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If more than one creature readies an action and their triggers happen all in the same turn, which one comes first?

For example, let's say a character walks into a room full of enemies. He readies a dodge action with the trigger "I will dodge when I get attacked". In the room, the enemies have an attack action readied with the trigger "when I see an enemy I will shoot him with my crossbow". Which one comes first?

Assuming both readied actions are valid, in what order do they happen?

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Your example is tricky because of how readied actions are worded.

From the description of readied actions (PHB p. 193, emphasis added):

When the trigger occurs, you can either take your reaction right after the trigger finishes or ignore the trigger.

In your example, the enemy with the crossbow would use their reaction to take their readied crossbow shot on the PC's turn, triggered by the PC entering the room. After that attack is finished the PC could use their reaction to take their readied Dodge action. This could give them the benefit of the Dodge action against subsequent attacks, but not the triggering attack.

In order for two readied actions to occur "simultaneously," they would both have to specify the same triggering condition.

From the description of initiative (PHB p. 189, emphasis added):

The DM ranks the combatants in order from the highest Dexterity check total to the one with the lowest. This is the order (called the initiative order) in which they act during each round.

The clause "the order in which they act" does not say "the order in which they take turns," which implies that initiative order governs the sequence of reactions and other off-turn actions in addition to the turn order.

Thus, if two creatures readied actions and specified the same triggering condition, I would rule that the reactions are resolved in initiative order of the readying creatures upon the occurrence of that trigger.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The PC possibly misunderstands how it works; I suspect the PC wants to simply take the dodge action, and not take an action to ready to dodge when attacked. \$\endgroup\$ – Yakk Sep 18 '17 at 15:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ "After that attack is finished ... could give them the benefit of the Dodge action against subsequent attacks, but not the triggering attack" -- I believe your interpretation is incorrect. A readied action is a reaction like any other; for example see the Shield spell which is a reaction that specifically interrupts an attack after it has started (and hit) and can negate a successful hit. A readied action triggering on being "attacked" fires after the aggressor starts attacking the target and doesn't have to wait for the whole attack to complete. \$\endgroup\$ – Sean Middleditch Sep 19 '17 at 1:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Sean Middleditch Spells like Shield are not readied actions; they are reactions that specify the timing of their casting. Shield is cast using a reaction "when you are hit by an attack...", which implies that it interrupts the triggering attack. Because the timing for readied actions is specified as "after the trigger finishes," instead of "when the trigger happens," I don't believe a readied action can interrupt its trigger by RAW. I wouldn't interpret this very strictly at the table, however, as it severely limits the usefulness of readied actions. Rule of Cool above all. \$\endgroup\$ – W. Gering Oct 7 '17 at 19:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ @W.Gering: The trigger is not the whole of action in which the trigger occured. rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/92023/… \$\endgroup\$ – Sean Middleditch Oct 7 '17 at 22:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Sean Middleditch: I believe that is RAI, and that is how I use readied actions generally. If I wanted to be a stickler for RAW, I would make my players specify their trigger as "when I am targeted by an attack..." rather than "when I am attacked..." as those are two distinct "perceivable circumstances." In practice I would treat both triggers as meaning the same thing though, barring exceptional circumstance (unseen attacker comes to mind). \$\endgroup\$ – W. Gering Oct 7 '17 at 22:21
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I generally interpret the player’s ready statements as charitably as possible, without too much stress on the mechanics of triggering. In this particular case, the player probably isn't aware of the Dodge action, which gives disadvantage to all attacks that you see coming (and also advantage on Dex saves). So, in this specific situation, I probably would tell the player that they could just do that for the round.

Or, if they specifically want to focus on one expected incoming attack and not just be generally on guard, I might instead allow their reaction to increase cover by one level against just that attack. That's not supported directly by any rule section, but it seems like a reasonable way to give mechanics to what they're trying to do.

In general, I try to avoid getting into situations where the exact timing of readied actions vs. other readied actions is even an issue. The whole "everyone takes turns but it's really happening all at once except kind of not really" experience of D&D combat takes some suspension of disbelief, and arguing too finely about the resolution of readied actions skirts close to the edge of breaking it.

If this is about being prepared before a combat actually starts, and people start throwing around plans to ready actions when I also want the adversaries to be prepared, I'd rather say "Okay, everyone on both sides is itching to go. Let's roll initiative to see how it goes down." If both sides indicate that they're ready for action in some way, this plays out as lack of a surprise round, rather than a round with a bunch of confusing adjudication of the timing of readied actions.

Other times, players want to ready actions during combat. From experience, most of these times they are doing so because they want to interrupt something — but by the rules, most reactions happen after their trigger is complete. That leads to the rules not supporting perfectly reasonable behavior, which leads to breakdown of suspension of disbelief, which leads to lack of fun.

One could be strict about the wording of exactly what was given as the trigger: "Ohhhh, you said you wanted to shoot him if he attacks, so he shot the little orphan before you did anything!" But, I think it's better to say "You want to shoot if the ruffian looks like he's starting to attack, right?" and go from there. If the enemy is also readying an action to make that attack when something else happens, I error on the side of letting the player attempt what they say they want to try.

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When the trigger occurs, you can either take your reaction right after the trigger finishes or ignore the trigger.

For your example:

  1. The enemies "see an enemy" - when the "seeing" is over they can shoot their crossbows.
  2. "when I get attacked" - after you have been attacked (hit or miss) and damage has been done if appropriate then you can dodge. Clearly this is a poor choice of trigger for this particular action - if you're going to Dodge, Dodge, don't ready a Dodge.

However, what I think you are asking is if creatures choose the same trigger or triggers are simultaneous (e.g. if the PC had also chosen the trigger "when I see an enemy"), then creatures act, as always, in initiative order.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ "when I get attacked" is a poor choice of trigger. Any friend would interpret this as "when I think someone appears about to attack me", which keeps the intent. \$\endgroup\$ – Mooing Duck Sep 18 '17 at 17:29
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Go with what your GM says

However, I generally will follow initiative order: the person with the highest initiative gets his ready to go first. I do not think this is a hard and fast rule (at least I cannot find one in the SRD).

I have seen GMs who tried to reconciled both, saying that both actions resolve as the same time. So in your example: the enemies would get to shoot with disadvantage due to Dodge.

Go with what your GM says. As long as it is consistent (handled the same way every time), then that's fine.

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    \$\begingroup\$ While the GM can always decide to rule either way, this is not a helpful answer; it won't help a GM to understand what the best ruling would be, nor help a player understand why a GM would make a certain ruling, nor what a by-the-book reading would say. \$\endgroup\$ – Danny Cuppen Sep 18 '17 at 10:44

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