Suppose a PC walks into a room to find Evil Guy #1 holding Good Guy #1 with a knife to his throat. EG immediately says, "Don't move at all, or I kill him!" The player of the PC then tells me, the DM, "I use quickdraw to draw my hidden gun and shoot him." How do I handle this situation?

Do I:

  1. have them both roll initiative, and have the higher one act first?
  2. give the PC a surprise round because of the quick draw move?
  3. not allow the PC to have any chance in preventing the EG's death?

And final question: Let's say the same scenario, but the PC's gun is already drawn, and the EG says, "Drop your weapon, or he's dead!" And the player says,"I shoot the EG."

What happens then? Do I roll for initiative? Give the PC a surprise round? Give the EG a surprise round? None of the above?

Thanks in advance.

  • \$\begingroup\$ @the_dark_wanderer You might want to explain why you took off the RAW tag and what it means (OP looks new here). \$\endgroup\$
    – GreySage
    Jan 23, 2018 at 22:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GreySage I didn't D: I took Pathfinder out of the title because it's redundant with the tag. It's not a big deal to know about, I think, cause it's more annoying/looks silly in other site views than unclear or confusing. (The reason not to do that is because the system tag is automatically appended in most cases in most places the title is viewed/listed. So it says '...v.s. quick draw -- Pathfinder -- Pathfinder'). \$\endgroup\$ Jan 23, 2018 at 22:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ Oh, I see. My edit was right after one by ObliviousSage. The RAW/rules-as-written tag here means you're asking about how the rules work according to the text, rather than wanting a selective interpretation that takes parts of that text while ignoring others and throws in some random houserules to try and make something that 'makes sense'. It's not for questions just about how something should work in general, we don't tag for that. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 23, 2018 at 22:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ Related: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/36191/… \$\endgroup\$
    – ShadowKras
    Jan 23, 2018 at 23:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ Why is the EG standing there with a knife at GG's throat. The answer to your question may be quite different for "because EG knows someone is bursting through the door in the next few seconds or minutes to try to rescue him" vs if it's some generic precaution against an unknown threat. \$\endgroup\$
    – Scott
    Jan 24, 2018 at 21:24

4 Answers 4


In the scenario described, it seems neither PC nor foe is aware of the other before the PC walked into the room, so neither gets a surprise round.

Further, if, upon walking into a room, an armed or unarmed PC discovers a foe, both the PC and the foe should roll initiative normally. This is a battle—it may start and end as one of wits or will, but there's a foe right there with a weapon, so a battle's begun, and "[a]t the start of a battle, each combatant makes an initiative check." (However, the GM may keep secret the foe's initiative result so the PC doesn't know if he acts before or after the foe.)

Pretty much the only thing the feat Quick Draw allows a creature to do is, on its turn, draw a weapon as a free action rather than a move action; the feat does not grant super speed nor heightened situational awareness. A creature possessing the feat Quick Draw has no better chance of gaining a surprise round than a creature without it; the surprise round is for creatures aware of their foes when their foes aren't aware of them.

Also, the game lets the GM decide whether or not the ally that the foe holds at knifepoint is completely at the foe's mercy, hence helpless and at risk of a coup de grace. That is, while one GM may rule that the ally in this scenario is helpless, another GM may rule the ally is not helpless (maybe the ally is still struggling with the foe or the ally has some trick up his sleeve?). And if the GM says that ally is not helpless then the foe's coup de grace attempt is impossible, and the foe makes his attack against the PC's ally normally.

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    \$\begingroup\$ As a DM I would still use the Coup De Grace rule in this situation. If Evil Guy can hold a knife to the throat of the victim and the victim can't or doesn't resist, then Helpless is a good description of their situation ("A helpless character is paralyzed, held, bound, sleeping, unconscious, or otherwise completely at an opponent’s mercy. "). Giving Evil Guy some chance to cause life-threatening damage in this situation is also what one would expect from a dramaturgical point of view. \$\endgroup\$
    – Philipp
    Jan 24, 2018 at 12:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Philipp That was kind of my (ahem) point. The GM decides if a creature is completely at another's mercy. Since that was apparently unclear, I rewrote that last paragraph. Does that work better? \$\endgroup\$ Jan 24, 2018 at 14:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Philipp Except, it wouldn’t be life-threatening if the target wasn’t considered helpless (and is above 1st or 2nd level). One-shot kills are pretty rare, after all. And then you end up in a circular argument: the target is helpless because they are at their opponent’s mercy because the opponent has an opportunity to cause life-threatening damage because the target is helpless and thus vulnerable to a coup de grace. Unfortunately, the abstractions to hp, attacks, damage, and so on in Pathfinder don’t handle this kind of thing well at all. This is very much something a GM has to decide. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Jan 24, 2018 at 15:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Bilkokuya Yeah, typically, a coup de grace can't be readied. However, a full-round action (like a full attack) takes all of a creature's turn except its free actions and its swift action, but the full-round action occurs during the creature's turn. A 1-round action (like casting enlarge person or summon monster) takes from when its started on the creature turn until the beginning of the creature's next turn. A coup de grace is the former not the latter. This means if the foe goes before the PC and the DM's said the ally's helpless, the foe can still coup de grace the ally. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 24, 2018 at 16:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Bilkokuya …And that seems to loop back around nicely to why this GM would have initiative here determined normally: that is, the actions the PC and the foe take in this scenario is likely determined by their place in the initiative order rather than the initiative order — somehow! — being determined by what actions the PC or the foe takes! \$\endgroup\$ Jan 24, 2018 at 17:16

Initiative and surprise rounds don't come up. Good Guy #1 is going to have a sore throat.

Combat started as soon as evil guy #1 put a knife to good guy #1's throat.

Evil guy #1 has spent the number of rounds since then using the 'ready an action' action to kill good guy #1 if anyone draws a gun on him.

Good guy #2, on his turn, uses his move action to enter the room, then uses a Free Action to draw a gun.

This, being a "perceivable circumstance" then triggers Evil Guy #1's readied action, and Evil guy #1 uses his readied action to stab Good Guy #1.

It is still Good guy #2's turn, and he has his Action remaining. Good guy #2 may choose to shoot bad guy #1 if desired.

  • \$\begingroup\$ So: by this reading, the player doing anything unexpected, like charging the evil guy and disarming them without first drawing a weapon, would work. Doing anything the evil guy anticipated as a threat and readied against, like drawing a weapon, wouldn't work. Just wanting to clarify. Or, say, a hide check to draw the weapon in a way that the enemy doesn't spot, then attack in one action (with the readied action occuring after the action where the attack occurs) \$\endgroup\$
    – Yakk
    Jan 24, 2018 at 16:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ The GM's adjudication of that ready action's action and trigger would make this player uncomfortable. (For example, this GM would likely disallow the action I kill this dude as too general and the trigger if anyone draws a firearm on me as too specific!) Similarly, allowing folks to maintain the ready action for long periods when, essentially, not in combat creates weirdness: Are PCs always readying while on watch? Are guards always readying while guarding? (D&D 3.5e was much clearer about No Readying Outside Combat, but Pathfinder is less so.) \$\endgroup\$ Jan 24, 2018 at 17:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan - I've left a comment asking about timeframes and why BG has a knife to GG's throat. It seems unlikely that BG will stand around for hours with a knife to someone's throat to guard against a vague, unknown threat (i.e. similar to standing watch). I agree that 'ready an action' for hours should either not be feasible, or the DM could ask for a fortitude save to keep concentration up \$\endgroup\$
    – Scott
    Jan 24, 2018 at 21:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Yakk - I would expect the DM to specify (either in his mind or written down) the exact words of a trigger. I used 'draw a gun' for clarity, because I didn't want to confuse things. If the DM makes the trigger too broad, then the action occurs even if the EG wouldn't want it too - "I kill him if anyone opens that door", well those carol singers are in for a nasty surprise. If the DM makes the trigger too specific, then the GG might be able to take action without triggering the readied action. \$\endgroup\$
    – Scott
    Jan 24, 2018 at 21:28

Combat has already started

The fact that the PC just joined the scene doesn't mean that combat will start now. When the assassin drew his knife and made obvious his intent to kill her target, combat has started between those two. What is happening here is a Readied Action and the PC is joining the combat.

Of course, as the GM, you normally don't have to roll initiative or attack rolls between NPC's, you can simply decide what happens. But now that a PC has joined the battle, you should ask her (and all PCs involved) to make initiative checks.

Quickdraw is a Free Action, and it can only be done during your own combat turn. So, the PC couldn't quickdraw her dagger before the assassin could complete her action.

Just consider how this would have happened if the PC was trying to capture a hostage and use her against NPCs (the inverse situation). She would need to grapple and ready an action to stab her, otherwise the NPCs wouldnt take the PC seriously and would also try to win initiative and get her before she harms the hostage.

In D&D 3.5, it was stated how to handle this situation (DMG, p.23-24): If the new combatant is "aware" (ie: knows what's going on), he acts at the top of the initiative order before everyone else. If he's not "aware" (ie: he just sorta stumbled into the room not knowing what was going on), he rolls initiative normally and gets his action inserted at the appropriate time (according to his initiative roll)...he's flat-footed until then.

However, this rule was not translated over to Pathfinder in any shape or form, so its subject to table variation.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Not my downvote, but I think the issue's less with your answer and more with the vagueness of the scenario. I think it's possible that this is accurate—the PC joins a battle already in progress—, but it's also possible the battle between the NPCs has ended, the ally at the mercy of the evil guy who is just hanging out—not in combat anymore at all—behind the door… in which case the foe doesn't have a readied action as readying outside combat is bad. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 23, 2018 at 22:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan that is perfectly valid. But since both already had their actions (open a door, announce a threat), a surprise round doesnt sound right to me. \$\endgroup\$
    – ShadowKras
    Jan 23, 2018 at 23:01

Both roll initiative, whoever gets higher goes first. This is a normal combat encounter

Surprise rounds are for when one side is unaware of the other, or at least unaware the other is hostile. In this circumstance both sides know the other is there and opposing them.

Deviating from RAW, I would rule that on drawing the weapon EG#1 could make a reflex save to respond and act before you, but that is a personal ruling. I would NOT allow that reflex save if your gun weren't hidden, as quick draw makes drawing such a weapon a free action instead of a move action.

Your second scenario is the same as the first, given that quick draw makes drawing a hidden weapon a move action.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Don't necessarily think that a reflex save would make as much sense in the context of the question. I agree with your first assessment however. \$\endgroup\$
    – Sandwich
    Jan 23, 2018 at 22:07

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