Many spells and abilities, such as Command, Fear, Turn Undead have the caster do something on their turn, the target fail a saving though and then be forced into a behavior or condition on their turn. This is dramatically unsatisfactory.

Example: A cleric Turns Undead against a group of skeletons. Some of the skeletons are turned, some are not. The cleric happened to go first in initiative order, the skeletons last. All of the other party members in between are now stuck with the dilemma of not attacking the turned skeletons (because it would waste an unnecessary attack) or Readying actions to attack after the skeletons in order of combat. (thus losing many combat options and any Extra Attacks).

Example 2: A party member is grappled by an ogre. The wizard uses Command to tell the ogre to drop his friend. The problem is, the Ogre just acted immediately prior to the wizard so the situation does not resolve for an entire round of turns, while the wizard's ally is still in the ogre's grip. In the meantime, the other party members kill the ogre with swords and axes. The wizard feels his spell was wasted, even though it was cast successfully.

That's a bit extreme, but there are many other similar situations with spells and abilities that require the delay between cause and effect.

Does anyone have any tested techniques to make this more cinematic or immediate?

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    \$\begingroup\$ How Command could be "wasted" in the second example? What if other party members missed and did not kill the ogre? Or did they planned to spare the it? \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    Nov 12, 2017 at 20:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ Wasted in the sense that although it was completely successful, it contributed nothing either mechanically or narratively. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 12, 2017 at 20:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ Didn't he mitigate the risk, did he? \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    Nov 13, 2017 at 11:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ "We killed the ogre, but good job mitigating that risk!" is hardly satisfying. :-) \$\endgroup\$
    – lisardggY
    Nov 13, 2017 at 12:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ "Does anyone have any tested techniques to make this more cinematic or immediate?" sounds either shopping (off topic) or Opinion based to me. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Nov 20, 2017 at 11:22

4 Answers 4


I sometimes make characters and monsters to use their Reaction (if they still have it) to perform things like releasing enemies or fleeing in terror. I actually got the idea from an existing spell in 5th edition, Dissonant Whispers (pg. 234 PHB):

The target must make a Wisdom saving throw. On a failed save, it takes 3d6 psychic damage and must immediately use its reaction, if available, to move as far as its speed allows away from you.

Normally you're not able to use your reaction to move, but this spell shows that it's not impossible to be forced to do unusual things with your reaction via magic.

In the case of turn undead, I would possibly have the skeletons which have already acted use their Reaction to move and the rest move normally on their turn. It can be a tricky balance.

You have to be careful and decide ahead of time what a creature does with its actual turn when it comes round. Otherwise, you could make spells more powerful than you intend by having creatures run twice as far away or less powerful by creatures still getting an action on their next turn for example.


Treat turns as simultaneous

To ensure better coordination, the DM might describe turns as simultaneous (they are, apparently).

Example 1. The cleric casts Turn Undead. The DM says, which undead were affected by describing them starting to flee. It doesn't matter that, mechanically, they will do only in their turn - they already have made their saving throws and are turned (or not) in this very moment. Other party members make their moves accordingly.

Example 2. The wizard casts Command. The DM says if the spell was successful. For instance, they say "The ogre is releasing your friend. What are you [the rest of the party members] doing in this very moment?" They don't have to attack the ogre, if they were planning to spare it. The same thing - in terms of mechanics, the ogre drops their friend on its turn.


While, as noted above, turns are supposed to be simultaneous action, initiative does mean that certain actions precede others and you can play with that a bit. The skeletons who are being turned may have frozen in their tracks for a moment, or otherwise seem ready to flee. The ogre may be fighting the compulsion, no longer attempting to squeeze the life out of his target, but also not letting go yet. That also makes it narratively possible for the effect to be counteracted, say the necromancer bolstering his undead.


The first situation's not a problem; the rest of the party can just attack the skeletons that the Cleric failed to turn, since there are some. It'd be a problem if the Cleric turned all the skeletons, and so then the party just sorta stood around doing nothing for 6ish seconds before the skeletons fled. The second situation is more of a legitimate case of this problem.

The solution here, in my experience, is for you and your players to learn the metaphysics of the D&D world so that you understand beforehand what sorts of actions make sense and which don't. Combat is not simultaneous and turns are weird, whatever the developers might say about them. They work and are useful for creating a fun combat system that's simple to understand and easy to play. They do not and cannot model reality in a manner consistent with expectations of simultaneity. If you want to pretend that combat turns are actually all happening at the same time somehow, you are going to run into a lot of problems like this all the time. The solution is to give up, accept that turns aren't simultaneous, and learn the sorts of tactics that work in the non-simultaneous world or, if you'd prefer, to use a different game system that can handle those expectations.

What you can't do is make some minor changes-- a couple house-rules and finer grained initiative segments, maybe some homebrewed durations that actions take-- and end up with something that works well. People have tried that lots of times, and by the time the system actually does work pretty well, both at being turn-based and at being simultaneous, you have something that resembles Phoenix Command a lot more than it resembles any edition of D&D.

If you are looking for a different system to use that can do this, look for games that have a much more zoomed-out view of combat, so that parties outline a general course, then the result is figured out, then what happens is narrated, not for individual actions but for much longer segments of a fight or even the whole scene. Taking the emphasis off of the details of combat makes it easier for designers to avoid invoking a turn system.

If you are looking to adapt to the nature of the turn system, consider preferentially targeting enemies whose initiatives are between yours and your next party members, and avoiding spending resources against enemies whose initiative is just before yours. If you neutralize the enemies between you and the next party member for the round, then they can focus on neutralizing the next ones. This isn't always the best idea, because sometimes one enemy is much more dangerous than its companions, and ignoring those companions would be a better choice. You should be aware, though, that if you target an enemy whose initiative is later than the rest of your party's, any effect that doesn't actually kill or otherwise completely neutralize the target semi-permanently may well be wasted.

If you must try to make a house rule to handle this, consider changing the effects in question, rather than mucking with the initiative system. Make things that would happen at the start of an opponent's next turn instead happen now, and have them consume the target's next turn (but not change their initiative). This makes the abilities more powerful, and makes their use against enemies further away in the initiative order preferential (since they will be out of the game for longer, like normal, but also you don't have to wait for the stuff to trigger anymore), but will help a bit with this particular problem.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "the rest of the party can just attack the skeletons that the Cleric failed to turn, since there are some" - how does the rest of the party know which those are? I think that is the core of the OP's question. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 13, 2017 at 10:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yes, I could just tell the players which ones are affected, or turn their minis to face the other way or something. And I do. It's the sometimes long gap between action and result I find dramatically unsatisfying, and was fishing for innovative ways to handle it that other folks have tried. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 13, 2017 at 15:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ "What you can't do is make some minor changes"...uh...you absolutely CAN do that. Just because your rules may (significantly) alter how the game is played does not mean you can't do that. Make the game your own, have fun. It may not be worth the trouble, but to tell someone they can't do it is wrong. Recommend that you change to "What I don't recommend you do is..." \$\endgroup\$
    – Doc
    Nov 13, 2017 at 20:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Doc Nope. You can't make minor changes to accomplish what the OP is asking for. You can make major changes, and that's fine, but minor changes will not accomplish what the OP is trying to accomplish here. This is an important difference; if you want to change this, start by thinking about what you want the new system to look like/work like without worrying about how it ties in to the existing mechanics. That's why I suggest looking at other systems in that case; it could save you some time and it'd be no more work to learn by the time your homebrew modifications were done \$\endgroup\$ Nov 13, 2017 at 22:27

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