while the books say that initiative is rolled at the start of every combat encounter**, they say nothing about when to leave initiative. Common sense has to be our guide: we clearly don't want to always be in "combat-time," or we'd never get from one side of town to the other. Given that we will sometimes not be in combat-time, the question is then: when? Whenever you don't need it--initiative, and combat turns/rounds, are a tool for you to use or not as you need.

A few observations, from my experience playing and running:

  • initiative variants can also play strangely with "roll for initiative"-based features--be thoughtful when employing them;
  • I don't even use initiative for every combat encounter--sometimes it's not worth the trouble (in my opinion) and I'll suggest to the table that we run a simple little simultaneous-declaration-and-resolution combat;
  • escaping combat while in turn-order is largely broken in 5e, in my opinion--the moment either side decides that "running for my life" is more important than "exerting my will by force of arms and might of magic" I break out of combat spacetime.

* - To the extent that initiative and turns/rounds even do that.

** - Which can be a little clunky, like a voice from the gods screaming "MURDER NOW!" To fix this I ask players for a set of initiative rolls each time we leave turn-order, to have on hand the next time it arises.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ What do you do when there might be a reason to track time closely, but doing it might give away that there is a close danger? A group cleared one room, but do not know that there is still an unseen/invisible enemy within and let's say that this enemy did not act during the whole combat. Would he count as a new combat (new roll) or as the same combat, when he acts as soon as he sees an isolated individual (which might take some turns)? \$\endgroup\$
    – Thyzer
    Commented Aug 2, 2017 at 14:41
  • 8
    \$\begingroup\$ In the situation you describe (the aftermath of one clear combat, with one hidden/invisible enemy still lurking about) it sounds like (a) it wouldn't matter (at six-second resolution) what order players do what in, since they're not interacting with the enemy, and (b) the enemy would be able to insert themselves into the action at any moment of their choosing. Doesn't sound like combat-time to me =) \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Commented Aug 2, 2017 at 14:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for this line alone: " To fix this I ask players for a set of initiative rolls each time we leave turn-order, to have on hand the next time it arises." \$\endgroup\$
    – Shem
    Commented Aug 2, 2017 at 16:34
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ The "MURDER NOW" solution pushes this answer over the top for me. Bravo. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 2, 2017 at 17:29
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ There is one tiny bit of rules saying when the initiative order stops. The end of the box on PH p189 says "Repeat step 4 until the fighting stops." Of course, this almost certainly should be read as "fighting, or whatever else is urgent and requires initiative", so that doesn't really help. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Aug 5, 2017 at 13:06

You could (in theory) run the entire dungeon from 1 initiative roll and have the players work their way through the dungeon turn by turn. This would allow you to do a behind the screen roll to determine a monsters initiative, and have that monster not show up to the players until it is the monsters turn.


  • The players would have to stay on their toes, and wont know if/when an attack is about to happen
  • It helps manage players actions (giving a mechanical way to give each player the same amount of "screen" time)


  • Any character action that takes longer than 1 turn benches that player for the length of that action
  • It can (and will) slow the dungeon crawl to just that, a crawl.

nitsua60's answer addresses switching time scales, so I'll attempt to address the other aspect of your question: rolling initiative.

You should roll for initiative again if all enemies have been defeated, escaped, or surrendered, and the players encounter a new enemy. Why? Because it should be possible to surprise them again. Consider your own example, where the players were fighting close to a door to another room. Maybe they walk to the door and run into an immobile gelatinous cube right in front of it. Or they reach the door, and it turns out to be a mimic. Or the door opens, only to find someone already pointing a loaded crossbow at them. Or maybe they find it empty and start searching for secret doors, when an invisible poltergeist suddenly flings a table at them.

All sorts of threats could be hidden between short sections of dungeon. The new enemies should be given the opportunity to surprise the players unless they literally arrive mid-fight. Likewise, the players shouldn't be denied the opportunity to surprise unsuspecting enemies.

As a final remark, remember that any time the players will be moving any significant distance, you should be using the travel pace rules. Unless your dungeons consist entirely of small rooms, you're going to have to ask for their travel pace and marching order to determine not just how long it takes them to get from point A to point B, but also whether they notice any enemies (and vice-versa). As Chapter 8 (Adventuring) of the Player's Handbook mentions, the characters' individual speeds aren't meant to be used for traveling:

Every character and monster has a speed, which is the distance in feet that the character or monster can walk in 1 round. This number assumes short bursts of energetic movement in the midst of a life-threatening situation.

The following rules determine how far a character or monster can move in a minute, an hour, or a day.

This still applies to dungeons, no matter how dangerous.


Depends on the GM

Typically, turn based action ends whenever all immediate enemies have been defeated, surrendered, etc. That means turns begin when you enter the room with enemies and ends when the are defeated. Having turns end here allows the players to do other stuff. I.e. search for treasure, prepare weapons and magic, etc. You could continue turns, but the only problem with that is it does slow the progression through the dungeon.

As for rerolling initiative, sometimes people just keep the same order, and only roll again for seeing which side attacks first. Again, it is highly dependent on how the GM wants to run it.

  • \$\begingroup\$ So, when there are alerted enemies, not visible to the group (maybe in the next room/corridor) you stay in turn based action and thus give away that there is still something coming and analogous give away that there is no nearby danger when you drop the turn based action? \$\endgroup\$
    – Thyzer
    Commented Aug 2, 2017 at 14:32
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ In that specific case, I would take the players out of turn, and have a surprise attack on the players when the first pc enters the next area, and then roll initiative. However, if the players want to be prepared for the next room and plan on entering the next room ready to fight, i would keep turns going \$\endgroup\$
    – saxdude1
    Commented Aug 2, 2017 at 14:38

If you're looking for a mechanistic view, read on

There is plenty of good advice in the other answers, but if you're looking for a rule that you can just apply unambiguously, try this:

Combat ends when the player characters can no longer perceive any potential foe in its exact location: characters and NPCs drop out of initiative order.

Combat starts (again) when any creature declares an attack or other hostile action (such as casting a spell): roll initiative. To declare a hostile action, you must be able to perceive the target in its location, or for an area effect, target a named location.

Thinking through your example of a party who defeat monsters in one room, even as further monsters might lurk in the room next door:

If there are no monsters next door, there is no need to stay in initiative order.

If there are monsters next door, the party can't perceive them in their exact location, so they drop out of initiative order.

  • The monsters decide to burst through the door and attack. The DM first needs to decide whether the party are aware of their presence behind the door, and so whether any of the party are surprised. When the monsters come through the door and move to attack, initiative is rolled afresh. Surprise, if there is any, plays out through the first round as normal, meaning that surprised party members cannot move or take actions on their first turn, but can take reactions after that; other party members can act normally and may act first if they come higher up the initiative order than the monsters.

  • The monsters stay in the room where they are. They might prepare an ambush by using Stealth to keep quiet and taking up positions around the room. So when the party open the door into the next room, some or all of the PCs might be surprised depending on the outcome of the contest between their passive perception against the monsters' hide checks. As soon as any creature declares an intention to attack, initiative is rolled again. If no creature declares a hostile intention, surprise dissolves without effect.

  • On the other hand The PCs might listen at the door for movement and so could discover that there are creatures in the next room. If the monsters are making no effort to keep quiet, the party will usually hear them; if they are hiding (having made a stealth check) I'll usually impose a -10 penalty on the listening character's perception check (relying on hearing) to listen through the door, -5 if listening through a keyhole. If the party detect the monsters, they too can opt to use stealth to gain the advantage of surprise, especially if they wait a while before opening the door. If the party bursts through the door with the intention of attacking the monsters, roll initiative and apply the effects of surprise as usual.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I think your claim of being able to use those rules unambiguously glosses over how much is up to the table/DM to determine when it makes sense for initiative order to be used. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented Dec 4, 2020 at 17:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch we're talking about two different audiences: my proposal is for the audience that doesn't want to have to work out what makes sense and prefers a strictly codified approach. You are talking about tables/ DMs who are happy to determine what makes sense, and probably prefers more latitude and ambiguity. In short, I'm not trying to appeal to that latter audience: it's right there in the title. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 7, 2020 at 10:25

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .