This is a house rule I thought of a while ago, but I'm not sure how game breaking it is.

Basically, anyone (including an enemy) can use an Action to make a social interaction to consume a creature's reaction. The easiest use of this is to deplete their reaction, so they can't make an opportunity attack against an ally.

One of my allies is within 5 ft of an enemy. On my turn, I use my action to taunt the enemy. If successful he must use his reaction, if any, to return my taunt.

I'm convinced that based on action economy, a creature must sacrifice one action to eliminate one reaction, so this is an equal trade.

This is a rule made to accommodate a player that likes to use social interaction in combat. We've done social interactions without set rules, and he said it would be fun if the social interactions have some mechanical consequence.

Is this house rule balanced?

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Two questions : Is there a check on either the PC's side or the NPC's side to avoid the effect? Your wording make me think there is but the most-voted answer assumes there isn't. Second question : the usual use I've seen for social actions is to play with the NPC's AI. Usually a taunt to make him switch target or an hostage to make him hesitate to attack. Is there a reason why this didn't go at your table? \$\endgroup\$
    – 3C273
    Apr 4, 2018 at 21:13

3 Answers 3


This rule is not balanced because its costs are too low.

You're granting the player a cost-free disengage for him and all of his allies.

The aided disengage you describe is strictly better than an ordinary disengage, which costs an action but only works for you, and not your allies. You're not trading an action for a reaction--you're gaining both your enemy's reaction as well as your ally's action. This is an enormous benefit--I can think of dozens of times where I wish I could have traded my action for an ally's action, to let them cast a spell, run away, or do some other important thing with their action.

The fact that doing this costs nothing, class-wise, means that you're giving away a powerful situational ability at zero cost.

Additionally, there is no saving throw, so it works 100% of the time. This runs counter to pretty much everything in the game; only the most powerful of effects, like Power Word Kill, impose their full effect with no save.

If you're really going to implement this rule, I would suggest making it a part of a feat, maybe alongside a +1 to CHA, so that it has some character-building cost, and adding a save or an opposed check, so that it doesn't work all the time.

Compare to published spells

Compelled Duel seems to be somewhat similar to what you're trying to do:

On a failed save, the creature is drawn to you, compelled by your divine demand. For the duration, it has disadvantage on attack rolls against creatures other than you, and must make a Wisdom saving throw each time it attempts to move to a space that is more than 30 feet away from you...

This effect seems like a good use of "social interaction in combat" that is reasonably balanced. Note that it not only costs an action, but it also costs a spell slot and a class feature.

As @T.E.D suggested in a comment on another answer, you can also consider the cantrip Vicious Mockery, which both deals damage and gives disadvantage on a single attack--this is also similar to the proposed ability.

These spells are class-limited, but if you want to introduce "social combat," I would suggest adding these spells to the spell list of whatever class your player is playing, granting these spells via a feat, or simply granting them this spell to use as a magic item or something.

  • \$\begingroup\$ To go further into your point about the cost of this action, note that the spell you've cited consumes a spell slot as well as an action, which is a much steeper cost. Clearly the game designers thought that this effect was powerful enough to warrant that cost. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 4, 2018 at 9:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ Further, not only is it a free disengage but the rest of the party can use Dash now, instead of having that opportunity cost. I am sure that you are alluding to it but wasn't called out explicitly. \$\endgroup\$
    – Slagmoth
    Apr 4, 2018 at 12:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ Maybe I'm nitpicking, but are you sure it is guaranteed? The phrasing of "If successful he must use his reaction to..." makes me think that there is either a saving throw or an Charisma check for it to work. Did I miss something? \$\endgroup\$
    – 3C273
    Apr 4, 2018 at 21:06

To find if it is fair, it's best to compare it to some existing feature that has roughly the same effect, and see what the cost of that is. So I looked up the cheapest thing that can consume a Reaction by using an Action, and found Shocking Grasp. It's a Cantrip, so it's also an unlimited use "Action eats Reaction" ability like you propose.

Let's compare the two:

Things that make your proposal more powerful:

  • Shocking grasp requires you to be a spellcaster and takes up one of your Cantrip choices
  • Shocking grasp requires an attack roll (with Advantage against those in metal armor)
  • Shocking grasp requires you to be in melee

Things that make Shocking grasp more powerful:

  • Shocking grasp deals 1d8 (or more) Lightning damage as well

You didn't specify the range of your ability, but since it's social activity I'm assuming it's ranged. And it has 100% chance of working. At this point, it seems to make Shocking Grasp mostly a waste of a cantrip, so that might make it a bit too strong for a freebie everyone gets.

I would suggest adding a Saving Throw (against 8 + prof + user's Charisma) to your effect so that both are about equally likely to work; then the choice is more between "in melee, but deals damage and might hit more easily against many" vs "ranged, but won't deal damage".

But overall, it probably won't be game breaking as it is; if nobody in your party had picked up Shocking Grasp and your player enjoys it, I might just allow it and see what happens.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Given that its supposed to be a "taunt", wouldn't vicious mockery be a better comparison? That's a cantrip that allows the target a WIS save, and merely gives them disadvantage next attack (and some minor damage). Also, you have to be fairly practiced with words (eg: a bard) to use it. \$\endgroup\$
    – T.E.D.
    Apr 4, 2018 at 14:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ @T.E.D. I generally find a mechanical comparison more useful to assess balance than a flavorful one. Mockery and the proposed ability have completely unrelated mechanical effects. \$\endgroup\$
    – Erik
    Apr 4, 2018 at 14:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ Fair. Still, a Bard in this group who took VM because they wanted to RP giving a lot of verbal abuse I think could justifiably feel rather hard done by this house rule as well. And I think its fair to classify disadvantage as a strictly inferior physical affect to losing the attack action entirely. \$\endgroup\$
    – T.E.D.
    Apr 4, 2018 at 14:47

Worked this through in various comments, but I'd like to try it as an answer because it rather appeals to me. I believe this variant of what you are shooting for would not significantly break the game's skill balance.

Let's call this house rule skill The Dozens, in honor of the game by that name I grew up playing (mostly getting my butt kicked at) as a schoolchild. If you're not familiar, think of it as a prose Rap Battle.

The Dozens is Vicious Mockery with the following rule changes:

  • The damage component is removed.
  • Both participants must know and speak the same language.
  • The class restrictions are removed.
  • If the target makes their (Wisdom) saving throw, they may at their option, as a free reaction, return the mockery. This cycle continues indefinitely until either one party declines the reaction, or fails their Wisdom saving throw.
  • If either party to The Dozens fails their saving throw, they receive the disadvantage effect of Vicious Mockery (and The Dozens ends).
  • Anyone who loses their saving throw for The Dozens can neither initiate The Dozens themself, nor have The Dozens initiated upon them, for the rest of the encounter. (What kind of loser only attacks another loser?)
  • \$\begingroup\$ Tempted to add a "King of the Hill" mechanic giving the last winner of The Dozens in the encounter advantage on attacks the rest of the encounter. It would cause some realistic incentives (everyone on the other side who hasn't lost would have to try to knock off the King to get rid of that advantage), but "the rest of the encounter" seems unbalancing, and only a single action or two wouldn't be enough incentive. It would make fighting high-Wis opponents a real drag too. \$\endgroup\$
    – T.E.D.
    Apr 4, 2018 at 22:21

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