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So, I was thinking about the rules as I often do. I thought up a hypothetical that hasn't come up before because none of the people in my play group have try doing the maneuver fighter before.

The situation is that an ally is standing in front of a dragon who has its fire breath charged. I'm on the other side of the dragon not drawing it's attention. My turn comes up right before the dragon and I say "I'd like to hold my action until the dragon aims it's dragon breath. The action I would like to ready is to attack the dragon." Then it's the dragon's turn and the gm states that he will use the dragon's breath attack on my friend, and aims the cone directly towards them. I take my attack and I expend a superiority dice to use maneuvering attack, assuming it hits, and I give my friend half his movement that he can use for his reaction.

Would the dragon be able to re-aim, or would this work out perfectly and render the dragon's breath potentially useless?

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No, but it depends on the DM.

The DM can allow this because it is a dramatic move. But one prone to abuse. Because as long as you have superiority dice and acts before the enemy, you could just move an ally.

The RAW order of actions is:

  1. In your turn, you ready an action to attack the dragon when it uses breath weapon.

  2. In the dragon's turn, it breathes fire. Your friend is toasted.

  3. You atack the dragon and the friend (if it is still alive) moves.

This happens in this order because:

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

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So you cannot interrupt the dragon's breath. You take your readied action after the trigger happens. Your friend will be roasted.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Triggers can be finely tuned. You could just as easily make the trigger: "When the dragon inhales in order to breathe fire". A common example is: "I fire on anyone that enters the room." By a strict reading as above, the enemy gets to do a full move into the room, when the intent was to shoot him at the door." Most DMs I know allow the "at the door" action, since that was the stated trigger. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 24, 2017 at 22:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ @keithcurtis you are assuming that a dragon must inhale to use breath weapon, that is not in the book. the word "inhale" only appears twice in the core book, in the gas spore entry. Nevertheless, if the trigger puts the attack before the breath weapon, the dragon willl target another area or do another action altogether, as Phil Boncer says in his answer. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 24, 2017 at 22:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ Phil's answer had not yet appeared. I have already since voted it up. At the time I wrote the comment, my intent was for you to consider including the fine-tuning of the trigger in your already existing (well-written) answer. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 24, 2017 at 22:56
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Yes, unfortunately for your friend. I would be fine with letting you "interrupt" the dragon's breath by making your maneuver triggered by the dragon's aiming. However, in 5e, the acting creature has a lot of flexibility on his action, to retarget, to move and swing and maybe move again, depending on the results of his swing, etc. So I would still rule that even though you were able to move your ally, the dragon would still get to breath his weapon at him, unless the movement of your ally put him out of range, of behind full cover, or some such. Even then, if the dragon still had movement left, he could execute more of his move and then still re-aim.

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The dragon breath is not an attack; your reaction is too late

The rules for Readying an action (PHB 193) say (emphases mine):

Sometimes you want to get the jump on a foe or wait for a particular circumstance before you act. To do so, you can take the Ready action on your turn, which lets you act using your reaction before the start of your next turn. First, you decide what perceivable circumstance will trigger your reaction. Then, you choose the action you will take in response to that trigger...When the trigger occurs, you [can] take your reaction right after the trigger finishes

You have defined your Readied Action as "I'd like to hold my action until the dragon aims it's dragon breath. The action I would like to ready is to attack the dragon." and said that "the gm states that he will use the dragon's breath attack on my friend, and aims the cone directly towards them."

These statements reveal that both you and your DM do not understand that the dragon's breath weapon is not an attack in the way that the rules define an attack and, in that sense, is not aimed at your friend.

Had the dragon actually made an attack, such as a claw, bite, or tail strike, that attack would have three steps:

  1. Choose a target.
  2. Determine modifiers.
  3. Resolve the attack.

In this case, what you call "aiming" would be Part 1, choosing a target. While a contentious issue, some DMs (myself included) would allow targeting to be a 'perceivable circumstance' and thus allow your Readied Action to trigger and resolve between Parts 1 and 2.

However, in the case of a breath weapon, this is not an attack and does not have these three parts. In 5e, an attack is, and is only, something that requires an attack roll, or is specifically called an attack if no attack roll is made. The dragon's breath weapon does not meet either of these conditions. As an example, here is the fire breath from an adult red dragon.

Fire Breath (Recharge 5–6). The dragon exhales fire in a 60-foot cone. Each creature in that area must make a DC 21 Dexterity saving throw, taking 63 (18d6) fire damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one.

Note that there is no mention made of an attack roll, an attack, or of targeting an opponent. Said dragon could quite deliberately roast creatures under the effects of a sanctuary spell without ever having to make a save.

Thus, when your DM says that the dragon "aims the cone directly towards" your friend, that is not actually what happens. A more precise expression would be that the dragon chooses the location of its breath weapon to include the area in which your friend is located. And while you might like to react to that, this selection of area of effect and the resolution of the damage occur all at once, without the Parts that divide an attack. Since your reaction, by definition, occurs after the trigger, you are simply too late - by the time the dragon chooses the location of its breath, it has already breathed. You can certainly react to that, but by then your friend has already been roasted.

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